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Chapter 1

Going to Get a Ring Made

On the continent of Avalon, there were just seven countries whose rulers were regarded as true kings. Thus this septet of nations was sometimes referred to as the seven kingdoms of Avalon.

There were other countries whose leaders were customarily addressed as kings, such as Loggervia. However, as implied by its name, the Duchy of Loggervia was not a true kingdom.

The largest of the seven was the Kingdom of Avalonia, Ruti and Red’s home country. It was situated in the center of the continent and spanned the largest swath of territory.

The Flamberge Kingdom, a country of both the pen and the sword, sat on the west side of the continent and was destroyed battling the demon lord’s army.

To the north lay the Kingdom of Kiramin, a giant city-state where the famed and proud high elves lived.

The Kingdom of Veronia controlled the southern coast. A pirate king named Geizeric had stolen the throne and raised the nation from destitution to the status of the second-greatest power in Avalon.

A knight-king descended from the previous Hero ruled the Cataphract Kingdom that controlled the northeastern plateau.

The Kingdom of Tian Long was a sizable land to the east that claimed dominion over all land beyond the Wall at the End of the World, guarded by the ancient lightning dragon.

Finally, there was the Jade Kingdom. A nation even farther to the east and separated from the dark continent by a channel. War had been raging there for many years.

Being regarded as an official kingdom did not necessarily denote power. The Duchy of Loggervia, a country with a proud military history and strong army, was far mightier than the Kingdom of Kiramin, with its limited territory, or the Kingdom of Veronia before Geizeric was crowned. However, the crown of each kingdom still wielded great influence over the lords and vassals.

It was rather ironic that those long-standing bloodlines were viewed as crucial to legitimizing rule to prevent people with blessings like Champion or Shogun from using their abilities to gather support.

When Red, Ruti, or the people of Zoltan referred to “the capital” or “Central,” they meant the capital or central region of the Kingdom of Avalonia, respectively.

In an ideal world, all the kingdoms would unite to stand together against the demon invasion.

Unfortunately, Veronia had adopted an official stance of neutrality, limiting its support to a small number of volunteers who joined up with Avalonian forces. That opportunistic positioning drew derision from other nations, convincing many that a pirate was unfit to be a true king. Yet despite the criticisms, the ninety-year-old King Geizeric kept his silence.

Kiramin had proactively declared its intention to join the war against the demon lord’s forces despite being far removed from the front line, but the differences between high elf and human thinking made effective cooperation difficult.

The Cataphract Kingdom’s proud order of knights formed of its nomadic peoples had dispatched forces across the continent. They refused to take any orders from Avalonia, though, as it had been responsible for the destruction of Gaiapolis, the initial home of the Cataphract people, including the original ruler of central Avalon.

Those two countries to the east of the Wall at the End of the World possessed little knowledge of conditions on the front lines. Information came with traveling merchants who made it through the daybreak route. Recently, there had been rumors that the warriors of the Jade Kingdom were combating a powerful army sent by the demon lord. Regardless, Tian Long and the Jade Kingdom were beyond a perilous mountain range, so coordination with Avalonia was out of the question.

In the end, the various kingdoms fought against the demon lord’s forces without unified leadership. Until the arrival of Ruti the Hero, they racked up loss after loss on crucial fronts, and for a time, the demon lord’s army occupied a significant portion of the continent.

Ruti took back regions all across Avalon, and when the demon lord’s most menacing threat, Gandor of the Wind’s wyvern knight force, fell to her, things seemed to tip in the kingdoms’ favor.

What’s more, the Hero arranged a summit between the Cataphract Kingdom and the Kingdom of Avalonia where both sides made some minor concessions. For the time being, relations between the two had improved enough that both parties were willing to stand side by side on the battlefield.

Avalon’s allied forces seemed poised to turn the tide, but the demon lord’s army was not to be underestimated. The battle on the front lines quickly came to a stalemate, and reports reached Central that Vidosra, the new heavenly king of the wind, was re-forming the wyvern knights.

Avalonia was continuing its counteroffensive with the Bahamut Knights as the centerpiece of that push, but the outcome of the war was far from a foregone conclusion.

“Oh, the price of vegetables is going up.”

I was checking out produce in the Zoltan market. Green onions had recently only been five commons, yet now they were ten.


I had planned to cook with green onions, but the doubling in price gave me pause.

“Pardon me, why did green onions get so much more expensive all of a sudden?”

The old lady running the shop was bundled up in layers but still looked cold as she warmed her hands by a little charcoal heater. She sluggishly pulled herself away from it and hobbled over. The elderly woman stared at the green onions for a moment. I could almost feel a kind of silent determination, as though her eyes were pleading with me to just understand that some things couldn’t be hel—

“Hmm, they got mislabeled.”


It was another peaceful day in Zoltan.

While I was walking around the marketplace, a familiar spider waved a front leg to me.

“Mister Crawly Wawly? By yourself today?”

I drew closer and held out my right hand, and he hopped up onto it. Then he shook his head back and forth.

“Hmm. You’re concerned about something?”

After trying to communicate a few times, I somehow managed to discern the gist of what Mister Crawly Wawly was attempting to convey. I followed his directions, walking along the Zoltan streets.

For a spider, he was seriously high spec. He had recognized me and waved me over. Perhaps he had laid threads across the ground and realized who I was from my weight and gait as I strode across the strands.

After a bit, I spied a small figure wearing a hooded cloak sitting in front of a fruit stand and staring at the merchandise.

“I can promise you they’re all delicious, miss, so please don’t worry so much about it.” With a troubled expression, a merchant held out an orange and asked, “How about this?”

The petite young woman, Tisse, gave it a quick glance before responding, “Please, don’t mind me.”

“Oh, if it isn’t Red! Help me out here! This little lady has been here for over an hour.”

“An hour?” I asked.

Mister Crawly Wawly waved his front legs as if to say he was concerned, too.

“Hey, Tisse, what’s bothering you?”

“Ah, Red. Hello. It’s nothing of importance,” she responded in a completely serious tone. “It’s just, isn’t there a foreign custom of putting a citrus fruit into a bath?”

“Ahhh. I’m not particularly knowledgeable on the subject, but I do believe there is a country with a custom along those lines.”

“It got me curious is the thing.”

“And that’s why you’re here?”

“Yes, but I’m struggling to decide which fruit would be best to use.”

“You’ve been grappling with that for more than an hour?”

Tisse had an aloof air to her, but on the inside, she was a kind person with a good head on her shoulders. However, the young woman was not without her own quirks.

“You were a member of that oddball party, too, Red,” she reminded me.

“Oops, caught me, huh?”

Ruti, Danan, Theodora, Ares, Yarandrala, and Tisse. Compared to them, I counted myself as pretty harmless and bland.

“You are splendidly eccentric, too,” Tisse added.

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Mister Crawly Wawly averted his eyes, as if to indicate he was normal, unlike us.

“W-well, setting that aside…I don’t really know the actual custom, but…most likely any citrus fruit would work to create a nice scent for a bath,” I stated.

Tisse nodded thoughtfully. “I see. Which would you go with?”

“Hmmm, I imagine mikan or yuzu might be pretty good.”

“Mikan and yuzu? Yeah, those would be good to try.”

“You’ve finally decided?! Thank goodness.”

The merchant looked relieved. He managed to sell me some mikan, too.

Tisse and I were both walking back with bags in hand.

“By the way, where did the sudden curiosity about that foreign custom come from?” I asked.

“Yesterday, I took on a job rescuing some villagers and adventurers who had been captured by trolls, and this older woman who was a mage and retired adventurer helped out.”

“Oh? Someone capable enough to actually support you?”

“There were two entrances, so I had her wait at one while I went in from the other. She took out all of the trolls who tried to escape by herself.”

“Wow, that’s something you don’t see every day.”

“Indeed. So after it was over, she happened to comment that she’d like to relax with a nice soak, which sparked a pleasant conversation about baths.”

“You two struck up a rapport?”

Tisse generally kept a straight face and was very businesslike, so getting a real conversation out of her on a first encounter wasn’t easy. That woman had to be pretty capable.

“Anyway, I heard about the citrus custom from her, but unfortunately, I couldn’t recall which fruits she mentioned, which is how I ended up here.”

“Looking to test it the very next day after you heard about it? You really love your baths.”

“I do.”


No hesitation at all. Curiously, Tisse seemed smug about it.

“Uhhh, then how would you feel about all of us going to a hot spring sometime?” I suggested.

“Is there such a place nearby?”

“I feel like I’ve heard a rumor of one near the Wall at the End of the World.”

“A natural hot spring? Fascinating.”

Tisse’s eyes were sparkling.

What was I going to do now if it was only a myth?

“Oh yeah,” I began, abruptly changing the subject. “Does that woman live in town?”

“No, I think she resides in a slightly isolated settlement but happened to be around visiting some friends in Zoltan. So when were you planning to visit this hot spring?”

“I-I’ll look into a date that’s convenient for all of us.”

Tisse wasn’t going to let it go, so I didn’t have any other choice…

Tisse and I split up after finishing our grocery shopping. While walking back home, I heard cheers from a nearby field.


“That’s five wins in a row!”

“She’s the wyvern queen!”

What’s that? Curious, I detoured a bit to check out what the fuss was about.

“You’re amazing!!!”


It was Ruti. She was playing the board game wyvern race with a bunch of children. Judging by her big smile, she was really enjoying herself.

Evidently, she was on a bit of a winning streak and had captured a bunch of the children’s wyvern figures.

“R-rematch! I want a rematch!” demanded one child.


Ruti placed a glass wyvern figure on the board. Its sparkling construction was a marvel to behold. Undaunted, the children set up a white stone wyvern, a black steel one, and a red-eyed one.

A figure’s quality did not provide any real advantage, but as Zoltan played by winner-take-all rules, unique miniatures exerted a kind of psychological pressure because of the confidence one needed to risk losing them. The game could be played with wyverns scribbled on bits of wood or some pebbles, but being willing to match your best wyvern against your opponent’s was a way to mentally keep yourself on an equal footing, and it was a key trick for success.

“Looks like things are heating up here.”

“Big Brother?!”

Noticing me, Ruti looked flustered, like a little kid caught fooling around with something she wasn’t supposed to. Her reaction was so adorable that I couldn’t help smiling.

“That’s a pretty amazing collection. You must have been winning a lot.”


“You always wanted to try playing, right? There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Ruti had been the Hero since she was a child. Consequently, making friends had been very difficult for her. She’d never been part of the group of children in our village.

To the best of my knowledge, she hadn’t ever played wyvern race before. But I did know that over the course of our journey, she had been gathering wyvern figures when she could get her hands on them without drawing attention.

Ruti looked a bit ashamed at being caught taking wyverns from children, but that was the wrong way to look at it. Whether you were playing against children or adults, the thrill of wyvern race was in betting your figures on the roll of the dice. There was no shame in her collecting the wagered miniatures if she won.

I flashed a reassuring smile so Ruti wouldn’t be worried.

“I played it a bit myself back when I was an apprentice with the knights.”

“You did?”

“We can all play together sometime if you want.”

“Okay.” Ruti nodded happily.

There was a charcoal heater near my feet as I sat at the counter and looked through my notes with a groan. It had been a day since my run-ins with Ruti and Tisse.

“A gemstone…”

I was struggling with what to do about the jewel for Rit’s ring. She had said that she would be happy with whatever I chose, but that was why I wanted to find the perfect stone for her.

Setting the question of funds aside, there weren’t a lot of gems to be found out here in the boonies.

Zoltan butted right up against the Wall at the End of the World, making it a dead end of sorts. Thus, only things in real demand made it here. And when it came to jewels, the selection was the bare minimum of those suited to the local aristocrats. Wealthy people around here tended to be more particular about fabrics than gems. They found colorful, multilayered outfits more appealing because that was the style in Central. Accessories were relegated to an afterthought. Such attire was widely panned by the Zoltan working class. It was hot and suffocating just to look at them.

“…I really don’t want to concede on this, though. A pale-blue sapphire would suit her eyes best.”

I crossed off all the gemstones on the compromise list.

“Okay, I guess I’ll have to go to the Wall at the End of the World.”

If you wanted to find precious stones near Zoltan, the giant mountain range dividing the continent was your only choice. The gem giants living there would have most any jewel.

However, I had come to Zoltan to take it easy and live a slow life, so I hadn’t investigated the lay of the land around the mountain range.

I unfurled a map made by a local cartographer, but it was mostly blank. There was a wide swath of unexplored land. I traced a big circle in the uncharted space with my finger.

“Their settlement should be somewhere in here… That’s really too wide a range, though.”

Were I planning to gather people and supplies for a months-long exploratory expedition, it would be a different story, but I obviously wasn’t. I didn’t have the funds for such a venture.

“I should visit the zoog village first.”

There was a village of rodent-like monsters called zoogs near the base of the mountain range that formed the Wall at the End of the World. Zoogs possessed human-level intelligence, so hopefully they would know a fair bit about the surroundings. They were not particularly friendly to outsiders, but I had rescued a young wounded zoog and returned it to its village a while back, so I was on good enough terms with them. They would welcome me if I brought along some meat as a gift.

“Red, I’ve finished the job.”

“Thank you.”

Rit was back from the delivery to Dr. Newman’s clinic. She slipped her gloves off, removed her coat, and headed over to me. Her cheeks were red from the winter cold, so I cupped my hands over them.

“Your hands are so warm.”

Lately, we had gotten in the habit of doing things like this after one of us went outside for something.

“I’ve got a heater here, so let’s warm up together.”

“Mm, in that case…”

Rit slightly adjusted my hands on her cheeks to hide the fact that she was starting to blush a bit and break into a smile as she sat down beside me.


Then she wrapped her cold legs around one of mine.

“Wh-whoa, wait a sec, Rit.”

“You can use the heater, and I’ll just take your warmth.”

Rit’s thighs squeezed tight. Her legs were chilly from walking around outside, but my face and body were only getting hotter.

“You’re blushing, Red.”

“…You’re beet red, too.”

“That’s just from walking around outside,” Rit teased.

I could feel her grinning behind my hands. As payback for her remark, I kneaded her cheeks a bit.

Today was a good day.

Once she wasn’t so cold, Rit moved away a bit and looked at the map spread out on the counter.

“Huh? Why did you have that out?”

“Ah, that’s, well…”

“Spit it out already… Wait!” Rit latched on to me all of a sudden. “You’re thinking about going off on an adventure by yourself, aren’t you?”

“You’ve got it all wrong…” I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret, but explaining my intentions was kind of embarrassing. “I’m just planning out how to get a gem for your ring.”

“Ah…” Rit’s expression softened before my eyes. “Th-that’s right…the gem for the ring…”

She pressed her forehead into my chest and squeezed me tight to conceal her flushed face.

“Eh-heh-heh, the ring…”

Rit’s shoulders trembled in my arms. Her reaction was just so endearing that I had to kiss her forehead.

The two of us held each other like that until we heard a customer enter and hurriedly broke away. The half-elf carpenter Gonz had come in and was smirking as Rit and I disentangled ourselves. After he purchased the medicine he needed and left, we pulled the map back out from under the counter to look over it again.

“All right, where were you going to get the gemstone?” Rit inquired.

“There’s a village of gem giants up in the Wall at the End of the World, and I was hoping they might sell me one.”


Seeing her surprise, I explained my plan a bit more.

“I see…but it’s not like you have to go that far for me. I would treasure anything you chose for me, even if it was a common stone.”

“You told me to pick out a ring for you, and I don’t want to make any compromises. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime ring for me, too, after all.”

“Once in a lifetime…eh-heh-heh…,” giggled Rit with an uncomposed grin. After hiding behind her red bandana in embarrassment, she nodded. “Okay, I understand. If you’re going to put that much love into it, then I’ll be sure to accept it with at least that much affection, too! I can’t wait to see what kind of ring you’ll get for me!”

“Leave it to me. That said, I don’t really know if I’ll be able to find the gem giants. And if I do, who can say if they have what I’m looking for…? If this doesn’t work, I have some blue agate on hold with a merchant. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. It’d be quite the disappointment.”

“You’re wrong! There’s no way I could be disappointed after learning how hard you’re trying! There’s no one in the world cooler than my Red!” Rit exclaimed. Her tone made it obvious she meant every word.

I hid my reddening cheeks and slack-jawed smirk behind my right arm as I considered starting to wear a bandana around my neck like Rit.

Seeing me blushing, Rit pressed her lips together as if trying to hold something back.

“Aaargh! You’re the best! You better take responsibility if I end up loving you even more than I already do!”

Rit wrapped her arms around me and kissed me.

Again, a customer arrived, and we swiftly distanced ourselves.

This time, the local dwarf blacksmith stepped in, paying no heed to what we had obviously been doing. He strode over to the counter and dropped his arms down on it with a thud.

“Red! It’s a good day, isn’t it!”

“It sure is, Mogrim. So what can I do for you? I doubt a dwarf like you is looking for a hangover cure.”

Mogrim’s bearded face split in a wide grin.

“Damn straight! Any dwarf from Sir Beard Mountain can swallow a drake’s skull filled to the brim with whiskey and get up the next morning to stoke the furnace without missing a beat. I swear on my ax!”

Loving booze was a dwarf’s pride. When imbibing with a dwarf, it was important to state that you would drink at your own pace. Dwarves understood that consuming alcohol was a status symbol only among their kind, and the vast majority wouldn’t force the case with someone from another race who turned down a drink.

Some would go on about how “no-beards are all just a bunch of kids who can’t handle a little sip!” and make a show of dominance about it, but there were jerks everywhere.

Mogrim was a laid-back sort of guy, a bit of an outlier among his people. He didn’t pressure others.

“Say, did I ever tell you the story of the deadly orochi drake that came from the Far East and how I managed to get it drunk and slay it?”

This self-proclaimed drake slayer’s only major flaw was his tendency toward recounting tall tales of his supposed feats.

“You may have mentioned it. So what medicine were you wanting?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, that. I’ve got a good friend coming over tonight. I was hoping you could share a bit of your spices.”

“Spices, huh? Sure. I owe you for your help with the ingredients for the warmers, after all.”

“Great! I’ll be sure to pay you back for this!”

I gathered up the seasonings Mogrim wanted in several little bags and handed them over. He gripped my hand in a big handshake and thanked me in a loud voice before purchasing a few nutritional cookies and departing.

The shop fell silent again as Rit and I smiled at each other.

“So when are you going?”

“To the Wall? Honestly, there’s not much time left until the night of the solstice festival, and that’s when I wanted it all ready. Actually, I was planning to leave the day after tomorrow.”

“So soon! Okay, I’ll get my things in order, too, then!”


“Obviously, I’m coming with you.”

“Er, but I’m going to get a gemstone for you, so getting your help is sort of…,” I protested.

“There’s nothing wrong with that! The important part is that you choose the stone for me. It’s fine for us to share the load when it comes to actually acquiring it!” Rit declared, her sky-blue eyes trained on mine.

“…I guess so. Sorry. We can make the trip together.”


That meant taking some more time to prepare more appealing travel rations.

Even the notion of exploring the Wall at the End of the World sounded fun when I imagined doing it with Rit.

Ruti and Tisse came over for dinner. Tonight’s menu was a potato soup and chicken thighs sautéed in butter.


Ruti enjoyed the meal with great enthusiasm.

After we had all finished, I said, “Ruti.”

“What is it?”

“There’s something I wanted to talk about.”

The trip to the Wall would keep me away from Zoltan for a while. There was no way I couldn’t tell my sister.

“I’m planning to head out to the Wall at the End of the World in two days.”

“Why there?”

“I’m going to a village of gem giants to trade some glass for a gemstone. Which means I won’t be home for some time.”

“Okay.” Ruti nodded as she stared directly at me. “I’ll go, too.”


There was a clarity to Ruti’s voice that made her sound all the more forceful.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment,” she stated.

“You have?”

“I’ve been on more adventures and gone through more fights than I can count, but all because I was the Hero. And you faced those dangers for my sake. I’m really grateful for all of that,” Ruti explained, her gaze on me unwavering. “But I’ve never once done the same for you. I’ve never fought for you. I want to support you using the strength that I have.”

Ruti paused to lean in close.

“Please let me go with you, Big Brother.”

“I—I see. Heh. I never knew you felt that way. Thank you. It’s nice to know that. And I understand better than anyone how reliable you are. It would be reassuring to have you with me.”


Ruti clenched her fists, determined to help. So cute.

With slight nervousness, I asked, “Umm, what about you, Tisse?”

“I’ll watch the shop and continue preparations for the herb farm. The three of you shouldn’t have any issue with monsters.”

Tisse beamed as she beheld Ruti’s determination. My younger sister had truly found a great friend.

“By the way.”


“What is the gemstone for, Big Brother?”

A chill fell over the room. Tisse froze, and Rit and I glanced at each other. Ruti seemingly didn’t notice, her expression unclouded. I took a deep breath before slowly responding.

“I’m planning to get an engagement ring made.”

Tisse gave an audible gulp. Rit looked nervous as she clasped her hands together.

“Big Brother.” Ruti looked up at me with her red eyes. “Congratulations. That’s great.”

She looked pleased as she smiled.

“Whew, I was nervous there,” admitted Rit after Ruti and Tisse had left. Her arms relaxed, and she laughed nervously. “I’m surprised, though. She’s really attached to you. I thought she might be upset about having her big brother taken.”

“Yeah. The reason she couldn’t really develop any affection toward other people was because of her blessing, though. Without that holding her back, maybe she’s found someone else besides me.”

The Divine Blessing of the Hero came with psychological resistances and immunities that had prevented Ruti from developing typical human affections toward other people. The memory of her feelings for me from before gaining those was the only love that she had been able to experience.

Now, thanks to New Truth, she was able to turn her immunities on and off as she pleased. She could fall in love with whomever she liked.

“She’s growing up and doesn’t need her big brother anymore. It’s a little bittersweet, honestly,” I confessed.

“You do love to dote on her,” Rit remarked.

“Mrgh…I won’t deny it.”

“What’ll you do if she ends up with someone like Godwin?”

“Assassinate him.”

“Th-that’s not something you should say with a straight face. It doesn’t sound like a joke when you put it like that.”

I had meant it in jest…though if the time ever did come, would I really be able to stay levelheaded? If Ruti truly loved someone like that, I wasn’t sure I’d have a choice.

“Silly Red.”

Rit smiled wryly, as if she had realized what I was thinking.

It has always been clear they were headed that way, but after that conversation…

My name is Tisse Garland. An Assassin and the love-stricken Hero’s best friend.

Moments before, Ruti had congratulated Red on his engagement to Rit. At a glance, it seemed like she had given up on her brother and was offering the two her best wishes for their shared future. Red and Rit might have taken it to mean that Ruti had moved on.

However, they were wrong. After spending so much time with Ruti, I could tell.

“Ms. Ruti, is this okay?”

“Is what okay?”

“Red and Rit.”

“Oh.” Ruti nodded. “Rit’s a good person. I’m sure she will cherish Big Brother. Recently, I’ve even started to think that if anyone was going to be Big Brother’s wife, she would be a good fit.”

“Is that so? That’s all fine…but aren’t you going to feel lonely if he gets married?”

“Lonely? Why?”


Ruti smiled at me. It was a clear expression bearing no ill will.

“I can’t marry Big Brother, since we’re siblings. So I’ll let Rit be his wife.”

“Uh, umm?”

“Even if we’re not wedded, we can still be lovers.”

Ruti’s doll-like, almost expressionless face turned ever so slightly red.

“Big Brother’s very broad-minded, so he can handle two people just fine. Rit can be his spouse, but we can be a couple, too.”


Red, you’ve gravely misunderstood the situation. It’s true that Ruti develops feelings for others now, but affection doesn’t just go up equally for everyone. Now that she’s unrestrained, her love for you is growing greater every day. She might well be past a point of no return.

Mister Crawly Wawly on my shoulder and I both tilted our heads, wondering what we could do about this.

There was a small village not far off the road that travelers often stopped at on their way to Zoltan.

If more people ventured this way, the settlement might have grown to be a tavern town, but few bothered to make the trip to Zoltan. Thus, despite this village being a day’s journey from Zoltan, it had only a single two-story inn.

A beautiful high elf and a dejected man were sitting at a dirty table outside the tavern. The worn-down chair legs were not all the same height, so their occupants wobbled back and forth. The dejected man scratched his face while chewing on a pickled carrot.

“Hey. I told you where they live, so you don’t need me anymore, right?” the man asked in a nervous, hushed tone.

“I don’t know whether you’ve told me the truth yet. And you seem like a criminal, so I can’t just let you roam free,” Yarandrala fired back immediately.

She didn’t even pretend to care about her associate’s reproachful look.

“You said you’d let me go if I talked!” the man protested.

“I only asked if you would answer my question. I never said word one about doing anything for you if you cooperated.”

“Cut me some slack here!”

The man clawed at his face again.

“If you keep scratching like that, your face will slip off,” chided Yarandrala.

“But it really stings.”

“The fungus is growing into your flesh, so that’s to be expected.”

“Is this really okay? Will it take my skin with it when it comes off?”

“You’ll be fine. It will take care of all of your acne and leave you with a nice, smooth face afterward. If anything, the fungus is complaining about how unclean your skin is. You need to learn to wash your face properly.”

“Th-the fungus is complaining?”

Anyone who saw him now wouldn’t recognize the man, but he was Godwin the Alchemist. Previously, he’d been Bighawk’s right-hand man and the member of the Thieves Guild who had prepared Devil’s Blessing and kidnapped the half-elf boy Al. After Godwin was jailed for his crimes, Ruti had broken him out. From there, he’d been embroiled in the fight against Ares.

Yarandrala had spread a fungus called yellow mask across Godwin’s face. Yellow mask created a new appearance and voice when applied. It was an incredibly dangerous fungus that could parasitize a person’s nervous system, even control their movements, if allowed to spread to the back of one’s head. However, with Yarandrala’s ability to manipulate plants, it was not doing anything more than altering Godwin’s appearance and speech.

If Godwin had known yellow mask’s true nature, he would have undoubtedly made a big fuss, but fortunately, he’d trusted Yarandrala’s explanation that it was merely used for disguises.

“Very much so, yes.” Seeing Godwin sulking, Yarandrala lowered her voice a bit. “For someone who claimed to be Rit’s friend, you were awfully quick to reveal where she was living.”

“You said that you didn’t come to cause any problems for Rit and Red.”

“And you took me at my word. If you truly were their companion, shouldn’t you have probed more and made sure I wasn’t an enemy?”

“Look, I told you what I know like you asked, so why are you scolding me? High elves really are a pain in the ass!”

“It’s because humans trust others far too readily.”

Godwin heaved a sigh. Evidently, he had no choice but to return to Zoltan with Yarandrala. If the guards somehow managed to see through his disguise, it would be the end of the line for him.

Even if I try to run, this Yarandrala or whatever is crazy strong. I don’t see how I could escape… The only way out is to hope Red and the others can get her to release me.

They had let him go once before, after all. Godwin’s only hope was that they would explain things to this high elf.

Come afternoon the next day, I was carrying a big bag on my back as I perused the market.

“What else do I need to get…?”

My first extended trip into the wilderness in a long while was fast approaching, and I was gathering miscellaneous bits and pieces I would need.

“I’ve got a charcoal heater and some flint. We can just use fallen branches for firewood, but I’ve got one day’s worth to be safe. Thirty meters of silk rope, a new tent, an old blanket, a jar of oil for the lantern, three bars of soap, ten pieces of chalk, a dozen torches, a whetstone, waterproof bags, a pot, a ladle, skewers, a cutting board, a tripod for the pot. It’s a nice one that you can attach the skewers to for grilling. And I’ve got the pork to give the zoogs and glass marbles for the gem giants.”

The expenses for the preparations hurt a bit, but if I could get the gem giants to trade me any extra jewels, I’d be able to make up what I’d lost without much trouble. Dealing in gemstones wasn’t really an apothecary’s job, but if I was already there and could make something out of it, I might as well.

“Should I go with fourteen days of rations to be on the safe side? …Yeah, and I think I’ll make some elven preserves this time.”

I thought back to a recipe that my old friend Yarandrala had taught me.

It was for a soft bread kneaded with sugar and milk. Typically, something like that wouldn’t keep for very long, but the high elves had worked out a preservation method whereby they made a paste using fay strawberries and brownberries and then coated the bread in it. With that, the bread could last for half a year without going bad.

Danan and the others had liked it quite a bit, though honestly it seemed Danan would say anything was tasty. Either way, a sugary bread would be good for a tired body.

“I’ve got most of the ingredients already, but I need to make sure to pick up some fay strawberries.”

Despite my carrying a large bag, my footsteps felt lighter as I imagined Rit’s expression when she ate the bread.

Night fell, and Rit and I had closed up shop and were getting ready for tomorrow.

“There, that should be perfect for this!”

“What? Oooh, that’s a knife from Igosu, isn’t it?”

“Light and sturdy. And it’s magic, too. Look, you can freeze it floating in the air. You can hook bags and tents on it.”

“Nice, that looks pretty handy.”

The two of us were taking our time packing, and Rit was having fun showing off the convenient gear she was bringing.

We weren’t exactly making incredible progress, but that was all right. Even if we didn’t complete things tonight, we could finish in the morning and set out by noon, or even the next day, if necessary. This adventure was just one more aspect of our slow life. Making it a fun journey was more important to us than efficiency.

Just as I was thinking as much, trouble did wind up coming to call.

“Red! Sorry, but can you please let me in?!”

Mogrim was knocking on the door, and his voice was hoarse.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Sensing something was up, Rit and I immediately went out to the storefront. After opening the door, I saw that Mogrim was standing there barefoot, his face red from exertion beneath his beard.

“Red! The missus collapsed!”


“Dr. Newman came to see her but said he didn’t have enough medicine! He told me it would be faster to just come to you instead of going to the clinic and back. Here, look at this. It’s got everything written on it.”

I took the doctor’s note Mogrim offered and read it over.

“…These are for anemia and dehydration.”

“Really? I don’t really know what it’s all about, but you can get them for her, right?”

“And there’s one other medicine listed for her to take later if she needs it.” I looked the dwarf straight in the eyes. “Mogrim, what did Dr. Newman tell you before you came here?”

“I’m pretty sure he mentioned a lot of things, but I just sort of lost my head when the missus collapsed, and only got the bit about her needing medicine… Wh-why? Is it something really bad?”

“What is it, Red?” Rit sounded worried as she peeked over my shoulder at the note. “Ah! That’s…” She noticed it, too. “Congratulations, Mogrim!”

“What?! My wife collapsed and you’re congratulating me?!”

“The last two medicines on the list are cold and headache medicine for women who are expecting.”


“Mink is pregnant,” I stated.

Mogrim stood there flabbergasted for a moment before covering his mouth with both hands. In response, I hurriedly covered my ears.


People joked that a dwarven victory cry could knock even an orc hussar off their horse. Upon hearing Mogrim, I finally understood.

I left the preparations for tomorrow to Rit and went with Mogrim to deliver the medicine. Dr. Newman and an older human woman were already at Mogrim’s workshop.

Oh yeah, he mentioned he had a guest coming the other day. I guess this is she.

“Oh, Red, you’re here already?”

“I brought the medicine you asked for.”

“Ha-ha, it wasn’t a big rush or anything. Still, Mogrim was insistent I check up on Mink,” explained Dr. Newman.

“How is she?” I asked.

“Merely a little anemic. She was only unconscious for a very short time. I imagine she’s built up a lot of fatigue the past few days. It’s likely she’ll need to cut back on her work hours going forward. There don’t seem to be any issues for either the mother or child, however.”

“So she really is pregnant.”

“Yes, about three months along.”

Mogrim was already winding up for another shout, but I frantically covered his mouth.

“You’ll disturb Mink!” I scolded him.

Mogrim’s eyes went wide, and he nodded.

“Oooooh.” Tears were streaming from the dwarf’s eyes as he struggled to keep his voice down. “I thought I was too old to be having kids.”

“I’m sure Kyutie, the guardian of love, bestowed a blessing on your harmonious marriage,” the old lady remarked as she patted Mogrim’s back. Then she turned to me with a slight smile. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Is that right? At my age, it gets a bit hard to remember.”

“Yes, it’s nice to meet you, ma’am. My name is Red. I moved to Zoltan last year and am running an apothecary nearby.”

“Oh, so you’re that Red? I’ve heard all sorts of stories about you. It’s nice to finally make your acquaintance.”

She looked me up and down and then nodded.

“And the rumors didn’t lie. You are quite the handsome young fellow. Also, please, you don’t need to be so formal with me just because I’m old. I’m just a retired lady.”

“Okay. By the way, what sort of rumors have you heard, Ms., umm…”

“Oops, I never gave you my name, did I?”

I examined her a bit closer. She looked to be in her seventies. Despite her walking stick, she seemed as steady on her legs as any. There were vestiges of what had probably been a beautiful face beneath the wrinkles, and her black eyes still held a lively energy. Her hair was snow white. While her robe sported no adornments, it was woven with silver silkworm thread, making it quite valuable. The material was durable, enough to endure decades of travel.

“My name is Mistorm. I used to be the mayor a long time ago.”

She stopped patting Mogrim’s back and held out her hand. When I took it and shook, her grip was far stronger than I’d expected.

“Ms. Mistorm…so you’re Master Mistorm.”

“You can skip all that ‘master’ business.”

The title of master was granted to members of the Mages Guild who had accomplished some special achievement or provided distinguished service. I had heard that Mistorm had been chosen to be the mayor of Zoltan after having served as the head of the Mages Guild and that she had been granted her mastership after finishing her term running the town.

“All I ever did was handle the work others gave me. I never did anything that special as head of the guild or mayor. It’s embarrassing to be called master.”

“In that case, I’ll stick to just Mistorm.”

“That’d be just fine.”

I watched the old woman’s face as she smiled, but there did not seem to be any hidden intent. The sort of politicians who rose to steward cities weren’t above putting on a friendly guise in order to gauge how much respect someone really had for them, but Mistorm seemed to genuinely desire a relationship on a more equal footing.

“Would it be okay for me to say hi to Mink, too?” I asked Dr. Newman.

“Of course. I’m sure she’ll be happy for the company.”

Hearing that, Mogrim bounded off.


He dashed to the bedroom on his short legs.

The door slammed open, followed by a voice that resounded throughout the neighborhood:

“Thank you, Mink! You did it!”

To which Mink heartily fired back, “I’m pretty sure you’re the one who did the doing!”

And then I could hear the two of them tearing up in hushed, affectionate tones.

“Maybe I should leave them alone for a bit,” I said.

“That might be a good idea,” Mistorm responded.

After a bit, I finally popped my head in to say hello and then headed back home.

Mink seemed annoyed at being treated like she was sick, but Mogrim was insistent that she rest. He even bravely stepped up to take care of the washing and cleaning that Mink normally did, though with a healthy helping of muttered complaints, and only after Mink had given him a kick to get him to work.

Mogrim must have been really happy.

Rit was tickled imagining the scene as I explained what had happened. “Mink definitely runs their home, but Mogrim really is devoted to her.”

“I mean, he did leave the dwarf country to elope with her. There’s no mistaking how much he loves his wife. And he was so happy he cried when he realized they were going to have a child,” I replied.

“A child. It must be nice.”

“We’ll have to do our best, too…”

“Eh-heh-heh. Mm-hmm.”

Rit hugged me softly. I held her gently, basking in her warmth as I imagined our future.

I was sure it was going to be lovely.



“I really love the way your face looks right now,” Rit responded with a delighted smile.

I could feel my cheeks burning, but I didn’t try to hide it. I just pressed my forehead to hers and grinned back, still blushing.

“A-anyway, how are the preparations for tomorrow? If they’re not done yet, we can just delay it a day.”

“It’s fine. I finished everything.”

“Dependable as always. Thank you.”

“I mean, you’re going on an adventure for me, after all. Eh-heh-heh. I’m so happy.”

Mogrim and Mink were really close with each other, but Rit and I weren’t about to lose to them.

And as that thought crossed my mind, I hugged Rit just a little bit tighter.

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