「It’s definitely got something to do with this.」
Age: 15 Rank: 4
Hikaru’s points had suddenly increased. There was one thing different from last time: the number beside “Court Rank”.
「When did I gain rank? If I recall correctly, you only gain rank by killing monsters…」
He could not recall killing any monsters. He picked some poisonous plants, but he did not kill them. He did, however, take down – kill – a human being.
「…Wait a sec.」
Monsters are defined as beings that bring harm to humans. That’s all; no more, no less.
「…What if it’s not about killing monsters specifically, but killing living things that are powerful to some degree…」
In short, I gained rank by killing Count Morgstad.
Hikaru decided not to use the points right away. He needed time to think.
「…I think it’s this way.」
Following the route Gloria told him about, Hikaru wound up at a place where the stone pavement has been gouged out, with a canal flowing nearby. After climbing down some half-collapsed stairs, his nose caught a rank smell that lay thick in the air.
He spotted an underground tunnel where the canal was connected – the sewer systems.
Sounds of fluttering poured from within.
Hikaru activated every Stealth-related Skill. His presence became thin like the air. The bats and rats inside the tunnel tilted their heads slightly, confused. For a moment, they were certain there was someone out there.
It’d be awful if I got some kind of a weird disease from them.
Quietly, he entered the tunnel. The water flowing from within wasn’t that filthy. It was the stench that was unbearable. Hikaru searched Roland’s knowledge.
Every major city had sewers. Any sorts of excrement and filthy water were gathered in one spot underground. Monsters called Chaos Slimes would then absorb them, purifying the water. As a by-product, these monsters released nitre and compost that merchants would regularly collect.
So this water is something the Chaos Slimes excreted.
Hikaru went on forward through a poorly-made sidewalk by the canal. Stones have crumbled in places exposing the mud underneath. It was dark inside. He contemplated whether to use the small lamp he bought this morning. Yeah, I don’t think so. Even with my Stealth, carrying a lamp in this darkness will surely give me away.
…I’ll just go as far as I can.
Steeling himself, he slowly proceeded onward.
So who the heck is this Kelbeck guy to be living in a place like this? Apparently he’s a Magic Item Specialist so I’m guessing he makes magic items.
And then all of a sudden, he noticed two men carrying a lamp coming from behind him.
「―and all that―」
「―For real? Sounds like an easy job―」
Their voices echoed through the tunnel. Is one of them Kelbeck? They don’t look too friendly. They were clearly thugs, judging by the scars on their cheeks.
What are they doing in the sewers? They sure don’t look like merchants here to collect compost. I think the best description is “bandits”. Hikaru hurried on. There was a part along the way where the wall had collapsed, about three meters deep.
Hide and let them get past first?
Or go onward?
He thought about it for a bit, and then chose to hide. It was an easy choice for him. Stepping on the dirt, he entered the hollow area. He crouched down, holding his breath.
「―So you met the client.―」
「―He was like “another great job done”.」
「―Stealing would be a lot easier.」
「―Hey, killing is not allowed..」
「I know that. The boss hates bloodshed.」
「That’s not it. The authorities will step in if someone’s killed.」
「Are you sure? The boss… hmm?」
The two men stopped in their tracks near Hikaru.
「…These footprints look small.」
He noticed the footprint Hikaru left on the muddy part. Stealth would be useless if the user left traces of them behind anyway.
Hmm, so they notice traces of me.
This was also part of Hikaru’s experiments. He wanted to know if Stealth also worked for stuff he left behind. The answer was “no”.
「The number of orphans in Pond has increased recently. One might’ve wandered in the sewers.」
「You’re probably right…」
It seemed they concluded that a kid went into the sewers. Hikaru was confident he wouldn’t be found out anyway.
「Let’s go. We can’t make Kelbeck wait.」
「Yeah. He’s a scary dude, after all.」
They passed by Hikaru, not noticing him at all.
He mentioned Kelbeck just now.
Hikaru followed the men. This time, he paid careful attention to his footsteps.
In one section of the sewers was a residential area not under the control of the government.
「Ahhhh… You’re five minutes late.」
「W-We’re sorry. He had to go hit on girls on the way here.」
「Wha?! Why would you sell out your partner?!」
「Shut up! You’re both responsible!」
A table of fine quality sat in the room. One would think they weren’t underground. A man, who clearly didn’t give a damn about manners, was perched on his chair with both legs outstretched on the table. Red flame-like tattoos ran from his forehead to his right cheek, to the back of his neck and down to his body. He was facing the two men that Hikaru followed.
「Well… you did okay on your job.」the man said.
Relief bloomed on the faces of the men.
「We’ll take our leave, then.」
「Aight. Make sure you work hard.」
Note: the POV here switches to Kelbeck.
The man with the red tattoo showed them both to the door. He froze in place as soon as he turned around.
There shouldn’t be anyone else in the room. And yet, a boy was sitting on his desk.
「Who the hell are you?!」
「Oops, no violence please. I’m unarmed.」
Unarmed. Judging from his bearings, he’s a complete amateur. It doesn’t look like he knows how to fight. But he’s wearing pretty decent gear.
「Where’d you come from?!」
He could be a mage. Paying careful attention to the boy, the man readied his dagger as his eyes darted around the room, looking for something to use as a shield.
「It’s all right. I’m not a mage.」
「…You’re one creepy kid.」
「I got something for you.」
「Huh? A letter?」
The boy handed him something. For a moment, he thought it could be some sort of a magic scroll disguised as a letter, but realized there was no point in doing that. If the boy could use magic, he could just blow him up right there and then.
「You don’t want it? I’ll be in trouble if you don’t accept it.」
The boy looked legitimately distressed. He felt stupid for being completely on guard around him.
He sheathed his dagger and approached the boy in long strides. Quickly, the man snatched the letter from the boy’s hand.
「Ah… It’s from the Adventurers’ Guild. Hmm, yes. I see.」
After skimming through the contents of the letter, he turned his attention back to the boy.
「Let’s have a talk.」
「You want to know how I got in here?」
「Good, you know. That’ll save us some time. Take a seat.」he said, pointing at a chair beside the table.
「What’s in it for me?」
「I’ll tell the Adventurers’ Guild one of their guys trespassed into my place.」
The boy obediently took a seat.
「What’s your name?」
「Hikaru. You’re Kelbeck, correct?」
「Correct. You handed me the letter knowing I’m the guy, right?」
「I wanted to verify it first, but no one would talk to me.」
Kelbeck had short-trimmed red hair with features that made him look like a veteran mercenary. As such, kids would normally tremble before him, wetting their pants when he glared at them. But this boy was different.
「No one talked to you? Wait right here.」
Kelbeck stood up, left the room, and came back right away.
「It looks like you’re telling the truth. You’d have to get through three rooms before getting here. I have watchers stationed in each room.」
「…You didn’t notice? Every room has a watcher. I’m actually quite the big shot so I have to protect myself. Not one of them noticed you though. How?」
「Probably just a coincidence.」
Kelbeck was getting uneasy. I’m face-to-face with a strange kid who says he’s from the Adventurers’ Guild. Going by the contents of the letter, he’s most likely telling the truth.
But normally, someone from the guild would be questioned at the entrance by my men. If he was a suspicious fellow, they’d inquire the guild for information. They’d still do the same even if he were not suspicious. Yet this boy just passed through and got here.
It was then that Kelbeck noticed the boy’s outfit.
「…I see. It’s your gear, isn’t it? I thought you were wearing clothes made out of materials from Night Wolves – an evolved form of the regular wolves that roam the night. Yeah, they’re perfect for concealing your presence.」
Hikaru’s eyebrow twitched. Looks like I hit the mark, Kelbeck thought. Of course, he never imagined that the boy was a master of cutting off his presence completely.
「Wait, are you involved in this case?」
Kelbeck showed him the letter from the guild. Its contents were extremely short.
『Honorable Magic Item Specialist Sir Kelbeck,
I have procured an item that you made the other day. Unfortunately, I do not know how to activate it. I ask for your assistance. 』
That was all.
「No. That has nothing to do with me.」
Kelbeck looked to be pondering something.
「That’s quite the decent gear you have. But it’s not your equipment that’s remarkable. It’s something on the inside. Courage. You’re not even fazed even though you’re in the presence of the great Kelbeck.」
「Is that so? All right, please sign this.」
Hikaru casually presented the request form. With a click of the tongue, Kelbeck took the form and quickly signed it. From his pocket, he took a guild card – one that looked to be issued by a temple, a Soul Card – and pressed it against the request form. It gleamed for a moment. It was to verify his identity. With that, the delivery was complete.
「Hold it right there. What do you think I am?」
「A Magic Item Specialist…」
Hikaru paused and flashed a grin.
「Which is your title, but you’re actually a leader of an underground organization.」
Kelbeck was silent. Hikaru hit the mark.
「That was one interesting letter. It says the sender is the Adventurers’ Guild. The real sender wants to get in touch through the guild because he wants to remain as anonymous as possible. Going through all that effort just to send a letter means…」
「There’s some risky stuff involved.」
「Yeah. Anyway, I’m not really interested.」
「Ahuh. I prefer to live out in the open.」
「Hmp, big words. Let it be known to you. On the surface we’re called the Thieves Guild. Though we don’t target the poor.」
「I suppose not. Otherwise, you’d have attacked me already, no questions asked.」
「If you’re in trouble, just call for me and I’ll help you. I’ll charge you of course. It’s called give and take.」
「So about that…」Hikaru said, pointing at the letter on the table.
「Is the sender a noble?」
「…What makes you think so?」
「He’s using the Adventurers’ Guild as a liaison. Plus he orders a guild around. I think only a noble can do that.」
「Hmm. Perhaps. So what about it?」
「Rather than me, I think it’s you who needs help.」
Kelbeck looked pissed.
「Don’t get too cocky, brat.」
Hikaru heaved a sigh.
「Grown-ups always treat me like a kid. I’m already fifteen.」
「Yes, fifteen means you’re a freakin’ kid! Whatever, just go.」
Hikaru left the room.
「…He’s one weird kid, but he has potential.」Kelbeck muttered.
After the experiments and the quest, by the time Hikaru made it back outside, it was already dusk. There weren’t a lot of adventurers around when he returned to the guild.
Hikaru realized right away why there weren’t many adventurers left.
「Here you go. All done. You should head home early and get some rest, all right?」
「Are you free after this, Gloria-chan? How about din–」
「You should head home early and get some rest, all right?」
「No, wait. Let’s go out for din–」
「You should head home early and get some rest, all right?」
With a radiant smile, Gloria kept repeating the exact same words. It was incredible how she made it look like she actually cared for the adventurers. They didn’t feel like staying after going through that kind of exchange so they quickly dispersed.
Dusk was when a lot of adventurers returned from their quests. Gloria handled them all skilfully and efficiently. She was quick in assessing materials as well. Now, this is what I’m talking about. They can do their job properly if they just put their minds to it. Hikaru was in a good mood.
He was in front of the counter in no time at all.
Gloria’s eyes grew wide as soon as she saw Hikaru.
The Adventurers’ Guild was already closing for the day. Gloria pulled down the shutters, deep in thought.
Kelbeck is a high-ranking man in the Thieves Guild. He’s like the head of its Pond branch. There’s no way Hikaru could meet him that easily. If someone from the Adventurers Guild entered through the sewers, they’d be questioned by his men.
Once Hikaru was captured, the Thieves Guild would request an inquiry from the Adventurers Guild. Gloria would then jump in. A guild receptionist can act as a representative in negotiations – especially for a guild as small as the one in Pond. After being saved by Gloria from the Thieves Guild, Hikaru would then owe a debt of gratitude to her. Then she could get various information out of him. That was her plan.
How’d he meet Kelbeck? That boy doesn’t give me a straight answer when I ask him.
Hikaru simply said things like “I just met him” or “He was okay”. Other adventurers were lining up behind him so she couldn’t ask him more.
…I’m getting more and more curious.
Unseen by anyone, Gloria’s mouth curved into a smile. A dark and wicked smile.