Translator: Adam Seacord
「You’re the survivor from the mining village… I’ve heard that much.」
He jumped in with a single sentence. Certainly, he wasn’t the type to beat around the bush. Still, how much subtext was he employing here?
「We weren’t able to prevent the monsters from appearing there, and we failed to respond with urgency. While we had a lot of reasons for that, none of them are on you.」
Keep your guard up.
Fixing my cap firmly on my head, I answered. What was going through his mind? How much did he know?
「While I couldn’t make an official statement as a noble of the city, I wanted to apologize. We failed our responsibility to protect our people.」
As soon as he said that, I felt one of the walls in my heart crumble. This man was the next-in-line of House Lambert. One of the prime suspects for the mastermind who caused it all. If I didn’t know that, I could have been truly grateful for his apology.
「Please, there’s no need…」
I didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t that he was argumentative or intimidating. I just wasn’t my usual self. In contrast to how I felt peaceful whenever I talked to Olivia, I was on edge with this man. Still, the conversation continued and subjects changed. Perhaps the feeling that I couldn’t get a word in edge’s wise stemmed from Lubreo’s particular charisma.
「Then, it was for my own sake. Feel free to ignore me. Beside, that wasn’t my only reason for coming here.」
Lubreo switched the topic in a flash. I couldn’t grasp his rhythm. Despite Gratina and Layla also in my presence, I couldn’t divide any of my attention to them. He wasn’t using magic or anything. It was just unsettling. His negotiation tactics were very different from Gustav, Gordon, or even Old-Man Jemma.
「It’s nothing out of the ordinary. Elliot of the mining… Elliot, the Magic Merchant. I came here for business.」
「Layla has told me that you sell magical items here.」
I had no arguments there.
「I have also heard that they’re not quite good as the product of an enchanter who has graduated from an academy, like the one in the metropolis Palmira, for example… But there aren’t too many enchanters to begin with. We have some other shops in Abram that handle magical items, but… Only a select few carry them exclusively.」
Right. The fewer competition, the better. I had already researched that much before starting my business.
「On top of that, I hear you carry enchanted every-day items. I would have never thought of that, nor think of providing them at a reasonable price.」
I was the one who asked Layla to advertise my shop in the first place, so it was natural that he knew this much.
「…Thank you. I’m doing all right, thanks to your beautiful city. …Oh, excuse me a moment. Daria, would you mind putting the kettle on in the back?」
I turned around to talk to Daria. I had to break the conversation for just a second. The fact that I hadn’t taken back the reigns yet was driving me nuts… And that’s when I realized that I really wanted to control the conversation. While I had anticipated to be on the submissive without making the first move, it stung to have that self-realization in the middle of it.
「But… Yes, sir.」
Of course, Daria knew about Gratina’s Cursing Eyes, so she seemed nervous to leave me alone. However, we (who have supposedly never met Gratina nor Lubreo before) were never supposed to know that. I didn’t want them to infer that secret from how we kept our guards up. To boot, Daria did not have as much experience in negotiations as I had. It was quite likely for her to misspeak, giving them extra information. Daria seemed to understand that all. With a bow, she retreated to the back of the shop.
「How rude of me to keep my customers standing. I’ll have some tea brought up. Please, make yourselves at home, and let’s continue our conversation.」
I turned back around to see Lubreo, who had just been dominating me with his overwhelming presence, directing all of his attention to tinkering with the gauntlets, pots, and other nick-knacks around the shop. Like a child who had been given a chest full of new toys. Except, he was entirely serious. I almost doubted if he was the same man I was just speaking to.
「Elliot, these gauntlets are surprisingly light…」
「They’re enchanted that way. Maybe ten percent lighter than a non-enchanted version. It also protects it from rust a little bit, but that’s a miniscule effect.」
「Any magic enchanting this pot?」
「A trace of protection for fire on the inside. …Ordinarily, that kind of spell would be used as a shield for flames, but in this case, it prevents burnt residue from… 」
「Ah…! I never would have guessed. Then, what about…」
He hurled one question after another in rapid succession. Since I made them all myself, it naturally wasn’t hard for me to answer all of the questions on the spot, but he still didn’t give me enough time to collect my thought.
In any case, he’s acting…
「Now, excuse my candor… But, Elliot. Don’t you want to make some money?」
「What? Well, I make a reasonable profit already…」
「You really are… Sure, these may not be top tier per se, but your ability to handle and manage all the variety of magical items here is extraordinary. Seriously. The magical sword I bought at the capital may cut better than yours, but it’s price tag had two more zeros than yours. 」
Lubreo was evidently excited. His diction was much more casual, and he now addressed me with newfound familiarity. I look over to see Gratina exasperated and Layla dumbfounded.
Could this be the next-in-line for House Lambert, in his true nature?
「Elliot, can you mass-produce these? How long would it take to mass-produce a certain amount of lightened weapons? Do you have a wagon with an increased load? Why don’t I sell my magical sword and use that money to distribute the weapons from this shop to my more experienced soldiers and knights!?」
「…Master Lubreo. Please calm down, now.」
Gratina finally spoke, which returned Lubreo to his self again.
「Woah. …Sorry about that, Elliot. Seeing your line-up and price tags got me all excited by myself.」
There was a brush of excitement lingering in his tone, but it returned to normal. With it came his intimidating presence. His emotions switched on and off at the drop of a hat. I discovered that his philosophy on war was akin to mine and Olivia’s. Growing a mass of soldiers rather than a single hero. Solidifying an army rather than waiting for a hero to be born. If we both employed similar tactics, the side with the critical mass would prevail. Devastating.
「Allow me to rephrase, with some formality. If we can reach a deal, I would be happy to have you in charge of arming the Lambert soldiers.」
「Master, that seems awfully rash…」
「Layla, it’s not your job to make that call.」
Even Layla seemed bamboozled, resulting in Gratina’s reprimand.
「Of course, it would be difficult to have everything ready immediately…」
I wasn’t lying there.
「Hmm. For example, how long would it take you to prepare a set of lightweight bronze armor, a helmet, a spear, and a round shield each for ten soldiers?」
He immediately dug in with specificity. I assumed that he didn’t ask for the price because he either didn’t care how much it would cost, or he was concerned that my timeline would change if he had given a budget.
「This isn’t the type of order where I could work faster if I charged you more. And, well, it would take me a while to get the materials as well… They would take a month to a month and a half, total.」
In reality, I could easily pick somethings out from my stock, and enchanting that amount of product with the same spell would barely take me half of that. Still, it was possible that I needed to order something, and I couldn’t give this my full attention while I had to fulfill the orders I had received through Jemma Firm.
「…How long if you prioritized it over your orders from Jemma Firm?」
「…In that case, they’ll be done within the month.」
This was when he let me know that he had gained information from Jemma Firm. What was he after?
「That confirms it. It’s you, isn’t it? Elliot.」
「I’m afraid I don’t understand you.」
Does he know who am I? How? Is that really what he has discovered? Something else? Is he bluffing?
My heart couldn’t stop beating like a rapid alarm. With all my might, I attempt to keep my expression and tone collected.
「…You are a young business man, I don’t fault you.」
I’m not much younger than you.
My internal bravado, of course, was fruitless.
「Our house has some of the best connections with merchants, even among the city nobles. We manage much of the regular merchants traveling to and through Abram. 」
What is he getting at? Think. Think. Listen carefully. Don’t stop thinking…
「I checked with other shops that carry magical items… And preparing all of that within a month of receiving an order is impossible. A merchant caravan takes nearly a month just to go to the magic-prone city of Palmira and here. On top of that, most caravans spend a few nights at cities along the way. 」
One could travel to Palmira, by utilizing the stations on the way and switching horses, in less than a week each way. That’s why I had padded the timeline and called it a month… But that travel speed is only the fastest possible. Since I had never actually been to Palmira, I underestimated how much slower a caravan would travel.
I screwed up…!
「I don’t blame you for lying, either. You must have some need for it in your line of business… But I need to confirm. You are the enchanter of all the items in your shop, aren’t you?」
「…I concede. No one has figured that much out before.」
I couldn’t deny the rush of relief I felt. This much, I didn’t mind them knowing.
「It’s pretty much self-taught, and I’ve never even been to the academy in Palmira. But it’s true that I can use Enchanting magic.」
「Wherever did you learn it?」
For the first time, Gratina spoke to me. She doesn’t even try to meet my eyes, and I was glad for it. I turned to her slightly, and averted her eyes naturally as I answered:
「My mother, may she rest in peace, was a travelling magician. I never knew my father. I never had the talent for fireballs or that kind of magic, but I was able to enchant things with a little bit of magic.」
I was lying, of course, but they wouldn’t have any way to verify that. My mother wasn’t from this country, and my hometown was destroyed already.
「…That’s how I made a living after leaving the village.」
They had no way of researching anything on “Elliot from the Mining Village.”
「By the way, I heard that you and Earl Abram’s niece, Lady Olivia, know each other. I know you do business with the magician who saved her while they took down the monster of the Mining Village. I suppose you know her through him?」
Crap. Now from this angle.
For this one, I kept my explanation consistent with what I had told Gordon:
「That was pretty much… A coincidence. While I was a travelling merchant around those parts, I was able to help Sara-san by being at the right place at the right time. All I did was provide some food and water, and showed her how to get out of the Mining Village… Everything else was thanks to… Lady, Olivia… Sara-san, and the honorable soldiers.」
「I see. I apologize for digging down like that. Forgive me.」
…He dropped it. Now I can catch a breath.
「Master Lubreo, what about this…?」
At the corner of my eye, I could see Gratina ask Lubreo about something.
「Oh, right. Elliot, what does this one do?」
「Yes, which one are you…!?」
Sure, I had my guard down after surviving that interrogation. But I made an inexcusable mistake. Lubreo was not my only enemy here. And judging from this back-and-forth, Lubreo was intentionally pressuring me down to draw my full attention to him. It was just a little trick of the trade. He baited himself, in a sense, in order for me to… Forget that Gratina was there.
When I turned to her, I saw Gratina’s face with her eyes glowing red.
…Without any guards up, I looked directly at Gratina and her Cursing Eyes.
「You can’t move a muscle. You can breathe, and you can talk. But you can’t run and you can’t lie. Don’t worry, we’re not going to hurt you.」
Gratina giggled. A sadistic grin cracked open her clean face. This was not good… I could dodge it when I was using Diana’s body, but I could tell that I was being entirely entranced, this time. My brain slows its turning. I couldn’t gather my thoughts. Locked in an awkward pose, I couldn’t even move my body…
My hat, which I had pulled down as far as I could, fell to the ground like a red leaf. I could see Layla’s, Gratina’s, and Lubreo’s eyes widen.
…It was something, along with my magic, that was left to me by my father I didn’t even remember. On my forehead, to signify that I wasn’t a human… To signify my monstrous blood… A horn was revealed.