“Welcome, we’re glad you could make it, Lillia!” James greeted the [Baroness] and her [Butler] as they entered his home.
Looking around, the [Baroness] commented, “Dear Gods, Howard. Has this been where you’ve been staying? How have you managed without servants?”
Concealing his face by covering it with his sleeve, Howard coughed dryly. After all, he was a [Knight], not a Noble-Class. He lacked the Skills to hide his emotions. For once, the old [Knight] had taken off his armor to better fit into the celebratory feast.
Lillia continued obliviously, “Ah yes, I remember there’s that Hersha [Maid]. It’s a real pity about her getting injured and all. Then again, a true Servant would know not to abandon their master for some hairbrained Quest. If you need someone though, I can lend you one of my men. Herman, do we have anyone?”
Herman sighed. “My lady, I’m sure they’ll ask if they have need of your aid.”
Happily clapping her hands, Lillia turned to James. “Of course. Do feel free to ask, James. So, is there somewhere we’re going to socialize?”
“Well, I’m afraid that with the two girls being injured, we can’t have too large of a party, so it’ll just be a dinner tonight.” James stoically restrained his urge to insult Diana’s aunt. A quick glance at Howard revealed that he was struggling to do the same.
Leading them toward the dining table, James re-introduced them to the four Adventurers who had saved Diana. While Lillia had met them before, it was polite to do so as the host.
Olaf rose from his seat. “Ah, my dear [Baroness]! I was unaware that you were coming. Had I known, I would have brought you a gift.” Petulinia rolled her eyes even as Lillia daintily giggled into her hand.
“No need. No need, my dear Adventurer.”
As the four Adventurers, Howard, the [Baroness], and the [Butler] sat down, James said, “Well, I’ll go grab some appetizers. It’s home-cooking from my homeland; I’m afraid. I hope you’ll all enjoy it. It’s actually quite similar to Rigrathian cooking.”
Turning toward Lillia, Olaf asked, “My dear [Baroness], would you like to explain what your nation’s dishes are?”
Lillia bobbed her head. “Why, of course! I’m quite curious as to whether James can do my native country’s food good service. Let’s see; as I’m sure you’re aware, we’re most famous for our pasta dishes that can use different types of sauces. There’s a few soups and salads as well, but we’re really known for noodles.”
Carrying plates of sliced bread and olive oil, James set them down in the middle of the table. Sitting down, he tipped his wineglass toward the four Adventurers before taking a sip. “Please, to the heroes who saved our two girls!”
Olaf blushed. “Master James, you praise us too much. The two girls practically saved themselves!”
“Nonsense! You still took care of the [Assassin]s that would’ve finished them off. Without you… Well, I don’t even want to think about it.”
Raising his cup, Olaf toasted, “Fine. Fine. To our mission’s success and the health of the two victims!”
The table erupted into a round of cheers, and the night’s revelries began.
At this point, even the [Baroness] had lost her veneer of elegant sophistication and was laughing along with the rest of the Adventurers. Because he expected another guest that night, James made sure to limit his alcohol consumption. Olaf hugged the [Baroness] and hoisted her into the air as Lillia giggled in delight. “Oh, Mr. Olaf, you’re such a strong adventurer!”
Meanwhile, Petulinia and Theses were making out in a corner. Poor Ivan had felt left out a while ago and quietly left. James had kept a wary eye out, but the gentleman [Thief] had actually left the premises without swiping anything.
James talked to Howard who had abstained from drinking more than a few glasses in order to keep his wits about him. “Well, the girls obviously can’t go to the trial,” the engineer began.
Howard raised an eyebrow at James. “You seem strangely unconcerned about that. Are tens of thousands of Seedz not important to you?”
James shrugged. “Their safety comes first.”
The [Butler] hurriedly chased after Lillia who was running around with Olaf.
With a grunt, Howard turned back from watching his niece-in-law. He muttered, “What are the odds those two end up in a bed by tonight.”
Politely ignoring Howard’s musings, James asked, “So, I hear you’re planning to go back with Diana soon?”
Howard seriously stared at James. “Why?” His voice turned eager. “Do you want to come along? You know… Diana really admires you.”
James exhaled. “I dunno, but I suspect I won’t want to be here after a few more days.”
“Well, you still have some time to decide. We were thinking about going after the Lake Festival you were hosting.”
Suddenly, Howard turned serious. Squinting at James, he said, “Alright. Now that there’s clearly no eavesdroppers, I’ve got to ask: what happened in there?”
James looked at Howard in confusion.
“Don’t play dumb with me. Those holes in the corpses were not reported at all in the official report released this afternoon, which means both the Church and the Queen are covering it up.”
James shrugged. “I guess the [Dark Lord] has strange weapons then. Who knows what he’s done in the past few decades of hiding?”
Breathing out slowly, Howard stared at James straight in the eye. “I don’t really care what you did, but I still hold you responsible for saving my granddaughter’s life. Either way, whatever happened, you and Kira played significant roles.”
Nodding, James dozed in his chair as the party-goers gradually spread throughout the first floor of his house seeking greater privacy. Just as he was about to completely nod off, three loud knocks hit the door. Instantly, James jerked up. His final guest had finally come.
James jumped out of his chair and straightened his hair while Howard carefully watched James’s curious actions. “Someone important at the door?”
“Something like that.” James confidently strode to the door and yanked it open. “Good evening, Mr. Hand.”
A cloaked figure stood at the door, Howard suspiciously eyed him before gasping when he saw the golden emblem pinned to the man’s chest. “You’re, you’re! A Queen’s Hand!”
Completely ignoring Howard, the man inspected James. “Mister James, the Queen sends her apologies that she will not be able to hear about your most recent exploits until later this week… when you will be attending the Queen’s Chambers to discuss certain findings.”
James gulped and asked, “So the Queen isn’t here right now?”
The man nodded. “While this isn’t of your concern, the Queen is currently attending to some of the matters you reported at the local Constable office. They were quite fascinating. She thanks you for your help with the Church. The dominance of the Queen, may she ever reign, has further increased.”
With a respectful nod, James took the outstretched scroll and bid the man farewell.
The man paused, grasping James’s hand. “You do good work, Sir. Your weapons allowed us to finally free up the resources spent imprisoning the Immortal ones…”
James shook the man’s hand. The man continued, “Off the record, the Kingdom would like to order seventy of your cold Cubes of Illusion.”
Frowning, James replied, “I don’t sell weapons without a specific Writ from the Queen and even then, she needs to give justification.”
The man shrugged. “I can get the Queen’s Writ to you tomorrow then. You’ll find it in your bedroom.”
James waved his hands. “Fine. Fine. I’ll do it, but I’ll decrease the intensity so it only affects non-corporeals.”
“Works for us. It’s not like they do too much to those with [Resistance]s anyway.”
While James suspected it would only be a matter of time before they reverse engineered the cubes, he was truly helpless to refuse.
Saluting, the man seemed to take three steps down the path before disappearing into the shadows. Howard whistled. “It’s not every day you see one of the Queen’s most powerful Servants. Can I read the scroll or is it personal?”
James handed the scroll to the old [Knight]. “Have at it. It should contain some stuff pertaining to you as well.”
Opening the official looking scroll, Howard immediately noticing the multiple royal emblems practically littered over the whole paper. “Wow, this is going to be quite a few orders…”
Scanning through them, he said, “Interesting. Let’s see; typical vow of silence under threat of retaliation by the Crown. Protection of your anonymity… Canceled trial… The Count’s rank was revoked, and he’s now a Baron pending investigation. Furthermore, Lady Lloyd confessed under truth spell that she directly served the [Dark Lord]. In addition, Lillia’s an officially recognized [Baroness] by the Queen now? Wait, what!? Not only was Lillia given a tithe and land, but the Queen gave you the rank of Count? The Kingdom of Rigrath is officially recognized as a solid ally, and the Dukedom of Howderwhit is given better trading terms than even its ruler the King of Winston? The B-Adventuring group Generic Crew got a commendation and a royally-sanctioned title? Olaf is going to be over the moon. His group’s practically Noble now… Just what did you do? The Queen literally rewarded everyone involved with something that would take decades to achieve!” Disbelieving the information, Howard rubbed his eyes and re-read the scroll to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
Calming himself, Howard handed the scroll back. “You know, at this point, it’s not even possible for you to deny that you played a much larger role in this than anyone else even suspects. What did you do? Kill one of the [Dark Lord]’s primary servants? Wait, did one of your discoveries finally pay off?”
‘More like I discovered a conspiracy, took out a kingpin of the [Dark Lord], discredited the Church, created a weapon that takes out Immortal Servants of the [Dark Lord] like the Death Wraths…‘
Tapping the top of the scroll where a small circle was, James held his finger there for a minute before a slight beep was heard. Then, the scroll split into several pieces, each one corresponding to a specific person’s orders. Setting the others’ orders by the door so they could grab them on the way out, James shrugged. “I did not have any illicit relations in this affair, the battle at the Crypt of Saints. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for my customers. Thank you.”
Howard gazed at James in confusion. James winked.
Unbeknownst to everyone, a glowing red butterfly gently flapped its wings as it shook off the waste liquids that had surrounded it at its birth. Waving its antennas curiously, it examined the dim laboratory it found itself in. Suddenly, it sensed something quite interesting… Leaping into the air, it flew up the stairs, out the door, and toward the field behind James’s house where an adolescent wyvern perked up upon noticing something approaching. And so, one of the most historical games of tag to ever occur began.
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