At daybreak, in front of the temple ruins.
The attack force was making preparations to leave, and the town militia soldiers escorting the captured bandits guided the carriages along the plains at the bottom of the hill through the morning fog. On a hill some distance away from this busy scene, at the side of the temple ruins, Gawiik’s group was conducting a funeral for the Horned Bear.
Everyone in the group understood that Kou was an immortal existence, and Kou was currently possessing the messenger bird. Therefore, this funeral, which would normally only be conducted following the passing of a companion, was for the Horned Bear itself.
The young soldiers from the town militia watching this scene on the hill with inquisitive eyes talked among themselves, half-grumbling.
「But you know, is it even normal to have a funeral service for an service animal?」
「Maybe if you get to a high enough class to bear the “Battleaxe and Serpent” medal, you start feeling like you’re different from normal people?」
「Jeez… Here we are having to make preparations to leave so early in the morning, it must be nice being in one of the elite groups, getting to rest -」
One of the attack force groups overheard their conversation by chance, and reprimanded them.
「Oi you guys, which group are you from?」
「You lot who didn’t even spill any blood on the battlefield shouldn’t talk like you know anything.」
Being berated by the three hard-faced mercenaries who still had wet bloodstains on their leather armor, the young soldiers timidly returned to their work.
The attack force was welcomed back to the town with applause from the people. More than half of the hostages who were thought to be lost had been safely rescued, so all of the mercenary groups, adventurers and lone mercenaries who participated in the attack received favorable evaluations from the Adventurers' Association.
There was an air of regret about the death of Horned Bear from Gawiik’s group, but the response to the death of the service animal was not quite as sad as if a person had died.
Gawiik’s group collected their reward and made preparations to head to their next job. The members who had been on standby packed the luggage into the equipment carriage and worried about the quieter-than-usual atmosphere in the group.
「Feels like there’s something’s missing on the back of the carriage...」
「Since Karen-san’s not in a good mood, the mood’s a bit gloomy, isn’t it.」
While the lower-ranked members were discussing the mood and carrying on with their duties, the higher-ranked members of Gawiik’s group were resting in their inn rooms or gathering information over drinks at the bar.
The town militia’s commanding officer approached the bar where Gawiik and Mandel were drinking.
「Man, thanks to you gentlemen, our mission turned out pretty well, so let me thank you again.」
The bandit leaders had prepared an emergency escape path through a dried up water well deeper in the ruins. But because the attack force had been able to storm the ruins quickly, they had been able to capture them before they escaped. The battle at the entrance gate had been a stalling tactic to buy time for the bandit leaders to get away.
It seemed that the bandits at the gate had not been told this, and were just used as disposable pawns.
He had been informed that if he showed good results in this operation, he would be considered for the imperial capital’s army, which was why he had been so adamant on continuing the mission. In high spirits, he told them that his achievement of suppressing the bandit threat had been acknowledged, so he was heading towards the imperial capital city soon.
「The imperial capital city, huh… We were thinking about showing our faces there soon, too.」
「Oh! If that’s the case, won’t you escort me there? Let’s travel together!」
Gawiik thought,『Well, why not?』and accepted the request of the now-former commanding officer of the town’s militia. Since the client was from the military, it would be easier than escorting a normal civilian.
In the royal capital, there was a magical technician who dealt in various magical tools, a regular customer of Gawiik’s group. Famous for causing a stir with his curious inventions, he was widely known as the『Abnormal Professor』, but his ability was unquestionable. Gawiik had been thinking of introducing him to Kou.
With the preparations for departure complete, Gawiik’s equipment carriage left the town, followed by three regular carriages. The former commanding officer was riding in one of the regular carriages. The four carriages headed towards the town of Curacall. The plan was to stockpile a large amount of food and water supplies there before beginning the long journey on the highway to the imperial capital city.
Karen rubbed her cheeks against the soft feathers of the messenger bird. She was still feeling a little depressed, but she had regained some of her vigor thanks to Kou’s comforting.
He would sit on her shoulders and tickle her cheeks and neck with his wings, or walk around on top of her when she was lying down, as if he were giving her some kind of animal therapy.
Half a day after they left the down, they crossed a river and stopped for a break. Carriages who had come from the direction of Curacall were also stopped at the riverside; it seemed like a perfect place for travelers to rest.
The travellers who had come along with Gawiik’s escort party because they were heading to the imperial capital city themselves were now discussing rumors about the capital. There was one that there were exceptional individuals being gathered at the castle.
「Is there going to be a war soon or something?」
「I haven’t heard anything like that.」
「Isn’t it some problem linked to the succession to the throne?」
「Ah, you’re talking about how two of the three princes are having quite an dispute about it.」
The travellers talked about how the king currently ruling over Grandahl was still young and very dependable, so the situation seemed fine for now. In the imperial capital, where the army was stationed, people would have been hesitant to discuss the princes’ dispute over the crown, but this was a riverside with no government officials nearby.
Gawiik overheard these rumors and discussed them with Lef, Mandel and the others over their meal. They compared these rumors to their own intel, evaluated their authenticity and tried to uncover any hidden truths.
「The gathering of exceptional individuals is probably the First Prince’s doing.」
「I can’t imagine that prince to be wanting a dispute over the crown.」
「... The one who’s disputing it would be the Second Prince.」
The First Prince liked adventuring, and did things like gather parties to search dungeons, fight monsters, and from time to time he would hide his social status to accept requests from the Adventurers' Association.
He had already attained the “Twin Swords and Beast” medal, ranked fourth out of the seven ranks, one rank below Gawiik’s group, so he was quite skilled.
「Maybe he’s planning to challenge another dungeon or something.」
「That prince’s group members are replaced pretty often, aren’t they?」
The First Prince used money to gather exceptional individuals and form an adventurer group to challenge high-difficulty dungeons and increase his fame as an adventurer. But most of them participated only because they were hired, and many left the group after making some money.
The fact that their leader was the First Prince, who also had to carry out his public duties, meant that their activities were scheduled irregularly. It seemed that this factor also made it difficult for members to stay in his group.
「... We need to be wary of his member recruitment.」
「He’s got his eyes on us too, hasn’t he...」
There was no risk of the higher-ranked members of Gawiik’s being recruited, but the same could not be said for the apprentices and lower-ranked members with potential. If the First Prince of Grandahl were to directly say to them『Come on an adventure with me!』, it would not be unusual for them to join him without any hesitation.
「Hahaha, no doubt about that.」
Leaving the riverbank behind them, the carriages under the escort of Gawiik’s group set off along the highway. By the time they reached the town of Curacall, the sun had already set and night’s dark curtain had fallen. From here, they planned to move together with an army unit that routinely made trips between here and the imperial capital city.
The former commanding officer that was being escorted would be moved to the military unit’s carriage, and it seemed there were others like him who were heading to the imperial city because they had been admitted to the imperial army for their achievements.
「We’ll be leaving the day after tomorrow. We need to prepare for the long journey to the capital, so get ready to work starting from tomorrow.」
「That’s all, dismissed!」
Captain Gawiik briefly announced the plans, and Vice-Captain Mandel’s dismissal left the members at ease. Some went to their inn rooms, others left to go shopping and some began to clean the carriages; everyone freely went about doing their own things.
『It’s already late, so maybe I’ll give Alice a visit tomorrow~』
The messenger bird was perched on Karen’s head, accompanying her on while she was shopping. Meanwhile, he wrote a letter to give to Alice inside the other dimension. He wrote about the things he had seen and experienced while accompanying Gawiik’s group, and it ended up being quite a long letter.
『Maybe I should write a diary and show it to her, too?』
Kou thought that if he wrote about the events on his journey at the various places he intended to visit, it would actually turn out to be quite an interesting book to read. He added stockpiling a large amount of paper and ink to his plans.
The next day. Lef accompanied Kou who said he wanted to go shopping, and bought him some fine-quality paper and ink from a shop that sold goods for nobles. The members of Gawiik’s group showed surprise at the fact that Kou was holding money, but it made sense for him to have money, since he had picked up a lot of items during his time in the dungeon.
The money that Kou had was mainly in coins known as “Guild Currency”, and there was a lot of this currency circulating in Grandahl, where the Adventurers' Association has a strong influence. He also had some money in “Imperial Currency”, which had slightly lower value than Guild Currency, and it was the predominantly used currency in the neighbouring country of Na'Hatome.
Incidentally, Karen had been the first to volunteer to accompany Kou with his shopping. Questioning her ability to negotiate prices and choose appropriate goods, everyone opposed the idea. So staff officer Lef was accompanying him instead, and Karen was sulking in her bed in her room at the inn.
『I’ll have to make it up to Karen later. Hey, that’s… Alice?』
In the early afternoon, Kou flew from the town streets towards the Diretoss mansion and spotted Alice and her friends having tea in the gardens. Fausta was with them too. Happy to see Alice properly enjoying the company of her friends as she had done before he met her, he flew down near the tea table.
「Oh? It’s a tori-san.」
「It appears to be a messenger bird.」
「However, it does not appear to be holding a letter, does it?」
Kou, the messenger bird, landed on Alice’s shoulder. Fausta, who was sitting on a chair being petted by the other ladies, wagged his tail as if to say『Long time no see!』Kou rubbed his feathered head against Alice’s cheek and tickled her with his wings, surprising her. This was not the expected behaviour of a normal messenger bird. Alice tentatively spoke his name to confirm her suspicions.
Kou produced a note behind his wing to say “long time no see,” and Alice’s expression turned to that of joy.
「It's my friend!」
「Oh my! To have a messenger bird as a friend, how wonderful!」
「It seems that Alice is well-loved by animals.」
Kou entertained the ladies by pecking at snacks and jumping from shoulder to shoulder. Alice did not ask what the others were thinking about, and it seemed they were on good terms.
Before long, their tea party finished and Alice returned to her room after seeing her friends off. She opened the window to welcome Kou inside. Fausta was playing with a cloth ball on the bed.
「I thought you were surely planning to return to the town of Barasse, so I was wondering what had happened when I received your letter.」
The letter that Kou had left with the messenger bird when he possessed the Horned Bear in the rocky mountains had only read『I might wander the world for a little while.』Kou summarized everything that had happened after he left the mansion - or rather, he had written a diary to show her the day before.
「These are letters from a person called Elmerl.」
They had been conversing about Kou through letters back and forth. The daughter of a high-class noble family and an instructor at a training school, two people who had nothing in common. The first two letters or so were written very politely, but from the third letter onwards it looked like a normal conversaion between a girl and her older sister.
Kou was relieved to hear about how Elmerl was doing, and that things were going well with Richello, Gashe and the others.
「Hey Kou, why don’t you write a letter to her too?」
「Pyuii~」『Yeah, I’ve thought about that too.』
They decided to have Kou’s letter sent together with Alice’s letter at the Adventurers' Association branch.
“I have to to back to the group now.”
「I see… The next time you’re in this town, come and visit me, alright?」
“Of course. I don’t know what form I’ll have next time, though.”
It was simple for Kou to visit her like this when he was in a harmless creature, but it would cause a huge problem if he were to try to approach the mansion in some『unmistakably dangerous creature.』
「Ufufu, you’re right, the gardener would gather everyone together to stop you!」
Alice agreed while laughing.
Leaving his letter to Elmerl and the others with her, he left the Diretoss mansion behind and headed back to the inn where Gawiik’s group was staying. The inn worker looked up in surprise to see a bird suddenly fly into the room through the window.
The members of Gawiik’s group gathered in the dining hall explained to him,『That’s our messenger bird.』
「Pii-chan, welcome back.」
The one who called out to him was Karen, but it seemed she was still sulking. He hopped along the table and landed on Karen’s lap and produced the snacks that Alice had given him - high-class shortbread biscuits that was popular even with the noble girls.
An elegant sweetness and fragrance that melted smoothly in the mouth. Karen, whose heart also melted. Daido had a dangerous look in his eyes.
「Pii-chaa~n, I love you!」
「Oi, Daido, are you still awake?」
Reaper started poking Daido, who appeared to have overheated from seeing Karen’s heart-melted expression. Dis, the sensible one, brought over some water to pour on him. Kou left the lively dining hall and headed towards staff officer Lef’s room. When he had gone shopping with her this morning, he had asked her to teach him the basics of magic.
Lef welcomed him with a single word, and Kou entered the room to study magic for the night.