Updated: Aug 1
Where Kyle deals with the aftermath of the assassination attempt and learns concerning news about Tara. Note: this is Riri's first edit! Yay!
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Episode 138. Around 10 months (15)
Kyle arrived at full speed at the Hunting Grounds and had the Emperor and the First Prince dismount their horses. He immediately followed up with an order.
Knights swarmed the Emperor and the First Prince from every side, creating a protective wall around them.
The people that had gathered in the clearing flared up in a roar of surprise. Both hunters and employees were confused, and the hunting dogs howled in response to their restlessness.
It was literal chaos.
The Emperor, who always bore the risk of assassination at every moment in his mind, was calmer than anyone else.
"What's going on?"
"There are intruders. I am following protocol."
The Emperor nodded, while the trembling First Prince moved closer to him.
"Tsk tsk. You won't die."
The guards, including Nick, also started moving in response to the Second Prince's actions and added one more layer to the defence wall.
An arrow whizzed through the air towards the First Prince.
Despite the arrow being shot from faraway, it was quick and would have slipped through security had they not been on alert. However, Nick, who boasted a better sense than any other in that regard, reacted faster than anyone else.
With a flick of his wrist, he immediately swung his sheathed sword to block off the arrow.
Without lowering his sword, Nick locked eyes with the Second Prince. Kyle nodded, and Nick moved right away.
"Follow me! They're over there!"
With Nick as the lead and the guards in tow, they ran in the direction the arrow had come.
Kyle quickly ordered for his men to fill in the vacant space they had left. He then sent the Emperor and the First Prince back to the mansion in a carriage.
After which, he demanded the collection of everyone's identification card.
One's crisis management ability could be seen in how well they took control of the situation. And Prince Kyle certainly showed it through his innate ability to make quick judgements and act upon it.
Tara helped Olive slowly stand up and watched the scene.
'Haa... It was blocked? ... Thank god... If nothing happens in Tillis Valley...'
She prayed earnestly for Bernard's safe return, who had left to explore the Tillis Valley once more in the morning.
About 20 minutes later, the knights who had finished their search around the open area, came back one after another to report that there were no more intruders.
"Alright everyone, line up this way and please take out you ID cards in advance."
The knight's booming voice could be heard cutting through the crowded area repeatedly.
The chaos was induced by the loud complaints and chatter from the startled and curious crowd present in the clearing, and gradually subsided under the knight's directions.
Lady Olive and I stood in a daze where we had fallen and carefully shook the snow off of ourselves.
"Are you alright, Lady Olive? I'm sorry. My foot slipped suddenly."
"What? Ah... Yes."
Olive's eyes were trembling.
It was unconvincing.
But it would've been even weirder to say that I had slid on purpose. Lady Olive nodded her head and accepted it.
To be honest, I felt more concerned by the unforeseen incident in the clearing the than the fall I had caused.
"I was in a hurry since I hadn't told everything to Captain Nick. I apologize. Are you hurt anywhere?"
"Ah... No, I think I'm fine."
"That's a relief. Hehe."
"Is your Ladyship okay?"
"Yes. I am fine."
Nodding her head, Olive brushed off the snow on her skirt then suddenly raised her head.
"What is this?"
I looked towards the ground where Olive, wide eyed, pointed. The crushed snow was vividly painted in blood red.
Only then did the pain come rushing in and I squeezed my left hand tightly. Ou... ch.
My palm was roughly torn, and both the snow and my hand were dyed in blood. As soon as my body registered the pain, chills began running down my spine, the shivering and trembling became worse than ever.
"Oh, dear. What should we do, Lady Tara? Are you alright?"
"Haa... Yes. I'm okay."
"Over there, in the snow, there’s a branch..."
Olive’s knight, who had found the cause of the wound, naturally turned our attention towards the ground.
The branch had been roughly broken off in jaggedly sharp pieces.
Just as the palm of my hand, the branch was stained with blood.
"Haa... So there was something like that."
Lady Olivia lifted her gaze from the branch and widened her eyes in surprise as soon as she saw me.
"Yo.... your face is so... pale."
"Is that so? It's okay. I get cold a bit easily... A wound like this... Haa..."
Everything was spinning, and without realising it, my knees gave out under me.
"Lean on me. Come on."
Olive wrapped her arm around my shoulders and quickly hurried us towards the place where identification controls were happening.
“He was mortally wounded and took his own life a few minutes later.”
Kyle listened to Chris' report as he was going through the identification cards one by one.
Assassination attempts directed at the Imperial Family were not uncommon, but today's attempt was reckless. Like a moth flying towards a flame without a second thought.
It was an attempt made by someone who was certain they wouldn't get caught. Meaning the leader was quite confident in his skills.
"And the assassin?"
"It was an old man. He told us he was blackmailed and asked for us to find the bodies of his family that had been held hostage. He also requested..."
"I'm sure he was asking for revenge."
"Yes, Your Highness. He told us the blackmailer looked like someone who worked at the Palace using his brain, not his body. A short and emotionless man."
"... I see. And what about the people behind this?"
"There were four. Their identity cards were elaborate, but when examined more closely, there were signs of forgery. I put it on the evidence list."
"Are they alive?"
"They all took their own lives when cornered."
"... Was it out of loyalty, or perhaps out of fear?"
“Is there any greater fear than death?”
"What did the screams you've heard countless times on the battlefield mean?"
As if he was recalling painful memories, Chris grimaced and murmured in a low voice.
"The people who were screaming were begging to be killed."
"If he was a shrewd and emotionless man, who did all of this while instilling a fear greater than death, it might've been possible... Is there any trace of the gardener's family?"
"I've found their trail. I'm not sure what there is to be so afraid of, they're not coming out of hiding. Do you think this case is related to the dragon fruit incident?"
“Interestingly, they have a similar feel. They are both savage with clear intentions. The Dragon Fruit incident was to cover up the military leak and House Elias was the victim. If it had not been properly resolved, they would've been accused of treason and ended up in ruin. The gardener died and so his family hid in fear of meeting the same fate."
"In this case, they're targeting House Kezak."
"That's right. If an arrow from House Kezak had hit the First Prince, they would've been severely affected, and the nobles would've been held responsible."
"... Even if that were the case, it wouldn't make sense for House Kezak to use their Family's arrows in an assassination attempt? Who has ever attempted assassination using their own signature arrows? Anyone would figure out it was an obvious set-up."
"On the contrary, what if I said they used them because it's so obvious that they did it with confidence, thinking they could use it to escape suspicion?"
Chris had no answer to that.
"That's exactly what they are aiming for. No one will be able to say no or sure. An ambiguous theory that can neither be confirmed nor denied. A case that won't be cleared up easily, so suspicion would continue to follow the Kezak's and criticism would spill over me as well. Since I'm the one that House Kezak supports."
"As expected, the Toulouse..."
"... Interestingly enough, that hypothesis is weak. No matter how much I hate them, they wouldn't have risked the life of the First Prince, who will be the one to give them power. There's no way the Empress would idly sit by. Nevertheless, we can't exclude them from the group of suspects."
"Then is the one Your Highness has in mind perhaps the Third...!"
Chris couldn't bring himself to finish. Suspecting the nobility was one thing, but doubting the imperial family was another.
"Well... Enough theorizing. What about the arrows?"
"I have put them in a box as commanded. A different arrow has been placed on the evidence list."
"Alright, good job."
"What if someone questions the arrow?"
"That... won't happen. You'll figure it out, if you'd think about it a little."
Chris, who realised belatedly, smiled awkwardly.
Of course. If one thought about it, it was be clear that only the culprit would ask to see the arrow.
You'd have to look very closely to know that the arrows were from House Kezak, and no one would have noticed the characteristics of the arrow in that chaos. Only the ones who had planned it would be aware of it, and Chris suddenly wondered how long it would take Nick to realise this fact.
'I'll test him later...'
Then, with a worried heart, Chris carefully opened his mouth.
"I am concerned that My Lord's fairness will be questioned in the future if we alter the evidence list."
"Yes, Your Highness."
"Why be honest and virtuous when the evil is cunning and sly? Especially when they're scheming while in hiding. It's necessary to fight evil with more cunningly evil means. Even if that isn’t the only power I have."
"Yes, Your Highness. I will keep that in mind."
"Ho, isn't that funny? They won't be able to come forward even if they know that the evidence has been changed. The moment they step forward, they'd admit that they're the criminal. That's the one thing I like about today's incident. Good work. Go and rest now."
"Yes, Your Highness."
Watching his Master give him a pat on the shoulder, Chris was once again thankful to be serving the Second Prince.
And he even dared to imagine that his Highness would be leading the Empire before long now, lighting up a fire in his heart.
When Chris left, a guard approached to report on the situation in the clearing.
“… We expect it will take at least an additional hour to complete the registration of all people present in the field. After that, it seems that it will take another hour or so to clear the space. The remaining members of the Phoenix Order and the Guard Knights will take care of that and then return to the mansion."
"Anything else noteworthy?"
"Lastly, we're going to dismantle the barracks. The Emperor and the First Prince resided there for awhile, so it would be great if Your Highness could look so that nothing is forgotten."
"The sun is setting. Just tear them down.”
"Oh. Well, not immediately..."
Kyle briefly turned his attention away from inspecting the identity cards when the guard started dragging his words.
"Why? Is there another reason?"
"Oh. It's just that the Palace administrator who called herself Captain Nick's Aide is currently being treated at the barracks."
The guard quickly explained the situation with a laugh, thinking that the Second Prince might misunderstand that the administrator was related to this incident.
"Ah, it has nothing to do with this case. She slipped and fell in the snow in the clearing and hurt herself. Hahaha."
"Nick's Aide you said?"
"Yes, normally, I would have sent her back, but she was losing a lot of blood. Fortunately, the young Palace doctor was still there, so I allowed her to be treated in the barracks. As soon as the treatment is over, I will start dismantling it immediately."
The Prince put down the identification papers and turned towards the barracks immediately.
"She was... bleeding a lot?"
When asked by the Second Prince who growled in a low voice, the guard started trembling without realizing it.
'Oh, is that a potentially influential lead in this investigation?'
The guard immediately put away his smile.
"Yes, Your Highness."
"The Third Scribe?"
"Ah, I don't know her rank, but she's temporarily...!"
While chasing behind the Prince who was walking with long fast strides, the guard had a hard time finishing his report.
It was because, before he knew it, the Second Prince who had been approaching the barracks, violently opened the tent.