73: Popularity-gains need proper preparations


We are inside the mansion of defense minister Gatro.
I, Celica, Lapisia and Minya are in that order climbing the stairs to the second floor.

"Minya, you'll protect the fairy. In exchange, Lapisia, you will.. ah, you're still holding that egg. You should have given it to Lilille though."
Lapisia was carrying the egg with its white and black marble patterns.
"Today it's her turn to warm it. It's alright."
"Ah, okay then"


The sounds of attacking swords are resounding on the second floor.
The corridor is blocked by four heavily armed Magic Dolls.
The parts of already destroyed dolls were scattered on the floor.

I unsheathe my Tachi while I walk with big steps.
"Step aside. I'll take them down."
"He, Hero-sama! Please!"
The soldiers retreated to both sides.
I casually swing my Tachi while I pass by them.

*zann!*

I cut down a Magic Doll diagonally from the shoulders along with the armor. Moreover, I cut the doll next to it from bottom to top with the back swing.
"""Oohh~!"""
Voices of astonishment came from the soldiers.

Celica steps forward from my side.
"*Ya!*"
She releases a sharp thrust into a gap in the armor. The doll's movement became dull.
A soldier then smashes its head.

Lapisia steps forward while holding the egg and treads on the semi-broken doll to destroy it.


There was still one more left, but I quickly walked ahead.
My goal is the private room of minister Gatro.

The large room is sparsely furnished.
There is a shelf with alcohol and books at the wall.
There are a sofa and a table.
There are a desk and a drawer.


The drawer was sealed with locks and magic, but I forcibly opened it.
What came out from the inside were letters and documents.

When I looked through them, there were letters that seemed to deal with crime organizations.
He was fueling up a domestic crisis and did the war preparations to fill his own pockets from the budget.
He schemed quite a lot behind the scenes for that.
But it seems that he didn't intend to actually wage a war and only did the preparations.
--In other words, the original budget for the huge quantity of weapons and armors wasn't low, but he was probably embezzling the money.

Moreover, is seems, that excellent craftsmen are prohibited from leaving the country.
However, the technology can flow out of the country if the craftsmen are forced into crime by putting the screws on them and then made into slaves.
The country and the criminal organization were working hand-in-hand.


Celica enters the room. She waves her skirt as she comes closer.
"What's the matter, Keika-sama?"
"Can Magic Dolls be made by humans?"
"They can make simple ones like the ones earlier. But only demons can make Magic Dolls that look like humans."
"I see"

Has the criminal organization of Gould switched the defense minister with a Magic Doll?
They probably prepared for a real war though.
It feels like the Demon Lord's breath is lurking behind them.


We left the mansion.
The captain rushes over.
"Thank you very much, Hero-sama! Thanks to you, the suppression went without any casualties."
"That's good to hear. Will you continue with the investigation after this?"
"Yes. It seems, that there is a connection to Gould and we found materials to make Magic Dolls in the basement. He probably planned to switch the important people in the country."

"Where is Gould?"
"We don't know that. He's hiding behind several layers of covers."

I was wondering what would happen if Haya was caught, so I asked.
"Do you know who made the dolls?"
"We don't know, but it seems that he possesses a dangerous technique. We'll probably immediately depose of him when he's found."
Minya's bag faintly shook. Haya seems to be frightened.
That was dangerous. I was right to save her beforehand.

"I see. Well then, I'll leave the rest to you. If something comes up-- hmm, Celica, where is our inn?"
"It's Merrill's inn on the main street in the second district."
"Ah, that place. Merrill's inn seems to have a good reputation. Hero-sama, I'll contact you there when the investigation is over and the report is ready."
The captain lowered his head and went back into the mansion.


We leisurely depart from the mansion.
Celica is walking beside me.
"I got gold coins from the king, please take them."
"Yes, Keika-sama."
I handed the two holy gold coins from the king over to Celica.
Celica puts them into the bag at her waist.

"Now then, what shall we do next?"
"You're not done yet?"
"I was thinking, that the destruction of the criminal organization should increase my popularity."
"That's true of course... but it seems that no one knows where it is."
"Investigation shouldn't be a problem now that we got a lot of money."
"Oh, you've already thought about your next steps. As expected of you, Keika-sama."

Minya speaks while she walks behind me
"If there is someone, who can do it, it's you, Keika-sama"
"Yeah, leave it to me. Minya, please walk diagonally in front of me. I want to talk to the fairy."
"Yes"
With a supple movement of her body, Minya walks a half step in front of me.
She straightens up her back and her pointed ears are standing up.


I loosen the opening of the bag on her back and peek inside.
"Haya, are you alright?"
"I feel like I've been eaten by a beast..."
"The smell of the materials, huh. Please endure it a little longer. Do you remember, when you were caught?"

"--It was about one year ago. I got caught with a net. All the other fairies were fleeing and hiding."
"Through which ways have you been sold?"
"I was on a ship. At first I was at a beautiful port town with red roofs and white walls. I had to make some dolls there."

"So you were at Doruas? And after that you came here? Hmm, that mayor's good-for-nothing son Jean might have also kept some other slaves."
He had demon slaves in the basement.
Which reminds me, I was told, that the inn at Doruas was made by craftsmen from Industria, but the letters stated, that excellent craftsmen basically can't go abroad under national law.


I sighed.
"I guess corruption is widely spread everywhere..."
"Yes, that's true. What do you intend to do?"
Celica's voice sounded saddened.
"The trail leads back to the Demon Lord, but for now I'll take down Gould. --I'll close the bag"
"Ah, yes~ I'll be waiting to be of use to you again--"
Haya spoke while I closed the bag.

"Minya, I want you to bring Lapisia to the inn. And please show Haya to Lily and ask her to remove the crest at her stomach."
""Understood-- let's go, Lapisia."
"Yup!"
They looked like sisters when they joined hands.


I was thinking as I walked.
It would be a waste to simply arrest Gould.
How can I get everyone's ovations for that?
I was thinking about the best way.

======

I went through the gate of the first city wall that surrounded the castle area and went to the second district.
Celica and I went to another place after we separated from Minya and Lapisia.
I was looking for the blacksmith guild in a back street.

It is a two-story building.
It gave off the impression, that it wasn't well maintained anymore for quite some time.
I was immediately sent through to the guild master's room when I showed my "Proof of Hero" at the reception.


A good-natured, middle-aged man welcomed us.
It was the man who I earlier met at the strike.
"Thank you for coming! Please take a seat-- Heey, please bring some tea!"
He calls out into the corridor in a loud voice.

We were guided to a sofa in the corner of the room.
I was sitting down side by side with Celica and we were facing the guild master.
The tea was brought immediately. There was hot tea inside a teacups.


The guild master spoke while we took a sip.
"So, how did it go?"
"I talked to the king whether he can do something about the issue. It seems that the defense minister went crazy and tried to start a war. It's alright now."
"Is that so? As expected of you, Hero-sama!"

"That should be settled then. Can I ask you a few things?"
"Of course, please ask me anything"
"Is there a place that deals with slaves?"
"Eh? Yes, there is. It's in the south of the workshop district, in a warehouse close to the harbor."
"I see, the harbor. ...I heard that craftsmen who committed crimes are made into slaves."
"Also craftsmen who can't pay the taxes. It's really awful."


I spoke as I looked at the guild master who had a serious look on his face.
"I agree. There's also a possibility that the craftsmen are on purpose made into slaves and taken away to leak technology to other countries."
"Wh, What was that?!! Is that true!?"
The guild master stood up with his eyes wide open.

"There is no proof yet, but the king should find out about the truth soon. That's why, if possible, please quickly let the guild members and other guilds know."
"Le, Leave it to me! ...And, what do you plan to do, Hero-sama?"
"I'll go to the slave house. It might turn into a battle."

"Understood-- then, I'll inform the others immediately."
"Please do so--"
The guild master jumped out of the room before I even had finished talking.
--So, now I can deal with the slave house.
I'm certain that there is a connection to Gould.
At least I should find a clue.

Celica puts her hand at her mouth and softly laughs.
"He seems to be quite impatient"
"You're right."
"But he doesn't seem to be a bad person."
"Yeah, we can trust him. Shall we go as well?"
"Yes, Keika-sama"
We drunk up the tea and left the room.

We headed to the port in the south.