With all the Murder Tigers within the range of my spell, having them group up before the Fire Walls, I unleashed Gravity Stop, the same spell that I had used against the Laughing Foxes bandits.
Signalled by a brief sound cue, blue and red lights wrapped around us and the monsters, respectively. The very next instant, the Murder Tigers’ bodies were pulled down by intensified gravity.
“Th-that’s amazing, Sir Asley…”
“Heh, interesting spells you’ve got there…”
Which reminds me, I don’t think I’d ever shown this to Lina.
And from Melchi’s reaction, I would assume this was new for her, too… whoops, no time to mess around now.
“Now, wipe them out!”
“You got it!”
Hornel chose his moves well, firing off a lightning spell right off the bat. It was apparent that he naturally possessed high leadership qualities.
After that opening, it took no time at all to sweep the rest down.
Midors and Idéa finished off the Murder Tigers that had been weakened by Hornel’s Thunderbolt.
Baladd twisted her Murder Tiger’s neck as if wringing water off a dust cloth, then came back to us with a smile on her face. As expected, Lina pulled a wry smile in response to that.
Bloody hell, that was scary.
“Heh… w-we did it…”
“Really saved our hides there, Asley. You knew that we would be coming here ourselves anyway, right?”
I’d anticipated that you would pull something like this right when you’d been refused by Duncan, after all.
“Nah, just some random hunch, really.”
“Thank you for saving us, Sir Asley!”
“You’re welcome. You showed some pretty good moves there, Lina.”
“Master Asley, do you want this?”
No, I’d rather you not throw the monster’s remains at me like it was some doll.
“Thanks, but I don’t want it.”
Now then, looks like their vigilance was quite slack.
Although I wouldn’t quite consider the clash back there to be enough to take eight of a cat’s nine lives, I suppose they hadn’t had many chances to go against such formidable foes.
“Are you just gonna keep quiet, Ash?”
“No, that would be dangerous. Do you sense anything?”
“90 meters to the south. I sense some sort of ‘disaster’ there.”
“I see… best not to rush in, then.”
While Melchi and I talked, Hornel interrupted us, our exchange perhaps rubbing him the wrong way.
“What are you talking about, Asley? What’s dangerous?”
Doesn’t seem to be the case. I suppose it was more of a simple curiosity and a little vigilance.
“Hahaha, did you even accept the hunt with the intention to complete it? Shouldn’t we count the number of Murder Tigers we’ve taken down?”
“Yeah, what she said.”
“So… the target number is six – hope you remembered that.”
“Wah – that’s right! I completely forgot!”
“Yeah, that’s it – goes to show how y’all are still inexperienced. The fact that you’re not fully vigilant when out of town is a problem in itself.”
Everyone frowned in response to what Melchi had pointed out.
Although being Rank B would put one among the higher-end adventurers, one’s age and maturity were also important factors. Goes to show how important social studies can be.
Then again, Hornel seemed to have high enough capacity for adaptation, so he’ll soon be able to fight on the front lines, I guess?
“What is it, Hornel?”
“Well, I… I’ve brought Lina along into a dangerous situation, so… Sorry. And thank you.”
What a surprise.
He’d emotionally matured, more or less. It was only expected for him to apologize, what with me being Lina’s guardian of sorts, but he made sure to express his thanks toward me personally as well.
He did turn away immediately as he was done talking, though – I couldn’t help but crack a smile.
And Lina, observing us from a distance, was smiling quite delightfully. So unfair.
“Let’s be on our way, then.”
But as I said that, a small silhouette approached us from high on the sky.
Isn’t that… Hawk? Sent on an errand by Irene, perhaps?
“Oh, there you are, maggots! I’ve got a message from big sis! Listen up!”
The sparrow’s throaty voice rang in my head, sending harsh berating words at the party of four behind me.
“You four are in for a week of detention, damned fools! Oh, she didn’t say ‘damned fools,’ by the way. Think of it as me spicing it up! There, one message down! And next, you!”
“What is it?”
“There’s trouble at the Colorful Food District! Be extra careful next time you’re looking to buy off a girl! Damned fool!”
“Trouble… All right, please tell her ‘I got the message’.”
“You got it! Later, maggots!”
As always, such a noisy sparrow, this one.
Now then, trouble in the Colorful Food District… what’s that supposed to mean? Did Irene catch wind of some shady stuff? I’ll have to look into that later.
I first sent Hornel’s group on their way back to the town and then went with Melchi to finish the last Murder Tiger of our quota. Remembering Duncan’s tip that the number of the Murder Tigers was uncertain, we searched the area for a while longer, but we didn’t come across any more of them.
On our way back, I bothered Melchi with the same question that I had asked a while ago.
“Melchi… Who are you, really?”
“Right – guess we can talk now, with the others already gone and all. But in exchange, I’ll also have you answer my questions, yeah? We have a deal, Ash?”
“As much as I can, yes…”
“Nuhuhu, it’s fine, it’s fine~~ Now, let’s start with my identity. I’m an infiltrator of sorts, sent by a faction not affiliated with the Nation – that’s right, a spy.”
“Looks too open for a spy to me, though.”
“Well, well~~ I’m not necessarily hostile, you know~~ My main task is to investigate the object-space-transference magic that had recently been developed in Beilanea. I’m technically still in training like that rich boy and his pals, but got sent here by my mentor’s order, you see.”
It’s hard to imagine a mentor of someone this strong.
I mean, Melchi here might even be on the level of the Six Archmages, I dare say…
“And so, since it’s close to the Royal Capital, I went to Beilanea to catch myself some skilled individuals at the Guild, and that’s when ya got roped into my business. Went there because I heard the spell’s creator frequents the place – you know, the Irene lady? But looks like I ended up hitting the right target~~”
“The… right target?”
“Looks like you’re the subject I’m supposed to investigate, Ash. That being a Hermit Candidate with eternal life, you know?”
That sent chills running down my spine. Melchi’s blue eyes flared up, wriggling and flickering as she stared at me, as if looking to squeeze my heart out.
Seeming to have understood something from my title, Melchi shot me quite an innocent-looking grin.
Her gaze was neither weighty nor aggressive, but those eyes saw through everything, revealing to her all my true properties… Could it be…
“T-the Evil Eyes…?”
“Correct♪ But to be precise, artificial Evil Eyes. Got ’em transplanted after my eyes got taken off. Boy, my mentor sure was pissed at me back then~~”
I can’t even imagine how sophisticated her nervous system is.
“Those Appraisal Glasses of yours are good and all, but they got nothing on activating the Evil Eyes with Information Disclosure magecraft. Oh, and the statistics sheet you saw from me was made with a temporary Information Blockade magecraft, by the way.”
“You can use magecraft… very ancient ones, at that… so you were with a Dark Elf?”
“Yup, I’m human, but my mentor is a Dark Elf. My mentor’s super awesome, y’know. Called ‘Philosopher of the Far East’ and all that – now in hiding for some reason or other, though. “
“A Philosopher… Which means you’re…”
“Nuhuhu, that’s right, I’m a Philosopher’s pupil! Eh-hem!”
Melchi openly boasted about what she was proud of, as appropriate for her apparent age, but this girl had presented me an outrageous piece of information.
Philosopher of the Far East… I’ve heard of that name before. But not recently – not this time period, for that matter.
They were random rumours from around 4,000 years ago, long before I had even met Pochi. Of an individual who had transcended everything.
“All right, got all the pieces together now? Then that’s enough talking for me. Gotta honour your end of the deal, yeah, Ash?”
“You’re the one who created the fixed-position-type Teleportation spell, right? I really don’t think someone like Irene can make it that far, you see. But a Hermit Candidate might just pull it off, right? Heheh…”
“Looks like there’s no use in hiding it…”
“Nuhuhu, just take that as me wanting to confirm my suspicion. Oh, but if I’m wrong, make sure to point it out, all right? So you, who lived for such a long time, now want to investigate something – something that concerns the structure of this world… in other words, the Nation, right? Mm-hm, good — that’s the expression I’m looking for. Your face is doing all the answering quite well. Which reminds me, you seem to be the talk of the town lately. Dawned on me when I heard that talk about the Colorful Food District. You’ve got good intentions but it’s a bit disappointing. You realize that the seams will start to show up no time, right?”
“…What do you mean?”
“Don’t underestimate humans – that’s what I mean.”
…This is getting creepy. I should hurry and head back.
“Now then, seeing that you’re in such a hurry, I’ll ask you one last question.”
“I’m genuinely curious about this. Not a suspicion or anything like that, I assure you. Ash, why did you enrol in the Magic University? Even if went to the Royal Capital, you would still have had many other ways to gather information, right? So why?”
“…I don’t know.”
“That’s one easy way to answer it. That, or you could have claimed it was for Lina’s sake. You could have excused yourself after getting Lina in, but you didn’t. That’s it – it was because you wanted to get in.”
“I wanted… to get in?”
“You wanted to put your power to the test. To reassure yourself of your position by comparing it with others. To be treated nicely by Lina and serve her as a reliable figure to lean on.”
“Oh, but yes. It’s all deducted objectively and analyzed from your personality – Would you deny any of those? You wouldn’t, right?”
“What do you even know about me?”
“Hahahaha, I don’t need to know anything about you, Ash. It’s always the ‘results’ that give out the answers. Just think – what are the things that have occurred around you as results of your actions? That rich boy – Hornel, was he? What do you think is the reason he’s so jealous of you? It’s because he feels he’s being compared to you. The boy’s self-importance did that to him, of course. But the issue doesn’t lie in the process. Like I said before, you are formed by the ‘results’ around you. All I did was derive my answers from them.”
“W-what are you even trying to tell me…?”
“Nothing? It just seemed like you were suffering, so I just took it upon myself to speak for you?”
“Speak for me…?”
“Ash… you once thought of yourself as not human. Not for long, but the feeling was real – and strong.”
True… Back at Faltown, I had felt that I was devoid of emotion. Right, that was it-
“But don’t worry. There are many people like that – it’s in human nature. All that stuff I said earlier were ‘results’ that can only be formed into humans, too.”
That was what I’d always wanted-
“That’s right – no matter how long you live… you’ll always be human. It’s an undeniable truth – a fact established right when you were born into the world.”
-for someone to tell me that I’m human.
“Well, would you look at that… you do shed tears, after all.”