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A silver mushroom standing still in a tranquil room.
It made Kei remember the first time he’d encountered a contractible Spirit on the field during his game days. He was just as surprised back then when the Spirit suddenly appeared before his eyes. He, however, failed to make a contract with it as he couldn’t fulfill the requirements.
Kei and Aileen approached that person slowly, frightfully even.
“Excuse us, Sir.”
The man who was absorbed in reading a file turned around.
The moment Kei saw his face, he almost burst into laughter. He appeared to be in his late fifties, and had somewhat charming features — a round face, a snub nose, and drooping eyes.
On top of all that, his hairstyle. His mushroom-cut looked so carefully tended that it actually felt contrived. Looking at him from close proximity, Kei could see that even his bangs were perfectly vertical.
However, it would be beyond rude if he laughed during their first meeting, so Kei strained his iron will to suppress his amusement.
“…Am I correct to assume that you are Mr. Valgren Kremrart?”
“Yes, I am indeed Valgren Kremrart, but who might you… Oh, wait.”
Mushroom’s — aka Valgren’s gaze shifted back and forth between Kei and Aileen.
“I seem to remember your face. Aren’t you the winner of the martial tournament’s marksmanship division? I believe you were called… Kei Nogawa?”
“That’s right. Were you present during the tournament?”
“Ah, yes, I watched your performance. From afar, however.”
He answered with a playful wink. However, Kei somehow sensed a cunning glint in his eyes. Though his hairstyle was deceiving, his intuition told him that he was no simple, good-hearted old man.
“So then, what business might Mr. Champion have with me?”
Valgren asked with a friendly smile. Pulling himself together, Kei cleared his throat and answered.
“I realize this might sound impudent, but we have an earnest favor.”
He roughly explained that they got to know about Valgren through the Encyclopedia’s Northland and Haunted Forest entries, and that they were planning to head to the Haunted Forest.
“—And as such, we thought it would be smart to ask a specialist like you for an opinion.”
“…Hmm, I see, I see.”
Valgren gave a small nod, erasing his smile as he gazed out through a nearby window.
Gentle midday sunlight spilled into the library. White doves could be seen beyond, flapping their wings as they flew away.
He silently slid a hand into his pocket and took out a pocket watch. The dial had a faint light pulsating within — it was a magic clock. He glanced at the time and closed the cover.
“Alright then, talking while standing would be awkward, so why don’t we sit down, Mr. Kei? Also, the young lady next to you.”
Immediately after he said so, Valgren promptly sat down on a nearby sofa. Following suit, Kei sat down opposite him with Aileen taking the place next to him.
It was a soft, comfortable polster sofa with a deep green coloring. The cover’s fabric was made out of smooth silk with piquant embroideries of delicate flowers. The two had already sat on these sofas a number of times, but the smooth texture caused them to reflexively brush the polster with their hands each and every single time.
“…Now, before we continue, may I ask you a few things?”
Making himself comfortable, Valgren put his hand on the armrest and supported his chin.
“Of course, go ahead.”
“First, I would like to hear the motivation behind your goal. Why did the Étranger of the Fog, or Haunted Forest entries catch your interest? Also, why did you decide to actually visit the Haunted Forest? Excuse my rudeness, but you two don’t appear like enthusiastic history students to me, and Northland is too far away for it to stem from simple curiosity. Moreover, that young lady seems to be a Snowlander, so shouldn’t she know a lot more about the area over there than me?”
His amused yet serene eyes were pinned on Kei.
Kei looked over at Aileen to ask for her opinion, but she merely answered with a shrug. Apparently, she was leaving everything to him.
Kei believed that there would be no point in covering up information when asking a specialist for advice, so he decided to be honest about their circumstances to some extent.
“Well, Étranger of the Fog might refer to the two of us—”
He started to explain in chronological order while keeping the parts about the game and otherworldly elements vague. He explained that they entered a white fog and lost consciousness, only to find themselves on a grassland of this world when they woke up.
“—So we are trying to determine where we are, and whether or not we can return to our homeland. We’re expecting to find clues in the Haunted Forest.”
Valgren gazed into the air as he listened to Kei’s explanation. While he was lost in thoughts, his right hand reached for the top of his head but stopped just as his fingers were about to touch it — pulling away without doing anything.
“So, in short, the two of you wish to determine a way back home, and plan to leave the duchy eventually — is that correct?”
“No, I still haven’t decided on leaving. I’m personally quite fond of my life here. But I wish to at least ascertain what happened back then.”
“I see. Does that go for the young lady too?”
Aileen’s shoulders jumped when the conversation suddenly shifted to her.
“I-I… I’ll think about it after we’ve made sure whether we can go back.”
It was hard to say what he read out of Aileen’s hesitation, but Valgren nodded many times over.
Kei, however, remained silent.
“…Well, I roughly understand your goal now. In that case, the Haunted Forest will indeed be a place of great interest for you two.”
“So you’re saying there’s a point in going there.”
“Indeed, I suppose you could say that, yes.”
Valgren smiled faintly, lowering his voice, as if they were having a secret talk.
“—To tell you the truth, I have been there myself before. In the Haunted Forest, I mean.”
Kei and Aileen reflexively leaned forward. It appeared that this Valgren person was not a mere scholar.
“Oh wow… I did not expect you to have gone there yourself.”
“Oh I was just accompanying the magician squad that was dispatched there in the past, but I obviously didn’t step inside. That said, something dwells within it — this much is certain. At the very least, that something is powerful enough to cause the transfer phenomenon you two have experienced. Our investigation did not reveal much, but if you two go there, you may discover something else.”
Valgren leaned back into the sofa with a thin smile.
“…So, in that sense, there is a point in you going there.”
His words, albeit reserved, were full of confidence. Kei and Aileen processed them silently.
“…So we really have to go, huh?”
Aileen finally muttered. Despite her whispering, her eyes were very sharp.
Kei, on the other hand, simply nodded. At the very least, he didn’t have any reason to oppose the idea.
“…Mr. Valgren, I think we will go there, after all.”
“Alright, that would be for the best.”
“It’s just that, I know this is quite impudent of me to ask you, but, if possible, could you teach us the best route to take?”
“…Hmm. I have no problems with that, but I do have a condition.”
Seeing his profound smile, the two reflexively put themselves on guard.
“…Oh, it’s nothing you would need to be so wary about. You two came from a place located far away from the duchy, yes? Then I believe you have some particular knowledge that I wouldn’t be aware of. If possible, in exchange for me teaching you about Northland, I hope you can also teach me some useful knowledge.”
Valgren was proposing a give and take.
“Useful knowledge, eh…?”
Aileen started to ponder with a finger on her lips. Kei also started to ponder, his arms folded.
Kei thought about various things, like science and technology, tactics, and communication through electricity, but as he looked at the blue sky outside the window, he suddenly remembered something else.
“…Mr. Valgren, are you aware of astrology?
“Astrology… you mean the divination that’s done through observing the star’s trajectory.”
“Yes. An extension of that would be the ability to tell next week’s weather with a fairly high accuracy by looking at the stars. How about that?”
“Ohh! You’ve piqued my interest.”
Hearing about the weather forecast using astrology made Valgren lift his eyebrows.
“And how accurate would that be?”
“It’s accurate enough to not err on the next day’s weather, but it involves the color and brightness of the stars, and the further you try to predict the future the less accurate it gets. Concretely, there are seven stars visible at the zenith regardless of the season and—”
Kei explained while using hand gestures. Valgren rubbed his chin as he silently listened to all Kei had to say with keen interest.
“I see, that does sound interesting. I’ve never heard about using stars to accurately predict the weather. But still… I don’t quite understand with just a verbal explanation. Could you teach me the concrete procedure while gazing at the stars when the opportunity arises? We can strike a deal with that.”
“Of course, no problem.”
“Good. Then let me give you my advice. I’m a fairly busy person, so I’m pressed for time.”
“Well… we have no problem with that, but are you sure?”
Kei felt slightly let-down about Valgren accepting it without being shown so much as a proof. Valgren tapped on his temple with his finger and smiled.
“It’s fine, I will know for sure whether it’s correct or not when I try it out. If it turns out that I was deceived, it would only make your calibers as people clear. Now, let me teach you the route that I took and the information about the nearby tribes. I believe the Northland map was on this floor.”
“Oh, we have the map here.”
Just as Valgren was about to get up, Aileen took out a folded parchment from the accessory case and spread it on the table in front of her. It was something they paid to have copied from the general Northland map accessible in the library.
“You’re well prepared. This reminds me, I never asked for your name, young lady.”
“I’m Aileen. Aileen Lobachevsaya. I’m not a Snowlander, but from a similar tribe. Best regards, Sir.”
Valgren smiled widely at Aileen’s playful introduction. Aileen possessed an innocent smile which allowed her to easily get close to other people.
“Now, about the route, first we headed to the Buffered City Dilan’niren, and then—”
They all looked down at the map. Kei took a memo pad from his waist pouch and started noting down Valgren’s suggestions.
After that, Valgren provided the two with detailed information until afternoon.
Initially, Kei and Aileen considered crossing the Aria eastwards, following the river northwards, and then detouring to the mountain range in the east as the shortest route, but according to Valgren, this route was overflowing with bandits, so it would be dangerous to travel as a pair.
Instead, Valgren proposed to follow the Bratya Highway to the north, then head east from the Commercial City Belyansk. Doing so would avoid outlaw settlements and would be relatively safer.
“This turned out more fruitful than I’d expected.”
“Yeah, but in the end I still wonder who that old man is.” Aileen muttered on their way to the inn in order to grab lunch.
Once his conversation with the two was concluded, Valgren checked his pocket watch, just to throw his eyes wide open, screaming, “I’m late!” and dashing away. As for the matter with astrology, he’d apparently send a messenger to their inn.
“That pocket watch seemed magical, huh…? I bet it’d cost a fortune.”
“The ornaments were quite something. It’d probably cost an entire gold coin.”
He wore an unfashionable robe, but they could only think of it as being camouflage. That said, with a hairstyle as characteristic as his, his identity would instantly be revealed regardless of the camouflage, so perhaps it was more like an open secret.
The two silently walked through the noisy streets of midday Urvan. Appetizing soup aromas wafted across alleys where kids ran around.
It had been a little over a month since they settled in Urvan. The familiar cityscape seemed somehow different to them now. The memo from Valgren, securely tucked away in Kei’s pocket, bore a sense of weight.
—They would be leaving this city.
That fact was, slowly but steadily, sinking into their minds.
At the end of the street, the signboard of the HangedBug — a hanging deformed beetle holding a mug in one hand — came into view. The dining room was already crowded, so the two returned to their room for the time being.
To room 203, which felt like their home at this point.
Surveying it anew, the room had gained many new things over time. That included a nail clipper, a small bowl filled with dried fruits, and even a handy side table.
Naturally, they wouldn’t be able to take everything on their journey to Northland.
“…We should really get around to sorting our luggage, huh?”
Aileen muttered with a tinge of loneliness.
The messenger from Valgren appeared three days later. A tall, large man, looking like a knight forced into ordinary clothes, showed up early in the morning.
“Are you Mr. Kei Nogawa? Mr. Valgren Kremrart has a message for you. “I will be waiting at the southern gate of the first rampart at eight PM this evening.” That’s all.”
The man didn’t seem overly happy about having to do this, and thus quickly left after passing on the message.
“…Who was that guy?”
Jamie, who happened to be present, asked with a bewildered expression, a laundry basket in her hands.
“A subordinate of our acquaintance, or something like that.” Kei answered.
“That so… He was quite hot.” Jamie went, “Haah, isn’t there any hottie anywhere around here?”, and then disappeared to the washing place.
“Actually, that guy was definitely not a commoner, was he…?”
“Looking at his conduct and speech, he must be a knight.”
Kei and Aileen whispered among each other in a corner of the dining hall. Because of the man barging in like that, a weird atmosphere filled the place right now.
“In the first place, aren’t the castle gates closed at 8 p.m.? Somehow I doubt that old man lives outside the first rampart.”
“…I suppose he just has the necessary connections to get through the gate regardless of time.”
At the very least, a minor noble wouldn’t be able to meddle in the gate’s operation. Valgren did give off a high-class aura, be it that messenger from before, or the matter with the gate…
That old man has the same smell as Tahfu’s chief, Bennet.
He looked like a good-natured, amiable old man at a first glance, but at the same time he also had taken the aura of a sly old man up by a notch or two. They had a hard time deciding what would be best for the future – curry favors or not getting involved with him any further.
Until the evening of that day, the two spent their time by throwing away the small items that they didn’t need, while also procuring gadgets they would need on the trip. Even so, the two remained restless throughout the whole time.
Summer days were long. Just as the sun had set, the two finished their preparations and left the inn. They decided to take a lantern, a memo pad, and a fountain pen they had borrowed from the inn. Kei clearly didn’t need it, but they still took the lantern just in case.
As expected, Valgren awaited them in front of the gate at 8 p.m. Unlike last time, he wore a plain ashen robe, though his hairstyle remained as mushroomy as before. And maybe serving as his guard, the man from this morning was also with him, dressed in plain clothes. He had a big leather knapsack on his back, and an extravagantly decorated longsword at his waist, so it was hard to tell whether he was trying to hide his status or not.
“Hey, good evening, you two. It’s been three days.”
Valgren smiled amiably, with a lantern in one hand like Kei.
“Yes, good evening to you too. Did we make you wait?”
Kei asked while scared of the sulky-looking big man. “Not at all,” Valgren casually answered with a shake of his head, “We arrived moments ago ourselves. Now, shall we go?”
He held up his lantern and led the way.
“…If I may ask, Mr. Valgren, where are we heading tonight?”
“Oh, I just thought of borrowing the municipal office. It is quite tall and there are no buildings around that would get in the way, so it should be ideal for astronomical observation, wouldn’t you agree? Kazimir, is everything ready?”
“Yes, I have notified the other party and have received the keys, Your Excellency.” The man referred to as “Kazimir” replied tensely, taking out a bundle of keys from his chest pocket.
“Hey, I told you to stop with that “Your Excellency” thing.”
“Yes Sir, my apologies.”
As Kazimir lowered his head, Aileen looked wide-eyed at Kei. Kei also nodded back with a bitter face.
They kept walking in silence for some time, and before long the municipal office’s red-brick building came into view. No lights could be seen shining in its windows, and no signs of humans were detectable either.
“I had them vacate it for today.”
Kazimir, who was leading the way, opened the door for Valgren.
“Now then, this is a three-story building. I hope I can handle the stairs.”
“I could lend you a shoulder if you wish, Your Excellency.”
“Haha, please don’t make fun of me now, Mr. Kei.”
Kei made a daring joke which cast a wry smile on Valgren’s face. Behind him Kazimir glared with a scary face, however.
As they got up on the building’s rooftop, they were met with an unobstructed view of the nightly cityscape of the common district. Lights could be seen here and there, but not enough to obstruct their stargazing.
“Now, Kazimir, if you will.”
Kazimir put his knapsack on the ground and took out a wooden box from within. Kei peeked into it, wondering what it might be.
“Oh, a telescope?”
It was a luxurious astronomical telescope adorned with gold leaf and gems. He was tempted to ask if Valgren couldn’t have brought something simpler with him, but as long as it worked it would do the job.
“My eyesight is not that good, after all.”
“Hmm. This part should go here…. Hmm.”
Kazimir set it up with a troubled expression as if he was trying to solve a chess problem. Valgren watched him with a smile without saying anything, but as the eerie silence went on, beads of sweat appeared on Kazimir’s forehead.
“…That part is for this place, right?”
Unable to watch, Aileen spoke up.
“…Hmm. That seems to be the case.”
“And this one should be here, yes?”
“And then we connect this part like this I suppose.”
Kazimir became silent as he watched her steadily assemble the telescope. Kei and Valgren looked at each other with wry smiles.
Then, Kei’s eyes suddenly stopped at the lantern Valgran was holding.
He felt like the light was too stable. Despite supposedly being a candle, it was not flickering at all.
Then he experienced a visual hallucination of a small winged figure inside that white light.
“…Mr. Valgren, could that be a Spirit?”
Kei reflexively asked, which caused Valgren staring at him impressed.
“You can tell?”
“Don’t tell me, is that the Fairy of White Light?”
“…Color me surprised. You are quite knowledgeable.”
Valgren opened the lantern’s lid and muttered Thorborg, causing the ball of light to float out of it.
“No, well… I’m seeing it for the first time too.”
“Damn, that’s super rare…”
Both Kei and Aileen excitedly stared at the small light creature sitting on Valgren’s shoulder.
Fairy of White Light was a species of low-ranked Spirits titled Fairies. Depending on their mood, Fairies manifested wherever they wished, and you could contract them as long as you had some sweets with you. The catalysts they demanded in return were also commonplace things like flowers, sugar, and crystals, so they were known as weak but cheap Contracted Spirits.
However, Fairies of White Light were special among them. Unlike the other Fairies that controlled things such as sleep and bewitchment, these Spirits were commonly described as a natural phenomenon, controlling Pure Healing Light.
At the very least, in 【DEMONDAL】 they were Spirits that could use a limited number of highly efficient healing spells, and were essential for creating magic illumination items. Due to their rarity and usefulness, many clans reached out to the players contracted to them, and even offered real money for their acquisition. They were so rare that even Kei, who was known as a game addict, had never directly encountered one.
“…Could it be that the illuminations at the library were made by you, Mr. Valgren?”
Since he was obeyed by a Fairy, he was without a doubt a magician.
“No, that was done by my predecessor. I am merely doing some maintenance on them… But still, you surprised me there, Mr. Kei. Are you familiar with magic too?”
Kei vaguely nodded at Valgren’s question.
Perhaps he was too relaxed at that moment.
“Yeah… Actually, I’m contracted with a Wind Spirit too.”
Thus, he gave an honest reply.
At this moment in time, he never would have expected that his words would lead to a certain situation…
Valgren’s expression changed.
“T-The Wind Spirit should be a Great Spirit that controls the wind element…”
Seeing Valgren’s agitation, Kei realized his slip-up. But it was too late to start denying it now, so he avoided his gaze while mumbling, “W-Well…”
Valgren remained shocked for some time, but eventually, he groaned and held his forehead.
“Your Excellency… Isn’t this person simply jesting…”
Kazimir, who stood next to the telescope with nothing to do, humbly offered his opinion. Valgren glanced at him and spoke.
“I told you to drop the Your Excellency… But to answer your question, I think he is telling the truth.”
His eyes shifted to Kei.
“…From the moment we met, I found it strange that your… no, both of your magic powers were incomparably high for your ages.”
This time, Aileen’s eyes started to dart around too. Kei was shocked that their magic powers were detected without a magic tool, albeit he didn’t give voice to his astonishment.
“Could it be that the Spirits are ordinary existences in your homeplace?”
“No, that’s not it… If I had to say, we are special cases.”
“Hmm… I see…”
The two remained tense at Valgren’s continued eerie silence, but the old man eventually gave a tired sigh.
“…Well, I suppose I can accept that explanation. I suppose that was the reason why all your arrows hit the marks, right, Mr. Kei?”
“…What do you mean?”
“I mean, you have the Wind’s Spirit’s protection, no?”
Valgren tilted his head as if acting silly to soften the atmosphere, but Kei felt triggered by Valgren believing that his archery skills stemmed from the Spirit and not his own ability, so he answered, “That’s wrong. My contracted Spirit is quite petty. She’s a stingy fellow who won’t do anything without an offering.”
The moment he said that — the atmosphere underwent a bizarre change.
Just as they looked up, wondering what was going on, a violent gust of wind blew towards them.
Kei got hit by the blast of wind and fell over, while Aileen got down on the ground and Kazimir rushed to Valgren.
But it only lasted for a moment. Before they had any time to do anything else, the wind disappeared as if it had never existed to begin with. All that remained was a startled trio, and Kei, who groaned on the ground after hitting his head during the fall.
“Gaaaahhhh, Siv, you damn little…!”
“A-Are you okay, Kei…?”
Aileen approached him and helped him get back up.
“G-Goddamnit! I didn’t lie in any way since you’re so damn greedy! You keep constantly demanding luxurious gems like emeralds, while also sucking up my magic power to the very limit….!”
“…Actually, why do we even need Esperanto if she understands English…”
As Kei ranted towards the sky, Aileen muttered her own doubts while stroking his head.
“…Ah, sorry, I lost my cool. Are you alright, Mr. Valgren?”
He spoke and stood up while rubbing his temple to rid himself of the pain, but there was no reply.
“Mr. Valgren? What is the…”
As he looked toward Valgren — he froze.
For a moment, he failed to identify the person standing over there.
He quickly confirmed his face and realized that it was, unmistakably, Valgren. However — something was definitely different from the Valgren a few moments ago.
There was nothing there.
Aileen muttered with a tremble.
Valgren had become bald.
His unnaturally beautiful silver mushroom hair was nowhere to be found.
Eyes wide open, Valgren stood there like a stone statue. His hand hovered above his head, petrified in mid-air.
The Fairy of White Light giggled innocently and took a seat on his head.
Shining — yes, it was shining.
Just like the Light Spirit—
Kei and Aileen felt how the atmosphere teemed with bizarre levels of tension.
“…Your Excellency.” Kazimir started, his head lowered into a retainer’s bow, “I shall go look for your hair.”
Then he turned around and dashed away from the rooftop.
It took them a few moments to realize that he had run away.
“…Mr. Kei.” After Valgren had rebooted, he smiled gently, as if nothing had happened. “…Shall we look at the stars?”
Kei also came back to his senses, nodding promptly. Aileen mustered all her strength to avoid staring at the shining head, and gazed up to the night sky instead. Kei quickly rushed over to the telescope to get it back up, only to raise a desperate yelp.
The wind, which had toppled the telescope, had also broken its lens into tiny fragments.
On top of that, the elaborate ornaments had scratch marks from chafing against the brick floor.
On that day, their party disbanded right then and there. By the way, they apparently failed to find the wig, too.
During their parting, Valgren said “I will contact you later,” and staying true to his word, he sent Kazimir to their inn as a messenger on another day.
According to him, Valgren said, “I would like you to teach me astrology on another day, but I don’t have any free time in the foreseeable future, so I don’t know when I will be able to free up some time. If you wish to head to the Haunted Forest before that, feel free to do so.”
When Kazimir pressed them for the answer, both of them answered without any hesitation.
Several days later, they gathered their luggage, said their goodbyes to Holland of the Cornwell company, Alyssa from the library, and other acquaintances, and set out on a journey as if to flee from Urvan.
Their destination was the Haunted Forest of Northland.
Close to two and a half months had passed since the two came to this world.
A/N: This marks the end of the easygoing chapters.
as you should know, this translation is a commission and thus lives from your support (I have no ads running and don’t hide the chapters behind hundreds of cash links like some do). As such I’ve been pestering you with requests to help out nearly every chapter, almost going as far as begging.
But, unfortunately this series hasn’t performed as I’d hoped it’d do when I started releasing it here. Currently the amount of support over all time amounts to roughly a fourth of the total pay for the translator (not even counting in my own work).
If I had the money to endlessly cover losses, I’d do so since Vermillion is a great series, but unfortunately I cannot do that.
As such there will be following change to the public release rate and amount starting today:
One chapter part per month at approx. half the size of the chapter parts so far.
On Patreon the release rate will remain weekly, albeit with a likewise lowered amount per chapter part.
Please notice that this change isn’t set in stone, but can be changed at any time by you, the readers, supporting the translation effort for this novel.
I hope that some of you may consider supporting this series in earnest since it’s a great story, provided to you by a very good translator.
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