Continues on from Chapter 2 – The Boundless Overia Sea
Continues on to Chapter 4 – Festival of Darkness
The following afternoon.
The magical ship Escavaron sailed smoothly across the sea, approaching the capital of the Labrock Trade Union, the merchant port city of Respighi. For fear of being mistaken as an invading enemy, the flag of Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights was hoisted at the bow.
Ash and the others couldn’t help but leak sighs of admiration as they laid eyes upon Respighi’s harbour in the distance whilst gathered in the cockpit to prepare for docking.
“Ah, no matter how many times I see it, the scenery of this city is still just as breathtaking.”
Silvia murmured to herself in admiration. As expected, it seemed that this was not the first time that the princess of the Knight Country’s royal family had visited the city of Respighi.
“How do I put this…its atmosphere feels different from that of a normal city.”
Ash was also fascinated by the scenery of the harbour city. Most cities of the era were generally surrounded by towering walls. Even the academy city of Ansarivan and the capital of the Knight Country, Fontaine City, were no exception. However, Respighi was different. The city was built along the coastline. A little away from the coast was a vast and lush mountain landscape where the white-walled buildings that lined the slope were not only beautiful, but also radiant.
“If I had to describe one thing as picturesque, it would be the scenery right in front of us.”
Linda quietly stood by Ash’s side as she expressed her thoughts in a mature manner. Perhaps she had reached the age where she liked to show off difficult words.
“If you’re surrounded by mountains and the sea like this, then you don’t need to rely on city walls for defence. It’s practically a natural fortress.”
Rebecca explained in a scholarly manner.
“It really is such a beautiful city. Are there any special dishes here?”
Eco had a predatory gaze as she stuck her tongue out and licked her lips.
“Eco, we’re not here for sightseeing, you know? But, since it is a seaside city, I think the seafood would be worth a try.”
Ash couldn’t help but make a wry smile as he gazed upon Eco’s eagerness to eat.
“Speaking of the Labrock region, ‘scialatelli’ is quite famous!”
Jessica said, with an air of wisdom.
“What kind of spell is that…?”
“Fufu, oh Ash-sama. Scialatelli is handmade pasta.”
Only after listening to Cosette’s explanation did Ash understand.
“By the way, Ash. Although we’re going to visit the official residence of Doge Machiavelli…do you think it would be a bit too presumptuous if all of us went there?”
Ash turned around upon hearing the question that Rebecca asked. It was certainly possible that it would cause trouble if an entire group of people went to visit someone’s residence.
“That’s right. Why don’t we cut the number down to around five or six people?”
“Yes, I concur. Let’s decide who’s going to join the visit right now.”
Ash nodded in agreement with Rebecca’s proposal. As the leader, Ash and his Pal Eco had to be included. Next was Silvia, as a representative of the Lautreamont Knight Country. Naturally, Cosette would accompany her. Rebecca would also be indispensable for her wisdom and courage on this visit. The final spot should be for Mirabel — Ash thought to himself. In fact, most of the group members were far more interested in visiting the shopping district and restaurants of the port city Respighi instead of meeting with the Doge. Jessica and Raymond were already engrossed in tourist brochures that they had picked up. Ash wouldn’t be able to contain his excitement either if this was purely a sightseeing trip, given the exquisite beauty of the port city. With a wry smile across his face, Ash walked over to the captain’s seat to have a chat with Mirabel.
“I’m sorry, Ash. The magic ship Escavaron needs maintenance, so I’ll be staying behind.”
Unexpectedly, Mirabel seemed to have understood his intentions, and she declined before he could even get a word out.
“If that’s the case, then it can’t be helped. I’ll leave it in your hands, Mirabel-san. That means it’ll just be the five of us going to visit—”
“Umm, please listen to me, everyone!”
Linda quickly spoke up to interrupt Ash.
“I’ve heard that Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights is not only a knight order, but also an independent country. If nii-san will be attending a diplomatic occasion as the representative, then I believe that a certain existence is absolutely indispensable!”
“What is that?”
Eco frowned in confusion.
“That would be the [First Lady]!”
Linda declared in an inexplicably excited tone. As soon as she had blurted such words out, Ash noticed that the atmosphere in the cockpit instantly tensed up. At the same time, the ship suddenly ground to a halt.
Anya embarrassedly apologised to everyone as she had been manning the controls. For some reason, her cheeks seemed red.
“[First Lady]…huh. I’ve seen that term in a novel I borrowed from Cosette before. For some reason, it sounds quite romantic…”
“Y-Yes. It’s almost like a magical word…”
Both Eco and Silvia’s eyes looked a bit unsteady, and they made expressions as though they were entranced in fantasy.
“My…my emotions have been stirred as well!”
Jessica appeared to writhe in anguish. She cast her tourism brochure to the side as she began to emit a competitive aura.
“The First Lady…the first…”
Although Lucca previously displayed no interest, she also blushed as she recited the magical words over and over again. On the other hand, although Rebecca and Silvia remained silent and feigned calmness, one could vaguely sense that they seemed a little restless and concerned.
“—That’s quite the interesting topic you’re discussing.”
Even Navi decided to materialise. Moreover, her outfit was more radiant and beautiful than ever before, exemplifying her coquettish womanly charm.
Ash was simply stunned by the hidden power within those words. Perhaps Linda’s remark ignited the competitive spirit of all the women who were present. Disregarding the worries that began to surface in her brother’s mind, Linda continued with her proposal in high spirits.
“Ahem! A head of state without a First Lady would seem rather unsophisticated — doesn’t everyone agree?”
“Hmm…I didn’t think of that at all. As expected of Ash’s little sister, she can’t be underestimated…”
Silvia muttered in a low voice.
“Having said that, nii-san is still a bachelor, so naturally there is no First Lady. In light of this—”
Linda took a deep breath with a smug expression across her face.
“As the younger sister, I shall attend as the [Acting First Lady]!”
“What do you mean by ‘in light of this’!? Although what you started off with was plausible…you really just wanted to home in on the last part didn’t you?”
“It wouldn’t be wrong to say that.”
Linda stuck her tongue out with a confident expression.
“I see. Linda’s proposal is actually quite feasible.”
Unexpectedly, Rebecca was the first to express agreement.
“How could you say that?”
It didn’t appear as though Eco could accept such an outcome.
“Looking back on history, it’s not actually surprising that blood relatives of the head of state appear at national events as the Acting First Lady. Moreover, having Linda play this role would also be the best option in maintaining harmony among the women who will be present.”
“Hmm. T-That’s true…”
Eco was persuaded by Rebecca’s level-headed explanation. No one else appeared to have any objections. In any case, Ash breathed a sigh of relief in knowing that a potential bomb on the verge of exploding had been defused. However, he once again realised that he wasn’t yet at Rebecca’s level.
“Very well. Linda will also attend the meeting then—”
“…Ash. The ship on the other side seems to have noticed us.”
In that moment, Lucca tugged on Ash’s sleeve. There were indeed three large ships approaching from the port towards the Escavaron. The leading ship flicked its lights on and off as if to signal something.
“That should the police agency that protects Labrock’s city — a ship of the [Carabinieri].”
Mirabel calmly whispered.
“Signal interpretation! What the other party means is…[We sincerely welcome Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights].”
Anya’s voice resounded loudly through the cockpit.
“Thank you, Anya. Our ship will enter the port under the guidance of the Carabinieri—”
Mirabel declared in a dignified manner as she stood up from the captain’s seat.
The Carabinieri were excellent navigators, and the Escavaron was safely moored in port after about fifteen minutes.
As soon as Ash and the others landed, they were unexpectedly received with a warm welcome and many cheers.
“Whoa! What’s going on here…?”
Ordinary citizens appeared to have come to the port along with their companions in order to secure a spot where they would be able to witness the splendour of Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights. Moreover, it wasn’t just a few dozen, but a few hundred people who had turned up. The vast majority of those soaking up the excitement were women who kept screaming in elation towards Ash. They were so frenzied that even the guards who formed a human wall to hold them back appeared to struggle. It was as if they had been surrounded by hundreds of Jessicas.
“Fufu. I’d heard that women in the south were generally more aggressive…but I didn’t expect them to be this enthusiastic.”
Rebecca joked with a mischievous smile behind Ash.
“W-What’s wrong with those girls…!?”
In contrast to Rebecca, Eco was obviously displeased.
“—Apologies for the delay, guests of Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights.”
A graceful figure silently appeared and made an elegant bow. It was a maid that seemed to give off a dainty impression.
“I am Doge Machiavelli’s personal secretary — Vittoria Clementi.”
Although she certainly looked like a maid, her title was actually that of a ‘secretary’. Her outfit was primarily red in colour and was not a type that would be seen in the Knight Country. At a glance, it appeared to be a maid uniform, yet at the same time its design was similar to that of a military officer’s uniform. Her skirt was also rather short and seemed to be designed with ease of movement in mind. Vittoria was probably in her late teens, though such an age seemed a little immature for a secretary. Her eyes which seemed to stare blankly into the distance were light grey. Her hair was dark brown and done up with round braids on both the left and right.
“That hairstyle…it can’t be!”
Eco suddenly revealed a shocked expression.
“Is something the matter?”
Ash nervously asked.
“She’s definitely copying me!”
After saying so, Eco rubbed her own horns.
“Of course not. It’s just a fashionable hairstyle.”
Ash coldly replied. Indeed, Vittoria had round braids that were somewhat similar to the rounded horns on Eco’s head….
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ash Blake.”
After Ash stepped forward and introduced himself, Vittoria responded with a blank expression,
“I have prepared a carriage for all of you. This way, please.”
Ushered by Vittoria, Ash and the others made their way to the harbour’s exit. Cheers surrounded them as they moved along the road. Feeling a bit guilty for pretending not to hear anything, Ash smiled and waved to the people who had gathered.
Unexpectedly, this only added fuel to the fire, causing the response to become even more ecstatic.
“Hey! Can you not seduce these foreign female animals?”
Eco immediately pinched Ash’s side.
“Owwow! Don’t you feel bad just ignoring all of that though?”
“Ugh whatever, this is all because you’re too soft-hearted…”
After a while, Ash and the others arrived at the harbour’s exit. A luxurious carriage that was fit for state guests came into view. The side of the carriage was adorned with the emblem of the Port City Respighi. Sitting in the conductor’s seat was an old man in a tidy uniform.
“Let us escort you to the Doge’s residence now.”
Following Vittoria’s instructions, Ash and the others boarded the carriage. The carriage left the harbour at once and entered the city. What they saw through the carriage window was old-fashioned street scenery. Ash thought to himself, “The scenery here has such a classical nostalgic charm”.
Like young children, Eco and Linda pressed their faces up against the window. The streets were densely lined with Labrock-style buildings. A cathedral known as the [Duomo] was rather eye-catching. Another feature of the streets was that there were workshops everywhere. Supposedly, the clothing, gemstones, artwork, and handicrafts here were world-renowned and adored by royalty and nobility alike. At that very moment, a loud ‘bang’ echoed in the street.
Ash and the others felt so nervous that they instinctively cowered. The same terrifying noise rang out again and again. It did indeed seem to be the sound of gunfire. Like a black whirlwind, a team with the Carabinieri emblem on their backs hurried through the street. All of them were fully armed.
“Vittoria-san!? What happened…?”
“Apologies for startling you. These days, there have been frequent robberies in various parts of the city targeting financial institutions and the wealthy…a mafia conflict so to speak.”
Vittoria briefly explained, as if it were none of her business.
“Disputes of this magnitude are commonplace here, so please rest assured.”
Vittoria’s overly calm demeanour only served to evoke greater fear.
“After all, this is the Demonic Capital Respighi—”
War between rival mafia gangs and the mobilisation of the Carabinieri — Ash was unable to understand the perspective of how such a dire situation was only described as a mere ‘conflict’. Perhaps it was a difference in culture. It applied even to the ordinary pedestrians on the road who appeared unperturbed by the sounds of gunshots in broad daylight.
—This city is too absurd…
Just as Ash thought so, the carriage entered the administrative district — they arrived at the official residence in its centre that was as imposing as a fortress.
“—Pardon the intrusion, milady. I have escorted Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights here.”
Vittoria stopped in front of a luxurious door as she offered a report to the master within the room.
[Ah, please let them in.]
The voice that answered through the door was low-pitched yet had an odd dynamic charisma.
“Ash-sama, please enter.”
Under Vittoria’s guidance, Ash and the others entered the office. The person who greeted Ash and the others was a woman reminiscent of a ferocious lion. She possessed a domineering beauty and looked like a female mafia boss. She was like a work of art as she sat at her desk, elegantly smoking a cigar. A gold ring adorned her right index finger. A so-called signet ring. It was engraved with a seal that depicted the mythical beast of Labrock — the silhouette of a griffin. It was likely a token handed down in the succession of the Doges. She had wavy, light blonde hair. To describe it in Labrock terms, it would probably be called ‘oro bianco’. Earrings of a black cross hung from her left and right earlobes. Although she wore a straight grey suit, it was unable to contain the curvaceous beauty of her body, and Ash couldn’t help but admire the sight of her figure. Despite her attractive figure, her gaze was far too fierce, and it made her feel somewhat less feminine. Ash couldn’t help but shiver so long as he stared at her.
“Welcome everyone and thank you for coming from afar. I am Francesca Machiavelli.”
The beautiful woman introduced herself with a poker-like expression.
“I-It’s an honour to meet you. I’m the Commander of Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights, Ash Blake. This is my Pal—”
“My name is Eco.”
“Oh…so you’re the dragon with the appearance of a human — Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor huh…”
Machiavelli narrowed her eyes as she glanced at Eco.
“Fufu. You look very fleshy and delicious.”
Eco’s face turned pale and she instantly hid herself behind Ash.
“You imbecile! How impudent of you to treat the noble dragon race as a source of meat!”
“…What, can I not even make a joke?”
After leisurely saying so, Machiavelli lazily puffed out a cloud of smoke. Although she didn’t appear to be joking, Ash decided to defuse the situation as it would do no good to annoy Machiavelli now.
“My apologies, Machiavelli-san. Eco is from the dragon race and not well-versed in human affairs. Would you please be able to overlook this trifle?”
“Hmm. It seems you have a much better understanding of etiquette.”
Machiavelli replied with indifference, as if Eco’s words hadn’t offended her.
Although Eco seemed somewhat dissatisfied, it would not be worth it if she messed up their meeting over something so trivial. In any case, all of the people who accompanied Ash presented themselves in front of Machiavelli and introduced themselves.
“I’m the Fourth Princess of the Lautreamont Knight Country, Silvia Lautreamont. Due to some complicated circumstances, I am not an official member of Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights…though I am currently with the Escavaron as an ambassador to Avalon.”
“Oh, if it isn’t the famous <Ice Blue Princess>? It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Machiavelli’s expression softened a little as she looked intently at Silvia. Having said that, her attitude was still rather arrogant toward the princess of a foreign nation. Whether it was because she had a natural penchant for boldness, or because the word ‘etiquette’ didn’t exist in her dictionary — Ash had no idea.
“I am Her Highness’ personal maid, Cosette Shelley.”
After Cosette made a graceful bow, it was then Rebecca’s turn to introduce herself.
“I am Rebecca Randall of Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Hmm. So, you’re the <Scarlet Empress> huh. I also heard about how you turned down an invitation to join Lautreamont’s Order of Holy Dragonars and chose instead to join Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights.”
After Rebecca replied so with grace, it was then Linda’s turn. Linda was the only one who wore a formal dress here. Although she avoided wearing any excessively luxurious accessories to match the diplomatic occasion, her ‘specialness’ was still well conveyed. Even Ash was somewhat stunned, thinking to himself ‘there’d be nothing shameful about bringing my sister to an occasion when she’s like this’.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Doge Machiavelli. I’m the ‘Acting First Lady’, Linda Blake.”
As Linda made a solemn bow, her face was visibly filled with pride. Eco and Silvia both seemed apprehensive as they narrowed their eyes and observed Linda who acted with grace. Ash was momentarily terrified.
“I see — since Ash is yet unmarried, his younger sister is the ‘Acting First Lady’. That’s very smart of you.”
After Machiavelli praised Linda with a smile, her expression immediately returned to that of seriousness.
“Since we’ve all introduced ourselves, let’s get down to business. No need to be so nervous. Let’s just take it easy.”
Machiavelli led the group to a dining table that was filled with a variety of local dishes. In addition to the common dishes such as pizza and wine-steamed mussels, there was also handmade pasta with fish and shellfish. The thick pasta appeared as though it would have great texture and flavour. Moreover, there were also pork ribs that had been grilled to a perfect brown colour, as well as vegetable and tomato soup.
Eco salivated at the sheer sight. Although she had been teased by Machiavelli just earlier, her anger seemed to have instantly disappeared. Because Ash hadn’t eaten lunch yet, he had also been enduring the growls of his stomach.
“I’m going to dig in!”
Eco emphatically declared.
“Hey! Don’t forget to say grace before you eat!”
Silvia sharply reminded Eco.
“What a feast!”
Even Linda displayed her childlike innocence as she cast off her restraint as the First Lady. She began stuffing mussels into her mouth as she uttered sounds of enjoyment. With such liveliness, everyone commenced the meeting while also enjoying the local cuisine.
Once the conversations began, Ash found the right timing to ask Machiavelli,
“By the way, Machiavelli-san, I’ve heard that the Trade Union is facing a serious problem with disparity between the rich and the poor…what caused this to happen?”
Although such a question could be a sensitive topic for Machiavelli, Ash couldn’t stop himself from asking. Machiavelli glanced at Ash, seemingly unaffected by the question.
“Let’s see. The cause is probably due to the system of the Trade Union. The Trade Union was originally formed to overcome the economic crisis of the [Dragon’s Tail]. However, only the major cities in the west actually benefited from the union, and the eastern cities have yet to enjoy the profits of it. In fact, the debts of the eastern cities have continued to rise unabated.”
“Why is it that only the east has become poor?”
“The eastern cities were originally a place where industries and trades flourished. Although not affluent, the citizens enjoyed a fairly stable life. However, the situation changed when they joined the Trade Union. The introduction of a unified currency, the [Vera] was a mistake.”
“A unified currency…?”
Ash was puzzled.
“When a country has a deteriorating economy, it generally uses financial policies to help the economy recover. For example, cutting interest rates, easing lending conditions, or printing money to suppress the exchange rate of their own currency. If the value of the local currency depreciates, it helps with foreign trade.”
“I understand. Currency devaluation can also attract foreign tourism.”
Machiavelli nodded in agreement with Ash.
“That’s right, and the tourism industry is also considered a type of foreign trade. The economy slowly recovers during such an economic cycle.”
“However, the introduction of the [Vera] altered the situation. The city-states that joined the union could no longer use money printing as a policy against recession.”
“In short, that’s because the authority for fiscal policies had been delegated to a unified central bank, right? The introduction of a unified currency was equivalent to renouncing the fiscal policy authority for the city-states…”
Rebecca said with a frown.
“That’s right. The weak cities that had lost their financial authority were unable to come up with clear economic countermeasures. And unfortunately, almost all of these weak city-states were concentrated in the east.”
“As the Doge of the union, can’t you lend a hand to the east?”
Ash boldly asked, even though going any further could be considered interference in internal affairs. He felt concerned because the dishes and tableware prepared by Machiavelli were very decadent, despite the eastern part of the union suffering from poverty.
“That is naturally my plan. However, if I casually distribute money from the west to the east — such a policy may make the people in the east lose their sense of independence, and it will also anger the people in the west. Why have my taxes been used to aid the east? Such complaints will be inevitable.”
Ash noticed Silvia’s gaze. She quietly winked so as to avoid being spotted by Machiavelli. “It’s best to stop the discussion here” — that was probably what Silvia meant. It would probably be unpleasant for Machiavelli to discuss the internal affairs of Labrock during a friendly diplomatic meeting between their two countries.
“In any case, Ash Blake. Why have we only been talking about my country? Given the opportunity, I would be interested to hear more about your circumstances.”
As expected, Machiavelli swiftly changed the subject.
While thanking Silvia for her suggestion, Ash began to narrate the various events that had occurred since the birth of Eco.
After Eco’s birth, Ash’s life had been filled with various turbulent challenges, and the story was almost endless. Before Ash even realised, he’d already been talking for more than an hour.
At that moment, Vittoria quietly walked over to Machiavelli’s side.
“A citizen is asking to see you. What shall I do?”
“Ah, are they here to make a petition? Sorry, please excuse me for a moment. As head of state, the citizens are like my family.”
After Machiavelli left her seat, she and Vittoria exited the room.
“It’s amazing…the Doge herself is meeting with citizens who have come to make a petition.”
Silvia murmured in admiration.
“She seems like an incredible person. Although she looks a bit intimidating, she seems like a very capable politician. It’s hard to believe that she’s only twenty five years old…”
Ash praised her as he sipped from his teacup. After speaking for so long, his mouth felt somewhat dry.
“Ash, that was a wonderful speech.”
Ash breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing Rebecca’s encouragement. Even so, Rebecca’s expression remained stern.
“Naturally, the key topic is still on the cards. When the Doge returns, we must bring that topic to the fore.”
The so-called key topic was of course the Magic Association <Demiurge>. If the truth was in line with their suspicions, and <Demiurge> had purchased a vast quantity of Mithril from Labrock, then they had to urge the Labrock Trade Union to halt further supply.
“—Sorry for making you all wait.”
After around half an hour had passed, Machiavelli returned to the room with a calm expression. Her secretary Vittoria followed closely behind like a shadow.
“By the way, Doge. There is a matter which we would like to discuss with you.”
Rebecca pre-emptively cut in before Machiavelli could bring up another topic.
“Oh, do feel free to bring up anything you’d like.”
Machiavelli replied with a cool and collected demeanour.
“Thank you, Doge.”
Rebecca gave a concise explanation of the issue regarding the Magic Association <Demiurge> and the sale of Mithril. She then put forward two requests:
- Investigate the true identity of the Mithril buyer. Find the organisation linked to the Magic Association <Demiurge>.
- Immediately cease further transactions with the buyer.
—Rebecca-san really is incredible.
Ash couldn’t help but feel admiration for Rebecca as he gazed at her beautiful side profile. It would’ve been nigh impossible for him to come up with such a coherent and comprehensive explanation on his own. Ash also felt convinced that Machiavelli would come to understand the danger of <Demiurge> after listening to Rebecca’s eloquent explanation.
“…Hmm. I understand your requests.”
Machiavelli folded her arms and nodded. Filled with anticipation, Ash couldn’t help but lean forward.
“But I refuse to cooperate.”
Ash doubted what he had just heard.
“As I said, I refuse to cooperate.”
“Why!? <Demiurge> is a dangerous organisation. The cooperation of the Trade Union is crucial in cutting off their access to Mithril.”
Ash tried to sway her, but Machiavelli’s expression remained cold.
“And so what? I’ll have you know — I am the Doge and I am also a businesswoman. The Machiavelli family has been doing business for generations and we have also incorporated the concept of business into politics. Whether the nature of that business is good or bad has never been one of our concerns.”
Machiavelli crossed her legs and proudly declared,
“What’s important is whether or not it provides income — it’s that simple.”
Machiavelli’s expression gave Ash goosebumps as a chill ran down his spine. Although he had been psychologically prepared that she would not be one to respond to provocation, he hadn’t expected to be shot down and rejected so mercilessly.
“Then…what do we have to do to get you to agree to our requests?”
“Hmph. You can’t figure out the answer to such a simple question? Didn’t I tell you just earlier — I’m a businesswoman. Have a think about what you can do to motivate a businesswoman.”
“I see. We just have to pay a price that’ll satisfy you — right?”
“Huh. The <Scarlett Empress> is certainly different and easy to communicate with. Indeed, as long as you handle my request, I’ll consider agreeing to yours.”
“Please let us hear your request.”
Although he had proceeded without any rebuttal, Ash was undeniably nervous. After all, he couldn’t imagine just what kind of problem Machiavelli would throw at them.
“Very well. Here’s the situation — in a few days, there will be an underground auction held in Respighi city where an artwork known as [Sleeping Beauty] will be put up for auction. I want you to make a successful bid for it.”
“Wait a minute! You said an underground auction…isn’t that illegal?”
“It is illegal in format, yes. But this is the Demonic Capital Respighi — underground auctions are commonplace. It would be endless if we went around banning them one by one. The auctions are also well-received and supported by powerful nobles. It’s not a problem.”
Ash gazed at Machiavelli with a bewildered expression. He truly felt that she put her interests as a businesswoman ahead of those as the Doge.
“To be frank…talk of these underground auctions and magical works of art has been quite sudden and a lot to take in. In fact, I’m not even sure if we have enough funds to bid on that kind of treasure.”
“Surely not, right? Are the renowned Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights incapable of even such a trivial thing?”
Machiavelli’s expression was filled with provocation. Perhaps she asked the question as a way of testing Ash and the others. Seeing Ash’s hesitation, Silvia suddenly interjected with her opinion.
“Understood. If Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights, an independent country, cannot even purchase a mere piece of art, what is to become of our reputation? We will accept your request.”
“—It’ll be fine, Ash. Don’t worry about the money.”
Silvia leaned in and whispered into the ear of a panicked Ash. It didn’t sound like she was only bluffing. Ash decided to believe what Silvia had said for now.
“By the way, Ash. There’s actually another request that I have.”
Ash was speechless. Just one underground auction felt like it was more than enough, but there was actually another request….
“Don’t make that face. You should be much more comfortable with handling this request.”
“Please let us hear it, Machiavelli-san.”
Rebecca resolutely answered in place of Ash whose mind had gone completely blank.
“Do you know of the ruined city of Casanova?”
“I’ve heard of it before. It’s said that the entire ancient fortress city remains intact, and the city itself is an archaeological site.”
Rebecca replied without hesitation.
“Yes, that’s correct. Then, do you know of the crown that sleeps in the deepest part of Casanova city?”
“That is something that I…”
Even the knowledgeable Rebecca didn’t seem to know.
“That crown is a sacred relic. Although it should be a national treasure, eastern mafia have claimed ownership and are insist on monopolising it. Not to mention that there are also dangerous beasts roaming inside the ruins.”
Ash made a deep frown. What seemed like a simple treasure hunt turned out to be anything other than simple.
“When it comes to the top representative of the eastern mafia, that would be the woman called Beatrice Scarlatti. Vittoria, bring it out.”
Vittoria reached into a pocket and placed a portrait on the table. Given that a portrait had been prepared in advance, did this mean that Machiavelli anticipated their meeting would progress in this direction? Ash and the others leaned forward and stared at the portrait with widened eyes.
“…That’s a pig, right?”
Eco’s unintentional expression of her thoughts clearly pointed out the defining characteristics of the woman in the portrait.
“Eco! Even if they’re a mafia boss, it’s overly rude to describe a lady like that!”
“Hmph. What a gentleman you are, Ash.”
Machiavelli sarcastically remarked as she took a glance at Ash’s expression.
“The Scarlatti family has held the right to mine some of the Mithril for generations. The point I’m making here is…I suspect that the Scarlatti family may be behind the excessive outflow of Mithril.”
“Beatrice Scarlatti…it seems like she’s someone we’ll have to be wary about.”
Ash committed her name to memory.
“May I take this portrait?”
“Of course. Also, the crown hidden within the archaeological site of Casanova is one of the factors that contributed to the conflict between the east and the west. If possible, I’d like to bestow that crown upon a suitable church to act as a symbol of harmony between east and west.”
At the end of the day, Machiavelli’s goal was to promote harmony between the east and the west. Although initial impressions made her appear dangerous, Ash was sympathetic to her cause.
“I understand. We will endeavour to satisfy both of your requests.”
After Ash declared as such with a hand over his chest, he shook hands with Machiavelli.
Upon the deck of the Escavaron, three Maestros prepared to take flight. The three knights were Rebecca, Lucca and Max. Following their discourse with Machiavelli, Ash and the others returned to the Escavaron and immediately held a meeting to discuss who would be sent to the ruined city of Casanova. Those three were the ones that had been elected. Although there were dangerous beasts roaming around the archaeological site of Casanova, there was probably no need to worry if three Maestros were present. Rebecca was in charge of leading the team.
“…I never knew that there was a sacred relic in the depths of Casanova. I guess there are many places yet worth exploring in this world.”
Mirabel appeared to have mixed emotions. She was probably quite interested in sacred relics. After hearing the full story from Ash and the others, Mirabel unsurprisingly stated that she wanted to join the expedition team, but repairs for the Escavaron had not been finished yet. Moreover, they were in the ‘Demonic Capital’. If an unexpected situation arose, the Escavaron had to be ready for immediate take-off. Therefore, Mirabel had no choice but to remain on standby aboard the ship.
“Are you two ready?”
Rebecca’s courageous voice drifted down from Cú Chulainn’s head.
Max and Lucca immediately replied. The magical energy around Arianrhod and Gawain’s bodies surged. The radiance of their magical energy enveloped their enormous bodies and penetrated the darkness of the night.
“Alright — let’s go!”
As Rebecca gave the order, Cú Chulainn soared into the sky as if to tear the dark night apart. Arianrhod and Gawain followed along but took off rather leisurely. A brisk whirlwind was kicked up on deck, and Ash immediately used his body to shield Eco and Linda from it. The Maestros swiftly darted across the night sky like three meteors flying in reverse. As Ash watched the silhouettes of the three Maestros fade from view, an indescribable sorrow pained his heart.
“Ash? Why are you sighing?”
Raymond asked in surprise while fixing his windswept hair.
“It’s nothing. I just got a bit upset when I thought about the underground auction…”
Ash gazed up at the night sky as he replied.
“Are you worried about the [Sleeping Beauty]? Naturally, I’d welcome and appreciate beautiful women, but there’s a strange feeling when it comes to this one…”
Raymond made a bitter expression.
“That’s right. The fact that Machiavelli would offer it as a subject of our negotiations only reinforces the idea that it must carry a ridiculous price tag…”
While Ash mulled over such thoughts, Linda hurriedly ran over.
“Nii-san. Is Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights not an independent country? Surely you must have some level of wealth?”
“We have received financial aid from Paladin Oswald, Oscar and Raquel, so we’re not in a bad financial position. It’s just that the maintenance cost of the Escavaron is no small amount, so there are no certainties regarding our financial situation.”
“—Ash! Don’t say such depressing things!”
Ash was startled by the voice that suddenly scolded him from behind. Turning around, he found Silvia standing there with a fierce look on her face.
“Do not worry about any financial matters. After all, you have the backing of a princess here.”
Silvia placed her hand over her chest with overwhelming confidence. Speaking of which, Silvia was the one who resolutely agreed to Machiavelli’s troublesome request to begin with.
“What kind of plan did you have in mind, Princess-sama…?”
Just when Ash asked and looked to Silvia for clarification—
“Wait, Silvia…you don’t mean to use the <Dragon Queen’s Heritage> do you?”
Mirabel interrupted with a stern tone.
“As expected of you, aneue. You guessed correctly.”
Despite Mirabel’s sharp gaze, Silvia unabashedly and proudly admitted to it.
“No. To use the precious <Dragon Queen’s Heritage> at an underground auction…that would be ridiculous.”
“Aneue, please do not try to stop me. I have made up my mind.”
“I will not allow it.”
Mirabel and Silvia disagreed and a standoff thus ensued. Before anyone had realised, a terrifying battle between the sisters unfolded before them. At first glance, the two of them just seemed to be staring at each other, but it was as though sparks went flying.
“The two of them are actually quarrelling…”
Eco’s eyes widened as she gazed at the Third and Fourth Princesses of the Knight Country.
“Umm, what’s going on…?”
Acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary, Ash tried to jump in between the two of them.
“What Silvia intends to use is the inheritance from our mother — Queen Elizabeth. Before our mother passed, she divided her private assets into four equal parts for us four sisters to inherit.”
After listening to Mirabel’s explanation, Ash got a general grasp of the situation. It certainly wasn’t a commendable act to use the inheritance left by the Queen for an unknown underground auction. However, Silvia held her ground and refused to back down.
“In fact, a few days ago when Veronica-neesama called me back home, I sold all of my portion of the <Dragon Queen’s Heritage> for cash and stowed it in the ship’s treasury. I plan to exchange it for Veras tomorrow.”
“You did what?”
Mirabel gasped in surprise. Ash also turned to gaze at Silvia in astonishment.
“It’s not that I can’t understand your feelings, aneue, but in order to stop the Magic Association <Demiurge> and establish a friendly relationship with Doge Machiavelli, I’m certain that mother would’ve agreed to this.”
“The environment that we’re in right now has been the result of a dizzying amount of change over the course of the past year. I anticipated that we would run into unexpected financial expenses in the future. I just didn’t expect that day would come so soon.”
“Even so…I cannot accept it.”
Mirabel turned around and went back towards the bridge. Having timidly observed the situation from the sidelines, Eunice hurriedly followed her master away.
“Phew…Princess-sama, I didn’t expect that you would have such a disagreement with Mirabel-san.”
Ash breathed a sigh of relief as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Don’t worry about it, Ash. No matter what aneue says, my feelings will not change. Please participate in the auction with full confidence.”
“Thank you. How do I put this…you seem a little different, Princess-sama.”
“Hm, what do you mean different?”
Silvia looked at Ash in surprise.
“You seem more mature…umm, it’s like you’re starting to exude more royal dignity.”
“I-Is that so?”
Silvia’s gaze drifted about in embarrassment. In contrast to her appearance when she was arguing with Mirabel, her shy expression now exuded a lovely aura that was full of youthful verve — Ash was entranced by Silvia’s loveliness. Just as the both of them were spellbound and only had eyes for each other—
“Hey, you two…do you think we don’t exist?”
A murderously dark aura erupted from Eco.
“Hmm, you two are acting suspiciously. I’m getting worried!”
Linda also raised her eyebrows and positioned herself in between Ash and Silvia.
“W-What are you talking about?”
Silvia timidly responded with a reddened face.
“Ufufu. You’re very cute, Princess-sama.”
Cosette grinned as she added a final remark.
“T-The three of you…are all idiots—!”
No longer able to endure her embarrassment, Silvia hurried away.
“Francesca Machiavelli ~A.S.B.1366.05~” is closed.
(All 5 of 5 parts) (8/7/22)