We toasted n’ drank our ale.
…Well, okay, it’s drinkable ’cause I cooled it down, I s’pose. A tad sour, but let’s just take it for what it is, yep.
“Oh, how nice! Cooling it down makes it easy to drink!” Karen cheered in delight.
After a short time, a waitress served Karen’s recommended dishes. I took a bite, and stopped.
…Yep, my taste’s become daintily. I see. That’s me havin’ become successful.
No, that’s wrong. It’s all because of Indra.
“…Still, I must say, you haven’t changed at all. I immediately recognized you out on the street,” said Karen while scrutinizin’ me with a serious look.
“Eh? Did I age so much?”
I was slightly shocked. Indra has been tellin’ me that I lack youthfulness, but bein’ told so even by an acquaintance from my youth is really a bummer.
“No, you got it wrong. It’s the opposite! You haven’t aged at all!”
“…I’m not that youthful n’ spunky, ‘kay?”
Indra said that my skin recovered a lot and I think so as well, but if your next to a genuine 13-years-old, bein’ told you haven’t changed from back when you were thirteen years old is… Ah, I’ve been exposed to the sun for god knows how long, so my skin’s bein’ damaged for just as long, I guess.
“…Eh? Why do you look so depressed?”
“…No, I’ve just been thinkin’ that I had dry skin since back in the ole’ days.”
Karen burst into laughter, “You’re a guy, and yet you care about dry skin? As I thought, you’ve changed, Sword.”
“…It ain’t like I’ve been carin’ ’bout it all the time or ‘nythin’. It’s just, my partner started talkin’ ’bout me being forty, so I got incredibly worried ’bout it.”
Karen became bewildered again.
“…You formed a party?”
“Yeah, I finally found someone.”
Indeed, ‘finally.’ It took me twelve years for that ‘finally’ to come true.
“…What kind of person are they? Umm, it’s the kid who was with you the other day, right? He looked awfully young, though…”
“She’s actually young. That girl turned thirteen just recently.”
Karen was lost for words.
“Well, her inner self is that of an old man, though. Moreover, she’s a total sadist. At the undead dungeon she started blatherin’ ’bout it goin’ to be borin’ without a scaredy-cat. When some completely useless priestess called out to us in a high-handedly way, she let her come along, gettin’ a kick out of watchin’ the priestess gettin’ scared to death and bawlin’. Seriously, she’s the worst.”
…Honestly, that was an incident which completely flipped over my views. Takin’ along a useless, domineerin’ priestess whose sole aim was to mooch off me, Indra actively used her as shield instead of coverin’ for her, deliberately killed enemies in front of her eyes to scare her, kicked the woman whenever she told Indra to rescue her all while threatenin’ her to be exploited as human meat shield. It was truly incredible. I realized that I’d been wrong until then as Indra’s handlin’ was a good way to deal with such people.
“…Why that girl? You’d be able to form a party with anyone, wouldn’t you? Why did you join a party with such a kid despite being able to choose anyone you like?”
Karen’s tone was sullen and full of blame, but thinkin’ back on it now, I did call her somethin’ like 『that girl』. It’s my bad.
“No, sorry. She ain’t someone you’d describe as 『that girl』. She cherishes what’s precious to her. She’s a softhearted, loyal meddler. Sure, she’s an extreme sadist, but she simply outclasses everyone, you see? Whenever folks lunge at her or talk shit ’bout her, she readily wields her instigation skill, simply droppin’ her opponents into the deepest recess of self-loathin’. She’s a nice girl who can be kind to those who are kind to her.”
Once I explained things, Karen fell silent, and then hung her head.
“……I…see. Sorry, I’ve been rude, haven’t I?”
“No, it’s me who’s at fault here. She’s my comrade, so I inadvertently started to nitpick a bit ’bout her, but you see, at some parts, she’s really a great person.”
It’s because I’ve been only talkin’ with the maids and servants so far… Since those fanatics do nothing but sing her praises, I’ve started to unconsciously refute ’em, but if I talk like that to someone who doesn know her, they’ll naturally consider her to be a bad person.
“――She’s a nice girl. Always worryin’ ’bout me. Bein’ with her is relaxin’. She made me realize that 『it’s fine to consider things like this』. …She’s the first one who made me feel that I made a partner.”
When I looked at Karen while praisin’ Indra like that, her face became gloomy.
――Ah, I see.
“…I think I’ve wronged you guys.”
“Back then I was still a brat who was happy over havin’ found “friends” for the first time in his life. That’s why I didn’t consider your feelings, believin’ that all would be fine as long as I handled things somehow. But, I’ve finally comprehended how wrong I had been. …No, I was a lost case. No matter how you look at it, I was a total failure, wasn’t I? In the end I couldn’t even support you guys, could I?”
――When I grasped what was going on around me as a child, I was already isolated. Most of the village ignored my existence.
But, some folks called out to a loner like me, tellin’ me to become an adventurer together with ’em. I was really happy. That’s why I thought all would be fine if I did my best and protected ’em. And they, except for Karen, also thought that it’d be fine since I was doin’ my best for ’em.
Karen followed me around, but followin’ me was all she could handle. And that reality hurt and tormented Karen.
“I can’t follow you anymore. I don’t even see any meaning in me being with you,” she told me at last.
I decided to leave our party. My friends had been unable to keep up with me for a very long time now, only living from the money I earned by killin’ monsters. The one who’d turned them into useless bums was me.
“…Well, I guess things got back in order once I was gone, right? How are the others doin’? It’d have been fine to bring them along today for a reunion,” I said cheerfully, but her face became even gloomier.
“……Well, the party immediately dissolved after you left, Sword. I…wasn’t confident about getting along with the other guys, so I left the party as well, and so the party naturally broke apart. Sam…went back home, I think. Then again, it seems like he only became an adventurer because everyone dragged him along. Jack and Tom…tried to continue as adventurers, but it didn’t go well for them, and they became debt slaves, eventually dying from that. Den…… …became a bandit, is the rumor I heard out on the streets. Who knows whether he’s still alive?”
……Now that she mentions it, a number of my acquaintances have died. So it was weird to think that everyone else would be fine just because Karen was still alive and workin’ as adventurer.