The Count’s daughter — it had been a while since someone called her that. Lavia glanced at the direction where the voice came from and saw two men — one tall and one short — walking towards them, wearing tattered gray cloaks. She quickly hid Paula behind her.
「O’ Spirit, heed my call. A raging fire is what I desire. Fire to burn down all living things, all creation, even the laws of the―」
Lavia started casting her spell, but Paula’s shriek cut her chant off. Someone pulled the girl from behind her.
「Son of a bitch! Did you just try to cast that spell here?!」
The taller man didn’t try to hide his anger. A woman donning the same worn-out gray cloak restrained Paula, a sharp knife on her neck.
Lavia’s spell had already dispersed. The two men were now less than ten meters away. Paula was slowly being dragged to where the men were.
Who are these people? No, forget that. What will happen to Paula if I use my spell here? If she doesn’t die right away, her healing magic can… No. She needs to concentrate in order to use her magic.
The taller man spoke, noting Lavia’s hesitation.「Forget it. If you don’t do anything stupid, we’ll let your friend live. Is she the first friend you made after stepping outside of the house, Lavia D. Morgstad?」
「Th-Th-The Morgstad family is no more. Sh-Sh-She’s just an ordinary girl now.」the shorter man said.
Lavia was surprised when they mentioned her family name. That meant they were after her. And there was only one person who wanted her.
「Is the King of Ponsonia looking for me?」she asked.
The tall man flashed a grin.「Good, you’re quick on the uptake. Now come. You wouldn’t want your friend to die, would you?」
「If you cast a spell, we’ll carve a hole into your friend’s neck. Understand? We’re not gonna let you use spells with longer cast time either.」
Lavia grit her teeth.「Promise me you won’t do anything to Paula.」
「A wise decision. You’ll save us some trouble if you just come quietly.」
「All right, all right. I promise. But if you try anything funny…」the man approached Paula. Her body stiffened. He then pulled out a knife from his pocket and cut a bundle of her hair.
「I’m serious, little Lavia. Don’t you dare do anything stupid.」
「Okay. I get it already!」Laiva shouted as the man was about to swing his knife once more. Tears ran down Paula’s face.
「I’m sorry for dragging you into this, Paula.」
「No time for goodbyes. You two, take the lady.」the taller guy ordered.
The woman shot him a glare.
「Go! Hurry! We need to get out of here before we draw any attention. We’ll leave the girl here, but someone has to watch her before the lady gets in the carriage.」
「I said hurry!」
The woman pushed Paula towards the taller man.
「Don’t be rough on her!」Lavia said.
The woman and the shorter guy secured Lavia from both sides and pushed her to start walking. Lavia shot a look of concern on Paula, and the latter looked back at her with teary eyes.
『I’ll be fine.』
Paula thought she read Lavia’s lips.
「What are you two looking at?」
Lavia spit on the taller man’s forehead.
「You fucking bitch!」As Lavia passed by him, he kicked her in the back, causing her to fall forward.
「What are you doing?!」
「That’s what she gets for getting cocky! You idiots better keep her in check!」
Lavia got up on her feet and shot an icy glare at the man. The other two then took her and they disappeared after turning a corner.
「Damn bitch. I’ll teach her a lesson later.」the man vowed as he wiped the spit off.
「Wh-Who are you people?」Paula asked.
「Hmm, let’s see… I guess I can tell you. We’re soldiers of Ponsonia.」
Soldiers from the kingdom where she was born and raised. She couldn’t hide her shock. They clearly looked like thugs.
「We’re special forces that instill fear in the hearts of men. I suppose ordinary citizens don’t know about us. We’re a unit under the direct control of the King, hired solely for our strength. We do anything from kidnapping, robbery, to murder.」
「Th-That can’t be true…」
「I wouldn’t lie to you.」The man licked his lips, wearing a twisted smile.「You’re gonna die here anyway.」
Selica sensed something strange and turned her gaze at the sky.
「What’s wrong, Selica?」
「Look! There’s a magic circle up there!」
「I don’t see anything.」
A magic circle emerged in the sky for a split-second. It was the same magic circle that the Mage used. I’m sure of it! Selica thought. It seemed Selyse and Sarah didn’t see it, though.
「I’m going!」Selica started running.
Something’s off. The circle disappeared right away. There’s no need to place it so high up either. It’ll only make it more difficult to create. The ones from yesterday weren’t even that high. In the first place, that spell is not something you use in the middle of town. If they wanted to hide, then all the more reason not to do that. It’s the same as saying “I’m right here”—
「I see! They’re disclosing their location!」
Selica was running at full speed, with Selyse and Sarah keeping up with her easily.
「They’re telling someone where they are! It’s a distress signal!」
That was all Paula could say.
「Come on, now! Did you really think I would let live? Of course you need to die. You just witnessed a kidnapping!」
「B-But you promised…」
「I did. So what?」
Paula went pale. He never planned to spare her from the start. There was no way a kidnapper would keep their word.
「Bye! Don’t move, okay? If you do, it might not be a quick death and you will suffer.」The man extended his hand and grabbed her collar.
She couldn’t say a word. Fear had her by the throat. She couldn’t shake free from his grip, and she was suffocating. The man grasped his knife tightly.
I’m gonna die here… Why…
Paula prayed. Not to the gods.
Help! Please! At least save Lavia!
She prayed to someone who was like a god to her.
A metallic sound rang out. The man’s knife flew in the air and plunged straight to the ground.
A stone struck the knife off the man’s hand. Paula had her eyes closed, so she didn’t see it. She opened it as soon as she realized that something happened. A silhouette suddenly appeared on the deserted alley. The figure was there, but it appeared to be blurry at first, and gradually came into focus.
「I see you’re on the verge of dying again, Paula. Are you sure you’re not cursed?」Hikaru said, exasperation in his voice.