Those Who Should Be Protected
Willem didn’t know the exact date, but sometime soon the 17 Beasts were due to appear in this world. A few days after that, everything would be gone. Navrutri was currently working to stop that, but, well, it was probably no use. The world would be destroyed. That’s what history said.
“What to do…”
While it was just a dream world, if they died it might have some negative effect on their real selves. They needed to find a way out before the Beasts came.
Guess I’ll put a little more effort into it.
Someone had made this world and trapped Willem and Nephren in it with the intention of keeping them for eternity, or at least that was the probable situation. If that was true, their enemy would surely come at them in an obvious attempt to break their will before the Beasts appeared and killed them. If they could detect that, they had a good chance at escaping.
Under the shade of a tree in the garden, Nephren was reading a book. She flipped through the pages one by one with her usual expressionless face. Off to the side, a group of boys hid in the shadows of another tree and observed Nephren.
“What is this,” Willem said as he watched from within the orphanage.
“I think it’s pretty clear what it is.” Almaria stood beside Willem and let out a rather unrefined laugh. “Nephren’s super popular, you know? She’s quiet, mysterious, and really good at sword fighting.”
Willem could understand now that Almaria pointed it out. Nephren really didn’t speak very much, it was always hard to tell what she was thinking, and her skills with a sword didn’t need any explanation.
“So small, yet so much stronger than level 8 me. Kinda makes me lose self confidence…”
Willem thought he heard something. He decided to ignore it.
“Yep, so it’s only natural that our boys are interested in her. It would be nice if they could play together. She is a little hard to approach, though, so that’s why they’re waiting for the right opportunity like that,” Almaria said.
“… I see. They admire her like a pretty older sister.”
“Ahaha, yeah something like that.”
It felt strange to have Nephren be in the older sister position, but to the boys, who were even younger, just about everyone was older.
“So they’ve gotten to the age when they start thinking about that kind of thing, huh. How adorable.”
“Are you really in a position to be talking about it like that, father?” Almaria said teasingly. “Did you even find a girlfriend or fiancee?”
“Ah…” Kutori’s face flashed into his mind for an instant. “… I found a really nice girl, and, after a lot happened, I ended up proposing to her.”
Almaria and one insignificant other froze in shock.
“O-Oh, really? Is it someone I know? Could it be Leila? Emi? Suwon?? … it’s not Nephren, right?”
“Wait, there were some weird names in that list.”
Leila was, well, Leila, Emissa had a boyfriend, Suwon was a guy, and Nephren was a kid. None of them were viable options for a proposal.
“Oh, you said you met the imperial princess a while back, didn’t you? … could it be?”
“That’s too far of a jump…” Willem gave Almaria a little poke on the forehead. “It’s someone you don’t know. She’s straightforward and dedicated and kind and spoiled and uncompromising and simple and an idiot and simple and an idiot.” He didn’t think he said too much. He could even add on another set of simple and an idiot.
“… hmm.” Almaria peered into Willem’s face. “I see. So you two are alike.”
“Whoa wait a second, how’d you get to that conclusion?”
“Bring her over sometime, okay? I’ll tease her to the best of my ability.”
Bringing Kutori here to meet everyone… if only he could. Kutori and Almaria would probably get along well. They grew up in a similar environment and worried over similar troubles. Their main topic of conversation would probably be bad mouthing Willem, but…
“Ah, they’re moving,” Almaria said.
They returned their attention to the group of boys out in the garden. They walked up to Nephren, pushed a toy sword onto her, grabbed her by the hand, and pulled her up as they all clamored on about something. And just like that, Nephren was forced into play sword fighting.
“Ooh, pretty assertive.”
“They don’t know how to treat girls at all. They take after you in that respect.”
“Hey, I don’t go that far.”
“Yeah you do, you just do it differently.”
Willem found it oddly difficult to argue with that. He had no choice but to shut up. The wind carried the dull sounds of clashing toy swords over to where he and Almaria stood.
“Ah, look look. Falco’s face is soo red,” Almaria exclaimed as she leaned slightly out of the window. “So cute…” she mumbled, her cheeks flushing red with excitement.
“But you’re the cutest…”
Willem heard some stupid mumbling off to the side. “Oh, didn’t know you were here, Ted.”
“I’ve always been here. Also please stop trying to kick me by reflex.”
“It’s impressive you’re able to defend in time, level 8. Next time I won’t hold back. I’ll kick you so hard your level will go up a bit if you survive.”
“So in other words I’ll die!?”
Ted continued skillfully dodging Willem’s repeated kicks. It got kind of fun, so Willem tried gradually raising his speed.
“I see you two are getting along as usual.” Almaria watched them strangely happily.
“So, why are you here anyways, Ted?” Willem asked.
“Just wanted to check in. I was worried, with the recent incidents and all, blgrgh!?”
Willem’s heel found its way into Ted’s side. Somehow, he managed to keep his cheerful smile as he writhed in pain.
“You know, the dream rumors. Haven’t you heard?”
Willem had no idea what Ted was going on about.
“There have been increasing number of reports of people having strange dreams during the past few months. Moreover, the dreams are all the same, so people are saying it’s some sort of omen. It’s becoming a pretty big rumor. And according to the Alliance, it’s happening everywhere throughout the continent.”
“… dream, huh.”
To Willem, this entire world was already a dream. Talking about dreams within dreams seemed like it would get confusing. He kept those thoughts to himself, however.
“There’s more, too.” Ted sat up straight again while rubbing his side. “Recently, more and more people are falling into comas of unknown cause. People without any sort of illness that would cause such a thing just suddenly never wake up one day.”
“Rumors have been going around that the cause of those comas is the dream.”
“… eh.” Almaria, who hadn’t spoken up to that point, shivered slightly.
“Ah, sorry. It’s nothing to get scared over. It’s just a rumor,” Ted answered with a smile, even as sweat streamed down his face from the pain. Willem admitted the guy had guts. “Well, there aren’t exactly a lot of people in comas, and it might just be a coincidence. But still, you can’t help but get interested when you hear those kinds of rumors. So today I came with the excuse of making sure everyone’s doing fine, but I’m really just here to see Alma — ah!”
Dodged again. He had good reactions. Just as Willem was about to send out a follow up attack, the doorbell rang.
“Hm, a guest?”
“Ah, it might be the guy from the new rental library nearby. All they have is difficult books, so I tell him not to come, but whenever they get new books he comes to show me,” Almaria said.
“I’ll get it.” Willem stopped Almaria, who was heading towards the foyer. He would be better suited to deal with an annoying visitor who doesn’t listen.
“Alright, but don’t do anything violent, okay?”
“Who do you think I am?”
“A rash father who knows no limits.”
Almaria knew him well. Well, now that his family understood, Willem would go show that unwelcome visitor what the border between life and death looks like. Cracking his shoulders, he walked over to the entrance. The bell rang once again.
“Coming, coming.” Willem grabbed the doorknob, turned it, and opened the door. “Sorry, but our kids don’t need difficult boo–”
“Hello, Willem.” Willem locked eyes with the visitor. The man smiled teasingly with his facial hair covered mouth. “Long time no see. How’ve you been doing?”
“… ah.” Willem pressed his fingertips against his forehead, trying to suppress a sudden headache. “Long time no see, Navrutri. I’m doing just fine.”
He tried to sound sarcastic, but Navrutri simply said, “Glad to hear that,” then nodded cheerfully.
“Beautiful as always, Almaria.”
“Welcome, Navrutri. Your flattery skills are impressive as always.”
“No, no I’m being honest. A pretty bud blooms into a pretty flower. In another two years, you’ll certainly be a wonderful lady that men won’t be able to resist. I guarantee it.”
“Sure, sure. I’ll believe about half of what you said.”
“Aw, can’t you make that a little higher…”
“… hold on a second.” Willem butted into their conversation. “Aly, you know Navrutri? I don’t recall ever introducing you to this smiling beard man.”
“Recently, he’s been stopping by occasionally. He’s your comrade, isn’t he?”
“… Navrutri. What are you trying to do?” Willem asked suspiciously.
“Well, recently I’ve been in the area on business for the Church a lot. So, I stopped by to see if you or Nils were here. You two were absent a lot, but thankfully I caught you today,” Navrutri responded coolly.
Only a very peculiar person would actually go out of his way to try to meet Nils, that good for nothing master. Willem didn’t quite know how he felt about being grouped together with him.
“Of course, along the way, meeting this fine lady became one of my reasons as well.”
“Okay, Navrutri, let’s take this outside. I’ll at least listen to what you want inscribed on your tombstone.”
“Stop that, father… my apologies, Navrutri. He doesn’t take jokes about me and the kids very well.”
“Oh, but it wasn’t a joke.”
“And I won’t let it slip by like a joke either.”
“Just stop already,” Almaria said in an exasperated voice.
“Now then, Willem. There’s something I wanted to ask of you today.”
“Hm?” Willem thought he heard his face twitch with irritation. “I recall being told I can’t be trusted with your back just the other day.”
“Of course. It’s not about that.” Navrutri casually swept away Willem’s hostile comments. “Have you heard the rumors about the recent mysterious coma cases?”
Oh, that. It just came up in their conversation earlier. Willem shot a glance at Ted. Before Navrutri became a Quasi Brave, he achieved fame as an adventurer. Some adventurers passed on his tales almost as if he were a legendary figure. Apparently, Ted was one of them. Ever since Navrutri arrived, his eyes had maintained a high level of sparkle. Willem couldn’t help but notice that drastic difference in Ted’s attitude towards him and Navrutri, even though they were both Quasi Braves.
“… yeah, I’ve heard about it.” Willem didn’t mention that he just heard about it less than an hour ago.
“Good, that’ll speed things up. True World is the group behind that.”
“That name sounds like it was made up by a bunch of teenagers that’ll regret their choice in a few years,” Ted offered his opinion, which sounded rather familiar.
“To put it simply, they’re an evil religious group with military power. Willem and I, along with our happy comrades, took care of them once two years ago. However, they seem to have made a comeback.”
“But their research was on repurposing living beings as weapons by curses, right? How is that related to putting people in comas?”
“The details aren’t clear, but it’s suspected that it’s somehow a part of their research. Basically, we suspect they’re developing some sort of curse which can induce its full effect even when the target is chosen at random. Furthermore, they’re developing techniques to spread this curse as wide and far as they want.”
Willem felt chills run up his spine. Navrutri explained rather casually, but if True World actually finished such developments, they would be able to bring destruction to the world in a matter of days… or no, they will finish those developments, and they will bring destruction to the world in a matter of days. That was historical fact. They still didn’t know how exactly the Beasts would be born, but it would be hard to imagine that those elite curse techniques weren’t related in some way.
“The Empire Congress has recognized the danger of the situation, and the Alliance is in charge of the investigation for now. This incident is occurring almost everywhere throughout the continent, but the main focus right now is on empire territory. The investigation orders will likely reach Gomag’s adventurer’s guild soon,” Navrutri explained.
Ted’s ears perked up at hearing this.
“And how is all this related to me?” Willem asked.
“The Church wants to add one Quasi Brave to help out with the investigation in Gomag. At this rate, it looks like that job is going to be forced onto me, but…”
That’s strange, Willem thought. Adventurers and Braves working together by itself wasn’t too rare. Whether an extremely dangerous Monstrous or a Maze spreading miasma all around the area, whenever a high wall needed to be overcome, it only made sense for the two groups to join hands and work together. At their battle with the Visitors, three adventurers, Emissa, Kaiya, and Hilgram, lent their aid to the Regal Brave, Leila. But such cooperation usually only happened when there were enemies to hit or things to be destroyed. What would there be for a Brave to do on a mission with no fighting?
Well, whatever. That’s Navrutri’s problem. Willem figured Navrutri probably came to push this job onto him, but he wasn’t about to let that happen.
“Glad to see you found a job. Do your best.”
“Aw, don’t be like that. Won’t you switch with me? You’ll be helping people in need.”
“The only one in need here is you.”
“Well, true, but…” Navrutri scratched the back of his head. “I am pretty busy right now. In fact, my current mission will literally impact the fate of the entire world.”
Willem didn’t doubt him. With the completion of the 17 Beasts so close, finding a way to stop True World would mean stopping the destruction of civilization. Well, no one would find a way, and civilization would fall into ruin. Willem knew that.
“… um, excuse me?” Almaria interrupted their exchange, which hardly qualified as a conversation. “All those people in comas have the same weird dream, right?”
“That’s the rumor. We don’t have proof that they’re connected yet, but we think that the dream might make the victim more susceptible to the curse or something,” Navrutri answered.
“Do you happen to know what kind of dream it is?” Almaria asked.
“Apparently, in the dream you’re standing in a vast, gray plain of sand. And for some reason, you’re overcome with a very nostalgic feeling.”
Almaria looked to Ted, who nodded in confirmation of Navrutri’s description. Then, with an uneasy face, she looked at Willem.
“What is it?” he asked.
With all eyes in the room on her, Almaria answered, “I’ve often had that dream since I was little,” with a voice so faint it almost seemed to disappear into thin air.
“Hahaha, no need to worry, Aly,” Navrutri said cheerfully, then gestured to Willem. “This experienced Brave right here will solve this problem in no time.”
“Being told that by a Brave with a much longer career than me kinda pisses me off…”
This world is a dream. This Almaria is fake. Willem understood. He understood, but… but still… could he bring himself to condemn this girl, who looked like Almaria, spoke with Almaria’s voice, and called him ‘father’ with Almaria’s smile?
“Alright.” No, he couldn’t. “Damn it. I’ll take your dumb job.”
“I knew you would say that,” Navrutri said with a broad grin. Willem really wanted to punch him right now. “I’m not pushing this on you just because I want to take it easy. If you work together with the adventurer’s guild, the fact that you’re still alive will get to the Alliance and spread to the entire continent, right?” Navrutri winked skillfully. He must have practiced often.
“People everywhere were saddened by the news of you not coming home. I won’t make you go say hi to all of them, but at least get word of your safety out there. It’ll give them some relief.”
“Ah…” Of course, Willem had thought about that, but, within a dream, relief and worry were all just fleeting illusions. With that mindset, he never got around to doing it. “… I’m not sure I want to hear this, but what is Leila up to?”
“Ah.” Navrutri’s expression darkened. He seemed to falter a bit before finding the right words. “The battle with the Visitors took a heavy toll on her. She’s been in a treatment facility in the capital ever since.”
Willem didn’t particularly care. It was a fake Leila, in a fake world. Moreover, if she was in the capital, he couldn’t see her face or hear her voice like with Almaria. But, well, it was still nice to hear that Leila managed to live on a little longer.
“Hm? Are you interested in her?”
“In a general sense, yes. We were comrades after all, so it’s only natural to wonder how she turned out.”
“There you go again. No need to be shy. Love is the savior of this world, you know?” Navrutri gave Willem a hearty pat on the back. “Anyways, leave Aly to me. Don’t worry, I have the decency to at least wait until she’s an adult.”
Willem clenched his fist, preparing to unleash a slightly extreme attack he learned straight from the expert himself, Hilgram Moto.
“… okay okay, I’ll stop, so relax that hand. That’s the attack you used to defeat the Rust Dragon, right? If you hit me with that it’ll hurt a lot, or more like I’ll be sent flying, right!?”
Just then, Nephren, who was apparently released from the pack of mischievous little boys, entered the room and looked very, very confused.