Translator: Denryuu; Editor: Ryunakama
True to her word, Iris paid for our meal.
I wasn’t strapped for cash, and neither had I pressured her into doing so, I thought.
「It’s normal for the superior to pay」, she said when I took my wallet out.
I watched her foot the bill and made a mental note that this was ‘normal’.
Though she had been rather grouchy before stepping into the restaurant, Milia was her cheerful self again once she had gotten a taste of the food. After Stein’s departure, the conversation shifted towards my arm and the workplace.
We returned to the guild just as lunch break ended. Since Stein was a regular at that restaurant, I deduced that he came to our branch most of the time and looked up his records when I found the time to do so. Iris was spot on — he was D-ranked. An adventurer of low ambition, most of the quests he took were E-ranked. The records showed that he worked in a group, which was consistent with what the manager had told us.
「What could’ve happened to his friends, Milia-san?」
「Ah, you mean Stein-san’s?」
I nodded. Milia placed a contemplative finger on her temple.
「I know little more than you do, but I don’t think you should poke your nose too far into affairs like these.」
「Why?」, I asked.
「Group dynamics can get complicated, especially with a third person involved. In Stein-san’s case, it looks like his friends ditched him completely.」
Come to think of it, if I interfered in others’ affairs to this extent, it usually meant that their problems were about to blow up.
「Are you interested in his life, Roland-san?」
「Eh, not particularly.」
「Fufu. But you’re still probing, aren’t you?」
The way Milia behaved gave the unacquainted individual the impression that she was an airhead. But for the minutiae she notices, she notices them better than anyone else. I glanced at the window and — to speak of the devil — noticed Stein standing there. When he realised that he had been spotted, he quickly bailed.
「I’ll be back in a bit.」
Milia agreed to cover for me while I was gone. Leaving through the front door, I caught up with the middle-aged adventurer that was stumbling as he walked.
He stopped and turned around, looking at me with eyes that had lost their light.
「Ya want somethin’ with me, crackerjack employee-san?」
「I’m not a crackerjack. Just a ‘normal’ employee. Do you visit that restaurant often, Stein-san…?」
「Ah… for years now. I’d go a-drinkin’ with friends after work.」
「Have you given up adventuring? My colleagues haven’t seen you around recently.」
「Ya know, don’tcha? My friends dumped me, and here I am.」
I had tried my best to avoid getting there, but I suppose it was the hard truth.
「And I don’t have the confidence to go alone」, he continued. 「An old git like me ain’t even fit for E or F-ranked quests anymore.」
Our clientele wasn’t particularly large. It was normal for young, inexperienced adventurers to take the lower-ranked quests, but if middle-aged adventurers did the same, they would certainly draw negative attention to themselves. Deserted by his friends, he barely had a choice other than spending the rest of his days earning peanuts by doing said quests.
With a heavy grunt, the aged adventurer sat by the roadside.
「It’s dirty」, he replied.
「I don’t mind.」
Seated together by the roadside, we attracted strange glances from numerous passers-by.
「Those fellers… they’re doin’ greater stuff’n I am.」
He’s referring to his friends, I thought.
「I intended to live a stable, comfy life as an adventurer in Lahati」, he explained. 「But I guess I was the only one. Them fellers found it boring, like, what’s the point, y’know?」
He snickered at himself.
「And they’re darn right.」
His breath reeked of alcohol. Stability and comfort, I thought. Isn’t that the ‘normal’ life I seek? Ask me if it’s boring, and my answer would be that it’s, well, certainly not interesting.
I’d be hard pressed for an answer too.
「I told ‘em that I didn’t become an adventurer to seek thrills, and that’s when we fell out. Had a big fight, and they eventually left town without my knowledge.」
He added that they had probably moved to the capital.
「Did you not follow them?」
「What for? Ambition is a great thing to have. But I’m an old bag of bones, and I’ll become a burden sooner or later… had it at the back of my mind for a long time now.」
When one reaches that age, it’s hard to improve any further. Your best years are behind you, and fighting the decline itself is difficult enough.
「Well, you won’t find a solution at the bottom of a glass.」
「Kuhaha… what a cruel employee-san.」
「Forgive me, but I have seen your track record.」
「Just a bunch of trivial, low-ranked quests, no?」
I shook my head.
「They may have been low-ranked, but you nevertheless helped people in need. That isn’t trivial.」
「That’s good to hear, man.」
While browsing the records, I had noticed a quest that he took often.
「Do you have some time?」, I asked.
「Yeah… too much of it.」
「I see that you like animals.」
「Like? I love them.」
I was assured of my plan when I heard that.
「There’s a ranch that was looking for farm hands a while back.」
Stein followed me out of town and towards the ranch.
「It’s the ranch that you guarded on multiple occasions in the past. Although they constantly have adventurers on hire, they find it troublesome to explain the job to different adventurers every time.」
「Oh, employee-san. You…」
The aged adventurer smiled blankly.
「How about it? It’s less demanding than being an adventurer. You’ll be doing the same things every day, rinsing and repeating.」
He simply followed behind me without giving me a reply. The owner of the ranch recognised him when we knocked on the door.
「Ah, Stein-san. Is he here to work for us?」
It was a question directed to me, but I threw it to Stein with my gaze.
He scratched his head and looked away.
「Doubt I can make a livin’ off the pay alone」, he mused.
「It’s about the same as doing E-ranked quests every day」, I said.
Now that I had defined the salary, the farmer nodded.
「We welcome you with open arms. Those young’uns always start slacking the moment we take our eyes off ‘em. But you’re not like that, Stein-san. You do your job diligently, and we remember you for that.」
I was glad that the owner was willing to take him under his wing.
「Nobody will laugh at you for retiring」, I added. 「It’s better than remaining as an adventurer and getting plastered all the time.」
Stein closed his eyes to ponder the prospects, moving his head up and down.
「‘Kay. I’ll do it. I no longer seek the thrill of adventure — all I want is a stable job.」
Being already acquainted with each other, Stein and the owner were able to settle the deal quickly. From that day onward, the former was rarely seen on the streets, although he was frequently spotted drinking with his new boss come nighttime. It made me wonder whether they had been a good match for each other all along.
As for Stein himself, he no longer drank like he used to.
He may have ceased his merrymaking, but he was a merry soul indeed.