Late at night, after Isabella and the others arrived at the lodge.
In the basement of a ship warehouse built along the canals of the royal capital, a group of men gathered.
They're ages seem to range from mid-twenties to late sixties.
Some buried their faces deep in the hoods of their cloaks, and some wore masks to hide their faces, making it hard to tell their actual age or race.
Five men sat around the table placed at the center of the basement, while the others either leaned against the wall or sat on the boxes, sofas, etc placed haphazardly.
".....The slave auction scheduled for the end of this month is canceled.
A man seated at the round table announced in a low, gruff voice.
"Well, all of the handpicked slaves that were brought to the five hideouts located east of the capital were taken by the knights. It's not the time to hold the auction anymore."
"Not just that, members and cooperators of the succession ceremony have been detained. Those guys have gotten their hands on the list of those involved, this country's top brass is already half destroyed."
"You don't have to put up a front by saying 'half' destroyed. Two-thirds of the people involved have already been subdued. It's on the brink of ruin."
The heavy air dominated the basement.
Annoyed, someone muttered under their breath:
"Of all days, why did such a commotion have to happen on that one...."
For the capital's underground slave auction held this month, merchandise obtained via kidnappings or monetary means were gathered from all over.
Among them, the ones that could be sold for a particularly high price were selected, and were successfully smuggled into the capital using secret routes just the other day.
Since it would be too risky to house all the goods at one place, they were to be stored in five separate hideouts in the East District ─ a commercial area with many warehouses for ironworks, until the day of the auction.
However, on the day to transfer the goods, a problem occurred.
From noon to midnight, the kingdom's elite Lycanthrope unit, the Knights Corps, the Imperial Knights, the cavalry units, and even adventurers were running around the East District of the Capital.
All to chase a certain duke's daughter.
"Damn it! Beastmen have a particularly good sense of smell, it's big trouble if they went around sniffing in the city!"
"In the first place, why were the goods planned to be transported in broad daylight? Wouldn't that be too conspicuous?"
"It seems the Knight Corps had gotten wind of something. The patrols of the guards and military soldiers between midnight and dawn were increased, annoyingly so. If the carriage had travelled in the middle of the night, they would be stopped and inspected for at least five times before they could reach the destination."
"Still, was there no way to prevent all five locations from being taken over?"
"Some idiots messed up."
Among those who worked to capture the duke's daughter ─as she was the cause of the many cavalry troops and beastmen unit in the city─ in hopes to resolve the situation ASAP, there were those who foolishly thought, "If I can't catch her, it would be much quicker to take advantage of the commotion and kill her" and acted as such.
It's true that if they killed the duke's daughter and pushed the blame onto someone else, the case would be closed.
There would have been no more knights or beastmen unit running around the city.
However, the girl in question wasn't someone who could be killed that easily.
Firstly, stabbing her was impossible. She moved too fast to even catch up to her, let alone come into contact with her.
As for slashing, she often ran up the wall of the buildings and moved out of reach.
She is also able to avoid magic. Any arrows fired at her will be striked down.
Although they intended to kill her in the midst of the commotion, there were some who became so irritated, they forgot their original purpose and abandoned their cover.
As a result, they were noticed by the knights and adventurers who were also chasing the duke's daughter.
Naturally, the knights begin to pursue the identity and purpose of those trying to kill the duke's daughter.
"The worst part is that the leader of the adventurer party 'Persona Knights' happened to be there."
"Ah, you mean the leader of those crossdressing masked women. If only they quietly remained at the palace..."
"They're troublesome because of their authority to give orders to the Knight Corps."
"But why was the leader, the 'Crimson Persona' there? She's not in the position to come out that easily now, is she?"
"This is just a rumor, but it's said that she heard about the duke's daughter's high physical prowess from the Knight Corps, and came to see if she was suitable to become a member of the next generation 'Persona Knights'."
"That's probably it."
"That woman lured the idiots who ran after the girl to kill her, then blocked the road and restrained everyone, all while letting the girl escape."
That large scale game of tag had taken a different direction midway through.
The knights and adventurers chasing after the duke's daughter.
The group of people chasing after the duke's daughter to kill her.
The knights chasing the people targeting the duke's daughter.
The adventurers trying to let the duke's daughter escape from those targeting her.
"One of the idiots who was captured by the knights blabbed about the goods transport."
"As a result, more troops were brought in. Even the largest magic item supplying company─the Schneiver Company got involved, with them launching the outdoor discharge lamps. Thanks to that, every backstreet in the city were lit up like daytime even though it was midnight. On top of that, the main streets were flooded with onlookers. No way the goods can be transported through that."
And so, while the townspeople were captivated by the chase between the duke's daughter and the knights, a separate team went to suppress the five hideouts and secure the captives.
There, they managed to obtain many important documents and a list of those involved, leading to the many people captured in the following days.
"The Schneiver Company huh.... They're products have been useful, but the company itself is being quite the hindrance... Is there something we can do about them?"
"The Schneiver Company... so it's that witch's store. That woman is troublesome to deal with, so by all means I'd like to avoid making her an enemy. Not only are the employees there uncanny, they're weirdly disciplined. It's creepy."
"This country is just full of troublesome women..."
"As expected, we should plant our collaborators and allies deep within the royal family or the palace."
"Most of those who have infiltrated the palace have been caught in this incident and need to be replenished. More importantly, I would like to have someone whose status holds a fair amount of authority in the palace."
In response, discussions began to take place all around the room.
The room which had been buzzing for a while, quieted down upon one person's comment.
"Come to think of it, what happened to the current Changelings? Shouldn't they have grown up by now?”
"Yes, the Changelings are currently 11 years old."
"So their age is between the first and second prince... I believe this generation were girls?"
"Yes, both girls and twins at that.
"Twins? ...Which one has the ability?"
"They are identical twins, so they both have the abilities."
The report caused a stir in the surroundings.
After the men around the round table discussed amongst themselves, they gave out instructions.
"Bring those twins to the capital at once."
"The First Prince is already engaged to a princess from our ally country, the Kingdom of Zahar. The harem of the Zahar Kingdom is difficult to infiltrate, so it is impossible to replace him. The target is the second prince. As soon as the second prince's fiancée is chosen, replace her. And as backup, replace either the first prince's concubine or the second prince's fiancée candidate─one from a particularly prestigious family. Even if she doesn't become the prince's wife, if she is from a family of good standing, she will likely marry into a high class noble family. Connections can be made from there."
"At present, the daughter of the most influential household who's close in age to the princes is that duke's daughter."
"That one's impossible. In order to replace them, the Changeling must have higher HP and MP than the target. It's possible to carry it out if we wore her down until her HP and MP was lower than the Changelings, but if it were that simple, this commotion wouldn't have happened in the first place."
"That little girl managed to escape from the knights, adventurers, and even us for half a day without using any potions. Just what is she?"
Among those who had actually seen the commotion, a conversation began in secret.
Some had distant eyes.
"Not to mention, the Fafnirs have their eyes on that one. She's already engaged to their second son."
"It's getting even harder to act against the Schneiver Company..."
"Let's leave the Schneiver Company aside for now."
"Then who? Who would be the easiest to replace?"
"I'm assuming the next possible fiancée candidate for the second prince is the second daughter of Marquess Brunst, Amaryllis Elie Brunst?"
"Hmm. Then, let's begin gathering information about the Brunst household's second daughter. We need to educate the Changeling on those so no suspicions will arise when she is replaced, after all. We also need to find another candidate to replace."
With that out of the way for now, the atmosphere in the place began to relax.
Some got up and prepared to leave.
As if to bring the seriousness back into the air, a man coughed and declared to everyone:
"This concludes the emergency meeting of the Dark Guild. The next meeting will be announced in the usual way, with the location of the next meeting announced at that time. Dismissed."