Editor: Nate, Skythewood
A HMV raced over the sprawling, grassy plains, under the light of the radiant sun.
It threw up a trail of dust as it roamed leisurely over the plains, speeding towards the horizon as if aiming for the clouds in the distance.
Inside the vehicle, the sounds of the engine blended with those of a lute.
The lute’s player was Tuka Luna Marceau, who rode in the back seat. She was an elf girl who worshipped Lunaru, the goddess of music.
Her fingernails — which looked as pink as seashells — strummed the instrument’s strings, producing beautiful melodies which sounded like they had been made by a virtuoso musician. Were she to play in Japan, she would be able to pack the concert hall full of people, with extra patrons squeezing in to occupy the standing room. Or at least, that was how Itami Youji — who was unfamiliar with the music world — imagined it would be as he drew on his memories of relevant manga.
“Then, what shall I play next?”
“How about something livelier?”
After requesting a song from Tuka, Itami looked down at his watch, and then at a map, and then back at the watch again. He repeated this several times.
“All right, Father.”
With that, Tuka took up the lute again.
“Come on, Tuka, can’t you call me something other than Father?” Itami said as he kept his eyes on the map. It was partly because he was busy with what he was doing, but also because he was embarrassed about being called ‘Father’.
“Don’t~ Want~ To~. Besides, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
For some reason, Tuka’s face and the tips of her ears had flushed red.
“And, and besides, how could I call you Y-Youjy? My instincts would keep me from…”
She trailed off into mumbling. Given the way she was speaking to herself in a small voice, it would seem that she could only relax while addressing him as “Father”.
“Keep you from what?”
Tuka was whining a little to try and drop the subject. Then she began playing a cheerful melody, as Itami had requested.
From what he could understand of the lyrics, the song was a humorous tale about a girl who was in love with a certain man. The girl tried everything she could to get the man’s attention only for all her attempts to end in failure, leaving her to sigh over and over. However, in the end the girl’s wish came true. More accurately, her wish had already been granted since the beginning.
“That was beautiful. How long have you been playing this instrument?”
Tuka seem vaguely unconcerned with Itami’s question as she replied, “Let me think. I guess it’s been over a hundred years.”
As she said this, her pointy ears began twitching up and down.
“O-over a hundred years…”
Should he be impressed by this? Or should he nod, because it was only natural that she would reach a standard like that after a hundred years of practice? Itami did not know how to respond.
“Are all Elves this amazing?”
“Yes, we are. An Elf of my age usually has a favored instrument of their own.”
“Ah… I see.”
Then, what about the other Elf?
Itami turned his gaze to the female Dark Elf by Tuka’s side.
As their eyes met, Yao shyly laughed “ahaha”, nodded and said:“Yes, that’s right.”
“And what instrument are you good at Yao?”
“I can play the flute… but it’s just a hobby. I’ve never actually performed for strangers. Of course, you’re not a stranger, and I would gladly play for you. However, this sort of thing is better with nobody else around. Although, it’s early right now, so would you be willing to wait for tonight… Owwwww~”
Though she had (uncomfortably) tried to conceal her intentions by stating them in a roundabout way, it was quite obvious from her lewd tone that she was intending to seduce Itami. Halfway through, however, her spiel suddenly ended in a strange yelp.
Given that Itami was in the vehicle commander’s seat, he had no idea what was going on. However, Rory — who was behind that seat — and Tuka — who was opposite her — seemed to be swishing their legs around for some unknown reason.
“It’s embarrassing if I don’t get to help!” “How can you call that sort of thing ‘helping’?” The girls took their shots at each other, and their whispered back and forth came to Itami’s ears.
What are they up to? Itami thought. When he turned around and leaned back to check on what was going on behind him, Tuka frantically changed the topic, as though she wanted to cover up their earlier squabble.
“Fa-father, he… my father Hodryur played the sitar very well, and they say his music could entrance anyone who heard it.”
“Really? So your music teacher was your own father, Tuka.”
Tuka froze as she heard those words, and then continued, “I didn’t have a teacher.”
“Then who taught you?”
Tuka tilted her head, a confused expression on her face.
For Elves, their talent for music was an inborn thing, so they had no idea what that question meant, and no idea of how to answer. Tuka was in a similar situation.
However, Yao seemed to sense Tuka’s difficulty and lent her a helping hand.
According to Yao, Elves were not a race that specially sought people out to learn how to practice the arts. Even basic things like martial arts and spirit magic were learned by seeing and doing, and the rest was all a matter of personal devotion, practice and experience.
“So, rather than say that she had no mentor, it would be better to say that everyone around her was her mentor.”
“Ah... I see.”
For example, one would not need a teacher to learn how to speak, or to learn how to perform trivial everyday tasks. One normally picked these fundamentals up just living day by day, and Tuka was in a similar situation. Because of that, the Elves did not think better or worse of each other by their proficiency in various skills. While this was not necessarily true for all Elves, they generally saw things like natural ability as a fairly dull topic. To the Elves, if someone could not master a certain skill after a long time, that person was merely a late bloomer; whereas if someone was very skilled in a certain aspect, they simply said that he had invested a lot of time and effort into his craft. In fact, the thought of someone actually knuckling down and training long hours in order to surpass others within a particular field was something like “obsession” to the Elves, and they thought poorly of such things.
“If you thoughtlessly try to plant a tree, and force it to conform to your will, then even if you planted that tree on fertile soil, gave it ample water, and used the power of the spirits on it… in the end, that tree would still grow into an unnatural form. Don’t you think so? We Elves obey the rules of nature — we seek unity and understanding in nature, and aim to live balanced lives.”
Elves had much longer lifespans than humans, and thus they spent a lot of time on anything they did. The elves would only take out their instruments and play if they wanted to enjoy their music. After about one or two hundred years of this, they would naturally become masterful performers.
“I see. No wonder people say, those who excel or stand out in some field are usually weirdos.”
To the elves, learning techniques from masters and passing own techniques were things which existed for those short-lived races who wanted to improve themselves. However, it was because of the elves’ attitude — their habit of doing things slowly and completing tasks over hundreds of years — that the human race managed to conquer the world.
“Humans reject the paradigms with which we Elves view the world.”
As a human himself, Itami scratched his head and mumbled:
“Well, I don’t know what to think of your situation. I wonder how Beethoven or Mozart would respond to you.”
“Say, Youjy. Who are these people you’re talking about?”
Rory raised her body over Itami’s shoulders, and planted both her hands there. At the same time, her black hair cascaded down over his shoulders with a quiet rustle.
“In my world, they were composers. They lived hundreds of years ago, but the music they wrote has endured until today. Apparently, they were pretty eccentric for their time.”
If they knew about Elves, would they be jealous of them? Just as Itami mulled this over, a gaze came from the driver’s seat that seem to be saying: ”I have something to say.”
The gaze’s owner, Lelei, gripped the steering wheel tightly.
“You what?” Itami asked. Just then, he heard the sound of another engine — clearly different from the HMV’s — coming close. Before Lelei could continue, Itami’s attention was drawn away.
“Oh! It’s here, it’s here!”
Itami eagerly looked to the sky, and shouted over the radio:
“I have visual confirmation of the aircraft. Drop the package!”
“No need to sign and stamp the delivery order, but please, bring back some souvenirs! See you!”
The voice from the radio’s speaker belonged to the plane’s pilot. Shortly after that, a C-1 medium transport plane swooped over them, it’s turbojets roaring through the clear blue sky. The sound of the exhaust was so powerful that it completely drowned out Tuka’s playing.
Thus, the C-1 transport made a low pass over the ground.
Then, a large crate fell from above Itami and the others, popping free as if it had broken through its bindings.
“Ah! It’ll break if it falls from such a high place!”
This violent method of delivery made Tuka and Yao exclaim in surprise.
However, the crate’s parachute opened immediately, braking its fall. It would be difficult to call that descent “slow”, but at least it did not seem like it was going to strike the ground with a tremendous impact any more.
“Lelei, head toward the direction where the crate dropped.”
Lelei gripped the steering wheel tightly as Itami pointed toward the falling parachute.
Though Lelei looked like she was wavering between speaking and silence, in the end she nodded slightly, and with a turn of the steering wheel, the HMV changed its course.
Itami, the ex-commander of 3rd Recon, had a new mission — to investigate resources in the Special Region.
Simply put, his main objective was to travel around the special region and search for any ore deposits in the places he visited. The brass went on to point him toward locations which might contain oil or rare earth deposits. However, there was an elephant in the room which had to be addressed in order to accomplish that mission.
—Namely, that Itami himself was neither a geologist or a mineralogist.
There were those expert geologists who could look at a small rock and determine whether or not an ore was present. People like that typically ended up working in the mining or construction industries. In contrast, when Itami looked at a rock, all he saw was a rock. Therefore, in order to properly conduct the investigation, they needed native guides to help pick up news from local residents. In addition, they needed to get a rough grasp of the resource distribution in the area from these rumors.
“Yes, got it. Though, I didn’t expect the brass to actually let me go investigate by myself. That was quite surprising.”
The truth was, Itami’s superior Maj. Higaki was worried about Itami. Would Itami end up with depression after his suspension ended and he had nothing to do?
“Are you still saying that? Wasn’t it you who ran off to the Elbe Kingdom in order to investigate their underground resources, not long ago?”
This was what the authorities had to say about Itami going AWOL to slay the Flame Dragon: “In the course of executing out his resource-prospecting mission, 1LT Itami coincidentally encountered a Class A Dangerous Beast, known as a Dragon, and slew it with the help of locals”. Those were the official contents of the after-action report.
“Well, how could I do it by myself? The girls were there to help back then.”
“Then, recruit local assistants this time as well. We’ve already budgeted for those expenses.”
Higaki flipped through a binder, and showed Itami a spreadsheet.
The brass had given their approval after being shown reports on the discovery of raw diamonds and oil, so the budget for resource prospecting had been greatly increased. While that was certainly an unexpected surprise, further funding for these activities would only come if they could continue to show appropriate results. They could not celebrate just because their budget was increased for the moment.
Itami’s finger traced the numbers on the spreadsheet, and he was shocked.
“Uwah… one, ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand, million… are there really so many expenses to pay off?”
“These pencil-pushers feel that if they throw money at a problem, they’ll get results. Thanks to them, we’ll be sending other people on resource-prospecting missions besides you.”
“More money is good, right? We should be happy that the brass gave us all this budget. Though, I have a question; are the locals that we hire with money really reliable?”
“You’re not the only one who’s been on good terms with the locals. Of course, they aren’t as visible as you are. Besides, the Dark Elves that you helped volunteered to assist us.”
“Those Dark Elves? When did they…”
“They came calling while you were suspended. They said, ‘We finally took back our homeland and gained a measure of peace, but our homes were destroyed while we were hiding, so we wanted to come work for a wage’, ‘Please give us jobs’, and so on. Also, the Elbe Kingdom sent people over as well.”
“I can’t believe that old gramps was actually a king. Finding that out stunned me for a bit. Although, we did happen to help them in their hour of need.”
“Well, they’ve all got ulterior motives. However, we won’t have to worry about them betraying us, at least. That’s the most important thing. In any case, you’d better get to work on this mission. Got it, Itami?”
“Yes, sir! Understood!”
Itami crisply snapped off a textbook salute, and just as he was about to turn and leave his commander’s office —
“Ah, that’s right, hang on.”
Itami froze mid-movement as Higaki called out to him. He turned around and asked, “Anything else?”
“I almost forgot to give this to you.”
Higaki handed Itami a payslip. He flipped through it, and was shocked. He even wondered if there was something wrong with his eyes.
“One, ten, hundred, thousand, ten thousand… uwah, this is…”
“You brought this on yourself. Didn’t someone give you a diamond as a gift? With that, your deducted pay shouldn’t be a problem, right?”
“Those are two different things, right? And it’s hard to value a diamond like that. Frankly speaking, until they properly verify its value, it’s just an ornament.”
After receiving the raw diamond, Itami had brought it to a high-end jeweler’s shop in Ginza to have it valued.
Of course, because the diamond was not only of a high grade but because it was huge, they told Itami that it was impossible to calculate its value.
If they smashed it into pieces, they could probably sell it. However, the jeweler firmly refused him — in a careful, cautious tone — and said: ‘We could not possibly do anything as shocking as that. This diamond is precious precisely because of its vast size. If we broke it up in deference to the owner’s wishes, it would be an insult to the stone’. However, the price which corresponded to a gem of this size could not be expressed by mere numbers. If pressed, he would say that it would be an ‘astronomical’ sum. In fact, it would not be much of a stretch to say that it was a ‘radio astronomical’ number.
<TL note: In astronomy, optical telescopes are the most common types used, and they can see a long way. Radio telescopes can see even further than that. In short, the stone is really valuable.>
“I am confident that there is nobody in this country with the purchasing power to acquire this gem. The people who could afford it would probably be Arabian sheikhs or Jewish financial magnates. Our firm simply does not have the connections with big players like that, so please forgive us for not being able to introduce a buyer to you. However, you might wish to try speaking to specialized gemstone trading firms and asking around. We cannot guarantee what kind of response you will get, when that response will come, or even if you will get a response in the first place. All I can ask is that you wait patiently.”
The jeweler returned the gemstone to Itami with trembling hands as he said this.
Because of this, Itami’s finances were still in dire straits. Not only was he not an overnight millionaire (or more), he was, in fact, flat broke.
—All this was because of what had happened to Itami after slaying the Flame Dragon.
Itami took out his JSDF-issued notebook and methodically crossed out a few lines of text within its pages.
Every time he did, he sighed. This made the nearby ladies focus their attention on him.
“What’s the matter? Why so glum?”
Rory peeked out from behind the seat’s backrest and peeked into Itami’s notebook.
“Nothing, it’s just a shopping list. Since my pay’s been docked, I’ve had to cut down on expenses too. But the more I think about it, the less I want to give up on any of the items here. It would be a shame to not buy them…”
He muttered, “Can’t give this up, can’t give that up,” and then he opened up a doujin market’s list of doujin circles and lined it up next to the notebook. All this was why Itami was called an otaku. Of course, if Rory knew the truth behind all of this, she would probably have poked his head from behind, while grumbling “Don’t make me worry about this sort of thing”. That said, she could not read Japanese characters well, so all she said was: “That’s a shame,” and then returned to her seat.
Besides Itami, only Lelei could understand Japanese characters at a glance. However, she was in the driver’s seat to the right of Itami, her hands firmly clenched around the steering wheel, watching her front while stepping on the gas. Therefore, she had no time to peek at what was in Itami’s hands.
The HMV drove steadily on toward the north.
Since there were no man-made roads on the plains, they would occasionally encounter rocks or sinkholes along the way. Lelei the driver did not need to spend much energy to maneuver around these obstacles, which also spoke of how skilled she had become at driving around them and solving all the problems they had on the road. Of course, part of the reason that she could do all this was because of the advanced driver assistance system installed in the vehicle. But one could also turn it around and say that nobody could have expected a novice driver who had just begun learning the day before to be able to drive so well.
“Adapting to the environment is more important than learning skills in a place without traffic regulations.”
What one learned in a driving school was how to drive safely while obeying traffic regulations. However, in a place without signal lights or road signs, those skills were not as important.
Incidentally, Rory, Tuka and Yao had also tried their hand at the wheel. On that day, Itami received a grim reminder of how frightening rookie female drivers could be. In fact, he told the three of them:
“I’m not riding in any vehicle you girls are driving.”
“No matter how long it takes, those three must never, ever, under any circumstance, be allowed to touch a steering wheel”, “It’s too dangerous”, “There’ll be an accident for sure”, “Innocent bystanders will get hurt”, “In any case, it’s forbidden!”
Thus Itami evaluated their driving skills.
Therefore, only Lelei — who was very confident in her skills — was permitted to practice driving.
“She’s adapting pretty well. Though, she should be getting tired around now. Hey, come switch with me,” Itami said.
He did so out of concern for Lelei, but surprisingly enough, Lelei had no intention of stopping.
For some reason, she paid Itami’s words no heed, and continued gripping the steering wheel. Shortly after that, she replied tersely:
“No need. I hope you will continue standing by.”
After that, Itami looked at the side at her face for a while. He noticed that she had started wearing malachite earrings recently, and her once-skinny body was beginning to show some curves, a clear sign that she was growing up.
“Could it be… you enjoy driving?”
“Why, why do you like it?”
“I enjoy controlling the rudder while swiftly analyzing the conditions of the road surface and the friction of the wheels, as well as paying attention to the vehicle’s mobility and its characteristics. The effects of manipulating the rudder are instantly visible in the form of a physical change in travel. I feel that driving is a personal test of one’s intellect and rationality. The vehicle itself is a construct of human intellect, and the feeling of melding with it is oddly similar to the feeling of casting a spell...”
Lelei did not stop to breathe, and kept delivering what sounded like a thesis.
“...So it’s fun, huh.”
While Lelei was monologuing, there was a slight change in her expression. Perhaps it would be apt to describe it as “a faint red flushing of the cheeks” or “shyness”.
Until that moment, Lelei — who had been supremely focused on driving — seemed like a part of the vehicle, with no change in her expression.
After that, once she finished answering Itami’s question, she added:
“Also, the Academy City of Londel is not far ahead. We’ll be able to see it after crossing that ridge.”
It was as Lelei said.
After crossing the peak, a new world seemed to open up before Itami’s eyes: stone buildings, clustered like stars, spread out in all directions in front of him.
“Londel is an old city with a long and distinguished past. Most old cities look like this, and all sorts of races make their home here…”
From Lelei’s explanations, he had learned that Londel was founded around 3000 years ago, beginning as some sort of private academy. The dual-aspected God of Wisdom Elrantola — though still a Demigod at the time — had inspired the construction of the academy.
Londel’s history was longer than the Empire’s, which was a point of pride for its residents. Though the neighboring countries rose and fell in a never-ending cycle, its reputation as an enduring capital of wisdom stood the test of time.
Many sages and magicians gathered here, spending their days in study and research. At the same time, younger disciples who thirsted for knowledge came here from all over the world, studying diligently to achieve their goals.
“The word ‘Lindon’ from the ‘Lindon School’ means ‘originated from Londel’.”
Lelei was a disciple of the Lindon School. Itami murmured in awe as he heard of the name’s origin, and then his attention was stolen by the city’s sights.
The interior of the city was made of sun-dried bricks, mortared together with plaster. The roof overhangs were made of a single, solid piece of material. The spaces between them were narrow enough that two people could stick their arms out of the windows on facing walls and link their hands. In addition, the buildings were so old that the originally-white exteriors were now dirtied to the point where one might think they had been charred. The plaster chipped off the walls, revealing the bricks within. Sights like these could be seen all over the city. There were clear marks where masons had reapplied the plaster, and thus patches of different-looking colors everywhere on the walls. All of this made the run-down looking portions of the wall that much more obvious.
Most of the buildings were two or three stories high. The rare four-story buildings stood out from the others as they reached to the sky.
Above the narrow street, people hung laundry to dry from the second and third story windows, and their clothing swayed gently in the faint breeze.
The people on the street were a melting pot. It was much like the interior of a small inn in that both were basically exercises in how to cram as many people as possible into a small space. Because of that, the density of the people on the streets had pretty much reached its maximum point.
The road called the Central Avenue was in reality little more than five meters wide. The many people milling back and forth included Hags with baskets on their heads, Dwarves hauling lumber, aged elders (human), as well as apprentices from various species. The HMV was trapped between theem — this was the same logic as a person who wanted to drive down a busy shopping street at evening.
However, if one looked around, one would see wagons heaped high with vegetables, or mounted old folks on horses who had met the same fate as the HMV. The people did not understand the concept of traffic flow, and thus they moved in random, illogical ways — striding across the center of the road, casually winding in and out from the side, standing and chatting where they were… Scenes like this were everywhere. The bigger cargo wagons and carts were slowed to a crawl by these chaotic conditions.
It would seem that everyone in the HMV — Itami included — was used to situations like these, and they all bore expressions of resignation. They yawned and had looks like “Let’s push forward a little” written on their faces. However at this time, there was no point in tapping their feet in annoyance. Itami, who was trying to get used to the local atmosphere, grumbled, “Ah, what bad luck, we came in at rush hour,” and then he shifted his feelings to a pattern which better suited waiting out a traffic jam.
“It’s always like this here. It’s neither planned nor logical.”
Lelei said these words, at once wistful and resigned, from the driver’s seat as she slowly drove the HMV on.
In front of the HMV was a wagon laden with vegetables which looked like pumpkins.
Its driver was an old man. In the back was a male Halfling and a young cat-eared girl, who sat together in a very familiar way, leaning their backs on each other. It was a scene which made people want to smile, and Itami wondered if that Halfling adult and that young cat-eared girl were a couple as he stared at them without realizing it. Just then, the eyes of both sides met, and Itami smiled in order to cover up his embarrassment.
Perhaps she had been affected by the air of impatience and anxiety in the vehicle, but Lelei put forward a suggestion to everyone.
“After turning right at the junction ahead, there’ll be a large inn not too far ahead. If you really can’t wait any longer, you can go ahead and take a look.
However, Tuka disliked the bustle and clamor of the streets. She rejected the idea by saying “We’ll get lost if we walk around in strange areas,” and punctuated her statement by taking out her musical instrument. Meanwhile, Rory’s face read “I’m so glad we won’t have to be stuck here”. After saying, “Got it, I’ll be heading over first”, she dismounted and asked Yao to join her.
“That’s a big help.”
“I know. Let me pick the inn for us.”
And so, Rory and Yao stepped forward excitedly, soon vanishing into the crowds.
“Has she been here before?” Itami muttered.
Tuka agreed and said, “It’s definitely not her first time” while scooping up her lute.
“Speaking of which, what should I play next?”
“Hm, that’s right. What’s a good piece…”
By the time the HMV had reached the inn, Tuka had played about ten requests for Itami.
Rory chose an inn which was called the Reader’s Rest. This was a four-storey building whose bottom two floors were made of brick while its upper two floors were made of wood. It looked like quite an extraordinary place.
Standing at the inn’s main door, Rory and Yao frantically waved their hands to Itami and the others as they shouted “Over here, over here”, “We’re right here”.
Lelei spotted them from a distance away, and she guided the vehicle over. The inn’s valet saw this and frantically ran out. However, as he did this, the hairy Beastman realized that this wagon was apparently not pulled by horses, and he tilted his head in confusion. Then, he respectfully addressed Itami and the others within the vehicle: “You must be Her Holiness’ followers. Please follow me.” With that, he herded the nearby pedestrians out of the way and guided the car toward the inn. Since the city was a gathering place for many species, one could see many mixed-blooded humanoids everywhere.
“We’re Rory’s followers? When exactly did I agree to be addressed like that?” Itami grumbled. In response, Lelei answered:
“The inns here are very picky. Usually, you can’t stay without someone introducing you. What she did was quite appropriate.”
“It sounds like an old restaurant in Tokyo. Still, that means that all we need to do is mention Rory to get rid of all the problems in our way, right?”
“Indeed. The residents are just as old-fashioned as this city, and they bow easily to fame and power.”
“Mm, after all, it seems that the gods are the highest authority in this world.”
They looked toward the inn’s parking area, where stagecoaches and cargo wagons were neatly lined up in a row.
Inside the stables, they could see horses for pulling wagons and geldings used for riding. They were all helping themselves to fodder. Further within were creatures which looked like dinosaurs. At a glance one might think the inn was preparing to set up a branch of Jurassic Park.
“The roofed garage is here..”
The Beastman guided Itami and the others to the garage for roofed wagons in a natural tone, without bothering to explain the details to them.
According to Lelei, inns like these usually had two places for parking — the open-air parking lot, and the roofed garage, which had locked doors and a roof. Although using the locked garage was more expensive, it was a worthwhile expense for merchants transporting large quantities of cargo. In contrast, the open-air parking lot was free of charge, but if one parked a goods wagon there, they risked thieves making off with their cargo, and of course there was the inconvenience of being exposed to the elements.
It was troublesome to move the HMV’s weapons, ammunition and other equipment to their room, so to Itami, rejoiced at the fact that they had an enclosed area to park the vehicle.
After everyone had dismounted, Itami hastily retrieved his toiletries and other daily-use supplies as well as his sidearm. Then he closed the garage’s door with his hands full.
After that, Lelei, Tuka, as well as Rory — who had popped in from behind them — began knocking on and fiddling with the garage’s door and lock.
“What are they doing?” Itami mused. The valet, who had been standing to the side all this while, quietly replied:
“That’s a many-layered ward. Magic, spirit magic, as well as Her Holiness’ curse… any idiot who touches those will die a horrible death. Even if they survive by some miracle, they’ll probably wish they were dead. Ohhhhh, it scares me just to think of it.”
After realizing that they were probably setting up anti-theft measures, Itami vowed not to come near this place again.
“Welcome, your Holiness Rory, as well as her followers. I am the owner of the Reader’s Rest, Hamal. It is my honor to personally serve your Holiness during your stay here. This is no idle boast, but even in the ancient city of Londel, the Reader’s Rest can be considered one of the most aged of our many historic institutions. And now, thanks to the patronage of your Holiness, this humble establishment can tally another mark of honor upon its long and distinguished history.”
The innkeeper Hamal was clearly not human at first glance — not only was he huge of body, his skin seemed to be red in color. Once he asked around, Itami learned that he was a Pooka, a species which was adept at commerce.
Separated from them by a counter, the innkeeper handed a guest register to Rory. At the same time, a palm-size Fairy descended beside the book, quickly producing a pen for them.
Rory accepted the pen with a “Thank you”, and then signed her name with grand, sweeping strokes.
The innkeeper beamed with satisfaction as he read out Rory’s name.
“Rory Mercury… as expected your Holiness’ calligraphy is impeccable. This is no idle boast, but this register contains the signature of Tyrant King Solmon of Kracia.”
“Ah, what a nostalgic name. In those days, I was just a trainee priestess. Did that person stay here as well?”
“Indeed. King Solmon spent his youth in this city of Londel. Of course, your Holiness’ name will also become a point of pride for our household, and it will be passed down through the generations.”
After Rory signed her name, Lelei took up the pen and signed for the other four. However, during this time, the innkeeper continued speaking only to Rory.
“Your Holiness, may I ask why you have come to this place?”
Everyone knew that Londel was a city of learning and knowledge, so all the shrines here were dedicated to gods of wisdom, knowledge and so one, like the God of Wisdom Elranyala. In turn, it was practically unheard of to have an Apostle of Emroy visit this place.
“Actually, I came to accompany this girl.”
As Rory spoke, she gestured with her eyes to the innkeeper. Only then did he seem to realize that Lelei existed, and he muttered “The Rurudo girl?” He eyed her from her silver hair to the tips of her toes, as though he were licking her body with his gaze. Apparently, the Rurudo were a very rare breed of humans, living a nomadic lifestyle with no fixed home.
“A sage’s robe… I see, is she a freshly-admitted apprentice?”
Simply put, the “admission” Hamal was talking about referred to signing on with a master to learn his craft. All who wanted to walk the path of academia needed to start by learning basic knowledge from the sages in their homes. After that, outstanding apprentices would journey to Londel to seek ever more esoteric knowledge. Even so, things like schools or organized educational institutions did not exist in this City of Wisdom. In their place, the apprentices sought out teachers in the city and begged to be allowed to study under them. Most of the apprentices who came here to learn their art were around Lelei’s age. Therefore, the innkeeper came to the conclusion that Lelei was a “freshly-admitted apprentice”.
Rory understood the innkeeper’s thoughts, and she simply smiled without saying anything.
“Welcome to Londel. I will arrange for your rooms, which will be the best in the house, of course. I pray your Holiness and her followers will wait here for a few moments.”
The innkeeper blew his whistle, summoning the boys who did odd jobs around the inn. Soon enough, Brownies, Pookas, Hobbits, and youths of various species filled the room.
“Add another bed to Room 2 on the fourth floor. Tidy up Room 3 on the other side as well. Hurry!”
Several of the servants dashed out after receiving instructions to add another mattress to the three-person room.
Others, who did not have anything in hand, encircled the group while saying, “Let us help you take your luggage.”
“Uwah, this girl’s really cute!”
“She’s beautiful. Look, her golden hair’s so pretty!”
“You lot! That’s a guest! Don’t be rude to them!”
“Your Holiness. Please allow me to take your halberd.”
One of the servants took the halberd from Rory, and then he began to yelp “Uwaaaaah!” as he felt its weight. At the same time, he lost balance in shock, and fell to one side.
The halberd fell toward the crotch of another servant, who shrieked “Aieeee!” and leapt away before falling flat on his ass. Then, the sharp halberd embedded itself into the wooden floor with hardly a sound.
“Oi, you lot! What the hell are you doing?!”
“Sorry, Hamal-san. But… it’s really heavy… Please, please follow us, your room’s on the fourth floor.”
“One, two, three!”
The halberd was finally moved by the combined strength of three people, who then proceeded to carry it up the stairs.
Rory shrugged and said, “Good grief,” as she saw them struggling, before walking up the stairs.
Lelei, Tuka and Yao handed their luggage to the inn’s servants, and they proceeded up the stairs empty-handed. In the end, only Itami was left where he was, still holding his luggage.
“Ah… what about me?”
Itami was a little depressed and at a loss for words, given that nobody had spoken to him or offered to take his things. “I haven’t been forgotten, right?” “I’m still a guest, right…?”
Those grumbled words made it to the innkeeper’s ears.
Hamal turned his gaze on Itami and said:
“Ah, that’s right. A minion like you can stay in Room 3, the one opposite the others. I’ve been thinking about it, and although it’s just a storage room, it’s probably still best for a minion to be nearby when he’s called on. Don’t you think so? You should be thanking me. Fei! Show him the way there!”
Itami blinked, and he saw a Fairy girl, so small that she could stand on his palm, hovering in mid-air.
She made a “come with me” gesture to Itami.
Someone like her could not possibly help him carry his luggage...
As Itami muttered “Room 3” to himself, he slowly trudged up the stairs.
On the other hand, Hamal — the only one remaining downstairs — looked at the names on the guest register, and he began thinking: “Who’s this Lelei girl?” and “What does she have to do with an Apostle of Emroy, anyway?”
Anyone who ran an inn needed a keen pair of eyes for scrutinizing people. Foolishly allowing people of unknown provenance to stay at one’s inn might lead to them welching on their bills, or worse, stealing.
The Reader’s Rest had been in business for a thousand years, and it kept its own traditions. Every generation of its proprietors kept an eye on any guests who came in, and they were instantly aware of anything funny they got up to. It was through this practice that the inn had gotten its reputation for reliability, and it was why their big customers had flocked to them. It was for this reason that Innkeeper Hamal did a background check on every customer who stayed here, though recently, his actions had gone beyond the line of simple “alertness”. His mind churned and spun with all sorts of imagined scenarios — they had become a hobby of his.
“Lelei La Lele… huh.”
To most people, the sage’s robe Lelei wore looked very plain. However, Hamal was very perceptive. He had immediately deduced that her clothes and their stitching were well made and valuable. Still, it was hard to imagine that a wandering Rurudo girl would be able to be that extravagant. Thus, Rurudo decided to flex his imagination, and drafted a colorful script for her.
—For instance, might that girl have caught the eye of a wealthy noble, and become an adopted daughter?
—If people spoke highly of her, then there must have been some wealthy old tycoon or noble who handed the family business and his powers to his son, and decided to find meaning in his twilight years through teaching. After searching all over, he found a talented girl, and decided to raise her — probably into a wife for his grandchildren, perhaps, and he took pains to properly educate her.
—On the other hand, if there was malicious gossip about her, then she would be a young (child?) concubine, and not an adopted daughter. If that girl really was in such a situation, there might be people who would sympathize with or resent her — perhaps after marrying his latest conquest, the lecherous old man might have died of a heart attack or some other reason. After that, his sons would be frustrated — how would they deal with this (child?) concubine who was most likely younger than them? The most reasonable conclusion was that she would be exiled from the household, but in exchange she would be allowed to live a life of freedom. In addition, she would be sent to Londel with a generous allowance.
If that sequence of events was accurate, then he would be justified in predicting that her Holiness would have taken pity on the poor girl and escorted her here.
“Tuka Luna Marceau and Yao Ro Ducy.”
It was worth thinking about this Elf and Dark Elf pair as well. After all Elves and Dark Elves had never gotten along. Yet, the two of them were travelling together, so the reason for that ought to be interesting.
“Itamy Youjy… well, he’s just a baggage-carrying minion, no point thinking about him.”
His clothes were an uneven mix of dark and bright green and covered in brown stripes that seemed to be randomly thrown in. Surely they were some form of jester’s motley.
After a while, the sound of footsteps came down the stairs, and the servants who had ushered the guests to their rooms came down the stairs.
Hamal shouted at them: ”Keep quiet when you walk!” and then quietly whispered: “How was it?”
In other words, how generous were the guests?
One could determine a guest’s affluence by the tips they gave to the help.
One of them answered, “They tipped in Molt coppers”, and showed the money in his hands to Hamal.
“Oh, really? Did each of you get them?”
“Each of us got one.”
A sizable portion of the people who chose to stay in the Reader’s Rest were from the wealthy class of society. Even so, most of the time they only tipped a few slim Bita coppers each, which they took to be a fact of working life. However, anyone who could give away thick and heavy Mort coppers as tips must have been quite generous. Thanks to these tips, the servants were all talking about those female guests.”
“That silver-haired girl with blue eyes is really cute!”
“I think that blonde Elf girl is better.”
“Oi oi, she’s an Elf, so she’s probably pretty old.”
“If that’s the case, who do you prefer?”
“Her Holiness, of course.”
“Isn’t she even older?!”
And so, the servants went back and forth, which let to a lively discussion.
Hamal personally felt that the Dark Elf girl was most his type. Under these circumstances, her actual age was not a problem. The most important thing was the mature woman’s sex appeal that she possessed. They’re boys, which is why they can’t appreciate her charms, Hamal thought as he looked smugly at the serving boys.
“Oh, we have customers again. There’s work to do, you lot, so step lively!”
Hamal clapped his hands, and the inn servants chorused “Yes sir” before rushing off to their work.
After that, guests who wanted to stay filtered in. Today’s occupancy rate was quite good. Most of them seemed to be book traders who frequently visited this place, or parents who were sending their children here to find a master. Hamal politely welcomed them all, and bade them sign the guest register, then had the servants lead the guests to their rooms. He repeated these familiar tasks by rote, intimately familiar with each and every step of the process.
There were also some travelling merchants who had turned back from their journey to the Imperial Capital.
Once he asked, he discovered that a critical bridge leading to the Capital had collapsed, and now fording the river was a problem.
There had been no news of the river flooding, so nobody could have expected something like this to happen. Upon closer listening, he heard people say things along the lines of “Looks like someone sabotaged it on purpose”.
“But would anyone gain from that?” Hamal asked. His guests replied, “There might be certain traders moving product to the Imperial Capital. They might want to jack up the prices and in order to cause rumors of the destruction to spread, they would do such a thing.”
And so, the travelling merchants came to the inn one by one, though they tapered off after Hamal had taken quite a few of them in. Then, the sound of footsteps came from the staircase.
Hamal turned to look, and saw that Rory and her companions were descending the stairs. As he saw this, he deeply realized something — that truth could sometimes be more vivid than fiction. Judging by the sizeable tips the servants had received, the “perverted old gramps and his (child?) concubine” plot might actually be quite plausible.
“We’ll be heading outside for a while. We’ll have dinner outside, so there’s no need to prepare it for us.”
So spoke the man that Hamal thought was their minion. He had changed out that colorfully striped jester’s outfit of his for another set of clothes which certainly seemed foreign enough, but looked quite stylish. What the innkeeper did not know was that Itami was now wearing the JGSDF dress uniform. At the same time, Lelei, Rory, Tuka and Yao were in a circle around him. One could say that it perfectly illustrated how he lay at the heart of the relationships between the five of them.
And then, Hamal saw something he had not expected — the girl that he had taken for a newly-minted acolyte wore a pure white robe, with a white braid stretching from shoulder to shoulders and hanging down her chest. In her hand she held a magic staff which symbolized the Lindon School.
Anyone who lived within Londel knew what these vestments represented. Because of that, if she were to walk on the main roads, anyone who saw it would immediately clear a path for her.
“This, this is quite a surprise. Ah, my eyes must be deceiving me. Do you intend to contend for the title of Sage at such a young age?”
Anyone who wanted to compete in the final trial for the title of Sage would need to dress like this. It was practically a tradition.
The Academy City of Londel periodically conducted academic conferences. There the robes of those candidates whose abilities were acknowledged by their peers would remain pristine white. In contrast, those who could not convince the gathered masters of their skills would be mercilessly pelted with jars of jet-black ink. Of course, the state of the blackened robe could hardly bear watching. In addition, the failed candidate was not allowed to change out of that stained, blackened robe until they left Londel, so they would have to endure the shame of the condemning eyes of all around them. Because of that, anyone who met such a fate typically fled the city after calming down.
When contending for the title of Sage, a key part of the process involved presenting a thesis. According to the rules, one needed enough evidence and experience for the subject matter of the thesis that even the most ancient professor would nod in deference.
When presenting one’s thesis, it was common for someone in the audience to level weaselly arguments at the candidate in cutting tones, which would be followed by mocking laughter from all sides. This often caused the author to panic and rush through their presentation, only to find that they had tripped over their own tongue halfway, or submitted the wrong manuscript, or messed up and accidentally cast a spell during the presentation, and some had even fled the conference in tears. In any event, it was a terribly cruel set of proceedings.
Of course, even if one failed during this ordeal, they would not die. Anyone who could endure the shame of being mocked by the audience could challenge them as often as they liked. However, anyone who could repeatedly do so in the face of multiple defeats either had no sense of shame or was simply thick-skinned. Hamal felt that describing the girl before him as thick-skinned or oblivious would be a terrible mistake. Waiflike, maybe. As delicate as fine porcelain. If you handled her too roughly, she might break, no?
That was what Hamal thought.
In addition, he had no idea who her master was. To think he would actually allow her to make such a rash attempt! As he thought about this, Hamal hastily asked:
“Forgive my intrusion, but may I ask the identity of your honored master?”
“Kato. Kato El Ardestan.”
The innkeeper knew of this name. To be precise, everyone in the Academy City of Londel knew this name. “It would be strange if someone didn’t know him” — so famous was that name’s owner.
The Old Sage Kato. A man who was a magician among magicians.
So that was it, she was that man’s disciple.
Hamal’s jaw dropped, and he could not say anything. After this startling revelation, he saw the girl before him with new eyes.
Lelei led Itami and the rest of the gang away from the inn. After travelling a short distance, they came across row upon row of buildings in what looked to be a residential district. Because they were now halfway up a mountain’s slopes, they had an unobstructed view of the sprawling streets at the mountain’s base.
“That building is called a meeting hall, used for convening conferences and sharing academic results. And that over there is the city hall. Sovereign city-states usually have a small council.”
After that, Lelei turned and pointed to the mountain’s peak.
“And then, from this point on is the research district.”
The area she was pointing to was encircled by high walls.
The brick walls seemed to be protecting something. Aside from the great gates, there seemed to be an air around the place which was hostile to outsiders. It would be quite accurate to describe it as the wall surrounding a huge mansion.
However, on closer inspection one would find that there were no guards on patrol, nor was the area restricted in any way. Anyone could pass the wall and reach the other side. There, all the buildings were old and dilapidated, looking as if they would collapse under their own weight at any moment. Because of that, Itami and company nearly assumed that this was the pauper’s district. Although they were only separated by a single wall, the buildings on the outside were still quite presentable, despite their plainness. However, this place was the heart of the Academy City Londel. If this place were a university, then this would be the equivalent of their main campus.
The young men and women nearby were dressed similarly to Lelei. Their clothes were immaculate, without so much as a hint of dust, dirt or grime on them. It would seem all of them had spent long years as apprentices. When Lelei appeared from behind, most of them looked on with wide eyes. After that, some pretended that they had not seen anything, while others did spit-takes, and then they scattered like birds. A keen-eyed observer would be able to discern the dark and complex emotions within them.
“Lelei, if you can really become a Sage at this age, you’ll probably raise up a storm of jealousy around you.”
Lelei kept her eyes fixed straight ahead after hearing Rory’s words, and she nodded emotionlessly.
“I am prepared for that.”
Lelei was determined to contend for the title of Sage.
She had been allowed to do this because Master Kato had already acknowledged her ability — had felt that she was skilled enough to contend for that title. On the other hand, people had spent five, sometimes ten years in research and study, but their efforts were fruitless. There were quite a few people like that in the Academy City of Londel. As these people toiled in obscurity, it was only natural that they would feel jealous when they saw someone as young as Lelei achieve the goal which had eluded them for so long.
If one looked around, one would see several young people in dirty robes, engaged in an intense debate of some sort, while writing something on the ground in large characters. Looking further, one could see a group of students surrounding the Dwarves, who seemed to be tutors delivering a lecture.
Itami could tell that this was equivalent to a university’s research department. However, unlike Japanese universities, the professors and students here were not limited to fixed locations, but they could turn even the shade of the trees on either side of a road into a makeshift lecture room.
“Could it be that some big names come here to lecture too?”
“Of course. The research facilities of the masters are all isolated, so they have to come by themselves.”
An oddly-placed word made its way into Itami’s ear, and he could not help but ask, ”Isolated?”
Lelei nonchalantly repeated, “Yes, isolated”.
As she said that, a flare of light erupted from a building not far ahead. After that, a flood of water erupted from everywhere on that building which could be considered a window. The nearby region was subjected to a miniature flash flood, and those unfortunate apprentices who had been passing by were soaked to the bone.
“What the hell just happened! My equation! My precious equation, I only just finished formulating it!”
“My, my samples are ruined!”
“My thesis! My thesis! Ahhhhhh— it’s all wet now!”
All around them were people beating their chests, stomping their feet, wailing and gnashing their teeth. It looked like the site of a terrible disaster.
Looking around, it would seem even Yao had not been spared this fate. Thanks to a splashing wave from the flood, she was now dripping water everywhere.
Fortunately, Yao had shielded Lelei with her body, and Lelei had not been touched by even a droplet of water. She quickened her pace to avoid the streams of water beneath her, and with each step she repeated what she had just said.
Itami thought about his uniform, which had been caught in the spray, and mused on what Lelei had just said.
“Could it be that the wall was made to separate the districts for this reason? So… could it be that Master Kato was living in Coda Village as a form of isolation as well?”
“...If something like that happened there, it would be very dangerous.”
“Wouldn’t the villagers of Coda get involved too?”, “Would it be safe like that?” and other questions kept streaming forth. That’s true, which is why Master Kato’s hut was located some distance away from the rest of the village, Itami thought. If that were the case, a lot of the questions they had when they went to inspect the damage to the village could be easily explained.
They followed Lelei into a narrow alley, which seemed to link to other narrow alleys, creating an environment where people might get lost and go astray easily. Before long, the group stopped before a small building. They opened an unimposing gate and climbed a narrow and treacherous staircase, the sort which looked like it would hardly bear someone brushing up against it. Every time they put their way on it, the stairs creaked loudly, making people think that they would collapse at any moment. After taking that into consideration, Itami and the others had to proceed slowly and carefully as they ascended. Almost immediately, a small wooden door came into view.
There was only enough room at the top of the stairs to accommodate Lelei and Tuka. Rory, Yao and Itami had to wait in the middle of the staircase. After that, Lelei rapped on the door, using her staff in lieu of a door knocker.
“Who is it? If you’re here to collect debts, you can save your effort. I’m broke.”
A grumbling, questioning voice answered the repeated knocking. Judging by the hoarseness of the voice, one could imagine that it belonged to an older woman.
The door swung open the moment she stated her name.
From it came a cute-looking old lady (human) who seemed to be in her late 70s.
Judging by her looks, she must have been beautiful 50 years ago, Her grey hair was streaked with black and white, tied up in a bun and secured with a hairpin. Her back was straight and there seemed to be a sparkle in her eyes, from which one could tell that this old lady had lived a full and meaningful life. The look in her eyes seemed to summarize her attitude towards life.
Naturally, she wore a Sage’s robe, though hers was somewhat old.
“Well! Well well well! Is that you, Lili?”
“No. It’s Lelei.”
The old lady lightly swatted herself on the head with her right hand.
“Yes, that’s right, it should be Lelei. Although, Lili sounds quite cute too,” she said as she rubbed Lelei’s head.
Once the two of them drew near to each other, the others discovered that this old lady was about the same height as Lelei.
“Thank you for coming all the way here to visit me. All right, all right, don’t all cluster up around the door. Sadly I don’t have anything for guests, but please come in anyway.”
After being invited into the old lady’s home, they looked around, and found that it was filled with parchments and books, as well as numerous specimen cases.
All the walls were covered in bookshelves. The tables were all covered in mountainous piles of books, and the floor around them was strewn with scrolls or notebooks that had fallen from the countless piles of books. There hardly seemed to be any space to move around in the house. Itami and the others unconsciously squeezed themselves into what few gaps they could find, while Rory stood right behind Itami, as though trying to hide herself.
The old lady noticed Lelei’s garb, and asked:
“Judging by the way you’re dressed, it seems you’re competing for the title of Sage, right? But don’t you think it’s a little early for that? Has that old rogue Kato finally gone senile?”
In response, Lelei produced a letter written on parchment, and gave it to the old lady.
She cracked the wax seal open and muttered, “Let me see what’s in here” and began reading the letter.
“Hmhm, I see. Ara ara, is that so…”
The more she read, the more exaggerated her reaction became.
Before long, she finished the letter. Then, she quietly looked back at Lelei, her eyes filled with delight.
“ I didn’t think you’d be able to accomplish so much. If that’s the case, it makes sense you’d skip grades. Kato painted you with glowing words. If Arpeggio learned about this, she’d be jealous.”
“Same old, same old. She seems to have gone out for something. She should be back in a while. ...Ara ara, this isn’t good, I can’t leave my guests standing as they wait. Lili, could you give me a hand? I need to get some chairs for them...”
“My name is Lelei.”
The two of them went back and forth at each other as they searched for suitable chairs in the room. However, no matter where they looked, everything that could have something placed on it — be they tables or chairs — was occupied by books. Then, just as the old lady was about to reach out to push away a specimen case, a pile of books on a nearby table tumbled like an avalanche, and in a chain reaction the specimen box also fell. The rocks within the protective case — probably gemstones or ores of some kind — spilled out over the ground.
“Ah! Sensei, what are you doing! Didn’t I ask you not to make the house messier than before?!”
Just then, a cry of complaint came from outside the door.
A woman with brown hair placed her shopping basket on the ground — to be precise, she hurled it to the ground — and stormed in, muttering “Really!” as she did. Once she entered, she radiated an aura that made even the old lady and Lelei back off, and then she began to pick up the stones on the ground.”
“What’s wrong? You seem particularly grouchy today, are you constipated?”
“What, what are you saying, it’s nothing like that!”
This woman had a head of slightly-curled brown hair, which she sloppily tied up with a cloth ribbon.
In addition, there was no sign of makeup on her face. The fact that she — as a woman — looked so slovenly and unkempt might make people feel that she had cast away any attempt at trying to look attractive or feminine. However, in stark contrast to her dressing, her body was curved and well proportioned, and her sensual body lines were visible even through her clothing, to the point where people dared not to look at her directly.
“Mm… this piece goes in this box, that pieces goes in the other box. One, two, three… eh, where’s that rutile gone?”
It would seem that this woman and the granny both lacked talent in cleaning and tidying, to nearly fatal levels.
“Ara, you mean this?”
Just as the old lady reached out to the table, the painstakingly rearranged specimen cases fell to the ground again.
Silence filled the room.
The brown-haired woman looked at the old lady. The way her body was trembling suggested that she was desperately trying to control her emotions.
“Sensei, let me make this clear. You’re in the way right now, so could you please step outside for a bit?”
“That, that’s right… well, it’s getting later, so I’ll take our guests to “Marina” for dinner. You should come over too after tidying this up. It’s rare that Lili comes by, and you probably have so much to talk about.”
“Lili? Who are you talking about?”
“No. It should be Lelei.”
“...Got it. I’ll come over once I’m done. Mm, that’s right, of course I need to go over right away. I can’t wait to talk to my little sister — the little sister who’s now planning to skip the rank of Doctor and jump over her big sister’s head to contend for the title of a Sage, the little sister who ignored the feelings of her lonely big sister who has no luck with men, the little sister who wears earrings because she wants to look more attractive, the little sister who looks down on her poor elder sister while being well-to-do herself, the little sister who even brought Elves back with her — oh yes, I’d love to talk to her, about all sorts of things.”
Just as this woman was talking, Itami noticed something rare from his place by the side.
A bead of sweat slid down Lelei’s forehead, and then lingered on her cheek...
After passing through the wall around the research district, they walked a little further before reaching the restaurant called “Marina”.
There were three plainly-made tables within and a counter.
There were two or three female patrons who looked to be acolytes. They were keenly focused on studying the books in their hands, and one of them was recording nonstop.
The air in here was like a cafe near a ladies’ college. Since places like this were a family business, they were decorated cosily, which made them popular with women.
“Lady Mimoza, welcome. My, you have many people with you today. Are they all your students?”
A red-faced man who looked like the owner welcomed the old lady with a bright smile.
“No, no, they’re all my guests. Come, look, they’re all pretty girls. How about it, do you like them?”
“Indeed, they’re all very pretty. Looks like I’d better give it my best shot today.”
With that, he energetically headed back into the kitchen.
Mimoza smiled in satisfaction as she watched him, then picked a table and called the others over.
“Come, come, please take a seat, everyone. The food here is pretty good, and since the customers are all cute girls, it should get even better. The most important thing is — it’s cheap.”
After thinking a little, Itami pushed two four-man tables together and arrayed chairs around them before sitting down. Then he began searching for the menu.
“I wonder what sort of food this restaurant serves?”
“Just leave it to the owner, I guess.”
And so, after they had sat down and caught their breath, Mimoza suggested that Lelei introduce both sides, in order to make good use of the time until the food arrived.
“This is Mimoza La Mel. She is a magician and a Great Sage, as well as one of the elders of Londel City.”
According to Lelei’s introduction, this old lady was Master Kato’s senior, under the same master. Lelei’s big sister Arpeggio was currently learning from her. She also added “she’s highly versed in matters of archeology” — that seemed directed to Itami — and she nonchalantly hinted, “Sensei Mimoza would probably be vital for the resource prospecting mission.”
After that, it was Itami and gang’s turn.
Lelei introduced them in the order they were seated, from the furthest to the nearest.
After Mimoza heard the introductions of the two Elves, her eyes sparkled and she said:
“Well, seeing Elves and Dark Elves sitting peaceably at the same table is something new. What happened to make them get along so well? If it’s possible, could you tell me about it?”
As she finished saying this, Tuka and Yao exchanged looks and smiled uncomfortably. Neither of them had expected anyone to say that they were “getting along well”.
The truth was, it was hard to say they got along, even in the broadest of terms. The two of them had complex feelings about each other… for instance, Yao had done something terrible to Tuka in order to save her people, and until now she was still consumed by guilt over her deeds. When Tuka regained her senses, she was grateful to Yao to some extent, but at the same time she could not deny that what Yao had done was truly evil.
Even so, neither of them hated each other. Thus, the fact that the two of them could calmly sit down at the same table was nothing to be worried about. In any case, after everything that had happened, they were just uneasy about being with each other.
After that, just as Lelei was about to introduce Rory—
“It’s been a while, Rory. Could it be that you came to find the answer to that question?”
Mimoza interrupted Lelei, indicating that there was no need to introduce Rory.
“It was 50 years ago, when Rory and I were travelling around.”
“Mimoza, you’ve grown old.”
“I have indeed. Are you jealous? I’m the very picture of a granny now.”
As she said that, the old lady raised her wrinkled hands. She seemed to be showing off a pair of prized treasures. Rory seemed envious herself, even pouting as she saw it.
“Then, Lili… no, no, it’s Lelei. How about introducing the next one?”
Lelei glanced at Itami sitting beside her.
“This gentleman is Itamy Youjy.”
Lelei did not say anything other than his name.
“Oh? Itamy Youjy… it’s pronounced like that, right?”
“Pleased to meet you.”
Itami rose and bowed politely, then filled in for Lelei — that his surname was “Itami”, his given name was “Youji”, and then continued:
“I’ve heard that you are well-versed in archeology, Mimoza-sensei. Therefore, I would like to ask; are there any useful resources or ores in the area? Do you know of anything like that?”
“Mmm, I can say I know a few. Of course, that depends on your definition of ‘useful’.”
“Wonderful. If it’s at all possible, I would like you to tell me.”
“Mm, I don’t mind you asking. However, shall we discuss that later? Right now, I just want to chat happily with all of you. What do you think?”
“It’s fine. Until Lelei’s done with her conference, I’ll be around. I can visit you any time you’re free.”
After receiving Mimoza’s approval, Itami bowed politely in thanks. Etiquette of this sort came naturally to Itami once he stepped into society. At this time, Mimoza eyed the fabric of his green uniform and asked:
“These clothes are quite rare. Which country do you gail from?”
“I come from Japan, from the other side of the Gate at Arnus Hill.”
“Ah! Well ,that’s interesting. I’ve heard that a Gate opened at Arnus, but there’s been no news about what’s on the other side of the Gate. Now, tell me, what’s that place like? Lelei, have you been there?”
“We’ve already been there,” Rory said with a smug look on her face. Mimoza leaned forward eagerly.
“Ah, I’m envious. Come, tell me about your trip!”
Lelei, Rory and Tuka looked at each other in response to Mimoza’s request. After exchanging looks for a while, they each began relating their own account of events — Rory talked about the sights on the streets, Tuka described the luxurious clothing that she had seen, while Lelei mentioned several Japanese bookstores she had been to.
“Those stores have an astounding amount of books. Also, according to Pina, there are libraries there, which contain all sorts of books and which are available to the common folk. If I get a chance to go there again, I’ll definitely go take a look. I feel we should build one in Londel as well.
As Itami listened to them speak, a question popped up in his mind, and so he asked:
“Could it be that you don’t have libraries? Here, in this Academy City?”
“Not here, no.”
“According to records in ancient books, there had once been facilities like that, but in the end, they were no more.”
“That’s a matter for long ago. They used to fight holy wars in this region, and the zealots of a monotheistic religion burned the book storage to ash,” Mimoza said with a sad look on her face.
Part of the reason why the city of Londel was known as the City of Wisdom was because it contained many wise folk, who each possessed impressive book collections. Now that the libraries had vanished, anyone seeking knowledge had no choice but to gather it on their own. Under these conditions, only selfishly hoarding books would sate their thirst for knowledge.
“If it’s really as Lelei says, then that would be great. However, collecting these valuable things presents certain difficulties.”
“It’s fine. The printing press makes book production easy. In the land of Nihon, publishing books is commonplace to the people there. As a result, they have large gatherings called Dou-Jin-Shi Mar-Kets where such materials are regularly released to the people. Every time this release takes place, countless people gather there. It is a majestic sight.”
Lelei had a rare look of excitement on her face as she said this.
“It would be great if books were cheap enough to be easily accessible to people.”
“That dream will come true one day.”
Lelei looked to the sky and nodded, as though she had predicted the future. But just then...
There was a great crash, as though someone had hit the door with all their strength. Everyone slowly turned to look at the source of the sound.
“Wait, wait a bit, that would be bad. Very bad. There’s people who would be inconvenienced by the price of books going down.”
Just then, Lelei’s elder sister Arpeggio El Lelena appeared at the door. She had a spine-chilling expression — like she was wearing a hannya mask — on her face.