Chapter 4: Alphabet, Magic, and Intruder II
On this night, the Greisis Kingdom’s castle was ruled by darkness.
The evening moon was hidden behind clouds and the darkness outside seeped into the castle, obscuring everything. An intruder snuck in, completely suppressing his presence. He easily avoided the night watch and silently entered the target’s room.
This intruder worked as a spy for the illegal underground guild.
Not possessing any particular master, this spy would fulfill his employer’s contract within the deadline in exchange for a high price—very convenient for those of shady backgrounds who want something done quietly.
The contents of his jobs include: gathering information on opposing parties, searching for incriminating evidence, and sometimes even assassination. All the jobs that come to him were certainly illegal and tricky, but he always completed his job.
The intruder didn’t have a name nor did he give one out. As such, those around him gave him the name, out of fear.
He was a ‘shadow’ who silently draws near and by the time his victim notices him, it’s too late to stop the ‘fang’ from cutting into their neck.
But not everyone could hire him. That’s because the cost of hiring from the underground guild grows in proportion to the request taker’s abilities.
In order to hire someone powerful enough to earn such a nickname, a befitting settlement was required. The price was even higher considering he had, through his great abilities, gained the right to choose his jobs.
This time his task was to retrieve the report submitted by a certain aristocrat to the royal castle. The aristocrat had mixed up the document that he meant to give in place of the one that he wanted to hide. As such, this job could only be described as “cleaning up an idiot’s mess”.
Just infiltrating this place was already quite troublesome. This was the royal castle of an imperial power. The guards weren’t as lax as those in other aristocrats’ manors, and first-rate barriers were employed everywhere. The invader carried such a nickname for a reason, so infiltrating this place was possible for him; but if he could, he would prefer to stay away from here.
(Tch, I chose the wrong job.)
The intruder clicked his tongue inside his head.
The job he was introduced to in the guild didn’t seem that difficult. Besides, the compensation was large when compared to the job’s contents, and considering the fact that he needed money to pay for some expenses, he decided to accept the job. But after he signed the contract, his employer declared that the place he would be infiltrating would be the royal castle.
(That’s why no one else accepted, despite such a large reward.)
The intruder felt the saying “The most appealing stories always have a catch” seeped deep inside of his mind. He later heard from the guild receptionist that that aristocrat has repeatedly done the same thing again and again, resulting in hatred towards him from all the underground members.
They all grumbled, telling that he shouldn’t have accepted such a job.
“But like, the guild’s mediation charge is also a lot, hum~ .”
He replied, in a manner atypical of an underground guild member.
His trait of not socializing with people, also backfired on him. If he had any comrades, he might have gotten some warning from them; either way it was already too late.
But even if there was foul play involved, it could be detrimental to his future jobs if he ripped up a contract he had previously accepted. It may be illegal, but it was paid work, and getting that work depended on his credibility.
Therefore, he infiltrated the royal castle despite his aggravation, hastening toward his target. He looked around the room.
(According to the information, this should be the room with my objective……but what the heck is with this place?)
The room was large and probably occupiable by around 20 people. But practically all the desks were covered in piles of documents, making the room feel oppressive and narrow. Searching for the intended document in this mess will probably require a considerable amount of effort.
For the time being, he headed towards the seat belonging to the one with the highest position.
This was probably the department head’s seat and hopefully from that, he could grasp the distribution of work in the room. He thought it would make his job faster to first get a lay of the land.
Compared to the other desks, this one was orderly and made with the highest quality. He began to search through the documents on top of the desk, seeming all too familiar with the process.
*Bump* He heard a noise.
The sound surprised the man, and he stopped moving. He drew his hidden knife and looked around his surroundings.
But there was no one around. He remained the only being in this dark space surrounded by mountains of documents.
(….Was it my imagination?)
Thinking so, he put away his weapon. He was about to stretch his hand out for another document, but he halted all movement.
His gaze was met by a face that was situated underneath the desk he was about to rummage through.
An idiotic and childish voice echoed through the room.
The owner of the voice tilted his head up at the intruder with an embarrassed look on his face.
It was Herscherik, who had been crouching underneath the desk to avoid being discovered. He was challenging the mountain of documents again this evening, this time with a light.
One month had already passed since he had started his, unofficial, internal audit. He had just begun to grasp the structure and rankings in the organisation and the distribution of its jobs. Because he was too engrossed by the documents, he didn’t even notice the intruder until he heard the sound of rustling overhead….in other words, not until there was noise on top of the desk directly above him.
Nevertheless, he was the only one who came to this place around this time, and so he was expecting to be alone. And since the intruder was that silent, what can’t be helped can’t be helped.
(He’s probably not a person from this castle. Since he’s fully dressed in black and all…..)
Herscherik looked at the person and his pure black clothes that seemed to make him disappear into the night. He was also covering his mouth with a black cloth and had on a black hood. The only thing one could see of him were his eyes.
In this night with the moon obscured by clouds, his eyes, illuminated by the faint light, looked dark. However, on closer inspection, they were red like blood. Herscherik could clearly see how those eyes froze at this unexpected situation.
Even Herscherik would freeze if he saw a random child come out from under a desk.
“Um, is me being here bad?”
Herscherik asked as he looked at his pocket watch. It was almost time for the night guard to arrive.
While he was checking the time, he heard footsteps getting closer. He also saw the eyes of the man in front of him become flustered.
Herscherik hesitated but only for a moment.
He quickly returned the pile of documents he had been reading from, back to the desk. He then slipped past the intruder and headed towards the hallway.
The intruder saw Herscherik start to leave and returned to his senses. Normally, he would be able to handle such a situation, but the unexpectedness of it slowed down his brain and caused him to let his guard down.
He knew it would be bad if soldiers were called, so he tried to capture the boy. However, because his movements were slow due to the shock, Herscherik had already rushed out into the hallway.
(…….Including the child, should I get rid of the patrol?)
Killing a random child unconnected to his job would leave a bad taste in his mouth, but it couldn’t be helped. With a nimble flick of the wrists, the intruder had his knives clasped in his hands.
He peeked out the door into the hallway. Thereupon, he saw the child and soldier conversing in the middle of the path. Or rather, he saw the guard scolding the child.
“Your Highness Herscherik, how many times must I tell you to stop having these ‘tests of courage’!”
The child, addressed by the guard as ‘Your Highness’,was bowing his head in apology. Even though the soldier was only a retainer, he scolded the child as if the boy was his own. The intruder froze again, witnessing yet another bizarre scene.
“Well now! I will escort you back tonight, so please, let us go. And the next time I find you out here in the middle of the night, I’ll report this to His Majesty, do you understand?”
“Understood! I’ll make sure that you don’t find me next time!”
“Your Highness Herscherik…..good grief.”
The soldier let out a sigh and led the child away. His tone was like that of a father, and although his facial expression couldn’t be seen, there was no doubt from his air of resignation, that his laugh was a strained one.
Herscherik observed the soldier in front of him before turning around. He lightly waved his hand and smiled at the intruder who had been waiting and watching from inside the room. Then, Herscherik ran up to the soldier and nonchalantly began chatting with him in a jovial manner. With that, the soldier left, completely unaware of the intruder in the room behind him.
The intruder was frozen stiff with each unexpected scenario piling on top of each other. All he could do was watch the night guard and the prince walk away. While unsatisfied by his lack of progress, he was forced to retreat.
Herscherik—the 7th Prince, the youngest prince of the Greisis Kingdom, for whom the king had the most affection.
At the banquet in the beginning of spring to celebrate his 3rd birthday, it was discovered that a certain count had been committing treason towards the nation. This had gone public, becoming a common topic of discussion within the country.
Herscherik’s name was introduced to the public only twice: through the announcement of his birthday and through that incident. Though, the citizens didn’t pay much attention to the news. This was already the 7th time that they had celebrated a prince’s birthday. And if one were to add to that number the celebrations for the princesses, one would run out of fingers with which to count. Furthermore, news about the country’s corruption was an everyday occurrence. Rather than worrying about such distant problems, the citizens were more concerned with how they were going to live through their tomorrow.
When the intruder learned about that story the next day, he was full of confusion.
“That was the prince?”
(But why was he was sneaking around in the middle of the night to look at a bunch of documents?)
The intruder’s answer appeared before him that night.
“Good evening, umm, Mr. Intruder?”
When he infiltrated the palace again and returned to the same room, he found the boy sitting and waiting by the window. Unlike last time, moonbeams illuminated the room. His blonde hair looked magical in the light, and his blue eyes gave off an even more fantastical air.
The intruder didn’t sense any hostility in those eyes, but the scene itself was still as bizarre and unrealistic as before, due to the young prince’s presence here in the middle of the night.
The intruder instinctively drew his knives, but Herscherik panicked and waved his hands in front of him, showing that he held no ill will.
“Wa-wait a sec! There’s no one else here besides me. By the way, the night guard won’t come here until about an hour from now.”
“…..What do you want?”
The intruder spoke vigilantly, in a low voice.
Herscherik took this as a sign that the man was willing to listen, and felt relieved.
“I have something I want to ask you.”
Hercherik said as he held out a document. Without lowering his knives, the intruder peered at the page. On it was a list of food and furniture, purchased for use in the castle.
The intruder tilted his head in puzzlement, and Herscherik asked with a serious face.
“Are the costs of these expensive? Or are they cheap?”
The strangeness of the question paralyzed the intruder’s mind such that he answered without thinking.
“It’s three times greater than the lowest price.”
(They have quality, but it’s a bit of a rip-off.)
When he didn’t have work, he would mingle with and live among the ordinary folk. He even went out to the marketplace on occasion. The prices listed on that document would make anyone’s eyebrows knit in bewilderment.
Herscherik expected such an answer, letting out a sigh and scratching his head.
“That’s what I thought…..though it somewhat can’t be helped.”
Herscherik had begun to mumble to himself. He let out another sigh and faced the intruder.
“Thanks. The people in the castle wouldn’t tell me, so you were helpful. Ah, I’m Herscherik. Your name is?”
“…..Don’t have one.”
The intruder answered. Later on, he wondered why he had answered so obediently. It’s just that, in that situation, he found neither hostility nor anything to fear. He found it ridiculous to be wary of Herscherik, who smiled and addressed him like an old friend.
“…..Then I’ll call you Mr. Kuro, alright?”
That was the name of Ryouko’s family’s dog. It was a large, black dog, with a scary face, and it made all the neighborhood kids cry. But in reality, it was a friendly creature that hardly ever barked at people. When Herscherik saw the intruder’s figure, fully dressed in black, he was reminded of his beloved dog, Kuro.
“Mr. Kuro, why are you here? Since you helped me, I want to thank you.”
“Oi, I’m more or less an intruder, you know.”
Kuro—the intruder couldn’t understand why he was being addressed so casually. Herscherik sensed Kuro’s feelings and grumbled while looking up at the ceiling.
“Aah, when you infiltrated the castle, I knew that you were quite the skilled person. Plus, if you were after my life, you probably would’ve finished your job last time. As I’m not dead yet, this means you have another motive, right?”
(If he was serious, my head would’ve been sent flying.)
Herscherik was aware that his own combative abilities were practically nonexistent. Nevertheless, he needed someone who knew what was going on outside.
Even though he asked Meria, she wouldn’t give him an answer.
His father was busy, so he didn’t want to bother him. All the other princess consorts were celebrities so he was hesitant to ask them questions.
In addition if he, a 3 year-old, asked, it was doubtful that they would properly answer him.
“That’s why I’ll help you. I value my life, and if I quickly give you what you want, you’ll quickly leave; that’s my true intention.”
Herscherik said and smiled wide. It was meant to be refreshing smile, but to Kuro, it looked bold.
But an underground person would use anything he can use.
Kuro disclosed the details of his task, the kind of report he was looking for and when it was submitted, without revealing his employer. When he finished, Herscherik thought for a couple of seconds then pointed towards a pile of documents on one of the desks.
“Aah, it could be in that pile over there. There’s a bunch of uncompleted documents.”
At those words, Kuro fished through the bundle of documents, half convinced and half doubtful. But just as the boy had said, he was able to find his target.
“That’s it, right? There was a bunch of strange numbers on the report, so it bothered me, but you wanted to replace it, correct?”
To Kuro, it sounded like Herscherik had already checked the contents of the document. This caused Kuro’s intense gaze to fall on him, but the boy merely shrugged his shoulders.
Kuro later learned that this prince had actually checked it and decided to hand it over like an adult. In fact, if the boy didn’t know about the document, he probably would have tried to buy some time. He definitely would have tried to deceived Kuro and press him about the correct document, depending on the seriousness of its contents.
These thoughts vaguely ran through Kuro’s mind. He looked on with doubtful eyes, and Herscherik smiled sweetly and went on.
“I won’t tell anyone, so don’t worry. Even if a tiny kid like me were to say something, no one would bother to listen…..well, at least for now, heh.”
That definitely wasn’t a smile that belonged to a child.
Later, Kuro slapped the document in his client’s face and fulfilled his contract. Still, the reputation of his skill grew and he frequently began to accept requests to infiltrate the royal castle.
Kuro had thought that he never wanted to do such a thing again, but in the end he was intrigued by that prince. Each time he infiltrated the castle, he encountered the prince in places you would least expect to find a child.