Chapter 20: Celebration II (4/5)

The beautiful Grand Duchess was an even harder person to approach for Elric. How was he going to possibly explain how he knew her? ‘Hello, I drank too much night at the Forest Nymph and had a dream where you and this other gorgeous girl did all sorts of things and then some to me’?

Absolutely not. It was better he didn’t talk to her.

Grand Duchess Siren didn’t share those sentiments, however. She was still curious about this lady for three primary reasons.

The first was for the reason of surprise on her face when they first saw each other. Surely there was a meaning to an emotional reaction like that? As confident as she was in her beauty, Siren didn’t quite think that her beauty was enough to be quite literally jaw-dropping (barring males). Besides, this young lady was quite the head-turner herself; why would she be so easily stunned by beauty?

The second reason was her mana signature. Never before had Siren seen such a unique signature like that. 

The third reason was the identity of this woman. From her ample experience, Siren could sense that this woman had absolutely no infatuation for Duke Hughesin standing next to her. It was interesting to see that this woman, on the other hand, had an extreme amount of influence on the duke, the one known as the most flirtatious noble in Karth. This was potentially valuable information she could make use of as long as she paid closer attention to this strange woman. 

It was decided—she would pay close tabs on her. But the basics came first: she had to first pay attention to their surroundings and gather more intelligence before she could make direct contact with her.

But those direct contact protocols didn’t stop her from slipping a small tool known as a lodemark onto Elric’s clothes when they were close enough. Lodemarks had plenty of uses and were practically invisible to all those who didn’t study soul magic. As long as a lodemark was planted, one could track the person it was on no matter how far the distance. The greatest thing about a lodemark was its difficulty to remove. 

The only person Siren knew capable of removing a lodemark was the Archierus of Karth, Myron. Lodemarks were an easy matter for the man to unravel, thus Siren made sure to never plant one on anyone close to the Archierus or even to Archmagister Kebrilio to prevent a possible misunderstanding. Given the duke’s rivalry with Kebrilio, his woman would most likely not be related to either of the two.

So planting a lodemark only seemed logical, what were the chances? 

Mind at ease with the lodemark planted, Siren went off to listen in on the conversations of others. She hoped that perhaps the Karthian aristocracy would have some news on who this lady was and was pleasantly surprised to see this lady already being the topic of the night. All she had to do was listen in on several conversations and hear what some ladies swear to be an eye-witness account.

It was like stumbling upon a goldmine of information or a story whose plot points were simply too much to believe. Never had Siren so easily gathered so much information from passing conversations. Her colleagues in the information business would surely tear their hair out in jealousy if they knew just how easy of a time she was having.

But not all information heard was beneficial to Siren. Completely unexpectedly, this strange lady was actually the niece of Archmagister Kebrilio. Was this a peace offering between the hardline and the moderate factions? If common cause could be found between the two factions, then that spelled nothing good for her own nation. It was even possible that war would be on the horizon. Siren began to worry—she had to gather more information and confirm this for herself. She also had to find a way to transmit this information back to her homeland. Perhaps that way she’d be able to save the lives of her countrymen.

Inconspicuously, Siren began to inch closer toward the direction of the lodemark where she found lady Fantasia standing with an imperial attendant. The latter seemed to be discussing something with the former before leading her out from the hall toward a small parlor in the back. Siren couldn’t name all the rooms and their purposes, but she at least knew this specific parlor was used for the emperor to rest in or for foreign dignitaries to have a private room to converse. It was by no means a parlor anyone could easily access.

This observation alone was nearly enough to confirm Siren’s suspicions, but she still wanted more. She drew closer to the side of the hall with the parlor in search for a private place she could sit down without drawing too much attention. To aid her act, Siren unfastened the rose given tied around her sky-blue clothes and began acting as though admiring it. Gifts such as these were a major headache for her. They attracted far too much attention from the jealous eyes of others and were antithetical to her line of work. In her opinion, it was much better to be completely unassuming and find isolation in the dark corners of a room rather than be put onto a dazzling environment like this.

On the way to the parlor, Elric smiled happily to himself. Hughesin was finally gone from his side! He had been so upset at first when the attendant first approached him about coming here. He completely misunderstood His Excellency’s intentions at first until he thought about why this room was given to him. The emperor surely had to have been told about this farce and his true identity if a room to change clothes and identity was being given to him so conveniently. 

This was it! He could finally go back to being a man for once! All this feigning of being a woman had actually started to play tricks on his mind. He was a little worried that if he had to pretend any longer, then he’d actually turn into a woman in spirit! It was much better that he returned to being a male before he felt himself change anymore.

Eventually, the attendant brought Elric to a single room and left so Elric could open the door himself. His four handmaids were already there waiting for him inside with all the preparations. A basin with hot water rested on top of a small table, a set of male’s clothing rested upon a rack in the corner. It wasn’t too fancy of a garment, but its only purpose was to be easy to put on and off. A wig also sat on top of a cupboard.

The four handmaids sprung into action the moment the attendant was gone. The first to be removed was the makeup. Since makeup had to be used to hide Elric’s masculine features while also giving ‘Fantasia’ an elegant expression, enough of it had to be used while still being as minimalistic as possible. That way, the makeup would be a snap to put on and remove. One handmaid took a small black net out and quickly covered Elric’s hair into it. Fastening it together tightly, she then slipped on a wig over Elric’s head. The other handmaids moved swiftly to begin removing the many garments, a process done swiftly and efficiently thanks to their persistent practice. Elric was especially touched to feel one handmaid graciously loosen the bindings at his waist.

The male set of clothing was smoothly slipped on without any trouble. Eyeing himself up in the mirror, Elric nodded. He was pleased to be a male again.

The lead handmaid put a stop to his self-admiring at once. The princess, she urged, was waiting for him along with his three friends. The dignitaries were expected to have a part to play in the banquet’s memorial rites later and had to practice now.

He was kicked out almost literally from the room, but not from the door he came in from. There was another door that led to a small drawing room on the neighboring wall. 

Elric had to admire the meticulousness of the emperor and the ease it was for him to change identities. Opening the door leading back out to the hall, Elric was greeted with the sight of food being served, much to his delight. He hadn’t any desire to see his princess just yet; it was time for him to enjoy a nice meal, punishment be damned.

He smiled. Time to feast on more pleasant matters.

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