The man looked at the snow sculptures lined up outside of the window.
They probably imitated a person’s shape. The snow figures had limbs, but while they all had bodies, none looked the same.
Like the people that lived in this world, the snow sculptures varied infinitely, accepting all kinds of life.
However, people couldn’t accept life.
Sometimes taking land, sometimes resources, sometimes worshiped gods… and sometimes, taking entire races.
The country where the man had lived in his childhood was like that.
Established through a coup d’etat, it had the policy of giving preferential treatment to humans, human supremacy. At one point, the orphanage the man grew up in was torn down.
The orphanage accepted both human children as well as those that weren’t human.
The man grieved.
Why was it a crime for him to be with his friends?
Why were humans thought of as a single group, divided away from the other races?
There were no clear responses to the adults that attempted to appeal for the crime. They were just given a unanimous, ‘Humans are the only ones to assume the form of God Rattle, the creator and father of all humans, so we are the dominant species.’
There wasn’t any definite evidence.
There was nothing that could prove those words.
Using that thought of being the dominant race, they were persistent in denying any naysayers, merely calling them those that have an inferiority complex.
What couldn’t be surpassed was bad. What was mediocre was bad.
The man’s friends had laughed.
Holding their hands out to him.
Facing him with smiles filled with delight, friends that had many varied forms.
“… Don’t go.”
As he reached out his own hand, the man’s heavy eyelids raised and he realized he had a lapse in awareness. He saw that the snow sculptures lined up out of the window hadn’t changed.
Seeing the snow sculptures lined up next to each other brought up an old memory; the man had a weak, but definite smile on his face.
Several days later.
The central plaza’s stone pavement was completely exposed.
With fire stones spaced apart evenly, the plaza was filled with people, practically overflowing.
There was one of the country’s taxation offices in the plaza, but since right now there was a stage set up, concealing its front entrance, it wasn’t like anyone was there for hostilities.
What was installed at the center of the stage was a metal pole with a wind stone fastened to it in order to enhance the voice of whoever spoke into it… it was a loud speaker.
Also, sitting on a table installed diagonally so that it could look over the plaza were four people: Lord Hector, the branch’s representative Branch Vice Manager Dennis, Annabelle as the judge representative, and the industry guild’s Euripides as the sculpture artisan representative.
The dog beastkin Katie standing on the platform, the plaza quieted down with her greeting.
“I will now begin the Lunéville Snow Festival’s competitive show.”
Having spoke fluently, she bowed and descended from the stage to Ilya and the other branch employees, her face in satisfaction from the cheers.
Katie looked lively as though she were unconcerned with it, but Ria was shivering next to Ilya, clinging to a fire stone. Ilya was wearing a pea coat, with Katie in a mods coat. Among the three kinds of coats provided for use, she was wearing a duffle coat, but even with that she wasn’t able to bear it.
(Because she’s a cat?)
While Ilya looked at Ria and thought something bad about her, Elizah went onto the platform.
“Then first of all, I will explain the rules.”
While she read out from her cue card, Ilya and them went to the audience area.
“Everyone, after you go around the whole town to see the snow sculptures, please fill in the number of the sculptures that you rate the highest on the voting slip we will be distributing.”
Seeing the paper distributed along with the explanation, a man spoke up.
“There’re three places to write?”
“Of course, it’s so you can choose three. If there were just one, everyone would choose their own right?”
Laughter rose up from her response. Elizah’s [Art of Speaking] was an advantageous skill.
“The criteria to choose is free for everyone to decide on their own. What’s the most beautifully made, what’s the most dignified, what’s the most valorous… anything is fine. Ah, even though I said the most valorous, choosing the branch’s is no good, you know? That one isn’t included in the competition!”
Another bout of laughter spread through the crowd.
The one put in front of the branch was a snow sculpture made by Elizah and Cynthia. Its motif was Haku.
Although its appearance was far off from being able to be called valorous, with it being filled with a vitality that it would turn into their mascot both figuratively and literally, Ilya smiled wryly.
“Please note that your ballot will be invalid if there are not three written down on it. Ah, if you get embarrassed from seeing other people’s works, it’s also no good damaging our work, alright? Ilya worked on it, so that would be sacrilege.”
“Then what about the ones not touched by Kami-sama…?”
Hearing the man’s words, several people didn’t speak and nodded to each other in agreement.
(What did that mean?)
Ilya, still smiling, looked around for the owner of that voice.
Right now, if she cancelled the repair magic meant to prevent crime and degradation of the entries, some of them would lose their shape before long, ‘The snow sculpture in this spot just collapsed!’
Be it the manufacturers or residents of the town, that would be unbearable and might be plenty enough for retaliations.
“The time limit is until noon. There will be a new dish at the branch office to treat everyone, but since your examination ballot will turn into a voucher, please bring it with you alright?”
Cheers of joy that hadn’t been heard thus far broke out.
They were so delighted about it that someone might confuse that for the main event, but Ilya decided it was in her imagination.
“Then, Hector-san. Please declare the examination’s commencement!”
Elizah abruptly stepped aside, moving Hector in front of the microphone.
“Good luck to everyone today… well, today stiff formalities are unnecessary, aren’t they. I admire everyone’s effort and would like to see you all having fun. And so… begin the examination!”
With that, a cheerful atmosphere broke out and the spectators bustled about.
Ilya, who had watched it all, changed places with Elizah on the platform and went to the table of four.
“The ones selected by everyone as the best will each receive special prizes. There is the possibility of second or third place coming in with higher votes, but since they have all received public acknowledgement, please judge without feeling constrained.”
Three of them nodded obediently.
However, the last one snorted with an expression that seemed derisive.
“You’re an optimistic one. You don’t know that illegalities will be performed as soon as you can’t see them?”
“These standard papers are no trouble to mass produce. People will also threaten others to vote for their sculptures. Well, they wouldn’t even need to threaten them if they paid money.”
The branch vice manager continue prattling on and on.
(Now then, what to do?)
As Ilya spoke to herself in thought, Annabelle, who was single-handily responsible for things like assessing the raw materials submitted to the branch, spoke up.
“The paper used is the same type as is used for the branch’s commission charts, so it’s not possible to reproduce. It would also be easy to figure out if someone has written over someone else’s answer just by checking it.”
Even though she said it would be easy, that was only feasible for people who held the high level skill [Appraisal]. There wasn’t even a person with both [Appraisal] and [Assessment] at each of the branches and headquarters.
When Ilya, knowing that, smiled wryly, Rachelle started to speak in order to follow up and stop the branch vice manager from responding.
“Whether or not someone’s bullied into something, a receptionist will know. If the person themselves doesn’t bring it they won’t be able to eat their dish, so that won’t happen, right? Ilya.”
Ilya responded to Rachelle’s question with a nod.
There were other things, like people sticking around just to get a free meal, but they didn’t think it was much of a problem since the entries were free.
“And I don’t think we need to stop things related to money. When you think about the number of people involved and the number of works there are, someone would need to use no less than 500 Gils per person for them to have made a profit, so I can’t think that someone would participate in that. Besides, even if they could take first place, there is no compensation other than the prize. If they wanted to boast about the exquisiteness of their sculpture, I think they would have rather gone to the industry guild instead.”
Even if that weren’t so, there were currently a lot of people in Lunéville that held loans.
The prize money would be a significant reward to earn without using any capital or expenses, but there’d likely be no meaning in spending any money on it.
The problem he’d raised should be settled with that.
Judging that, Ilya clapped once and inquired the branch vice manager.
“Are you satisfied?”
With the branch vice manager rudely leaving, everyone’s expressions obviously calmed.
Everyone seemed to have eased up a little with that out of the way.
This was something meant to ease stress in the first place, there was no point in dragging anything like that out.
As though to tell everyone to end the subject there, Ilya spoke towards everyone.
“Alright then, let’s begin our preparations.”
“”” Yeah! “””
With everyone’s moods switched back to their usual ones, the branch staff members began their preparations for the tally and lunch.