Medrauta and Viviane hurried through the tunnels.
The brigand who'd assisted them early had beaten a hasty retreat during the brief confrontation with Ricardo's guards, taking the opportunity to slip away at the first opportunity. Of course, Medrauta had noticed the man's attempts at slinking back into the shadows, but the knight didn't exactly see the point in keeping the brigand here.
After all, he had served his purpose and he would've simply been another liability that Medrauta would need to keep her eye on. She considered the possibility that a fool like him could return with reinforcements to try and exact revenge, but Medrauta felt pretty confident she could take on anything the brigand threw at her.
Not being able to compensate the man for his aid had left Viviane slightly miffed, but Medrauta didn’t think much of it. After all, the man was a denizen of the underground for a reason, and Viviane quickly forgot about the brigand as she explored several complicated lines of questioning with Ricardo that left Medrauta’s head spinning.
Though hesitant at first, Ricardo quickly found himself having a penchant for investigations and dove headfirst into helping Viviane uncover whatever secrets lurked behind the transactions he’d helped complete over the past few days.
As a middleman, his policy had always been to refrain from asking questions. There was little need in the market for an overly inquisitive fixer, and he’d built his reputation on secrecy and expediency. However, he was quickly discovering that his talents lay not only in connecting individuals, but also unearthing whatever secrets they were attempting to hide.
Of course, some secrets were a little more difficult to uncover than others, but with Viviane and Ricardo working tirelessly together, even those challenges seemed to be a breeze. Most of the work was done poring over documents and ledgers, and though Medrauta wished to help, she’d nearly fallen asleep several times causing her to be relegated to guard duty.
“So... Run me through the whole thing again, Viviane?” Medrauta asked. She and Viviane were currently being led back to their point of entry by Gerard, one of Ricardo’s guards. Since their original tour guide was now gone, Ricardo had no choice but to lend one of his men to the pair.
“Well, to begin with, there was a hefty sum of silver that passed hands just the day before we arrived. There were a few other exchanges of money, but that one was the most suspicious.” Viviane explained.
“Well, we could find a reason for the other ones. Ricardo likes to keep tabs on his customers just in case. He doesn’t really ask much about the jobs that he’s setting up, but apparently when it comes to the customers themselves, he looks into them a little. He told me it’s a safety precaution for the people who work down here.”
That it is. Medrauta nodded. Even the most discreet fixer dug up dirt on their customers, not out of curiosity, but solely for the purposes of blackmail in case anything went wrong. After all, living in the underground generally meant things went wrong quite often in one way or another.
“Anyway, the other transactions seemed to be the usual: money laundering or moving assets out of the fief. It seems like even nobles from other fiefs are worried about Lord Bastiche’s recent activities,” Viviane continued. “That’s what made the silver payment so suspicious.”
Medrauta frowned, not really following along. She understood that nobles who dabbled in illicit trades sent their hirelings to launder money or participate in illegal events like slave auctions, but she had no idea how that made a transaction of silver suspicious. After all, not all nobles were as rich as Viviane.
“It’s because the duchy is on the brink of civil war.” Viviane clarified as she saw the confusion on her knight’s face. “Of course, payments will be made even during war, and moving assets is common. However, it’s strange for someone to pay such a large sum when we’re on the cusp of war, especially when that money might be needed during or after the war.”
“Plus, we couldn’t really find out why the payment was made. For the others, we managed to track down a few inconsistencies in reported incomes, but whoever paid this silver was very careful. The person who’d passed along the payment had been an intermediary of an intermediary, with the first one being a normal citizen.”
Medrauta nodded. “I’m guessing Ricardo doesn’t exactly keep tabs on random citizens in the fief.”
“Exactly. We might be able to glean some information if we managed to find the citizen in question, but we know neither their name nor their appearance. Either way, the point was that the silver was transferred quite carefully and it didn’t really have a purpose. I mean, it was a hefty payment, but that was it. Even after looking through his documents, Ricardo didn’t even know what the job was.”
“Right...” Medrauta’s brow only continued to furrow. She wasn’t sure if she was interpreting Viviane’s words correctly, but from what she could understand, they had pretty much hit a dead end with purely searching through documents.
Before she could get a chance to voice her continued confusion though, Gerard grunted and gestured to a ladder at the other end of the tunnel. “We’re here.” He announced. “If there’s nothing else, I’ll be going back now.”
Medrauta and Viviane both gave him a quick thanks before heading to the ladder. Casting her gaze around, the knight noticed that the two brigands she’d knocked out when they first dropped down here had disappeared. Inspecting the ground more carefully, it didn’t look like there were any drag marks, so they’d probably woken up and hightailed it out of there.
“I’ll head up first,” Medrauta announced. She scaled the ladder rather quickly, taking a deep breath as she finally broke into fresh air after so many hours.
She had no idea how long they’d been down there, but seeing as the sun was slowly rising from the horizon, it was safe to say that they’d spent the majority of the night in the tunnels.
Viviane soon emerged from the opening, kicking the trapdoor closed once she surfaced. She also took a deep breath, basking in the cool morning wind that struck against her cheek. Impulsively, she leaned over and gave Medrauta a quick peck on the lips, causing the knight to nearly fall over in surprise.
“W-What was that for!?” Medrauta exclaimed, blushing fiercely.
While the two of them had done things that had been a lot more intimate, the silver-haired knight still found herself easily flustered by sudden displays of affection. She’d once chalked it down to the honeymoon period, but with how quickly her heart was beating after a mere kiss, she thought that it might as well be called a honeymoon eternity.
Viviane giggled, unable to help herself as she marveled at Medrauta’s cute reaction. When she first met her knight, Medrauta had given off the impression of a strong, unassailable fortress. Someone who could never be flustered or unbalanced no matter what was thrown her way. However, the past few months had taught her that Medrauta was just as human as everyone else, and Viviane loved her all the more for it.
“What? I can’t kiss my girlfriend just because I feel like it?” Viviane smirked.
“G-Girlfriend...!?” Medrauta nearly choked, her cheeks turning into a shade of red so deep, even the richest rubies couldn’t compare. After all, that was the first time their relationship had been so overtly stated. “I... Uh...! O-Of course you can!”
Viviane grinned, latching onto Medrauta’s arm. “Thanks for helping out back there. I know going through documents isn’t really your thing, but you looked really cool when you were trying your best.”
“T-Thanks, Vivi...” Medrauta averted her gaze, though it did little to hide her embarrassment. She had no idea where all of this was coming from, but she didn’t exactly dislike seeing this side of Viviane from time to time. “You were pretty awesome too... I dunno how you do it, honestly.”
“Ehehe, thanks!” Viviane beamed at her beloved knight as she led Medrauta out of the alley. In truth, Viviane felt bad about the whole document searching ordeal. Not only had she subjected Medrauta to paperwork in the castle during their initial investigations, but she’d done the same to her in the underground.
Regardless, the knight had suffered through it with barely a word of complaint and even made a few helpful contributions along the way. Viviane just couldn’t help but fall in love with Medrauta a little more, and there was no way she could stop herself from letting Medrauta know that.
As the two of them made their way out of the alley and into one of the main streets, they found that the city was actually quite peaceful in the morning. It was the crack of dawn and though most citizens remained asleep, the pair could still hear the sparse but audible echoes of work being done across the city by some of the community’s most diligent laborers. This alone increased Medrauta’s respect for Baron Dietrich.
Even when civil war loomed ahead with Dietrich fief at its spearhead, the baron’s citizens remained calm and continued on with their daily lives as if nothing was wrong. It spoke volumes of the trust Baron Dietrich commanded from his citizens, something that was hard-earned for most nobles even in the most affluent of fiefs.
As they continued making their way through the city and toward the gates, Medrauta frowned. She had been under the impression that they would be returning to the castle and reporting their findings, but it seemed that Viviane had other ideas.
“Say, Viviane... Where exactly are we going?” Medrauta was struck by a realization even as that question slipped from her lips. She’d forgotten to ask after they’d arrived at the exit to the underground, but now she remembered that Viviane had pretty much hit a dead end during her investigation. “Didn’t we fail to find a lead?”
Viviane shook her head with a grin. “The perpetrator might have slipped through our fingers, but it seems the person receiving the payment wasn’t exactly careful enough. I’m not too surprised though, seeing as they were just a simple messenger.”
Medrauta nodded, returning Viviane’s smile. It seemed as if their underground endeavors hadn’t been for naught after all. While the messenger had probably accepted the job solely due to the sizable pay, it didn’t change the fact that they were betraying the duchy that had housed them for so long.
The messengers’ stables were close to the gates, facilitating ease of access for couriers both arriving and departing. With only one day left before Baron Dietrich launched his attack against the duchy capital, there was no doubt that the traitorous messenger would depart today after receiving vital information from the primary perpetrator.
Early in the morning was the best time to leave. After all, that was when the guards changed and when things were relaxed. No one would suspect a lone messenger exiting the fief. Unfortunately, Viviane knew not only the messenger’s name, but his general appearance.
With any luck, the pair would arrive just in time to catch the traitor. Knowing this, both Viviane and Medrauta sped up their stride in unison, exchanging a brief round of laughter as they realized they were of the same mind.
“Do you think he’ll be there when we arrive?” Viviane asked.
“Yeah. I’m betting on it.”