Medrauta crossed her arms.
She stood in a closed, windowless room with eight other individuals. While Viviane was standing next to her, Krista, Trianna, Pamela, Marilyn, Sakura, Riku, and Baron Dietrich all sat themselves at the round table in the center of the room.
“I understand the gist of it, Medrauta, but don’t you think it’s unrealistic?” Baron Dietrich asked with an eyebrow raised. “While what you say may sound logical, there is one glaring flaw in your entire theory: travel time.”
Medrauta bit her lip. The baron wasn’t exactly incorrect. Although she had pieced together the fact that it would only take approximately a day and a half to get from Dietrich fief to the duchy capital, the problem was that the carriage had only arrived this afternoon.
It’d taken them nearly two days to reach Dietrich, which meant that technically, there would have been ample time for a spy to send a runner to Revelo fief. Unfortunately, not even the soldiers from Helfried who had pursued them were aware of the carriage’s ultimate destination. Of course, they could have made an estimate based on the direction that the carriage was escaping toward, but Medrauta doubted that Bastiche would risk launching an attack as a result of a guess like that.
In other words, even if a runner had been sent out the moment the carriage arrived at Dietrich, there would’ve been absolutely no way for a messenger to return with news regarding Bastiche’s attack while Medrauta and Viviane were still greeting the baron and Marilyn. The runner must’ve been dispatched before their arrival, and for that to happen, the traitor would’ve needed to know exactly where the carriage had been heading during its journey to Dietrich.
Ultimately, it was a highly unlikely prospect and under normal circumstances, which would’ve been enough to dismiss Medrauta’s concerns as nothing more than paranoia. However, the existence of a single entity brought everything into question.
“Familiars.” Medrauta said, the single word making Marilyn tense up. She was more than aware of what Medrauta was implying.
After all, she had lived during an era where there had still been witches to hunt, and the first war against Kaslavna still raged on. Memories of magic—both fair and foul—were still fresh in her mind. Though skeptical, Marilyn couldn’t help but give Medrauta the benefit of the doubt.
“Very well, Medrauta. Perhaps you were trailed by familiars, perhaps not. Have you seen any during your journey?” Marilyn asked. Even if Medrauta hadn’t been followed, it would’ve been crucial to know whether a witch’s minions were present in the area or not.
“Actually, yes.” Medrauta said, gesturing to Riku. The foreign knight nodded and stood from his seat, addressing the room.
“I’m sure everyone here is aware that I accompanied Medrauta and Viviane during their journey here. For those who do not know me, I am Riku, Lady Sakura’s knight... and also one of the fugitives that Bastiche is hunting,” Riku began. “On our way to Dietrich, I noticed a rather large gathering of ravens overhead. I didn’t really question it at the time, but now that I think about it, I believe they may have been familiars after all.”
Marilyn frowned. “Ravens, huh...? Baron Dietrich, didn’t you and your son say you saw...”
Baron Dietrich nodded, slowly growing concerned. “Ravens. They were flying outside the castle just yesterday evening. They’re not exactly rare in this area, but they’re certainly uncommon. Just like Sir Riku, I paid them no mind. They were just birds, after all.”
Medrauta stiffened. The baron’s words had pretty much just confirmed her theory. There was no doubt that information regarding their arrival had been leaked thanks to the raven familiars trailing them throughout the journey.
Now that she thought about it, Medrauta recalled seeing several flocks of ravens along the way as well, but dismissed them as regular animals. After all, there was no reason to be suspicious of birds that mostly traveled in groups. Plus, the summer was slowly fading into autumn, meaning that it wouldn’t be uncommon to start seeing migratory flocks over the empire.
Viviane nodded. She had spent most of her time cooped up in the carriage, but even she could recall the frequent sightings of ravens during their journey. She turned to Medrauta with a determined expression, tightening her hold around her knight’s hand.
“But... Even if we know how Bastiche learned of our arrival, there’s no way to tell who’s controlling the ravens, is there?” Viviane asked. Although her words were phrased as questions, her tone contained absolutely no trace of curiosity whatsoever. In fact, the questions she asked sounded more as prompts for Medrauta to explain. “We won’t be able to catch the culprit like this.”
“Well, that particular question is answered easily.” Medrauta replied. “A familiar can only be controlled by the witch that created them. Because of that, we can assume all familiars are controlled by Amelia unless there’s another witch we aren’t aware of.”
“Dear Aluvsha, I hope not.” Marilyn groaned. “The appearance of a single witch has already thrown the empire into chaos. I can’t imagine what a second one could do.”
Viviane nodded in agreement. “In that case, how would the spy pass information to Bastiche? It wouldn’t make sense for Amelia to be orchestrating all of this personally when there’s so many things happening in the other duchies.”
Medrauta shrugged. “That, and no one has a clue as to what she’s been doing ever since the attack. The Imperial Order’s still searching for the princess as we speak. If I were to wager a guess, she probably gave the traitor the ability to see through the senses of her familiars.”
“Quite likely,” Marilyn put in. “In that case, she’d just need to have those familiars spread throughout the duchy and allow them to wander as normal animals would.”
The baron tapped his fingers against the wooden surface of the table, the look in his eyes vacant as his mind drifted far away and sequestered itself in his thoughts. Night had already fallen now and the moon hung high above in the night sky as if arrogantly leering at them through the window, reminding them that none could escape the witch’s omnipresent gaze.
There was a long period of silence as the baron pondered the situation presented to him. On one hand, the spy was a real liability. If their battle plans were leaked, they would lose one of the few advantages they had against Bastiche. Meanwhile, they were also on the cusp of war. With the sortie a single day away, there were simply no resources to waste on an investigation and manhunt that would be exceedingly difficult.
“Let us do it.” Medrauta said, almost as if she were reading the baron’s mind. “Lady Sakura, Sir Riku, Viviane, and I. We’ll catch this asshole before tomorrow ends.”
“What of the soldiers?” Marilyn asked. “I was told that your training was quite effective. Lady Viviane as well.”
“Trianna’s already experienced it today, so I’m sure she can direct the soldiers tomorrow. As for the archers, I’m sure Krista can take care of that. Right?”
Krista and Trianna both nodded in agreement, understanding the importance of uncovering the traitor’s identity before they began marching to the capital. Though they knew that war certainly wasn’t without risks, the danger of Bastiche learning the supply column’s route and the composition of the soldiers tasked to guard it would be more than devastating. Arguably the most essential part of the attacking force, the supply column allowed the soldiers to maintain a steady march and a constant siege. Unfortunately, it was also the most vulnerable part of the army.
“What say you, Baron Dietrich?” Medrauta asked.
“...I permit it. Before that though, is there a way to determine whether an animal is a familiar or not?” Baron Dietrich asked. “I’d like to get rid of any ravens doing a witch’s dirty work.”
“There used to be, but we got rid of the equipment twelve years ago when we assumed the last witch had been slain.” Marilyn said. “For now, we can only shoot them on sight. If they are indeed a familiar, a remnant of the witch’s mana should leak from their corpse and dissipate into the air like mist.”
“I see. Well, it’s a good thing we didn’t finalize the battle plans today, else they might already be in Bastiche’s grubby hands.” Baron Dietrich sighed. He didn’t like the idea of shooting down every raven in sight, but ravens were few in the fief and even fewer in the city. Their population would replenish in time, a worthy sacrifice for the security that the baron and his allies needed now. “Inform the archers and all hunters within the city that ravens are to be shot on sight until the siege is concluded.”
Marilyn nodded. “It shall be done.”
“Excellent. Now then, is there anything I can do to assist the investigation, Dame Medrauta?”
“In fact, there is. I’ll require a list of individuals who left the city a day before we arrived, focusing on those who departed with a mount. Afterwards, I’ll need to speak with everyone who has access to the war room and is privy to the battle plans.”
The baron nodded. “The former I can provide easily. As for the latter, I doubt many of my scholars will take kindly to interrogation. They’ve worked with me for quite a while and have earned my trust.”
Marilyn nodded. “Yeah, I can’t see your chamberlain being very happy about that. What was his name again? Wanst? He’s kind of a stuck-up asshole.”
“Stuck-up as he is, he’s served me well.” Baron Dietrich shook his head. “I’ll try and have a talk with them, but whether or not they’re willing to answer your questions is another thing.”
Medrauta shrugged. She hadn’t expected everyone to cooperate. In fact, most of the scholars would most likely decline an interview, viewing it as an insult to the loyalty that they’d displayed to the barony throughout the years. However, Medrauta was also aware that there must be at least two traitors as a mere traitorous messenger would be useless thanks to their lack of access to important documents.
For that reason, she deduced that the “primary” spy must be someone with night-unrestricted access to the war room, and most importantly, they must possess the baron’s trust. The messenger was likely someone unfortunate enough to have been strung along.
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Baron Dietrich. No matter who it is, I doubt they’ll be able to hide for long.”
The baron raised an eyebrow, quite honestly impressed with Medrauta’s confidence. Marilyn and even his own knight certainly didn’t give off the impression of good detectives, but perhaps Medrauta was different.
“You’re quite confident, Dame Medrauta.” Baron Dietrich remarked.
“No I’m not. She is.” Medrauta jerked her thumb in Viviane’s direction.
“Fufufu... That’s right.” Viviane smirked smugly. It was the first time Medrauta had ever seen Viviane put on such an arrogant expression. In fact, the noblewoman was not only oozing with confidence, but her eyes were sparkling with a light of superiority and what seemed to be borderline insanity.
“I... Huh?” The baron stared at Viviane, confused. The blonde noblewoman had barely spoken a single word since the beginning of the discussion, after all. “My apologies, Lady Castellia, but if you intend to be the primary investigator, why didn’t you speak up earlier...?”
“Ufufufufufu! Don’t you know, Baron Dietrich?” Viviane’s smirk only grew larger and the crazed light in her eyes only became wilder.
Medrauta shuddered. Although she was still deeply in love with Viviane, she had a bad feeling about allowing the noblewoman to take on this investigation. For the first time that night, Medrauta had second thoughts about letting Viviane lead this whole operation.
But even so, Viviane wouldn’t relent. She had become fully engrossed into playing whatever character she’d designed for herself now.
With a snap of her fingers and a weird pose that caused everyone in the room to remain silent, she hammered the final words of this meeting into everyone’s worried ears.
“A real detective only reveals themselves at the end of a scene!”