It was late afternoon, four days after the fall of the fort. In the first floor corridor of the Kilf fortress, a loud sigh echoed.
Needless to say, the owner of that sigh was, of course, Valerie.
She had been left behind as the army marched toward the capital of Ternoire, and spent her days cleaning and repairing the fortress in preparation for welcoming Her Highness the Princess.
She was supposed to shed the blood of the enemy on the battlefield, but she is now washing away the splattered blood by sprinkling water with a bucket in her hand, which makes her sigh.
She leads a group of fifteen people who are to stay behind.
They are all members of the Order of the Golden Eagle.
Although they are well acquainted with each other, Lucas and the other members of the order seemed to be happy to have been chosen for the detention group, which annoyed Valerie even more.
"Father will be very sad when he finds out about this situation"
She muttered while sprinkling water with a ladle, and Lucas tilted his head right next to her.
"Why do you think so? Maybe they'll be surprised to hear that."
"Of course not!"
Valerie's cheeks puffed out, but Lucas suddenly changed the subject.
"By the way, Commander, I've just noticed something rather strange."
"Yes, take a look at this."
Lucas offered her a map of the fortress.
Strangely enough, Valerie did not remember seeing Lucas having any bad luck since they had left the capital.
But she must not underestimate it.
This man's bad luck is hardcore.
There is no telling what kind of disaster such a man could cause if he is entrusted with cooking, cleaning, and other hard labor.
That is why Valerie ordered him to draw up a plan of the fortress, a task that would not cause any deaths even if he failed miserably.
Surprisingly, however, he seemed to be good at this kind of thing and produced a fairly decent drawing.
"What's wrong with this?"
"Don't you notice it? Look, right next to the stairs of the west wing."
"Hmm? It seems to be empty."
"That's right. I didn't skip anything. But after I drew the outline of the fortress around the outside and drew the inside of the fortress, there was a strange space inside the fortress. As you can see, there is a passage extending from the back of the staircase, and it looks as if there is a room at the end of the passage."
"I see, that means..."
"...It must be a secret room."
"Okay! Let's check it out!"
It was a very interesting thing to hear, coming at a time when she was fed up with all the cleaning she had to do.
But Lucas looked surprised at her eagerness.
Still, they went to the west wing and stopped by the stairs.
They moved the crates piled up beside the staircase and found a space the size of a small room on the other side of the staircase. On the left side, just behind the staircase, they saw an iron door that looked sturdier than any other door in the fortress.
"Just as Danna-sama expected"
"According to the blank shape of the floor plan, there seems to be a straight passage on the other side of the door, and the end of the passage is a room."
Lucas walked up to the door and started to examine the hanging lock, and Valerie peeked at it from behind with a curious look.
"What? Is it locked?"
"It seems to be locked."
"Hmm, wait a minute."
With that, she took off the bundle of keys hanging from her waist and held it out to Lucas.
"Danna-sama, I found this in the private room of the fortress, I hope one of them fits."
"Oh, it looks like this one."
The key is twice as long and thicker than the others.
Lucas looks at the key alternately with the keyhole, takes it in his hand, and inserts it into the lock. From the keyhole, a powder of red rust falls from the key, and the lock bounces noisily as it feels a tugging sensation.
"It's a hit"
"Looks like it."
Valerie's voice is filled with joy, and Lucas removes the lock with a small nod.
He pulled out the bolt and pushed open the door, and a musty smell of mold began to pour out through the cracks in the open door.
It's the smell of old air that had been trapped in one place for a long time.
Maybe there are remnants of the enemy lurking on there. Lucas and Valerie had thought so, but it seems that it was a needless worry.
Then, with their heads on top of each other like totem poles, the two look in through the open door.
But it is pitch black inside, probably because there is not even a window. The darkness is so deep that they cannot even tell that it is daytime outside.
Just then, Lucas found a dusty cantera just next to the door, and blew on it.
"There's oil in it. It seems to be usable."
Lucas lit the cantera and held it up.
Looking into the darkness again, he sees a stone passage leading straight to the back of the room.
The ceiling is higher and wider than he had expected, perhaps because many of the Ternoir people are large.
"Would you like to come in?"
"Of course. I'll go in front. Danna-sama can follow."
Valerie takes the cantera and steps into the passage first.
As Lucas doesn't want to talk about which of them is more manly, he follows her.
This passage is longer than they had imagined, and it is straight.
Soon a heavy iron door emerged in the light of the cantera.
"It looks just like on the floor plan, doesn't it?"
"Well, it seems to be unlocked."
Valerie put her hand on the handle and turned her head toward Lucas, checking the feeling of the door.
Of course, there is no choice but to turn back without checking inside.
"We never know what might be lurking in there, so be careful."
"I understand. I'll protect the Commander's back."
"All right... Let's go!"
At her signal, they push open the door and step inside.
Valerie raises her cantera to shake off the darkness, and her eyes are met with a scene so bleak that it is almost too bleak to be real.
It was a stone room with a large bed standing alone in the middle of it. It sits there, covered in dust.
"...It's a bit odd"
"Is this someone's bedroom?"
Lucas tilts his head, and Valerie gives a small shake.
"No, I don't think so. Take a look. This room cannot be locked from the inside. This means..."
A secret room not even the soldiers know about. A secret room with no windows. A confinement room with a luxurious bed.
Yes, it's completely out.
It can only be used for shady purposes.
"Well... it's probably wiser to pretend we didn't see this."
Lucas gave a wry smile, and Valerie shook her head, looking like she was thinking about it.
"No, I think we can use it if we clean it up a little."
"Use it for what?"
"It's obvious. We need to get to know each other better as a couple. I don't know how long we can stay in this fortress, but maybe when you and I are alone, unattended..."
For Valerie, this was not a statement that came from deep thought.
However, Lucas turned red and stiffened at the mention of it.
Seeing Lucas's appearance, she realized that her words had been misinterpreted.
"Tsk! No, that's not what I meant. We're just talking to each other slowly, without anyone listening! Uuhh, no! No, it's not like that!"
"I know! I know!"
In the faint light of the cantera, the shadows of a man and a woman on the wall are waving their hands in the air.
* * *
"Then, Her Highness has departed, has she?"
"Yes, she left yesterday morning. His Highness the Crown Prince recommended the twins to be her personal guards."
"Heheh, I was wondering why you were so quiet."
Bridget smiled happily, and the little girl sitting next to her, Charlotte, sounded a little worried.
"But won't Onii-sama be surprised if Millie and the others go?"
Now, Charlotte wore her waist-length black hair and a catsuit decorated with white lilies. Her light blue dress with lots of ruffles suits her fair skin.
She turns her head toward her mother, but her eyes, crippled from birth, remain closed.
Bridget then pats her head and smiled, "It seems so... maybe he will clutch his head up"
"Mother... you seem to be having a good time."
"Yes, very much."
Bridget responded without any sign of apology and turned to the head maid again.
"By the way, Elene. About the 'Headhunt'..."
"I'm sorry. Actually, there's something I have to tell you."
"She's showing up again?"
"Yes. A messenger of His Highness the Crown Prince arrived just now to inform us that a prostitute was found headless in a back alley in the Santo-Andel district."
"What's the Headhunt in such a hurry?"
Since the beginning of this week, the number of murders suspected to be the work of the Headhunt has increased dramatically.
Six murders in the day before yesterday alone. Yesterday there were two, and today there is only one so far, but the frequency is still much higher than before.
In addition to the people under her command, even Emilienne has been mobilized to keep an eye on the town, and yet here it is. She can only say that they are falling behind.
"If we knew what the headhunt was after, we might be able to predict who will be attacked next..."
"Ah... Mother... This headhunt is a woman, isn't she?"
"Yes. Only women can handle glacial ice crystal."
"I heard that Santo-Andel is a street full of... well... shady stores. If a normal woman stays in such a place, I think she would stand out..."
Bridget gasps at the young girl's words. Then she turned to the head maid.
"Elene, tell the others. The headhunt is most likely a prostitute. Keep an eye out for any whore-like behavior around the entertainment district."
Bridget sighs as she watches the head maid bow and leave.
"Really... I have received a troublesome request..."
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