Editors: Skythewood, Nate, AMetroid
The Academy City of Londel
The shroud of night fell over the silent Reader’s Rest.
From the outside, one could still see two or three lit windows on the side of the inn, but they were the exception ― for the most part, the windows of the four-story, 40-room inn were dark. However, this did not mean that the guest rooms were unoccupied. In fact, most of the rooms were taken. However, lamp oil was not cheap, so they were used to sleeping early to avoid wastage.
Rather than rely on a feeble light to exorcise the night of its terrors, everyone chose to flee into the comfort of sleep instead.
However, when one turned to look at the buildings on the other side of the street, their windows were still lit up.
Those lights belonged to scholars who were too immersed in their research to spare time for sleep. In contrast to the line of blazing wildfire which raced through the streets of Akusho, they were a soft, gentle glow.
“Ah, the skyline of an old city. I’ll never tire of it, no matter how many times I see it.”
How many days had they stayed here now?
The man looked down on the streets of Londel from one of its run-down old buildings.
The Reader’s Rest was located at the foot of the mountain, and from there one could gaze all the way up the slopes, to the mountain’s peak.
This sort of scenery was part of the charm of old cities. And indeed, Londel was an old city with the weight of history behind it, so it was not wrong to feel that way. However, unlike in Tokyo, Nara and other sightseeing spots ― where old buildings were empty shells good only for tourism ― the buildings here were all being fully utilized. The lights in the night skyline were all put to practical use, and there was a certain beauty to this lack of false ornamentation.
The girl who stood beside the man responded:
“Indeed. These lights are not like the brightness of Tokyo. Feeble flames flicker on the candlestands. Under their weak light, the apprentices frantically scribble with their pens. With the flame of wisdom to banish the darkness ignorance, they combine their individual progress as they delve ever forward, exploring with their hands into uncharted territory.”.
A rustle of clothing could be heard from the girl under the covers. She reached out to grab the man’s sleeve. It would seem she was naked under that pure white bedsheet.
“Wait… what are you doing?”
“Father, shouldn’t you be coming soon? I’m already prepared.”
Behind Itami and Lelei were Tuka (who was looking around while peering through an infrared night vision scope, wearing only a T-shirt), Rory (whose cheeks were puffed up in annoyance), Yao (who was wearing a sports bra and a pair of bermudas, and had a clueless look on her face), as well as a still-sleepy Shandy in a kantoi.
(TL note: kantoi were mentioned way back in v1; it was Lelei’s outfit when fleeing Coda Village)
“Yup, I’m coming now. I only asked because I’m trying hard not to die.”
Itami was dressed in an olive drab T-shirt and his BDU slacks. He idly patted the rifle slung over his right shoulder, felt its hard metal parts and its sanded wooden stock while Lelei made the bed under her. She looked different from how she usually did, probably because she was barefoot, in a baggy tank top and wearing hot pants. She went on to wake the sleepers around them.
“If I mention my mentor’s name, it should reduce the chances of us being harassed.”
Was that person really as great as she imagined?
Lelei replied to Itami: “If that happens, won’t it all be over?” as he loaded a pair of taped-together magazines, then covered the metal parts of the rifle in black vinyl tape so that there would be no sound when they touched each other. In addition, he did not fully set the safety lever to [S] once he finished loading it, but left it halfway to the [F] position. This way, he could quickly switch from the “safe” to “fire” positions with a fingertip. Technically speaking, he should have set it all the way to “safe” to observe proper firearms safety, but the difficulty of readying the Type 64 rifle was a flaw in its design.
“Well, it would be best if the assassins were willing to give up, but that’s unlikely. So we’ve got to do this.”
Using the Reader’s Rest as a base of operations, Itami and the others had been wandering the area around Londel every day for the past two weeks. There was a poor village about half a day’s journey by car away, and the Belnago Shrine was about two day’s journey away.
They had many objectives here, but the most important one was Itami’s resource prospecting. In addition, the way they left almost after arriving at any given area was also related to shaking off the assassins after Lelei, so they were killing two birds with one stone, No matter how skilled the assassins were, they could not catch up with the HMV’s movements.
Still, they could only keep this up for a while.
No matter how far they ran, they still had to come back to Londel. The reason why Gray and Shandy knew to find Itami and the others here was because Panache from Arnus had spread the news, and the assassins obviously knew this as well.
As Lelei said, the fact that she was taking part in the conference meant that even if they knew the assassins would strike, they would still have to meet it head-on.
“But, if the assassins do the same thing next time…”
“If that happens, we’ll still have bought you the time to make your presentation at the conference, right?”
With that in mind, their present conditions and fighting power were most ideal for them.
They had Itami, Rory, Tuka and Yao here. Gray ― who was currently in the room beside them ― was here as well. This was the perfect place to welcome any assassins.
“Eh?! I’m not counted part of your fighting strength? I’m older than Lelei-san. Do I look so unreliable?”
Shandy ― a cute, gentle-looking little brown-haired girl ― tried to change the others’ perception of her. Itami felt bad about having her follow along, but in the end he relented.
“Shh! It’s as Itamy-dono said, someone’s coming up the stairs.”
“You should tell us this sort of thing earlier!”
“Sorry. I only just heard it myself.”
Gray, who had his ear plastered to the door as he listened for people outside, gave the signal that someone was coming. Itami and the others concealed themselves in the various corners of the room, as they had all arranged.
They hid in the darkness and held their breath.
They heard something rolling along the ground.
It sounded like a coin that had fallen out of a pocket. The inn rooms were large and there was little for it to bump into, so the sound of the coin rolling around went on for a long time.
Finally, the rolling stopped, and silence resumed.
An atmosphere of uneasiness seemed to spread through the room.
Someone said: “S-sorry. My bad…”
And then the apology was muffled by something.
Soon, Gray had the measure of what was happening outside. He said, “They’re coming, four of them,” before moving away from the door and blending into the shadows.
This time, the room was truly silent.
Now, they could see the shapes of several people quietly ascending the stairs of the Reader’s Rest.
Their number was exactly as Gray said ― there were four of them.
They studied the figures closely. They wore black clothing which concealed the shapes of their bodies, and it was impossible to make out their gender.
After climbing the wooden staircase, they advanced toward the corridor.
There was the sound of something scraping on the corridor, and the silhouettes suddenly stopped.
The person who pressed his finger to his lips seemed to be scolding one of his subordinates. The fact that they approached their target without any hesitation made them seem even more like amateurs.
The shadows crowded around the door, and then quietly turned the doorknob.
The well-maintained door did not creak when opened. The four shapes simultaneously went to the beds and drew their swords.
Standing on the carpets beside the beds, they gripped their swords and thrust them down with all their strength. Thee sounds of thumping and stabbing echoed through the room.
“Did you do it?”
“I did it, we did it!”
Their cheers filled the room. However, they was cut short the sound of something metallic falling and rolling on the bed.
“What a shame, at least you tried.”
Those words were accompanied by an explosion which was 160 decibels in volume and a flash of 6 million candelas in intensity. The light filled the darkness of the room in an instant ― humans, furniture, everything was swallowed by the brilliant white light.
The shapes ― who had looked directly at the flashbang ― were blinded into dizziness by the flash and their ears rang like they were in the heart of a storm. Some of them stood in place, reeling from the shock, while others covered their eyes and groped around in an attempt to find a way out.
However, they could not move calmly, since they were drowning in the vortex of fear which came from losing both their eyesight and hearing at the same time. Frightened by the sudden darkness, they fell to the ground and rolled around, bumping into each other and screaming in terror.
“Alright… heading your way.”
With great effort, Rory grunted:
She wielded her halberd with her eyes closed, and neatly knocked out the assassins.
The lingering smoke from the flashbang rose into the air. Itami was concerned that the flashbang might have ignited anything flammable in the room. Fortunately, the wooden floor and the beds were only a little singed, and there was no sign that a fire had started.
Lelei and Tuka lit the room’s lampstands with magic.
“My eyes, my eyes~”
He had repeatedly warned the group to “plug your ears, turn your face away and close your eyes, do not look directly at the flash”. However, the brown-headed girl had looked straight at the flashbang, which was why she was rolling around on the ground. There was nothing they could do but wait for her to recover on her own.
Beside her, Yao was on all fours with her butt perked up into the air, taking a pose which would arouse any man as she crawled around, looking for something.
“Where did it go?”
“Where did it go?”
“Yao, did you drop something?”
“I’m looking for the lucky charm her Holiness bestowed upon me… ah, found it!”
She had to stick her shoulder under the bed and feel around with her long arms before coming back out with a brass 5 yen coin.
“Before getting this, I didn’t find it strange when all sorts of bad things happened to me, such as getting hurt or splashed with water. Ah, in her Holiness’ words, it seems to be a good luck charm.”
Itami could not help but think, 5 yen is pretty cheap for that sort of thing. However, this might be what they meant by “faith can move mountains”. It certainly seemed real enough to her.
(TL Note: 5 yen is pronounced “go-en”, which sounds the same as “connections”. Basically it’s a good luck charm for Yao to make friends. This is covered in the manga’s minotaur arc.)
“Why not run a string through the hole in the center and tie it around your neck?”
“Ah, I’ll do that.”
Yao clutched the 5 yen coin tightly as she said so. She seemed very happy.
“All right, the surroundings didn’t catch fire. Still, I want to have Tuka and Rory stand guard and monitor our surroundings. Gray-san, what do you think, are they still alive?”
“Don’t worry, they’re still breathing!”
The invading assassins had been knocked out by Rory’s halberd and now lay on the ground. Gray went over each of them, tying their hands behind their backs with leather cords.
Yao ran one of those cords through the hole in the center of her 5-yen coin. Gray felt a bit depressed; he had come to help, but in the end this was all he could do.
Tuka was watching the buildings outside, a composite bow in hand.
“Just now it seemed as though there was someone drawing close, Father.”
“Got it, just remain alert… what kind of assassins are these people anyway? They look kind of young, don’t they?”
As they turned one of them over, they discovered a huge mark on his face.
It was a large bruise from where the halberd had smitten him across the face. It seemed difficult for anyone to live with an injury like that. Still, he seemed vaguely familiar.
Rory and Itami had the same misgivings.
“Hmm? That kid looks like one of the boys working at this inn.”
They hurriedly went for a candle, and took a look at the faces of the other three.
It was the middle of the night, and the owner of the Reader’s Rest, Hamal, was sleeping comfortably on his bed when he was suddenly awoken.
“Ehhh~ Damn it, do you know what time it is?”
Due to his long experience at receiving guests, he masked his desire to shout in frustration with a charming smile and opened the door.
“Dear guest, may I know what this is all this about? After all, it is the middle of the night.”
He asked that question without revealing the hidden annoyance in the depths of his heart. However, when he looked closely at the caller, he saw a Dark Elf, a female Dark Elf, who radiated a mature woman’s charm.
It was the middle of the night. And now, a woman had come to a man’s room.
Could, could it be? She was looking for a one-night stand?
Ever since his wife had died, Hamal had taken the act of sleeping alone to be natural, so he could not help but fantasize about such a lewd encounter. However, the words which flowed from that woman’s pale red lips made the somewhat excited Hamal’s pinkish ears blanch a pale white.
Which was: that the inn’s staff had tried to attack their guests.
“Ah, could it be that our boys did that…”
This was as much his faith in his own workers as it was an attempt to deny reality. Therefore, he decided that it would be better to see it with his own eyes.
After entering the guest room, the sight of his own people on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs made Hamal collapse onto his haunches.
“You, you, you lot… what have you done?”
He did not even have the strength to get angry.
“What have you done?!... We’re finished. This inn is finished!”
Looking around, it would seem his cry had awakened the guests around them, and they were moving around and peeking at them from the corridor. Hiding what had happened tonight would probably be impossible. The rumors would race down the merchant district in an instant. This was an inn favored by travellers, and they would spread the news throughout the entire city. If that happened, the flow of clients here would end immediately. Anyone would have to think twice about staying in an inn where its staff attacked its own guests. The loss of faith in an inn’s ability to host guests could be said to be its death knell.
The boys looked fearfully at Hamal.
He did not know what kind of excuse they would give, but the first thing they said was, “We were tricked.”
“Tell me about it.”
At this point, Hamal was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
It was common to be angry when one’s expectations were betrayed. Therefore, when one gave up on everything, when one expected nothing of the other party, there would be nothing to be angry about.
The boys replied:
“―That her Holiness was fake―”
“―That she was a vicious killer who planned to kill all the merchants in this inn―”
“―Even that she was being chased by bounty hunters.”
Everyone was so shocked by these words that they could say nothing.
When they put together the words of the four of them, the story they got was that Rory was fake, that she was a fraudster who planned to target the guests at this inn. Also, that she was a bounty target.”
“Who do you think will believe you?”
“The thing was, we saw the bounty poster, and we were paid gold coins, so we wanted to protect the guests… that was what we thought.”
“And, and you lot didn’t even think it was strange?”
There was no way to tell if a bounty notice was real or fake. It was very simple for someone to draw on a parchment and make up a story. In addition, giving out money without any prior accomplishments was very generous and very suspicious.
“That person seemed to know what he was talking about and he gave us gold coins, and he trusted us, and he seemed to be hiding some kind of guilt, which meant, he thought…”
“So you lot will suspect a copper coin but let a gold coin go unchallenged? Are you stupid?”
The lads had nothing to say and lowered their heads. Hamal sighed and looked to the ceiling.
“And then, you snuck into the guests’ rooms?”
“We didn’t do nothing.”
“Yeah, we were caught before we could do anything.”
They said that, but a quick look at the beds revealed the swords embedded into the mattress. There was no way they could claim they had not done anything. This was not conspiracy to murder, but attempted murder.
Under the eyes of Itami ― who represented the other guests ― they were hard-pressed to explain themselves. And of course, the gray-faced Hamal was looking even more ill at ease.
“There’s a world of difference between saying you didn’t manage to do anything and you didn’t want to do anything.”
The boys apologized in earnest ― “We, we’re sorry,” ― after Tuka scolded them.
As she saw their earnest expressions, she thought, they must have been good kids under normal circumstances.
Before that, Gray had been quietly listening to the punks try and talk their way out of it. He said, “Yes, that’s right, it must be like that,” and nodded.
“The person who uses these methods is called the Piper.”
“The Piper? Who’s that?”
“Sometimes he’s a human male, or an Elf girl, or even a Hag, but his true identity is unknown. This guy is an expert at manipulating the human heart, and he does things like turning little girls who wouldn’t even harm a fly into assassins that poison food and drinks, or making those elderly people with stiff backs, the kind who have trouble walking down the stairs, stab you in the back. Unless you take down the man himself, the assassins won’t stop coming.”
Hamal edged closer toward Gray.
“But, but how can he make ordinary people kill others? If these people weren’t mentally unstable to begin with, I have no idea how he could turn them into murderers.”
“Indeed, killing is a taboo, but that line of thinking is just like a lock. With the right key, one can undo that lock in one’s heart without much difficulty. For instance, we knights and soldiers can easily kill people if our superiors command it.”
Hamal’s face turned pale as he heard this. If one considered killers to be mentally unstable, was he not implying that soldiers and watchmen were mentally unstable as well?
“Ahhh~ I deeply apologize for my poor choice of words. I beg your pardon for my carelessness.”
“No, no, if you are all just regular citizens, I won’t mind.”
Gray did not seem to mind much as he continued speaking.
“Owner. Did you know that if I did not kill anyone, the laws would not find me guilty?”
“The law states, ‘a murderer must be punished’, but if there’s a suitable mitigating factor, the punishment will be appropriately reduced. The easiest way to absolve one of guilt for murder is when one does so to protect himself from being killed by a murderer. There are people who will harm others for all sorts of nonsensical reasons, and similarly, there will be those who will believe lies to fearlessly protect themselves or their families. Anyone with any common sense will easily realize that there are many circumstances under which one man might kill another. The Piper is an assassin, so perhaps he has some kind of belief and sense of righteousness that drives him to make people kill each other. He quietly tells an easily influenced girl to do it for her lover. He tells an old man that his son has been cheated by some cruel person. In my humble opinion, the desire these lads had to protect the guests was used by him… or perhaps they thought we were cold-blooded murderers or something similar. In any case, they swallowed that particular pill and did it because they wanted to protect the guests who were staying here. And then, after playing on the boys’ youthful sense of justice and their professionalism, they stopped thinking and drew their swords… at least, that’s what I think happened.”
As the boys heard this, they began nodding one after the other.
“Then, tell us, what did the man who lied to you look like?”
The boys answered in unison:
“He felt like a kind and gentle person.”
“He was very tall, and seemed very generous.”
“He must have looked like a hero when he was young, and as an older man he looked quite dignified.”
“He was a human male.”
This was the result of combining what the four of them had said.
About ten days ago, they had gone to tavern after they had finished work. After getting their fortunes told by a travelling diviner, they helped themselves to drink and a hearty meal.
Then, they heard someone say “Excuse me, are you workers at the Reader’s Rest?” and then the man who had just come in greeted them.
That man had a refined look about him as he smiled, and he seemed like the sort who was good with words.
“He was intense, yet generous. He treated us to drinks, but admonished “don’t drink too much when you’re still young”. He also paid close attention to our stories about the girls we liked and whom we spoke with.”
Soon enough, the lads were finished talking, and the man began speaking.
The man said: ”My job is not one that I can take pride in, like yours are. What I do is clear the streets of their trash and refuse…” In other words, he captured criminals, and occasionally he would be greatly rewarded for it.
The man told them of the things he had seen and done.
The boys heard of the suffering of the victims he had encountered, and felt anger as they heard of the evil methods of the villains he had seen. They cheered when he told of how he brought those villains down, and the heartfelt thanks of the victims moved the boys to tears, like a drama series.
After that, every time the boys went to the tavern, they drank and listened to the bounty hunter tell his stories. And then, after they had meet him several times, the topic went to the mark this bounty hunter was chasing ― a group of conmen.
He spoke of a gang of crooks, one that had cheated many traders and wiped out their fortunes, to the point where they killed themselves after going bankrupt. The families who survived them had gone through much hardship as well.
“Then… what methods did they use to deceive people?”
“I can’t say that. However, all of these traders were forced into bankruptcy and then suicide, while their families were sold into slavery to pay off their debts. Therefore, I will never forgive those guys.”
“Then why not share their methods? If someone had done it sooner, then wouldn’t a lot of people have been saved?”
“That would be very dangerous. These tricksters are proud fellows, and they’ll blame their failures on other people. For instance, if negotiations stopped halfway because the other party sensed a con and ran away, they would hunt down and kill that person because they were angry at the other side fleeing. Therefore, those conmen are very dangerous. Frankly speaking, people like that prefer making their money in mining towns like these.”
And then, the man said:
“Right now, in order to save the people they have hurt, I would like to capture these five before they can find another victim. If possible, I’d like to capture them unhurt. However, I can’t prepare for that. That said, they have bounties on their heads, so it’s okay if they’re brought in dead or alive as long as someone else doesn’t do it.”
That gang of tricksters was made up of four women and one man.
One of them was an impostor of the demigod Rory. Another was a Rurudo girl. Two of them were an Elf and a Dark Elf.
“If people like that live around the Reader’s Rest, you need to tell me. I’m no match for them by myself, but don’t worry, I’ll find a way to show you…”
The man had a determined look on his face as he spoke to the boys.
“Actually, there’s been a bunch of people exploring around the local mines,” the boys said.
The boys then described what happened after that, and then the events from just now had taken place
Hamal looked at the boys’ faces and asked, “Is that so, you lot? Is that really it?”
What they had done was unforgivable. However, he could not reproach them for thinking like that. After all, Hamal was the one who had fostered that attitude in them through his daily lectures.
Their motivation had been the safety of the customers, and it had been fuelled by their youthful enthusiasm. The mistake had been the methods they had chosen to do so. In this way, they had been led astray by flowery words.
Hamal pressed his head to the ground and spoke.
“Your Holiness, and everyone else. I wish to bear the punishment of these boys in their place, in my capacity as their employer. Please direct your displeasure to me. Though there may be no future for the Reader’s Rest, I hope the same will not apply to these lads. I beseech you to forgive them.”
The boys were shouting, “Please wait,” “Why are you doing this for us” and so on. The fact was that they wished to be punished for their own wrongdoings. They could not allow their employer to suffer for their mistakes because he had done nothing wrong. All he wanted was to protect the reputation of the Reader’s Rest.
“What should we do?”
Itami and the others looked at each other. Eventually, Rory smiled bitterly, and as she strode forward, she made her pronouncement.
“I forgive them. However, as the owner of this inn, you’d best educate them about where they went wrong.”
Since Rory had spoken, there was nothing else for the others to say.
The other guests ― who had been crowding around to watch the proceedings ― nodded in approval of Rory’s judgement. They were not aware of the exact motivations behind the boys’ actions. On that part, all they knew was that “The Piper is an evil man”, and that they despised his methods.
Itami himself had his doubts. What was the justice system of this place like? They could be forgiven just because nobody minded. However, actually begging for forgiveness made the prospect sound worse. In any case, it was a very troublesome system.
“My sincerest thanks for your forgiveness.”
Following Hamal’s lead, the boys lowered their heads in apology as well, though they were also delighted to be forgiven.
“It is indeed disrespectful to yourselves to have to stay in an inn like this. I shall immediately arrange alternative accommodations for yourselves, but may I know if there is any particular inn which your Holiness desires to occupy? It is fine, we shall prepare a better room for you than this one.”
Rory glanced over to Lelei, communicating something with her eyes before she replied:
“There’s no need for that. People who have been tricked once tend to grow, and I’m looking forward to that. So this would actually be the safest place.”
The way the boys looked at Lelei seemed to say that they would not be deceived again.
“Therefore, we’ll spend the night here..”
“I, I understand. Before your journey ends, this inn will serve you with its heart and soul,” Hamal said while bowing several times as he backed out of the room.
After the boys were freed of their bonds, they followed him out. He said something inaudible to them, and then poked the back of the heads of one of the shorter lads.
At great length, the door closed, and he began explaining the situation to the other guests. It was unclear whether Hamal intended to hide the truth or disclose everything.
“But, those boys, will they really be all right?”
Itami tilted his head to the side and scratched his scalp. Rory reassured him that it was all right, and Lelei helped her explain.
“Gray himself said that breaking the taboo of murder was simple. Everyone in the army is like that ― with the appropriate training, they can do all sorts of things which they would normally deem to be forbidden.”
As Lelei mentioned this, Rory, Tuka and Yao nodded. Itami agreed as well; after all he had been through intense training himself, so as long as the order was given, he could kill people regardless of how right or wrong it was. In the key moment, he would forget himself and act. One could say that it was a natural reflex given the events of the Battle of Nijubashi. The fact was that if someone told him to do it, he would, so he did not pay that too much heed.
“Perhaps that man called the Piper is skilled at finding these psychological weaknesses.”
Itami smacked his palm.
“I see, so he brings out the chuunibyou in them. What an ingenious method.”
“How shall I describe it… they’re people who build their personalities around their thoughts and fantasies.”
“There’s no term like that in the dictionary. I shall memorize that definition for future reference.”
Lelei mumbled an explanation, allowing Itami to continue after being briefly lost for words:
“The people who were tricked by him will end up being tricked again.”
To the Piper, they were rare victims of chuunibyou, and so he might come after them once more.
Itami said, “So you mean, they might forgive him again?” as he watched the complicated expression on Rory’s face.
And so, Rory imagined the Piper going “kukuku” in her mind.
Yao felt miserable. Her hands were stained with guilt, and the desire to atone drove her every day. For all she knew, she might have felt the same way as the boys.
“So, should we use those boys to see if we can get the Piper to show his face again? I don’t have any ideas. What should we do? We could try observing them, but our faces are already known to him.”
“Fortunately, because somebody didn’t turn their face away in time and ended up rolling around on the ground, there’s one person whom they won’t recognize here.”
Itami looked where Lelei’s finger was pointing.
He saw Shandy, who was lying flat on the bed and rubbing her face with a pillow.
On the dawn of the next day, Itami awoke in his room… a storeroom as it turned out.
The word “storeroom” conjured up images of filthy walls and squalid furniture, but the room was not that run-down. If one did not know it was a storeroom, it might have been mistaken for the cheapest room in a business hotel. The furnishings were basic ― a bedframe, headboard and chairs ― but they looked clean and Itami felt it was still very comfortable. The room itself was large, the furniture was of a high quality, and with a blanket to cover him, he had no problems getting to sleep.
Several crossbeams ran across the ceiling, and windows in the roof allowed light from the outside to enter. A small, butterfly-like Fairy flitted overhead.
The ceiling beams stretched wide, joining the sloped sides of the roof. This created a large space over his head, and it did not feel cramped in the least. At least that was how he felt when he woke up and saw this for the first time while his mind was still foggy from sleep. The only thing he was certain of was that this was not a JSDF barracks.
While his body and mind were still groggy from waking up, Itami had already dressed himself and put his boots on.
He put the wash basin on the table at the head of the bed, poured water into it from a nearby pot, and then used it to wash his face. Then he clipped the pistol from under his pillow to his belt, opened the door and headed out into the corridor.
He knocked on the door facing his, which led to the girls’ room. However, there was no response.
They had probably gotten up and gone for breakfast. While the Japanese might have remained asleep after sunrise, the people of the Special Region typically began their days just after the sun rose, because work and travel were best done during the daytime.
In fact, by the time he descended the long staircase from the fourth to the first floor, he could already see the travellers gathered for breakfast in the dining room.
The departing travellers paid their lodging fees at the service counters while the inn boys ran around moving luggage as cargo wagons and the like departed. The air was filled with a lively energy. There was no sign of the “this inn is doomed” atmosphere and the customers fleeing that Hamal had feared from last night.
“Ah, good morning, Lord Itami!”
That energetic greeting came from one of the boys who had a large mole under his left eye.
As though this on cue, everyone around him began greeting Itami.
It was not just Hamal and the boys, but even the other guests were calling out to him
A close look revealed that the palm-sized Fairy that looked like a butterfly had her head lowered as she hovered around him.
“Ah, ha, yes… good morning.”
Itami could not help but stop in his tracks, and he returned the greeting despite feeling terribly confused about everything.
What was going on here?
Also, why were they calling him “Lord”?
Under bombardment from the well-meaning gazes all around him, Itami fled for the crowd in front of the dining hall. Then, he found a gap in the mass of people, and positioned himself at the back of the line.
However, the dining hall’s chef roared, “Oi, you can’t stand there!” and glared at him
It would seem he had queued up in the wrong place.
“Ah, yes. Sorry, but where should I line up? There’s no sign saying ‘End of the line’ over here.”
(TL Note: the Japanese actually have signs stating (End of the line) when it comes to long queues.)
“No, that’s not what I mean... you’re different, come over here.”
The chef led Itami over and said, “See, over here!” and sat him down at a table at the center of the dining hall.
There, he saw Rory, Lelei having their breakfast, being served by a palm-sized fairy.
“Ah, good morning.”
Rory seemed a little out of it this morning. Lelei was as neutral as she always was. Tuka had a very stiff smile on her face. Yao was face down on the table for some reason, muttering “Shame, an eternal shame”.
“So, what’s the matter?”
“Youjy, are you all right?”
“Well, a bunch of people greeted me warmly this morning.”
“Good morning, Father.”
“Oi, oi, Tuka, are you alright?”
“The fairies have been touching me all morning.”
Everyone was assaulted from all sides by greetings, like an encirclement. Fortunately, nobody was rude enough to address them while they were eating, but in their place, people were lining up to meet and greet them. For instance, the group where Itami had been standing earlier. It was because of them that Itami had been fortunate enough to be led here.
Now, if the group had been full of people that interested Itami, it would have been much better. People like seiyuus, mangakas, people that one would encounter at doujin festivals, holding hands with Rory and the others. That would have pleased him.
“It’s nothing exciting. All they’d get in the end is a number plate.”
Lelei was still narrating events in her neutral, emotionless voice. Although she appeared calm on the outside, there was a ripple of emotion in her heart which only she could feel.
“The hotel’s owner gave a lot of number plates to the queuing people.”
At this, Yao ― who had plastered her face against the table ― raised her head, revealing her bright red cheeks.
“The postmen delayed by the bridge collapse finally reached last night. The head of the Fire Dragon was hung up in the Imperial Capital, and the news of how you slew the Flame Dragon has made its rounds, Also, the news of what I did in Arnus was heavily embellished. Ah~ I want to crawl into a hole somewhere...”
Yao blushed as she said that, and went face down onto the table again.
“I feel bad about it too, because I became a burden for you in the process.”
Tuka clasped her hands together and pleaded, “I’m sorry, Father, I’ve disgraced our family name”. And then, the tips of her ears flushed pink, and she laid herself down on the table as well. Naturally, the “father” here was her natural father, Hodryur Marceau.
“Actually, I don’t really like people who take part in dragon hunts for fame and fortune.”
Rory was clearly unhappy about missing out, and she made her displeasure known.
The fact was that the battle with the red and black Young Dragons and Giselle deserved just as much publicity. However, the news of that had not spread very far.
“Still, how did that all get out? People were addressing me as Lord since just now. I forgot how exactly I came to be one...”
They had verified the contents of the rumors, and there was bits of truth mixed into it, though it was still quite detached from reality. While it was understandable that the rumors had been embellished with the imagination, the problem now was how it had gotten out in the first place. To begin with, only a few people in the Empire should have known about this matter.
“It seems the news spread from someone around Pina, so that person should be here by now.”
“Pina doesn’t know that person, so if possible, I hope we can let this matter be.”
“As if I could let this malicious misrepresentation be,” Lelei grumbled.
“They’re saying Lelei dealt the killing blow to the Flame Dragon.”
After hearing that, Rory sighed “Ehhhh~” at Itami.
If one used Gray’s reaction as a benchmark of the reactions of the Empire’s citizenry, it would seem they were more reverent of her than they were shocked or dismayed. Now who could have encouraged that attitude, Itami wondered.
The answer to that came from Rory, who was licking her soup spoon in a decidedly unladylike way.
“The people of this country feel like they’re in trouble.”
“They’re at their wits’ end?”
“Indeed. This world has been stagnant for a very long time. The Empire stood above all other nations and maintained order, and the Emperor ruled over all humanity in a similar way. Humans built relations to all the other species, and these relationships have stood for a very long time. More than anyone else, humanity is a species which looks forward to tomorrow. Because of their dreams, they can bear with the unjustness of the present. However, now they feel like they’re locked in their present positions. There’s no more meaning to their labors, and they’ve lost their motivation.”
“The Emperors of old used warfare to break through that stasis. They attacked the countries around them, dominated all sorts of species, took new land, expanded their sphere of power, handed out noble titles and built far-reaching roads to declare their glory. However, that was their limit… So when the Gate opened, the Emperor did not think twice and ordered an attack. However, that attack failed. A sense of unease grew in the people’s hearts as they realised they were on the verge of defeat.”
“So this is basically hero worship?”
“Indeed. This might be enough to scatter the suffocating atmosphere hanging over the land. And then, they want that hero to live near them. They draw great strength from the presence of that hero, which is why the people of the Empire are going wild over Lelei.”
Lelei calmly insisted that she was not an Imperial citizen but a Rurudo. However, only she and the people around her could hear that. Those words did not carry outside the dining hall, drowned out by the people greeting and calling out to her.
Perhaps nobody would care even if Lelei shouted that she was not from the Empire. This was because people saw what they wanted to see, and ignored what they did not want to see.
“Some people are raising altars to Lelei while others are raising knives… I can guess who’s doing this. Say, where’s Gray-san?”
“He went to get breakfast for Shandy.”
Shandy was their ace in the hole against the Piper, given that nobody had seen her face. Thus she had to hide in a place where the inn boys would not see her. Therefore, she was quietly observing them from the outside, in the darkness. Yes, watching them, all by herself.
When Itami thought about that, he kind of pitied her.
However, the fact was that Shandy was spending her time in an all-night tavern, and she seemed to be getting along quite well with a horse messenger that she met by chance. Given that she had exaggerated the details of the dragon slaying, there was no need to pity her. Rather, it was better to pay her no heed.
“Good morning, everyone. You’ve come.”
This was the inn’s owner, Hamal.
“The culprit is here,” Tuka said.
“I’m like this in the morning because of you,” Yao added.
“The only thing to blame is the speed at which the rumors spread. Indeed, I did help them along, but that was all to protect you.”
“And why is it that spreading these tall tales will protect us?”
Itami was wondering if that plan was actually workable.
“The Piper works by using lies to trick others into killing people. Once your faces and situations are known to everyone, that method will be useless. At the very least, nobody would have a reason to attack the heroes who slew the Flame Dragon, no?”
“Is that really going to help?”
“Your Holiness is right to ask that question. However, the Piper’s secret movements and his actions are now spreading as well, so it will be quite hard for him to make a move. Anyone trying to persuade others with flowery words can be shut up with ‘Ah, you’re lying…’”
“WIll that really be all right? What if the boys’ deeds get out?” Tuka asked in a concerned tone.
“I am glad that you all understand. Truly, honesty is the best weapon.”
“―Or you’ve just managed to kill two birds with one stone,” Rory muttered.
“What, I was prepared for this inn to close down from the beginning. This is just a sacrifice I can make to atone for what I did.”
Looking outside, one could see the scarred boy being bullied by the guests. “I won’t be tricked any more,” they heard him say. Because of these words, Hamal looked over very uneasily.
“Thanks to you, we might not need to close down.”
“It’s a stroke of fortune amidst this calamity.”
“Indeed. All this was because of your magnanimity, your Holiness.”
“If we do this, will Lelei’s presentation be successful?”
However, Itami’s optimism was shattered. Gray shouldered his way out of the wall of humanity.
“Still, this is kind of hard to deal with. If a horse messenger can come over here, that means a different assassin from the Piper might have arrived as well. If he infiltrates the crowd seeking an audience with you, our eyes alone will not be able to find him. At that point, we’ll need to watch our surroundings.
Gray sighed deeply, and then took a seat in an empty chair.
“Boss, before something happens, I want to discuss something with you.”
“This, this… I apologize. It might be best for you to prepare yourselves.”
“No, now that it’s over, it can’t be helped that it got blown up so much. I apologize for lashing out during the course of my duties.”
“That’s right, who might you be?”
It was only natural for Hamal to be suspicious of Gray, who was not a guest of the inn. Though he had not noticed him in the chaos last night, when he met him again today, he had had no recollection of someone like him staying here.
“This one is the helper of one of Imperial Princess’ Pina’s knights. I represent the Empire in welcoming you all to the Imperial Capital.”
“Oho, an invitation from her Highness?”
“Indeed. The fact is that the Empire sees the completion of this great task as a threat to its authority. Her Highness ordered us to extend a sincere invitation to you. At that point, after encountering events like these, we also took on the task of protecting you.”
“Is that so? ...Oi oi, get some breakfast for this knight-sama.”
“Okay~” replied the Fairies on the table.
“Ah, it’s fine. This one has lodged in another inn, and I have already had my breakfast.”
“Then, how about a cup of tea?”
“Thank you, I’ll help myself to one, then.”
Hamal informed his guards as a glass of tea was set before Gray. Once the group had finished breakfast, he wanted this place to become a place for people to gaze upon their heroes. Looking beside the serving boys, they could see the queue of people with numbered plates growing ever further.
Itami and the others felt that it was a good thing that the entrances and exits were not being blocked up. While this allocation of space had been Hamal’s plan, it was much better than being penned into a room surrounded by cheering people.
“Everyone, we were glad to meet you all. However, the latest we can leave is tomorrow morning. Now that I’ve said that, I can say that I’ll be proud of you wherever you go...”
Of course he could not say it was because he disliked the atmosphere in the room right now.
In the face of the silent Itami and gang, Gray took a cup of cheap tea as payment for his services as a guard before smiling and asking:
“So, has the bridge been fixed already?”
Hamal blinked, as if to say he knew nothing about this.
“At least, the bridge near Galif has been repaired. The messenger came a little late, apparently because the area was flooded. However, it’s not just Galif which was affected, but Motallan and Pylan as well. It will take a few days before things go back to normal over there. It’s terrible, the traders in the Capital are going numb.”
After hearing Gray, Hamal muttered to himself.
“Really? How much longer do we have to wait at Motallan and Pylan? How about the overpass at Elron?”
“Hah? I’m not too sure about Elron. Maybe the bridge there broke?”
“However, if someone was really up to something, I doubt they would let off the overpass there. I was thinking… well, actually, I have a request to make about the meet and greet.”
Gray wanted to suggest that they not gather everyone in the dining hall, but have them wait in the corridor and come in one by one. That way, it would be much harder for the enemy to remain unseen. It would be easier to deal with them if the situation degenerated into chaos.
Hamal approved of this suggestion.
And so, the meet-and-greet session for the dragon-slaying heroes was conducted in the Reader’s Rest.
It was night time, just after the sun had set.
The four boys of the Reader’s Rest headed out for a tavern after finishing the day’s work, as usual.
It was not because they had been fired, but simply because the inn did not prepare evening meals, so they had to have their dinner at nearby restaurants.
They knew they had made a terrible mistake. This was a wrongdoing they could not atone for.
It was too late to reflect on their sins. They vowed in their hearts that they would never make such a mistake again, but they could not turn back the hands of time. After explaining their crimes and awaiting their expected punishments, they expected the reputation of the Reader’s Rest to plummet and for the guests to flee them. The inn might well go out of business.
However, Hamal ― the inn’s owner ― had stepped forward to shoulder the blame. And then Rory, Apostle of Emroy, had absolved that sin with the words, “I forgive you”. Ordinarily, the crime of taking swords and stabbing them into beds which they thought might have contained people would be punishable by beheading, but in the end they had been spared the chopping block.
At that time, they did not know if the inn could still survive, but the bad reviews and flight of their guests had not happened. There was none of the castigation and accusations which they had expected. Not even a word of mockery.
They could feel it ― this second chance was a sign from Emroy.
They had grown as human beings. They had learned something important as inn workers.
Of course, this was hardly something to be happy about. However, after being freed from overwhelming despair, it was only natural that they wanted to do something about the sign they had been given.
However, a Wild Woman appeared before them.
She was around 17, with an attractive body. Her brown hair was cut short and she had an energetic air about her. Her eyes sparkled like stars as she looked over to them and her voice was pleasant. She had a direct way of speaking and showed no fear of talking to strangers.
She strode over to them and shouted while pointing with a finger:
“Dum~mies~ the lot of you!”
That first statement defied all words.
The girl, who called herself Nora, continued speaking after making sure that they were from the Reader’s Rest.
“Did you think that after the dragonslayers forgave you, that everything was over? That because you were tricked, you weren’t guilty of anything?”
The boys could not refute her statements.
All they could do was slowly, reluctantly nod their heads.
“We understand that. Therefore, we have resolved not to act rashly in future.”
Their subdued reply drew a cold response from the girl.
“What’s that, you’re being so useless because of that Piper guy? Because you met him this time, you won’t do anything at all? In the end, the outcome will be the same.”
Thanks to the Piper, they had almost done something unthinkable. It was only natural that they would reflect on their sins and not act rashly again. However, that might well be part of his plan as well. Still, they had no choice but to endure with that knowledge burning in their minds. Because of that, the leader of the boys looked at Nora with a troubled expression on his face and asked, “How will it be the same?”
“You moved because you danced to the Piper’s tune. Then, because you don’t want to be fooled again, you won’t do anything. Obviously, what you need to do is not play into his hands. Think for yourself a little. You should take action on your own so you won’t be controlled by him. Simple, isn’t it?”
These words had a great impact on them. It woke them from their hesitation like having an urn of water dumped on them.
They had been deceived by the Piper once, so falling for his tricks again would be unbearable. Then, what could they do? How could they avoid making the same mistakes again?
“Then, what should we do?” the boys asked, looking at Nora for help.
“Catch him with your own two hands. That way you can wipe away the mistake you made in the first place.”
“We don’t even know where he is.”
“There’s no guarantee of that. Your enemy will surely reveal himself at some point, even for just a brief moment.”
“And when is that?”
“Doesn’t the Piper talk people into killing his targets? That means he should probably come by and see if the job was completed.”
The boys were doubtful of the way Nora lectured them with an upright finger. Once bitten, twice shy, after all.
“He’ll definitely come to make sure. You’re boys working at the inn, right? People check to make sure you’ve cleaned properly, right?”
“That… well, yes,, basically.”
The four of them looked at each other. After finishing the tasks their boss gave them, they did not know what happened after that. They should have finished… but they could not be sure that it was complete. The new hires might not have done a good job, and it might not be up to standards. They had to go in and make sure themselves.
“Right? Assassins work in the same way. The Piper will definitely try to see if you carried out your job. I guess he’ll be going back to the Reader’s Rest to check on things.”
As they heard this, the boys grabbed their heads and wondered what to do next.
“If that’s the case, does that mean we’re going to miss the chance to catch that guy?!”
“That’s why I’m saying you’re idiots.”
The boys grit their teeth as Nora went “idiots, idiots”.
“All right, then tell us why you want to help us. Are you trying to use us?”
“It’s not the same. I’m giving you a chance to catch the bad guy.”
“The truth is, I’m quite mad at the way that Piper guy does things. I’m also wondering what I can do to strike a blow for those heroes. But I heard some news about that Piper guy, so I decided to put myself in his shoes. I’m not the same as you guys, but I noticed some things.”
“Dammit, I hate to admit it, but we’re a step behind you.“
“It’s true, really… Well, if I had to do it, I would attack Lelei-san on the day of her presentation.”
“No way! If you do that....”
“Like I was telling you, the best way to catch that guy is with an act.”
“Yup. Unless we work together closely, we won’t be able to fool his eyes. Therefore, you guys have to talk this over with Lelei-san and the others. My plan is to knock Lelei-san down and then pretend to stab her in the belly, where she will obviously be wearing a bronze plate. The people around me might try to stop me, so I hope you can help run interference for that and keep any people from escaping.“
“If I that happened, that guy would show up to verify if Lelei-san was dead. In that moment, you need to catch this guy. In addition, Lelei-san’s friends are all Dragonslayers. Don’t you think that it would be easy to catch the Piper with their help? And did you guys forget his face?”
“Then isn’t it simple?”
“That’s amazing. We’ll definitely be able to catch him that way.”
“Right? How about it? Sounds good, right? Or do you plan to run and hide and return to your normal lives and accept your failures?”
The boys looked at each other and nodded vigorously.
“Got it. We’ll do it.”
Their faces were exactly the same as they had been when they had declared they would take down that group of fraudsters.
In a darkened corner of the tavern, Shandy, who was facing a fortune teller, only saw the beast girl shaking hands with the boys and quietly said,
“That person is no good. No good at all.”
That woman called Nora might be a disguise of the Piper, or one of his puppets.
She would use those boys to make it impossible for anyone to get near their target. The staged murder attempt on Lelei at the presentation was also a trick. After all, the protective plate could not protect the head or other vital spots.
Rory and Lelei felt that a person who was tricked once would be tricked again.
These four people were too kind and trusted people too easily. Being able to trust people was a virtue of a kind, so this was just taking advantage of their good natures. However, at this moment, Shandy wondered if it would be better to expose this right away.
There were people who would say they were tricked when it was not the case.
“Then we’ll see you again later,” the boys said to Nora as she left.
As Nora left the tavern to head across the street, Shandy watched her from the darkness.
“Itami-sama, he would definitely confirm who had contact with the boys, however…”
As she considered Itami’s instructions, she had a flash of inspiration. Perhaps following Nora meant she could capture whoever was controlling her, and maybe Itami might thank her, and perhaps, somewhere else, he might give her a special prize. Shandy’s imagination spun out of control, and after hurriedly giving the fortune-teller a few coins, she moved to pursue the woman called Nora.
The fortune-teller hurriedly stopped Shandy and said,
“Someone important to you is currently trapped in a difficult situation, and only you can help her.”
The female fortune-teller had picked out the card which showed “The Empress Surrounded by Swords” and explained it to her, but Shandy only cared about chasing Nora and did not pick up on the meaning.
“Ah, thank you, but I’m a little busy right now.”
With that, the woman Shandy exited the building and mounted up on her horse.
And so she vanished, and did not come back the next day either.