As a new morning paid its visit to the central district plaza, the exhausted townspeople finally lost consciousness, as suddenly as the snapping of a cut thread.
Rather than sleep… perhaps it would be more fitting to say that they had fainted.
Even Ryan found himself sound asleep with his back against a wall.
After all, even though his wounds had been healed by magic, restoring his stamina would not be an easy task.
Perhaps that is the challenge I ought to tackle next.
The Silver, Lala, and Tzar took turns keeping watch at Faltown’s vital points.
All I had told Ryan about them so far was that they were reliable and trustworthy.
Still, Ryan understood, and so did the rest of the townspeople.
Reid and Mana were now asleep, with their backs leaned against the other’s.
So was Reyna, surrounded by the children, occasionally puffing out soft sleeping breaths as she slept.
Adolf was the one who had surprised me the most. I did remember him being the most competent among the ones who had attended Mana’s Combatant Class, but he had become so different after just two and a half years’ time. Although he couldn’t measure up to Mana and Reid just yet, Ryan had even said that he would be the one to watch for in the future.
Tifa, on the other hand, was now a particular point of concern.
Apparently, she had departed from town only a few weeks ago.
She was headed to… Beilanea, of course. The path she would go down was not yet set in stone at this point, but if she were to enroll into the Magic University, then the letter of recommendation she had taken with her wouldn’t do any good…
Out of concern, I had tried initiating a Telepathic Call, but the same as with Ryan a few days back, I had received no answer.
I would be fine and all, if we knew for a fact that she was safe, but for some reason, the townspeople did not seem to show any worry for her.
Could this be an implication of just how much Tifa had grown since then?
Now, the utmost issue at hand is… that guy.
Cleath, the one who had attacked Faltown. He possessed abnormal strength, ability to strategize and grasp the flow of battle, and was also brutally decisive. All across the board, he was above the top-grade adventurers.
To be honest, I would never have been able to take him on alone. If he were to be graded by monsters’ standards, his abilities would put him on an equivalent of Rank SS.
To add on top of all that, his black magecraft… Devil Conquest, was it now?
When Cleath had initiated the drawing of that magecraft formula, I had felt a dreadful degree of bloodthirst, as if the muscles around my spine had been frozen over. Chances are, that was fabled, dreaded black magecraft for devil descent – for the practitioner to call their contracted Devil down from beyond to annihilate their opposition.
From what I had previously heard from Tūs, the capabilities of one of the Devilkin was apparently comparable to a Holy Warrior. As Tzar had said, if the descent had been successful, things would have gone south really quick.
Still, couldn’t Cleath have just summoned his Devil after he had escaped and hid himself? Wouldn’t that be an easy victory if he were to come back for another attack?
With that in mind, I initiated a Telepathic Call with Tūs.
[“-and that’s that. Have any ideas?”]
[“Devil Conquest, eh… I’d thought ya’d be better off not knowin’, but since yer enemy’d used it, I oughtta teach ya. The Devil Conquest black magecraft is, simply speakin’, a super-strong version of the Magic Point Reduction spell.”]
[“So you mean… while a summoned Devil is active, MP would be drained?”]
[“Fast as lightnin’. ‘Cos of that, it’s a double-edged sword – using that would blow everyone around him away, so not like it was goin’ to cause much danger if ya play yer cards right. Chances are he figured he ain’t got enough MP to run off, call his Devil, and then come back.”]
[“Huh, so that’s how it works… Still, do you have any idea why he would attack this town? No offense, but it’s not like this town’s got anything special, you know?”]
[“…Like I used to tell you, the treasure trove of knowledge, the ‘Philosopher’s Stone, may reside in the neighboring regions, or even in Faltown itself.”]
[“…Hey, you never told me that.”]
[“Oh? Did I not? ‘Bout that stone you need to ‘struct the Craft Circle of Limit Breakthrough, the secret ancient formula?”]
[“H-hell if I know! Did you seriously keep something that important to yourself?!”]
[“Stuff’s not that important to me, actually. Well, so there you have it. I’m kind’a busy here, so see ya.”]
[“H-hey, wait a sec! What’s the Philosopher’s Stone like?! Shape?! Color?! Size?!”]
Oh, for the love of… he hung up! …Bastard won’t even let me reconnect!
Damn it, I’d made the false assumption that I’d be able to contact him at any time!
And he threw at me important stuff so randomly, as if he’d just remembered them!
I swear, this is why I hate dealing with geezers…!
Ugh, now… let’s get the situation sorted out. Faltown was attacked because of the Philosopher’s Stone presumed existence, even though, for all I know now, it was just a vague possibility? In which case, it was now clear as day why Faltown had been abandoned by the Nation. As the Philosopher’s Stone was a key for one to attain great power, it was the duty of the Devil King’s advance party to intercept it… gah, the more I know, the more troublesome this business gets.
I wouldn’t be able to reach a verdict on the situation by myself. I suppose it’ll depend on how much information Mel has managed to gather. And THEN we would be able to plan our next move, huh.
Tūs, on the other hand… he said he was “kind’a busy”?
Normally, all he would do was training his muscles and invent new spells and magecraft… wouldn’t he?
He would have been fine being on call while doing his usual stuff… really, what is he doing?
Anyway, right now, we’ve got to do something about Faltown. The place once had a population of almost a thousand, but because of the incident, there were now not much more than two hundred left.
That hadn’t had much in terms of valuable manpower in the first place, and neither the means to increase their population. The townspeople had children, of course, but in reality, the elderly had been passing away faster amid the harsh state of affairs.
I would like to do something, anything, but the Pochisley Agency can’t possibly accommodate them all. Moreover, some people would surely prefer to remain in this town. While I laid face down, lost in deep thought, Bruce came up to sit next to me and sparked a much-needed conversation.
“Hey, Asley. Thinking about stuff by yourself again?”
“Yeah, considering how many people are in need now, we’d need to migrate away, but I can’t come up with any good plan…”
“Hahaha, you’re trying to take care of absolutely everything, man. Of course, you can’t.”
“I-I mean, should I not? If I don’t do anything, everyone would die here, right?”
That turned out harsher than I would have liked.
Not quite an outburst, but that had been enough to wake everyone up and draw their attention.
Having heard me say what I had said, Bruce proceeded to pick his ear with his little finger, with half-exasperation painted on his face.
“People live, people die, man. Everyone does – same goes for you.”
I understood that Bruce was speaking of something other than one’s life span.
Still, I couldn’t quite get a read on his intention, and could only stand myself up.
“If they keep living here, they’re gonna die. With how harsh this region is and how bad the place’s become now, almost absolutely will, I say. But just look at the people. Even in a bleak place and time like here and now, they haven’t lost hope. I know we’ve been traveling for a long time ourselves, but this is the first time we’ve seen people like them. They’ve got old Ryan’s power with them, but that’s not all. It’s you, Asley – you’ve supported them when they needed it most. What’s important is that they never became too dependent. Everyone’s got the will and guts to fight for their lives. They’ve been living without you spoiling them every step of the way. And now you’re saying you need to do something? Say that to them, and it’ll be like you pouring warm water on them. Do that when things are cold as they are now, and THAT will kill them off for real – got it?”
Bruce showed me his rare streak of anger.
Still, those words resounded with me. I felt something – not quite explainable with words, but definitely something.
“…These guys aren’t kids, you know – just give them the stuff they need once they’re relocated to Beilanea. The town’s in need of manpower now, so they’re gonna get themselves a job easily if they’re not picky.”
I’d thought Bruce was angry, but then he softened down as he talked more, seeming a tad bit embarrassed. While he did that, Ryan silently approached him.
Ryan looked at me, then at Bruce, and said the one sentence that dispelled all my fears.
“I propose that… we move away from Faltown, sir.”