“Like! I! Said! It’s just a small-target hunt!”
“Regardless of scale, why would you even think to not bring me along!? My maximum priority is your safety, sir! Ah – I mean, nothing! Pretend you didn’t hear that!”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear anything if you stay put for today! Betty, Blazer, and Bruce are all out today, so I need you to keep watch at the office!”
“Then you can just stay inside, Master! Wait, you aren’t planning to abandon me, are you!?”
“Of course not! I wouldn’t be able to live without you!”
“My, how flattering! The same goes for me, Master!”
“Well, I’m off!”
“Have fun, sir!”
Life was hard… or so I had thought it would be at first, but my days so far had been quite fulfilling. With Blazer and Betty joining up with us, things in the initial stage had proceeded according to plan.
We had already paid off ten-odd girls, with Pochi and Haruhana currently in charge of caring for them.
Most of this matter was still kept private, of course, and when it came to general education, we had been able to arrange some capable instructors thanks to Irene’s connections. For teaching materials, I could try using the Letter Edit spell to save on books and paper, and I could teach basic mathematics myself. Additionally, when it came to managing the place, Pochi was more talented than me, as far as I could tell from the few times she had dabbled in it.
I’d expected the news-spreading within the Colorful Food District to cause problems at first, but it had worked out quite well, thanks to Duncan at the Adventurers’ Guild spreading rumours subtly. The content was simple: An A-ranked adventurer was starting up a new ‘slave trading’ business.
The necessary paperwork had been processed with the Grand Market’s association, and we were already anticipating the need to bribe the town’s security.
No matter what kind of business it actually was, it would still be considered slave trading by most. So we had to take the appropriate measures to keep it floating. Since we had gone through the proper channels up to now, the Colorful Food District hadn’t had a chance to make their move. This was what I’d intended to do from the start, of course. However, Duncan’s rumours had quite a terrific ability to deter their interference.
In addition, The Silver’s reputation had been on a sharp rise within the Beilanea Adventurers’ Guild these few months. The trio hadn’t been very famous before, since they never had a long-term base of operations, but ever since they’d settled down here, their activities became quite well-known even within the Magic University. And the fact that they were in this business, helped as well.
The townspeople had been disapproving of our undertaking at first, but once they were aware of its true nature, we started to receive anonymous voices of encouragement.
We were thankful, of course, but encouragements alone don’t put meals on the table. That was why everyone was doing their best and living their lives to the fullest.
After the usual banter with Pochi, I went to the Guild to search for jobs recommended for Rank B.
Although I had been promoted to Rank A, constantly doing A-ranked requests would have been too taxing on both body and mind. So instead, I had opted for a consistent stream of income by dropping my job difficulty down a rank.
Now then, let’s see if there’s any well-paying job today- …Hmm?
As I checked out the bulletin boards, I heard quite a commotion stirring up from further corner of the guild.
“What was that, you shorty!? Try saying it again, I dare you!”
“Yeah, you have some nerve treating us like we’re some idiotic nobodies!”
“I certainly can’t let that statement pass! I’ll have you know that we’re from the prestigious Magic University-“
“You relying on the University’s name is exactly why you’re an idiot! Hand over that request to me if you don’t wanna die out there.”
“Uh-um… everyone, please calm down-“
The usual four, and one total newcomer.
“What’s going on, Lina?”
Hornel and Midors promptly glared at me. Aha, so that’s it – they’re spending the winter break to party up and go on hunts.
…Wait, these four? Really?
“What are you doing here, Asley!?”
“I’m here to take some hunting jobs, Midors. But that’s not important – what’s all this commotion about?”
“Um, well… She’s…”
Lina glanced to her side, pointing with her eyes at quite a self-assertive-looking girl.
The girl had blue eyes, and wore a unique-looking dark brown wizard hat, which covered most of her blonde hair.
Her height was somewhere between Lina and Irene, and she looked androgynous in some respect. If not for the modest bump on her chest, I probably couldn’t have told that she was a girl. Her hair wasn’t that long, either.
Also, the one-piece robe she wore was in the same color as her hat.
“This girl just came up and said that this hunt is beyond our level, you see. Of course that’s gonna annoy us at least a bit.”
“Huh, so that’s it… Thanks, Idéa.”
Idéa hadn’t been as hostile toward me lately. Fairly friendly, even. Perhaps Anri, Claris, and Lina’s positive energy were rubbing off on her.
“And what’s wrong with telling the truth? Look, just hand that over to me.”
What is this… odd feeling? This girl is giving off an impression different from other mages, like there’s this pressuring air around her.
Her voice felt weighty and profound. And her oozing pool of arcane energy…?
“I’ll agree that she was rude, but what is this hunt that she’s trying to take?”
“This doesn’t concern you, Asley.”
“Now, Hornel, I must say that it’s not exactly admirable to whip out the magic University’s name like that. If you fail to perform a task in the University’s name, wouldn’t it look bad on the University’s part?”
Hornel faltered when faced with my mini-lecture. The most he could do now was groan.
The girl, on the other hand, whistled as she turned to look at me.
“Heh, looks like there’s actually a reasonable guy around here.”
“I’m Asley. And you’re not entirely in the clear, mind you. There’s no cutting over the priority of the one who pulled the hunting request off the bulletin. Besides, they wouldn’t have taken it if they’ve evaluated themselves to be unsuitable for the job.”
“You realize that you’re sending your school friends to their deaths, right? Are you sure about that?”
Again with the pressure.
Just like when Gaston and Irene confronted me. Perhaps even worse?
“By the way, I think that one lady does know her own level well enough? She’s probably not speaking against it because her teammates are being so pushy, though.”
“Sorry, Lina, but would you mind telling me what it is?”
“Well… Murder Tigers, B-ranked…”
“Six of them.”
So that’s how it is, then… If they were taking a B-ranked job, it would have to be Hornel’s idea. I’d heard that he was finally promoted not too long ago.
And in turn, he would have to be the main shaft for the rest of his team, who were still Rank C. He probably thought that, in the worst-case scenario, they would be able to pull through by having Lina call Baladd out.
But the Murder Tigers… they were carnivorous monsters said to be incarnations of a sacred beast of legends, Haiko the Ashen Tiger.
They were a terrible match for mages, and could be more easily taken on by warriors… That was why this girl was trying to stop Lina and her teammates.
In which case-
“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“What the- are you insane?”
“Sorry for the interruption, Hornel. Go on, and please be careful.”
“…Hmph. Everyone, let’s go!”
Hornel and Midors went away, taking the request paper to Duncan – but not before shooting one last glance at me.
Idéa groaned up her nose and went along, and Lina followed despite having conflicted thoughts, seeming to have gained some determination from my statement.
“…Are you planning to sneak along and rescue them or something? They are not fit to handle the Murder Tigers, no matter how I try to think otherwise. Even A-ranked mages steer clear of them, you know. Hey, are you even listening to me?”
“Oh, no worries. Those four won’t even make it to their destination, I assure you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Beilanea’s got a scary gatekeeper for the likes of them, you see.”
Right when I turned to the girl to tell her that, an exclamation came from the group, before Lina even reached them.
“What do you mean, it’s rejected!? I already got promoted to Rank B the other day-“
“Oh, no~~! What made you think you can take on these scary tigers right after you were promoted, boy~~? My decisions are absolute ’round here♪ Come back after you’re up to Rank S if you want to take this job, all right? Murder Tigers are dangerous even for Rank A if they’re in packs, you know~~♪”
Duncan, the scary gatekeeper in question, made it loud and clear. With a throaty voice absent of his usual femininity.
And then, the adventurers in the Guild promptly burst out in laughter.
“HAHAHAHAHA!! It’s a monster for warriors, after all! How ’bout we go with you instead, eh, Lina~~?”
“Uhuhuhu, and us ladies going with you boys, hmm~~?”
“Did the University not teach you about monster type matches or what!? GYAHAHAHAHA!!”
Hornel’s face turned beet red, like water boiling instantaneously, and in a similar manner, Midors cringed.
Lina’s expression brightened as she turned around to me. As if she was saying “surely this is also part of my training!”.
Idéa, seeing Lina like that, also turned to look at me. As if she was saying “what a troll you are”.
That reminded me of what I had said to Warren earlier, and it did hurt quite a bit when I connected the dots.
“Oh-ho, looks like the Guild staff here know what they’re doing. I didn’t even need to do anything big.”
“Duncan usually doesn’t go that far, mind you. I’m sure he was saying that to teach them to study up on monsters’ special traits beforehand. I’m thankful for him for helping out my school friends and student.”
“Huh, student? They’re not just your school friends?”
“I used to be an instructor of sorts for that Lina girl, you see.”
“Heh, figures… Oh, sorry, haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Melchi. Feel free to call me just Mel, yeah?”
Melchi… this girl, with a mysterious air around her, felt as if she possessed some kind of power to change something within me.
Especially the arcane energy felt in her captivating blue eyes – made me swallow a lump in my throat.