Putting on my glasses, I returned to the village.
There are many nocturnal creatures attracted by human flesh and blood; they would be mysteriously reduced to carrion by dawn. The sounds of merrymaking could still be heard from the village, characterised by sturdy choruses and occasional finger-whistling.
Neil had been awaiting my return. He got down on his knees, lowering his head.
「P-please accept me as your disciple!」
「Ehhhhh… an immediate answer!!」
「The village elder has offered us a place to stay for the night, please accept his offer!」
「About that before… Oh, I’m sorry… I was wondering where you had gone…」
「I-I didn’t see or hear anything!」
「Please keep it that way.」
I stood beside Neil, who still had his head lowered.
「I’m already 33 years old, but I’ve been unable to rank up all this time! I became an adventurer hoping to accomplish great things, but… I’ve always been a D-rank…」
「Neil-san, if I were to teach you, what you’ve seen so far would be but the tip of the iceberg.」
「T-There’s nothing I won’t do! So, please…」
「You’ll catch a cold.」
With that, I slipped into the bed that the village elder had graciously provided.
I wonder if Lyla’s okay, though? Since she’s at the guild, Milia and the others would’ve fed her, I guess. The next morning, we left the village, much to the villagers’ dismay. Shinto priest and Spear had been drinking all night, and reeked of alcohol even as we bade farewell. We reported at the adventurers’ guild upon returning to Lahati.
「Oh hey, Roland-san! Thank you for your hard work! How’d the quest go?」, the beaming Milia said as she welcomed us at the reception.
Taking a glance at the back, the black cat there looked rather gloomy, its eyes fixated on me.
「It went without a hitch. Everyone did well.」
「Is that so? Well, that’s great!」
「Not so!」, interrupted Spear. 「Even though we had been super confident earlier, we didn’t expect a really strong enemy to appear… we panicked and couldn’t do much…」
「Even against that really strong enemy, employee-san didn’t break a sweat. Under his precise orders, we defeated the red wolf without receiving even so much as a scratch!」, continued Shinto priest.
「Ehh!? A red wolf!? At your rank, all of you could have been wiped out…」
「Not only did Aniki save our lives, but whenever he’s around, we feel really safe… Also, he remains incredibly calm during battle — we’ve come to rely on him a lot.」
「Oh, I can see why. Roland-san, you don’t usually look like it, but when push comes to shove, you really are reliable!」, agreed Milia, nodding profusely. The trio nodded in agreement.
Milia handled the quest completion paperwork while making small talk.
「Roland-san, you can claim medical expenses and a bonus while collecting your pay～」
「Is that so?」
「Yes! There’s always a certain risk associated with accompanying those on a quest, so there’s a bonus given for that. For higher quest ranks, the following day will be a rest day. So, today’s a day off for you!」
「Just for something that simple, not only do I get bonus pay and a day off, but also free healthcare?」
「That was not ‘simple’!!!」, exclaimed the other three.
「It wasn’t ‘simple’, Aniki. There was even a Salamander, right? To deal with a red wolf and a Salamander, an adequately-ranked party would take more than a week to strategise and defeat them, no?」
「A S-salamander!? You haven’t told me anything about it!」
Spear and Shinto priest explained everything to Milia.
「If you had to deal with that, I’d need to up the quest rank! And also, if I had known about it, I wouldn’t have let Roland-san go… It’s too dangerous and I’d have been so worried… 」
Leaving Milia and the trio to sort out the detailed paperwork, I headed for the branch chief’s office. While knocking on the door, I heard Iris’s voice from within.
「May I enter?」
「Oh yes, welcome back. Milia’s voice was loud enough for me to hear most of it. A huge success, eh?」
Iris invited me to sit on the sofa. I then described the events that had occurred from the beginning.
「Yeah… an A-rank adventurer using monsters for his own selfish gains… that can’t be allowed.」
「I’m not familiar with the quest rank system, but from Milia’s reaction, ours should’ve been higher than C, right?」
「After requesting help from us, the beneficiary has to provide commissions and rewards in accordance with the rank. Bearing in mind the state of that village, I suppose that C was the best we could assign it.」
Thinking back to the quest slip, it hadn’t made any mention of the beasts. While the villagers hadn’t lied, they hadn’t been completely truthful either.
「It’s kind of justified, I guess. It’s also our job to decide quest ranks accurately, though…」
Yes, agreed Milia, with furrowed eyebrows.
「Oh, and about that self-proclaimed beastmaster, what became of him?」
「His whereabouts are unclear.」
Iris paused to think for a while, and forced a smile.
「Fuu. Yes, it’s rather common for adventurers to go missing.」
She stopped halfway through writing and looked up.
「It’s not a token of gratitude or anything, but… today’s a day off for you, right? How does dinner tonight sound?」
「I-It’s my treat.」
「It’s not about the money…」
「It’s not any old bar, you know? I’ll take you to an elegant and luxurious restaurant!」
「I’m sorry, but I have to take care of my cat.」
「I lost to a moggy!? Normally, guys would be tripping over their own feet to join me if I asked them out…」
「Fine, I see how it is. Have a good rest.」
Iris, who had just broken her quill in half, promptly kicked me out of her office. As I walked through the corridor, I started thinking about how to spend this unforeseen day off.
Looking at my feet, I found the source — a black cat with its fur bristled.
「You dare leave me all by myself while a-carousing all night long? I’ve heard everything! That lass Milia was chasing me round and round! You were having a feast, while I had to eat that bland cat food. Oh, woe is me!」
「My bad. I’ll get something for you, and then we can head home.」
「Hmph… meat and booze. I won’t settle for anything else.」
We left the guild and stopped by various shops that had just opened for the day. Having to satisfy the flippant Demon King, I blew a ton of money on food before returning to our house at the outskirts of the city. Considering the extra cash I should be receiving sooner or later, it wasn’t that big of a hole in my pocket.
Lyla reverted to her original form upon reaching home, and devoured the goodies. We sat side by side on the sofa while I related the previous night’s events to her.
「It’s probably my first time taking another person’s life of my own accord.」
「Fufu, you’re so sensitive. How did it feel to voluntarily murder someone? To kill while being clear about your motives, instead of as an order or an assignment?」
「Well, let’s just say it didn’t feel too good. I’ll avoid doing so as much as possible.」
「You talk like an innocent lass. Fufufu.」
Lyla laughed in a low voice while clutching her wine glass. It wasn’t even noon yet, and she was drinking the wine as if it were grape juice.
「It would be absurd to think of me as the man who dethroned the once unrivaled Demon King, wouldn’t it?」, I blurted out.
When I caught myself, it was too late — perhaps I was already intoxicated.
「I have no idea why, but I’ve been thinking about it lately.」
「It’s been almost a month since you slayed the Demon King and started a ‘quiet life’… either your mindset has changed, or your identity as an assassin is beginning to dissociate from this ‘Roland’ façade.」
My profession is shrouded in secrecy. It’s not a must, but I’ve actively avoided becoming too close to anyone — I’ve always been lonely as an independent assassin.
「As a Demon King, it’s lonely at the top too, you know. I’m always responsible for making the final decisions — I have to be a king, not ‘Lyla’… If there’s a single soul that understands your loneliness, it’s probably me.」
I had killed that ‘Demon King’.
Both of us were lonely, even if we suffered from different ‘kinds’ of loneliness. I guess that’s why I ran my mouth to Lyla like that. Wrapping my arms around Lyla’s waist, she placed both hands on my neck.
We kissed for a long, long time in each other’s warm embrace.
「With you around, Lyla, it’s unusually ‘warm’.」
Lyla blinked a few times and went beet red.
「I-is t-that so. That’s great… you know, m-me too. It’s so ‘warm’ when I’m with y-you…」, said Lyla, barely above a whisper. She wouldn’t face me. When I tried, she hurriedly covered her face.
I wonder why…