Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 11 - Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: The Azure Sky Nimbus

Vast grasslands spanned as far as the eye could see. In the midst of this grand scenery, a massive flat black thing moved across the land, shaking the ground with every step.

Yeah, it’s a big one. Specimens this large are rare outside of Wortenia. I can see why they call it a glutton. The guild describes it as a dangerous giant monster. Doesn’t take more than a glance to see why.

As he hid behind a large rock, Kevin peered ahead. Some three hundred meters away, a massive centipede skittered across the earth, its many legs and feelers writhing as it did. Its appearance was disgusting, and it had the repulsive nature typical of arthropods. A more timid person would be too terrified to approach it.

Kevin thought back to the description the guild had given him the other day.

Thirty meters long. No, almost thirty-one. Normally, the best way to kill a centipede would be to crush it, but this thing is definitely too large for that.

Kevin couldn’t help but smile at the thought of trying to stomp on a creature that large. While it was certainly long, it wasn’t very tall; climbing on top of it and stomping on it wasn’t impossible. But the creature was slithering across the plains with the speed of a horse, so actually getting on would have been easier said than done. And even if he could have done so, the thing was huge. Kevin might have been relatively bulkier than most boys his age, but his weight was average. Even if he were to double his weight, it wouldn’t have mattered much. He couldn’t so much as slow the thing down.

Established theory says to lure it into a melee fight and cut off one of its legs to break its balance, right? Either way, we have to do something to slow this bugger down. It’s too quick.

The centipede skittered about with surprising agility. They were also known for being extremely belligerent creatures. Coupled with their size and strength, their aggressive nature made them a considerable threat. If Kevin and his brigade were to attack it, the centipede would simply perceive them as prey and lunge at them. And then it would chomp down on them. Their upper halves would go flying. Even if they somehow remained whole, the venom from its glands would end their lives in minutes.

They would have to slow the centipede down somehow. When fighting humans, the rule of thumb was that if your opponent was larger, you aimed to incapacitate their limbs. The same logic applied to monsters like this.

If this were mountainous terrain, we could have dropped rocks on it to pin it down and then took our time finishing it off. But that won’t work here.

Kevin scanned the surrounding rock formations. They were large enough to serve as hiding spots, but they weren’t nearly tall enough to drop rocks from. This was a vast meadow, and one could easily see far ahead to the horizon. There were groups of trees here and there, which offered some cover, but there were no rocky mountains.

That leaves either attacking it from the front using martial thaumaturgy or attacking its weak spot using verbal thaumaturgy. Either way, fighting that thing head-on would be unwise. Let’s see, though...

Kevin glanced behind him and smirked. Martial thaumaturgy did give the user superhuman strength, but they still remained fundamentally human while using it. Transcendants and Ascendants might have been able to slay this creature with nothing more than augmented strength, but Kevin’s grasp of thaumaturgy was still meager. Challenging the centipede in melee combat would be reckless.

Rick, the leader of the adventurer troupe Kevin was now affiliated with—the Azure Sky Nimbus—would likely come to the same conclusion too. Rick was a powerful warrior, much more experienced than Kevin was. But to the monster in front of them, their differences were hardly worth mentioning. If they were to win, they’d have to rely on more than just brute strength.

I could cast some verbal thaumaturgy to stall it while the others sever its legs, or we could lay a trap and lure it in and kill it that way. What would Rick do?

Relying on someone you hadn’t developed any trust with in a life-and-death situation was a gamble. Kevin didn’t know the strength of each individual team member, and the troupe’s coordination was a point of concern. At worst, they might use Kevin as bait, or they might attack him from behind when the job was finished so they wouldn’t have to pay him for his help. Kevin realized the chances of this were slim, but he didn’t trust this troupe enough to completely discount it. After all, this was the largest-scale hunting request he’d undertaken since joining the Azure Sky Nimbus.

The Azure Sky Nimbus is probably the most skilled and highly regarded adventurer troupe operating in Rhoadseria. 

Rick was the same rank as Lione, and the guild had given the troupe as a whole the lofty Rank A. This was higher than the Crimson Lions, the mercenary group that had trained Kevin. There was a difference between mercenaries and adventurers, though. The former fought in wars; the latter slew monsters. However, guild ranks didn’t necessarily correlate with each individual’s strength. But fundamentally speaking, those who reached Rank A presumably had the strength to back up that claim.

The only question is, do they have what it takes to match that reputation?

It had been roughly three months since Kevin had joined the Azure Sky Nimbus troupe, and as far as he could see, they were certainly strong enough to match their name. However, Kevin wasn’t seeking simple strength or successful people. Kevin’s honored lord had ordered him to seek out people who met certain requirements. And he couldn’t properly gauge their worth unless he spent a certain amount of time with them.

I’ll need a bit more time to confirm that. Either way, it’s nice to have a target worth killing for once.

A mix of elation and anxiety ran through Kevin’s body. That centipede was a predator, on a much higher rung of the food chain than a human like himself. But so long as he handled the situation properly, he could subdue and slay this creature.

This world was teeming with powerful monsters. But mankind still ruled, despite being a relatively weak and vulnerable species. Their rule wasn’t by way of luck or coincidence either.

Even if Kevin looked like an inexperienced boy in his late teens, his combat experience was the real deal. He had been among the first slaves that Ryoma Mikoshiba had bought in Epirus, and he had survived more battles than a child his age should ever have experienced. He had started his career as a warrior fighting the monsters infesting Wortenia, and he had gone on to join the expedition to Xarooda. He had also participated in the Battle of Fort Notis under Ryoma’s command.

Sirius was protected by barrier pillars, but the area outside the city was swarming with monsters. And since Kevin often trained against these monsters, he’d grown used to fighting this kind of creature. He’d seen plenty of monsters that had matched this centipede in size. In fact, Kevin was one of the most skilled soldiers under the Mikoshiba barony, after Lione and the Crimson Lion mercenaries. With that much training and experience, he was naturally overcome with excitement to fight such a monster.

It’s been four months since I left the Wortenia Peninsula, and all I’ve fought is low-ranking fodder. 

That emotion burned in Kevin’s heart. Of course, even low-ranking monsters posed a threat. They weren’t to be taken lightly. However, after months of fighting them, they had become tedious. Because of that, Kevin couldn’t help but smile at such powerful prey. He would have felt that way even if he hadn’t been hiding his true strength these past three months.

Kevin suddenly heard a hoarse voice behind him, and he felt a hand pat his shoulder.

“What do you think, Kevin? The guild calls this dangerous monster a glutton. It’s our prey for today.”

Kevin’s hand jumped to the shortsword at his waist. It was a reflexive reaction that anyone with sufficient training would have developed. But as soon as he saw the familiar figure of the black-haired man, with his usual daring smile, Kevin forced himself to relax.

Oh, no good...

Kevin changed his indomitable smirk into a sheepish smile, one mixed with abject anxiety. It was the expression of the weak, which had been beaten into his very soul. His current cover story was that he was the illegitimate son of a knight who had fallen from grace and lost his title.

Suppressing his giddiness to fight, Kevin slowly turned around.

“Oh, sorry. But don’t surprise me like that, sir,” Kevin said, looking at Rick in a wide-eyed, exaggerated manner. “What are you doing here? Did you decide on a plan?”

Rick shrugged unapologetically. “Hey now, this is a battlefield, you know? If I were a monster, some part of you would be decomposing in my stomach right about now.” Despite his words, his eyes and tone implied that he hadn’t been scolding him.

Rick then grinned and tapped Kevin’s chest affectionately. A light shock ran through Kevin’s solar plexus, knocking all the air from his lungs.

Right, he was worried about me because I’m a rookie. I suppose he’s at least caring.

Apparently, Rick had been concerned about the new rookie facing his first large monster, so even though he was the captain of the troupe, he’d personally come to check on him.

In that case...

Keven immediately caught on to Rick’s intentions. He kept his tone anxious and fearful, saying, “I didn’t think it’d be that big. Are we really supposed to fight that thing, Captain Rick?”

Kevin looked just like a novice soldier heading into battle for the first time. It was a truly difficult act that required painstaking balance. He couldn’t seem too afraid, or he’d come across as cowardly and incompetent, which would impair his future credibility. And since he was supposed to be a knight’s son, he had said that he’d been trained in combat and had learned martial thaumaturgy. This story was why he was allowed to join the Azure Sky Nimbus in the first place. He was supposed to be a beginner adventurer, but one that already knew how to fight.

The Azure Sky Nimbus was one of the highest-ranked adventurer troupes in Rhoadseria, and they wouldn’t normally accept a total novice who’d only just registered with the guild. Instructing a rookie was difficult in any profession, and there weren’t any schools in this world. As such, the troupe preferred people with some existing aptitude. He’d had to tell them he could fight in order to get in.

Still, given the sheer size of the monster in front of him, Kevin had to appear at least a little fearful. Otherwise, he would look suspicious. Kevin had seen monsters on the same scale as the glutton thanks to his experience in Wortenia, but outside the peninsula, creatures of this size were rare. They were like a natural disaster that could destroy an entire city, depending on the circumstances.

A young woman butted into their exchange, answering Kevin’s question. “Of course we’re gonna fight it. That’s our job.”

The woman stepped out from behind Rick. She had shoulder-length blonde hair, and she wore black-rimmed glasses, which made her look sharp and capable.

“Vice-captain,” Kevin said, greeting her.

The woman, who was around thirty years old, nodded lightly.

“You came here too, Anastasia?” Rick asked as he turned around to face her. He sounded exasperated. “Are preparations complete?”

“Would I be here if they weren’t?” Anastasia said, cocking her eyebrow. “We covered up the trap hole; it’s all ready. Besides, I can’t leave protecting the rookie to a bumbling ape like you.”

Apparently, Anastasia had already completed the preparations needed to slay the centipede and had come to check on Kevin as well. She, too, was quite the caring, helpful person. The only problem was that she’d sounded quite prickly with the captain.

Rick flared up at her. “A bumbling what?! Watch your tone, woman!”

“What, are you saying you’re not?!”

Anastasia was dignified and beautiful, but she wasn’t one to mince words. She wasn’t vulgar, per se, but she didn’t care for the pretentious airs that nobles typically exuded. A bespectacled woman and an adventurer—she was quite the strange noble by this world’s standards.

While Rick and Anastasia continued arguing, Kevin snuck a peek at Anastasia, thinking back to what he’d learned of her.

I heard she’s the daughter of a noble who lost his title. Her last name is unknown. Though she’s the vice-captain, she’s the brains of the group and takes command of the Azure Sky Nimbus whenever the captain is on the frontlines.

Kevin had heard this from some of the troupe’s veterans, though this could have been false information. Following her family’s loss of status, Anastasia had turned to adventuring as a means of making a living. After many twists and turns, she’d ended up joining Rick’s troupe, the Azure Sky Nimbus.

Judging by how they argue, it looks like they’re fairly close.

Though their argument seemed fierce, the two got along very well. It was often said that people needed to be close to repeatedly argue, but in their case, their arguing felt more like a married couple’s bickering. And from what the other members of the group had told him, these arguments were quite frequent.




She doesn’t really feel like a noble, but I guess that’s all in the past.

It had been a lifetime ago, as one might say. Anastasia still looked refined and beautiful, but by now she had fully acclimated to life as an adventurer.

Kevin silently watched them bicker, and after a few minutes, their argument died down.

“So, you think we can really defeat that thing?” Kevin asked.

Rick scratched his hair awkwardly. “Huh? Oh, yeah, that depends on Anastasia. She’s our outfit’s brains, after all. You just stay on the ready and take advantage of her plan.”

Anastasia sighed, shaking her head at Rick. Then she directed a gentle smile at Kevin. “I can’t fault you for being anxious. You’ve been working with us for a few months, but you’ve never fought anything that big. That thing’s a monster, for sure. It’s huge, a menace to society.”

“That’s right,” Rick said, nodding sagely. “And it’s not just big. Its skin is as thick as armor, and it’s an insect monster, at that. Bugs are crazy robust. It might have been just a centipede at first, but once it’s that big, it’s a major threat. It’s not smart enough to use any verbal thaumaturgy, but its brute strength and hard shell make it a menace. I don’t know if it’s true, but based on the guild’s records, the biggest centipede monsters out there were equal to low-ranking phantasmal beasts or a dragon. And they start out as itty-bitty centipedes. Can you believe it?”

“Equal to a dragon?” Kevin parroted, surprised.

Dragons existed in this world. They ranged from low-ranking drakes to high-ranking dragon lords. However, even the weakest drake was far stronger than any human. Fortunately, they were few in number and rarely left their territories, so most adventurers and mercenaries had never even seen one.

Once a dragon went on a rampage, the damages and losses were great. They had reduced entire villages and cities to dust, and whole countries had had to mobilize in order to wipe them out. Dragons had even destroyed kingdoms as retribution for encroaching on their territories. The destruction left in their wake was colloquially called a “maelstrom,” and it was treated the same as a natural disaster like an earthquake or a typhoon.

Though Kevin was familiar with the no-man’s-land that was Wortenia, he’d never faced a dragon. Same as how no man alive had the power to push back or prevent a natural disaster, no one in their right mind would challenge a creature equal to such a force of nature. Even in the myths passed down in this world, the number of people who had faced a dragon and lived to tell the tale was less than a hundred. Kevin was indeed a gifted warrior for his age, but he didn’t consider himself to be as strong as those mythical heroes.

Kevin forgot his act and swallowed nervously out of real fear. Rick laughed. His expression soon hardened, though.

“Well, that was a joke. Those records were fairly old, so who’s to say how accurate they are. But if we don’t do something about this thing, one day that joke might end up becoming real.”

Rick then paused for a moment and directed a questioning glance at Kevin before continuing. “Big monsters like the glutton don’t appear out in the open like this very often, but every now and then they skulk out of their dens. Why do you think they do that?”

“Hm, because they’ve developed a taste for human flesh?” Kevin suggested.

Humans weren’t the only creatures that increased their strength by feeding on the lives of others. In fact, it seemed animals and insects were more receptive to the boon of their prey’s life force than humans were. It was the law of the jungle; eat or be eaten. The strong emerged victorious and grew all the stronger for it.

Normally, overcoming those odds wasn’t easy. People might have been capable of beating dragons in this world, but it was quite the rare occurrence. The possibility was one in a million, or even one in a billion—a veritable miracle.

Statistically, it was impossible. Yet even such impossibilities sometimes became reality. And humans weren’t the only species to capitalize on such luck. The goddess of fate was a fickle mistress, and she would sometimes grant even the smallest of lifeforms terrifying power. Sometimes it was enough power to overturn and shatter the food chain.

“That’s right,” Rick said, satisfied with Kevin’s answer. “You’re pretty smart for a rookie. Like you said, they probably devoured some adventurer or mercenary in the woods and developed a liking for their flesh. And that’s why they crawl out of their usual habitat and closer to ours. To a glutton, adventurers that have absorbed enough prana to raise their level are probably plump, delicious prey.”

Maybe it was a matter of flavor, or the prana they yielded. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. Either way, monsters that had reached a certain level of power and growth developed an appetite for human flesh. That wasn’t to say that people simply allowed themselves to be devoured, though. They would fight to survive.

“And as a matter of fact,” Anastasia added, “five men have died just to confirm its position. And a few adventurer groups never returned from the forest it used to inhabit, which brings the grand total of casualties to twenty.” She spoke eloquently and with a gentle smile, but it was clear that she was trying to scare Kevin into understanding the gravity of the situation. “Thanks to that monster, traffic through this route has essentially stopped, which is a blow for the trade caravans. That’s why the guild came to us, asking that we dispatch this creature as soon as possible.”

Kevin’s face screwed up anxiously. “And we’re facing the glutton with these numbers? Shouldn’t we have more people on our side?”

Their group consisted of a total of twenty people or so. Adventures mostly formed parties of five, meaning they currently had four parties’ worth of fighters here. That wasn’t a small number by any means, but it wasn’t a large group either. They were visibly skilled warriors, but by Kevin’s estimate, they were still nowhere strong enough to face the glutton head on.

We’ll need at least twice these numbers to slay a monster of that size.

Kevin looked at Anastasia, his gaze fearful and anxious. Some part of him was still acting, but some part was honestly concerned. He wasn’t afraid of that giant centipede, but he wasn’t going to underestimate it either.

Kevin did have experience hunting down monsters of that size and class alongside his friends in the Wortenia Peninsula, but they were true comrades, bonded by a trust thicker than blood. They had trained and lived together, and they’d won their battles thanks to meticulous preparation. By contrast, Kevin had only been in the Azure Sky Nimbus for three months. He’d heard of their reputation, and through spending time with them, he had gained an understanding of their skill. But he didn’t know them that well yet. And that lack of coordination could lead to fatal mistakes.

Do we really have a chance here? If things turn bad, I’ll have to run. Captain Rick is a promising candidate, but I can’t afford to die without completing the task my lord entrusted me with.

If you’re not confident you can win, don’t take fights you can’t back out of. That was a lesson Kevin knew by heart. So even though he burned with desire to hunt such strong prey, his mind advocated caution.

To Rick and Anastasia, however, he just looked like a rookie with cold feet.

“What, you scared?” Rick asked. He patted Kevin on the back and laughed heartily, as if to dispel his fear. “Don’t worry. Like I said, follow Anastasia’s plan and you’ll be fine. I understand how you feel, kid, so stop frowning like that. It’s bad luck.”

“Don’t you worry, just focus on doing your part,” Anastasia added with a gentle smile.

The two of them then turned around. It seemed the time for idle chatter was at an end.

“Guess that’s all they’ll tell me. Oh, well,” Kevin muttered to himself.

Perhaps they didn’t think there was any point explaining the subtleties of their plan to a rookie, or maybe they had some other reason. Kevin couldn’t tell. He wished he’d gotten a proper briefing, but pestering them any further would arouse suspicion.

Let’s see if they have the skill my lord seeks.

Watching them walk off, Kevin’s lips curled into a smirk—not the smile of an inexperienced novice—as he recalled the order his one and only master had entrusted him with.

As the sun began dipping into the western sky and the hearty shouts of drunkards filled Epirus’s streets, one man sat in his study, detached from the celebrations. He was occupied by a large mountain of paperwork, his face lit up by his lamp’s faint glow.

He could hear the members of his troupe cheering from downstairs, celebrating the success of the first big job they’d taken from the guild in a while. The giant centipede had truly been a satisfying kill, and they did it with minimal injuries on their part. The adventurers were understandably elated and merry.

I see they’re enjoying themselves down there. Good for them.

Rick cracked a smile, though it was tinged with envy. The Azure Sky Nimbus had rented out the tavern, and the dining hall was now lined with appetizing meat and flowing ale. And once their bellies were full and their minds sufficiently intoxicated, they’d likely go out into the night streets to seek more fun. The men, who had walked the tightrope of life and death today, would seek comfort in a woman’s warm bosom and more sweet mead—the most basic of instinctual desires.

When Rick was younger, whenever he would finish a job and his pockets were heavy with coin, he and his friends would go celebrate in the brothel. He could no longer afford to follow his desires freely like a rookie, though. He was captain, and that meant he had the important—and somewhat bothersome—duty of handling the paperwork.

Working through the sizable stack of merchant invoices, Rick let out a sigh as he reached for the last one. “That should do it...”

Rick had repeated this work many times since becoming captain, but he never could get used to it. A fatigue unlike anything he’d felt after fighting monsters washed over him. He was a warrior at heart, the type to fight on the front lines, covered in plate armor. He was more at ease bathing in the blood of his foes and dancing with the reaper. With nothing but his skill and a bit of luck, he’d blazed a path through this career. So for a seasoned warrior like him, paperwork was a greater challenge than most battles.

Never imagined I’d see the day when I’d be doing work like this. I shouldn’t have agreed so easily when Pops retired and told me to take over the troupe for him.

It was too late to complain now, but Rick often looked back on that decision with a hint of ironic disgruntlement.

It had all started twenty years ago. One unfortunate boy had been caught up in a war taking place in Rhoadseria’s south. In a single night, he’d lost both his parents and the village he lived in. That boy was Rick.

There were as many children with the same background on the western continent as there were stars in the night sky. And most of those children had no one to protect them. They either starved to death or were captured and forced into slavery. That was how Rick’s life was supposed to have ended too. But after days of crouching in the ruins of his burnt-down house, with hunger as his only companion, a man found Rick and took care of him. That man was the founder and leader of the Azure Sky Nimbus adventurer troupe, Donovan.

Even now, Rick didn’t know why Donovan had decided to take him in. Maybe he’d needed a lackey to handle the chores and Rick happened to be in the right place at the right time. Or perhaps Donovan had seen something in the young boy’s eyes. It could have even been nothing more than a whim. But for whatever reason, Donovan had taken Rick from the burnt village and given him food, lodging, and a warrior’s training.

Donovan had raised Rick. At times he had been kind, and at others he had been stern. In a way, their bond was stronger than a father and son connected by blood. As far as Rick was concerned, Donovan wasn’t his foster father; he was his true father. And five years ago, his father had decided to retire from the adventuring business.

All the members of the troupe had looked up to Donovan as a father, affectionately calling him “Pops.” He had been over sixty years old at the time, and his body could no longer move as swiftly as it had in his youth. But aged as he was, Donovan was still a skilled warrior praised by the guild. He had led a life fighting monsters, forcing him to remain in peak physical condition. In addition, mastering thaumaturgy and absorbing a great deal of prana slowed aging. Old age wasn’t necessarily a reason to retire. If he wanted, he still could have remained in active duty.

Of course, adventuring was a difficult profession. One had to crawl through the foliage and bogs of uninhabited lands to hunt down monsters and collect materials. It wasn’t easy work. But it wasn’t the only career a swordsman could pursue. If Donovan had been willing to become an officer, he could have become a knight and even possibly earned a noble title. The troupe’s other members could have become army officers as well, if they’d so wished.

But Donovan didn’t choose to remain an active adventurer or to seek a career as a soldier. Instead, he elected to return to his village. Even now, Rick could never bring himself to ask Donovan for the reasons behind his retirement. But after becoming captain himself, Rick believed he might have understood why.

I can see how he’d get burned out by this life.

After so long, the job stopped being about cultivating one’s personal prowess and growing stronger. Leading an adventurer troupe meant handling finances and balancing income and expenses—profit and loss. No leader could escape money matters.

An adventurer or a mercenary handling jobs on their own could get away with sloppy accounting. So long as nothing major happened, even if they’d gotten their calculations wrong, the worst they’d have to worry about was paying their tab in the pub or refraining from the brothel. But Rick had subordinates to look after. He had to maintain the Azure Sky Nimbus as a whole, and he couldn’t be noncommittal about their finances. Weapons were the tools of their trade, and using them resulted in damage and wear. And since they lacked a base of operations to call their own, they had to either pay lodging fees or camp outside.

When a member of the troupe was injured, Rick also had to pay for their treatment. And if they couldn’t return to the business, he would pay them a large sum based on their accomplishments and the number of years they’d served the troupe.

Incidentally, none of this was required by law. This world had no set concept of human rights, and ideas like workers’ rights or work-related injuries didn’t exist. But just because the words for them hadn’t been invented yet didn’t mean people couldn’t carry out the concepts. Even in different worlds, people still led their lives in much the same manner. The things required to do so didn’t change either. The only question was whether those needs were acknowledged.

Since such treatment wasn’t law, no one had to abide by these ideas. But Donovan saw the importance of treating his subordinates well. One could say that he had been graced with a foresight most commoners in this world lacked. But at the same time, he had also realized that he wasn’t cut out for this kind of work.

That’s why Donovan rejected the offers of all those officers and pushed the troupe into my hands, choosing to retire.

Being an officer meant even more paperwork. From what Rick had heard, all the offers Donovan had received from the military were for positions of battalion commander or higher, which meant he would have been commanding a force several times the size of the Azure Sky Nimbus. He wouldn’t have been expected to command that many people single-handedly, but it would have still meant a great amount of paperwork. Choosing to pass on his position to the next generation and earn an easy retirement wasn’t a mistake by any means.

Rick smirked derisively at himself, sneaking a glance at the pile of papers on his desk. But it’s not like I’m any more suited to it than you were, Pops. 

Any amateur had trouble bartering with a sly merchant. Eventually, someone would take advantage of them and swindle them into a bad deal. But not everyone got duped to the same degree. One could swallow a bad offer whole, or they could break off the deal after realizing the situation. Either way, the amateur would take some losses, but in the latter case, the losses would be less.

Since Rick was a captain, those kinds of negotiations fell to him. He hated them more than anything. But right now, his headache was due to something even more troublesome.

Now that we’ve pulled off a big job, we’ve got money to spare. That gives us the option to leave Rhoadseria, or...

The guild had paid the Azure Sky Nimbus a large fee for slaying the giant centipede. It was enough to live off of for a good while. In fact, it was their biggest haul in recent memory. Even if Rick were to pay the members generously for their service, they’d still have enough to maintain the entire troupe for a while without needing to take up extra work.

There’s been too much suspicious business going on here recently.

Neither adventurers nor mercenaries could escape the influence of those in power. Obligations had a way of catching up to those who raised their rank and reputation.

If a flock of monsters were to suddenly attack a town, adventurers weren’t the only ones sent to exterminate them. Mercenaries, who made their living fighting other people, would also be called upon to help. The opposite also held true. If their own town were embroiled in the fires of war, no adventurer would remain indifferent to it. That was all the more true when an influential noble personally demanded work from them.

Because their successes attracted the attention of nobles, both mercenaries and adventurers had to devote themselves to gathering information and intelligence. Being aware of recent events could mean the difference between life and death.

Princess— No, it’s Queen Lupis now...

Rick had only been to Pireas, the capital, once in his life. He’d happened to see Queen Lupis during that visit. Thinking back on her visage, Rick smiled bitterly. Queen Lupis cherished her subjects and abided by justice. In return, her citizens loved and respected her. Rhoadseria had probably never had another sovereign that loved the commoners as much as Queen Lupis did. When she drove Duke Gelhart away and took center stage in politics, many of the commoners had welcomed her reign with open arms and cheering.

I get why they expected so much out of her.

Throughout Rhoadseria’s existence, nobles had repeatedly asserted their tyranny. This was to be expected, since nobles were always the privileged class. But the years during which Duke Gelhart held de facto power over the country were especially dark. And then came the change of regime. For the oppressed masses, Queen Lupis was a beacon of hope. They simply rejoiced and hoped for a brighter future, unaware that it was all a grand illusion.

An adventurer like Rick lacked both the knowledge and the will to analyze Queen Lupis’s mistakes. The only thing he knew was that at present, the Kingdom of Rhoadseria was in an even more precarious position than it had been during the civil war. The guild was full of requests for bodyguards and bandit elimination. Many villages had organized their own local militias to defend themselves against pillaging. All of that was due to Queen Lupis’s leadership...or lack thereof.

The nobles levied heavy taxes on their subjects to increase their profits, building up funds to protect their domains. Everyone was feeling the advent of a new war and was preparing accordingly. This left the commoners with only two options: either pay the taxes and starve to death or risk their lives opposing the bandits.

At present, one person in the troupe stuck out to Rick. He was still young and a rookie, but he had been blessed with surprising skill and grit. He still had a ways to go as an adventurer, but his combat prowess already matched that of a medium-class adventurer. Based on how he’d behaved when they hunted the glutton the other day, his personality was fine too.

He looked a bit uneasy, but he was up against his first giant monster. Any novice would react like that.

It hadn’t been any ordinary monster either. It had been a giant variant—a truly horrifying monstrosity. The fact that he didn’t run from the sheer size of the creature was praiseworthy on its own.

In the three months since Rick had permitted him to join the troupe, Rick had seen the promising prospects the guild’s staff had mentioned. Still, something about him felt off.

A skilled rookie joining us at a time like this. Normally, I’d rejoice, but I’m not sure whether this was a coincidence. And...

If Kevin had joined the Azure Sky Nimbus to polish his skills as an adventurer or mercenary, then there was nothing to criticize. But Rick couldn’t discount the possibility that he’d had ulterior motives.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. At least, I hope so.

The boy had cleared his test before joining, fair and square. And the fact that he knew how to read and write and do arithmetic made him quite the catch. Most of the troupe only knew how to write their names, at best. They knew even less about math. Many didn’t even know how to add or subtract, despite their usefulness in everyday life. This was how merchants often swindled adventurers and mercenaries. The only two who wouldn’t be duped so easily were Anastasia, who’d had a noble’s education, and Rick, who’d been taught how to barter by his adoptive father.

Because of Kevin’s education, his addition to the troupe meant they could relegate a bit of that load to him. All of this was assuming Kevin really wanted to become an adventurer, though. No one wanted to hand responsibility to a traitor in their midst, after all.

It might be time to discuss this with Anastasia.

Rick didn’t pretend to be a smart man. His outlook had expanded over the years as he gained experience as the troupe’s leader, but he was still a warrior at heart. His true worth was on the frontlines. Reading through contracts and negotiating with clients wasn’t his field of expertise. As such, his vice-captain was an indispensable part of his work—the brains to match his brawn. Having been born a noble, Anastasia was far wiser and more prudent than a commoner like Rick.

“Hey, Lloyd. You got a minute?” Rick called out.

The door opened and a middle-aged man peeked inside the room. “You called, Cap? Finally done with work?” he asked, his eyes glowing. He looked like he was expecting a very specific answer. His whole body was alive with excitement, like a child raring to go outside.

Though Rick recognized this, he still had to ruthlessly walk all over Lloyd’s hope. “Not even close, you numbskull.”

“Right...” Lloyd said, hanging his head.

Unfortunately for Lloyd, it was his turn to be the captain’s direct attendant, assisting him with his duties and functioning as his guard. So long as Rick was still working, Lloyd couldn’t go out drinking with the rest of his friends. He had to patiently wait for Rick to finish.

“You’re not gonna be drinking today, Lloyd; give it up. Call Anastasia over, would you? She should be in her room.”

“Understood, Cap. Man, having to be assistant today, of all times?” Lloyd shrugged, exasperated. “Fine, I’ll give up on my booze and women. Make sure to get me something nice to eat later though!”

“Fine, fine. Dinner’s on me. And you can have one mug of ale. So hurry up and call Anastasia.”

“Just one mug? You trying to kill me here, Cap?!”

“Get going!”

Lloyd left, still visibly dissatisfied and mumbling to himself.

Rick leaned against his backrest, looking up at the ceiling. Not that I don’t get how you feel, Lloyd.

Rick didn’t like this assistant system either, but Anastasia had suggested it. And it had indeed saved his neck a few times, so there was no good reason to call it off. Besides, being the head of such an influential troupe meant he couldn’t remain indifferent to politics.

But tonight was a time of celebration. They’d completed a major job. Even Rick understood how Lloyd felt, with painful clarity. If it wasn’t for his position, he’d be out and about in town instead of slogging through this mind-numbing work.

“Being captain’s a pretty rotten job.”

Rick sighed and reached for his cigarette case on his desk. He took out a roll and a dagger to make a filter. Before long, smoke filled his office.

As he took a puff, Rick cocked his head. “She’s late... What’s Anastasia doing?”

According to Lloyd, she had been occupied. He’d knocked on her door, and she’d replied she’d be to Rick’s office soon. But an hour had passed, and there had been no sign of her. Anastasia was always methodical and punctual. She wouldn’t normally leave him waiting like this.

Just as Rick thought to beckon Lloyd and ask him to call her again, he heard three knocks on the door.

“I apologize for the wait, Captain. May I come in?”

Anastasia’s voice was as lovely as ever, but Rick could hear a hint of stress in it. They were comrades who’d fought together in battle; he could easily sense the minute changes to her tone.

Did someone threaten her or something? No, that’s not it. It’s more like she’s trying to keep her emotions in check.

“Oh, Anastasia. Sure, come in,” Rick said, still somewhat puzzled.

“Excuse me,” she murmured, gently opening the door.

“I...see. So that’s what happened.” Rick had planned to ask about her tardiness, but he’d changed his words when he saw the young man standing behind her. “Anastasia, can you explain why you brought him to my room in the middle of the night? Is this...what I think it is?”

Anastasia nodded briefly.

Rick heaved a deep sigh. “Right. So, who sent him?” He’d known the promising new rookie held some kind of secret, but honestly, he didn’t want to pursue that line of questioning too deeply.

“He says he’s from the Mikoshiba barony,” Anastasia replied shortly.

Rick furrowed his brows. “Mikoshiba? As in, Baron Mikoshiba?”

Talk about unexpected.

Rick’s surprise was only natural. Baron Mikoshiba was publicly seen as a sham noble, an aristocrat in name only. At best, he was seen as an upstart. Between having to govern the backwater land of the Wortenia Peninsula, which had no citizens, and then having to go on the expedition to Xarooda, he’d been drawing one terrible hand after another.

At first, Rick had even felt a hint of admiration and envy toward him. He was a mercenary of humble background who’d received a noble title, even if it was the lowest rank possible. But with every rumor Rick heard of him, that admiration turned to derisiveness.

Ryoma Mikoshiba was a hero who had been banished to a frontier region with only an infertile land as his prize. Any fool could see that Queen Lupis had wanted to push Ryoma Mikoshiba as far away as possible. Even so, Ryoma had gone to Xarooda and repelled the O’ltormean invasion.

Rick readily acknowledged Ryoma Mikoshiba’s skill. But the fact that he’d simply kowtowed to the demands of a mistress who had scorned him made Ryoma seem like a coward, bound by the fetters of his social position.

But it seemed Rick’s take on the baron had been off the mark. He stood frozen in place, surprised by this news.

Kevin took this opportunity to step forward. “My apologies for intruding at this late hour, Captain,” he said, bowing his head. “I think you’ve realized by now, but allow me to introduce myself again. My name is Kevin, servant to the noble house of Mikoshiba.”

His bow had been perfect. Even Anastasia, with her noble background, could affirm that. It was clear that Kevin had been through rigorous training. But the way his head didn’t completely lower proved that his martial skills were significantly higher than Rick had initially assumed. Perhaps he wasn’t as good as Rick, but he was certainly as skilled as the average troupe member...if not stronger.

The way he’s moving... Yeah, he was playing coy with us, the little bastard.

Something had felt off about this boy since the day he’d joined. Now Rick knew what it was.

Dammit. I thought he was a promising rookie, but it was all a hoax.

Rick sighed again. Whatever job Kevin was supposed to relay to them was surely one they couldn’t refuse.

Their talk continued deep into the night. Only the three of them knew what their discussion was about. But after that day, the Azure Sky Nimbus troupe began pursuing work within Rhoadseria more frequently than before. That was until one day, several weeks later, the gears of history creaked into life and began to revolve once again as they fed on the blood and tears of many.

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