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“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done!”
After returning the stolen bag, the man grabs Flum’s hand shakes it vigorously, tears welling up in the corners of his eyes as he thanks her. He looks to be only in his thirties but his back is stooped as if he’s much older and he has a kind, soft face. There’s no way someone like him should be walking through the West Quarter alone --- anyone could tell that much just by looking at him.
“Ah, sorry I didn’t introduce myself sooner. My name is Reach Mankathy, and I run a small business in the Central Quarter.”
Smiling, Reach bows politely in a practiced motion. His bag, his clothes, even his mannerisms are all very upper-class.
Flum knows she’s heard the name Mankathy somewhere, not long ago but very recently.
Milkit taps Flum on the shoulder and leans in to whisper into her ear.
“Isn’t the symbol on his bag the same as the logo of the store where we bought dinner a short while ago?”
Right before returning to the West Quarter, they’d stopped at a large store to pick up some fresh foodstuffs --- and the name of that store was Mankathy Mart.
“Ahh, Mankathy as is in Mankathy Mart--- hold on a second, that’s not a ‘small business’ at all!”
“Nonsense. It’s nothing, really.”
Even modesty has its limits. Mankathy Mart is the single largest market in the entire Capital. It’s so famous that it’s practically a household name. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say everyone in the Capital has visited it at least once.
Flum had never thought that the owner of such an enterprise would be such a gentle man, much less that he’d treat even slaves with respect.
“Is it alright if I ask the names of my rescuers?”
“Uh, my name is Flum. I’m an adventurer working in the West Quarter. This is Milkit.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you.”
As Flum introduces her, Milkit curtsies politely. The action fits beautifully with her outfit, almost as though she were a real maid.
“Flum-san and Milkit-san... I don’t suppose we’ve ever met before, have we, Flum-san?”
Reach strokes his chin in thought. Flum’s heart skips a beat.
“I think I’ve seen her before, too, su.”
The young priestess agrees.
People associated with the Church of Origin or people who make a living out of gathering information like large business owners would probably at least recognize her. She was travelling with the Hero until just recently, after all.
“Ahaha… It’s just your imagination.”
Flum laughs and firmly denies it.
Nobody would believe that THE Flum Apricot is now a slave --- even people who know her face probably won’t associate the two of them given how much of a presence the slave mark has. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, however, is a different question entirely. For the time being she decides to deny it.
“I see... I’m sorry for suddenly saying something so strange.”
“No, it’s fine. I get that a lot.”
Being apologized to after lying to his face gives Flum a strong pang of guilt.
“And how about you, young lady?”
“Me, su? I’m Sara Anvilen, su! As you can probably tell I’m a priestess, workin’ hard to serve Origin-sama, su!”
Her slightly rougher manner of speaking seems to oddly suit her country bumpkin face.
“Oh, so you’re from the Church of Origin! I honestly can’t thank you enough for helping me. I’m truly in your debt.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it, su! It’s a priestess’ job to beat up the bad guys, su!”
She puts her hands on her hips and puffs out her flat chest with a self-satisfied grin.
Flum always had the impression that priestesses were physically weak and all about virtue and the like, but having met a second exception to the stereotype Flum’s mental image of them is quickly being replaced with warrior monks. The unconscious thug at Sara’s feet probably wasn’t expecting a mere priestess to be able to lay him out in a single blow, either.
“By the way, what’re we gonna do with these guys, su?”
“My bag was returned safe and sound, so I don't believe that anything else needs to be done.”
“Yeah, I think bein’ beat up will have taught ‘em a thing or two, su.”
Reach and Sara are ready and willing to just let them go.
Flum can’t help but be knocked speechless.
Just how naive are they?
If the thugs were just stealing to make ends meet, things might be different, but there’s no way that D-Rank adventurers would need to stoop to petty theft. Even if they are in desperate financial straits, then as members of Dane’s gang they should be able to find more decent work if they ask their boss. They probably tried to steal the bag just so they could have a little more money to waste. They won’t suddenly change their ways after getting beat up once.
The least they deserve is jail. Nothing less will make any difference.
“Is something wrong, Flum-san?”
“I think it’s for the best that we lock up thugs like these where they belong. They’re not going to just turn over a new leaf so easily.”
Sara seems a little uneasy, however.
“Don’t bad guys become good guys if you punish ‘em, su? If I do somethin’ bad and one of my senpais punishes me I don’t do it again, su.”
“That’s because you’re a good girl, Sara-chan. Real bad guys need a lot harsher punishment or they’ll never learn.”
“That’s kinda sad, su...”
Flum crouches down to her level and looks her in the eyes.
“It’s sad, but it’s the truth. If good little girls like you help them, though, they might learn their lesson and not do bad things ever again.”
“...I’ll do my best, su!”
A moment ago she seemed genuinely sad, but already she’s back to her energetic self. She must be a very kind and honest girl at heart. If everyone was as simple and pure as her, the world would be a lot more of a peaceful place.
“That’s that, then. I think we should call the guards or the paladins as soon as possible. What do you think, Reach-san?”
“Since you know the West Quarter better than I do, Flum-san, I’ll leave the decision to you.”
“Oh, I know some paladins, su! I’ll go get them, su!”
Sara suddenly sprints off before anyone can say another word.
Watching her leave just as quickly as she came, Milkit speaks up.
“She’s full of energy, isn’t she?”
“She’s certainly eager, that’s for sure. Ah, youth.”
“I would never be able to keep up with her, certainly.”
Reach smiles bitterly as he listens to the teenaged Flum and Milkit talk like old ladies.
“I think you’re both far too young to be talking like that.”
“Maybe so, but her energy really is something else.”
That few years’ difference between their ages carries a surprising amount of weight with it. Flum can’t help but feel jealous of Sara for still having that special youthful kind of energy.
“...By the way, Flum-san.”
Flum turns back to face him and is somewhat surprised to see that his expression has suddenly changed into something far more serious than before. Sensing the shift in mood, Flum braces herself for Reach’s words.
“You look like a fairly competent adventurer to me. Would you mind accepting a little quest from me?”
She wasn’t expecting someone like him to be so willing to give somewhat he’d only just met a quest. It feels less that he doesn’t care about the proper procedures and more like this is a quest he doesn’t want turned down no matter what.
“I’m only an F-Rank adventurer, so you should probably ask someone more qualified…”
Flum refuses apologetically.
“With strength like that you’re only F-Rank, you say!?”
“Well, I’ve only been an adventurer since yesterday… I think you’ll see why if you cast Scan on me.”
“Let’s see… All zeroes? How did you beat those men, then!?”
“My equipment’s a bit… special.”
If only looking at her equipment she’s clearly not F-Rank, but she’s still a novice experience-wise. Being an adventurer is more than just strength; experience and knowledge are invaluable. Flum herself doesn’t feel that she deserves to be any higher-ranked than she is at the moment.
“Regardless, if you can fight like you did with stats like these, then you clearly have talent.”
“No, I wouldn’t go that far…”
“And judging by your Rank, I’d guess that you haven’t gained much of a reputation yet, have you? Perfect.”
Suddenly the entire situation seems suspicious. If being highly skilled and having a low reputation is a good combination, then this must be a quest that he wants to keep secret. On top of that, he’s asking an adventurer directly instead of going to the guild --- the job reeks of bad news.
Reach senses Flum’s hesitation and relaxes his expression as he begins to explain himself.
“My wife’s gravely ill, you see.”
“Uh… That’s really too bad, but you should probably go see a priestess, not an adventurer.”
“It’s apparently a sickness that can’t be cured by magic. The priest told me all I can do is pray she’ll recover.”
Milkit twitches. It’s the same with the mustaad poison afflicting her face.
In other words…
“After doing a bit of research, however, I discovered that her illness has been successfully treated with medicine in the past.”
“Ah… And that’s why you can’t go to the guild with this.”
If he did, word would definitely get out to the Church. Of course Reach would want to avoid that if at all possible.
The Church once took extreme measures to drive out all the apothecaries --- no, even now the conflict continues. The production or consumption of medicine for any reason is still treated as a grave sin. Since the Kingdom is working with the Church, even someone as powerful as Reach would be labelled a heretic at the very least.
“My wife’s illness only grows worse with every passing day. If I don’t get her the medicine she needs, she might not make it.”
Reach’s expression clouds over.
He has no choice but to resort to less legal means of finding a cure. If he makes use of a low-ranking but strong adventurer like Flum, his wife still might have a chance.
“I’ll reward you handsomely, of course. I realize that this request won’t help you raise your Rank, but I’m prepared to compensate you for that.”
Honestly, Flum couldn’t wish for better terms. The request itself is for a good cause, and on top of that she won’t have to go through the guild like last time. The more the request pays the bigger the guild’s commission, but if she doesn’t go through the guild she can get the greatest possible reward without benefiting them.
“What will you do, Master?”
After Milkit asks her, Flum thinks hard.
They have a lot to gain. They also have a lot to lose.
If the Church finds out, they could find themselves in real danger.
Even so, Flum wants to help him out of sympathy if nothing else --- that alone is enough to make her answer clear.
She turns to face Reach once more.
“I’ll do it. I’ll take on your request, Reach-san.”
There’s no hesitation in her voice.
Reach’s apprehensive expression turns into a hopeful one.
“Really? Thank you so much! Oh, gods of business, thank you for letting me meet this girl…!”
Maybe he’s always been quick to tears, or maybe he’s been through more hardships than Flum could ever imagine. The tears on his cheeks speak volumes as he clasps his hands in prayer.
He has yet to explain, however, what herb is needed, where it is, or any of the other important details.
Flum waits until he’s calmed down a little to ask.
“So where is this herb?”
Reach makes a difficult expression before replying.
“To be honest… I don’t know. The medicine requires a blue flower known as a chiaraly, but there aren’t enough records left to pinpoint where it grows.”
It’s a miracle in and of itself that the Church overlooked enough records for him to have found as much as he has --- or maybe the fact that he’s found even that much shows the strength of his desire to save his wife.
“I see... So finding the chiaraly is part of the job.”
“Unfortunately, yes. I’m sorry to push such an unreasonable quest on you, but there’s nobody else I can rely on! Please!”
Starting from square one is a bit harsh, granted, and Flum isn’t confident she’ll be able to pull it off, but regardless---
“I’ve already accepted your quest, so don’t worry. I’ll do everything I can.”
She just so happens to know someone who is an apothecary herself. If Flum can find her, she should be able to do something, though whether or not she’ll help is a different matter entirely.
[They took a little persuading, certainly, but in the end they agreed.]
[You held them back most of all, you know.]
She remembers Jean’s words.
She still doesn’t know for certain if her other party members really agreed to sell her into slavery or not --- the words eat away at her heart even now.
If he was telling the truth, she probably wouldn't lift a finger to help her.
All she can do is hope Jean was lying.
“It’ll probably take a while to get the flower, though.”
“My wife’s condition may not be great, but she shouldn’t be in danger of death for a while. All I can ask is that you find it as quickly as you can manage.”
The time limit, in other words, is until his wife's death. With such a free time frame, it’ll leave more than just a bad taste in her mouth if she doesn’t make it in time. No matter what, Flum has to find the flower and get it to Reach in time.
“I have records on the chiaraly back at my mansion. Could you come by later to pick them up?”
Just as soon as they finish talking, they hear Sara’s voice drawing closer.
“Ed, Johnny, over here, su!”
She runs over to them with two knights in white armour in tow.
“Ohh, you got a bunch of them again, didn’t ya? It’ll be a pain to haul ‘em all back.”
“All that means is that she did an excellent job. Stop complaining let’s finish this already.”
“Yeah, yeah, why don’t you relax a little, Johnny? Thanks a ton, Sara!”
The more casual paladin, Ed, pets Sara’s head.
“I told you not to pet me, su!” she shouts, flailing about.
The three seem to be quite close friends.
After that, the paladins restrain the unconscious thugs with magic bands of light. They then hear Flum's and Reach's testimonies before hauling them off.
Flum herself is impressed at how quickly and professionally the two handle the situation --- though it probably only went so smoothly because they know Sara.
“See you later, su!”
Sara sees the two paladins off with an energetic wave. Having just ran to the Church and back her brow glistens with sweat, but her expression is still bright and cheerful. She’s still full of energy.
As soon as Ed and Johnny pass out of sight, Sara turns to Flum.
“I hope they’re good guys by the time they get out of jail, su.”
“I hope so, too...”
Not only would the West Quarter become a little safer, Dane’s influence would weaken, too.
“By the way, Reach-san, I’d like to ask you somethin’, su.”
“What is it?”
Reach replies casually.
Sara cocks her head to the side and peers up into his face as she asks.
“You're not worried about medicine or anythin’ like that, are you, su?”
Flum’s heart practically stops beating.
“...No. No, of course not.”
After a short pause, Reach replies with his merchant’s poker face. He was probably just as shaken by her question as Flum.
She can’t have been eavesdropping on them, so she must’ve gleaned that information from their expressions alone.
“Really, su? You reeeeeally aren’t, su?”
“Of course not. Why do you ask?”
“Someone I met a little while ago had a problem like that, but they wouldn’t tell me anythin’ at first ‘cause I’m a priestess, su. If you were lookin’ for somethin’ like that I would’ve offered to go get it for you, su.”
“Wait, even though you’re with the Church?”
Flum can’t keep her surprise out of her voice.
“That kinda stuff doesn’t matter, su. Maria-neesama taught me to help anyone in trouble no matter what, su!”
“Maria? You don’t mean...”
“Maria-neesama’s helpin’ the Hero right now, su! She was really nice to me when she was still at the Church, su!”
There’s no doubt now that she’s referring to the saint Maria Affenjenz. Sara’s eyes sparkle with admiration as she talks.
Flum can’t help but feel a bit of a difference between the Maria that Sara’s talking about and the Maria she was travelling with until a little while ago.
Maria was generally kind, true, but whenever they encountered any demons she'd start acting like a different person entirely. Not that, at Jean’s request she never once cast any healing magic on Flum. She certainly never gave the impression of being as open-hearted and kind as her sainthood would suggest.
Of course, I can’t say that for sure just because she didn’t treat me very well… I really was useless, after all.
“It’s just not right for the Church to say medicine’s bad, su! If it can cure sick people then there’s nothin’ wrong with using it, su! Ah… but don’t tell anyone I said that, su. I don’t wanna be punished again, su…”
Flum, Milkit, and Reach exchange glances. Reach’s expression in particular makes it seem as though he wants to trust her.
“I get that you probably don’t wanna tell me with all the Church has been doin’, but I really just wanna help, su. I even know where some old medicine books are in the Church so I don’t think I’d be useless, su…”
“Did you say inside the Church!?”
“There’s only a few, but I did see ‘em, su.”
Regardless of why they're there, those books may tell where Chiaraly grows. It’d mean taking a big risk, but there’s certainly a chance of it paying off.
Reach seems deep in thought.
“Reach-san, I think we can trust her.”
“Oh? What makes you so sure?”
“Her eyes are too pure to be a liar’s eyes. Trust me, I’ve met enough scum to be able to tell that much at least.”
Reach closes his eyes in thought and thinks hard for a moment before replying.
“...If you say so, Flum-san.”
Skepticism is a virtue for a merchant, but Reach knows full well when he should listen to his gut. This is one of those times.
“The truth is, Sara-san, I'm looking for a certain herb.”
“I thought so, su.”
Hearing Reach’s confession, Sara finally seems content.
“My wife has fallen terribly ill and the only thing that can cure her is medicine made from a chiaraly flower.”
“Chiaraly, su? I’ve never heard of it but I’m sure I can find somethin’ in those old books, su.”
“I honestly can’t thank you enough! I’ve already hired Flum-san, so if you don’t mind working with her I’ll gladly reward you as well.”
“I don’t need any reward, su. Helpin’ people is a priestess’ job, an’ I get plenty of allowance anyways, su.”
Sara’s pure desire to help is almost blinding.
I feel kinda bad for getting so excited about the reward now…
“No, I need to properly---”
“It’s really fine, su! Actually, if I do get paid they'll get angry at me again, su. I don’t like pain, su...”
Remembering some past punishment, Sara rubs her bottom with a dark expression. Reach can’t help but burst out laughing.
“I suppose it can’t be helped, then.”
As a merchant he of course wants to reward her for her work, but he’ll have to give up on that just this once.
The party of Flum, Sara, and Milkit follow Reach back to his house to receive his records on the Chiaraly.
At Reach’s mansion they retrieve the documents, then split up to search.
Sara heads back to the Church to look through the records left there.
Flum checks all the bookstores and libraries she can find, but of course she doesn’t find anything related to medicines. While she’s at it she also looks for her, but that search also comes up empty.
To be honest, she's disappointed she can’t find anything at all.
Two days after they split up to search, Sara visits Flum and Milkit’s inn. Sara hands Flum a notebook crammed with messy handwriting that gives the location of a small cave where Chiaraly blooms.
“It was a little tricky not gettin’ caught, but I don’t think they expect anythin’, su.”
Even though she’s a priestess she had to be careful --- there must be some reason for the notes surviving, a reason that the Church doesn’t want known. Flum feels bad for making Sara go so far as to put herself in danger.
According to the notebook, the cave is close to a town called Enchide.
“It really does look like it’s in the middle of nowhere, su. I’m not even sure they have an inn, so it’d be nice if we could find someone who knows the area, su.”
“Enchide… Where’ve I heard that name before…?”
“Master, isn’t that where the innkeeper Stude comes from?”
“Oh yeah, that’s right!”
“You mean that super cheery guy at the front desk, su?”
The three of them head down to the first floor where Stude is. They can’t just tell him they’re going to commit heresy, though, so Flum leaves the herb-gathering part out of her explanation.
As soon he hears they’re headed to Enchide, he stares at them in shock for a moment before bursting out laughing.
“Ya really gotta go out in the middle a’ nowhere, dontcha!? Gahaha, whatta coincidence! So whaddya need? A guide? An inn? Ah couldn’t ask fer more! Mah fam’s been runnin’ an inn there fer generations, an’ Ah was plannin’ on headin’ back ta see mah Ma soon anyhow!”
Even before they've properly asked he's eager to help --- he may be a little forceful but he’s a good guy.
After Flum explains what exactly they’ll need (with frequent, energetic interruptions from Stude) they plan to all head out together.
Having learned where the Chiaraly is and how to get there, Flum, Milkit, and Sara report to Reach at his mansion.
When they tell him the flower can be found nearby Enchide he starts crying yet again. It’s impressive he’s been able to work as a merchant for as long as he has, given how quick to tears he is. He generously offers to cover their transportation costs, and Flum gladly accepts.
“Now that everything’s squared away, I think that I’ll be fine with just Milkit and Stude.”
The trip is supposed to take three full days each way, and Sara's already done more than enough for them --- or so Flum tries to explain, but Sara adamantly refuses to listen.
“I’m goin' with you no matter what, su!”
They argue for quite some time before Milkit says that she doesn’t see any problem with it, at which point Flum finally cedes defeat and agrees to take Sara along.
The only problem left is how to explain Sara’s absence to the Church, but Sara herself shrugs it off.
“If I tell them it’s to help people in need there’s no problem, su. The other priestesses do it all the time, su.”
If she’s so confident, then it’s probably nothing to worry about... hopefully.
They plan to depart the next morning.
That night, Milkit lies wide awake in bed, too nervous to sleep with the first journey in her life in front of her. She stares up at the ceiling of their dark room.
“Are you asleep yet, Milkit?”
Flum’s voice comes from the other bed.
“No… I’m too nervous to.”
“Hehe. You too, huh?”
Flum has the exact same problem.
“In that case, how about we talk for a while?”
“That said, I don't really know what to talk about…”
No matter how hard she thinks, nothing comes to mind.
“Do you mind if I start, then?”
“Sure, go on ahead.”
Flum’s glad to see that Milkit is interested enough in something to take the initiative for once.
“Have you ever been on a journey before, Master?”
She doesn’t know that Flum traveled with the Hero for a time or anything about her being one of Origin’s chosen ones. As a slave, probably all she knows is that the Hero exists.
Flum isn’t exactly eager to talk about her time in the Hero’s Party, especially since it ended unpleasantly --- but this is the first time Milkit has actively tried to learn more about her. She wants to answer her feelings.
She can’t help feeling that she should tell Milkit everything sooner rather than later because it’ll be important to their relationship moving forward.
“Well, you might not believe me, but I traveled with the Hero for a little while.”
Flum can’t see Milkit’s eyes suddenly widen in shock. The truth really is too much for her to believe right off the bat.
“With the Hero, you say… Is that perhaps some sort of metaphor?”
“Nope. The one and only Hero of Salvation, just like you’re probably imagining. Have you heard of Cyrill-cha… Cyrill Sweechka?”
“Yes, I have.”
“I travelled with her, Eterna-san, Gadio-san, and all those other famous people for a few months.”
Milkit didn’t really have the chance to follow current events as a slave so all she really knows about them is their names. She turns her entire body so that she faces Flum’s bed.
“So… Doesn't that mean that you're one of Origin-sama’s Chosen, Master?”
“You’d never believe it looking at me now, but yeah.”
“You really are amazing, Master.”
She knew Flum wasn’t any ordinary person, but she never even imagined she was one of the Hero’s companions. Her gaze through her bandages is filled with newfound respect.
Flum bashfully laughs her compliment off.
“Maybe I was chosen, but it’s really not that amazing. It was because I was chosen that I was kicked out, sold into slavery, got this brand…”
She has no idea why she was forced to go through all that, to the point where she still holds a grudge against Origin.
“Ah, so that must be why…”
Milkit seems to come to a realization.
“What is it?”
“That must be why you seem so radiant even though you’re a slave like me, Master.”
When they first met in that cell, Flum clearly seemed different to her, totally unlike the other slaves.
“I noticed that you didn’t have the same air about you as the rest of us, but then it didn’t make sense to me that you were put into that cage. So you had just become a slave back then… I finally understand now.”
That also explains why she was able to adapt and think positively much sooner than a long-term slave like Milkit. Flum likely didn’t realize it herself, but it’s probably because the slave mindset hadn’t fully sunk in yet.
“I think you probably still have a home to return to, Master.”
“Hey, why’re you making it sound like you don’t have one?”
Milkit pouts a little.
“Because I don’t.”
“In that case, if I ever do find a home, it can be yours, too.”
“I can’t believe you’re still saying things like that, Master.”
There's a bit of happiness in her voice.
“You don’t want to live with me?”
“It’s because I want to that it’s a problem.”
“I can live with that, then.”
Flum laughs, and Milkit can’t stop herself from silently giggling to herself.
“I hope the trip goes well.”
“Yeah. As soon as we get back, let’s eat out somewhere nice.”
“Lunch today was very tasty. I’ve never had anything like it.”
“That wasn’t exactly a high-class restaurant or anything, but if you liked it that much, how about we go there again?”
“I’d like that a lot."
Milkit responds energetically.
Just by talking they’ve relieved a lot of their anxiety. All they can do is leave the rest to sleep. Milkit closes her eyes, ignoring the bad feeling in her gut.
“Good night, Master.”
They exchange those final two words and the room is filled with silence.
The night grows deeper.
The dawn of their journey draws ever closer...
1. ↑ Sara uses the first-person pronoun ‘ora’ in the original Japanese, a rough masculine pronoun that is the equivalent of ‘ore’ in some rural dialects.
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