On the following day, after Kei and Aileen had regained their energy with a full night’s sleep, they decided to visit the Cornwell company for a change of pace.
“Why hello there, you two. I hear you’ve got business with me?”
A little while after making the two wait in a room, Holland showed up, looking quite busy. They had heard that the caravan would head back to Satyna in a few days, and he had apparently come over to ask about their business while using some spare time during the preparations for the journey.
“We’re terribly sorry for bothering you while you are busy, but as a matter of fact――”
Despite feeling a little awkward, Kei still explained their current situation — the fact that they could not pass the first rampart as they did not possess citizenship nor permit.
In response, Holland blinked a few times, shocked. Then he revealed a wry smile, responding, “…My goodness. You did not know about the citizenship?”
“…Nope. Unfortunately, we had no one around us who could have told us.”
Kei answered bitterly, folding his arms, resulting in Holland deepening his smile.
“Oh dear, forgive me for that. I went out of my way to hire you two as escorts because I had orders from above. I — and probably all the other merchants — were convinced that you had connections.”
“Ah no, I wasn’t trying to complain or anything.”
Seeing his humble apology, Kei realized that Holland had interpreted his earlier statement as sarcasm, and quickly followed up on it.
“Anyway, Sir Holland. What should we do? I think we can somehow handle stuff like taxes, residence, and so on, but it sounds like we still need citizens to write us letters of recommendation to obtain citizenship ourselves.” Aileen quickly joined in before the atmosphere could turn awkward.
“Ah… yes, the letters.”
“Could you write one for us, pretty please?”
“Unfortunately, no. Officially, I’m a resident of Satyna, so it’d be kinda hard for me to be a citizen of Urvan, you see.” He answered Aileen’s playful request while shrugging in a similar joking manner.
“Ah, okay. Too bad. Though maybe, I mean only if you can, it’d be nice if you could introduce us to someone who could help us.”
“Hmm. Considering it’s you two we’re talking about… I have a much better method to offer.” Holland grinned and lowered his voice. “Actually, I’ve heard they’re planning to very soon hold a martial tournament in Urvan.”
“…A Martial Tournament?”
“Yes, warriors from the Acland Dukedom, as well as the surrounding countries, gather and pit their valor against each other. The champion of the tournament will be awarded the Best in Duchy title, but even those who rank among the winners will be given monetary prizes and awarded honorary citizenship among other things…”
“But that means we’ve got to fight again, doesn’t it?”
Kei nodded in admiration while Aileen’s expression darkened. The fact that Kei had to duel a hot-blooded idiot over her was still fresh in her mind.
“Well, in Kei’s case, he could just show up in the marksmanship section. Unlike in matches fought with swords, spears or on horseback, the participants won’t have to face each other directly in this section.” Holland answered with a smile, having accurately grasped Aileen’s worries.
“Since it’s called marksmanship, I take it there’s more than just bows?”
“Yes. The last time the tournament was held was about 15 years ago, but back then, all kinds of ranged weapons, from bows, crossbows, and even slings, were lumped together in marksmanship. After all, all of them basically share the goal of hitting a target.”
“That said, the prized ranks were filled with archers and crossbow users, whereas sling users had a hard time getting through the preliminaries.”
“You’re saying the rules make it disadvantageous for them?”
“No, it’s simply because not many people around here use slings. As a result, their overall level can’t be compared to that of archers. I mean, while it’s true that poor villages still rely on slings, soldiers and hunters generally prefer using bows.”
Slings were also less flashy than bows and crossbows, so only few would go out of their way and take part in the tournament, according to Holland.
A sling was a simple stringed weapon that used centrifugal force to throw rocks and lead balls. It was easier to make than a bow, and it had the huge advantage that it could be used on the spot as ammo in the shape of rocks could be found almost everywhere. At the same time, slings could exceed some bows in range, and their power was nothing to scoff at either.
As you had to swing a sling around for the throw, it needed some training, but this was rather easy to achieve, so outlaws preferred using slings in the game.
A sling allowed you to throw fist-sized stones over a long distance, and as the projectiles themselves packed some weight, even armor would not protect one from suffering a certain level of damage if hit. A sling attack could break bones, damage internal organs, or even break arms. And since it could be wielded with one hand, unlike a bow, it offered the big advantage of having a free hand to equip a shield.
Though they were hard to use on horseback, they could prove to be more destructive than bows under some circumstances, especially if used in a group. In short, slings had the potential to overpower bows when limited to the force of their impacts.
—Be that as it may, there were exceptions among exceptions that could surpass them, such as Dragon Stinger which could penetrate not only plate armor but even shields.
Now that I think of it, PKers sure liked to throw stones at me…
Kei thought fondly back on his time in the game.
Hearing throwing stones may seem like a joke, however, stones thrown by players skilled in the utilization could virtually be labeled as cannonballs. Particularly when it came to players specializing in stealth, their throws used to be extremely menacing to say the least, and even Kei with his practically maxed out passives had been shot down off his horse on more than one occasion.
Alexei, whose weak point was said to be passives, would have most likely met an even worse fate…
As Kei was thinking that, there was a knock on the door which pulled him back to reality.
“I brought tea~”
A dark-skinned girl carrying a tray with mugs entered the room. It was Holland’s daughter, Edda.
“Ohh, how have you been?”
“Good! Big bro… and sis, it’s been a while!”
Edda smiled innocently at Kei. She said a while but only three days had passed since they met last. But within these few days, Kei’s relationship with Aileen had clearly deepened, and they also went around visiting various offices. These last few days were filled with many incisive events, resulting in Kei feeling as though the period he had spent with the caravan took place a long time ago.
As she put the cups on the table, a thought flashed through her mind, and she slipped into Kei’s arms. Watching her smoothly flop down on Kei’s lap as if she had always belonged there, Holland started to scold her a little, asking her to leave so as to not disturb their conversation, but Kei calmed him down.
She was just a child, after all, and also someone he knew. He felt it would be a little cruel to kick her out right after she brought them tea.
He did not hate her, and Aileen also liked kids so there should be no issue with this. Making up his mind like that, he turned his head to the side, just to see Ailee flashing a beautiful smile filled with an adult’s confidence. Edda, on the other hand, was facing Aileen with slightly puffing cheeks.
Oh, what do we have here? Kei felt a strange sense of danger from the situation, but before he could follow this train of thought, Holland’s voice interrupted him.
“At any rate, Kei, if you take part in the tournament, winning is a foregone conclusion. I’ll get in touch with the branch head too. Since you’ll need an Urvanian’s recommendation as a condition to enter the tournament.”
“A recommendation again?”
The corners of Kei’s lips went up, forming a sarcastic smile. Seeing how they went so far on insisting with the recommendations, Kei could do nothing else but laugh at it.
“Well, it’d be bad for the city if a bunch of ruffians flowed into the city, using the tournament as pretext. The branch head also wanted to meet with the person who took down the Grande Urs, and it won’t hurt you to build some connections with one of the influential people around these parts, right?”
“Not at all, that sounds like a great proposal. Thanks. Really, I can’t thank you enough.”
“You’re welcome. But well, I plan to leave Urvan in about three days… So I’ll arrange for a meeting within the next two days.”
“Think nothing of it,” Holland replied with a friendly smile and took a sip from his teacup.
“…Big bro, are you planning to appear in some tournament?”
“Yeah. In the martial tournament’s marksmanship section.”
Kei nodded at Edda’s question, who looked at him with sparkling eyes. It wasn’t a duel, but a simple target shooting contest, so he felt pretty relaxed about it.
“Oh, that’s amazing! When will you take part?”
Edda asked while clambering about on his lap, but he did not know how to answer, and thus asked Holland for help with his eyes.
“Err, Sir Holland, do we know the exact date?”
“So far I’ve heard that the start of the tournament will be announced in a few days. Considering the time that’ll be required for the participants to gather in Urvan…I’d say you can expect something around a month.”
Kei and Aileen looked at each other.
It was a longer period than they had expected. However, it was maybe reasonable if you also took into account how long the participants from all over would need to get to Urvan after the announcement of the start date.
What should we do until then…?
Kei pondered. It has been a little more than two weeks since they came to this world. It was a very short time compared to the twenty-something years of his life, but these days had been by far the densest days among them all.
But now that they had reached Urvan, their first goal, he felt as lost as having been tossed smack down in the middle of a vast plain after suddenly being confronted with a month-long downtime. As soon as he saw Aileen looking absentminded next to him, he realized that she was probably thinking the same.
“By the way, what business do you two have in the library? I’ve met many people who wanted to check out the ducal library, but no one was so determined that they’d even attempt to get their hands on a citizenship.”
Holland asked them in a casual, smooth way. But hidden underneath his apparently inoffensive question was the implicit inquiry why they had to go this far to enter the library.
He glanced at Aileen, who shrugged in response as if to say, “isn’t it fine to tell him?”
They haven’t been acquainted for long, but after journeying together, they knew that Holland was not one to entrap people. It was a different question when it came to the quality of his personality and the possibility of a bad influence coming out of it, but Kei judged that it was better to come clean here, and opened his mouth.
“…Actually, the two of us are Outlanders that came from a distant land.”
Thus he started to explain things in order, while keeping the parts related to the game and their original world ambiguous. He told Holland that they had entered a white mist, before suddenly blacking out, just to wake up in the grasslands of this side.
“…And thus we planned to look up various information in the library. About what happened to us. How far away from home we are. And whether it’s possible for us to go back.”
Thinking back on it, they had already talked about this in Tahfu before. Kei thought there was no harm in mentioning it again while he picked up his cup from the table. A mellow fragrance tickled his nose — Oh, could this be chamomile? He made a guess. In the past he drank it in a VR shop on some occasions.
“Well now… That was quite an extraordinary story.” Holland stared outside the open window while brushing his beard.
Just like that, he kept pondering for a while, but eventually he faced the two again, as if he had given up.
“…But well, I suppose it’s possible, considering it’s you two we’re talking about.”
This world was extremely similar to 【DEMONDAL】. Be it magic, miracles, supernatural phenomena, all of them were accepted as objective facts here. Their story about being transferred to this world was certainly wild, but still nothing that could be denied as impossible.
For the time being, Holland seemed to have decided to trust Kei’s words.
“Étranger of White Mist, huh… I have heard that there is a section in the library specifically dedicated to legends, magic, and sorcery. I hope you can find something in there.”
“…Hey, big bro.”
Suddenly, Edda tugged on his sleeve.
“I know that one, the story of Étranger of Mist.”
Kei looked down at the girl in his arms, surprised.
“Yes. In the eastern part of Northland, there’s a forest that’s always shrouded in mist, and people that appear from within that forest turn out to be people from faraway places who went astray in the mist…”
“This is the first time I’m hearing of it. Did Granny Marie tell you that?”
She shook her head at Holland’s asking her curiously.
Immediately following, “Mr. Alexei told me,” left her cute lips.
That shocking truth made Kei and Aileen freeze up.
“Yup. It was back when I asked what Northland was like…”
Aileen felt a headache coming up. She had heard a lot of things from Alexei during their caravan escort when she tried to gather information, but all he spoke about back then were bragging tales of his ancestors and family and his own epic tales, things she had absolutely no use for.
I couldn’t get him to mention a single thing that actually mattered!!
To think such a vital clue had been nearby — I might as well have explained our circumstances in more detail then.
But now it was too late to regret it. Aileen felt stupid for having humored Alexei by listening to his boring, long-winded stories which were based on a completely different set of values.
“Did you hear anything else from him?!” Kei asked eagerly, ignoring Aileen who weakly slid down on her chair.
Edda was happy about his profound curiosity in what she was saying, and started to proudly recount what she had heard from Alexei.
She spoke about the forest of demons in Northlands’s east — also called, the Wiseman’s Hideout, the ominous, mist-shrouded land, said to drive people insane as soon as you’d tread as little as ten steps into it, the strange monsters lurking within, and what had happened to Alexei’s grandfather.
And finally, she also mentioned the legend of Outlanders said to have appeared from within the mist in the past.
This was more than enough to pique Kei and Aileen’s interest.
“Could you elaborate on those Outlanders?”
“Uhh… Sorry, he didn’t tell me much about them.”
Hearing Kei probing her for further details, her cheerful mood quickly plummeted.
No luck, huh, thought Kei, disappointment coloring his face. This caused Edda to apologize dejectedly.
“Ah, don’t worry about it. You still gave us a very important clue.”
“Umm…uhh…oh, right, he also sang a song that had been passed down by those Outlanders!”
“What kind of song?”
“Its name…what was it again? Granny might remember it. I still remember the melody, though.”
Closing her eyes, she started to quietly hum.
In all honesty, they had not expected much — however, hearing the sad and melancholic tune, they felt goosebumps all over their skin.
Edda’s eyes opened wide at the name that leaked from the two’s lips.
“Right, right, that’s the namet! You two know it as well?!” She asked, brimming with curiosity, but Kei and Aileen only looked at each other, too astonished to answer.
“Greensleeves” — on Earth it had been a song famous all over the globe.
Kei knew it well too. It was a song that had been played at his grade school to mark the end of lessons. And it was also the song he asked his English friend to teach him the lyrics of, back when he started learning English in the VR world. There was no way he could have forgotten it.
Aileen looked at him with a pale face. He felt flabbergasted himself. The shock assailing them blew Alexei and everything else out of their minds. Even if languages like Russian and English were used normally in this world, it was unthinkable for someone to compose a completely identical song by pure coincidence.
Yes, this was an evident trace — a footprint left behind by an earthling.
Their hopes changed into conviction. Something was awaiting them in Northland — in the Forest of Mist.
“Judging by your behavior… is this something like a song of your homeland or some such?” Holland appeared to be deeply curious about their strange behavior.
Kei nodded vaguely, his mind being elsewhere right now, “It’s a song that’s widespread in the place we come from…”
Holland tried to imagine their homeland as he tilted his cup. Kei somewhat resembled Greenlanders whereas Aileen obviously originated from Snowlanders. Holland wondered what kind of place their “homeland” might be, seeing how people of different cultures and races apparently mingled with each other and shared their cultures.
“…Oh man. I feel like chasing after Alexei right away.”
Kei folded his arms, pondering about Aileen’s bitter remark.
“We parted three days ago…wouldn’t we be able to catch up with our horses quickly?”
“Well, he’s on foot. Plus there’s a month left until the tournament, either way, right? Then—”
“No, please wait a moment.” Just as they were about to settle on chasing Alexei, Holland stepped in. “If you allow me to be frank, it’s not realistic to give chase after so long.”
“Huh? But our horses are pretty fast, you know?”
“Even so, three days is a fairly big lead. There are five roads, bigger and smaller ones, all leading to Northland from Urvan. Do you have an idea which of them he took?”
“…Aileen, where is he from?”
Kei inquired, but Aileen averted her eyes.
“T-To the east…”
‘Yeah, this is hopeless,’ Kei and Holland’s eyes met, clearly sharing the same thought.
“Even if you summarize it as east, it still would make quite a big difference whether he’s gone northeast or southeast… Northland is vast, after all.”
“…Thinking rationally, we don’t even know for certain that he’s heading straight home either. Did he mention anything in that regard, Edda?”
“Hmm, nope, nothing.”
“Now I wish I’d questioned him about the details…”
Aileen prostrated on the desk while holding her head. But then, Kei had an idea.
“No, wait, it’s too early to give up. If we use 【Tracking】…!”
“Ohh, I see, you two certainly can rely on that method!”
Kei looked joyfully while Holland slapped his knee. However, Aileen slowly lifted her face, moving like a robot, and stared at Kei with narrowed eyes.
“Kei. Do you have any of Alexei’s possessions?”
After their duel, Alexei had offered him all his belongings, but it was none other than Kei who had refused it. As a result, he did not have a single copper, or a single hair that belonged to Alexei, let alone armor — an item needed as a catalyst for 【Tracking】.
He had nothing at all.
“Shit, I wish I had taken something from him, if this was gonna happen…!!”
Now it was Kei’s turn to hold his head.
In the end, they canceled their plans to pursue Alexei for being unrealistic.
According to Holland, the summer solstice festival would start tomorrow, resulting in the pedestrian traffic around Urvan becoming quite congested. Which would further increase the difficulty of their search.
On top of that, Kei and Aileen felt it would be pretty idiotic and awkward to catch up with Alexei so soon after his gallant farewell. Besides, it did not have to be Alexei as they could simply ask any random Snowlander.
While playing with Edda who sat on his lap, Kei finished his conversation with Holland regarding the branch chief. In addition, he conveyed that he wanted to find a replacement for his sword which broke during the duel, and that they were searching for a handheld clock.
“…You want a pocket watch? You two really are bourgeois. I mean even someone like me is just using an hourglass,” Holland gave a strained laugh
But Kei and Aileen definitely had the means to pay, so he promised to procure it for them. In exchange for getting some discount on it, Kei would pay with his own cash this time instead of deducting the cost from the skin of the Grande Urs that had yet to be sold. If the price was around one gold coin, Kei would have no problem paying it on the spot.
At the end, Kei asked about a skilled blacksmith affiliated with the company, before heading back to HangedBug with Aileen.
“But man, things took a weird turn, don’t you think Kei.”
Looking slightly exhausted, Aileen flopped down on a chair, slovenly resting her elbows on the table located at the bar on the first floor,
It was around 11 a.m. right now. They had visited the company a little past 8 a.m., meaning their conversation had lasted for almost three hours.
Kei had felt slightly guilty over disturbing Holland while he was busy, but then realized that Holland was the right man to handle his requests about the longsword and the luxurious watch, as he trusted Kei to pay unlike some dubious customer.
“Yeah. To think Alexei — the Snowlanders held the key. In any case, this was a big gain for us.”
Kei adjusted his bow case and also sat down at the table to catch a breath. They had gained a new lead thanks to Edda, but their goal to investigate their transfer at the library remained unchanged. Holland said so too, but it would be too hasty for them to rush to Northland with nothing but their current information on hand.
It was a good idea to ask the Snowlanders living around Urvan about their folklore while also investigating it from the scientific perspective at the library. At the very least, it would be more a far more efficient way to gather information than vaguely investigating the transfer.
The two remained silent for a while.
Thereupon, their eyes were drawn towards a corner — at the young woman doing some kind of handicraft with miscellaneous items such as thin papers, wood, and a work knife strewn across the table located in the back. It was Jamie.
They were thirsty and wanted her to hurry up with taking their order, but she had not even noticed them entering the bar. She was cutting the paper, gluing the scraps on the wood, and binding it altogether with a string; her entire concentration devoted to the work in front of her.
The dwarf-faced shopkeeper was nowhere to be seen, so she was the only one who could take their order, but Kei hesitated to call out to her after seeing how earnestly she was absorbed in whatever she was doing there.
Aileen, who was resting her chin on her hands, glanced at Kei with a smirk. Unlike Kei who felt reservations about speaking up to her, Aileen found it rather amusing that she failed to notice them. Kei realized that it was bad manners, but still imitated Aileen, resting his chin on his hands.
Just like that, they continued staring at Jamie for a few minutes.
“Okay, it’s done!” Jaime held up her creation with a smug expression.
It was a simple rectangular board with paper glued to it. The thin paper had been cut into deformed animal shapes like papercut art. The design was a little unskillful, reminding Kei of the hanging paper lantern he had made during his grade school days.
She put the knife down and proudly inspected her work from various angles. But when she tried to look at it from diagonally below, she finally spotted Kei and Aileen staring at her.
“Wahh!” She yelped with a strange voice, almost falling off her chair.
And then, for some reason, she dashed towards them at full speed, still holding onto her creation.
“H-How long have you been here?!”
“…Hmm, about five minutes?”
“Sounds about right.”
The two nodded without changing postures, which made Jamie go “Nooo!”
She hid her face behind the lantern in her hand, with her cheeks that were slightly visible dyed deep crimson.
“I’m sorry I didn’t notice you… W-What would you like to order?!”
“A light snack… and I think I’ll go with diluted wine. What about you, Aileen?”
“Cider for me.”
“Okay, I’ll bring it in a sec~!”
She placed her lantern on a nearby table and ran off towards the kitchen as if fleeing.
She always acts confident, so getting a glimpse of her being so embarrassed was… pretty good.
Jamie had teased him about the noise at night the other day. Back then he thought that she was a fairly shameless girl, but it turned out that she did possess a certain degree of shyness. It was such a fresh experience because she was always so eloquent.
Kei suddenly remembered about the shopkeeper who had talked about bad folks getting involved with her.
I might’ve had it bad if I didn’t have Aileen.
Perhaps this is the so-called gap moe. At any rate, I was allowed to see something rare, Kei felt satisfied. Ignoring Kei, Aileen was more focused on the lantern Jamie left behind.
“Sorry for the wait~. Here’s your diluted wine, cider, and canapé.”
After a bit, Jamie returned with a tray that was loaded with cups and plates.
“Wow, that’s quite the luxurious lineup there.”
Kei raised a voice of admiration at the canapé she had placed down on the table. Hard bread had been cut into thin, bite-sized pieces, with multicolored ingredients such as cheese, vegetables, and ham put on top of the slices. He had already been wondering about their order taking so long, but seeing the outcome, he could accept it.
“Think of it as a freebie!”
She said with a smile, but traces of embarrassment still dyed her face. Since he had ordered alcohol, the bill was slightly expensive, but he retrieved a few small silver coins and paid it all, including a tip.
“Say, what’s that?” Aileen pointed at the lantern, asking what had been bugging her for a while now.
Jamie smiled wryly, accepting her fate, and answered, “Well… the summer solstice festival starts tomorrow, right? We’ve got a custom of letting lanterns float down the river the night before. We make small boats, place lanterns or candles into them, and set them adrift.”
Aileen responded in admiration while stuffing her mouth with canapé.
Sounds like a Spirit Boat Procession, thought Kei as he listened.
“But is it really fine to do that? I heard the Spirits get angry if you pollute the water.”
With ‘river’, she probably meant the Aria which flowed east of Urvan. Kei asked a simple question, remembering the legend about the Great Water Spirit of Lake Synapeia which lay downstream of the Aria.
“Oh, no, there’s no problem. Apparently, the residents of Yulia desperately pull them out off the river before they drift onto the lake…”
Kei nodded with a cramped smile at her carefree response. Personally, he considered it to be extremely irresponsible towards others, but he did not mention that.
“I’m planning to set this one adrift tonight. Wanna come along?”
“Oh, can we?”
“Of course. It’s super romantic.”
“Ohh, that’s nice! Thanks!”
The two girls were in high spirits. Kei’s participation was decided without him having a say in it, but he had no reason to refuse, so he decided to go along with it.
After dinner, Kei and the two girls notified the dwarf-faced shopkeeper — who was apparently called Derrick — about their plans, and left the inn together.
At first Derrick was against Jamie going to the lantern send-off, but as soon as he heard that Kei and Aileen would be joining her, he readily agreed. Certainly, it would not be good for a pretty girl like her to prowl the streets alone at night. Derrick’s “I leave her to you” rang strangely heavy in Kei’s ears.
Jamie went unarmed, but Kei and Aileen decided to take weapons with them, just in case. Aileen carried a short sword at her hip while Kei had borrowed a saber from her. Normally, Aileen would easily win any hand-to-hand combat, but her frail appearance suggested otherwise. As such Kei judged that she would not be much of a deterrent.
Incidentally, many other of the bar’s guests wanted to accompany them, but Derrick’s glare caused them to shut up. It was pretty obvious that Kei and Aileen were lovers, and thus he did not regard Kei as “bad bug,” unlike the other men.
Thus the three of them walked through the nightly city.
Jamie held her lantern with both hands while Kei had one in his right hand, illuminating their path. Aileen walked next to him, occupying his left hand.
It was the eve of the lantern floating festival. A different atmosphere wafted through the city. The bonfires casting their crimson-orange gleam at the streets gave the usual townscape a new, mystical touch.
Shadows danced like ghosts in the flickering flames as their owners, the people, headed eastwards. Footsteps and breathing filled the air, evidence of the place thriving with people, and yet, the atmosphere clearly lacked the usual fervor of festivals.
Normally, with so many people around, everyone would be wary of pickpockets and other crooks, but only on this day, the solemn atmosphere did not allow for any evil machinations.
Despite all the people bustling around, it was quiet.
“It’s quieter than I expected.” Kei murmured to Aileen next to him as they followed the flow of people.
“Yeah…” Aileen gave a short reply as she nodded, quite confused herself.
They hesitated to speak much or loudly because of the atmosphere. Same applied to the people around them who exchanged no more than whispers. Caught in the atmosphere, they also limited their conversations to a minimum.
They passed the castle gate, leaving the town. A line of humans headed straight for the Aria. Guards with peculiar lighting equipment — long poles with lanterns hanging from the tip — brightened the road and guided the people like guards of honor.
After ten minutes of walking, they reached the riverside. The river’s surface was dark and smooth. A humid air gently brushed their cheeks.
Bells could be heard from the city.
Several clock towers, temples, and perhaps even the castle spires, rang their bells one after the other, announcing that the time was nigh.
The line of humans slowly drew closer to the river, each person setting toy boats and lanterns adrift at their own pace. Flickering light gradually began to dot the surface of the river, which was so dark that one ran the risk of being drawn in, drifting, dancing, and glittering as it got reflected by ripplets. It created an illusion as if a starry sky had been poured into the river. The number of lanterns gradually grew, and before long, they turned into one big wave of light as they drifted away.
Ahh… Kei breathed a sigh.
How could flames shine so vividly within the darkness of night?
A word of admiration left Aileen’s lips while she was looking as if she was caught in a feverish dream.
Kei was about to chime in and confirm that it was amazing, but realized that it would just spoil the magical moment. Thus he decided to remain silent, simply nodded at Aileen, turned towards Jamie, and asked.
“Is this a tradition stemming from ancient times?”
“…Well,” she started while caressing the lantern she was hugging, “the lantern sent-off itself has been around for a long time. But gathering here and doing it before the festival day is something we started ten years ago.”
The dim light illuminated her profile.
“This is a memorial service dedicated to those lost during the “military campaign”.”
After a while, Jamie’s turn came. She used the flame in Kei’s lamp to light the candle in her lantern.
The lantern glided across the water surface, and spun in front of her for a short time, as if dancing. However, it could not oppose the current and thus was pulled away from the shore. It joined the floating group of light, and they all traveled downstream.
Jamie silently saw them off. So did Kei and Aileen.
This world, compared to medieval Europe, was further advanced when it came to technology. But despite that, paper and candles should still be luxury items for the common folk.
Yet, there’s still so many of them…
He surveyed the vicinity. The entire shore was packed with people, people, and more people. He could spot old women with hunchbacks, and young children at the hands of their parents. All of them were ordinary people, or rather, they actually seemed to be poor instead. None of them wore fine dresses like nobles would do.
“…Shall we go?”
Once the unshapely animal’s figure dancing on her lantern’s paper went out of sight, Jamie turned her back on the river, and started to walk back, slowly, towards the city.
“…Because a lot of people died,” she eventually started to recount, “we probably needed some kind of excuse for our consciousness so that we’d be able to enjoy the festival without bad feelings.”
Then she smiled. A very carefree smile.
One month passed in the blink of an eye.
The martial tournament was officially announced at the summer solstice festival’s start, and Kei managed to obtain a letter of recommendation after going through an interview with the company’s branch head.
Next, he finished the formal entry procedures for the tournament at a governmental bureau, just to be taken to the guard station afterwards in order to test whether he had the “minimum level of skill required” for the bow. As a result, everyone became astonished at his power and accuracy which allowed him to pulverize the targets…
Following that, he visited the blacksmith Holland had recommended to pick out a sturdy longsword, and also moved around the city to take a look at Urvan’s properties in preparation for migration.
Sometimes he heard about villages being harmed by beasts and rushed over to help, other times he visited the outskirts for a picnic, or took naps with Aileen.
They also looked for any Snowlanders around Urvan, searching for Northland’s legends, and so on.
At first, they did not know how they would be able to not die of boredom over this one month, but now that it had passed, they felt like it flew past. Kei, and most likely Aileen as well, found these days more enjoyable than he had expected.
And then, the day for the tournament to start arrived.
Wearing his leather armor, Kei waited inside a big tent set up on a plain. This tent served as a waiting room for the participants in the shooters’ division. In addition to Kei, Grasslanders, Plainsfolk, and even people appearing to be Snowlanders were present in the tent. All warriors were armed with bows and crossbows as they relaxed there.
The place chosen as the stage was one of the small forts near Urvan that had a big parade ground. The surroundings were open fields and pastures, so a lot of people had gathered.
Aileen was naturally among them, but perhaps even Edda, Jamie and others had come to cheer for him.
Still, although this tournament could be called a once-in-a-lifetime big moment, Kei’s expression looked somewhat dark.
I wonder what’s up with this tournament.
Kei was planning to participate with nothing but Dragon Stinger and a bundle of arrows on him, but upon request by the tournament management, he had to put on the leather armor he usually wore during battle.
They said “the game would be slightly different from last time” but…
He remembered the tournament staff’s statement, and could not help but feel anxious. “If you have armor, equip it” was what the staff member told them. They were just going to hit targets, and as such contestants were not supposed to actually face each other directly. Naturally the other contestants also felt tense about this.
Not that I’d lose if it suddenly turned into a duel.
This was Kei’s honest assessment after checking out the other participants. Some of them had vibes of being experienced mercenaries and master archers, but they were quite inferior when compared to Alexei’s aura.
That said, he did not wish to injure others, much less get injured himself. But as he could not back out this late in the game, he had no choice but to anxiously wait for his turn.
He had nothing to do, so he put Dragon Stinger on his knees and checked the condition of his arrows, but then…
“Kei? So it’s really you, Kei?!”
Hearing his own name, he reflexively looked up. And then, his eyes flew wide open, when he spotted the sturdy hunter with a reddish-brown, rough beard.
Standing before his eyes was Mandel, the hunter from Tahfu. He wore a leather protector on top of combat clothes, with a feather-decorated leather cap on his head. He carried a quiver on his back, and had a shortbow, which had seen much use, in his hand.
“It’s been a while… about a month I suppose?”
Mandel spoke with a gentle smile. Kei nodded repeatedly like an idiot while exchanging a firm handshake.
“So you’re taking part in this tournament too, Mandel?”
“Yeah. I thought I’d try winning a prize if possible. But with you here, Kei, first place is all but a pipe dream.” Mandel laughed bitterly while acting modest.
Kei smiled back vaguely, doing his best to not show his nervousness.
After calming himself down by taking a deep breath, he made up his mind, and asked, “…Is everyone at the village doing okay?”
He felt extremely tense. His heart was pounding in his chest like a hammer, but Mandel’s answer was lackluster and sounded indifferent.
“Yeah…nothing happened. Everyone’s fine.”
Hearing that, strength left Kei’s body.
…So in the end, the thieves did not attack the village.
A big weight was taken off his chest, allowing Kei to finally smile for real.
“I see… So did anything strange happen over there lately?”
“Let’s see. Well, one of the kids got ill after you left, but Granny Anka cast a charm and the kid recovered immediately. She said, “it is thanks to the fact that Kei and Aileen have taught me the Spirit Language” while crying in joy.”
“Oh! That’s great news. Looks like it was worth teaching it to her. Her feelings should have reached the Spirits, that’s amazing. She has talent.”
It seemed the old witch doctor had succeeded in her sorcery. Kei was genuinely surprised, praising her wholeheartedly.
“Other than that…hmm…” Mandel pondered for a bit. “…Maybe that Cynthia got pregnant.”
A woman clad in unhappiness popped up in Kei’s mind.
“Cynthia… was the wife of the village chief’s son, right?”
“Yeah… It’s that fair-skinned flaxen-haired beauty.”
Kei was not sure how to react. He certainly remembered Cynthia, but he also remembered her husband. He was grateful towards Cynthia for having taken care of Aileen, but the chief’s son — Kein believed his name to be Danny — was suspected of attempted rape, so Kei did not have an overly good impression of him. Moreover, Aileen had told him that Cynthis did not want to marry him either.
In the end, he could only nod back vaguely.
“Cynthia hadn’t been blessed with a child so far. Whatever the case, she gave birth to the next chief for the village…so I guess it’s reason enough to celebrate.” Mandel commented, acting calm and collected while.
However, Kei found his behavior to be somewhat strange.
“That aside, Kei,” Mandel changed the topic, “I heard a rumor that a certain hunter killed a Grande Urs with one arrow. Was that you?”
“Ah…Yeah. I suppose.”
“Oh! So it was you. I heard it was a Grande Urs with the size of a small mountain.”
“No, that’s too much of an exaggeration. It was actually only about five meters tall…”
As they were discussing the Grande Urs, a guard entered the tent.
“Gentlemen! The preliminary contest is about to start. Please come out once you are done preparing!”
Upon his words, the atmosphere inside the tent turned tense. Apparently the tournament was going to finally start at long last.
“Yeah… I’m getting nervous.”
Leaving the tent, they walked to the parade ground. The spectators broke out in cheers as the brave warriors made their appearance.
Letting his eyes wander across the crowd, Kei spotted Aileen in the front row. Holland and Edda were next to her, too.
Kei lightly waved at them. Noticing that, Aileen fervently waved back, immediately following up with sending a passionate flying kiss his way. With a wry smile on his lips, he returned it.
“Now then, gentlemen. Let me explain the rules of the preliminary round! First, you will be shooting at targets which are positioned fifty steps away. We will measure the accuracy of your shots like the last time. Then—”
One of the guards started to explain the rules in front of the contestants, drawing their undivided attention.
Urvan Martial Tournament, Shooting Division.
The battle that would bring glory and influence to Kei was just about to start.
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