After arriving in Cartaffs, we immediately got our baggage together, and got on the move.
The Guild requested we meet up with the adventurers sent to the site beforehand, the meeting point being a shop not used by the local Guild, and rarely used by adventurers.
Even if they were wary of the local adventurers, it was a method, I couldn’t find in myself to praise.
Anyways, if they came from Beim, it wouldn’t be strange if they had information on Cartaffs’ queen.
Larc had a skill to manipulate women to his will. No, a charm Skill. Because of that, it would be best to simply consider women to be our enemy for now.
Cartaffs didn’t look any different from when we last stopped by, but with the Skills… Map and Search… I could confirm a number of red responses around.
Systematically walking down the streets, we went over today’s plan.
“Today, we’ll go right ahead, and enter the designated shop. After receiving intel there, we’ll think over how to deal with it thereon.”
After telling ‘everyone’, I walked ahead, and took the lead.
Behind me, Erhart felt a sense of unease at the scarcity of our baggage, admiring the convenience of the Box Skill.
“You could use a Skill like that? It’s plainly hella convenient. You put away everyone’s luggage and all.”
I spoke at a level audible to the surroundings.
“Ahaha, it’s got a heavy Mana expenditure, so I don’t use it often. Because of it, I can’t use magic as a main offensive when fighting in a party.”
I could sense a number of ears perking around. And it doesn’t seem Larc’s party was the only ones out information gathering.
Erhart looked at his comrades.
“Oy, wouldn’t it be best we get someone to pick up a Support Class Skill?”
When he said that, they shook their heads.
“If you could choose what you got, we wouldn’t be going through such troubles. But it’s true Support is nice. I’d be happy if I got a simple strengthening Skill though.”
There, Damien walked up as he shrugged his shoulders. Leading along three maids, his figure drew quite some attention.
“How about you think of it as a party some more? Not just wanting a Skill because you’re jealous, you know. It’s important to think over what you want, but it’s also important to know what role you carry in the party.”
While I thought it was exceedingly rare for Damien to give advice, the maids were grinning.
“Looks like master is having fun.”
“We’re getting so much more data on this trip.”
“This scene shall certainly be preserved in our databanks for all eternity.”
As always, I couldn’t say for sure what they were talking about. But there was no doubt Damien had enjoyed this boat trip as well.
Maksim-san also addressed Erhart’s party.
“It’s also been said Skills are influenced by the desire at the depths of your heart. While I’m like this, what I manifested was a Rearguard magic one. There was a time I yearned for simple strengthening, but now I’m glad I got what I did.”
Erhart crossed his arms, and thought.
“That in mind, I got mine way, way back, so I can’t really say why.”
Damien looked at Erhart, as he leaned his staff over his shoulder.
“You find them here and there. Humans strangely adaptable to Skills. Rather, humans overly compatible with their Skills, I’d say.”
I also gave some advice pertaining to Skills.
“Well, just imagine how you want to be, keep training as you have, and you’ll get it eventually. Once you have a Skill in your hands, you need only polish it.”
Erhart’s comrade looked at us enviously.
“All the guys with Skills say something like that. I’d like something more specific here.”
Erhart spoke to him.
“Isn’t that what we’re saying!? I wanna be strong. Make that wish, keep training, and you’ll get it.”
Maksim-san touched his left hand to his forehead.
“… If that was enough to comprehend it, we wouldn’t have our troubles.”
“You could go to the Guild’s library or something, and research what sort of Skills are out there before you imagine the one you want. It’s… quite effective, I hear.”
Having an image of it was important. Using a Skill meant obtaining a body capable of using it.
If you learned one, your body would have changed to use it. Getting rid of it, or changing it later was fundamentally impossible.
As we were talking, we arrived at the planned shop. In it, loads of red responses were gathered together, and a little away, a few more were present.
Stopping in front of the store, I took a deep breath.
“… Shall we go in?”
Saying that, I hardened my resolve.
… The detached force stationed at the base near the Labyrinth.
There, having entered the surrounding woods, Miranda led Eva along.
Eva was knowledgeable when it came to forests, and when it came to setting traps, she could give nice advice.
But among the adventurers planned for this attack, naturally enough, they had confirmed elves among them.
“That should do it.”
After Miranda set the trap, Eva looked over it, and tilted her trap.
“A trap like that will be seen through in no time. Even a singer by profession like me would notice it, and if there’s an elf who’s lived by hunting through the forests, they’ll see through it at a glance.”
Eva didn’t hide that there were elves more knowledgeable on the woodlands than she. Her tribe was one who had abandoned the forest to travel civilization, after all. Compared to the elves who hailed from the woods themselves, she was aware of how clearly her abilities fell short.
Hearing that, Miranda.
“That’s fine. We’re just trying to say, we have traps over here. More importantly, the problem is how this area’s turned into a forest.”
It was a terrain the Valkyries couldn’t fight well on. If they got in some experience, they would be able to deal with it to an extent, according to Damien.
But compared to adventurers who’d piled up their experience up to now, they were evidently lacking.
Eva looked around.
“There were lots of monsters here, so it was dreadful how preparations fell behind. Compared to Lyle right now, who do you think has it worse?”
There were less numbers with Lyle. But for her force with greater numbers, Miranda understood they would send their own in proportion.
“With greater numbers, it may be harsher over here.”
From the information they had received, scope-wise, there was one mercenary brigade of five hundred. And one Labyrinth specialized adventurer party of a hundred. Other than that, a number of parties, some tens in size.
Among them, the one to be most cautious of was【Marina】. A strange one carrying out adventurer work solo, but that also meant she had enough power to do so.
A seldom-found monster of an adventurer, and for parties below her par, she had the strength to wipe them out by herself.
Having the East Branch Adventurer Marina become a person to keep watch for, Miranda let out a sigh.
“Good grief, Lyle sure gives some impossible orders.”
Lyle’s order. It was one of extremely high difficulty.
Eva looked at her.
“Did you say something?”
“Just talking to myself. On to the next one. There are still some traps we have to set by the end of the day.”
Guided around by Eva, Miranda proceeded through the forest…
… Gathered were seven hundred and ten. And including the soloist Marina, seven hundred and eleven.
A majority were logistic support specialists, and the ones to truly attack Lyle’s remnants challenging the Labyrinth were two hundred at most.
As if they were starting a war, the mercenary brigade erected tents, and invited the other adventurers in.
The Labyrinth-specialized adventurers also gathered, truly giving off the feel of a small military force.
What’s more, they were capable adventurers of Beim. Even if their air was flippant, they exuded a somewhat sharp atmosphere.
Within that gathering, Marina sat over a pile of crates. She was tall, and while her ruffled, black hair wasn’t maintained, it retained an extent of gloss.
Her trained arms could be seen under her rolled-up sleeves. Her hand held an ale flask, and she brought that to her mouth as she listened to the horseplay going on around.
It wasn’t that she loved being alone. Being in the midst of this sort of ruckus wasn’t too bad either.
“Good grief, too worked up today to know if I’ll sleep tonight.”
She had worked in Beim from a young age. The place she first registered at was the East Branch, and after that, transferring was a pain, so she simply continued working there.
Invited by parties a number of times, she had tried joining to test it out. But it hadn’t been right for Marina.
She loved battle.
The Skill passed down, generation to generation had accustomed her bloodline to it, allowing them to transform into something peculiar.
Perhaps because of that, she was naturally belligerent, and there wasn’t an adventurer who could handle or use her well.
If it was mere belligerence, that would work itself out, but she had a number of other problems. Her instincts one might call feral couldn’t permit her to serve under any weaker than herself.
She brought the drink to her mouth again. Some dripped down from her lips, but wiping it with her left hand, she didn’t seem to mind it much. Picking up her ale side dish- some meat- in her left hand, she took a bite.
A voice called out to her.
The head of the mercenary brigade, and an adventurer party leader.
“Yo, Marina! You’re as lively as ever.”
Marina had a long history in Beim, and she had even participated in war as an adventurer. Because of that, she had these sorts of mercenary and adventurer acquaintances.
If you were skilled enough, they’d talk to you as much as they wanted.
So even one communication-inept as Marina fared alright.
The mercenary brigade chief was in high spirits. In contrast, the Labyrinth-specialist adventurer leader was low. He looked dark, and he let out few words.
“It’s been a while. Did you think over that matter?”
Marina looked up at the darkening sky.
“That matter, eh? No matter how you invite me, it’s pointless. I’m suited to being alone. While we’re at it, want to try taking me down to get me to obey?”
On Marina’s provocative eyes, the leader shook his head. He mercenary chief returned a joke for her jest.
“Oh spare me. I only push down women if they’re my type.”
“Hah! Pretty words from a man who assaults women on the battlefield.”
The chief’s grin turned to a vulgar one.
“That’s how war is. It’s a blast. If you do it once, you’ll get addicted too.”
Having the attack left to them, while they did have the strength, to set an example, the South Branch had chosen personnel that were sure to be thorough with it.
(That boy sure is hated. I thought he’d be the type to conduct himself better than that, but… well, I’ll play.)
And the leader opened his mouth.
“Today, we’ll look into our foe. You’ll be launching an attack on the special target, so are you prepared?”
The Guild had grasped information that Lyle had gotten a quilin to obey. And as a possibility, could that unaccounted young girl change into one, or could she have changed from one? So it was summed up.
That was May.
That May was to clash with one of the prominent adventurer powerhouses, Marina.
“She’s my prey. Don’t steal her away. If you’re to snatch… you’re dead.”
Marina had a serious glint in her eyes, but the two didn’t falter. It was proof of all they had experienced.
But at the same time, Marina was anxious.
(These guys are sure it’s a simple job. It would be nice if the rug isn’t pulled from under their feet.)
The chief spoke.
“How scary. Well, I won’t lay a hand on your prey. Though I’ll take the others. Oy, you understand that too, right leader?”
The leader didn’t turn to look at the chief.
“I mind it not. What we have business with is the new Labyrinth they found. If you keep operating in a managed Labyrinth, you can’t help but get the urge to challenge an innermost chamber. I’ll only guarantee that as long as we get the treasure in the innermost chamber, we have no interest in anything else.”
Just by challenging a managed Labyrinth, you would never lay hand on the treasure only found in the innermost chamber. It was a single cause of complaint for the adventurers. Hearing there was an opportunity to alleviate that curiosity and stress, they jumped onto this talk.
The interests of both parties overlapped. And so they cooperated.
Marina looked up at the sky.
“Now then, if it’s coming soon… three days, perhaps?”
On those words, the chief laughed.
“A pity. Two more days. The elves on recon saw through that they weren’t used to the forest yet. They did set a purposely forced trap as well, but folks without a proper commander are frail.”
The absence of the commander Lyle largely chipped down the war potential of the party, thought the Guild. They weren’t wrong.
“It’s going to get fun. There are plenty of beauties, so our young’uns will give it their all.”
On the chief’s smile, Marina averted her eyes.
“That so. I do hope the rug isn’t swept from under your feet. My job is to take out that girly. I won’t do anything more.”
… A bar of Cartaffs.
The adventurers who ventured from Beim to Cartaffs beforehand had made first contact with Lyle’s party.
Explaining they had a strong lead to the Queen’s location, they had given them false information.
And to do their jobs, it was an extremely convenient location to lead them to.
A young adventurer spoke to the leader of the party.
“Hey, leader, after we take out that guy, are we just going to go back? From what we’ve found, the Queen’s in the castle dungeons. And it seems true that if you save her, she’ll make you her groom.”
They sat at the bar. The mid-aged leader laughed at the young adventurer.
“You’re seeing too many dreams, kid. That’s because she just really wants to be saved, or it’s some sort of joke. And you see, a noble’s life is a boring one. Even more so for royalty. You should study society a bit.”
The young adventurer’s mouth turned sour.
“The hell. What’s wrong with dreaming a bit?”
The leader spoke.
“But saving her for the fame and reward sounds nice. Hey if we get her, and she asks who’s the groom, I’ll nominate you.”
Hearing that, the young adventurer poured ale into the leader’s empty cup.
From a little away, a brown-haired unshaven man’s ears perked up. He sparingly drank his ale as he inclined an ear to the surrounding conversations.
After a while, he called the shop keep, and after hearing the bill, he left some coins on the table, and departed.
The leader felt something off about the man, using his eyes to send orders to his comrades.
Two stood and left the shop, but the shop keep didn’t try to stop them. Because they had paid beforehand.
And after a while, the two adventurers returned. One headed over to the bartender.
The other approached the leader’s seat, so the leader opened his mouth.
“How about it?”
“He entered a normal civilian’s house. I heard the conversations outside, and he was a husband who ran off after getting into a fight. Just in case, we’re confirming it with the bartender.”
The adventurer who went off to the bartender returned.
“He’s been seen here a number of times, it seems. Doesn’t drink too much, but he’s visited the store countless times from quite a long time ago.”
Hearing that, the leader felt relieved.
“I see. Then so be it. Good work.”
Saying that, the two adventurers moved over to seats a little bit away…
… Rauno patted his chest, and gave his thanks to his childhood friend.
“Sorry about that, Dingo.”
“Hey, if you were coming home, then you should’ve said something first. I’ve got my own business to take care of!”
Giving a bitter smile, Rauno sat in the chair of the private house, and let out a sigh.
“Good grief, never thought I’d have to do a job like this in my home town.”
There, Dingo… a man using an effeminate tone poured some tea for Rauno. From the depths of the room, his wife came out. She had been the one who had conversed to trick the adventurers.
“It really was shocking when Bandelphia-san suddenly barged in and made such a strange request.”
Seeing the laughing wife, Rauno gave a cynical grin.
“I threw away my family name. Just Rauno is fine.”
The wife shrugged her shoulders.
“Good grief… even so, when I don’t even drink, why were you able to put up with that conversation so fluently?”
When Dingo said that, his wife put a hand to her mouth.
“I’ve been a woman from the moment I was born a woman. It’s only natural for me to be able to do something like that.”
Seeing his childhood friend, the knight Dingo so subservant to his wife, Rauno laughed.
And he thought.
(Right, good grief. When I come back home after so long…)
What he remembered was his conversation with Innis. Rauno had accompanied Lyle’s party on their journey to Cartaffs…