After Nick and Karan ended their visit, they headed north via carriage.
As a general rule, the further south-east one went in Labyrinth City, the less safe it became, and the further north-west one went, the calmer it got. The north-west of the city had many upper class neighborhoods, and shops that dealt with luxury and high class items.
They were not used to being in a place like that, but went there for a reason. The tobacco shop.
Neither Nick or Karan smoked, but Leon had told them previously that if they went there and said the password ‘I’m looking for the giraffe’s pipe’, they would be taken somewhere stolen goods were sold, and they would be able to search for Karan’s Dragon King Orb. They had been putting this off so they could focus on Stepping Man, but it could not be postponed any longer.
“…We’re a bit too late.”
When Nick and Karan got there, they found men with silver breastplate surrounding the store, and the people inside being taken away.
An old woman that seemed like the owner of the store that served as the front looked on with a bitter look on her face, and many people that lived nearby gathered out of curiosity, but were being told by the men to go away. These men were knights from the Order of the Sun.
“Dammit… I was hoping we could at least get some clues…”
“It’s ok Nick.”
“No, I mean…”
“They’re going to think it’s weird if we stay here.”
“That’s right. These people deal in stolen items have taken a blow, so there’s a full scale search going on to take advantage of it. Misfortunes never come singly.”
Nick and Karan heard a clear voice coming from behind them, and turned around with swords in hand.
“Oops, sorry. I didn’t mean to sound rough or anything.”
A beautiful, tall girl stood in front of them.
She had short, blue hair, but her appearance was very bright and feminine. Her equipment seemed better than what the people blocking the store had, and both her armor and sword had ornaments.”
“What is going on captain?”
Perhaps sensing the threatening atmosphere, the knights ran towards Nick and Karan, who felt a cold sweat running down their faces when they heard them call her captain.
“Ah, it’s nothing, I just met some friends… I’m sorry, but I’m going back to the eighthh station. I’m leaving this with you”
The knights briskly went back to where they came from.
“Nick, Karan, will you have tea with me? I need to discuss something with you.”
She already knew their names.
Nick was not reckless enough to refuse.
“I’m not threatening you or arresting you or anything. You can lower your guard.”
The tall woman said with a light smile, as she took Nick and Karan to a cafe and ordered tea. It was a fairly high class cafe, but not the overly gaudy kind where one would find wives of nobles exchanging gossip. Rather, it had the mood of the kind of place where sweaty merchants would go to take a break, for better or worse.
“Didn’t you tell your subordinates you were going back to the station?”
“This is commonly known as the eighth station.”
“…It just looks like a cafe to me.”
“It’s code. The order only has seven stations here in the north-west. Telling someone you’re going to the eighth station means you’re going to slack off for a bit and have some tea.”
“By the way, the ninth station means going to the dragon races. The other day I had to scold one of my subordinates because he bought tickets for himself and even his co-workers.”
“…Are you sure you want to tell us all this?”
“Can you keep it between us?”
She put her finger in front of her mouth and smiled in an impish manner.
“Let me introduce myself. My name is Alice Burroughs, and I’m the captain of the 『Gauntlet』 unit of the Order of the Sun’s north-west branch.”
The Order of the Sun, who maintained the peace in the Labyrinth City was divided into five branches, north-east, north-west, south-east, south-west, and center. Within these branches, there were units of different sizes that policed the cities and maintained order, or specialized in different things such as investigating more serious crimes, economic crimes, etc.
“Gauntlet’s main job is to crack down on bands of thieves and bandit guilds. We’ve been investigating that tobacco shop too, and we saw an opportunity now that you took down one of their big-shots.”
Nick vaguely nodded. It was his first time speaking to someone like a captain of the order, so he was nervous. Karan noticed this, and spoke.
“…We didn’t defeat White Mask, Olivia did.”
“The fact that you can even help her is amazing in itself.”
“You know about…?”
“Not everyone does… Or rather, most don’t, but most veterans know about her.”
Alice let out a strained smile.
It was then that an employee brought them their tea. It was black tea, which was rare for the Labyrinth City, since it had to be imported from a southern country, and was more expensive than green tea or beer.
“She is somewhat influential, so you don’t have to worry. My superiors don’t want to start trouble with her, let alone me. Does that make you feel better?”
“I feel like I shouldn’t say this, but yes, a lot.”
Said Nick, and Alice giggled.
Nick felt relieved as he saw this, and sent a look of appreciation over to Karan, who stepped in when he was nervous.
“Honesty is a virtue.”
“So… We’re not here just to drink tea, are we?”
Said Nick directly, and Alice nodded.
“It’s about White Mask.”
Nick figured that was the case.
“I told the guild everything I remember, but I get the feeling they thought I was exaggerating. If you have any questions I’ll…”
“No, that’s not it. I want to talk about the future, not the past.”
“I’m not convinced he actually died. There are several things on my mind.”
“Even if he really is dead, you’ve made yourselves a hated enemy of those people that deal in stolen items. You should be careful, because they might come after you.”
Nick was also worried about this. Olivia left to investigate White Mask, but even putting that aside, there should be people whose black market shops were shut down or lost their employment thanks to the actions of Nick and his party.
“Well, we’re the ones taking advantage of the fact that you’ve defeated White Mask to attack black market dealers and bandit guilds, so I do feel bad that you’re hated because of us.”
Alice took out a card from her pocket.
“If you’re ever attacked or find yourselves in danger, don’t hesitate to tell my unit. If you show this to a station of the order, they’ll contact me via communication orb right away.”
The card had the crest of the Order of the Sun, and what was probably the crest of Alice’s unit.
“Sorry. Ah, is there anything you want to ask of us? I feel bad just buying you tea.”
“Something to ask…” Nick Pondered.
“For example, if you want to join the order, I can make it so you can bypass the interview. You’ll still need to take the physical and written tests though.”
“That’s a public office isn’t it? There’s no point in even thinking about joining unless one can get a recommendation from someone of a certain status.”
“I can do that.”
These words struck a chord with Nick.
Adventurers were basically wanderers, and earning enough recognition to make the jump to a job as a knight was seen as an ideal change in profession. Becoming a high ranking adventurer was also desirable, but the fight to get there was fierce, and there were less hurdles on the way to becoming a knight.
Still, the path to becoming a knight required a lot of effort, and many adventurers would end up falling by the wayside.
“I appreciate that you think so highly of me but… I have a different kind of favor to ask.”
“What is it?”
“I want to know where the Dragon King Orb ended up.”
Alice told them all she knew about the Dragon King Orb. Recovering the Dragon King Orb fell within her duties, so she would have to explain the situation to its owner anyway.
They still hadn’t tracked down the suspect, Karios, so they did not know where it was. Nick and Karan still thanked her sincerely, so she felt a little guilty.
“Was that the disciple of Olivia and Gaius of All Martial Arts? He just looks like a normal young guy.”
The merchant sitting at the opposite table said to Alice.
“Maybe a change will occur soon… No, there is probably something about him we just haven’t noticed.”
“Like… Some sort of secret technique he learned from them. Or maybe he was deemed worthy by a sacred sword or something.”
The merchant… Who was actually one of Alice’s subordinates in disguise, sneered.
“Sacred swords are proud beings. I can’t imagine one just handing itself over to some adventurer.”
“Yes… I don’t think he’s that paladin either, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew something.”
“Do you want to catch the paladin too?”
“No way. But the way people say that paladin is the one protecting the city kind of annoys me.”
Alice gulped down her cold tea and stood up.
“I don’t like people I don’t really understand beating us at our own game. It’s time for us to show some results.”
There was a fire of antagonism burning in Alice’s heart, and it was directed towards the lovely paladin, who saved the casino.
Alice was as strong as a high ranked adventurer, as beautiful as an idol, and admired by many. To the point where idols sang about her.
But now, it could be said that her popularity was being stolen by the paladin. It was when she saw it stolen that she truly noticed the gratitude of the people that idolized her, and how much joy that popularity brought her. She was being motivated by jealousy and antagonism.
This burning fire and her natural coldness led her to one conclusion. At the center of these events happening in the Labyrinth City was one adventurer party, Survivors.
That day, she really did call Nick and Karan just to have tea and get acquainted with them. Her warning that others resented them was half sincere warning, and half a means to attain their trust.
She felt like the more they met, the closer she would get to the mystery.
“We protect the peace in the Labyrinth City, and we will make you understand that.”