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    “It’s because I have a favor to ask of you.”

    The tutor hesitated at Ian’s words. He was a penniless man with nothing to his name. Though he was an illegitimate child, he was even less significant than Ian, who was a hostage. So what could Ian possibly expect from someone like him?

    “What kind of…?”

    “Arrange a meeting with Father sometime next week. The content doesn’t matter, but the location should be the garden, not the office. And about 30 minutes would be an appropriate duration.”

    That was ample time to sneak into the office unnoticed. He needed to seal documents, so it included the time to melt the wax.

    The tutor wore an expression of utter confusion.

    “You don’t need to know. The detailed circumstances.”

    “Then, then if I do just that, you’ll keep my relationship with Duke Mollin a secret?”

    “Of course. Even your attempt to ransack the butler’s room.”

    “No! It’s, it’s truly a misunderstanding!”

    The tutor jumped up and waved his hands. Since he was already caught red-handed, judging by his reaction, there must have been an ulterior motive.

    “Then?”

    “I wasn’t trying to steal a treasure, but-“

    The tutor gaped. The confession rose to his throat, but he seemed unable to spit it out. When Ian gave him an urging look, he had no choice but to cough it up with a sigh.

    “I needed a pass.”

    “A pass?”

    “The frontline of the Bratz territory is off-limits to civilians. For me, it’s the only place where I can see the Great Desert with my own eyes. I especially need to observe between Towers 3 and 4, but the Marquis won’t grant permission for safety reasons.”

    But what about the pass the butler possessed?

    Since it was directly stamped by Derga, there were no restrictions. After all, if something happened to the Marquis, the butler would have to act as a proxy. The tutor had tried to steal the butler’s pass for the sake of his research’s completeness.

    “Is that so?”

    Ian rested his chin and pondered deeply. He had seen many people obsessed with a single topic like this. Even if their lives were ruined, their will to research rarely wavered.

    “How far along is your research?”

    “It’s been a long time since I came here. I’ve measured almost all the climate changes on the Bratz side, and now I plan to leave for Blaster to continue my research.”

    The dissertation topic was <The Correlation Between Climate Change in the Great Desert and the Blaster Sea>. Naturally, he would have to spend another indefinite period there.

    Suddenly, an amusing thought occurred to him.

    “I see. Then let me ask you one thing.”

    “What is it…?”

    “In late spring, I have to leave this place and enter the Great Desert, the stronghold of the Cheonrye Tribe. Can you calculate the climate at that time?”

    The desert wasn’t scorching hot day and night all year round. How fiercely did the sandstorms blow amidst the extreme temperatures?

    At Ian’s question, the tutor muttered in a difficult tone.

    “It’s hard to be precise. It will take some time.”

    “It’s alright. I only need to know until I leave anyway. There should be a desert map too.”

    “There is one, but it’s from 10 years ago.”

    “I’d like you to prepare it separately. Then, I’ll obtain a pass for you.”

    “What? A pass?”

    Since the pass required a seal, he could stamp an extra one while sealing Mollin’s documents.

    The tutor blinked at Ian’s confident attitude. He had heard about it, but it seemed hard for him to understand.

    “How about it? If you teach me everything about the desert, I think I can give you everything in return.”

    “If, if you can do that, I’d be grateful.”

    Ian smiled brightly and held out his hand.

    “Great. Then let’s make a deal.”

    The tutor stared at the child’s hand.

    Is it okay to hold it? Could there be another ulterior motive? Ian’s life was in Derga’s grasp, so if he cooperated with him, he might end up paying for his exile with execution. As a scholar, he had no clue about these matters.

    “I’m trying to live my way, and you’re living your way, aren’t you? You’ll cross the border as soon as you use the pass anyway, right?”

    “…That’s right.”

    Then, there was even less reason to hesitate. Even if a problem arose, he would be traversing the Great Desert by then.

    The tutor grabbed Ian’s hand with a determined look in his eyes. Who would have thought a deal between a middle-aged man and a child could be so solemn? Ian grinned and pointed to the desk.

    “Then, teacher. Shall we discuss the details while studying?”

    ***

    The excuse for the tutor to summon Derga was set.

    He had to abruptly quit being a home tutor. Since he would leave the Bratz estate as soon as he received the pass, it wasn’t entirely a lie.

    Ian carefully tucked the damp handkerchief into his pocket and glanced at Hannah. Thick leather gloves were also essential.

    “Hannah, what I asked for…”

    “Here it is.”

    Whisper whisper, only Beric was present, but her voice was extremely cautious. Hannah took out wooden keys that fit snugly in her hand. One was for the office, and the other was for the desk safe.

    “I told the carpenter that we’ll pay him sometime next week. Actually, even if it’s late, he said he’d be satisfied with a bottle of liquor.”

    After that day, Hannah had snuck into the butler’s room again. She had made key molds using clay and requested wooden replicas. The surface was even coated with rubber.

    “Good work.”

    “Then, I’ll take my leave now.”

    Creak.

    Hannah left, and Ian checked the time. It was almost the appointed time with the tutor. While Derga’s office was empty, he had to swiftly and quickly seal two documents.

    “Are you ready?”

    “Sigh. Why am I doing this?”

    Tap tap!

    Beric grumbled but followed closely behind Ian. His skill in reducing his presence was quite good. The two left the annex and entered the upper floor of the main building without encountering anyone. It was partly because they took a roundabout way, but also thanks to Hannah informing them of the servants’ schedules.

    “There he is.”

    Through the window, a familiar male’s back was visible. Derga was leading the way, with the tutor by his side. Even the butler had gathered splendidly. When the tutor said something nervously, Derga immediately showed a displeased expression.

    “Now, you stay here and guard firmly. Don’t let anyone come up until I come out.”

    Zing-

    And the mana flowing to him. As Ian’s golden eyes shone, his hair fluttered simultaneously. Beric felt his blood circulating rapidly and let out a laugh.

    “You look like you want someone to come.”

    “Does it seem that way? You have keen eyes.”

    “This is important, Beric. If you cause trouble, we can’t handle the consequences.”

    “If we get caught, you’ll behead me anyway. With words.”

    Beric waved his hand as if it was bothersome. If something went wrong and someone approached, his role was to create a commotion and draw attention. A natural expected scenario would be that he tried to steal gold coins from Chel’s room on the lower floor.

    “I’ll be right out.”

    For that reason, Ian pushed the maximum amount of mana into Beric’s body. To make it easy for him to escape, or even if he was whipped, to recover faster than before.

    Tap tap!

    Creak.

    Ian picked the office lock with the prepared key and entered. Although he hadn’t come here much recently, nothing had changed.

    Thud!

    He headed straight to Derga’s desk without hesitation. Then, he opened the largest drawer and examined the inside.

    ‘There it is.’

    A recess in the gap. A hole was positioned where he could insert the diamond by simply reaching in. Ian carefully took out the prepared wooden key.

    Zing-

    And just in case, he gathered all the mana in his body. Even if it was rubber-coated wood, it could be dangerous if the voltage was high, right? If another energy entered through his fingertips, the plan was to reflexively create a defensive barrier. He wasn’t sure if it would work well with an illegitimate child’s body, but…

    Click-

    The sensation of the key entering the hole was crisp. As he pushed it in, another secret drawer appeared.

    “Ah.”

    Inside were the seal, the mana brooch, two gold bars, and some old letters. Ian knelt down and examined the interior.

    He placed the wax stand on the candle. While the spoon was heating up, Ian decided to look at the letters.

    ‘…Are these correspondences with the Cheonrye Tribe?’

    Damn it, they were all written in the Cheonrye Tribe’s language, making them indecipherable. There were a few words he recognized here and there, but they were too fragmented.

    ‘Next… female king… after?’

    What the hell were they saying? Other foreign languages were fine, but the language of a barbaric tribe from the frontier was beyond Ian’s ability. Instead, he copied the words onto parchment, intending to decipher them later.

    Swish swish!

    The wax lump melted into a liquid as the spoon heated up. Ian poured the wax and stamped the seal.

    Kwang! Bang!

    Once on the letter to be sent to the central government, and once on the travel permit for the tutor. After stamping everything, he skillfully processed the wax residue. The key was to wipe it off with a damp cloth before it hardened.

    Sizzle.

    The heated iron spoon emitted faint smoke as it cooled rapidly. Derga shouldn’t feel the warmth when he returned, so Ian blew on the metal to cool it down.

    “Done.”

    Everything went smoothly. He returned the items to their original positions and finished checking if the seals were properly stamped. Now he just had to leave…

    Click-

    The sound of someone’s presence from somewhere.

    Ian’s body stiffened involuntarily. Was it a sound from outside the door? No. If so, it should have been louder and more frivolous. It would have meant Beric was causing a commotion. Then, the only remaining place was…

    “Marquis, are you here?”

    The assistant’s office attached to the main office. Ian hid behind the curtain, minimizing his presence as much as possible. He didn’t know why that person was here. There shouldn’t be a case where he stayed in the room alone without Derga, right?

    “Marquis?”

    Creak.

    The door to the small inner office opened, revealing the disheveled assistant. Fortunately, it was a blackout curtain. If it had been chiffon, he might have been caught immediately.

    “Strange. I just heard a sound…”

    Swollen eyes as if he had just woken up. He must have fallen asleep here after working late last night, of all times.

    “…?”

    The assistant seemed to sense an unusual presence and looked at the curtain where Ian was hiding. Then, he took cautious steps and approached.

    Rustle.

    The parchment paper in Ian’s hand was so thin that even breathing made a sound. This made the assistant even more tense and put Ian in a difficult position.

    “Who’s there?”

    Ian turned his head and looked out the window. Bright sky. Sunlight poured down radiantly. Strangely, everything was still. It was his habit and attitude.

    Composure instead of tension. Action instead of worry.

    Mistakes can be rectified, but failures cannot.

    Zing-

    “Aaargh!”

    The moment the assistant grabbed the curtain, Ian struck him with mana. The condensed wind burst, and energy swirled around.

    Simultaneously, the assistant fell backwards with a nosebleed, and the released curtain fluttered back, but he couldn’t see who was standing there.

    Thud!

    He collapsed with only the whites of his eyes showing. Ian neatly arranged the curtain and quietly left the office.

    “Done?”

    Beric, who was sitting on the stairs, jumped up when he saw Ian. Ian nodded briefly and took the lead, running down the stairs. Through the window, the backs of the three men were still visible. Glancing up, the tutor’s eyes met Ian’s.

    The child’s composed expression was the answer, telling him that everything had gone well.

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