The morning of the 9th of Blue Moon. The main road of the upper-class district beyond Spada’s second wall is crowded with people commuting to work or school.
As I step aside to avoid an enormous Golem dressed up in a suit, my shoulder lightly bumps into that of a gray-robed man who appears unexpectedly from behind the Golem.
「Oh no, it was my fault.」(Man)
We stop for a moment to exchange words of apology. We only bumped shoulders; it would be abnormal for an argument to start over it.
I try to begin walking again as if nothing’s happened, but –
「Umm, is there something wrong?」(Kurono)
I feel a sharp gaze coming from the robed man. He has black and blue odd-colored eyes and beautiful blonde hair… Guh, as much as I hate to admit it, my ideal of a high-level handsome face is peeking out at me from beneath the man’s hood.
It’s not a delicate face like Nero’s that looks like a soft mask; it might be more appropriate to say that his masculine face is heroic than to say that it’s handsome. It’s the kind of face that would receive more praise from men for being「cool」than from women.
「I thought I recognized you… No, my apologies, it seems I have mistaken you for someone else.」(Man)
「Huh, I see.」(Kurono)
I suppose that’s true; I’ve never seen his face before. I’m sure I’d never forget such a handsome man. His odd-colored eyes and blonde hair make a really memorable color combination, too.
Ah, now that I think about it, his colors are the exact opposite of mine. I suppose it’s to be expected of a foreign world; there are humans with strange appearances everywhere.
「Hey, what’s wrong?」(Lily)
「Ah, sorry, Lily. I’m coming now.」(Kurono)
Lily, who was wondering why I’ve suddenly stopped, pulls on my robe forcefully.
As I’m pulled forward, I start walking again.
As I turn around and look back, I see that the gray-robed super-handsome man has already disappeared on the other side of the crowd.
「What terrible congestion. The center of Elysion’s town was like this as well.」(Fiona)
Munching on her breakfast of skewered meat with a bored expression on her face, Fiona follows us, one step behind.
Seeing her stuff her cheeks with the heavy meat dish that is dripping with juices, I can see that her stomach is in fine shape today as well.
Though I look at her fondly, I do have one worry.
「Be careful of the juices dripping. You’re wearing new clothes, after all.」(Kurono)
「It’s alright, this is a present from you, Kurono-san, so I won’t put a single stain on it.」(Fiona)
I’m wearing an apprentice’s robe and Lily’s wearing the black one-piece dress she always wears; Fiona alone is the only one who is wearing something different from usual.
She’s wearing a one-piece dress with a different design to Lily’s. It’s not black, but pure-white. It’s made of a different material, too. It’s not Ancient Velvet, but a magic fabric called Valhalla Silk. Still, it can be called a high-class material that’s worth just as much.
This expensive, white, one-piece dress is a present I gave to Fiona to celebrate our party reaching Rank 5 as well as to express my thanks.
The first objective of my shopping trip yesterday was to find this present. These kinds of things should be sorted out quickly.
Still, when I see Fiona wearing casual clothes like this, it reminds me of the time the two of us went out. I was startled to see her in clothes different from the ones she normally wears.
「What is it, Kurono-san, you’re staring at me… Do you want some of my skewer? I would not hesitate to offer you some if it’s just one mouthful, but –」(Fiona)
「No, I was just thinking that it really suits you.」(Kurono)
It’s already the middle of autumn, so she’d have been cold with just a one-piece dress. She’s put on her own light-blue cape, matching the color of her hair.
Well, I think that a beautiful girl would be nice to look at no matter what she wears.
「I-I see… That’s, thank you…」(Fiona)
It seems that Fiona prioritizes her appetite over her sex appeal*; she gives me a cold response and looks the other way as she continues stuffing her face with the skewered meat. Ojou-san, the way you’re eating is a little too wild.
「Muuh! Kuono, What about Lily! Does this dress suit Lily?!」(Lily)
「Yeah, of course it does, you’re very cute. You’re the cutest, Lily!」(Kurono)
Lily giggles with an expression that shows her delight at having been praised. My words were referring not to the black one-piece dress that she always wears, but the shoes on her feet.
The magical pair of shoes called『Fairy Dance Shoes』, Enchanted with Speed Boost, Light Way and Feather, are the present that I gave Lily.
I gave her the White-pun robe last time, so it would be nice to give her something different, but Lily doesn’t wear much equipment. Oh yeah, shoes are something she can wear all the time, alright, let’s go with this – As a result of this shallow train of thought, I bought these shoes without caring about their price.
Worthy of their price, their magical effects are not at all inferior to the Ancient Velvet one-piece dress and their design is adorable. An essential pair of shoes for a stylish, high-Rank female adventurer that increases both maneuverability and feminine charm… or something like that. That’s what the store’s employee said.
In fact, as I watch Lily showing off its effects, moving smoothly as if she’s skating, I can see that the effects of Feather are working properly.
Well, to a modern Japanese citizen like me, she just looks like a child on rollerblades. I’ll tell her later not to skate inside stores.
「– Still, the Adventurers’ Guild over here is busy in the morning as well, huh.」(Kurono)
One way or another, we reach our destination. As indicated by my exasperated remark, the building directly in front of us is the Adventurers’ Guild. This is not the academy district branch that has served us until now, but the main headquarters in the upper-class district.
Even the district branch is a magnificent stone building that rural Guild branches like those in Irz Village and Alzas village couldn’t compare to, but this place is even more amazing. Its appearance can be summarized with one word,『temple.』
I suppose the only building I’ve seen that comes close is the academy’s great library. Carved pillars stand in a line, and the same statues of warriors and female knights that I’ve seen at the academy’s front gate as well as the throne room of the royal castle have been placed here for show. The walls and stairs have been decorated scrupulously with even the most minute details, making me realize it would have taken an incredible amount of time and effort to build them – no, it might be more appropriate to say that I’m overwhelmed by the thought of it. I feel just like a tourist. Ordinary Japanese people would feel the urge to click away with their cameras.
「Noblemen and wealthy merchants are pointlessly enthusiastic about submitting requests to the headquarters, so they’re strict about who’s allowed in among people who aren’t adventurers, aren’t they?」(Fiona)
「That’s why there are things called ‘easy quests’, Lily knows these things, you know!」(Lily)
Well, for Lily and Fiona who are inhabitants of this foreign world, I suppose this temple-like building isn’t anything out of the ordinary. They’re making shrewd comments from the adventurers’ point of view.
Hmm, if I hadn’t come to the headquarters on my own yesterday, things would have turned out quite embarrassing for me as I would have been the only one to be restless. Mhmm, it seems that being prepared is important when it comes to anything.
As Lily opens the double-doors, she shouts this phrase that she probably doesn’t really understand. As Fiona said a little while ago, the entrance is quite busy; it’s packed with people who didn’t look like adventurers, talking loudly and walking around restlessly. Though Lily has raised her voice a little, nobody takes notice of her.
But it’s kind of… The atmosphere here is more like a station’s platform in rush hour than an Adventurers’ Guild. All of the people walking around look like businessmen. In fact, though people in Spada don’t wear neckties, there are middle-aged men wearing Spada’s traditional ceremonial clothes all over the place.
I’m relieved to see a large man wearing a suit of armor and a helmet with a greatsword on his back, who is unmistakably an adventurer.
If it’s an Adventurers’ Guild, there’s no way that I, as a Rank 5 adventurer, should be out of place. Convincing myself of this, I step boldly through the wide entrance.
Today’s objective is to accept an easy quest – no, a proper Rank 5 quest.
「After all, the best way to confirm your strength is to see it during quests, isn’t it?」(Fiona)
Indeed, what we『Element Masters』need is to confirm our current strength.
I’ve acquired the second and third of my divine protections, of course, but Lily and Fiona have also been bestowed divine protections and gained new powers. I don’t know the details of their abilities, and they don’t know about the powers of my divine protections yet, either.
「Yeah, it’d be great if there was a really good extermination quest.」(Kurono)
Our aim is to enter a proper Dungeon and clear the boss in its deepest chamber, as orthodox adventurers should do. We’ll fight a variety of monsters in a variety of situations, master the use of our divine protections and think of ways to coordinate the use our new abilities. We can’t be happy just because we’ve all powered up. In order to stabilize our party’s fighting strength, we need a suitable amount of practice.
「Well then, I’ll go and ask at reception first.」(Kurono)
「Then Lily-san and I will go to collect our rewards.」(Fiona)
The other thing we’ve come here for other than for a quest, or more like the most important thing, is to finally collect our reward money for completing the emergency quest and also the money being paid to us by the nation of Spada.
They’ve thought this through, consolidating it into one payment paid through the Adventurers’ Guild.
Of course, my greatest concern is the worldly-minded one of just how much we’re going to receive.
「Yeah, I’ll leave it to you.」(Kurono)
「Yes! Leave it to Lily!」(Lily)
And so, I entrust Lily with money in the hundreds of millions as I head towards the quest accepting counter in high spirits.
Whether it’s the district branch or the headquarters, the purpose of the counter the receptionist is sitting at is no different, but the counter here feels more high-class, or rather, I feel like there’s a more elite atmosphere floating around it.
Uwah, that person somehow looks just like Erina –
「… Actually, that’s really Erina, isn’t it?」(Kurono)
I see a familiar beautiful Elf woman, smiling pleasantly at those around her. She has chestnut-colored hair in a chignon bun and her eyes are sky-blue. Most importantly, the sight of her in the Guild uniform that I’m used to seeing is a perfect match with my mental image of Erina the receptionist.
「Welcome to the headquarters of Spada’s Adventurers’ Guild.」(Erina)
As if noticing my intense stare, she gives me a small wave along with her usual magnificent smile. It seems that she’s just become free, too, so I’ll make use of her.
As I approach her, Erina speaks not in formal language, but a relaxed tone. I wonder if it’s alright for her to talk like that while she’s working, but that’s resolved by the partitions on either side of the reception desk.
There are barriers set up to prevent sound from passing through them, acting as privacy protection for things like the personal details of high-Rank adventurers, consultations and the contents of requests. There are small, inconspicuous magic circles drawn on the corners of the thin partitions.
In any case, there’s no need to hesitate to have a chat with Erina now.
She’s an acquaintance, no, I’ll call her my friend. I’ll use that relationship to ask her for a variety of information about quests, monsters and all kinds of other things. Maybe she really will introduce me to an easy quest…
「Yeah, morning, Erina.」(Kurono)
With these petty things in mind, I give her a greeting that seems normal on the surface. Well, Erina, as an elite receptionist with maxed-out communication skills*, might be able to see through my superficial ulterior motives.
「It’s kind of been a while, hasn’t it? I saw you at the parade, but I couldn’t call out to you.」(Erina)
「I-I see… That parade, you were watching it…」(Kurono)
Uwah, she saw that painful, disgraceful scene that frightened the people instead of making them rejoice. Whatever impressions you got from that parade are wrong; that was because the Nightmare Merry was scaring everyone. It’s definitely not my fault.
「Yes, you were very cool! It seems that there still aren’t many people who can appreciate your charm, though?」(Erina)
「Ah, thanks. It makes me feel better to hear you say that.」(Kurono)
「Fufu, I know. You look like a berserker on the outside, but you’re surprisingly delicate, aren’t you?」(Erina)
Amazing, it’s like Erina has actually seen through me.
We haven’t been friends for long; it was only very recently that we met at the academy by coincidence and became on good enough terms to speak to each other informally. To think that she would understand me so well despite that.
Though I feel happy, I’m surprised by her communication skills. If she told me that she actually has telepathic abilities on par with Lily’s, I think I’d believe her.
「By the way, why are you at the headquarters, Erina?」(Kurono)
「My work has been acknowledged and I was promoted to work at the headquarters!」(Erina)
「That’s the official reason, but it’s actually because I have a private connection with the new Rank 5 adventurer, the Nightmare Berserker.」(Erina)
「In other words, I’ve been ordered to keep an eye on you.」(Erina)
No way, what for – or so I wonder, but now that I think about it, Will said it, didn’t he? That Rank 5 adventurers attract attention from both the nation and the Adventurers’ Guild.
In other words, keeping an eye on the movements of Rank 5 adventurers and gathering as much information about them as possible is considered important enough to make Erina work at the headquarters just because she’s acquainted with me.
「But is it alright to actually tell me that?」(Kurono)
「I’m not being asked to act as a spy. I don’t intend to investigate your secrets, and the same goes for the rest of the receptionists and the other staff. We want to become on more friendly terms with capable Rank 5 adventurers and build bonds of trust. From the adventurers’ point of view, gaining the trust of the Guild gives access to various conveniences, the Guild doesn’t have to be wary of everything they do and they can live a smoother adventurer’s lifestyle.」(Erina)
Rank 5 is nothing if not proof that one possesses vast strength. The Guild wouldn’t be able to trust or feel secure about powerful adventurers if it simply treated adventurers in businesslike ways without knowing anything about them.
But if the Guild and powerful adventurers trusted one another, the adventurers would work harder with the Guild’s support, providing a relationship of mutual benefit.
「I see, I understand the reasoning behind it.」(Kurono)
「It’s good that you understood so quickly. So as long as you get along with me even better, everything will be fine, Kurono-kun. How does it sound? Simple, isn’t it?」(Erina)
Spending time with Erina in private isn’t something I’d hesitate to do, and more importantly, having a friendship with such a beautiful woman is something that I, as a sensible man, should welcome.
She did go out of her way to explain the Guild’s intentions; it would probably be worse for me to reject her out of suspicion. That would really cause unwanted misunderstandings.
I’m often misunderstood in the first place. There would be nothing better than for me to show off my friendly side before my reputation spirals downwards. I have to stop my label of the『Fiendish Tentacle Man』from spreading in the academy no matter what!
「Ah, if it’s like that, then I’ll be counting on you.」(Kurono)
「Mhmm, it’s good that you’re working with me. I’ll make sure to report to my superiors that you’re cooperating.」(Erina)
Erina speaks in a light tone with the last syllables in her sentences lengthened. Seriously, please take care of me.
「So now that we have the opportunity, how about having lunch with me today? To celebrate your promotion to Rank 5, I’ll treat you. Ah, I’ll put it down as an expense, so you don’t have to hold back or anything –」(Erina)
「I see, then I would certainly enjoy being treated to a meal.」(Fiona)
The voice that immediately responds to Erina’s attractive offer of a meal is extremely familiar, or rather, it’s the voice of the girl that I was exchanging words with just a little while ago.
「Fiona… what are you doing here?」(Kurono)
With an expression of surprise and exasperation, I direct this question to the ojou-san who is sticking her face in here from the side.
「I suddenly changed my mind. I have left the collection of our rewards to Lily-san.」(Fiona)
Fiona speaks nonchalantly. There’s not a single trace of ill will in those white cheeks, only drowsiness. Of course, what she truly desires is food, not sleep.
「Excuse me, dear guest, but please do not cut the queue.」(Erina)
Erina speaks firm words of warning directed at the sudden intruder. Her expression is stiff now, as if the smile that she was wearing while speaking to me was just an illusion. I can see how firm and brave she is. There’s no mistaking that her ability to fight is non-existent, but even so, she refuses to falter before a Rank 5 adventurer.
「Kurono-san, shall we use this opportunity to go to the Sushi store? Since this receptionist is apparently treating us.」(Fiona)
「… I wonder if you could stop ignoring me, rude guest.」(Erina)
Fiona looks indifferent, as if the woman before her is nothing but a wallet, while Erina’s cool expression breaks down in anger. Her thin eyebrows are twitching.
「H-hey, calm down, Fiona. Sorry, Erina, give me a minute!」(Kurono)
I grab Fiona and turn around. I turn my back to the angry-looking Erina and ask what Fiona’s true intentions are in a small voice.
This place is a little cramped because of the partitions; our faces are close. But I don’t care about that right now.
「What are you thinking, coming in so suddenly?」(Kurono)
「Are you familiar with the phrase,『honey trap』, Kurono-san?」(Fiona)
I’m not dull enough to be oblivious to suspicion that is written all over Fiona’s face.
「That’s… Aren’t you just being too cautious?」(Kurono)
「You’re naïve, Kurono-san. To think that you would be convinced by such an explanation.」(Fiona)
「You’ve been listening since then?!」(Kurono)
What about the soundproof barriers?!
「No, I could not hear it, but I have a rough idea of what you were talking about. As an adventurer, I am several years your senior, Kurono-san.」(Fiona)
Indeed, Fiona has been working as an adventurer since her school days in the Sinclair Republic. Which means that for an experienced person like her, the explanation that was given to me earlier would probably be common knowledge.
「No matter what kind of facade the Adventurers’ Guild may put up, it is composed entirely of relationships that purely consider benefits and costs. There is a risk that they may take advantage of your goodwill. It is standard practice to always be prepared to use the Guild for your own benefit.」(Fiona)
I-I see… Indeed, I might have accepted Erina’s words too easily.
I’m sure they weren’t completely false, but that doesn’t mean that she explained all of the Guild’s intentions. The Guild won’t lie, though. In summary, they’ll give me just as much information as I need and no more, and hope that I misunderstand in a way that benefits them.
「So you’re trying to say that if I’m too honest with them, there’s a risk that they’ll take advantage of me in a way that suits them, right?」(Kurono)
「Yes, that is how it is. From what I can see, that receptionist is the type that you cannot let down your guard against.」(Fiona)
Still, it bothered me earlier. That receptionist… she is someone whose life we saved, but Fiona doesn’t seem to care about that.
Well, a capable adventurer like Fiona fights dangerous monsters and evil bandits all the time, and saving people is something she’s accustomed to. I suppose she can’t remember all of the faces of the people she’s saved.
「And so, I will take over from here.」(Fiona)
Take over, which means, umm... Oh yeah, we came to accept a Rank 5 quest. Anything is fine as long as it’s suitable for us to test our abilities, so I don’t have any problems with leaving it to Fiona’s choice.
I’m not so completely convinced by Fiona’s words that I’d push Erina aside, but, well, I suppose it’s fine in this case. It seems that things will end amicably, too.
「Alright, I’ll let you do it.」(Kurono)
「Yes, please leave it to me.」(Fiona)
「Make sure you do get along with Erina, alright? It wouldn’t do us any good if the Guild kept an eye on us, either.」(Kurono)
「I will handle things carefully.」(Fiona)
Is it just my imagination? It’s kind of like her golden pupils are swimming. Well, whatever. I believe in you, Fiona.
With that, I tag Fiona in and head straight for the payment counter where Lily is probably handling her first errand of receiving the large amount of money.
「Well then, Erina, let’s have our meal together some other time.」(Kurono)
「Eh, no way, Kurono-kun?!」(Erina)
「Now then, receptionist, please introduce us to a Rank 5 quest.」(Fiona)
Fiona stands in front of the counter with a daunting pose, as if to be in the way between me and Erina.
Though I feel sorry that I ended up rejecting Erina’s offer to have lunch, I leave without turning to look back.
「Ah, by the way, do you like this one-piece dress? It is a sincere gift that Kurono-san gave to me.」(Fiona)
「Kuh, ngh… You… witch…」(Erina)
As Fiona starts boasting about her one-piece dress as if she’s really taken a liking to it, Erina lets out a truly frustrated-sounding groan for some reason. I’m curious about the conversation between those two, but the moment I step outside the soundproof barrier, I immediately become unable to hear them.
Now then, I wonder just what kind of quest Fiona is going to choose.
Quest – Lich Extermination
Reward: 15,000,000 Klans
Time limit: Three months from accepting the quest
Contractor: The Adventurers’ Guild
Contents of request: The appearance of a Rank 5 Undead monster known as a『Lich』has been confirmed in the deepest part of the『Revival Catacombs.』
The Lich, which is an extraordinarily dangerous monster that appears once every ten years, controls the Undead monsters in the Dungeon and in the worst-case scenario, leads its subordinates outside to attack areas inhabited by humans.
An immediate extermination is requested.
This is the quest form that is handed to me by Fiona half an hour later.