Some tens of minutes after Suimei and Lefille were reunited, the caravan set off without delay.
Their journey was off to a good start. If the rest of the trip could continue without any unwanted surprises, that would be fantastic.
What was left to them now was to make their way to Kurand while keeping an eye on the caravan. When it came to how far they had to travel, Suimei had already investigated the matter thoroughly beforehand.
Traveling between Mehter and Kurand was roughly a six or seven day trip. Due to the proximity of the capital city Mehter to the western border, the time it took to travel between these cities could still be seen as relatively short. Nevertheless, for a child of the modern era such as Suimei, walking for an entire day was fairly rough going.
During this time, they’d follow the stone road through forest and plateau, mountain and basin before eventually reaching their destination.
For the trip, Suimei had been positioned at the rear end of the caravan.
Those more worthy of trust – veterans of the guild and career mercenaries – led the way while Suimei and the others were responsible for keeping watch over the cargo.
Because human lives were seen as the priority, they’d been informed that were something to occur, they were to prioritize the safety of the wagon drivers over the cargo itself. On a different note, Suimei was currently walking alongside Lefille, who had similarly undertaken the responsibility of protecting the caravan goods.
Perhaps owing to the earlier awkwardness, as the trip first began, Lefille mostly kept to herself, keeping an eye on the wagons, horses, and their surroundings, only occasionally breaking the silence.
Slowly but surely, however, because their ages were so close as well as the fact that they were colleagues engaged in the same task, conversation between them gradually grew warmer.
Accompanied by the gentle sounds of the horses’ hooves against the road, the turning of the wagon wheels, and the gentle breeze blowing across the plains, Suimei and Lefille chatted with one another.
“—And the Goddess Arshuna?”
“Ah, she is the creator of heaven and earth, the one who maintains the existence of this world. This is what the Church of Salvation teaches. She is the Most High, standing above all others.”
Suimei pondered as he listened to Lefille’s words.
As they walked, Lefille explained the doctrine of the Goddess Arshuna. At their first meeting in the guild, they’d already had a short discussion about the church, and Suimei had thus realized that he had a serious gap in knowledge when it came to the beliefs of the people in this world. At some point unknown to him, Lefille had become aware of this situation.
Suimei had thus decided that this was a perfect opportunity to have her teach him some basic knowledge.
On that note, it looks like pretty much everyone in this world is a monotheistic believer of the Most High Goddess, Arshuna.
In other words, it didn’t seem like there were any deities other than Arshuna.
Transforming the primal chaos of origin into the current world was the work of a god.
Borrowing the power of the elements, and infusing magic with said power was equivalent to borrowing the power of the Goddess. Although the Mazoku worshiped a similar existence in the Evil God, the Church of Salvation utterly rejected the notion that it was a god.
“Furthermore, even though our races may be different, all acknowledge the existence of the Goddess Arshuna, whether it be the spirits, the dwarves, the beastmen, or the dragonewts (dragonmen).”
Lefille had unconsciously raised a point of interest for Suimei, who reacted.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, it’s just that from what you’ve said, demihuman tribes exist as well.”
“Well, of course. …Wait, do they not appear where you’re from?”
“Only in conversation.”
Although it might have been a vague way of expressing things, it wasn’t false. When it came to fantasy stories, their existence was nothing if not expected. These tribes seemed to be a normal part of life in this world, and so Suimei’s answer was likely fine.
That said, I certainly didn’t see any in Mehter—
“Well then, you’ll get your first chance to see them once we reach Nelferia. That place is a melting pot of races. Spirits and dragonewts are a bit rare, but there are a lot of beastmen. —Oh, that reminds me, we seem to have gotten a bit off-topic. Did you have any other questions about the Goddess?”
“Nope. This is plenty for today. Thanks; I’ve learned a lot.”
Respectfully, Suimei expressed his gratitude to Lefille who had earnestly taught him without the least manifestation of impatience.
Lefille smiled brightly, denying that her efforts had been worthy of thanks.
“It’s nothing. On that note, does that mean the Goddess Arshuna doesn’t exist in the east?”
“Hahaha, well, you could say that…” Suimei answered vaguely.
“Existence” was a word for things that were concrete. Putting aside an observable, accessible concept like elements, as far as the people of this world were concerned, the Goddess Arshuna was not some sort of ambiguous concept, but rather a certainty.
Given this, it was perhaps most appropriate to view this existence as a natural, if unique, phenomenon.
From a magician’s perspective, “gods” were largely just a conceptual existence, an external force that interfered with the world. In practice, this view seemed to be more or less on point.
That brought an end to that topic.
Suimei turned his gaze to Lefille, walking beside him. Unlike the first time they’d met, this time she was carrying her luggage.
The girl carried on her back a pack just large enough to fit the armor she’d worn earlier, as well as an enormous piece of luggage.
“…Is something the matter, Suimei-kun?”
“Oh, I was just thinking that that bag you’re carrying is pretty huge.”
“Oh, this?” she replied, looking back.
On the back of this girl, of a height roughly on par with Suimei, was an extremely long piece of luggage – longer than she was tall – wrapped in cloth.
Moreover, judging by the shape, was it perhaps—
“It’s been pretty eye-catching right from the start, to be honest. It’s a sword, right?”
Lefille nodded acknowledgment of Suimei’s guess. It looked like that gigantic thing was indeed a sword.
Its size was stunning even at first glance, and closer consideration only reinforced that feeling. It looked like it was the kind of weapon that was meant to chop giant bears in two.
Without a doubt, however, by far the most astounding thing was Lefille’s strength, able to carry such a burden on her back as she walked, all the while never showing the least sign of strain or sweat.
Even though he’d previously seen her carry a slender sword, the cognitive dissonance created by the sight of this enormous weapon and a young girl’s physique was simply too exaggerated. Along those lines, how could those slender arms possibly support the inevitably massive weight of such a thing? That said, if she was bringing it, she was definitely capable of using it. Perhaps she had a reinforcement magic similar to the “Burn Boost” Reiji had used back in the palace.
“Why would you choose something like that for your weapon of choice?”
Even setting aside the issue of whether or not she was capable of wielding this massive sword, it didn’t seem like a weapon appropriate for a young woman.
In response to his words, Lefille gave the weapon on her back a loving glance.
“This is a family heirloom. Its previous owner was my father, from whom I inherited it.”
“Does that mean you used a different type of weapon at first?”
If it was an inheritance from her father, then there had to have been some period of time before it’d come into her possession. Lefille refuted this idea, however, swinging her arms as though the sword were in her hands.
“I’ve immersed myself in swordsmanship ever since I was but a child, always dreaming of the day that I’d be able to swing a sword like this.”
“I guess that means you’re pretty confident about using it,” Suimei asked, slightly ill-naturedly.
Lefille’s response was candid.
“Hehe. Unfortunately, it’s for that very reason that I’m not proficient in anything but the sword.”
“Not at all. I think you’re pretty amazing. I know a thing or two about swordsmanship, but when it comes to using a sword like that, I haven’t the least confidence.”
Lefille’s self-mocking words were met with a tone of respect.
Swords weren’t something you wielded simply with strength. When it came to slashing, then certainly arm strength was a key factor, but actual battle skills were another thing altogether. Effectively wielding a sword in battle didn’t just require a certain amount of strength, but also the bodily control to flourish it as desired.
Anyway, when Suimei spoke of his inability to use such a weapon, the primary reason was that its weight and size were beyond his body’s ability to support.
It was likely because of Lefille’s mastery of a sword like this that she had chosen it as her primary weapon.
That was also likely the reason that she uttered the words that came next.
“—It’s nothing special. With a little practice, anyone’d be able to chop a semi-giant in two with this.”
I misheard her just now. MISHEARD. Lefille had just said something insane with a casual tone. Seriously, there’s not a chance in hell you could learn how to chop a semi-giant – a being capable of destroying a city wall with its fists – in two with just “a little practice”! Her earlier words, that she had taken down the semi-giant only with the aid of her companions, were now clearly naught but hollow modesty.
That meant that this young girl hadn’t even come close to going all out in her ranking battle. Comparing her ability with the master swordsmen of his world put her on an entirely different plane of existence.
As Suimei shook his head, Lefille took the opportunity to ask a question of her own.
“Suimei-kun, can I ask what you’re best at?”
“I didn’t hear anything. I HEARD NOTHING! —Eh?”
“Suimei-kun? Are you alright?”
“Eh? Oh, ohhhh. I, well… pretty much this.”
Finally realizing that the topic of conversation had shifted, Suimei showed his answer, rather than spoke it.
To make it easy for her to understand, he concentrated mana in the palm of his hand.
That made the answer apparent. Lefille, who had asked without really thinking, showed an expression of understanding.
“Magic, right? Well, I guess since you’re a mage, that should have been pretty obvious.”
“Although it has to be said that when I first started, there was a period when I was pretty much clueless.”
Lefille’s question caused him to think for a bit before responding, a somewhat perplexed smile on his face.
“Yes. Lefille, when you first started to learn how to use a sword, what did they tell you?”
“—Hmm, well, it’d always be these long, drawn-out lectures that always started from the origin of it all, leading up to the reason why it was necessary that I wield a sword, etc. My ears practically bled I heard it so many times,” she answered, half-jokingly.
That even the origin of swords was a point of instruction showed just what history lay behind it all.
As Suimei envisioned that scene in his mind, he remembered what it was like when he had first started to learn magic.
That was a thing already many years in the past. When he was young, his father had brought him to the one room in their house where entry was forbidden, and there—
“…My father wasn’t the type to talk much. I never had an experience like yours. It’s just that, from the very start, he told me that this was something I had to master.”
“He didn’t even give you a reason?”
“Well, that much he did. It wasn’t a reason that a young child could understand, though. Moreover, I never had any intention of asking, and so he never spoke about it. Unfortunately, for that very reason, it wasn’t until very late that I heard the answer from my father.”
His tone was nostalgic as he spoke, as the scene from his memory replayed itself before his eyes.
Indeed, by the time he’d heard the reason, he’d already long since begun to tread the path of a magician. It was entirely possible that had “that incident” not occurred, his father would have taken that answer with him to the grave.
Thinking along those lines, it occurred to him that perhaps the reason his father had taught him magic was that he had seen it as the one thing he could do for his son as a father.
“Is that really alright?” Lefille asked next.
“Yeah. I enjoy learning magic. It’s not something I at all resent. Although I have to say it’s brought on its fair share of hardship as well.”
“Is that so?” Lefille said with a laugh, thinking to herself that what had just been said was of interest.
“…Mm? Did I say something strange?”
“Not at all. I was just surprised to find that there’s someone like me.”
Indeed, that was it.
“That we’re both burdened people is something I can definitely agree on.”
Lefille nodded. It looked like his words had been spot on. She must have also encountered more than a few obstacles as she advanced down the path of swordsmanship.
As he mused, a thought seemed to have come to Lefille’s mind.
“—That reminds me, Suimei-kun. In the end, what rank did they give you?”
“Ahh— I was given a D-rank.”
His answer left her stunned.
“…Why? I, who defeated them in succession, was given a B-rank. How is it possible that you, who defeated them simultaneously, are a D-rank?”
“Yeah, about that…”
What had his words made her think? Suddenly, as if she’d come to a conclusion, her gaze sharpened. The laughing tone she’d used until this point suddenly turned frigid.
“So that’s how it is. So even an organization as renowned as the guild would pull something like this. Hmph. I would never have imagined that they’d straight up manipulate guild ranks just to save some face…”
Her sudden and complete misunderstanding left Suimei flustered. He would never have guessed she’d arrive at such a conclusion.
“Well, isn’t that what happened? That seems like the only logical conclusion?”
“No, no. While I can’t deny that reasoning, but still…”
“No, I can’t accept such a thing. Once we get to Kurand, let’s head to the branch office and raise a complaint. Don’t worry, I’ll go with you. If they try to pull something again, I’ll act as the witness and have them perform the exam once more.”
With that, Lefille mumbled, “Right, let’s do that,” and other such things to herself.
This totally isn’t her problem, why does she care so much? It looked like Lefille was the kind of person who wouldn’t let acts of injustice stand.
In the end, what it came down to was the fact that she was serious about helping Suimei “bring the truth to light”, something that he could not allow her to do.
“…To be honest with you, my D-rank is something I personally requested of those three. That’s why rank’s so low.”
What he had said was so nonsensical that Lefille, frowning, looked at him in confusion.
“You asked for it? Why would you do something like that?”
“When Dorothea said that I’d gain a reputation, it really gave me pause.”
Although his explanation was pretty flimsy indeed, he was unable to come up with anything better.
However, as with his conversation with Galeo earlier, it had to be said that his words weren’t exactly a lie either. Certainly, a high rank wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
Can’t say as I see Lefille being convinced by that, though… he sighed inwardly. Unexpectedly, however, Lefille seemed to take his words at face value.
“Is that really okay with you? A high rank should prove extremely valuable even in Kurand and Nelferia, you know? There really isn’t anything to be gained by holding on to such a low rank.”
That was certainly true, providing that he planned to live off of the work provided by the Twilight Pavilion. That was not, however, the case.
“I’m not really that hung up on working for the guild, although I can’t say I want to be poor either. It’s fine.”
“…Just what exactly do you plan to do by going to Kurand and the Empire?”
“Well, gather some information, I guess.”
“Coming from the east, there’s still a lot I don’t know about things here. I need to learn.”
His harmless reasoning was met by a silent stare.
She watched him closely, her tight gaze seemingly reading right through him, interpreting the true meaning behind his words and expression.
When it came to Lefille, Suimei was determined to play the fool to the end.
“Did I say something strange?”
“No, I was just trying to decide if you were lying just now. —Actually, ‘lying’ is the wrong word. You weren’t lying, but you weren’t telling the whole truth either.”
How? Suimei didn’t think there were any logical gaps in what he’d said just now.
“…And why would you think that?” he asked with some surprise, a wry smile on his face.
“Again with the unreliable stuff.”
“Hehe, I was just joking, actually. That said, I’ve met a lot of people, so I can see through a thing or two,” she offered in explanation, simultaneously praising herself. “—You haven’t lied to me, but you’re certainly hiding a ton of secrets. I’m 100% sure that’s the case.”
In response to Lefille’s discerning comment, Suimei gave a vague reply and shrugged his shoulders. There wasn’t any real need to vehemently reject her words. This should be fine.
“…Alright then. It doesn’t seem like this is something I should stick my nose into. I won’t say anything more about your rank,” she said finally.
“Don’t worry about it. And thank you.”
Although on the surface of things, Suimei was apologetic, but he wasn’t actually sorry for he’d handled the issue. He was, after all, a magician, and magicians were the kind of people that frequently made those who were honest and upright feel guilty. For that reason, he had no real need to apologize to Lefille, who was just such a person.
Suddenly, a sound caught his attention.
“—Oh, time for a break.”
“By that watering hole over there, huh,” Lefille said after a quick glance.
By the side of the road, was a small area that had been renovated, although that might have been a bit of an overstatement for an area that simply had some fairly flat stones that were to be used as seating. It appeared to have been designed as a rest stop along the road.
Even though his conversation with Lefille had finally reached a climax, if they had continued further, it would only have brought on more trouble, Suimei thought to himself as he and Lefille followed the others to the rest site.
Had he just heard a shout?
While the sound hadn’t come from that far off, it hadn’t been that close either. Looking in the direction of the sound, he saw a robed young girl waving from over by the waterfront.
At her side were gathered a few of what looked to be companions. The young girl was a mage, while the others were warriors, swordsmen, and archers.
Judging by the roles they had assembled, they would have passed for a balanced party in a game, drawing extreme interest from Suimei. That said, he certainly was not acquainted with them.
“Those are the companions that took down the semi-giant with me.”
“Ohh, so that’s them.”
Lefille’s remark dissipated his confusion. So those are the aforementioned guild adventurers, huh.
“We were on pretty good terms while together. We’ve had some interactions before.”
As Lefille explained, the young girl cupped her hands to her mouth like a megaphone. Judging by her actions, she seemed to have decided they hadn’t heard.
“I think they’re calling for you.”
“Looks like it. I’m going to head over there for a bit,” she replied before setting off in their direction.
Before his eyes, a joyous reunion took place.
“Companions, huh…” he murmured.
If he had to be honest with himself, the sight made him somewhat envious. That notwithstanding, this was undoubtedly a path that he had chosen for himself. He didn’t have the right to indulge himself in such a feeling.
He exhaled deeply, as if to purge the unnecessary feeling from his body as well, when a sudden sensation caused him to rub his neck.
…He wasn’t sure why, but ever since he’d left Mehter, his back would feel strangely warm at times. It wasn’t at all a good feeling – an ill omen perhaps? Any other person would likely have discounted the feeling, deciding that they were simply overthinking things. When Suimei, however, had experienced this in the past, it had always proven to be eerily prescient. He had the feeling his father had once explained the reason for this phenomenon, but try as he might, he just couldn’t recall.
…In a flash, he focused on his surroundings, though he was unable to find any hint of someone in chase.
I guess I’m worrying about nothing, he decided, discarding that line of thought as he looked up toward the sky.
The wind was blowing westward. The gentle, refreshing breeze blew past his body, bringing with it the air of this other world – mild and untouched by pollution – setting his heart at ease.
The weather seemed to be giving its blessing, wishing them a smooth and uneventful trip, an atmosphere without the least hint of danger.
And yet, for some unknown reason, as he gazed up at the heavens engulfing the road ahead, he couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the wind and the clouds were slowly but surely undergoing a transformation.