Dega stood there for quite a while, filled with emotions that he didn't know how to describe, before he finally left.
Upon returning to his hideout, he saw that Nymon, the teenaged boy thief who gave him the tip on Mia's location and identity, was waiting for him.
"Yo, Dega! I already heard from your pals. So she really was that bastard's daughter after all? Why'd you let her go?" Nymon had a look of disbelief.
"We had a little talk and decided to work together," Dega replied nonchalantly. "She has some pretty interesting ideas. I felt that it would be good for everyone's mutual benefits. With her helping us from the inside, perhaps we'll finally have a chance at getting our revenge. After all, none of us have managed to accomplish anything over the years as of yet." He then paused for a moment as he considered something. "Why don't you finally join us now? I know that you have just as deep a grudge against Count Hart as any of us, and you're old enough to make your own decisions now. How about it?"
However, Nymon's face distorted upon hearing Dega's offer. "Why the hell are you working together with that little girl? What would she even know? You're just falling for her trap! All nobles are cut from the same cloth! Haven't you lost enough already? You lost your wife and daughter, and I lost my parents, yet you don't understand how I feel? We should just kill that girl already!"
Hearing this, Dega shook his head. He had a sad yet resolute expression as he spoke. "Her name is Mia, not little girl. That's part of what I learned from her today. Everyone deserves their chance at life, regardless of who their parents may be. If we simply killed her just for being a noble, how does that make us any different from Count Hart who kills commoners as he pleases?"
"Of course I'm different from that scum piece of shit noble!" Nymon shouted angrily. "How can you even possibly compare us! Just you watch, I'll take revenge on Count Hart by my own!" He then ran out of Dega's hideout before Dega even got a chance to respond.
Dega could only helplessly sigh. He knew that such things required time to change people's minds. After all, if someone told him just yesterday that he'd become allies with the young daughter of Count Hart starting today, he probably would have laughed his head off.
Dega decided to give Nymon some time to cool off, hoping that the thief would be able to think things through on his own. Dega looked around at his subordinates and saw expressions of hesitation among them as well.
"Let's all rest for tonight and meet up with Mia again tomorrow at the cave and see what she has to say," Dega told them. It wouldn't be that easy to convince a group of people with grudges against Count Hart to suddenly start working with his daughter.
Dega understood how it was, as he had also been quite hesitant to begin with. But, he changed his mind now that he had seen her headstrong courage and intelligence. Perhaps this land really did have hope after all if someone like her became the domain lord.
Meanwhile, Mia entered the Hart mansion, fully intending on cleaning herself before doing anything else. She didn't expect to run into any trouble here for the time being, especially with all the servants tending to avoid her and her father never so much as even coming to check how she was doing. However, there was one person in the mansion who was an exception.
Unfortunately for Mia, her long day was yet to end.
"Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in. If it isn't my dear little sister. I heard from Father already about how he told you to duel me on your birthday if you want additional spending money on buying that whatever stone of yours. You must be trembling in your tiny little shoes already. I suppose that I could bring myself to go easy on you in our duel if you kneel and beg me. How about it?"
Mia glanced at her older half-brother, Barnaby Hart. He was five years older than she was, and had inherited their shared father's good looks. Unlike Count Hart however, Barnaby was far pudgier and not in good physical shape. Still, thanks to his handsome genes, Barnaby merely appeared like a cherubic little angel rather than a disgusting fatty. That was simply the unfairness of how people would be judged by physical appearances.
He was accompanied today by an elderly man that she knew to be his personal butler, Maxwell. Like always, the butler seemed to fade into the background and didn't interfere with anything his young master did or said.
Barnaby would often pick on her whenever they met, while Mia could only suffer in silence due to her young age and weaker body. However, things were different now. She had been training for several months, and her strength and speed had significantly improved, even if she was still only at a young child's level. She looked forward to the upcoming duel as an opportunity to get some payback.
"You're my half-brother, not my brother. Don't call me your little sister, because it's shameful to even think about you being related to me. Don't you dare touch me before the duel either, unless you want rumors spreading that you had to resort to cheating in order to defeat a girl half your age."
Barnaby had been opening his arms wide for a bear hug, which was actually his way of squeezing Mia as tight as possible while giving her a painful knock or rub on the head. However, this was the first time that Mia had resisted, which shocked Barnaby to the core. What was going on with his little toy that he enjoyed dominating? Barnaby became angered at this unusual situation.
"The hell! To think this is how you respond to my pity! Apologize to me now, or I'll make you really regret it!"
"Oh? How would you do that?" Mia responded in an icy tone.
As this was going on, Butler Maxwell widened his eyes in surprise for one second before closing them again. Lady Mia Hart seemed obviously different to him today. The meek little housecat had grown claws. What could have brought about this change in her? Still, it wasn't his role to pry. His only duty was to serve and protect the Hart household, and he would carry out his duty loyally and faithfully.
"I… I…" Barnaby was filled with fury and was almost seized with an urge to slap the little cheeky brat before him. How dare she talk back to him, the great Barnaby Hart! So what if she was still currently the main heir in line to succeed the Hart noble title? He would show her and everyone else at the duel that he was a far better candidate!
If he hit her now, just as she said, the servants would start gossiping about him. Barnaby was too prideful to allow such a thing to happen. Still, he felt too aggrieved right now to not vent his anger somehow. As he wasn't the particularly eloquent or intelligent type, he decided to resort to one of his favorite tactics – intimidation.
"You don't know what you're messing with! Let me show you my trump card that will make you pee in your pants! This is what you're going to be dealing with at our duel! Rraggh!!!"
Barnaby's skin started to turn redder and redder. Mia could also sense that the temperature seemed to be rapidly rising. Was he using some type of fire magic? Mia wasn't familiar with what fire magic techniques Barnaby knew how to use. She decided to take a few steps backward while remaining on guard.
Suddenly, Barnaby's upper body half erupted in flames and was wreathed in fire! …However, his clothes weren't immune to his own fire magic like he was, and they started burning away.
Mia didn't even know what to say at this display. Should she say that boys really loved taking their shirts off? But even so, he didn't have to do it so extravagantly! And if he burned away his clothing every time, wouldn't that be really inconvenient? Did he also have the ability to cover his entire body if he wished? Would that mean that she would have to battle him while he was naked and on fire?
Mia suddenly felt lucky that she didn't have this ability. After all, with how society worked, it would be far more inconvenient for girls to have such an ability that burned off their own clothing.
"Hahahaha! This is my ultimate technique that I've named 'Fireman'! Isn't it wonderful? It's not too late to beg for mercy! Beg for my forgiveness now, and I'll consider not using this skill against you in our duel!"
Instead of apologizing as Barnaby expected, Mia simply turned around and left without even saying anything. She really didn't want to deal with him right now, as taking a bath was the biggest priority on her mind. She decided to simply treat his words as the ravings of a mad dog. As she left, she casually flicked some of the bat guano originally under her clothing onto Barnaby's body, which he didn't notice.
Often times, being ignored can hurt more as a form of condescension than any words. Barnaby was so astonished at not even receiving a reply that he simply stood still where he was, without understanding what was going on. The flames on his body slowly burned out some time after he let Mia go without stopping her.
Mia returned to her room and called for her personal maid to prepare and draw a hot water bath for her. Mia then thought about what just happened in her encounter with Barnaby just now while waiting for the bath to be ready.
"Fireman? Ha, what a joke. The concept of fireman that I know is someone who puts out fires and works hard to keep others safe while risking their own safety. Who do you think you are?"
Well, no such job like fireman existed in this world, so technically Barnaby wasn't doing anything wrong by giving his skill such a name. Mia almost wanted to laugh out loud when she heard his self-named skill, however.
Barnaby was only a pampered brat, a spoiled noble with no real ability of his own apart from some fire magic. He merely bullied those weaker than him due to the fact that his father was Count Hart, but didn't even know how to react when his intended bullying target started resisting against him.
Mia felt that Barnaby was even more foolish than she ever realized before. With just a little taunting, he became angered so easily. Not only that, he even revealed his trump card to her, or what he claimed to be his trump card, anyways. However, Mia didn't doubt that the "Fireman" skill of setting himself on fire was indeed his most powerful skill.
After all, she already heard before that Barnaby had only D rank fire magic skills. This meant that his control over fire magic wouldn't be all that much stronger than her control over wind magic. Not to mention, there was no way that he would have started practicing from such an early age like she did. Perhaps he could only control fire at a melee combat distance?
In Mia's mind, trump card skills like Slime Armor or Barnaby's so-called Fireman skill were meant to be kept secret. How else could they remain trump cards if one's enemy could learn about them so easily and plan for a strategy to counter them? All of this showed that Barnaby was nothing more than an immature brat.
Mia heaved a small sigh. Although he may be an immature brat, it was still undeniable that he was physically taller and stronger as well as possessing more powerful magic at his disposal. She would have to think of some way later to fight against him and his Fireman skill.
Still, Barnaby was nothing more than a small fry in the grand scheme of things. With Mia's knowledge of the game scenario that the Age of Chaos was arriving in ten years, she also knew that there would be far more powerful and intelligent enemies waiting in the future compared to just an idiotic noble brat or even Count Hart. How was she supposed to survive if she couldn't even deal with Barnaby, who didn't even count as a boss-level enemy? Maybe he was actually even weaker than that boss bat monster from earlier, although she was unsure which of the two would win in a fight.
Mia grit her teeth and vowed to give her half-brother what he deserved at their duel. She was born into noble status in this world, and with it came privileges and powers that commoners wouldn't have. One example was something as simple as the ability to command servants to prepare a hot water bath, while most commoners wouldn't even have easy access to such a large amount of hot water. She would make sure that people like Barnaby and her father wouldn't be able to abuse their power in the future. Mia didn't consider herself a virtuous hero who would interfere with everything wrong in the world, but at the very least, she felt that she should take responsibility for correcting her family's actions and doing what she could within her limited influence.
Finally, a large wooden barrel filled with hot water for Mia's bath arrived.
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