Maybe it was obvious. Perhaps it wasn’t. Regardless, the very first person to come and greet Riley and Nainiae for their return from the trip to Rainfield was none other than Ian, the old butler.
It seemed he was wondering around the garden all this time. His white hair headed toward Riley, who just stepped into the mansion’s entrance.
“We are back.”
Riley raised his hand to greet others lightly. Nainiae lowered her head to greet others respectfully.
At that moment, Ian’s eyes were starting to fill with tears.
“Hup. Kuhup… Kuhuhup!”
Ian’s reaction was exactly as expected. Riley peeked a smile and opened his arms.
Riley was sick of hearing that during the summer. Maybe it was because Riley was away for so long… Riley opened his arms because it was so great to see Ian.
“Yes. I’m back home.”
“Do you know how worried I was?”
When Riley opened his arms, Ian poured out tears like waterfall. He ran toward him and hugged him.
“I think it would be weirder if I didn’t know it.”
Riley hugged Ian as if Ian was his own child. Riley casually turned his head and looked at the three members of the Lightning Boulder mercenary group who were walking toward the entrance of the mansion.
“… the Mercenary Hero?”
In Riley’s arms, Ian was crying like a little girl. However, his shoulder, his back, his arm… With his white hair, his hardened physique indirectly explained how many battlefields he fought in.
“Stop crying so much. Get a grip.”
Ian was pouring tears and runny nose. Having heard what Riley said, Ian barely got a hold of himself and cleaned up his face. Ian looked beyond Riley’s shoulder.
“… Who are they?”
“They are guests.”
“That’s right. They are here to see you.”
“Young Master, by any chance…”
A man, a woman, and a boy… They were each wielding a different weapon. Ian could tell with the first glance that they were mercenaries. The look on Ian’s face became serious.
“That’s right. They are mercenaries.”
With Riley’s introduction, Nara brought out the pouch that contained the bone powder of his father’s remain. Nara looked like he might be smiling. It could have been that he was crying. It was a strange look. Nara tilted his head side to side.
“Mercenary Hero. It’s a great honor to meet you. I’m…”
The boy’s emotion was running wild. His eyes suddenly changed to a sharp inhuman shape. Noticing this, Ian remembered seeing it before. Ian’s eyes became wide.
Ian said it as if he couldn’t believe this. Nara nodded and answered,
* * *
“… I see.”
Ian asked Nainiae to do his work for the moment. Ian mumbled in a bitter tone.
“Garf… in the end, he was killed by that dark mage…”
In the garden, on a table for tea, Ian had the Lightning Boulder mercenaries and Riley sit with him for a tea. With his thumb, Ian fiddled with the cup’s handle and said,
“This is the reason why I hate mages. Mages took away people so easily… The people who were precious to me.”
Ian added that he doesn’t hate Nainiae. Ian put his hand toward the urn that had the bone remains of Garf Basilisk.
“I don’t know how Garf introduced me to you, but I think I should make certain for you to know this.”
Ian couldn’t bring himself to touch the urn. He lowered his head and said,
“I’m retired, but I’ll put my title as the Mercenary Hero on the line to say this. A Basilisk named Garf was definitely a great father.”
Nara tightened his grab on his hand that was laying on top of this thigh. It wrinkled his pants.
“Nara, you should be proud of him.”
The Mecenary Hero that Nara admired was praising his father.
Nara could not imagine a situation that was more touching than this.
Despite that, Nara couldn’t say anything.
"When I saw you in the photo, you were just a child. Now, you have grown… You look magnificent like your father.”
On top of the table with white cloth, thick stream of tears, which fell along Nara’s cheek, dropped and made stains.
“You must have had it hard… All by yourself.”
He nodded, and nodded again.
He bit his lower lips hard. Nara was still grabbing hard on to his thigh. He couldn’t wipe off his tears. He nodded repeatedly to respond to Ian.
He was still a child.
A 15 year old boy was there.
It seemed he was remembering all the hardships he endured. In Nara’s face, there were not just tears, but also runny nose.
“… Thank you…”
Ian raised his right arm, which he couldn’t bring himself to touch the urn that contained Garf’s remains, to pat Nara’s head.
“… for surviving.”
Ian said with a bitter smile.
Nara strained himself to respond with a tearful voice,
Perhaps it had been about ten minutes since Nara was in tears.
Ian left Nara be so he could calm down. Ian turned to Riley, who was sitting next to him, and asked about the mercenaries.
“About the Lightning boulder mercenary, I’ll tell the Count later that they are here as your guests.”
Ian said as he filled Riley’s empty cup. Riley tilted his head side to side and mumbled,
“Later? Not immediately?”
“Ah, yes. Actually, two days ago… The Count received an urgent message from the Solia Castle. He left the mansion with his sword.”
“He left the mansion?”
“Yes. There was a story about the Solia’s boarder being attacked. I think this might be about that.”
“What about my two big brothers?”
“Young Master Ryan and Lloyd are here in the mansion. Because you were not present at the time, they couldn’t all leave the mansion empty.”
Riley narrowed his eyes. He looked around the mansion and asked Ian.
“How’s my mother? Is she doing well?”
It seemed Ian had been watching out for Iris through the day and night. The dark circles under Ian’s eyes were darker than usual.
“Actually, ever since the Count left, I was concerned something might happen, so I had been extra cautious. It had been strangely quiet.”
Riley narrowed his eyes and got up from his seat, slowly.
“She’s at her room, right?”
Riley ordered Ian to have conversations with the mercenaries. Riley walked toward the inside of the mansion.
* * *
“… I’m going to let this slide because you are still in training. If you were no longer in training, I would not have gone easy on you if you made a mistake like that.”
It was at the mansion’s kitchen.
Sera and Nainiae were preparing dinner. It had been a while since they got together like this, so they were having their girly chats.
“Seriously, I wish I could give you lectures for one or two hours.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Sera.”
Before preparing the meals on the menu, Nainiae was doing the dishes. With a downed look on her face, Nainiae said,
“It won’t happen again.”
“Um. If you look so gloomy like this, it makes me feel sorry for scolding you instead.”
It seemed Sera felt it. Sera broke cold sweat and said she was just joking as she picked up the dishes again.
“Anyway, how was it? How was the Rainfield?”
“Ah, it was great.”
Nainiae, who was washing dishes, stopped her hands for a moment. She smiles slowly and said it was great. Sera had a mischievous smile on her face and asked,
“It was great?”
Nainiae flinched without realizing. She strained her lips and froze.
“That’s strange. Serving the Young Master by yourself would have not been easy. What was so great about it? You even forgot to contact the mansion?”
Sera’s mischievousness was getting activated. Not just her smile, but her laugher was like that as well. Sera moved her legs and got right next to Nainiae.
Was she nervous because Sera was standing right next to her? Nainiae was still petrified. Nainiae was still just holding the dish. She wasn’t able to answer Sera.
“During the evenings, nothing strange happened, right? Ah, you said you had a separate room, so that probably didn’t happen?”
Sera wiggled her brows and asked.
Perhaps because Nainiae was embarrassed, she started to shake her hands that were holding the dishes.
“Come on. Still, it is hard to believe that nothing happened?”
Sera, with her mischievous look on her face, asked again.
As a woman, perhaps it was only natural for her to be interested in things like this.
“Excuse me, Nainiae, nothing really happened…”
Before Sera could finish her question again, Nainiae’s hands, as if they reached their limits,
Dropped the dish she was holding.
The crashing sound interrupted Sera’s thoughts. Sera vacantly stared at the broken pieces of dish on the floor for a moment and was about to redirect her gaze toward Nainiae. However,
It seemed Nainiae lost strength in her legs. She was faltering where she stood, right where the pieces of broken dish was. Sera quickly supported Nainiae.
“Nainiae? What’s wrong? Nainiae!”
Nainiae’s body was not just shaking. It was almost at the state of shock. Having realized this, Sera, with a desperate look on her face, called Nainiae’s name.
“What… What’s wrong? Are you hurting somewhere?”
The pain that came all of sudden had subsided a little. Her vision, which was filled with white for a moment, was gradually returning. Nainiae desperately tried to open her lips.
Looking at Sera’s face, which was filled with concern for Nainiae, Nainiae squeezed out her voice and stumbled to say,
“I’m… not hurting.”
Sera was holding on to Nainiae’s arm. Nainiae pushed Sera’s hand away and tried to pick up the broken pieces on the floor. However, she ended up plummeting there.
“I… just sat down so I could pick up the broken pieces. It is more efficient… that way. So…”
With shaking hands, she was reaching for the broken pieces of the dish. Her wrist was grabbed by Sera.
“Your hands are shaking so much. What could you possibly clean up with these?”
Sera was holding Nainiae’s right arm’s wrist. Nainiae looked at her right hand.
Without giving it any thought, she tried to grab the pieces with her right hand. Her right hand was unlike ordinary people’s hands. It was missing two fingers. Her right hand was grotesque. Looking at her right hand, Nainiae was…
“I… I am…”
Nainiae was shaking her head left and right. She was choking in fear.
“I’m sorry. I’m terribly sorry. I’ll work hard. I’ll do my best. I’ll work harder, so please… please don’t abandon me. Please praise me…”
Sera wondered if Nainiae was seeing things through her right hand that was missing two fingers. Nainiae was constantly shaking her head and mumbling. Concerned, Sera shook Nainiae.
“Nainiae, Nainiae! Can you hear me? Get a hold of yourself!”
“No… No more of experimental medicines. I won’t be greedy anymore… I won’t expect anything. I won’t hope for anything, so please… please, no more of that. Not that medicine…”
Nainiae was in a state of panic. She raised her severely shaking hand and stated to scratch the mask on her face.
“Ah, ahah… No… No…”
Looking at her right hand that had fingers missing, re-experiencing the pain she felt in the basement laboratory, Nainiae brought her right hand, her normal thumb toward her mouth.
Nainiae was about to bite off her thumb. Sera quickly stopped her.
* * *
“Um. There’s still two hours left until the store opens.”
Riley kicked the back of the red-haired young man who was still traveling through the dream world.
“Get up you rascal.”
“Ugh. What the hell? Who dares to… Um?”
Andal, the red-haired young man, woke up. As soon as he woke up, he found the blacked haired boy next to him. As if he was extremely annoyed, Andal cringed.
“It’s that dumbass.”