In a familiar restaurant near the Barasse branch of the Adventurers' Association, Elmerl, Richello and Gashe were talking about the letter that had arrived from the town of Curacall a few days ago.
「A letter from Kou, you said?」
「Yeah, it seems he’s learned read and write a lot better at the noble house I told you about.」
「Eh, that’s pretty amazing, huh.」
The letter was written with proper grammar, though his handwriting was not quite perfect yet. Elmerl and the others had already known about how he had helped the ruler of Curacall and left on a journey afterwards from her letter conversations with Alice.
It seemed that he was now on the way to the imperial capital city. Elmerl voiced her relief at the news that Kou was doing well.
「Considering that, you have quite a difficult expression.」
「Mmm, that’s because -」
In the letter, Kou had written that he was traveling with Gawiik’s group, and Elmerl had mixed feelings about that.
「Gawiik’s group, the one that tried to take his amulet?」
「Yeah, that one.」
「Hmm, that doesn’t sound like something Kou’d do, but at the same time, it seems just like Kou to do that...」
Elmerl could not deny that Gashe was right; it was just like Kou to do that. It said in the letter that Kou had become a member of Gawiik’s group, and it seemed that his personality and behavior had not changed since the times he spent in Barasse’s dungeon. So she accepted that that was just how Kou was.
「Judging from the date on the letter, they should probably be at the imperial capital right about now, I guess.」
「The imperial capital, huh. It’s a big city, but even Kou would be considered unusual there.」
Six days after Gawiik’s group and the army unit they were traveling with departed from Curacall, they arrived safely in the imperial capital after a fine journey.
The city of Tortoluse was a large collection of buildings built on a flat area that is surrounded on all sides by steep, rocky mountains. The fortified city’s huge outer walls had been built as if they were a continuation of the surrounding mountains, forming an impenetrable defense. Within these walls, a civilization of highly advanced magical technology thrived.
The group of army carriages passed easily through the triple security checks at the front gate of the city and headed straight towards the army headquarters. But Gawiik’s carriage and the civilian carriages were held back as the people and contents of the carriage had to be inspected before they were allowed to enter the city.
Gawiik’s name was well-known here, so they were given favorable treatment during the inspection compared to the inspection of civilians or other adventurers, but it still took some time. Kou, who passed the inspection as the group’s messenger bird, flew into the upper area of the city to get a view of Tortoluse from above.
『Uwah, that’s amazing… There’s so many tall buildings. I wonder if that huge one is a castle?』
Whether every building was a castle itself, or the buildings were all part of a single royal palace, large mansions extended from the center of the castle-shaped buildings, and they were all connected. The buildings at of this castle were surrounded by large walls and a moat, forming a clear boundary between the castle and the surrounding town.
Even the buildings outside the castle were large compared to the buildings in Barasse and Curacall.
『Something’s flying there... I get the feeling I’ve seen that before. But I think I’ve seen it in another world...』
Above the imperial capital city, there were several reptiles with large wings - flying dragons - with people riding on their backs. There were also things that look like vehicles, tied to the ground but floating in the air. From Kou’s memories, the name “blimp” came to his mind.
『It feels like a really advanced city.』
Kou saw that Gawiik’s group had finished their inspection and were entering the city, so he descended and perched on the lantern by the carriage driver.
The group stopped the carriages at a warehouse to store them. The staff officer’s group were sent to find an inn to stay in, while Vice-Captain’s group headed to the road where the central branch of the Adventurers' Association was to collect the reward for their mission. Captain Gawiik and the remaining members were looking after the carriages.
「After we confirm which inn we’re staying in, Kou, tomorrow I want to introduce someone to - no, I want to introduce you to someone, you don’t mind, right?」
“Sure, is it the Abnormal Professor you mentioned before?”
「Yeah, it's that Abnormal Professor. Don’t actually call him that when you meet him though, alright?」
He was known as the Abnormal Professor, even among the Magicians of various institutions who spent all their days doing nothing but research on new magical technology. But the Professor himself did not agree with this nickname, and Gawiik laughed as he told him that it would be troublesome if they were to anger him by using it.
Incidentally, the difference between a Magician and a Mage, from the official standpoint of the nation and its organizations, was whether one was a specialist who teaches apprentices or students. The swordswoman Elmerl taught swordsmanship to adventurers at a training school, but if she were to take apprentices as a specialist under this system, she would be considered a sword-master.
「I wonder if Sarta-chan is doing well -」
Karen was hanging her legs out from on top the carriage and heard the conversation about the Abnormal Professor. She thought of her friend, who was working as the Professor’s assistant.
Vice-Captain Mandel, after collecting their reward from the central branch of the Adventurers' Association, checked the large notice board. He looked through the free job request forms and announcements, looking for good work and any updates on the current state of affairs.
「Vice-Captain, there’s this one here!」
「Hmm? Ah, it’s already that time of year.」
Reaper normally just dragged his feet behind the Vice-Captain like he was bored whenever they came to the Adventurers' Association. So for him to be pointing out the notice was unusual, but Mandel looked at it. It had the seal of the royal family, and read “Gather, warriors! You are the next heroes!”
「It's a fighting tournament! There’s even a prize of fifty gold Guild coins, wow!」
Ignoring Reaper, who was excitedly telling him that they should participate, Mandel thought about the travelers’ rumors that the First Prince is gathering talented people. There were big and small fighting tournaments held periodically in the arena of the imperial capital city, but every year around this time, a large tournament sponsored by the royal family was held.
「It’s risky to join such a big tournament, so we’ll need to consult with the captain before deciding to join.」
「Yeah! Make sure you do a good job persuading him Daido, you wanna participate too, right?」
「I am interested, yes.」
One of his subordinates was a battle-junkie, one step short of being downright bloodthirsty, and the other was quiet and overbearing. Mandel shrugged his shoulders at them as he walked, leaving the Adventurers' Association behind him.
In a large inn mainly used by large groups of customers, in the middle of the street. In the section that Gawiik’s group had paid for, the group members gathered in the dining hall to discuss their future plans. Everyone was relaxed comfortably on the soft carpet on the floor.
There was also a large sofa that could have seated many people, they had gotten used to a lifestyle of sleeping outdoors, so sitting on the floor was more comfortable for them.
「Captain, you and Karen are going to go see Professor Andagi tomorrow, aren’t you?」
「Yeah, to introduce Kou to him.」
Gawiik answered while bringing snacks and a drink to his mouth. He looked at messenger bird Kou, who was massaging Karen’s back with his bird feet while she lay on her stomach.
「Captain, Reaper wants to enter the fighting tournament... What should we do?」
「The prize for winning is fifty gold coins. Fifty! Let’s all enter, Captain!」
「That’s too reckless. But fifty coins, huh...」
「Groups of fighters from other regions are also gathered in the imperial capital. There are probably a lot of them with their eyes on this tournament.」
The prize money was tempting, but it depended on the participating members, and there was the possibility of them getting injured unnecessarily. If they were going to participate, they needed to gather information on the other competitors first.
There would be no problem in entering if both the opponents’ strengths and their own strength was unknown. But a relatively well-known group like Gawiik’s strongest members and battle tactics would be analyzed by their opponents.
Reaper and Daido had the role of being the close-distance fighters of Gawiik’s group while Lef and Karen attacked from a distance, and Dis and Trissun would support them. Mandel and Viido acted as their defense. This battle formation would already be known to other groups.
Trying to defeat well-prepared opponents with only sheer strength and no plan would be ill-advised.
「Well, let’s make it up as we go!」
「Eh, you have to let me participate!」
「I want to enter, too.」
「Oh alright, alright, I’ll add preparing for the tournament to tomorrow’s plans.」
After that was decided, the relaxed, quiet group meeting finished and night fell on the city.
In the Magicians’ organization district, under the jurisdiction of the Tortoluse government. There were all sorts of magical research facilities lined up here, and many Magicians spent their days performing experiments and research. In a plaza away from the other research buildings, there was one research building standing by itself, shining bright red in the morning sunlight.
It had a unique appearance, with gears on the walls and roof and countless pipes that might have been chimneys stretching out above. It was incredibly conspicuous when compared to the other nearby research facilities, and the sign hanging on the entrance read『Andagi’s Magical Weapons Development Site.』
「This place hasn't really changed, has it. I think it’s even more chaotic than before.」
「It’s an interesting house, isn’t it?」
「Pyui pyui~」『It looks amazing from the outside.』
Gawiik, Karen and Kou who was on top of Karen’s head had come to this facility. They looked up at the building that appeared as if it were some odd combination of unorthodox art. Meanwhile, a young woman wearing a white lab coat and carrying a wooden bucket appeared from the entrance.
「Haah, it’s really no good to use the water supply equipment that the professor made rather than regular equipment... Huh?」
「Sarta-chan, good morning!」
「Karen-chan! And Gawiik-san, too!」
「Hey, is the professor here?」
She was an apprentice magical craftsman belonging to a magical research group, but she willingly worked as Professor Andagi’s assistant, and that fact alone made her a relatively respect-worthy person.
The standard of living in the imperial capital was quite developed compared to that of other cities due to the advancement of magical technology. Waterways and sewers were maintained in every part of the city, and products such as water service equipment and magical cooking tools were being sold.
Even lighting devices operated on magic, and the use of fuels like firewood or oil was rare.
When they were shown their way inside the facility, what they saw was close to what they expected.
It was not so messy that they could not find space on the floor to walk. But like long, narrow pieces of contemporary art, numerous pipes were entangled across the tops of the research desks lined up in a row. Faintly sparkling crystal balls rested on stands nearby.
Next to those were plants with poisonous-looking patterns with blooming flowers, and on top of the table on the other side, there were a lot of research flasks filled with liquids of various colors, bubbling away.
On the ceiling were countless ventilation fans, spinning noisily. It seemed that if these stopped spinning, it would be a disaster. Kou looked upon the sight of this completely disorganized, chaotic research room in amazement.
Sarta called out to the Professor, who was in one of the inner rooms.
「Professor~? Gawiik-san have come to see you~」
The voice that answered was a little hoarse. The man who poked his head out from the far room was of such an age that he could not take offense to being called an old man, dressed in a white lab coat. This man was Professor Andagi, magical craftsman of the magical weapons development department of the government’s magical research organization.
「Oh! It’s been a long time, kid -」
「It's good to see you.」
「You look like you’re doing well, Professor~」
「Your breasts are nice as usual, Karen, did they get bigger again? Kuwakakakaka!」
Professor Andagi cackled as he reached his rough, bony hand towards Karen’s chest, but his assistant, Sarta, slapped it away. It was just the same as the last time they had come here, and Gawiik laughed as he shrugged and thought, “he’s still fine and healthy.”
「Oh, an intelligent being separate from the collective consciousness, you say?」
The atmosphere was more serious now, and the messenger bird Kou sat on a table with Professor Andagi, his assistant Sarta, Gawiik and Karen surrounding him.
「In your thoughts, what exactly do you think you might be?」
“I don’t really know.”
「Hmm, perhaps you were an adventurer in your past life... You have no trouble possessing demonic beasts, correct?」
”That’s right, I didn’t feel any big differences between the creatures called demonic beasts and regular animals.”
「Did you figure something out?」
「... Is that right...」
Gawiik had expected that this might be the case, but he dropped his shoulders with disappointment as he nodded his head seriously. Saying that Kou needed to be researched in depth, the Professor expressed his interest in Kou’s ability.
Researching his ability to possess and control any animal or demonic beast as well as his ability to store objects in another dimension could lead to the greatest discovery or invention of the era.
「As far as he’s told me, there seems to be no limit on the capacity of his storage, this method of storing things in another dimension... I would certainly like to know how it works.」
「Well, he himself doesn’t really seem to understand it either.」
“Yeah, I’m only aware that I can do it, but I don’t know how it works.”
「I see. Hmm, we’ll look into that when we have the chance, but for now... Sarta.」
「That thing that’s sealed in the warehouse... Do you think we can use it?」
「Eh, that thing, huh? I wonder... Indeed, if he can possess any demonic beast, then it might be possible for that, too.」
Sarta considered Professor Andagi’s serious question, then answered with a nod. The Professor answered her with a nod of his own, and a suspicious smile crept onto his face. Knowing he was planning something again, Gawiik interjected.
「Professor, let me just tell you, Kou is one of our members. I’ve introduced him to you, but I have no intention of letting you use him for some weird experiment, alright?」
「It’s not weird! My research experiments are noble, unique experiments that get results that no other methods would achieve!」
「Don’t call your own experiments noble... It’s embarrassing.」
「Rather than it being unique, you’re the unique one... In the wrong way.」
The professor’s only reaction to the comments from his old friend and his assistant was to get more excited. Karen laughed while stuffing her face with tea cakes. This was a scene that was just like the old times in this research facility.
『They get along well, don’t they?』