“Dammit, dammit, dammit!”
After leaving the branch, the Head Royal Monster Laboratory, Effy Mansel stamped his feet against the ground of his coach many times in anger.
Of course, the cause of his anger was a certain elf girl he met at the branch.
(Her eyes, they just won’t stay away…!)
Constantly appearing in his mind were eyes like those that used to look at him when he was in the royal capital’s university.
Looking down on him as inferior, full of contempt, people who would sometimes even look at him with pity.
Although he wasn’t a noble, he was a man that studied with great effort to be accepted into the university. That didn’t mean that he had no talent, though.
However, he lost in practical skills to beastkin, medical science to birdkin, and again lost in pharmaceutics to beastkin.
In front of their specialized talents, he tasted defeat many times.
Mansel, who had put nothing but huge amounts of effort into tasting nothing but defeat right from the start, had his heart warp as the defeats continued to pile up, eventually becoming distorted.
Although the other people in the dining area were the ones to have eyes filled with contempt, he didn’t notice them and only looked at Ilya and Haku. Still, even if Ilya’s appearance was such that one wouldn’t forget it if they saw her, that was trivial compared to the thing that caused her to leave such a deep impression on him.
He made two miscalculations.
There was a noble that was acquainted with the king, and Haku was the child of the dragon god.
(The way things are going…)
Despite his face contorting in anger, he paled at the thought of his future.
Mansel desperately attempted to think of something that could change his current situation, but while his gaze swam every direction in attempt to find some sort of hint, he finally realized that the outside scenery hadn’t been moving for some time now.
He knocked on the door of his coach, calling for someone.
“What’s the matter?”
“It seems that a guard wants us to change our route.”
“Change routes? Tell him to not say something so idiotic!”
When the driver opened the small window, he turned back to the guard to convey Mansel’s command.
“Every last one of them…! Nothing but hindrances…!”
A short time later, a young person that he could tell was a guild member with a single glance opened the door to the coach.
“It looks like some flying dragons settled down midway to your destination. You should change routes.”
“Yes. Veluun’s townspeople testified. There’s no doubting it.”
Hearing that there were flying dragons, Mansel hesitated.
There was some research material discovered at his destination, Dotoke Plateau, and it was something Mansel’s group had been looking for for a long time. He wanted to obtain it as fast as possible. However—
“Oi, that guy said flying dragon settled down.”
“Yeah. It looks like there’s a clan of them.”
“Then, aren’t there eggs too?”
When a young man surmised something that Mansel was wanting to say, he furrowed his brows.
“It’s impossible for us to beat them in our current state.”
He had eighteen guards.
Because it was declared that it was impossible with their current number, just how much of a threat was a clan of flying dragons? Nonetheless, the phrase, “current war potential,” also had another meaning, “current reward.”
Whether or not he knew that, Mansel didn’t draw back.
Far from being intimidated, he even smiled ominously.
“It’s not like you’ll need to defeat any of them. I just want the eggs.”
“But to take eggs without defeating any of them is a bit…”
“I’ll put out an additional reward. How about three times as much?”
“It can’t be helped then. Five times.”
“… … If something happens, please follow up with the kingdom.”
Mansel smiled. Of course. He didn’t plan on doing anything like that at all.
Then, Mansel’s group, who temporarily changed their destination, reached the town of Veluun at last. For Veluun, that was no more than a small town, visitors that spent large amounts of money rarely visited.
Although the town’s wallets were pleased with being temporarily favored by them, the male townspeople that talked with the guild youth felt uneasy.
A little while after that, a short while after Mansel left for the royal capital.
A man who had obviously spent many years working the fields noticed his son looking at something in the sky.
“Hey! Move your hands, don’t just idle around!”
“What… are those?”
Multiple black spots flew through the sky. Although their altitudes and distances differed, they all circled round and round around the village.
Before he realized it, his son’s hand was grasping his clothes tightly. It was out of fear.
The black spots gradually grew large, revealing themselves as part of the species that could be considered above all other living things, a species of dragon.
The father muttered.
“… Flying dragons.”
As the family’s pillar of support, he knew what the strongest existences were. More than just for himself, his expression was stained with fear.
On a certain day, some time after the delegation visited.
“Good morning, Charon-san.”
“Ah, good morning Ilya-chan. Sorry about the time.”
Charon, who had left early in the morning, visited Ilya. As he was in an unusually hurried mood, Ilya braced herself.
“It’s an emergency. A clan of flying dragons seem to be heading to the royal capital.”
“… A clan?”
“Yes. Some villages have already been attacked, countermeasures are already being prepared by the castle and association headquarters.”
Flying dragons… they had the least dragon elements, a dragon closer to a beast than to the lowest ranked wind dragon. However, as part of the strongest species, if a clan of them came to attack, it would be a threat at the disaster designated level.
Like other kinds of dragons, flying dragons held a strong sense of territorial boundaries and wouldn’t leave their territories unless something major happened. Their behavior was abnormal.
“Do you know the cause?”
“… It seems to be dragon eggs.”
Ilya was at a loss for words.
“It seems the delegates came across them en route to their destination.”
“… Without… hunting the parents?”
“Yes, although their guards proposed hunting them, it seems that they wouldn’t hear it.”
Although she had given Mansel her worst possible evaluations when he visited the other day, it looks as though he took yet another nosedive. His speed was miraculous.
As Ilya had been registered to the mercenary guild under an alias for some time now, due to the nature of the job’s instability, she could understand the guards’ judgement of wanting to make money.
However, they should have firmly denied it. They needed to be hunted even though it would be hard.
“So, why did you come to me?”
“I wanted to hear your opinion. The king and headquarters chief nominated you directly.”
“It’s nothing that much. If the cause is their eggs, please promptly return them. To begin with, why did the delegation take dragon eggs?”
“For some reason, the delegation’s leader seemed to want it badly. If Haku-chan was born from an egg, he might have thought a monster could also be born from an egg. Practically all of monster ecology is a mystery after all. Maybe he though he wouldn’t be executed if he clarifies something?”
That was just too stupid, the dragon species weren’t monsters. Besides, if he wanted to know about dragon ecology it would have been faster to discuss with Mithledge Kingdom. That wouldn’t cause problems to other people.
Holding back her simmering anger and dissatisfaction, she calmed herself down and sighed.
Incidentally, just what was Mithledge Kingdom? It was a country where its king was born from a human and the dragon god before Jean.
“If you want to prevent extra damages and expenses, please tell them to absolutely return it.”
“Undeeerstood! So, the return method?”
“We’ll secure some people from here. I’ll prepare a commission chart for it soon, so please just review it.”
“Alright, got it. Well, I didn’t get much sleep since I ran straight here. Night~”
“Have a good rest.”
After seeing off the sleepy Charon, Ilya called for two specific people. Bard and Katie.
“You two will accept a commission.”
“So formal, what is it?”
“Please return the flying dragon eggs to their nest.”
“” —!! “”
Having received such a poor order fraught with many dangers, the two held their breath. Their reactions were quite natural.
Normally, telling such few people to go to a dragon’s nest would be tantamount to telling them to die.
Even two people with high abilities, if three or more flying dragons kept them company, they’d have no choice but to die from that point on.
“… Why, after all this…”
Bard muttered while clenching his fists.
“Because this is your punishment.”
“You will be acquitted if you finish this commission. Both of you will be free.”
Although they were half-lost by Ilya’s words, they roughly guessed the meaning behind them.
“… Ilya, are you telling us to die?”
“Innocence through death… hah. You’re disgusting.”
It seemed like he was angry, but his words were sorrowful.
It hurt him that he thought she was beginning to trust them.
“You guys still haven’t grown up.”
“What did you say…!?”
“Don’t you understand why you both were caught? It’s because you’re both skilled at assessing things you know?”
As for what was visible to Ilya, it was their abilities.
Bard held the [Observation] skill. Although that ability was a high-level ability that was able to see through other guild members’ fighting abilities the first time he saw them, he couldn’t perceive Ilya’s threat to him when she caught them.
Although the [Concealment] skill concealed ninety percent, he should have been able to realize she was a threat with just the remaining ten percent.
The answer is simple. Even if he sensed it, Bard overestimated himself and didn’t admit other people’s abilities. If he didn’t mistake himself and others’ evaluations, he should have been able to proceed calmly a bit longer.
“Bard-san. As for having you learn how to work as a receptionist, it’s because I wanted you to cultivate your discerning eye for people. Your art of killing your presence is first-class. Able to sense your own and others’ true strength, you would be able to carry on calmly.”
“… First-class huh, doesn’t sound credible coming from you after finding me so easily.”
He didn’t really seem happy.
“I didn’t say a lie. Bard-san, while erasing your presence, please take charge of transporting the eggs.”
“Yes. Katie will be in charge of guiding the flying dragons.”
Katie did nothing but stare at Ilya.
She wasn’t suited for [Presence Interception], but rather [Presence Inference].
“As for having Katie being responsible for waitress duties, it was because I wanted to cultivate your self decision abilities. You are nimble and have excellent agility, as well as very sensitive to your surroundings. While understanding your surroundings, what do you think you should do? The present you should be able to figure that out by yourself.”
“… Got it. I’ll work hard.”
(Even though it took so much effort to get them this far, seeing them for this last time is a little lonely…)
If she said what she was thinking, it would probably be a hindrance to them.
Thinking about things like that, Ilya looked between the two of them with an unchanging expression.
“There are honestly many more things I want you to learn, but this commission is urgent and there’s no one else suited to it but you two. So please accept this commission as your punishment. Would you?”
“… Can’t be helped if this is our freedom. So, the reward?”
With Bard’s question, Ilya gave him a full-faced smile. She made an effort for it to be forced.
“You didn’t notice? No pay. It’s punishment.”
“Yes. You both will certainly be able to handle this commission. It wouldn’t be a punishment if there was a reward, right?”
Katie smiled with Ilya’s smile, while Bard’s shoulders drooped. However, on his face that was hanging down, the corners of his mouth rose.
After that, she explained to them the route and how to go about how to induce the flying dragons.
Finishing the commission acceptance registration, she handed the two back their registration cards. Neither of them could hide their surprise about what was on their registration cards.
“This, it can’t be mine.”
“These aren’t thieves guild…”
Right, these registration cards for Bard and Katie were ones that Ilya newly made for the mercenary guild.
“You were tied to the thieves guild with your previous cards. Since I think you both should be able to go and live anywhere you want now, please use them to start fresh. Ah, don’t you two go and misuse them alright? Also, the salary that you’ve earned so far has been transferred to the registration cards’ accounts. Please don’t lose them.”
“Thank you… Ilya.”
And so, the two people walked out of the empty dining hall. Ilya saw them off from the counter where no one else was.
“I sincerely wish for your safety and success.”
Leaving Lunéville behind, Bard and Katie walked along the road south.
The two were travelling for the first time in a while, but neither of them felt like having a light-hearted conversation.
“… They were good people.”
There was no answer to Katie’s murmur.
However, she clearly understood that he agreed.
Recently, Bard, who had worked at the branch, was smiling more often.
What did a smile mean to her until now? As though chills spread through her body, it was a mass of repulsive feelings.
However, it was different now.
Lunéville was different. When she recalled all of the smiles she saw, her heart warmed.
Filled with good feelings, having her smile before she new it, it was a tranquil place.
When she touched the thing she felt running along her cheek, she understood it was her own tears.
Even though she didn’t feel sick, she felt a pain in her chest.
It was no use even if she said it, she knew that.
Even so, the words just tumbled from her mouth.
“… I don’t want to…”
Each time she spoke, more tears spilled out.
It wasn’t that Ilya drove them out because she hated them, she knew that.
On the contrary, she knew that she always thought of them, always trying to help them.
Even though she was so happy, her chest felt tight, it was painful.
“… I want to go back…”
As if a dam had burst open, her tears wouldn’t stop falling.
In the end, Katie finally stopped walking. But right then, she felt something nostalgic. Bard’s hand was lightly caressing Katie’s head.
When she took a closer look, his shoulders were trembling slightly, and he was rubbing his arm against his face.
“This commission, we’ll absolutely survive it!”
He smiled at the puzzled Katie.
His smile looked like one a crook would have.
“She said it. We can live wherever we want.”
Even though Katie didn’t understand at first, she let out a sound when she realized what he meant. She wasn’t crying any longer.
It was the response that she always used.
However, this time it felt quite different, suitable for the two embarking on their new stage.