I could kind of understand what Lark felt when she finally acquired power, but unlike her, I did not have a strong craving for it and thus was indifferent about it.
…The number of soldiers is increasing. Adventurers who were sleeping, woke up and joined the ranks of the soldiers. We slaves wear plain clothes, so it’s easy to differentiate us. Thus, it was only a matter of time before we were suppressed.
「But I can escape.」
I had a clear grasp on the exact number of people inside the cave. There were a myriad of ways to escape by exploiting that information.
I rushed out of the warehouse and headed to the “wall house”.
The wooden house that was built in such a way as to cling to the cliff – where I and Lark had been staying for three years – was in a terrible state. Most of the houses fell down from the cliff and were destroyed. Fortunately, this “wall house” was prepared for mining slaves. Most of the people attended the morning session, so it was virtually abandoned.
However, some slaves remained. Those who drank too much last night and overslept, those who were sick in bed, etc.
I saw the arm of someone who was crushed underneath a house sticking out.
What was that rumbling just now? Was it an earthquake? However, I have never heard anyone mention the word “earthquake” in this world. I wonder if there is even such a word. Everyone called it “rumbling”.
I moved quickly and started looking for old man Hinga. The old man’s house was no longer on the wall, so it must have fallen to the ground.
「Old man Hinga!」
I found the old man’s house – in a slanted position – crushed under other houses. The door was open at an angle of 45 degrees.
Below the house, I found the old man sitting on a pile of rubble.
「Oh… So you survived that cave-in huh, boy…」 the old man said to me, as I came running for him, in his usual cold tone.
Oh, I see. This person is like that.
I didn’t realize it until the contract magic was released. There was no tattoo on the old man’s arm. It seems that he was never a mine slave to begin with. I don’t know why he was staying in this mine, in the same dwelling as the slaves, but I understood the old man’s will; that he was a man of bottomless kindness.
Getting “knowledge” in this world is terribly difficult. Higher education institutions — not only “universities”, so to speak, but even “high schools” — are accessible to only a very limited number of privileged people.
Despite that, the old man had a lot of knowledge, and departed it free of charge for anyone who wanted it – to me. No, I did bring him food, but that doesn’t even come close to paying for all the things that the old man has taught me.
He taught me about this mine. Skill orbs. Slaves and magic. Poisonous and medicinal herb. Most importantly – how to live in this world.
But the old man never ever showed kindness.
That is because,
「Old man Hinga… You… deliberately acted cold to us so that we could leave the mine without any lingering attachments.」
It’s not that I noticed it because of my skill. But the bearing of this man told everything.
I knew he wasn’t any old man, but the man sitting in front of me was exuding a wise aura.
「!! …I see, I see now… The contract magic has been released, hasn’t it? So, Achenbach’s son died, huh…」
「Do you know the Duke?」
「I don’t know much about him, but I knew his father. That guy would get drunk and make a whole bunch of problems, which I had to clean up everytime.」
This old man might be a bigger big-wig in society that I thought.
「Old man Hinga. This whole mine is in chaos right now. Would you like to escape with me?」
「… I can’t do that.」
「First reason is I lived here with the intention of dying here, and the other reason is… this.」
I didn’t notice sooner because I was occupied talking with the old man. But the old man’s left side was bleeding.
「Did it happen when you fell…?」
「There is that, but also because it’s an old wound that reopened. It is a short life anyway. I will just accept my fate quietly.」
I couldn’t say anything but frustratedly clench my teeth.
The old man wiped the blood that was dripping from his mouth with the back of his hand. And frowned.
「…I wanted to pray to the sun one last time, but… it’s still far until daylight. Even though it would only be a mere 30 minutes more before the sun comes up.」
I made up my mind.
「It’s far until daylight but it’s not too far to get to the mine exit. I will lend you a shoulder.」
「…I appreciate your concern. But no matter how stupid the soldiers are, an old man and a boy can’t escape easily.」
「My name is Reiji. You can stop calling me boy.」
My previous life was over. But I wasn’t given a name in this world. So I’m going to continue with the name ”Reiji”.
「The “Rei” in Reiji stands for zero and the “ji” stands for 2.」
「…What happened to you in this short time?」the old man frowned.
As far as I know, there was no kanji in this world. I will restart my life in this world. I will start from “zero”. And I have an older sister – therefore, I will call myself “No. 2,” as the younger brother.
「Let’s go. Give me your hands.」
「…You’re serious, aren’t you?」
The old man grabbed my hand and staggered up. I supported the old man from the other side of his wound. It was mostly him just leaning on me for support.
I noticed that there was no stinging odor from this person, but rather a mint-like odor.
Despite the old man being like a withered tree branch, I couldn’t support him without using all my strength.
I started walking with thoughts that I didn’t want to let this person die in a place like this. Steadily, step by step. Even though it was at a turtle’s pace, we steadily headed towards the exit. Getting this man out of here was the only thing that kept me moving.
Because this man is the one who let me “study”, which I wanted to do in my previous life.
He cared about me, who was always “used” and “not appreciated” by anyone.
In this world where everything was “taken” from me, he was the second person who “gave” something to me.
And because he knows the bond between me and Lark, the first person who “gave” me something.