It wasn't difficult even for a normal person to see when someone was tense, but Shirou was quite adept at doing so even for a man of Gemas's particular disposition.
Quiet and generally soft spoken, Gemas was a man of action rather than words, and his present state before Shirou's eyes was telling. His face was set in a hardened frown, the muscles of his back relaxing as if preparation to pounce at any given moment. Moreover, his hands were never at his side, but constantly kept forward, his gaze straight, but his eyes subtly glancing at the wagon's corner.
For his part, Shirou couldn't understand why Gemas was acting this way. Everyone present in the wagon boarded for the Baharuth Empire was of common or lower birth, meaning that they were relatively harmless. Only nobles or rich merchants able to foster their children's growth could achieve anything worth being cautious over, but those nobility would never deign to board a public transportation wagon.
So, why then was Gemas eyeing a scraggily looking man with unkempt hair and dirty stained rags with such intensity?
Shirou inwardly hummed in thought and assessed the man of Gemas's focus. Nothing really felt off, or awkward. There were no traces of magic, nor any outward signs of physical proficiency. Instead, the man was practically a stick, all skin and bones. The only thing of actual note was the odd tattoo of eight-fingered hand the man was trying to keep hidden.
To be honest, the man was doing a good job at keeping the tattoo out of sight, but against people of Shirou, Gemas, and Merlin's observation skills, it was all meaningless.
Of course, Shirou and Merlin weren't certain of what the particular image of an eight-fingered hand meant, but the same couldn't be said for Gemas.
Shirou glanced at Merlin to ask for a second opinion, but found himself wanting.
At this point, Shirou could understand some of Arturia's frustrations with Merlin. It wasn't as if Merlin wasn't capable, it was just that he was whimsical and only moved when it was to his own amusement like teasing Arturia or if the situation was dire.
In this case, Merlin had his priorities straight and merely winked at Shirou while being led away to sit on the other side of the wagon where two older-type women with buxom figures and inviting smiles welcomed him.
Shirou felt his brow twitch.
Merlin wasn't going to be of help. Typical.
Shaking his head, Shirou decided that speculation would only get him nowhere.
Inching over without a change in his expression, he sat on the empty seat next to Gemas's right. It had remained empty as some of the passengers were intimidated or put off by the heavy frown on Gemas's face.
Almost as soon as Shirou sat to Gemas's right, Gemas glanced over, a tinge of surprise in his eyes that quickly shifted into acceptance.
"Is there a problem?" Shirou whispered, knowing enough to remain discreet. Even Gemas, though frowning, made sure to remain unnoticed by the tattooed man seated on the far edge of the wagon.
Gemas said nothing, and instead signalled with a small gesture to pretend that the tattooed man didn't exist when said man cautiously surveyed the interior of the wagon.
Both Shirou and Gemas pretended as if they were preoccupied with staring at the countryside leading to the Baharuth Empire until the tattooed man's gaze shifted away.
"Eight Fingers," Gemas said curtly before giving Shirou an odd expression when Shirou didn't seem to understand the term.
Shifting to keep one eye on the tattooed man, Gemas clasped his hands together.
"The Eight Fingers are an underground syndicate originating from the Re-Estize Kingdom with far reaching connections. They must have a branch in the Baharuth Empire if one of its members is riding a carriage there," Gemas explained as concisely as he could before rummaging through his belonging to take out a few letters which he showed to Shirou. "These are letters from my wife dated several weeks back about numerous missing persons cases occurring near the border of the Baharuth Empire and Re-Estize. The Eight Fingers might have something to do with it, but honestly, it's best not to get involved unless you're confident."
Gemas seemed to have decided to mind his own business rather than apprehend the tattooed man.
"You're not confident then?" Shirou asked, his brows knit together.
"It's not about me," Gemas patiently shook his head, his composed features and visible scars denoting him as a man unafraid of harm. So, why then would he choose not to act?
Gemas quietly took back the letters he'd given to Shirou.
"Although my wife's letters reached me, the same can't be said about mine to hers," Gemas spoke curtly. "With her profession as an Adventurer, it's hard to get the mailing address correct as she operates freely within the zone of both the Baharuth Empire and Re-Estize. She's free spirited and stubborn. I worry for her. Therefore, until I can get to my wife, I'd rather not risk a confrontation with the Eight Fingers that could implicate her if she's seen with me."
Ah. It was concern for another's wellbeing.
Shirou could understand the sentiment, as he was all too familiar with it. "Then what if I were to help?" he suggested.
His suggestion gave Gemas pause. As one of the people who'd witnessed first hand the events of Southern Roble and Camelot's founding, he knew full well what it meant for Shirou to stand 'shoulder-to-shoulder' with Arturia and the Knights of the Round.
"If we're able to fully uproot the organization's foundation in the Baharuth Empire like I helped do in Roble, then I'd be willing to take action." Gemas was frank. "At the very least it would mean it would be safer for my wife's work while in the Empire."
"Then let's do that," Shirou was quick to make a decision while Gemas briefly hesitated. Then Shirou pointed at Merlin. "He's here as well. Merlin may not look dependable-"
"Ladies, ladies, I have flowers for the both of you!"
Merlin's frivolous voice drowned out any positive connotations Shirou was just about to make, and Gemas frowned harder while watching Merlin wrap his arms around a woman each.
It was hard not to notice considering the blushes on both women's faces, but if anything, Merlin was dastardly handsome compared by the New World's standards.
"He looks the sort to die first," Gemas wasn't reserved with his opinion.
"He's a Wiza- I mean Magic Caster. His looks can be deceiving," Shirou protested weakly.
"Then what of his actions? Are they also a ruse?" Gemas said flatly while watching Merlin take liberties with the two women and rub his cheek against there's while fondling a breast in each hand.
It's not. That's just how he is. He looked ready for a one-night stand.
Shirou couldn't possibly admit to this though. "…Yes, of course," he said lying through his teeth before quickly steering the topic away from Merlin, less Gemas's opinion plummet further.
"If anything, I'll be around to help. Moreover, a friend of mine is already in the Baharuth Empire, and I guarantee that she's capable," Shirou said in earnest.
Gemas thought over it for a while longer, before eventually agreeing when he took confidence in the skill Shirou must possess.
"Alright, fine," he conceded, much to Shirou relief.
Shirou would have acted himself without Gemas's help, but the thing was, he knew next to nothing about the organizations and political spheres of the New World.
With both Gemas and Shirou coming to an agreement, they spent the rest of the journey to the Baharuth Empire keeping a subtle vigil on the tattooed man.
Meanwhile, Merlin's nightly 'ventures' were largely ignored aside from the occasional jealous gazes directed Merlin's way from fellow wagon passengers.
"This is why I love public transport. Socializing is key," Merlin spoke contentedly when they finally reached the Baharuth Empire and were deboarding the wagon. The two women he was with the entire way each showed expressions of longing.
This womanizer. That was two more hearts broken.
Shirou could tell that Gemas's impression of Camelot's premier Magic Caster had hit rock bottom, but Shirou digressed. Merlin had his uses, and there were more important matters at hand, namely the tattooed man quickly making himself scarce.
The wagon had stopped in one of the Baharuth Empire's busier streets in the eastern suburb where many people congregated to reach the central markets. This was the exact same place where Nero had first performed and managed to catch the Bloody Emperor's eye, but this was beside the point.
What mattered was what happened just as the tattooed man was intent on slipping away from the crowd by entering an obscure alley between two buildings made of brick and cobblestone.
A fist smacked squarely into the tattooed man's face, spittle and droplets of blood splattering to the ground from a broken nose and split lip.
Gemas didn't waste the opportunity, and immediately delivered a right hook, then a gut blow which bowed the man over enough for Gemas to deliver another punch to the face.
Staggering back, the tattooed man sported a black eye, and a few missing teeth; the man's legs wobbling from disorientation and growing panic.
Gemas remained silent throughout, focusing only on the most efficient means to detain the adversary before him. However, just when Gemas decided to knock the man off his feet and pin him to the ground, Shirou intervened by placing a hand on Gemas's shoulder.
"Hold on. Let him get away," Shirou said much to Gemas's confusion, causing Gemas to pause in his assault
This was more than enough time for the tattooed man to turn around and flee as fast as his legs could take him without looking back even once.
Gemas eyed Shirou as if he'd just let an opportune chance go, the implied 'why?' hanging in the air.
Shirou didn't disappoint.
"We can track him later when he returns back to whatever base of operations he belongs to," Shirou explained while focusing on the blood stains on the ground and taking a knee to dab a bit of the blood on a white cloth, staining it.
After hearing what Shirou had to say, Gemas had to re-evaluate his opinion on Shirou being one of those upright and valorous Knights. He seemed too experienced in dealing with the dregs of society.
"You seem well versed in this field, but how do you intend to track him?" Gemas inquired thoughtfully. "And don't say the Magic Caster. I won't buy it. He didn't even come to help and chased after another woman instead."
Shirou tucked the sample of blood away.
"I have my ways."
Nothing else need be said.
The Baharuth Empire was teeming with activity, a hive of newfound vigour after the political purging carried out by the Bloody Emperor. It was said that the Emperor was a lover of talents and cared not for one's status, but focused highly one one's capabilities instead.
There were many stories of talented people who've risen from rags to riches, and although the events of the purge were terrifying, there was now new life in the Empire. Subsidies and investments were put into a Magic Academy, and the Empire was practically on the cusps of a Golden Age.
Soon, the Bloody Emperor's ill reputation may undergo a change through his progressive policies and the gratitude of the talented given opportunity.
One such case, was the new Duchess tasked to oversee and manage the eastern half of the Baharuth Empire plagued by strife and banditry where Jircniv's influence was weaker. Jircniv's reputation preceded him, but it meant nothing to criminals, vagabonds, and syndicates if he couldn't enforce his rule effectively. This was the trouble of managing an entire Empire on his own after the political culling.
Jircniv couldn't have eyes everywhere, and the Eight Fingers had used the opportunity to infiltrate and set up a base of operations in the easternmost sector of Baharuth.
In any case, the point of the matter was that the Bloody Emperor seemed to have the utmost faith in the newly appointed Duchess of the region that he'd delegated full authority to her. There was even word that one of the Eight Knight Orders of the Empire was set to fall under the new Duchess's jurisdiction to police the area.
Surely, the new Duchess was an elegant, stalwart, and cold beauty deserving of her station who wouldn't abuse her newfound influence in the least.
Shirou felt his brows twitching, but there wasn't much he could do to assuage the subconscious reaction while staring at the vast expanse of land specifically reserved for him.
Manors lined the hillsides; an entire row of maids and butlers standing on either side of a long carpet showered with flower petals from children running and cheering.
The name came out somewhat strained and somewhat embarrassed.
The response from said person standing at the end of the walkway in front of the entrance of the grandest manor came quite spiritedly.
"This is too much," Shirou said without hesitation. From his side, he could see Merlin making more flower petals for the children in amusement, while Gemas's expression was half-way between stiff and gawking, eventually settling on resigned.
"No, it's too little," Nero said as if he spoke in jest before running up to everyone and personally leading them into the manor.
The maids, butlers, and hired children on standby were eventually dismissed after repeated polite refusals to be pampered.
Nero pouted in response, but honestly, Shirou drew the line when they attempted to undress him and get him into something more comfortable.
How Nero could undergo such preferential treatment without batting an eye was likely a product of habituation.
When all the butlers, maids, and children eventually emptied out of the manor, Nero led everyone to a smaller and quieter room where a table was already set. However, Gemas respectfully declined the invitation to sit.
Gemas already felt like he was getting side-tracked too much.
When Shirou had first mentioned to Gemas about a friend able to help them in the Baharuth Empire, this wasn't what he was expecting.
A friend, huh? Wasn't this a Baharuth Duchess with considerably influence? No more than that, did the Holy Valkyrie have such a shameless twin sister?
The red dress woven with white cloth and lace was see through by the waist, allowing all to stare to their heart's content. Moreover, the face and body type aside from the pert breasts, were near identical.
Gemas just shook his head. He wouldn't ask. He was a man of few words, and he didn't believe he'd be given a reasonable answer anyways.
He'd rather things just get to the point.
"How long until you decide to track that operative you let get away?" Gemas questioned Shirou gruffly.
There were still other things that Gemas needed to do, namely locating his wayward and adventurous wife. With the events in the Holy Kingdom of Roble as a precedent for a potential remerging of the Evil Deities, he didn't feel too comfortable leaving his wife alone to indulge in her Adventurer lifestyle without any warnings of caution. Being near the Holy Valkyrie in the castle of Camelot was by far the safest place in Gemas's mind. He just needed his wife to be aware of it.
Nero gave a confused look at Gemas's question, obviously feeling left out, but Shirou understood completely.
He acknowledged Gemas's question and hummed in thought.
"We need to give him some time to get comfortable and feel safe," Shirou began recounting from experience. "Most operatives belonging to a criminal syndicate are increasingly paranoid, and as such may delay in visiting their base of operations. Considering that we just accosted that operative, he has reason to be wary."
Gemas thought it over, and eventually nodded in acceptance.
"Makes sense," Gemas agreed, arguably because he would have done the same thing if he felt suspicious of an assailant that decided to let him go for no reason. "If it were me, I'd wait at least three days if nothing else occurs before taking my chances."
Shirou found no problems with the length of time. "Then three days it is," he nodded while Gemas bowed lightly to Nero, and revealed his intentions to leave.
"I'll be back on the morning of the third day." Gemas said with a sharp expression. He'd be using these next three days to look for clues on his wife's whereabouts, but he wouldn't forget a prior arrangement.
He stared deeply at Shirou. "You may need my help. It's not the first time I've dealt with members of the Eight Fingers, and this may be related to the string of missing persons cases in Baharuth. Ignoring moral aspects, the slave trade is rife with profit. I should be able to distinguish their 'store houses' and determine if any new slaves correlate with information from the missing persons cases."
"Then I'll look forward to your work," Shirou hummed in thought before giving a curt reply.
"Hmm," Gemas nodded and promptly left, leaving the room quiet.
"Praetor, I uhm, I seem to have no idea of what ails you?" Nero spoke up somewhat abashedly. As far as she was concerned, it was her task to make the Praetor's life as comfortable as possible, and right now she was failing.
Shirou was involved with something, and Nero hadn't done a thing to help yet.
"Oh hush, you. A little trouble does a man good," Merlin said casually.
Nero didn't agree nor disagree. "Weren't you eyeing that particular maid from earlier? Her quarters are down the hallway to the right of this room, and to the left of the branching corridor. Her room is the furthest-most room."
"-And that information signals my exit. Don't mind if I do. I knew I liked you better than little Arturia. She's one of those strike first women when she feels her sense of morals and justice threatened." Merlin gave a positively beaming grin before sauntering off.
Shirou watched as Nero made sure Merlin had left before only then staring squarely at him in the eyes.
"Praetor, I uhm, I seem to have no idea of what ails you?" Nero tried again, pretending as if Merlin's prior distraction didn't happen.
Shirou sighed, all but seeing the eagerness blatantly on Nero's face.
With no reason not to make her aware of the situation, he began to recount what he knew from Gemas about the Eight Fingers, the Baharuth Empire, and the missing persons cases.
"Eight Fingers?" Nero said, getting a strange feeling of Déjà vu. "You mean Chicken fingers?"
Ah, yes, this was the exact question her new aide had asked her before.
In any case, Nero was now aware of what Arche had meant when she mentioned the Eight Fingers prior.
After Shirou had finished explaining everything, Nero hummed in thought.
Gemas hadn't said anything before leaving, but it was unrealistic to uproot an entire organization with just themselves. Therefore, Nero interpreted that when Gemas agreed to help on the wagon, it was implied that Shirou would be the one to handle any immediate issues…and Shirou's issues were her issues.
"Nero," Shirou called out to her.
She glanced up.
"I know what you're thinking," he said flatly.
Did that mean permission? Nero interpreted one-sidedly. The implied 'you don't have to' was left utterly unheard.
"Leave this matter to me!" She bolted up onto her feet and pumped her fists, leaving Shirou temporarily dumbfounded.
She ran off before he could even get a word in, all too eager to be of use.
"The Praetor's problems are my problems." Nero muttered to herself. "Besides, civil unrest and underground syndicates operating in the area is inline with what that cute Emperor asked of me to resolve. Umu. Two birds with one stone."
Nodding to herself, and feeling self satisfied, she called for Arche, her only aide in the region by ringing a magic bell able to be heard throughout the manor. Now all that she had to do was wait.
Of course, she entertained the notion of settling the problem personally, as no one seemed even capable of defeating her on her own in this New World at present, but she couldn't do this.
Nero was no fool.
As soon as it was determined that she couldn't be stopped or defeated, the remaining members of the Eight Fingers in the Empire would either run, or remain hiding. There would be no guarantee that she'd be able to round up all recipients involved in their operations. This problem would be the same for Shirou.
Then what was she to do to resolve it?
Man power, she instantly surmised in her experience as an Emperor lording over the masses.
The second regiment's Knight Order Jircniv had sent under her employ came to mind. They'd just arrived three days prior and were busy establishing themselves in the area, but if she gave the order, she could immediately round up a task force of roughly a hundred capable individuals.
However, she chose not to do so as the Knight Orders were way too conspicuous to act as proper helpers in such a covert operation. Their equipment, appearance, and military disposition would immediately clue in members of the Eight Fingers that their operations were compromised. This would make uprooting and capturing each and every one of them even harder.
What was needed was a group not too large or too small, and composed of unobtrusive and inconspicuous looking individuals that don't stand out in a crowd.
"You called, Milady?" Arche appeared with a knock from the entrance of the room, disrupting Nero of her thoughts.
"Enter," Nero beckoned.
The large oaken doors of the room creaked open as Arche deftly entered, equal parts nervous and hopeful.
Arche acted with the proper etiquette of a noble, her back straight, her head slightly inclined while addressing Nero, a superior. Although she hailed from a fallen Noble family, she'd still been properly educated before the Rile Furt family's decline.
"Milady has a task for me?" Arche probed lightly with professional composure.
Nero's lip twitched. She'd told Arche before that she didn't have to maintain formalities with her, as that was only for strangers and not personal aides. Still, Arche didn't dare to be so brazen, especially with someone of Nero's station and capabilities perceived through Arche's 'All-Seeing Eyes.'
Nero put the matter of Arche's attitude aside for the time being to focus on the matter at hand.
"Hire a team to aid the Praetor in his investigation of Eight Finger activity in the area, preferably inconspicuous individuals keen on infiltration and subterfuge. Consider it my personal request."
Arche nodded with determination.
Her devotion to her new job had sky-rocketed after kicking out her parents and taking possession of the entire Rile Furt Manor, and custody over her siblings.
"I'll get right to it!"
"Imina, please keep Hekkeran in line. No drinking," Arche said solemnly while leading her former Worker group known as Foresight. With all the gold provided under Nero's employ, there really wasn't much of a need to continue the dangerous life of a Worker, and all this was thanks to a single person's magnanimity.
"We can't cause any problems for Lady Nero," Arche stressed, eyes narrowing while looking directly at Hekkeran's sheepish expression as the man awkwardly tossed away a wooden mug of booze.
Said mug of booze clattered over the ground where it rolled into some nearby bushes.
"See, I already threw everything away? We'll be fine," Hekkeren grinned, one hand carefully hiding a tiny concealed flask of the high purity 'good stuff' behind his chainmail. The flask was bought with the advance gold payment Arche had gifted each of them.
Of course, this allowed Arche to see exactly where each member of Foresight's priorities lied.
Imina and Roberdyck had each purchased something useful just in case of emergencies. The half-elf Imina sported a new elven bow slung over her shoulder while the priest Roberdyck upgraded his armour and weapons with noticeable lesser enchantment spells. As for Hekkeran, his purchase spoke for himself, and Arche didn't want to put up with it.
If Hekkeran thought he was fooling anyone with his blatant lies, then he was an idiot.
"No problems," Imina spoke in reply to Arche. Nonchalant, she scoffed at Hekkeran who looked at everyone with mock offence. That quickly changed when Imina continued.
"You'll behave if you want your share of the payment." Hekkeran could easily accept this concession, but not so much the other one. "Also, if you take that flask out even for a sip, know that it will be for two."
"W-Wait you want me to share? Why don't you just buy your own!" Hekkeran's eyes bugged out. "This stuff's as expensive as your new bow, and I don't ask to practice with it."
Hekkeran backed up by several steps, acting like his life was in danger and causing Imina who'd only jokingly threatened Hekkeran to grow annoyed.
"How long have we known each other, Mr. Termite? If you take a sip, I take a sip," Imina dared Hekkeran to say otherwise.
Just as Hekkeran began to wilt under Imina's stalwart gaze, Roberdyck decided to intervene.
"Alright, alright, enough bantering. Arche looks like she's getting impatient," Roberdyck pointed out, causing both Imina and Hekkeran to look at Arche who quickly changed her unamused expression and coughed awkwardly.
Roberdyck had hit the nail on the head.
It was uncharacteristic, but Arche was all too eager to please her newest employer after everything that had happened as of late. Her life, and life goals had practically changed at the drop of a coin, and she couldn't be anymore frantic to keep things this way.
"Shall we?" Roberdyck smiled reassuringly at Arche.
She nodded in acceptance and quickened her strides to match the larger armoured man while staring hard one last time at Hekkeran not to do anything out of line, or God forbid, get too drunk and sleep on the job.
"We'll meet up with the two of you again later," Roberdyck nodded towards Hekkeran and Imina who went in a different direction.
They were headed towards the local Worker watering holes, namely taverns or places where people looking for work idle. Hence, the reason the members of Foresight split up: Arche with Roberdyck, and Imina with Hekkeran.
Arche was never a talkative person ever since she dropped out of the Empire's magic academy, but in exchange she became more perceptive.
The moment she entered the nearest tavern and walked with Roberdyck to the bar area, she began looking for people suitable to help with Lady Nero's request.
"I'll talk up some of my old contacts," Roberdyck said curtly. "You see that table? I'll be right over there in case anything happens."
Arche nodded in understanding. Considering the amount of gold Arche and the members of Foresight now carried, they had to display the utmost caution in case any would-be robbers decided to try their luck. Worse, it didn't help that Arche didn't have the most intimidating appearance with her petite stature and soft looks.
She had to be extra careful, but at the same time, she was more approachable than Roberdyck.
Her appearance came with its own pros and cons, she supposed, but that didn't matter right now.
She once again began scanning the vicinity of the bar, subtly shifting her stare from person to person.
Two people instantly caught her eye just from how glaringly they stood out in their attire that didn't conform to Empire standards. One wore an entire suit of black rounded plate armour, and had two massive great swords strapped behind his back as if they weighed nothing.
Arche imagined that she wouldn't confidently be able to lift even one of those swords without magical augmentation let alone carry two on her back.
Admittedly, the regal full-body armour was quite imposing. It must have cost a fortune alone, and this wasn't to mention the vibrant red padded cape strapped to the man's large pauldrons.
The man looked even bulkier than Roberdyck with an even more imposing aura of dignity and class stemming from the red glow of magic behind a slitted visor.
This man was certainly a member of High Nobility. Of this, Arche had no doubts, and then there was the woman covered from head to toe in a brown cloak around her neck beside the armoured man.
The woman was a beauty with silk-like black hair that Arche refused to compare to her own, and an elegant face and disposition that had men staring from across the entire bar. The woman's hair was done up in a simple pony tail, and her sharp eyes seemed to regard everyone as if they were beneath her.
Thank goodness Hekkeran wasn't here or else Arche imagined her teammate would be making one of those stupid faces of infatuation. Looks weren't everything, okay?
Arche shook her head. She was straying from the point.
Nobility like them likely wouldn't be interested in the kind of grunt work she was offering so it was best to look around some more. They were probably just visiting the Baharuth Empire on a tour.
Arche wandered around, looking for someone with a skill set similar to a rogue or thief, but there didn't seem to be anyone with those qualifications presently within this particular bar.
She sighed, inwardly deciding that it was best to check another tavern, but unable to do so since she was hopeful that Roberdyck could convince some of his old contacts to help.
In any case, she decided to be productive and give some of these people int eh tavern a chance to earn a hefty profit.
Finding nobody of interest to approach proactively, she decided to just make an announcement to see if there was anyone willing to help, and she'd go from there. She preferred more talented people, but if anything, the Workers she spotted in the tavern could be trusted in proportion to their payment in gold, and gold was one thing Arche had in excess from Nero.
"Looking for aid!" She called out after fishing a gold coin from the sack around her waist and waving it in the air. This caught plenty of attention, but one gold coin only attracted a few stares.
Arche considered waving a few more gold coins or even the entire sack, but decided against it as the lure of that much gold was sure to attract swindlers or even worse, opportunists.
Frowning, she repocketed the gold coin and decided to change her pitch and be more direct.
"Looking to hire aid on request of Lady Nero, the newly appointed Duchess of this region!" She advertised. This time, many ears took notice.
It wasn't very widespread, but rumours existed that the Bloody Emperor had shown favour to a mysterious individual. With the sudden appointment of a new Duchess with full power over the region, people could only speculate that this Nero was the individual in the rumours.
Murmurs spread throughout the bar just as Arche expected, but what she didn't expect was that no one would show any interest after the black armoured man's imposing figure practically loomed over Arche.
W-When did he…
She trailed off while feeling a cold sweat travel down her back.
The loud sound of a chair pushing out revealed Roberdyck abruptly standing up on his feet, ready to take action, but Arche somehow managed to signal that things were fine.
She didn't want things to escalate into a fight. She didn't even see how this man had closed the distance between them, and this thought made her apprehensive.
"I-Is there something that you need?" She stuttered, cursing herself inwardly for showing her trepidation. It was a sign of weakness easy to take advantage of, but this didn't happen.
As suddenly as the man's pressure felt suffocating, it was gone; replaced by a lighter more subdued demeanor.
"My apologies. I've acted on impulse," the armoured man said cordially. "Nero? Did you say Nero?"
There was something about the man's underlying tone that rubbed Arche in the wrong way. It almost sounded like she was being ordered to answer rather than questioned.
Ah, yes. She suddenly remembered why this feeling felt so familiar. It was like that time she'd been in the Bloody Emperor's presence.
The aura of a King, a Ruler as one would say.
Silence stretched as she desperately tried to get her jumbled thoughts in order. Evidently, the delay didn't sit well with the man's companion at all. In fact, the woman was practically glaring.
"Insects should just-"
"Ignore her." The man quickly interjected, causing Arche to blink before absently nodding her head to the man's explanation.
"She's not the most sociable," the man said weakly before clearing his throat. "You were talking about a request?"
Arche finally got her bearings. "Uhm, yes. I'm here for a request by Lady Nero. Are you interested, Sir Knight and lady?"
She was skeptical. It was beyond her expectations that someone of this man and woman's perceived standing would even consider doing this kind of work. Again, this was why she'd dismissed them initially.
While waiting for the man's answer, Arche subtly activated her innate skill:
She wouldn't just recruit anyone. At the very least, they should be capable enough to take on members of the Eight Fingers, and often, one's magical ability was a good measure of their skill. Of course, this excluded most warriors and melee classes, but her gaze was intended for the woman whom Arche had pegged as a Magic Caster.
It was all to unexpected when she immediately noticed a blaring sun standing right next to her. The woman's presence was unreal, and the fact that she was acting subordinate to this armoured man was telling.
Her knees wobbled, her vision blackening as even the subconscious effort to breathe seemingly froze.
I-Is this man more than he seems too?
"Tell me the details."
She dared not tally.
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