Chapter 30 – Ordeals

 


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From NAKA-sama. Thank you very much!!! (Hype)
She had a fun night, huh?


 

Little birds were chirping outside.

Kei was woken up by the morning light spilling into the room through the window.

His consciousness was murky, making it hard for him to tell whether it was morning or noon, coupled with the sense of fatigue that usually accompanied waking up. His left arm was strangely numb, and he could barely feel it. As he tried to turn over while still half-conscious, he realized that something was clinging to a side of his body.

Something very soft and warm…

Heaving his sleepy eyes in that direction, he was met with sparkling blue eyes. Aileen was observing him with a big, bright smile while resting her head on his left arm.

“…Morning.”

She shyly averted her eyes, her cheeks faintly red. Seeing her so bashful, yesterday’s events vividly revived in Kei’s mind. Ah, right, yesterday we slept with each other. Such feelings filled his heart.

“…Good morning.”

Kei was unconsciously drawn into lifting the corners of his mouth. Aileen’s golden hair flowed down her bare shoulders visible underneath the blanket. As if lured in, he half-reflexively reached out for her cheek.

The pleasant, smooth sensation on his fingers fascinated him, making him wonder how humans of different genders could feel so differently.

Seeing her squint her eyes in pleasure, Kei succumbed to his newfound desire to tease her, and traced her skin from her back to her armpit with his finger. She squirmed and giggled sweetly due to the ticklish sensation, just to retaliate by leaping on top of Kei.

They continued to play around for some time, but since the sun had already risen quite high into the sky and as their stomachs and dry throats started to bother them, they decided to give it a rest and get up.

“By the way, are you alright?”

Kei asked while pulling over his hemp shirt. Aileen tilted her head in response, being in the middle of tying her hair while holding the hairband in her mouth.

“Whash?”

“I… I mean your body.”

“Yeah, no problems.”

Aileen answered quite indifferently at Kei’s somewhat insinuating question.

“…I see, that’s great.”

For both it was their first experience, so he was somewhat worried, but it turned out to be needless. Kei smiled, feeling a little let-down but at the same time relieved.

Having finished tying her ponytail, Aileen nimbly stretched on the bed. She looked the same as usual, aside from the fact of her being stark naked.

Suddenly…

Kei felt a strange sense of unease, fearing that everything might just have been one big illusion — both the Aileen before his eyes, her very existence, and all the events that transpired since he came to this world.

That he might actually still be submerged in the life-support tank and was merely dreaming about a girl he did not know and a healthy body he did not have.

Of course, this was just a delusion. A groundless, childish fear, where one would imagine how scary something would be.

This reminded Kei that he tended to stay up late during his childhood, fearing that the next time he opened his eyes there would be no one at his side.

Until now, his life had been full of ups and downs that only progressed towards the worse. For this reason, the gloomy thoughts, which had deeply seeped into his mind all the way down to his soul, tended to rear their head every now and then. Perhaps that was also proof that Kei’s life now was filled with enough happiness to lose his sense of reality.

“…Hmm? What’s wrong, Kei.”

While Kei was being absent-minded, Aileen crawled out of the blanket and peered into his face. Those sapphire eyes, which seemed to suck him in, were colored by a tinge of concern.

“No…”

Unconsciously, Kei extended a hand and embraced her shoulder, almost as if clinging to it. Aileen blinked in surprise, but quietly let him hold her.

“…What’s wrong?”

Eventually, she looked up to him while still in his arms.

Kei was about to tell her that it was nothing, but stopped himself.

“I suddenly felt anxious. Wondering whether all of this was a dream.” Kei answered as he separated from her, but Aileen frowned and instead wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer.

“Me too.” Aileen mumbled as she pressed her forehead against his chest. “Sometimes I’m anxious as well.”

“…I see.”

They tightly hugged once more as if to confirm each other’s presence.

It looked quite similar to how travelers shared their body head when stranded in the snowy mountains.

“…Thanks. I’m alright now.”

Eventually, Kei pulled away. He felt somewhat reluctant, embarrassed after calmly reconsidering things, and grateful towards the person in front of him. Because of this mix of emotions swirling within him, he averted his eyes while scratching his cheek. He wasn’t aware of it himself, but it was his habit to look diagonally upwards whenever he was feeling awkward or embarrassed.

“…Okay.” Having grasped Kei’s current state, Aileen limited it to a sweet smile.

She loved the way he seemed so honest and yet was not at the same time.

But the next moment, she knitted her brows and a suppressed sneeze escaped her lips.

“Whoops, you gonna catch a cold if you stay like that.”

Today was quite chilly for an early summer day. Aileen agreed with a laugh as Kei hurriedly pulled the blanket over. This naturally dispersed their own little world, but so did the gloomy atmosphere.

“…By the way, Aileen, what time is it now?”

“Who knows?”

As Kei was checking his wallet, Aileen who was in the middle of dressing stopped her hands and responded with a tilt of her head.

“When I woke up, the bell rang about nine times… But it’s already been like an hour since then.”

“Doesn’t it ring every three hours in this city?”

“Ah, I see.”

Aileen opened the wooden shutters and confirmed the position of the sun.

“…Looks like it’s past eleven.”

“Sounds about right.”

Kei wore his hemp shirt and cotton pants. Because it was cold today, he put on his long vest on top, and affixed the case of Dragon Stinger to his waist. Wearing such a regular city getup, he flicked the room key he was holding.

Aileen on the other hand wore her usual traveling outfit, namely the black “Ninja” suit as a base, a tunic and a leather vest on top. At her waist, she carried the short sword she bought in Satyna while leaving her saber and throwing knives locked away in the room’s chest.

“Okay, let’s wash up and then go grab something to eat.”

Before leaving, they carefully checked that the room was properly locked.

“…I gotta say, being unable to determine what time it is has turned out to be more stressful than I’d imagined.”

Aileen grumbled as they headed downstairs. They had no particular schedule, but modern people still wanted to know the time by nature.

“Not that we’re pressed for time, but I still wanna know.”

“Yeah. I want a clock… a clock…”

Kei couldn’t help but smile wryly at Aileen’s mumbling.

【DEMONDAL】had a relatively high technological level, so it naturally included clocks as well. They came in all shapes and forms, starting from big ones like clock towers, to mechanical pocket watches, and even magic tools for measuring and displaying time.

Having said that, neither Kei nor Aileen had once used clocks during the game.

The reason was simple – the game menu screen, which could be called up at any time, displayed the time – both the real world time and the in-game time. It was extremely rare for players to actually need clocks as items, and they were basically used for cosplay when roleplaying, or when gifting them to NPCs.

Yes, be it mechanical or magical, clocks were extremely pricey, but there was a demand for them. Players hardly ever used them, but the NPCs highly appreciated them, to the point that handing them over as a gift would raise a NPC’s affection just as much as several hundred low-level quests would.

They were items aimed at high-level players to save them time with their character training. Kei, being both a big whale and a game addict, had used them many times. He remembered Aileen laughing at the clocks for being useless besides being an item for raising a NPC’s favorthem before about how useless they were otherwise, and could not quite suppress smiling in irony.

“I wonder can…we actually make a clock?” Kei muttered while washing his face in the courtyard.
Even if they were to ask Holland, it would cost them a lot to buy one. Thus, it would be best if they could make one themselves. He looked expectantly at Aileen while wiping his face with the towel from his belt.

“…That would be difficult.” Aileen, however, frowned as she answered with her arms folded.

“Even a magical one?”

“There are several problems. First, I don’t know the details on how it’s made. Next, catalysts are precious and hard to obtain. And finally, even if I could make one, I could probably only use it at night via Kerstin.”

“…Hmm.”

“Actually, I think something can be done about the construction if we use spell bestowal. In this world, Kerstin is more flexible so there’s no need for complicated scripting, and if luck’s on our side, we might find the catalyst too. But still…”

“We could only use it once the sun is down, huh? That sure would be a pain.”

Then again, perhaps there would be some demand for it if they explained it was just for night duty.

“Actually, wouldn’t Civ be the better option? She’s a mid-rank spirit too.”

“I have a rough idea on the spell formula, but I just can’t imagine how a wind spirit clock is supposed to work… Plus my magic power probably won’t be enough either.”

“It wouldn’t be funny if you withered to death after making a clock.”

Aileen smiled wryly at Kei who looked downcast. In the end, they reached the conclusion that it would be easier to save up the money and just buy a clock.

 

 

Aileen said she was going to the restroom, so Kei went ahead to the dining room on the first floor. The rich smell of an onion-based soup tickled his nose. The dining room, lined up with round tables, had no customers right now, probably because it was an unusual time period for dining.

“Oh, good morning. Would you like a meal?” A young woman stopped wiping the table she had been working on as he stepped inside the room.

It was the light brown-skinned beauty who had welcomed them yesterday. Behind the counter was the dwarfish man who silently poured alcohol from a barrel into a jar. It appeared that this tavern was mostly run by these two.

“Yeah. I’d like a simple lunch for two, and also some water.”

“Simple, you say? How about a panini with cheese and ham?”

“Sounds good.”

“Okay, please wait a moment.”

Once Kei ordered as he reached a table, the woman winked at him, headed to the back, and quickly returned with a pitcher and wooden goblets in hand.

“Here you go.”

“Thanks.”

She handed him a goblet filled with water. Giving her a short thanks, he drained it in one go, satisfying his thirst. Emptying one cup, he reached for the pitcher to refill his goblet. Seeing how Kei was rehydrating himself, the woman suddenly smiled meaningfully and spoke.

“It looks like you had quite some fun last night.”

“Pfft!”

Kei spurted water out through his nostrils.

“W-What are you-!?”

“What, you ask? We have quite thin floorboards here, you see.”

While Kei was choking on water, the woman put her elbow on the table and drew closer.

“Hey, hey, mister. How did you meet that blonde girl? A Grasslander-Snowlander couple sounds so romantic.”

She was peering into Kei’s face with a fascinated expression, her eyes gleaming with curiosity. Once Kei had coughed the water away and recovered from her surprise attack, he pulled his body and chair away from her.

Topics related to their game days were still one of the things Kei wanted to avoid as much as possible. He needed to talk to Aileen about it to get their “setting” aligned.

As he was thinking about that, he spoke up, trying to make up something for now, “…There’s nothing particularly noteworthy. We met in a tavern in a certain town a few years ago and have been together ever since.”

“Oh really?”

She grinned while tracing the table with her finger, like a chess player thinking about their next move.

“So, which tavern was it?”

“It’s located in a distant area, way too far away from here.”

“…I see. Incidentally, I heard something about a Grassland hunter traveling with a Snowland princess who took down a Grande Urs in a southern village. Does that ring any bells?”

“…Who knows?”

She has sharp ears for rumors, Kei thought while giving an indifferent reply. The woman pouted at his response, and was about to press even further.

“Jamie, give it a rest already!”

A hearty smacking sound could be heard alongside that husky voice.

With an unsexy and unladylike yelp, the woman jumped up.

“Ooouch! What was that fooor!?”

“Don’t ask as if you don’t know! If you’ve got time to hunt men, use it to work instead, you fucking bitch!”

The dwarfish man, who had approached them from the counter unnoticed, raised the tray that he held as he barked at the teary-eyed woman, Jamie, who was rubbing her butt. Apparently he had smacked that place with the tray.

“I’m just trying to deepen my friendship with our customers here!”

“Shut your trap! If you keep whining, I’ll fucking sell you off to some brothel!”

“Eeek, forgive meee!”

She tried to fight back, but the dwarfish man’s threatening attitude made her scurry away at full speed, rushing back to the kitchen behind the counter with her skirt fluttering.

“Hah…” The man sighed and this time looked down at Kei.

Kei’s expression cramped up, thinking he had been dragged into their quarrel, but the man simply put the plate he held in his left hand on the table with a, “Here you go”.

On the plate, there was a panini with melted cheese leaking through the dough.

“Goodness, that woman… The moment I let my eyes off her, she gets absorbed in gossip.”

“…Eh, doesn’t that work perfectly for this business?”

“It does, but being overly friendly isn’t good either. She does have good looks if nothing else. Because of that, some people tend to misunderstand. It happened just the other day as well… Naturally, I sent them flying…”

He seemed to be recalling something as he was glaring at the empty space and baring his teeth like an angry stray dog.

“S-Still, selling her off to a brothel sounds pretty concerning.”

The man snorted in response to Kei’s comment, who was wincing away from the dwarf’s scary aura.

“Hmph. When I picked her up, she was still small and had some charm to her. But recently she’s discovered her interest in love and sex, with just her body keeping growing pointlessly big…”

He grumbled while gesturing at the height of his waist. Picked her up — meant they were not related by blood. That said, despite his reproachful tone, his expression showed a mix of kindness and sorrow. In Kei’s eyes, he looked like a father that did not know how to handle his wild daughter.

“…Oh well. Is this all for your order?”

“Yeah.”

“Eight coppers.”

The man reverted to the curt manner of speaking he used before. Once Kei put the coins on the table, he thanked Kei, casually stuffed them into his apron pocket, and went back to the counter – with an awkward limping.

“Hey, sorry for the wait. What do we have here?”

Aileen passed the dwarf as she arrived at the dining room.

“Apparently panini with ham and cheese. It just arrived so it’s still piping hot.”

“Sounds nice! Let’s eat right away!” She quickly sat down at the table. “I’m digging in!”

While Kei observed her happily sinking her teeth into the panini, he also started on his early lunch.

 

†††

 

After lunch, the two fixed their getup and headed out for the center of the city, the high-class area where the ducal library could be found.

The reason why the two came to Urvan was to investigate the cause for their transfer to this world.

In other words, information related to the mysterious white mist from the game and other supernatural phenomena had been gathered in the library.

“The problem would be the entrance fee.”

“…Yeah.”

Aileen mumbled, walking with her hands linked behind her head. In response, Kei nodded, confirming how his wallet bulged with coins.

The ducal library was usually open for everyone, regardless of social status. Having said that, the entrance fee was set to be quite high, so in reality, it was limited to nobles, wealthy merchants, intellectuals, and their likes.

It sounded quite discriminating, but it was not necessarily a bad thing. Looking at it from another perspective, it meant that the consumers were all outstanding people. According to rumors, this library also served as a meeting place for intellectuals from all over the duchy.

Even setting the nobles aside, the presence of scholars and merchants was quite attractive to Kei. Kei anticipated that making contact with such intellectuals would make the information gathering easier.

With that being the case, the problem now was the entrance fee that was rumored to be ridiculously expensive. He tried to ask the city folk about the exact pricing, but the ordinary people did not hold much interest in the library, so no one could give him a proper answer.

As such, Kei took all his money with him. It amounted to one gold and a few dozen silver coins. It was a sum that would allow a single adult to live modestly for roughly ten years.

“Whatever’s the case, this much has to be enough, but…” Kei muttered anxiously, his eyes looking at the passersby with a needlessly high wariness.

He always carried all his money with him when on the road, but he had disassembled his weapon, so he now felt slightly helpless.

Kei had mostly grown accustomed to this world, resulting in his thoughts inclining towards the premises that you would get attacked if carrying lots of money with you and that he would need to fight potential robbers off with armed might if attacked. As Kei was wrapped up by a threatening aura because of that, the pedestrians quickened their steps, obviously trying to get away from him as fast as possible.

“Kei… relax a little, will you? You’re making us look totally suspicious.”

“Ugh. I was sure I’m acting as usual, though.”

With Kei being on the verge of entering combat mode, Aileen got exasperated, rebuking him to give it a rest. Seeing how he was not even aware of it, Aileen believed this to already be at the level of a serious illness, but once she remembered what they had gone through in the last two weeks, she admitted that it could not be helped.

I suppose it’s still better than him acting like a peace-loving fool.

On the other hand, it allowed Aileen to realize just how carefree she had been acting just because they were inside a city, so she decided to raise her level of vigilance as well.

Just like that the two walked around while being on edge like excessively sharpened knives, but naturally, no thief attacked them in the center of the capital in broad daylight, so they reached the first rampart – a strong and thick bulwark surrounding the urban area – that served as the entrance to the high-class district without a hitch.

The high-class district was basically made out of stones and bricks, giving the townscape a far more refined feel than the common urban district you could see from the castle gate. The wall was about six meters tall, but Urvan was built on a mountain slope, making it look even taller in Kei and Aileen’s eyes.

The castle gates, which had been built into the wall at regular intervals of fifty meters, were all equipped with portcullises and riveted wooden gates. Two guards equipped with halberds and rapiers flanked each gate, cautiously scrutinizing the people passing through.

Unlike the common district that was overflowing with people, the area right in front of the rampart was deserted as if a wave had receded. Or maybe it was better to describe it as the people staying clear of it. There was almost no one leaving the high-class district either, making it seem as though the area beyond the gates was its own world. Despite finding it odd, Kei and Aileen still tried to pass through.

“Halt!”

The guards standing on either side of the gate crossed their halberts, blocking their way.

They had metallic breastplates on top of conspicuous red garments, as well as feathered helmets with visors, covering their eyes like a mask. Intense stares were directed at Kei and Aileen through the gaps in the visor.

“You look unfamiliar.”

“What business do you have in the first-class area?”

They asked somewhat arrogantly, not even trying to hide their suspicion. Kei and Aileen looked at each other in confusion, not recalling having done anything worthy of suspicion.

“…Well, we were just trying to visit the library.”

“Yeah.”

The guard looked at their faces, then Kei’s bow case, the short sword at Aileen’s waist, and then slowly opened his mouth.

“Present permits or your identification papers.”

“”Huh!?””

The two yelped in shock and looked at each other once again.

“Do we need identification papers to go to the library?”

“Entrance to the first-class area is limited to citizens and authorized individuals.”

“Are you for real…?”

“And even if you had the necessary papers, It’s forbidden to bring in weapons without a special permit.”

The two guards explained indifferently, their tones not allowing any objection. Kei and Aileen certainly hadn’t expected to get stopped before reaching the library. While the two stood frozen on the spot, the guards eased their postures while looking flabbergasted.

“…In the first place, what business would a Grasslander and Snowlander have in the ducal library?”

“I’m surprised to actually hear that people from indigenous and barbaric tribes have a culture of reading to begin with. Besides, even if we were to let you pass here, can you afford the entrance fee?”

The two guards spoke. The elderly doubtfully while the younger one in ridicule. Kei frowned, obviously troubled, and slowly reached into his pocket.

“How much does it cost anyway? We asked around, but no one could tell us.”

“Fifty silvers per year.” The young guard puffed out his chest as he answered, his expression almost saying, See, you can’t pay, right?

Kei could only see his mouth due to the helmet, but it was clear that he had a smug expression.

“Is that so…?”

He then pulled his wallet out, and intentionally confirmed the coins within in a way that allowed everyone to see its content.

“Seems like I can pay it just fine.”

Seeing gold and silver sparkling inside the bulging drawstring pouch, the two guards stopped in place. Smirking in satisfaction at their reaction, he slowly slipped the wallet back into his pocket, clearly showing off.

“…Doesn’t match your appearance.” The older guard muttered at last.

It was only natural for the guards to be caught off-guard. It was almost as if some shabbily dressed boy would suddenly pull out millions in banknotes on Earth.

As of yet, neither Kei nor Aileen had spent any money on clothes. Kei wore a long, protective leather vest on top of plain underclothes, whereas Aileen used the second-hand village-girl attire she had received at the Tahfu village. It would’ve been another story if Kei was fully equipped with his leather armor, but the way he was now, it could not be helped that people would mistake him for a beggar.

“…Well, I can see that you’ve got the money. But passing the gate is yet another story.” The young guard, who had recovered from his shock, said looking somewhat dejected.

Kei had hoped that they would ask for a bribe, but he realized that his thinking had been too naive.

“Hey, how can we receive a permit like an ID? The point is that people with unknown backgrounds aren’t permitted to enter, right?” Aileen asked innocently after having silently observed the whole situation so far.

“…We can’t help you with the permit. You have to go to the government office.” The elder guard answered.

“Where is that office?”

“Follow the rampart to the south. Less than ten minutes from here, you’ll find a red brick building. A queue of people should be visible at the entrance, you’ll be able to immediately spot it.”

“Okay, thanks, old man!”

“…Sure, don’t worry about it.” The old guard responded bashfully, which was unsuitable for his age, at her beaming smile.

Kei also gave his thanks while believing that being a beauty definitely had its advantages, before leaving the gate together with Aileen.

“…So, what do we do now?” Aileen whispered to him after they had distanced themselves from the guards a bit.

“…Well, our only choice is to go take a look.”

“Right. Still, no one told us we needed a permit…”

“It sure would have been nice if someone had done so…”

“…Is it really necessary, though? Maybe we were just politely driven away?”

“I can’t deny the possibility, but…”

Not just the residents whom they had asked for information, but even the folks of Holland’s caravan all knew that they were heading for the library, and yet not a single one of them had mentioned a permit.

“…But would they really lie to us like that?”

“Maybe they found us suspicious… Or maybe they just were nasty? The townsfolk seem to be cold towards outsiders for some reason.” Aileen said while sulking a little.

Kei only groaned in response, but he agreed with her, despite not voicing it out.

It was definitely true for the young guard earlier, but even the Urvanians, in general, seemed to look down on outsiders. During their information gathering, people did not even meet their eyes, only giving half-hearted, curt replies. Perhaps it originated from them feeling important because they lived in the duchy’s capitals, or perhaps they were simply exclusive. Even in Satyna, they had seen some people harboring prejudices towards Grasslanders because of the past military campaign, however things seemed to be far worse here.

However, this did not include inn staff, which interacted with foreigners on a daily basis, and merchants related to the service industry. They were quite friendly. But aside from them…

“…This doesn’t appear to be a comfortable city to live in.”

“For us, that is.” Aileen said with a sigh.

She seemed to be quite disappointed about it.

Perhaps she’s not used to discrimination, suddenly popped up in Kei’s mind.

While they continued their not-so-pleasant chat, they reached the government office the guard had mentioned.

The office built with red bricks stood out among the mixture of wooden and stone buildings. Soldiers guarded its entrance, and a small Urvan flag adorned the area above the door — a dragon crest on red ground. The same crest could also be found on the bricks and the guards’ equipment. Red appeared to be Urvan’s symbol.

There was a queue of ten people extending all the way outside the office’s entrance. The two lined up at the end of the queue while earning themselves mystified looks.

Then they waited.

“……”

And waited.

…There’s nothing to do.

At this moment, both thought the same. Needless to say, neither had anticipated this situation, so they had not brought anything with them to waste some time.

Having said that, people stood in front of them, so they could not exactly strike up a private conversation, either.

“…Okay, let’s go with Esperanto.”

Nice idea!

Kei spoke up and Aileen readily joined in.

“…So, what’s up?

Well, about the library.

Since they suddenly started conversing in a mysterious language, the people looked strangely at them, but neither of the two noticed.

Actually, I can climb across a wall with such a height, you know?

Aileen said while pointing at the first rampart with her chin. It was a tall wall with no uneven parts, but remembering Andrei’s abilities from the game, Kei nodded in comprehension. Aileen should have still had a rope with a grappling hook.

Let’s save that as last resort.

So it’s no good?

It’s not a bad idea, but I wanna get in as well.

I could just drop you a rope from above, right?

I suppose that’d work at night. But we’d have to wait out until the library opens up…

Hmm… True. It would be one thing if I’m alone, but finding a hiding place for you, once the sun is out, would be problematic…

Their vocabulary was lacking when compared to their English, which they found quite vexing, but they still continued coming up with infiltration plans. Thanks to that, their waiting time passed before they knew it, and after thirty minutes, it was finally their turn.

“…Next.”

When they entered the office, a scrawny man with exhaustion written on his face called out to them from one of the reception desks. One furnished with just a single, crude seat. Kei had Aileen sit down for the time being while standing by her side. The receptionist gave them an ill-mannered stare, obviously regarding them as shady.

“…What’s your business with us?”

“We wish to go to the library, but we don’t have any identification documents or the necessary permit, so we can’t enter the first-class area. We would like to know details about how to acquire the permit.”

“…”

The man tapped on the desk with his finger.

“Meaning, you have no valid domestic documents?”

“We don’t.”

“I see. Then it doesn’t fall into our jurisdiction. Go to the administrative bureau for inhabitants.”

“”Wha-!?”

“This is the office for municipal matters and citizens. We have neither the right nor duty to process the requests of foreigners… With that said, next.”

“No, wait a minute, please. Where is that administrative bureau for inhabitants?”

He was about to end the conversation, but Aileen pressed on.

“…Follow the rampart to the east and you’ll find a building similar to this. Or well, ask people in the area, if you can’t find it.”

“How far is it?”

“It doesn’t take you more than ten minutes to get there. It’s not far.”

“Do we understand correctly that we need identification papers to enter the first-class district?”

“…Yeah, the rules apply to everyone equally, unless during wars. Even a king is no exception to that.”

“Oh? By the way, do we need to keep anything in mind when getting the—”

“Give it a fucking rest already!!”

Just as Aileen was about to ask another question, an angry yell reached them from behind. Before they even managed to turn around, someone loudly stomped close and forcefully pushed them aside.

It was a middle-aged man with a sturdy build. He sat down on the chair in Aileen’s place and glared at them.

“How long are you planning to talk while making me wait here! This place is for citizens, not some outsiders! Just get the hell out already, you damn barbarians!”

After running his mouth, he topped it off by spitting at Aileen. She avoided it by jumping back, but it only caused the man to raise his eyebrows, glaring even more intensely.

“…What are you looking at? Eh?”

Apparently unable to stomach it, he extended a hand towards her while kicking the chair aside at the same time. However, Kei stepped in front of him and grabbed his wrist, holding it in place. This time, the man’s glare shifted towards Kei.

“What? Wanna have a go, asshole?!”

The man yelled provocatively while shaking his hand free. He was a little shorter than Kei, but he was well-built. Given his muscles, he was probably a manual laborer and thus likely had confidence in his own strength.

However, without minding him, Kei silently jerked his chin towards the wall – at a big poster right next to the reception.

It stated in big letters… “…Quarrels are strictly forbidden it seems to say. Or are you unable to read?”

Hearing his cold words, the middle-aged man glanced at the poster, grunted incomprehensibly, and took two steps back.

His gaze alternated several times between Kei and the poster, before he eventually opened his mouth to say something. However, no matter how long Kei waited, no words left the man’s lips, so Kei even started wondering whether the guy had suddenly forgotten how to speak.

But then Aileen whispered to him, “…Looks like he can’t read for real, doesn’t it?”

“…Sure does.”

With that, Kei finally realized.

“So you really couldn’t read it, huh. Can’t be helped then…”

This world was certainly more abundant and technologically advanced when compared to medieval Europe. But that did not mean that the literacy rate was at 100%. When it came to commoners, a fixed number of them could not read.

Kei nodded in understanding, while the middle-aged man trembled, his face deep crimson.

“I just intended to point the rule out to you in case you’ve missed it, but…”

“It’s fine, let’s go. We can’t have him wait too long, after all. And moreover, it’s a waste of time.”

“You’re right. Excuse us then.”

He nodded towards the receptionist and they quickly left the office before the situation escalated any further.

The man remained trembling on the spot while clenching his fists.

 

†††

 

After this incident, they followed the rampart to the so-called Administrative Bureau for Inhabitants, joined another line, and after an hour of waiting, managed to get information on how to acquire the permit intended for other ethnic groups.

However, what it allowed them to understand was the harsh reality that it would be very hard to acquire a permit or identification papers at present.

First, as for the permit: this was something granted to employees working in the first-class district and businessmen, and only nobles, including the king, possessed the right to issue it.

In other words, if you wanted a permit, you had to ask a noble.

Needless to say, the two had no nobles among their acquaintances. In other words, you could describe this option as impossible for them.

Of course they had the alternative of offering their services to a noble by working as officials or joining the noble’s private army. This would possibly allow them to get their hands on a permit, but not only would it require quite some time, but the acquisition of a permit was not set in stone either. Furthermore, seeing how Aileen was almost taken away because of her beauty during their travels so far, Kei was not willing to try this plan. After all, they would not know what might happen.

So, what about the identification papers on the other hand?

They were basically issued in every city, and obtaining them was equal to obtaining the right of citizenship. When you registered, you were guaranteed administrative rights as an individual, however, you were also burdened with taxes and other duties. For example, if you wanted to open up a stall in Urvan, you would need citizenship, and you would have to pay a certain percentage of your sales on top of the taxes.

Now, as for the acquisition of citizenship — it was complicated in its own way. To the point that Kei gave up on any attempts to comprehend it midway thanks to his limited vocabulary when it came to matters of law and real estate.

But to roughly sum up the conditions for acquiring citizenship:

 

Command of English on a conversational level, enough education to understand the tax system, and a certain skill in reading and writing.
(These regulations apply to other ethnic groups)

Provide proof that you have secured a residence in the urban area for more than one year.
(Title creed of a house, lease agreement of a rented house, or in the case of freeloading, a written permit from the house owner, are all valid. However, inns are excluded. Camping is also not recognized.)

Paying three years’ worth of taxes in advance, or at least four years of experience working as an official in Urvan.
(Officials, soldiers serving in a noble’s private army, and mercenaries need an official document from their employer, proving their affiliation.)

At least five letters of recommendation from Urvan citizens.
(Guarantors need to be trustworthy.)

 

On top of all that, there was also sex, age, origin, status, whether or not you had a noble’s recommendation, marriage with an Urvan citizen, and many other conditions, which changed the difficulty of acquisition to a degree. Incidentally, in Kei and Aileen’s case, their origins were considered to be Grassland and Snowland, which would actually worsen their chances.

Once the two returned to HangedBug in the evening and enjoyed dinner together, they headed to their room and had a talk despite exhaustion heavily weighing down on them.

“Well, we have no problem with English, and getting a certificate of good conduct shouldn’t be a problem either.”

“Right.”

“Prepaying the taxes… should be possible as well, right, Kei?”

“Yeah. There’s the income from the skin of the Grande Urs, and if that’s not enough, we could also sell some gems.”

“Which leaves…”

“Securing a house, and…”

“”Recommendation from five citizens…””

Those words felt like a heavy burden pressing down on their chests.

It shouldn’t be impossible to get a residence and the recommendations. If they used their connections with Holland, it might work out surprisingly well. However, it was clear as day that things would not be such smooth sailing in an exclusive society like Urvan.

What a pain.

Assailed by an intense pang of gloom, Kei let his body fall backwards on the bed he was sitting on. Discovering that, Aileen stopped enjoying the light breeze at the window and pounced at him like a cat which had found a toy.

“Move back a bit.”

“O-Okay.”

She drove Kei towards the wall, leaning back and fully entrusting her delicate body to his arms.

“……”

Silence dominated the room for a short while.

“…For the time being, let’s go ask Holland tomorrow.”

“Okay…”

Aileen sighed while gently holding onto Kei’s arm which wrapped around her body. He used his other hand to unconsciously brush her beautiful golden hair while gazing at the lamplight in a daze.

Hazily…

Gently…

“…I kinda don’t care anymore.” Aileen suddenly declared, “It’s complicated and tiresome. How about we give up on this whole investigation and go back to Satyna. You’ll work as a hunter, Kei, and I’ll guard Lily or something…”

She was looking in the same direction he was staring, and added while hiding her expression from him, “Even if we can’t find out how we came here, we can still live on…”

This made Kei realize that it was time for them to talk.

“…Hey, Aileen.”

He stopped brushing her head, grasped her shoulder, and turned her around before she could react.

Aileen’s eyes widened at his sudden and forceful action.

“W-What are you-?”

“Aileen. What… What do you want?” His eyes fixed on her wavering blue eyes. “Do you want to stay in this world? Or do you want to return?”

He felt like he heard her heart furiously thump in response.

“…I…”

Her voice trembled, so weakly as you’d never imagine it from her usual behavior. She averted her eyes, seemingly unable to endure Kei’s gaze.

“I…”

Accepting her silence, Kei gently hugged her.

“…I would be happy if you stayed with me, Aileen.” He spoke quietly, yet clearly.

He felt how Aileen held her breath at his chest.

“But…in the end, I want you to decide. What is it that you want to do… from now on.”

Aileen stayed silent. But Kei continued anyway.

“Our circumstances are too different, so I can understand you being worried about it. We don’t know why we came here, nor what we’d need to do to get back. Anyone would usually feel anxious and worried about this.

I… I, at the very least, have no intention of going back. But even so, I want to know why I came here. Because calling it a simple accident or miracle is not enough of an explanation for the current situation…”

“…Yeah.”

Aileen responded with a weak nod.

“So, once we know everything, the underlying reason and the means to go back… I want you to decide, Aileen.”

With those words, he gently stroked her head.

“It’ll be fine for you to decide at that time. But…let’s stay together until then.”

And if possible, afterwards as well, he kept those words to himself.

“Okay… Okay.”

Nodding repeatedly at his chest, Aileen’s voice had become tear-choked at some point. However, currently Kei had no other choice than silently holding her tightly.

Is it arrogance?

Kei surrendered himself to his thoughts within this loneliness of sorts.

Supposedly…

Supposedly, if I tell her to abandon the old world and live here with me, she’ll very likely follow my wish as long as I entreat her passionately.

However, would that be alright? Is it okay to force her like that? Is it fine to simply push my own wishes on her?

“Hic…gh…”

Seeing her sob full of worry and distress, the answer was clear.

From now on, there will certainly come a day when we’re going to regret something. But if so, I want those regrets to be something I can fully accept deep down at least.

Those were Kei’s thoughts.

If Aileen chose to stay in this world on the spur of the moment, she would surely regret it one day.

It would be fine now. They could spend their days happily together. But what about ten years later? Twenty years later? Would it be the same?

Even if she tried to act at that point, it would be far too late for anything.

She had to act now.

She had to act now — when the decision was still not set in stone.

Arriving at one answer after worrying and brooding over it — this would allow her to accept her conclusion, even if she were to regret that decision later on.

Kei wanted her to do that.

While hoping that her final answer would be to stay together with him.

…Look at me drown in self-satisfaction.

He sneered in his mind. His feelings were too violent to simply call them self-deprecation.

He was saying he did not want to force her, yet he was hoping that she would give up on the idea of going back.

Because that way, he would have no regrets?

It was self-centered, egoistic, or perhaps — what else if not arrogance?

But still.

Kei hoped that Aileen would do so.

If…

He closed his eyes and thought.

If Aileen desires to go back…

At that moment…at that moment, he…

“I…”

Aileen, who seemed to have stopped crying, opened her mouth.

“Honestly, I don’t know whether I want to return or not.”

She looked up to Kei with teary eyes, frightened. He silently nodded in reply.

“…I have a family of four. Dad, mom, and big sister…they’re all kind. But…”

She curled up as if to endure the cold.

“I’m sure you’ve vaguely sensed it, Kei. I used to do gymnastics when I was little. I was quite skilled at it too, you see… I’ve even won a junior tournament. I kept doing my best… thinking that I might even appear in the Olympics. I kept doing my best…”

Her voice shifted back and forth, between bright and gloomy.

“But…there was an accident. I lost my legs.” She laughed feebly. “Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Something you’d see in a drama… I didn’t want to believe it either. That it was… all over. There had been talks about transplants based on cloning technology in the past, right? I decided to bet on that possibility. I’ve tried a bunch of things, like trying to become a tester for it… but in the end, the project was banned due to religious problems and treaties. As time passed, my body senses also deteriorated… so, one day, I thought, Ah, it’s already impossible. And once you think that even once, there’s no going back. And from then on, I always stayed in my room.”

She spoke indifferently with her face buried in Kei’s chest. She then took a little break.

“…Unprecedented realism.”

She finally muttered, “…You weren’t the only one to get lured by that sales pitch, Kei,” abruptly lifting her face that exhibited a smile so fleeting that it was painful to look at. “…But compared to you, I was still way better off. I’ve always been thinking that I was some tragic heroine. But when I heard your story after we came here, I… I…”

“That’s not true.” Kei interjected and hugged her body tightly. “…You’re wrong.”

He repeated near her ear. In response, she strengthened her hug, remaining silent.

Kei lost everything before he managed to gain a single thing.

Aileen lost everything she had obtained by her own efforts.

Which would be more painful?

Kei wondered genuinely.

He had not experienced what she had, so he could not compare.

However — he could imagine it.

“…It must have been painful.”

He muttered, and Aileen silently clung to him.

Increasing her grip, further and further…

“……”

After this, both stayed silent for a while.

“…That’s why I’m afraid to go back,” Aileen revealed her feelings at long last. “But not being able to see my dad, mom, and big sister anymore is also painful.”

She trembled and timidly looked up.

“…I’m still lost…I still can’t find an answer at all, but still…” Her eyes filled with tears stared at Kei. “Will you stay by my side until I find my answer?”

He did not waver for a moment.

“Yes.” He nodded strongly. “Let’s stay together.”

Those words came from the depth of his very soul.

“…Thank you.”

Her fleeting smile was adorned with tears.

And then, without it being clear who had initiated it, their lips overlapped. Comfortably and pleasantly, as if they were embracing each others’ very being.

But today, both were extremely tired.

And before long, sleeping breaths started to fill the room.

A gust of wind blew in through the window, extinguishing the fire in the lamp. Shrouded in darkness, a calm atmosphere wrapped up the room.

 


 


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2 Comments

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