Normally, the darkness of the night would be softened by the glow of moonlight. However, the moon was hidden by clouds, unable to illuminate everything. Two people blended into such darkness as they waited in a corner of one of Exils back streets.
Even if someone had been nearby, the two people hid themselves well enough that they would probably have been mistaken for some sort of random item.
The two silent people suddenly heard the sound of soft footsteps.
The footsteps were so soft that they would have been easy to miss. However, it was more than enough for the two people who had been as silent as statues.
The two of them opened their eyes as they looked at the third person who had showed up.
「Did I keep you waiting?」
「No, it’s no problem. It’s better for us to wait than for us to keep you waiting.」
One of the men replied while the other nodded in agreement.
The newcomer gave a small nod before speaking.
「So, I heard you got some results from the experiments?」
「Yes. It looks like an adventurer party ran into it. There’s also additional information, it looks like the missing Sword Bee mutant was killed.」
「……I see. However, the Sword Bee mutant should have gone missing on one of the floors close to the surface? It shouldn’t have been at the level where it could be killed by beginners. ……If it could, it wouldn’t be called a mutant.」
The duo nodded at the man’s suspicious response.
「Sure, if they were ordinary beginners, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Beginners often go missing in the dungeon. ……However, it was no ordinary adventurer which killed the mutant this time. It was part led by someone known as Crimson.」
「……Crimson, the one famous from the spring war? I heard he has a Griffon with him.」
「Yes. That Crimson. There was also the General Princess, Elena Kerebel, the Mad Beast, Vihera, and the bereaved child of the Fraut family, Byune Fraut. The party of four were the ones who reported the mutant Sword Bee and Stone Golem.」
The man gave a sigh at the report.
「I never thought that we’d run into such well known names, out of all people. Just to confirm, only two mutants have been taken out?」
「No, it seems several more were killed by other parties.」
「……Is data available?」
「Yes, there are no issues in that regard.」
「Then there’s no problem. It is not time for us to show ourselves yet. We’ll leave that to our supporters.」
Supporters. That word indicated that there was someone in a stronger position than them helping them. However, the man’s words held nothing but ridicule.
However, it seemed that the two men who had been waiting here were of the same mind. They didn’t mind the newcomer’s ridicule as they continued conversing.
「Then, with regards to the mutants, is it fine to proceed as is?」
「Do it, but be careful not to reveal ourselves.」
「Understood, we’ll be more careful than ever. Fortunately, there is no shortage of people who are willing to take front stage, and even if they don’t want to, there are always others who will.」
「Still. I don’t know why this is happening, but if we have to continue dealing with monsters like Crimson, our losses will only increase.」
A bitter voice echoed out. It was clear that it was his true thoughts. The two other men seemed to agree as they both nodded.
「……Well, just in case. If you ever think that you are about to be found out by either Crimson or the General Princess, withdraw from Exil immediately. I know I’ve said this over and over again, but we have to keep ourselves hidden.」
The two men responded as one while the third man nodded in satisfaction before looking up at the night sky.
The moon was hidden by clouds, blocking the moonlight from the sky.
「……Exil really is hot and inhospitable. It really is hard to live in such a hot and humid city.」
「That’s right. It only feels like it’s getting hotter as well, especially with so many people.」
One of the duo muttered while the other nodded in agreement.
Watching the two of them, the third man came to the conclusion that the heat and humidity wouldn’t change even if he stayed here to talk. He let out a sigh before turning around.
「Then, this is where we are up to……keep a close watch on them. We don’t need to go too deep, but if they start moving as well, there will probably be a commotion.」
Those words of acknowledgement echoed through the dark night. ……The next moment, no one was left, only the hot humid air peculiar to tropical nights remained.
Labyrinth City Exil. No one but them knew of the plot that was going on.
After finishing their report at the guild and buying maps up until the 10th floor, Rei and Elena split with Vihera and Byune and eventually found themselves at their inn’s dining area.
As it was a summer night, many guests were drinking beer and wine to get rid of the heat. However, around the table where Rei and Elena were sitting, there was a tense atmosphere.
On the table was a hearty soup filled with meat and vegetables and roasted Orc meat with a crispy outer layer sealing the juices inside. There was a salad, fresh with seasoning made with only salt and citrus juices, and steamed fish, a rarity in this world, served with a rich nutty sauce. There was also fluffy white bread with cheese close by.
For Rei, it was truly a luxurious meal and it should have been more than enough to enjoy while conversing with Elena.
However, there was only silence at the table as Elena silently brought food to her mouth.
Although it was such a casual action, it still showed her upbringing. From Rei’s perspective, she gave off a somewhat elegant impression.
(Come to think of it, Vihera’s casual actions also seemed quite sophisticated. Could she also be a young lady with a good upbringing?)
Rei thought to himself as he stabbed his fork into some Orc meat and brought it to his mouth.
「……Are you thinking of something strange?」
As she carved up the steamed fish with a fork and knife, Elena turned a keen eye towards Rei.
Rei wondered for a moment if she had caught him thinking about Vihera. However, he managed to avoid his thoughts appearing on his face as he swallowed the meat his mouth before responding.
「No, I’m not thinking about anything strange. It’s just that we’ve been through a lot today.」
His comment was made on the spur of the moment, but he ended up stepping into a complete minefield.
Elena’s movements stopped as she turned to look at Rei again.
「Oh, hard was it? That’s probably true. You didn’t expect to run into the person you kissed yesterday so soon.」
It probably wasn’t Rei’s imagination that he felt the temperature drop several degrees at those words.
While everyone else around them was making a lot of noise as they tried to blow away the summer heat, the area around the table where Rei and Elena were sitting felt as cold as winter.
It was to the point where other guests sitting near Rei and Elena asked a waiter if they could move somewhere else.
Even though their table become completely isolated from their surroundings, Elena elegantly swalled a piece of steamed fish before sipping from her wine glass.
Rei watched for a bit before eventually sighing and speaking up.
「Yes, I was kissed by Vihera, but you know that it’s not because she likes me, right?」
「Is that so? In fact, Vihera has publicly stated that she would give herself to anyone who could fight her and beat her. Vihera is definitely interested in you, Rei. I think this is an undeniable fact, don’t you?」
While placing the fault on Rei, her long time habits continued to show through. She swallowed a spoonful of soup without making any noise.
She had an expression of admiration on her face, due to the flavour of the ingredients penetrating into the soup, creating an intricate taste that tangled itself inside her mouth.
Even in her argument with Rei, the taste of the soup involuntarily piqued her interest of the cooking of the chef who was entrusted with the kitchen of the finest inn in Exil.
Regardless of whether he knew what Elena was thinking about, Rei washed down some cheese and bread with cold juice before speaking.
「Sure, if you’re asking if Vihera views me favourably or maliciously, she definitely views me favourably.」
Elena, who had impressed by the soup, had her fingers start to twitch at Rei’s words.
But, as if to interrupt Elena’s attempt to say anything, Rei continued.
「However, it isn’t romantic favour. Definitely not. There is no love in the way she looks at me. There’s just fighting spirit and the urge for combat.」
Elena had no words to deny that. After all, Vihera had looked at her with similar eyes.
Food, sleep, and sex. Elena felt a similar primal desire from Vihera, the desire to fight.
「But, isn’t it still true that Vihera said she would entrust herself to the one who could beat her? Didn’t you hear that yourself?」
「That’s true. But, isn’t that because she’s confident that she wouldn’t lose? In fact, her combat strength is quite higher. At the very least, to the point that she can fight me with her bare hands.」
At Rei’s words, Elena recalled Vihera’s fight in the dungeon.
It was true that she had killed a Stone Golem that a D rank party had struggled to even chip. Elena couldn’t help but admit that Rei’s argument was reasonable as she had seen it with her own eyes.
However, there were still some questions that needed to be asked.
「I see, there’s a certain logic to your words that I can understand. ……Then, let me ask again. What were your first thoughts when you heard Vihera say that she would entrust herself to someone who could defeat her in combat? What were they?」
As expected, Rei was unable to immediately deny it as his words got stuck in his throat.
It was a fact that Vihera was one of the three most beautiful women he had ever seen. Of course, if he were to ask himself if he had not been moved at all by Vihera’s invitation, he would have to say no.
「I knew it.」
Seeing Rei like that, Elena gave a sigh.
「Don’t worry. I’m not angry at you for it.」
Rei asked back at Elena’s unexpected words.
To Rei, Elena appeared to be angry because of his interactions with Vihera. With such a high probability that she was angry, it seemed strange that she would tell him she wasn’t angry.
「Although I am like this, I’m still a duke’s daughter. My father, as the head of the Kerebel family, also has a second and third wife aside from my mother. ……Unfortunately, I am the only child.」
After hearing what Elena said, Rei understood.
As a noble, one need to have a certain number of children to succeed the family. At least, with Elena alone, if something went wrong, there would no longer be any heirs to a Duke’s family, one of a few in the Mireana Kingdom.
(However, of course, if there are many children, there could still be a fight for succession, so having more children isn’t necessarily better.)
Her words meant that Elena acknowledged she wasn’t blaming Rei for his relationship with Vihera.
(She still gave off an angry atmosphere at any rate though.)
It seemed to be some sort of front put up by Elena. Or perhaps she simply wanted to silently express the fact that her personality didn’t match well with that of Vihera’s.
The cold atmosphere around Rei and Elena’s table dispersed as the hot tropical summer night heat returned.
「And……I just don’t want Rei to pay attention to other women.」
In some ways, it was fortunate for Elena that Rei didn’t catch her words as she mumbled to herself.
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