As brief and simple as it ended up being, everyone present with me at this time in the Guild treated me to a meal to celebrate my return.
From the beginning to the end, Hornel looked quite stern, and his speech was hard to make out, but I think at one point he said to me to “tell him all about what I’d gone through” at a later time.
Pochi was running around wildly at first, but once her stomach was full, all she could do was stay put and lick away a plate of fruit juice. Haruhana seemed awfully sleepy, but she wanted to stay up for me on this occasion, so she rubbed her eyes and sat through to the end. Duncan also joined mid-way once he was free, and the party ended up lasting all the way to the next morning.
After that was settled, we walked back to the Pochisley Agency. I’d expected Lina to break off from the group on the way, but it turned out that she lived at the agency now.
“I’ll see you guys later”
I told that to everyone before excusing myself to go to work in my room.
My room had been cleaned recently, so it was pristine – I held a great deal of gratitude for this kindness. In the corner of the room, I set up a fixed-position Spell Circle for the Teleportation spell. And then I went to Pochi, who had dived into the bed with an expression of utmost happiness, and stretched my hands forward to poke her inflated stomach.
Now laughing and writhing in pain at the same time, Pochi slowly closed her eyes and eventually fell asleep.
“All right… hup!”
I jumped off the room’s window, descending from the second floor to the lot beside the house, and was greeted by a certain someone – whom I should have expected, perhaps…
“Hey, you kept me waiting, Asley.”
“Bruce… I knew you’d notice what was up.”
“I never taught you to move in a line that straight, that’s why. It’s a dead giveaway that you’re trying to escape. Obviously looks like you’ve got a goal too – you’re trying to deal with that Lala girl. Oh, and Blazer sent his regards.”
“So Blazer saw it through too. Of course he would…”
“Hahahaha! Well, he’s telling you to be careful, that’s all. But without Pochi coming along… what’re you going to do?”
“I got some of Lala’s hair during the fight. With this, I can use… Master Chase & Light Up!”
Leaving that hair as-is would make it hard to see, so I tacked a luminescence-inducing spell onto it.
In theory, we would reach Lala if we followed its tracking path.
“Heh, pretty interesting trick you’ve got there.”
The single strand of green hair swayed gently as it slowly floated its way out of Beilanea.
Bruce and I ran after it for almost two hours before arriving at a hideout of sorts in the northern region, wherein Lala presumably secluded herself.
This part of the region was surrounded by rocky cliffs, but this particular plot of land was full of greenery. Happening upon such a sight, we stopped to take it all in. Well – rather, we ended up stopping.
Hey, the hell is going on over there…?
“Watery~♪ Watery~♪ Watery water~♪ Watery~♪ Watery~♪ Watery water~♪”
“Growin’ up the ginger, growin’ up the groundnuts~♪ Growin’ up the ginger, growin’ up the groundnuts~♪”
“Asley… the hell is that?”
“A girl surrounded by seedlings of ginger and groundnuts.”
“I have eyes, man. What I mean is, what’s up with that veggie farm? Doesn’t look like what a thief would make?”
“Right… it’s too out in the open.”
“Uh, I think you’re missing my point here…”
“Watery~♪ Watery~♪ Watery water~♪ Watery~♪ Watery~♪ Watery water~♪”
The green-haired girl, who was supposed to be devoid of life, turned out instead to be a nature-loving dancing watering-can girl. Her radiant smile was the furthest from lifeless as it got. All we saw now was her acting like how someone her size and apparent age would act. We hid under the shade of the trees and kept on observing her, and eventually, we noticed something coiling around both her shoulders, rearing their heads up.
“Is that… a snake? One on each shoulder… wait, no, it’s one body coiling around her waist, but it’s got a head on both ends. I might’ve heard about it before…?”
“The double-sided serpent said to possess the blood of dragons, the Kagachi. Still an infant, but it’ll grow up to be an S-ranked monster… meaning he’s her Familiar, maybe?”
Right when I said that, one of the serpent heads very subtly turned its eye in my direction.
Oh, crap. I think our eyes just met.
“”You there – who are you?””
Both heads spoke at once, their identical voices overlapping with each other. I see – so he’s got only one consciousness in that body. Upon hearing the Kagachi’s voice, Lala’s expression instantly changed – back to the Lala devoid of life, just like what I’d been familiar with.
“Damn it, I forgot that snakes can detect body temperature. Hey, Asley. Support, man.”
“Rise, A-rise, All Up Count 2 & Remote Control!”
I applied body-enhancing spell effects onto myself and Bruce. I’ve noticed that, as of late, I’ve been more reliant on the convenience of these spells previously incompatible with Swift Magic. Habit courtesy of the teachings of the Philosopher of the Far East.
“Oh? …Oh-? Hahaha! I’m really feeling it! HAH!”
Whoa – he’s fast?!
Like, as fast as Melchi’s base speed?!
Man, that shows how hard Bruce’s training had been.
The spells that Lala activated as she retreated came out only a moment faster than Bruce’s approach.
Really, what’s with that latter spell? A hole just up and opened in the ground… and gulped Lala down?!
“That’s it! So that’s why no one ever detected you, not two years ago, and not yesterday! But now that I know how the trick works, I’mma dig ya up with old Dallas’ Gamma Thrash!”
Bruce, startled by the sudden, almost instantaneous approach of the Kagachi, let out an unintelligible grunt and fell over.
The Kagachi separated himself from Lala’s torso and slithered to Bruce’s side, standing on the middle section of his long body.
“”You need to calm down, Lala. And you two – you don’t seem to be bandits, at least from what I can see, so why would you attack us?””
“The hell are you blabbering about?! Your side attacked us first way back then!”
The Kagachi turned to shoot a sharp glare at Lala. The Kagachi seemed to immediately take Bruce’s claim at face value… hmm, I see – so the serpent doesn’t necessarily know Lala’s every move. Still, Lala’s looking strange… even putting into consideration how she’s being glared at by a serpent, her sweating was abnormally profuse.
Both serpent heads kept still as they stared at Lala. Drop after drop of sweat dripped down from the girl’s chin, soaking the ginger seedlings on the ground below at her feet.
It only took one glance to see that she was quite agitated.
“”Lala, do these people speak the truth?””
“Uh, Asley, what’s up with that guy?”
“Well… if you want to know, we’d be better off to wait and see, I guess?”
“Bah, it’s never a quick wrap when I’m on the job with you, man…”
I dodged Bruce’s idle complaints and kept on observing the interaction between Lala and the Kagachi.
Kagachi persistently pressed the matter, asking the same questions over and over again, rendering Lala teary-eyed from the beginning to the end of it – eventually, I found myself feeling sorry for her.
“”-and so your rash decisions resulted in my exposure to danger – that is what it is. Now that you have learnt the lesson the harder way, you ought to refuse such dangerous requests in the future.””
“B-but, Sir Instructor – ngh!”
“”Is something the matter?””
“…Nothing. Nothing at all.”
Lala, now curling down to kneel on the ground, looked even smaller than she already was.
It was exceptionally rare to see the dynamic between the Master and the Familiar be reversed, too.
Back in the old days, such actions that went against the Master’s will were restricted as per the clauses of the contract, but perhaps such limitations had been removed in this new age?
Wait, no – the case of the Familiar being far too strong in relation to their Master is also plausible.
Finally wrapping up his interrogation and lecture, Kagachi’s two heads swerved around back to us.
Bruce reacted to that movement even more quickly than he had done the first time – this was far superior to him from two years ago, which showed how much he had improved.
“”Now then, from where shall We start Our explanation…””
The Kagachi proceeded to speak to us, his voice giving off the impression that things were quite complicated. The gist of it was that Kagachi was not only Lala’s Familiar, but also an instructor. As for what subject – agricultural studies, apparently.
He introduced his name as “Tzar”. Usually, Lala worked as a courier, utilizing her swiftness to deliver items efficiently. From two years ago up to yesterday, she had simply been hired by Maüs as an ‘insurance’ for the Laughing Foxes.
It was not that she hadn’t thought to inquire their background – however, she had usually accepted requests according to Tzar’s advice, but for this particular one, she had taken it completely of her own accord.
The reason was, simply enough, that it paid well. Still, the clients were bandits. If she had consulted Tzar beforehand, she would never have gotten on the job. And with Lala having gone ahead with those requests, she had ended up fighting against us.
Makes sense – that would explain why she hadn’t aimed to inflict significant injuries during both of our encounters. Bruce was taken aback by the Kagachi’s explanation, and after he pondered things over for a short while, he shook his head.
“…So that’s it? No new info?”
“Seems like it.”
“You’re giving up too fast, man… and what about these guys?”
“No one got hurt, so wouldn’t it be fine just leave them alone?”
“…That’s fine and all, but you know…”
Upon seeing through Bruce’s displeasure, Tzar came up with a proposal.
“”Well then, We ought to take action to right Our wrongs. Perhaps We can offer Our assistance to you in some way.””
“S-Sir Instructor? What about this farm?!”
“”Now, that is a non-issue. Simply slathering the farmland with Maintenance Tree Sap should do the trick.””
“”These are the seedlings you sowed yourself, We remind you. Is it not fair for you figure things out yourself as well?””
He had that ever-lingering, intimidating glint in his eyes… sort of reminds me of Gaston.
“Hey hey, it’s not like I’m having trouble with anything here! And I don’t even know what she’s actually like, so I’m not just gonna let her follow us back!”
“”Hmm… We have an idea. You there – Asley, was it? We shall leave Lala in your care.””
“B-but I’m not…”
“”You seem more civilized than that man. We would like you to employ Lala as one of your own, and show her the expanse of this world and its people.””
“By ‘that man,’ you mean… me?! Say that again to my face, you snake-ass head!”
“You hick! You watch the tone you take with Sir Instructor!”
“”Within this limited vicinity, who do you think is the only other human man besides Asley? How could you be so clueless?””
“I’ve heard enough. I’mma slice you up and serve you for breakfast!”
“Try it! The instant you make your move, I’ll… wait, no, don’t do it!”
“”Hmph, what a handful. Our body is indeed quite delicious… however, it is not for the likes of your tongue to appreciate the taste of. Yes, absolutely not.””
“Oh, for sure – if not me, then I’mma put you on Pochi’s tray instead.”
“You mean that dog?! She’s damn cute, that Pochi!”
Bruce and Tzar proceeded to glare intensely at each other, completely ignoring Lala’s hooting-like statement of enthusiasm.
Quite unbecoming of Bruce now, what with him being quite skillful at handling THE Irene, but he’d started the dispute with disadvantage on his part here.
His disputes with Irene were carried out as one between allies, but regrettably, this one against Tzar had been initiated with both sides recognizing the other as an enemy, after all.
“So in the end… you agreed to let her come along?”
Yes, after Bruce and Tzar settled their dispute, we brought the two of them all the way back to my room in Beilanea.
Tzar had withdrawn into Lala’s spell circle, saying it was his nap time, and once we were back, Bruce immediately tucked himself in bed out of spite.
“Ohh~~hh, a thick, fluffy doggo! Hey, hey, can I touch her?”
“Master, please fetch my comb, sir!”
You don’t even use that thing regularly, doggo.
“Well now, someone’s gone out of their way to ask to touch me, so I’ve got to properly present myself! Now, please go ahead!”
“Ohh~hh! This feels damn good, I tell ya!”
“Huhuhuhu, how’s that, Master?! That’s the power of New Pochi!”
“WowWWw So awEsOMEeEE…”
I stared blankly at Pochi, Pochi shrugged my stare off like it was nothing, and Lala clung tightly to Pochi – and then she suddenly stood up, seeming to have remembered something.
“Oh yeah, Asley!”
“What is it?”
“I saw that this house’s got some garden space… can I plant stuff?!”
“No one’s using it now, s… sure, should be fine?”
Lala’s eyes sparkled up in an instant, and the very next moment she was at the window, having hopped there in a single jump, and then the next second, she was downstairs.
“Ah – hold it right there! You haven’t tried touching my tail yet!”
Ah, yes, New Pochi… on special bargain sale already.