Chapter 1 – Story 40: Opening Move

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“The wagon over there, stop! If you are going to enter the city, we need to inspect the passengers and cargo!”

The squad leader, who was assigned to the inspection of cargo and people coming and going through the gate of Bolnis, stopped the covered wagon that came along the highway and the cart that followed behind it.
Catching sight of the man sitting on the coachman bench of the covered wagon that was being pulled by a niryu, the squad leader felt like he remembered his face from somewhere. He seems like he’s trusted as a partner in small trades, but most likely, he’s not too accomplished as a merchant. With that timid but sincere face, he doesn’t seem like he’d be some sort of villain on a wanted poster.
The squad leader’s question of where he saw this man earlier vanished after seeing a boy with a zoan right next to him greeting him over the shoulder of the peddler.

“The peddler from some time ago and his nephew, huh? Even though you just left the city the other day, for what did you come this time?”

“Of course, for business. This time we came with not only this wagon but also the cart behind us filled with goods.” (formal)

Guided by his words, the squad leader looked at the cart that followed behind the carriage. Just as the man had said, many packages are piled up on the wagon. Quite a few heavy things seem to have been placed inside it. Two dwarven slaves pulled the shafts. In addition, two slaves pushed from behind and one slave on each side, left and right, pushed the wagon all the way up to here. All of them were breathing heavily, with their entire bodies drenched in sweat.

“What’s your cargo?”

“Yes. It’s things such as swords and spears which were laying in stock.”

The squad leader was surprised due to the dangerous words that were coming out of the peddler’s mouth.

“Bastard! To carry in this many weapons, what the hell are you planning!?”

Due to the squad leader’s threatening attitude, the merchant answered in a panic,

“I’m told that the zoan are riotous in the northern plains, isn’t that so?”

Those words cause the squad leader to frown.
Suffering a crushing defeat from the likes of the zoan is an outrageous disgrace for Holmea State. Thus, a gag order was widely imposed on the soldiers. Even so, that doesn’t stop the young soldiers from gossiping about it to get their hooks into a woman when going out to the bars and brothels.
Even the squad leader was well aware that this had already become a well-known fact in the city.
However, due to the gag order being placed by the higher-ups, he still doesn’t feel too great about the situation.
Due to the squad leader’s face turning unpleasant, the peddler grabs the squad leader’s hand without a moment’s delay and bribes him with several bronze coins.

“It’s nothing bad for everyone if there are many good weapons, right? Also, if my wallet gets a little fatter because of this, that would be an exceedingly great blessing.”

“I see. Indeed, the argumentation that it will help us as well if we have good weapons is pretty reasonable.”

The squad leader’s mood easily improved due to the weight of the coins in his palm. Furthermore, letting a silver coin also slip onto the other coins, the peddler secretly whispers,

“This is merchandise I strived to bring for the sake of helping everyone. Thinking about helping the lowly me here…”

“Oooh! I’m sure it’s just as you say.”

The squad leader called out to the tax collection soldier who checked the number and types of weapons in the cargo.

“This person is a merchant quite capable of thoughtfulness.”

As the tax collector understood the gist of what the squad leader was trying to say in a roundabout way, he promptly finishes the cargo inspection he was in the middle of. He dips a wooden stick that was sitting atop a wooden table near the gate into an inkwell and carefully writes something on a piece of paper.

“How about something like this?”

The peddler shakes his head at the import tax sum proposed by the soldier.

“I have heard that it’s necessary to file a report if I bring in a number of weapons above a set amount. Therefore, can’t you somehow…”

Showing a further silver just to make double sure, the soldier peeks at the squad leader’s face. Confirming that the squad leader returned a small nod to that, the soldier rewrote the document anew.

“How about this?”

“… Please.”

After he scanned the document several times, the peddler agreed and paid the written tariff.
The soldier couldn’t suppress breaking into a smile due to the unforeseen extraordinary additional income, but noticing that something is wrong with the state of the squad leader, who followed the covered wagon and cart vanishing into the hustle and bustle of the city with his eyes, the soldier calls out to him.

“What’s wrong, captain?”

The squad leader answered to his subordinate while bending his head slightly to the side,

“No, you know, I feel like the youngster sitting on that carriage said something strange…”

I don’t have an idea why such words escaped the boy’s mouth.
He wondered whether he made a mistake in his hearing, but the ears of the squad leader definitely heard the boy muttering it.

“I think he said 『Excuse me』 towards me.”

Geez, a boy speaking of weird stuff.
Enriching their own wallets by cheating the tariffs like this is something akin to a special privilege of the gatekeepers. Also, because the merchants were able to make things more convenient for themselves by using bribes, it’s become a relationship of give and take. In reality, arrangements just like this were simply very prevalent.
I have never heard of a merchant apologizing every single time like that.

“Well, didn’t he feel guilty as they brought in that many weapons outside the records?”

The squad leader consented to this with a “That might be it.”

“In that case, how about making merry in a grand way with these silver coins tonight so that the child can live without having a guilty conscience.”

The gatekeeping sentries exchanged broad grins due to the words of their squad leader.

◆◇◆◇◆

“Ooh! Welcome! How wonderful of you to visit!”

Soon after Souma arrived at the mansion of Grokakos and announced his visit to the gatekeeper, Grokakos emerged from the mansion all joyful smiles and happiness. Souma performs the merchant’s greeting while being slightly hesitant towards Grokakos, due to him completely changing his attitude in welcoming him in comparison to last time.

“I visited to bring you good luck and wealth.”

“Good luck and wealth to you as well.”

Grokakos returned the greeting hurriedly and asked a question.

“Well then, Mr. Soma. I wonder, just might be your business with me this time?”

“Yes, today, there’s something I’d like to request from you a bit.”

Souma shifts his sight fleetingly to the side. Following that look, Grokakos discovers the cart that was stopped on the street.

“Ah, the slaves you kindly purchased from me seem to be worked quite a bit, do they not?”

Seeing Dvalin and the others, who are tied with chains to the cart, Grokakos nodded with a satisfied look.

“Yes. Not only as guards, but they are also made useful by them pulling a cart such as this.”

“That’s great. I’m pleased that the things you purchased from me are working well.”

Grokakos said with an expression as if he’s going to lick his lips any time soon.

“Since you are here, I don’t suppose that you are looking for new slaves again?”

“Yes. There’s that as well, but there’s something slightly troublesome…”

“Ho, what might that be?”

“Actually I’m worried about an inn for tonight. Me and…” Souma points at Shyemul with his eyes. “I found a place to stay, but without a location to hold the merchandise and the dwarves…”

Grokakos thought I see.
Right now a caravan heading from Jeboa to the royal capital is staying in the city. The caravan’s important members are lodging in the feudal lord’s mansion, but because the servants and guards are lodging in the city’s accommodations after splitting up, every place is probably booked for tonight.

“If at all possible, I’m wondering whether or not you could introduce me to some place where I can leave those dwarves and the cart with the merchandise on it.”

“Indeed, that does appear to be problematic.” After thinking about various options, Grokakos claps his hands. “How about this? Let me take charge of those slaves and the cart. Since the slaves had stayed at my place to begin with, they would be accustomed to the environment.”

“Eeh!? Really?”

“Of course. What do you think? Rather, how about staying in my mansion, Mr. Soma? I will gladly give you a warm welcome.”

“No, it will be plenty with just being allowed to leave the slaves and the cart with you.”

Souma said in the form of a joke,

“Besides, with you selling me slaves the entire night, Mr. Grokakos, I’d end up bankrupt by tomorrow morning. Please pardon me, at least from that.”

“Hahaha! Good gracious, you are quite wary of me, aren’t you?”

Souma lets a small bag with silver coins slip into the hand of Grokakos who becomes cheerful due to being flattered.

“This is just a little something, but please accept it as thanks for the trouble.”

Guessing the rough number of silver coins from the weight transmitted to his hand, Grokakos is astonished.

“To be given this much for just taking care of a cart and some slaves…”

“Please deduct the excess amount from the prices of the slaves I will buy tomorrow.”

“I see. If that’s how it is.”

Agreeing, Grokakos accepted the bag of silver coins.

“So, I wonder what kind of luggage on the cart are you entrusting to me?”

“It’s this.”

When Souma stripped off the cover of the cargo that was stacked up high on the cart, a large amount of swords and spears were stowed there.

“According to the rumors, the armed forces that headed out to subjugate the zoan had the tables turned on them, or something of the sort. Since the plains will likely become chaotic for a while, I plan to try selling these to Holmea’s national army.”

Until just recently, there was a rumor circulating that the subjugation force suffered many casualties due to being swallowed by a fire they had set themselves. But now, the true information that was getting out from loose-mouthed soldiers was that they had the tables turned on them by the zoan.
But, that’s something that occurred just recently.
As expected, if it’s a skilled merchant who came from a distant eastern country, they have sharp ears, Grokakos admired.
Grokakos, who amused himself by chatting with Souma while making Dvalin and the others pull the cart to the backyard of the mansion, suddenly claps his hands.

“Oh, yes. Because I got my hands on a rare slave, I’d like you to have a look at them by all means, Mr. Soma.”

Saying that, he started to walk from the mansion in the direction of the courtyard without even waiting for Souma’s reply. Souma, who doesn’t want to displease Grokakos either, reluctantly pursues while bringing Shyemul along.

“Here, please have a look at this. It’s a valuable slave I especially received from a slave dealer of the royal family purveyors.”

Grokakos talked like a showman in front of a single, huge cage placed in the courtyard.
Seemingly reacting to his voice, a huge shadow stirred slightly within the cage.
With only that, the countless chains that were attached all over the slave’s body, make noisy clinking sounds.

“… ! T-This is!?”

Not only Souma, but even Shyemul opened their eyes widely due to the atypical appearance they see for the first time.

“I see, even you, Mr. Soma, are seeing this for the first time, I guess? Well, well, that’s not very strange either. The places where these guys live are mainly on the southern desert and the Fire Islands, after all.”

Grokakos, who was pleased by Souma’s and Shyemul’s reaction, explained while putting on an air of superiority.

“Please look at it, this mountain-like large build. Of course, that’s not for mere show either. In front of its physical strength, even dwarves are a pushover! It doesn’t possess merely strength either. This tough skin won’t receive a single scratch from something on a simple knife’s level! Claws that gouge out flesh! Sharp fangs that tear off flesh! And, what’s fearsome above all that is its ferocious temperament! It’s not an exaggeration to call it a race that was truly born to fight.”

Stopping his speech for a moment at that point, Grokakos took a large breath and recited the name of that race.

“This is a dinosaurian!”

◆◇◆◇◆

Grokakos, who saw off Souma, had a smug smile.
Today he wasn’t able to force a sale, but the reaction of Souma at the time when he showed the dinosaurian martial tournament slave was even beyond Grokakos’ expectations. If it’s like this, he would still profit from having unreasonably asked to receive the slave from one of his acquaintance slave dealers among the royal family’s purveyors.
When he comes tomorrow to take back the slaves and the cart he entrusted to me, I will certainly be able to get him to buy that thing at a high price.
Dreaming of the bags filled to bursting with silver coins because of Souma’s payment, a gross laughter spilt forward from Grokakos. “Gufufu.”
At that moment the figures of Dvalin and the others, who are being put into a cage by the slave overseers, caught his attention.

“I’m sure you have dearly missed this, Dvalin. You are happy to meet me after a while, aren’t you?”

The cheerful Grokakos called out to Dvalin just for entertainment.
Grokakos couldn’t stomach this dwarf that repeatedly had a rebellious look in his eyes even though he wouldn’t take action. He had showered him with all kinds of jeers and had whipped him, albeit to an extent where it wouldn’t lower his value. While being well aware that Dvalin shouldn’t be happy about reuniting with him, Grokakos deliberately and readily reveals his twisted character.
However, Dvalin’s answer was something unexpected.

“Indeed. I’m happy as well.”

Being taken by surprise by this unforeseen reply, Grokakos wasn’t able to immediately talk back. Once he unnaturally clears his throat and pulls himself together, he says,

“If you weren’t the slave of someone else, this conceited mouth of yours would be given the whip. Be grateful to your master.”

Due to the unexpected reaction of Dvalin, whom he considered to likely tremble in vexation towards his obvious sarcasm, Grokakos ended up taken aback. Although he’s still not fully satisfied, he can’t treat Dvalin too cruelly due to him being the property of Souma, whom he wants to build a favorable relationship with from here on out.
Grokakos reluctantly turned on his heels and was about to return inside his mansion, but a voice reached him from behind.

“Yes. I’m deeply grateful.”

Feeling a restless stir due to that voice, Grokakos turned around while being startled and matched his eyes with Dvalin who had already been put inside a dim cage.
Once he does, Dvalin shows a crooked smile on his bearded face.

“… Wh-!?”

Due to that smile, he recalls the face of ferocious watchdogs at the time when they are given huge lumps of meat as scrap. Grokakos is lost for words.
However, Dvalin immediately went into the same cage as the other dwarves and lied down while turning his back towards Grokakos.

“Y-You impertinent worm…!”

Grokakos cursed at Dvalin in order to hide the turmoil in his heart, but his voice was shaking with indescribable anxiety.

◆◇◆◇◆

The next morning Souma and Shyemul were at the vacant plot where Souma sobered up from his drunkenness when they visited the city the other day.
Telling Grokakos that he had arranged an inn for the two of them was a lie and they made only Hopkins stay there. The two of them passed the night without sleeping until morning on this vacant plot to avoid any unnecessary contact with other people.
Last evening he couldn’t sleep for most of the time because of his nervousness, but Souma got up alongside the sunrise and gazed at the countless puffs of smoke extending into the sky as the citizens were preparing their breakfast.
It’s a peaceful sight.
What a peaceful view of the world it will probably be if I try to cut it down to just this place. The sight of a mother preparing for a new day starting once again and making breakfast for her husband and her children surfaces in his mind.
Once he quietly shut his eyes, the scenery of his family’s breakfast when he was still in Japan came to his mind.
What’s lined up on the table is the typical Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup and grilled fish.
His mother that woke up earlier than anyone in the house and prepared that breakfast.
The scolding of his mother, whom he believed to be naggy, is now something very precious.
His father, who finished his meal first in a short time, drinks a coffee while reading the newspapers.
I wonder when was it that I heard that drinking a hot coffee, even though one ate a Japanese breakfast, is for the sake of motivating oneself before going to work?
Even though it hasn’t been more than a few months since I fell into this world, that view is like a memory from an unbelievably distant past.
I’m trying to destroy such warm, gentle and heartrending sceneries.
Souma gently held his tense and painful chest.

“Why are you acting like a good person this late in the game, my terrifying Souma?”

The voice of a girl that is just like the whispering of sweet love, reaches Souma’s ears.
No sooner than that, Souma’s back was pushed by something appearing behind him.
It’s the heat of burning fire, the stench of people getting burnt and the presences of countless dead.
Just like a frog that was glared at by a snake, Souma’s body couldn’t move, just as if was bound by dread.
The pores across his whole body open all at once and cold sweat overflows, as if gushing forth.

“Oh my gentle Souma, who was it that did something like that to these children, I wonder?”

A chill crawls up his spine due to the girl’s laughter, a cheerful giggling.

“Oh my cowardly Souma, you decided to advance forward. Then you must not stop, right?
These children are always behind you. These children are very lonely by nature. They cannot help wanting to really become your friends.”

Souma sensed countless hands just now trying to stretch out to his back and nape.

“Look. If you stop, these children will have you in the palm of their hands, my miserable Souma.”

Souma’s breath becomes rough.
His heart is throbbing intensely as if its about to tear apart.
A freezing pain, similar to being stabbed by an infinite number of ice needles, travels through his entire body.
The instant a scream was about to emerge from Souma’s mouth,

“What’s wrong, Soma?”

Souma came to his senses due to Shyemul’s voice calling out to him.
He turns his look behind in panic, but nothing’s there.

“… An illusion?”

I guess I saw a daydream due to my nervousness and the lack of sleep?
Souma pulls himself together by shaking his head slightly.

“Oi! What’s up, Soma?”

“Mmh? Ah, it’s nothing.”

As Shyemul, who wrinkled up her nose in worry because of Souma’s unusual state, peers into his face, Souma shows a smile to the best of his ability.

“I might be slightly nervous.”

“Really? But, don’t be too unreasonable. Please don’t hesitate and just tell me if it gets painful.”

Shyemul was a bit unhappy about Souma’s attitude.
Even though it has reached the point that he opens his heart quite a bit to her, there are still some parts he’s holding back. Shyemul vaguely had the feeling that it’s something like a racial trait that was imprinted into Souma’s character, but in Shyemul’s eyes she perceives it as him being somewhat reserved.
Shyemul tried to say some more, but due to horn sounds echoing through the whole city as if interrupting her, she looked up to the sky while making her ears move with a twitch.

“It has begun, I guess…”

Souma, who likewise looked up to the sky, nodded upon Shyemul’s remark.

“Yeah, it started…”

As the city of Bolnis started to rise, a day filled with extreme disturbances opened its curtain.

 

 


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