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The Former Capture Targets
We left the forest, following the trail of mutilated corpses that had been abandoned along the banks of the river Luft. The bodies of yesterday’s assassins showed signs of having been picked at by scavengers and although the storm had washed away much of the gore, the grisly scene left me nauseous.
Jolga pulled the horse to a stop and dismounted momentarily, searching through the bodies for clues that could identify them. Climbing back up he handed over the remains of a scarf and a small leather scabbard. Engraved upon it was a twisting black centipede. Narrowing my eyes beneath the twisted frame of my glasses, I examined it thoroughly to be certain of it.
“…I recognize this.”
“If I’m not mistaken… wasn’t this the symbol of the kidnapping gang that was destroyed by the Royal Knights?”
“Then they were the remnants… why did they get involved with Melia? ”
“I don’t know. I have to look into it for now… in any case, it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence.”
Riding together on the horse, Jolga and I reached the mansion on top of the west hill. Anxiously waiting for us were Julieta, and Sigurd, who calmly supported her from behind.
Upon hearing the approaching hoof beats, Julieta rushed out, dragging her injured foot. Leaning upon Sigurd for support, they greeted us at the gates. Taking Jolga’s hand, I dismounted and spread my arms wide and embraced the two of them.
“Father…! Thank… Thank goodness you’re safe…!”
I rained kisses down on Julieta’s cheeks as tears fell from her eyes, and reaching out towards Sigurd, who looked as if he had seen something wondrous, I stroked his lustrous black hair which he had inherited from his mother.
“Julieta… you too. Thank goodness you’re safe. …Sigurd, you did well protecting Julieta. As expected of the son I’m proud of.”
Albeit a little embarrassed, Sigurd was unable to shrug off the hand that patted his head, his eyes curving up as he flashed a slight smile. Lutora who had lingered in the entryway, Cain and Abel in tow, smiled widely upon seeing Sigurd’s expression. His countenance suggested that he had learned of something good to tease him with.
“Lutora, I am indebted to you too.”
Hearing me call out to him, Lutora greeted me with one hand on his chest.
“That… It is an honour to be of use to you.”
“How is Malacia? ”
“He wanted to greet you, but he received a head wound a night ago, and has been made to rest by Thomas. He hasn’t shown any new symptoms, so I believe he will be alright. ”
“I see. The most important thing is that he’s safe.”
“Yes. The Temple Knights and the Priests have received treatment too. While many have serious injuries, there is no threat to their lives.”
“That’s great… but it would be better if this story didn’t grow any bigger.”
“…That is true, but..”
Lutora let out a small sigh.
“The tale has circulated wide enough that we can do nothing to stop its spread. If we don’t do something quickly, His Highness’ position will be in danger.”
“Why is that? ”
“Weren’t Malacia and Julieta kidnapped from the royal castle? Abducting dignitaries from there should have been impossible.”
“That much is obvious.”
Palcemith is a monarchy, as the backbone of the kingdom, the castle should have been the safest place to be.
“That is why I believed there were accomplices who had aided them on the inside and immediately informed him.”
“…And the result was?”
Hesitating, Lutora mouthed the name in a small voice.
“…It was Nasha.”
Our eyes grew wide. Sigurd, who had already heard the news, pulled Julieta from my embrace. After a brief hug, he asked the twins to– “Please take Julieta to rest in her room.” Julieta looked at me bewildered, and after seeing me nod she obediently followed the twins.
Mindful that we had been standing around conversing, Jolga and I were urged into the parlor on the first floor of the mansion. As I took a seat on the couch, Jolga sat down next to me. Pushing along a trolley, Thomas brought in a tea set and skillfully placed the refreshments on the center table. While it was a little early for teatime, Jolga and I, who had not had anything solid to eat since the night before, appreciated it.
Gobbling up the sandwiches, I spread the clotted cream on top of the scones. At that moment, Lutora escorted Malacia from the bedroom. The bandages wrapped around his head made him seem pitiful, but his fluffy white hair usually hidden under his mitre was now flattened, making him seem younger than before. Lutora, unconsciously displaying his over-protectiveness, supported Malacia by his waist as he moved. Malacia’s skills were quite praiseworthy, having made him such without even sacrificing his body.
As we both mutually expressed relief at the other’s safety, I praised Malacia in my heart. Holding another document in his hand, Morino entered the reception room.
“I’m home…! Ahh, Lord Anderheim, Commander Jolga…! I was at ease on hearing that the Commander had gone to rescue Lord Anderheim. But I am really grateful, seeing Lord Anderheim safe! ”
“…What do you mean, ‘I’m home’? Is this your house?”
“Morino, are you done with the investigation?”
“Yes. Unfortunately… it is just as we guessed.”
His mannerisms were a bit abrasive, nibbling on the scones as he leaned against the armrest, and conveniently ignoring my grumbles.
…Has he grown more unrestrained as the days go by?
Well, that is proof that he will be much easier to manipulate.
“Nasha received a letter from Melia, which said that she wished to invite a few friends to the royal castle. …Since it was a letter addressed to the Crown Prince’s fiancee from the Dragon Priestess, it was exempt from inspection.”
“Hey, isn’t that too careless?”
Morino nodded back with a sigh.
“…There’s no excuse for my actions. The reason is that Nasha is now desperate to form connections with nobles who hold a strong influence over the monarchy. The exemption of certain letters from an inspection was a proposal made by the Crown Princess Nasha herself, in order to curry favor with the said nobles.”
“…What’s with that?”
Even I would not request something that foolish.
“Nasha has already dismissed all the instructors His Highness assigned to her in the beginning. New instructors have continued to be hired, yet none of them last long. She holds frequent tea parties to get to know the nobles and the young noblewomen of her age better. But… as a lady, or even as the future Queen, her performance has been poor. Her reputation is already in tatters.”
“…Is that so? She should have received aristocrat training as the Sacrificial Priestess, even before she stole the position as the Crown Prince’s fiancee from Julieta. Who was in charge of teaching her?”
“That… my apologies. We are also partly responsible for it.”
The three ‘former’ capture targets all shrugged their shoulders.
“Nasha had received permission to leave her quarters, during her confinement as the Sacrificial Priestess if anyone among us escorted her. Which is why, ever since that day, we would accompany her.”
“Nearly every day.”
“…Sigh, it isn’t worth talking about now.”
I let out an audible grunt.
Well, this was a common system in Otome Games. Each part of [The Dragon and the Sacrificial Priestess] had one action each you could do in the Morning, Noon, or Night. At first, you could only choose from two actions. [Study] to increase your status, or [Conversation] with the capture target that visits your room. As the main story progressed, an additional option to [Go Out] would be added. Incidentally, you could not choose [Study] at night. But you could trigger certain events with [Conversation] or [Go Out]. Because once your affection levels with the Capture Target were high enough, your status would also rise to some extent, it was not necessary to choose [Study]. Nasha’s present state seemed to reflect that.
“Melia’s letter said that her ‘precious friends’ wanted to tour the royal castle. She wanted us to give them a warm welcome. Nasha received it and gave permission for Melia’s ‘precious friends’ to enter the royal castle and receive VIP treatment without doing any background checks. As they were the Crown Princess’ VIP guests, they weren’t checked for weapons either.”
“…Are you an idiot? ”
“They knew we would resist, so they aimed for a day when we would be absent. The invitation for the Head Priest and Julieta was carelessly stamped with the Prime Minister’s seal. As for the letter Lord Anderheim received… uh….”
Taking over from Morino, who hung his head in shame, I quietly spoke.
“It had the royal family’s… His Highness Vikram’s seal.”
“…I thought His Highness’s handwriting seemed different, but the problem with the riverbank construction had happened when I was incumbent. His Highness has been quite busy recently, so I assumed a court official wrote it on his behalf.”
“…If news of this mistake saw the light of day, it could lead to His Highness being disinherited…”
Of course. While we might be enemies, His Highness Vikram wouldn’t dare use his seal on orders to assassinate me. This was most likely Nasha’s handiwork, as she listened to the sweet whispers of Melia’s “precious friends”. They most likely told her that they would talk to me about changing the Dragon Priestess and save Melia from the shrine.
…It’s amusing seeing her tighten the noose around her own neck.
“…Let us set aside the issue of Miss Nasha’s involvement. Currently, maintaining His Highness’ reputation is of greater concern. Got it, Morino? I received word from His Highness and left to inspect the riverbank construction. I coincidentally happened to encounter the remnants of the kidnappers and was coincidentally rescued by the Knight Commander who was patrolling the area… It’s a tad forced, but we’ll go with this story for now.”
I wonder what I looked like in the eyes of the former capture targets, as well as those who weren’t my accomplices when they looked at me so earnestly.
Born into a tragic family?
A patriotic Prime Minister?
A truly loyal subject?
I planned to further solidify these ‘truths’ from here on, with my ‘relationship’ with Jolga.
It seems I have set up quite the smokescreen.
Say hello to Azeria! She’s also gonna help edit this novel!
Psst I made a discord server…Here’s the invite to it!
You might just find spoilers for the smut in chapter 33 keke