My body stiffened involuntarily at the unexpected announcement. When I didn’t move, Mrs. Mallon gestured to the director.
“What are you waiting for? Hurry and prepare her.”
“Huh? Yes, then this child will go with Madam, and the gentleman from the Sound Kingdom…”
“I don’t particularly care.”
The director and the man seemed to be saying something, but I couldn’t hear it well.
‘Why on earth does she want to take me? Wasn’t she looking for a deaf maid?’
The director was greedy and reluctant to spend money, and there wasn’t much to guard in the orphanage, except for a heavily protected safe and a bloodhound dog, to a certain extent.
But Mrs. Mallon was different.
Mrs. Mallon’s Manor, where she lived, was easily thirty times larger than the orphanage, and it had around a hundred guards, along with about thirty servants.
Escaping from there wouldn’t be easy, even if one tried. And even if I managed to escape, Mrs. Mallon had the power to issue search warrants for her own territory and nearby territories.
After all, her father was the Count.
And this was why I had worked as Mrs. Mallon’s maid all along.
‘I absolutely cannot go with Madam.’
But how could I avoid it here…?
As I was anxiously biting my lower lip.
Unidentified objects fell in front of me, glittering.
Without thinking, I reached out, and the object landed in the palm of my hand.
‘What is this?’
It was practically a piece of debris. I poked it with my index finger and looked up toward the ceiling.
‘Hehehe, tasty! Plink! Stolen candy always tastes the sweetest, plink!’
There was nothing on the ceiling. However, I could hear a sound as if something were up there.
As if there were something on the ceiling.
I squinted and stared at the end where I could hear the sound and discovered that something small was moving in a square-shaped recessed area.
‘Is it moving?’
– Yup, yup.
A slightly elongated tail swayed beneath a recessed area.
‘Is that… a mouse?’ I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed to match the description with its long pink tail and light gray fur.
“Why are you looking at the ceiling like that? Marie, please get Annie’s things,” someone pulled my arm.
Realizing it was the director who held my arm, I urgently interjected, “Wait! I haven’t even said hello to my friend!”
“Your friend is up on the ceiling?” The director laughed scornfully.
His attitude didn’t faze me. I had something else in mind. I turned to Mrs. Mallon, who, perhaps because of my intense gaze, was also now staring at the ceiling.
Mrs. Mallon narrowed her eyes and asked the director, “Do you see something on the ceiling? What is that?”
“There’s something long swaying up there…”
“My friend!” I exclaimed.
The director stared at me as if I were crazy. “Madam, it seems like this child might not be in her right mind. Perhaps you should reconsider adoption,” he suggested.
“It’s adorable! A cute mouse with long, wavy, reddish-brown fur!” I continued enthusiastically.
“That’s enough of this nonsense!” the director chided.
Then, something unexpected happened.
“A mouse?” Mrs. Mallon questioned, her expression contorting with disgust.
I rejoiced silently, thinking, ‘This is it!’
Common stories about mice were well-known, often associated with filth, disease, and negative attributes. While I couldn’t confirm the accuracy of these tales, many of the servants in the household had a deep aversion to mice, despite their harmless appearance.
“Tell me more,” Mrs. Mallon demanded.
She was a typical aristocrat, born into privilege, who had never experienced hardship. She had married into wealth from a respected family and had never worked a day in her life.
I had calculated that she couldn’t simply overlook a mouse, especially given her background.
“Is it truly a mouse up there?” Mrs. Mallon’s voice trembled.
I had achieved precisely what I wanted. This was my opportunity, and I couldn’t afford to let it slip away.
“Absolutely! I adore mice! That’s why I sleep with them every day, even yesterday!” I emphasized with enthusiasm.
“She…sleeps with them, too?” Mrs. Mallon gasped, looking as though she might faint at any moment.
Mrs. Mallon glared at me and the other children and objects in the orphanage as if we were filth. This was my moment; I had to ensure she would never consider taking me with her.
“I’ve always dreamed of having a family, you know? And if there’s plenty of money and a grand mansion, it would be even better,” I exaggerated, extending my arms dramatically. “That way, I can live together with my friend for a very, very long time!”
Of course, when I mentioned my friend, I was referring to the mouse.
I then forced a smile and looked up at the ceiling, hoping my plan would work. At that very moment, the mouse peeked its head out from the ceiling.
Its small, round eyes blinked, and it cocked its head cutely. But…
“A mouse! Oh dear, it truly is a mouse!”
Mrs. Mallon and some of the children reacted exactly as I had hoped. Their faces turned pale, and they screamed.
“Unclean! I can’t believe I set foot in a place like this!”
“Madam, please, let’s stay calm…”
“Calm down? How dare you tell me to calm down? Do I look calm to you? Is this a joke? How could you let the facility become like this?”
“The child is lying! There’s nothing wrong with our facility!”
The director pleaded desperately, but it was too late. Mrs. Mallon was too agitated to listen.
“Your lies are absolutely absurd! I saw the mouse with my own eyes, and you claim there’s nothing wrong? You treat me like a fool! I will report this to my father immediately! Your days are numbered!”
An infuriated Mrs. Mallon shouted and stormed out of the main building. She had barely stepped onto the grounds when she abruptly halted and began slowly stepping back, her eyes widening as if she had seen something she shouldn’t have.
“Madam, is there a problem…?”
The director cautiously asked, but Mrs. Mallon, who had been unresponsive until then, trembled and stammered.
“C… Cockroaches…! Eeek! There are cockroaches! Aaah!”
Following Mrs. Mallon’s scream, the director, too, spotted the infestation and joined her in screaming.
“Marie! Quickly, get rid of those!”
Mrs. Mallon frantically stomped on the ground, while the director cried out, searching for Big Sis Marie. In the ensuing chaos, the children, now aware of the situation, either screamed or burst into tears.
Marie hurriedly cleaned up the remains of the insects with a mop, and Mrs. Mallon’s shoes were meticulously wiped clean.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Mallon continued to vent her anger at the director.
“You! I won’t just let this go, do you hear me? Understand?”
This time, Mrs. Mallon finally left the facility, and the director desperately called after her.
But Mrs. Mallon didn’t look back.
“Kids, kids, please calm down.”
Marie did her best to soothe the frantic children, but in the chaos, they were not inclined to listen.
The situation was in disarray.
‘Should I make a run for it now?’
Operating in the black market had its consequences, especially with the Saint Beak family, who were well-known for running it. If I had angered their eldest daughter, Mrs. Mallon, it was likely that our trade would cease for a while.
‘But if I stay in this orphanage, I’ll only be subjected to the director’s revenge.’
Since I had prevented Mrs. Mallon from taking me, the next step was to escape from the orphanage.
The director was absent, and the situation was tumultuous.
‘Even if I disappear for a while, they might not even notice.’
I was about to rush back into the orphanage, whether it was the director’s study, the safe, or wherever, to secure some money. I knew that as an orphan girl with nothing, I needed money to survive.
As long as nobody laid a hand on my head…
Startled, I looked up, and there stood the foreign man whom the director had brought earlier.
‘When did he…?’
Confused and surprised, I locked eyes with the man. His deep violet eyes held an unmistakable spark of “interest,” which was different from the indifference he had shown until now.
I froze, unable to move. Was it possible that, due to the recent events, he had taken a liking to me? Was he here to adopt me?
Contrary to my expectations, the man simply patted my head lightly and quickly withdrew his hand, walking past me without a second glance. There was no trace of lingering sentiment.
Watching his back as he left, I muttered in bewilderment, “What…?”
Then, I cautiously touched the spot where he had briefly placed his hand.
It felt strange.
Somehow, I had an inexplicable feeling that this wasn’t the end, and that there was more to come.
* * *
The man left the Brienz Orphanage and turned into a narrow alley. Confident that no one observed him, he activated his mana. His eye color, which had been violet, changed to red, and the surroundings transformed.
From the dark and dingy alley, he entered a luxurious room inside a grand mansion.
“Have you arrived, Your Excellency?”
The elderly butler, unruffled by the sudden appearance of the man, greeted him calmly.