In the center of Celestia’s busy center square, a statue of the country’s founding queen was erected.
With the time being slightly past noon, the food stalls gave off a mouthwatering scent.
Steamed food seemed to be the norm as many people could be seen eating steamed vegetables topped with meats and sauces.
Other than that, the people who walked as they ate a food wrapped in white dough that let off meat juices stood out. Holding them in brown paper, their forms as their mouths let off steam as they ate left quite an impression.
The slight differences he could find from Courtois made it all the more interesting to Rudel.
Though that was also due to the fact Rudel’s group had disguised themselves to play the part of tourists.
“Are they different from what you can find in Courtois? They’re sweet pastries, aren’t they?”
As Rudel put his impression to mouth, Cleo in the clothes of a village girl marveled alongside him. She didn’t know what sort of food the townsfolk ate either.
“I can’t think those are sweets…”
They let off steam, and the contents were filled with meat.
Once she voiced that, one of their guards, Passan explained.
“What Boss Rudel’s talking about ‘s steamed buns. You wrap meat in a yeast dough ‘n steam it, so it’s a proper meal and not a sweet.”
“Is that so? You’re surprisingly knowledgeable.”
As Rudel nodded in acceptance, a booth selling some sort of dolls caught Cleo’s eyes.
There, Pono cautioned her.
“Prin… ah, no! Young lady, you shouldn’t touch those. They exceedingly easy to break, and the sort of souvenirs that force whatever tourists pick them up to buy them.”
Cleo swiftly drew back her hands
The old man manning the stall made a grim face as he saw that.
“It’s not like I’m tryin’ ta make them easy to break. It’s just, the manufacturing process, see. When you make them outa dirt, they’re gonna be fragile.”
Hearing the words from the shopkeeper, Rudel simply…
(Then do something about it.)
Thought from a customer’s viewpoint. In truth, if she picked one up and broke it, they would likely be forced to buy it. Millia, who had reached out in a similar fashion, now looked truly relieved.
“In the first place, that’s our guardian deity, who should be treated with care. It’s their fault for breaking them.”
On the old man’s opinion, Rudel looked at its form, but it was much too crude, and he could only barely make out its shape. An elliptical body with four thick legs stuck on; the only part of the doll colored in was an eye-like red point.
He could only see it as a rip-off.
(Was it made poorly, or does the original actually look like that… I get the feeling whoever makes them easy to break and puts them up for sale is also at fault.)
Rudel took a side-glance at Izumi.
She was keeping alert of their heavily crowded surroundings. And under the robe she wore as an escort, her hand was placed on her katana.
Rudel also directed his attention around.
There, Emilio took one of the clay dolls in hand and lifted it up.
His subordinate Ben warned him of the danger, but Emilio laughed and returned it to its original place.
His eyes were terribly cold.
“Now that we’ve seen the crude dolls that are this area’s specialty, let’s move on to the next area. Milady, it might be a little late, but how about lunch?”
Emilio suggested lunch to Cleo.
She curiously turned her eyes to the food stands. While there was something she wanted to eat, she couldn’t bring herself to say it.
Rudel called out to Passan. Producing his wallet from his inner breast pocket and handed over Celestian currency he had exchanged for.
“Passan, use this to buy something. It seems milady is interested in the food stalls.”
“Y-you don’t need this much!”
Passan declined to accept such a fortune, but Rudel forcefully had him grip. Looking over at Emilio, he showed no signs of opposing, instead giving a nod.
“Don’t worry about that, just buy enough for everyone. Take Pono with you.”
Saying that, Rudel moved to stand on the opposite side of Cleo from Izumi.
“U-um, it’s a bother, then…”
While Cleo sounded apologetic, Rudel shook his head to the side.
“No, I wanted to try it as well, so don’t worry. I deeply apologize for having you keep me company in my meal.”
When he spoke in a phrasing tactful towards the princess, Izumi and Millia made tired faces.
Millia even blatantly glared at him.
“… What’s wrong?”
“Nothing really. I just thought you were being refreshingly thoughtful.”
When Millia lifted her hair and said it, perhaps sensing the atmosphere, Passan and Pono headed off towards the stalls. Ben enviously saw off their backs.
As always, Cleo looked apologetic, so Emilio followed through.
“I’d appreciate if you left your spats for once you’ve returned to your own country. Right now is milady’s time.”
Millia turned to Cleo.
“My apologies, Milady.”
Hearing that, Cleo gave a bit of a lonesome laugh.
“No, it’s’ alright.”
At that moment, Passan and Pono returned, both their arms full of food.
“Passan, you bought way too much.”
Ben sighed. And Emilio naturally started off towards a place in the square where chairs and tables were lain out.
“Then let’s eat. Over here.”
(He’s used to this. Meaning the knights eat here? Despite that, I don’t see any around.)
Rudel couldn’t see any knights eating around.
He spotted quite a few soldiers on lookout, and he could see some soldiers having their meals. But he didn’t see any knights.
(Is it a problem with the timeslot?)
Rudel watched Cleo take a seat as he called out to Passan.
“Passan, do the knights eat in this area too?”
Taking a sidelong glance at Emilio, who even wore a hood, Rudel sought confirmation. Emilio was explaining to Cleo how to eat the various foods from the stalls.
Ben and Pono’s eyes were sparkling at the feast before their eyes.
Passan as well, and when Rudel struck up conversation, he troublesomely looked between Rudel and the food.
“There’s no way they’d come here. Even if they go on patrol, they get free meals at the castle. I’ve never heard of them showing up at these measly stalls.”
“But this is a sight-seeing spot, right? They never stretch their legs in the area and eat at the stalls?”
“Yeah, this might not be the best way to put it, but the mighty knights eat ‘t proper restaurants. This place is just right for the penniless soldiers to fill their stomachs… we’re thankful for it- no money and all- but once you get to be a knight, it’s looked down upon, er rather…”
Seeing how he struggled to say it, the knights likely avoided eating at the lowbrow food stalls.
(Do they look down on the food eaten by the masses? Quite a few of these are surprisingly delicious, but…)
Rudel’s wariness towards Emilio was instantly raised. But as things stood, he didn’t have any evidence. Even if he had his doubts, they were at a level where they’d clear up if the man gave an excuse.
A little suspicious, was all he thought.
“Passan, you can have mine. I’m fine with just one.”
Saying that, Rudel took one meat bun in hand and swiftly finished his meal. A delighted Passan brought the remaining bun over to Ben and oano.
“Boss, I got this from Boss Rudel!”
“Cheers. We’re having a feast today!”
Giving a bitter smile at the rejoicing three, Rudel went over to Izumi and sat down by her side. While he kept wary of his surroundings, he took care not to direct that towards Emilio.
Millia glared at the two of them, but he ignored her for now.
“Did something happen?”
Hearing Izumi’s whisper, it’s nothing definitive, he gave as a preface as he whispered back. Rudel himself only had a light off-feeling at best.
“It’s Emilio. Something feels off about him.”
“… I see.”
Without moving her eyes, she lent an ear to his words.
“This might not be so simple a request. Just keep that in mind.”
Saying that and standing, Rudel moved over to an adequate seat to guard Cleo.
Though they were in the middle of work, Ben’s party were deliciously digging into their meal. Cleo seemed to be having fun as she watched them.
She held a yearning towards plebian… things of differing status, to be more specific.
It wasn’t as if Rudel didn’t understand the feeling.
(Perhaps every royal family is complicated.)
There were plenty of strange points in this matter. He honestly couldn’t believe the reason they were called over was because the country’s own knights weren’t trusted.
(No use digging too deep into it. That’s not our job.)
Rudel changed his train of thought to focus on nothing but the mission. But as Cleo gave an innocent laugh as she listened in to Ben’s party’s conversations, he grew just a little curious.
Turning his eyes to Emilio, Rudel noticed.
Aleist had climbed to the roof of a building overlooking the center square.
To be more precise, Nate had led him there.
They both wore robes, weapons at the ready as they waited on standby.
Keeping her body low, Nate used her telescope to check the surroundings. When the sun was so high in the sky, the reason they didn’t stand out was because of the magic she was using.
Aleist recalled the magic and skills he didn’t use in-game.
(All the magic and skills I thought were useless, to think there were such convenient uses for them. Even so, what is Nate doing?)
He had still yet to hear the reason Nate had come to Celestia. But Aleist had been led off from Courtois as her guard.
There had been some combat with those he suspected to be soldiers of the Gaia Empire.
(There’s no doubt it’s something troublesome. What is she looking at?)
Nate peered into the lens as she called over to Aleist. It was almost as if she had his thoughts in the palm of her hand.
“Are you curious about me, senpai?”
… But that was quite evidently a misunderstanding. There was no way Nate could understand how Aleist felt.
(Well, if she’s noticed, I’d best not beat around the bush.)
Giving a bitter smile, Aleist offered Nate a correction.
“I’m pretty sure what I’m curious about is why we’ve come all the way to a foreign nation to do something like this. In the first place, you’ve yet to explain why we had to run away from that strange bunch.”
While she heard out his take, Nate continued observing somewhere with her telescope. She continued gazing at what seemed to be the central square of the busy main road.
Perhaps she had found the target of her surveillance, as she didn’t remove her eye.
“You’re asking that now? I’d really prefer it if you either asked earlier, or stayed silent and showed some stoicism as you silently watched over me.”
“That’s not in my character. If you don’t like that, hurry up and find a boyfriend, and marry them alongside your graduation.”
“Uwah… senpai, you’re terrible. After you did such a thing to me.”
Such a thing, meaning when Aleist was pushed down. It was in his student days. Dropping by the graduation party, Aleist ran smack dab into Nate, who was handing out drinks, and she ended up pushing him down.
“I was the victim there, wasn’t I? And It really was hell back then.”
Recalling his school days, Aleist breathed out a sigh as he slumped his shoulders.
“Senpai, I don’t want to be the one to say it, but there aren’t many students out there who enjoyed their school life as much as you. Surrounded by cute girls, with friends and rivals… it was the best, wasn’t it? If that’s what makes you sigh, the gods are going to punish you.”
Aleist had an ample understanding of Nate’s words.
It was a fact he truly did have some fun. He was fulfilled.
“I confessed to the girl I like, and I still haven’t gotten a response. No, that’s already, how should I put it, yeah, hopeless, but see…”
“Hah, are you so unsatisfied with a cute girl like me?”
As Nate called herself cute, Aleist averted his eyes and muttered.
“I think the part where you praised yourself is no good. Are you overly self-conscious?”
Nate lifted the telescope up and hit it into Aleist’s head. Was it really alright to use an expensive article in such a manner, Aleist thought as he robbed his head.
“It’s embarrassing for me to say it too. This sort of, I’d like if you were more mindful of a maiden’s heart. It’s just the two of us, so shouldn’t it be fine if there was a bit of a better atmosphere between us? Like, when I call myself cute, you could at least say, ‘You definitely are cute, Nate’.”
Nate’s face reddened in embarrassment, but…
“That sounds like a pain.”
Aleist bluntly called it troublesome only to be smacked by the telescope again. Seeing Nate silently smack him with her face still red, Aleist…
(Ah, she might actually be a little cute when she’s embarrassed.)
Ended up thinking even Nate had some cute parts to her. Due to the abundance of violent members in his harem, even if she hit him, he ended up seeing it as cute.
While they spend time in the central square, the time to return to the palace approached.
The flow of people had also begun to change, with the pedestrian traffic gradually lessening off.
But there, Emilio moved.
“Milady, would you like to see the famed spot of Celestia? It’s not too far from central square, so we can still make it in time.”
“A famed spot? I’ve never heard of it.”
Cleo looked at Ben, but the party of three tilted their heads.
“Was there a spot like that around here? In this area, I guess you could call the central square a famed spot, but…”
As Pono crossed his arms in thought, Emilio went into somewhat forceful negotiations.
“Those in the know, know it well. Though to people without lovers, it might be irrelevant.”
Hearing of lovers, the three nodded.
“So it’s one of those date spots? Sure enough, it wouldn’t be strange if we’ve never heard of it!”
While Ben gave a grand laugh, Passan continued tilting his head.
Rudel approached Passan and tried asking what was on his mind.
“Is something bothering you?”
“I’m not sure if you know, but in these parts, center square is a tourist site so there are soldiers. But go just a little away and the public order isn’t too good. Even if you say it’s a date spot, I’m not really seeing it… well, I don’t have a girlfriend, so maybe I just don’t know about it.”
Seeing Cleo being led off by Emilio, her face had turned a little red at the words date spot.
As she took some fleeting glances at Rudel, Emilio went into effective persuasion.
“Why don’t you take one last visit there with Rudel-dono?”
Hearing Rudel’s name, Cleo thought a bit and nodded.
“You’re right. If we can be back in no time, at the very end, at least…”
A little. She said and consented. Emilio led her. But it was at that moment.
Alongside a woman’s scream, they heard the sound of a building or stall being broken. A portion of a blown-away stand flew towards Rudel as well.
Saying that, Rudel drew his sword and cut down what was coming his way.
Izumi and Millia rushed over to Cleo’s side, while the party of three panicked, unable to take immediate action.
Emilio issued orders to them.
“Ben, take your men and go check around the square. Head straight towards the noise and see if the enemy is still there.”
“Eh, oh, yes!”
As Ben instantly ran off, Rudel instantly closed in on Emilio.
He could no longer think his off feeling was a misunderstanding.
“Hold it. How do you know it’s an enemy?”
Drawing his sword, he didn’t hesitate to direct the tip at Emilio.
There was definitely a ruckus. But Rudel’s group had yet to find out the slightest detail on what had happened. Despite that, Emilio had concluded and proclaimed a clear enemy.
Izumi and Millia also quickly entered the space between Cleo and Emilio, readying their weapons. But they were swallowed up by the wave of people running away.
While Izumi raced towards Cleo, a large mass fell from above. Then another, and another. In the gap Izumi used to direct her eyes up, Emilio made his move.
(This is bad!)
Rudel was sure Emilio would cut Izumi down. He determined those somethings that came from the sky were his allies.
But Emilio ignored Izumi entirely.
Swallowed whole by the flowing crowd, Millia couldn’t approach Cleo.
“Emilio, why are you doing something like this!?”
“Shut up and follow me!”
Her hand forcefully grasped by Emilio, Cleo glared and put up resistance. Unfortunately, the difference in power was too great, and her resistance ended in futility.
Around the residence still ran to flee, and with his movements sealed off, those falling masses surrounded Rudel.
Those round bodies looked as if they were made from a sphere crushed flat, with four thick legs attacked. Their single red eyes let off a light, their earthen surfaces…
“I don’t know what’s going on… but it doesn’t look like these are the guardian deity.”
Similar to the ornaments sold at the souvenir shop, those objects that exceeded two meters across surrounded Rudel’s party, locking them in with their eyes.
Within all that, Emilio alone was able to run freely, dragging Cleo by the hand.
Millia drew back her bow, but as if to protect him, the masses moved to block her line of sight.
“Looks like these things are that Emilio’s comrades.”
At Millia’s vexed words, Izumi also drew her katana and took a stance.
“I’d like to give chase asap, but…”
The masses that showed no intent to let them through moved mechanically like dolls. Surrounding Rudel’s party of three, they looked like they would attack at any moment.
One step… Izumi tread in, and sent a slash flying at a doll. She had determined the surroundings had finally become scarce enough for her to exert her strength.
And stirring ever so slightly, the doll’s torso was severed from its legs.
That clean-cut revealed- practically like the idols up for sale- its insides were empty.
“What’s with these things.”
Finding the empty dolls uncanny, she tried thinking of them as golems produced with magic and tried looking around. While her eyes had always been good, she couldn’t spot any magician controlling them.
For dolls made out of earth, their surfaces were almost like earthenware. Appart from the severed portion, she could see cracked places as well.
But they weren’t strong. Rudel thought it would be fine if they just cut them all down, but the doll’s dislocated limbs quickly crept up to their original positions, fastened themselves on, and set the thing moving again.
“Now that’s troublesome.”
Rudel took a stance with his sword as he said that, when Izumi sent a shockwave flying to make a path. Turning, she spoke to Rudel.
Her ponytail swayed, and as she looked over her shoulder, Izumi’s form made for a pretty picture.
“Go ahead, you two. If we don’t carry out the mission, it will affect Courtois’ reputation.”
“At the moment she was kidnapped, our reputation was lost. But if that’s how it’s going to be, I’ll be going ahead.”
“Eh? We’re really leaving her here alone? Hey, Rudel!”
Millia voiced her opposition to leaving Izumi behind.
But Rudel made a prompt decision, ignored the dolls in the process of regeneration, and chased after Cleo.
Millia followed behind, protruding wings of magic from her back and chasing after Rudel.
If a doll tried to follow, a slash would fly from behind, slicing it into pieces. But as if that was pointless, the dolls regenerated one after the next.
Even so Rudel left it to Izumi.
(Now then, that means me and Millia will have to take Emilio on, but expecting only a single enemy would be too optimistic.)
The two chasing Emilio, who had entered an alley from the main road, kept the possibility of an ambush in mind as they proceeded on.
Having let Rudel go ahead, once the backs of the two were out of sight, Izumi sheathed her katana into its scabbard.
It wasn’t that she didn’t have the intent to fight. She had determined that cutting them would take way too much time.
She undid the thread that bound her scabbard to her belt. Taking the sheath in her hand, she leapt right above the doll that tried moving going after the other two.
“You’re not getting away.”
Pulling the sheath halfway down the blade, the moment its end touched the enemy, she hammered her sword back into it with good momentum.
The doll was slammed into the ground, shattering beyond the realm of repair. Her jump clearing the top of the shattered doll, Izumi observed the state of her enemy.
“So they don’t regenerate if you break them enough. Then I’ll be destroying the lot of them.”
Izumi ran straight towards the remaining dolls, and as if they had a form of will, the dolls began to retreat.
But knowing from their movements they couldn’t output much speed, Izumi wasn’t going to let them get away.
She took another leap and destroyed another doll.
The ground she slammed it into caved in slightly from the impact.
(I’ve had Captain Bennet teach me a lot of things, but it seems I’ve at least managed to make one of them my own.)
It was a technique she learned to deal with enemies where slashes weren’t the most effective.
As Rudel and the others went ahead, Izumi learned it to chase after him, if only by a single step.
“It’s my first time using it in real combat, but this is a good opportunity.”
Izumi muttered as she went on destroying the dolls that continued to gather in the center square.
Having fled into an alleyway, Emilio stopped in his tracks.
After running through those maze-like back alleys without going astray, he carefully set down Cleo, who he had hoisted under his left arm. She had thrashed along the way, but by this point, she was slumped without resisting.
As she took a seat, Emilio spoke.
“We’re still moving. Your clothes will be soiled if you sit there.”
“… Why did you turn coat?”
It was a feeble voice, but he heard it resound through the alley. He could hear the distant sounds of battle, but nothing else.
There, a woman’s voice called out.
“This is troublesome, Emilio-dono. It’s troubling for you to do such unnecessary things.”
What Cleo saw as she lifted her head was the maid who had looked after her. She was wearing her maid uniform, but her atmosphere was different than usual.
“W-why are you here…”
Cleo didn’t want to believe it. The maid was carrying such a friendly conversation with Emilio. Which meant…
“What a dull woman. Well, such a thing shouldn’t be a problem for bait, so I’ve no complaints. I was able to have a laugh over how you thought of me as a friend, and your pitiful environment was interesting enough to watch, so I’ll forgive you.”
As the maid imparted her such words with a smile, Cleo’s thoughts couldn’t catch up.
But no matter how she recollected, that was definitely the face of the girl who had listened to what she had to say so warmly.
“You don’t have to look so conflicted. You’re only bait, after all. Now then, if we keep the higherups waiting, they’ll be angry. Take her away already, Emilio-dono.”
Seeing the maid turn from a smile to an uncanny grin, Cleo didn’t know what to believe in anymore.
“T-tomorrow, I have to…”
“I know. That’s why we’re stopping that. Would it kill for you to be just a little thankful to me for taking care of mere feed?”
A tear flowed along Cleo’s face.
There, Emilio approached the maid.
“Emilio-dono, if you let go of her hands, the bait will run aw… eh?”
Having drawn his sword as they were on the run, Emilio still held it firmly in his right hand. With a big step forward, he swung it from his top right to bottom left.
The maid was surprised, but having trained in some martial arts, she instantly leapt back. She glared at Emilio in rage.
In her, Cleo could see no trace of the kind woman who told her tales of a common life.
“What are you doing, you rotten knight!!?”
Drawing the knife she concealed in her skirt, this time the maid jumped at Emilio. But…
The moment she stepped in, blood burst from her right shoulder down to her left hip. As if she had been cut through…
“Have you forgotten how I climbed my way up the knight brigade?”
“B-bastard… you trash upstart knight. Do you think it’ll end with this!?”
Spitting blood from her mouth, the maid raised her voice.
“I don’t. But you see, you guys make me sick. Disappear.”
Emilio’s previous tone disappeared, his words becoming a little rough. He stuck his saber into the maid to land the finishing blow.
As Cleo said that, Emilio turned and made a sorrowful face. But at the same time, a little happy… as if his expression was trying to tell her something.
While he had been so rough a moment before, his tone towards Cleo was kind.
“Don’t worry, you’re going to be free soon, Cleo.”