The hand strikes six on my internal clock. Another hour passes as I silently read the tome in my hand. Nearby, Hachirou sits in a meditative state, equally as quiet. It has been quite some time since I was led to my quarters and reunited with my anxious companion. We’re currently residing in the “guest room” of the city garrison, which is fully furnished with a double bunker bed, magical torches in lieu of windows, and a reinforced steel door with a view port. They even had the “consideration” to post a Holy Knight outside the room. but in all seriousness, I can hardly tell the difference between this place and an isolation ward. The walls are magically enchanted, and I doubt they would let me out if I asked. Of course, with the ever-present risk of surveillance, Hachirou and I are fully clothed, and all my forbidden items are still hidden within my stomach.
With nothing better to do, I’m now using the opportunity to finally read Lili’s tome, skipping most of the basics to study advanced techniques. My eyes figuratively narrow on the subheading of the current page.
“… Your <Oxy Fireball> was a fine display of composite magic, and as such, I believe it’s only fair I demonstrate one of my own…”
Tascus’ words spring to mind followed by the chilling memory of his skill, <Cuspis Dei>. According to this book, composite magic is the combination of two or more spells, which is recognised by the World Stream and effectively packaged as one skill. It requires less concentration and can produce synergistic effects compared to simultaneous casting. The only drawback is that the power of the spell can only develop alongside its individual components rather than as its own item. It seems my <Oxy Fireball> is coincidently such a skill, although I explicitly created <Oxy Fuel> to be combined with other spells, which the book describes as auxiliary magic.
Come to think of it, isn’t <Equip Soul> a combination a <Soul Core> and <Ruler of One>? Will I be able to equip two souls if I upgrade my core? Is it possible to combine skills from other souls with my own? What can I create with my current repertoire?
The implications are varied and exciting, but sadly, it seems Lili’s book only offers a brief explanation, and judging by experience, it takes about as much time to develop as a new skill. It seems composite magic is an uncommon technique, and like all rare spells, it is closely guarded within each mageline.
Finishing the segment, I continue flicking through the book for other interesting topics. Although I find a few sections on rituals and chantless invocations, I end up turning the last page. With time to burn, I flip the book over and begin reading in earnest.
… No, that is a lie. With greater rank <Precise Memory> and <Create Status> acting like cliff notes, there is actually very little reason for me to reread this light tome. In truth, I’m trying to ignore that thing lingering in the corner of the room…
Damn it, what is going on? I handed over the core and I’m no longer cursed, and yet, I can still sense that indeterminate presence plaguing my mind. Actually, it has only gotten worse as I swear it is now a visually perceivable phantom, like a shadow cast on thin air. It vanishes whenever I focus my mind, but it always comes back.
Is it the ghost of the Undead Ravager or an avatar of the Dark God? Why am I being haunted?
Either I interacted with the core for too long, or…
“… the Prophecy speaks of a champion who will rise from His blessed and uplift our faith. His champion will be perfect in form, wise beyond measure and strong enough to vanquish all that defy His will…”
“… Because despite all your rage, all your efforts and all your disapproval… you’re living vindication of what it means to transcend your humanity…”
Wait. Could it be… the prophesised one is not Tascus… but me? Has everything in my new life really been preordained by some higher power?
… Ha. Haha…
LIKE HELL I’LL ACCEPT THAT!
“E-enbos, what is- Ugh!”
I disturbed Hachirou’s concentration. His spiritual energy is going out of control!
Leaping to his side, I place my hand on his back and pour my energy into his body, seizing control of his spiritual flow. After a few moments, I fix Hachirou’s circulation as he begins to take heavy breaths.
“Don’t gasp and control your breathing. In, then out… In, then out… Phew. Look, I’m really sorry for doing that. Punching a reinforced floor aside, I should have known better than to interrupt you.”
“I-it is not your fault, Enbos. It is because of my lack of ability that I lost control of such a simple exercise.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Hachirou. You only started training two days ago and yet you already have a small grasp of your own spiritual energy, even without a spiritual affinity. And don’t you start comparing yourself to your father or sister; they would be just as impressed.”
“I see. Thank you.”
“That being said, are you sure you want to keep training like this? You probably did nothing else after Maximillian’s men whisked you away from the cathedral.”
“I am content, Enbos. Although basic, I am inspired to know my efforts are already bearing fruit.”
He isn’t wrong. Although he may never learn to project and control spiritual energy outside his body, he can accelerate his internal circulation to invigorate himself by a small degree. It is a benefit of spirit art training that is only applicable to living beings, although it will wear him out faster since he can’t use <Life Tap>. One day, he may learn to redirect his spiritual energy or even channel his lifeforce into other objects, like his katana. But that is a long way off, which is why for now…
“Get some rest, Hachirou. You‘ve done enough for one day.”
“I-I am fine. I will be more careful from here on and I am not drowsy in the slightest.”
“I’m sure you aren’t, and if you wanted, you could practise the entire night away due to your state of energisation, but not even Chiyoko would do such a thing (I think). Knowing when to rest is just as important for getting stronger.”
“I will take your words to heart, but what of you?”
“Don’t worry about me. I can work for hours, if not days, on end.”
“While that is worrying in its own right, your recent outburst is not lost on me. Is something the matter, Enbos?”
“There’s- *Sigh*… I can’t be upfront given our current circumstances, but let’s just say the constant feeling of being watched is getting on my nerves,” I say as I glare at the invisible shade.
“I-I see. Do you believe the holy knights will hold us here for long?”
“Logically, we should only be kept for a few days. By then the cultists would have realised the artefact is no longer in our possession. However, I have a sneaking suspicion Maximillian will keep us until the Order of the New Dawn is wiped out. It seems pretty clear from this “room” that he intends to investigate us afterwards.”
“I suppose so. Especially after you tried to hide the artefact.”
“Yeah. I really owe Lili big for that.”
“For the sake of your research, were you truly willing to abandon our journey and study at the Novuseus House?”
“… I was. Although it was on the spur of the moment, I was prepared to go that far.”
“Besides, I wouldn’t lose much by quitting as an adventurer. The main reason I joined was to earn money, but I can always sell my magical wares as an “official mage”. Better yet, I won’t have to walk into another guild to hear the latest batch of rumours…”
“Please don’t say that. What of Sen, Minna, Norf and Lili? Are you not glad to have met them on this journey?”
“I am, Hachirou, and honestly, I wouldn’t mind working with them again. However, while it would be disappointing to suddenly part ways… I’d be content with knowing that they were safe. Wouldn’t you?”
“Enbos, if you had committed to your decision, I… I…”
“No, i-it’s nothing. What matters is that you did not. I’m relieved we’ll have the chance to see everybody again.”
“Or so you say, but Maximillian is keeping a tight watch nonetheless. We may not have the chance to catch up with them again.”
“Do not worry, Enbos. The opportunity will arise sooner than you think.”
“Hm? What do you-”
To my surprise, I hear the sound of the metal door being unlocked. Although the guard’s mana signature is still there, an unfamiliar presence is on the other side. The viewport slides open and I look back at an inquisitive pair of brown eyes. After a few moments later, the door opens to reveal a slender man with braided hair and a goatee, dressed in a dark-green cloak. I immediately raise my guard, but Hachirou pulls me back and shakes his head.
“So… who are you?”
“Wow man, you’re totally freakier than I heard. Feels like I’m breaking out the baddest man in this joint. Makes this entire jig totally roc.”
“Roc? Wait, did you just say you’re breaking me out?”
“That’s right, my jobber. Your fam asked me to spring you like a spriggan in a bottle, and get you… To… The PA~RTY!”
“Eh? Spriggan? Party? Just what are you going on about!?”
“Ah, I get it now. You and I are not on the same stream. Totally drake. But it’s cool, it’s cool. Not everybody is as n’lite as me.”
“No, seriously, just who on Garea are you, and if I’m understanding this right, did Sen ask you to do this?”
“Sure did. Folks call me the Singing Steel. I’m a man of words, a man of my word and a man of THE Word.”
For heaven’s sake, speak Arenish! Are you speaking a different dialect? It feels as if my comprehension is on the fritz here. Actually, can’t I just…
Name: Sig Run
There! Finally, something I can work with, although it isn’t much. As restrictive as our accommodation may be, it’s not like we’re on death row. I have no reason to follow, or even believe, some stranger who comes waltzing in-
“We can trust him, Enbos.”
“His name is Sig of the Singing Steel and he is a B-rank adventurer who recently arrived in Catorrem. He was at St Telis Cathedral when we teleported in, and after overhearing the commotion, he offered his services.”
“Wait a second, are you seriously suggesting we flee the Holy Knights?”
“N-no, you misunderstand. We’ll only be gone for a while, but Sen, Minna and Norf are waiting for us elsewhere.”
“Hmm, I’m starting to see where this is all going, but…”
“I get it. I get it, my man. You’re wondering why a believer like me would be game enough to go against the holy knights.”
Actually, I had no idea you were a follower of Eden at all. Wait, did you seriously think I understood that spill you called an introduction!?
“Look, I have serious respect for the priests and knights of my faith, but I make particular exception for these “knights” right here. You wouldn’t believe the mupped things they have done.”
Pointing his thumb to the side, I poke my head out the door to find our guard slumped in his chair, snoring quietly with an empty bottle by his feet.
“What did you do to him?”
“Slipped something extra in his brew. He’ll be out until the treants come stompin’. The rest of his buddies aren’t actually here. As for the city guards, most of them are busy. Primera Carro, you know, so it’s now or never. You in?”
Honestly, I still have my reservations about this eccentric guy, or any eccentric guy. Still, there must be some reason the others are willing to trust him, particularly Minna. Hachirou seems eager for me to go and I’m fairly certain this is the opportunity he was talking about.
“… Very well. Let’s see what Sen has been up to.”
Between long shadows under an amber sky, we follow the enigmatic Sig and easily make it out of the city garrison. I thought there would be more guards but it seems he wasn’t lying when he said the security was threadbare. There is also the noticeable lack of holy knights, but I guess they all busy guarding the Undead Ravager’s core at some secret location. Of course, less guards here mean more guards elsewhere. With our sheathed swords in at the ready, we continue to trail our funny-speaking guide through the empty alleyways. Every so often, between the grimy buildings and overhanging floors, I catch sight of the lights and excitement on the other side.
Despite the onset of dusk, the marketplace is abuzz with activity, spilling into the residential areas with light and cheer. There are more stalls and caravans than when I was last here, and thrice as many people as before to greet them. There are street performers around every corner, with signs saying “No Skills!” beside their rattling bowls. There are dozens of songs in the air, clashing with one another and yet all spreading the same festivity. There are snacks, trinkets and drinks galore, as penz flow freely from every parent’s hand. Hachirou’s pace slows to a crawl as he admires the view on the other side.
“By the spirits, I-I’ve never seen so many people. So many new smells, so many new sounds, all in one place…”
“Oh? Is this your first Primera Carro, lad? Enbos here seems pretty chillax about it, though.”
“It is the first for both of us. I’m just familiar with such events.”
“True, true. I’d imagine you’ve been to some roc’ing celebrations before, but around these parts, the Primera Carro is as big as it comes. It marks the first of six caravans to return from the Velvet Road and goes on for three days straight. You should totally check it out after this.”
“I’ve been keeping mum about it up to know, but where exactly are you taking us?”
“Ooh, keeping mum. Very creative. I’m guessing you derived that word from…”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard you, but we’re almost there anyway. See for yourself.”
Deciding to oblige his secrecy, I look around to find we are walking down an especially dark and decrepit alley. My <Spectral Sense> is on full coverage as I warily pass every corner. Finally, I spy the venerable establishment at the end of the street, with words “Gryphon Tail Inn” painted on this dangling sign. As we edge closer, I sense Sen, Minna, Norf and Lili waiting inside… along with thirty other life-signs on the ground floor.
Something is wrong. I thought they had brought me here for a get together, but there are far too many people lying in wait. While that would otherwise be normal for an inn of this size, I’m alarmed by the fact that they’re all standing in an arc around the entrance.
Is this a hostage situation? Damn it, we have to-
“Come on Enbos, let us enter.”
“Wait, Hachirou! It’s a-”
I immediately reach for my sword, but in an instant, Sig stops the hilt before I can draw it in full. I quickly follow with a grab… only to stop mid-motion upon hearing the boisterous applause. To my embarrassment, I turn to find I’m being welcomed by everybody in the room.
“Wait, could it be-”
“What are you waiting, man? Take the stage!”
Without missing a beat, Sig naturally grabs wrist and drags me inside, completely hiding the fact I was about to draw my sword. Hachirou also pushes from behind as I shamble towards my beaming companions. Although I am masked, Sen seems delighted with my reaction.
“By the spirits, you really did manage to bring Enbos without revealing a thing. We were getting worried he wouldn’t even come.”
“I told you I was a man of my word, miss.”
“T-this is… Did you five- no, six, arrange all this?”
“Indeed, we did,” answers Sen. “Granted, we had a bit of trouble finding an available inn given what’s going on outside, so I hope you don’t mind going out of the way to get here. No offence to the innkeeper, of course.”
“No, no, I didn’t mind at all. It’s just, I didn’t think you would go all out and prepare a venue. A quick meeting would have been enough for me.”
“Are you kidding me, Enbos? You survived against that blasted hierarch and walked out of an interrogation with that two-faced inquisitor. It would be downright criminal if we didn’t throw a party.”
“I suppose. And all these guests?”
“I’m sure you recognise many of them, but they’re all people that you’ve helped, people that you’ve saved. They came to express their heartfelt gratitude,” says Lili.
“Indeed, and no, we didn’t pay them in booze,” follows Minna. “When they caught wind of what we were planning, they all answered our call. It appears you’re more popular than you think.”
As I look around, I choke on my words upon spying a certain person in the crowd: the traveller from the bandit attack who held his dying father. To my left, the adventurers who survived Tiel Plains. To my right, refugees from Kasseus Village. I take a step back, but Hachirou is there, bracing my back.
“H-how… Why are… But I… I…”
“Unbelievable. What cultists, monsters and killer trees could not do; gratitude makes Enbos the Black falter.”
“Go easy on him, Minna. While I doubt Enbos will just bolt off, he may end up slipping away before he gets to hear the tribute.”
“Eh? Oh, that’s right. You haven’t been an adventurer for long so you might not know, but this is no ordinary celebration. Granted, it’s nothing formal or extravagant, but it’s not something any old adventurer gets to experience, even the highest ranked ones.”
“It is as Sen said. Rather than the guild or the king, we only do this for those who have earned the respect of their peers, which is quite an achievement considering you managed to impress a bunch of gloryseekers,” adds Minna.
“True. Still, seeing that you don’t know only makes this better. I won’t spoil the surprise, but for now, will you do the honours, Enbos?”
Right on cue, Norf steps forth with a mug of brew and pushes it into my hands. Looking around, everybody is holding a cup with expectant eyes. Who am I to deny them?
“Everybody… Bottoms up!”
“… Eh???” (Everybody)
“Oh, for crying out- *Ahem* Cheers!”
Raising my cup to the air, everybody else follows suit and proceed to drain their serve. The floor soon becomes a busy place filled with refills and chatter. Of course, being the guest of honour, I end up being surrounded by a thankful crowd. My spine stiffens as the traveller from that rainy night steps forth to greet me.
“Master mage- no, Enbos the Black. It is a blessing to see you again.”
“S-same here. It is good to see you are all doing well. I’m surprised Sen managed to track you down.”
“We prologed our stay for the Primera Carro, but even if we had heard from a whisper on the wind, we would have turned around to attend. Since the night that you saved us, we never had the chance to learn your name, nor repay you for all you’ve done. It is thanks to you that we still live… and my father was able to find peace in his final moments. Thank you, Enbos. We owe you a debt we can never repay.”
“We too. When those cultists took hold of our village, every moment was a living nightmare. Every day we wished someone could break the cycle of despair, but time and again, we watched adventurer after adventurer fall into their snare… until you.”
“How true, and when we finally escaped that hellhole, we almost walked right into another. You warned us and yet we didn’t listen. Honestly, I wouldn’t have resented you if had left us to die. But you didn’t, and I don’t know what else to say but: thank you. Thank you for saving our ungrateful hides.”
“By the spirits, you did all that? I only came to thank you for teaching Dion the “Destroyed” a lesson. Thanks to you, the jerk Dion now thinks twice about picking on any newcomer, but now I wish I had brought more friends as well…”
As the adoration and heartfelt praises continue, I find myself taken aback by their complete lack of apprehension. Even the adventurers who once ran away from me are now looking now at me with warm eyes. It’s almost galling if you recall their previous desperation, but the adventurers before me are truly remorseful and are willing to see past my rampage. On the other hand, I…
“Please excuse me. I need to sit down for a bit.”
Slipping away from everybody else, I take a seat by the wall to clear my head. While I have been swarmed by a thankful crowd (kobolds) before, it is my first as “Enbos the Black”. I’m tempted to step outside for some provacy, but upon remembering Minna’s teasing and Sen’s unintentional jab, I cross my arms and lean back to watch the chaotic scene untold.
Hachirou is emptying pint after pint while Minna is urging him to stop, much to the crowd’s entertainment. Elsewhere, I spy another bunch centred around Lili as several men try to make a move… or not. Actually, they seem to be getting on their knees to pray, which might be even more embarrassing. Meanwhile, I spot Sig chatting enthusiastically with two people who are wearing dumbfounded expressions. As for Norf-
Hm? What’s he doing on that small stage with a bunch of other adventurers? He seems to be passing a stack of notes to the waitress, who is then-
“Are you going to finish that?”
“Huh?” I blurt out as I’m blindsided by Sen.
“Your drink. It’s not like I haven’t seen you take a swig before.”
“Sadly Sen, I don’t think I can take a sip with my current mask.”
“Ah, I guess so. Without your deer mask, you really can’t reach underneath to sip. A real shame given that Sig picked out a pretty nice place.”
“About that Sen, do you know Sig personally? From what I hear, he readily offered to help for free, and you all agreed.”
As I say this, I watch him out of the corner of my eye socket. Despite it being impossible to know the angle of gaze, he returns a silent toast. Sen reciprocates the gesture and turns back to me while giving a dismissive shake of his head.
(I know what you’re getting at, but Sig is a well-renown adventurer around these parts. An upstanding guy who is also known as Sig the Singing Steel, or more widely as Sig the Senseless.)
(Oof, although I can definitely see why…)
(There’s a bit more to it than that, actually. Rumours say he once presented the Church an “updated” version of their holy scriptures. It, erm, didn’t go over well. As atonement, he had to write ten copies of the original texts, word for word.)
(Indeed. As for why he’s in Catorrem, he claims to have arrived yesterday afternoon for the Primera Carro. Minna secretly checked for his name in the inn’s register but there was nothing out of place.) “But let’s forget about that. How are you faring, Enbos?”
“Much better now, thanks to all of you. I was in a pretty foul mood after Maximillian’s questioning, and my problems keep on increasing,” I say as a survey the crowd for a certain presence. “I really needed a break after everything that has happened. Thank you, Sen.”
“Just what I wanted hear… So?”
“How are you really feeling, Enbos?”
“… I don’t know. I feel… lost. Light-headed. Exposed. I know I should be happy, and I want to be too, but honestly… I’m having a hard time taking it all in.”
“I had a feeling that was case. I remember how you reacted back at Kasseus Village, but I hope you realise this is different. We’re not celebrating just because you did something incredible: we’re celebrating because you are incredible.”
“I’m far from being a saint, Sen.”
“No one’s asking for one either,” he says before taking another sip, his marred hand plain for all to see. “It’s both admirable and troubling that you think risking your life for someone else is entirely normal. Although I always say that adventurers should fight for what’s right, I admit it’s never so simple. Even for a hot-headed guy like me, it’s “normal” to think about yourself first, and yet time and again, I’ve seen you do the most outrageous things without a second thought.”
“Oh, that’s just what it looks like on the surface. Believe me when I say I have as much to live for as anybody else.”
“I’m not trying to say you’re suicidal or anything. The real problem I reckon is that because you’re convinced your “normal” is nothing special, you seem to think you’re one step away from becoming a deranged killer. Sure, you can be downright terrifying, but frankly I find the idea ridiculous. Even if you suddenly became half the man you are now, I would still think you as a good guy, and a good friend.”
“*Sigh* Of course, I’m well aware how stubborn you are. I’d have to write a whole list about why you’re wrong to convince you… and as a matter of fact, we have.”
“Norf, are you guys ready!?”
As our big guy nods from the stage, I notice the qualute (ukulele) in his hands. The others on stage are also holding instruments, and looking around, I realise everybody is facing me whilst holding a small note. Before I can register what is going on, Norf plucks the first string… and everybody begins to sing.
“With a sword at my hip, and a map in my hand,
I wander town to town across this sprawling land.
Step by step, I shall head towards a bold future,
And leave a hundred tales of my grand adventure.
A tale of close battles, and great discovery,
A tale of sore stumbles, and long recovery.
While it’s fun to wander to each of the world’s ends,
I look around and smile at my band of close friends.
Thick and thin, let’s enjoy every step of the way,
And liven every night like our very last day.”
Ah, I see. It’s that song Sen and Minna were singing back in Kasseus Village. I’m guessing it’s sung to commemorate an adventurer in life or after death. But if it’s a well-known song, why would they bother handing out those leaflets to-
“Now let us toast to all who wander this vast land,
And scrape a small living by offering a hand.
Just like Enbos the Black on his grand adventure,
Leaving a hundred tales to inspire our future.”
“An antler adorned mage with a face of fired clay,
Who will save you from thieves without asking for pay.
A man who instils fear with but a single stare,
Then earns respect doing what others never dare.
His temper is legend; I truly pity thee
Who earns his just fury towards cruel villainy.
Now let me tell of Kasseus: evil once crept,
Adventurers were felled, and the innocent wept.
Then along came Enbos, whom they could not ensnare,
And with his apprentice, they ended the nightmare.
But evil did not rest for the stalwart guardian.
They lured hapless victims to their strongest champion.
The earth split, the sky roared, and Enbos stood alone.
But in the end, he held! Holy knights were made known.
Indeed, his black cloak belies a heart of pure gold.
A tale of bravery worth every second told.
With a sword at my hip, and my close, merry band,
We wander town to town across this sprawling land.
Step by step, I shall head towards my own future,
And share a thousand tales of epic adventure.
So let’s dream of glory, and great discovery,
Then wince at tales of loss, and long recovery.
Sadly, every journey always comes to an end,
Though our tales will live on, retold from friend to friend.
Thick and thin, let’s enjoy every step of the way,
And maybe my own story will be shared some day.”
With the final strum of the qualute, the room erupts into resounding applause. Dumbstruck, I sit quietly like a petrified frog. A sudden announcement flashes before my eyes:
<You have been bestowed the title of Renowned Adventurer (Catorrem)!>
“So, Enbos, what do you think?”
“W-what do I think? Impressed? Sure. Flattered? Guess so. Embarrassed…? H-hold on, Sen. C-could it be that this song…”
“… Will be spread from town to town by everybody in this room. The last one I attended had his sung for months. He went from being an unknown to the legendary “Greenhorn Grower”.”
“Of course, we already know you have a shoddy reputation and that you’re fine with it, but all of us agree that you deserve better,” says Minna.
“This is how we see you, Enbos. This is how everyone should see you. Not some sinister vagabond or secretive hero, but an outstanding adventurer who hangs out with the rest of us. Here, Enbos. We prepared this for you.”
Sen reaches over and hands me two pieces of folded paper. Looking around, everyone is watching intently as I receive the mysterious sheets.
I see, this must be my gift. I had worried they would go overboard and buy something ridiculous. Instead, it seems they given me…
“THE GODDAMNED BILL!?”
The entire room breaks into hearty laughter as I jump out of my seat in shock. Is this some kind of prank? No, Sen seems intent on stuffing them back into my hand with a snicker.
“Read them again, Enbos.”
“O-oh, they’re receipts. Let’s see now: one order for a custom-made breastplate, and… Ah.”
“And one order for repairs to a ceramic mask. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a bit for the craftsman to finish. As for the breastplate, we’re going to need your measurements before the blacksmith can start. It was Lili’s idea, you know. We had trouble deciding but she said you needed it after getting whacked around by Tascus.”
I see, she was thinking about my misshaped ribcage. Indeed, with a breastplate I’ll be able to disguise the deformity and protect my scarred bones. Still, breastplates aren’t cheap, even if everybody in the room chipped in a dozen penz. Moreover…
“You really spent too much. The repairs to my mask cost almost as much as a new piece of armour.”
“Well, to get it fixed fast and fixed properly, we had to commission an expert geomancer. While I admit the price was steeper than we thought, there’s no helping it. That mask is as much a part of you as your black cloak and fearless nature. In a few days, it will be as good as new.”
“No, Sen. It will be better… Thank you, everyone.”
Although I wasn’t trying to sound emotional, it seems everybody has acknowledged my sincere words. Honestly, I still feel conflicted about receiving such lavish praise after succumbing to my impulses time and again… but I’m starting to see what “Enbos the Black” could be at his very best.
As the waitresses deliver another round of drinks, the crowd’s collective attention breaks and becomes a rowdy mass once again. I carefully fold the two receipts and put them in my pocket, but as I look up, I find Norf walking towards me.
“Did you write the song, Norf?”
“I see. Everybody chipped in. Still, you did an amazing job for a day’s work and your performance was top-notch.”
“Hm, I’d be lying if I said I’m not mortified by the idea of hearing that song in every inn for the entire summer. It might even reach the Lysium Theocracy. Still, more than anything else… I feel incredibly blessed. No less than Sen, Minna or Lili, you’ve changed my life as an adventurer forever. Thank you.”
Again, he doesn’t say a thing, offering only a faint smile, and yet I feel I can understand him perfectly. Is this the bro-lepathy that Sen sometimes shows? No, it’s because we are similar in more ways than one. He understands my deep-seated insecurity, and I his… and yet I’ve offered nothing but hollow advice. I wish I could do something to-
Hearing that sharp sound, I turn to find the adventurers are holding a talent show, with someone playing a qualute with his toes. An idea comes to mind, and after a few performances, I make up my mind.
“Well Norf, time to put my money where my mouth is…”
Hmmm, how am I going to do this? The voice needs to sound like a proper falsetto, but not so much that it’s unrecognisable. Something within the realm of his possibility. There’s also the matter of the song. Eh, guess I’ll wing the translation and replace “baby” with “lady”. Now then, things are about to get Smokey…
“Look, Enbos is stepping up!”
“Oh, this should be good.”
“Hm, I hope he’s not like every other mage who flexes their magic like we’re supposed to be impressed.”
“Come on Enbos, show us what you’ve got!”
“… Well, I definitely didn’t expect that.”
“His voice was so dreamy, although his lyrics were a bit choppy. I can’t believe he could sing like an angel…”
“There’s no way that’s his real voice. It’s too different from how he normally talks. Still, it didn’t sound unnatural and he had all the women swooning long before the end.”
“Yeah. I mean, did you see how the waitresses reacted? If anybody could learn to sing like that normally, the nobles would be lining their pockets.”
“True. Too bad you sound like gargling rocks.”
Listening to the positive reception, I watch the laughing party walk down the street as the celebrations come to an end. While some are still at the inn, the rest have left to enjoy the remainder of the Primera Carro. As for me, I’m standing outside the entrance, waiting for the usual suspects to appear. Sure enough, Sen, Minna, Norf and Hachirou stand before me and I immediately notice Norf’s blurry eyes.
“I know you’re tired of hearing this, but you keep on giving reason to say it: thank you, Enbos. you really do have a heart of gold,” speaks Sen on Norf’s behalf.
“Just don’t throw another party. I promised to give Norf a new voice, and so I have. The opportunity was simply too good to pass.”
“Or so you say, but I seem to remember you having trouble looking everybody in the face only moments ago, and yet you got on stage to sing that awkward love song. Was it originally in another tongue?”
“P-please Minna, could you not rub salt into my wounds?”
“I’m not, Enbos. That was the noblest thing you’ve ever done. Far more than all the times you’ve ever swung your sword.”
“That’s the kind of person he is, Minna: he acts when it matters most,” says Hachirou. “I’m glad everybody will come to know his true self.”
“Yeah. I look forward to it too,” I say as I turn to Norf and offer a small nod. Out of the corner of my eye, I spy Sig walking out the inn while clapping his hands.
“Divine, man. Absolutely divine. I feel n’lite after hearing that roc’ing jig.”
“Thank you, Sig. Tonight couldn’t have happened without you.”
“Don’t sweat it, my jobber.”
“So, do you reckon it’s time for us to return?”
“Wait, you’re planning to go already, Enbos?” says Sen.
“We have to. If Maximillian catches wind of our absence, I’d be in for another one of his questionings.”
“I suppose. Even Lili left early to avoid suspicion.”
“Nonetheless, are you sure about this, Enbos? From what Lili has told me, Maximillian is convinced you are a felon. There is every chance this could be the last that we hear of you.”
“I’m well aware Minna, but if Hachirou and I run away now, it will only make the misunderstanding worse. Besides, even if we miraculously escape, it will only spell more trouble for all of you.”
“Heh, really, we should have added another stanza.”
“This isn’t farewell, I swear it. Shall we get going then, Sig?”
“Nah, no need to rush, you two. I did say your nanny will be out until first light. Somebody might notice, but with the lack of guards, I reckon you can check out the festival as we go.”
So we’re still allowed to swim around a bit. Nevertheless, it’s best that we head back before…
“… On second thought Sig, would you guys mind taking Hachirou around the Primera Carro?”
“You wanted to take a closer look, right? If you buy a different mask from the stalls, I’m pretty sure the patrols won’t recognise you.”
“I-I suppose, but what of you?”
“I’ll stick around to have dinner. I haven’t eaten a thing all day, and with our guard out cold, I doubt I’ll get room service.”
“Sure, we’ll take Hachirou with us,” responds Minna, ever quick on the uptake. “Check out the festival yourself once you’re finished, okay?”
“I will. Let’s meet up in the alley outside the garrison at midnight.”
“I-I understand. I will see you later, Master Enbos.”
“Yeah. Don’t any of you dare buy me a souvenir.”
I pass Hachirou his share of our funds and see the group off with a wave. Once they are out of sight, I make my way to the corner of an alley where a woman is sitting slouched over. Well, she’s clearly faking it, but to everybody else, she must look like an actual drunk.
“Well? Didn’t you leave early so the holy knights wouldn’t get suspicious?”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry. I bewitched the guard so that he’ll be watching over the wrong room.”
“Heh, you know Lili, your magic can be pretty terrifying depending on how you use it. Anyway, what do you want to talk about?”
“Oh, it’s nothing much, Enbos: would you like to walk around the Primera Carro with me?”