I raced through the hills along the countryside, pushing my levi-board as fast as it could go. The only thought in my mind was to catch up to the lying bastard that had played me for a fool.
I had trusted him a bit too quickly, since he seemed desperate to make a name for himself in trade. That was why I had offered to let him handle the eggplant trade, and I even convinced Dengel for some favors to get his career going.
‘Had that been a ploy to get on my good side and stick his hands near the castle?’
If he were a spy for Purnesia, that would’ve been a smart course of action. He saw the opportunity to wedge himself into a good position, and with a bit of planning, swipe what was needed from the laboratory.
I thought back to the ink and parchment in his cart, and to the painting that he masterfully drew faster than any skilled artist that I knew of. Everything seemed to fall into place right after I realized another use for it – copying blueprints.
He knew that it would be troublesome to steal and deliver them to Purnesia. Someone was bound to notice a single merchant who had no reason to approach the laboratory. However, he could get someone to do it for him and copy the blueprints afterward.
Because of that, he needed others to serve as scapegoats. Acting as a ‘local’, he likely tipped off Greggor and Ivanov about the sloppiness of Jayce, giving them the idea to scout the area themselves. After one of them had stolen the blueprints, Favian likely followed him and took a picture of them with his Light Box, filling in the remaining details later with his incredible memory.
The kingdom was on the lookout for blueprints on rolled paper, not the flat parchment that he carried with him. Therefore, the guards probably didn’t bother to check.
And while all eyes were directed toward the other merchants and the Earl’s buying spree of magic stones, the real culprit could slip away with the copies. Spouting rumors that held a bit of truth, purposefully crafted to misdirect, was a powerful tactic for buying time.
That alone didn’t drive the conclusion that he was a spy. But when I saw the missing magic stones, I knew that there was no other motive aside from it. Katalina had told me before that Purnesia was a barren country, which lacked the mana to generate any magic stones of decent quality.
Therefore, a large batch of them was also required in addition to the blueprints. And what better way to do it than to convince the nearby lord to gather the necessary materials, and then sneak in after directing me to cause havoc.
Favian had constructed a plan that was all too easy for me to follow, knowing that I would do something about it. He probably watched me break through the Earl’s guards, waiting for Greggor and Ivanov to escape and lead him to the workshop where the goods were.
‘Therefore, I have to catch up to him before he makes his delivery!’
I clenched my teeth as I forced my mana into the board. The wind stung against my face as I fought to keep balance on the rolling hills. Not long after I convinced myself of that scenario, the small buildings of the village of Minsk popped up in the distance.
The residents were likely surprised to see someone nearly crashing into the middle of the farmlands and homes, as they were normally used to seeing only wagons or carts rolling through with supplies to Fort Valga. The village was a rest stop for these travelers.
The sight of a person whizzing by on a board caught the attention of all who happened to be outside, and even some who heard the racket from indoors.
Before they could register the blur that had skidded to a stop, I yelled out to them.
“Can anyone tell me if Favian has passed by here?” My hastiness caused me to spew out the entire question before my lungs registered the lack of air. As a result, I nearly choked at the end, giving myself time to recover while waiting for someone to pipe up.
“Esteemed Chancellor… he left not long ago. What brings you here in such a disheveled state?” An elderly lady approached.
“Chasing after him, of course. Which way did he go?”
“To the north. Presumably toward the grove of Devil’s Fruit. That’s where he normally goes to refresh his stock before making his rounds again.”
I looked off in that direction, seeing the large wall and Fort Valga far in the distance. Harvesting eggplant was the perfect excuse to meet someone on the other side, as the eggplants grew all along Sistina’s side. The wall was constructed past the battle site of olden days. No one would find him poking around the area to be suspicious if he were simply collecting the region’s specialty to sell.
I had a feeling that Favian wasn’t going to be making any more rounds though.
“Listen up! I have heard rumors of a possible invasion from the North. While I’m not sure when it will happen, I have a feeling that it will get very dangerous. I ask this of you as the Chancellor – can you please gather your things and head south? I have notified the Queen of this, but there is only so much I can do. Your safety can’t be guaranteed if you remain here.”
I looked through the crowd, hoping that they would listen to my plea. Though nothing had been confirmed, it would be too late to act if what I guessed was true.
After a few moments, one person trotted off. And then another. And another.
The elderly lady from before spoke up.
“You helped us before when we were starving. And brought this village back on its feet by solving a misunderstanding and turning it to our advantage. Simply with that, you’ve done more than our previous lord has ever had. So, if that is what you think is best, we will comply. All of us.”
She patted me on the arm before heading back to her home, presumably to gather her things. The sound of a wagon rolled by, a man directing his horses to the front of a house where people with bundles of their belongings waited to climb in. The village was suddenly full of activity as they had fully taken in my words and abandoned their current livelihood.
The trust that they seemingly had in me almost brought a tear in my eye. But before it could fully form, I hopped back on my levi-board and made my way north. Hopefully, I could stop whatever plans Favian had made so that they wouldn’t have to leave their homes for long.
Passing by the wide fields that were dotted purple, I found no sign of Favian or his cart. Obviously, he wouldn’t have to go very far if he were simply restocking his goods, and it was unlikely that we had missed each other. The only road in this area went straight to Minsk, so he would have no reason to avoid the road unless he was acting suspicious.
My hands started trembling the more the border wall grew larger in my vision.
‘How long had he been working with Purnesia? And why?’
I had not considered it, but a thorough background check had not been done on the guy. Dengel had simply operated based on my recommendation. Talking with the villagers when I first visited, they weren’t sure where Favian had come from. They simply knew that he had only been there for about a year.
Perhaps, I had passed it off as coincidences, but the timing aligned with when the turmoil started in Sistina. With the division of sides between the crown and the Valkyrie, had Purnesia seen this as an opportunity to plant some eyes among the chaos?
Those answers would hopefully be answered soon as I noticed a cart in the distance, close to the border wall and off to the left. There was nowhere for him to run as the wall that was built stretched across the entire border. Aside from the gate through Fort Valga and swimming in the ocean, there was no entryway to Purnesia.
Though the walls were short enough to leap over with magic, measuring only 20 feet tall, I sensed a lack of magical aptitude from Favian, making it difficult, but still not impossible, to coordinate a dropoff with someone on the other side.
One could not simply carry a large, heavy shipment of magic stones over to the other side. Something that conspicuous would be seen by the wall guards.
However, a strange sight greeted me as I approached the cart. Favian was chilling atop the driver’s perch, but the back of the cart was completely empty.
‘Did he dump his goods somewhere for someone to find later?’
That was my first thought, but Favian’s words begged to differ.
“You’re too late, Chancellor. The stuff is already in their hands.”
Seeing me here, he could guess that I had already figured out his entire scheme. Already, the blueprints and the magic stones were in the hands of Purnesia. And pretty soon, they would craft the weapons needed to invade Sistina.
“Why did you do it, Favian? What did this kingdom do to you? Weren’t you living the high life?”
“This mission was certainly fulfilling in the end. I had a lot of good food in the process, a stark difference from constantly being a starving artist back home.”
“Couldn’t you have given that all up and kept us all fooled? You had a place here and a good life. Why risk it all?” I pointed my knife at him, threatening him with the purple glow of my eyes.
He only responded with a sigh. “I may have… but the rest of my family is still stuck over there.” He shot me a glare. “You don’t know what it’s like to see your family slowly starve, do you? By being here, the Empire promised food, enough to keep them going. If I just gave it all up, I’d be abandoning everyone that counted on me on the other side. How pretty your words sound when you know nothing about the situation there.”
I was taken aback. Once again, I jumped the gun. Like the situation with Botticelli and Rinaldi, I was so concerned about what was going on from my viewpoint, rather than considering the intent of others.
People had their own reasons for doing things, and there was likely nothing that I could do to stop them. But despite that, I still had to do what was expected of me.
“Favian, I have to arrest you. Come with me.”
He chuckled in response, likely knowing that he had no way to fight me. He drew out his dagger and tossed it to the ground in front of me. The blade showed signs of smeared blood from hastily being wiped.
“Yes, I was a sacrificial pawn to begin with anyway. That’s why I lived it up. With my role complete, the Empire probably has no further use for me. And there’s no guarantee that my family will continue to get support, but at least, I was able to make them comfortable for a year.”
Favian slowly stood from his perch and hopped down, his hands raised in surrender.
“Though for what it’s worth, I’d rather have you be the one to take me in. This comfortable dream of a life was all because of your help…”
“I see… I can’t go easy on you though, especially since you committed murder. Now, I have to figure out some way to mitigate this war from happening…”
Favian’s expression turned dark. But then, his eyes widened as he looked above me. “Might be a bit late for that…”
A chill ran down my spine as I, too, felt numerous mana signatures all around. They had appeared out of the blue from the wall and zoomed behind me from above. Unlike the sensation of a magic spell, the signature merely hovered to its destination, lingering in place after getting there.
There were very few who were used to this feeling, but it was all too familiar to me. For that very reason, a sense of terror emerged as this was far worse than I had even predicted.
Slowly turning around, a multitude of portals hovered in the air. Though they were not large enough for a person to walk through, one could possibly crawl into it.
I was greeted with the sight of tens of these portals, each with a gun-equipped hand pointed straight at me. Aside from the eyes of hatred that could be seen on the other side, the cloaked forms of people were seen, each bearing an insignia composed of a clenched fist shaded in black.
Unbeknownst to me, Fort Valga had long been conquered in the time that I spent searching for the blueprints. Purnesia’s stash of weapons were already crafted; they simply needed to insert the stones into the chambers.
War was unavoidable.
Volume 6 End
Well, here’s the end of the fun, quirky volume. Hope you found the weirdness to be a good break from the heaviness from before. Only… things are going to get even rockier.
I have a few surprises in store, so keep on guard in these next volumes. It may get a little dark going forward. Thanks for reading!