On the way back from the workshop after receiving my new weapon, I overhear this conversation.
“It’s Wing Road after all; they’ve gotten really serious lately and they’ve been doing Rank 5 quests.”
“Yeah, with the rampaging Ancient Golem, the Elixir recovery and the suppression of the Slime fever, that’s three in a month. But on the other hand, the Element Masters are still in the middle of the Lich extermination.”
“Wing Road are on a different level; they are true elites.”
“Right? I was scared of the Berserker during the parade, but I’m sure that’s because he was using some kind of pressuring spell.”
We’ve already cleared the Lich extermination. We took so long because we were busy experimenting, and me scaring everyone was completely natural. I have all kinds of explanations to give, but I’m not going to go out of my way to complain.
We Element Masters performed brilliantly during the battle of Iskia and made a sudden Rank 5 debut. Along with setting the fastest Rank-up record with a time of three months, we’ve drawn attention as the rivals of Wing Road, the party that has been the youngest and most active up until now.
However, just as the rumors say, we, the newer party, haven’t reported the completion of a single quest; our results for the month that has passed since our increase in Rank are poor.
In contrast, Wing Road has been clearing Rank 5 quests one after another, as if to claim back the spotlight that was stolen from them in Iskia.
The difference between us is clear. This is even truer for the townspeople, who know of nothing other than the results of quests. It seems that this month has been plenty of time for the rumors that Wing Road is a step above us to start spreading.
I-it’s not like I’m upset about or anything, you know…
That’s right, it’s not like we want to stand out. We have our sights on our objective of defeating the Apostles and we’re progressing steadily towards it, so we’re fine with it. Isn’t everything going well? Just what could we possibly be dissatisfied about – ah, well, there’s also a vain part of me that wishes that we could do some work that I could brag about to Nell.
“Umm, excuse me!”
I’m completely surprised by the voice that suddenly calls out to me. I was so totally immersed in my thoughts that I didn’t notice being approached.
As I hastily turn around, I see a female student so small that her head just manages to enter the bottom of my vision.
“Uu… U-umm… You are the Nightmare Berserker, Kurono-san, aren’t you?” she asks, looking like she might cry at any moment.
Uwah, I don’t want to answer. I don’t want to puff out my chest and say, “Yes, I am the Nightmare Berserker.” But I can’t just not answer, I suppose.
“Yes, I’m Kurono.”
I ran away a little. Even though ‘Nightmare Berserker’ has become my formal class title, what’s embarrassing is still embarrassing.
Anyway, let’s set aside my trivial embarrassment. The problem at hand is this girl who has called out to me with tears in her eyes.
Judging from the close-fitting black uniform blazer that she’s wearing, there’s no doubt that she’s an academy student. Incidentally, it seems that I’ve returned to the academy without even realizing. I’m a short distance past the gate.
“What did you want with me?” I ask.
She has brown, almost-black hair in a bob cut, and tears are swimming in her round, adorable eyes. Combined with her slender, small body, her face somewhat reminds me of a small animal. I have no memory of this face – no, I do. This is a face that I’ve seen somewhere before. I’ve definitely seen it somewhere before, but I can’t remember when or where.
Due to this tantalizing sensation caused by my memory, I’ve ended up speaking to her quite bluntly.
My sharp ears didn’t miss that really, really small scream that escaped her.
What have I done? I’ve gone and frightened her for no reason…
“Umm, that’s… err…”
Tears finally spill over the edges of her eyes. Her small body trembles.
This is bad; my image as a criminal is rapidly increasing in this place. I have a feeling that in another five minutes, Safiel will show up, saying something like, “Get away from that girl, Nightmare Raper.”
Still, I’m unable to think of an effective way to overcome this situation. This is where, you know, to stop a small child from being frightened, I have to make eye contact, call out to her gently and pat her head or something… That’s no good. I get the feeling that this is an act that would only be allowed for people as handsome as Nero. At the very least, the only one I could successfully perform this on is probably Lily.
In the end, I just stand rigidly on the spot as if I’ve been petrified, silently waiting for her response. Damn it, I feel even more tense than when I was about to fight the Lich.
“M-my friend… was in Iskia, umm, and… you saved her, Kurono-san, so…”
Her words are intermittent, but I am quickly able to understand what she is doing her utmost to try and tell me.
“Could it be that you’ve come to thank me?” I ask.
“Yes… Th-thank you!” She expresses her gratitude with a teary voice and her head flies downwards in a bow.
When a girl does this in front of me, I normally can’t react in any way other than to be flustered or panicked.
But today, I’m simply happy. I see. This is what saving people is like. I can really feel that sensation again.
“I see. I’m glad I could save your friend.”
I certainly didn’t go to Iskia Fortress because I wanted to be praised. But I can’t help being happy when being thanked.
I felt this when I rescued Jenna and the others from the bandits, but having my efforts rewarded properly is an extraordinarily happy thing.
“Ha, wawa… U-umm, Kurono-san…”
While thinking about how happy I am, I’ve unconsciously started patting the back of the girl’s head that has been presented to me.
“Ah, sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” I say in earnest apology as I quickly remove my hand. Damn it, I got this image that this girl would love having her head patted, so I don’t feel any guilt at all. But no, really, I’m sorry.
“I-it’s not that! Having my head patted by Kurono-san is a-an honor!” she exclaims.
If you tell me that it’s an honor with tears in your eyes, it feels like I’m forcing you to say it.
But still, what is this tight feeling in my chest? An honor… Having her head patted by me is an honor, she says…
“The truth is that I was watching the Curse Carnival! From the front row! Kurono-san, you were very cool! I’m your fan, please give me your autograph!” she goes on, as if to catch me while I’m busy dealing with these indescribable, perplexing emotions.
Now I can’t help but to feel like she should just go ahead and say everything.
“Eh, that tournament, you were watching? Fan… autograph?”
“Yes! Please!” She pulls a student diary from the breast pocket of her uniform and holds it out to me. Along with a pen.
I freeze. I mean, even if you ask for my autograph, what kind of publicity stunt is this supposed to be… No, it’s a fact that I’m a Rank 5 adventurer who has received an award from the king, and I’m a well-known person in Spada now. I’m an authentic famous person.
But I want her to wait a little. Even if I have become famous, whether I can become naturally able to give my autograph away as a gift for people is another matter entirely.
Thinking about it normally, it’s hard. Just imagining practicing giving autographs to prepare for the future, preparing a pen-name and coming up with an elaborately-designed signature is embarrassing enough for me to want to bury my face in a pillow and flap my legs.
No, I’ve never done this. I’ve definitely never done this. Coming up with a cool name while I was in middle school is as far as I’ve gone!
“Umm… You won’t?” the girl asks, looking like she’s going to cry for real this time.
Men are weak to the tears of women. I’ve never felt this law of nature so strongly as I do right now. Despite how embarrassing it is, my reply is immediate.
“Ah, I don’t mind if it’s just an autograph,” I say.
Now then, I’ve managed to gracefully take the student diary and pen, which is good, but what am I supposed to write…
“Here you go,” I say.
“Thank you very much!” The girl takes her signed student diary with a smile that covers her whole face.
The words ‘Nightmare Berserker Kurono’ are clearly written on it.
I’ve gone and done it. This is the second time that I’ve called myself by my embarrassing title. It really is embarrassing. Damn it, Will, this is the one thing that I resent you for.
“Really, thank you very much. Please do your best from now on as well!” the girl says.
“Yeah, thanks for cheering me on.”
Completely oblivious to the complicated feelings in my chest, the girl leaves cheerfully.
She was in tears at first, but she left smiling in the end, so I suppose I can say that this was a good encounter.
But still, having a thankful fan who wanted my autograph, this was a scene that let me experience the charm of ‘fame’ all in one go. Isn’t it possible for me to actually become a popular person – This meeting was so impactful that I might get this delusional idea in my head.
It’s fine. I don’t crave the limelight so much that I would be blinded by a desire for fame. I am completely aware of what is most important here. Fame is secondary or even tertiary.
For now, being immersed in the fluffy feeling of knowing that I have an adorable fan out there is good enough for me.
I didn’t ask for her name or class, but I’ll work hard so I can do better for her if I see her again. May I escort you somewhere, Ojou-san? Something like that.
My stupid delusion has unexpectedly produced the answer. Escort, guiding, showing the way.
That’s right, that girl was the female student that I asked for directions to Simon’s dormitory when I first visited the academy. I recover my memories of her being very frightened and me wondering why I called out to female students instead of male ones.
But even she has become able to show me a smile now. I feel strange thinking about that, because it’s like I’ve come a really long way.
In any case, I’ve become used to the refreshing feeling of this wonderful encounter. Good, good. I found the quest for my trial today, too, I’m kind of lucky today – perhaps I shouldn’t have thought this.
The moment the dormitory that I’m returning to enters my sight –
I hear the voices of girls arguing.
“Hmm, this voice is Lily… and Nell, I guess.” I immediately realize that this is a bad combination and let out a small sigh. “… Again, huh.”
Now then, what should I say to mediate peace between them, and what should I tell them? I harden my resolve and press on to the dormitory as I rack my brains.