“Well… They paid someone to write it, right?”
Karan answered, and Hector nodded in agreement.
“That’s true. I’ve been asked by the order to look into it, and I found that they paid ten thousand dinar to have it written.”
“…Is that really all?”
“What Nick? Do you have something in mind?”
“If you hang around the adventurers of a place like Fishermen, you can easily find poor nobles that will write whatever you want if you pay them. But if your plan is to disappear without a trace, and you don’t want to get too involved with someone, it’s probably not that easy, especially when you don’t want the person writing the letter of recommendation to do ‘anything unnecessary’. It’s a bigger blind spot the more they know the adventurer”
“Really? There’s a lot of poor second and third sons of nobles.”
“But don’t forget that he wouldn’t want them to do anything unnecessary. Would Karios, who is crossing such a dangerous bridge, use a noble he’s never met before?”
Hector’s face became more serious.
“…Probably not. They could demand more money, or even threaten him. Many of these people are always scheming for a little more pocket change, and the fastest way to get it is from people that are basically committing fraud in the first place.”
“Do you think it’s worth looking into whoever wrote that letter of recommendation, Hector?”
“I get what you mean, but…”
“It’s all just a guess, right?”
“It’s your job to find that out.”
“Does that mean I can treat this as a request?”
Hector peeked over at Karan.
“How much does that cost normally?”
“I don’t know, but… Wait. Old Wilma paid me to tell her if I found anything interesting.”
“You’re not going to charge both of us are you?”
Nick’s expression was clearly disagreeable, and Hector responded with his own displeased smile.
“Calm down, I’m not. But I accepted hers first, so if I find anything I’ll tell her first, and then make sure it reaches your ears too. If they’re stingy with their reward, help me out with the costs. When I feel like an investigation is going to take a good amount of time and money, I like to have an estimate upfront. How about it?”
“You’ve got a deal.”
Hector held out his hand, and Karan shook it.
Nick had some strange feelings as he watched them.
The sun had set by the time they left, but the streets were still busy. Winter was one thing, but most people worked during the summer. At night, the streets naturally filled up with people.
Nick and Karan bought food from the stalls on the way back, something called fried octo. It was made by taking the legs of a creature named octolegs that resembled an octopus with a shell on its back, covering them with wheat flour diluted in water, and frying them.
Octolegs were a specialty of regions close to the ocean, but since they had strong vitality, they could be transported live without having to freeze them, as was necessary with other kinds of seafood. It was a kind of seafood that everyone, from poor people to nobles could enjoy,
“It’s also good if you soak it in soup or eat it with lots of cheese.”
“Yes. The stalls in the hammer alley have been doing that lately.”
“Careful not to get burned.”
“…It feels like you’ve been becoming more mature.”
Nick’s sudden comment silenced Karan.
“H-hey, are you alright?”
“D-don’t say weird things! Geez…”
Karan swallowed the fried octo she still had in her mouth and took a deep breath.
And then, she timidly asked.
“…What do you mean?”
“The way you calmly dealt with a shady guy like Hector. And you didn’t get mad at him for talking about your past right after meeting him.”
Karan seemed a little disappointed by his answer, but at the same time breathed a sigh of relief.
“I’m not lying. You didn’t notice that?”
“No, that’s not it… How do I say this…”
Karan put her hand on her chin, and started talking once she found the right words.
“Humans don’t have tails.”
“And their ears don’t really move.”
“I can move mine a little.”
“Really? …No wait, that’s not the point.”
Karan seemed a little exasperated, and Nick apologized with an innocent smile.
“Sorry sorry. Go on.”
“It’s a little unfair.”
“It’s easy not to let it show when you’re happy or sad.”
“That’s true, but we can’t hear from very far away either, and our sense of balance is worse than races with tails.”
“Your sense of balance is better than cat people’s. Most people can’t do a handstand on one finger.”
“That’s a product of my training.”
Nick proudly smiled, but Karan nodded in agreement.
“Yes, it’s because you trained. And I changed the way I think about it. To stop thinking it’s unfair.”
“The way you think? How?”
“I try to imagine what people in front of me would look like if they had big ears and tails. If I talk while imagining that, I forget to get mad.”
Nick felt a chill as he heard this, not because he thought it was unpleasant or anything, but out of respect.
“…How did Hector’s ears and tail move?”
“Like someone that’s sad because his hunt failed but he’s trying not to let it show. Like he’s trying to keep his tail straight but it’s drooping at the tip.”
“That just sounds cute.”
“He knew about what happened to you and me, but didn’t help you, and failed with his investigation of Karios too.”
“I guess that’s true.”
“Maybe… He feels a little awkward. Like maybe he wanted to do something but couldn’t.”
Karan once again put her hand on her chin as she thought.
“I think you’re giving him too much credit…”
But she was not too far off the mark.
Nick knew. Even if some of the wording was wrong, Nick would probably agree that on some unconscious level, Hector was working out of guilt. Nick would sometimes grumble about All Martial Arts to Hector, and since Hector himself was a literary person of sorts, he agreed with Nick. When Nick was kicked out of his party, Hector sympathized more with him than the rest of his former party members. He also probably planned to win Nick’s favor.
If there was one exceptional element in all of this, it was how quickly Nick formed another party and got back on his feet.
“…Then let’s have him work hard.”
“There’s something else I want to ask…”
Nick was about to ask how his tail moved, but as he saw Karan happily walk through the street at night, he stopped. As he saw her poke her head into the stalls looking for something tasty, he felt as though the mature expression she had before was replaced by one of an innocent girl.
Nick’s heart was shaken when Hector talked about what was going on with All Martial Arts, but hid it. Since Karan could see through Hector, he wondered if she also saw through him.
But he figured there was no point in thinking about it.
Karan was Karan. They had exposed their embarrassing pasts to each other, so it was too late to care about that.
Accepting that she knew about it felt important to him somehow.
“Forget about it, I’m thirsty. Let’s get something to drink.”
They walked leisurely through the streets.
It was almost summer, and there was a restless feeling about the night stalls.
The sound of people practicing their singing and dancing somewhere far away reached Nick’s ears.