“Tio, please sit up straight and don’t fall asleep.”
It’s around the time in the morning that her daughters and the other children around their age are going to school. Shirley had sat Tio in front of the mirror and was gently combing her hair.
Tio has a terrible habit of falling asleep that Sophie and Shirley have never suffered from. Waking up is especially hard for her.
Sophie, who loves playing the elder sister, usually takes care of keeping Tio awake and organized in the morning. But these days she seems to be getting up earlier and leaving whilst Tio is still asleep.
Habit is a terribly insidious thing, so Shirley who was used to Sophie handling these things in the morning got a terrible shock when Tio appeared in the dining room in her pyjamas and shocking bed head, having forgotten to get changed. She quickly took her back to the room to try and wrestle it with a comb and send her to school.
“Really now, showing up in the dining room like that. I feel like I’m saying this constantly, but you’re a ten-year-old girl now, you’ve got to care about your appearances.”
“Mm. But, it doesn’t really bother me.”
“That’s not the issue here… Haa…”
Tio manages to wake up fully after being dangerously close to nodding off again and hurries to change her clothes and wash her face. Shirley sighed as she watched her.
A girl really should take better care of herself. Even if she’s been an adventurer for the past ten years, she was a noblewoman for nearly twice as long.
Even though they wear their hear simply and dress modestly, no one could ever call the family unsightly.
It’s no exaggeration to state that Shirley and her daughters possess incredible beauty, and the simple way they adorn themselves only serves to enhance their mystique.
Even though she’s an adventurer now, a profession always associated with rough characters and crude looks, Shirley’s pride as a woman and as a mother dictates that her daughters always look the best they can.
(Being like Sophie is one thing, but she’s almost like a man in how little she cares about this kind of thing.)
The only saving grace is that she’s fond of taking baths. Apart from that, if she wasn’t being watched by Shirley or Sophie, Tio would simply wear pyjamas all day without changing or combing her hair and sleep wherever and whenever she feels like it, without caring how defenseless she is.
She reminds her of a stray alley cat, it’s very hard to control that beloved daughter of hers.
(Well, maybe this is a good thing?)
However, this is Shirley, recognized by all as a stupidly doting mother. She actually enjoys being able to fuss over Tio constantly.
Even though she’s glad Sophie is becoming mature and independent beyond her years, it still makes her feel a little lonely, so having to keep an eye on Tio at all times is a secret joy.
Rushing about doing trivial things for her daughter is that woman’s greatest joy in life.
But there’s a problem. No matter how much Shirley wishes it won’t ever happen, eventually Tio will grow up and become an independent adult herself.
Even though the very idea vexes her, one day she might have to confront the image of a man walking beside Tio.
She would regret it forever if the man of her dreams was turned off by her slovenly behaviour.
However, just saying things isn’t enough to be a parent. Shirley’s educational policy states that even if the girls are still young, they should make caring about their personal appearance a daily habit.
…Though in this case, the results remain to be seen.
“Anyways, mum, is it true you’re not home today and tomorrow?”
“Yes. I asked Martha to take care of meals.”
“Hrmm… That’s longer than usual…”
Some adventurers spend almost a week out in the field after accepting a request.
Shirley is the type of adventurer who only accepts quest no more than a day’s travel outside of town, no matter the difficulty or reward because she wants to spend as much time with her daughters as possible.
Another reason she prefers to fight near town is so that she can exterminate the monsters seeking to disturb the place her daughters live, though unlike the rumours she does sometimes venture further afield.
If there are no requests nearby, she will leave her children in Martha’s care for the day and attack monsters that appear on the roads leading towards town, especially those monsters that are hampering the supply of food for meals she wants to cook.
Regardless of the former, the latter is a matter of life and death for over adventurers. Although monsters are certainly attracted by the large amounts of food, ranches and farms very often have resident adventurers attached to them, so it’s rare for Shirley to have to go that far out.
“You’re right. It’s been about two months since I last asked Martha to take care of you, hasn’t it?”
“Is it a request from a farm again?”
“No, this time it’s for… Ah, you’ve got to hurry or you’re going to be late.”
Tio tilts her head at her mother who cut the story short. However, Shirley didn’t dare go on.
The only reason she’s taking this request is so that she can gather materials for her daughters’ 15-year-old coming of age gifts.
On that day that will mark a turning point in their lives, she wanted their gifts to be a complete surprise.
“Come on now, you need to have breakfast and go or you’re not going to make it on time.”
“Muu… If only I didn’t have to change clothes. We do it every day but it’s just so annoying…”
“I can’t have that. One day, you’ll have to do this every day on your own, you know?”
As she tried to convince the reluctant Tio, she stroked the girl’s hair. And that smile on her face that couldn’t be seen by anyone was filled with the warmest love.
After seeing Tio to school safely, Shirley stopped by the blacksmith before going to the guild.
“You want to order a pickaxe?”
“What are you trying to say?”
Shirley wrinkled her brow in indignation at the person who runs the forge in this frontier city, a Dwarf named Dimros whose beard hides his whole chest.
“We sell weapons and armour here, not tools. If you want a pickaxe, get it somewhere else.”
“Haven’t you made excellent pickaxes before? All the pickaxes that you can loan from the Guild were made by you, were they not?”
Even if they appear to be cold-hearted and blunt, dwarves are a race with a strong sense of duty and empathy. If an adventurer is in need, they will often take requests at their shop, even if it’s something they don’t typically make.
“If you need it for a mining request, you’re an adventurer yourself right? Just go and borrow the one already there.”
“It isn’t a mining request, it’s a monster-slaying quest. I could probably borrow it if I begged, but I really don’t want to have to talk explain my reasons to anybody.”
In any case, in order to get the materials she needed, a pickaxe was a necessity. And since she only wants the best, it makes sense that she’d want not just any mass-produced cheap thing, but a pickaxe made by a master blacksmith.
“…Bah. Wait there for a moment.”
After Dimros had withdrawn into the back of his shop, Shirley looked around at the weapons and armour that lined the walls.
All of the steel had been polished to a pristine finish, and the few adventurers in the store had weapons in hand, testing the swing and the balance.
“Oi, look at that beauty.”
“Why on earth is she at a blacksmith?”
“The Sword Demon… Is she a regular here?”
As Shirley walked towards a sword that caught her eye, she completely ignored the rookie adventurer who stared at her in admiration, the adventurer who had just blown into town who stared at her quizzically and the veteran adventurer who stared at her with an unpleasant expression.
This shop has a fairly wide amount of space between the different displays. It’s suitable to give prospective buyers a chance to test their weapons in hand.
Even if it isn’t enchanted with any magic, she can see that this sword is a masterpiece of dwarven craftsmanship as she swings it.
If an amateur saw her, they’d think it was just a slender woman playing with a sword. Indeed, that’s what the rookie adventurer is thinking even now.
However, as she makes those swings that would be finishing blows look effortless, any experienced swordsman would have the image of that sword slicing through steel in her hands.
“Hmm? Is this… a new work of his?”
As Shirley repeated her drill of making a swing and then returning to the original position, she wondered about the double-handed sword that had curves in the blade like a rippling wave.
She liked the feeling of swinging it. But beyond that, when Shirley tries to think of the actual purpose behind this blade’s look, she has no idea.
“What drew you to this one?”
Dimros looked at the sword in her hands as he returned, carrying a pickaxe in his own.
“Don’t ask for a discount, by the way. The tax collectors have been all over me recently.”
“Yeah, you’re not the only one. By the way, Dimros, what kind of sword is that? I haven’t seen that shape before.”
“It’s a new design I’m trialling, I borrowed the idea from the tribesmen of that country southwest of here. Wounds made by this sword should be incredibly hard to heal with healing magic… or at least they should be.”
“Ah. No one has actually bought it because they don’t trust the design. All the blades I made with curved edges didn’t sell in the past either, what is it with humans adventurers and being so unadventurous?”
Belonging to a race almost as long-lived as elves, Dimros has probably seen a large variety of warriors over the years. Having his new weapons dismissed as novelties, Shirley can understand how he feels.
But even so, he still carries on making innovative designs. Shirley can’t bring herself to dislike this obstinate blacksmith.
“Alright. I’ll buy this one as well. I’ll test whether or not it really hinders healing magic for you.”
“Oi oi, that was a quick decision wasn’t it? You know this will handle completely differently to a regular sword, right?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll practice with it. That being said, what do you call this kind of sword?”
“Over there, they call it a Flamberge. In the language of this land, it means Flame Blade”
As soon as she heard that, she concluded her business. She left the shop with the pickaxe… and the flamberge.
“Man, I sure do get some eye-catching and troublesome customers sometimes. I wonder if selling such a sword to that gentle looking woman was a good idea?”
“But as a merchant, so long as they pay you don’t have any complaints, right?”
“You idiot! As a craftsman, I want to see my weapons in the hands of skilled warriors!”
What a romantic this dwarf is! Whilst ignoring the slight grudge building up behind her, Shirley leaves the shop.
Neither shadow nor shape of that sword or pickaxe exists in those hands that had been holding them just seconds ago.
Crossing the hall of the Adventurers Guild to the request board, she looked at the paper that had been stamped with a large red word, “emergency”.
Just as Shirley planned, no one had taken the quest to exterminate the Dragon that dwelled in Jewelsaad mine.
As Shirley took the request up to the counter, she met Yumina who broke into a big smile on seeing her, and then shock when she saw the request she was holding.
“Shirley, you’re going to accept the request?”
“Yes. I also have my own circumstances.”
“Oh, thank goodness. The A-Rank adventurers are all tied down with this emergency request or that, the guild had to postpone sending us a party.”
She had the face of a lucky someone who had found a gold coin on the side of the road.
There are very few A-Rank adventurers in the world. Compared to their number, the volume of emergency requests are high, and currently, those high ranked adventurers are busy running from one to the next.
It was for that reason Shirley didn’t want to be promoted.
“By the way Shirley, if possible, I’d like you to take on this request with a party.”
Shirley couldn’t help but make a frightening retort. If one strained their ears, they could have heard a snapping sound on the desk that wasn’t being touched, but they pretended it was their imagination.
Even though Yumina is trembling under her glare, she rallies herself with an internal “I can’t afford to lose here!” and stares back at those sharp eyes.
“What do you mean by this? No way, are you trying to remove obstacles for my promotion?”
“N-no! It’s for… Yes, it’s for that reason! There are some circumstances involved, but basically, this adventurer party coincidentally is here to do the same request as you, so why not do it together…?”
Yumina tried to explain whilst making all manner of hand gestures. Although she might have fudged her lines a bit, she conveyed her meaning well enough for Shirley to calm down.
“It’s being lead by an A-Rank adventurer, but it’s a party intended to train rookies that were assembled by guild request. Although they were sent here to help deal with the dragon problem, it’s a suicidal act to fight it virtually alone, since there’s no way E-Rank adventurers could fight a dragon.”
Even if it’s an emergency, it’s hard for one person to take charge of a full party by themselves, and some people might inevitably get hurt. When an A-Rank instructor forms a party full of low ranking members, it is usually customary to have a B-Rank also in the party to help share the leadership responsibilities.
“I get it now. I just happened to be the convenient adventurer, right?”
Either a lot of coincidences have piled up by chance, or someone is pulling the strings, but regardless Shirley winces at having one of her walls to promotion being pulled away at.
To be honest, Shirley was quite confident that she could defeat the dragon on her own. She doesn’t intend to look down on opponents, but she’s basing this judgement off her past experiences.
Therefore, she could finish this request solo as well. Rather, E-Rank adventurers would only be a hindrance. As she was about to reject the proposal, Yumina told her something that made her bite her tongue.
“By the way, the Guild Master personally requested that you help to raise up the next generation of adventurers, I recall that the word used was ‘Please’.”
“I heard that Shirley owes a great deal to the Guild Master, is that right?”
It happened about a decade ago. At the time, whilst seeking out the adventurers guild with nothing but the clothes on her back and two babies in her arms and wandering the kingdom without even a map, the Guild Master looked after her, and recommended that they move to this frontier town, even letting her stay free of charge at Deficit House.
Shirley has always talked about how returning favours is the key to a relationship built on trust to her daughters. If Shirley herself doesn’t follow this teaching, how can she ever hope that her children will?
Besides, using the word ‘please’ is just unfair. If she refused, it would be like Shirley had returned to the conscienceless monster she had been before Sophie and Tio.
(…That witch. You could have come directly and just asked me yourself.)
If she refused… More than likely that woman would start crying crocodile tears and talking about how she helped them all those years ago. That’s the kind of woman she was.
Shirley exhaled a sigh and raised her hands as if surrendering.
“I get it. So, are the others fine with working with me?”
“Yes, absolutely! It was really reassuring to see how enthusiastic everyone was! Now then, let’s go meet them!”