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Chapter 15: the Northern Powers

The Northern Powers

... Clara Bulmer stood on the deck, with her staff in her hands, and sighed.

"I really did it..."

By the elation of her post-Growth, she had ended up toxic to her surroundings. She hung her head.

"It's at times like these that I'm truly jealous of elves like Eva, and quilins like May. I hear they don't change much during Growths... Novem-san and Shannon-chan don't seem to change much either."

Lyle alone stood out extraordinarily, but Aria, Miranda and Clara had a stream of failures post-Growth.

With this time's defeat of Tressy, everyone showed a change in their physical state right after. They weren't bedridden, but even so when Growths overtook everyone around, Clara found herself unable to calmly remain in her room.

She wasn't one to mind it, but she somehow didn't want to return.

Aria and Miranda were now sleeping in the room with their blankets wrapped around them. So Clara left, and came up to the deck.

"A post-Growth's elation... I need to learn to contain it."

Even if she attempted to restrain it herself, it wasn't something that could be restrained. That's why so many people raised problems.

Sinking into those darker sentiments, Clara heard a voice call out to her from behind. It was Vera.

Raising up her bright red parasol, she touched her other hand to her hip.

"Huh? Is it just you, Clara? Why are you alone?"

Turning around, Clara answered honestly.

"I don't want to face any of my comrades right now. Could you understand my sentiment?"

When she said that, Vera sympathized, and nodded. And Clara looked at the parcel Vera held in the hand against her side.

"What's in the box?"

"This? Ah, it's a spare gun, and I was thinking of giving it to Lyle...t-that guy only has a few mass-produced sabres as weapons, right? I have a few spares myself. Y-you think he'll like it? And we haven't been able to see each other lately, so..."

Seeing how Vera had become more talkative, Clara was shocked. Of all else, when she averted her eyes a bit from Clara, and said Lyle's name, she looked a little confused.

(This girl really is falling. Lyle-san, you're needlessly proficient.)

And Clara looked at the box in Vera's hands.

"A gun, is it? I'm also interested, but I don't have the knowledge to use one, so I'm hesitant to dabble in it. I don't think Lyle-san has such knowledge either... does he?"

Why does he know something like that? Clara had pondered such a thing of the boy many times on a regular basis.

She had seen actions that couldn't just be written off as that Lyle was talented. In that case, it wouldn't be strange for him to possess the knowledge to use a gun.

"Are you curious? I see... then come to my room."

"Eh?"

And just like that, Clara was on the way to Vera's room. After entering, Vera took out a number of boxes from her assorted belongings, and placed them on the table.

It was smaller than the one Vera used, but it was a revolver-style gun. On top of that, she placed three box-fulls of ammunition.

"You can have it."

"No, um... I can't accept something so expensive."

As Clara said something like that, Vera smiled.

"It's a prior investment. The country handling in that gun's bullets are our company. And if it will be used by a promising party, it's a cheap buy."

Accepting it, Clara took the gun out of the box, and tried taking a stance.

"While it's small, it's a Magic Tool. I can't tell you what Skills were inscribed on it, but it lessens the recoil. You can even use it with one hand. Ah, don't point it at people. And..."

After Vera gave Clara a simple explanation of how to handle it, they went out over the sea, and tried firing off some actual rounds. The gun Clara accepted had a lower output than Vera's. But it was more than enough for self-defense.

And like that, until the sun set, Clara learned how to handle a gun from Vera...

-

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The countries north of Bahnseim contained some that had been hostile for many years.

The country called [Cartaffs] was one placed in a harsh environment. They had tried many times to march into the abundance of Bahnseim to their south.

Of course, Bahnseim was sure to respond in kind, so both sides had hostile relations with one another.

But recently, there hadn't been any drastic movement, and from Bahnseim's point of view, they were seen on as nothing but a country they had once been at war with.

At the major port of such a country, the Vera Trēs arrived right on schedule.

As I descended the gangway, the sailors waved at me from atop the Ship.

"Go get 'em, Mr. Lyle."

"Tell tales of our travels when you get back, Mr. Lyle."

"You're gonna make it big, Mr. Lyle."

Each and every one of them, mr. lyle, mr. lyle... I do understand this is my persecution complex, but even so it made me feel like holding my head, and rolling across the ground.

Standing on land for the first in a while, I felt as if I was still swaying a little.

"Hah... now then, we'll have to head for the Guild that put out the request, then go and slay a Land Dragon."

Everyone looked at me, and nodded. Clara pulled on my sleeve.

"Lyle-san, could you give your salutations to Vera-san? She should still be somewhere around the gangway."

Looking around, I saw Vera-san had disembarked, and she had her parasol out, with a parcel in both hands.

She was holding quite an expensive-looking box, and averting her eyes from me.

"Me? I already did that, but... very well."

Following Clara's words, I headed for Vera-san, and she handed over that box to me. From that relatively large box, I felt a profound weight.

"Eh? Um...?"

When I looked confused, she spoke.

"You can have that. You gave us the Magic Stone, and it would leave a bad taste in my mouth if I only pay your reward... I-I just thought something like this would be nice too."

"Yes, is that so? You even threw in a bonus, so personally, I've no complaints."

When I looked at the box, she told me to 'try opening it'.

So I took off the lid, and inside was a black, expensive-looking gun. It was revolver-type, and I thought I had seen its shape somewhere before.

"Isn't this a differently colored version of yours, Vera-san?"

In regards to that.

"Just Vera is fine. It's not just color, mine is made of the rare metal gold. That one's also rare metal, but... well, it's just a spare. T-there's no deeper meaning."

When I gazed at the gun, the Seventh let his voice.

[... The fact that it's rare metal mean's its sturdy, and probably a Magic Tools with Skills engraved on it. It definitely isn't cheap.]

The Fifth even...

[Twenty one rounds... just how much would one of those shots go for? It's definitely a weapon of the rich.]

I thought the same, but if she was handing it over, I would accept. I wanted to try firing one, but carrying one around didn't sound bad either.

"Thank you... I'll treasure it."

When I said that, she hid her face with her parasol, and started back up the gangway.

"I see. Well, go do your best. I think we'll depart in around three weeks, so make sure you're back here by then."

After I replied, she hastened her pace, and disappeared into the ship.

"... As I thought, she's angry."

The Fourth, on my opinion.

[This time was a failure. Well, it would be a lie to say you weren't aiming for it, but there shouldn't be a problem. She's quite a big-shot anyways.]

I repented over how I angered her with my Growth, as I raised my expectations for how much Tressy's materials would sell for.

(I'd be grateful for two or three thousand.)

I thought, as I headed back to my comrades. The Third let out a fed-up voice.

[... Hah, you're all no good. Fourth, all you're good at is currying favor.]

He let out a sigh.

-

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I had dropped by the Cartaffs Guild that had put out the Land Dragon Subjugation Request.

But there, they informed me...

"Y-you can't buy them off!?"

"I-I deeply apologize."

The bespectacled male receptionist pressed himself against the counter, as he apologized to me. When I asked the reason...

"Um... we've confirmed those are indeed Trident Serpent materials. But you see. With this Guild's scale, we don't deal with monster materials of that level, and when it comes to Trident Serpents, just what standard could we use to price them..."

They had never dealt with it before, so they had no idea what sum to put up.

Miranda, who'd come to the Guild with me spoke to the receptionist.

"Where is the largest Guild in Cartaffs? Do you think they will buy it?"

The receptionist spoke apologetically.

"If you just want to sell them, anywhere would work. But I can't say anything to a fair price... and it's uncertain what those materials would be suited to; it's unknown if they have any use in manufacturing at all. If you sell them, both sides may be unsatisfied with this transaction, so most Guilds will be reluctant to deal in them. What's more, the objectives of the Guilds of Cartaffs aren't as flexible as others."

Perhaps having regulations more severe than others was Cartaffs' characteristic. Within the countries Guilds, it seems such a policy had been taken up.

"If it were the Magic Stone, you could probably receive between five to ten thousand. But the materials will depend on future research. What's more, they're not materials one can find a steady supply of, so they're not something Cartaffs would want at all costs... w-well! You came from Beim, did you not? Then bringing it back to Beim is the best option! Even if you do, I can't say how much it will go for."

After so much trouble, on top of all my expectations of how high they would sell for, Tressy's materials...

They were rare, but he said no one knew what use they had.

(So I should have confirmed it with Vera-san, and stopped while I was ahead.)

In my high tensions, I had no intentions of conceding the crown, so I had refused her proposals.

As my stream of capital became dubious, the Third spoke.

[Well, since you defeated Tressy, you can sell your name, so is it really that much a problem? Getting the Trēs House in your debt was already a merit. In the first place, Tressy wasn't part of our plans.]

When he said it, I recalled my goal had simply bean to beat a Land Dragon, and raise my name. The fund-raising was to come afterwards.

(Yes, if you think of it like that...)

I spoke to the Guild receptionist.

"Then I'll bring the materials back to Beim. Now about your Land Dragon problems."

The male receptionist made a relieved expression.

"You've defeated a Trident Serpent, so I can leave it to your party with peace of mind. The location, if you'll look at this map, is right around here."

Taking out a map, the man informed me.

And he said he'd prepare a guide to get us there.

"A local adventurer?"

"Yes. Well... it may sound rude, but every place has its own set of rules. You've come all the way here at our request, but even so, breaking such unwritten rules will invite the hatred of the guild, and its adventurers."

Miranda touched her hand to her chin.

"I get where he's coming from. And it's better to have a guide than not. Lyle, I think we should hire them. And they're trustworthy, right?"

On Miranda's look, the receptionist nodded.

"They're an adventure party even we rely on. There's no doubt they're skilled."

He told us he'd contact the party that would guide us tomorrow, so we returned to our inn to rest for the day.

-

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Night.

As I slept, I came into the Jewel for the first time in a while.

I crossed my arms in front of my room, thinking over whether I should enter it, or if it would be irrelevant for what was to come.

Behind me, the ancestors were discussing this time's request.

The Third brought up the conversation at the Guild.

[Skilled, but can't win against a Land Dragon, is it... I think that's a bit dicey.]

Rather than that, the Fourth was surprised over the cheapness of Tressy's materials.

[It's a famous monster. Why does it sell for so low once defeated? It's true we took it apart, so it can't be stuffed, but it should still have its value.]

The Seventh sighed at the Fourth's opinion.

[All that matters is that people know Lyle defeated it. That's just how valuable it is. Well, sell it once we return to Beim, and there won't be a problem. But what should I say about Cartaffs' Guild...]

The Fifth took over the Seventh's doubts.

[It felt quite rigid. Some may say that's for the better, but it didn't bring about a good result for us. Perhaps it was better than having them buy it simply because it was rare. But you could call them too pragmatic.]

The Third didn't know too much about Cartaffs. When he was alive, it was a land far, far away.

[More importantly, you guys know about the wars between Cartaffs and Bahnseim, right? Is it on hold from injuries? Or are there still skirmishes happening about?]

The one to answer was the Seventh.

[They haven't been warring as of late. Our territory was too far to consider sending reinforcements, but perhaps there are some small squabbles still going on? There were only two large-scale wars over the course of my life.]

Should I think only two? Or You already had two? ... As a Bahnseimian, I felt it was best I didn't ask.

In front of the door.

I approached, and tried opening it just a bit.

Through the narrow gap, my eyes met with the blue eyes of Celes peering back.

[Oh, so you won't come in? You damn coward!]

"Gyaaah!!"

I hurriedly tried to shut it, but Celes' hand reached out to prevent that. When I kicked that hand by reflex, she laughed to herself before retreating back into the room.

And after I shut the door, I took some distance from it.

[What are you doing, Lyle? If you're that curious, just try going in.]

When the Seventh said that, the Fifth too.

[The only ones who haven't entered yet are you and the Fourth.]

When I looked over to the Fourth, he averted his eyes, and corrected his glasses with a shaking hand.

[... Everyone has something they're not good at. I don't have the courage to go out before an angry Bridget.]

Just how scared could he be, I thought, but I had also been surprised into retreat by Celes.

"And wait, why is Celes in my room of memories?"

The third crossed his hands, and made just a bit of a serious expression.

[I've no idea. Well, perhaps there'll be some progress as things go on, but for now, you should concentrate on the job before you.]

The Third said that in his usual aloof smile.

-

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-

... Arumsaas.

An automaton in a tailcoat prepared black tea, and presented it to his master.

Celes accepted it, and after enjoying the fragrance, she took a sip.

"Excellent. It's quite a splendid taste. Even as you hate me so, seeing you serve me with all your might is delightful."

She relaxed in an extravagant room, and nearby, a young girl absentmindedly sat in an armchair, her black hair growing all the way to the floor.

Her eyes were covered with her hair, and the only visible parts of her face were her nose and mouth.

The male-model butler automaton with his red hair cut short spoke.

"Your praise brings absolutely no pleasure to me. Because it is only the natural result. Good grief, being left with no one to serve was one thing, but being forced into the service of one I bear such sentiment towards is a curse on my being."

When the automaton said that, Celes laughed to herself.

And she looked over the room.

In it, the influential scholars of the City of scholars were looking at her with passion.

"I've taken a liking to you. I hated that that trash had something I did not, but you're even more wonderful than the maid he carried around."

The academy's principal sounded delighted.

"Thank you very much. He is an automaton the academy put all our resources to reviving. Unlike the maids, they're characterized by possessing a wide array of functions without add-ons."

Celes' Automaton.

The automaton named [Burt] spoke annoyed.

"I never thought I would be compared to those fakes from a country who know nothing but how to imitate. Yes, being compared to those failures is... unpleasant."

He was a tall butler in his twenties... Holding his head high, his expression truly was an annoyed one.

Celes laughed.

"Then will you destroy Lyle's automaton? I don't mind. Of course, I've no idea where they are, or anything."

Burt looked upon Celes' smile expressionlessly.

"I must refrain. My sole objective is to serve you. And can you imagine how unpleasant that is already making me feel?"

Celes finished her black tea, reaching a hand to the confectionaries, before stuffing them into her mouth with an immodest gesture.

The confectionaries Burt made were delicious, and with a cute smile appropriate her age, she ate with stuffed cheeks.

Burt spoke.

"How improper. Your mouth is sullied."

Saying that, he immediately brought a handkerchief to her mouth, and gently wiped it off. Regardless of how much he disliked or hated her, serving with all his might was the role of an automaton.

Celes let out a sigh.

"Delicious tea and snacks... but I really wanted to meet Professor Damien. I never thought he would say he was off for a round of the Labyrinth and flee. Because of that, I ended up going all the way up and beating the Fiftieth Floor Boss looking for him. The guild receptionists even got mad at me for it, so I ended up killing them."

She put out her tongue in a cute gesture.

But even hearing that, the leaders of Arumsaas.

"What, after looking into it, it had already extended past fifty."

"As long as the Labyrinth doesn't disappear, there isn't a problem. And even if you were to clear the Labyrinth, we would have nothing but gratitude to you, Celes-sama."

"Even so, Damien... he shall be permanently exiled from Arumsaas."

Looking at the delighted leaders, the black-haired girl muttered.

"... Killing dozens with a smile. You weren't even particularly angry."

On those words, Celes looked at the black-haired girl.

"I wasn't mad. But I didn't like their attitude. And it's important that I punished them for making me go through something so pointless. If it's only receptionists, they have any number of replacements."

Hearing that, Burt spoke.

"Making a bloodbath of everyone working at the guild, and that's your reaction... good grief, why am I consigned to such an unpleasant master... if this was how it was to be, staying dead would have been preferable."

Celes remembered the faces the last staff members had made as they cried and begged, and she grinned.

"Now then, what should we play next?"

As Celes laughed in Arumsaas, she gently stroked the hilt of her rapier as she though over the next game to play.

And on it, the yellow Jewel sparkled...