Christina welcomed the morning in the Hope family’s separate residence in the royal capital of Midgar.
Whether she slept in the dormitory or the separate residence depended on her mood for the day, but recently, she had been exclusively staying in the separate residence.
It wasn’t a matter of preference; it was for her safety.
Christina raised her head upon noticing the morning sun streaming through the curtains. There were faint bags under her eyes, likely the result of being engrossed in compiling information related to the case.
“Getting a conviction will be challenging…”
The documents contained a summary of the incident and witness testimonies, but it seemed that Eliza’s actions were likely to be classified as an accident within the event.
Students in their teens were pushed to their limits due to the threat to their lives and the stress of being involved in a terrorist incident. Under these circumstances, their composure broke, leading to the unfortunate accident.
That seemed to be the story they were trying to sell.
“Concealing evidence and fabricating it are the work of Count Goethe Mono. The influence of the ‘Thirteen Night Swords’ is more significant than expected.”
The Count was an expert at manipulating and hiding evidence. If necessary, he wouldn’t hesitate to commit murder.
In fact, Christina felt the presence of unsettling individuals in her surroundings. Her decision to sleep in the separate residence was also motivated by this.
“Corruption is spreading, and it’s beyond my control. Even with the Hope family’s resources…”
Her father wasn’t enthusiastic about this case. He questioned the significance of helping a minor noble’s daughter. He believed it would change nothing.
Everyone was turning a blind eye to the corruption.
The night swords’ tyranny persisted because they had the power to do as they pleased.
“I lack power…”
Whether it was political power, military strength, financial resources, or organizational influence, having power would make a difference. That was the harsh reality of their kingdom.
“What good is saving a minor noble’s daughter…?”
It wouldn’t accomplish much.
However, that didn’t mean her emotions would settle for it. The feeling of powerlessness when you couldn’t even hold the evil accountable. She couldn’t fathom what to do with this feeling.
If she possessed power, could she put a stop to evil?
For example… like Shadow.
Christina let her imagination run wild, picturing that overwhelming power annihilating the Thirteen Night Swords, breaking evil, rescuing the weak, and protecting the kingdom.
Christina thought about it and scoffed to herself.
It was just making herself miserable.
She sighed deeply, trying to relax her tired eyes.
In an attempt to change her mood, Christina put away the materials related to Eliza and the Thirteen Night Swords and retrieved another set of documents.
“Shadow… and Shadow Garden…”
The new documents Christina brought out were her independent research on Shadow Garden.
“Shadow Garden’s activities have been ongoing for over a year, but the details are unclear. It’s believed that Shadow has been the organization’s leader since its inception… but again, details are scarce. Everything is so unclear…”
She murmured to herself, flipping through the materials.
The pages were filled with scraps of wanted posters and articles that had been cut out.
“Information about the northern regions of the kingdom is scarce. Shadow’s activities are confirmed there too. There’s very little information, and what’s available is of poor quality.”
Grumbling about the lack of information and the low-quality sketches, Christina’s expression slowly improved.
“They bear a great mission, that’s why they walk the path of bloodshed, unable to stay in the world of sunlight… but they have eradicated evil. Unlike me…”
She self-deprecated again.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.
A middle-aged man entered the room.
Christina, using her full abilities as a magic swordsman, rapidly pushed the documents into a drawer.
“Father… Good morning.”
“You look sleep-deprived, Christina.”
“No, just lost in thought. Is there something you need?”
“I think you already know, but don’t do anything that might anger the Thirteen Night Swords. Crossing them could bring disaster.”
Christina remained silent, nodding slightly. It was her way of resisting, at least in some small manner.
“Things will get hectic from here on. Don’t do anything reckless. Who knows what might happen to the Hope family if we provoke them.”
“Things will get hectic? Why?”
“Aah, I didn’t tell you, did I?”
Her father sighed and continued,
“Goethe Mono is dead.”
“All the noble houses are in an uproar. The Thirteen Night Swords are filled with hostility. The capital city will be in chaos.”
Christina quickly changed her clothes and headed to the scene of the incident.
Alexia walked down the hall of the Mono mansion.
“There are bloodstains here too…”
Red-black footprints continued on the carpet.
“Princess Alexia, please don’t touch it. We still need to gather evidence…”
“I know that much.”
Alexia glared at the knight who warned her.
She turned around at the voice.
There stood Christina, the same person she had met during the recent incident.
“Count Goethe Mono was killed… What happened?”
She said while catching her breath.
“It seems he was killed by someone. The Knights are currently investigating the scene.”
“I can’t enter the crime scene yet, so I’m observing the hallway.”
“Yes. Don’t you find these footprints strange?”
Alexia pointed to the bloodstains that continued down the hallway.
“They’re surprisingly clear.”
“That’s strange, but what’s even more bizarre is that the culprit doesn’t seem to be in a hurry at all. Even after killing several people, they just walked normally.”
Alexia started walking with the same stride as the bloody footprints.
“Actually, it almost looks like they’re walking slowly.”
“That’s odd, don’t you think? Normally, they should want to escape as fast as possible. It’s not a sign of a sane mind.”
“Maybe they were confident they wouldn’t get caught?”
“…That might not be entirely wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“Count Goethe Mono was silenced by the Thirteen Night Swords.”
“He stood out too much in this incident. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was eliminated.”
“But, why at this timing?”
“That’s the part that doesn’t make sense…”
As they pondered the situation, the knight watching over Alexia interrupted.
“Princess Alexia, you’ve been granted permission to enter the crime scene.”
“Shall we go?”
Alexia and Christina were escorted by the head of the Knights to the crime scene.
“I am the head of this investigation, Knight Division Chief Grey. Please be very careful not to touch the body or move anything.”
“I will get back to work. If you need anything, please let me know.”
As they entered the room, the strong smell of blood filled the air.
This was to be expected. Several bodies were left just in front of the door, and further inside, Count Goethe Mono lay on his back with blood flowing from his head.
“The cause of death is a blow to the forehead. However, the murder weapon is far from ordinary…”
Alexia said as she crouched beside the body.
In the surroundings, the Knights were still busy with their work.
Christina stood at the entrance, looking dumbfounded.
“Christina, what’s the matter? You can enter.”
“Eh? Oh, yes.”
Christina snapped back to attention and hastily entered the room.
“If you’re feeling unwell, you should leave.”
“No, I’m fine. Is that a …… playing card stuck in the corpse’s head? It’s an unusual design.”
Christina said as she tilted her head.
“It’s a high-quality playing card made by Mitsugoshi Trading Company. Probably a limited edition.”
“Maybe we can identify the buyer.”
“We’ll see. Even with limited editions, if the scale is as large as Mitsugoshi, they could have sold thousands.”
“It might take some time… The Ace of Spades, huh?”
Looking down at Count Goethe, Christina murmured.
His eyes were wide open, and his expression was one of shock.
The playing card embedded in his forehead was the Ace of Spades.
The image of a skeletal knight on the card seemed to suggest his death.
“Why would they use a playing card? Count Goethe was an excellent student at the Swordsmanship Academy. To use a mere piece of paper to kill a talented swordsman… they must have possessed considerable magical power.”
“The normal magical conduction rate for paper is less than 10%. It doesn’t compare to mithril. Using paper requires advanced magical control techniques. It’s strange to go through such a roundabout method.”
“I don’t understand it. But we can narrow down the profile of the culprit. A skilled swordsman with a large amount of magical power and advanced magical control.”
“Then it might not be a simple murder. Normally, they wouldn’t use a playing card.”
“They would use more efficient methods.”
“There seems to be some intention behind this. With the playing card and the footprints, there are many mysteries. Maybe it’s a coded message only understandable to those involved…”
“A warning, a grudge, or some sort of message… it’s possible.”
The two of them stood in silence for a while, pondering.
The silence was broken by the voice of the Knight Division’s leader.
“There are eyewitnesses!? Is that true?”
“Indeed. The servants were merely unconscious. Some of them woke up and claimed to have seen the culprit.”
“And what is the description of the culprit?”
Alexia and Christina also paid close attention to the conversation.
“Well, the description is… it’s a bloodstained clown.”
“Eh? A clown?”
“Yes, a bloodstained clown appeared in front of them out of nowhere. The next moment, everything went dark. When we regained consciousness, it was morning. All eyewitnesses have provided similar testimonies, so it’s highly likely it’s accurate.”
“…They couldn’t see the face?”
“No. The clown was wearing a mask. They all said the figure appeared tall, but it might have been due to the costume.”
“Any other information?”
“No… We’ve been conducting interviews in the vicinity, but we haven’t found any eyewitnesses yet.”
“Keep up with the interviews. If someone was dressed as a clown, they should have stood out. Completely absurd, that person.”
Grey sighed as he watched his subordinate leave.
“A clown costume and a playing card as the murder weapon. It’s a perplexing case.”
“Ah, this is Princess Alexia. Eavesdropping is rather impolite.”
Grey raised an eyebrow.
“It seems like the culprit has some intention to leave a message. Chief Grey, what do you think?”
“Princess Alexia, there’s no need to overcomplicate things. This is a straightforward case.”
“The culprit is a wealthy person who held a grudge against Count Goethe. They hired a skilled assassin for a large sum, but that assassin turned out to be a deranged killer. That’s all there is to it. Amateurs tend to overcomplicate things, but human motives are always simple. Culprits leaving messages are only found in Natsume-sensei’s novels. Maybe you’re a fan of Natsume-sensei’s Sherlock Holmes series too?”
“No, I’m not…”
“They are quite entertaining, aren’t they? I have all the volumes myself. But that’s because they’re novels and they’re interesting, but in reality…”
“Like I said, I don’t like Sherlock Holmes or anything! Why would I like that woman?!”
“Oya, is it possible that Princess Alexia is a fan of Detective Conan? The great detective who turned into a kitten due to a drug…”
“I am telling you that you’re wrong! I just worry that there might be more to this case!!”
“In that case, you don’t have to worry. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve already narrowed down the profile of the culprit. Someone wealthy with a grudge against Count Goethe… for example, Christina-sama.”
Chief Gray said with a confident smile.
“There is no way!”
“You seem quite agitated. By the way, it’s not only me who suspects you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Those people from before, for example, would understand.”
“You mean the Night Sword…”
“Well then, I should get back to work soon. I need to gather evidence to catch the culprit.”
Grey turned away, delivering his parting words with a confident smile.
“The truth is always one… Natsume-sensei’s works are interesting, so be sure to give them a read.”
With a hearty laugh, Grey disappeared from view.
“Certainly, the person who would be most delighted by Count Goethe Mono’s death is Christina.”
“Like I said, I’m not the one!”
“Of course, I understand that. But that’s how the public perceives it. You should be careful.”
“I might draw the attention of the Thirteen Night Sword.”
“I wish I could help a bit more… But it’s not ideal for the royal family to interfere with the judiciary.”
“I understand, Princess Alexia. Just having your favorable testimony is more than enough.”
“Count Goethe’s death could be advantageous for me. I plan to think carefully and strategize.”
“It might help your case in court.”
“Princess Alexia, there’s something I’d like you to see.”
“What is it?”
Guided by Christina, Alexia moved to Count Goethe’s desk.
“There are coffee spill marks on the desk.”
“Yes, the cup is shattered and scattered. It’s normal for the contents to spill onto the desk, I think.”
“The shape is the issue. It’s formed into a neat rectangle.”
“I see! Something must have been placed here. It looks like documents…”
“Coffee spilled onto the documents, which someone took away. The coffee mark seems to have been cut into a rectangular shape. That’s the most natural conclusion.”
“Nothing should have been moved at the crime scene.”
“In that case, it could be the culprit or maybe even the Knights.”
Speaking in hushed tones, Christina said. Alexia’s expression grew more serious.
“It might be dangerous to trust the Knights. Let’s both be careful.”
“Yes, Princess Alexia.”
The two continued to observe the crime scene and then parted ways.