That same time, east of Lunéville. A man set foot in a Harville inn, the inn itself filled with a somewhat melancholic atmosphere.
“Nn? Guest, have you lost your way on the road?”
“No. I’ll be staying here overnight.”
The inn storekeeper’s smile, returned to the man who seemed sincere, was weak and contained bitterness.
“You are curious as well, then? Even though our inn fees were reduced by Lord-sama’s order as well, there’s nothing we can do but to watch guests leave.”
Harville was an inn town that developed to connect the road between Pinéaville and the royal capital.
But now, due to the new threat named Lunéville that leapt into prominence, its vigor was being completely deprived.
(… It might already be completely deprived.)
Looking at the town’s atmosphere, thinking that wasn’t unreasonable.
Vigor, cuisine, public order, culture… as the number of people increases, it’s natural for civilization to advance.
When considering those things, it was easy to imagine that the thing to take the leading role in the country named Rondéville would be Lunéville.
(Therefore, I’m aiming for it.)
The man paid the storekeeper the inn fees, which were expensive compared to Lunéville, and went to his bed.
(Invading by taking advantage of the open event known as its festival. Sneaking in as part of the influx of new citizens. Or possibly, by other means…)
The man ridiculed himself over his conjecture before it even reached its conclusion, his actions would be obstructed even if he thought about it. He abandoned the idea.
With his consciousness drifting away into sleep, his optimism left a faintly bitter taste in his mouth.
The festival’s traces still lingering, branch manager Frank went to the country where the association’s headquarters was located, Guild Port.
He harbored worries about his entire trip, about the manager being absent and about the position of branch vice manager being filled by association headquarters. He felt somewhat restless due to his worry and expectations towards the person that assumed the position of the seat that had been left unfilled for so long.
By all rights, the person should have handled transference procedures and the like before the branch manager left, but he arrived three days after Frank departed.
The reason for it was probably due to the snowfall, so the staff didn’t harbor any dissatisfaction towards him for that. However…
“I truly despise being transferred to such a backwater place as this.”
With those words, practically unseen even then as the snow continued to fall, the staff members’ expressions stiffened.
But as though not seeing their expressions at all, the man’s mouth curved into a loose arc as he continued to speak.
“Even so. Due to me being such a dutiful staff member of the guild association, I will do my job without cutting any corners.”
Fiercely changing his conduct in a single breath, the man turned towards the branch’s staff members as though looking down on them, taking a glance at each one.
“Carelessness, abuse of authority, mixing work and private matters. These are all absolutely unacceptable. I will dismiss whoever does these without mercy, so you all would do well to pay careful attention.”
Then, as though it were not necessary to say anything further, the man turned around and left the office.
Unable to find anything to say to the man who left, the staff members could do nothing but see him off. [New Branch Vice Manager Arriving] was written on the schedule, but they felt as though they were just now sensing the gravity of those words.
By the time the branch staff were able to move again, at least ten seconds had passed since the man left.
“W-why, that guy…”
The one to say that was Bard, a black panther beastkin, bewildered into indignation.
Unable to explain despite agreeing with him, smiling bitterly, Claude attracted people’s attention towards himself with a loud clap.
“There is nothing in particular to report from the office, but is there anything from reception, dining hall, or kitchen?”
“No, nothing in particular.”
Nodding towards Ilya who had received his gaze and responded, Claude continued with the same bitter expression.
“Morning assembly adjourned! Do your best today as well!”
Being able to regain themselves and start their work could likely be called experience they’d built in the industry.
Just when the previous bewilderment began to settle, it happened.
“This branch, why do you wear these uniforms?”
The entire dining hall’s gazes concentrated towards Ria’s slightly uncute shriek.
The branch vice manager showed up at the counter, and with a gaze that did not conceal his disdain in the least, gripped and raised her skirt.
It wasn’t that he was interested at what was inside her skirt, but opposing something like that was natural.
“W-what are you thinking!? Lecher! Are you a pervert!?”
“Wearing something that shows this much is more perverted.”
Protested against by Ria’s teary eyes, the branch vice manager responded in scorn.
“W-w-what!? Aren’t there a lot of people that wear more revealing clothes than this!?”
“Nn? Is that so? Surely, I had no idea that beastkin preferred being so close to nude. Kuku.”
Ignoring Ria’s anger, the branch vice manager took one last brief glance at her and left the counter with a sneer.
As for the thoughts of the people nearby, there were various.
“… Umm, Ria.”
“… … What.”
Towards her lowered voice that lacked emotion, Bard reflexively took a step back.
His past experience said that Ria was the type to immediately express her anger immediately, but since her attitude seemed to be the opposite of that, so he wasn’t able to respond.
“… Just, I think, it suits you… yeah?”
“Because the uniform shows a lot?”
In the next moment.
Ria suddenly looked up away from the counter and raised her voice before making a small bow towards Bard.
“Sorry. I was venting at you.”
“N-no, it’s that branch vice manager that’s in the wrong.”
“He’s the worst! Ah, sorry, here please~”
Noticing the figure of a person waiting for a commission registration without getting close, Ria let out a cheerful voice.
It looked like her usual cheerful smile from the side, so Bard was partly relieved.
“… Thank you.”
He turned towards the whisper-like voice, but the girl had already started serving guests and wasn’t talking. Bard himself also followed suit in serving guests.
However, problems popped up one after another.
On the afternoon of a certain day.
Ilya, who had left for receptionist affairs, saw the branch vice manager with a vulgar smile on his face like a smirk.
“Oh hoh, hello there Elf-sama. Looking beautiful today as well.”
(The branch vice manager is seaweed as usual, isn’t he.)
Ilya retaliated in her mind.
Likely due to snow falling on his wavy hair when he walked outside, the snow that melted from the room’s heat wet his hair and made his usual hairstyle look all the more like seaweed.
And because of that, it seemed that his maliciousness increased as well.
“Living amongst people that are below yourself must be comfortable.”
“That is how you see it?”
He simply smiled back at Ilya’s expression that neither denied nor affirmed anything.
Although there should not have been anything like intimidation-esque coercion being produced by her, the branch vice manager wasn’t able to respond. Moreover, every person in the dining hall was giving him dangerous glances, so he hesitated in his reaction.
Due to guild members that were newly appearing in the meanwhile, the branch vice manager, who had completely lost his chance at responding, clicked his tongue and left the dining hall.
“Ilya-chan, today’s been a disaster huh.”
Returning a smile to the man that knit his brows while sipping some warm sake bit by bit, Ilya assumed her usual work.
The dining hall returned to its tempestuousness after the branch vice manager left. As that year had been colder than normal because of the snowfall, so there were even more people gathering to warm themselves with the hearth, alcohol, and food than usual.
(… I don’t understand.)
Later, when she finished her work, Ilya inclined her head as she thought to herself while gently petting Haku that was fawning for attention.
As for what she was doubts about, it was the branch vice manager’s conduct.
If he used the office on the third floor as the branch manager’s substitute, even if he didn’t say it when he purposely came to the counter, he had plenty of chances to be sarcastic towards Ilya.
Nevertheless, be it the act of being so blunt with in the presence of everyone or concluding his statements as though they were merely on a whim, she couldn’t understand.
If there were a reason to purposely perform acts as though to make enemies, the possibility of his aim being to incite hostile emotions was high. As should could also see him physically strengthening himself by way of magic, that would adequately be explained by him being prepared for the one-in-one-thousand chance where a collision occurred.
It would be easy to come up with a reason to remove someone that performed some hostile action. Or perhaps he may be urging people to quit on their own accord.
There wasn’t enough information, so she wasn’t able to pin it to something exactly. Looking at Haku, who was squinting from feeling good, she felt nothing could be done even if she thought about it so decided to put it aside for now.
“Antagonizing Ilya? That guy’s dumb.”
“Rather wasn’t it the same as that one? That guy that came before.”
“Ah, that human supremacist guy?”
“Yeah that one.”
That sort of a conversation had went on in the dining hall, lingering in Ilya’s ears.
And then she had a thought.
(Just what do they think of me…)
Haku looked up towards Ilya, probably due to noticing that the strength in her hand had changed. She smiled and restarted petting him gently.