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Chapter 2

The Smoldering Flames After the Storm

“All right, the storm shutters have been closed. We gathered all the herbs in the garden that looked like they might get blown away, and the ones left aren’t ready to be picked. At this point, if things go bad, it’s out of our hands,” I said.

“I took down the sign and everything else that looked like it could break,” Rit replied.

A storm had come to Zoltan. The tempest had risen out of the southern ocean and followed along the Wall at the Edge of the World up to the northwest. Downpours like this happened once every few years, though it was a bit rare for one to hit at the beginning of autumn.

“Okay, next is the washroom then!” I called.

The wind was already whipping outside. Dark, inky splotches covered the sky. It was only a matter of time before the downpour began.

“The forecast from the Ancient Mineral Dragon Weather Observatory said that the storm would start in earnest around sunset tomorrow, right?” Rit inquired.

“Yeah, the young mineral dragons have been flying around spreading the word,” I answered.

The greatest earth scientist on the continent of Avalon was a dragon. It was one of the four ancient dragons of light, Fuyu the ancient mineral dragon, whose body was made of black, glimmering mica. Fuyu had established the Ancient Mineral Dragon University, along with an observatory at the summit of Mount Highhelm.

Young mineral dragons, as well as humans and elves who desired to study the earth sciences, attended classes run by older mineral dragons who passed on their knowledge.

The Ancient Mineral Dragon Weather Observatory was one of the departments at the university. Its members studied the weather of the Avalon continent and would send warnings in advance of impending natural disasters. For Zoltan, which often found itself hammered by heavy storms, the reports were crucial. Whether you were working ships or plowing fields, the skies were a key part of the job. Every nation on the continent supported the palace of scholarship that Fuyu ran, both in the form of nonaggression pacts and pledges to come to its aid in the event of an emergency.

Mineral dragons were wise and enjoyed the study of the natural processes. Their scales were composed of mica, and those who weren’t familiar with the species often confused them for stone dragons. Whenever such a misjudgment occurred, the wronged mineral dragon would emphatically correct the offender, saying, “Actually, I’m a mineral dragon.” Then they would begin a lengthy lecture on the black gleam of their scales. To all four races of light dragons, the sheen of their scales was a source of pride.

With their many research posts stationed throughout the continent having been in operation for hundreds of years, most people were fairly familiar with mineral dragons, perhaps even as much as radiant dragons. Radiant dragons lived to help soon-to-be-heroes. When a young kid set out on their adventure, a radiant dragon would often transform into a human and render some assistance from behind the scenes. They loved to help children grow during their early quests. As such, they were a sort of dragon that people encountered surprisingly often. Though some more impolitic people occasionally wondered aloud why the creatures were so fond of little kids.

Back when I was a knight in training, I actually adventured with one for a bit. That’s not to say my time with the dragon was always easy. Whenever it got happy about something, it would start singing, regardless of the situation or the mood of the moment. I was only a kid, but there were times when it felt like I was babysitting the thing. It was nice enough, though. If I remember right, it said its name was Al-Haytham.

Excluding mineral and radiant types, there were two other kinds of light dragons: steam dragons, mechanically minded creatures, and lightning dragons, the guardians of law.

The four races of dark dragons born on the dark continent included the nihilistic vacuum dragons, the destructive and entropic salt dragons, the child-abducting ash dragons, and the earth-corrupting dust dragons.

After elves and humans, dragons were considered the third most principle race on Avalon. Apparently, few of them resided in Zoltan. I’m sure it’s because the region offers so little that would entice a dragon.

“Hey! Quit lollygagging and get back to work!” Rit chided.


“The water system’s unusable when storms come, so if we don’t store up something to drink now…,” I muttered.

The aqueduct drew water from the river, but before the tempests came, it had to be blocked off at the river to prevent an overflow of mud and avoid physical damage from surging currents. The well in town was likely to get muddy after a downpour, too, so that wouldn’t be usable for a while, either.

While Zoltan usually had an abundance of water, storms could ironically cause shortages. That was why I was storing up the liquid in bags and barrels while the taps still worked. Everyone else in town was likely doing the same, as the water only came out at a trickling pace. It was a mind-numbingly slow and menial task to fill all of our containers.

“Weren’t you the one who said we should finish everything up yesterday? Right before you went to go play around with Gonz?” Rit scolded.

“I mean, he invited me over…”

Gonz the carpenter was sure to be busy for weeks following the storm. He’d be running from one house to the next making repairs. In such times of need, even the laziest residents of Zoltan would pitch in to help with repairs and cleanup. Knowing that, whenever heavy precipitation approached, Gonz would take his days off in advance and go out to play around. He really ought to have thought about the example he was setting for Tanta!

“No one made you accept the offer!” Rit hopped onto my back as she complained about my having slacked off.

“Back to work! And put your back into it!” She slapped my butt like a jockey on a horse.

“As you wish, milady.”

“Make sure you take good care of me to make up for not being around yesterday…”

“I got it. Not like there’s anywhere to go tomorrow or the day after, what with the storm on its way.”

Oops, started getting distracted there again for a moment.

Now vigilant, I did my best to work quickly and quietly as I felt the warmth of Rit’s body clinging to me. Something about it was oddly nostalgic…

Oh right, that, I recalled.

A pretty big hurricane had hit my hometown when I was a kid. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the ones that Zoltan experienced, but for the people in my village who weren’t used to such weather, it was quite the panicked situation.

On that day, the sky was black just like it was in Zoltan.

It was rare for squalls to hit the village, so there were a lot of homes that weren’t sturdy enough to withstand the wind. Knowing this, everyone gathered at the agreed place of refuge, the village chief’s house.

The wind howled, and there was the constant noise of things getting tossed around outside. Thunderclaps boomed like explosions, and children shrieked at the sound.

I was eight at the time, and my sister, Ruti, was six. Thanks to our special blessings, we were a fair bit more mature than the other children our age.

“Mooooommmy!” a little girl the same age as Ruti cried, clinging to her mother.

“A six-year-old shouldn’t fall to tears at thunder,” the parent chided, looking a little concerned about bothering everyone else. Even so, the woman still gently and reassuringly patted her daughter’s head.

Ruti watched the two of them with the same sort of expression she usually wore. Most regarded it as a cold gaze, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was just hard to read her emotions, that was all. Ruti’s gaze was fixed on that mother and child.

Looking around, I saw there were quite a few children clinging tightly to their parents or siblings in a similar way. Everyone was scared.



“Aren’t you frightened?”

“…Of the storm or of the lightning? Are you asking if I’m worried there’s a chance that this building will collapse and we’ll all be crushed?”

I gently patted my little sister’s head as she looked at me with her clear, untroubled red eyes and asked for clarification in a detached tone.

“Any of the above. Is there anything you’re scared of at the moment?”

“No. Nothing scares me.”

“Nothing scares me.” Ruti had gotten into a big fight after saying that same thing to a thirteen-year-old who happened to be the biggest bully in the town. Even though she had the blessing of the Hero, a hot-blooded level-3 soldier with a stick for a weapon, thick cloth armor, and a beaten-up old wooden shield was a bit much for Ruti. She still lacked both equipment and combat experience and was currently only level 1. The kid had roughed her up a bit.

Maybe the bully had thought it was an insult, but when Ruti said she wasn’t afraid, she meant it in the most literal sense. Nothing could scare her because she’d been born with Immunity to Fear.

It went without saying that I paid that bully back. I gave him just as much as he gave Ruti. Well, maybe it was 1.5 times… No, was it 2.2 times? Yeah, that sounds about right. Afterward, I had him apologize to my sister.

I ended up getting treated like the leader of all the kids in the village for a while after that. It quickly grew to be a pretty big pain to deal with, though, so I ordered an eleven-year-old boy with a Cavalier blessing to take over for me, and things went back to how they were before.

Apparently, that bully later turned over a new leaf and stopped resorting to violence to get his way. He hadn’t been aggressive due to any particularly strong impulses from his blessing. Rather, it’d simply been because he’d never lost before.

“There’s really nothing you’re afraid of?” I asked.

“You know the answer already, Big Brother,” Ruti said, tilting her head a bit.

“Yeah,” I replied. I could tell from her expression that she didn’t understand what the point of my question was. “The truth is, I am scared.”


“Yep. Does that surprise you?”

Ruti looked a little bit troubled. Back then, she didn’t have Immunity to Confusion yet. Perhaps that was why unexpected revelations could still catch her off guard.


“Really? That didn’t surprise you, huh?”

“It didn’t.”

“Anyway, getting to the point, I’m scared, so…do you mind if I hold your hand?”

“My hand?”

“Yeah, your hand.”

“Go ahead.”

I clasped Ruti’s palm against mine. No matter how immense a blessing she might’ve been born with, Ruti’s hand was still just that of a little girl.

“Are you not scared anymore?” Ruti asked.

“Yep, I’m good now,” I replied.


Ruti smiled, though no one else really saw her expression change. Even our mom and dad had trouble recognizing Ruti’s little shifts in demeanor. It was a shame. However, until the day came when someone else could see Ruti’s smile, I was content to maintain a monopoly on it.

“Sorry, me being scared was actually a lie,” I admitted.

“A lie?”

“I wasn’t frightened at all.”

“Oh.” Ruti tilted her head again, now more confused than ever.

“I just wanted to hold hands with you is all.”

“With me?”

“Would you rather not?”

“I don’t mind, but why?”

“No reason.”

“No reason?”

“Yep, even without a special purpose, there are times when I want to hold hands with you.”


“I can’t explain it. That’s just how people are. Sometimes they do things without any cause.”

“They do things without any motive?”

“Right, there wasn’t any unique purpose for why I held your hand. So if there’s ever a time you want to hold my hand for no particular reason or anything like that, then feel free to do so.”

“I see…” Ruti fixed her gaze on our hands. “Big Brother?”


“I love you.”

That was rare. In fact, it might’ve been the first time I’d ever heard Ruti verbally express affection for anything.

“Thank you. That makes me happy,” I said.

“Why?” Ruti inquired.


“I’m the one who loves you, right? So why would you thank me?”

I gently brushed Ruti’s hair. As it rustled, her brilliant blue locks gleamed in the torchlight.

“I love you, Ruti.”


I had lost count of the number of times I’d told my sister that I loved her. The truth was, I could barely stand how cute my little sister was.

“See? When I say that to you, you smile, too,” I pointed out.

Surprised, Ruti patted all around her face. That gesture was all too adorable, and I broke into a grin.

“If you’re smiling, that means you’re happy, right?” I asked.

“Probably,” Ruti replied.

“It’s the same with me. Hearing you say that you love me makes me happy. I’m smiling right now, aren’t I?”


“That’s why I said thank you.”

Ruti stewed over that exchange a bit, thinking carefully to be sure she understood it.

“Got it,” she declared after a moment.

“You understand?” I inquired.

“Big Brother, is it okay if I do something for no particular reason?”

“Go right ahead.”

Ruti suddenly let go of my hand.

Huh? I guess she didn’t like holding hands?

To my surprise, however, Ruti moved behind me and jumped onto my back.

“I like this way more… Is that okay?” she asked.

“Sure, if that’s all, then you can do it anytime you want.”

“Okay.” Ruti squeezed her arms around my neck a bit. I could feel the warmth of her body on my back.

“Big Brother?”

“What is it?” I turned my head to one side, and unsurprisingly, Ruti’s face was right there in front of my nose.

“Thank you.”

Ruti flashed that full-faced smile that only I saw for what it was. It was such a cute grin that anyone able to really see it would’ve definitely fallen for her at first sight. I knew that whoever ended up marrying Ruti in the future was sure to be a lucky man. Admittedly, I was a bit jealous.

“Big Brother, will you stay with me forever?”

“…Sorry, I can’t promise that.”


Once the storm passed, I was to set out for the town of Andar where the knight who’d scouted me was waiting. He was going to make me into a knight. The monsters near my village barely provided me with any growth. I had started seriously hunting at age six but had only managed to go from level 31 to level 33. Stuff like owlbears weren’t cutting it anymore. I knew that I had to get much stronger if I was going to travel with Ruti when she set out on her journey.

Even as a kid, I had my doubts on how long I’d really be able to fight at my sister’s side, but I wanted to be around long enough to ensure that she had a good party that would help her move forward on her own, at the very least. No matter what, I had to be prepared for anything, even a fight with the demon lord.

“But you know, Ruti, if there’s ever anything you don’t want to do, just ask me. I’ll take care of it.”

“I know.”

“Oh, you knew that?”

“You’ve told me it a lot already.”

“I wouldn’t want you to forget.”

A small ear pressed up against my back, and Ruti suddenly went very still.

“I’ll return when I get some time off. Is there anything you want me to bring as a gift?”

“Warm milk and honey,” Ruti whispered as she clung to my body.

The path of an adventurer on a journey to face the demon lord and that of one living the slow life in Zoltan couldn’t have been further from each other. Most might’ve thought such roads would never have crossed. However…

“Are you looking for Gideon?” a young man with black hair and a dark complexion asked Danan.

Danan wasn’t particularly skilled at tracking, so he’d had no end of trouble trying to locate any clues his former party member might’ve left behind. Currently, he was in a particularly foul mood and was drinking at the tavern in the town where Gideon had left the group.

“What’d ya say?” Nice and comfortably drunk, Danan glared at the young man who’d asked him the question. Often, Danan activated his Menacing Gaze skill without meaning to. Even faced with such a look, the young man appeared unperturbed, however.

“Say, you’re pretty strong!” Danan complimented.

“Not nearly as strong as you, but I know my way around a sword.”

“That right?”

“More importantly, you’re looking for Gideon, right?”

“What if I am? You know where he is or something?”

“No, not really. But I happen to be looking for him, too.”

“You are?”

Danan sobered up at that. He clenched his fists and glowered at the dark-haired young man, ready to brawl at the drop of a hat.

“Shall we search together? Doubtless, it should be more efficient.” Once again, the young man’s smile refused to budge in the slightest.

By evening, the storm had finally hit. A strong wind was blowing outside. Rain flew parallel to the ground, pelting buildings with an almost wavelike cadence. In the blink of an eye, the tracks my boots left became overflowing puddles.

“No customers are going to come with the weather like this. Let’s just close up.” I shut the door to the shop and locked it from the inside. I’d only opened it for a brief moment, but the floor was already soaked.

“Here you go,” Rit said, handing me a washcloth.

“Oh, thanks.”

I took it and started wiping the floor. While I was doing that, Rit double-checked the register for what little sales we had today. Neither task took long to complete.

“We can take tomorrow off. I’m sure we won’t get any customers,” I said.

“No one would be out walking around at a time like this,” Rit commented.

“Yeah,” I replied.

The wind picked up, whipping around the outside of the building. Thankfully, my shop was the work of Gonz, the best carpenter in the working-class part of town. As such, the foundation didn’t budge an inch. Rit and I settled in to wait out the rain.

Bang, bang! There came a loud thumping on the door.

“On a day like this?” I asked, surprised.

“Red! It’s me! Newman!”

“Dr. Newman?!”

Hurriedly opening the door, I was greeted by the sight of Dr. Newman garbed in a heavy cloak. He wasn’t alone, however. The old man was carrying someone on his back.

“Al?!” I exclaimed.

It was indeed. The boy was soaked to the bone, slumped over, and bleeding from his head. His bare feet were muddied and pale, likely due to a lack of blood flow from the cold.

“Rit, get blankets and towels!” I called.

“Got it!”

Rit had already started moving before I’d even asked for anything. She immediately brought what I’d requested. I set a blanket out on the floor of the shop and laid Al down on top of it. Rit used her spirit magic to get some hot water ready quickly while I wrapped Al’s body to warm him up.

Meanwhile, Dr. Newman took some disinfectant and a hemostatic to stop the bleeding from the medicine shelf and began to treat the wounded child.

“It’s deeper than I thought…,” the doctor murmured to himself.

The blood kept pouring from the wound on Al’s temple.

“This is bad.” I was watching from the side, but even I could tell how serious the injury was. There was no way that standard procedures were going to be enough.

“Give me a second,” I said and ran to the storage room. Quickly, I snatched up five cure potions—concoctions that each contained the essence of a Cure spell. Wounds that could not be treated in time via standard methods could still be healed with magic.

These are a bit of a luxury for common folk, but they’re just copies anyway.

They were cure potions I’d created with my multiplying potion. Selling them was out of the question, so they were best put to use for this sort of emergency. I rushed back to Al and used all five of them, one after another. Thankfully, Al’s condition began to stabilize rather quickly.

“We made it in time.” I let out a long exhale, relieved.

“You surprised me there. I never would’ve imagined you’d use a cure potion on him… I hate to admit it, but there’s no way that Al’s family will be able to pay for five of those potions…,” Dr. Newman said.

“I’m well aware. He’s a friend of mine, though,” I replied.

“A friend, huh?”

“If you don’t mind, could you keep it a secret that I used cure potions for this? Just say you did what you usually do,” I requested.

“I understand. You’re a good man, Red,” Dr. Newman replied with a smile.

“What happened to him anyway?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I was on my way back after getting a call from some fool who tried to repair a leaky roof in this weather and fell off. Al was collapsed on the side of the road as I passed by, in the exact same shape as when I brought him to you. Truthfully, I would’ve preferred not to impose, but this was closer to where I found him than my clinic, so I decided it was for the best. Sorry for causing such a ruckus.”

“Not at all. Thank you for saving my friend. If you hadn’t stumbled on him, Al probably would’ve died.”

As his body started to warm back up, Al’s face began to look more at ease.

“There were several stone fragments in the wound. Maybe he was pelted by a stone the wind had kicked up,” Dr. Newman proposed.

“I see. I wonder what he was doing outside on a day like this, though, and walking around this part of town of all places. He’s only wearing indoor clothes. What could’ve possessed him to go running outside without a poncho or shoes?” I wondered aloud.

“I have no idea,” Dr. Newman answered.

“…I guess we have to wake him then,” I decided.

Waking Al was not a great option, given how weak he undoubtedly was. I just couldn’t shake the thought that something bad was going to happen if I didn’t find out what’d occurred, though. Gently, I nudged Al’s shoulder and called his name a few times.

“Ngh…” After a few moments, the half-elf boy finally opened his eyes.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Mr. Red…” There was relief in Al’s eyes, but the next moment, they shot open in terror, and the kid clutched at my arm.

“Ah! Aaaargh!” he screamed.

“What is it?!” I asked, frantic. “It’s okay, Al. I’m right here. Calm down.”

“P-please help!” cried the boy.

“You’re safe now. This is my shop. No one will hurt you here,” I told him.

“Not me!” Al shrieked. “My home! Ademi came…attacked Mom and Dad… He had an ax!” Al’s throat clenched, terrified from the mere memory. His breathing tightened. Dr. Newman frantically tried to soothe the poor boy to get his respiration back to normal.

Ademi…that kid who picked a fight the first time we met? And wielding an ax? I don’t know what’s going on, but if I don’t hurry…


As I stood up, Rit called out from behind me. When I turned around, I saw she had brought a cloak and a bag with two Extra Cure potions.

“The cloak is mine. It’s a shielding mantle made by high elves. It’s got Environmental Resistance,” she explained.

“Thank you,” I said.

Immediately, I slipped the cloak over my shoulders, grabbed the bag, and dashed toward Al’s house in the middle of the storm.

Al’s parents were injured but thankfully still alive.

By the time I reached their house in Southmarsh, the front door was wide open, and rain was blowing into the building. I passed through an entryway that may as well have been a moat. Their house was a simple one, with just a kitchen and bedroom, so it was an easy task to find its occupants.

Al’s parents were collapsed in the bedroom. While they were still bleeding, the wounds didn’t appear to have been made by an edged weapon. For some reason, Ademi had apparently used the butt of the ax instead of the cutting edge when he’d attacked them. The blood loss was bad, but the wounds themselves were relatively shallow. The Extra Cure potions Rit had given me weren’t even necessary to stabilize the two.

I set to the task of cleaning the wounds and stopping the bleeding. Then I gave them some painkillers and set their broken bones. Later, Dr. Newman arrived to confirm no serious complications I had missed.

The worst outcome had been avoided, of course, but I knew this incident was going to cause some serious problems down the line. Ademi was the son of the captain of the guard and lived on Council Street.

In the days that followed the attack on Al’s family, Ademi very conspicuously disappeared. The half-elves and other demi-humans living in Southmarsh accused the guardsmen of concealing him somewhere, but no official response was ever given. The situation sat like embers that threatened to burst into a fire of discontent. Though the storm had passed, a greater unease now gripped the denizens of Zoltan.

“Al, is there something you’d like for breakfast?” I asked.

“…Anything is fine with me,” the boy replied.

“I can do cheese toast, egg toast, some fried white fish, bacon salad, pickled cabbage…”

My eyes studied Al’s face as I listed off some meal options. There was a slight twitch when I mentioned scrambled eggs.

“Yeah, scrambled eggs sound good,” I concluded. “Some boiled beans and the tomatoes we got from Tanta’s family would pair well on the side. And a chicken soup to go with it.”

“Thank you.” Al’s expression was still stiff, but there was a faint hint of anticipation for the food as well. I grinned and told Al to wait in the living room, then headed to the kitchen.

Recently, it’d been decided that Al would stay with Rit and I for a while. His parents had become the symbols of the protests going on in Southmarsh. As such, Bighawk, one of the top members of the Thieves Guild, was having them recover at his mansion in Southmarsh. A local doctor was handling their convalescence as well, instead of Dr. Newman.

“I can understand what those guys are saying; I mean, I did get pretty banged up, after all. But I don’t want my son getting wrapped up in a place so consumed by hatred.” That’s what Al’s father had said to me with his head lowered to the ground in a deep bow. He’d come to my door with a bag of forty-seven quarter payril, the entirety of his savings. Rit and I insisted that the man stand back up, and we agreed to look after Al for the time being.

“Good morning!”

Rit had woken up a bit late today. Her cheerful greeting earned little response from Al, but he did nod slightly in her direction. While not much, it was a marked improvement over the first day of the boy’s stay with us. He’d hardly said a single word when he’d first arrived.

Al’s parents had been attacked right before his eyes, and the best he’d been able to do was turn tail and run. As if that hadn’t been enough, he’d also been made to witness his neighbors berating and cursing out their fellow Zoltanis. Al was still just a child, and that was an experience more than traumatic enough to cause him to wall his heart off from the world.

“All right, it’s ready,” I called.

The scrambled eggs laid out on the table almost seemed to sparkle under the morning sunshine that shone through the window. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that a significant part of what made eggs great was how visually pleasing they were.

“Thanks for the meal,” Al muttered.

Rit was sitting beside me, while Al sat across from us. Together, the three of us began eating.

“Thank you, Miss Rit.”

Al and Rit were standing opposite each other in the lawn, wielding training shotels with dulled blades.

“Don’t mention it. Come at me however you like.”

Instead of her usual dual wielding, Rit was only holding a single shotel in her right hand. Her other hand was resting casually on her waist. Readying her practice weapon above her head for a vertical strike, Rit posed a question to Al.

“Faced with an opponent who is more skilled than you and has taken a high stance…?”

“A mid-stance, attack from my left.”

Al held his own weapon in his right hand at a middle stance and slowly shifted it to the left side of his body. From Rit’s point of view, it moved to her right. By adopting such a position, Al used his opponent’s raised right arm against her, as Rit’s own limb now obscured her line of sight.

Whether he’d sensed an opening or perhaps had simply gotten too anxious, Al leaped forward with a slash at Rit’s right hand.

Before his shotel could reach anything, however, Rit’s own weapon came to rest just above the boy’s shoulder, as though drawn toward the target by some unseen force.


From the moment Al had started his attack, Rit’s right hand had lanced forward. She’d stopped the sword just before it made contact, but she could have very easily smashed the poor boy’s shoulder if she’d wanted to.

“One more time, please!” Al shouted.

Rit smiled and nodded in reply.

I watched the two of them cross blades while I planted seeds and saplings that would eventually become new medicinal herbs in the garden.

Given how reserved Al had become recently, it’d come as quite the surprise when he’d asked Rit to teach him swordsmanship.

At first, Rit had turned him down, insisting that her skill wasn’t so great as to teach it to others. However, after seeing the disappointed look on Al’s face, she relented a bit, agreeing to teach him the basics. The weapon Al had chosen to master was the shotel, the same sort of bladed weapon Rit used. It was a single-handed, double-edged sword with a unique outward curve to it.

It was capable of utilizing that curve to reach around and cut past an opponent’s defenses, but it could also be flipped and wielded more like a standard sort of curved blade. At heart, it was an armament best suited for facing off against another person who was also wielding a weapon.

The unusual shape made handling shotels somewhat tricky. Admittedly, I don’t think I would’ve been able to wield one particularly well. Apparently, shotels were popular among those who had a background in arena fighting, like Rit.

A weapon master could become proficient with any weapon they chose, so in that sense, a shotel was probably a better choice than something relatively easy to handle like a spear or staff.

The wounds in Al’s heart were still raw, but while he was swinging his sword, he would occasionally break into a smile. Maybe that was because of his Weapon Master blessing.

“The scars might never fully heal, but it might not be too long before he resembles his old self,” I muttered.

In the end, Al didn’t ever land a blow on Rit, but no matter how often she parried him, he never once dropped his shotel.

After Al had gone to sleep, Rit and I stayed up drinking some coffee with a little bit of brandy mixed in.

“Thanks, Rit. He looks to be feeling a lot better because of you.”

“It’s probably more accurate to say it was thanks to the strength of his blessing. He seemed to really enjoy the feeling of moving his weapon around.”

Rit didn’t have that same level of emotional attachment to her own shotels. She certainly felt some connection to them—they’d been with her through a lot, after all. It wasn’t enough of a bond for Rit to break into a smile at the sight of them, however.

“At least his blessing is pushing him in a better direction. Al’s still emotionally unstable, though; he’s going to need a lot of attention,” Rit noted.

“Yeah, I’ll be sure to keep an eye on him, too,” I replied.

“Sigh. Still, I’ve never tried to teach anyone before… Hopefully he doesn’t pick up any bad habits from me,” Rit said.

“I think you’re doing just fine. Besides, in the end, it will come down to skills.”

“Yeaaah, but my teacher always said it wasn’t enough only to know how to swing a blade. ‘There’s a philosophy to the sword, and no blessing will teach you that.’ I never once beat him, you know.”

Rit’s master, Gaius, was the commander of the Loggervian royal guard. He had fallen to the Asura demon Shisandan. By the time the Hero’s party was finally granted admittance into the Loggervian palace, Shisandan had already transformed into Gaius and assumed his place. For someone like Rit, who did as she pleased, Gaius was the only person she’d respected back in those days.

“I wonder if I’ll be able to properly convey what he taught me to Al,” Rit wondered, unease in her voice.

Placing a hand on her cheek, I said, “I’m sure you can.”


“Yeah. That’s the kind of person you are.”

“What’s that mean?”

Rit giggled at my baseless encouragement, but I meant what I said. I knew Rit well enough to understand that she carried Gaius’s teachings with her both in matters of the sword and in her words. That’s why I was certain that she’d be able to pass her master’s teachings on to Al in all the right ways.

“Thank you,” Rit responded as she closed her eyes and rested her hand on top of mine.

Morning came.

As I was preparing to open the store for the day, the door suddenly burst open.



Gonz the carpenter and Tanta’s mother, Nao, barreled inside. The two half-elves were trembling and looked deathly pale.

“Gonz and Nao? What is it? Did something happen?” I asked.

“T-Tanta! The guards took Tanta away!” Nao exclaimed.

“What?” I was dumbfounded. They took Tanta?!

“What should we do? Mido went to the station, but they wouldn’t let him see Tanta.”

Nao was usually the epitome of toughness, but even she looked shaken after having her son stolen from her.

“First, just take a deep breath and calm down a little. What reason did they give for taking Tanta?” I inquired.

After listening to what Gonz and Nao had to say, it seemed that they hadn’t actually seen Tanta get arrested. The boy had supposedly been helping to weed the garden at Granny Alma’s place early in the morning. At around seven, some guardsmen barged into her house. Alma was taken aback, but the intruders just pushed her aside, grabbed Tanta from the backyard, and tied him up without any explanation. Once the boy was bound, they dragged him away. Alma had explained as much to Gonz, Nao, and Mido anyway.

“You’re sure none of the men said anything as to why they were doing it?” I pressed.

“That’s what Alma told us…,” Nao replied.

“…I think I should have a talk with her,” I decided.

“B-but if something happens to Tanta while we’re doing that…!” Nao protested.

There were rumors about the guards using terrifying tools to interrogate captives, but such practices were standard in most corners of the world. The staff of reform, a kind of lightning elemental rod created by lightning dragons, the guardians of the law, was one of the more famous ones.

“But it’s not like you can bust your way into the station to help him, either. Even if that did work, you’d just end up becoming a criminal in the process. We have to figure out why Tanta was taken away first, and then we can work out how we should respond. It’s the best way to help,” I explained.

“But…” Nao was too flustered.

“Besides, Zoltan guards aren’t so passionate about their jobs that they’d jump straight into beating up a child.”

“That’s true. They’re always slacking off on their night patrols,” Gonz noted.

The authorities would only resort to torture if they wanted to force a confession. It was hard to believe that Tanta had anything like that to hide, so there shouldn’t have been any reason for the guardsmen to resort to such behavior.

Can’t afford to wait around and give them a chance, though, I thought.

Suddenly, I heard a pair of footsteps approaching behind me.

“What happened to Tanta?” a young boy asked.


While his tone was calm, the juvenile half-elf’s gaze was unwavering. At his waist hung a sheath holding the dull training shotel.

After closing the shop, Rit, Al, and I made our way down the street. Rumors had already begun to fly. People exchanged worried whispers about the fate of poor Tanta.

Granny Alma was a half-dwarf, a rare sight for Zoltan. Dwarves were a race that had originated on the dark continent, but many had migrated to Avalon’s northern mountain range and had built up a country for themselves there. Alma was the descendant of dwarves who’d drifted down from that region.

“Oh, Red! What do we do?!” the old woman cried.

“Try to stay calm. I’m going to go talk to the guards. Would you tell me what happened?” I entreated.

Granny Alma’s small body was trembling, and her round, black eyes were filled with tears.

“They just hauled Tanta away! He’s such a good boy… I should have protected him! I let him down!” Utterly distraught, Granny Alma clung to me as she recounted what had happened.

“We’ve come to see Tanta,” I said to the guard standing at the entrance to the station.

“What’s with all of you? Tanta? That elf brat? He’s being interrogated right now, so come back tomorrow. And take that guy over there with you.”

The gruff guard pointed a gloved finger over toward Tanta’s father, Mido. He was sitting on the ground with an indignant look on his face.

I pulled a document out of my pocket.

“This an official quest from the Adventurers Guild. It’s a job to investigate the assault that occurred in Southmarsh. I heard from Alma that Tanta was taken into custody in connection with that event. We have a right to be present during any investigation into the matter conducted by the Zoltan guards. I’d appreciate it if you let us through so that we can resolve this incident together,” I stated.

“Say what?” The guard eyed me suspiciously as he took the document and reviewed it up and down. At first, he looked almost amused, but that delight quickly vanished. As his eyes fell to the signatures on the paper, the man paled.

“The party members are Rit… Wait, Rit the hero?! And the one who filed the quest was Galatine?! The one from the Adventurers Guild?!”

Galatine was one of the bigwigs with the guild who’d gotten into it with Rit out in front of my shop a while back. Despite being a well-known public figure, he’d actually grown up in the poor part of Zoltan and knew Granny Alma.

Even if Galatine lived on Council Street now, he hadn’t forgotten his roots. Zoltanis were hopelessly lazy and irresponsible most of the time, but they would drop everything to help when their friends were in danger. When Galatine heard what’d happened from Alma and Rit, he immediately got the documents ready and gave us the authority to take part in the investigation.

Truthfully, the man may have had another reason for being so generous with his assistance. Most likely, he wanted Rit involved with resolving the major unrest gripping the town. Still, when he’d said that he wanted to spare Granny Alma any undue guilt, I trusted that he meant the words.

Glancing up from the document, the guard forced a polite smile, but none of us returned the gesture.

“I-I’ll go get the captain, so please just wait here a moment!” the man said, and he hurried inside.



“Are you all right?! They didn’t do anything to you, did they?!”

“I’m fine!”

Mido rushed to his son’s side, wrapping him in a hug before checking to make sure that the boy was unharmed. As I’d suspected, Tanta hadn’t suffered anything more than a slight rope burn on his wrists from when he’d been bound and brought for questioning. I applied a bit of the ointment I’d brought with me to the raw areas.

“I was surprised, but they didn’t hurt me or anything. Ademi’s dad even apologized and said he didn’t mean for this to happen,” Tanta said.

The half-elf boy had been locked in one of the rooms of the station. While possessing only a single window that was so small that not even a little kid could’ve fit through it, the room was fairly innocuous. A chair and table sat to one side. Atop the table rested a pitcher filled with water.

“Ademi’s old man just asked me if I had any idea where he might be was all. He was just worried about his son.”

That meant that the rumor about the guards hiding Ademi wasn’t true. We were going to have to talk to the missing child’s father to find out what was going on.

“I’m truly sorry.”

Moen, Ademi’s father and captain of the guard, began by apologizing to Mido.

“I was the one who told my subordinates to bring Tanta here so that I could talk to him, but I never imagined they’d arrest him. Not one of them told me his father was here to see him, either.”

Mido was still very clearly infuriated over having seen the raw skin on his son’s arms, but while his indignant expression didn’t soften when Moen lowered his head and apologized, he also didn’t curse the other man out, either. Tanta himself was in a pleasant mood, likely because Moen had given him some sweet bread in apology.

“My subordinates suspect that someone in Southmarsh might’ve killed Ademi,” Moen explained.

“They’ve got the victims and perpetrators flipped there,” I shot back.

“Up until recently, Ademi would come by the station fairly often. The guards were friendly with him. After his disappearance, there are some here who feel like we’re the victims in all of this,” Moen disclosed, apologizing yet again.

It certainly explained why the men who’d come for Tanta had been so rough with him. Tanta was seen as being on Al’s side of the issue.

“But Ademi is the one who attacked my mother and father,” Al insisted, speaking up for the first time during the conversation. His voice was quiet but no less firm.

A pained expression took hold of Moen’s face when he heard the boy speak. “That’s right…but the only witnesses are you and your parents.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“There are some guards who doubt whether the person that you saw was really Ademi.”

“Oy!” I couldn’t keep myself from shouting at that.

Al’s cheeks were flushed red in anger.

“Please calm down. I’m not trying to say that you’re lying. I just want to be clear that such a line of thought is also possible. There are just too many things about this incident that don’t make any sense.”

That was certainly true, at least.

First of all, despite the fact that the victims were attacked with an ax, they only suffered blunt force trauma. They’d been hit dozens of times with the back of the weapon, resulting in several bones broken along with a few other injuries, but none of them had been critical, life-threatening wounds. While they had bled quite a bit, that was more because they had been pummeled on the forehead and nose—places that bled easily.

On top of that, despite the fact that Ademi would’ve had ample opportunity to finish them off, he left. One of the biggest mysteries was why Ademi attacked Al’s home in the first place.

It was true that Ademi hated half-elves like Tanta and Al, but even so, would he really go out of his way to leave the council neighborhood, go south to Southmarsh, attack Al’s parents, and then just disappear? And on the day of the storm, no less.

The boy’s strange disappearance hardly helped the situation. Even though he’d made contact with his blessing at a young age, Ademi was still a child. He hadn’t even reached the age of fifteen yet. No matter how naturally lazy the Zoltan guards might’ve been, they weren’t so useless that they couldn’t have caught a single child.

It was possible that Ademi ran off during the night, but that could be ruled out because the very next day was when the full force of the storm hit. He couldn’t have been camping outside in conditions like that.

Finally, where did Ademi get the ax? Why use one at all? According to the testimony from Al’s family, the weapon Ademi had used in the attack was a standard one-sided battle-ax. Ademi had a shortsword and short spear of his own, however, and he had already leveled up his blessing. That meant he’d used those weapons to hunt nearby monsters. Why wouldn’t he have used the gear he was more familiar with instead of some foreign ax?

The simplest way to resolve the contradictions was to say that Al’s family was lying. The idea that Ademi had left his room for some other reason and then Al’s family had falsified their official statement was not a totally incoherent one.

In that version of the story, the attacker would have to have been someone in Southmarsh, not Ademi. It would certainly explain why Al’s parents’ wounds weren’t fatal. They would’ve only been hit to maintain the illusion of an attack without actually endangering their lives.

“That’s bullshit!” Al shouted.

When Moen put forth a similar idea to what I’d considered, Al unsurprisingly rejected the interpretation.

“It’s only a hypothesis. I’m just saying that there are some guards who’re thinking that. That is why they’ve been treating the victims in this incident almost as if they were the perpetrators. I’m sure that is at the heart of how this unprofessional and aggressive arrest ended up the way that it did.”

The guards’ stance toward the victims in this incident had been incredibly problematic. Lawmen in Zoltan had always held disdain for those in Southmarsh because it was, to be frank, a slum.

The assailants from the attack that Rit stopped only stoked the flames; Campbell and his two friends had all been born in Southmarsh. That a guardsman had been killed in the attack hardly helped things, either.

“I’m sure it was Ademi; I saw! He was holding an ax, and he kept hitting my mother and my father! Over and over and over again! Ademi started getting really violent ever since he made contact with his blessing! I know just how savage he can be!” Al shouted, as if finally venting everything that had been stored up in his heart. Neither Rit nor I could find anything to say in the face of his anger.

“Y’know, I can’t really believe Ademi would do something like that, either…”

“Tanta?!” Al turned to his friend.

“Ah, um, s-sorry! I-I’m not trying to say you’re lying! …It’s just…about a week before Ademi went missing, he called out to me. I thought I was going to get beaten up again, but he apologized to me. He said sorry for beating me up.” In a panic, Tanta desperately tried to explain himself.

“Ademi was worried about the fact that he would suddenly get so violent because of his blessing, too. You know he dreamed of becoming a guard, right? He said it himself before; guards aren’t supposed to be violent. They’re supposed to clamp down on the violence in the town.”


“When he apologized, he said, ‘It’s okay now; I’m not going to hit people for no reason anymore.’ He didn’t look like he was lying. It was like the old Ademi was back. That’s why I was surprised when I heard he attacked your parents…” Finishing what he had to say, Tanta fled behind me to escape Al’s eyes.

“…‘It’s okay now.’ What do you think he meant by that?”

“I don’t know.”

Rit and I both felt something off about what Ademi had said to Tanta. We both had to wonder if the boy had somehow become able to control the influence of his blessing.

“The truth is, that was why I wanted to talk to Tanta today,” Moen cut in. “I wanted to ask him in a bit more detail about that day. It’s true that before he disappeared, my son seemed to be calmer. Just the other day, an adventurer from that part of town mentioned that he and Tanta had been playing together. I wanted to hear from Tanta what’d happened.”

“Ademi was in a really good mood that day, so as an apology, he gave me one of his spare wyvern race pieces,” Tanta explained.

“I see, wyvern race, huh? That brings back the memories. I played that a lot, too, back when I was a kid.” Moen’s expression softened just a tiny bit. Not surprisingly, he believed in his son. I’m sure the guards did too.

“I had heard that you were practically retired from adventuring, Rit. Maybe you only took the quest in order to be able to help Al, but still, I think it’s for the best to share what information we have with you. We can provide a reward on our side, too, if you’d be willing to help us out,” Moen said.

Rit looked a bit troubled, but in the end, she agreed to accept any clues the guards could provide, saying, “I’ll at least listen to what you have to say.”

Rit and I stayed behind in Moen’s office, while Al, Tanta, and Mido had gone back first.

I’d thought Al might complain, but he seemed put off by the fact that Moen had apologized directly to him. The boy had only nodded and gone back to my shop.

“This is a bit rude to ask, but if I may…”

“Red, right? Go ahead.”

“Were there any signs that Ademi was using that drug that’s been going around?”

Moen’s face screwed up instantly. “I made myself quite clear to him that only scum would use garbage like that!”

“Surely you see the similarities, though? This incident seems really similar to the one with Campbell.”

In both cases, axes were used, which none of the attackers should’ve been familiar with wielding. Neither incident seemed to have a motive, either. Campbell’s group had all died, while Ademi had gone missing.

“Moen, could you please share whatever you know about that drug?” I asked.

The man looked troubled, but he finally acquiesced after a moment.

“We don’t have any solid evidence yet, since there is no one in Zoltan with Appraisal. We recently reached out to Central about getting a sage or saint that could use Appraisal for us. They’re likely ignoring the request, though…”

“It has something to do with blessings, though, doesn’t it?” I surmised.

“Yes. We’ve been calling it ‘False Prophet.’ It has the ability to create another blessing.”

I see… The specifics were unclear, but such a substance definitely would’ve had an effect on a blessing’s impulses. It certainly provided an explanation for why Ademi had told Tanta he’d been freed from the urgings of his Bar Brawler blessing.

Suddenly, that sales pitch about “becoming a new you” and the reason why people kept using False Prophet, even though so many people were overdosing on it, made sense. People were flocking to this dangerous drug in order to escape the role that God had chosen for them.

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