Three Free Days Part 2
As the warrior piece advanced seven squares, words were projected above it.
“Hmm, what’s that? After having my childhood friend stolen and first crush stolen, you are kicked out of the hero’s party. You gained a legendary ax as compensation… What the… what’s with this setting?”
“Right now, my wife and child were just killed by monsters, so in order to get revenge I’m a sage traveling as a spearman.”
As they both talked about how strangely vivid and heavy their character’s plots had turned out to be, Lisa and Chelsea looked out of the corner of their eyes at the same direction. By sheer coincidence, Sophie, Tio and Mira also looked the same way.
Today was supposed to be full of fun and games with the girl who had come to visit from out of town.
But as the girls watched Hilda reach out towards the roulette in the center of the gameboard, her red face was an eclectic mix of anger, frustration, embarrassment, resentment and pure shame.
Her hands were shaking out of what could only be pure regret and humiliation as well. As the roulette spun, it landed on the number three. When the magician piece projected on the board moved three spaces, letters appeared above the square.
“…You are attacked by bandits and robbed of your equipment and gold. Pay fifteen gold and one piece of equipment… Uuuu…….!”
Although the projected image of the bandits surrounding the magician piece that represented Hilda and holding her at knifepoint was incredibly well realized, this wasn’t the time to admire it.
Hilda looked down as she clenched both her fists in silence. Considering the circumstances, it wouldn’t be surprising if a child her age had hit the game board in anger, so she was showing great perseverance.
On the paper where the gold coin values of the six girls playing were written down, Hilda’s value was -84. It was a completely hopeless level of debt.
“T-To think that my noble self could be in debt like this… It’s impossible, imposssibbbllleee….!”
“I-it’s just a game! Just a game, remember!?”
The demon girl amongst them who seemed to be some kind of noble looked like she was on the verge of tears. Was lady luck simply malicious? Or did she have it out for Hilda in particular?
The Adventurer’s Game of Life was supposed to be a fun game based on luck, but for some reason, Hilda was the only one on the receiving end of complete misfortune. For the other five, they had received an equal share of good and bad luck.
Just because of the nature of the roulette, it shouldn’t be possible to consistently get numbers that would land you on bad squares. Even if you might get a streak of bad luck, it shouldn’t last for the entire game.
For whatever reason, reality was cruel.
“Mm… Which way should I go?”
Pretending as if she didn’t see that, Tio was the one who tried to move the game forward, perhaps as a way to be considerate to the girl who was down in the dumps. Although she had done that to relieve the depressed atmosphere been given off by the still unfamiliar Hilda, in the end, the girl herself actually…
“Hic… I-It may be best for you to take the other fork in the road…?”
“…You’re right. Thanks.”
“T-There is no need to thank me…! It is only right that a noble person like me helps out commoners…!”
Even though Hilda was the one who needed help, here she was giving advice in the middle of the game for some reason. Apparently, she isn’t the type to want to give herself any advantages at all.
Despite the fact that Hilda was dead last. There was such a huge gap between herself and fifth place, and tears were still welling up in her eyes.
“A-Anyways, this is getting a little boring, so why do we not do something else!? Perhaps something less based on luck!?”
“Ooh, that’s a good idea! I’ll have a look for something! Something for a person with no luck, right!?”
It would probably be best to avoid any games that relied on luck from now on. Those girls suggested playing something else, but Hilda shook her head as she blinked back the tears in her eyes.
Apparently, she didn’t want to give up until she won. Although this is usually quite a laudable attitude, that wasn’t so much the case this time.
Getting caught up with a troublesome person and then not being able to keep them happy at all… Sophie, Tio and their friends began to understand the rough time adults who failed to properly appease their bosses went through.
Meanwhile, in the drawing room of that same orphanage. After briefly keeping an eye on her daughters who seemed to be having a fun time playing a game without really knowing the details (in reality, they were busy dealing with a bothersome girl), Shirley urged Canary to get to the point.
“Well, as I told you, Siegfried is a friend of my descendent who reigns as the Demon King. For now, he is in this town as the escort for his daughter, Grimhilda.”
Canary was over a demon over a thousand years old, with many descendants. But, as could be seen from people like the S-Rank adventurers Grania and the guild receptionist Yumina, her descendants hail from a wide variety of races, it is said that the only pure-blooded demon kin that she had were the rulers of the Land of Demons.
“Then, why is the Princess of the Land of Demons in the Kingdom? And to this frontier town…?”
“It is the eve of the summer solstice, no? When that time arrives, envoys from all sorts of nations other than the Empire shall visit, and this time it was Grimhilda who came as the representative of the Land of Demons.”
The summer festival celebrated in the Kingdom coincided with the summer solstice, it was a time of thanksgiving and prayer to the Goddess for a good harvest. Festivals taking place all over the Kingdom had their own unique flavours depending on the region, but in the royal capital the aristocracy and the government are involved more heavily in the festivities, so the occasion ends up being grander than anyone else and dignitaries from foreign countries are always invited to attend.
“Well, I may have said that no one from the Empire attends, but Princess Philia has come under a guise these past few years. In fact, she resides in the royal castle as we speak.”
“…Is that so?”
She had a slight feeling of nostalgia as she remembered that young girl from her days back in the Imperial Capital.
“Whilst the main festivities are opened in the capital by the priests of the theocracy, one can still enjoy themselves in the frolics of the frontier… With that out of the way, we arrive at our true purpose.”
Canary took a single card out of her pocket. She threw it towards Shirley, who caught it between her two fingers.
“The night that Grimhilda arrived at the royal palace in the capital, this was found on Edward’s desk.”
On the card that was framed with a gorgeous pattern, the following words were written:
On the night of the full moon, on the eve of the festival of the summer solstice, I shall take the princess that the Land of Demons so treasures.
– Crowley the Phantom Thief
After reading the message, Shirley was shocked when she saw the name signed below.
“《Phantom Thief》… Arsene Crowley…!”
Just like Shirley and Canary, he was one of the five famous semi-immortals said to be living on this continent.
Part of his legend was always leaving a calling card before his heists. He would always slip in and out no matter how many guards were posted. His ability to always go undetected by magic tool was also unprecedented. Whilst there are definitely others who have made names as thieves, it was only Crowley who bore the title of 《Phantom Thief》.”
He was the world’s oldest thief, having been active for over three hundred years, but he had another unique characteristic.
“Rather than a thief, he’s something closer to a kidnapper, isn’t he?”
“Quite so. I could not begin to tell you why, but for some reason, he often targets younger girls.”
Although he did sometimes steal jewels or paintings and statues of historical significance, his most common mark were girls under the age of twelve.
It could hardly be considered thievery anymore, it was more like an abduction. The victims had absolutely nothing in common other than age and sex, and the motives of the crime were completely unknown.
The strangest part of all is that the girls were always returned to their families on their thirteenth birthdays. Either using some kind of unique skill or magic, the girls’ memories of the time that they spent in his custody were always completely erased, so there were no leads or clues to go on.
“And now this kidnapper is aiming for the princess?”
“This one is so slippery that not even I could catch him myself. Once in the past in similar circumstances, I had repulsed him, but I wonder if I should be trying my luck once more.”
“He is… Quite something, isn’t he?”
It would be impossible for an extraordinary mage, let alone a normal one, to escape from Canary who was such a master of spatial magic.
“But… You seem to know a bit about the 《Phantom Thief》already, hm~? Perhaps you two have already crossed paths sometime in the past?”
“Does it seem that way?”
“Well, it may merely have been my imagination… Putting that aside, I intend to rely on those unique eyes of yours this time. With those all-seeing pupils of yours, you can see through whatever subterfuge he may endeavour upon.”
“…I would rather you didn’t rely on me so much, but I understand now why you wanted to get me involved.”
The intention was to use her to protect Grimhilda from the 《Phantom Thief》. However…
“You still haven’t reached the main point. What did you mean by making precious memories?”
For Shirley, everything said up until this point was virtually irrelevant. This was the only thing she was interested in.
“As a matter of fact, yours truly had a novel idea to truly spice up the summer festival here this year. Simply put, it will be a showcase event.”
As she said that, she held up a photograph. It was an image of a dark night sky, with what looked to be something like a big flower splayed through the middle of it.
“A new method of entertainment I have developed called ‘fireworks’. It is a modification of an explosive that can make patterns in the sky by adding metal powder with the saltpeter. It is hard to gain a true sense of the wonder from a photograph, but it truly is something to be beheld live. I have already gotten the seal of approval to liven up the festivities with this.”
Canary grinned, then sidled up towards Shirley and whispered like a snake in her ear.
“Friends… Lovers… Family… If you saw such a wonderful thing with your daughters, truly it would be a memory dearly engraved upon all of your hearts, no~?”
Shirley’s body twitched slightly.
“The plan is to shoot over seventy thousand shots of fireworks into the night sky, one after the other. If you bring along those dear daughters of yours to see such delights, surely their love for you will only grow to greater heights still, hm~?”
Shirley’s body began to tremble.
“However, if Grimhilda is taken away by the 《Phantom Thief》, then there will not be a single firework to grace the night sky. Ah, if only someone could protect the princess from that despicable bandit, but wherever could one find such a heroic swordswoman?”
With a malicious grin, Canary held out the request form. As she scanned it with her eyes, making sure there wasn’t any malicious condition written down or hidden with magic on the page, Shirley snatched the form out of her hand.
“For that reason, I have to meet with the Demon King, who is the client for this request. Apparently, he needs to see the face of the person he will entrust his precious daughter to.”
“Yeah, somehow I felt it was going to be something like that.”
“It’s probably less about making sure that Shirley-san is right for the job and more about making sure she ain’t the 《Phantom Thief》in disguise, right?”
Back to the present. After the three rookie adventurers heard all the circumstances, they seemed to be convinced for the details. As usual, when it came to Sophie and Tio she was dancing in Canary’s palm, but if she didn’t, would she still really be Shirley?
“There was an alternative plan to go back and keep her under a strict guard in the Land of Demons, but since the thief can go through any sort of security with ease it wouldn’t make much difference, however, we’ll be pretending that plan is going ahead in order to create false information.”
“But, why are you bringing us along for such an important request in the first place? Don’t get me wrong, we’re definitely happy to go help, but if you’re looking for adventurers to help you defend the princess, should you really be looking at Rank-E’s like us?”
Kyle’s doubts made sense. It was obvious that higher ranked adventurers would be more suitable, although if a dragon king like Siegfried wasn’t enough to keep her safe, it’s hard to think of anyone that would actually be enough at the guild other than Shirley.
“…I have various reasons, the most important one is to not cause discomfort for the princess we’re meant to escort as much as possible. Part of the request from the Demon King is to take care of his daughter, Princess Grimhilda, so that she can enjoy the summer festival as much as possible.”
“Ohh~ I get it. She wouldn’t really be that comfortable if she had to go around with some old guys the whole time, huh?”
High ranking adventurers… When it came to the secretly really strong guys who kept themselves at B-Rank, most of them were older men. A lot of them really looked the part of the grizzled old adventurer as well. Even if she got used to them being bodyguards during the day, if they were near her all the time, especially during the night, as a young girl it would obviously be uncomfortable.
“Since she’s young, I wanted the escorts to be young themselves so that she wouldn’t feel any discomfort having you all nearby. My daughters will be joining us as well so I would ask you not to give them any stress either.”
“Ehh!? Sophie and Tio are…!?”
Shirley had her own worries about bringing the two of them along as well, but there were reasons for this as well.
“How do I say this… Apparently, my daughters and the Princess who didn’t have any friends in the Kingdom have already become close before I knew it. They heard from the Princess herself about how lonely she felt, so the two of them told me that they wanted to keep her company until she returned home…”
“…? What’s the problem with that?”
To be exact, Canary had told her that the Princess didn’t have any friends both in the Kingdom or back in the Land of Demons. Apparently, the Demon King was enormously overprotective of his daughter and didn’t like anyone approaching her without his express say-so, not even other children.
So, Sophie, Tio, Lisa, Chelsea and Mira were the first friends that Princess had ever had. “How could you be so cruel, trying to tear apart the beautiful flower of friendship that had bloomed in her heart for the very first time?” As Canary had said that, blubbering with fake tears, Shirley felt a pang of sympathy for the poor girl. So when Sophie and Tio had directly asked her to keep her company themselves, Shirley’s will was broken.
“Well, since that means having Beryl and Rubeus join the escort, it might turn out to be a good thing. Especially since I would have had trouble not seeing my daughters for that long.”
“Oh, right, a request taking up the whole week before the summer festival is pretty long term for you, isn’t it? So, what’s the other reason you wanted to bring us along?”
“To be honest, because of the circumstances of the quest, I wanted to bring as many fitting adventurers as I could. The opponent is a semi-immortal thief that can’t be seen, after all.”
…To be really honest, though, the truth was that apart from Asterios who is too busy training other rookie parties, these three were the only ones that Shirley knew that fit her conditions and she could really trust. She didn’t want to ask Canary for help finding more, obviously.
Not letting that part slip out, however, Shirley cleared her throat with a cough and spoke to the young adventurers.
“The reward is a bag of gold coins. That might increase or decrease depending on how the request goes, but do you accept? Will you take the request?”
Kyle, Leia and Cudd looked at each other. To think that within the course of three days, they would go from running for their lives from a huge monster during a routine goblin extermination to suddenly being asked to help escort a princess, it was an amazing turn of events.
Not to mention, they can’t just let Shirley do this all alone since she would take on the request no matter what they said.
Since Sophie and Tio are accompanying her this time as part of a rare exception, it was obvious that she would be far from her normally cool and calm self if anything were to happen so someone would have to be there to help, even if they’re just rookies.
With that sort of reasoning in their minds, Kyle and his party accepted the request… But, they would soon come to somewhat regret that decision.
“What if Joker was actually a huge creep?” – MotoMusu Author, 2018