The Quasi Brave Who Returned Home
Three days flew by without incident. Or at least, nothing noticeable occurred, like a sudden bloodbath at the orphanage or all the children starting to hurl insults at Willem.
Almaria was scurrying energetically to and fro around the house as usual.
“Welcome back — you’re all covered in mud! Here, wipe it off.”
“Almaria! I need to pee!”
“Okay okay, hold on a second I’m coming.”
“I’m hungry! I need a snack.”
“You just ate lunch, didn’t you? Alright, wait one moment.”
Right, left, up, down, she ran every which way. Willem watched her from the garden as he did some work.
“Well… it’s good that she’s full of energy,” he muttered, then swung his hammer down upon an iron nail with a clank.
“What are you doing?” Nephren appeared beside him.
“Exactly what it looks like. I’m repairing this broken fence.”
“Lies. You were looking at Almaria and smiling.”
“Seeing her just cheered me up, that’s all.”
“Hmm.” With an expression that made it hard to tell whether she believed him or not, Nephren took a seat behind Willem. Then, she leaned against him so that they were back to back and opened a book she probably borrowed from somewhere in the orphanage.
“I can’t work like this.”
Willem set down his hammer. “… you’ve gotten pretty good with the language.”
“I studied it once with Lan, so I know a lot of the basic grammar and vocabulary. After that I just need to listen and speak a lot.”
“Yeah, well usually that part’s not so simple.” Remembering the struggle he went through trying to learn the common language of Regul Aire, Willem smiled bitterly. Also, he found it hard to believe that Nephren was actually practicing that ‘speak a lot’ part. “You can use the common language when you’re talking with me, you know?”
“No.” Nephren shot down Willem’s suggestion. “The key to learning new words is to only use new words. If you run away to words you already know, you’ll forget them all.”
“Serious, huh?” Willem sighed. “If I could give you this language Talisman, that would make things easier. But for some reason it won’t come off.”
“Even if you could, I don’t need it. Convenience is the enemy of growth.”
“Geez, how serious are you?” In front of Willem’s eyes, a half fixed fence. To his right, a hammer. To his left, iron nails. Behind him, Nephren’s warmth. He gazed idly at the sky and answered, “There’s no need to work so hard to learn it, is there? Once you leave this world you’ll never use the language again.”
“But I’ll use it until I leave, right?” Nephren said as she flipped through her book. “You said we would wait. Until our enemy gets impatient and starts interfering with the world. So that leaves plenty of time to use the language.”
Willem did indeed tell Nephren that. Although, at the time he hadn’t been imagining such a long time frame. He figured it would only take half a day or so.
“Besides, there are a lot of interesting things,” Nephren continued.
Nephren’s grammar was a little off, but Willem could tell what she meant. He started to turn around to face her, but, since they were sitting back to back, that caused Nephren to start to fall over. Willem quickly turned back to his original position, where he couldn’t see her expression.
“If this is your dream, then things that you don’t know of shouldn’t appear.”
“Hm, I guess.”
Willem heard the flipping of pages from behind him.
“West Gar… Garm… Garmond Flowing Sands Confederation? Out of the twenty original participating clans, do you know how many members of the royalty were still alive in year 1030 of the empire calendar?”
Nephren’s unexpected question threw Willem into a state of confusion for a moment. Of course, he knew of the West Garmond Flowing Sands Confederation. It referred to the large desert which covered almost the entire western half of the Garmond region and the government of the peoples who lived there. They had deep knowledge of peculiar types of spells, especially existence alteration types. But come to think of it, that was just about all Willem knew about them.
He didn’t recall ever learning about their history or political structure.
“If I read this correctly, that fact is written within this book.”
As Willem explained to Nephren earlier, dream worlds created by such Talents as their enemy surely possessed reflected the target’s memories. As a consequence, things unknown to the victim never appeared inside the fake world.
“Of course, I don’t even know what this West Garmond place is. Which means, there are things written here which neither you nor I know.”
“For real… ouch!” Willem instinctively muttered in the Regul Aire common language, only to receive a nasty pinch in the behind.
“No common language.”
“Okay okay, got it. Anyways, so… what could this mean?”
“Our enemy is interfering?”
Could it be? No, if that were the case Willem wouldn’t understand their enemy’s motives at all. What kind of damaging effect could reading a random unknown fact in a book possibly have on their morale? And if Nephren never started reading that book in the first place, they never would have seen it. Such a minor interference would be meaningless.
“… let’s not worry about it for now.” Willem came to the conclusion that further thought would not yield anything of use.
“Can we afford to do that?”
“It’s better to not go too deep into mystery solving when we have so little information. The more hypotheses and assumptions we make, the harder it’ll be to see the answer later on. Let’s not read too much into things until we get a clearer hint.”
“I see.” Nephren returned to her book without further comment.
“… I can’t work while you’re sitting there.” As before, Willem’s complaint was completely ignored.
Within the territory of the empire were many spots well known for their beautiful scenery. For example, Snowflake Avenue in district one of the imperial capital. Or the Negatis Commemorative Church. Or Fistilas Lake. The Obsidian Tower and Grave of the Twins would have also been included in that list, but they were razed in the fires of war by the other races. Poets praised the empire as the ‘treasure box of the land’, and the peoples’ hearts overflowed with nationalistic pride. That said, however, every tiny bit of the empire wasn’t as refined and filled with beauty as those monuments. No matter how developed the large cities were, the countryside remained the same old countryside.
The city of Gomag belonged to the countryside. It managed to be a little off from all the major trade routes running through the empire, didn’t boast any famous buildings, and didn’t have any particularly famous products. Accordingly, not many tourists or aspiring business owners stopped by. Gomag, situated a fair distance away from the borders, also had no need to fear the fires of war. Its residents saw the same faces, talked about the same things, and went through the same events day after day.
Caught out by a sudden downpour, Willem and Nephren hurried into a nearby cafe to take shelter.
“Wow, look at that.”
Outside, the rain continued to batter down with ever increasing intensity. It limited their visibility, but even so they could make out the figures of people running about hurriedly. A wind had also begun to blow, rendering an umbrella effectively useless.
“Guess we gotta kill time until it stops… hey, can we order?” After a brief glance at the menu, Willem called a waiter. “I’ll have a coffee and… fried potatoes. She’ll have…” He looked over to Nephren and asked in the Regul Aire common language, “You okay with orange juice?”
“I’ll have a coffee too, and also this scone with three varieties of jam.” Nephren completely ignored him and ordered for herself. “No spoiling me.”
“Right.” Willem shrugged. Well, at least she didn’t pinch his butt this time.
“… I know it’s obvious, but everyone here is markless.”
“It’s the same in the fairy warehouse too, isn’t it?”
“I rarely get the chance to see a place with lots of adult or male markless though.”
The markless races tend to have a weaker physique than the others. As a result, not many of them become soldiers in the Winged Guard. To Nephren, who pretty much only ever saw the residents of the 68th Island and the soldiers, this place must seem like some kind of exotic zoo.
“So, did you find any interesting books?”
“I won’t know until I read them. I just grabbed them randomly, so I’m not expecting much.”
A paper bag filled with a few books sat on Nephren’s lap. They had been checking out a nearby bookstore a little before the rain started.
In their current time setting, large printing machines were already being widely used, making books much easier to obtain compared to earlier times when each one needed to be copied by hand. The street they were on also happened to be situated behind the one and only college in Gomag, so there were plenty of bookstores, from fully fledged shops to little stands by the roadside. Needless to say, a wide variety of books lay waiting on the many shelves.
Willem felt like he could see Nephren’s eyes sparkling. Even though she was still relatively unfamiliar with the Emnetwyte language, she seemed to be pretty excited at the chance to read all the new books. They had decided to go shopping with the goal of shedding light on the abnormalities in the world around them. By examining and comparing books which contained information that neither of them knew, they might be able to gain some kind of hint as to their enemy’s motives. But even if that plan failed, just seeing Nephren so happy by itself made their shopping trip worth it already. Willem hid a smile as he thought to himself.
When they entered the cafe, about half of the seats had been filled. Those customers all stayed put because of the rain, so as a result it was getting pretty busy. Naturally, almost all of them were college students. Willem felt that he, who didn’t look like much of an intellectual, and Nephren, who was too young to even pursue academics, stood out from the crowd a bit.
— What would Kutori say about this situation? She would probably look down and ask something like ‘does it look like we’re a couple on a date?’ while blushing. Then Willem would respond ‘probably looks like you’re my younger sister’, and Kutori would say ‘don’t treat me like a kid!’. As the situation played out in his head, his chest tightened.
“Willem?” Nephren asked worriedly.
“It’s nothing.” He must have let his bitter emotions show on his face.
“Did you find out what’s off?”
“Hm? … oh, that.” The world around them was no more than a dream based on someone’s memory with some changes possibly made by the creator. That much they already knew. The problem was after that. “It’s hard. We don’t even know whose memories this world is based off of yet.”
Since they were in his hometown, at first Willem thought it was his memory. But if that were the case, the world wouldn’t contain information he didn’t know. He looked outside the window at the winter streets of Gomag. The green shades of moss growing on the stone pavement. Tiny cracks in the brick walls. Graffiti scattered about here and there.
“Whoever it is, they know more about Gomag than I do, read more books, and must be as familiar with the orphanage as I am. I don’t have a clue who could fit all those conditions.”
“Besides, we were the only ones down there on the land. No one else could’ve been the target of the attack. I have no idea what’s going on.”
Nephren didn’t sound too invested in the conversation. “Hmm? Is that all you have to say?”
“I’m not that interested,” she replied coolly.
Not that interested? If they didn’t solve this problem, they would never be able to go back to reality.
“It’s kinda comfortable here. I wouldn’t mind staying longer,” Nephren added on.
“This is a fake world, filled with fake people. Nothing here is real. Every moment spent here is empty and meaningless.”
“You’re telling me that?”
Willem fell silent. Leprechauns are fake life. Fake Emnetwyte made for the sole purpose of deceiving the Kaliyons. Nothing about them is real. Yet, they unmistakably exist. Second Technician Willem Kumesh couldn’t bring himself to ignore that last point, and so he decided to care for them, defying the empty nature of his job.
“Almaria is here. I am here,” Nephren said.
The people in the dream were probably fake. Fictional beings created for the sole purpose of deceiving the trapped victims. In other words, exactly the same as the fairies in the warehouse.
“The real world, or this one. You can choose which one you like more.”
“… geez, you’re making this a whole lot more difficult for me,” Willem grumbled quietly.
The rain showed no signs of letting up.
As their coffees arrived, Nephren took out one of her shiny new books and immersed herself into reading right away. Willem, who unfortunately didn’t have anything to kill time with, idly stared out the window and listened to the sound of the rain.
He used to hate being bored. Or more like, he couldn’t stand wasting time. After all, he had a goal. And not just any goal, but one so far it was unattainable with a decent amount of hard work. So he went beyond decent. If he had even a tiny bit of free time, he spent it all on improving himself.
In the end, his beyond decent hard work got him to a peculiar gray area which he didn’t know whether to call success or failure. Certainly, having acquired countless skills and studied countless techniques, Willem had grown fairly strong. His diverse arsenal led to consistent results on the battlefield. A few of his comrades said that he could do pretty much anything that any other human could do, and Willem himself felt like he was getting fairly close to that being true.
But still. Willem’s goal was to become a Regal Brave. And that meant not only being able to do anything that others could do, but also things that no one should’ve been capable of. No matter how close Willem got to the pinnacle of humanity, he could never set one foot in the territory above that. Training and studying had no meaning. Or at least, they would never bring him to his goal, no matter how diligently he worked. Yet even after knowing and accepting that fact, Willem couldn’t stop. He didn’t really know why himself. Maybe he just didn’t want to let all his past effort go to waste.
There were times when he thought that maybe it was all pointless. Maybe if he had given up on his impossible dream right away and spent his free time like a normal teenage boy, he would’ve gotten to experience more things and lived a more fulfilling life. Maybe he would’ve even gotten better at dealing with girls. Maybe he would’ve been able to actually bring happiness to those who loved him.
A man’s sudden voice cut off Willem’s train of thought. Turning around, he spotted a silver haired young man looking his way with a cheerful smile. The man’s entire body was drenched from the downpour outside.
“Willem! It’s you! It’s been so long! When did you get back to Gomag?”
Nephren stopped reading for a second and gave Willem a look that asked ‘acquaintance?’. Willem nodded.
“Just a few days ago.”
“Oh, never seen her before. A new kid at the orphanage?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
The young man took a seat without bothering to ask for permission and smiled at Nephren. “Nice to meet you. My name is Theodore Brickroad. I’ve been friends with Willem since way back. Everyone I’m close with calls me Ted, so you can call me that too.”
Nephren’s eyes never budged one inch from her book. Completely ignored. Willem thought he saw beads of nervous sweat appear on Ted’s forehead.
“You look like you’re doing well, Ted.” Willem broke the awkward silence.
“Ah, indeed I have! I’ve leveled up quite a lot too!”
“Level…” Willem thought for a bit. “… ah, you became an adventurer?”
The adventurers made a living by putting themselves in danger. They fought against the Monstrous, explored the mysterious Mazes, and risked their lives bringing down the Dragons. Of course, all those missions, being extremely dangerous, offered attractive rewards to those brave, or perhaps foolish, enough to accept them.
“You didn’t know!?” Ted exclaimed.
“No. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in Gomag, and I have no interest in you.”
“At least pretend to know! Honesty is a virtue, but sometimes the truth hurts too much, you know!?”
Hahaha. This guy. “Well? What level are you now?” Willem asked.
An adventurers ‘level’ indicated his skill in battle and extent of his training. The higher, the better. A regular civilian would rank around 2 or 3. A capable soldier, around 10. One who lived and died for battle would reach around 30. That was considered to be a sort of upper limit for what humanity could reach. To reach beyond that number, one would need to step outside of the framework of a human.
“I’m level 8,” Ted responded.
Fairly average for your everyday adventurer. Taking his young age into account, it might even be a little on the high side. Ted’s level was something he could be proud of.
“Oh by the way, I’ve heard that your level is really high, even beyond the level 30 wall.”
“Ah… well, yeah…”
Willem wasn’t an adventurer himself, but he often fought alongside them, so he had his level estimated a few times. The last time he got it checked, his level was 69. Needless to say, everyone nearby was astounded at that ridiculous number.
“Wow, that’s amazing. Are there special training methods that the Church of Holy Light teaches only to Braves or something?”
“No, not really.” Willem took a sip of his coffee. “Besides, it’s just a number. Do you want it that bad?”
Certainly, level served as an indicator of one’s strength. But conversely, it was no more than a single indicator. There were plenty of low levels that proved themselves useful on the battlefield, and, unfortunately, there were even more of the opposite. Willem never thought of it as something to worry too much about.
“Of course I want it. For us adventurers, our level determines our salary too. If your level isn’t high enough, you can’t get information on the high reward missions.”
Ah, I see. So that’s how the Guild prevented needless deaths. The idea of an adventurer not allowed to get close to danger did seem amusing though.
“If you really just want to raise your level, it’s not that hard. Just keep brute forcing your way through difficulties and it’ll go up all on its own.”
“They’re called ‘difficulties’ for a reason…”
“… anyways, it’s not exactly a secret trick, but I have an idea of how to level up fast.”
“Really?!” Ted leaned forward in excitement.
“Let’s see… somewhere close to here… ah, that’s right. In the city of Alvalie there’s this guy called the Holy Blade of the West gathering disciples. Go there, and learn the ‘final secret techniques’.”
“Final secret techniques?”
“Once you start training, you either master the techniques and go home, or you die. It’s one of those kinda deals.”
“… die?” A hint of skepticism began to show in Ted’s voice.
“It was a sort of compound of multiple different skill types that let you crush an opponent’s innards even from above their armor. Guys with some sense could usually grasp the technique when driven to the brink of death, and guys without sense, well, they never got to learn it.”
“… um?” Uneasiness now clearly showed in Ted’s voice.
“Now as for the training itself, it was a real deal Dragon takedown.”
“I’d definitely die. There’s no way I would survive for five seconds.”
“Well technically it’s a subspecies of Dragon, but still a Dragon. So basically ridiculously strong, scales tough as steel, resistant to regular weapons… the only way to survive is to reach enlightenment and acquire the secret technique during battle, then use it right away to kill the Dragon. Or that’s how it’s supposed to be anyways. That enlightenment never came to me.”
“… huh?” Ted’s eyes opened wide. “Ah, did you use some kind of sneaky trick?”
“I suppose you could call it that. Since I couldn’t use the secret technique, I just killed it with brute force.”
“They said the Dragon was resistant to regular weapons, but apparently that meant weapons just had a very tiny effect, not no effect at all. I tried all sorts of skills, and after about a week the tiny wounds accumulated and the Dragon just fell down.”
“As I said, as long as you keep brute forcing your way through difficulties, your level will go up. I think just from that my level increased by 10. That Holy Blade guy was speechless, to say the least.”
“…… I would be too.” For some reason, Ted’s voice sounded exhausted.
When Willem’s master and Leila heard about that little ordeal, they exploded in laughter, saying something like ‘people with no sense sure have it rough’. Rude bastards.
“If you keep doing things like that, your level and the number of dojos you’re banned from will steadily increase. Using forbidden spells is also a good method. They’re easy to use, but the backlash can be pretty nasty. If you can endure that, though, you can get about two or three levels.” Willem smiled broadly at Ted. “If you want, I write you some referral letters.”
“No, sorry but I think I will pass. I want to live a steady life.”
Then why the hell did you become an adventurer? “So what do you plan on doing once your level’s higher?”
“Well, you know…” For some reason, Ted’s cheeks flushed red, and he scratched them nervously as he spoke. “Then I’ll be able to propose to Almaria.”
“Oookay I’ll introduce you to a training program that’ll get you 50 levels instantly so prepare your last will and testament.”
“Sorry I won’t do that please forgive me.” Ted backed his chair away from Willem, only to have a waiter tell him to stop.
— Willem suddenly felt like some sharp object grazed against the back of his neck.
“… Willem?” Ted asked.
“Ah, sorry. I need to go.” Rubbing his nape with his palm, Willem stood up.
Nephren looked up from her book. “Are you going somewhere?”
“Yeah, it looks like I have one more old friend to meet… Ted, sorry but can you take this one home to the orphanage?” he said, then left the cafe.
“Huh? Uh… Willem?”
Willem ignored Ted’s confused voice and kept on walking. The rain still hadn’t let up, but now was not the time to be worrying about that.
An old memory suddenly ran through Willem’s mind.
The setting was a little more than 527 years ago, a few days before he and six others gathered to defeat Visitor Elq Harksten.
“I don’t really like big swords,” Leila said. According to her, she preferred a length about as long as her arm and a weight light enough to swing around easily with one hand. In other words, an anti-humanoid longsword with which she could use the wide range of skills she learned from her parents, teacher, and master (apparently those last two were different people).
Kaliyons, on the other hand, were huge swords made to kill those who far surpassed the humans. Kind of like a stepping stool to help the weakling Emnetwyte stand as tall as possible. So Leila didn’t like them very much.
Willem understood what she was trying to say. He understood, but at the same time, he wasn’t so sure if the current Regal Brave and chosen user of the legendary Seniolis should be saying such a thing. Countless people in the world longed to be chosen by a strong Kaliyon but remained unchosen and longed to hold great power but remained unable to attain it. For one who had both to speak lightly of them would not sit very well with all those people. If Leila said such things publicly, some angry guy just might stab her one day. Actually, Willem wanted to stab her right that instant.
“… so I challenged her to a practice duel and got destroyed,” Willem groaned to Navrutri, who didn’t look very impressed.
Shining Staff into Bear Palm. Fox Tail into Needle Elbow. Demolishing Nightingale Dash into Frolicking Iron Bell Smash. All the skills Willem worked so hard to learn from Hilgram were no match for the special perception ability granted only to the chosen Regal Brave. Using that Abyssal Eye, as it was apparently called, she saw right through all of Willem’s moves and swiftly countered them. He even tried using the ‘Blazing Sun Walk’ and ‘Footsteps of the North Star’ which he learned from Navrutri, but it was no use. The wall of the Regal Brave’s talent and skill towered high above Willem’s head.
“Willem, I think you’re misunderstanding something,” Navrutri said with an exaggerated sigh. “Us men cannot win against women. No matter how many times you challenge them, you’ll never come close. All we can do is beg for their love.”
“I was stupid to think I’d get any serious advice out of you.” Willem groaned again.
“No no, I’m being very serious. I think this issue may be due to a difference in swordsmanship.” Navrutri sliced the air with his finger, as if brandishing an imaginary sword. “Your style of fighting is suited for battle. The aim is to chip away at your enemy’s strength, dish out large amounts of damage, and destroy. You could say it’s a style that classifies everything in front of you into two categories: things that you can kill, and things that you can’t. It rejects any more information than that.”
“Is that bad?”
“No, it’s standard for a warrior. No one’s going to find fault in that style.” Navrutri shrugged. “But you don’t actually want to defeat Leila, so that style isn’t really suited for such an opponent.”
“… well if I could defeat her then I’d like to try, but…”
“Indeed that is every man’s dream, but alas a futile one. I’ll cheer you on though. From a safe place off in the shadows.”
“So if my swordsmanship is suited for battle, then what about Leila?”
“Hmm, her style closely resembles Nils’. Maybe she learned well from him because she’s obedient at heart, or maybe her personality’s just made from the same stuff as his.”
Nils D Foreigner. Leila’s master, and Willem’s ‘good-for-nothing master’.
“Not wanting to get hurt, and not wanting to hurt others, yet taking up the sword because there’s no other choice… typical case of a coward’s swordsmanship.”
Willem arrived in a narrow alleyway and stopped walking. A silver blade suddenly appeared pressed right up against the back of his neck. A thin stream of blood seeped out, only to be washed away by the rain.
“Hey,” he called out calmly. “A rather old fashioned way to invite someone to talk, don’t you think? It’s not like we’re strangers, if you want to talk you can just tell me with words, you know?”
“… it’s not a subject I want to discuss in front of people.” A man wearing a black water repellant robe appeared behind Willem and answered casually. “Before we rekindle old friendships, there are a few things I want to ask you. I would be grateful if you could answer honestly, Willem.”
“Well, go ahead. You know I’m bad at hiding things, don’t you?”
“First question,” the man continued, ignoring Willem’s playful comments. “Why are you here?”
“… well, Gomag is my hometown, you know? If you ask me, it’s way more unnatural that you’re here.”
“I guess you didn’t understand my question.” The blade grazing Willem’s neck bit slightly deeper. “That day of the final battle, you and Ebon Candle simultaneously defeated each other in your fight. Why are you suddenly here now?”
For a second, Willem failed to comprehend the question. Then, the moment he grasped the meaning in those words, he realized that he had forgotten to think about one very important point up until now. He had gotten so caught up on the fact that the world was simply a dream that he forgot to confirm exactly when the dream was set.
From what the man just said, Willem could infer a few things. First, the world was set at a time after they went to defeat the Visitors, but before the 17 Beasts appeared. Second, Willem never returned home from that battle — most likely, his body was now a chunk of stone rolling around on the battlefield. And lastly, the world was not just based off of Willem’s memory, as he and Nephren had suspected. Besides the unknown facts in the books, he now knew that the world was progressing through a time in which he never experienced for himself back then.
What the heck is going on? Willem most likely spent only a few seconds lost in thought. The man behind him, apparently taking that silence as some kind of answer, withdrew the blade from Willem’s neck.
“… are you sure it’s okay to let me go? I still haven’t given you an answer.”
“I wasn’t intending to threaten you in the first place. Against the strongest Quasi Brave, this blade is no more useful than a toy sword.”
“Strongest?” Willem chuckled. “It feels wrong to be called that by you, Navrutri.”
Slowly, Willem turned around. The man took off the hood of his water resistant robe, revealing a head of bright red hair and the unshaven face of a man in his thirties.
Navrutri Teigozak. A Quasi Brave recognized by the Church of Holy Light. Hailing from one of the clans of West Garmond, his weapon of choice was his clan’s hereditary dual curved blades. When it came time to stand against stronger enemies, however, he unsheathed his beloved Kaliyon Lapidem Sybilus.
“No need to put so much praise on me,” Willem said. “You’ve been a Quasi Brave for longer, and you’re more skilled. You also wield a higher class Kaliyon than I do.”
Navrutri let out a small laugh. “The fact that you’re being serious and not modest when you say that is what makes you scary.”
Willem laughed back. “The fact that you’re being serious and not just teasing when you say that is what makes you annoying.”
A brief silence. The sound of the rain violently hitting the stone paving alone filled the air.
“… yes, that black skull and I defeated each other. I don’t remember what happened after that. When I came to, I was in Gomag. That was in the morning, three days ago.” Willem answered Navrutri’s question from earlier. To honestly tell the full story, he would need to explain that this entire world was fake, and that seemed like a rather difficult task, so he decided to keep those bits hidden. “In fact, I’d like to know what happened myself.”
Willem lightly scratched his rain soaked hair. “How did that battle turn out in the end? Judging by the fact that humanity isn’t extinct yet, I’m guessing that we defeated the Visitors. And now I know that you made it back safely, but what about the others?”
Navrutri didn’t answer.
“And also, what’s with suddenly putting a knife to your comrade’s neck? Explain the situation to me.”
“True World,” Navrutri muttered. A rather embarrassing name for an organization in Willem’s opinion. “You remember, don’t you? What they once did to try to overthrow the capital. The remnants of that group are still trying to carry out their plan.”
Ah. Well, when Willem thought about it, it wasn’t too surprising. This dream world was created based on the past, at a time after their battle with the Visitors, so of course the appearance of the 17 Beasts came next. A few days after that, the town would be devoured, the country would fall into ruin, and the entire race of humans would disappear off the face of the earth. Which meant, the True World guys who created the Beasts were scheming somewhere in the world even as they spoke, poised to bring an end to it all.
Willem felt a little like a prophet. But it did feel kind of strange to know the future for certain. It was like a mix of being omnipotent yet powerless at the same time. If Willem had to say, between pleasant and unpleasant, the feeling leaned heavily towards unpleasant.
Hiding the troubled thoughts running through his head behind a straight face, Willem asked, “And how is True World related to you being here?”
“True World has either a Brave or a former Brave among them.”
“– What?” That was news to Willem, and unexpected news at that. “I would say that’s a lie, but I know you’re not the type to act on unreliable information. Which means you have a good source. And since you’re not hiding the news, you must have judged that slowing the traitor’s actions by making him be more careful is more important than actually discovering his identity or preventing the Quasi Braves from becoming suspicious of each other.”
“You pick up fast, as always,” Navrutri said. “Now if only you could read women that well, you’d be more popular.”
Shut up. Willem didn’t particularly want to be popular with the ladies, but being told that by Navrutri, who was always boasting about his numerous lovers, made him extremely frustrated.
“Judging by your reaction, I think I can assume you have no ties with True World.” Navrutri spread out his hands, and the silver knife he held in his right hand just moments ago disappeared as if in a magic trick. “But, I’m guessing you weren’t entirely honest. I think we both know you didn’t just wake up three days ago.”
… he picks up fast, as always. And he can read women that well too. Damn it.
“Alright, Willem. You are free from suspicion, for the time being. Do me a favor by not standing out too much until this situation settles down,” Navrutri said, then turned around.
“You sure you don’t need any help?”
“My job right now is to doubt my comrades. I can’t entrust my back to someone who I can’t say is innocent with 100% certainty,” Navrutri responded with his defenseless back faced towards Willem. He couldn’t tell whether that was on purpose or not.
“… I suppose I can give you one more answer. The only ones who survived the battle with the Visitors and the Poteau were me and Leila only. Well, and I guess you too.”
“… I see.” Willem had already heard the outcome from the Great Sage, Suwon. So of course the news wasn’t surprising, but still it dampened his mood.
“The only bodies we were able to recover were Suwon’s and Emissa’s. Suwon cast some kind of complicated spell on himself, so his body is currently safely stored away in the church’s underground sanctuary.”
What are you doing, Great Sage? This isn’t the time to be taking a leisurely nap. Apparently, Suwon’s self resuscitation spell hadn’t kicked in quite yet.
“I think that’s about all I can tell you for now. When all this is over, I’ll tell you the rest over some drinks,” Navrutri said, then started walking off.
“Hey, Navrutri.” Driven by impulse, Willem called out to the back of his old comrade. “Ah… how have you been?”
Navrutri stopped for a brief moment and answered, “Just fine.” Then, he disappeared off into the heavy rain.
Willem gazed up at the sky.
Even in this dream world, the drops falling on his skin felt as cold as ever.
A loud sneeze echoed throughout the narrow alley.