~~Eight O’clock in the Afternoon, Twenty-second Day of the Third Month, Ninety-Fourth Year of the War Demon Calendar~~
At this time, we have arrived at Radeata, halfway between Beilanea and Royal Capital Regalia.
The majority of the town was made up of old buildings, giving a strong feeling of a historic site. That reminds me, Tzar had said that he had picked up Lala from around here.
Once we got ourselves a roof to sleep under, Pochi was almost immediately sound asleep, turning herself into the Pochi pillow. At the same time, Betty opened the partition curtain between the two beds to check on us.
Yes, unfortunately for us three, there had been only a single room left in the whole town.
Although we had camped out with Betty countless times before, it just didn’t feel right sharing a room like this.
So much that I’d entertained the thought of teaching Pochi the Storeroom magic formula and sleeping in there instead.
“Ayy, Asley my boy! Can’t sleep ’cause I’m distractin’ ya, eh~~?”
“Hell no! We gotta be up early tomorrow, so just tuck in already. Oh, wait – I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to talk about, but lemme just get this one thing out of the way first-“
“Huhuhu, I also have got something I need to say. So, what do you have in mind?”
Before saying anything else, I got up and sat cross-legged.
Betty then folded the ceiling-bound curtain and sat on the edge of my bed.
“Have you heard anything about this from Bruce and Blazer? The process of the Rank-up Evaluation, I mean.”
“Ahh, that… sure I did. I was planning to talk about it sometime soon as well.”
“So you’ve got something else you want to discuss now?”
Betty nodded and proceeded to explain,
“Each candidate will be put under the supervision of an examiner. Your testing method is decided by your examiner on the spot, so I don’t really know the particulars but… rather than evaluating your strengths, it’s more like evaluating your WEAKEST aspects. If it passes the benchmark value, you pass, and if it’s lower, you fail – quite a standard deal.”
“The examinees’ weakest aspects… Aha, so that’s why they gave us so little time to travel.”
“Right, that’s most likely to wear us down. This wouldn’t even put a dent on our energy, of course, so there’ll probably be more tests for us once we’re in Regalia.”
“I see… that does sound like an effective way to weed out underpowered candidates. The info might come in handy down the line, so thanks for telling me about it.”
“It’s thanks to your magic that things have been going smooth for me so far, you know. I ought to thank you as well.”
All things considered, I was still no match for Betty and her years of practical experience.
So far, she has helped me out in various ways during our journey. One particular thing was that she taught me how to manage stealth. The ability to judge whether one should run past monsters or not also came with her experience in battles. Under normal circumstances, I would have taken much longer to reach Radeata. It would suffice to say that Betty’s skills had enabled us to arrive here much faster.
My All Up magic spell also played a part in it, of course, but even without it, Betty was amazing in her own right.
I folded my arms and looked at Betty once again… and promptly averted my eyes out of a sudden stroke of embarrassment.
Now that was awkward – I shook that thought off my head and steered the conversation to the next topic.
“Anyway, what else did you want to talk about?”
“Oh, yeah… When we first arrived in this town, you said something about having met the Silver General group recently, right?”
Right, I think I said that.
I’d never had the chance to talk about it with The Silver back in Beilanea, and finally remembered it when we reached this town.
“I might have said that, but we didn’t do much before parting ways, so… it might be more fitting to say that we passed by each other.”
“Was there… a red-haired warrior woman… among them?”
Red hair…was there anyone like that?
There was that warrior lady in the lead, but I couldn’t recall whether or not her hair was red.
“Yes, there was someone that fits the description.”
Interrupting my train of thought was the voice coming from behind me, answering Betty’s question in my stead.
“Are you sure, Pochi?”
“What, you’re still up? I thought you were already asleep.”
“Well, yes. You weren’t riding on my back most of the time, so I wasn’t very tired today.”
My face twitched upon realizing that Pochi was throwing shade at me.
Damn you… that’s just a more wordy way of saying “you felt light” like you usually did!
While I extended my hands with the intention to pinch Pochi’s cheeks as payback, I noticed that Betty was lost in thought.
The red-haired warrior lady of the Silver General…she probably has some sort of history with Betty.
Perhaps a rival or something like that? Hmm, no, from the look on Betty’s face, I don’t think it’s that simple.
At the end of the day, it was Betty’s problem to solve for herself – after arriving at that agreement, we ended the discussion. From the beginning to the end of it all, Betty had quite a stern expression on her face… I sure hope none of this affects her performance during the Rank-up Evaluation…
The next morning, I was shown that my worries had been totally unnecessary.
“Now, tomorrow is the twenty-fourth, so we’ll have to be there soon! Hype up, you two!”
Doesn’t she look even more energetic than normal?
But at any rate, she seemed to be doing fine. Pochi seemed to think so as well, as apparent from how we turned to each other and chuckled in succession.
Then, by the time we were starting to sprint out of Radeata through its north gate, I received a Telepathic Call from Lina’s casting of the magecraft.
[“…Got it. I’ll do some investigating on my end too. Thanks, Lina.”]
[“You’re welcome! Ehehe, I know the test hasn’t started yet, but I really want to congratulate you.”]
Lina’s voice can be so unfairly sweet-sounding at times. It’s worth noting that I have become quite conscious of her womanly qualities lately.
I grasped with one hand the silver key-shaped necklace I had on – the very same one she had chosen for me way back then – and visualized a memory snapshot of her smile in my mind.
[“W-well, I need to get going now.”]
[“Ah, yes, of course! Please give it your best on the test!”]
[“I will. Thanks.”]
Having received some encouragement from Lina, I pushed myself up to my regular speed.
It may not look like it, but using the Telepathic Call magecraft does hinder one’s movements by a fair bit.
I knew especially well how difficult it was to partition one’s nerves to effectively perform multiple tasks at once. Perhaps I should look into training this aspect of mine as well.
Right – let’s see if Pochi’s up for it the next chance we have.
Pochi and Betty, noticing that I had already ended the call, matched their speeds up to mine once again. I nodded to them to convey that there was ‘nothing to be concerned about’.
As for what I had heard from Lina… it concerned a ‘deviant’ Assault Kobold.
Is it even possible for a C-ranked monster to be strengthened to such an extent? No matter what the truth was, Bruce and Blazer believed that to be the case due to what they had witnessed.
Usage of augmentation magic could produce a noticeable difference, true, but that wouldn’t explain the emission of black vapor from the monster’s body.
Then again, ‘black vapor’… magecraft might have been a big factor. Perhaps a dreadful variation of it.
Could it be black magecraft? Or rather than that, it could have been something more ritualistic. Once I got back home, I’ll remember to perform a detailed investigation on it as well.
We never slowed down for a single moment before Royal Capital Regalia was in view.
Exactly like last time, the first things that caught my eye were the royal castle’s imposing size and countless spires. War Demon Emperor Vaas must be living in the central tower – now that reminds me, I wonder what Melchi is up to these days.
Perhaps I should search around a bit, after I’m done with the Rank-up Evaluation.
And so, after about half an hour of more running – around six o’clock in the afternoon, we finally arrived at the gate of Regalia.
The place totally lived up to its status as the Royal Capital. All the districts I’ve seen here so far were even more crowded than Beilanea’s commercial district.
The buildings were a contrasting mixture of ancient-looking ones and new heavily-ornamented ones; either type surprised me and Pochi with how beautiful they were.
Oh, there’s Gaston’s Magic Tool Specialist Store here too. Even at a glance, I could see that it was getting quite a lot of visitors. However… the social disparity in the city was absurd. The place may look so gaudy on the surface, but in the backstreets and alleyways, I could easily catch sight of vagrants and other dangerous-looking folks.
Amid all that, Betty is still her usual, helpful self.
With us having to check-in for the Rank-up Evaluation, we headed straight for the Adventurers’ Guild, with Betty providing me with all the necessary information while we were on the way.
I’ve already said it but I still want to say it again… This place definitely lives up to its status as the Royal Capital. The city is just so wide – makes me wonder, would I have gotten lost if I had come here alone? Going around this place might be even more troublesome than a labyrinth investigation.
By seven o’clock, we finally reached the Regalia Adventurers’ Guild.
Although it was the same as Guilds anywhere else, the branch here in Regalia was especially famous. At any rate, it was the first Guild of the Nation, and a sacred gathering spot of prestigious adventurers from all over the land, emphasis on it being a gathering point of strong personnel.
We opened the door of the Guild and headed inside.
Welcomed with the tense, almost oppressive atmosphere, Betty headed straight for the counter as if to ward it off.
Pochi, fangs clattering, ended up gnawing on the edge of my mantle as she followed me along.
Both quantity and quality of adventurers here were on a whole other level from Beilanea’s. Although the level of Beilanea’s adventurers has been on the rise over the past two years, the same was the case for the ones in Regalia. If I were to make a technical estimate, I would say that Rank B was the average here.
Hmm? Is it just me, or are we… drawing quite a lot of attention?
Ah, that’s probably on Betty. The Silver used to always be on the move, so they’ve probably operated in Regalia for some time as well.
The counter was managed by a blonde woman with an eyepatch over one of her eyes. A former adventurer, perhaps? She’s got a scar on her neck, so she might have retired early and came to work for the Guild instead.
“I’m from Beilanea, here for a Rank-up Evaluation.”
“So am I.”
When Betty and I passed the notification letter we had received from Duncan to the receptionist, a commotion broke out among our surroundings.
“Wait, for real? Wasn’t that Betty girl promoted to Rank A just a few years ago?”
“Which means… it’s the Rank S Evaluation!?”
“Without a doubt… say, who’s that boy standing next to her?”
“Looks like he’s here for the Rank-up Evaluation as well?”
“Dude, he’s still just a kid! No way he’ll pass!”
Hey, I heard that, ‘dude’. Still… a kid, huh. Yeah, I’ll admit that I’m lacking in practical experience, at least.
Ignore it, ignore it. I mustn’t say anything unnecessary to Pochi during times like these.
Last time something along this line happened, she had blown into my ears, so I made sure to shut them tightly this time.
“Did you hear that, sir!? They said you’re still young! I’ll do my best to keep my looks young too!”
After receiving the information regarding the test’s location from the receptionist lady, we headed out to get ourselves a roof to sleep under.
The lady seemed quite impressed with us arriving a day earlier than the deadline. That night, we took it easy, so as to ease up for what was to come. The next morning, we got up early and had a filling breakfast.
The Rank-up Evaluation would take place in the afternoon, so I killed time by sparring with Betty, so as to keep my body in shape.
Then we had some lunch – nothing too heavy – and were perfectly prepared both physically and mentally for the test.
When the time almost rolled around, each of us headed for our designated locations, but not before making an appointment to regroup afterwards.
~~Three O’clock in the Afternoon, Twenty-fifth Day of the Third Month, Ninety-Fourth Year of the War Demon Calendar~~
We headed for our location in Regalia’s north-eastern district, but…
“Wait, Pochi…… where the hell are we?”
“Why are you asking me? I haven’t been keeping track, sir!”
Yup, we’ve gotten lost.