One thing I forgot to mention: I'll be working on a pdf of this volume. Please look forward to it!
Chapter 2: The Chortling Chatter of the Visitors
Lotto Valentino, Harbor Marketplace.
Just as Elmer set off with Sylvie in tow, an incident was about to occur in the harbor.
A loud noise shook the air.
Something resembling the sound of falling stones rocked the afternoon marketplace.
Though the passersby and merchants turned towards the sound, which had caught them off guard, those who had already been looking at its source screamed softly and turned their backs upon the scene.
The source of the noise was a man.
A knight in heavy metal armor had smashed into a storage shelf like a falcon in flight.
The wooden shelf collapsed with a crash, leaving destruction in its wake.
Naturally, the armored man had not collided with the shelf of his own will. He had been thrown into it by someone else.
The one responsible for tossing a grown man decked out in full armor was standing in the middle of the marketplace in silence. He had brown skin, and was obviously alien to Lotto Valentino. He seemed to be in his mid-twenties to early thirties, but because all three men were foreigners, the locals could not pinpoint their exact ages.
Of course, the people elected to rush out of the area rather than pay the foreigners any more attention.
They were not necessarily scared of the man’s strength and actions. What worried the people was the fact that the knight’s armor was adorned with House Dormentaire’s crest.
The armored knights carrying swords, walking the streets in an age when musketeers were the norm, was a demonstration of sorts from House Dormentaire. The people of Lotto Valentino, well aware of this, did not try to approach the armored men for purposes other than business.
But the reason no one had fled the scene until they had caught a glimpse of the crest was that no one had expected to see someone picking a fight with one of House Dormentaire’s men.
But the foreigner had indeed provoked Dormentaire’s hired knight, going completely against the city’s sense of reason.
Almost no one made to remain at the scene, with most people too afraid to become involved.
The knight got to his feet and glared at the brown-skinned man.
“You bastard... Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?!” He spat in Spanish. The brown-skinned man tilted his head blankly.
Although there was clearly a language barrier between them, the knight continued undeterred.
“You’ve just as good as spat on the Dormentaire name! I don’t know what ship you’re crewing, but I’ll make sure even your master pays for this!” The knight cried in spite of the pain, as though trying to overwhelm the foreigner through fear.
Many more men gathered on the scene, drawn by his voice. They were all sorts of people, from armored knights to guards armed with pistols, but each and every one of them was wearing the hourglass symbol on their shoulders and collars.
“You don’t need to know what I’m saying at this point, eh?”
The injured knight smirked, sure of his superiority.
“Who the hell is this? What’s going on here?” One of his fellow knights asked. The injured knight glared at the brown-skinned man.
“How should I know anything? This insane bastard just kicked me!”
“What’re we doing, now?”
“Could he be one of the Mask Makers?”
The knights all tossed out comments of their own, but the offending foreigner did not answer.
But instead of trying to run, he was boldly standing as though in confrontation against the Dormentaire musketeers.
“You’re gonna have to come with us.”
One of the knights cautiously approached him and grabbed on to his arm. However--
‘He... he won’t even budge...’
The knight felt as though he had just taken hold of a deeply rooted tree. If he wanted to move this man, he would have to lift him clear off the ground.
“Don’t even think about resisting, you piece of scum!” One of the knights threatened anxiously, swinging his fist at the foreigner’s face.
But the foreigner parried the strike with a headbutt. The attacker found himself flying through the air and rolling across the ground.
At that very moment, the most lightly armored man of the group drew a stiletto and lunged at the foreigner.
The locals, watching from afar, were now certain of the foreigner’s death.
The lightly-armored man was a member of Carla’s personal guard, much more skilled than any of the knights. The people also knew that no one would raise a fuss over a Dormentaire associate murdering a mere sailor.
But contrary to their beliefs, the man narrowly avoided the stiletto.
As the blade passed by his throat, missing by a hair’s breadth, the foreigner finally allowed his emotions to show.
He muttered in a foreign language, and smiled.
The brown-skinned man instantly swiveled and attempted to strike the guardsman backhand, but the guardsman evaded the attack in the blink of an eye and exchanged glances with another guardsman on the scene.
The second guardsman drew his stiletto without a word, and leapt towards the brown-skinned man.
After avoiding the second blade, which had come from the opposite direction as the first, the mysterious man took the arm of one of the guardsmen. He twisted his body around and tossed the man aside with raw strength.
In that very direction stood the second guardsman.
But these men were on a different level altogether from the armored knights. The man on his feet easily avoided his friend, and the thrown man rolled to a stop and got to his feet without harm.
For a moment, they were at a stalemate.
The knights and musketeers at the scene looked around at one another, wondering what they should do. But as they stood around aimlessly, the fight resumed. The guardsmen and the foreigner rapidly closed the distance between one another.
But their fists and blades would never hit their marks.
Two interlopers interrupted the battle, parrying both sides’ attacks.
One was a black-haired man, likely of East Asian descent. He had caught hold of the guardsmen’s wrists in one hand each, stopping them before their stilettos could pierce his chest.
Meanwhile, the man who stopped the brown-skinned foreigner’s punch was a man of even darker skin, who had held back the fist with his entire body.
“...It seem to this one that you’ve failed to heed our advice, Master Nile.” The Asian man said, in slightly stilted English.
“Calm yourself. We are not here to commit murder.“ The dark-skinned newcomer added.
With a click of the tongue, the man called Nile replied in English.
“Though I see no necessity to these words, I say this. Do not get in my way.”
“This one must ask that you do the same for yourself, Master Nile.”
The Asian man let go of the guardsmen’s wrists and bowed his head.
“This one’s companion has done you a great disservice.”
Realizing that this newcomer would listen to reason, the guardsmen quietly sheathed their stilettos.
“Hah. How boring.” Nile complained, noting that the two guardsmen were no longer showing any signs of hostility. Although the guardsmen made no sign of having heard or otherwise, they remained silent.
And as though in their place, Nile’s first targets--the knights--raised an angry cry.
“What country are you coming from?! Don’t think you’ll get away with this!”
It sounded as though they were at least attempting to keep diplomacy in mind, questioning the foreigners as to their affiliations.
The Asian man, who was armed with a katana, frowned and spoke.
“A difficult question to answer, this one must say. This one is called Togo Denkuro, a man under the protection of no country in particular.”
Togo Denkuro was an alchemist studying under a master in western Europe.
Having been cast away in a sea to the distant east, he had been rescued by a merchant ship. And many twists of fate later, he had come to learn alchemy in Europe.
He had come to Lotto Valentino as his master’s messenger, in an attempt to get into contact with an alchemist named Dalton.
Last time, he had only been accompanied by Zank. But Nile, who had joined their company this time, was known to be a man possessed of a particularly wild temper. He had been outraged at a certain incident that had taken place in this city some time ago, but Denkuro had determined that Nile’s anger had subsided at the end of that incident. And so he brought the man along with them. However--
The result of his judgement was the commotion that had broken out in the harbor immediately upon their arrival.
He was ashamed for having taken his eyes off Nile for even a single moment, but Denkuro did not place undue blame on him.
Violent a man as Nile was, he was not one to lash out unprovoked.
After introducing himself, Denkuro quietly surveyed the situation and continued.
“Would you care to explain what has happened here, Master Nile?”
Instead of shrinking back, Nile scowled at the Dormentaire men.
“Though there is no such need, I will take the trouble to speak. I happened to witness an arrogant fool in the midst of kicking a child and attempting to trample his head. So I kicked him in much the same way, though I have yet to crush his skull.”
Denkuro looked around and spotted a frightened child looking in their direction from a corner of the marketplace.
But all the knights would have to do was deny Nile’s claim and their responsibility. Although Denkuro had only just arrived at Lotto Valentino, it was clear to him that the citizens feared the men bearing the hourglass crest. If the people and the child were to remain silent out of fear, Nile would become to the city little more than a violent ruffian.
Fearing such a misunderstanding, but judging that there was no lie in Nile’s claim, Denkuro fell into worry for a moment. But his anxiety was proven unfounded in a matter of seconds.
“Shut up! What’s so wrong about kicking a brat that gets in my way?!”
Denkuro was somewhat relieved at the knight’s candid admission, but another thought surfaced in his mind.
‘Are these men perchance aristocracy?
‘We were involved in a scuffle with aristocrats last time, as well. If only ‘twere possible to settle this matter amicably...’
In Denkuro’s homeland, there was a tradition: Anyone who crossed the path of a daimyo’s procession only had himself to blame if he were to be cut down for his impudence. He thought perhaps that this place was also home to a similar custom.
But the knights standing in the harbor did not look nearly as powerful as any daimyo, nor did they carry themselves like members of the aristocracy. The two guardsmen who had fought Nile to a standstill, perhaps, were the only ones possessed of such grace.
“It is clear, then. Denkuro. These fools deserve my wrath.”
Hearing Nile’s proud declaration, Denkuro thought to himself that the man might leap into a daimyo’s procession on the whims of his anger, and prayed that Nile would never set foot on his homeland of Japan.
Nile had, several times in the past, boasted that he would attack anyone who irritated him, be it members of the aristocracy or royalty. He had also carried out this threat several times. The fact that his head still remained attached to his body was partly thanks to his incredible skill, but it was mostly due to the connections possessed by Denkuro and Zank’s master.
And in this case, even if the outraged knight here was a prince, Nile would not have hesitated to kick him for assaulting the child.
‘Ah, ‘twould be most preferable to avoid a commotion, but...’
Recalling that he had gotten into a fight in the harbor six years ago as well, Denkuro thought to accept this situation as a destiny of sorts.
“Master Nile. We have been in this land for but a short time--though our sensibilities may not allow us to stand idly by as a knight kicks a child, if our judgement goes against the sensibilities of this land, we must apologize. This one wishes to bring this situation to as peaceful an end as possible.”
“What is this, Denkuro? These wretches deserve-mmph!”
Nile found his mouth being covered by Zank, who was even larger than himself.
Denkuro ignored them and attempted to come to a compromise. However--
“Unacceptable! I’ll have your head for humiliating me!”
Hearing the belligerence in the knight’s tone, Zank released Nile.
“What now, Denkuro? I have no qualms about loosing violence here.”
“This one will be greatly distressed if you choose to behave in the same way as Master Nile, Master Zank.”
Denkuro thought carefully about his next course of action.
In the scuffle six years ago, the commotion had been ended by the intercession of a man called Aile, who was the leader of the delinquents on the streets.
But the men they faced today were not such petty youths.
Denkuro was ill-versed in the matters of aristocracy, but he had heard of House Dormentaire. He knew enough to understand that a confrontation would not end in simple victory or defeat.
‘Hm... To resist, or surrender ourselves for capture...’
The Dormentaire men seemed to be watching Denkuro and the others, unwilling to make a sudden move.
The longer this stalemate continued, the more Dormentaire men would arrive on the scene. A drawn-out confrontation would only worsen Denkuro’s situation.
But a sound suddenly interrupted the heavy silence, as though diffusing the situation.
The sound of hands clapping rhythmically.
“All right, that’s enough.”
The applauding newcomer was a stranger to Denkuro and the others. However, the knights paled upon catching sight of the man and panicked.
“Mr. Talbot! We had no idea you’d be arriving so soon!”
“Enough with the politeness. What’s a bunch of knights like you bowing to an alchemist like me for?” The man said, but the knights did not withdraw their humility.
Denkuro and the others looked at one another at the mention of the word. Why would these knights bow to a man in the same profession as themselves?
But before they could even ask, the man called Victor addressed them first.
“Hey. You people sailors or merchants or something? Looks like you speak English. Perfect. I mean, I speak Spanish and Italian too, but English is the easiest for me.” Victor said casually, as though trying to dampen the explosive air.
Denkuro remained cautious, but he was relieved at Victor’s lack of hostility.
“Hm. What, pray tell, do you intend with us, sir?”
Even if they were to be taken into custody, this man might listen to reason, Denkuro mused.
‘He is quite reminiscent of Master Aile, who ended that fight six years in the past.’ He thought. Setting aside the choice of resisting, he decided to hear what Victor had to say.
[It seems that our fights in this city are destined to be stopped by another. If only such a thing could be a constant in our lives.] Zank said in Japanese. Denkuro replied quietly, also in Japanese.
[Though this one would prefer that we avoided conflict altogether...]
Victor waited for them to finish and spoke.
“What do I intend? Nothing. Just get back to whatever it is you were doing.”
The knights and musketeers began to murmur, but one look from the guards was enough to silence them.
“Oh? Does the good sir mean to release us?”
“Before any of that releasing stuff, there’s no law in this city that allows people to kick anyone. Your friend there kicked this knight, and this knight here kicked a child. So both of you can pretend nothing happened. Everyone’s happy, right?” Victor laughed.
Nile’s anger had yet to abate. He glanced over at the knight several times, resisting the flow of events.
“I say this. Is there a law, then, that states I am forbidden to kick anyone?”
Victor’s answer was immediate and relaxed.
“Doubtful, but any decent human being would say that’s just morally wrong, right? Kicking children, especially.” He shrugged and narrowed his eyes at the knight.
The knight quickly averted his gaze. There was a look of fear in his eyes.
“‘Twould seem that you have the respects of these men.”
“Nah, it’s not me they’re scared of--it’s old man Szilard.”
“Yeah. We’re from the same school of alchemy. He’s an adaptable old geezer, but he’s got this creepy air to him. I hear there are rumors that opposing a Dormentaire alchemist nets you a spot at the top of their list of guinea pigs.” Victor said harmlessly, but the knights were not smiling.
Perhaps they truly believed in the rumors.
Or perhaps there was more to the rumors than gossip and hearsay.
Understanding that they could not verify such claims without meeting this man called Szilard in person, Denkuro and the others decided to drop the matter.
“You have our utmost gratitude, sir, for your intervention.”
“Don’t worry about it. I hate stupid conflicts as much as the next guy. Go on. Get outta here.”
With that, Denkuro made to leave the marketplace with his companions.
But when he glanced over at the child who had been kicked by the knight, he noticed that the child looked like he wanted to say something.
But a second later, a woman who looked to be the boy’s mother appeared and dragged him into the crowds by hand. She probably did not wish to get involved with House Dormentaire or the foreigners.
Denkuro looked back at Nile. The man blankly watched mother and child depart, but smiled faintly when he noticed his friend, and began walking.
‘Perhaps Master Nile merely wished to run amok, instead of looking for gratitude.’
Nile had been the one to intervene in the first place, and there was nothing strange about a woman wanting to protect her child. Denkuro accepted this and began to walk away.
“Hey, lady and kid walking away. Hold it right there.”
Victor stopped the woman and her child as they departed.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“I-I’m so sorry, sir! I apologize for my son’s rudeness earlier!”
The woman fell to her knees, trembling. She tried to force her child to do the same.
Denkuro and the others stopped in their tracks, wondering if the Dormentaire men were at it again so soon. But Victor immediately spoke up.
“No, no. What’re you apologizing to us for? And by ‘earlier’, you mean you’ve been watching the whole mess from the beginning, right? I’ve got no business with someone who lets her kid get kicked around without so much as getting angry or stepping in to help.” Victor said coldly. He then crouched down before the boy and looked him in the eye.
“Kid. You got anything to say to that scary-looking guy over there?” He asked, shifting his gaze towards Nile. The boy looked at him nervously.
“I’ll give you permission. Go on, tell him what you want to say.”
Victor smiled kindly. The boy walked over towards Nile and said, “Thank you!”.
Though he spoke in Italian, his meaning was clear.
Nile, looking quite surprised, raised an eyebrow.
“You’re welcome.” He mumbled in English, and turned around.
Though Nile’s response was crude and awkward, Denkuro and Zank had known him long enough to understand that he was just embarrassed. They exchanged glances and smiled.
‘So even among the people of Dormentaire there are those like this man.’
Denkuro bowed towards Victor.
“This one thanks you for your consideration, sir.”
“I was doing this for the kid. If he didn’t get to say what he wanted, he’d be worrying himself sick over it, right?”
Victor waved amicably at Denkuro and the others, and glanced over at his lodgings at the end of the harbor. The Dormentaires had rented the building and converted it into a residence for their associates.
“That’s where I’m staying. If you need anything, just drop by and I’ll be happy to listen-”
But just as he was about to end the exchange--
A loud noise shook the air.
It was the second time today that the marketplace was shaken by a single noise, but this time, the sound was not restricted to the marketplace alone.
A powerful explosion shook the air and the streets.
The explosion had originated from the residence Victor had been pointing to just moments earlier. Part of the stone wall on the second floor had collapsed, and black smoke and flames were rising from the rubble.
“...Sorry ‘bout that. Looks like I’m not gonna be staying there after all.”
This was the first meeting between Denkuro and the others and Victor.
It was also the beginning of a series of incidents that would shake the streets of Lotto Valentino.
At the same time, in front of the Meyer manor, in the central district of Lotto Valentino.
“Huh? What was that?”
Elmer and Sylvie stopped in front of the wooden doors and turned towards the sound of the explosion.
But they heard nothing more afterwards. From this particular street, they could not even see the smoke.
Because they had no idea about the explosion that had taken place in the harbor marketplace, they stood in confusion for a moment. But they did not think to go off to find out more about the noise.
This was because they had already knocked on the door a split second before.
And as they stood there indecisively, a woman who looked to be a maid opened the door.
“...Oh, it’s just you, Elmer.”
The young woman, perhaps around the same age as Sylvie, looked at some point in the air between the two of them, and narrowed her eyes slightly.
“Is this your girlfriend?”
Sylvie, shocked at the question, followed the maid’s gaze and finally realized that Elmer was still holding her hand. She had been intending to shake it off when they arrived at their supposed destination, but the sudden noise in the distance cleared that thought from her mind entirely.
“N-no!” She cried, hurriedly freeing her hand from Elmer’s. A moment later, she was overcome by guilt.
She felt guilty about the fact that she had been holding hands with someone other than Gretto. She also felt guilty about the fact that she had so harshly shaken off the young man who had brought her all the way here out of the kindness in his heart.
But the young man did not seem to care one bit, merely smiling at the maid.
“Afraid not, it looks like! I’m going to need a bit of cheering up, Niki.”
“But you’re not feeling sad at all, are you? Are you asking me to baby you?”
“Wow, that just feels like a back-to-back rejection.” Elmer said, not withdrawing his smile, and changed the subject. “Right, I actually have to ask you for something, Niki.”
“What is it?”
“The alchemist who goes to Maiza’s house lives here, right? I needed to talk to him. I think his name was... Uh... something something something?”
Elmer did not know even a part of the name of the person he was supposedly here to see. But Niki sighed quietly, as though she was more than used to this, and replied.
“I’ve told you before. He’s Mr. Begg. Mr. Begg Garott.”
Without meaning to, Sylvie screamed softly at the mention of the name.
“Oh! Was this Mr. Garott’s workshop?”
Sylvie, who had worked in the Avaro manor until yesterday, had several times led this alchemist to her master’s office. He was a man who spoke very quickly, and Sylvie remembered well the way he could recite one play’s worth of words in the amount of time she led him to his destination.
Having been dragged here without a single clue as to what was going on, Sylvie finally came to understand what Elmer meant by ‘someone who could go in and out of the Avaro manor’.
“It’s actually not Begg’s workshop, but the Meyer family’s.” Elmer grinned.
The Meyer family was renowned for their work as alchemists. They were a famous line of practitioners with many students under their instruction, but after the deaths of the family head and his wife several years ago, a young child was all that remained of the bloodline.
The Meyer family’s students and the child had moved to this manor in the city of Lotto Valentino.
Because they had only recently moved in, the furniture was still not fully at home in the manor. But that was not the only incongruity in the house. Its owner, Czeslaw Meyer, had yet to adjust to city life. He was normally wary of strangers, and that wariness had been extended to the entire city.
In this manor, there were essentially no boundaries between living spaces and work stations. Because many alchemists were continuing their master’s research, unusual odors lingered on the stairwells.
Other than Niki the maid, Elmer did not have any connections to the people here. But despite her low standing, Niki held a decent amount of influence in the house. She was able to call Begg upstairs from the basement for a meeting with Elmer and Sylvie.
Because Czeslaw, the technical family head, had gone outside with another alchemist, the manor had become a temporarily masterless place of discussion for the planning of a rendezvous with a young nobleman.
Of course, the timid Sylvie could not possibly raise an objection to this situation.
“AhIunderstandeverything. Beforeyoususpectanything, IhadknownofYoungMasterGrettoandtheyounglady’srelationship, butMaizaremainedsilentsoIdidthesame. Pleasebelieveme. Sowhatareyouaskingofme?”
Speaking without so much as taking a breath, Begg Garott was a man in his thirties with a messy beard.
His face was haggard and gaunt, perhaps due to the drugs he was creating, and there was something rather glassy about his gaze.
“So what I’m asking is that you pass on a message to Gretto the next time you go to their place. Or actually, maybe you might want to consider kidnapping him outright.”
Elmer’s tone was exceedingly friendly, despite the fact that the two of them had only just met. But Begg did not seem to be a man who cared for formalities. He replied rapidly.
“HeyheyI’dtellyoutoaskMaizainstead, butnowthatIthinkaboutithemustbesobusywiththeAdvennaAvisthathealmostnevergoeshome. Thenitlookslike, I’ll, have, to, step, in...”
His voice suddenly staggered like a wind-up toy at the end of its strength.
As Sylvie looked on in shock, Begg resumed speaking at his usual pace.
“Ah, sorryaboutthat. Recentlymytongue’sbeenfreezingupforsomereason. ItmustbebecauseI’mexperimentingonmyselfwithmydrugs, butit’sacheappricetopayformyresearch. So, tellmewhatyou’dliketotellYoungMasterGretto, younglady. Thinkofsomethingthatwillmakeiteasyforhimtoleavethemanor.”
“Oh, um, yes! I-I will!” Sylvie stumbled. Elmer also wracked his brains for ideas.
“Hm... How ‘bout referencing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or something?”
“Please don’t be so ominous.”
“Didn’t you know? There’s actually an afterlife in the world of that play. So after they die, they can meet up again--‘Were you just pretending to be dead all along, Juliet?’ ‘Romeo, darling, you’re so oblivious.’ They could laugh together afterwards!”
Niki honestly wondered how she should react to Elmer’s implausible take on the play, but--
She suddenly raised her head at the sound of crying coming from upstairs, which sounded vaguely like a cat’s mewling.
“Sorry, excuse me.”
With that, she quietly climbed up the stairs.
Watching her leave, Sylvie turned to Begg.
“Is there a baby here?”
“Hm? Ah, yes. Hemustbeayearoldbynow, buthiscryingwon’tstop. Ihearhe’sthechildofarelativeofoneofouralchemists, butwe’relookingafterhimbecausehisparentsaregone. Inthatsense, he’s, just, like, Czes.”
Begg’s voice slowed to a crawl again. Sylvie was taken aback for a moment, but the contents of Begg’s explanation served to dampen her shock.
“My goodness... An orphan?”
“But, you, see. Thatalchemistisagoodman. Thatchildwillgrowupwell. EvenNikimayactstandoffish, butshe’spositivelymotherlytothatchild.”
Begg seemed to have reminded himself of something. He turned his gaze to the front doors.
As Sylvie continued to speak with Begg, Elmer, the man who had brought her here in the first place, was heading upstairs after Niki, who had already disappeared.
Meyer manor, second floor.
“Is that your baby?”
“That’s not even funny, Elmer.” Niki said frigidly.
She was holding in her arms a baby, who seemed to have only just stopped crying.
Of course, he was already just over a year old. He looked quite big in Niki’s small embrace.
“I’ve told you before. He’s the son of a relative of an alchemist who works here. We’re taking care of him because his parents passed away.”
“Yeah, I know.” Elmer nodded.
Niki, who was under the impression that Elmer had forgotten the fact, just as he had forgotten Begg’s name, narrowed her eyes.
“...And you still thought that would be funny?”
“Actually, yeah.” Elmer grinned sheepishly. Niki sighed loudly.
“You haven’t changed a bit, have you? You still can’t figure out how to make a joke without completely ignoring how a girl might feel.”
“Really? If you say so, I guess you must be right.” Elmer replied, waving his hands back and forth before the baby. “But you know, Niki, you’ve changed.”
“You think so?”
“Definitely. You’ve brightened up a lot since five years ago. I know you were a bit upset after Monica died, but you look a lot better now.”
A shadow passed by Niki’s eyes at the mention of that name.
She was one of her rescuers and a friend.
When Niki heard that Monica had died in an accident one year ago, she was terribly shaken.
Niki had always lived on in search of a place to die, but she had never in her wildest dreams expected that someone who had given her hope to live would die before her. The fact of Monica’s death ate away at her heart in all sorts of ways, but the baby she was looking after had helped heal some of those wounds.
Instead of chiding Elmer for so casually mentioning their friend’s death, Niki gingerly placed the sleeping baby in his crib.
Once she had made sure of the baby’s quiet, steady breathing, she turned back to Elmer.
“...And you’re still just as good at bringing up uncomfortable subjects so nonchalantly, Elmer.”
“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.”
“It’s all right. I can’t just sit here and be depressed forever. That would just make Monica sad, wouldn’t it?”
In fact, Elmer had spent even more time alongside Monica than Niki. Most people would have been incensed at such a blasé mention of the dead, but for some reason Niki couldn’t feel this way towards Elmer.
To be specific, perhaps she knew Elmer well enough that at this point, she had given up on him in many ways.
“...Still no word from Huey?”
“Nope. He’s probably still alive, though.”
Elmer’s answer about his missing friend was as nonchalant as ever.
Niki cast down her eyes.
“He saw her die right in front of his eyes, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise. I wonder if he’s gotten that smile back on his face by now.”
“It’s not that simple. I think Huey and Monica loved each other very much. The shock must have been on a different level completely for Huey than it was for you and me, Elmer.”
“Right. I honestly don’t know a thing about romance.”
Elmer shrugged. He then put on an impish grin.
“So is that it, then? That’s why you’ve brightened up so much?”
“What are you getting at?”
Elmer leaned against the windowsill and continued, his tone very much like that of a young person his own age.
“I just had a thought: maybe the reason you could bring up other people’s love lives is that maybe you’ve found someone, too.”
“You’re astounding, Elmer. Making fun of someone while talking about Monica and Huey.”
“And I bet you didn’t even think twice about telling Huey to smile when Monica died, too.” Niki muttered coldly.
“That’s right. But it looked like he couldn’t even hear me.”
“If he heard you, he might have hit you. Stabbed you, even.”
“I think so too.”
There was a hint of sadness in his smile, but Elmer did not try to defend his actions.
“But if me getting hit or stabbed is enough to make him smile, I’d have been happy to be his punching bag.”
“Just to let you know, no one would smile at something like that.”
“Really?” Elmer responded lightheartedly. “My mom and dad smiled and laughed when they stabbed and burned me.”
‘I feel like I’ve just heard something huge. ...Was Elmer abused?’
Niki remained silent. Elmer continued.
“And it wasn’t just my parents. Everyone else looked so happy whenever I was in pain or screaming. They thanked me and praised me. So I never thought it was strange, but the soldiers who came and killed those people said that it was an evil thing to do.”
Niki felt a chill running down her spine. As if on cue, the baby in the crib began fussing.
“I don’t know if Huey’s like the people that raised me, but it’s not completely impossible, right?”
“...You shouldn’t tell things like that to people so easily. Right now it’s only fine because you’re talking to me.”
Thought Niki could feel cold sweat running down her back, she had neither been terribly shocked nor feeling much differently about Elmer.
They had met several times in the past two years, but they almost never spoke about their pasts. But over time, Niki could slowly see that Elmer had, in a different way from herself, had an unusual childhood.
But the fact that he mentioned it so casually caught her off guard.
Elmer, looking as though he had even read her internal reaction to all this, began to make faces at the baby as he replied to Niki.
“I know. I said it because I was pretty sure you’d forgive me with a smile even if I told you. Although it’s a shame you didn’t end up smiling.”
“How am I supposed to smile at something like that?”
“That’s too bad. Anyway, let’s get back on topic. Is there someone you have an eye on?” Elmer asked nosily. Niki smiled faintly.
And before Elmer could figure out if she was forcing her smile, she whispered quietly.
“What would you say if I said it was you, Elmer?”
Niki responded lightheartedly, and continued.
“I don’t dislike you. I’m thankful to you, too. But I don’t like you in that way, Elmer.”
“Aha! That hurts, Niki. It’s a good thing you’re talking to me, because otherwise you’d have broken some poor guy’s heart. And then people’ll start calling you a villain who toys with men’s feelings.”
Elmer looked entirely unfazed. Niki responded as though paying him back for his earlier comment.
“Don’t worry. I’d never say something like that to anyone else, Elmer. But sorry.”
“Actually, I’d be worried if you were being serious. I’m probably the type of person who should never get married.”
Niki could see where Elmer was coming from.
Even if Elmer were to marry someone, the moment he saw someone crying, he would probably prioritize that person’s happiness over that of his own wife. On the outside he might seem to be little more than well-intentioned, but Elmer was the kind of person who might sacrifice a wife, children, and even himself for the sake of other people’s smiles.
Elmer’s greatest priority was the smiles of humanity as a whole, not any one individual.
Because Niki understood all this, she could agree with Elmer’s self-deprecating comment.
“...Yeah.” She replied plainly.
There was no need for words.
There was no need to feel anything.
Elmer had not changed a bit since she had first met him.
The only people who could possibly wish to marry Elmer would be those who could agree with his insanity completely, madwomen who would enjoy being sacrificed for his goals, or those who had given up on everything the world had to offer. Perhaps Elmer could spend his entire life trying to bring back a smile to the face of someone who could not stop despairing. Of course, this was still only limited to the logistics of marriage alone.
Niki continued to think.
Perhaps, the way she was five years ago, she might not have minded living on with Elmer.
In a life where her only purpose was to find a place to die, perhaps she would have been fine with a love that transcended morality--one where she could sacrifice herself and others for the sake of strangers.
But now, things were different.
Niki was no longer the person she used to be.
Just as Elmer had noted, she had changed in the past few years.
As she lived on in search of her place to die, she had encountered a man with whom she wished to find that place.
Simply put, this man was not Elmer.
“So tell me! Who is this person? I’ll do whatever I can to help you out. Who is it?”
“It’s a secret.”
Elmer was certain that Niki’s faint smile was completely genuine.
Telling between genuine and forced smiles was a unique ability of his, borne from his obsession with smiles.
Niki seemed to have no intention of continuing the conversation, and Elmer did not seem to mind. After all, his objective was not to figure out the object of her affections, but to see her smile.
“Really? All right, then I won’t ask. Peek-a-boo!”
Elmer was now completely occupied with the unhappy baby. He made all sorts of funny faces in an attempt to bring a smile back to the infant.
Surprised at the face of the strange adult, the baby refused to stop fussing.
The baby suddenly turned his attention to the cheerful voice coming from the first floor. The voice must have been familiar to him, because he quickly stopped fussing, relieved.
It was apparent that the newcomer was a child, but it was difficult to tell if it was a boy or a girl.
“...I guess our little family head is back.” Niki smiled.
‘Oh? That’s the happiest smile I’ve ever seen on Niki.’ Elmer thought, ‘Could that “special someone” she was talking about be--’
He wondered for a moment if the owner of the voice was the answer to his question, but that conclusion only brought forth more questions.
‘I thought the family head here was only around ten years old. Does Niki prefer younger men?’
As Elmer continued to make unlikely assumptions, the sound of conversation carried up to the second floor.
Hearing this, Niki gently scooped up the baby from his crib and slowly made her way down the stairs. Elmer followed behind her, and noticed two people who had not been on the first floor when he first arrived.
One was obviously still a child, so he must be the little family head called Czeslaw Meyer.
And the moment he looked back and forth between Niki and the grown man standing next to Czeslaw, Elmer came to a conclusion:
‘Oh, that must be him. There’s no mistaking it--that’s the one Niki likes.’
Niki’s greeting was directed towards Czes and the man. The moment her gaze went from the boy to his guardian, a peaceful look came to rest in her eyes.
“Thank you. It seems there was an explosion of some sort down at the harbor. Could you hear it from here?”
“What? Now that I think about it, I think I did hear something... Are you two all right?”
“Yes. We were by the libraries, quite a distance away.”
“I see. Thank goodness.”
The look of serenity in Niki’s eyes grew deeper.
She had neither blushed nor widened her grin. Only a Smile Junkie like Elmer could tell apart such a subtle change in emotion.
Niki’s smile could not have been more genuine. It served as proof that the light of relief had been lit in her heart.
Seeing this, Elmer also was relieved. Niki was most definitely in love. There was no other way that a woman seeking death would be able to smile so brightly.
Elmer C. Albatross’s reaction to the sight of his old female friend falling for another was neither envy nor a feeling of loss.
It was pure gratitude.
The mere presence of this man made Niki happy and brought a smile to her face. So Elmer was thankful to him. It was only natural to his psyche, and there was not a hint of any ulterior motive to his reaction.
Elmer once again looked at the face of the man with whom Niki seemed to be infatuated.
But for a moment, he found himself feeling troubled.
‘What’s this strange feeling?’
“We’re home,” The man said to Niki, smiling. It was completely natural and genuine. Elmer knew the man was not faking his smile. And yet the unease in his heart refused to disappear.
‘Oh, I get it.’
Once he figured out the source of the strange feeling, Elmer sighed in relief.
‘Yeah. He was just happy to see her again.’
The man was wearing a smile.
A smile identical to the ones worn by Elmer’s parents and the people who were once around him.
That was all.
‘Yeah. That’s the smile of someone who’s like her guardian. I see. He must consider Niki something like a little sister or a daughter.’
With that thought, Elmer slowly descended to the first floor. The man looked up slightly towards him, and smiled a little differently from before.
“Oh. This is the first time we meet like this, is it not?”
“Hm? Have we met before?” Elmer asked, tilting his head.
“I’ve seen you speaking to Maiza on occasion. You’re also a student of Professor Dalton, correct?”
“Yeah, although the headmaster almost never teaches me in person. Oh, I’m Elmer. Elmer C. Albatross.”
“Ah, excuse me. Please let me introduce myself as well.”
The man, whose bangs were just long enough to conceal his eyes, smiled naturally and revealed his name,
His smile was not at all faked; it looked as though he was deriving indescribable pleasure from the way his life was turning out.
“My name is Lebreau Fermet Viralesque. Please, call me as you will.”
Sunset, at the church.
There was but a single church in all of Lotto Valentino.
It was also clearly built at the very edges of town. Very few people came to this place to pray or worship, with most using it as little more than a facility for funerals.
It was a sad scene for the devout, but there were rumors that Lotto Valentino, a city built for alchemists, intentionally cast aside the church to weaken its influence. This served to give rise to tales of demonic rites taking place among the alchemists, further deepening the divide between Lotto Valentino and other cities.
But among the people of this city were a few faithful believers who came to this church to pray for the dead to rest in peace.
The man sitting in prayer quietly raised his head.
The church was ancient and derelict, humble in appearance at best.
But the praying man carried himself in a way that was completely contrary to the air of the old chapel.
He was perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties. He was wearing a light habit à la française, and in spite of its subdued coloring, his overall outlandish appearance set him apart somewhat from the secular world.
The opulence of his clothing made his noble standing obvious, but there was nothing typically aristocratic about the air around him.
Unusually for an aristocrat, he wore neither a wig nor a fake mole, which were both in fashion among nobles at the time. Instead, an extravagant tricorne was pressed down on his head. There were bags under his eyes, though it was not clear if this was makeup or the result of sleep deprivation. Small stars were drawn underneath his eyes.
It was almost convincingly a scene where a runaway clown was taking shelter in a chapel.
But no matter how unconventional his appearance, no one in Lotto Valentino would dare to openly disapprove of him.
This was because the man was Esperanza Boroñal, the aristocrat who governed the city.
His eccentric manner of dress earned him the derogatory moniker of “Clown Count”, but he was still the most powerful man in Lotto Valentino.
Of course, the intervention of House Dormentaire was threatening to usurp his sovereignty.
And yet he had come to this church alone, without a single attendant in tow.
He had left his carriage at a slight distance form the church, but even the coachman wondered why the governor had come to this place.
Revealing to no one his reasons for prayer, Esperanza stepped out of the chapel. Though he had wanted to remain longer, things were not so relaxed at the moment.
There had been an explosion at the harbor not too long ago, and it had devastated one of the Dormentaire headquarters. Thankfully, no one had been injured. But it was clear that they had only narrowly avoided a tragedy.
He should put more pressure on the city police to investigate the matter, Esperanza thought. He once again donned the face of the governor and stepped into the church courtyard.
And at that very moment, he noticed a young man standing there, illuminated by the setting sun.
Esperanza silently observed the figure.
From his appearance, the stranger did not seem to be affiliated with the church. He was dressed somewhat like a nobleman, but there was a different air around him from that of the local aristocrats.
The young man slowly approached Esperanza, walking along the stone tiles covering the courtyard.
On his face was a soft, gentle smile.
Narrowing his eyes, Esperanza attempted to figure out the identity of the young man who was walking in the sunlight. He was probably around twenty years of age. Similar to Elmer, Boroñal manor’s houseguest.
Esperanza did not assume that the stranger was merely passing through, but the young man did not seem to hold any sort of hostility against him. He also could not think of any reason why a hypothetical assassin who could hide his bloodlust would come for him.
Esperanza continued to think. The young man opened his mouth mid-approach.
“Here to mourn your family, sir?”
“...You could say that.”
Esperanza, who had no interest in the male half of the world, spoke coldly to the young man.
“I see you must have cared for her very much.”
“...Who are you?”
Esperanza once again looked into the young man’s face.
The stranger had specifically said ‘her’, when Esperanza had only identified that he was here for his family. The governor found himself slightly curious about the young man, and recalled something.
Elmer had spoken of a young man before--a young man with sleek black hair and golden eyes.
All kinds of emotions rose up in his heart with the remembrance of that name. Esperanza whispered it before the young man could even speak.
“...Huey. You’re Huey Laforet, aren’t you.”
“My goodness. It is an honor to see that the governor knows my name.”
The young man’s manner of speech was exceedingly polite.
Now that Huey Laforet’s identity was certain, the governor took a moment to clear his face of expression. He looked down at the ground, took several breaths, slowly averted his eyes, and mumbled,
That was all.
“...Is that it, sir?”
“What else do you want of me?”
“I had imagined that perhaps you would curse my name, assault me, or even go so far as to shoot me.”
Seeing Huey’s faint smile, Esperanza was for a moment tempted by the thought of drawing a gun at him. But he denied the possibility in his mind and shook his head.
“One year ago, I might have gone so far. And let me make this clear. I’ve already heard from Elmer that what happened was no fault of yours. By all rights, you should be the one cursing me or beating me for idly standing by.”
One year ago, Esperanza’s sister, Maribel Boroñal, had died.
She was killed as the criminal Monica Campanella, who had killed a man of House Dormentaire and Esperanza’s parents.
Because of complex circumstances, Maribel was treated as dead and brought to Lotto Valentino, wearing the mask of Monica Campanella.
But the arrival of House Dormentaire shattered that mask.
To be specific, the pieces of the shattered mask were forcibly stuck back onto Maribel’s face, and Monica Campanella died as a criminal.
[Dead in an accident while under custody. The fact that there was a fire just moments before the accident implicates the Mask Maker as her killer.]
This was House Dormentaire’s official report.
But Esperanza did not believe a word of it.
It was not that he disbelieved the fact of his sister’s death. Her corpse had never surfaced, but from what he had heard from Elmer, it was difficult to imagine that she could have survived.
What he refused to believe was the idea that she had been murdered by the Mask Maker.
Esperanza knew that over the mask of Monica the alchemy student, Maribel wore yet another mask--that of the serial killer known as the Mask Maker.
He also knew that there were others who donned the mask alongside her.
Huey Laforet, her lover who had shared her identity as the Mask Maker.
Esperanza quietly spoke to the alchemist who had disappeared during the year following Monica’s death.
“I know that you’re not at fault. But if I were still in the same state as I was one year ago, I would have cursed you. I might have gone so far as to use my political influence to place all of the blame on you. Although things would have been different if you were a woman.”
“But time... she is truly cruel. My resentment towards you and House Dormentaire, and even my pain and hatred at my own powerlessness is slowly fading. Although my sorrow and regret will never heal.”
It was an unthinkable sort of conversation for a governor and a mere alchemist, but Esperanza was special among aristocrats. Not only did he place all women above himself in his actions, he also did not concern himself with class differences.
But Huey, who should have been playing the part of the humble commoner, also spoke to Esperanza without restraint.
“If time will not heal them, perhaps they were never wounds to begin with.” He said, and shrugged lightly. “Although Elmer might tell you that smiling will cure everything.”
Recalling Elmer’s smile, Esperanza grinned bitterly.
“It’s been exactly one year to the day, but I hear Elmer went out into town with a lady who’s supposed to be working for me starting today. And he didn’t even show his face on All Souls’ Day. He couldn’t have forgotten...”
“Perhaps there was a shadow cast over the face of this new employee of yours.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t give it a second thought to do the same for a sorrowful woman.”
Not realizing that the cause of the new maid’s fears was, in fact, himself, Esperanza turned to Huey again.
Huey averted his gaze with a smile, and whispered nostalgically.
“Elmer... has no interest in the dead. He has always been that way.”
“And what about you?” The governor asked.
“I won’t ask you why you disappeared. But what are you doing here? I doubt you came just to listen to my complaints.” Esperanza asked plainly.
Although he did want to talk more about Monica and listen to stories about her, Huey’s smile bothered him. He had to get to the truth. There was nothing in Huey’s expression that suggested he was here to mourn his beloved.
“I must apologize in advance for answering your question with another, but...”
Huey turned to the front doors of the church, his eyes on the distant city streets and the sea, and addressed Esperanza.
“Where do you believe Monica is?”
“...? What do you mean?”
“Of course, I am not naively claiming that she is actually alive. After all, if that were true, I would have departed to be by her side long ago.”
Huey’s faint smile never left his lips.
“If something like her soul existed, do you think she would have been granted entry through the gates of paradise? Or is she, do you think, burning in the flames of purgatory as a sinner?”
Huey continued, not looking at Esperanza but his eyes fixed onto the distance.
“Or perhaps, as both a sinner and Maribel the innocent victim, is she wandering the night, rejected by both heaven and purgatory?”
“...Stop this. I’m in no mood for such talk.” Esperanza said quietly, but Huey continued.
“Churches no longer have room in their cemeteries to bury the dead. Some have dug up bones and relocated them underground so often that they now have entire galleries of corpses in their basements. And yet that still leaves behind a physical form of death that can be buried and mourned.”
“But Monica, of whom we do not even have a corpse, is not here. She is not anywhere. Neither her body nor her soul exist. We cannot even confirm her death or survival, leaving her locked away in nowhere.”
After waiting for Huey to finish, Esperanza sighed loudly. He wearily addressed Huey, whose back was still turned to him.
“Are you trying to anger me? Or are you trying to console yourself by putting Monica’s death into cheap poetry? If it’s the former, I’m afraid I’ll have to let you down. Unpleasant as that was, I don’t have the energy to become incensed at this point.”
Huey shook his head.
“Neither, sir. I apologize for bothering you, but I merely wished to convey this message to you, at the very least.”
“Convey what to me?”
“My plans for this city.”
Esperanza was oblivious. Huey, his cold, faint smile refusing to budge, continued.
“...The moment before Monica plunged into the sea, blood spilling from her chest... she said this to me--”
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and completed his sentence.
“...‘Let’s meet again’, she told me. She would say such words to someone like me.”
Esperanza, listening intently to Huey, could feel cold sweat running down his back.
‘Something is not right.
‘This man is somehow different from the Huey Laforet Elmer was talking about.
‘Is he really the same man?
‘Does this mean that something about him has changed?’
It was a length of time perhaps too short, but just enough, to change a man.
Where had Huey gone during this time, and what had he seen?
Slowly looking around at the confused Esperanza, Huey spoke.
“That is why I intend to find Monica.”
“...What do you mean by that?”
“But I fear that perhaps she would not be happy with what I plan to do. That is why, at the very least, I wished to let it be known to you--the one who knows her past better than anyone.”
Esperanza finally noticed that Huey was holding something in his right hand.
Huey looked upon the streets, every so often glancing back at the object.
Once Esperanza realized that the object was a pocket watch, much smaller than the ones he had seen before, he thought that Huey was concerned about the time.
Esperanza wanted to voice his question, but at the moment, he was more curious to hear what Huey had to say. As he stood, unable to make a decision, Huey tucked the pocket watch back into his breast pocket and turned back towards Esperanza.
And he finally completed his thought.
“That is why, no matter what happens from this point onward... it will be no fault of Monica’s.”
“And you, sir, should not burden yourself with guilt for what is about to take place. After all, I am searching for her on my own whim.”
The very next moment, the streets behind Huey changed.
Black fumes began rising from multiple places, from the centre of town to the harbor.
And after a several-second delay, a powerful shockwave passed through the church courtyard.
Esperanza hurriedly leapt out into the doorway and looked down upon the city from his vantage point.
Smoke was rising from several points in the city, and he could occasionally see red flames dancing in the blackness.
“Huey Laforet! What is the meaning of-”
He quickly turned back, but stopped.
By the time Esperanza had looked around, Huey Laforet had disappeared. Only the clergymen, drawn outside by the commotion of the explosions, were hurrying to and fro in the courtyard.
But Esperanza was now certain--although he had no idea of what Huey meant by finding Monica again, he could tell that the man was planning something for Lotto Valentino.
House Dormentaire, responsible for ruining--and eventually stealing away--the life of his beloved, would find itself beset by the vengeance of the Mask Maker--or perhaps the man known as Huey Laforet.
Many explosions had rocked the city simultaneously.
Naturally, there were many witnesses to the scenes.
One of them had taken place by a Dormentaire transport ship moored in the harbor.
The deserted pier suddenly exploded, and the people on the deck were left with minor injuries.
Although the sailors had all managed to escape, two weeks’ worth of Dormentaire supplies were lost to the flames and waves.
“I say this. I care not how many of their ships go up in flames.” Nile said coldly.
“Stop this. Have you already forgotten that there are good men even among the Dormentaires?” Zank rebuked him.
They were on a ship moored a slight distance away, watching the burning ship sink into the water. Denkuro, who was listening from beside them, frowned at the sight of the black smoke.
“...‘Twould seem that the earlier explosion was no mere accident.”
Turning his eyes towards the distant horizon, he again spoke to himself.
“...Things will become difficult from here on out.”
On his mind was the image of the ship that was set to appear from beyond that very horizon.
“This one can only hope that these incidents will not hinder the departure of the Advenna Avis.”
The Avaro manor.
A trembling, wide-eyed Gretto stared at the rising smoke in the distance from the safety of his window. A moment later, he turned his gaze towards the governor’s manor, fearing for Sylvie’s safety.
Fortunately, he could not see any smoke coming from that direction. Gretto found himself sighing in relief.
Sylvie was, at the time, at the Meyer workshop. But Gretto, who had no way of knowing this, was only glad to see that the governor’s manor had been spared from harm.
“What in the world is happening out there...?” Gretto wondered, anxiously looking down at the streets.
But at the same time, something was unfolding in his heart--an urge that had only just emerged.
Was this, perhaps, a sign of change?
Perhaps this was the chance he had longed for all this time, while he waited to be joined with Sylvie.
He burned the image of the streets into his mind.
Little by little, the courage to take action was unfolding in Gretto’s heart.
Another explosion had taken place at the Dormentaire food stores.
The first explosion had taken place in a location that also housed firearms and gunpowder. But in this case, no one could think of a reason why the building would go down in flames.
“What is going on?!”
The first thing that came to Carla’s mind as she raced to the scene was last year’s arson case involving the Mask Makers. Noting that it had been exactly one year since that day, she could not bring herself to pass off this incident as coincidence.
“Have we been attacked?” She demanded of the guards who were watching the storehouse. The men, lightly burned from the blast, exchanged glances and spoke.
“N-no, ma’am. We didn’t see a soul while we were standing guard. And if someone was hiding inside all this time, he’d be charcoal by now.”
Carla put on a disgruntled look and fell into thought.
Once the blaze was extinguished, they searched for evidence and found that the explosion had originated from somewhere near the middle of the storehouse.
There were no signs that an explosive had been tossed in through a window.
If someone had snuck in while the guards were changing shifts, perhaps they would have been successful. But she received no reports about sightings of suspicious people fleeing the scene, nor had they found a blackened corpse in the vicinity.
Judging that thinking would get her nowhere, she turned to the two alchemists she had brought to the scene.
“What do you think, Mr. Quates? Mr. Talbot? Perhaps some sort of a delayed detonation device?”
Victor thought for a moment before speaking.
“Sure, anyone could make a device that ignites after a period of delay. But what bothers me is that these places all went up in smoke at once. You can’t synchronize these devices so perfectly.”
In contrast to Victor, who again returned to his musings, Szilard silently observed the scene and poked at parts of the rubble with his cane.
He soon discovered something beneath pieces of a burnt shelf and picked it up emotionlessly.
“What’s up, old man? You find something?” Victor asked curiously. Szilard snorted.
“...Most likely a part from a clock of some sort.”
“We have a fascinating culprit on our hands. I assume that this mastermind has combined explosives and clocks in order to ignite multiple locations at a predetermined time.” The old man answered. Victor imagined the kind of device Szilard might be talking about.
“You’d need something pretty huge for something like that.”
“It will be clear once we search through all of this rubble. But it must be a rather small device, inconspicuous enough to sneak in through security. Admirable, that such a tiny thing could cause such destruction.”
There was a faint smile visible through Szilard’s beard as he praised the culprit. Victor felt a chill running down his spine at the sight.
But what bothered him was not Szilard’s grin--it was the fact that they were up against a culprit that even the elderly egomaniac would go so far as to commend.
As a side note--
Years later, Victor would look back on this incident and say this to his subordinates:
“The first time bomb in history was probably made by some inventor called David in the late 1770s. But the guy behind this incident was sixty years faster to combine clocks and explosives to perfect that technology.”
“Huey really must’ve been one hell of a genius. Especially when it came to anything related to fire.”
Naturally, back in 1711, Victor had no way of guessing at the identity of the culprit. All he could do was shrug and make sarcastic comments.
“...Well, shit. Of all the days, this just has to happen as soon as we arrive. Don’t tell me we’re gonna get framed for this.” Victor chuckled. Szilard replied stoically.
“It is most natural to assume that this is a warning to alien alchemists like us from the Mask Makers, intent on preventing the theft of their technology.”
“...And what happens if we ignore that warning?”
“What else? We may well find the contents of our bags replaced by the offspring of clocks and chemicals. I will not be surprised by the actions of a group that deals in everything from counterfeit gold to arson.”
Having earlier borne witness to the commotion caused by the Dormentaire men, Victor muttered to himself.
“Tch. I’m totally fine with going up against some evil secret society. It’s nice and simple. ‘Cause right now, it’s looking like we’re the bad guys in town.”
“What are you driving at?”
“I’m saying that the guy behind all this might be calling himself some defender of justice.”
Victor scratched his nose and turned to Carla.
“And that means he’s not gonna stop at some half-hearted warnings. I’m saying that this isn’t even close to the end.”
Victor’s prediction came true with frightening accuracy.
From that day forward, Lotto Valentino was enveloped by the flames of terror.
In the span of a single week, thirty-six explosions in all shook the streets.
But the men of House Dormentaire failed to turn up any clues about the culprit.
The people of Lotto Valentino, who had once accepted House Dormentaire’s rule, had been driven by fear to distance them. The Dormentaire men, now full of suspicions about the people, began to wield their power even more tyrannically.
And piece by piece, the culprit continued to destroy the city as though making a mockery of them all.
Slowly, but surely--
As though Lotto Valentino itself was his enemy.
Continued in the Interlude.
Continued in the Interlude.