|Author: Tsunose Bun||Original Source: Syosetu||Word Count: 3024 characters|
|Translator: Jiro||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1420 words|
“Hey! How about switching with me?”
Merc glanced exhaustively at Astard as they were about halfway along the well-maintained road running from the Town Botoe to the City of Logholt.
Merc was, of course, utilizing Body Strengthening, but even that had its limits. First and foremost, it was unsuitable for long-term usage, and Merc’s physique was that of a 14-year-old girl. Her stamina wasn’t what it had been in her past life. Merc wouldn’t be able to carry Tetem for very long if she kept walking at her current pace.
“No. I’m a man. If I were to carry her I’d be looked down by those around us. Besides, I don’t like children.”
Astard coldly declined and moved away from Merc, as if hinting that he would not tolerate being pushed around.
“You really are a piece of work; you know that? Even so, this is the first time I’ve heard you say you don’t like children. When we first met you were nice with the kid in the house where you were freeloading.”
“That’s because I was trying to get on the landlord’s good side. I was penniless at the time. What good would it have done me if the kid despised me and I was thrown out?”
“You have a point.”
Astard spoke without hesitation, and Merc accepted his point, albeit somewhat disappointed. The strong image of Astard caressing the head of the wailing child of his then lodging just as he was departing to become an adventurer lingered in her memories, or rather Estert’s memories.
Having witnessed that event, Merc found it difficult to believe that Astard actually despised children.
“Do you wish to say something? You seem to be somewhat displeased.”
“Displeased? Of course I’m displeased. Get over here and switch with me. No one will be able to tell that you’re a man with that hood and cloak.”
Although I admit, he might seem suspicious.
“Good grief. Fine. Hand me the girl.”
“Here you go.”
Merc raised her free hands to the heavens and stretched out as far as she could after transferring the sleeping Tetem onto Astard’s back without waking her.
“Aahhh! I thought I’d shrink!”
“You’re over exaggerating. Besides, you’re already tall enough for a woman. If you grow any more you’ll overtake me.”
“No, no. This is nowhere enough. Damn. I never imagined I’d be forced to gaze up at you… So annoying.”
“Right back at you. I never thought the day would come when I would be looking down at you.”
Astard replied with a playful smirk.
The two kept walking at a quick pace while chatting like this, and they returned to Logholt before the sunset, taking less time than on the trip out.
“Welcome back! You’re quite early!”
Merc and Astard hurried over to Astard’s house, where they were welcomed by the smiling Kena, who had seen them off this morning.
Naturally, Kena’s smile was directed solely for Astard, but a smile from a gorgeous woman was still a smile. It was a great way to lift one’s spirits and recoup from the weariness of a long day on the road.
“Huh? G-Great Sage. Who is that woman you’re carrying? C-Could it be?! You kidnapped her?!”
Kena, on the other hand, drew back her smile and covered her mouth with her hand as she spotted the unconscious female on Astard’s back. After which she began spouting nonsense.
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“No, I did not. When we visited my acquaintance’s house we found that it had been robbed by someone. This girl is my acquaintance’s granddaughter. We discovered her while she was hiding, so I brought her back to hide her here. She is out cold, but there’s no danger to her life.”
“I-I see… A-Anyway, come in.”
Kena hurriedly invited the three of them back inside the house after hearing Astard’s explanation. Astard immediately placed the girl on his back on a bed and wiped his brow with the back of his hand.
“Phew. Walking such a distance with someone on my back is, as expected, pretty tough.”
“Even though I switched with you a number of times…”
“I-I’ll go grab something for you to drink!”
Kena rushed to the kitchen, apparently alarmed by Astard’s remarks. Merc examined Astard’s wrinkled brow after seeing her off.
“Well? What will we do? Tetem is safe, yea, but the key person in all of this, the professor, has fallen into the Count’s hands. What’s worse, the Count is most likely in possession of the results of that groundbreaking research that the professor mentioned in his letter.”
“That’s probably the case.”
“Then we have no choice but to charge in, do we? As long as we can get into the Count’s residence and rescue the professor we won’t need to testify ourselves. They were the ones who abducted the professor in the first place, after all.”
“That may be so. However, what if we don’t find the professor?”
Astard looked up, his eyes squinted as if he was pondering over something after leaving Merc perplexed.
“Hidden chambers exist in the residences of nobility with a certain level of authority. This of course includes the Count’s. Even if we get in, there’s a risk we won’t be able to locate the professor.”
“We can just ask the people there then. You’re good at torture and interrogation, aren’t you?”
You really hate to listen, don’t you? It’s not guaranteed that I’ll be able to gather information from those present. Without the guarantee that everything will work out, we’re only likely to become criminals.”
It was true that if Merc and Astard returned empty-handed after storming in, defeating Count Fonan’s private army, and unlawfully ransacking the estate, they would be labeled criminals. Their adventurer status would naturally be revoked, and they would be pursued by other adventurers, even though they had done nothing wrong.
Merc, however, looked at Astard with a perplexed expression despite being fully aware of the consequences.
“This isn’t like you… Normally, you’d be able to track down the professor.”
“You’re right. I do have the confidence in tracking him down.”
Astard raised his hands softly, as if in resignation, in response to Merc’s stare, and then looked at the girl sleeping on the bed.
“What concerns me is that even if I locate him, there will be no point in doing so. He may have already been sent back to the Empire, or he may be dead for all I know. We won’t be able to prove that Count Fonan kidnapped him if he’s dead and buried far away from the mansion. And if he’s already been returned to the Empire, proving it will be even more difficult.”
“I guess you have a point. Does this mean we’re all out of options? You know we can’t do anything as dexterous as sneaking in. Even if we did, we’d most likely be discovered while investigating the many hidden rooms.”
Merc spoke with a glum expression on her face as she looked at Astard, who offered Tetem a brief, kind look.
No matter how one looked at it, their situation was dire.
“There’s… There’s a way…”
Astard remarked hesitantly, as though to allay Merc’s fears. Merc could see by his reluctant expression that Astard didn’t wish to resort to this means. However, they were pressed for time. Even if they knew it was impossible, they needed to act as quickly as possible.
“Stop beating around the bush. Just tell me what that way is.”
“Spies have been employing this tactic since ancient times to obtain important information from hostile states or even military soldiers and key individuals of hypothetical enemies. To be honest, I don’t wish to adopt such a strategy, and I have a bad image of those who fall for it. But considering our situation there is no other choice. I’m apprehensive because you’ll be the pivotal figure in the operation, and you’ll be the one who bears the brunt of the consequences if it goes wrong. However, it is also true that this strategy is the least dangerous and has the best chance of succeeding. However, I really don’t want you to1…”
“I told you to stop beating around the bush. I’m your friend, aren’t I? Give it to me straight. What is that method?”
Astard finally surrendered himself and talked when Merc interrupted his long and pompous excuses.
“I’m thinking about employing enticing approaches. To put it another way, a honeytrap2.”
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Astard spoke, finally revealing his plan.