< Evade the Hero and Flee! Side Stories – A certain imperial princess’s reminiscence (20) >
“Will this be really fine, Your Highness?”
It’s been three days since Ast was dispatched as a member of the empire’s investigation team. Reia asked me that question with a worried expression on her face.
“You don’t trust Ast?”
Of course, I already knew what Reia meant.
Was it really correct to send Ast as an investigator? That was the first thing Reia worried about after finally overcoming her mental trauma.
“Yes, I don’t trust him.”
Her reply was as swift as it could get.
I became speechless for a moment there at that very un-Reia-like reply.
“Ast is quite capable, you know! Surely, he can’t fail at the task of bringing the remains back home, no?”
The job of preserving the remains belonged to the magicians accompanying him. And it was the job of the Foreign Affairs to return the remains to their respective families.
Ast’s role, then, was as simple as being there as the remains were transferred from the Peleros Kingdom to our empire.
No matter how incompetent you were, something that simple should be doable, no? Not to forget, Ast was highly evaluated within the empire for his abilities, so there’s no way he’d mess up a task that simple.
I mean, if you were that moronic to fail that task, then I’d never grant you a peerage no matter how amusing you were to me.
Ast was my exclusive butler because of how special he was compared to other people. But I granted him peerage as a reward for his abilities.
I had nothing to hide. I did not grant Ast the honorary knight position or the peerage of Baron out of my selfishness or personal interest. Indeed, those were simply the reward for everything he had managed to achieve.
That’s why I got slightly mad. “Reia, aren’t you underestimating Ast a bit too much?”
Evaluating him poorly also meant my own discernment was being questioned. I did evaluate him highly, after all.
And that poor evaluation wasn’t coming from some stranger but someone I spent most of my life with, Reia. That did hurt me just a little.
Even then, Reia remained resolute while looking back at me, her expression hinting that I was totally wrong about this.
“We’re talking about Sir Ast, Your Highness.”
“I… uh, already know?”
For some reason, I thought I could begin to grasp what Reia wanted to say to me.
“No, wait, you… Reia, you can’t be thinking of… No, it can’t be?”
No, there’s simply no way…
Logically speaking, there’s no way that Ast would do that in a foreign country…!
“Your Highness, do you really think that won’t happen?”
Reia’s eyes looking at me were firm and unwavering, but my own eyes didn’t want to stop trembling.
“Can you be certain about this, Your Highness? Certain that Sir Ast… won’t cause an incident in another kingdom?”
I had no choice but to admit defeat at what Reia said. She had been by my side for over half of my life, but this would be my first time losing to her in a verbal exchange.
“You’re right. Ast… I actually sent Ast over there!”
It was as Reia said. We were talking about none other than Ast. The one and only Ast!
That guy dared to act so flippantly towards me, an Imperial Princess, within the halls of the imperial court, so… What kind of trouble would he stir in someone else’s kingdom?!
Did the shocking news of Reia’s lover dying also affect my decision making? Without that explanation, how could I have made such an error in my judgement?!
“It’s too late now, right? Reia?”
“Unfortunately, yes. Even if they were to use the land route, the team must’ve arrived in the Peleros Kingdom’s territory by now, Your Highness.”
Never before in my life have I resented our beautifully-constructed public roads, one of the jewels of our empire, so badly like today.
Seriously, though! What kind of trouble would Ast get himself into? My heart began pounding just thinking about it.
“Even so… He won’t cause something too grievous, I hope?”
“Your Highness, Sir Ast might use his discretion to… hold himself back, probably?”
Reia’s sentence started off as one thing, only for it to end as a question. And I couldn’t come up with a suitable reply to her.
Around three days after that conversation…
“Sir Ast, you…”
Thanks to Ast, the empire ended up joining the central region’s war.
#28 Their circumstance: A certain villain’s circumstance
“Is it here?”
“Thank you for your hard work.”
The other members of the investigation team abandoned me, leaving the soldiers of the Peleros Kingdom to escort me to my destination. So, I naturally expressed my gratitude.
“N-no, it’s nothing at all, sir.”
Judging from how they bowed slightly and retreated smartly, they seemed to be well trained in etiquette, but uh… Why did it feel like they wanted to distance themselves from me as soon as possible?
It must be my imagination, though. Must be.
“We shall be on our way now, sir.”
They couldn’t have read my mind, yet the soldiers escorting me didn’t even wait for my reply and quickly disappeared from my sight.
“Well, then. Will you come with me, sir?”
Once the soldiers disappeared, it was the turn of a civil servant-like character equipped with a pair of glasses to show up next. It seemed that he was waiting for my arrival.
I nodded and followed after him, all the while getting this odd feeling.
Did the people of this kingdom hear all the bad rumours about me or something? Why were they treating me so oddly like this?
This glasses guy was supposed to show me the way, which was fine, but he always maintained the space of three steps ahead. Not only that, but he also avoided meeting my eyes and cut me off whenever I tried to talk to him.
It was as if someone had ordered him not to engage me or approach me if at all possible.
Man… if you openly ignore me like this, I can’t even blame my imagination anymore, you know!
“Wait, could it be…?”
Was it the Imperial Princess? Could it be that she spread baseless rumours about me this far, too?!
“…Eii, that can’t be.”
I was muttering to myself, but Mister Civil Servant must’ve heard my mumbling. He was looking at my way with an expression asking, ‘Did something happen?’
Even then, he still avoided meeting my eyes.
Why are you looking at my torso and not my face? Are you lusting after my body or something?!
“Ah, no. It’s nothing.”
However, I was in another country.
There was no need to deal with people from another country if they were actively trying to avoid me. It didn’t matter what these people thought about me, after all.
Actually, I’d be happier if they sent a bucket load of complaints regarding my behaviour back to the empire.
“We’ve arrived, sir.”
“Sir Ast, you’re here.”
I continued to follow after Mister Civil Servant, eventually joining up with several sorcerers that came with me from the empire.
I asked them. “What happened to the remains?”
“We were on standby until the representative of the team is on-site, sir. And that’s you, Sir Ast.”
Tsk! All these civil servants have a similar mindset regardless of who they worked for, don’t they!
They needed to handle the remains first so that I might get a chance to dump the blame on them if something does go wrong later on. Too bad for me, though, it seemed that I’d be the first one to come in contact with the corpses.
“Well, that’s the procedure, so…”
Still, my job was a relatively simple one, so nothing should go wrong here…
“…Aaaand that’s why I lightheartedly checked the corpses, so why the freak did this thing come out from there?!”
This had to be a trap. A mutual trap… No, it’s the Imperial Princess’s trap!
That damn kid must’ve prepared a huge-scale hidden camera prank to screw me over! I’m sure about this now!
“Sir Ast, isn’t this…?”
“Yes. It’s the emblem of the Merdeia Kingdom.”
I was checking the status of the dude from the Foreign Affairs, the one I crossed swords with for Dame Reia’s hands in marriage. Was his name ‘Pyukhes’ or ‘Pukes’ or something? Anyways, I was planning to do a simple inspection, but then he was clenching his right fist so much that even a blind would’ve noticed it.
I had a gut feeling about that, so I was trying to gloss over it, but…
Humans were animals of curiosity, so when stuff like this presented itself, we simply had to confirm. So, one of the sorcerers unfurled the clenched fist, and then…
“Why the hell were you holding this in the first place…?”
That fist was clenching a small token engraved with the distinctive insignia of the Merdeia Kingdom.
“Sir Ast, c-could this be…?”
“Well, it doesn’t seem planted, so your guess is probably right.”
My teeth began gritting all by themselves.
You stupid bastards! I thought that something seemed a bit amateurish from the very start, but to think that they even stupidly dropped a token of theirs like this!
“S-sir, there’s a chance that this is a trap.”
“Indeed, but then… Magic wasn’t used here, and do you think it’s possible to insert an object like that inside a hand frozen stiff due to postmortem rigidity?”
It looked like the victim clenched that token tightly in his hand moments before his death, at least to my eyes.
“Isn’t it possible that the assassins deliberately dropped it, Sir Ast?”
“Yes, it’s possible.”
My organisation relied on that trick often, after all.
Leave behind a token from someone else and make two different parties fight each other, then while they are too busy to notice, hit them on the backs of their heads! Now that was the method villains relied on quite often.
“I don’t think that’s the case this time.”
“Do you have a basis for that theory, Sir Ast?”
“Just my intuition.”
“Your… intuition, sir?”
“Yes. My intuition.”
Far too many amateurish slip-ups have been made so far to say that a professional had arranged this scene. As an agent of the evil organisation, I’ve earned a fair bit of experience in this field, so I could tell that this scheme was just too poorly-arranged.
Sure, there should be many folks in my line of work capable of even fooling me. And if they were truly meticulous with their planning, then this sloppiness could very well be a part of their overall scheme, too.
However, could they have predicted that I would be the one to come here? And would the evil organisations of other kingdoms have access to the information about how I was still an agent of an evil organisation as well as a spy of the empire?
Very, very unlikely.
My organisation, Howling, was one of the biggest within the entire continent. No way it’d leak out crucial information that easily.
“But Sir, to say it’s your intuition? Don’t you agree that’s not enough to go on?”
“It’s possible to confirm the truth by tossing a bait into the wild, though.”
“A bait… you say?”
Since they were such amateurs, I figured that even an amateurish bait should be enough to catch them.
“Well, then. Should we confirm the level of our opponents, then?”
“How, Sir Ast?”
What do you mean, how?
“Go and summon everyone among the investigation team who are also heavy drinkers.”
Openly provoke them, of course.
#29 Their circumstance: A certain pub’s circumstance
Inside a certain pub located in the Peleros Kingdom…
A man slammed his fist down on a table while angrily yelling out.
“Man, so bloody annoying!”
“I don’t wanna work anymore!”
“That’s right! I just wanna keep drinking!”
This group resembled your local hoodlums from how they raised so much ruckus while demanding more booze. However, no one inside the pub dared to stop them.
“Eiii, what’s wrong with this booze? Why does it taste so bad…?”
“I knew it, the empire’s liquor is the best.”
“Eii! You fools, it’s the correct etiquette to drink the local booze when you travel somewhere.”
These men didn’t even bother to hide their identities. The symbol of the Karuan Empire, the silver dragon, was clearly etched on their clothes.
“Why are those empire jerks drinking booze in this place?”
“From what I heard, the leaders of their team got an invite to the royal court, but servants and the like didn’t.”
“Even so, why would they be in a cheap pub like this? The annual salary for an empire’s servant must be pretty good, no…?”
“Is it like, it’s not worth it to spend your money in another kingdom?”
The pub was so shabby that the kingdom’s knights entering it would’ve been very eye-catching. Yet the agents from the empire were here, so the patrons couldn’t help but focus their attention on them.
Some people were genuinely curious about what the empire’s agents would be like in real life since they heard so many stories about them. But most of them were here, waiting with bated breaths, hoping for some… ‘interesting’ topic to pop out of the empire’s envoys after the liquor has done its magic.
Alcohol was capable of paralysing a person’s rationale. And to those with non-functioning reasoning, there was no such thing as secrets.
And so… what would a group of totally-drunk empire’s citizens say now?
And as if to answer their expectations, one of the empire’s agents loudly yelled and cursed. “Those damn Merdeia punks! They dare to sneak attack and murder not some random nobody but our diplomats!”
The pub fell into eerie silence at that very moment. A huge bombshell had dropped right at the beginning!
“Sh*t! Those damn Merdeia lowlives. We’re the ones having a hard time because of them!”
“To think that they were stupid enough to leave behind all those evidence. Just how stupid can they be?!”
“Are the Merdeia Kingdom really deserving of the moniker, a military superpower? I mean, aren’t their assassins just too amateurish?”
The other patrons of the pub could hardly believe their ears.
Everyone here was well aware of the reason for the empire’s visit to the Peleros Kingdom.
The murder of all the envoys from the empire at the central kingdoms… And the investigation team seemed to be suspecting the Merdeia Kingdom as the culprit.
“I guess the imperial court will lodge a strongly worded complaint to the Merdeia Kingdom, right? That much evidence is basically slam-dunk, after all.”
“Yeah, most likely. To think that the Merdeia Kingdom would commit such a stupid mistake.”
“The evidence is just too undeniable, though. Compared to what we found, that Merdeia Kingdom token we found coincidentally is nothing at all.”
As the number of empty bottles increased, so did the decibel of the curses directed at the Merdeia Kingdom. On the other hand, the number of patrons in the pub steadily decreased.
“I guess this should be enough?”
“In that case, let’s finally enjoy ourselves, yeah?”
After confirming that all the other patrons had left the pub, the empire’s agents sighed in relief and ordered the real booze. And as they began to get drunk for real…
The ‘information’ regarding this incident was already on its way to every corner of the Peleros Kingdom.