“Thank you for coming all the way here.”
Former Queen Dowager turned cardinal Lishe Bauer-sama smiled as she welcomed us.
We were in a building owned by the Spirit Church in the Imperial capital city, Ruhm.
Although the building was smaller than the cathedral back in Bauer, it was still quite big, and within it, we were having an audience with Lishe-sama.
The members in attendance were Yuu-sama, Claire-sama, Misha and myself – namely, the same four people that met with Dorothea.
Like Lily-sama, it seemed that Lishe-sama had also arrived to the Empire ahead of time in preparation for the Pope’s imperial visit.
The day after we had the discussion with Dor-sama regarding Lishe-sama’s activities from behind the scenes, we were immediately summoned by Lishe-sama.
“It has been a while, mother. I see you have been well.”
Yuu-sama greeted her on behalf of all of us.
Meanwhile, the three of us were bowing down on our knees with our heads lowered.
“Thank you, Yuu. The rest of you, please make yourselves comfortable.”
I raised my head.
Before, Lishe-sama would always hide herself behind a folding fan, but now, we could see her full appearance.
Her eyes were blue, just like Yuu-sama’s, and she seemed to be wearing a gentle smile on her face.
Her long blonde hair was currently covered up by her wimple, and she donned an outfit befitting of a cardinal.
Unlike Lily-sama or Misha, who were just ordinary nuns and wore regular habits, both Lishe-sama and Yuu-sama had the same elegant pattern embroidered onto their outfits.
Previously, I was under the impression that she was a cold person, but perhaps she was in a good mood today, as she seemed to be very warm and welcoming.
“Now then…… There is a very specific reason for why I asked you all to gather today. I have a favor I would like to ask of you.”
Lishe-sama got right to the point.
Since we had already been briefed by Dor-sama before this, we were prepared for what was to come.
“As you may have already heard, the Pope will be visiting the Naa Empire next month. I want you all to assist in escorting her.”
Lishe-sama’s request was exactly what Dor-sama expected.
With a smile on her face, Lishe-sama continued.
“Especially you, Claire François. I was hoping that you could assume the role of the leader and take charge of the entire escort operation.”
“You want me to do it?”
Claire-sama responded with a question.
According to Dor-sama, I was supposed to take on that role, but perhaps things were heading in a different direction now.
“With all due respect, I know nothing about being a guard, so would it not be better for you to find somebody else who is more qualified for the position?”
“That may be true; however, the Pope has insisted on this. Will you please consider it?”
Lishe-sama asked with what seemed like a troubled look on her face as she asked Claire-sama once again.
“…… As long as Rei and Misha are allowed to help as well, then I will accept.”
“My, I’m glad to hear that! Of course, Rei and Misha can help out. There is something I would like to ask of Rei in particular as well.”
“What would that be?”
As I cocked my head to the side in confusion, Lishe-sama called for an attendant and handed something over to them.
“Please keep what you are about to see a secret. You mustn’t let anybody else know of this.”
The attendant respectfully raised it up.
It appeared to be a portrait.
Within the frame, there was a picture of a single person.
“…… Is that me?”
It was a portrait of me.
When I tilted my head as I pondered over why a picture of me was being treated with such zeal,
“That portrait is not of you, Rei.”
Was what Lishe-sama said.
If it wasn’t me, then I wondered who it could be.
“That is a portrait of the Pope, Her Holiness Claris Répète III.”
All of us were visibly shocked.
I was the most surprised.
Even if you were to say that my appearance resembled the Pope’s, our faces were too similar to fit that understatement.
Before, Lily-sama mentioned that she had seen somebody who looked just like me during her travels, which made me wonder if my face was just really common in this world.
In retrospect, when we first met Lily-sama, she acted like she recognized me, but perhaps she was actually thinking of the Pope.
“As you can tell, the Pope and Rei look identical. On that note, Rei, I would like you to act as the Pope’s shadow warrior.”
“A shadow warrior, huh.”
As I wondered why a historical term like “shadow warrior” existed in a world where there were no samurai, I carefully assessed her request in my head.1
Seeing as how they were requesting a shadow warrior for the Pope, it was probably reasonable to assume that she was expecting to find herself in some sort of danger.
It was just as Dor-sama said, although it seemed like the rumors surrounding her assassination might not have been hearsay.
The fact that Lishe-sama would even request for something like this at all implied that she was thinking the same thing.
However, considering Lishe-sama was under suspicion herself, for her to be requesting a shadow warrior out of her own volition meant that she must’ve had something else prepared.
“…… May I ask something?”
“What would that be, Claire?”
Claire-sama, who was still staring at the portrait, asked.
“Lishe-sama, you mentioned that the Pope and Rei look identical. Does that not raise any questions in your head?”
“Ahh, that, huh. This is something that is not widely known, but there are rare cases where girls with Rei’s…… no, the Pope’s facial features are born.”
Lishe-sama, who seemed like she was used to explaining this, continued.
“We believe that those with that face have been blessed by the Spirit God. Even in previous generations, most of the popes that were chosen as successors also had similar facial features. The Church takes the initiative in protecting those who bear that appearance.”
As expected, this face seemed to hold some major importance in this world.
Is it because it’s the protagonist’s face?
“This is just a what-if, but…… Rei, there is a chance that you used to belong to the Church.”
Now that she mentioned it, Irie was also somebody who belonged to the Church.
If I hadn’t been taken in by my current parents, I most likely would’ve been cared for by the Church as well.
Well, putting the matter of my face aside, there was something else I wanted to confirm.
“May I also ask one more thing?”
“Are the rumors surrounding the endangerment of the Pope’s life true?”
Upon hearing my question, Lishe-sama faltered.
I wondered what that reaction meant.
I couldn’t tell.
“…… I’m guessing you heard it from Dor? He’s got loose lips. However, I suppose this is something that you should be made aware of anyway. Yes, it’s true. With all due respect, there certainly are rumors that the Pope’s life is in danger.”
“It’s deplorable,” Lishe-sama added while shaking her head.
“Among those rumors, it seems there are people who believe that I am the one that is targeting her, but those claims are absurd. The Pope stands at the very top of the Church. If I were to cut her down and take over, I would be hated by all of the Church’s followers around the world.”
“I wouldn’t do something that ridiculous,” Lishe-sama said as she strongly denied it.
“However, that doesn’t change the fact that the role of a shadow warrior is still dangerous. It’s just that, Rei, this is something that only you can do. If you were just an ordinary person, we would never have asked this from you, but fortunately, because it’s you, I know your combat abilities are more than enough for the task.”
It seemed that Lishe-sama was doing her best to curry favor with me.
“That’s why, I beg of you. Please lend the Pope your aid.”
Lishe-sama bowed her head deeply as she spoke.
Seeing her like this, Yuu-sama and Misha were visibly stunned.
This was something I learned later on, but it seemed that it was the first time they had ever seen Lishe-sama lower her head for somebody else.
“…… I understand. I will take on the task.”
I answered after giving it some thought.
In the end, we had no idea who the culprit of the assassination was, but now that I was directly involved in the situation, perhaps it would make it easier to catch them this way.
If this was me from before, I would’ve chosen to stay far away from everything in an attempt to prevent introducing more dangers into our lives.
Surely, I’ve become influenced by Claire-sama, haven’t I?
“…… I am surprised. I thought for sure that you hated me.”
Lishe-sama said, as she seemed to be surprised that I would accept the position of becoming a shadow warrior so readily.
“Back when Yuu-sama’s case happened, I had ordered people to go and hurt you. I’m sure you must have noticed that as well.”
She must’ve been referring to when I kept being fed poisoned meals during my time in jail.
The fact that Lishe-sama was admitting to it herself surprised me.
“Although from your perspective, I would’ve expected you to be the one holding a grudge against me, Lishe-sama. I prioritized Yuu-sama’s feelings above everything else, but as a result, it must have been really tough for you too.”
For the time being, I tried giving her a safe answer.
I still wasn’t sure what Lishe-sama’s true intentions were, but if I could, I wanted to avoid turning our current relationship into something hostile.
“…… It seems I may have misunderstood you, Rei Taylor. Please forgive me for the thoughtless misconduct that I have committed in the past.”
As she said that, Lishe-sama lowered her head to me once again.
“In any case, Claire, Rei. I’ll leave the matter of security in your hands. I will take responsibility for anything that happens, so give it your best. Yuu, Misha, please assist them as well.”
After Lishe-sama finished speaking, the four of us prostrated before her, marking the end of our conference.
1) A “shadow warrior” (or “kagemusha”/影武者) is essentially a political decoy/body double used to substitute for somebody who holds political influence in order to confuse their enemies. It is a rather old term, typically used back when samurai were still a thing, hence why Rei questioned the existence of such a term bearing Japanese roots in this otome game world.↵