The Holy Country of Millis
My name’sRudeus Greyrat.
I was a grown man in my previous life, but in my current incarnation, I’m an eleven-year-old pretty boy. Magic is my field of expertise. I can cast customized spells without the need for an incantation, a trick that’s earned me quite a bit of recognition.
About a year and a half ago, I was teleported to a friendly place known as the Demon Continent, thanks to a large-scale magical disaster. Unfortunately, the Demon Continent happens to be on the other side of the planet from my homeland, the Fittoa Region of the Kingdom of Asura. Getting back was going to require traveling halfway around the world.
I promptly became an adventurer and began the long, hard trek back home.
Eighteen months have passed since then. In that time, I made my way across the Demon Continent…and now, I’m past the Great Forest as well.
Millishion is the capital of the Holy Country of Millis. Approaching it from the Holy Sword Highway offers travelers a spectacular view of the city in its entirety.
First, your eyes will be drawn to Gran Lake–a brilliant blue body of water, fed by the Nicolaus River, which flows down from the Blue Wyrm mountains. At the lake’s very center, the great White Palace seems to float above its waters.
Further along the banks of the Nicolaus, you’ll spot two other distinctive landmarks: the city’s radiant golden cathedral and the shining silver headquarters of the Adventurers’ Guild.
The city that surrounds these remarkable buildings is laid out as neatly as the squares on a sheet of grid paper. At its outer edges, you’ll notice seven imposing towers, with vast green plains stretching out beyond them.
This is a place not only rich in majesty, but also in perfect harmony with nature. No other city in the world is nearly as beautiful.
—Excerpt from “Wandering the World”
by the adventurer Bloody Kant
Now this was the sort of city you’d expect to find in a fantasy world. I’d never seen a major metropolis with this much blue and green before, and the streets were laid out in a beautifully clean grid reminiscent of Sapporo or old Edo. The sight of it moved me in a way looking at Rikarisu never had. It was beautiful.
The girl sitting next to me—currently gaping open-mouthed at the view—was named Eris. Eris Boreas Greyrat, to be precise. She was the granddaughter of Sauros, lord of Fittoa. For some time, I’d served as her personal tutor.
Eris was extremely ferocious by nature. While she usually did what I told her, she was the kind of girl who’d punch a President in the face if they ticked her off badly enough. The mere mention of sailing ships was enough to make her cringe, though. She was prone to terrible seasickness.
The fair-skinned guy with the shaved head, also gazing at the city in admiration, was our demon companion Ruijerd Superdia. You couldn’t tell at the moment, but his natural hair color was a vivid shade of emerald. It was a trait he had in common with every other member of the infamous Superd race. To most people in this world, green-haired demons were synonymous with death and destruction. But while Ruijerd could definitely be dangerous and impulsive at times, he was basically a kind old guy with a soft spot for kids as far as Eris and I were concerned.
I’d never thought of these two as particularly romantic people, but apparently they could recognize a beautiful thing when it hit them in the face.
“It’s really something, innit?”
The last member of our little group was a man named Geese, who bore a strong resemblance to a monkey. Geese was an adventurer by trade and a good-for-nothing at heart; the sort of guy who got himself thrown into jail for cheating at gambling. He wasn’t a member of our party or anything, but he’d asked to tag along with us to Millis, so we’d been traveling together since the Great Forest.
I would have asked him why he was bragging about this place as if he’d built it, but it was understandable now that I’d seen the view. I would have done the exact same thing in his shoes.
“Yes, it’s certainly something. But that lake is huge…doesn’t that cause all sorts of headaches during the rainy season?”
I was just being contrarian, honestly. I didn’t want him getting too smug. Still, I really had been wondering about this. That lake was at the very center of the city, and in the Great Forest just north of here, they got three months straight of torrential rain every single year. Surely that had some effect on the weather here, as well.
“Heh. I hear it was a real nuisance way back in the day, sure,” Geese replied. “But now they’ve got the weather totally under control, thanks to those seven magic towers. No way they’d drop a castle in the middle of a lake otherwise. You notice how it doesn’t have any outer walls or anything? That’s because the towers are protecting it with a magic barrier.”
“No kidding. So, you’d have to take those towers down first if you wanted to capture the city, huh?”
“Uh, don’t even joke about that. The Holy Knights would toss you in jail if they overheard.”
“Got it. I’ll be careful.”
Geese went on to explain that so long as the seven towers stood, the capital was safe from natural disasters and even disease epidemics. I couldn’t imagine how that worked, but it sure sounded convenient.
“Come on! Let’s go already!”
Urged on by an excited Eris, our carriage began rolling forward once again.
The city of Millishion was divided into four districts.
To the north was the Residential District, where most of the blocks were lined with family homes. There were some differences between the areas where common folk lived and those where the families of nobles and knights resided, but virtually every building in this district was a house of some sort.
To the east you had the Commercial District, where most of the city’s major businesses were located. You could find some retail shops here, but they tended to be small-scale operations; the district was mostly dominated by larger enterprises. This was where you could find Millishion’s blacksmiths and auction houses.
To the south was the Adventurers’ District, with the Guild headquarters at its center. It was full of inns, bars, and shops catering to professional fortune-seekers. It also had quite a few gambling halls and slums where failed adventurers lived, though, so you had to watch yourself. For whatever reason, the city’s slave market was located here instead of in the Commercial District.
To the west was the Divine District, home to many of the Millis Church’s ranking members. You could find the city’s enormous cathedral here, as well as a spacious graveyard. The Holy Knights of Millis were also headquartered here.
Geese went over all of this for us in surprising detail as we drew closer to the gates.
We ended up circling around the outskirts of Millishion before entering the Adventurers’ District. According to Geese, outsiders entering through a different district were typically viewed with some suspicion and subjected to more lengthy inspections. This city had some annoying quirks, from the sound of things.
The moment we passed through the gates, we found ourselves surrounded by chaos.
Millishion looked gorgeous from a distance, to be sure, but it didn’t feel that different from any other city on the inside. There were stables and cheap inns clustered near the city entrance. A little further along, merchants running open-air stalls hawked their wares loudly to the crowd. I could see weapon shops even further along the central avenue. Presumably, you’d find slightly nicer inns down the quieter side streets. Also, the shining, silver guild headquarters was large enough to be visible right from the gates.
First off, we dropped off our carriage at a nearby stable. As it turned out, they were willing to deliver our luggage to the inn of our choice for no extra charge. That had never been an option in any other town we’d visited, but in a big city like this, I guess you needed to distinguish yourself from the crowd if you wanted to survive as a business.
Once we’d wrapped up at the stable, Geese turned to us and made an abrupt announcement. “All right then, folks! I know where I’m headed next, so I guess this is goodbye!”
“Huh? You’re leaving already?” That was a little surprising. I’d been expecting him to tag along to the inn with us, at least.
“What’s the matter, boss? You gonna miss me?”
“Well, yeah. Of course.” I knew Geese was just teasing, but I responded honestly. We hadn’t known each other very long, but he definitely wasn’t a bad guy. A traveling companion you got along with was a valuable thing on long journeys like this. He’d made my life a lot less stressful for a while.
Not to mention, with him gone, our meals were going to be a lot less flavorful from now on. That seriously sucked.
“Aw, don’t be blue, boss. We’ll probably run into each other around town one of these days, you know?” With a small shrug, Geese reached down and patted me on the head. But as he turned to leave, Eris blocked his path.
“Listen up, Geese!” She’d assumed her trademark pose—arms folded, chin jutting into the air. “You’d better teach me how to cook next time, got it?”
“The answer’s still no, little lady. Talk about persistent…” Scratching the back of his head, Geese slipped past Eris, then glanced over at Ruijerd. “Hey, you take care of yourself too, chief!”
“Good luck to you as well. Don’t get up to too much mischief, all right?”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
With a little wave, Geese finally walked off into the crowd. Talk about a casual goodbye. You never would have known we’d spent two whole months on the road together.
“Oh, right. One last thing, boss!” Just before he was about to disappear from view, the familiar monkey face turned back toward me for a moment. “Don’t forget to stop by the Adventurers’ Guild soon, okay?”
“…Hm? Uh, sure!” We’d be going to the guild eventually, since we’d need to earn some money. But why was he bringing that up now?
I didn’t get the chance to ask any follow-up questions. As soon as he heard my reply, Geese disappeared into the crowd.
Our immediate priority at the moment was finding an inn. This was always our first order of business whenever we reached a new city.
Most of the inns in Millishion seemed to be located some distance away from the main avenues, so we ended up wandering through side streets for a while until we found a little cluster of them. After a quick look around, I settled on a place called Dawn’s Light Inn. The place wasn’t too close to the city’s main streets, but it was a good distance away from the slums. The area seemed safe enough. It offered all the amenities I was looking for, and seemed to be priced to attract C- or B-ranked adventurers. The main downside was that it didn’t seem to get much sun, but I could live with that.
Once we had our room, the next step was to unpack and get ourselves organized, after which we’d head out to visit the town’s most important locations—particularly the local Guild. If there was any time, we’d engage in some idle sightseeing, then head back to our inn for a team meeting. That was our standard routine at this point, at any rate.
“Couldn’t we have stayed at a cheaper place?” asked Eris, looking around the inn quizzically.
I had to admit, she did have a point, especially since I was always lecturing her and Ruijerd about being careful with our money. At the moment, however, we had some financial breathing room. We’d been paid well for the three months we spent on guard duty in Doldia, and the beastfolk’s head warrior, Gyes, had also given us a nice chunk of change. Those funds added up to a bit more than seven Millis gold coins. We’d have to earn more money here eventually, but in the short term, we could afford a few modest luxuries.
“It can’t hurt to upgrade every once in a while, right?” Sometimes it’s nice to sleep in a bed that’s actually soft.
A quick glance over at Eris suggested she wasn’t entirely convinced. I went ahead and opened the door to our room anyway.
It was a neat, tidy little space. I appreciated that they’d already provided us with a table and chairs in the far corner. The door had a functional lock, and the windows came with shutters. It wasn’t quite comparable to the business hotels back in Japan, but by the standards of this world, this was definitely on the nicer side.
Now that we’d reached our room, we had a few things to take care of.
First, our equipment needed its regular maintenance. Second, we needed to take stock of our expendable supplies and make note of anything we were running low on. Then it was on to drying out the beds, washing the sheets, and a bit of general sweeping and cleaning. This was all totally routine for the three of us by now, so we got to work without exchanging words.
By the time we finished up, the sun was setting and it was getting dark outside. This made sense, since we’d only reached Millishion in the early afternoon. Still, we weren’t going to have time to stop by the Guild today after all…not that it really mattered too much.
After a quick dinner at the bar next to the inn, the three of us went right back up to our room. Once we’d settled down on the floor in a circle, I cleared my throat and got things underway.
“All right, I hereby call this Dead End team meeting to order. This is our first meeting since we reached the capital of Millis, everyone! Let’s make it one to remember!”
I had to actually say “Applause, please,” and smack my hands together a few times before Eris and Ruijerd hesitantly followed suit. Honestly. Those two never failed to disappoint.
“Now then… We’ve finally made it this far, folks. That’s a real accomplishment.”
There was some real emotion in my voice as I said those words. It had been a long, hard slog getting to this point. We’d spent more than a year on the Demon Continent, and a good four months in the Great Forest. Now, at long last, we’d reached the region of this world where humankind resided. The most dangerous part of our trip was behind us now. From here on out, the roads would be well-maintained, and the terrain mostly nice and level. Compared to what we’d been through previously, it should be a total cakewalk.
Of course, in terms of sheer distance, we still had a very long journey ahead of us. The distance between Asura and Millis was roughly one-fourth of the planet’s circumference. No matter how nice the roads were, we weren’t going to manage that in a week. In fact, we probably had another solid year of travel ahead of us.
Given that, our biggest long-term problem would probably be financial in nature. “For the moment, I’m thinking we should stick around in this city for a while to save up some money.”
“Why?” asked Eris, furrowing her brow.
It was a reasonable question. I tried to answer as clearly as I could. “Well, we’ve made it through the Demon Continent and the Great Forest just fine, but things tend to be much pricier in human territory.”
I thought back to the market research I’d conducted on our way over here. I never got the chance to poke around in Zant Port, but I still remembered what most things went for in various parts of the Demon Continent and in the small town we stopped at past the Blue Wyrm mountains. Pretty much everything across the board was more expensive in Millis and the Kingdom of Asura. This inn’s nightly rate would have been completely mind-boggling by the standards of the Demon Continent.
Humankind were a greedy bunch, evidently. We cared much more about money than any of the other races did.
“The value of Millis currency is very high. Only Asuran coins are worth more, as far as I know. That does mean everything is expensive here, but it also means that jobs at the local Guild will pay very well. Instead of stopping for a week at every town like we did on the Demon Continent, I think it’s more efficient for us to stay here for about a month and save up lots of cash all at once.”
Once we had a nice pile of valuable Millis coins in our pockets, the rest of the journey would go much more smoothly. They’d go a long way toward getting us through the southern regions of the Central Continent.
“For one thing, we don’t know how much they’ll charge a Superd for passage on the boat to the Central Continent, right?” I said.
Eris grimaced at the word “boat.” Our previous sea voyage was a miserable memory for her. I felt very differently, of course. My recollections of comforting her while she was seasick continued to be a source of great pleasure.
“All things considered, I think we should focus on earning money in Millishion for a while, then head straight for the Kingdom of Asura. We might not be able to do much about improving the reputation of the Superd for a while, though… Is that all right with you, Ruijerd?”
“Of course,” Ruijerd replied, nodding slightly.
I hadn’t really expected him to object. At this point, I was helping out with that because I wanted to.
Personally, I would have been happy to settle down here for a while and devote some real effort to changing the public’s opinion of his people. Six months or a year of diligent work in a major city like this could have a far-reaching impact.
That said, we’d already spent a year and a half just making it this far. I didn’t want to drag out this marathon of a journey even longer than necessary. I mean, I’d been “missing” for eighteen months now, right? Paul and Zenith were probably worried sick.
Wonder what they’re up to right now… Oh, whoops. I never got around to sending them a letter, did I?
I kept meaning to do that, but events were constantly conspiring to distract me. It must have slipped my mind half a dozen times by now. Well, no time like the present…
“Okay then. Let’s make tomorrow an off day, shall we?”
This wasn’t a new concept for us. I’d announced “off days” several times in the past. At first, it was out of concern for Eris, but at some point, I started calling them primarily for my own sake. The girl never showed any signs of fatigue, and Ruijerd was the toughest man I knew. I was definitely the weakling of this party.
Of course, I was much stronger than I’d ever been in my previous life. I couldn’t hold a candle to these two, but I was on the level of a typical adventurer, at least. Physical exhaustion wasn’t usually an issue.
Mental exhaustion, on the other hand? That was a different story. For one thing, I still had some hang-ups about killing living things. The more we went around slaughtering monsters, the more stress built up inside me.
I wasn’t calling this particular “off day” out of fatigue, though. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t forget about writing that letter again. If we spent tomorrow gathering information, checking out the Guild job list, and dealing with all the other things on our to-do list, it was going to slip my mind yet again. This time, I was going to take a day and finally get this taken care of.
“Are you feeling poorly again, Rudeus?”
“No, this one’s a little different. I need to take some time to write a letter.”
I nodded at Eris. “We should let everyone back home know that we’re okay, right?”
“Hmm…well, all right. I guess I’ll leave that to you, then.”
“Yeah. I’ll take care of it.”
Tomorrow, I was finally going to get this done. I’d take my time, think back to my days in Buena Village, and write to both Paul and Sylphie.
Back when he shipped me off to serve as Eris’ tutor, Paul warned me not to send him any letters…but under these circumstances, surely he wouldn’t mind.
The odds of a letter reaching them weren’t that good, of course. Back when Roxy and I were corresponding between Asura and Shirone, it felt like maybe one in every seven letters we sent actually got through, so we always had to send out multiple copies of the same message. I’d have to do the same this time as well.
“What will the two of you be doing, by the way?” I asked.
Eris replied promptly and energetically. “I’m going to go slay some Goblins!”
Wait, wait. Goblins? Are these the Goblins I’m familiar with? Like…yellow-green guys, maybe half the size of a human, with the crude clubs? The ones that always feature prominently in fantasy-themed porn games?
“Yep. I overhead someone saying they’ve got lots of them popping up around here. That’s exactly the sort of thing adventurers should be dealing with, right?” Eris replied cheerfully.
To be perfectly honest, I’d heard a bit about them on our journey. In this world, Goblins were basically thought of as a kind of vermin. They reproduced rapidly and caused all sorts of trouble for people. They were intelligent enough to communicate verbally, so they might technically be classified as demonkind, but the vast majority of them lived like wild animals. So when their numbers started getting out of hand, they’d typically be exterminated.
“All right then. Ruijerd, can you go along with her and—”
“Oh, come on! I can handle a few Goblins on my own!” Eris interrupted indignantly. The look on her face suggested she was more than a little offended.
What was I supposed to do here?
Eris was a very competent fighter. And Goblins were E-ranked monsters—not exactly a challenging foe. They didn’t live on the Demon Continent, so I’d never actually seen one, but from what I’d heard, even a child who’d learned some basic swordplay could handle them, no sweat.
Maybe it would be slightly overprotective to have her take our bodyguard along. After all, the girl could handle herself just fine against even B-ranked monsters…but still. When a girl adventurer gets beaten by a Goblin, that’s an instant sex-slave bad end, right? I didn’t know that much about the Goblins of this world, but that was definitely their whole deal back in mine. And I mean, if I was the lucky Goblin who managed to knock Eris unconscious, I’d certainly feel entitled.
If something that terrible happened to Eris the moment I took my eyes off her, I’d never be able to face Ghislaine or Philip ever again…
“It’s all right, Rudeus,” said Ruijerd, snapping me out of my reverie. “Let her handle this one alone.”
That was unusual. Normally, he stayed out of these sorts of arguments. For the last year and a half, Ruijerd had been giving Eris lessons on how to fight all sorts of different monsters and enemies. His educational methods were a little too obscure for me to follow, but she’d clearly learned a great deal from him. If he was convinced she could do this, it was probably going to be all right.
“Okay then. Don’t get careless out there just because they’re weak, Eris.”
“Yeah, I know!”
“Make sure you’re well-prepared before you head out, too.”
“If things get dicey, just turn tail and run, all right?”
“Right, right! Okay!”
“And if worse comes to worst, just grab the little creep by the hand and scream ‘This Goblin’s a molester!’ at the top of your—”
“Oh, enough already! I can deal with exterminating some Goblins, Rudeus!”
Whoops. Now I’d gone and made her mad.
To be honest, I was still a little anxious about this, but I’d just have to put my faith in the judgment of our veteran warrior. “In that case, I’ll say no more. Good luck out there, Eris.”
“Thanks!” she said, nodding in satisfaction. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this!”
“How about you, Ruijerd? What will you be up to tomorrow?”
“I think I’ll go say hello to an acquaintance of mine.”
That had to be the first time I’d ever heard him use the word acquaintance. “You don’t say? I didn’t know you…had any of those, actually.”
“Well, of course I do.”
From what I knew of his backstory, Ruijerd had been wandering the wilderness all by his lonesome for quite some time…but after five hundred years of that, I guess he’d probably run into a few people just by chance. It seemed a little strange that one of those people would be living all the way out here in Millishion. Then again, this was a huge city, so maybe it made sense statistically.
“What kind of person are they?”
Ah. Probably someone he rescued in the wilds of the Demon Continent back in the day or something, huh? Well, one way or another, I wasn’t about to pry. I wasn’t Ruijerd’s father and didn’t feel the need to interrogate him on who he was hanging out with in his free time.
The next morning, Eris and Ruijerd headed out on their respective errands, and I went out into town to buy paper, pens, and ink. I figured I could take the chance to wander around the open-air stalls for a while until I had a decent sense for what most things cost in Millis.
As it turned out, food was actually a good bit cheaper than it was on the Demon Continent. Naturally, the selection was also much, much better. There was plenty of fresh meat and fish available, and they even had a nice range of vegetables.
The biggest single surprise was definitely the eggs, though. There were lots of them, they were all freshly laid, and they were incredibly cheap. I’d seen eggs for sale a few times in the Demon Continent, but those were laid by monsters rather than birds. The idea was to make them hatch, let the baby creature imprint on you, and then train it as you liked. Naturally, nobody ate those things. They were way too expensive to turn into an omelet.
Chickens were a thing in this world, by the way. There had been a few people who raised them back in Buena Village, and from the looks of things, poultry was a major industry in Millis as well.
All of a sudden, I was dying to eat egg on rice again. I know, I know…pretty basic stuff. But c’mon! It’s a nutritionally complete meal all in itself!
Sadly, while I had plenty of eggs available to me at the moment, there didn’t seem to be any rice or soy sauce to go with them. Bread was apparently the cornerstone of the Millis diet, just like it was in Asura.
Rice did exist in this world, even if it wasn’t for sale in the market here. It was the staple food in the northern and eastern regions of the Central Continent, and Roxy once mentioned that it was available in the Kingdom of Shirone as well. They mostly used it as the base for something like fried rice or paella, with lots of meat, vegetables, and seafood. Unfortunately, it sounded like they didn’t do poultry farming in Shirone, so eggs were supposedly a rare commodity. Maybe the climate wasn’t suitable for raising chickens.
As for soy sauce, I’d never seen anything like it in this world. I once noticed something that looked a lot like a soybean while paging through a dictionary of plants, but it seemed possible that nobody had tried fermenting them and making them into sauce yet.
No, no. Can’t let myself get pessimistic! There were eggs and rice here, right? In that case, there had to be soy sauce out there somewhere, too. I just needed to look hard enough.
Someday, I’d collect all the ingredients and make my dream come true. Even if the eggs were a bit unsanitary, detoxification magic could handle a little food poisoning just fine.
Once I’d finished up with my quick survey of the local market and purchased a basic stationery set, I started to make my way back toward the inn while trying to figure out exactly what to put in this letter.
This was going to be the first time I’d ever written to Paul or Sylphie. Should I start with my years in the Boreas household…? No, the important thing was to let them know I was safe. Better to begin with our teleportation to the Demon Continent.
Come to think of it, I had a lot to tell them about. I’d started traveling with a legendary Superd warrior, met the Great Demon Empress, and even spent three whole months in a beastfolk village.
Hmm. Were they even going to believe any of that?
I’d tell them the truth either way, of course. But it seemed unlikely that anyone back home would buy my story about receiving a magical Demon Eye from Kishirika Kishirisu herself.
Speaking of beastfolk… It’d be nice to know if Ghislaine was all right. She’d presumably been whisked off to some random corner of the globe, too. Assuming she didn’t get dropped in the middle of a volcano or something, I had to think she was safe. The woman was a force of nature, after all.
How many other people were teleported, anyway? The wall of light came from the Citadel of Roa, so it seemed possible everyone in the Boreas estate had suffered the same fate as Eris and me. Hmm. That would be Philip, Sauros, Hilda, Alphonse the butler…and all the maids, to boot. I felt like Old Man Sauros could bellow his way through life just fine no matter where he ended up, but still…
“Yeah, now I’ve got myself worried…”
Murmuring to myself, I turned onto a narrow side street. Millishion had quite a few of these, as it turned out. The city layout looked neat and clean at a distance, but as old buildings were knocked down and replaced, dingy little alleys like this tended to open up between them.
Of course, everything was still aligned on a grid, so you didn’t have to worry about getting lost in some winding maze. That was why I’d decided to take a different route back to the inn. It couldn’t hurt to explore the city’s streets a bit. If I got lucky, I might stumble across some charming little lover’s lane or something. Our redhead had something of a violent personality, but it seemed like she was capable of appreciating a bit of beauty now and then. And if we stayed in this city a whole month, we’d probably have time for a “date” or two. I could earn myself a few bonus affection points if I found some nice spots to take her.
Just as I was getting lost in thought, I noticed a group of five or so men moving quickly toward me from the other side of the alley. They didn’t look like adventurers, at a glance, but more like common street punks. Their outfits seemed intended to intimidate. Just a bunch of rowdy kids, probably. Still, it was kind of rude to spread themselves across a cramped little alleyway like this. The polite pedestrian always left room for someone heading the other way. A kid like me didn’t need that much space, true, but at this rate we were going to run into each other. They really ought to be approaching me single file and averting their eyes out of—
“Move it, kid!”
I instantly pressed myself against the alley wall.
Don’t get the wrong idea, now. I just wanted to avoid any senseless squabbling. I mean, they seemed to be in a very big hurry! And I wasn’t. It’s not like I got out of their way because they looked kind of scary or anything. Really, I promise! I ain’t scared of no delinquents! Cross my heart and swear to die.
Think about it, anyway. You can’t judge a book by its cover, right? They did look like a bunch of street punks, but for all I knew one of them was actually some famous master swordsman.
If I’d gotten over-confident and objected to their rudeness, I might have found myself getting sliced to pieces by the Nobleman of Fury, or something. I mean, this was a world where a little girl on the verge of starving in the street could turn out to be a Great Demon Empress, right? No reason to get in a fight over nothing.
That was my initial conclusion, at least. But as they shoved past me, I noticed that two guys in the middle of the group were carrying a burlap sack. And there was a small hand sticking out of it. It seemed like they were carrying off a kid—inside a bag, no less.
Again with the kidnappers?
This world had an ample supply of those, if nothing else. Criminals were always snatching up children every chance they got. It wasn’t a regional issue, either; it happened everywhere, from the Kingdom of Asura to the Demon Continent, the Great Forest, and the Holy Country of Millis.
From what Geese told me, kidnapping tended to be a very profitable line of work. The world was mostly at peace right now, with the exception of a few minor conflicts here and there. A few slaves did trickle onto the market from the central and northern regions of the Central Continent, but that was about it. And many, many people wanted slaves. That was particularly true of the richer countries like Millis and Asura, where the wealthy upper classes were constantly looking to buy people. Basically, the supply just wasn’t large enough to meet demand. Kidnapping victims fetched high prices on the market, and as long as this was true, the issue was never going to go away. To eliminate the practice entirely, you’d apparently have to start a massive war or two.
In any case…what now?
Given the number of men, we were probably talking about a premeditated crime. It wouldn’t be surprising if the kid in that bag was the son or daughter of someone relatively prominent in these parts.
To be honest, I didn’t really want to get mixed up in this. The last time I rescued children from a gang of kidnappers, I ended up being taken for one of the criminals and tossed into a jail cell. And that was only a few months ago, so the memory was still painfully fresh.
Was I going to just leave the kid to his fate, then?
No, no. Of course not. There’d always be kidnappers out there, to be sure. And this was bringing back some unpleasant memories. But none of that justified looking the other way.
The first rule of team Dead End was “Never abandon a child in peril.” And the second rule of team Dead End was “Never, ever abandon a child in peril.”
Dead End was a team of good guys. We stood steadfast in the face of evil; we rescued children every chance we got. And little by little, we spread the good word about Ruijerd and the Superd.
I turned back and quietly followed the five men with the burlap sack.
My sneaking skills had apparently leveled up at some point. I guess following Eris and company around in Doldia was good practice. The kidnappers reached and entered their destination, a nondescript warehouse, without so much as a glance in my direction. Pretty sloppy bunch. They obviously needed to improve their sense of smell, for one thing.
The warehouse in question was located in a quiet corner of the Adventurers’ District, tucked away even further from the crowds than the inn we were staying at. You couldn’t see this place from the street; the only way to reach it was by squeezing through a narrow alleyway. There was no way a horse-drawn carriage could get to it. It wouldn’t even be possible to carry anything bulky out. I wondered why the hell anyone would put a storage facility in such an inaccessible location. The warehouse had probably been built some time before the buildings that now surrounded it. Sometimes the city planners can really screw you over, huh?
Not that it really mattered. Once I felt confident that the group wasn’t just stopping by, I moved around to the back of the building and used earth magic to float off the ground, which allowed me to slip into the building through a relatively high window. I lowered myself to the floor, crept over to a jumbled stack of wooden boxes, hid inside one, then cautiously peered out to get the lay of the land.
The five kidnappers were standing around on the other side of the dimly lit warehouse, talking things over. From what I could gather, they had lots of friends drinking in the bar next door, and somebody needed to go inform them that the “job” was taken care of.
I had two basic options at this point. I could try to take these five out before they brought the whole gang over here, or I could stay put, get a careful look at their buddies’ faces, and just sneak out with the kid when I got the chance. The latter approach sounded much more appealing, so I decided to settle into my box and get comfy.
What was in this thing, anyway? Thanks to the poor lighting, I hadn’t really gotten a good look at its contents. Whatever they were, they were definitely made of cloth. Too small to be shirts or pants, though. And for some reason, lying in a pile of them made me feel oddly…tranquil.
I reached out and took one into my hand. The shape and texture of it was familiar—a carefully sewn piece of fabric with some definite depth and three distinct holes. In one particular section, the cloth was twice as thick; I thought I could sense a tinge of powerful mystic energy when I touched that bit.
“Whoa! Hold on, these are panties!”
O-oh crap, they heard me! Damn it… I never expected them to lay such a devilish trap!
“What the hell? Is there someone in the boxes?”
“Hey, go tell the boss! We need everyone over here!”
Well, this definitely wasn’t good. While I sat around, they were already calling in the cavalry. It was clearly time for a change in plans. I’d just have to grab the kid now and make a quick getaway, right? Seemed like the best option. Wait, no…they’d see my face.
Ah, what was I thinking? I had a perfectly suitable mask right on hand.
Woooo! I’m a burning hunk of ecstasy, baby!
For a moment, I paused to consider stripping off my robe to better hide my identity, but then I remembered I wasn’t even wearing it. Didn’t have my staff, either. I’d just been on a shopping trip, after all.
All right then. Let’s roll!
“H-he’s wearing panties on his head, man…”
“What a freak…”
The men were momentarily dumbfounded by my sudden, dramatic appearance. I took the opportunity to launch into a monologue. “Hear me, greedy miscreants! How dare you tear innocent children from their families? Shame on you! Shame! People call this…kidnapping!”
The audience didn’t seem to appreciate my Rom Stol impression. Maybe they weren’t up on their old mecha anime.
“Wh-who the hell are you supposed to be?”
“I am Ruijerd of Dead End!”
“What? Dead End?”
Oh crap! I messed up! Introducing myself that way was pure habit by now, so the words just slipped out of my mouth. This was one case where I really shouldn’t have said anything.
Sorry, Ruijerd! As of today, you’re a creepy weirdo who rescues children while wearing panties on your head! Don’t worry, though. I will save the kid, no matter what the cost!
“Curse you, foul kidnappers! Thanks to you, an innocent man has just been badly slandered! Your villainy won’t go unpunished!”
“Look, kid, go play hero somewhere else! We ain’t—”
“I didn’t come here to talk, you fool! Sunrise Attaaack!”
I cut the conversation short by firing off a Stone Cannon spell. It was always nice to get a few preemptive attacks in. This was the same approach I’d used to rescue the Great Demon Empress from that dirty old pedo back in Wind Port, actually. “Take that! And that!”
In the blink of an eye, I knocked out the four men who’d remained in the warehouse. Once they were all down, I hurried over to check up on their captive. “Are you all right, young man?! Hmm. Looks like he’s unconscious…”
I felt like I’d seen this boy somewhere before. There was something…really familiar about him, actually. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it, though. Weird.
Well, whatever. This was no time to be thinking about it. I needed to get out of here before the rest of the gang arrived… But even as that thought ran through my head, a whole crowd of men had appeared in the warehouse doorway.
“Whoa! What the hell? He took down all four of them!”
“The kid knows how to fight! Get the captain over here, pronto!”
“He’s been drinkin’ a lot today, you know?”
“He’s still one hell of a fighter, even when he’s plastered!”
Two men turned and ran off, presumably to get their “captain.” That still left more than ten people for me to deal with, and now I had to assume more reinforcements would be coming.
This was not good. This was not good at all. Maybe I really should have looked the other way…or waited until tomorrow, when I could have convinced Ruijerd to help me out. Charging in solo was definitely a mistake. At this point, my only option was to take down the entire gang.
“What kind of a freak is this guy? He’s wearing panties on his head…”
“Wait, was he here to steal our underwear?!”
“Oh god! Is he some kind of sex criminal?!”
Now that I looked more closely, there were actually a few women in the group as well. Sorry, Ruijerd. Seriously…I owe you one.
With one final apology to the man I’d so deeply wronged, I turned my focus to the task at hand. Fortunately, these thugs were nothing special. They kept rushing at me in a straight line, so it was easy enough to fire off a Stone Cannon before they got too close. They weren’t quick enough to dodge my magic, and a single hit was enough to knock most of them unconscious. None of them were even armed. There were no magicians to worry about, either. Everything was going better than expected so far.
“D-damn, we can’t even get close…”
“What the hell is with this kid?! Is he using some sort of magic item?!”
“What’s taking the captain so long?!”
By the time I’d knocked out maybe half of them, the others started getting visibly agitated. Maybe I’d be able to blast my way out of here without too much trouble after all.
“The captain will be here soon, everyone! We just have to hold out until then!”
Well, so much for that.
Two women had appeared in the warehouse doorway. One of them was a warrior clad in a suit of bikini armor; the other was a robed magician. It hadn’t taken very long for this wave of reinforcements to arrive, but I guess that wasn’t surprising. Their whole gang was apparently drinking just next door.
The warrior woman was showing off a lot of skin, for some reason. I hadn’t seen a single fighter on the Demon Continent dressed nearly so skimpily. She stood out even more in comparison to the magician, who was wearing a perfectly ordinary outfit.
Damn! Who is this woman?! I can’t…tear…my eyes…away!
“I’ll keep him busy, Shierra! Cover me!”
The bikini lady drew the sword at her waist and rushed toward me. Meanwhile, the robed magician in the rear took up her staff and…oh, crap. Bikini lady’s breasts were swaying like crazy every time she took a step. Don’t let them jiggle that vigorously, girl! They’re going to break free!
It was honestly bizarre. If nothing else, you’d expect bikini armor to keep your chest firmly in place so it wouldn’t cause you any problems in battle. Her whole outfit seemed to serve no practical purpose whatsoever.
Oh man, just look at those things go! Right…left…right! They were drawing closer, swaying back and forth… For a moment, they drooped down, then bounced back up toward my—
All of a sudden, I noticed that bikini lady was swinging her sword directly at my face.
“Gaah!” Tumbling reflexively backward, I managed to avoid the strike by a hair’s breadth. That was close! Damn it. This girl fights dirty!
Was she wearing that thing as a deliberate distraction?!
At this point, I noticed a faint voice mumbling something from across the room.
“—converge where thou wilt and issue forth a single pure stream thereof—”
Oh crap. That was a magic incantation! Someone was about to shoot a Waterball at me!
Thinking fast, I extended my hand in the general direction of the magician. My spell of choice this time was Stone Wall. The best way to ward off a water-based magic spell was to get some nice, absorbent sand and dirt in its way.
As I rushed to cast the spell, I quickly glanced over and found the magician pointing her staff straight at me, just about to launch her attack.
In the very instant she fired off her Waterball, my Stone Wall rose up to meet it. The high-speed projectile burst against it with an ear-splitting bang, rather than a splash. Water sprayed in every direction all across the warehouse.
“What?! What w-was that?!”
From the sound of things, I’d gotten the magician pretty flustered, so I turned my attention back to the bikini lady.
The force from her attack had left her breasts swinging wildly through the air. It looked they were on the verge of breaking free. I could almost…see them…!
Pulled back to reality at the last moment by her piercing battle cry, I managed to roll to safety again. This time, I put some more distance between us before jumping to my feet.
The bikini lady glared at me, her sword still against the floor where it had struck. “Stop scuttling around like a cockroach, you little pervert!” As she spoke, she raised her weapon again, holding it steady above waist level. She seemed to have given up on overwhelming me with speed and aggression. Instead, she began to close the distance between us slowly but steadily.
Following her lead, I inched backward to… Ooh. When she held her sword out like that, her upper arms pushed her bazongas together. That was some impressive cleavage…
Argh! Come on! Stop falling into her trap, stupid!
I couldn’t keep my eyes on her damn sword. How was I supposed to fight in this condition?
Neither the warrior nor her magician buddy were especially talented, to be honest. But at this rate, I was never going to take them down. God help me if she were to suffer a critical wardrobe malfunction. I’d probably be cut to pieces instantly.
How had they learned of my one and only weakness?! Who sold me out, damn it?!
Okay, calm down.
I was just distracting myself here, simple as that. This wasn’t some deliberate tactic on her part. The question was…what was I going to do about it? If I wanted to turn this into a fair fight, I needed to get her to cover her chest somehow. And her pleasantly plump behind as well, for that matter. How could I manipulate her into putting some actual clothes on?
Maybe I could say something to try to get her all embarrassed… Hmm, no. If she’d chosen this outfit deliberately, that approach might backfire.
Of course! Now I had it!
Are you familiar with the story of the north wind and the sun, everyone?
Once upon a time, the north wind and the sun competed to see which of them could compel a certain traveler to undress. The north wind tried to blow off her clothes with cold, piercing gusts, but the traveler simply piled on extra layers of clothing instead. The sun, however, simply warmed her up until she started taking off her clothes of her own volition.
In other words, if I made things nice and hot and here, she’d totally strip off that—
No, no, no! That’s exactly what we don’t want, remember?!
Right. Cold. Cold was we needed here.
“You’ve got nowhere left to run,” called the woman warrior.
I glanced behind me and realized I’d backed myself all the way against the warehouse wall. It wasn’t a problem, though. I’d already worked out my strategy. Without a word, I held out both my palms toward my skimpily attired assailant.
The moment I channeled my magical energy through my right hand, bitterly cold air rushed out of nowhere to fill the warehouse. The temperature dropped by thirty degrees centigrade almost instantaneously. All of a sudden, it was like we were standing inside a refrigerator.
I could already see goosebumps on the bikini lady’s upper arms, but I wasn’t done yet. This time, I let my magic energy course into my left hand.
A great gust of wind sent the woman flying backward. By the time she’d stopped tumbling, I’d sent her all the way to the entrance of the warehouse. I was thinking I’d call this little combination spell “Polar Blast.”
The air in here was so frigid now that I felt like I might catch a cold myself, but I’d achieved what I set out to do perfectly. Shivering and sneezing, the bikini-armor woman frantically gestured to her friends for a coat. I was out of the woods now. Once those breasts were hidden from view, there was no way she’d get the better of me. All that was left now was to knock everybody senseless and make my getaway…
“I’m here, people! Sorry to keep you waiting!”
…or so I thought, until my newest challenger barged in.
The man in the doorway looked familiar. Something about his face actually made me feel kind of…nostalgic. I’d seen this guy somewhere before, right? But where? It wasn’t coming to me.
“Tch. This little punk’s made a real nuisance of himself, huh? Hic… Stay back, everyone! No reason to gang up on some snot-nosed kid… I’ll take him down personally.”
The man was obviously confident in his skills, but it also looked like he might be drunk. Even from a distance, I could see him swaying unsteadily, and his face was tinged red.
Seriously, though. The more I looked at this guy, the more familiar he seemed. With the brown hair and the slightly thuggish face, he kind of resembled Paul… Come to think of it, he sounded a lot like him, too. Yeah. If you put Paul on a starvation diet and didn’t let him get a good night’s sleep for a couple months, he’d probably end up looking something like this. It made me kind of hesitant to launch any serious attacks at the guy.
But of course, there was no way my father would actually be hanging around with a bunch of kidnappers in Millis, of all places.
“Hey, you! You think you can just waltz in here and knock my people around, huh? Well, I’m gonna make you live to regret it!”
The man stepped in front of his group, spat a few fiery words in my direction and drew a pair of swords from their sheaths. Anyone capable of dual-wielding competently had to be a master swordsman. From his stance alone, I got the distinct feeling he was on a totally different level from the bikini-armor lady. Was Stone Cannon going to be enough to deal with him?
Hmm… I don’t really want to use anything that might kill the guy, though…
Perhaps sensing my hesitation, the man abruptly charged forward.
He’d taken me a bit off-guard, but I managed to fire a belated Stone Cannon spell. The man reacted instantly, turning the sword in his right hand diagonally to deflect the projectile.
“Water God Style, huh?!”
“That’s not all I’ve got to offer, buddy!”
He was almost on top of me now. Acting on sheer reflex, I set off a shockwave and sent myself flying backward through the air.
I activated my Eye of Foresight to peek into the future to help me dodge his follow-up attacks. The man was quick with his swords, but his footwork seemed a bit sloppy. It was probably related to all the alcohol in his system. Maybe I could do this, after all.
“Tch! He moves just like the kid, dammit… Vierra! Shierra! Come lend me a hand!”
Just like that, the bikini-armor lady and her magician friend stepped forward again. What happened to taking me down by yourself, huh? What kind of a man are you, anyway?!
The woman warrior, now all covered in an overcoat, circled around to my side. And the magician was already starting to chant another incantation. This was definitely not good. The man’s attacks were fierce and persistent, and I had my hands full just dodging them all.
Fortunately, I still had a trick or two up my sleeves.
Using the vocal magic of the beastfolk, I stopped the man in his tracks for just an instant, giving me time to send him flying with a quick shockwave.
Keeping one eye on the man as he tumbled backward, I fired off a quick offensive spell at the female magician. Next, just as the bikini-armor lady was swinging her sword at me, I used my Eye of Foresight to evade the strike and land a solid counter-punch.
The magician had been focusing on her incantation. My spell hit her head-on and knocked her unconscious. The woman warrior staggered backward, but she wasn’t out of the fight yet, judging by the fury in her eyes.
And of course by now, the man was coming right back at me again.
“Shierra! …You’ll pay for that one, you little shit!”
Just as he took a step forward, I transformed the floor underneath him into a tiny patch of muddy swampland. His foot plunged straight into it, and he tumbled clumsily forward onto the floor.
For a moment, the woman warrior’s eyes were on him instead of me. Bad idea. Without a word, I fired off another Stone Cannon straight at her.
Two down, one to go.
“Vierra! God damn it!”
Shoving one of his swords back into its sheath, the man stuck the other one in his mouth. I activated my Eye of Foresight.
The man runs at me on all fours.
Was this guy a dog or what?
I fired off multiple Stone Cannon spells to keep him away and backed up to put more distance between us. Unfortunately, this warehouse wasn’t particularly large. There was no easy way to keep him from closing the gap.
Twisting his body strangely, the man leapt off the ground. He somehow managed to draw the sword at his hip even as he pounced at me like an animal. His attacks came fast and furious, from stances so odd I never knew what to expect.
The man grabs the sword in his mouth with his left hand and swings it underhand.
What a bizarre move.
This guy was defying my expectations at every turn. Without the Eye of Foresight, I never would have managed to avoid that last one. As it was, his blade grazed the tip of my nose. The cut tingled painfully.
My heart was pounding in my chest. I wasn’t trying to kill this man, but he had every intention of taking my life. For some reason, that hadn’t really sunk in until this moment. It should have been obvious from the start. If I didn’t give this everything I had, I wasn’t going to make it out of this warehouse alive.
I grit my teeth and lowered myself into a near-crouch. I thought back to my training with Ruijerd and Eris. This man’s fierce, beastlike style was probably close to the way Ruijerd attacked when he was playing for keeps, but his movements weren’t as quick or flawless as Ruijerd’s. The weirdness factor was his main advantage. I could do this.
Next time he pounced at me, I’d land a counter-punch and—
At that point, I realized the man had stopped moving.
A moment later, I noticed that the pair of panties I’d been wearing on my head were now lying on the warehouse floor.
Crap, this wasn’t good. They’d see my face…
“Is that…you, Rudy?”
There was only one man who called me by that name.
And that voice…wasn’t the hoarse rasp of some angry drunkard anymore. Suddenly, it sounded like a very familiar one.
In the years since I’d last seen him, Paul Greyrat had evidently undergone something of a transformation.
His face was gaunt; there were bags under his eyes and stubble on his cheeks. His hair was unkempt, and his breath reeked of booze. In basically every respect, my father looked like a total mess. The difference from the man that I remembered was…dramatic, to say the least.