Unraveling the Plot — Part 1
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
“What is the meaning of this!?”
Poezahr’s governor reacted with a start as we barged into his study. Though caught completely off guard, the man remained at least relatively calm. He set down the document he was in the middle of sorting through, and steadily got to his feet.
“Odd. I was convinced that you would be in the midst of attempting an escape,” said Carlotta. “Abel Lebriard, we are taking you into custody for questioning.”
Her men marched across the room and swiftly moved to tie up the governor’s hands. While usually beneficial, this proved to be one of the few scenarios in which the knights’ haste made little difference. Abel didn’t struggle or resist. He carried himself with grace throughout his arrest.
“…Do as you like,” he humphed.
The degree of his compliance led the knight to raise a brow.
“It seems that you’ve already made peace with the idea of being captured and tried,” said Carlotta. “I appreciate that in a criminal. It saves us the trouble of having to subdue you.”
Abel sighed. “I’ve made peace with the idea ever since I learned that you would be joining the expedition. I knew all along that it was all just a front and that your true purpose was to find evidence that I’d violated an old trade sanction.” He looked her straight in the eye. “Just know this. I don’t regret it. Poezahr’s supply chain was hit hard by all the chaos that went on in the capital. Continuing to enforce trade sanctions at a time like that is naive. His majesty should hav—”
“Wait. Stop. What is all this about violating trade sanctions?”
Carlotta furrowed her brow. Something was wrong. There was a clear disconnect between the two sides’ understanding of the situation at hand.
“Huh…?” The governor gave her a blank, confused stare. “Were you not arresting me for illegally smuggling goods across the border?”
Is it just me, or is he just as confused as we are?
“…It appears that there’s been some sort of misunderstanding,” muttered the paladin.
She had arrived at the hypothesis that the pirates hadn’t simply chanced upon us. The location of the attack was out of the way of their normal routes, and the timing was far too perfect for it not to have been premeditated. Interrogating the captain confirmed her suspicions. Someone in Poezahr had purchased his services. Unfortunately, the captain didn’t know who, as the mysterious individual had kept their face hidden throughout their negotiations and intentionally veered away from stating his identity. There was one thing that the pirate concluded, however, and that was that his employer wasn’t someone from Poezahr’s dark side, as he would’ve recognized his voice if he was.
Moreover, the pirate had even gone as far as telling us that he’d only sortied after being given an explicit signal from the man who’d tipped him off to begin with, which confirmed that they not only knew exactly where we were, but also when we finished attacking the dungeon. And it just so happened that we’d used this world’s equivalent of a morse code transceiver to let the governor know when we’d cleared the dungeon. Abel and his associates could compute exactly where we would be of all times, hence why we’d sped over and barged into the manor as soon as we arrived in hopes of catching him before he escaped.
As the two continued their conversation, I popped open my map and noted that there were zero hostile presences inside the lord’s manor. On the other hand, the city happened to contain a few, the vast majority of which were concentrated in the slums. That’s probably where he’s hiding, huh?
I wanted to check out the details, but the map wasn’t capable of seeing the insides of buildings all by itself. That said, I wasn’t out of options by any stretch of the imagination. An evil eye would be able to solve all my building-related problems. They’re so helpful.
The moment the word helpful crossed my mind was the moment I realized something. One of the individuals who I had found somewhat helpful upon our first visit to the manner was nowhere to be found.
“Hey governor,” I said, while scanning my surroundings just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. “What happened to your butler? I haven’t seen him around.”
I’d taken a good look at all Abel’s servants, as the paladins had gathered them in the courtyard for the purposes of investigation. The butler hadn’t been among them, and at first, I’d suspected that was only because he was busy attending to the master of the house. Evidently, I was wrong.
“Are you referring to Kurwa? He should be somewhere around the manor…”
Well then. He clearly doesn’t know where the dude went either. The pieces, which had been thrown into disarray by the revelation that the governor’s only crime was contraband trade, had once again begun clicking into place.
“It seems you’ve figured out the man we should be looking for.”
Carlotta, who’d immediately caught onto the conclusion I reached, narrowed her gaze as would a predator ready to pounce.
“I’m pretty sure he’s in this building,” I spoke to the knights as I referenced both my map and the feed I was getting from the evil eye I’d deployed. Naturally, I didn’t want them finding out the particulars of the ability, so I made sure to make it look as if I was using some sort of normal skill by occasionally closing my eyes to “focus.”
We were in a district filled with warehouses somewhere between the harbour and the slums. The particular building that we’d set as our target was one closer to the former than the latter, and the people running it had taken advantage of its location to position a group of lookouts on a nearby ship. To the untrained eye, it may have looked like the men were simply doing their chores aboard said ship, such as swabbing the deck and airing out the sails, but anyone familiar with guard duty and all that it entailed would have been able to easily discern that all their attention was directed towards the warehouse and its surroundings.
“It’s time for work, men,” said Carlotta. “We can’t let Masquerade hog all the credit if we ever want Nell to stop bragging.”
The only holy knight not to enjoy the joke was the one that served as its butt. Her face had reddened, and her lips had curved into a dissatisfied pout, but as someone who knew her well, I could tell that she wasn’t as unhappy as she was making herself out to be. She’s so adorable…
As usual, the knights moved swiftly once they jumped into action. They dealt with the lookouts, rushed into the building, shieldbearers first, and took control of it before the thugs could even finish panicking. It was almost like they were some sort of special government unit. Wait… I’m stupid. That’s literally exactly what they are.
Apparently, the place we raided happened to house an operation that specialized in smuggling humans across borders. It was filled with carriages with crests that resembled those belonging to both foreign and domestic noble houses, as well as a whole series of falsified IDs. All their gear was specialized for the purposes of throwing off pursuers, tricking guards at checking stations, and other similar tasks.
One of the individuals we’d tied up just so happened to be dressed like a butler. He’d been hiding inside a carriage that was significantly less polished than all the other ones around it, seemingly because it’d been put together in a hurry. As he’d resisted upon his discovery, several of his teeth had suffered a good bit of permanent damage; they’d been bashed with the hilt of a sword in order to stop him from taking any further action. The rest of his face wasn’t exactly a sight for sore eyes either, as it’d suffered from similar treatment.
“You seem to be in quite the hurry,” said Carlotta, in a ridiculing tone. “Where were you headed?”
“Do you know what you’ve just done!?” screamed the small fry. “I’m of noble blood! Sir Abel definitely won’t stand for this!”
“That’s an interesting claim,” said Carlotta. “Tell me, what, exactly, is going to happen? What exactly is someone who’s abandoned his work in order to get smuggled out of the city worth? Who exactly is going to risk their neck on your behalf?”
The butler’s immediate reaction was to flare up in a fit of rage, but after a moment of contemplation, he seemed to realize that he was stuck in a situation that he could no longer do anything about.
“Alright, alright… I’ll talk. Just… untie me.”
“We’ll consider it if you tell us everything you know,” said Carlotta.
“I did all this on Sir Abel’s orders. He realized that you were onto him for smuggling after you drove off the pirates, so he ordered me to organise an escape.”
“So it was Abel who sent the pirates after us?”
“Of course, ma’am. There’s no need to think too deeply about it. It’s just that he realized that getting rid of you would get rid of all our problems.”
Carlotta grabbed the butler’s hair and used it to lift him before slamming him into the nearest wall.
“That’s enough of your bullshit. You’re a terrible actor,” she said, completely disregarding the cry of pain the man had loosed only a moment prior. She’d hit the poor servant so hard that she broke his nose. A copious amount of blood had started to stream from both his nostrils.
“We’ve already spoken to Sir Abel,” she said, while giving the butler a cold stare. “And it certainly seemed like he was guilty of a few incidents, here and there, but he had nothing to do with the pirates. Tell me the truth. Who are you really working for?”
“Damn it! Fuck you! You’re just another one of the church’s pawns! You’re not even truly in any of this!”
“I’m quite satisfied with being what I am,” said Carlotta. “I’d much rather obey the church’s every whim than wind up a shameless degenerate like you.” She pulled him upwards so she could stare him in the eyes from up close. “Now are you going to talk, or am I going to have to resort to violence? I’m quite patient, and don’t mind waiting until you’re missing all your fingers and toes.”
“Uhhh… is it just me, or is she kinda scary?” I whispered to the girl beside me as I watched the interrogation get underway.
“She… definitely is.” The hero tried to laugh off my question, but after a few moments of awkwardly trying to smile and feign ignorance, she gave up and agreed.