“Glad to see we could come to an understanding.”
Medrauta smirked as she sheathed her sword, stepping toward the only brigand who was still conscious. He had wisely thrown down his sword and surrendered the moment he witnessed Medrauta dispatch his two companions with impossible speed.
“W-Whoa! We’re sorry! You’re the one One-Eyed Jack talked ‘bout, ain’t’cha!?” The brigand stammered. “We don’t mean no harm, really! We’re just here for th’ commander’s offer! The one named Marilyn!”
Medrauta raised an eyebrow. “Word sure travels fast, but I suppose that’s the norm in the underground. My lady and I are looking for some information. If you oblige, I’ll spare you and your buddies. Maybe even throw in a few coins.”
“M-Medrauta...!” Viviane whispered. “Stop making it sound so shady!”
The silver-haired knight laughed at the irony. They were in a place dominated by criminal society, after all. Had Medrauta failed to neutralize their attack, the brigands would’ve already robbed them blind.
“I’ll do my best, Viviane.” Medrauta grinned. Upon seeing her knight’s expression, Viviane quickly caught on to how ridiculous her statement sounded, eliciting a laugh from the noblewoman as well.
“S-So... What did you want to know?” The brigand asked tentatively as he sensed a lull in the conversation. “I can’t say I know much, but I’ll do my best.”
Medrauta nodded, returning her attention to the brigand as she adopted a more serious expression. “It’s simple, really. For starters, how long have you been down here?”
“Down in the underground?” The brigand frowned. He wasn’t sure if he could answer a question like that. After all, he’d pretty much lived in the tunnels even as a kid.
“Down in this area,” Medrauta clarified. “Below Dietrich fief.”
“Mm...” The brigand tapped a finger on his chin as he fell into deep thought, an act he seldom needed to perform. “‘Bout three, four days, give or take? Came down ‘ere ahead of ol’ Jack. Took the rails, too.”
Medrauta nodded in understanding. The brigand was referring to the makeshift railway system that ran through the tunnels. Although they were originally created for mining operations, the underground society had managed to repurpose them for rapid transport throughout the network. While they were convenient, they weren’t exactly what Medrauta would call safe.
“Sounds like you were in a hurry.”
The brigand shook his head. “Nah. I came from the south. It’s chaos down there, and I sure as hell wasn’t stickin’ ‘round to find out what was gonna happen t’me if I stayed. Ran into One-Eyed Jack on the way here an’ heard ‘bout Marilyn’s offer.”
“My apologies for interrupting, but do you know how the civil war in the south fares?” Viviane asked. “I have friends there, and I worry for their safety.”
The brigand shrugged. “Not really. I ain’t pokin’ my head into straight-up danger, but I think th’ one they call Lady Scarlet was winnin’.”
Viviane nodded, the relief evident on her face. If Scarlet was indeed winning, that would mean Leticia and Rosaline were probably doing alright. “Excellent. Since I’ve started asking questions already, I suppose you won’t mind if I keep doing so. Do you know of anyone who’s made a transaction down here during the past few days? Most likely in gold or silver pieces.”
“...Lookin’ for expensive, huh? Think you’ll have to talk to Ricardo. He’s the one who handles all that shit. Though... I did see someone in fancy clothing skulkin’ ‘bout one of the entrances to the underground just a little over a day ago, actually. Well, two days, countin’ today.”
Medrauta and Viviane exchanged a glance before nodding. It seemed like coming here had set them on the right track. While there wasn’t exactly any concrete evidence yet, they had found a rather solid lead, especially when people dressed in fancy clothing usually tended to avoid such sketchy places unless they were participating in illicit activities themselves.
Viviane turned to the brigand, fishing a coin out of the pouch that hung on her side. “Perhaps you can take us to Ricardo? We have a few questions to ask him.”
The brigand eyed the coin with a wary gaze before shifting his focus back to Viviane’s face. Had it been bronze or silver, he would’ve taken it immediately, but the coin’s golden shine made him hesitate. As someone who was accustomed to life in the underground, he knew that receiving a gold coin usually meant one of two things: either your employer was planning to kill you and retrieve the coin after the job was complete or you weren’t expected to survive the mission in the first place.
After all, a single gold coin was essentially a ticket out of the underground. It symbolized the possibility of a brand new start and a life where one would no longer need to suffer the cutthroat nature of criminal society. In other words, it was an unreachable dream for most who were cast into the empire’s dark underbelly.
“...I’ll take th’ two of you to Ricardo, but you can keep the coin, ma’am.” The brigand said carefully. “No offense, but I don’t want a hit on my head.”
Viviane nodded, pocketing the coin once more. Though she didn’t quite understand why the man was being so cautious, she assumed he had probably found the large sum suspicious when her request had been so simple. “Very well. We thank you for your assistance.”
The brigand returned her nod and beckoned for the pair to follow, leading them down a long and winding tunnel. As they continued proceeding further, the trio passed by a few signs driven into the rocky ground throughout their journey, most of them acting as signposts for those who were newer to the underground.
“Just past this bend.” The brigand said as he pointed to the left, indicating a long passageway that looked vastly better lit than the rest of the tunnel. As they approached, Medrauta heard the sound of footsteps shuffling around and the drawing of swords.
Once the trio turned the corner, they were greeted by four gruff-looking men, all of them pointing their weapons toward the group. One of the larger men stepped forward, his demeanor clearly marking him as the leader.
“Who the hell’re you three?” He growled.
“W-Whoa! Relax, pal!” The brigand raised his hands in an attempt to demonstrate his lack of hostility. “The two behind me are lookin’ for Ricardo!”
The large man squinted, peering past the brigand to glare at Medrauta and Viviane. In the past, Viviane probably would have flinched and hid behind Medrauta, but now she held the man’s gaze evenly.
“Ricardo isn’t takin’ any visitors. You can tell ‘em to fuck off.”
“I, uh... I don’t think that’s an option.” The brigand said slowly. “Trust me, you—”
“I’ll decide what’s an option and what ain’t. Now fuck off before I run y’all through.” The large man said as he advanced toward the three. It was clear that he thought his sheer size and strength would be enough to scare them off, and it certainly caused the brigand to retreat rapidly.
However, Medrauta remained standing in front of Viviane, eyeing the man with complete disinterest. She crossed her arms, not even bothering to reach for her sword. “You really don’t want to do this,” she said mildly.
The man raised his sword, preparing to bring it down on the silver-haired knight’s head and cleave her into two. Medrauta didn’t even flinch nor move, staring the man dead in the eyes as if she were daring him to swing.
Infuriated by the knight who appeared to be nothing more than a young girl in armor, the man prepared to unleash his full might into his downward swing... Only to be stopped by a voice shouting at him from the other end of the hallway.
“Stooooop! Gerard, back the fuck up before she turns that empty head of yours into mush, dammit!”
“B-Boss!” The large man stepped away from Medrauta in shock, turning to face the source of the voice.
“For Aluvsha’s sake, didn’t I tell you to fuckin’ think before you started swinging!? That’s a knight, you dipshit! And a dangerous one too...” The newcomer released his frustration and relief in a sigh, running his hand through his dark-brown hair.
“S-Sorry, boss! You said you didn’t want any more visitors so...”
“She’s an exception. It ain’t easy to find loyal guards ‘round these parts and I need your head attached to your body.” The brown-haired man said, waving Gerard behind him and stepping forward to confront Medrauta. “So what can I do for you, miss knight? You here to give us an offer like Dame Marilyn?”
Medrauta raised an eyebrow, somewhat impressed by the man’s perceptiveness. Looking at his physique, the silver-haired knight could tell he probably used to be a soldier of some kind before he was forced into the underground which was probably how he recognized her true nature so quickly.
“I’m looking for a man named Ricardo. We were told he’s the man in charge of transactions around these parts.”
The man smirked and performed an exaggerated bow. “Well, you’ve found him. Ricardo at your service, ma’am. I’ve long since abandoned my family name, but not the talents they’ve given me. If you’re looking to hire someone or make a discreet transaction here in Dietrich fief’s underbelly, I’m your man.”
Medrauta gave the man a satisfied nod and gestured to Viviane. The noblewoman would probably be much better at asking the right questions when it came to uncovering the transactions they needed to track down whoever the traitor was.
Viviane stepped forward at Medrauta’s behest, addressing Ricardo directly. Though she was dressed in simple clothes and carried a full quiver with a bow slung around her shoulder, her noble bearing was obvious to the seasoned underground fixer.
“I hope it won’t be an issue if I ask you to breach that discretion. If you require, I do have a few coins I’m willing to part with.” Viviane offered.
Ricardo hesitated as he rapidly weighed his odds of getting away from these two troublesome newcomers. While he had initially intended to help Medrauta and Viviane, the noblewoman’s latest request was slightly problematic for him for a number of reasons.
The tight-lipped nature of the transactions and business deals that he was entrusted with had earned him his place as Dietrich fief’s top fixer, and he most certainly prided himself on that. Unfortunately for him, that discretion was only possible because he rarely had to deal with individuals capable of dispatching all of his guards with ease.
Even if he attempted to make a break for it now, it was already too late. He had introduced himself and was in arm’s reach of Medrauta, a knight who he knew was on the level of a sergeant at the very least. As someone who had served as a soldier during the first war against Kaslavna, Ricardo had witnessed what sort of ridiculous feats a knight was capable of.
Ricardo sighed, resigning himself to his fate. Though he could’ve escaped while Gerard and his other guards kept the knight busy, he’d chosen to step in and save his men from a rather grisly fate, and now he would have to take responsibility for his choices.
“...Very well. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass, but ask away, my lady.”