After having spent a night at the Royal Institute, Rio slipped away in the morning and headed towards the market to gather necessities for his journey.
Until now, he had rarely ever left the Royal Institute.
The streets of the royal capital had not changed much since the time he spent there as an orphan.
However, now was not the time to be immersed in nostalgia.
He needed to finish his preparations and escape from the capital as soon as possible.
The Royal Institute uniform he still wore stook out like a sore thumb admist the crowd.
He had already cut off the Royal Institute crest and disposed of it.
Nevertheless, because it was common knowledge that only nobles attended the Royal Institute, whenever he came across a patrolling guard, they would stop and salute.
Commoners also kept their distance and gave him a wide berth.
Incidentally, for the past several days, Rio had not ingested anything except water and as a result, his stomach growled loudly from hunger.
He desperately needed something to fill his stomach as well as a change of clothes. At any rate, for the last five years, all his needs were fulfilled within the Royal Institute.
He came to the market in search for clothes and daily necessities, however upon arrival, it dawned him that he had no idea where the clothing shops were.
Wandering aimlessly for a time, he finally arrived at a marketplace located off the main street.
At that time, an alluring aroma drifted into his nose stimulating his appetite.
The market was overflowing with street vendors.
One of the stalls was the source of the aroma.
Since the stall was located off to the side, it had few customers.
（I’ll buy something from there and ask where I can find a clothing shop.）
Rio headed towards the stall while thinking as such.
A young girl was tending to the stall but due to the lack of customers, she looked bored.
A woman who appeared to be the girl’s mother was busy working on something behind her.
When Rio approached the stall, the girl noticed him and enthusiastically welcomed him.
She was probably around seven or eight years old?
The sweet little girl possessed chestnut coloured hair, a prevalent hair colour in the kingdom.
Although she was a little on the thin side, she was lovely girl.
When the girl noticed Rio’s clothing, her expression turned into one of surprise and panic.
「Ah, uhm… that…」
Judging from the uniform Rio wore, she assumed he was a noble.
The girl became incredibly nervous.
It was public knowledge that nobles were extremely prejudiced towards commoners and often treated them violently.
She was most likely told by her parents to be wary of nobles.
「It’s alright, you don’t have to be so nervous. I came over here because I’m slightly hungry and smelled something good. What do you sell here?」
The girl becomes relieved at Rio’s soothing tone.
「Uhm let’s see, we have grilled meat and vegetables with sauce in a bun, desu.」
Rio smiled gently seeing the girl trying her best to use polite speech.
「A— Ara, oh my, what brings noble-sama to our humble stall?」
The girl’s mother who was busy with food preparations finally noticed Rio.
Appearing before him was a beautiful young woman.
She seemed to have mistaken Rio as a noble judging from his appearance.
「I’m sorry for surprising you. I was lured by the pleasant smell from this stall. Since I’m quite hungry can I ask for two orders?」
「But… uhm… I’m afraid our humble stall’s food may not be able to live up to noble-sama’s palate…」
The girl’s mother spoke in an grateful yet troubled tone.
She did not know what might happen if a noble ate her food and then shouted how it was unpalatable.
She was afraid of the consequences.
「Don’t worry. I’m accustomed with common food. I won’t do something like trying to find faults in your cooking.」
Rio lightly bowed his head in order to assure the girl’s mother.
Seeing how sincere he acted, the girl’s mother wariness faded.
Incidentally, this was the first time Rio bought food from a street vendor.
「Then, it’ll be 20 copper for two orders. Do you know how to eat it?」
She was worried because nobles rarely ever used their hands to eat.
They always took their meals using spoons, forks, and knives.
「Thank you very much. I know how to eat this so it’s alright. Here, please keep the change.」
Rio handed over a silver coin.
As the mother frantically searched for change, he told her it was unnecessary.
「But this much is…」
「Please accept it, and give your daughter something good to eat.」
Rio looked at the girl and gave her a light smile.
「Alright, then can you please tell me where I can find clothing, weapon, and armour shops in exchange? It’s a embarrassing but I’m a bit lost.」
Rio smiled bashfully as he spoke.
Seeing his behaviour, the girl’s mother faltered for a second before letting out a small laugh.
「Of course. If you’re looking for a place selling brand new clothes, you can find a large shop on the main street. Head straight down that way until you meet the main street and then take a left. It should take less than a minute before you arrive at the clothing shop which will be on your right. The weapons and armour shops should be close by as well.」
「I see. You saved me. Thank you very much.」
Rio lightly bowed his head.
The girl’s mother also returned a bow and returned to her cooking.
「Here you go.」
He was presented with a long piece of rye bread resembling a hot dog bun. Meat and vegetables were stuffed in the opening.
Rio stuffed the sandwich into his mouth with accustomed movements.
The next moment, the flavourful taste of meat juices and salted sauce assaulted his taste buds.
With a satisfied smile, Rio gave his impression of the sandwich.
Hearing his impression, the girl’s mother sighed in relief.
Despite using top quality ingredients for their meals, the food served in the Royal Institute could not even compare to this sandwich.
The difference lay in the skill of the chef.
He grew nostalgic remembering how he used to buy fast food in his former life. The seasoning used was superb.
Rio finished the two sandwiches in the blink of an eye, and after bidding the girl and her mother farewell, started heading towards the shops he asked about before.
As he approached the main street, the surroundings grew more lively and eventful.
He passed large crowds of people as he made his way towards his destination.
Unlike within the castle walls, the roads here were not paved revealing the bare soil.
Suddenly, Rio felt someone’s gaze on his back and stopped in his tracks.
Despite trying to find the owner of the gaze, there were simply too many people around him.
（Is it just my imagination?）
Becoming uneasy, Rio picked up his pace.
Walking for approximately another minute, he found the shops he was looking for.
They were located in two buildings, each three stories tall.
He entered the shops, quickly picking up the thing he needed, and completed his shopping in 30 minutes.
After Rio finished changing his clothes, he looked no different from an ordinary adventurer.
A one-handed sword hung from his hip, two daggers, a quiver slung across his back, a hooded black long coat, an olive green cloth armour shirt underneath, and brown light leather armour.
Concealed in his coat were several throwing knives.
Furthermore, he carried a bow and rucksack on his back.
Packed in his rucksack were spare underwear, socks, and a thick blanket.
Some space still remained for food and other necessities.
He chose his gear on the basis of stealth and practicality.
Although for a boy of his age, it would be highly unusual for them to be able to afford such gear.
As Rio was about to head out to take care of a few remaining things, a thug-like man called out to him.
「What is it?」
「You, could it be that you’re Rio?」
While rudely inspecting Rio from head to toe, the man questioned him.
Rio turned his gaze towards the man.
With just a glance, Rio knew this was the person who was stalking him from before.
「…No, you must be mistaken. Now if you’d excuse me, I’m in a hurry.」
Although he was curious as to how the man knew his name, he did not like the look of the man’s eyes and tried to get away from him in a hurry.
「Well, just wait a minute. Just now, a wanted poster for a black-haired kid named Rio was posted. Not even an hour has passed yet. Informers are quick at noticing these kinds of notices. And yet, the guards haven’t been notified yet.」
The man forcibly placed himself in front of Rio and began boasting about his acute senses.
Rio was forced to stop as a result.
「But then as I’m walking down to the market looking for something to eat, I find a black-haired kid walking along. There’s no way I’m not going to call out to him.」
With a vulgar smile, the man took a step closer to Rio and glared down at him with widened eyes.
「What are you talking about? 」
「Don’t play dumb. There aren’t many black-haired kids around here. Besides, although you were wearing the Royal Institute uniform just a while ago, you changed into traveller’s clothes to make your escape. You’re Rio, aren’t you?」
The man was glaring at Rio from point black range.
Although he did not believe Rio’s protest, he acted overly-familiar, persistently pestering and clinging onto him.
「Enough, you’re awfully stubborn. I thought I said I was in a hurry?」
Mixing anger and bloodthirst into his words, Rio coldly glared at the man.
「W— Wa— Wait, wait! Don’t panic. Guards will coming running over if I shout. There are guards all around us.」
The man faltered and took a step back at Rio’s bloodthirst.
「Even if you’re not Rio, the guards won’t believe you. Aren’t you worried? Right? The guards you passed before before will remember you had black hair.」
Speaking increasingly rapidly, the words coming out of the man’s mouth started sounding more like a threat.
Rio stared at the man in silence.
Judging from Rio’s indifference and his previous reaction, the man became increasingly convinced in his deduction.
「Hehe, and if you’re Rio, let alone escaping from the kingdom, you won’t even make it out of the capital. News of about you has already spread all over the kingdom through the magic communication tool.」
The man carefully observed Rio for any reactions, yet Rio’s poker face did not falter.
The magic communication tool resembled a device capable of video calls1; it was an artifact recovered from ancient times.
It had a maximum range of 30 kilometres.
On top of being formidably expensive, they were also incredibly rare. However, one was installed in every city.
Therefore, cities were often established within 30 kilometres of each other.
「Che, you won’t bite huh? Well, fine then. You seem to be wealthy. You have money right?」
（Ah… so it’s blackmail huh?）
Finally understanding the man’s aim, Rio’s mind instantly turned cold.
It was unknown whether Rio was dead or alive, but it was highly likely he was considered dead.
That was why he never considered the possibility of being placed on a wanted list.
He wondered if he would be executed if caught alive. Considering his crime was attempted murder of a member of the royal family, it was highly likely.
Either way, he was framed for a crime he did not commit despite being the victim.
It came as no surprise that he no longer trusted anybody.
As expected, anger welled up within him when he recalled incident.
His heart was gradually being eroded.
Suddenly, he had an urge to take out his frustration on the man in front of him.
「Well, how about you lend me some money? You must have gold since you attended the Royal Institute right? You were also able to afford all that equipment. In exchange, I’ll give you a place to hide. What do you say?」
The man spoke calmly, wholeheartedly believing he had the upperhand.
Even if Rio handed over some money now, the man would probably continue extorting him.
After that, he would probably turn in Rio to the guards for the bounty.
That was what Rio speculated.
For reasons unknown, Rio bursted into laughter.
The man furrowed his eyebrows.
「Ah? Why are you laughing? Are you touched by my kindness?」
Ignoring the man’s words, Rio continued laughing.
If he did not start laughing, he may have lost all self-control.
After having laughed for a while, his expression became solemn and he opened his mouth.
「No, it’s nothing. I’m not Rio. If you’re trying to blackmail this Rio fellow, then I don’t have time to listen to your crap. See ya.」
Telling the man that, Rio turned his back on him and began walking away.
He wondered how the man would react, but he thought his answer was satisfactory.
The man was stunned for an instant, but anger took over immediately afterwards.
「Oi! This guy is a wanted person! Guards! Over here!」
The man shouted in a loud voice while simultaneously reaching out to restrain Rio.
At that moment, Rio grabbed the man’s outreached hand and pulling it, threw him onto his face.
A dull voice leaked out of the man who was not able to perform Ukemi2.
Rio proceeded to twist the fallen man’s arm.
A dull cracking sound could be heard but Rio’s expression did not change in the slightest.
The nearby guards who witnessed the scuffle shouted at Rio to stop.
However, Rio ignored them and dashed away, making his way out of the capital.
* * *
That evening, in a certain room of Duke Euguno’s residence in the noble district, Duke Euguno, who sat on an exquisitely decorated chair, looked down at a girl dressed in a ragged robe.
The girl had straight, orange hair that extended down to her back.
Her age had not even reached 10 yet.
On her head were a pair of fox ears; a fox tail could be seen sticking out of her skirt under her robe.
The girl belonged to the beastman tribe of the fox race.
Most demi-humans including the beastmen tribe did not live in human territory.
In the first place, demi-humans rarely appeared in human held territory.
Demi-human slaves were incredibly valuable because officially, it was illegal to hunt for demi-human slaves due to the risk of retaliation.
Among the demi-human slaves, beastmen were treated the worst.
Since they were half human and half beast, many humans regarded their existence as filthy and looked down on them.
It was an open secret that many nobles had the hobby of keeping beastmen slaves.
Despite being regarded as a filthy existence, many nobles enjoyed raising them as pets.
They truly believed they were justified in doing so.
The girl’s mother was a beastman.
She was unfortunately caught by humans during a slave hunt near her village.
The girl’s mother was subsequently bought by Duke Euguno.
The mother was forced to bear a child at the age of 15 and died at the tender age of 20.
The Duke Euguno sitting before the girl was the girl’s father.
Stead was the girl’s half brother.
The girl was treated harshly.
The moment she reached an age of understanding, she was trained3 and disciplined. Traces of countless lashes could be seen all over her body.
Stead treated her as his toy, routinely violating her4; the other day he blundered horribly and used her as a target to vent his frustration.
Furthermore, Duke Euguno had her undergo combat training.
Compared to the human race, beastmen possessed much higher physical abilities.
Their five senses were also superior. For example, the beastmen fox race were on par with the beastmen dog race’s excellent sense of smell.
Although it would be difficult to use her as a frontline soldier, she made an excellent combat puppet.
Whenever a human and a beastman interbred, the child would inherit only one parent’s characteristics. Incidentally, the girl was born a pure beastman.
「This is the assassination target’s clothes. Remember the smell.」
Duke Euguno threw the clothes at the girl.
Giving a brief affirmation, the girl pressed her nose against the clothes and memorised the odour.
「You are forbidden to die. But make sure to kill him even if you have to fight to death. This is the only reason I’ve bothered raising you. Use your appearance as a child to catch him off guard and kill him. Remember that as long as you have that collar, you cannot escape. Go.」
Nodding, the frightened girl stammered her response.
Although she could hold minimal daily conversations, she never received formal education.
The girl’s eyes held no light in them.
Instead, a magic stone fitted in her collar emitted a dull glow.
The girl pulled her hood over her head and left the room as commanded.
Upon exiting the mansion, she began chasing the faint, yet still lingering smell of her target.
The girl started running and before long, left the capital.