4 (2) – 3
To understand just why Camilla and the others, who had merely set out for a stroll through the streets yet were now looking for a way into the town’s underground, there is some explaining to do.
Snow fell silently from the overcast sky that afternoon, as a hymnal song faintly echoed through the town from somewhere in the distance.
The narrow, cobbled streets on the outskirts of town saw little traffic compared to the main boulevards. The walls of the houses looked aged while the shop signs and awnings had faded with time. A manastone lamp flickered in its stand, the glass protecting it broken.
The Lörrich family had eyes all over Blume, but they would have to strain their eyes to see this far. In front of a small and rundown diner in this poorer suburb were Alois, Camilla, Nicole, and Klaus, as well as the four men that accompanied the latter.
“Jeeeeeez! How could you bring my Mistress to such a place!?”
Nicole yelled loudly outside the store, not holding back her complaints.
“Now now, calm down, little girl. There’s no need to get so upset.”
“Don’t call me a little girl!”
Nicole turned angrily on Klaus, but he didn’t pay her any mind, continuing to look at the diner with that ever-composed face.
The double doors that led inside lay open, the hinges on both sides having been roughly broken off. There wasn’t a single light coming from inside the store, only the meagre illumination from outside dispelling pitch darkness.
The counter propped up opposite to the entrance was covered in a thick layer of dust, whilst the decayed and peeling tables and chairs were pushed haphazardly into the corner, revealing worn floorboards that often gave way to dangerous looking gaps. Behind the counter, there was a door that led back to a kitchen. Right next to the entrance was a second door, that probably led to the owner’s residence of sorts.
Klaus, leaving the other three standing outside the entrance, walked inside as if he owned the place. As he began to look around curiously, Camilla glared at Klaus, who seemed to be enjoying himself.
“You look as if you’re amused?”
“Having an adventure like this is every boy’s dream, y’know?”
“Adventure, hmm…? Are you really a nobleman’s son? You really do leave a lot of room for doubt.”
Was he carefree or just careless? It was hardly befitting a proper nobleman’s son to enter such a dangerous looking place without a proper escort.
“What’s more, when it comes to the people of this town… You seem awfully close.”
Saying that, Camilla reflected on what had happened when Klaus had guided them through the town.
At first, it was just a straightforward tour, with Klaus earnestly showing Camilla and the others the sights: the main boulevards of Blume, the rows of neat looking shops, and the trees that lined the streets that would be adorned with all sorts of colour flowers once spring bloomed into life.
But of course, the town was still in the depths of winter. The only thing adorning those withered looking trees were sheets of snow, and those streets that would be filled with people in the more amiable months were near deserted.
Yet whenever they did come across anyone, they all seemed to know Klaus without exception, as an acquaintance at very least.
From an eccentrically dressed and spoken scholar with books under his arm to a passionate and motherly woman who spoke with loud mirth. From a group of children to a panhandling old man. They all called out to Klaus and he called back to them like greeting an old friend.
However, if they were just familiar, Camilla wouldn’t have bothered bringing it up. After all, despite the difference in social status, Alois had also been acquainted with the orphans of Grenze. Even Camilla herself became familiar with orphans and the people of the capital back when she slipped out of the manor with her maid, disguised as a commoner.
But, there was something different about how Klaus spoke with them, compared to Camilla and Alois.
Of course, part of it was just how wide a variety of people he happened to be acquainted with, but also…
“Those people in town, you called them all ‘teacher’. What exactly are you to these people?”
As he met people in the town, he would always call out to them as ‘teacher’ or ‘teach’. It didn’t matter if they were an adult, a child, or a homeless person on the sidewalk. Camilla couldn’t help but find it strange that he would address people from all walks of life with basically the same title.
“Hmm… A student?”
As he looked over the counter, Klaus answered her casually. Klaus didn’t hesitate in answering her, nor did he seem to mind when it came to rummaging through an abandoned property. He didn’t seem worried about what he might find or anything like that at all.
“What do you mean by student…?”
“That first guy we met is a playwright, so he taught me how to write dramas. The aunty we met after that taught me a few things about dancing. Those mischievous little brats taught me a few street tricks Oh, and the old man is my poetry teacher, he’s amazing at composition.”
“Aren’t all of those taboo!?”
Camilla was startled by what Klaus had said. After all, everything he just spoke of was frowned upon greatly in Mohnton. Theatre plays were unheard of here and it goes without saying that balls for the nobility weren’t held either. Children were expected to behave properly and mischief was heavily punished. And the only songs and poems that were acceptable in Mohnton were lullabies and hymns that praised the royal family.
The only worldly pleasure that didn’t seem to be frowned upon was indulging in the best food one could get their hands on. The customs and traditions of this land were still heavily rooted in a sense of atonement and modesty, in the way their ancestors had repented for the crimes that sent them here in the first place.
Of course, Camilla didn’t think such a severe environment was good at all. However, Camilla could only think that way because she was, in effect, a foreigner in these lands. For people who were born and raised here, she assumed they would only think of it as the natural order of things.
“No matter how much you try and forbid people from doing things, you can’t control their hearts.”
Saying that, Klaus raised a finger to his lips and winked at her like a tease.
“That said, this needs to be our little secret. If it were found out, my teachers might get in trouble, y’know?”
“I was never going to say anything in the first place… Since I had people like that too.”
Camilla, who had sneaked out of the house plenty of times to cook at an orphanage in defiance of her parents, had no reason to report Klaus’ teachers either.
Camilla didn’t think they were doing anything particularly wrong in the first place. Unlike Camilla’s secret cookery classes, things such as dancing, poetry, and singing were well thought of back in the capital. A proper noble was expected to have extensive knowledge of the performing arts, including the theatricals, musical composition, as well as the classics.
Camilla knew that Alois wasn’t such a narrow-minded man as to get angry about something like that either. He wouldn’t take issue with it, nor seek to uncover it.
Although, that leaves out one person…
“Aren’t you bothering my Mistress and Lord Alois!?”
Nicole wasn’t satisfied at all. Just like the lady she served, it seemed like Nicole and Klaus were incompatible. Nicole was a serious girl, whilst Klaus was a carefree man. They were like water and oil.
“Because of what that teacher of yours said, my Mistress had to come to an awful place like this!”
As Nicole squared her shoulders and shouted angrily at him, Klaus merely smiled with narrowed eyes. That lackadaisical manner only ticked Nicole off even more.
“Why should my Mistress have to get involved with dealing with some noises underground!? Aren’t you the one who was asked to solve it!?”
And so, we finally arrived at the reason.
The cause of all this was a rumour the vagrant old man had told them, about strange noises coming from under the surface.
In the northside of Blume, the people living in the poor slums and alleyways were hearing strange noises below their feet.
It was a rumour that had been spreading like wildfire between the townsfolk as of late.
There wasn’t any rhyme or reason behind the sounds as they bubbled up to the surface at all times of day and night. The sounds were muffled and difficult to make out, as if they were travelling from the very depths of the earth. Sometimes it was something like a wall suddenly being hit hard with a hammer or the unbearable sound of a metal nail being scraped down a sheet of iron. Other times, even more unsettlingly, a high pitched screech that sounded almost like a person’s scream. No one could figure out just what the cause or nature of these sounds was. All they knew is that they wanted those horrible echoes from the abyss to stop.
The gossip making rounds about had begun to grow outlandish, such as it all being caused by a wailing revenant or an abhorrent monster. Perhaps, even a den of thieves lurking beneath the streets?
The old man, clearly fed up with having to hear those unpleasant noises day in and day out, asked Klaus if he could do something about them.
“It’s not as if there’s any great reason behind it. So is there anything wrong with having you guys help check it out?”
Klaus, the ever faithful student, seemed to jump at the old man’s request to find a solution to the noise pollution. After that he had tried to catch up with people all over town, collecting rumours and gossip.
Since he was their guide, after all, Camilla and the rest had followed him…
The destination they eventually arrived at was this abandoned diner.
“Mistress, we really should stop after all. We don’t know what kind of place this is, it might be dangerous. Just leave that man here and let’s go back with Lord Alois.”
Nicole looked up at Camilla, saying that as she clung to her sleeve. Was she worried for Camilla or angry at Klaus? Maybe she just wanted to go back herself because of a fear of the unknown?
But no matter how desperate Nicole’s pleading eyes looked, Camilla couldn’t concede to her wishes.
– Because returning to the mansion alone with Lord Alois right now is…
If she walked back with Alois, Nicole would have to keep several steps behind them at a respectful distance for a servant. Klaus didn’t seem interested in quitting his rummaging around the diner so she would be left to walk alone with Alois. She had no idea what to talk about with him, but the inevitable awkward silence that would inevitably fill the vacuum would be even more unbearable.
If that was the case, it would actually be preferable to engage in Klaus’ misadventures. She had actually enjoyed her time touring the town. After all, she was able to talk to all sorts of people and enter interesting shops she would have never thought of visiting by herself.
Camilla recalled the times back in the royal capital when that rule-breaking maid of hers would take her on walks through town. Back then, compared to now, strolling down the streets like a regular commoner had far higher stakes. It really was reckless for someone in her position, looking back.
But despite that, Camilla was still hesitant about stepping through this abandoned place. If Camilla was alone, it would be fine… Well, not exactly fine, but she could take personal responsibility if anything happened. But right now, Alois and Nicole were with her as well. She would feel guilty if she dragged Nicole into something she clearly didn’t want to do and there would be serious consequences should any harm befall Alois. Should she just endure the awkwardness and return with Alois?
– I really don’t feel like going back after all…
“Lord Alois… What would you like to do?”
I don’t want to go back. As Camilla spoke quietly to Alois, she did her best to project those feelings through her voice. Alois looked at Camilla, then nodded as if it were only natural.
“Let’s do it.”
“Yes… Excuse me?”
“Let’s investigate the underground.”
Camilla blinked in surprise. She was certain that Alois would say something like ‘Let’s go back’. Alois was the lord of this land, after all. It was strange for him to even be near this strange looking shop, much less without any proper escort.
“Won’t it be dangerous? We don’t know what’s down there?”
“Well, we’ll just have to manage somehow. I’m also worried about the source of the noise, after all.”
“How will you manage if there really is something strange down there!?”
Klaus was dainty and Alois was unfit. No matter how much she thought about it, she couldn’t see either of them being able to deal with an emergency. Of course, Camilla had no power herself, she would probably even lose to Nicole in an arm wrestle.
“…He’s not gonna go back.”
As Camilla stood in confusion, Klaus’ voice echoed from the back of the abandoned diner.
“That’s ’cause he’s keeping an eye on me, after all.”
“…An eye? What do you mean?”
Klaus turned around, looking at Camilla who couldn’t keep up with what he was saying. From where he was, he first looked at Camilla who had a puzzled frown on her face, then at Alois who was scratching his cheek awkwardly.
Alois grimaced as Klaus looked at him. It was the expression of someone who had been caught red-handed.
Klaus sighed, his usual laissez-faire expression hardening ever so slightly.
“That guy wasn’t interested in looking at the town from the beginning, only at me. He even waived the escort just to try and put me at ease. Besides, he has a monstrous amount of magic, so there shouldn’t be a problem.”
Klaus looked more and more irritated as he continued to speak.
“Was it father that put you up to this? Since I’m sure he’d love for you to see just how much of a disgrace of a son I am. He couldn’t persuade aunty, so I guess he’s trying to get you on his side.”
Camilla slowly turned away from Klaus to look at Alois. As he noticed Camilla’s gaze, his face looked apologetic.
“I’m sorry but, Camilla, it really is true that I wanted to take a walk with you. If things get busy from now on, I might not get the opportunity.”
“Man, this guy is amazing at acting all principled at the drop of a hat. He deceived me and you too. That’s the kind of guy he is! And that’s why I hate him!”
As Klaus spat those words at him, Alois frowned slightly. His expression was complicated, equal parts lonely and sad, but also with a strange sense of affection… Just what was that? Compassion?
“…You really are a good man, after all.”
“Hearing that from a guy like you doesn’t make me happy at all, y’know.”
With a dismissive click of the tongue, Klaus went into the depths of the diner alone.
Alois stepped forward as if to follow him, then turned back towards Camilla.
As Alois looked at Camilla, neither of them said a word.
Another awkward silence.
She didn’t want to be alone with him and she wanted to avoid talking with him as well.
But just thinking that way made Camilla feel a strange sense of depression.
Once again, Camilla just couldn’t understand those selfish feelings of hers.
Edited by: ApoPie