Suimei and Lefille reach the northwestern residential area of Filas Filia, the Nelfila Empire's Imperial Capital, several days after entering the city.
They're in a back alleyway of the residential area where the houses are packed tight together between the tall buildings unique to the Imperial Capital. Random sections there are quite dim due to those buildings blocking the sun. In the modern world, such a situation would be in violation of zoning laws and liable to lawsuits.
An outbreak of deep green weeds takes them by surprise upon rounding a corner. The darkness cast by the shadows of fading light wraps around the verdant foliage to create a sense of dread and defeat. If Suimei were to use terminology from his world, they are in the slums. It's the perfect description. With just a glance, he can see the houses are cheaply made.
–Yes, their first object upon entering the Empire was to secure housing. Both have goals to accomplish while in Nelfila: Suimei wants to procure materials and information while Lefille wants to learn magic at the Magisterium. Therefore, after leaving the church, they searched for a real-estate agency. However, administration over most of the territory within the Imperial Capital belongs to the Empire's government, so in the end, they found themselves entering a government office. From there a suitable dwelling was negotiated for and a district director was referred. Today they'll be meeting the director who in turn will show them to the new house.
Although they aren't shocked by the gloomy atmosphere, they come to a stop nonetheless. Lefille gives Suimei an anxious look, "Suimei-kun, is this really the place?"
"Mn? It should be fine. I've no doubt that this is where we agreed to meet."
"Not that, it's about the house's locality. The neighborhood is near the street and the location isn't bad, but… what about the atmosphere?" Lefille says that while surveying the area. Her worry worsens the more she looks.
As her expression shows, where they are doesn't give a good impression. The lighting is dim and a foul smell drifts about. The main street is nearby, but even from a general point of view, hardly anyone would argue that this is a good property.
"Well, this is the only place they had that suited our needs. We just need to be patient for now."
"You think? A lot of things look like they could go wrong here…"
"Hey, there isn't much I can do about the light, but I can definitely clear up the smell. Well, I was a bit worried too…" He's wrong, Suimei notices after saying that much. Even though he adopts a que sera sera attitude, Lefille looks down at the dirty bricks. He wonders if she is really that bothered by their housing situation. She's usually the type of person who would give a fearless laugh regardless of the situation.
Suimei, familiar to the troubles of Lefille's heart, says, "What? Are you still worried about that oracle?"
"O-obviously! How could I not after hearing such a thing!"
That revelation— granted by Alshna's oracle in the Salvation Church, spewed by that priest, was unforeseeable. The instruction Lefille received goes, "Fight against the mazoku alongside the Yuusha inside the Empire." Neither of them have even seen El Media's Yuusha, yet now that goddess wants Lefille to travel with him. That request is so sudden, it practically makes her reason for coming to the Imperial Capital just to meet up with him.
Lefille seems quite opposed to those orders. She completely lost it in the church and has yet to regain her composure. Her downcast eyes are the result of that lingering melancholy.
"It's not like you have to listen to Alshna's words. Wouldn't it be fine to just say you forgot?"
"I-I can't do such a thing. As someone who has received the goddess Alshna's favor, not complying with her orders would be dishonorable."
"Dishonorable… so it's about your power? Wasn't it arbitrarily thrust upon you? I mean, it's not like you asked for it. When you look at it from that perspective, doesn't your premise become flawed?"
"Th- That might be the case…" Lefille's words tapper off towards the end. As a pious believer, she's troubled by the labyrinth called faith. The devout sometimes believe their desires are wicked and that they have a duty to punish themselves.
Wrong, saying they're intimidated into driving away their wickedness is more accurate. That's because people who live clean and beautiful lives develop strong values. That stubbornness puts them between a rock and a hard place. That, however, is only if left as is— "Then do you want to cooperate with El Media's Yuusha?"
"Ho- How can you say such a terrible thing? There's no way I want to do that!"
"Then what's the problem…? That unreasonableness is the perfect reason to act as though you haven't heard anything…."
Both Lefille's head and shoulders droop as she resents her inability to refuse this request. She really doesn't want to do it. "That's extremely disrespectful of the goddess's words. If I did and something happens…"
Does she want to do it or not? She's being engulfed within a wave of self-condemnation, one that leaves her unable to act. That means, it isn't that she bound to the goddess's words, but to her own emotions.
"I understand, just leave it to me."
"Eh— what do you mean, leave it to you?"
"Just that. If you don't want to follow El Media's Yuusha, then stay with me. If you do go, then I'll find a way to go with you regardless of what anyone else says. It's fine since I'm doing it of my own free will, right?"
Lefille turns her eyes away and she shifts bashfully in place. "Ah…you're right, thank you…"
"Huh? … Ye- yeah." Suimei blushes as his heart beats faster.
That's when— "Oh, there you are!" A voice cuts through the pink atmosphere between Suimei and Lefille.
Suimei turns towards the voice to find a cute young girl with bright hair dressed in clothes that are easy to move in. She has a lovely face with big round eyes coupled with large pupils. A tattoo like line runs across her cheek to the nape of her neck. Regardless, she's small. Her stature and breasts are also small. Everything about her is small. At a glance, she looks just like Lefille. Another little girl? No, Lefille technically isn't a little girl… But if I use the customs office as precedence, then running into little girls like this isn't that strange.
The girl's face distorts at Suimei's expression. She displays open disgust towards him. "Hey, you, what's with that look?"
"No, sorry. It's just, I've been seeing a lot of children lately."
"Ch- child!? Are you talking about me?"
The girl's eyes turn hostile at Suimei's admittance. The sharpness of her tone reaches a level unimaginable from someone with such lovely appearance. "Hey, you, the way I see it, you're younger than me. Well?"
"Haa? Me younger?"
"Yeah, younger! You look like a boy who just got out of the Salvation Church School."
Just what is that girl talking about? As far as Suimei can tell, he's the one who's older, yet she's getting mad and calling him her junior. Could that girl actually be a magician who's manipulating her appearance to look younger?
Lefille realizes what's happening and taps the girl's shoulder, "Could you perhaps be a dwarf?"
"Yeah, that's right, I'm the real deal. Both my old man and mother were dwarfs making me a genuine dwarf too."
"You said, "There you are." Does that mean?"
"Yep, you guessed it! I'm the district manager of this area, Jilbert Gliga."
"Umm… I'm being left behind." Suimei inserts himself into the conversation with a troubled expression.
"Ohh?" The girl— Jilbert Gliga distorts her face and says, "You bastard-yan!" Her cute face has vanished without a trace. "— What, can't keep up? Even though this kid here is pretty smart, you seem pretty stupid."
"'Pretty stupid,' you say…" Shock floats across Suimei's face at her harsh way of speaking. What reasons could she have to say such things? She's polite to Lefille who recognized she's a dwarf. "There seems to have been a misunderstanding. This is my first time meeting a dwarf."
"Oh? So that's the reason? Can't be helped if you misunderstood."
"…This is a rude question, but how old are you?"
"Me? This year I'm 21."
"I guess you really are older than me…"
"That's right! Looks like you do know how to straighten up and speak with respect. Good, good." Jilbert says while patting his lower back. She then pats Lefille's shoulder as though saying, "You're good just the way you are."
–A dwarf. According to Norse Mythology, they're classified as ground dwelling spirits. As beings who share their origins with the beautiful elves, dwarves act as their antithesis with their dark and ugly complexions. They are creatures similar to that of dark elves. According to the stories, they are master blacksmiths and engineers with the ability to create tools capable of rivaling the gods. They are depicted as either competing against or cooperating with them. Folklore also states that they are kind, mischievous, and small in stature.
They're also supposed to have beards along with their small bodies. Age and physical appearance don't seem to be interconnected though… Not that there's any point in thinking about it. This is a parallel world after all.
Jilbert gets along quite well with Lefille and tells her various stories about clothing. It's an animated conversation, but they need to get going. "Excuse me, but would you mind showing us the house?"
"Hmm? Oh yeah, that's right. You're here to see a house. I completely forgot."
"Please don't forget our reason for meeting."
"Relax, real men don't sweat the small stuff. What are you, a virgin?" Jilbert teases Suimei with a smile. Just like the stories say, dwarfs have a way with words.
Jilbert soon takes them to a single house sandwiched between two larger houses. "As requested, or do you want something bigger?"
"Hmm…." Suimei surveys the interior all the way up to the ceiling as he steps inside. A long time seems to have passed since anyone used the place, but the construction is solid, built with wooden floors and strong support beams. The indoor plumbing unique to the Empire leaves nothing to complain about either.
The three of them check the rooms before returning to the entrance. Jilbert asks in eager anticipation, "How is it?"
"Not bad. You didn't just meet my requests, you've exceeded them."
"Of course! You really think I my charge fall into disrepair?" She says while puffing out her flat chest.
Lefille averts her eyes towards the floor and adopts a formal tone. "That's great, Suimei-kun. You really are dependable."
Lefille gives Suimei her blessing, but the way she speaks is unnatural, almost as though she has become someone else. The subtle changes in her voice, however, are evidence of the doubt circling within her heart. Her voice trembles as she says, "I- I still have to find a home for myself."
"….? Aren't you going to stay here?"
"I can? But this is your house, Suimei-kun. I should find a place for myself!"
"What for? Isn't this place big enough for both of us?"
"Eh— That's… Won't I be bothering you?" Her large eyes are open wide with amazement as the shock from this unexpected development displays itself in both her voice and face.
No way, she didn't become distant because she was worrying that, did she? Worrying like that is part of her charm, though.
"It doesn't bother me one bit. This was my plan from the beginning."
"Really!" Lefille thanks Sumei in delight. She then leans towards him and whispers to reconfirm his words and make sure she didn't mishear him.
"Completely. Your current size is a serious issue, but there's also your curse."
"Those are… They don't have anything to do with you. Besides, don't you have your own problems to take care of?"
"Yeah, but I intended to solve all of them alongside you."
"—!?" Lefille is so overcome by Suimei's offer that she hugs him with all her strength. "Thank you, Suimei-kun!"
"It- It's nothing…" Lefille's soft cheek rubs against Suimei's, leaving him to wonder how overcome by emotion she is. That's when he remembers that she has been acting on her own all this time. Therefore, her behavior now shouldn't in the slightest bit be consider unreasonable.
Suiemi feels an unsettling gaze during that embarrassing moment.
"What's wrong, Jilbert-san?"
"Hey, you bastard, don't tell me you're that pedophile creeping around the streets I've been hearing about."
"No, no I am not…." He sets Lefille aside so he can explain the situation, but Jilbert sends him a dirty look while backing away a few steps.
"Stay back. Keep a distance of at least five steps at all times. Lefille get away from that guy."
"Listen to what I'm saying. This is just a misunderstanding…"
"That's what you say, but in truth, you're rotten to the core."
"Oh, whatever… Let's just get on with it. Did you meet my other request?"
"Mm… Oh, yeah. It's over there. I'll show you." Jilbert gives a sharp reply and quickly takes them to an inner room.
"….Suimei-kun, what's Jilbert talking about?"
"A bath! This house comes with a bath!?" Excitement enters Lefille's voice at his reply.
Jilbert, upon hearing the conversation, turns to face Lefille. "Of course. Isn't this the Empire? All houses within the Empire have baths." This too she declares in a proud voice.
Lefille, upon hearing that, dashes towards Jilbert. Suimei also hurries along from behind. The bathing room is beautiful, made of polished stones and shining plaster. Inside is a brand new, wooden, bathtub.
Jilbert claps her hands together as she asks, "Is this alright?"
"Wahh…." Suimei's lost for words upon entering the room.
Lefille's eyes glitter with anticipation as she looks around. The Empire has a bathing habit similar to that of her home country, Noxias. The Aster Kingdom, however, doesn't even have a bathing habit. Instead, the people there wipe themselves down with a steamed cloth. As a result, her stay there was very stressful. It's one of the reasons she was in such a hurry to go to the Empire.
–Suimei, being from a parallel world, also suffered a similar frustration. Therefore, he intended to take advantage of acquiring a home by insuring there would be a bathing room with a bathtub, one way or another.
Lefille completely forgets about Suimei in her excitement. The bathing room appears to be indispensable to girls who know the importance of bathing. "Suimei-kun, it's a bath! A bath! Let's take one today!"
Her usual calmness is nowhere to be found. There is a huge gap between that and the outrageous remark she just made. Suimei sets those sentiments aside and says, "It'll have to wait until tomorrow. We still need to clean the room and prepare a variety of things."
"Ah… Really? Fine." Lefille's shoulders droop upon hearing she won't be able to enter today.
During the middle of that exchange, Suimei again feels a strange gaze.
Jilbert stares at him from the side, "……"
"…What? Why are you giving me such a dirty look?"
"Oi, you really are that bastard pedophile, aren't you?"
"I can't think of anything from what was just said that could even give you that idea."
"Didn't Lefille just say she wants to take a bath today? Doesn't that mean going in together?"
"Ju- ju- ju- just a second! We never said anything like that! Some words were omitted from that conversation. Lefille and I aren't going to be bathing together!"
Lefille, for some reason, gives Suimei an anxious expression at his declaration. "….Suimei-kun, is bathing together with me that detestable?"
"Huh? Lefille, what are you saying?"
"Is it unpleasant?"
"Eh? No, that's not…"
"Oi, what's with that hesitation you bastard pedophile… You're the enemy of all woman dwarfs…"
"Th- Th- Th- Th- That's! It- It's a misunderstanding….!" Suimei's poor articulation is like spilling water and seeing it pour down the drain. Regardless of what he says, Jilbert is determined to see him as a lolicon. All he can do is hang his head in resignation.
"Haa…" Her severe stare elicits a sigh. …He was, however, able to acquire a home. With that, he can now begin researching the magic circle used for summon heroes. Having a base of operations is absolute in studying magic. Not only do magical items need to be handmade, but magic ceremonies need a room to be conducted. Overall, having a work place drastically increases the rate of magical research.
"Oi, stay away from me you bastard pedophile."
"Stop saying such irresponsible words you inferior, legal, loli! Like I've been telling you, I am not a lolicon!" Suimei gets sucked into Jilbert's uncouth style of speaking.
T/N: Lefille's reaction really confused me at first. But now that I'm going through it, I'm starting to wonder if it's a continuation of her complex over her body. Maybe she's interpreting Suimei's words as meaning her body lacks sex appeal?
Now, I normally update Friday, but I had a few days off this past weekend so I was able to turn this out early. Also, like I commented last update, there's about 100 chapters I need to go through. I doubt I'll be able to get through them, but I want to see how far I can go until life gets in the way. Hope you all enjoy.