Bonds Between Adventurers
A few days after Grania had gifted Sophie and Tio a pair of magic resistant rings and returned to the Northwestern town she called home, Shirley was quite sullen.
If it really was an Imperial mage who had been targeting her daughters, the mastermind should be obvious.
Shirley doesn’t fear him. But, if she just rushes into the viper’s den, it’s possible that the snake’s poison may threaten Sophie and Tio’s future.
She doesn’t know the full details, but there’s no reason for Imperial magi to target ordinary citizens of the Kingdom. Although she had originally thought the culprit might have been some pervert in the Kingdom who had eyes for her daughters, Shirley knew that the real answer was much worse.
(If an Imperial mage is trying to kidnap my girls despite me having been exiled as a criminal… I hate the thought of it, but the only reason I can think of is that man’s blood they have.)
The face of Albert Ragdoll, the current Emperor and ex-fiancée who had betrayed her so terribly, flashed through her mind.
Word had already spread to the streets of the town Shirley lives in that relations between the Kingdom and the Empire are worse than ever, with very little by way of people travelling between the two nations.
It’s difficult to imagine some lone deviant in the Empire trying something as audacious as kidnapping two girls across the border in this situation, but if it was an Emperor trying to abduct two members of his royal bloodline, maybe he would take the risk.
(I don’t want to even imagine it, but if for some reason the magic succeeded but the plot was discovered, it would damage relations between the two countries even more. Why is he willing to go so far when he could just have a child by some other way?)
It should be obvious that the children of a noblewoman should be more valuable than the children of a disgraced exile like herself. Even if the Empress can’t produce a child for some reason, why not just use a concubine?
(Apart from inheritance rights to the Empire… Do my children have something else he’s after?)
No, she can’t say for sure. Shirley hadn’t seen any change in her daughters using her sight, it’s rare but not impossible for people to suddenly tap into huge magical energy stored in the body, after all, it had happened to her.
If her daughters had indeed inherited her traits and also had the blood of the Emperor running through their veins, was that the true reason they were being targeted?
…Even though it makes sense, she can’t jump to conclusions.
(It’s no use. What can I figure out for sure if all I have is speculation? If I don’t know what their true goal is, how can I protect Sophie and Tio at all… No, that’s not true.)
If anything, protecting them is the easy part. Just cut down whatever or whoever seeks to do them harm. The real problem is just how to confess to her daughters the truth about their loathsome bloodline.
Whether they live in a common town or were brought up in a castle, that shadow of lineage will always hang over them.
It’s only natural for claimants to strike down all threats to their throne when the time whoever ascends could seek to do them harm or even kill them.
Even if they didn’t know about their bloodline, it wouldn’t make any difference. Shirley thinks it’s stupid, but she can’t deny that when things come to a head people will only see her daughters in a certain way.
――――Potential royal pawns.
If these fears of hers became fact, it would be hard even for her to protect the two of them. As painful as it is to say, the will of the powerful can move the very earth.
The only way to kill this adventurer would be to crush her physically over and over again until she can’t recover. But even if this seems impossible, they only have to overwhelm the white-haired swordswoman for a brief moment to find the opportunity to steal Sophie and Tio away.
“…? Mum, you look pale, are you okay?”
“Ah, don’t worry, I’m fine. I’m just a little tired since I have a lot on my mind.”
Her anxiety was getting worse day by day, there was no way her daughters wouldn’t notice.
She was constantly thinking of some way out of this situation, hoping for a convenient solution from the depths of her heart. But, it was impossible to shape the world to your desires without true power.
In the end, she couldn’t reach an answer. After seeing her girls off to school, Shirley went to the Guild’s training square.
一She swung her sword, trying to distract herself for a while. Maybe things would change with time, or she might actually think of a way out?
The tree planted in the middle of the square sways in the wind, its leaves being swept off its branches. As the leaves swirled around her, Shirley created a new sword with alchemy and swung it around her at a speed the naked eye couldn’t follow.
Somehow, the number of leaves floating around her seemed to double in that instant. She swung the sword four more times, each time the leaves around her were sliced thinner and thinner.
There is a magical tool where thick pieces of paper can be sliced into two thinner sheets, it’s exactly the same principle as what Shirley is doing now.
Even when placed on a desk using the tool requires a great degree of precision, so for Shirley to be doing the same thing to leaves that are dancing on the wind around her and with such speed defies common sense.
“…I’m still distracted.”
A clear mind is key to expert swordsmanship. As if to cut out the last distortion plaguing her thoughts, she swung the sword at the last leaf that fell with a diagonal stroke as the wind died down.
But, the leaf wasn’t sliced like the rest. It may seem like the sword had become dull, but that’s wrong. The sword had bisected the leaf so cleanly that both pieces had fallen to the ground in unison as if they were still part of one whole.
“Fuu… That’s good enough.”
Dismissing the otherworldly skills she had just demonstrated as ‘good enough’, Shirley turned her attention towards the square’s entrance.
“Were you waiting for me to leave?”
“Y-you knew we were here?”
Hiding behind the doorframe of the entrance which is connected to the building were three familiar young people; Leia, Cudd and Kyle.
“I thought we were being quite stealthy… Did you know we were here from the beginning? Did you sense us or something?”
“I knew from the beginning… Staring at me like that, anyone would notice.”
It seems like she knew the whole time. The three of them try to cover up the awkward atmosphere with forced laughs, then Shirley herself changed the subject.
“You’re training again today? You three seem to be putting in a lot of effort lately.”
“Yeah, sorta. We’re going to hunt giant bugs next, we were thinking of maybe asking for your help?”
“Ah… I see.”
Shirley’s eyes seem a little distant. A giant bug is a novice monster, similar to slimes or goblins.
It doesn’t have any magical power or real intelligence, their main defining characteristics are that they’re the size of a human being and have a tendency to swarm.
Without the strange properties of a slime or the intelligence of a goblin, it’s definitely an easy enemy to defeat, one that Shirley herself fought during her days as a new adventurer.
“By the way… Do you actually know what kind of monster a giant bug is?”
“Umm… I haven’t seen it, but isn’t it just a big bug? Like an Ogretarantula or something?”
“What kind of strange encounter rate do you have that you’re encountering those near here?”
“…Honestly, that’s why we were hoping you’d help out next time.”
Kyle, who had survived the encounter with the earth dragon at the old fort in the woods and the battle against the goblin queen, was still at rank E even after fighting in the Dragon War. Although, for some reason, even when doing minor jobs like picking herbs, he kept running into monsters that are rank A or B in danger levels.
He seems to have a strange relationship with lady luck, having been both saved by Shirley and running into critically dangerous ogretarantulas that are known to even prey on lesser dragons.
Although it seems there really is some kind of strange story here, Shirley decides to not let the topic get derailed.
“Putting that aside, the main thing to consider against giant bugs is that it’s a battle where you should be using brain over brawn.”
“? I don’t really get it… But we should be fine since we’re always serious when we go on adventures! Except for Cudd.”
“That’s right, I remember you telling me that a moment’s carelessness can mean death, right? We’ve all matured a lot. Except for Leia.”
The two grab the cuff of each other’s shirts and glare at one another, almost in perfect harmony.
“Well, everything’s a learning experience. If you ever get into a seriously dangerous situation, you should also be ready to run, so be prepared for that as well.”
“So, what kind of monster is a giant bug anyway?”
“…Please find that out yourselves.”
“…I was worried about it before, but what’s with those distant eyes?”
She’s thinking about her first encounter with those things ten years ago. To describe them briefly, a giant bug looks like a cockroach that’s roughly the size of a man.
It’s rubbery to the touch and its entire body is pitch black. As much as people hate the smaller sized species that creeps around the kitchen, the large version that scuttles around on six legs at high speed is enough to make even the most robust warrior or serene saint scream.
Because it tends to swarm in narrow caves or sewers, their numbers mixed with their grotesqueness can overwhelm adventurers.
But sometimes, it’s better for adventurers to face the unknown. A lot of people think it’s either goblins or slimes, but as far as Shirley knows these giant bugs are the easiest monsters to deal with so long as you keep your cool, so it’s best for these rookie adventurers to go into the fight expecting a tough opponent rather than going in overconfident.
“What is it?”
“Is it possible that… No, I might just be misunderstanding, but… Is there something wrong?”
At Kyle’s unexpected words, Shirley’s heart jumped a little.
“…Why do you think that?”
“No, it’s just that somehow, when you were training before it seemed like… It seemed like you couldn’t concentrate properly until that last swing.”
She never expected to be seen through by this boy half her age, so Shirley struggled for an answer.
Were her troubles so obviously reflected on her face? She found herself touching her cheeks with her fingers, but as soon as she realized that had as good as admitted it, she looked away from Kyle towards Cudd and Leia who were still fighting.
“That’s right… There have been a few troublesome things lately.”
“Is it about your daughters?”
“Yes… If it was just about me, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
Shirley doesn’t want to talk about it and Kyle isn’t about to press her. Kyle might not know the full story, but even he can read the atmosphere and knows not to ask more.
(Honestly, it would be so easy if it was just about me.)
If it was just her, she wouldn’t worry about what sort of wounds she might take. But, for her daughters, she can’t allow that. And when it comes to this case, Shirley feels that if she intervenes dramatically, it could have serious consequences for her daughters.
(No matter what, I have to protect their futures… Yes, no matter what.)
That’s what her life is for. It would be nice if what she feared never came to pass, but Shirley is not so naïve anymore.
She had already hardened her resolve to protect her daughter’s future above all else. It was at that time, she heard a slightly embarrassed yet earnest voice from beside her.
“I-if…! If you’re ever in trouble… That’s right, a request! Put out a request for me!”
“N-no, I mean, I’d help you even if you didn’t put out a request… I just thought you might be more comfortable with it that way… Regardless, if you ever need my help, just ask! I’ll help you any time!”
The Empire… Even though the shadow of her ex-fiancée loomed over Shirley’s thoughts, for just a moment she forgot all about it as she looked at Kyle, who was gesturing awkwardly with both his hands as he blushed furiously.
It was a little rude to say so, but she couldn’t help but find his ridiculous figure a little funny and Shirley had a slight smile on her face.
“That’s right… Things are a little different from the old days.”
“Uh… huh? Um, sorry… For saying weird things so suddenly.”
“You don’t need to apologize.”
There’s nothing to be sorry for. It was thanks to him that she realized.
(After all, the past is the past. No one was there for me in the Empire, but it’s different now.)
She’s no longer the lonely young girl who, betrayed, believed she had no choice but to live in despair.
Her feelings were different now, not driven by money or strength, but she almost found herself believing in the romance of adventure when she looked at him.
It made her a little uncomfortable to think that this boy was the one to do it, but somehow, her mood had lifted and she began to see the looming conflict in a new light.
Sorry for the nine-day wait, it was a real grind getting this chapter out.
I will be very happy to receive your comments on this chapter as always.
I wanted this chapter to be quietly significant, but next time the story will begin to really be set in motion.
This chapter was hard (´･ω･`)
If you’re suffering from Revengewhen-itis, please consult the chapter listing for spoilers of when you’ll receive your dosage.
Also, you may have noticed that the blog got a bit of a makeover! Wow! I actually spent money on this place! What am I doing!?