Mia slapped her palm against her forehead upon hearing this. Did Colson want the whole world to know that she was performing animal experimentation? Or, even if the other servants didn't know exactly what she wanted a rat for, it couldn't possibly be a normal thing for a little girl to be wanting a rat to "play" with. Her reputation in the mansion was only going to become stranger.
Forget it, she didn't care what the others thought of her anyways. Well, maybe just a little, but she had more important things to worry about regardless.
Mia hurriedly opened her bedroom door and pulled the red-haired boy inside. She noticed that he was holding on to a small sack that seemed to contain something struggling within. Presumably, this was the rat that he spoke of.
"Colson, have you ever heard of the phrase, discretion is the better part of valor?"
"Discretion is… valor? What's that mean?" Colson had a confused expression. He was also busy trying to hold on to the sack and not letting the rat inside escape, so he wasn't paying full attention to Mia.
"Well, it's not a precise fit for this particular situation, but it basically means that sometimes, it's better to lay low than do or say something unnecessary. While this matter of rat catching doesn't need to be kept top secret, there's still no reason to let others know about it. The same goes for anything else that happens around us. Understood?" Mia was beginning to wonder who the teacher was between them.
While Colson knew a lot more about the background of this world, along with being far more experienced in combat than her, it seemed to her like he greatly lacked common sense. Were all hermits who hid away, studying only swordsmanship, supposed to be like this? Any protagonist who had such an upbringing should have social problems like these.
Mia suddenly felt that people like Colson would never survive for long if they had to deal with any sort of political trickery. He would just be too easy to take advantage of. Wasn't his original goal to become a soldier? Whatever his intentions may be, soldiers were political tools as well, with few exceptions. He would have to fight for whatever reasons that the higher-ups decided upon, regardless of whether they aligned with his personal views. Maybe she was technically taking advantage of him as well, but she comforted herself with the fact that she had no nefarious intentions towards Colson. She was paying him for his services, and he was a willing employee. Someone like him would probably be equally disillusioned with his ideals if he had really joined the Hart provincial army which was really no more than Count Hart's personal guards.
Meanwhile, Colson was thinking similar things about the silver-haired, green eyed little girl before him. Common sense? Did Mia have any in her at all? In Colson's opinion, magical experimentation wasn't nearly as useful as normal physical training to become stronger. Why was she always so focused on mysterious goals such as insisting on continuing on with the duel, no matter what? He felt that Mia was likely to learn nothing but a painful lesson.
This world was one in which more than just mages could become strong. Humans were able to train their bodies and master the use of "skills" that would allow them to perform almost mystical-level feats similar to the realm of magic.
And as for discretion? His grandfather always told him that "Honesty is the best policy" along with "Stay firm in your convictions." Was he supposed to just give up so easily on his grandfather's teachings?
Regardless, he wasn't the type to argue with a little girl who was also his employer and master. Besides, he was quite curious to see just what Mia had planned. He ended up deciding to go along after all and see what Mia would do with this rat he captured for her.
"Yes, Milady. I got lucky and found this rat scurrying around in the barracks last night when I went for a visit. What would you like to do with it? Oh, and they told me that the next tax collection trip will be in three days' time. For some reason, they were laughing uproariously when I told them that we would join them. Does Milady know why?"
"Who knows?" Mia answered with a shrug. "I have some things to take care of by myself in town again today. There's no need for you to accompany me, so why don't you go to the barracks today to train instead of training by yourself as you always do? Perhaps you can try making friends with the other guards, or do some training together." Mia had serious doubts about whether that was even possible with his personality and the guards' debauchery. Did this count as her tossing a lamb to a pack of wolves? Colson was sixteen years old already though, and considered an adult in this world. She needed him to hurry and mature quickly.
"Alright! Why didn't I think of that!" Colson's eyes shone with the light of eager anticipation. "This will be great! We can all get some bonding time together before setting out to deal with the injustice of tax evaders! Those who don't properly pay their taxes must be punished! We must all do our part to support our motherland of Hoplia that helped to raise us!"
Mia wondered if she should rain on Colson's parade here. In the end, she went with simply giving him a small reminder. "Remember that things aren't always what they seem. Be your own judge on what's right and what's wrong."
She then took a look at the rat struggling in the sack in Colson's hands. Mia knew that rats were incredibly well known in her previous world for spreading germs to humans and being common carriers of lots of infectious diseases. She had no intention of letting such a creature run around in her room.
"Let's go somewhere else to deal with this little rat," Mia told Colson. She then summoned Whimsy to her and left the room.
As they walked down the hallway together, Mia was able to pick up some servants' comments on the wind. She used [Eavesdrop] in order to see what the fallout was from Colson having been so indiscreet this morning.
"Have you heard? Lady Mia requested a rat for breakfast this morning!"
"Eeeek! No way! That girl is so creepy. She hardly ever talks, and it's impossible to know what she's thinking. Last time I had to clean her room, I even found some mysterious green goo inside. Disgusting! She even keeps this notebook with incomprehensible scribbles all over it, an entire notebook! What child would do such a thing?"
Eating rats for breakfast? Mia raised her eyebrows at this. Rumors always did have a way of being blown out of proportion.
What she heard after that caused her to frown. Servants that were overly inquisitive about their master's affairs were definitely no good. So, this particular maid had discovered some green goo? That could only be a piece of Whimsy's body.
Not only that, the maid had snooped in her desk drawer and attempted to read her notebook filled with all the game information that she could remember? Thankfully, she had recorded the notebook in English, a nonexistent language in this world. It would be nothing more than gibberish to anyone that wasn't an otherworlder, but it still felt mildly unpleasant to be viewed strangely because of it.
Mia wasn't really completely used to having servants at her beck and call, anyways. In fact, she viewed the thirtyish servants that the mansion had as completely unnecessary. It was a huge drain of resources. She was more used to doing things for herself. If she ever took over, one of the first things she intended to do was to fire more than half of the servants, keeping only a few critical roles.
There was nothing she could do right now. Her young age was simply far too much of a limitation. If she wanted to have her own free life in the future, she would first need to work on becoming stronger in her own way and taking care of problematic elements within her own home.
Mia led Colson to a small storeroom that was filled with farming implements and various odds and ends. The room smelled musty, and judging by the fine layer of dust on the ground, it was evident that this room was in disuse.
"Let the rat out, but make sure it can't escape out the door. Then, exit immediately and trap the rat inside." Mia had a contemplative expression as she considered how to go about this.
Colson did as he was told and carefully squeezed out of the door, making sure that the rat would remain trapped inside. He then stood aside, not knowing what Mia was planning.
Mia took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and began sensing the rat in the locked storeroom. The rat possessed incredibly low innate mana and was quite difficult for her to sense. Normally, she wouldn't even notice its presence on her mental minimap. However, since she was quite physically close to it through the wall and concentrated fully on this task, Mia was eventually able to discern its presence in her mind.
After locating the rat, Mia then concentrated on the air within the storeroom. Although the storeroom's air was somewhat stale, it was not a completely airtight area. She felt that such a small room would be a suitable location for this experiment she wanted to try.
Mia remained completely silent as she used [Still Air] to deaden the air in the room as much as possible and make it unmoving. There would be no exaggerated spellcasting with her, which she viewed as both silly and broadcasting to one's enemy what one was about to do. If anything, she was the type who preferred to shout out the name of some completely unrelated ability while doing something else instead.
Mia mentally estimated that roughly five minutes must have passed since she started using the [Still Air] effect on the room. Yet, she could tell that the rat remained perfectly fine, as it was still scampering around the room, perhaps looking for an exit. Meanwhile, Whimsy was becoming restless, and Mia had to hold Whimsy to not let the slime attempt at breaking and entering into the storeroom. She definitely didn't want Colson to misunderstand that and think that Whimsy really did intend to eat the rat. …Fine, perhaps she really did care about her slime's reputation, just a little.
Was this no good? Mia opened her eyes and decided to check out the air quality in the storeroom for herself. She readied her foot, just in case the rat would attempt to make its escape. Upon stepping into the room, Mia coughed slightly; the air seemed a bit mustier than before, yet it was still breathable. What would she have to do then in order to extract the oxygen from the air or otherwise make it unbreathable?
One of the first ideas that came into Mia's mind previously was to somehow use the wind to spread poison. However, the main problem with that was the fact that she was still only a little girl. How was she even supposed to obtain any poison? It wasn't like she had even the most basic of knowledge on identifying poisons in this world. Not only that, if she spread poison over the air, she would also need to have the corresponding poison's antidote on hand in case she accidentally inhaled some as well. This was far too troublesome to implement, so she could only put this idea on a sideline for now.
There was also the idea of directly interfering with elements present in living creatures. However, this was actually impossible as well. Every living creature had their own internal mana which would automatically reject the application of magic spells directly upon it from outside sources. So, there was no materializing a foreign object inside someone else's body for an instant kill, nor would a water mage simply be able to rip out the water in a person's body in a bloodbath.
Since Mia had learned these basic laws of magic in the introductory textbook, she could only think of roundabout ways to interfere with the air that was outside people's bodies. If this failed, she would just have to try using a different method.
Was animal experimentation on a rat like what she was doing wrong? Mia had to wonder if her morals were slipping. While she had never experimented on live animals before, did dissecting a frog in biology class count?
Maybe some would consider what she was doing unethical, but Mia viewed it as a matter of course necessary for survival. Back in her previous world were people that advocated for the equal treatment of all animals. All Mia had to say was, why not first focus on equal treatment of humans first? There was so much inequality in the world, no matter which world it was. Was she supposed to value a rat's life over her own, when the rat might spread a fatally infectious disease to her?
Humans had to take lives in order to survive. Even vegetarians would have to consume plants, and eating plants meant that perhaps some animal that could have used that plant as nourishment would end up dying of starvation instead. Or, an animal spared in an act of kindness might end up overpopulating and causing a natural disaster, making the balancing scales of nature end up swinging in the other direction in the end.
Mia had been thinking about how she had asked Colson previously if he was willing to "kill" for her sake. She was asking herself the same question: if her life was directly in danger, would she be able to kill?
To be honest, she didn't know. She had certainly never done any killing before in real life. In her previous life, she probably would have said no. But after being killed herself, without even any hope of defending herself, her world view now seemed to be different and more cynical to herself.
Mia gripped her hands tightly as she prepared her next experiment for the captured rat.
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