Ten minutes had passed since Shin told Yuzuha that, if she had to stick to him, she should at least do so in small fox form. While waiting for Schnee and Tiera to return, Shin watched Yuzuha merrily snoozing on his lap when he heard quarreling voices from the entrance.
Shibaid had also noticed and was looking in the same direction as Shin. The residence they were in was fairly large, so normally it wasn’t possible to hear people talk in the entrance from their room: Shin and Shibaid could thanks to their 【Listen】 skill.
They didn’t mean to eavesdrop all conversations in the residence, so they usually kept it inactive and only used it when necessary.
Shin detected two presences walking around the entrance, so he activated it thinking that they were heading inside the residence. One of them was saying that someone had come to meet Tiera and they wanted to wait inside, while the other, an elf working in the residence, refused. The residence was very large, so a number of helpers worked in it.
Shin kept listening and the conversation took a strange turn: they started talking about the Lulac clan leader, the problems of the Lucent and Luderia clans and similar questions, so Shin decided to conceal himself and go to the entrance.
“—and thus, we request lady Tiera to come to the residence of our Lulac clan. If things continue like this, the Luderia will grow even more powerful. As a caretaker, this cannot be considered correct.”
“Nonsense! You are simply after lady Tiera’s powers. The Lucent are now a part of the Luderia, thus, it is natural for lady Tiera to be at our side.”
Shin was now close enough to hear the voices normally, but rather than angry he felt simply exasperated. In the end, they both wanted to use Tiera for their own benefit. Considering the status of the 2 male elves quarrelling before him, it was pretty obvious for them to do so. However, Shin knew of Tiera’s feelings so he couldn’t help but think that they were engaged in a pointless debate.
“It cannot be helped, I see…I shall return for today.”
The representative of the Lulac clan turned around and the man, likely belonging to the Luderia clan, left too. Shin followed their presence for a while and noticed that, for some reason, they were heading in the same direction, even walking side by side.
Even if they had to head in the same direction, there was no reason to walk so close together. Besides, there was another presence behind the two, which seemed to be tailing them.
“This is strange…their clans seemed to be at odds. If the presence following them is an escort…why would they conceal their presence? It doesn’t seem like they are dealing with private affairs, so normally they would be alone, or the escort would be together with them…”
“Indeed, this merits suspicion. Some, however, dislike having their escorts walk with them, so it would be understandable if the latter was concealed. If those two are of high rank, that might be it. Though, I do not understand why they would be together. I suppose not all members from the clans are up in arms against each other, but judging from their conversation, their relationship did not seem positive in the least.”
“That’s right. I suppose I should follow them for a while.”
For whatever reason, the two were avoiding crowded streets, so Shin suspected something was afoot and told Shibaid that he was going after them. Yuzuha, now awake, climbed on Shin’s shoulder and went with him. Shibaid was not suited for such stealth activities, so he said he would wait back in the residence.
“Okay then…looks like they’re talking about something.”
“Kuu, I don’t think they’re fighting…now.”
Shin and Yuzuha, still concealed by 【Hiding】, followed the two elves. Between their quarrels, they would sometimes whisper among each other, in completely different tones. The loud quarrels were apparently a camouflage tactic meant for the presence following them.
Shin decided to focus only on what the two elves whispered.
“That manner of speaking would only worsen people’s impressions. If you wish to apologize, then why not use a more peaceful method? It’s like you’re begging people to hate you.”
The Lulac representative’s brow furrowed, his blue eyes looking at the man next to him. He was quite handsome, as normal for most elves, with short hair parted at the sides of his face. His tone was casual and he appeared fairly confident.
According to 【Analyze】, his name was Herald.
“You too. It sounds like you want to use Tiera as a substitute for your missing priestess. That would be a worse blow to the people’s impression of your clan.”
The man likely belonging to the Luderia replied. He was an elf, naturally, with silver hair reaching up to his shoulders, his green eyes glaring back at Herald. His name was Orlean.
“Like I don’t know that already! Our old man was more than happy to banish lady Tiera at the time.”
“But look at him now! She came back so much stronger, with a divine beast to boot, so he’s pissing his pants worrying that she’s going to get her revenge. Yet he won’t admit his faults all the same…he’s just hopeless. I get it that I wasn’t even born then, but acting as the one in charge of drawing her to our side is just absurd. And I’m supposed to “tread the water”? What the hell am I supposed to do? On top of all that, that residence’s retainers are former Lucent people, so even if I say the truth, who knows if they’ll believe me…”
Some former Lucent retainers were invested in making Tiera the figurehead of the clan’s revival, after all. From their point of view, the Lulac’s actions would be easily thought to mean that they wanted to use Tiera for their own goals. Herald was so irritated that he managed to raise his voice while whispering, a rather impressive feat.
“What about me, then? I was her fiance and couldn’t even protect her. If she wanted to take revenge, I’d be the first in line! If this would give her some relief, that’d be fine, though.”
Orlean agreed with Herald’s idea that honestly bowing their heads and petition Tiera’s assistance was better, then said his piece.
“What are you saying, you idiot. I did greet her officially as representative of the Lulac, and I can tell that she’s not that kind of woman. The guys who escorted lady Tiera to the purification said they started crying just by watching her do it! Someone with that kind of power isn’t going to feel any relief by killing you, man.”
Unbeknownst to Shin, Tiera’s reputation had been on the rise. He had seen her purification before, but did not recall being moved to the point of tears. He wondered what could have ever happened.
“I know that already. I just regret what happened that much. That is why I want to cooperate with her as much as I can, but she’s always being watched. If I said anything like that, they’ll go straight to father to report. We’re already butting heads about how they’re treating Tiera…in the worst case I won’t be free to act anymore either. It wasn’t so bad before, but father lately is acting really strangely.”
“Should we speed up the plan?”
“No, I want to know as much as possible about what father is trying to do. Besides, the Lulac warrior chiefs are still mostly on father’s side. At least the majority follows the head as warriors protecting the country and the World Tree, though.”
The conversation was getting more and more suspicious and Shin could not shake an increasingly bad feeling. Their speech suggested that they might be planning something like a coup d’etat.
More than anything, the fact that Tiera was being watched was a problem. Shin was sure that there was no such person when they were together. She was possibly followed only when she went to purify the World Tree.
(So this guy is Tiera’s former fiance? The one who proposed to her as soon as they met…)
Shin’s impression of Orlean changed a bit after hearing their conversation. He seemed to have several doubts about the current situation, and the same could be said about Herald. Based on their words, it was clear that they had other collaborators too.
The proposal too seemed to serve the purpose of having Tiera, who had returned stronger than ever, be taken in by the Luderia clan, the most powerful faction at the moment, and to protect her from the clan head.
“It was a mistake to let the Luderia be the most powerful clan for all this time. But those who know about the World Tree are aware that the Luderia are up to no good…hell, your father doesn’t even try to hide it lately, does he?”
“It might be because their preparations are complete. But I really have no idea about what he’s trying to do. Even if I’m next in line for the clan head position, I only oversee very little of the clan’s activities… just stuff that anyone else could do. He’s definitely acting strange, but I have no idea what changed him and he won’t tell me anything about his plans. It’s really frustrating.”
Shin nodded to himself as he kept following the two and organizing the information he gathered. There seemed to be a rift between the Luderia’s current head and the next in line, Orlean. The current head and his closest retainers were up to something.
Judging from his words, Orlean was keen on earnestly protecting the World Tree. Herald was a childhood friend of his, that’s why they spoke so frankly. He too seemed to think that taking care of the World Tree was his mission.
Drawing Tiera within their family was the clan head’s intention, but Herald too was of the opinion that Tiera’s powers were necessary to keep the Luderia in check and protect the World Tree at the same time.
Part of the Luderia clan was also involved in suspicious activities, so he believed that for Tiera it would be safer to be with the Lulac, which bore the same role as World Tree caretaker clan.
“See ya. Better think of a better invitation next time.”
“Like I need you to tell me. You better talk smarter next time too.”
The two elves’ whispered conversation stopped there. They acted like they quarreled again, then went their separate ways. Shin considered following one of them, but realized that they wouldn’t talk about important information by themselves, so he stopped following them.
In any case, he had already gathered information that had to be reflected upon.
“So the Luderia’s next head sees this situation as bizarre…”
“Is the World Tree in danger because of the same cause?”
“If the boss of the caretakers is up to something, it would be strange if it was unrelated.”
Yuzuha’s suspicion was well-founded. Shin sighed: there was surely going to be trouble before the situation could be solved.