“I want to ask you something, Miss Human Flint.”
“What an ill-bred, impolite person…”
Early next morning found Lapis and Tizona at the south gate of Kapha city.
After accepting Tizona’s job yesterday, they had talked for a while, and it was decided that they would start preparing for departure now. Thus, Lapis and Tizona were watching their luggage while Loren and Gula went to rent a donkey to carry them.
Lapis found it to be too boring to wait for them in silence, so she tried to start a conversation. But Tizona grimaced as if she had been stabbed with a knife:
“Miss Indiscriminate Pyromaniac?”
“Name, call me by name. You can skip the honorific. So, what do you want to ask?”
Having a strong feeling that she would be stuck with this nickname forever if she let it slide now, Tizona bluntly opposed Lapis with just a bit of annoyance.
Lapis looked at her blankly for a moment and, after a brief consideration, called her again:
“Miss Indiscriminate Pyromaniac?”
“Do you want to get burned?”
Wondering if some threatening would be needed, Tizona lit up a flame on her fingertip and glared hard at Lapis. But Lapis just nonchalantly replied without any hesitation:
“If you burn me, you won’t get Loren to help you. And I wonder if there will be any other adventurer who would want to work with you after that fight in the tavern?”
“Just ask what you want to ask. Are all priests as disagreeable as you?”
Lapis was right though, so Tizona sighed and put out the flame on her fingertip. She now realized what a bad move it was to burn down those adventurers during the tavern fight the day before yesterday.
After that incident, her name and face had become well-known amongst adventurers, along with the rumor that she would burn people to ashes just because of minor disputes. No adventurers would dare take her job. She also knew that they were looking at Loren’s party with pity after hearing about them accepting it. But it had already been too late, so nothing could be done now.
Tizona started to regret incinerating those adventures in the guild hall. Scorching them a bit would be a more prudent option. But for that she had to rely on conventional magic, instead of <<Roast>>. The issue, however, was that conventional magic had never given a satisfactory sensation of burning…
While Tizona was musing this, Lapis thought that the conversation would go nowhere if she kept fooling around with her, so she went straight to be business:
“It’s about Loren.”
“About whether he really is ‘Decapitating Wind’ or not? If that’s the case then yes, there’s no doubt about it. I guarantee that.”
Lapis thought so too, but Loren denied it so vehemently that she had to wonder if there was some misunderstanding. She was thinking about confirming it with a currently-active mercenary and by chance this was when Tizona had shown up, so she took this chance.
Tizona’s answer came right away, and the indifferent tone she used bewildered Lapis:
“His appearance and weapon are the same, but the biggest tell is how strongly he denies to be Decapitating Wind. That guy is known to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge his nickname.”
“Why is that?”
Becoming a feared figure on the battlefield and being given a nickname was not a bad thing for a mercenary. On the contrary, it would increase the mercenary’s value, leading to more high-profile jobs and creating a positive impact on the whole company. At least, that was what Lapis thought.
But Tizona spoke of a different reality while turning her gaze to the direction where Loren should have come back with the donkey.
“The biggest reason is – it would have brought troubles to his company.”
“Brought troubles to his company? Why?”
“A company that has an outstanding member easily attracts attention from other companies. Not only that, but it will also attract a different kind of attention from the government. Such attention can sometimes be good, but they are more often bad.”
People would think that a mercenary company with such an excellent member would be very capable, and as a result the company would be forced into life-and-death situations more and more often. Tizona said with a wry smile:
“I was also happy with the nickname ‘Hellfire Sword’ at first, but now I’m regretting having ever acknowledged that name. Of course, my company has been treated better thanks to it, but I can’t help the feeling that danger has also increased.”
“Loren denies his nickname because he’s afraid of that.”
“If the person himself does not acknowledge his nickname, others can’t use it in their narratives. That’s why I find it amazing that the nickname still continues to be used even though he keeps denying it.”
Normally, the talk would die down if the person denied his nickname. But in Loren’s case, the nickname still pointed to Loren and even spread.
“Other than that, I think he keeps denying it also because Decapitating Wind tends to lose consciousness after a battle. Have you seen it?”
Lapis silently nodded at Tizona’s question.
Loren sometimes could exert unusual strength during battles, which she herself had witnessed multiple times. He could reach that state not by gradually gaining strength but by mental conditioning, and he seemed to have been able to control it himself recently. However, the backlash Loren’s body receives after is severe.
Lapis had been secretly racking her brain trying to find a solution, but she hadn’t had any breakthrough so far. What Loren did was essentially forcibly drawing out his latent strength, so it was unreasonable to expect no recoil on the body.
“People often forget things after serious injuries. Loren might have forgotten about himself being Decapitating Wind because of this.”
Lapis had difficulties believing this, he still could have guessed something from the stories. After all, this wasn’t a matter that could be forgotten just like that… On the other hand, Loren’s tendency to avoid negative attention had to be playing a bigger role in his stubborn denial of the nickname.
“Loren is really strong, isn’t he?”
Since there was still no sign of Loren coming back, Lapis decided to ask another question that she was curious about. Tizona unfolded her arms, placed a hand under her chin and answered after a short while in a wondering tone:
“I haven’t fought against him, so it’s difficult to evaluate.”
“Were you his enemy or ally?”
“There are no friends or foes between mercenaries – our positions change together with our employers. It is not uncommon that the one with whom you fought on the same side yesterday, to be on the side of your enemy tomorrow. “
It was a characteristic of mercenaries, who worked just for money. It was understandable on a professional level, but Lapis wondered if it was acceptable on an emotional level.
“If you can’t accept it, you can’t be a mercenary. I probably killed quite a lot of Loren’s comrades, as he probably did mine. If we bear grudges for that, we can’t be mercenaries.”
“Is that how it is?”
“You have to accept the basic givens of our profession.”
Taking her hand from her chin, Tizona answered and folded her arms again.
“About your earlier question, I consider him to be a rare fighter.”
“I don’t really understand?”
“Before we talk about strength, I acknowledge him to be an opponent one can’t be careless with. This might sound like boasting, but he is the only one to ever be able to see through <<Roast>> at first sight and dodged it.”
<<Roast>>, Tizona’s powerful ability, was a horrible one, almost like a foul play: simply by watching it was impossible to tell how many burning ranges she created, or how big the ranges were. The targets wouldn’t be able to know they were targeted until they started burning and when they did, they would turn into ashes with no time to run.
And Loren had been able to dodge it.
“How did he do it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve thought about it a lot, but… I have no idea at all.”
Tizona looked at Lapis with an earnest expression and added:
“Could you ask him for me if you have the chance? How did he evade my ability on the first encounter? Even now I still find it strange.”
It didn’t seem difficult to ask, but Lapis couldn’t help but feel that the chance to get a direct answer from Loren would be extremely low. Considering his words and actions so far, she believed Loren would somehow manage to dodge the question, either by himself or by chance. If that happened, maybe it would be better to not tell Tizona at all.
Just when Lapis started to ponder about this, Loren and Gula finally came back. Loren was empty-handed except for his usual equipment but Gula, who followed behind him, was pulling two donkeys along. Lapis and Tizona looked at their luggage, but for some reasons the donkeys were already packed.
“Welcome back, Loren. What’s with those sacks on the donkeys?”
Lapis ran up to him and asked in confusion. He just scratched his head hopelessly while Gula smiled embarrassingly.
“It’s some food. Gula estimated that our provisions won’t be enough.”
“Wait a minute. From my point of view, the food we prepared will be more than enough for four people during the intended period, won’t it?”
Actually, Lapis believed that the prepared provisions were already a bit too much. She couldn’t really explain it to Tizona, but she’d reserved additional food for Gula. However, it seemed like Gula had found even that to be insufficient.
“So it’s for Gula. How much do you plan to eat with that body of yours? Honestly, I don’t even have the slightest idea where the hell all that foods go.”
“Mainly to my breasts, I guess? Right, Loren?”
She thrust her chest forward to show off her tube-tope-clad breasts. Loren simply dropped a fist on the crown of her head. It made quite a loud sound, and Gula crouched down holding her head. Loren bluntly told her in an exasperated tone:
“I’ll let it go this time since it’s Tizona who pays for all this. But for the next time be prepared and reduce your portions.”
“If possible, please be a bit considerate… My purse is not bottomless.”
Tizona said in a ‘I-know-it-is-useless-to-tell-them’ tone, and Lapis dealt her the finishing blow:
“It’s a bit too late by now, isn’t it? I bought two top-quality sleeping bags and pillows and counted them into necessity expenses.”
“What?! No, rather than that, why two?”
Tizona’s eyes widened at Lapis’ confession, and Lapis said matter-of-factly with no hint of embarrassment:
“They’re for Loren and me. Ah, don’t worry, I bought the normal ones for you two.”
“Lapis-chan?! Aren’t they for us?!”
“Your food expenses cost the most, so please just bear with it.”
Lapis coldly replied to Gula. With a troubled expression, Gula thought hard about what should be prioritized, first-class sleeping bag or food. She finally came to a conclusion and heart-brokenly hang her head:
“Can’t be helped then. I can endure low-quality sleeping bags, but not lack of food.”
“If things continue like this and the exploration ends up a failure, I might have to sell myself even before it’s time to pay for the compensation…”
Just as Tizona’s face darkened at the image of her unwelcoming future, Loren clapped her on the back:
“Talk with Lapis then. The interest rate will be high, but she’ll help you.”
“I’ll be looking forward to discussing it with you!”
Lapis energetically replied after Loren’s introduction. Tizona just stared at her with slump shoulders and an even gloomier expression.