Lumian understood Franca’s concerns and smiled.
“First, consult with your Major Arcana card holder about the possibility of establishing contact with the Demoness Sect. Remember, you originally were a man, so there’s no need to fret about being eliminated. As long as you can pass their background checks, you can tap into their resources to enhance yourself. And when pretending isn’t an option anymore, have your Major Arcana card holder assign you a mission to steer clear of Trier and make a swift getaway.
“Think about it. You’re already at Sequence 6. Most of the top-tier resources are within the Demoness Sect’s grasp. Infiltrating their ranks and acquiring these resources from within is a much simpler and safer route compared to making enemies and taking risks to hunt them. Of course, this hinges on your Major Arcana card holder providing a way to elude the watchful eye of the Primordial Demoness.”
Franca was taken aback and mumbled, “How do you sound so experienced…”
Lumian scoffed. “Are you amnesiac? I’m doing something similar right now. I’m infiltrating the Iron and Blood Cross Order on behalf of the Tarot Club.
“What’s the major perk? Once I complete the Iron and Blood Cross Order’s mission, I can claim rewards from Gardner Martin and report back to my Major Arcana card holder. I can use the pretext of my spying progress to secure rewards from her—two rewards with one mission. Otherwise, why do you think the number of mystical items on me have increased so rapidly?”
Of course, he didn’t need to mention Mr. K’s contributions to Franca.
“Two rewards with one mission…” Franca repeated it a few times before a realization dawned on her. “I’ve been cooperating with you on missions related to the Iron and Blood Cross Order. Will this clash with contact with the Demoness Sect?”
Lumian’s expression said: “As expected, you’re still inexperienced.”
“There’s no clash; why would there be? Simply convey to the Demoness Sect your desire to transition to the Hunter pathway at Sequence 4 and revert to your original gender. That’s your motivation for pursuing leads on the Iron and Blood Cross Order. You’ve already left enough clues and made substantial progress.
“From what you’ve described, those Demonesses went from being men to women. I refuse to believe they haven’t considered leveraging the pathway switch to regain what they’ve lost. That reason should be enough to convince them.
“Moreover, Demonesses and Hunters belong to neighboring pathways. They surely have ulterior motives concerning the Iron and Blood Cross Order. Given your opportunity to infiltrate them, they’re more likely to embrace you than hinder you. In fact, they might even value your presence.
“Most importantly, if things go as planned, you could become the Demoness Sect’s liaison responsible for matters related to the market district and the Iron and Blood Cross Order. If you want the higher-ups among the Demonesses to be aware of what’s transpiring here, they’ll be informed. If you prefer keeping it under wraps, they’ll remain oblivious. For instance, Jenna being a female Assassin.”
At this point, Lumian smiled.
“You can also exploit the Demoness Sect to nurture Jenna. When the high-ranking Demonesses discover that a powerful pure female Demoness is paid for by their own sect, won’t they lose control on the spot?”
It was an intriguing thought. It could be described as extreme provocation and mockery.
Franca nodded indiscernibly.
“Kid, if you had taken the Instigator potion, you might have fully digested it within a week.”
“I’m just kindling a specific fire within you.” Lumian leaned back on the sofa.
Franca couldn’t help but scoff in a half-mocking, half-teasing tone.
“If I were to genuinely join the Demoness Sect, and you reach the Sequence 5 qualitative transformation without obtaining a Sequence 4 potion formula and the corresponding main ingredient from the Iron and Blood Cross Order, would you consider becoming a Demoness?”
“…” Franca was taken aback. “Are you sure you won’t find it mentally burdensome?”
Lumian borrowed a phrase from his sister’s vocabulary.
“I’ll do whatever it takes.” He then added, “I’ll stop at nothing to achieve my goal.
“Besides, can’t we just switch back when we reach Sequence 3?”
“You can’t just switch at will. Most Beyonders never advance beyond Sequence 4 in their lifetime, let alone Sequence 3. As they ascend, it becomes increasingly difficult. Whether it’s the risk of losing control or obtaining the necessary resources, the challenges remain the same,” she cautioned.
Lumian let out a chuckle.
“Anyway, it’s all just a fantasy at this point, isn’t it? To confirm if it’s feasible at all.”
Franca was left momentarily speechless and then inquired, “You mentioned two directions. What’s the other one?”
“The other option is to track down the Demoness of the Demoness Sect and extract detailed information about the female orgies from her. Subsequently, focus on identifying potential members of the Bliss Society among the participants. As soon as you can, pinpoint the core members with close ties to Susanna Mattise and eliminate any hidden threats,” Lumian explained the alternative plan concisely.
“While it’s a viable plan, if the Bliss Society members aren’t directly involved in the female orgies and are merely associating with certain individuals, targeting the Demoness alone might not provide the information we need. Additionally, it’s bound to draw the attention of high-ranking members of the Demoness Sect, leaving little room for further investigation. I’ll start by reaching out to my Major Arcana card holder and inquire if she has any reservations about my contact with the Demoness Sect.” Franca analyzed after some thought. 𝒻𝑟ℯℯ𝑤ℯ𝒷𝘯ℴ𝓋ℯ𝑙.𝒸ℴ𝓂
She was clearly tempted by Lumian’s suggestion.
Lumian acknowledged her analysis without rushing her. After all, she wouldn’t return to Trocadéro’s Red House café for another two or three days, with an invitation to Count Poufer’s salon preceding that event.
Three days after scouting the surroundings of Red Swan Castle and informing Madam Magician and Mr. K of the invitation, Lumian arrived at the beige castle in a four-wheeled four-seater provided by Gardner Martin.
He chose not to dress too formally for the occasion. No tailcoat, top hat, or cane that stereotypically marked a gentleman.
Instead, he wore a light-brown hunting suit, off-white breeches, and brown boots. In his hand, he held a Loen-style deerstalker hat, allowing his golden-black hair to catch the wind.
Lumian was aware, through Aurore’s gossip, that appearing overly grandiose in a literary and artistic salon like this would make him appear out of place among the other participants, possibly even a laughingstock.
Of course, this outfit had been funded by Gardner Martin’s recent contribution of 10,000 verl d’or, costing Lumian a total of 1,000 verl d’or.
Holding the invitation letter, Lumian underwent the guard’s scrutiny and passed through the imposing several-meter-tall door.
In this area, there was a hall, but it was relatively modest. It served as a waiting area for the butlers, valets, maids, and guards accompanying the guests during a grand banquet.
Lumian scanned his surroundings and confirmed that this wasn’t the hall from his unsettling nightmare.
Beyond the hall was the atrium, and on the opposite side stood Red Swan Castle’s main edifice.
It rose six to seven stories high and was encircled by a ring of towers.
In his nightmare, a man with dark-red hair had gouged out his own brownish-red eyes from behind that very window.
Now, however, there was nothing behind the clear glass window but a slightly mottled light-colored wall.
Mottled… Shouldn’t the rooms’ walls have been repainted? Aurore had mentioned that the annual maintenance cost for such an ancient castle is astronomical… Lumian shifted his gaze away and proceeded to enter the main building.
The moment he crossed the threshold, his eyes narrowed, and his heart sank.
This hall was an exact replica of the one in his nightmare!
From the crystal chandelier hanging high above to the spiral golden staircase leading to the second floor, everything mirrored his dream with eerie precision.
Though Lumian had expected this, encountering it in reality stirred up complex emotions within him.
The male servants in the hall, adorned in their vibrant red uniforms with golden trimmings, stood in two neat rows to welcome Lumian’s arrival.
Lumian’s eyelids twitched, finding the vividness of the red to resemble flowing blood.
The salon was situated in a spacious living room on the first floor, elegantly decorated with a thick, dark red carpet adorned with intricate patterns. A set of plush sofas graced one side of the room, and bar stools and armchairs were scattered around them.
On the opposite end of the living room, a tall young woman sat at a brown piano. She wore a simple yet pristine sky-blue-patterned white corset dress, and her auburn hair cascaded gracefully down her back.
As Lumian entered the living room, the girl’s fingers danced gracefully across the piano keys, conjuring a sprightly melody.
Count Poufer occupied an armchair, engaged in conversation with an elegant lady with black hair, blue eyes, and an air of refinement as she leaned against the armrest in a crouched position, chuckling merrily.
Novelist Anori, Painter Mullen, critic Ernst Young, and Poet Iraeta, each accompanied by their female companions, were either gathered on the sofa, engaged in conversation, or lingering near the table adorned with desserts and roasted meats.
In addition to these well-known figures, other guests filled the room. Lumian scanned the crowd and spotted a familiar face.
It was Laurent, the inhabitant of Auberge du Coq Doré, rumored to have used Madame Lakazan’s hard-earned money to frequent upscale cafés and mingle with high society.
Laurent still donned the same pristine black tailcoat, and his neatly combed brownish-yellow hair followed a precise 30-70 cut. He stood out amidst the casually attired authors, painters, poets, and critics surrounding him.
He displayed no restraint in his interactions, his dark-brown eyes sparkling as he exchanged pleasantries with the gathered guests.
Within moments, Laurent locked eyes with Lumian, and his pupils dilated, as if he had encountered an evil spirit.
I-Is this not Ciel Dubois, the current owner of Auberge du Coq Doré and the infamous mob leader?
In an instant, fear coursed through Laurent’s veins.
He worried that Lumian might expose his true identity, jeopardizing the connections he had painstakingly cultivated.
He was on the verge of success!
Oh, you’re doing quite well. You’ve even received an invitation to such a salon… Lumian remarked with a smile, pointing to himself as if to suggest that they both belonged to a certain type and could feign ignorance of each other.
A sigh of relief escaped Laurent as Lumian approached Count Poufer.
With a hint of annoyance, he grumbled, “You didn’t inform me about bringing a female companion. You’re making me look like a fool!”
“Haha.” Count Poufer and the others chuckled, delighted that their prank had succeeded.
After the laughter subsided, Count Poufer gestured toward the girl at the piano.
“If you don’t mind, you can invite my cousin, Miss Elros.”