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Prologue

Prologue

Beim's Labyrinth Subjugation.

When we returned from that large job, the chilly air was beginning to warm up.

My breath was still white in the mornings, but when the sun rose higher, that stopped being the case.

I felt that spring was on its way, as I opened the window of the inn we were making use of...

... And shut it immediately.

"It's still too cold for that."

The one to watch and make fun of my actions, was the one staying over in the same room as me, the automaton Monica.

She was a woman with blond twin tails, and today as well, she operated in her maid uniform, carrying out various sorts of housework around me.

She wouldn't compromise on that at all.

But only her mouth was unsatisfactory.

"You tried to direct a scene of a refreshing morning, only to reel back from the cold... as expected of my Chicken Dickwad. I'd like to air the room, so won't you leave it open? Ah, wash your face first. I've prepared clothing for you already."

As always, her work was perfect.

I took a glance at the garments she'd prepared, and extended a hand to them to change.

"Please wash your face first."

She pointed towards the washroom, and smiled at me.

It was an inn of Beim, and while it cost a pretty penny, its facilities were in order. Quite a few adventurers made use of it, it seems, but other than that, the merchants dropping by the city often stayed here as well.

We've been using it quite often since we first came to Beim.

But as adventurers, relying too much on such an inn was also a problem. The lodging costs weren't to be underestimated, after all.

My party, me included, had nine members.

Me.

Magician with a side ponytail Novem.

Spear-wielding warrior Aria.

Support specialist, bespectacled, petite Clara.

Having manifested a Skill recently, trap specialist Miranda.

Demon eye holder, but with no other redeeming factors, Shannon.

Elf singer and skilled archer Eva.

Divine beast taking on human form May.

And finally, toxic maid automaton Monica.

With all members besides me being female, how biassed a party it must be.

When I quietly headed towards the washroom door, Monica spoke.

"You're young, so you can't be using hot water. Cold water will wake you up in a jiffy. Because you'll be heading to the guild today."

I splashed water on my face. Ah, cold again, I thought.

I wiped my face with a towel, and looked at what sleep had done to my hair. My blue hair was ruffled, and I'd have to set it.

(But that can wait.)

Or so I thought, as I walked outside to find Monica lying in wait with a brush in hand. Besides the brush, she was also holding what looked to be a badly made gun.

"W-what are you doing? And why do you have a weapon on you?"

When I retreated a step, Monica was amazed.

"Weapon? It's just a dryer. Have you never seen one before? Well, we've only just returned, and I haven't had the chance to use it. I didn't have one in stock, but having upgraded to Full Option Monica... there is nothing I cannot do, damn chicken!"

She motioned me to sit, so I quietly took a seat. The gun muzzle let out a warm wind, and Monica went into setting my hair.

"How is it? That's all it takes for this high-class tool to get even the worst of bedhead in order!"

She said that simply brimming with confidence.

"... Wouldn't taking a shower, and drying it off accomplish the same?"

When I said that, Monica muttered, 'once more, this man just doesn't get it,' as she shook her head to the side.

The setting ended, and I changed clothes before exiting the room, and going down to the first floor. It was where the inn had its dining hall, and where one could eat breakfast.

When I descended the stairs, I found I had come just as Novem was eating her meal.

"Did you just get here?"

"Yes, Lyle-sama. Would you care to join me?"

The one inviting me over, was a member of the same party, as well as my former fiancée. I heeded Novem's invitation, and joined her for breakfast.

Bread and soup, and even salad. Quite an extravagant meal.

There were even thinly cut strips of bacon, and the place was quite delicious relative to its price.

I ate as I told Novem of the day's plan.

"Today, we'll go to the guild, to verify what sort of requests they have for us. We've only just returned, so I hope there's a good amount of time to the next one."

The guild we were affiliated with was an unpopular one known as the East Branch.

It was a guild that mainly dealt with outside requests, and it was quite often it would dispatch its adventurers to other lands.

Because with this being the city of adventurers, there were plenty of requests streaming in from foreign soil. The adventurers wishing for such requests would enroll there.

Of course, no one wanted to take on troublesome jobs. To compensate for that, the east branch had its own special collateral to be had.

The eastern guild branch was prioritized when the profitable requests known as [Labyrinth Subjugations] were sent around.

And to earn the right to take them on, the adventurers of the east branch would continue to process the requests sent down to them.

Novem finished her meal, and courteously wiped her mouth with a table napkin before responding.

"It's important to take on normal requests as well. But perhaps a little more rest would be best. The majority of the party has only just undergone Growth, so suddenly charging into battle would present a high chance of error."

In our last Labyrinth Subjugation, most of our members had invited on Growth. A Growth that elevated one's physical abilities... the reason it was so dangerous, lay in how after overcoming a wall in specs, the people concerned would often then go on to push themselves too far beyond that.

There are loads of adventurers who've failed after trying to do the impossible post-Growth.

"We can use that as a reason to go testing out our abilities a bit around Beim. Right... maybe we should go challenge Beim's own Labyrinth. Even if we don't go down too deep, it could serve a good warmup."

It's not like the adventurers of the east branch couldn't go off and challenge Beim's managed Labyrinth.

But they did kindly recommend you don't concentrate on it.

Clearing it wasn't permitted. The managed Labyrinth was said to even reach a hundred floors down. No one's been able to confirm that one, but reaching its depths has even been said to be impossible.

Novem addressed me.

"I'll leave that area to you. You planned to go with Aria-san today, right?"

Hearing Aria's name, I let out a sigh.

It's not like I hated her or anything. But when it came to these sorts of dealings... no, I won't go that far, but when it came to confirming requests at the guild, taking her along wasn't much help.

She was quite reliable in battle, but using her head was not her specialty.

(Well, we have Novem, Miranda, and Clara, and they're the ones who usually take up the thinking tasks.)

Even so why choose to take Aria along?

It was simple.

From the blue Jewel hung at my neck, I heard a voice.

[Don't make such a face, Lyle. You have to teach Aria about jobs like these, or she'll be truly troubled someday. You can't let her become a beast girl who only knows how to fight.]

Beast girl was the common classification of her among the ancestors recorded in my Jewel.

She was capable, but because of the outstanding environment she was thrown into, it couldn't help but seem she was falling short.

And where the other party members could easily complete jobs, she couldn't help but look awkward.

The Third let his voice.

[She has the motivation, and she has the talent. I won't say to take it slowly, but she really has to be trained up. In various ways.]

On his tone that seemed full of hidden implications, I resisted the urge to respond.

I spoke to Novem

"Well, I'll teach her this and that. And if I keep taking everyone else but her along, I'm pretty sure she'll get mad."

Novem laughed to herself.

"Something wrong?"

"No, it's just... I'm only relieved you're worrying for Aria-san's sake."

Hearing that from her...

(I can't say I'm just doing it because the ancestors told me to.)

I began to feel quite guilty.

-

-

-

Beim's eastern guild branch.

When we brought our feet to the guild we had set as our home, it was as lively as ever.

An uninterrupted line of adventurers streamed in and out, and despite how wide the lobby had been constructed, it was filled to the brim with adventurers waiting their turn.

A number of receptionists lined the counters, handling their needs.

Perhaps Aria was mindful of the curling tips of her red hair, as she was stroking her ends with the tips of her fingers.

We got in line, and had some free time until our turn came around.

Aria's fingers parted from her cuticles, and she looked around.

"Hah, there sure are a lot of them here around this time of day. If you wanted to come for work, you should've come here much earlier. It takes quite a while once it gets crowded."

Inside my head.

(It's probably best I keep quiet about how it was Aria's preparations delayed us into rush hour. That's something I've come to understand as of late.)

While it was her responsibility for sleeping in, it's not like we were in a hurry this time, or anything.

We were only here to confirm what sort of requests they had..

So I inclined my ears to my surroundings, to pick up a rumor or two.

Rumors among adventurers.

They weren't all credible information sources, but just listening to them was of no loss to me.

"Are the talks about how that Alette is going to get married true?"

"Haha, no way. She's just returning to her country earlier than planned."

"Flaminia-chan from the flower shop sure was pretty today. I think I'll buy sommore flowers on the way back."

"... You didn't hear? Flaminia-chan's getting married next week, it seems."

"... That... can't... be."

"I just heard, but it looks like Zayin and Lorphys are going to go at it again."

"They've always been glaring at one another regardless. But they have their own selection of mercs over there, so it's irrelevant over here. Even if they called over, only the South Branch would be getting worked up."

"Don't you have any stories of that Albano bastard getting injured or anything? Or perhaps making a slip-up in the Labyrinth?"

"As if that Albano would make a mistake like that. If he really was injured, then just how many people do you think would be at the bars rejoicing right around now?"

They were all stories without much a connection to me.

At most, I learned that there were many adventurers desiring for harm to come Albano-san's way.

From the Jewel, the Seventh let his voice.

[Hmm, they can only develop a means of operation that invites in such hatred towards themselves. That's why I hate adventurers and mercenaries.]

I decided to let that opinion of his go in one ear, and out the other. And wait, he just plainly hated adventurers and mercs, and all his opinions on them seemed to come solely from emotion.

I heard a calmer Fifth's voice.

[But whatever the generation, the rumors don't change too much. Of love, and war, it isn't so much different from my time at all.]

The Fourth laughed as he spoke.

[Even when it looks like it's changed, it's still the same in essence... that's a bit interesting. Is this sentiment the special privilege of us recorded souls?]

I listened to the voices of the Jewel, and the surrounding voices as I waited my turn.

As the adventurers in front of us reduced, the counter grew closer.

It seems the one in charge of us this time would be Marianne-san.

(Oh? How rare.)

Marianne-san was a guild receptionist usually charged with taking care of newbie adventurers. I found it a little odd to see her handling a normal receptions desk.

-

-

-

Our turn came around, and we sat down across Marianne-san to confirm the requests.

She already knew about me, it seems.

"Good work on the Labyrinth Subjugation. And these are the sorts of requests we'd like you to take on this time."

She passed over some documents, but there were more than usual.

Aria sitting beside me spoke.

"Hey, isn't that a bit much? Are you going to take up all of them?"

I picked one of the sheets up, and denied that statement.

"No way. It's from here we'll decide the requests we'll accept. If the travel distance is short, we'll have to accept a number of them. But too far will cost some time. So I'd like to consult with the others after we get back, but... there sure are a lot this time."

Marianne-san shrugged her shoulders. The reason her large chest looked as if it was bouncing must be the fault of that modified uniform of her's.

When my eyes ended up wandering towards them, Aria stepped on my foot.

"Ow! What is it?"

"You were being rude, so I cautioned you."

Said Aria as she averted her eyes. I endured the pain on the top of my foot as I turned my eyes back to the documents.

Marianne was smiling a bit.

What was presented to me was an all-encompassing list of the available requests, but there were five full pages of them. A few of them had been crossed through to indicate there was already a party that'd accepted them.

(They've been crossed off starting with the most favorable ones. I guess it's only natural.)

I looked over the list, and sought confirmation with Marianne-san again.

"Isn't it longer than usual?"

"It's right after a Labyrinth subjugation, and there are quite a few parties that aren't troubled for money at present. And there are also ones with comrades experiencing Growths, that can't move around as they please. On top of that, a new pioneering corps has been formed, so they're also seeking manpower. We have more requests than we can digest. There's this and that at the main branch, and receptionists are being recalled, so even I've been placed on standard duty. Ah..."

Remembering something, Marianne-san asked me.

"Has Erhart-kun's party picked a quarrel with you since them? They're rash children, but good at heart. Their mindset of solving things with power is too prevalent that I can't help but worry."

Aria beside me heard the man's name, and made a face as if she just recalled them.

"That guy with the large sword, and tank top? Come to think of it, I haven't met him since."

While Aria hadn't met him, I'd seen his face a few times at the guild.

Whenever we met, he would make a displeased expression, but he would soon go off somewhere else.

"Not really. Though it seems he still hates me."

Marianne-san made a bitter smile.

"I see. I'm cautioning him on my end, but... Now then, what shall you do? You can pick up a relatively favorable request now. Or will you take the documents with you, and deliberate?"

I told her I'd take it back, and left the counter.

-

-

-

... Guild headquarters.

The ones gathered were the staff members of higher status from each branch.

Sweeper Tanya... Tahnia was to accompany them as a guard.

The headquarters' meeting room was too vast to even compare to the ones at the branches.

One of the top brass informed the personnel gathered of the contents of the meeting.

"To refresh you all on the current problem, skirmishes have already broke out on the border of Zayin and Lorphys. That happens every year, and it's nothing rare, but it came with bad timing, and things are blowing up sky high."

Everyone's eyes turned towards the receptionists of the East Branch.

What Alette Baillet... a knight of Lorphys got her hands on was a rare metal known as mithril.

And that was about to become the trigger for war.

But those here didn't really care about the war in itself.

The problem lay in how it would affect the guild.

A man from the South Branch raised his hand, and declared.

"At the South Branch, a number of mercenary brigades have already begun to move. Equipment and food stuffs, consumable expenditure will also increase, surely."

A female staff of the North Branch.

"A war in this season? How troublesome. Because we hadn't anticipated it, there'll be quite a ruckus over changing plans. So will war really break out?"

A West Branch receptionist laughed a little.

"It's true that it's only a rumor. But this generation's Holy Maiden loves her share of war. The high priests seem like they'd be for it as well."

Tahnia's superior looked over the documents in his hand with displeasure.

In a small voice.

"Good grief, even when we've only just gotten them from the Labyrinth, we're going to run through our stock of Magic Stones. Even though when the adventurers get busy with war, the price of Magic Stones rises."

Even if the price of Magic Stones rose, each guild would be obligated to buy them regardless, or so he complained.

The top brass passed down the guild's policy on the matter.

"As we always have, the guild will be assisting both camps. We will accept both requests, but there's something called balance. Without any excessive support, we'll be moving so as not to put the guild at a loss."

Tahnia thought.

(And that's the hard part. A wrong move, and it'll be troublesome when a country gets destroyed.)

A receptionist of the West Branch raised his hand, and asked.

"So what's the scale the guild anticipates it'll climb up to?"

Scale.

On both sides, only the skirmishes of local lords, with a scale of thousands?

Or would the countries seriously try to mobilize their people, fighting with tens of thousands on the battlefield?

If it were just some disputes with a few hundred soldiers, those normally existed everywhere without the guild intervening.

With only a few dozen fighting, they weren't even possible to report.

Zayin and Lorphys weren't the only countries out there.

The top brass.

"Zayin just underwent a change in leadership, and that new head's sure to move some tens of thousands. According to the merchants, they've already started amassing goods to that extent. In contrast, Lorphys' movements are dull. They fall short in national power on a fundamental level. Lorphys' land will likely become the battlefield."

The guild anticipated Lorphys would be fighting a defensive battle.

Tahnia anticipated the country to be laid waste to.

She had conversed a number of times with Alette over the receptions desk, and she knew she wasn't a bad person.

(... Alette-san is going to hurry back home, isn't she.)

As a single acquaintance, she didn't want her to die, but with reality as it was, the guild was going to use Alette's homeland's strife as a source of profit.

Without her expression falling apart, Tahnia quietly watched over the meeting.