Originally, the majority of adventurers were actually just a reckless bunch, drunk on unrealistic dreams, who never had any sort of real training. Needless to say, they didn’t enjoy a very stable lifestyle, and their general reputation in society leaned heavily towards the negative side. Furthermore, their survival rates for battles with Monstrous and whatnot were shockingly low.
Adventurer’s guilds, organizations which coordinated the efforts of local adventurers, could pretty much be found in every moderately prosperous town across the continent. These operated financially independently from each other, but all the guilds were further coordinated by a superior organization, the Alliance. The level system, among other reforms, popularized by the Alliance helped turn the bunch of reckless, dreamy adventurers into trained explorers, stabilize their income, which used to be no more than a wild gamble, and raise their miserable survival rate.
“It’s a Brave…”
“A Brave, huh…”
The secretive whispers spreading around the room reverberated annoyingly loudly in Willem’s ears. The stares thrown his way contained a mixture of jealousy, hatred, and admiration. At this point, he was used to such treatment, but still, it made him uncomfortable. Suppressing the urge to sigh heavily, Willem took a look around. Between ten and twenty men and women stood gathered in the wide entrance to Gomag’s only adventurer’s guild. Every one of them had their emotionally charged gaze fixed on Willem.
We’re really hated, Willem thought to himself as he smiled nervously. After all, society generally treated adventurers as hardly a step above unemployed ruffians. On the other hand, Braves were heroes who valiantly stood on the front lines to defend humanity from the other races. Or at least, society treated them as such.
There was a flipside to this, however. More often than not, Braves didn’t get to choose their battles. Their cause sounded righteous and glorious, but in the end they essentially just acted as mercenaries for the Church of Holy Light. Defeat or retreat were not options. They had no choice but to fight as ordered and win. Compared to the Braves, the adventurers seemed to live such a free and easygoing life.
Those are just two examples. Countless other differences which caused friction between the two groups existed. As a result, excluding a handful of exceptions who had experienced both sides like Navrutri, Braves and adventurers never got along very well.
“That’s why I didn’t really want to come…” Willem muttered. The hostile stares reminded him of the similar ones he used to receive as a markless back on the 28th Island. Trying to avoid eye contact with anyone, he awkwardly looked up towards the ceiling and let out a small sigh.
“… Willem Kumesh.” The receptionist called his name with a slightly shaky voice. “Your status as a Quasi Brave under the Church of Holy Light has been confirmed. We request your assistance with our upcoming series of missions.”
“Ah, I’ll do my best.”
“S-Sorry for the trouble, but would you please sign these docume–”
“Hold on, hold on. Stop talking like that,” Willem interrupted. “I mean, this guild is just a cheap bar that was remodeled. I can’t imagine it’s always so professional and businesslike in here. Right now, I’m just a fellow comrade helping out, so talk to me normally. Of course–” He turned his head over his shoulder. “– If you have something to say, say it with your mouth, not your eyes.”
Ten or twenty people all averted their gazes. However, a single man kept his sight fixed straight onto Willem.
“Okay, then I’ll go ahead and say it.”
The dark skinned giant of a man slowly stood up from his chair. Then, one heavy step at a time, he drew closer to Willem. He had such a stunning physique that Willem thought he was actually a Giant for a second, but, of course, he had to be human. At first glance, the man seemed to be walking casually, but, upon closer inspection of his subtle movements and the way he shifted his balance, Willem could tell that the man was no amateur.
“Just like you said, this guild is just a cheap bar that was remodeled. Can’t exactly call it a spectacular place. One dropped spoon can lead to a fistfight. Some days, more people spend the night in the police office or in a treatment facility than in their own homes. That’s the kind of place this is.”
Pretty lame threat, Willem thought. The man had the vocabulary of a typical third rate hoodlum. After slightly admiring the man’s skill at movement, Willem felt somewhat let down. Well, it didn’t really matter.
Of course, people rarely get along well just because some higher up orders them to cooperate. This especially held true for the Braves and adventurers, whose default relationship started off in a pretty bad place. In Willem’s experience, the best solution was to have a little pleasant exchange of opinions. A moderate exchange of fists never hurt either. Completely crushing the offending party’s sense of pride only made things worse, however, so Willem needed to strike a delicate balance of force and restraint. The man walking up to him looked fairly tough. Willem could probably get away with a harder punch than usual. The hard part would be taking some punches and acting like they actually hurt, but making a light cut in his own mouth would likely suffice.
“And that’s why,” the man started talking again, first glaring straight at Willem, then shifting his gaze to the spot beside Willem. “You can’t be bringing little kids in here. No one under fifteen is allowed to enter.”
“Also, bringing such a sweet, innocent looking girl… I don’t know what you were thinking, but it’s got to be bad for her education.”
Nephren tilted her head in confusion.
“Uhhh.” Willem looked around the room once more. About half of the crowd averted their eyes, and the other half nodded in unison. “Ah… right. I see your point. My bad.”
“Don’t apologize to me, apologize to that young lady.”
“O-Oh. Sorry, Ren. Can you wait outside for a bit?”
“Nn.” Nephren nodded and walked outside the guild as she was told.
Thirty minutes later, they were riding on a horse drawn carriage which patrolled the city of Gomag. The wagon had room for four passengers, with all seats currently filled.
Nephren gazed at the scenery flowing by them with sparkling eyes. On the 68th Island, home to the fairy warehouse, just about all the carts were strictly for luggage purposes, not the kind which held passengers and zoomed by at high speeds. And as for airships, well, they could be treated as whole separate category. To Nephren, who grew up on the 68th Island, the landscape drifting by them as their carriage rattled along must have been fresh and exciting. If she had a tail, it would definitely be wagging back and forth vigorously. Gomag didn’t even have anything interesting to see, so Willem couldn’t imagine what she would be like if he brought her along to the capital.
He took his eyes off Nephren for the time being and faced forward, where Ted sat, exploding in laughter.
“… is it really that funny?”
“Of course it is. Ah, I wish I could have seen it myself. It’s too bad, I don’t think there’ll be another chance to see you like that for a while,” Ted responded.
Ever since hearing about the fiasco at the adventurer’s guild, Ted had remained in that state of perpetual amusement. Willem just wanted to punch him already.
“I overestimated the idiots defending Gomag’s peace. Never would have thought even the guild had become such a soft place.”
“Well, it’s only natural,” Ted said as he wiped tears from his eyes. “There aren’t any Mazes or strong Monstrous around here, so all the actually violent people quickly move away to a guild in some other city. The people left here are pretty much just normal people.”
“If they’re normal people, they should get a normal job instead of being an adventurer…”
“Normal people can have dreams of romance and glory too.”
… ah, whatever. Willem didn’t want to drag around this embarrassment forever.
“Anyways, are you really a Quasi Brave?” The fourth passenger on the cart, a woman wearing a thin coat of red leather armor, asked with a suspicious glare.
She looked to be a little older than Willem, perhaps twenty or just above that. He had grown used to receiving inquisitive looks, but not from young ladies sitting very close to him.
“You’re pretty skinny, and you kind of look spaced out all the time, and you don’t have a special Kaliyon or anything,” the lady continued, then turned to Nephren. “On top of that, you’re bringing a kid to work. All in all, you don’t seem very strong.”
Willem knew very well that his exterior appearance lacked ambition or impact. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“Hmm. Your response is kinda lacking too. That’s not good. These days, passive guys can’t get anything, you know?”
“… ah, well it’s just part of who I am.”
The lady looked rather concerned now. “The Brave I met before wasn’t like this at all. She was really full of herself, saying ‘I’ll take care of this entire battle, so all weaklings stand back’ and stuff.”
At any given time, there were usually around thirty Quasi Braves. Due to various circumstances, frequent switches occurred in the lineup. Also, since they were always fighting in various parts of the continent, the Quasi Braves never got the chance to get acquainted with each other very well. Nevertheless, Willem felt like he knew someone who would’ve acted like that.
“I knew she didn’t mean to be hostile, and she was a lot stronger than us, but still, that kind of thing annoys me, you know?” The woman looked to Ted for agreement, who vaguely responded ‘yeah’ and shrugged his shoulders. “So when I heard we were going to be working with another Quasi Brave, I prepared myself for another really irritating person, but then I get this nice, harmless guy. What am I supposed to do?”
“That’s not my fault…” Willem muttered.
“Then who’s is it?”
Who cares? Willem thought. “Quasi Braves are human too. They come in many different varieties.”
The wagon suddenly jolted violently. They must have ran over a rock or something.
“Okay okay, that’s enough Lucie and Willem. Let’s get to the main topic.” Ted clapped his hands to break up their little conversation.
“I’m fine with changing the topic, but you taking charge kinda pisses me off,” Lucie said.
“Yeah, seeing Ted trying to act cool always pisses me off,” Willem added.
“So now you two suddenly start agreeing with each other? Anyway, just to confirm, our mission is to transport a comatose man to the city’s treatment facility, correct?”
“That’s right.” Lucie nodded. “His name is Odle N Gracis. 47 years old. Painter. Lives with his wife, who is two years younger. Today is his third day in a coma. His wife found him in that state two days ago in the morning, when she went to wake him up as usual.”
Just then, a flock of doves flew past their carriage. Nephren’s gaze followed the white crowd up into the sky.
“Um, Lucie, question.” Ted raised his hand. “Did the wife say anything about Odle having weird dreams?”
“She did. Apparently he told his wife many times that he had an interesting dream. Gray as far as the eye can see, a vast desert…”
Willem dropped his eyes to the ground. Almaria said she saw the same scenery within her dream. Also… he couldn’t be sure if this had any connection to the incidents, but Willem and Nephren knew that scenery quite well. Except, they hadn’t seen it in a dream, nor in this dream world, but in reality.
“… unfamiliar beast-like creatures roaming around that desert…”
Lucie’s description of Odle’s dream continued to match Almaria’s, and, in addition, matched Willem and Nephren’s real experiences.
“… also, he heard something like a song, apparently.”
“Song?” A question unconsciously slipped out of Willem’s mouth. As far as Willem knew, there were vast gray deserts and roaming Beasts on the land, but no songs.
“That’s right. A song. He said he couldn’t remember the tune or the lyrics, but it was definitely a song.” Lucie glanced down at her memo pad. “Also, the desert and beasts and song all felt strangely nostalgic to him. Moreover, each successive time he had the dream, that nostalgia grew stronger and stronger.”
“Do you think that dream and the sleeping curse are connected?” asked Ted.
“How am I supposed to know? With our current information, we could say anything, which means we really can’t say anything. Once the treatment facility carries out a thorough examination, we’ll have a little more to go off of,” Lucie answered, then turned to Willem. “And how about our seasoned Quasi Brave over here? Had any realizations listening to this so far?”
“Let’s see… the empire, Alliance, and Church have intelligence on the headquarters of True World, the group suspected to be behind this curse.”
The two adventurers let out dumbfounded gasps.
“Why do you say that?”
“The coma incidents are occurring all throughout the continent. Despite that, the Alliance is only investigating empire territory. The Church added a Quasi Brave to the investigation team here in Gomag, and the empire and Alliance agreed to that. There’s something unnatural about that, right?” Willem explained to the pair, who still had their dumbstruck mouths wide open. “Those three must have information predicting armed resistance by True World and information adding credibility to that prediction.”
“Braves fight to protect humanity as a whole. Or at least, that’s what the Church advertises, and they’re careful to act so that the commoners believe that too. But the Church took the trouble to get a Brave in on this mission. That means they’re convinced this battle is going to become a large scale conflict. And since both the empire and Alliance accepted this demand, it’s likely that they share the same conviction.”
On top of all that, Navrutri, who was secretly investigating True World, just happening to be in Gomag seemed extremely suspicious to Willem. He also recalled what the Great Sage, or Suwon, told him during their meeting up in the sky: the group that developed the Beasts set up their base in a small town on the outskirts of the empire. Of course, he couldn’t tell this to the two sitting in front of him.
“W-Wait a second!” Lucie cut Willem off. “Y-You’re joking right? No one told me this mission is that dangerous!”
“Well, you can tell the guild that afterwards and get an extra reward.” Willem looked out the window of their wagon. “That’s what most of the adventurers I’ve worked with did.”
“… it’s kind of late to be saying this, but, you really are a Quasi Brave, huh…” Ted’s face looked like some great revelation had just struck him.
“What, Ted. You got something to say?”
“Ah no, I was just thinking, when you discover an unexpected side to someone close to you, it’s hard to believe right away.”
“I don’t recall ever becoming close to you.”
“I’m prepared for a long fight, so I’m fine with getting closer one small step at a time.”
“I don’t think you get my point.”
The carriage stopped abruptly.
“Looks like we’ve arrived. We need to walk from here,” Ted said as he opened the wagon’s door and stepped down onto the stone paving.
True World, huh. Willem repeated that nostalgic but detestable name inside his head a few times. They devastated the land. No one could do anything about that now. Even if Willem somehow managed to foil their plans in this dream world, it would have no effect on reality, in which all these events were already the ancient past. In the first place, he and Nephren were trying to find a way out of this world, and in order to do that they needed to focus on observation. It wouldn’t be wise to interfere too much with this world’s history. He understood that.
Willem understood, but he still accepted this mission. He did so because the stout hearted Almaria showed her weak side, a rare occurrence. He definitely didn’t fall for Navrutri’s cajolery. Well… now that it’s come to this, I guess I might as well take it seriously. From what he learned back when he and his comrades first crushed them, and from the explanations he heard upon taking this new mission, Willem had a basic understanding of True World.
Being a derivative group of the Church of Holy Light, they shared the same fundamental scriptures and, for the most part, the same beliefs. However, they added one extra bit to their teachings which proved to be enough to make them launch an armed assault against the empire. ‘The current state of this world is not how it was meant to be’. That single sentence started it all. Following that teaching, they attempted to raze the mistaken world and restore it to its proper form. Truly a nuisance. Except, they actually succeeded in the end.
Odle’s house turned out to be quite a walk from the carriage station. The four of them casually strolled through a slightly disorderly residential area on the east side of Gomag.
Willem spotted a roadside stand selling roasted chestnuts. Many chestnut trees grew in the forest surrounding Gomag, so if you simply gathered some, roasted them, and wrapped them in old newspaper, you could make pretty good business. Every autumn, similar stalls popped up all around town, spreading their delicious aroma throughout the streets. They mostly went away by wintertime, but a few always remained. They occasionally appeared out of nowhere and triggered your appetite, like what just happened to Willem. To residents of the town, roasted chestnuts were an annual happening, and Willem hadn’t tasted them in two whole years.
“Wait here a sec,” he told the others, then ran up to the stand. After checking the number of chestnuts roasting on the fire, he ordered four portions, then carried the fresh nuts bundled in old newspaper back to the group.
“I don’t think it’s chestnut season anymore.”
“Who cares? I just wanted to eat them,” Willem said as he handed the chestnuts out. “They’re hot, so be careful.”
Silently nodding, Nephren opened her package. “Roasted… nuts?”
“I don’t care who you are, if you come to Gomag this time of year, there’s no way you can leave without eating these.” Willem grabbed one and stuffed it into his mouth. It was hot, and out of season, but still delicious as always.
Winter, huh. Willem suddenly remembered something. Hey, it’s my birthday soon. Well, not like it mattered. This world reaching the day seventeen years after Willem Kumesh’s birth didn’t have much connection with his actual self. In reality, he was already over five hundred years old, so he never really thought too much about his age.
Butter cake. The one you bake is pretty good. Make an especially big one on my next birthday, will you?
Those words he once spoke popped into his mind abruptly, causing his hand to freeze as it grabbed another chestnut. Ah, that’s right. The promise he couldn’t keep. The thorn which pierced his heart that he couldn’t remove for the longest time. After exchanging a new promise with Kutori and mutually fulfilling it, the pain from that thorn had finally faded away, along with Willem’s memories of his old promise.
But the same was not true for Almaria. To her, not that much time had passed since they made that promise. It wasn’t the distant past to her. Therefore, Willem’s birthday being close also meant that the day their promise was to be fulfilled was close.
“Almaria…” An uneasy feeling scratched at the back of his mind. Something was off. He could feel it, but couldn’t pinpoint the source.
“… you’re pretty weird Willem,” Ted said as he blew on a chestnut.
Willem was pulled out of his thoughts. “What are you talking about, all of a sudden.”
“Oh, it’s just I was expecting you to make a point of not giving me any chestnuts or something, but you handed them over without a word. I was a little surprised.”
Ah, damn it.
“… you wish you thought of that earlier, I’m guessing.”
“Nah, that’s not it. More like, if you want chestnuts, then give up on our daughter.”
“Hm? Are you sure it’s okay to say that? If I agreed, it would mean Almaria’s less valuable than roasted chestnuts.”
“I see your wit has grown sharper while I was gone.”
“Well, it’s fun to see you react.”
“Your personality has grown rotten too.”
“That’s what happens when a person can’t be in a relationship with his true love.”
Meanwhile, Nephren, who apparently stuffed her chestnuts into her mouth without waiting for them to cool down first, now had a bright red face and seemed to be in a daze. Lucie had to run off to the nearest public well and get some water for her. Watching Nephren make the classic beginner mistake, Willem recalled fond and nostalgic memories.
“Hey, Ted. I’m gonna ask you a weird question.”
“What is it, Willem?”
“Hypothetically, if…” he faltered a bit. “… if I were to go off to a faraway battle and never return, would you bring Almaria happiness in my stead?”
Of course! Do you have plans to do that in the near future!? If so, leave it all to me! Oh, and by the way, is it okay if we name our kid after you!? Willem expected that kind of response.
“No. I wouldn’t want that. Even as a hypothetical situation, I don’t want to think about it.”
“Why? Aren’t I in your way?”
“Well, yeah, you are. I’m always thinking it would be nice if you just got kicked by a horse or something already. But this and that are different. I don’t like making promises I can’t keep.”
“So you don’t think you could make her happy?”
“Of course not,” Ted responded nonchalantly. “To marry happily, she would need her beloved father’s blessing. So until that happens, I need you to stick around. I said earlier, didn’t I? I’m prepared for a long fight. Oh, of course, after the wedding, I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to disappear right away. Actually, that would be desirable.”
Amidst the cold winter air, the freshly roasted chestnuts steadily lost their warmth. Willem grabbed three and tossed them into his mouth, trying to finish up before they all turned cold and hard.
“Soo, you have any plans to go fight somewhere faraway?”
“Hm… no, not really. I just wanted to ask.” That wasn’t a lie. But Willem’s words weren’t entirely accurate either. He had plans, but they had already been carried out. He really did go off to a faraway battle and never return. “… I plan to live for at least another five hundred years, so if you want my daughter, you’re gonna have to take her with your fists.”
Ted laughed cheerfully.
“I don’t really get what those guys are talking about, but… he has a grown daughter? How old is he?” Lucie asked Nephren.
After a bit of thought, she answered, “A little over 540.”
Arriving at their destination, they rung the bell hanging outside the door. They could hear the high pitched sound echo throughout the interior, but no footsteps.
“… no one seems to be coming.”
“Guess she’s not home. That’s strange, she should have received contact from the guild.”
Standing outside of this Odle fellow’s house, the four of them looked at each other. To come all this way and not accomplish anything seemed kind of sad.
Lucie tried the doorknob. “Huh?” The door swung open. “It wasn’t locked.”
“Hm, she ought to be more careful. It’s not that safe around here, is it?” Ted said.
“Well it’s convenient for us. She might just be out for a little, so we can wait inside.”
“Eh, w-wait!” Ted went after Lucie, who walked in without hesitation.
“Is this allowed in the Emnetwyte’s social customs?” Nephren asked.
“It’s kind of a gray zone,” Willem answered, then followed the others into the house.
As with most apartment complexes crammed into a rather small plot of land, Odle’s residence didn’t have many windows. Even with the sun high in the sky, a dark and gloomy interior greeted them, giving them the sort of chills different from those of the cold air outside.
Hm? Willem furrowed his brow. He sensed something odd. “Ren,” he whispered. “Get ready.”
Nephren seemed to understand what he meant with those two words. Her face tensed up, and, after adjusting her breathing, she began to lightly ignite Venom.
“Excuse me. Is anyone home?” yelled Lucie. She walked down the hallway, peeked beyond an open door, and said, “Mrs. Gracis? If you’re home, please respon–”
Suddenly, without a sound, a blade closed in on her neck.
A clash of metal.
“… wha?” Lucie froze in shock.
A mere hair’s length from the skin on the back of her neck, a lusterless black blade stood as if suspended in midair. Only a cheap knife, the kind handed out to all adventurers by the guild, blocked its remaining path to Lucie’s neck. The knife, although suitable for clearing brush, cutting rope, or dissecting an animal, was by no means fit for battle.
Then, with a booming noise like a large hammer crashing into a wall, the black blade, along with the hooded figure gripping it, flew back with tremendous force.
Slipping past the poor, confused adventurer, Willem dashed inside the room. In addition to the one he just struck, there were three other suspicious men, all with the same hooded cloak and black, curved blade. They moved towards Willem with steady and silent steps. Just from observing their movements, he could tell the three were skilled.
This knife is no good. Willem had borrowed it from Ted’s belt, but that clash with the black blade already took a heavy toll on it. One more time, and it would snap in half. Accordingly, he tossed it off to the side.
Willem ignited a faint amount of Venom and turned on his spell vision. Nothing. Which meant, the men weren’t wielding Venom or any magic of the sort. That’s all he needed to know. He took a deep breath, held it — then took off.
In the next instant, one of the men flew up and smashed into the ceiling with an explosive noise and enough force to crack the wooden boards. Instinctively, the other men looked up towards him. Using that brief opportunity, Willem blended his body in with the shadows, snuck up in one of the men’s blindspot, and sharply grasped his neck.
Just one more. With a small breath and a barely audible sound, Willem closed the distance at incredulous speed, crashed into the last remaining man, and drove his fist into his target’s side. Then, suddenly, a black blade glided through the air where Willem’s head had been just a split second ago. He managed to barely dodge in time. The tip of the blade caught onto a button right below his neck and sent it flying.
Did he read my Nightingale Dash? It wasn’t too surprising. After all, Nightingale Dash was a rather well known technique. Not many could use it, but everyone knew it’s name and what it did. Anyone training in man to man combat above a certain level would likely learn how to deal with an opponent who had mastered Nightingale Dash, even if they couldn’t use it themselves. Willem thought he saw the hooded man give a smug smile.
He took off again. His initial movements almost exactly matched what he just did. Instinctively, the man prepared for a Nightingale Dash and brought his blade down upon Willem’s predicted path. Then, after a strong blow from behind, the man fell unconscious.
Willem wasn’t nice enough to use the same move twice in a row. The technique he just used was a ‘Blazing Sun Dash’ disguised as a Nightingale Dash at first. Usually, one soldier did not utilize more than one different dash technique. The man probably never got the chance to figure out how Willem got behind him.
With a clank, Ted’s knife that Willem threw away earlier finally hit the ground.
Lucie dropped to the floor, still in shock.
“What was that noise just now!?” Ted ran into the room in a panic.
Nephren suppressed the Venom she had ignited with a sour face, displeased that she didn’t get a chance to do anything.
Willem expelled the tension built up in his body together with a sigh. It was by no means a tough fight, but it definitely could’ve been a bit easier. If Navrutri, who had mastered the Blazing Sun Walk, were in the same situation, he probably would’ve dealt with all three of them on the first blow. Suwon would’ve had a binding spell on all of them in one instant. Hilgram would’ve made them all faint with one battle cry. Emissa… probably would’ve blown them and the entire room away with a Venom explosion.
Willem, who didn’t have any special moves like them, had no choice but to deal with each encounter one by one with a combination of modest techniques. As a result, he worked hard to build up a good variety. Situations in which one or two techniques didn’t work presented no problem, and eventually he became able to perform close to optimally no matter the battlefield. His results shot up, and people even started to call him ‘the strongest Quasi Brave’, which Navrutri used to tease him about.
But in the end, that style of fighting never allowed him to cross over the wall which towered above him. He could only continue to change techniques or change equipment and jump over and over in futile attempts to even get a glimpse of the other side. No matter how skillfully he mastered the things he was capable of, he never became able to do the things which he couldn’t do from the start. No matter how thoroughly he could defeat those weaker than him, the truth remained that he could never achieve victory against those who wielded true strength.
Of course, Willem knew that having a pessimistic attitude toward such things did no good. Wishing for that which he did not have wouldn’t change anything. Work which required that level of strength could be left to those who possessed that level of strength. Simple, and logical. That’s how the world worked. Willem understood that, because that day, that day he first took up a sword, wishing that one day he would become able to protect his precious family, he became an adult.
“W… wow…” Lucie’s voice brought Willem back to the present.
“C-Could these guys be from that True something or other!?” Ted exclaimed.
Surprisingly, Ted caught on fast. He unsheathed his sword and kept vigilant. Not bad, level 8, Willem thought. Unfortunately, however, the battle was already over.
“Ted.” Willem gestured for Ted to put his sword back away. “Your work is over there.”
Over in the corner of the room, an old lady sat trembling in fear.
“Ah… are you Mrs. Gracis?” Ted asked.
The old lady nodded vigorously.
“Oh, that’s a relief.” Ted smiled. “We’ve come from the guild to pick up your husband. It’s safe now, so please relax. Once you’re ready, do you mind telling us everything that happened in detail?”
The cautiousness in the old lady’s eyes faded away. Ted was courteous and good with words. No matter how many battle techniques he mastered, Willem could never match Ted in that department.
They returned to the guild with the comatose Odle N Gracis. Along the way, they turned in the attackers, all bound in rope, to the police. According to Odle’s wife, just before Ted and the others arrived, those men somehow entered the locked door without a sound, then held her down while they tried to take her sleeping husband. In other words, if the adventurers had arrived just slightly later, the men, along with Odle, would have been nowhere in sight. As the weeping wife told her story, she repeatedly thanked the gods for their blessings of good fortune.
Willem figured blessings of the gods had nothing to do with it, but he kept that to himself. The Visitors of old were long gone. The only surviving one, Elq Harksten, also perished recently at the hands of the Regal Brave after trying to annihilate humanity. So no matter how devoutly people believed in them or prayed to them, no one would be there to listen anymore.
“Were those enemies strong enough that a Brave was necessary?” Lucie asked.
“Well, they might have been a bit strong for your average adventurer, don’t you think?”
“More like, if you weren’t there I definitely would’ve died.”
Hmm, I wonder. Willem didn’t feel the intention to kill in those men. Even if he didn’t stop that blade which swung at Lucie’s neck, it probably would have stopped after just slightly making contact with her skin. Well, that wouldn’t have changed the fact that the man could’ve easily ended her life.
“Are you mad that I got you involved in that dangerous mess?”
According to Willem’s experience, this was the largest contributor to the friction between the adventurers and Braves. Having a Brave present on the battlefield signified great danger ahead, and danger always numbs logical judgement. The adventurers saw the Braves as a sort of jinx and despised them as the main source of danger. For example, if a casualty arose before the Brave arrived on the battlefield, no matter how valiantly that Brave fought afterwards, the responsibility of the death would be put on him. People would all blame him for showing up too late. And of course, they didn’t allow any disagreement or argument from the Brave. Willem himself never exactly got used to it, but he had learned to accept it as a common occurrence.
“No, I’m the one who got saved, so I don’t have anything to be mad about,” Lucie responded casually. “Also, to be honest… I thought you kinda looked cool back there.” She averted her eyes, and her cheeks blushed red ever so faintly. “Ah, sorry. I don’t have a crush on you or anything. You seem hard to get, and you have a big daughter apparently, and, more than anything, you don’t look like the type who would be able to become happy with me.” Lucie elaborated her cruel evaluation of Willem with a laugh.
Willem found her criticisms surprisingly easy to accept. In fact, he thought they described him rather accurately. He was always wishing to bring happiness to someone else, but did he ever wish for anyone to bring him happiness in return?
If I could do anything to give you happiness five, ten years down the road, then that would make me happy too. That’s the number one reason why I wouldn’t mind being together with you.
Willem recalled those words that Naigrat once said to him. At that time, he couldn’t bring himself to accept her favor. Unable to directly face Naigrat’s strong will, her will to bring none other than Willem Kumesh happiness, he returned the cruelest possible answer, asking her if he could pretend he hadn’t heard any of what she said. He knew that Naigrat would simply laugh it off, no matter how cruel. He took advantage of that.
“U-Um? Did I say too much? Did I bring back bad memories or something?” Lucie asked, confused at his silence.
“No, it’s not that,” Willem answered with a vague smile. “You have a good eye for people. Everything you said is probably spot on.”
Before they left the Gracis’ house, they had inspected Odle’s body, with permission from his wife. The results didn’t turn out as expected, to say the least. No matter how strongly Willem activated his spell vision, he couldn’t find any traces of any kind of curse. He applied pressure to various spots and checked the man’s eye movements, but still failed to uncover any irregularities. Odle appeared exactly as if he were simply sleeping peacefully.
“If he’s the victim of a curse experiment, there’s no way I wouldn’t be able to detect any spell power. It’s possible that his coma is natural, and not connected in any way to the curse spreading around,” he muttered. “In that case, the spreading of the curse must really be random, and not even True World knows who’s affected and who’s not. Maybe the attackers couldn’t get information on the coma victims themselves, so they had to steal information from the guild and act on that. Or it could be the work of the traitor that Navrutri mentioned…”
“Or maybe the Beasts are their real research, these coma incidents are just uncontrollable byproducts, and they were trying to collect samples to figure out how to stop it? That seems plausible, but then why would the dream be about the future land?”
“Are they giving predictive powers to a large number of random people? I have no idea why they would do that, but just looking at the results that possibility can’t be ruled out. Damn, we need more clues… ow!?’ Willem received a sharp pinch in the buttocks from Nephren. “What was that for?”
“It’s your fault for not responding when I call your name,” she replied in a grumpy voice.
“Do you want something?”
“Of course. Don’t think alone.” Nephren lightly grabbed onto just the tip of his sleeve.
“That’s unusual of you. You’re always clinging onto me without hesitation.”
“That’s only when you look like you’d break if I left you alone.”
Willem felt like she said that to him before. “So, why are you holding back now?”
“… you look like you wouldn’t break, even if I left you alone.”
“I’m the only one that would break.”
“What are you saying?”
“… nevermind. Forget it.” Nephren walked alongside him, holding onto his sleeve.
“Okay…” Willem grabbed Nephren and drew her closer, causing a small yelp. “Haha. You’re warm as always.”
“… I’m not a hand warmer.”
“I know, I know.” Willem almost gave Nephren’s hair a good ruffle, but decided to stop.
Apparently giving up on trying to escape, she kept close to Willem, then looked up and asked, “So did you figure out who’s having the dream?”
“Hm? Oh, well, so far we know Aly, that Odle guy, and… I think there was a list back in the guild.”
“Not that.” Nephren shook her head. “This world is someone’s dream. But this world couldn’t have been made with your memory. It must be someone far more familiar with this town. That’s what you said, right?”
“Did you forget?”
“No, it’s not that…”
The fake Gomag around them resembled the real one extremely closely. Even the minutest of details which no one would ever pay attention to were spot on. The more they researched and spent time in the village, the more evidence they found for that statement.
The problem might be with the assumption that this is based off of only one person’s memory. Taking into account the town’s accuracy and all the books Nephren was scouring, it would make more sense to think of this world as a sort of jigsaw puzzle of many different people’s memories. Whether or not that was logically possible made for an entirely different question.
Hmm. This world couldn’t have been made with just one person’s memory. Even with two or three people, it probably still wouldn’t be enough. But what about hundreds of memories? Or even thousands? The population of Gomag hovered at around three thousand back then. Would all of their collective memories not be enough to almost perfectly recreate the town?
“… no way…”
It seemed like a ridiculous proposition. But at the same time, it would explain so many of the peculiarities they had noticed. For example, every one of the townspeople seemed to hold their own individual willpower because they were all at one point trapped here, just as Willem and Nephren currently were. And the reason why they weren’t conscious of that fact themselves was because they had already long since become residents of this dream world. It all made sense.
A typical devil usually only trapped one individual in their dream worlds. Occasionally they trapped a few people all at once, but they had a limit. If Willem’s new hypothesis were true, a being with a truly terrifying amount of power must have created this world.
But what is their goal? They had yet to see any devil-like traps designed to break their will. The series of events involving True World looked sort of like a trap, but it was too indirect. In fact, Willem got the impression that the opposite held true: their enemy was purposely refraining from any action, leaving history to play out as intended in order to protect the consistency of the world. But what meaning lay behind that?
Could that be their entire goal? To simply let this world play out according to history? No. Calm down and think. That couldn’t be right. After all, Willem and Nephren’s presence already tainted the historical integrity of this world. Any interactions between them and the villagers would never have happened in reality.
“… even if this is a dream, even if this is fake, Almaria and the others are here, huh.”
“Nothing. I was just thinking it’s about time to start causing some trouble.”
With their current information, they had no way to determine their enemy’s aims. They couldn’t even discern whether their trapper was trying to maintain history or alter it. Therefore, it made no sense to sit around pondering needlessly. They could take the initiative by changing history themselves. For example, today’s incident with True World. Without their interference, those men would have succeeded in obtaining Odle. Their failure to do so likely set True World’s research back a fair bit compared to actual history. In order to shatter this illusion of a world and return to reality, Willem and Nephren first needed to save it.
— Willem suddenly felt a pair of eyes on the back of his neck. He turned around, but failed to spot any acquaintances or strangers looking his way amidst the bustling evening crowds. Perhaps it was just his imagination.
“Willem?” Nephren asked.
“… ah, my bad.”
His mind had probably just gotten worked up after a long day of fighting and thinking. Kind of like how after watching a horror crystal movie, even the slightest flutter of a curtain seemed like the movements of a terrifying monster stalking him. His peaceful days upon Regul Aire must have stolen the battlefield presence of mind which he had accumulated over his years as a Quasi Brave.
“It’s getting chilly out here. Let’s head home.”
Blending in with the hectic crowd of people hurrying home, the two made haste on their way back to the orphanage under the swiftly sinking winter sun.