「Hmm… Thanks for the offer, but that won’t be necessary. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like a hellishly interesting story, but I doubt knowing it would help our current situation.」
Homura went for a short swim to calm down while Jin’s eyes went wide with surprise. That was not an answer he was expecting at all.
「Why? Are you going to unconditionally trust him even after hearing what I just said?」
「I mean, that’s just a legend, right? The truth might be quite different for all that we know.」
「But you can’t deny that every legend has a seed of truth in it.」
「Maybe, but aren’t such tales usually created from somebody’s subjective point of view? It would have been a different story if we needed that knowledge to win a Gift Game, but other than that, it would be plain rude to judge someone based on the rumors started not by the person themselves, but someone else entirely.」
Homura continued to float on the water’s surface while talking with an emotionless voice.
The Minotaur whom he had met just recently turned out to be a completely different person than what the legends said about him, so he assumed that it must have been the same with Arjuna, so Homura concluded that putting his trust in legends based on individual prejudice and misplaced self-righteousness will be dangerous for him, especially here in Little Garden.
「Besides… And this is just my intuition speaking, I don’t think he’s that bad of a guy. He might have created a debt, but that’s because he lost in a game, right? I’d smack him if it was done out of pure malice, but I don’t think he did anything that outrageous considering Little Garden runs entirely on various games. That’s why I can’t say anything until I’ve had a good talk with him. Only then I will decide if he is an Oathbreaking Hero or not.」
「Oh? That’s quite an unexpected opinion to have. It seems you are quite open-minded when it comes to judging others.」
「That’s only because I want them to be the same to me as well and judge me fairly. So try all you want, you will never set me up against him.」
Homura looked at Jin with a big grin on his face. Jin also returned a troubled smile while scratching his head.
「Ah. So you realized it after all?」
「Because you are like an open book. Besides, you said it yourself, right, Jin? That you are a Player too. So there’s no way I would just allowed myself to be baited by such a story being fed to me by a potential opponent.」
「Your guess is right on the money. But well, I saw the chance so I thought I’d try my luck with it.」
(What a cunning fellow you are.)
Homura thought as he smiled in satisfaction. This little chat was particularly enjoyable for him, since having devoted his life to Star Particle Body research, he never experienced a time where he could trade snarky remarks like that with someone of the same age as him. He sat cross-legged inside the bath and suddenly looked at Jin with curiosity.
「So there you have it. I explained my circumstances, so now is your turn to do the same, Jin.」
「Yes, you.Since you came to stir trouble in the first place, then you had to know that Arjuna belonged to our… no, let’s put it that way: Queen’s Community, which implies that you knew about it from the start. Who told you that, and why?」
(Well, consider that hornet’s nest stirred.)
Jin thought to himself as he looked away from Homura. That boy was right, that was a conclusion that he couldn’t have arrived at simply by watching the Exhibition Match. Thus, the only reason he called out to Homura back there was because he knew of his circumstances.
「Well, will you tell me who in the hell told you about us?」
「Hmm…well, I don’t mind telling you, but…」
Jin said, while feigning reluctance. Since Jin was able to have a fun conversation for the first time in a while, he wasn’t against divulging some information, but answering that particular question would require him to expose the identity of his information provider, so instead of answering he silently looked towards the shade of one of the columns supporting the bathhouse. Homura followed Jin’s gaze, and just as expected, caught a momentary glimpse of a somebody’s silhouette. Jin suppressed a burst of laughter by covering his mouth with the back of his hand.
「Just give it up already, we know you’re there. Don’t you think it’s rude to hide from Saigo Homura, your benefactor who helped you deal with debt? Or perhaps you want to trouble him further?」
「So be it. It is as you say, I do not wish to burden him any more than I already have, but I also want to correct your shameless lies, Jin Russel.」
Blue-haired Arjuna emerged from behind one of the columns, sounding more apologetic than usual for a moment. Seeing him, Homura heaved a long and displeased sigh.
「Great, so it really was you, huh.」
「Did you predict this was going to happen?」
「More or less. In any case, the Community you belong to would most likely be…」
But Jin just grinned and waved Homura off, as if telling him not to bother with it.
「Don’t finish that thought. After all, we are in a public bath right now, a place where everyone is equal, having nothing but a bath towel on them. Bringing outside disputes here is extremely rude, as well as disrespectful to this establishment’s creators.」
Said Jin Russel the tactician as he smiled in his mind, turning a blind eye to his own faults and laughing at his own cunningness. In the meantime, Arjuna closed the distance between them with big steps, glaring at Jin all the time. His face grew more and more displeased the closer he was getting to Jin.
「Jin. Since you already revealed my past him then I won’t make a fuss about that, but there is one thing I want you to correct.」
「Correct? What part of what I said requires correction, exactly?」
「The part about me losing an entire country because of the damned dice game! I have been trying to tell you this entire time that it was not how it went and that I was merely caught up in the moment because of all that was happening around me at that time, didn’t I?! And that the one worthy of the gambling addict badge of dishonor was not me, but my brother?! For as long as I have lived, I do not remember ever being addicted to dice, or any kind of game based on gambling for that matter!」
The only reaction Jin and Homura had when they heard Arjuna’s fiery protests was a brief exchange of skeptical glances. If that was the main reason why he looked so dissatisfied all this time, then Homura could do little else besides offering him a look that mixed sympathy with pity. Now that he heard that this blue-haired youth had a brother who was an uncontrollable gambling addict, he felt a sense of camaraderie between them, because that reminded him of how Tokuteru used to act all the time.
「Alright, duly noted. If you want to talk about other things, then let’s do that in that sauna area over there. While we’re at it, we might as well do something about Jin’s wormtongue.」
「I feel personally offended. Throughout our whole conversation, that was literally the only lie I have told. Not to mention that this is Arjuna’s fault as well. When you are someone who loses 200,000 gold coins like it was some minor pocket change, you cannot blame people for doubting you when you claim that you are not a gambling addict.
「A-As I already said, the Sun Authorities were supposed to be at stake in that Game, but before I noticed it things have already gotten so out-of-hand that there was nothing I could have done about it!」
「Yeah, yeah, sure, we all know and understand that you have been played like a fiddle. But you know what? Now that we have met like this, then why don’t we celebrate such a rare happening with a little game? If memory serves me correctly, the sauna area should have various card games as part of their entertainment equipment. Well? What do you say to that?」
「I’d say bring it on! Just don’t hold it against me when I am going to come out on top.」
「You know that bold declarations like that are not very convincing when spoken by someone with a history of being an incorrigible gambling addict, right?」
While continuing their lively chatter, the three of them made their way to the sauna area of the public baths.
It was about an hour later that a broadcast with a certain message began playing throughout an entire Panoramic Wagon.