Chapter 2: The Shinki Who Was Taken In & Physical Labor

“O Shinki, Protectress of this city~” Yuuki called out calmly. “Please purify all corruption – clean the storefront, would you?”

“I will fulfill that wish, Master.”

Tina nodded energetically.

“…Now then, how do you use this thing?”

Tina raised the rag she held in hand.

She was dressed in a set of old clothes Yuuki had bought for her, with her hair tied back by a triangular handkerchief – the very picture of a girl at work.

“First, immerse the rag in the bucket of water.”

“Like this?”

“Right. Now wring it out. After that, please wipe down the sales counter.”

“Let’s see here… By the way, why the serious tone? Albertina’s given you her permission to loosen up a little, Master.”

“…It’s amazing how you can say that without sarcasm. Now, then Shinki-sama, please take down the items on the sales counter and wipe it down thoroughly. It’s quite easy for dust blown in from the outside to accumulate there. When you’re done cleaning it, return the merchandise to their places. Oh, and be careful – if things drop, they’ll break.”

“Got it.”

Tina proceeded to follow his instructions with what were frankly unreliable, unpracticed motions.

In return for his help, she’d help out around the store. On this point, the two were agreed.

Tina’s appellation for Yuuki – “Master” – was a demonstration of her gratitude intended to show her respect.

He had to admit, putting aside her clumsy movements, hearing someone address him in that manner was strangely satisfying. Additionally, she did have some skill when it came to bookkeeping. If she kept at it, it wasn’t a stretch of the imagination to think that she could be a merchant herself someday——

Unexpectedly, a sound came from the front door.

“Hello. Are you open?”

Franka peeked her head through the store entrance. Speaking of which, she had mentioned dropping by the day before——

“Oh, yeah, we’re open. Welcome; come on in. It’s still early – are you done raiding already?”

“Ah, no. We’re still getting ready to head out. As I was getting my stuff together, I noticed the bag I keep my Divine Pearls in has a hole in it. I came to buy——”

Franka suddenly froze as she noticed Tina’s presence.

“…A-A girl? T-There’s a girl. In Yuuki’s store – there’s a girl.”

Yuuki couldn’t understand what was so shocking about that, though it was true that Tina was clearly not a guy.

“When a customer comes in, greeting them with a ‘Welcome’—— Is that really all that’s needed, Master?”

“Yeah, and do it with heart.”

“So she’s not a customer?!” Franka yelled, covering her mouth in horror, as she weakly fell back a step. “…No, get a hold of yourself, Franka. Think it through first. She could just be a relative of his, yeah. For example, his younger sister, or maybe his older sister…though probably not his mom. Or his wife——”

“Hey, Franka——”

“No! I won’t allow it!”

Franka suddenly opened her eyes and shouted.

“…Won’t allow what exactly?”

“Absolutely n—— Er, sorry, what was that?”

She looked to be back to normal.

“Forget it. ——Anyway, let me introduce you – this girl here’s Tina.”

“Tina…chan. ‘This girl here’ – sure sounds like you two are close. Can I ask what the r-relationship between you two is?” Franka asked, with an obviously forced smile.

As Yuuki was considering how best to explain the situation, Tina answered helpfully.

“I was bought. By Master.”

“M-Master?”

“Yuuki.”

“And what exactly did he… buy?”

“Tina’s body.”

——The room froze.

“B-B-Body…?”

“Wait, Tina.”

Tina, completely oblivious to the atmosphere in the room, continued to talk.

“Yeah, this way Master will help Tina in turn. Although, actually, to be specific, it was Tina who approached Master, saying ‘I’ll do anything, so please help me’.”

“H-Help…?”

“So, if you’re asking what the relationship between Tina and Master is, well – simply put, Tina is Master’s property. If I had any other choice, I have to admit I would have preferred not to have had to sell myself… but what doesn’t exist doesn’t exist. There weren’t any other options.”

“…”

Franka turned to Yuuki, her eyes glistening with tears.

“T-the kind Yuuki-san I knew… is he already no more? Just what happened? H-how did it come to this——”

“Haa—— Indeed… how did it come to this?”

Yuuki sighed heavily.

“I’ll go make you a cup of tea while you calm down, Franka. And Tina, you’re not allowed to speak. The more you speak, the worse things get.”

 

“——Alright, repeat it once more.”

After Franka had left, Yuuki sat down with Tina once more.

“Tina, she, uh, lost her memory, and Master, taking pity on her, took her in. He absolutely never did anything like buy Tina’s body.”

“Exactly. From today on, that’s your background, okay? Also, don’t call me ‘Master.'”

“Why not? A rose is a rose is a rose – and so Master is Master.”

“But——”

“There’s nothing inaccurate about it because, right now, Tina is your property.”

“The word ‘property’ is off-limits as well!”

His earlier explanation had fooled Franka.

He’d found an unconscious girl in the labyrinth. Because her identity was unclear, she was temporarily a guest in Yuuki’s home. Having lost her memories, her thoughts were a bit out of order, and so she’d occasionally say things which simply weren’t true. You couldn’t just take her words at face value.

Franka not only accepted this bogus story, but had even expressed her sympathy for Tina. Even if that was in part due to sympathy being the natural response for such a situation, Franka was also originally a very kind girl.

Although the Shinki in question was hardly pleased with the explanation he’d given, the circumstances had left no room for dissent. No matter her feelings on the matter, the fact was that her special qualities had to remain a secret.

——Yuuki’s thoughts turned to the results of their “experiments” the night before.

 

※※※

 

“This is a Reliquia known as a ‘Divine Pearl.'”

Yuuki revealed two stones the size of quail eggs, and placed them before Tina.

These were precious gems with the special characteristic of being able to store divine energy – the source of a cleric’s powers.

They were receptive to human desires, and it was using these as a medium that clerics were able to channel divine energy into Orisons. In other words, they were batteries for storing divine energy in a convenient form.

“Now, can you tell me which of these is real?”

“When you ask me which one is real, you mean to ask which one of these holds divine energy?”

Yuuki nodded his head in confirmation.

“Then both are real, although the one on the left carries a significant amount of divine energy, and the one on the right barely any at all.”

“…That’s exactly right,” Yuuki admitted.

As long as an item stored divine energy, it was known as a Reliquia, regardless of the form its container might take.

The worth of the item depended directly on the precise amount of power it held within. Priceless treasures like the Dragon Fang Gem were first-grade items, whereas the common-as-dirt light stones were the lowest – fifth-grade. The Reliquia grading system, which ranged from one to five, formed the basis of all business transactions.

Divine Pearls were items found in abundant supply within the labyrinth, and could thus be found in every store in the city, though the amount of divine energy they carried within them varied greatly. Those which stored a large amount were, of course, quite rare, and possessing the ability to survive multiple uses, their value was accordingly high.

The two Divine Pearls Yuuki held in his hands were an aptly-named, fifth-grade “garbage stone” and the store’s sole first-grade Reliquia, a high-class item of the utmost purity.

Humans lacked the ability to accurately perceive divine energy. Even clerics of the highest order could only give a rough approximation at best, and even then, only by feel.

For that reason, the vast majority of people were forced to rely on other attributes instead – size, cleanliness, damage to the item (Reliquia were very difficult items to damage, and as such, Reliquia weapons and armor were priceless treasures), and its abilities – in order to determine a Reliquia’s grade.

This was the “appraisal” ability for which merchants were sought after, and of which Yuuki was particularly skilled at, to the extent that even others of his trade openly acknowledged his skill.

“…A moment’s glance and you could already tell. Even I can’t do something like that.”

“I wouldn’t need to see them to know, Master. I can tell by using divine energy.”

“Hmm… Alright then, next test.”

Yuuki placed a silver-hilted short sword on the tabletop.

“Compared to the Divine Pearl from earlier, the quality of this one’s quite a bit lower.”

“Its level is still pretty high, though.”

This was a third-grade Reliquia – a very nice weapon. In the marketplace, its value would fall somewhere between 200-300 denar – enough to feed an entire family for a month or two.

“A blade like this will slice through the hide of a low-level Void Beast like a hot knife through butter. ——Now, I want you to use this to give yourself a small cut.”

“Got it.”

Without a word of dissent, Tina reached over and slid the weapon from its sheath. Raising it aloft with her right hand, she swung it down at her left hand, still resting upon the table, without any hesitation whatsoever.

“——How is it, Master?”

“…”

The exquisitely sharp blade ran into Tina’s skin – and stopped, leaving behind not so much as a scratch.

“Tina’s protected by a force that you can’t see. A tiny amount of divine energy like this could never penetrate that protection.”

“…So that’s the ScutumHoly Shield… Indeed, it’s just as the Church teaches – as long as the ScutumHoly Shield is present, it doesn’t matter how many attackers there are – a Shinki will remain impervious to harm. I’m guessing this is the reason you were unharmed while wandering the labyrinth?”

“Does that mean you believe Tina is a Shinki now, Master?”

Tina smiled smugly.

“Not yet. There’s one last thing I’d like to confirm. ——If you’re truly a Shinki, then you can work miracles, correct?”

Master’s distrust sure is heavy, Tina mumbled as Yuuki continued to talk.

“I want you to devour this sword.”

As strange as this command was, Tina never stopped to question what he meant. As if well aware of his meaning, she took hold of the weapon.

“You just said this weapon was worth a lot – is this really okay?”

“If I want to know the truth, it’s going to cost something.”

Tina extended her hands and placed them over the blade, which began to float. Suddenly, it diffused into sparkling particles which were absorbed into her body.

——The Shinki would take the Reliquia offered them and decompose them, absorbing the divine energy stored within. Afterward, they would proceed to work all manner of miracles with the consumed power.

Though the fact that divine energy was the source of miracles, no living soul had ever before personally witnessed such a sight.

“…You really did it. Well then, do a miracle so I can see.”

The Orisons of human clerics and the miracles performed by the Shinki had several drastic differences.

The most widely known differences arose in the domain of what could be done. For example, seeing into the past or predicting the future, that which exists beyond the scope of human knowledge; changing the weather and the climate; and controlling time, a power which influenced the whole world. These acts were miracles of which only the Shinki were capable. The Orisons of human clerics were limited in scope and restricted to spells for offense, defense, and healing – things which showed their greatest effectiveness only in the context of raiding the labyrinth.

Additionally, the rate of consumption when using divine energy were orders of magnitude apart. When compared with a human cleric, a Shinki’s use of power was hundred to a thousand times more efficient.

“Okay. ——Though, even if you say ‘miracle,’ I’m not quite sure what you’d like to see?”

“Anything that a human would be incapable of replicating is fine.”

“I can’t do anything large with such a tiny amount of power as this. The most I can do is something small. Since the nature of a Shinki is ‘to protect,’ I can’t cause any harm. That aside, something that normal people can’t do would be——”

“How about teleportation? I hear the Shinki can do that.”

Teleporting either people or things to another location was a phenomenon Orisons were incapable of reproducing. If such a convenient ability were accessible, the danger of the labyrinth would be lessened, to say the least. Although there were teleport points found within the labyrinth, the mechanism by which they operated was currently unknown.

When the Shinki entered the equation, however, that no longer held. Legends told of a Shinki who had teleported an entire party of endangered adventurers out of the labyrinth entirely.

“Mm. If teleportation’s what you want to see, then I can do it. I just need to confirm the distance and direction for movement, and there should be no problem.”

“And if you haven’t confirmed those things?”

“Then whatever’s being teleported disappears as normal, but never reappears.”

“That’s terrifying. ——So, what are you going to teleport to?”

“Let’s see… Ah, how about that?”

Tina indicated the Divine Pearl from earlier.

 

“Sure, go for it.”

Yuuki returned to the dining room and answered.

According to what Tina had explained, every Reliquia radiated with a unique divine energy signature which was what she locked on to. The stronger the power it held, the easier it was to sense – even over vast distances and with numerous obstacles in the way.

Yuuki took the Divine Pearl in hand (it should be mentioned that this was, of course, the cheap one), and hid it in a location unknown to Tina. Tina was to teleport to the Reliquia’s location, and take it from its hiding place.

——This was the test.

When Yuuki returned, he found Tina where she’d been when he left, never having moved an inch. He was sure she hadn’t followed him to sneak a look.

“Tina will now teleport and return! Please wait for it, Master!”

Leaving behind those words spoken with great enthusiasm, she suddenly disappeared.

Yuuki had hidden the Divine Pearl behind the shop, high up in the slender branches of a tree reaching out over a small pool. Given Tina’s small stature, he’d placed it far beyond her reach.

If she had indeed not deceived him by cloaking herself in a shield of invisibility… And if she had truly manifested the power of miracles to teleport herself over to the Divine Pearl’s location——

“U-Uwaaaaaaaaaa!”

A tragic scream erupted from the backyard, followed quickly by the sound of a large splash.

“——Then that’s what would happen. In other words, that girl is the real thing…” Yuuki muttered to himself.

 

※※※

 

“…After all those tests yesterday – and even getting Tina all soaked – and even after learning that Tina can use divine energy just like a Shinki, your attitude toward Tina hasn’t changed at all, Master.”

As Tina walked, she vented her dissatisfaction.

“You should be more surprised, more respectful, more openly admiring.”

“I’ll be the first to admit I was very surprised. I can honestly say that was my first time witnessing anything like that.”

“Right? So then——”

“From the very start, I’d accepted the condition of operating under the premise that ‘Tina is a Shinki.’ That’s why, even after having confirmed your power, my behavior won’t change. You follow?”

“So that’s all that being a Shinki amounts to these days…”

“Oh, I should add: from today forward, don’t consume any Reliquia or exercise your power of miracles without my permission. It’ll inevitably cause problems.”

“…I understand.”

Tina nodded awkwardly.

“If that’s Master’s command, then it can’t be helped. ——Now that that’s settled, where are we headed?”

“There are a few errands I need to run, so I figured I’d show you the city at the same time. Since you’re going to serve as a shop assistant for a while, it’d be best if you learned a bit about Solitus. It’s necessary if you’re going to be any help to me. ——Alright, first up is the Church.”

The two followed the main road to the center of town.

Tina looked around with great interest, taking in the sights.

“This is Labyrinth Way, and just as its name suggests, if you follow the road all the way, you’ll find yourself at the entrance to the labyrinth. The entire length of the path is dotted with stores that cater to adventurers.”

“Just like Master’s store, but… As far as I can tell, aren’t all of these stores much bigger than Master’s? Moreover, they have lots of customers.”

“…I’m very picky when it comes to merchandise and customers both.”

“Oh, so that’s why! That explains why there’s no need for a large shop, I see.”

Tina’s innocent expression glowed with heartfelt admiration. Seriously, not the least bit of distrust in this girl, Yuuki muttered to himself.

Seeing her taken in so completely by his lie, he was thoroughly chagrined. He changed the topic in a hurry.

“——Okay, from here to the city center – the north face of the mountain – is Artisan Road and the housing district, as well as a few small plazas. Stores selling foodstuffs and sundries, as well as the marketplace, can all be found over there. I’ll show you next time.”

Farther down Labyrinth Way was a smallish plaza wherein was located a building of pure white.

“That’s the Church of the Five Holies, although the residence where the Patriarch resides is farther north, in front of the Cathedral in the public square of the Patriarch District. The building you see here is just a branch office – each district has one.”

“Right, this is a place where they worship Tina.”

“Here’s where they conduct worship services and read from scripture and that sort of thing. Aside from strictly religious duties like those you’d find here, the Church is responsible for a lot of other things too: law enforcement, tax collection, public expenditures, dispute resolution, etc.”

Although the Oath Legions held jurisdiction over all that occurred within the labyrinth itself, the Church was in charge of city governance.

In Yuuki’s opinion, the Church was the single entity one could least afford to have as an enemy in this entire world. With the authority of the Church, a single merchant’s life could be blown away with a single breath.

“I have something to take care of inside, so wait for me here, Tina. Please don’t just wander around.”

Although the knight standing guard outside the labyrinth entrance, Melchior, was also from the Church, but when it came to those things related to faith in the Shinki, the members of the Church clergy were incomparably hardheaded and mulish. If Tina were to accompany him and – God forbid – say something she shouldn’t, Yuuki didn’t think he’d be able to get off scot-free.

Yuuki waited until she had both verbally expressed her consent and nodded before entering, where he was met by a young deacon.

“May the Shinki’s grace rest upon you. ——How can I help you?”

“No problem at all, actually. Business has been rather good recently, so I thought I’d come express my gratitude to the Shinki, and make a small offering.”

“Many thanks for your graciousness.”

The deacon gave a light smile.

Yuuki extracted five 10-denar coins from his purse, placing them in the hands of the deacon before him. Though it pained him to do so, he nonetheless succeeded in preserving the smile on the deacon’s face.

If his luck continued to be poor, then he might be forced to pawn some of the cheaper items in his store to raise money for future tax payments… But now wasn’t the time to think on such things, however.

“Would you like me to record your name?”

“Just leave it anonymous. On a different note, however, I was wondering if you might join me in a little light gossip——”

“Sure, what would you like to know?”

“Have there been any major disturbances of late?”

“No, not that I can think of. It’s already been five years since the last ‘Great Erosion.’ I haven’t heard news of any crop failures, nor have we been visited by pestilence. In fact, it’s been rather peaceful of late – we have surely been blessed by the Shinki.”

“I run a small store on Labyrinth Way; tell me, how are adventurers faring recently?”

The Church was the bridge between the Shinki and the citizens of the city, and so their relationship with the Oath Legions was especially close. That did not at all imply that their relationship was good, however.

More specifically, the situation within the labyrinth – which Oath Legion was ahead of the others in collecting Reliquia – was something the Church knew well. The number of merchants who wished to share in this knowledge were hardly few in number. As the Church was well-aware of this, one simply had to be rather generous in alms-giving before members of the clergy would “minister to their needs” under the pretext of making small talk.

“…Now that you mention it, I heard that the one of the main parties of the Sky’s Oath Legion suffered a devastating loss while in the labyrinth. Apparently they encountered a previously-unknown type of Void Beast. Of the five member party, four passed away, and the lone survivor – the commander – lost an arm.”

“That’s…terrible.”

This must be the ‘major incident’ that Melchior had spoken of.

“Death is in accordance with the plan outlined by the Heavenly King. Even the Shinki may not oppose his will in this matter. Fortunately, the party leader’s arm was perfectly restored with a miracle from the ‘Shinki who Supports the Sky.’ Another main party – headed by a young genius named Stefan Klose – has been appointed to investigate what happened. Any and all information on a Void Beast capable of annihilating one of the Oath Legions’ main parties is absolutely vital.”

Oh, the pride of our school, huh? Truly an up-and-coming member of the Oath Legions’ elite.

“Despite what happened, the position the Church’s ‘Sky’ faction holds atop the rest won’t change. When it comes to both the number of adventurers in their ranks as well as the number of Reliquia they’ve brought back, the three other competing legions aren’t even close, let alone the currently empty ‘Moon.’ Generally speaking, nothing’s changed.”

It seemed that was all he had to share. He finished speaking.

Yuuki gave his thanks and left the building.

“The five Shinki cooperate in protecting this city” – this was Church doctrine. That, however, said nothing about the Oath Legions who served the Shinki, which were engaged in fierce competition with one another.

The aforementioned incident would undoubtedly show its influence on the market.

For example, when it came to trying to sign large contracts with the Legion currently in prominence, merchants would engage in a price war, cutting prices left and right in a rush to sell them Reliquia. If the news he’d just heard spread, the opposing Legions would instead raise their prices in response.

News regarding the movements of the Oath Legions was priceless information, and something that Yuuki took care to watch closely. This time, however, he had a different goal entirely.

“Aside from that one group suffering casualties, it doesn’t look like there’s anything in particular going on with the Legions, which means there isn’t anything strange going on in the Church either.”

That implied that the five Shinki were there as normal.

That notwithstanding, he had to admit that Tina exhibited powers belonging only to the Shinki.

So just who the devil was she?

From what he’d just heard, the possibility that she’d ‘been born a few days ago,’ as she claimed, grew exponentially. In short, a newly born – and thus previously unknown – sixth Shinki.

“Though it’s still unconfirmed at this point, but if that’s really the case——” Yuuki mused to himself as he returned to the plaza.

He looked around – Tina was gone.

“That idiot…”

Unable to repress the emotion, Yuuki complained aloud as he sped off in search of Tina.

Because it was the middle of the day, the plaza was extremely lively.

Just where had she gone? What had caught the interest of that Shinki? Perhaps she’d been drawn in by the enticing aroma of a food vendor’s stall, or maybe——

At that moment, Yuuki heard the sound of warm applause and an adoring crowd from behind him. Stopping, he turned around.

The first thing he saw was a large crowd gathered – they were watching a puppet show for children. The hero had just appeared, and was on the verge of dealing the finishing blow to the villain.

“Wow, so strong! He’s amazing! Is that the hero?”

“Y-yes. That’s the ‘Snow Blade King.'”

“Ooh. What’s he like?”

“About ten years ago, he was a great Duelist serving the ‘Shinki Crowned with the Moon’; his name came from the snow-white sword he wielded. Even though he was incredibly strong, he was also a very chivalrous person – kind to the weak, and one who’d never bend his morals regardless of the danger it posed——”

Yuuki spotted the back of Tina’s head, engaged in eager conversation with the girl beside her, whom was describing the characters in the show.

(Hey, aren’t those our students?)

Yuuki walked over.

“You know, Onee-san, this is really rare – for you to not even know who the ‘Snow Blade King’ is.”

“Ah yeah, that’s because I was only born a few days ago.”

“…A few days ago?”

“Yep. In the labyrinth—— Aaaaargh!”

Yuuki’s fist came down on Tina’s head from above.

“Eh? Huh? Yuuki-sensei?”

“Sorry for all the trouble this girl’s caused you, Kaya. ——Didn’t I tell you to wait for me? Let’s go.”

“J-just a little bit longer…”

Yuuki ignored her protest, dragging her behind him as he left. It wasn’t until they’d left the crowd far behind that he finally relaxed.

“That was a great show——”

“…”

“…Why are you mad, Master? Tina never mentioned anything about being a Shinki.”

“When you say crazy things like you were born just a few days ago, of course it’d raise questions!”

“Ohh…”

“When a normal person is only a few days old, they’d be nothing more than a baby. There’s no way you don’t know that? Stop playing dumb! ——Honestly, you need to realize just what a dangerous existence you are. Now, let’s go.”

“…”

Tina was silent.

Sighing worriedly, Yuuki turned to leave—— Suddenly, his sleeve was tugged from behind.

“——D-do you want to throw Tina away?” she asked with a smile.

That smile, however, was clearly forced; in fact, it pained him to see it.

“Huh?”

“Tina, s-she understands. Lending a hand to a Shinki like Tina is a burden too heavy to carry for a normal person. If… if you want to leave, then I understand.”

Tina’s hand trembled as she spoke. Running completely contrary to the words she had just uttered, it was clear that she was terrified.

“D-don’t worry; Tina is a compassionate goddess. Even if a disciple couldn’t bear the strain, and r-ran off, I wouldn’t blame him.”

“…”

This time, Yuuki was the one left wordless.

(——Oh, so that’s how it is.)

Yuuki finally understood. Even if she looked carefree on the outside, inwardly, she’d always been afraid.

Even if she was only a few days old, her mind and heart were far more developed than an infant’s. She thoroughly understood the pain and hardship of loneliness because she’d been thrown – entirely alone – into a harsh and unforgiving world. The reason she’d been so stubbornly attached to terms like “disciple” and “Master” had been because she’d needed to clearly define her relationship with others. Put simply, she’d desperately clung on to her relationship with others – her relationship with Yuuki; it had been her one comfort – the one thing standing between her and the abyss of her overwhelming fear.

Yuuki paused for a moment before finally opening his mouth.

“——I’m sorry. I went too far.”

His words had come so far out of her range of expectation that Tina could only blink in response, her eyes still wet with tears.

“There’s no understating how seriously a merchant takes an agreement. Rest assured, I won’t simply throw you aside, nor will I simply neglect you. In other words, for the duration of our agreement, if you can, for all intents and purposes, view me as your disciple. But, you also need to remember – I’m also your master. That means when I ask, you need to obey. That’s what a good Shinki should do – honor the wishes of her followers. Sound good?”

“Yep!”

Tina, on the verge of tears just a moment before, now broke out into a radiant smile. Wiping the tears from her eyes with one hand, and seemingly unable to restrain the joyous feelings bursting forth from within, she spoke in a frenzy.

“Tina will definitely be a great Shinki! And will listen to all of Master’s commands! No matter what they may be!”

“Good. Now, let’s forget this ever happened.”

Yuuki gently patted Tina on the head. The young girl squinted her eyes as if terribly itchy.

“The puppet show’s always there. We can come back another time. ——Let’s head home.”

Tina obediently trailed after Yuuki, her hand still gripping his sleeve.

“…Um, Master?”

“What’s up?”

“Is it… really that well-known? The story from the show?”

“…Oh, you mean ‘The Snow Blade King vs. Black Demon’? Yeah, it’s a very popular story. If you’re that interested, you should have Franka take you to see it. That girl really likes this sort of thing too.”

Because he’d already told Franka about Tina’s memory loss, even if the latter said something strange, it ought to be alright.

Stories of the Shinki and their Duelists and other adventurers of legend were often used in plays. The Church, in a shameless attempt to inspire additional donations, openly encouraged the spread of such stories among the populace. These puppet shows could thus be found all over the city, and anyone interested could easily find one.

As long as she didn’t break cover, it’d be a very valuable experience for her.

“Master… won’t come?”

“Me? Oh, yeah, I’m not really interested in that kind of thing.”

“Oh.”

Tina’s smile was tinged with just a hint of regret.

 

※※※

 

The next few days passed by peacefully and without incident.

Yuuki and Tina’s relationship had gradually grown stronger.

After what had occurred a few days before, Tina had grown both far more prudent as well as forthright.

“——So basically, mushrooms grow where it’s dark and damp,” Yuuki explained to Tina, as they traversed the small mountain path.

“Some types are poisonous, others can be used as medicine, and some can even be eaten – there are many different kinds, and distinguishing between them is a very difficult task. Looking at it from a different angle, however, it’s for that very reason that they can be sold for profit. Learning which trees’ fruits can be used as medicine is much easier, so we’ll start—— What’s wrong?”

Having struggled to keep pace with Yuuki this entire time, Tina had finally exhausted herself, and was sitting, resting, on the ground.

“M… Mer…Merchants…need….” Tina wheezed, gasping for air.

“Need…to….cl…climb…”

“You’re asking if it’s common for merchants to climb mountains? No, not really. I’m a little different in that I collect my goods myself. C’mon, you can do it.”

Rather than simply stocking Reliquia, stores also sold all sorts of consumables an adventurer might need. Counting simply by volume, and not by cost, these items actually constituted the majority of store sales.

The most commonly sold items were medicines for staunching open wounds, and gauzes and compresses. Although virtually all adventurer parties necessarily included a cleric for healing, in order to avoid wasteful expenditure of Divine Pearls, anything but severe injuries were dealt with using a combination of medicine and bandages. The medicines and remedies that Yuuki sold in his store were all things that he had personally collected, thus minimizing expenditures as much as possible.

Accordingly, he had taken Tina along with him on this trip, in order to familiarize her with the various medicines he sold… unfortunately, it looked like she was now running on empty.

“Why don’t we rest for a bit——”

Rather than respond, Tina wearily lifted her canteen to her lips. It seemed she was comparatively frail even for a girl of her age and petite stature.

“…No matter who it is, if they’re not used to this kind of thing, they’d tire easily. When you first start out, there’re simply too many things you don’t know. That’s to be expected. Don’t rush yourself; take your time.”

Tina’s breathing finally returned to normal, and she asked, “Master, were you like this when you first started too?”

“Well, compared to you, I was in better physical condition, but because I was completely unfamiliar with herbology, I was frequently smacked around by the previous shop owner.”

“The previous owner?”

“The store’s sign reads, ‘Shoppe Boris,’ right? The shop originally belonged to an old man named Boris. At the time I was a wanderer with neither family nor a place to call home. One day, when Gramps was out gathering medicinal herbs, he found me collapsed on the mountainside and brought me home with him.”

That was five long years ago. He’d displayed a strength unexpected for someone of his seasoned age, and had carried Yuuki back to his store.

“He then hired me, and taught me how to work the store. Man, he sure was one strict old man – I’d frequently get scolded like you wouldn’t believe. Still… I’m grateful for everything he did for me.”

In more ways than one, he’d been the one to teach Yuuki how to live a normal life.

“So where’s he now?”

“He passed away two years ago.”

He’d had a stroke. One day he’d suddenly vomited forcefully, and passed out. He didn’t wake during the next few days either, and eventually, he simply stopped breathing. The one blessing of the ordeal had been that he hadn’t been awake to feel any pain, nor had he had to deal with the terror of death.

“I inherited the store, although from the very beginning, there was never any chance I could be like him. Even if my body’s grown a lot since then, I’m still a long way from being able to compete with any of the big businessmen; I’m still green.”

“…So that’s how it works. People just inherit what other people have built, huh?” Tina mumbled to herself, with a look of admiration on her face.

Breathing deeply, she suddenly rose to her feet.

“Alright, Master. Tina’s ready to go. Our goal’s the summit, right? We’d better get going.”

“Oh, ok. It’s just——”

“Hmm…?”

Tina’s body began to wobble. To her immediate left was a sharp, vertical incline, far below which lay a valley. Her tiny frame began to fall off the precipice, her legs touching nothing but empty air——

Suddenly her descent was interrupted.

——She hadn’t fallen.

“Suddenly standing like that made my head spin.”

“Hah…”

Yuuki’s left hand gripped a tree branch, and his right arm was securely fastened around her.

As she’d started to lose her balance, he’d raced over and grabbed her. Although his footing had been a bit unsteady, he’d relied on his sense of balance to make the save.

“Even if your pulse and breathing have returned to normal, there’s no way spent physical energy returns that fast. Even if you felt okay, don’t push yourself past your limits. This is one of the most fundamental rules for traveling in the mountains or in the labyrinth.”

“I-I’ll remember that.”

Tina reddened.

“B-But! Even if I’d fallen, I’d still have the ScutumHoly Shield to protect me; I wouldn’t have been injured! Tina’s a Shinki, you know!”

“Sure, but how would you have gotten back up?”

“U-Um, well——”

Looking down at the valley below, she started to tremble.

“L-Let’s get going, Master! I-It’s too high…I-It’s scary——”

“Oh, right. You don’t need to summit the mountain to see. Take a look, over there.”

Cutting short Tina’s words, he pointed.

The horizon could be seen in the distance. Over that way, where the heavens met the earth, a horrifying black mist enveloped the earth, and slowly, ever so slowly, squirming closer.

“‘The Devourer’…”

“You know what it is?”

“Yes. It devours everything in its path as it slowly creeps forward. It’s a hollow void, without purpose. Checking its advance with barriers is one of the duties of the Shinki.”

The entire population of Solitus, including surrounding villages, numbered around two hundred thousand.

It was bordered on the east and north by mountains, on the south by a vast plain, and on the west by a river that fed into the sea. Crossing on foot from border to border was about a three-day journey. Finally, running far below Solitus was the labyrinth.

——That was the entirety of their world.

The rest of their world had been consumed by the Devourer, leaving nothing behind, or so the tale went.

When it was said that the Shinki protected the city, that was meant literally, and not just figuratively. The barriers they maintained were all that stopped the encroachment of the Devourer.

That was the reason for the existence of the adventurers, and the Oath Legions in particular. If they were to stop providing the Shinki with Reliquia, thus allowing their supply of divine energy to run dry, then they’d cease to be able to produce miracles; more simply put, they’d cease to be able to power the barriers.

Complicating the situation, with humanity trapped in an enclosed space, a scarcity of food, the threat of pestilence, and natural disasters stood posed to quickly exterminate what was left of humanity. Again, the power of miracles – and by extension, the Shinki – was necessary to prevent this apocalyptic outcome. This, too, required divine energy, and consequently, Reliquia.

It was rumored that the Reliquia absorbed by the Shinki were reborn once more within the walls of the labyrinth. While it was impossible to validate this hypothesis, the fact of the matter was that despite years of industrious raiding by adventurers, the labyrinth had yet to show any signs of Reliquia depletion.

“And finally, there shall come the day when the Shinki shall lead mankind to the end of the labyrinth – and to salvation in a new world,” Tina whispered softly.

Salvation – escape from this confined world which was gradually dying by degrees. Legend had it that such could be found at the end of the labyrinth – that the labyrinth itself was but the entrance to another world. For this reason, it had been named the Magna PortaGreat Gate.

In this manner, the success of the adventurers directly correlated to the continued survival of humanity.

“Tina will definitely save everyone. It’s for that reason that the Shinki exist.”

“…And yet, without divine energy, nothing can be done at all.”

“Mm.”

Yuuki deftly brought Tina back to the present – to the mountain road by the cliff-side.

“Your first step is to do your best at learning the job. If you can help the store bring in money, I’ll repay you with Reliquia, so hang in there.”

 

“Hello every—— Er, wait, what’s the matter…? Are you alright?”

Sticking her head through the store entrance in greeting, Franka suddenly called out worriedly.

A girl lay collapsed on the floor.

“…I’m exhausted, so I’m laying here until my energy returns. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Since the person in question was the one reassuring her, Franka relaxed slightly, but the look of worry never left her face as she walked through the doorway.

“Earlier today, we went to the mountain to pick some medicinal herbs, which is why she’s so tired. ——Hey Tina, if you’re about ready to surrender, you can go ahead and take a break.”

“——!”

At Yuuki’s words, Tina leapt to her feet energetically.

“It’s still early for that! Master, please give me your next order.”

“Ohh, impressive. Alright then, grab some of the light stones from the storehouse and restock the shelves. When you’re finished with that, you’re done, so feel free to rest.”

Watching Tina’s swaying figure head into the room, Franka’s mouth gaped open in surprise.

“Y-You’re really working hard, aren’t you, Tina-chan?”

“It’s great, isn’t it? ——Done raiding already?”

Franka was currently dressed in loose, flowing robes, her pack on her back.

It was almost dusk, the time when most adventurers chose to call it a day. Not that it was a rule – it had simply become a de facto policy to align their schedule around the working hours of the others in their lives, including their families and the stores that filled the city.

“Yeah, although we didn’t really see much success today, unfortunately,” Franka answered, with a wry smile. “Master Alfred said he’d be along shortly as well. ——Oh, that reminds me – I haven’t seen that much of you at school recently. Is that because you’ve been doing things together with Tina-chan?”

“Yep. There’s a lot she still needs to be taught, so I’ve taken a few days off to show her the ropes.”

It went without saying that he hadn’t bothered keeping up with his training either, though that was no different from normal.

“Oh no. Please don’t tell me you prepared food for me again?”

“No! I didn’t!”

Franka blushed a deep red.

“That, um, that was just something I did on my own. Don’t worry about it.”

“Sorry for making you worry. You should know, though – I probably won’t be attending class for the next little while.”

He felt uneasy about leaving Tina to watch the shop while he went off to school. At the very least, he’d like for her to learn enough to bring in enough for food on her own.

“I think that this part of you, the part that won’t abandon people who need your help, is just amazing. You even saved me. But still, it must be so hard…”

Franka bowed her head. A moment passed before she, seemingly having come to some sort of decision, raised her head once more.

“Um, you know, maybe I’m being a bit nosy here, but I-I’d like to help out if I can. If nothing else, I can make food for the two of——”

The door suddenly opened, cutting Franka off.

“Yo, long time no see——”

A man of about thirty or so walked in. At his left hip was a sword, currently sheathed in a scabbard. He was a bit slender, but tall. He felt quite approachable, and the utter lack of intensity in his expression gave him a somewhat lethargic quality.

Alfred. A third-ranked adventurer – a warrior. He was Franka’s mentor in labyrinth raiding.

“Oh, hey there, Uncle[1]. Welcome.”

“How’s business? Keep at it—— Eh? What’s wrong, Franka?”

“…Nothing. Just forget about it,” Franka mumbled dejectedly.

“So can I help you find something? Or did you perhaps chance upon a Reliquia?”

“I haven’t had much luck in the latter department of late, I’m afraid. No, I’m here to pick up some light stones.”

“If it’s light stones you need, they should be out shortly. Please wait just a moment.”

“No problem. ——I have to say, though: to be frank, business seems pretty poor. If Old Man Boris was still around, you’d be in for a beating, you know?”

He’d already frequented the store even when it had been under the management of the previous owner, so he didn’t feel the need to couch his words.

Alfred was unaffiliated with any particular adventurer group – a freelance adventurer. Although he was very experienced, he generally avoided the lower levels of the labyrinth. According to the person himself, he wasn’t interested in great wealth; supporting his day to day life was enough.

Although the training school taught both theory and fundamentals, true combat experience could only be had within the labyrinth itself. As such, it was very common for trainees to accompany more experienced adventurers in their travels. For this reason, “mentor” was actually a rather common profession among adventurers.

Alfred was one such example. His reputation wasn’t anything near that of the Oath Legions, but Boris had had an unshakable trust in him.

Even if Franka had formed a party with her friends from the training school, she still spent a considerable amount of time under Alfred’s tutelage. As her mentor put it, “even though Franka is tremendously talented, her greatest strength is instead her dedication to self-improvement.”

At that time, Tina walked in. Although the light stone-filled wood basket she was carrying wasn’t all that heavy, she nonetheless swayed dangerously as she walked, likely a consequence of her extreme physical exhaustion.

“Waa——”

“Watch out!”

Just as Tina lost her balance and was about to fall, Franka hurried over and steadied her.

Tina, who had come perilously close to a bad fall, could only stare blankly, as if what had happened still hadn’t quite registered.

“Tina, you’re being rude.”

“T-thank you very much, um, Franka.”

“No problem,” Franka laughed.

“Tina-chan, her name was? Hmm… That’s a real cutie you’re taking care of there,” Alfred remarked.

“That sounds pretty creepy when you say it, Uncle.”

“I prefer my women more mature and full-bodied, thank you very much. Anyway, I’m married.”

“…You’re married? Don’t tell me you even have kids?”

“No, no children. ——Going back a bit, I heard tell you’re taking care of her because she lost her memory?”

“Eh? But Tina hasn’t lost her mem——”

Her words cut off as she noticed Yuuki’s glare.

“Oh, right, right. Forget what I just said – I definitely lost my memory. Yep, memory’s all gone. For sure.”

“I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have some extra help around the store, so I gave her a place to stay. It was a simple decision based on costs vs. benefits.”

Yuuki preempted Alfred’s line of questioning with a change of topic.

“She’s definitely a bit strange, but she doesn’t mean any harm, so please go easy on her, Uncle.”

“Like that had to be said. ——I’m Alfred, an adventurer. It’s a pleasure to meet you, little lady.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, Alfred!”

Alfred flashed Tina a quick smile before turning to face Yuuki once more.

“——So if I understand this correctly, you’re waiting until she can take care of the store on her own before you return to being a full-time adventurer?”

“…More like I never intended to be a full-time adventurer from the start. I’m a merchant. Even on the rare occasion I set foot in the labyrinth, it’s only for the sake of my business.”

“An adventurer’s qualifications aren’t easy to come by. You should form a party with us. If we had another forward guard, we could do so much more. Plus, it’d make Franka happy.”

Every now and then Alfred would try to persuade Yuuki in this way, although he could never tell if the offer was serious or not.

“Uncle, are you seriously asking a support specialist to wave a sword around?”

“Of course not. No, you definitely won’t be letting any swords wave – you’re young and strong after all.”

Alfred smiled lightly, his searching gaze never leaving Yuuki for a moment.

Even if the other party was a lax, harmless middle-aged man, at times like these, Yuuki wasn’t quite sure what to think.

“…On that note, haven’t you been having problems finding any Reliquia recently? Today as well. Before you worry about whether or not I should join you guys, shouldn’t you first worry about yourself?”

“Well, that’s because there’ve been some, shall we say, extenuating circumstances of late?”

A disaffected expression took hold of his face.

“Recently, the Oath Legions, and the Sky Legion in particular, have been far more bloodthirsty than normal. It feels a little dangerous, so I’ve been trying to keep my trips to the labyrinth short. I’m not quite sure what the cause is, though.”

“I heard that they recently ran into a new kind of Void Beast. There were casualties.”

“So that’s why. That explains the serious attitude: the one thing they will not tolerate is damage to their reputation. That doesn’t have anything to do with us unaffiliated adventurers, though.”

Franka and Tina placed the light stones on the counter.

“I’ll take these light stones. ——Oh, also, the short sword I’ve been using broke. I seem to recall you had a pretty good third-grade Reliquia here, right? A silver one. Could I take a look?”

“…Oh, that one. Sorry, it’s been sold already.”

To be precise, it had been consumed – by Tina, a few days earlier during their run of tests.

“Oh, that’s too bad. I didn’t think anyone else even knew about this place. Have you had new customers lately?”

“I wish…”

Customers didn’t come for the store so much as they came for the store personnel, so when Boris had passed away, the store’s business had soon followed. To this day, Yuuki hadn’t managed to find enough new customers to fill that gap. It was simply too obvious to anyone that when it came to his ability as a store owner, he was both young and inexperienced.

The only reason he’d made it this far had been thanks to the store regulars – like Alfred – who’d been frequenting the store since Boris’ days. Even as he felt deep gratitude for their help, he was filled with deep concern over his own uselessness.

“Why don’t I take out what swords I do have on hand for you to look over?”

Just as Yuuki made this suggestion in an attempt to dispel the gloomy atmosphere, the door suddenly opened.

“Pardon the intrusion.”

With those words, a group of adventurers entered the store.

It was a party of five. Their armor was clearly engraved with an eye-catching emblem. These were they who served the Shinki of the Sky – the Sky’s Oath Legion.

The person in front was someone he knew – Stefan Klose.

Yuuki frowned. Franka froze when she saw who it was.

Stefan spared her a quick glance before walking directly over to stand before Alfred.

“It’s been a while.”

Although the voice was strong and clear, it was strangely devoid of emotion.

“…Ah. Stefan.”

Alfred returned the greeting, albeit with a hint of reluctance. It seemed they knew each other.

“I saw you come in here. …I have something I’d like to say.”

“Make it brief.”

Alfred sighed, his lack of interest plain to see. The two walked over to a corner of the shop and began to converse.

“——Franka? What’s wrong?” Tina asked Franka, whom was frozen with a blank look on her face.

Franka came to herself and smiled.

“Nothing, sorry. This should be enough light stones. Let’s return the rest to the storehouse.”

The two girls began to collect the extra light stones.

The Oath Legion members, Stefan excepted, were disinterestedly taking measure of the store merchandise around them. There didn’t look to be the least interest in making a purchase. There simply wasn’t any chance these shelves would hold anything precious enough to be of interest to a front-line adventurer.

Can’t they just hurry up and beat it? Yuuki complained inwardly to himself.

At that moment——

“Ah——!”

Tina suddenly cried out.

“You, I remember you! Even after Tina saved you, you ran off all by yourself without so much as a word of thanks! Rudeness has its limits, you know?!”

The one she was pointing to was a vicious-looking, 25-year old man. His equipment declared him a swordsman. His formerly idle manner turned to displeasure as he shouted back, “What the hell are you talking about, you stupid brat? I’ve never seen you be——”

“No! Tina remembers! Back in the labyrinth—— urgh!”

Yuuki dashed over and clamped his hand over Tina’s mouth. He put on a fawning smile as he grappled with the struggling young girl.

“Oh my, I’m terribly sorry. This girl isn’t quite right in the head, if you know what I mean. Sometimes she’ll get people confused and run over and say the craziest things.”

“——She works for this store, doesn’t she? You need to educate her better! Idiot.”

The man clicked his tongue angrily, and gave the near wall a ferocious kick.

The matter looking to be settled, Yuuki sighed in relief—— Until someone fanned the flames with vigor.

“Ho? What’s that? Bertolt, don’t tell me you laid your hands on that little brat? You have some seriously good taste – guess running away with your tail between your legs wasn’t enough for you, was it, you gutless has-been?”

The party didn’t seemed to have much in the way of unity, having set upon one another with great vulgarity.

The instigator was a dark-skinned young man with a large sword on his back.

The one being mocked – who was apparently named Bertolt – reached for the sword at his hip with a look of absolute rage on his face.

“You trying to make a fool of me, Jahar?!”

“And if I am?”

The so-named Jahar simply laughed in response.

“Hey, you two——”

Please stop, Yuuki almost sobbed. If they fought here, there’d be nothing left of his poor shop.

Suddenly, a gust of wind blew by his ear.

A silver flash flew between Bertolt and Jahar, leaving a hole in the wall.

“The two of you – watch your mouths. Your behavior is a disgrace to the entire Legion.”

The cold, emotionless words had, of course, come from Stefan, whom had, at some unknown time, taken hold of a blue spear.

——Not only had he been empty-handed just a moment before, he hadn’t had any weapons at his waist or on his back either.

After verifying that both Bertolt and Jahar had heeded his orders, he waved his hand and the spear disappeared without a trace.

Their party leader was definitely in full control of the situation. Though he looked to be the youngest of the group, he nevertheless evinced leadership qualities entirely unexpected for someone his age.

His gaze returned to Alfred once more.

“Stop wasting your time in a place such as this. Come back to where you belong. The worth of an adventurer isn’t a measure of effort or process, but of results. Mentoring those without experience is simply a waste of time. ——Come to your senses already, Alfred.”

Stefan then turned to leave.

“Hey, hold it just a moment there, Legionnaires.”

Yuuki called out from behind him. He waited until Stefan turned back to look before continuing.

“You put a hole in the wall of my shop – please don’t tell me you were just going to leave it like that?”

“…My apologies,” Stefan said, taken aback. “Though I must say I don’t think a hole like that will diminish the value of this place any further.”

He nevertheless pressed a silver coin into Yuuki’s outstretched hand.

The matter now resolved, the party exited the store as one.

“Sorry about that. I’ve inconvenienced you.”

Alfred broke the silence with a bitter laugh.

“You sure did, Uncle. I didn’t know you had dealings with the Oath Legions?”

“In the past.”

Alfred was reluctant to speak further, and Yuuki was even less desirous to pry.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH! ——Those guys were so rude!”

In their place, Tina filled the silence with a yell.

“Master’s just as bad! How could you take their dirty money?”

“I live my life such that whatever people give me, I’ll take,” Yuuki shrugged.

As Stefan had said, it wasn’t like the hole was that big of a deal, but given the disturbance they’d just caused, Yuuki hadn’t been willing to just let them go.

“More importantly, however, it’s best not to anger the Oath Legions. There wasn’t anything else we could have done,” Franka tried to assuage Tina, though everyone could see her smile was forced.

That reminds me—— This girl reacted really strangely to them coming in, Yuuki suddenly realized. She seems to be back to normal, but what the heck was that…

“Aren’t you mad, Franka? They said you didn’t have any experience!”

“When compared to them, it’s true that my level’s lower…”

Franka was a rank four adventurer. Stefan was a first-rank, and the others surrounding him were rank threes. This city continued to exist due to the support of the Oath Legions who collected Reliquia from the Labyrinth. Relatively speaking, this afforded them a position higher even than the clouds in the sky.

“…So Uncle, what did they want with you?”

“Oh, supposedly there’s been another victim. The same Void Beast, apparently. They asked what I knew about the incident. The trail looks to have run cold, so they’ve been forced to ask other high-ranked adventurers for intel. I believe it happened around the sixtieth-floor this time.”

There was a plan in place to hunt and suppress the Void Beast in question, but whether or not they understood its characteristics and attack patterns when they made their counterattack would make all the difference. For that reason, that they would seek any and all information they could came as no surprise.

“I haven’t set foot in the deeper levels in a long time, so I couldn’t give them what they wanted. ——Oh, by the way, one of them was named Bertolt, right? He’s the party leader of the group that was nearly annihilated. From what he said, the Void Beast in question is humanoid, and could use skills very similar to Orisons – a power we’ve never before seen until now.”

“Bertolt…” Franka murmured.

Alfred frowned, and turned to look at her.

“…Ah, never mind. It’s nothing; please continue.”

“Are you sure? ——Well anyway, after the humanoid Void Beast saw him, it smiled. If what he says is true, then it means this one’s possesses a surprising degree of intelligence.”

A Void Beast with a level of intelligence on par with that of humans had yet to be seen. If this was truly the case, this was huge.

“Bertolt’s joined Stefan’s party in preparation for a raid on that Void Beast’s hunting grounds. In any case, none of this has anything to do with us. There’s no need to start watching our backs,” Alfred joked with a smile.

 

“…What on Earth happened between you?” Yuuki asked Tina, after Alfred and the others had all left.

She was every bit as angry as she’d been earlier.

“——Tina tried to save them,” she answered.

With a look of displeasure on her face, she began to explain.

 

※※※

 

Within the heart of the vast labyrinth room grew a large tree. It had been inside of a hole in that tree that she’d awoken.

Emerging from her natural cradle, she’d looked around and taken in her surroundings. The floor and walls were covered with plants, with what looked like a large stone monument in the corner where the walls met. Aside from herself, the room was devoid of movement.

She, who had only just come to the knowledge of her own existence, had nothing save the cloth she was enrobed in.

But she did not despair, for she was filled with the knowledge of her identity and of her purpose.

First things first, she needed to summon the Duelist who served her. Because the Shinki were incapable of harming others, they needed a guard.

She would journey to Solitus, and defeat her enemy.

Closing her eyes, she began to concentrate the divine energy she held within her.

——At that precise moment.

Her focus was disrupted. She’d heard a frantic plea for help – a prayer to the Shinki.

She hesitated for but a moment.

There was no time to wait for the summoning to finish. She hurried to the scene herself. Even if it took every last ounce of divine energy she had, she’d save him.

She was, after all, a Shinki – a protector of the city and its people.

 

※※※

 

“By the time Tina teleported there, the Void Beast, a large lizard, had already killed several people. Although I was pretty unnerved, I knew I had to save at least one of them, no matter what it took. ——I managed to make it in time to seal the Void Beast, teleporting it somewhere far away. I finally relaxed; it was okay if I just let my divine energy recover little by little. The most important thing was that I, a Shinki, was needed by someone – had saved someone. I was happy.”

Filled with joy, Tina had smiled. All that was left was to accompany the man she had rescued back to town.

Unfortunately, however… things took an unexpected turn. Bertolt had confused Tina for a Void Beast, and had bolted away on his own.

Tina had exhausted her reserve of divine energy, and having been cast aside by someone she’d saved, she’d wandered the labyrinth, lost. She had been in no danger, of course, but she was still susceptible to fatigue and hunger. ——Eventually, she’d simply run out of energy.

“And then I found you. So that’s what happened.”

The loss of Bertolt’s arm – due to the chaotic jumble of misinformation being spread – had been incorrectly attributed to Tina. What terrible slander.

“That’s why! ——That’s why Tina is so mad! Those guys are so ungrateful! You understand, right, Master?!”

Her shoulders trembled as she breathed and her eyes stared directly at Yuuki.

“Mm, yeah. I understand. That’s why you’re angry. You’ve done well.”

Yuuki pondered for a moment before continuing.

“This is really an unfortunate misunderstanding, however. I don’t think he meant any harm.”

Even if that Bertolt fellow hadn’t exactly been a man of noble character… this necessitated a different level of malice entirely.

“So are you saying that Tina’s wrong, Master?”

“Why do you have to interpret things that way? I just think that your anger won’t change a thing. There are as many different ways to look at things as there are people in the world, and not everyone sees things the same way. That’s why misunderstandings and contention often occur – particularly in a place as populated as this city. It happens all the time.”

“Mm…”

“If you were to get angry every time someone misunderstood you, then you’d never find time for anything else. If you’re never going to run into them again, it’s best to simply forget about it. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself.”

In any case, it’s not like there was any obligation to correct the misunderstanding. When it came to the new type of Void Beast, the Oath Legion elite would eventually more or less figure things out. Tina, too, had learned something about the way society operated. Things had concluded rather nicely.

——Or so he was convinced at the time.

 

Translator notes and references

[1]Tina tends to speak in that archaic style translators often (attempt to) use Middle English to represent. Given the fact that I’m not Chaucer, it’s far too much effort for me to want to try.In case it was unclear, Alfred and Yuuki aren’t actually related. The term used here is おっさん, which you’d use to refer to a middle-aged man. I’ve used this term since it’s a fairly cross-cultural practice to refer to close, older non-relatives as “Uncle” or “Aunt” as a gesture of respect (though it has to be said that Yuuki’s not being entirely respectful here…).