Eminence in Shadow Volume 6 Prologue

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Prologue: Envying the Hidden Ruler of the Midgar Kingdom!
 
 
“It’s over.…”

“It’s over, isn’t it?
 
Hyoro and Jaga slumped over their desks with a sigh.
 
Just now, the final written exams at Midgar Academy had ended.
 
“Gonna grade yourself?”
 
I asked.
 
Isaac’s absence left a huge hole, but I managed to get by with Nina’s cheat sheet.
 
This time, I’m fairly confident. I think I barely scraped by with red marks in all subjects.
 
“As if I’d do that…”
 
“Our scores won’t change now anyway. The practical exams start next week.”
 
“True.”
 
Of course I had no intention of grading myself. I’d be in trouble if they actually said they were going to do it.
 
It’s been about a month since the mysterious white fog terrorist incident ended.
 
Now it’s mid-February.
 
The knight order’s investigation came and went, and the academy finally settled down.
 
But I love how frequent terrorist attacks are in this fantasy world.
 
In my past life, the only “incidents” were busting street gangs.
 
Oh right, my sister fell unconscious.
 
I’m enjoying my newfound freedom, unburdened by grief. Zeta said she’d wake up eventually so I’m sure it’s fine.
 
I wonder what Sis plans to do about getting a job and all that.
 
More pressingly, if she misses the exams, she might have to repeat the year… I hope she graduates quickly.
 
“What should we do after this? Training for the practical exams?”
 
“As if I’d do that…”
 
“Now that the written exams are over, we’re free to play until the practicals!”
 
“True.”
 
“No sneakin’ off until I’ve taken all yer money! I got fat stacks waitin’!”
 
“With Mitsugoshi revo’s divine blessing upon us, how could we possibly lose?”
 
Hyoro flashed his vulgar grin along with a wad of cash, while Jaga arrogantly shuffled his cards.
 
“Let’s go, to our battlefield!”
 
“My room, you mean.”
 
“We won’t let you sleep tonight! Go take a shower first!”
 
“I’m gonna sleep, like normal.”
 
They grabbed me by both arms.
 
Just then, I heard Cristina’s voice.
 
“I’m sorry, kanade. Because of my weakness…”
 
“What should I do now to…”
 
Before Cristina stood a girl who looked vaguely familiar.
 
“I can’t believe… Lady Eliza was found innocent…”
 
The girl was crying.
 
Now I remember. She’s the girl I saved in the fog last time.
 
“C’mon, let’s go!”
 
“It seems you’ve lost your nerve.”
 
“Yeah yeah, I’m going!”
 
A noble’s power is impressive if she was found innocent of that.
 
Thinking about such things, I left the classroom.
 


 
I flop down on a bed of cash and mutter.
 
“Overwhelming victory is always so hollow…”
 
Hyoro and Jaga left before midnight. At some point, winning became routine work as I steadily raked in more cash.
 
After the excitement faded, only endless emptiness remained…
 
“Heheh… So cool.”
 
I get up from bed to gather the cash I scattered for dramatic effect.
 
Two million zennies total.
 
Thank you Hyoro, Jaga, and Mitsugoshi revo.
 
“Mitsugoshi-brand limited edition cards, huh. They supposedly fetch a good price… But they’re in poor taste.”
 
The designs seem to be horror themed.
 
Maybe I should sell them.
 
Anyway, it’s too early to sleep so I guess I’ll train my magic.
 
As I was about to start practicing, I noticed a glowing card had fallen beside my bed.
 
“Hm? What’s this…”
 
A luxurious golden card.
 
The front beautifully proclaims it a “Royal Mitsugoshi Luxury Bar Membership Card.”
 
The back bears the member number “001 Cid-Kageno.”
 
“Oh right. Gamma gave me a membership card when he said Mitsugoshi Company was opening an exclusive bar or something…”
 
Knowing her, she probably cribbed the idea from my own knowledge to impress me. I ignored it at the time.
 
“A luxury bar, huh…”
 
I glance at the pile of cash.
 
I’ve always had a bit of longing for those quiet, sophisticated bars in spy movies with secretive conversations.
 
“Maybe they’ll give me a friend discount… “
 
Worst-case scenario, I could just run away.
 
Alright, let’s go.
 
And for the spy motif, a nice suit. I’ll wear the one Alpha got me from Mitsugoshi instead of John Smith’s tattered suit.
 
Shined shoes, slightly parted hair down the middle… Looking sharp, I boldly headed for the capital’s nightlife.
 


“Here it is…”
 
Surprisingly, the exclusive bar was in a basement down a narrow alley.
 
The subdued door bore the Mitsugoshi logo along with delicate carvings.
 
A hidden, speakeasy-style bar I guess.
 
Feeling a bit nervous, I opened the door and stepped inside. The interior was a relaxing indirect-lit space. The bar counter shone with numerous pendant lights toned down as if they were stars in the night sky.
 
The floor looked to be made of wolfstone and the tables from single slabs of sacred Yggdrasil wood.
 
Just what I noticed at a glance totaled few hundred million zennies in value. My spine reflexively calculated risk versus reward if I were to steal it all.
 
“…A customer.”
 
“Oh, yes!”
 
My awkward reply came from feeling self-conscious about the larcenous thoughts I was just entertaining. Gotta play it cool.
 
“I have a membership card.”
 
As I reached for the gilded card in my pocket, the attendant, a woman, shook her head.
 
“Mr. Cid-Kageno has facial recognition, so no need. Welcome, please come in. We do have VIP rooms in the back but…”
 
She gestures with her lovely heterochromatic eyes towards the seats up front.
 
“The counter’s fine.”
 
I hesitated a moment but ultimately the counter feels more spy-like.
 
“Understood. This way, please.”
 
“Sorry…have we met before?”
 
She looks back, surprised that I called out to her turned back.
 
With silver and gold heterochromia and black hair, she’s a half-elf.
 
“I served you previously at Mitsugoshi Company.”
 
“Oh right, you were next to Gamma.”
 
“You remember me, I’m honored. My name is Omega.”
 
Omega leads me to a counter seat.
 
The bartender also looks familiar. An elf woman with short blonde hair and men’s clothes.
 
“I think we met at Mitsugoshi too?”
 
“The honor is mine. I’m Kai.”
 
“I’m Cid-Kageno.”
 
“Of course I’m well aware, sir.”
 
Kai gives a composed bow but for some reason her fingertips are trembling ever so slightly.
 
Maybe she’s inexperienced as a bartender. Don’t fail me now, fancy bar.
 
“My order is…”
 
I know exactly what I want to order. In the mood to play secret agent.
 
“A vodka martini.”
 
I lower my voice.
 
“Shaken, not stirred.”
 
Gotta project a seasoned veteran’s poise.
 
Can’t let on this is my first time at such an establishment. Instead, subtly test them with imposing silence.
 
“A vodka martini, shaken. Right away, sir.”
 
Kai’s expression tightens.
 
She takes a deep breath, her shaking hands clearly visible as she prepares the cocktail.
 
I watch with great interest.
 
Could it be that hand tremor is necessary for mixology?
 
As I ponder, her trembling intensifies dramatically.
 
“I see…”
 
I know nothing about cocktails so this is educational.
 
A seasoned bartender needs precisely that finger quiver.
 
And then it hits me.
 
Does this world even have vodka?
 
“That’s odd…”
 
Kai’s shoulder quivers sharply.
 
No no, I didn’t mean you.
 
It’s odd that vodka exists in this world at all.
 
Why would… But I don’t even need to ask. It’s obvious who’s responsible.
 
“Drinking vodka martinis?”
 
///
 


 


 

 


 
///
 
A voice calls out from behind.
 
Like bells chiming, beautiful. I know without looking.
 
“Oh…Alpha.”
 
“Long time no see.”
 
“Yeah.”
 
Seeing her after so long, she looks a bit more mature.
 
Golden hair, blue eyes. The simple dress suits the bar’s mood.
 
“You weren’t good with strong drinks.”
 
“Did I say that?”
 
“No. But I’ve never seen you enjoy a drink.”
 
Sharp.
 
I don’t really understand the taste of alcohol. I just drink it because it looks cool.
 
“I don’t dislike it.”
 
“Yes you do. You don’t like it.”
 
Alpha smiles wryly.
 
“What makes you say that?”
 
“Just a feeling.”
 
“Here is your vodka martini, sir.”
 
Kai places the cocktail before me, trembling even harder now.
 
That’s the mark of a consummate professional.
 
“I’ll have a Manhattan.”
 
The Manhattan Alpha ordered has a whiskey base, if I remember right. But of course this world has no whiskey.
 
“So whiskey production is complete?”
 
I prod to pretend I know.
 
“Just barely. Not on sale yet but it’ll fetch a high price when it is. A noble from the Vegalta Empire tasted it and valued a bottle at two million zennies.”
 
“I see…”
 
Yup, thought so.
 
Shouldn’t have tried to show off whiskey knowledge.
 
“Thanks to your expertise.”
 
“Mm-hmm…”
 
Indeed, quite right.
 
Somewhat irritated, I down the vodka martini in one go.
 
“How’s the taste?”
 
“Not bad.”
 
All I tasted was alcohol.
 
“Hehe…”
 
Alpha smiles.
 
“Something wrong?”
 
“No, just happy.”
 
“About what?”
 
“You finally wore that suit.”
 
“Oh, right.”
 
“I ordered it made. The material is black wyrm silk.”
 
“Wow…”
 
Black wyrms are far larger and more violent than Earth silkworms, and highly venomous to boot. Their silk is a supreme luxury material only master hunters can obtain.
 
“I’ll excuse that promise you forgot too.”
 
She says this with a delighted expression while gazing at my suited form.
 
I’ve no idea what promise she’s talking about that I forgot.
 
“Here is your Manhattan.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
Alpha seems in good spirits today.
 
She sips the Manhattan and nods.
 
“It could use more aging but not bad.”
 
Alpha sets down the glass and looks at me.
 
“You who dislike drinking, coming to a bar no less. Did something happen?”
 
“Hm? Nothing really… Just found the membership card in my room.”
 
“Worried about wiretaps? You can speak freely here. Only cleared personnel are present now.”
 
Her demeanor grows serious. So she’ll play along with my spy game.
 
“I see… How did that mission go?”
 
“That mission…”
 
She says this with a serious face.
 
“The Oriana Kingdom debrief I sent covers everything.”
 
“Oh right, I read that in three seconds during the mission.”
 
I regularly get massive reports from Shadow Garden written in ancient code.
 
I incinerate them immediately on arrival, but anyway.
 
“Three seconds… Don’t tell me you accelerated your brain?”
 
“Hmph…”
 
I put my lips to the glass without commenting.
 
“Classified tech still, I see. I understand it requires profound skill. The mental strain and risks if it fails… Yes, it’s beyond our capabilities for now. But we will remain faithful students of your teachings and continue training. So when the day comes, please instruct us.”
 
“I look forward to it.”
 
“You look ahead so far we can only grasp the smallest fraction of your vision… But we won’t betray your expectations. Never…!”
 
“As for that mission?”
 
“It proceeds smoothly. Rose Oriana has resolved to rule as queen.”
 
“Everything unfolds as originally planned.”
 
“From the moment we first contacted her, you saw this outcome. You seemed quite concerned about the girl so I was a bit jealous.”
 
Alpha says jokingly.
 
“She’s a necessary piece for the plan.”
 
“I know. To draw out those guys into the open…”
 
“The open?”
 
“What’s wrong?”
 
“Just reexamining everything from every angle and imagining the worst immediate possibilities.”
 
“You really do see every possibility. But also try to see more of… No, never mind.”
 
Alpha starts to say something but stops herself.
 
“You’re the same as ever. Always chasing that big dream. It’s too vast for us to grasp more than a fraction but… Now the preparations are finally coming together. Right?”
 
“From the distant perspective, it’s still but a single step.”
 
“I know. Oriana is reforming with Shadow Garden’s money and tech. Leave that to me, it’s going well so far.”
 
“Good. If it’s going well then that’s fine.”
 
“Oh right, we changed the ancient code cipher.”
 
Alpha hands me some papers covered densely in incomprehensible code and I can’t help but frown.
 
“It was the decryption table before but I guess it was too easy for you.”
 
“Mm-hmm…”
 
I feel my eyes glazing over.
 
“I’ll have apple juice please.”
 
I pocket the papers and order.
 
“Huh? Oh, apple juice, yes?”
 
Kai looks surprised.
 
“About the Midgar Academy incident. I finally got Zeta’s report.”
 
Alpha sighs as she says this.
 
“Always late with reports, that girl. Tell her yourself too.”
 
“She has her ways.”
 
“And you spoil her like that. But thanks to her, we destroyed the Fenrir faction.”
 
“The Fenrir faction?”
 
“Apparently she scouted out everything beforehand – hidden bases, escape routes, all of it. After you beat Fenrir, she annihilated them in less than half a day. Way too efficient.”
 
“I see.”
 
The terrorists from before, I guess.
 
“We were short on manpower because of the Oriana incident too. Just Zeta, Victoria,and a few Numbers – unbelievable they could destroy the Fenrir faction in half a day with that. She may be omitting things from her report.”
 
Alpha heaves another deep sigh.
 
“Tell her yourself too. To report properly. And not overdo things.”
 
“Mm-hmm.”
 
“Promise, okay?”
 
“Mm-hmm…”
 
“Here is your apple juice, sir.”
 
“Mm-hmm!”
 
Delicious.
 
They’re using nice apples.
 
“Zeta handled the post-battle cleanup too. She covered our tracks well. The Diabolos Cults side thinks an internal knight leaked it, so officially it was just another terrorist attack.”
 
“Standard cover story.”
 
“About Claire san falling unconscious. Zeta’s report was kinda vague. We should reinvestigate but…”
 
“It’s fine. Let her sleep a while longer.”
 
Since she’s almost certainly repeating the year, the longer she sleeps the better.
 
“But…”
 
“Leave my sister to me.”
 
“Understood. You’re worried too after all.”
 
Alpha smiled faintly.
 
“That’s right, it reminded me of the terrorist incident…”
 
I recalled what Christina had been talking about in class today.
 
“There’s a student council vice president named Eliza at our school, but she had been assaulting students and doing various things amidst the chaos of the incident.”
 
“Eliza…oh, that nobleman’s…”
 
“Yeah, there’s an investigation by the knight order regarding the incident Eliza the vice president caused, but it looks like she’ll be found not guilty somehow.”
 
“You want her found guilty? If you wish so…”
 
“No, that’s not what I meant. Whether she’s found guilty or not guilty doesn’t matter to me. But still, with all the testimonies and evidence gathered, for her to be found not guilty is just…”
 
I’m kind of jealous.
 
“I see…you’re right, the corruption in the Midgar Kingdom runs deep too. Being a larger country than Oriana Kingdom, the roots may be even deeper. Eliza Dacuaican’s father, Blood Dacuaican the Marquess, is the head of a faction that could be called the symbol of corruption.”
 
“Oh?”
 
“The faction’s name is [The Thirteen Night Blades]. As the name suggests, it’s a secret society made up of thirteen powerful figures in the Midgar Kingdom. They’re also called the kingdom’s shadow rulers, having deep connections with the Diabolos Cult and other criminal organizations.”
 
“Shadow rulers…”
 
“It was probably this man who was directly involved in handling Eliza’s case. Count Goethe Mono. The lowest seat of [The Thirteen Night Blades] and Blood Dacuaican’s right hand man. He handles the crimes of nobles. The case will likely be dismissed without concrete evidence this time too.”
 
Alpha showed me a picture with a portrait and profile of Goethe.
 
So this is Goethe. He looks rather villainous. Show me the profiles of the other twelve members too while you’re at it.
 
“Even with witnesses and testimonies gathered?”
 
“It’s how it always goes. Any case that falls into his hands gets covered up.”
 
“I see.”
 
“It’s not just Goethe. The other [Thirteen Night Blades] members also privatize power and corrupt the Midgar Kingdom. Because of their connections with the cult, nobody can touch them and they continue to grow arrogant.”
 
“The Thirteen Night Blades, how enviable…what nasty guys.”
 
“I intend to deal with them eventually, but with reforms in the Oriana Kingdom taking all my attention now. I plan to let them swim for a while longer.”
 
“I see…”
 
So these are the great nobles of the otherworld.
 
The shadow rulers who get acquitted no matter how much evil they commit.
 
“….I just had a good idea. Thank you, Alpha.”
 
I finished my apple juice and stood up from my seat.
 
“You look happy. What are you planning?”
 
“….You’ll see in time.”
 
“I see. Contact me again if anything comes up.”
 
Alpha’s figure faded into mist and disappeared.
 
Not bad.
 
That was a rather cool exit.
 
“Wait for the consequences.”
 
Leaving those words behind, I erased my presence and vanished into the night’s darkness.
 


 
Count Goethe Mono suddenly looked up and gazed out the window.
 
The nightscape of the Midgar Kingdom floated into view, illuminated by the street lights. I felt as if someone was watching me, but…
 
“Just my imagination.”
 
Muttering so, he returned to his paperwork.
 
The fire crackled in the hearth.
 
His fountain pen moved across the documents. It was a quiet night.
 
He placed down his pen and brought the cooled coffee to his lips.
 
“Grown cold, yet this aroma. As expected of the finest beans from Mitsugoshi.”
 
Nodding satisfiedly again and again, he then turned his eyes to the documents on his desk.
 
They summarized the flow of events in Eliza Dacuaican’s incident, the expenses for the cover-up operations, and the people who needed to be bribed or eliminated.
 
It looked like he could get her acquitted this time too, but it hadn’t been simple work.
 
There were too many eyewitnesses.
 
The testimonies of Princess Alexia Midgar and aristocrat Christina Hope in particular had been damaging.
 
To overturn those two’s testimonies, just how many debts had he called in.
 
Goethe stood and faced the window. Reflected in the glass was a middle-aged man with a tired toad-like face.
 
“I’ll be collecting a suitable compensation, Lord Dacuaican.”
 
As expected, this had been grueling work.
 
There were still people left to deal with.
 
An eyewitness named kanade, a lowly noble. Leaving her be would likely become a hindrance someday.
 
But Goethe’s specialty was paperwork and adjusting interests. It would go more smoothly leaving the dirty work to the other [Thirteen Night Blades] members.
 
“Oh well. I’m about tired of being the lowest seat of the Night Blades. I should be prepared a suitable position.”
 
Despite his appearance, Goethe was still in his thirties.
 
He had joined the [Thirteen Night Blades] succeeding his late father’s position, and had been assigned unworthy roles due to his youth.
 
His father’s death had also been suspicious. It was handled as an accident, but Goethe had not forgotten the stab wound in his back.
 
“….Truth lies in darkness. Let it be so.”
 
Eliza’s case, his father’s case, the essence was the same. If you try to expose the darkness, you learn the hard way what happens.
 
Goethe moved away from the window and rang the bell on his desk to call a servant. Once the documents were sealed and sent addressed to Marquess Dacuaican…
 
“….Hm?”
 
Feeling a gaze, he suddenly looked up.
 
It was his familiar work office. There should have been nobody else here.
 
But there was a clown.
 
Somehow it had sat itself on the sofa without him noticing.
 
Lit by the fireplace, the blood-soaked clown silently watched Goethe.
 
“Wha…who the hell are you!? When did you get in here!?”
 
Goethe hastily rang the bell.
 
“Someone!! Come throw this guy out quickly!!”
 
The shrill bell echoed in the quiet night.
 
“Hey, is no one there!?”
 
Only Goethe’s shouts and the bell’s rings reverberated futilely.
 
The blood-soaked clown didn’t even twitch, only staring intently at the flustered Goethe.
 
“Hey….is anyone there!?”
 
Strange.
 
Enough time had passed since he first rang the bell. The guards should have come by now.
 
It was a quiet night.
 
No…too quiet a night.
 
“….Don’t tell me.”
 
The bell slipped from Goethe’s hand and fell to the floor.
 
The clown slowly stood up.
 
The blood dripping from its hands was still fresh.
 
Picha, it made an odd squelching sound. Bloody footprints were left on the fine rug.
 
“Don’t tell me…you killed the mansion’s…”
 
The blood-soaked clown did not reply. A crescent-shaped smile remained stretched across its masked face as it stared fixedly at Goethe.
 
“Gh…”
 
Letting out a small scream, Goethe backed away.
 
Picha, picha, the clown closed the distance.
 
“W-Who are you, why are you… Don’t think you’ll get away with laying hands on me!!”
 
The clown did not answer.
 
As if mocking Goethe’s bluff, it slowly continued approaching step by step.
 
Suddenly, the image of his father’s dead face surfaced in Goethe’s mind.
 
“Don’t tell me…don’t tell me…you intend to eliminate me!? D-Does the organization plan to dispose of me…after all I’ve contributed to it…!?”
 
Picha…
 
The footsteps stopped.
 
The blood-soaked clown was smiling behind its mask.
 
“I see…so just like my father…you plan to…”
 
The footsteps resumed,
 
They are clearly faster than before. Swiftly, within reaching distance…
 
“Gh…stay back, don’t come…don’t come any closer!!”
 
Goethe threw his coffee cup.
 
It struck the blood-soaked clown’s mask, shattering and splattering black liquid.
 
Goethe spun around and ran.
 
Despite being out of shape and his body weakened, he had excelled at the Mage Knight Academy. He could move much faster than an ordinary person.
 
In an instant Goethe reached the room’s door and forcefully threw it open.
 
If he could just flee to the knights’ headquarters from here.
 
Hope flickered that he could escape…in that moment.
 
“Gah….aaahhh!!”
 
However, Goethe was shoved down by the existence waiting on the other side of the door.
 
“W-What are you doing, move!!”
 
Desperately struggling, he crawled forward.
 
And noticing the blood sticking thickly to his body, realized what had pushed him down.
 
“You guys are…the security…”
 
They were the brutally slaughtered corpses of the security guards.
 
He had hired them for a high price despite their bad characters, for they were extraordinarily skilled swordsmen.
 
They had been killed in cold blood.
 
“Guh…uaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!”
 
Goethe kicked away the corpses and crawled out.
 
Picha, picha, the footsteps stopped right by his ear.
 
“Ah…… “
 
Looking up, the clown’s mask was peering down at Goethe.
 
“Ah, ah…… Ah! “
 
In its hand, it held a single playing card.
 
“S-Stop…ah…”
 
With a flicking sound, the card embedded itself between Goethe’s eyebrows.
 
Goethe’s eyes widened as if seeing something unbelievable, and he touched the card sticking from his brow.
 
“Ah…”
 
He fell slowly backward.
 
Still looking at the spreading pool of blood, the clown muttered as Goethe slowly toppled backwards.
 
“One down…”
 
Its voice echoed in the quiet night.


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