The ashen-colored birdie – Part 1
“Uaaah! I’m tired!”
Kunon broke the silence of Suzuran’s office while flailing her arms in the air.
Karin lifted her face and let her silky black hair sway behind her.
“If you don’t start working, this will never end, you know?”
“I know! But I’m not good at this!”
She puffed her cheeks and tapped her pen repeatedly with her index finger.
On the desk in front of them laid a mountain of papers… or rather, two or three huge piles of paperwork aren’t a real ‘mountain’, but they’re still a lot.
Even the diligent elf sighed dejectedly at that sight.
“We can’t help it. Geiz is managing the company by himself, but we still have to select the new routes and customers for our trades.”
A month before, a major company fell apart.
The guards stormed one of its properties where illegal gambles were performed in secret and arrested the masterminds behind it and all the related nobles.
That’s how Amberg crumbled. Then, it was absorbed and replaced by Valeria, now Suzuran, of which Takumi and the others were members.
“Takumiii…! Let’s go grab some food…!”
Kunon pleaded tearfully while shifting her gaze on him.
“Okay, fine. Let’s go to Lilia’s after we finish.”
“That’s not fine! I want to eat something now!”
“C’mon, you only have to stamp a seal on these things. I know you’re not used to this kind of job but look at what I have to deal with.”
The cup of cold, black tea trembled while Takumi moved to grab some papers, making the ones nearby flutter as he showed the documents to her.
Karin also looked at them and remembered something.
“Isn’t that… Geiz’s report?”
“Yeah. A big shot complained about the reorganization of the facility located in the upper part.”
“A big shot…? Isn’t Lux keeping the nobles at bay?”
“Exactly, but he can’t manage everyone.”
Looking at the name on those papers, Takumi wore a sour expression.
“Fortesea…? One of the three overlords?”
“Yes. Even Lux can’t do a thing against them.”
Listina’s royal family, and more precisely the queen, had the strongest influence in the capital, but the national politics were in the hands of those who were called ‘three overlords.’
The righteous Fairstadt, who ruled over justice, the harmonious Administer, who managed the administration, and the valiant Fortesea, who ruled over war.
Those three weren’t only the three duchies of the kingdom, but also the delegates of Richtert’s magic.
In the Holy Kingdom of Richtert, worshipping magic as a godsend was a national custom. The privileged nobles were selected to learn Richtert’s peculiar magic.
The strongest were a step above the others even on a social level, and among them were the aforementioned overlords.
They were leagues above the other aristocrats.
“But… we only changed our facility. What is that Fortesea guy complaining about?”
“Remember the defensive magic tools I removed from the former Amberg’s facility? Seems like we should bring them back because there’s a problem.”
“Well… complaining won’t help, huh? But we are also a major company that participates in the state management, so getting robbed or assaulted would be troubling.”
The nobles’ mansions and the major companies’ headquarters were important facilities for the national politics, so a lot of magic tools were created to defend them.
But since Takumi wasn’t authorized to remove and re-utilize them as he wanted, it was only natural that the Fortesea, who carried the national defense on their shoulders, would complain about what he did.
The slave merchant brought a hand on his chin while staring at the papers.
“The slums are a thing, but robbery and assaults hardly occur in the upper part. I’d understand this turn of events if we were in the middle of a war, but there haven’t been big conflicts for the last thirty years. Still, the next day we dismantled them, we got Geiz’s report about the complaints.”
Takumi tapped on his temple with his index finger again and again.
“Let’s see, what should we do about this…”
“…Are you planning something again?”
“Of course. My philosophy is to use anything as long as it can be used.”
“Whatever, just tell me what you come up with in advance, since I have to keep up with your impossible requests. Otherwise I won’t have enough time to fulfill them.”
“You’ll be the very first to know. Also, your help will be essential for executing the plan. You’re the only one who can understand what my aim is, after all.”
“…I guess it’s fine, then.”
She sulked and turned her head to hide her embarrassment, but her ears betrayed her as they started to turn red.
“Let’s start with telling Geiz to dispose of those magic tools.”
“I don’t think you should… People would kill for them.”
Magic tools, as the name suggests, were tools enchanted with magic.
They could use magic when activated, and their user-friendliness made them ideal devices for the military, peddlers and thieves, who never had enough of them.
Still, those tools weren’t created only from rare materials, they also needed the ‘Law formula’, which was the magic formula that composed their core.
Only skilled mages, namely those who understood the right method to write those formulas, could write them, so the distribution of magic tools was lacking compared to the demand.
“Also, if those tools were Amberg’s, they should be made by Crest’s archbishop. Did you know that they are the best in the whole capital?”
“Crest…? Those who changed completely the magic tools used by mages two years ago?”
“Exactly. They also created Seizing Magic for guards, and the defensive barriers you want to dispose of, along with pretty much every magic tool you can find in the upper part of the capital. They are all made by the same archbishop.”
“Wow… How much do we know about this one?”
“Almost anything. He shows up only in the royal castle or in the cathedral. Not even our slaves are allowed to enter those places.”
She meant the network of slaves that they created in all those years.
Thanks to them, Takumi could acquire any sort of information.
But they were limited to their employers and those who were close to them. It was quite difficult to gather information about the important structures of the upper part, especially the castle and the cathedral.
Lux could give them a hand, but given his personality and position as one of the three overlords, the level of confidence was different than what Takumi had with his articles.
“If slaves can’t access those places, I have to think of another way to gather information from there.”
“I agree. I’d like to use Geiz better, but the hierarchy of the upper part’s branch isn’t ready yet, so we have to wait for some time…”
“…It must be fun to talk to each other while I starve, huh?”
Commented Kunon while staring at the others.
“Especially you, Karin. You look happier than usual whenever you talk with him.”
“Happier…? I don’t think so, though?”
“That’s a lie! You’re smiling!”
“Wh…?! I’m not smiling!”
Karin immediately started touching her cheeks to confirm it.
“See?! I’m not! I’m the same as ever!”
“Okay, stop you two. Karin, you just look relaxed, and it’s only normal that you smile every once in a while, isn’t it?”
“How many times must I repeat myself?!”
“Takumiii! Gimme food, pleeease!”
As the girls lost their focus completely, Takumi waved his hand and sighed.
“Fine. I have to hear Killfer’s report anyway, so let’s finish a little early today.”
Hearing the great news, Kunon’s eyes started to sparkle and her ears to twitch, and a broad grin formed on Karin’s face.
“I heard his report before coming here. He asked me to tell you that the Holy Text’s script was spread, and everyone received it.”
“Oh, that’s good to hear. Well, there’s no reason to go there, then.”
“Nooo! Karin, you big idiooot!”
“That’s what you get when you say weird stuff!”
Asserted the elf with her face flushed red and her lips bent in a childish grin.
The werebeast started to hit her lightly as her dreams shattered.
Meanwhile, Takumi started to tidy up the workplace, since it didn’t look like things were going to proceed any further. At that moment, someone knocked on the door and opened it.
“Takumi, do you have a minute?”
A girl entered the room, her platinum hair swaying in the air.
“Hey Mirta, what’s up? I was about to take a break.”
“You have a guest… Girls, what happened?”
She cocked her head, looking at a flushed Karin and a desperate Kunon on the verge of tears.
“Nothing, just a shyness stroke and polyphagia. So, someone wants to see me?”
It was a bit late for visits, since it was almost midnight, but another person entered the room. It was a girl with long, flame-red hair tied in a ponytail wearing a snow-white uniform.
Seeing her, Karin let out a surprised voice.
“Elsa? It’s strange for you to drop by this late at night.”
“Well, my shift just ended, that’s why I’m this late.”
“What, you came here at this hour to make sure that I’m not causing some trouble?”
“…Listen, even I wouldn’t be that brazen, okay?”
Currently, Suzuran and the guards of the slums were collaborating.
Although they were an illegal company before, now they were one of the major companies selected by the Holy Kingdom of Richtert itself to manage the public affairs, and their current headquarter resided in an office with a surreal quantity of paperwork.
That’s why they didn’t only keep in touch with each other, but a strong guard was put in charge of defending them.
Before, the guards avoided dropping by as much as possible, but now they brazenly walked in and out.
“So you came here because there’s something urgent you need?”
“No, nothing urgent… wait, what happened to that wolf-girl.”
“Sob… Captaaain…! Gimme some food pleeease…!”
Kunon was walking unsteadily toward her new hope with a strange expression plastered on her face.
“Oh, are you hungry? That’s good. I was wondering if it was too late… They gave me a lot of extras at the bar, so…”
She offered Kunon a paper bag, and the next moment, strength returned in her petite body. The werebeast’s eyes started to sparkle, and she hugged the guard tightly.
“Yaaay! Captain you are… a goddess!”
“Woah, calm down! Here, eat this! Get off… Don’t drool! You’re gonna stain my uniform! Get off me! Slave merchant, stop watching and help me!”
Screamed Elsa trying to push Kunon away.
The three witnesses nodded with sympathy.
“How peaceful, is it not?”
“Stop looking so calm and help me!”
Kunon finally reached for her food and checked the paper bag while Elsa sat on a nearby chair.
“Jeez… today I’m not here as a patrol, but as a messenger. Brother Lux asked me to.”
Takumi wore a dubious expression, and then she took out a letter from her breast pocket.
“A royal buffet will be held three days from now to celebrate your promotion. The royal family, three overlords, four major companies, and all the influential nobles who have the right to speak will be present… there will be quite a lot of people.”
“I see. You came to warn us.”
“Your invitation was written by Her Majesty the Queen herself. Actually, it should have been held in the near future, but a certain major company has been redesigned earlier than expected.”
She kept talking after making Kunon sit on her lap.
“Rather than a party, they want to remind you of your position. National politics are discussed in congresses, but since in this case we’re talking about a formal gathering, it will be hard to grasp other people’s attitude. This buffet serves as a mean to share intel and exchange ideas.”
“Oh, thanks for explaining. I don’t have much information regarding the upper part of Listina, so accepting this invitation might actually help me gather some.”
Takumi smiled happily, and the guard looked at him with dubious eyes.
“…Don’t try to do anything funny, okay? If you do something, the Fairstadt family, meaning me and Lux who recommended you, will get in trouble. Understood?”
“Why would I do something funny?”
“Because you always do?! Ugh, my stomach…”
She started to pat her stomach with an uneasy expression on her face.
That happened whenever she tried to deal with Takumi.
“Mirta… I’m counting on you. Keep him at bay.”
“Eh? Am I also invited?”
“Of course. It’s only natural that a major company’s leader would be invited, no? Also, you know how to behave and have the proper manners to participate, don’t you?”
“I-I indeed learned a lot from the time we practiced etiquette together at your residence, but…”
She didn’t only think too much over things, but imagining to participate at a gathering where the royal family and the three overlords would be present made her so nervous that her gaze started to wander aimlessly through the room.
“Mirta, it would be good to be a bit more confident, you know?”
“I-I already am!”
Seeing her sticking her chest out, Takumi nodded satisfied.
“That’s it. No matter the place or the opponent, just keep looking good. Prepare to look down on the three overlords, the royal family and even the gods if necessary.”
“W-What was that…? Why can I picture you doing it so easily?”
“Because I’d do that even if a goddess went against me.”
“Listen… if someone hears you saying that, it wouldn’t be strange for the inquisition to drag you away, you know? People worship the Goddess Filia here, don’t forget it.”
Rebuked a disgusted Elsa, but since he already treated the Goddess of Reincarnation with insolence, he was only stating the truth.
“Anyway, just take care of your look. Also, she is more or less the sister of one of the overlords. If you feel uneasy, practice in front of her.”
“I am a proper sister, if anything! But he has a point, Mirta. If you need me, I’ll help you.”
“I should think of Elsa as an enemy…? Err… L-Like, is this okay?”
Suzuran’s leader adjusted her expression and stuck her chest out looking straight at her friend, who looked back at her in satisfaction… then stiffened her face.
“How to say it… You really grew…”
“Haha… To think that we had them alike once…”
“Where are you looking at?! Where on earth are you looking at, Elsa?!”
Mirta started to hit her while blushing, and the guard quivered under her friend’s assault while looking in front of her absent-mindedly. They were like sisters, so mixed feelings were probably raging within her right now.
“Well, not like you’re any bad either. C’mon, stick ’em out!”
“Hahaha… Takumi, you really need some lessons to understand how to deal with women’s delicate matters.”
“Isn’t it a bit too late to say that?”
“I should be the one to say that!”
Then, Karin raised her hand lightly.
“Thinking about it, Elsa, can I and Kunon also come at the buffet?”
“Mh? Yes, no problem. Guards and chaperones’ attendants are also invited… how curious, though. I thought you hated those kinds of things.”
“Well, I do hate nobles, but my Master said he’d go, so I can’t not join him, don’t you think?”
“…Right. It will be reassuring to have my great secretary with me.”
The elf glimpsed at him, who nodded back at her quietly.
They finally had the chance to gather information, and Karin had the most useful ability for the occasion. She could read people’s mind by looking into their eyes, which meant that they could skip a lot of steps to obtain what they wanted.
Elsa didn’t know about that, so she nodded without much suspicion.
“Anyway, feel free to come and bring Kunon too. Come to the Fairstadt residence on the appointed day, and I’ll bring you there myself.”
As she tried to stand up, she suddenly stopped.
“…Hey, wolf-girl. Get off. I have to go.”
“Nnnh… T’z monnin’~?”
Kunon had fallen asleep while the others were talking and was now mumbling something incomprehensible.
Elsa enjoyed that scene before starting to slap her on her cheeks.
“C’mon, wake up. Sleeping right after eating is not good for your health.”
“Not sleepin’ here… My food’s still there…”
When her face started to get rubbed, she started to squirm restlessly.
“Ehehe… Pudding for dessert…”
“Hey, don’t touch me there! No, stop drooling! Please, stop, for Filia’s sake! If you drench my coat it will be freezing cold outside! Nooo!”
Elsa tried to rip her off her lap, but looking at her innocent, sleeping face made her hesitate for an instant, and… the next moment, her coat was completely smeared with drool.
Everyone could see Elsa’s deep grief while she walked down the road in the chilly night with her coat in hand.