Chapter 9: Deception, Deal, and Vessel I
“Search for His Highness Herscherik immediately!”
Intently watch the burning villa from afar, Count Grimm ordered his subordinates.
He saw them off as they hurriedly forged their way towards the villa before returning back to his mansion with a dark expression and heavy footsteps.
The servants exchanged glances with one another, concerned for their master’s mental well-being.
If something were to happen to the king’s dearly beloved prince on his land, the responsibility of this blunder would fall on no one else but the count.
Realizing this, the servants understood why the count’s footsteps had become heavy. And if their master, the count, lost his standing, they would be at the risk of losing their jobs.
A dark expression appeared on their faces as they let out a sigh.
Separated from his servants, Count Grimm continued with heavy footsteps to his study, closing the door behind him.
The fire in the villa had already subsided, but half of the Imperial Guards who had escorted the prince on his journey had perished. Although the prince’s remains were yet to be found among the line-up of victims, there was little hope for his survival.
“Yes, I did it! Ahahahahaha!”
Maybe because he felt a sense of security from being alone in his room, or he just didn’t care that Count Grimm raised his voice in ridicule.
He had employed thugs to assassinate the prince, and he was certain that his own skin was saved.
This was his planned scenario:
The villa the prince was staying at was invaded by robbers. After they pillaged it for money and goods, they set it on fire. As for the Imperial Guards, they were too exhausted from traveling and possibly had drifted off into deep slumber, so they were unable to rescue the prince from the fire in time. Thus, he unfortunately died.
(Serving the Imperial Guards drugged food was a success.)
For the elite Imperial Guards to be defeated without any resistance would have added some unnatural and suspicious quality to the story. That was why he chose to mix the precise amount of drugs in so that they wouldn’t detect it, instead believing the effects to be exhaustion.
As expected, the knights attributed the effects as exhaustion from the trip. They were careless as they were remiss during their nighttime patrol, allowing the thugs to easily deal with them.
(That man would deal with the prince for me. The aristocrats’ response may be annoying, but this prince has no supporters.)
If the prince had a mother who was the princess of an allied nation like the 1st prince, or he had married a daughter of an affluent aristocrat like the other princes, this wouldn’t have proceeded as smoothly.
However, regardless of whether or not the prince had anyone supporting him, if a member of the royal family were to have an accident and lose their life, it would become a grave situation.
But Grimm was a member of the great aristocratic faction, the Minister’s faction. The minister and the surrounding aristocrats had made various preparations for such an event.
Count Grimm had concluded that if he were to implore that man, he would silence everything, like how he had done so with the previous count.
“Though I would have never imagined the prince’s butler to be ‘Shadow Fang’…..”
There was no one part of the underground who wasn’t familiar with that name.
Grimm had frequently employed the underground guild, so he knew of the man’s existence, but because the cost was astronomically large, Grimm never hired him.
Since one of the thugs he hired to intimidate those on his land had brought such information to him, he was able to take measures against the spy.
Count Grimm clenched both of his hands into fists. If he could, he would have a celebratory glass of the finest alcohol, but it would be best to not do such while he was supposedly in the middle of searching for the prince.
However, there were people inside his room who hampered on his delight.
“Heh, congratulations on that.”
A child’s voice could be heard from the darkness, causing Count Grimm to freeze.
The lights in the study lit up.
Inside the room, the person he had thought died was sitting on his custom-ordered leather sofa, legs crossed and grinning.
“Sorry to rain on your parade, but I’m perfectly alive.”
When Grimm finally finished saying the word, Herscherik raised and lowered his shoulders in display. He then looked up at Kuro standing beside him.
“My butler is really amazing, right? But, I’m sure you already know that.”
Kuro smiled in response to Herscherik’s words then looked down at the count with a nonchalant face.
After being surrounded by those thugs, Kuro had completely annihilated the entire group in just 10 seconds.
He destroyed the approaching enemies with a single and accurate blow to their vitals. He threw the daggers he carried at those aiming at him with bows and crossbows, piercing all of them through their skulls.
After those 10 seconds, the only one able to leave the scene was Kuro.
Kuro infiltrated the flaming villa, kicked open the door to Herscherik’s sealed room, discovered Herscherik wrapped up in a blanket in the corner of the room, and jumped out of the 3rd floor window while carrying him, successfully making an escape.
Kuro commented, “Jumping from the 3rd floor in the middle of a fire was more difficult than fighting those thugs.”
Since the surrounding area was in chaos due to the fire, it was fortunate that no one saw them jumping down.
However, the jump down was just like a roller coaster, so it went without saying that Herscherik felt sick and was stuck clinging to Kuro, unable to move.
“15 people were a breeze. If you prepare twice as much next time, you could stop me for at least a minute.”
Smiling, he implied a threat, “That is, if there will be a next time, heh.”
Count Grimm shuddered at those words as if he was just drenched in cold water in the middle of winter and sat down on the spot. He understood that there was no escape left for him. He had no choice but to realize this. As there wasn’t a single soul who had ever escaped from Shadow Fang.
“Well then, Count Grimm. I’ve got some things to ask you, so mind giving me answers? I mean, it’s fine if you don’t answer, but if you do that, you’ll receive the death penalty for attempting to assassinate a member of the royal family.”
The smiling prince resembled an angel, but also the devil.
“Firstly, why did you do this? There was nothing out of the ordinary when I first arrived.”
At arrival, the count was fully intent on welcoming the prince in hopes of gaining favors.
But now, he had openly started a fire and attempted to assassinate the boy. How could he explain this complete change in attitude?
“……That was because…His Highness was holding the pocket watch…..”
“Pocket watch? Do you mean this?”
Herscherik sensed the meaning from Grimm’s weak reply and showed the pocket watch he had received from Count Luzeria. With the exception of sleeping, he had always carried it with him, not to mention it was a life-saver during the fire.
“Since that was something Count Luzeria had on him…..I had thought that His Highness was connected to Count Luzeria….”
“Ah, so that’s how it was.”
This man had met with Count Luzeria the night before the execution. He had come to press the count to hand over the proof, but the count didn’t give him anything.
Grimm had probably searched every nook and cranny of this mansion, but he couldn’t find it. He was about to give up when Herscherik showed up, carrying the same pocket watch as Count Luzeria.
“So, you planned an assassination, am I right?”
Count Grimm’s prediction wasn’t wrong.
It was true that Herscherik and Count Luzeria were connected. It was just that Herscherik wasn’t carrying what Grimm wanted, nor did he have any idea what it was.
But Grimm’s ability to sense danger was quite impressive. The count had died roughly two years ago. Herscherik was 3 years old at that time, so it wouldn’t be strange to think that there was no relation between the two. He also acknowledged how useful Grimm was to the Minister.
The thing Grimm was searching for bothered Herscherik for a second, but he revised his thinking.
It wouldn’t be good if he carelessly let slip that he knew of it and allow his mind to be too caught up in this. And even if he tried to obtain it, Herscherik wasn’t sure if he would properly be able to deal with it.
Moreover, the original holder of this item was Count Luzeria who had been convicted as guilty. To present evidence from someone who had been declared guilty, although it was through false charges, even now Herscherik didn’t know how effective it would be.
Additionally, he didn’t believe he could find it either, seeing how these men searched in frenzy and still couldn’t find it.
Moreover, if information that he knew of the item was to reach the faction’s ears by chance, living to the next day may become an exceedingly difficult task. Herscherik was fully aware that he had yet to obtain the strength to oppose the minister.
And even if he did obtained information about the evidence that wasn’t here, the risk was too high. Thus, being ignorant about this matter was his best defense against danger.
Besides, as long as he was connected, the information would certainly find its way to him one day.
Reasoning all of this in his mind, Herscherik decided to continue the conversation.
“All right. Schwartz, next.”
“As you wish.”
What Kuro was ordered to bring out of his pocket were several documents.
He spread them out to show the count. When Count Grimm recognized them, his face turned pale.
“Documents containing evidence of selling our country’s weapons to the enemy nation.”
Around the area of Greisis Kingdom, there was a rival empire to the kingdom.
Greisis Kingdom had a longer history, but it was currently being intimidated by the empire strengthening their military might as of recently. Not only were there small skirmishes along the border between the two, there was also the Great War 10 years ago.
These documents were a secret message from the empire. And from examining the contents, these were not the first communications.
“I was told to!”
“By who? Whatever, there are tattered pieces elsewhere as well.”
The documents Kuro presented were evidence of various frauds:
Unreasonable taxes and intimidating the citizens to pay up, a falsified petition to enter the country, and embezzlement.
And the thing that made Herscherik curious in the first place: investigation of the armory stock.
The supposedly delivered goods weren’t delivered. From there, Herscherik verified with the supplier in the castle town. It was true that the goods weren’t delivered to the castle, but instead, the destination was altered in the middle of the delivery, and the goods were sent to the area around the national border.
Herscherik returned to the castle and immediately tried to confirm the facts, but no matter how much he investigated, he couldn’t find any documents concerning the delivery destination. There were also oppositions from fellow bureaus and negligence in reporting the weapons delivery, turning this situation into disaster.
Moreover, there was the secret message from the empire inside the evidence Count Luzeria had when he was falsely arrested. Herscherik realized that no matter how forged the proof was, an original would be necessary in order to create a counterfeit document from a foreign nation.
That was why as the person who wanted Count Luzeria gone the most, Grimm was the most flustered, and thus he had doubtful eyes fixed on him.
With Kuro only having to look for evidence according to Herscherik’s directions, everything was brought to light.
Each time a charge was read out loud, Count Grimm grew paler; at the end, his face was the color of dust.
“There are others doing the same….”
“Hey, do you think that if someone else is doing it, that makes it alright for you to do it as well?”
Herscherik rebuked, repulsed.
To think that it was forgivable to do it as long as there were others as well was utterly ridiculous. Such a way of thinking had disgusted Herscherik even in his past life.
Someone else had done it, so it’s fine for me. In other words, you don’t think for yourself; you don’t have any intention to take responsibility.
Not a single responsibility lies with you. If such thoughts were filling the country, things must change.
“Please, I beg of you. Spare me! Leave me just my life!”
Count Grimm looked at the cold Herscherik and prostrated himself, rubbing his forehead on the ground.
“Whose mouth is saying that they don’t want to die?”
Herscherik’s tone was much too cold for a child to have. Kuro became wide-eyed at how his master’s cold tone had changed the atmosphere.
“Count Luzeria died innocently. You were the one who drove him down.”
To be more exactly, the ringleader used Count Grimm to drive Luzeria, but at this moment, none of that matter.
“‘In this world, only the strong and clever survive. The other foolish people are either used and left to die, or they rebel and die; those are the only options,’ right?”
“That….where did you!”
Herscherik recited each and every word from that time without making a single mistake. He forbade himself from making any mistake with those words.
“This time, you are the fool.”
(He knew everything. His Highness was fully aware of everything….)
Grimm despaired. All the fortune and fame he had accumulated till now had ended. With this, all his family members would receive the death penalty.
“…..Well then, in that case, Count Grimm, shall we make a deal?”
Count Grimm raised his face at such unexpected words.
He saw hope that he might be spared.
“I-I’ll do anything. I pledge my allegiance to you from the bottom of my heart! Please, spare just my life!”
“Ha? We don’t need your allegiance. Such a thing could be swept away like the trash it is.”
Herscherik sensed Kuro from behind spitting out those words, but Herscherik chose to ignore it.
Count Grimm already had no say whatsoever in this situation. Herscherik obtained solid evidence, so if Grimm refused, there would only be death waiting for him.