Translator: Denryuu; Editor: Ryunakama
The escort mission had ended smoothly. Before returning to Somarille Coast with Lyla, I had to report back to Iris first. The branch chief was immensely grateful for my compliance. Realising that she had essentially pressured me to go, she apologised profusely for it.
「Can I express my thanks by treating you to a meal?」, asked Iris, tucking her hair behind her ear and looking at me.
「I’m sorry, but I’m not free today.」
「Guh…! Will nothing ever change for you…?」
「Also, no need to express your thanks.」
「Well, y-you didn’t have to say that explicitly…」
I had kept Lyla waiting. To make up for having ditched her the previous night, I planned to spend the night with her at Somarille Coast.
The next morning, we returned home via the ‘Gate’. I ran into Milia as I clocked in for the day.
「Ah. Roland-san, is your neck okay?」
「My neck?」, I asked, feeling around the area but finding nothing.
「It looks like a… bite mark?」
「Ahh, it’s the cat, isn’t it? I see, I see — so she still has the habit of biting you?」
「…Yes. That black cat rarely leaves me alone.」
How careless of me.
I went to the toilet and looked in the mirror. There were a few bruise-like marks on my neck.
…Those aren’t bites, Milia. Those are love bites.
I took out a few bandages from the first aid box and plastered them on — it would be nice not to arouse any more suspicion.
After Iris’s usual morning assembly, we started our official duties.
「Milia-san. Do you have any friends?」
「Why do you suddenly ask?」
「Uh… you must feel a sense of deep affection for someone to be considered a friend, right? Then, you feel as if you have to do something for them… is that ‘normal’?」
Milia blinked in disbelief.
「Well, that’s a given, isn’t it? It’s normal, most certainly so!」
「I see, thank goodness for that.」
King Randolph and I went way back as banter buddies. I have shared some close moments with Almeria and Elvi, both of whom I met a few years ago. I may not consider them friends, but I certainly felt a deep affection for them.
Because of that, I feel like helping them out whenever they need it. And that’s ‘normal’, huh? Guess I’m getting closer and closer to this fabled ‘normalcy’.
「Ah. Roland-san, there’s an adventurer!」, chirped Milia, bringing my head back out of the clouds.
I was a little confused, since I did not have to do reception duty today. She pointed at a seat positioned at the end of the front desk with ‘Roland Box’ written on it.
「…What is that?」
「You’re in high demand, Roland-san, so we decided yesterday that we would make a special seat just for you.」
A front desk seat just for me, huh?
Standing before the counter was a young adventurer, apparently a kouhai of Neil’s. I have seen him before. As I took a seat in my new chair, he lowered his head.
「Aniki, I look forward to working with you today!」
「Please save the pleasantries, and take a seat.」
「Thanks!」, the young man said, plopping himself down.
Taking his adventurer’s license, I verified that his name was correct. Roger Guries, twenty-one years of age, D-rank.
「I see you’re not putting your feet on the counter today.」
「Yup, won’t be doing that anymore」, replied Roger, forcing a smile at my quip.
Roger and Neil were a party, and took up various quests in the region. Unlike many others of his age, Neil takes my advice seriously and tries to apply it. As a result, he became not only confident, but competent as well, allowing him to rise to B-rank.
「Please give me a suitable quest!」
「Roger that, one moment please.」
Neil wasn’t with him today. A suitable quest for D-rank Roger’s skill…
「How about this?」, I said, retrieving a quest slip and spreading it on the counter.
「To put it simply, it’s flood prevention works in the Koevilla region.」
「This, huh, Aniki…?」, said Roger, smiling bitterly.
「Your skill, ‘Doppels’, will be of immense help to them.」
His skill was a rare one, allowing him to create multiple clones of himself. I felt that he would be indispensable for quests that needed manpower. However, Roger continued to look gloomy.
「I… have sealed that skill. Oh, when I say ‘sealed’, it just means that I’ve decided not to use it.」
「…Is this related to why Neil isn’t with you today?」
「At first, we were amazed at the utility of my skill. Since Neil-senpai’s a bow user, I could generate decoys to increase efficiency. But… after a while, we came to find that our skills weren’t that compatible after all…」
In the beginning, many adventurers are satisfied when quests go smoothly, as they can spend the reward money on alcohol, food, women, et cetera. However, many adventurers, Roger included, begin to find themselves as they gain experience.
「And so, we both decided to go solo.」
It’s common for parties to disband or for buddies to part ways.
「I see. Well then, Roger-san, what do you think of going on a quest without Neil? I think you’re ready.」
「Are you not comfortable with going solo?」
「No, it’s not that… I’ve already done it a few times…」, muttered Roger, trailing off mid-sentence.
I could assign him a quest that did not require him to use his skill, but that would only serve as a temporary measure. It would certainly not help to unseal his skill, which is a shame, really — it’s both powerful and rare.
「This doesn’t happen often, but –」, I said, rolling up the quest slip. 「I’ll assign a more highly-ranked quest to you.」
「Eh, you can do that?」
「Well, it all depends on what happens. For example, if you unknowingly defeat the creature you were supposed to deal with. As long as you provide sufficient evidence that you have completed the quest, we will treat it as such.」
Putting the quest slip away, I brought out another one.
「Subjugate a hellhound. B-rank.」
「A B-rank monster elimination quest –」
「Since the quest is of a higher rank, failure will not lose you credit. If you fail, it’ll be considered a mistake on my part. I know it’s tough, but how about it?」
「…Okay, I’ll do it! Since Aniki has faith that I can do it… I won’t let you down!」
His attitude had done a complete 180. I gave the inspired youth a few pointers on dealing with hellhounds.
「Hmm… okay… mhm…」, murmured Roger as we went along.
He was probably quite conflicted — as he should be, considering that he probably can’t defeat a hellhound without using his skill. However, if he could just stay calm, activate his skill and act accordingly, there’s no way he’ll lose.
「It’ll be a fight to the death with that hellhound. You’ll need to use everything in your arsenal — in theory, at least.」
With that, Roger accepted the B-rank quest. He left the guild with determination written all over his face.
A girl who had been waiting behind him came up and took a seat.
「Uhm, there’s a lot I need to ask you today.」
「We can do that later, please give me a moment.」, I said, getting up to go outside.
Neil was leaning on a wall. I could see him peering into the guild the entire time.
「Aniki! It’s been a while –!」
「If you’re worried about him, you could just say so, you know?」, I said, interrupting his greeting and getting straight to the point.
Somehow, I understood what Neil felt.
「I too once envied a person who possessed a stronger and rarer skill than I did.」
Guess I hit the nail on the head. Neil nodded wordlessly.
「The stronger Roger gets, the stronger his clones become. The strength of his skill grows proportionally with the effort he puts in. A force to be reckoned with, indeed.」
In comparison, Neil, who Roger looked up to, had a skill called ‘Distant Vision’. He could observe objects at a great distance, which allowed him to use a bow effectively. Most would say that it paled in comparison to ‘Doppels’, however.
「Your disciple can pull his own weight already. If you wish to continue working together… then you should treat him not as a disciple, but as an equal.」
The source of Roger’s ennui was the feeling that he was being used. Yet, he did not truly want to go solo, and still wanted to work with Neil. Such was his dilemma.
「Aniki, perhaps… he’s jealous of me. My rank and experience surpass those of his, and I don’t really seek his opinion much…」
「He has set off on a B-rank quest to defeat a hellhound.」
「Huh? He’s a D-rank adventurer, Aniki!」
「I believe he can handle it. There’s always what ifs, though…」
Grabbing his bow that had been resting upright, Neil ran in the direction that Roger had gone. I shouted the approximate location as he got further and further away.
It was in the Demon King’s castle, when the final battle had yet to begin, that I suddenly wondered whether the others would follow if they found me running in alone.
I returned to the counter and continued with my duties, assigning quests and conducting examinations. Time flew, and it was soon time to close.
As I was locking the front door, I heard something fall to the ground.
Peering through the fading light, Roger and Neil were sprawled on the grass, gasping for breath and fully spent.
「Wow, would you look at the time. The two of you have worked hard.」
Neil had apparently lent a shoulder to support Roger.
「Aniki… the hellhound… we got it! Look…!」
He produced a yellowish claw that was still red with blood. I passed it to a colleague from the verification department who was still cleaning up.
「I’ve sent it for verification, so please wait a while. Both of you are a sight for sore eyes. How strong was it?」
「Very… senpai filled in the gaps when I screwed up…」
The two of them, barely able to get up, gingerly propped themselves up on the stone steps of the guild. Neil patted Roger’s shoulder, smiling.
「Can’t even go for a drink like this.」
「Yeah, I can barely move, man.」
Just then, I received confirmation from my colleague.
「Quest completed, congratulations.」
「Thank you!!」, said the two men in unison.
「Ah, feels great…」
「Man, that was really something…」
「Well, we’re still alive.」
They laughed loudly.
Bidding them farewell, I shut the door. Looking at them sitting on the ground, it seemed like they had a lot to discuss with each other.
Although I couldn’t hear a word of it, I knew for sure that the next time they came, they would come together.