1. The Proper Use of Love and Justice
The ceiling of the strategy room seemed excessively high. The desk plopped right in the middle of the room also seemed excessively large, and the backs of the surrounding chairs, which probably had to be custom made, also seemed excessively tall. This was probably the result of having to fit the various body sizes of the different races that gathered in the room.
And presently, the probable owner of the largest of those various body sizes, an absurdly humongous Reptrace, sat in his very own sturdy looking chair, exploding in cackling laughter. Even so, his expression looked no different than normal, so it really was rather creepy.
“The omen came to Tiat, huh? Pretty fast, don’t ya think?” Aiseia remarked, sitting on top of a chair with her legs dangling well above the ground. The three had already bathed off all the dust and dirt and changed into informal women’s uniforms. Just by having on clothes different from their normal everyday attire, for some reason they appeared somewhat more mature. “I thought it would be about two more years before those little ones held a sword.”
“Not very happy about it?” Willem asked, his cheeks still slightly red.
“Hmm, well being able to go off to the battlefield while you’re young isn’t all good. Of course there’s the danger of flat out dying, and even if things go well you could get some kind of trauma. To be honest, it’s complicated.”
“But we still have to wish her the best. You know, right? She worked so hard until now because she always had the goal of becoming a fully grown soldier in her mind,” interjected Kutori.
“Well, yeah, I get that… but complicated is complicated, ya know?” Aiseia frowned.
“Anyways, Tiat’s the reason I’m here. More importantly, tell me what happened. I heard that the battle on the 15th Island was lost, yet you guys are all here safe and sound.”
Suddenly, Limeskin stopped his cackling and stared straight at Willem with eyes that looked like polished stones. “Wounded warriors, I shall answer that question.”
“A-Ah…” Not expecting a response from that direction, Willem was thrown off a bit.
“First, I praise you. Your tempered blades shone upon the battlefield. You were able to break the fangs of the beast. The victory song should have been shared among us all. However, there was a trap beyond the guidance of the divination. The fangs overlapped with other fangs, and to spare us from foolishly challenging those unknown fangs, I chose to drop the land.”
“Sorry, I have no idea what you’re saying.”
To start off, due to a different palate structure, the Reptrace spoke with a distinct pronunciation hard to understand to other races. Adding on top of that Limeskin’s roundabout way of talking, the difficulty level of having a conversation spiked significantly.
“I see.” Limeskin sagged his shoulders, disappointed. Such a gesture might normally have have elicited some sympathy, but on a giant lizard towering above you, not so much.
“Hm, well to sum things up, it looked like we would be able to win against the Teimerre that was detected by the alarm system.” Aiseia began to take the explanation into her own hands. She threw a glance Kutori’s way, then continued, “This kid over here somehow conjured up a ton of power from who knows where, so during the beginning the battle was really going smoothly. Like, seriously. At one point I thought we could just leave everything to her and have the rest of us fall back.”
“The ancient holy sword Seniolis can strike down even the Visitors. If the right person uses it in the right way, there’s no way they could lose to anything less, right?” Willem looked at Kutori, but she faced away, refusing to answer.
“Looks like she’s in a sulking mood,” laughed Aiseia.
Willem cleared his throat, then steered the conversation back. “… Anyways, it looked like you were going to win, but you didn’t. What happened?”
“There was one other who slipped in undetected by the alarms. First of all, the Teimerre needs to be killed dozens of times before actually being destroyed. On top of that, each time it ‘dies’ it sheds a layer of its shell and becomes stronger. And this one was especially troublesome. After two hundred deaths it was still lively as ever, and even with Kutori pushing her limits it became a struggle from the middle stage onward. So at that point, things were already getting pretty rough… and then on the 217th death… out of the shell, two came out.”
“Huh?” A cry of disbelief unwillingly escaped his lips.
“One of them was the same old Teimerre as expected. But the other, was a different something. The alarm system can detect any incoming Teimerre, but of course we wouldn’t expect it to be able to also notice another attacker riding on one of them. It probably didn’t have the ability to grow rapidly like the Teimerre, so it took a while to appear on the surface.
Firearms didn’t seem to affect it at all, so we could guess it was one of the ’17 Beasts’, but other than that, we were clueless. Nevermind whether or not we could win if we fought, we didn’t even know what we could do to even start a fight with that thing. And so, we dropped the thing to the ground along with the entire floating island and retreated.”
Ah, I see. None of the ‘17 Beasts’ have wings. That’s why they can only attack by hoping to float onto an island with the wind, something which of course has a very low probability of occurring. So if you can somehow send the monster back to the ground, you’ve at least dealt with the immediate threat.
Life in the present world, in which the ground has been lost, can only exist up on the floating islands. So, in other words, the floating islands are essentially all that’s left of the world. And losing one of them meant that this small world just got even smaller.
“If we pushed Kutori even further, or made her go berserk, maybe we could have defeated it — a lot of the lizard soldiers shared that opinion. But anything we could try in an unpredicted battle would end up being a bet, and throwing away our strongest firepower for a bet with poor odds wasn’t a good idea — that’s what Mr. White Lizard over here decided.”
Mr. White Lizard, or rather Limeskin, nodded in confirmation. “…” For some reason, he glanced just once at Kutori before adding, “And for those reasons, we were defeated.” He spoke with a voice that was hard to read any emotion from — well, that’s pretty much his normal voice. “What about it? Nothing for you to be concerned about. What is it in the sky will eventually fall. Besides, fate has not all been spent. You coming here is one proof of that. I will become busy from now on. May I leave the duty of bringing those soldiers home to you?” As he asked, his eyes were pointed towards the three fairies.
“I don’t mind, but…”
Willem was curious about his ‘becoming busy from now on’. A fallen floating island can probably never be brought back up. The significance of this loss, and the responsibility that comes with it, both must be huge, meaning that Limeskin, as the general at that battle, probably had a lot on his plate. But, perhaps it would be best not to inquire further here if he didn’t mention any details himself.
Well, there he had it: all the details of the long and treacherous battle.
“Good job, you three.” While thinking pitifully of himself for not being able to do anything else, Willem said a few words of gratitude. Aiseia giggled, Nephren tilted her head, and… one girl remained facing away, not showing any signs of looking toward the rest of them.
“Bad mood, huh?” Aiseia shrugged.
“Kutori?” Nephren peered in close to her face and asked, but received only a faint mutter of refusal in return.
Upon exiting the strategy room, they found someone waiting for them: a young beast lady, her sharp pointed ears drooping in uneasiness.
“Hm? You’re the one from earlier…” Willem tried to call out to the girl, but her focus seemed to be on someone behind him.
“Uncle!” she cried cheerfully.
Willem slowly turned around, and there he was: the giant Reptrace. “Uncle?” he confirmed.
“Hm.” A solemn nod came in return.
“You’re a beast person? Your fur looks pretty scaly then…”
“Then this girl is actually a Reptrace? Her scales look pretty furry then…”
“No. She is the daughter of an old friend. We’ve been close since she was little.” A simple, plot twist free explanation, which Willem probably could have guessed anyway. “– What is it, Firu? I thought I told you not to come here,” the lizard said in a slightly strong, blaming tone.
“I have come prepared to receive a scolding. But besides you, Uncle, I have no one I can depend on.” The girl answered in a calm voice.
Limeskin raised an eyebrow, or rather he probably would have if he had one.
“Did something happen?”
“A letter arrived. It said if the ceremony is not cancelled, they will assassinate Father.”
Willem frowned upon hearing those not so gentle words.
“Father told me to not worry about it. He said their threats were only talk, that the more we take them seriously the more we feed their ego. But I don’t think so. They are not such lenient thieves. However, with Father insisting like that, I have no one left to turn to but you, Uncle.”
“Hardship is more important than all, hm?” The Reptrace gazed up at the ceiling. “Firu. I am sorry, but I must go.”
“Uncle…” A cloud of gloom fell over the beast lady’s face. A short silence followed.
“Willem. I have a request.”
“I refuse,” he answered instantly.
“… I haven’t said anything yet.”
“I can imagine what it is. Sorry, but I already have enough child care work on my plate.” Willem could hear a little hmph coming from Kutori, apparently annoyed at being treated like a child, behind him. But, he decided it would be best to pretend that he hadn’t heard it for now. “I decided long ago not to get near any issues involving women or children.” This time he heard some remarks of disbelief coming from Aiseia, probably alluding to the fact that he has gotten very close to one particular issue involving both women and children, but again he decided to feign ignorance.
“Well that is unavoidable…. Then, Kutori. Are there any hindrances in your body’s condition?”
“Eh?” Kutori let out a confused yelp at her name suddenly being called. “Ah, yes. My body is recovering. But, it would still be difficult to wield a weapon.”
“I don’t mind. Well then, I will leave this matter in your hands.”
Kutori blinked once in surprise. “Ah… um… uh…” After a few seconds of showing bewilderment to almost an exaggerated extent, she collected herself enough to close her eyes and take a deep breath. Then, opening her eyes again, she managed to start speaking. “B-But I’m a fairy, you know? I know nothing about this city, I’ve never acted as an escort before, and it’s right after a long battle so I can’t conjure Venom–”
“But there does not seem to be anyone else to rely on. Deal with it somehow.”
“Well… but…” Kutori shot a glance at Willem.
Limeskin’s goal was obvious: there was no need to get Willem to agree directly. If he pushed the responsibility onto one of the fairy soldiers, it follows that Willem would take the burden in her stead. That’s what Limeskin predicted. And, much to Willem’s chagrin, it was a rather accurate prediction.
“… That’s a dirty trick. What happened to your warrior’s pride?”
“A soldier must also stay faithful to victory.”
Quite a flexible portrait of the soldier, Willem thought. “I believe I’ve hardly ever talked to you. Did I do something to offend you?”
“You made me have interest in you, that is all.”
“Um, if possible, I would prefer if no one except Uncle–” The young beast lady tried to quietly slip in an objection, but Limeskin held up his palm and silenced her.
“There is no need to worry. I do not yet know if I can trust or rely on this man, but I can certainly expect something.”
“That doesn’t count as a compliment…”
“And I had no intention of giving one.” Limeskin nodded, then started walking. “I leave the rest to you, Kutori. Follow the guidance of the wind with those who walk beside you and fulfill your duty.”
The remaining five of them stood there, half dumbstruck, and watched that enormous back as it strode away.
Follow with those who walk beside you, that lizard bastard had said. Don’t tell me where to walk, Willem thought, but couldn’t express his indignation in words. If he had reacted like that, it would mean recognizing that he had those intentions from the beginning. Although he was probably way past the stage at which he should care about recognizing it or not, given that he had just exposed that disgraceful, messy side of himself, there was still some line that he couldn’t bring himself to cross.
“Um…” a timid voice broke the silence, only to be soon cut off by Willem.
“Sorry but I have something to attend to. We’ll talk while walking.”
The post-rain old capital had a whole different appearance about it than the previous day. The brick roads and leftover rain puddles glittered brightly, reflecting the afternoon sun’s rays. Sculptures placed at various points all over town, engulfed in faint light and vague shadows, carried a somewhat divine air surrounding them.
Aiseia let out a huge, entirely unladylike yawn. The clear, chilly air filled her lungs, washing away the bits of drowsiness lingering in the corners of her head. “Nice town, huh?” she said while stretching. “Is it even okay for us to be doing this? Walking around the town like normal people and all… our movements outside the 68th Island are supposed to be restricted.”
“Right now you guys are on duty. You even received orders directly from the noble 1st Officer himself…”
“Nah, that’s just Kutori. Besides, strictly speaking, we’re weapons, so even if we can be given orders on the battlefield, we can’t officially accept a mission, right?”
“– Then you guys are under my command. That oversized lizard had to leave due to unavoidable circumstances, so he delegates all command authority to the Second Technician… something like that.”
“Hmm… a rather scheming plot.”
“I know right? Can’t believe he calls himself a warrior.”
“No, I meant the Second Technician making this story up.”
“That’s upsetting. How could you say such a thing to such a pretty, pure hearted young man?”
“Shameless…” Aiseia laughed.
Willem also let out a chuckle, half in desperation. Suddenly, a gentle warmth enveloped his left arm. Turning around, he saw an expressionless Nephren wrapping her arms around his.
“Can I ask why you’re suddenly holding on to me?”
“… It’s easier to relax when you’re warm, isn’t it?” she replied with a face that said, ‘why bother to ask such an obvious thing?’ “Right now you need the warmth of a person’s skin. My body temperature is a little higher than average, so I’m just right for the job.” She spoke with a courteous and kind voice, like that used when scolding a misbehaved child.
“Well, I’m thankful for your concern, but…” The concern was indeed welcomed, but the action taken out of that concern, not so much. Nephren’s body still didn’t have any ups and downs, so at least there was no awkwardness stemming from that kind of thing. Willem, being a young man, was thankful for that.
He scratched his cheek with one of his free fingers. “I’m fine now, so let go. I don’t think I can handle the attention from onlookers much longer.” He could hear beast people giggling as they passed by. To them, the pair of markless most likely looked like close family or something.
“…” Nephren stared straight into Willem’s eyes, then decided, “You’re acting tough. Can’t let go yet.”
“I think this situation right now is going to make me cry,” Willem said with a sigh. Seriously. “Hey, Kutori. You say something too.” Turning his head around, he spotted Kutori shuffling along with her head faced down. At his call, she looked up and slightly opened her mouth. She seemed to be searching for words, but came up empty. Suddenly her face turned red, and she turned away with a hmph.
“The heart of a maiden is a complicated thing,” remarked Aiseia.
Willem started to comment on the maiden’s heart as well, but gulped down the words at the last second. There was no telling what kind of teasing could follow, and, besides, getting the apparently very worried Nephren to let go of his arm was much more important.
Their surprise reunion, and his revealing of that disgraceful and ugly side of himself at the same time, had knocked a good chunk of stuff out of order. So he had yet to say ‘welcome home’ to them, and he had also yet to hear them say ‘I’m back’. Of course, it was too late now for that kind of conversation. It’s not like he had wanted to act out such an emotionally charged reunion. But he also couldn’t say that he would only have been satisfied if he welcomed them home all cool and calm. He should have been satisfied just being able to confirm that they returned home safely, and, of course, he had no objections with the outcome.
So, well… making a couple of embarrassing or uncomfortable memories wasn’t such a bad tradeoff. He well understood that, but still…
“Does it really look like I’m trying that hard to act tough?” he asked quietly, and Nephren gave a small nod in return.
“You two really are alike,” Aiseia poked fun with a laugh.
For some reason, looking at that smile, Willem felt that her expression today felt strangely artificial.
The young beast lady, who identified herself as Firacolulivia Dorio, shared her story along the way.
“Hm? Dorio… could you be…?”
“Yes. My father is the current mayor of Collinadiluche,” she responded casually to Aiseia’s question.
Either because of the discipline learned from her parents, or because she had just naturally been born that way, the young lady’s emotional fluctuations were hard to discern. Having been rejected by the ‘uncle’ she had been counting on, and on top of that being forced to work with an odd group of total strangers, she couldn’t possibly be totally at ease. However, so far no signs of distress or irritation had surfaced on her face or in her voice.
“Ah, I see.”
According to her, the mayor was a merchant who worked his way up to the top over the years, and he had Firu (a nickname requested by the young lady herself on account of her real one being too long) when he was already quite old. The city had originally been ruled by an aristocracy; the role of mayor had only just been introduced about ten years prior. As a result, the number of people unsatisfied with the current political system, a good portion of which are the old aristocrats, is more than just a few. To them, a mere merchant playing around as mayor was an unforgivable enemy.
“Hmm.” Willem half listened to the explanation, only bothering to put in the occasional nod to make it seem like he was paying attention.
“So what was the letter you mentioned earlier?” Kutori moved the conversation along. Despite having been randomly given full responsibility for a random job, she seemed to be taking it pretty seriously.
“… It was a threat from a faction trying to overthrow my father and put one of the old aristocrats in as mayor. They believe that my father’s presence is a disgrace to the tradition and history of the city, and they will use any method to eliminate him.”
“Hmm.” Willem felt like he heard this story before — oh yeah, he just heard it yesterday from the doctor. Judging by those gunshots, unfitting of the quiet town, the scope of the aforementioned ‘any method’ was quite wide.
“At the end of next week, the reconstruction of the Central Church will finish, and a ceremony to commemorate it will be held. There, my father plans to speak about the future that this city should strive for. A future in which doors are open for all races and this city acts as a trade hub connecting the islands. Most likely, the faction I told you about earlier plans to attack the ceremony and threaten all of Father’s allies using their pawns, The Order of Annihilation Service History.”
“That name sounds like it was made up by a buncha teenagers that’ll regret their choice in five years or so.”
Apparently, Aiseia shared Willem’s opinion on this point.
“Of course, a minimal level of security will be present. However, considering the way that the Order does things, I fear it will not be enough. That’s why I wanted to receive help from Uncle, or rather First Officer Limeskin, but…”
“What do you think?” Willem turned towards his left arm and asked.
“No good,” Nephren answered immediately. “The Winged Guard as an organization exists to defend against invaders from outside Regul Aire. It cannot interfere with the political matters of individual cities. There have been cases when an individual or group very clearly disrupted public order and nearby Winged Guard soldiers went to suppress them, but those should be treated as rare exceptions. Even if we know some trouble is going to occur beforehand, that still does not give grounds for dispatching soldiers while nothing has actually happened yet. That would be seen as an interference with political matters.”
“Well, there you have it. The mayor probably knew all that, which is why he didn’t ask that giant lizard for reinforcements himself.”
“But… justice is obviously on our side. Why must restrictions be placed on those trying to eliminate evil harmful to our world?”
“Because justice isn’t a good reason to pick up a weapon.” Willem interjected sharply. “In fact, it’s the opposite. The word justice is flung around to justify the use of weapons. The real reason someone wants to beat up their opponent is always different. Always. They want to steal. They want to look down on others. They want to feel superior. They don’t like the look of something. They want to erase something. They want to relieve stress. Or maybe a combination of those.” Waving his hands about, he went on, as if reciting an ancient poem.
“But they don’t want to admit it. They want to feel good, not guilty, while beating up their opponents with full strength. In those kinds of times, in order to deceive themselves or their allies, they hoist the flag named justice. Everyone and their mother starts doing that without even realizing it, then a bunch of guys who believe in their so-called justice start beating each other up, and that’s how you get a war. That’s how it’s been since long ago.”
“That’s…” Firu opened her mouth, then fell silent.
— What is it? thought Willem. The value of justice is decided by the persuasive power it gives you to get others involved and the strength of your willingness to depend on it. If one truly believes from the bottom of their heart in their justice, then it has plenty of meaning. However, no matter how meaningful it may be, that justice alone will never be enough to get the Winged Guard moving. That being said, if the justice that Firu believed in was fragile enough to be shattered by some lazy remarks from a guy she just met today, it would have been a little disappointing.
“Well, at any rate, if the ceremony’s next week then we can’t come no matter what kind of problems need resolving. We have our own things to deal with. Right now we have to pick up a little kid from the doctor and get on an airship home by evening.”
“… I see.” Firu cast her eyes down.
“Wait a second wait a second, Mr. Technician. I have two questions.” Aiseia pulled on Willem’s right sleeve.
“What you just said… isn’t there a slight contradiction, you know, you having fought as one of the Braves, the noble defenders of the Emnetwyte? The representatives of justice, right?”
“There’s no justice or any of that crap in a struggle for survival. If we let our guard down we would have been wiped out — all we were doing was desperately trying to prevent that. Wanting to live on is just an instinct, and if you start to view instinct and justice as the same thing then there’s no such thing as crime anymore.”
“… Hmm. Well, putting the logic aside, I think I understand how you feel about this.” Aiseia nodded.
Nephren’s grip, still holding fast to Willem’s left arm, tightened slightly.
“Another question. We heard her story, but you’re still pretty cold to that Firacolulivia girl. I seem to remember you saying that you couldn’t leave a cute girl in distress alone, or something else creepy like that while trying to sound cool.”
“Don’t call it creepy.” Willem was aware, but it still hurt.
“It must be about age, right? If she’s older than me then she doesn’t count as a girl anymore… or something like that?”
“How biased do you think my tastes are…” He had been suspected of such things in the past, but it wasn’t true. Definitely not true. “No, it’s not that… it’s just…”
Just… what, exactly? Something that refused to be put into words clinged onto the inside of his throat.
“– No matter who I’m dealing with, I don’t want to agree with anything except things that I can’t agree with.”
Willem himself didn’t really know what he just said. As expected, Aiseia raised one eyebrow and made a questioning face.
“…” For some reason, Nephren nodded.
“Now, putting that aside, we have a little time before we need to be at the treatment facility.”
Figuring out how to deal with just a little free time is always difficult. They didn’t have enough time to plan out a sightseeing route, but, on the other hand, just walking around aimlessly seemed like a waste.
— Just then, a delicious smell tickled the tip of his nose. Spinning his head around to locate the source, Willem spotted a cart by the side of the road, which appeared to be selling fried mutton and diced potatoes wrapped in large vegetable leaves. The stimulating aroma of the spices forcibly aroused his appetite. His stomach rumbled loudly.
“Say…” Willem turned around to the girls. “Want to get some? I still haven’t eaten breakfast.”
“Ah, good idea. We’ve just been eating soldier rations up until yesterday, so something flavorful would be greatly welcomed,” Aiseia responded absentmindedly.
Nephren didn’t say anything, so she probably wasn’t against it. And right as Kutori was about to speak,
“– Wait right there, please.” A weak, but sharp, voice sounded.
For a moment, Willem actually had no idea who the voice belonged to. Feeling chills creep up his spine, he slowly turned around. Standing there was the figure of an expected, yet unexpected, person: Firacolulivia Dorio. Even after having her in his field of view for a while, his instincts continued to doubt whether it was really her or not. Her presence seemed completely different from before. He couldn’t believe he was looking at the same person.
“The spices are obviously overdone, and they don’t have their operating license stuck to the front of their cart. No question about it, that store sells the crudest meat allowed by the law.”
Somewhere along the way, her voice had regained its strength. Slightly overwhelmed, Willem shrunk back a bit.
“On top of that, their prices are higher than normal. Any local would instantly recognize that something is off, but tourists are easily fooled into buying and eating their inferior meat. If those kind of businesses continue, the entire city will earn a bad reputation. No matter how much Father tries to drive them away, those kinds of people always pop up.” An unsteady light burned in her eyes. Her body shook faintly like a ghost’s. “This way,” she said, then started walking off.
“If you eat there, the crude taste will taint your memories of Collinadiluche’s cuisine. I cannot allow that; it would be an embarrassment to Uncle. Please follow me. I will show you genuine Collinadiluche style lamb.” With large strides, Firu set off into an alley.
“… That surprised me,” Nephren murmured in an entirely unsurprised sounding voice. “Well there she goes. What we should do?”
“It looks like we don’t have much of a choice.”
“That’s what I’m thinking too… Kutori?”
Upon having her name called, Kutori, who had been staring absentmindedly at her feet, abruptly faced upward, as if flicked on the forehead.
“You okay? You’ve been quiet as a stone statue for a while.” ‘That’s pretty quiet’, he heard Aisea remark. “If you’re still tired say so, okay? No need to push yourself so hard when you’re not on the battlefield.”
“No, it’s not that…” She shook her head. “Sorry for making you worry.”
Her anger seemed to have calmed down, but something was still off.
“If leftover Venom is still lingering in your body, I can fix it for you like before, you know?”
“Fix–” Kutori gave Willem a blank look for a second, then suddenly turned bright red. “– No, no! If you do that now, my back will probably break!” she said, feverishly waving her hands back and forth.
“Whatcha guys talkin’ about? The ‘fix’.”
“No! Don’t ask!”
“Well… with a reaction like that it’s impossible not to. What is it… could it be you actually really want to talk about it so you’re trying in a roundabout way to get us to ask?”
“No! I mean what I mean! It’s really nothing. Nothing, okay!?”
“You’re digging yourself into a deeper and deeper hole with every word. Maybe you’ll break through the bottom of the island if ya keep going.”
“No!!” And right as Kutori raised her voice in protest,
“– Excuse me.” A soft voice, cold as ice, interrupted.
Willem turned around. On the border between the main road and an alley, there stood the figure of a young beast lady, her face as terrifying as a demon’s.
“I believe I told you to follow me.”
“Verysorrywewillgowithyouimmediately!” The four of them practically leaped into the alleyway and followed after Firu.
They were led to a butcher’s shop, packed snugly in the corner of a small plaza.
“It’s not a cart or something?”
“Of course there are many good food carts, but if you’re looking for cheap and delicious lamb at this time, around this neighborhood, there is only one real answer. Any local, even a five year old child, knows this.”
“Damn, five year olds around here must be pretty smart.” Willem paid the Ballman store owner, who silently handed over a wrap of mutton noticeably larger than the one they saw at that cart. Then, he took a bite. “It’s good.”
“Right?” Firu looked proud of herself.
“Keeping the sharp spices to a moderate amount and mixing in sour herbs… I see. With this seasoning, you can eat this huge amount with no problem.”
“Right? Right?” Nodding feverently, Firu turned to the Ballman butcher and gave him a thumbs up. The Ballman, still staying silent, returned the gesture.
… Hm? A feeling of uneasiness suddenly crept up on the back of his neck. The faint presence of malice and ill will lingered about the air. At first, he thought it might be the something something knight order again, but it was a different feeling than what he got yesterday when he first arrived. That time, it was unclear who the malice was directed towards, but this time–
“– Hey, Firacolulivia.”
“I said to call me Firu.”
“That’s right. Hey, Firu. Do you like this town?”
Her large eyes blinked once in confusion. “What do you mean, all of a sudden?”
“Just answer. Do you?”
A brief silence.
“Yes. I think this is the best city, with no equal.”
“Is that because it has four hundred years of history? Because it’s the largest city? Because its economy is prosperous? Because its food is good?”
“You ask some annoying questions.”
“I get that a lot.” Chuckling, he took another bite out of his lamb wrap.
“… All of those things you just listed are unmistakably essential pieces of this city’s charm. But, I do not think any one of them particularly stands out to me.”
The vegetables used to wrap the meat also had some tricks put into them. Upon each bite, the flavor changed slightly. While venturing on that journey of taste with his tongue, somewhere along the way all the food in his hands had disappeared. He had just downed a sizable amount, but he immediately longed for the next bite. So this was true Collinadiluche style lamb. Willem could see why Firu recommended it so much, even going so far as to change her entire personality for a moment.
“… I do not know of any city besides here.” She continued her answer, carefully and slowly choosing her words. “This is my precious hometown, and the entirety of the world that I know. So I love this city as much as I love this world.”
“Whoa there, getting a little sentimental.”
“You’re the one who asked!” Firu exclaimed in protest, her cheeks flushing red (although it’s hard to tell from above her fur). “You really are annoying. Is it fun getting me to divulge my innermost feelings?”
“I won’t deny it,” Willem said, licking a leftover drop of grease off his finger. “I’ve tasted some of this town’s delicious cuisine. I’ve met someone who loves this town. Compared to a little while ago when we were talking about what justice is or whatever, I think I’m a little more in the mood to do something to help this town out.”
“And what do you mean by that?”
“Exactly what it sounds like. Well, let’s put that aside for now. If you’re free after this, will you do me a favor?”
“… What is it?”
Watching Firu eyeing him suspiciously, trying but failing to guess his intentions, Willem smiled and said, “Give us a little tour of the place.”
“I-It wasn’t scary and it didn’t hurt at all!” Those were the first words that flew out of Tiat’s mouth. “The shots were like nothing to me!” Her face looked like it was about to burst into tears, but…
“I see, I see.” Willem patted her head lightly, which she responded to with a small sniffle.
“She’s very perseverant and straightforward. She’ll make a good soldier.” With a gentle smile on his stern face, the Kikuroppe doctor gave his seal of approval. Putting aside the first part, whether or not the latter was something to be happy about was questionable. “You girls in the back… I’ve treated you all before. Glad to see you’re still doing well.”
“It’s been a while. Thanks to you, we’ve been able to keep fighting,” Kutori alone answered politely and bowed. Aiseia laughed vaguely, and Nephren failed to show any response.
The doctor must have detected something unnatural in their reactions. “Could it be…”
“Ah, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to not say anything further than that, doc.” Aiseia quickly cut off the Kikuroppe’s words.
“What? You guys are hiding something aren’t you?” Willem asked suspiciously.
“It’s not good to stick your head into girls’ affairs like that, Mr. Technician. Keeping a suitable distance between each other is the first step to happiness, you know?”
“Is that so?” Giving up on trying to extract any information from Aiseia, who was obviously trying to cover up something, Willem turned to the doctor. However, all he did was scratch his cheek with a face that said ‘don’t look at me’.
“All I can ask of you is… let’s see… take good care of these children.”
“Well, in the first place, I’m a manager at the fairy warehouse, so taking care of them is part of my job. Or at least, that’s how I see it. So whether you ask me or not, I intend to do that anyway.”
“I see.” The doctor nodded calmly.
Willem noticed that, for some reason, Aiseia was glaring at the Kikuroppe with a hint of hatred in her eyes.
To return home to the 68th Island from Collinadiluche required transferring between countless airships. And those airships happened to be quite infrequent. Of course, the distance also wasn’t nearly short enough that the fairies could just use their wings to fly home. So, essentially, they were stuck in Collinadiluche until the evening, when the next airship they needed was scheduled to depart.
“And that’s why we’re going to use this time to go sightseeing!” Willem proudly declared in front of the five of them: the fairies, who had changed into regular clothes, and Firu.
“Huh?” Kutori muttered.
“Eh?” Aiseia had a ‘what the heck is this guy saying’ face.
“Ooh.” Nephren had an unusually joyful expression.
“…” Firu remained silent.
“Yayy!!” Tiat clapped her hands furiously.
“You guys can’t move freely outside home, so this kind of opportunity is rare, right? On top of that, you just got back from fighting, so a little relaxation can’t hurt.”
“Wait, wait. What about the Dug Weapons?” Aiseia gave the bundle of cloth she carried on her back — which contained a large enchanted sword — a little rustle. “Not quite in the mood to walk around with this heavy thing.”
“We can keep them at the treatment facility and just get them on the way back.”
“They’re super expensive, super important and precious secret weapons, but…”
“That’s why we can leave them with people who understand how much they’re worth. They’re not something a petty thief would be looking for. Don’t worry.”
“Well, that’s true…”
“I would be happy if I could see a lot of places, but…” Nephren peered into Firu’s face. “Is that okay with you, Firu?” They had just refused to help Firu a little while ago. There was no way she could be very happy about being asked to be their tour guide. “I don’t see any reason you have to follow us anymore.”
Firu sighed. “You people have been exposed to a dark side of this city. If you left now, you may go with the false impression that this is a town full of violence and scheming. Part of the fault lies with me, who carelessly asked an unreasonably favor of you.” As she talked, strength flowed into her voice. The fist she held by her chest tightened, and the flame in her eyes burned brighter.
“Ah, Firu? Hello? Firu?” Aiseia seemed a bit confused at Firu’s sudden change in mood.
“I will not accept that. There is no other way than for me to show you the charm of this town myself. To that end, for the rest of today I will do my best to guide you through this wonderful city.”
Aiseia turned towards Willem.
“What did you do to her? Did ya put something into her food earlier?” Aiseia asked suspiciously.
“Hey, don’t speak badly of other people like that. All I did was give her some advice and ask a favor.”
“Ah, so you tricked her.”
Willem sighed. Needless to say, Collinadiluche was a large city. Going around to every famous sightseeing attraction would take more than a day, just taking into account travel times. If you wanted to add art galleries or other museums to your itinerary, it would stretch out to at least a few days. With only half a day, it was necessary to carefully choose places to visit and what transportation to use. And for both of those, a person very knowledgeable about the town would be needed.
So, all Willem did was ask Firu, who fit that criteria, to show them around a little. All of that was true. As for the other stuff, well, he could put that off until later.