Three days later, the old man found Redstone Flower. He was introduced by the round-faced man to his leader. The leader hoped that the old man could become his subordinate so he would have a reliable contact in Port Cobius, but the old man refused, citing that he didn't wish to be involved with the Watch anymore given his age. He was only giving a small helping hand.
"The woman you're looking for has been spotted," the old man said, "She has a black puppy with her. Seventeen days ago, which was the 11th of the 3rd month around ten in the morning, she was spotted getting off from a ferry, Lipton. She spent the afternoon in the city before hailing Rednose Badon's carriage on a long journey for the town of Ankanor. That's where the station at Tyrrsim is situated. She took a train to some other colony... Oh, they're called states now. You have to buy a ticket to take the railway."
"Railway? What is that?" one of the huge men asked.
"Well... how do I explain it... It's like two long iron bars side by side forming a sort of track. A train car at the front can pull tens of other cargo cars behind it and travel on that track. It can travel nonstop and shortens long journeys greatly. For example, it'll take half a month to travel from here to Lanu in Anfiston on horseback. However, it takes only three days by railway. It also makes transporting goods really quick and convenient. Each cargo car can carry up to 40 carriages' worth of goods. It's really popular with the merchants."
The leader whacked the man who asked the question on the face with a newspaper with a picture of the train. The paper was published at the end of last year, announcing the official start of operations of the railway in the four southern states. It also had a detailed description of how railways and trains worked and how it would revolutionise transportation.
"Read it yourself. Don't just play around with women when you're free," the leader chastised, before turning back to the old man. "You said the woman stayed in the city until the afternoon. Where did she go? Do you know who she met?"
The old man nodded. "She left the checkpoint building with her puppy and hailed a carriage to the shopping street in the east. She went to Ruist's Bookhandler to buy two travel guides. She told the owner that she was a herbalist that came here to buy some rare medicinal ingredients.
"After leaving the shop, she went to the restaurant the owner recommended her, Mills, to have some iron-plate-grilled beef. It happened to be the rainy season and the owner, Mills, was having his joints act up. The woman then used a kind of healing paste of her own making and helped soothe his joint pain. Mills then bought all the paste she had for eight crowns.
"When she left, someone asked Mills whether the paste really worked. He merely pointed at his knee and said it was really cooling and relieving. He no longer felt the sensation of ant bites and his knees no longer swell. That means he wouldn't have to fear cold and humid weather and no longer has to use a wheelchair due to his pain.
"In the past half month, many others with the same problem sought Mills out in hopes they can get some of that ointment from him. They even offered him a crown for a small box. The large bottle of paste he bought was enough for some 30 boxes. Everyone says Mills hit the jackpot, but he didn't sell too much. He treated it like his lifeline.
"When the woman left the restaurant, she went to an inn called Goldrose for a room. She took a bath and checked out to hail Badon's carriage before heading for Ankanor. She bought some food and drinks before leaving with her puppy immediately."
"It can't be... She's already gone for half a month, yet you still have such a detailed account about her moves here? You didn't make this up, did you?" the round-faced man said with a doubtful glance. In the half a day the woman spent in the city, she acted no different from a normal person apart from the commotion with Mills. How could the old man possibly know so much about her itinerary? Half a month had passed and many had no doubt forgotten about her already, even if they did meet her.
"Well, I can't do anything about it even if you don't believe me--" The old man shrugged. "--In fact, you were pretty lucky. The moment the woman got off the ferry, she caught someone's attention. A single female guest like that would easily become the target of the Three Hands that linger around the docks. The Brotherhood of Ruby and Wagas' Blackhand Alliance even got into a brawl over who could hunt that woman.
"It's too bad that after Wagas won the brawl and tailed the woman for a good half a day, he didn't find a good chance to act. He watched as the woman left in the carriage. Nowadays, the Blackhand Alliance have become the laughing stock of the Three Hands for letting such a delicious specimen go.
"The information I told you was from Blackhand members that tailed the woman. They knew where she was and what she did. They also said that her puppy was really odd. As if it was sentient, it ruined a few of the opportunities for them to act."
"Since Blackhand didn't manage to get their way by stealing, why didn't they just go rob her?" the man that was smacked with the newspaper asked.
The old man cackled but managed to hold back. He shook his head in disappointment.
"You've been here for three days but you still didn't notice how different this place is from the kingdom? I doubt you'll find a safer place in the kingdom than here. The people of the underworld here must use smarts and dexterity. You'll only be asking for trouble if you rob. In the worst case, you'll be shot dead on the streets."
"Is it really that strict?" the round-faced man pondered and said, "We've taken some casual walks around over the past few days and feel that it's pretty good for business here. Then again, I really didn't see any daylight brawls like you mentioned. What if we create a murder scene to try to frame that woman? We can make use of the authorities to capture her. Do you think it'll fly?"
The old man's face shifted immediately. "Don't involve me in your group suicide. I told you that it's different here. It's not like other colonies on Nubissia. You could use other colonies' authorities to track someone like that down because they want to close the case as quickly as possible, so they follow the clues about the woman you'll leave behind. They don't really care whether she's really the murderer.
"Here, however, cases like these are taken care of by the constabulary's investigative department. They are staffed with crime-solving experts there. Even if you leave traces behind, it'll be useless. You'll only fall into their trap. Just one look at the woman's itinerary and you'll know that she isn't the killer. They could use that woman or send someone disguised as her to capture you all."
"You make it sound so mystical..." the leader said in disbelief.
"Sigh... I can't do anything about it if you don't believe me. The autonomous region is completely different from the colonies of other regions. They're developing even faster than the mainland now. At least, I'm sure Freia doesn't have the monstrous railways. Even though you've only been here for the past three days, I dare say that your movements have all been marked down somewhere without you being aware.
"You're here as smugglers, so there aren't many restrictions on you. That's because there are countless smugglers swarming to the region to purchase goods to be sold at the western coast. It helps the region's economy, so smugglers get good treatment here. But if you're found not to be smugglers and instead members of the Watch, I'm sure you won't be able to take so much as a single step unhindered."
"Then how can we track that woman in the region?" the leader asked in frustration, "She left this city half a month ago. If she gets on the train at Ankanor, who knows which state she'll head to? How will we find her again? Back when we were on the western coast, we always framed her with murder to force her to go into hiding. When she runs, her whereabouts will show up..."
"You Watchers really are getting worse by the generation... Do you only know how to use such crude and bloody methods to hunt someone down? It's not too hard to track her down. A herbalist with a black puppy that's also a beautiful woman will surely leave a deep impression on others. Anyone that sees her can easily point you in her direction.
"What you have to do is to play the role of smugglers properly. Make sure to ask the constables, ticket salespeople, railway staff and cleaners about it. Praise this woman's prowess in herbalism and say you're trying to seek her out to find the mysterious medicinal paste for your father who suffers from serious joint pain. You can make a tearjerker with those points. Nobody would mind helping you find her.
"That's only on the surface. Under the hood, you can look for the hoodlums that linger around the train stations and threaten or tempt them. I'm sure they'll tell you of a way to find her. There's also the fact that female herbalists like her would get the attention of the local constables. If you get to meet someone high up in the constabulary and get their help, it wouldn't be hard to track her down."
The old man turned and prepared to leave. "This is my last time fulfilling my duty to the kingdom as a Watcher. Don't look for me in the future. I've moved and sold the shop to the one who rents it. I'm going to formally retire from this chaotic mess."
He waved and left.
It was only after a while that it occurred to the round-faced man that the old man wanted to leave because staying with them would be dangerous. Yet, he made it sound like he was doing them a huge favour and making a great sacrifice.
"Sheesh... This old man really is shameless. He's obviously forgotten about his duties as an informant... Watchers are required to help other Watchers unconditionally as long as they're still active..." he complained.
The leader gave a casual wave. "Forget it. We don't know if he can still be considered to be a Watcher. He's right. We were blinded by our desire for revenge and caused so many murders just to force that shameless woman out. Now that she's here in the region, we must be more careful. We can't be as reckless anymore.
"Let's try out what the old man suggested. Ike, take some men with you to Ankanor and ask for her whereabouts. The old man was right that we're attracting unwanted attention by squeezing 20 people into this inn. Also, Ike, make sure to also do some business like an actual smuggler and ask about local prices. Make it look like you're really doing market research."
"Alright, Chief. We'll get a carriage before heading to town."
"Chief, we don't have to sell anything else. We're sure to earn good money by dealing with the tobacco business alone." One long-faced man took out a pack of Seaman-branded cigarettes and tossed it onto the table. "These cigarettes are quite strong and a favourite of sailors and coachmen. It costs only two sunars here, but they sell for one riyas each on the western coast. It's five times the price."
The leader tore off the packaging and took one out. He then took out one of the two bamboo smoking tips included with the box and lit it in a practised motion before taking a deep puff. The rest of the cigarettes were soon shared among the rest. By the time the man snagged it back, there were only four of them left.
The leader puffed smoke out with a grim look. "Dilwa, don't forget that we're not really here to smuggle, but to find and kill that woman that humiliated us for life. We're only doing this as cover, understood? If we're still alive after we wash ourselves of that shame, I won't be against you coming back here to export cigarettes to the western coast. You'll only have to worry about getting a good supplier for large quantities."
Dilwa was the man with the long face. He carefully stuffed his nearly empty box of cigarettes back in his pocket. "Understood, Chief."
It turned out that the old man's methods were quite effective. Soon, nonstop reports about the woman made their way to the leader.
"Chief, during the afternoon of the 12th of the 3rd month, she reached Ankanor and purchased a ticket for train number 15 for the town of Blins in Mormaly. She stayed there for three days in Riverclear Inn for three days, doing nothing but shopping or staying inside. She boarded Train 15 on time during the afternoon."
"One worker at the station in Blins had quite the deep impression of her. She got down and asked him what the safest and most convenient way to travel to Slinkas. The worker offered to let his uncle drive her there in his coach. That's the main production hub for medicinal supplies in Mormaly. On the way there, she told the man's uncle that she was a herbalist on her way to buy some supplies.
"It looks like she hasn't noticed that we've made our way to the region already and thinks she's still safe. Otherwise, she wouldn't be so relaxed going to buy medicine so casually. On the 24th, she returned to Blins with two carriages full of medicinal supplies. She got a train ticket the next day and made arrangements for the goods in the carriages to be shipped. Her destination is Lanu in Anfiston."
"We'll head to Lanu immediately," the leader decided. "Since she has two carriages of medicinal supplies, she's definitely going to stay in Lanu for an extended period of time to use them up. I believe we'll locate her soon. We shan't let her escape this time."