Coralde and Roa punctually arrived at the guild at the appointed time. The group of adventurers they planned to meet had already arrived and were waiting in the guest meeting room.
The party of adventurers was composed of four members, all of them quite tanned. Their clothing also exposed their skin, something rare in this country.
There were four men and one woman in the party, but while they weren’t wearing any armor -as there was only an introduction meeting planned for that day- the woman carried a sword, while one of the men was wearing attire that clearly suggested that he was a magic user.
In this world, it was usually said that women were more suited to using magic: the vast majority of magic users were indeed female. Sword users, on the other hand, were mostly men, because of their superior strength.
Roa was used to such a distinction, so that reversal of genders was enough to make me feel something was strange.
“Thank you for having us, sir Coralde.”
The large man who stood out the most in the group spoke first. He was probably the leader.
“My, so it was you all from “Nostalgia” who accepted my request. I’m very glad. Everything will go well if it’s them, Roa. I thank you all for accepting this task.”
Coralde and the party apparently already knew each other: as soon as he saw them, his expression turned to a satisfied smile.
Roa bowed to them one moment later than Coralde, but his expression was stiff. He looked slightly away from the adventurers, an ambiguous expression on his face. He still couldn’t fully accept that he would be escorted in such a mission, afraid that the adventurers would call him useless or worthless.
After sitting down, invited by the receptionist Viviana, who had accompanied them to the meeting room, Roa finally gathered the courage to look at the adventurers.
….wait…where I have seen them before…?
Roa then thought that as they were seasoned adventurers who often frequented the guild, it would be weird if he had never seen them before, so he stopped jogging his memories.
“Let us start the meeting, then. I am the mediator, Viviana.”
Viviana nodded slightly.
“The present request is for an escort mission, so the adventurers’ party and the requesting party will discuss and decide if they really want to form a contract. There are no problems if you decide to withdraw at this point, but after the contract has been formed, if a party decides to cancel it there will be a sum to pay for breach of contract. Please remember it.”
Viviana briefly explained the contents of the escort mission, in a completely expected manner, except her final words.
“Lastly, I would like to make a request on behalf of the adventurers’ guild: could I ask you to head to Aldon forest for this gathering mission?”
“My, and why would that be?”
Coralde inquired about the reason behind the sudden specification of a location. He seemed mildly amused, but Viviana was completely expressionless.
“I understand your doubts. As you may know, sir Coralde, Nostalgia is an A-rank party, but they have arrived in this country only recently. They are still not used to the forests around this town, so we cannot guarantee your safety in a highly dangerous forest.”
Roa looked again at Nostalgia’s members. Their dark skin and clothing, the strange feeling he had, were all explained if they were foreigners.
“However, among the adventurers registered with your guild, there is no one that fits the conditions given better than them. Thus we are forced to specify a forest with a suitable level of risk, in order to guarantee the safety of the escorted party.”
Viviana spoke firmly, without changing her expression even a little, but all she said was a series of excuses in order to carry out the order she received from the guildmaster.
“My my, I see, “if that’s the case” I have no objections. Roa, Nostalgia members, what do you think?”
“No problem for us.”
“…me too, the Aldon forest is rich in flora and the magic beasts are not too dangerous, so it’s okay.”
“I thank you for your understanding. In exchange for accepting our conditions, I would like to offer you a carr-”
“That won’t be needed.”
Coralde spoke up from the side as if to snatch away Viviana’s words.
Viviana looked at Coralde, a displeased expression flashing on her face for an instant, but the man simply smiled, looking amused.
“…I would like to offer you a carriage at no charge, is what I wanted to say…?”
“And I said that will not be needed. Our company will supply both carriage and coachman. Do not worry, our coachmen are quite skilled too.”
After taking the adventurers to their destination, coachmen would usually camp in a relatively safe location nearby and wait for their return. Since it was impossible to find means of transport to return, having them wait was the only solution. Horse carriages never passed through areas where magic beasts could appear. Adventurers also needed to transport the magic beasts they exterminated at times.
Even parties equipped with magic bags often had to carry back materials exceeding their bags’ capacity. The magic beast materials they could carry with them directly affected their profits as well.
It was enough to bring back certain parts as proof of extermination, but very often the materials paid more than the reward for exterminating magic beasts.
Because of this, unless the adventurer in question was in a financial pinch, hiring carriages and coachmen was very common.
Coachmen would wait in relatively safe areas, but they were still close to dangerous regions, so a coachman was also required to be able to defend themselves in case of emergency. Average coachmen did not have much fighting ability, so the guild hired retired adventurers for such occasions.
Since the coachmen were either veterans or people they would have to work with one day, most adventurers hired carriages and coachmen from the guild, unless the requesting party specified otherwise.
“As you surely know, our company’s coachmen are quite strong. Some despise them as “Cowards who sold their pride as adventurers”, but they are much stronger than your average adventurer.”
Coralde, still grinning, studied Viviana’s expression, but her business smile did not waver.
“They’re quite sharp too, so they would notice right away if anything fishy happens. If this didn’t conflict with the guild’s “interests”…oh, pardon me, the guild’s security regulations, I would have them escort Roa on this gathering expedition from the start, honestly.”
The “security regulations” mentioned by Coralde were the restricted entry to forests inhabited by magic beasts. For security reasons, only adventurers and those escorted by them were allowed to enter. In such forests there were not only magic beasts, but many precious materials as well. Coralde hinted at the fact that monopolizing them was in the guild’s best “interests”.
“Thank you for your mediation. Could you leave us alone now? The requesting party and adventurers’ party always had some time to discuss in private, if I recall. If there is anything else you “want to know” or wish to stay here till the end, it’s a different matter, but that is not the case, is it? When we are finished we will sign the contract, so we will contact you again.”
“…yes sir. Excuse…me.”
Coralde, always smiling, watched Viviana leave the room, with a hint of frustration tarnishing her business smile. Roa and the adventurers, unable to grasp the situation, simply watched, dumbfounded.
“Looks like there’s someone engaging in petty mischief around us.”
Coralde smiled at Roa and the others. He had probably noticed that something was afoot.
“Well, I do not think they will harm us directly. This town’s guild does not have anyone skilled enough to track a carriage or spy on others in a magic beast forest. Spying on people in town is the most they can do.”
Roa had not the slightest idea why anyone would spy on them: he understood, however, that if he left things to Coralde everything should go smoothly.
“Then, let us begin.”
Coralde’s voice was bright and chipper, as if nothing had happened.
Roa and “Nostalgia’s” adventurers sat more properly in their seats.
“Okay then, sir Coralde knows us already, but I suppose we should introduce ourselves to sir Roa?”
“Please!! There is no need for formality!! My name is Roa!! I will be in your care!!”
Startled by being addressed as “sir” by A-rank adventurers, Roa ended up shrieking.
He was used to Coralde addressing him politely, as the merchant had expressed the wish to, but being addressed with a title by others was different. He was addressed in a similar manner in Coralde’s company too, but it made him feel itchy every time.
One of the adventurers then whispered “I guess he really forgot…” to themselves, but Roa was too tense to notice.
“We will call you like that, then. I am Dietrich, Nostalgia’s leader. I’m a swordsman and frontline fighter.”
The large man was surprisingly not intimidating: he emanated a sort of kindness even.
“This is our shield—in this country you call them tanks, we use the word shield—anyway, our shield, Cornelia. She’s a woman, but she can also use magic, so she’s smarter than an average man.”
Roa was surprised that the short woman was introduced as a tank: she looked just like a normal person.
“The mage-looking guy there is, obviously a magic user, Bernhart. The other flashy looking guy is Kristoff. He’s our scout and a swordsman too.”
The mage-looking robed man and the easygoing-looking man lowered their heads.
“We four form the adventurer party “Nostalgia”. You might feel uneasy after hearing that we came from another country, but we’ll definitely carry out our mission, so just leave it to us. At your service!.”
The leader then bowed deeply before Roa, much to his surprise.
In this country, many adventurers acted haughty and boastful even towards the parties they would escort, but even if they didn’t, they would never lower their heads to the requesting party. Most of them wouldn’t even introduce themselves, having the guild’s mediator do it in their stead.
Few adventurers even considered an escort mission as “protecting someone to receive a reward”, viewing it instead as “being forced to act as guards since we’re getting paid”.
For them, an adventurer’s true task was to slay magic beasts, so escort and gathering missions were just side jobs to do when there was nothing else available.
Disliking such an attitude, merchants with high profits preferred not to hire adventurers and hired their own escorts. Particular missions such as this one, which involves entering a magic beast forest, were the exception.
Because of this, only merchants with poor profits hired adventurers as escort, which further aggravated the adventurers’ prejudices.
“Thank you all, for accepting.”
“Thank you very much!!”
Roa imitated Coralde and bowed his head too.
“They’re quite different from the adventurers you’re used to, aren’t they Roa?”
“Yes! They are all so polite.”
Roa had a good impression of the party, which made him completely forget his uneasy feelings.
“I’m glad to hear you say that. Well, most adventurers here are, so to say, kind of particular…we only seem polite in comparison. Back in our homeland, they always told me to fix the way I talk.”
“Our leader is pretty shy with strangers. And since sir Coralde is here too, he’s being all formal too. Once he gets used to you his tone will relax and you’ll find out he’s just a big dumb adult, so you might be disappointed.”
“You…! Don’t say things like that when you try to gain people’s trust!!”
Heckled by the party’s shield, Cornelia, the leader Dietrich grabbed her head and held it down, but his expression showed no anger, just a wry smile.
“I’m sorry, we’re always like this.”
With his other hand, Dietrich scratched his head, embarrassed.
“Don’t worry, I’m glad to see that you did not change at all. I was actually planning to request your party specifically in case they didn’t find anyone to accept our request. It would cause rumors, however, if I asked for you, since you came from another country and your position is peculiar, so I kept it as a last resort. I’m really glad you accepted before I had to do it.”
“No, sir Coralde, you did not have to go out of your way for people like us. We’re just expendables for this guild anyway. If we ever feel uncomfortable we can just go back home, so please use us as you see fit.”
“We’ve just come over here to see how the continent’s magic beasts were. We have our own reasons to have accepted this request, so it feels weird to be thanked…”
“Your own reasons?”
Coralde probably understood what Dietrich meant to say, so he looked at Roa, then back at Dietrich again.
Dietrich nodded deeply.
“Yes, we were interested in sir Roa…I mean Roa. If we were together for a few days, we might understand why sir Coralde is interested in you, or so I thought.”
“Don’t you spoil anything now, sir Coralde. We’re very much looking forward to what interesting things he has in store for us. We want to experience them ourselves and be surprised. We were surprised enough that you personally came to the guild with him…but if you’re so invested, then he must have all sorts of things up his sleeve, right?”
“Not at all!! I’m not such a special person in any way. I was just lucky enough to be picked up sir Coralde after my former party kicked me out…”
For Roa their expectations were simply excessive: he felt like he was being set up for something impossible. He hurriedly denied and looked down sadly.
Dietrich looked at Roa deny his words and putting himself down, then crossed his arms. When he was about to speak, he noticed that Coralde was looking at him. Coralde, looking at him in the eyes, lightly shook his head. It was apparently enough for them to understand each other, as they both smiled.
“In order for you to know more about us, I’d like to talk about our homeland. Is that okay with you?”
Roa was surprised by the sudden change in topic.
He would understand if they wanted to tell him about their abilities or battle prowess, but no adventurer would go out of their way to talk about their homeland: it would take too much time to talk about something like that.
Even if they did talk about it, it would only be to kill time during the escort mission.
“Our homeland, the Kingdom of Nereus, is located near the sea, you see. They call it “Marine Kingdom” or “Pirate Kingdom”, and it’s composed mostly of islands and archipelagos. The royal palace is also located on an island.”
Hearing about their homeland, Roa understood why Nostalgia’s members were so tan.
“Even before the kingdom was established, we thrived thanks to the sea and trade via sea routes, but there was one thing we missed. Can you guess what?”
Roa couldn’t find an answer to the question.
Roa had heard of the kingdom of Nereus, but it was too far to know any more details about it.
“That one thing is people.”
Dietrich continued, without waiting for Roa to answer.
“Since our country is for the most part water, the population has always been scarce, but thanks to the sea we have plenty of resources and trading has always been strong, so there is a lot of work available. We have always welcomed immigrants too, of course, but even so, there are still too few people. Then our king, in order to help the limited citizens to work in the most effective manner possible, built schools. Schools for children.”
Roa knew about schools too of course. He only saw them as places where the children of nobles and some rich people went to though: lower-class citizens like him had nothing to do with schools. He saw them as places where one prepared to enter society or learned specialized skills.
Nobles and rich people would hire private teachers, but lower-class citizens learned to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic from their parents.
Some unusual churches and orphanages gave lessons too, but few families sent their children there. To work normally, the teachings at home were more than enough.
At home, only the most basic knowledge could be acquired, though: one’s vocabulary would be quite limited. Because of this, the country’s literacy rate was not very high, and very few lower-class citizens could read books as smoothly as Roa did.
“Yes, schools. Not only for nobles, but schools to learn about basic reading, writing, math, and basic knowledge for many professions.”
Dietrich talked while looking straight at Roa. His gaze was strong, but Roa found it kind rather than intimidating.
“All citizens have to frequent a school after they turn 8 years old. Then for four years, they learn the basic skills for a job. After that, they become novices of the job best suited to them.”
“Isn’t that a waste, though?”
Roa commented spontaneously after hearing that children would learn basic skills of many jobs.
In this country, it was thought that focusing on one set of skills from an early age was key to mastering it. Children would help around the house until 10, then start learning to inherit their family’s business or become someone’s disciple to learn another craft.
In an adventurer’s case, for example, they would become an all-rounder at age 10, join a party, and accumulate knowledge about adventuring while doing various chores; they would then become the disciple of a party member and start training for a specialized job.
“It might seem like a waste, but it actually isn’t. Even a musclehead like me can read books and knows enough math to assist a merchant’s work. While I might lose to a fisherman by trade, I know a fair bit about fish too. I also know enough about foreign countries to be able to dabble in trading. I can also do carpenter work, as long as it’s simple. I can use basic magic and, of course, the sword too. Because I’ve been taught a lot until I turned 12. Even at my age, I can be of immediate help in any job.”
Dietrich listed his various competences, but he wasn’t just boasting. In Nostalgia’s homeland, this was apparently the norm.
“The only exception is the church, I guess? That doesn’t depend on any country’s policies after all. Of course, everyone has things they’re good or bad at, so even if I know about them there are things I just can’t do…like cooking for example. You might think that we learn so many things for nothing, but this is surprisingly the opposite…it’s a rather effective method.”
Until now, Roa had been often made fun of for trying his hand in various areas. Someone who couldn’t master one thing and did all sorts of activities to earn money was called worthless.
Dietrich’s words shook Roa’s values to the core.
“First of all, few people end up choosing the wrong job. Knowing the basics of many jobs helps people understand what they are actually suited for. Besides, even if they become apprentices somewhere but can’t seem to get any further, it’s easy to just switch to another job. It doesn’t put you in a bad light as it does here.”
In this country, people who switched jobs were deemed as spineless, as they couldn’t persevere in their occupation. Perseveration was indeed hailed as a virtue.
“Even without actually changing jobs, you can always help in other kinds of work and pursue your dreams while earning something. After all, some people like very much what they do and are focused on it. No one denies that. Everyone knows about other jobs to an extent, so there really aren’t any walls between them. Since the population is so scarce, helping others’ jobs is very welcome.”
Apprentices helping in work other than their own to earn something happened often in this country too. It happened because they weren’t skilled enough at their main job though. It was something that others looked down upon, allowed only because the person doing it wasn’t skilled enough in the first place.
“Even if you fail at one job, you can find something else to do right away, so no one really fails, in the true meaning of the word. Thanks to our basic knowledge, which foreigners might see as useless, we can find jobs and work effectively.”
Roa finally began to understand why Dietrich said all of this. It was for his sake: for the sake of someone who worked as an all-rounder for seven years, and was told to leave his party after not producing enough results.
“Oh, your face tells me that you finally realized. I…we don’t think that a person is over just because they couldn’t accomplish much in one job. Even if you try working somewhere and it doesn’t go well, your talent might flourish somewhere else. We know lots of people like that.”
Roa looked around and found other Nostalgia members looking at him with kind expressions.
“We don’t look down on any job, nor do we go out of our way to damage our relations by ourselves. Even if you fail, no one makes fun of you. Of course, we try to steer clear of rotten people or people with bad attitudes…but it doesn’t look like you’re one of them, Roa. You don’t need to put yourself down in front of us. Please treat us as equals.”
Dietrich was trying to break down Roa’s hardened values. He was trying to stop Roa from looking down on himself, trapped by a single country’s values.
“…I’ve talked to you about our country because I thought it would help you understand us and trust us. Sorry for the long monologue.”
Dietrich finished talking and scrutinized Roa. The latter looked confused and was still quiet.
“Come on now, leader. You’ve said too much, now he’s all confused!”
The scout/swordsman Kristoff teased the party leader.
“You need to take your time with this sort of things, make people understand bit by bit. When you want to get close to someone you always hurry things up, don’t you leader? That’s why you’re so unpopular with the ladies…”
“Ooh, I see!”
“I told you to stop joking when we’re talking about serious things!”
Thanks to the other members’ comments, the mood lightened up quickly. Roa wasn’t sure if they did it on purpose, but Roa was somewhat relieved by it.
What they said was surely the truth. There were male magic users, female tanks…shields, proof that their values were different than this country. More than anything, their atmosphere was much different from the adventurers Roa knew.
Words trickled from Roa’s mouth.
After he became an adventurer, very few people treated him as an equal, the greatest example being Coralde. They were all from other professions than adventuring, however: their connection always started from business, so he felt that there was something different than a pure relationship of trust between them.
People who worked in a different area, based on different ways of life and knowledge, had to be trying to build a connection with him because of ulterior motives, is the suspicion which inevitably surfaced within Roa.
The people before him now, who just told him to treat them as equals, however, were adventurers. They were part of the same world as his and accepted his words without doubting them.
“….I will trust you!! Please trust me too!!”
Roa finally managed to let out a shaking voice, and only then noticed that tears were flowing on his cheeks.
After returning from the meeting…
In his room in Coralde’s company, Roa recalled the meeting with Nostalgia and squirmed, blushing violently.
“That was so embarrassing…”
Lying face down on the bed, he squirmed some more.
The bed in the nap room in Roa’s laboratory -which he currently used as living quarters- was cleaned every day, its sheets and pillow covers changed daily too. The smell of sunlight they emanated was very pleasing, so much so that he almost drifted off to sleep, despite the sun still high in the sky.
“Why did I cry…?”
He felt lighter after being discarded from the party, but evidently he still had lingering feelings. Being told by other adventurers that they wanted to build a relationship of trust between equals probably made such feelings erupt.
Now he could review the situation coolly, but at the time Roa couldn’t restrain his emotions.
“…I wonder how old Gry and the twins are doing…”
Roa found himself thinking about the servant beasts.
It was unlikely that they would ever meet again, so he tried not to think about them. He couldn’t help it though. In recent years, the only equal relationship he had ever had outside of business was with the servant beasts.
It was a bit pitiful to say that the only friends he had were servant beasts, which he couldn’t even talk with, but it was the truth.
“I wonder if they are eating properly…”
Gryphon’s expression turned sour when its feed included vegetables, but when it started eating it probably got sick of eating only meat, because it ate more eagerly when vegetables were mixed in the meal. The twins always started fighting when they didn’t receive the same amount of the same food, because both of them wanted the bigger portion.
Roa had been kicked out of the party without being able to tell anyone about their food preferences or other quirks, so he was worried if they were doing well.
“Sigh…if I start thinking about them, I can’t stop…”
More and more things kept popping inside his head.
He started thinking about the servant beasts, but then many more memories resurfaced, in an endless flow. Roa stayed immersed in his memories about the servant beasts for a while, but then a knock on the door interrupted him. Roa finally got up from the bed.
“Please, come in!”
He hurried to the chair and sat down, calmed down his breathing and answered. The visitor was Coralde.
“I’m sorry to bother you, you must be busy preparing for tomorrow.”
“Not at all, it’s alright!”
Roa definitely couldn’t say that he was squirming on the bed, recollecting his past with servant beasts, so he acted as normal as possible. He felt that Coralde saw right through him, however, and felt uncomfortable.
“Actually, it’s about the magic potions you made yesterday…”
The magic potions created by Roa the day before had been concocted using tools and materials provided by Coralde, but when he examined them with his appraisal magic tool, he found out that they were slightly inferior to the potions Roa had brought him until then.
When told this, however, Roa didn’t feel down.
Coralde had told him before that the magic potions he created were of higher quality than the normal ones. Though, Roa didn’t know why that was.
Roa thought he made potions following the public recipe, and nothing more.
It was true that, as Coralde had pointed out, the methods he used were different from the norm. He had only removed what seemed like unneeded scum, like when cooking, thinking that potions too “were something you put in your mouth”; he didn’t think he did anything special.
When he was told the reason he thought that removing unneeded parts probably improved the quality of magic potions, but it was just a coincidence. Treating it like it was an accomplishment by Roa’s part was not right, he thought.
Roa’s old magic tool, a memento from his grandma, couldn’t appraise items in such detail, so he wasn’t aware of it at all.
“Are there any differences in the way you made potions until now and the potions you made yesterday?”
Roa started thinking.
“Oh…the herbs had everything attached, right?”
Coralde looked at Roa, wondering what he meant.
“Oh, I’m sorry. How can I explain…you see, when I pick herbs in the forest, I don’t…I never pick up the stalks, new sprouts or the roots. My grandpa was a hunter, and when we picked up herbs in the woods, he always said to leave the parts that produced seeds, so that they could grow next year too. So I only pick grown leaves, so that the plant doesn’t die out.”
That was common sense for a hunter. Even in the lushest forest, if a plant was removed from the roots up it wouldn’t return so easily. That was the reason why hunters picked up herbs while thinking about their future.
“But the plants yesterday had stalks and new sprouts attached. I didn’t think they would influence the recipe, and it would be a waste to throw them away, so I used them too.”
Coralde snapped his fingers, convinced of Roa’s answer.
For Roa, that was the normal way of gathering herbs. He had never paid close attention at how other adventurers did it and he always gathered herbs by himself, so he had never wondered about the condition of herbs sold in stores.
The day before he had made potions with the herbs prepared by Coralde, gathered by someone other than himself, and felt something was off.
“…those herbs were grown in our fields. I bought the seeds from the Farmers’ guild, so we always harvest them completely. I wondered if the difference was between wild and cultivated herbs, but never considered that the gathering method could be different.”
“The Farmers’ guild even sells seeds for medicinal herbs…?”
More than the mystery behind the difference in quality, Roa was more interested in the Farmers’ guild.
“The Farmers’ guild’s “Prosperity Seeds” include all sorts of plants after all. Vegetables, medicinal herbs, trees…they sell anything there’s a demand of. Their seeds also produce stronger plants and greater harvest, so no farmer grows their own seeds anymore. Because of that, people say that if the guild disappears, the country will starve to death. Thanks to the Farmers’ guild headquarters being here, other countries have stopped waging war on us, or so they say.”
“It’s like we have the main source of everyone’s food…I see how it would stop foreign invasions.”
Realizing how the peacefulness of the country hailed from an unexpected location, Roa was impressed. Even if the country was said to be at peace, the fact that it wouldn’t be attacked by foreign agents boosted internal conflicts of power: relations between the country’s lords were always precarious, but Roa had no connections to such spheres of authority, so he had no idea.
“I’ll go tell them to try making potions only with grown leaves, then.”
“I can do that, though.”
Roa wanted to offer to help, but Coralde stretched his arms and blocked him.
“Not this time! You will leave on a gathering mission tomorrow. Eat well and turn in early today. Lots of, well, things happened today, you must be tired.”
Coralde’s kind smile reminded Roa of the embarrassing scene during the meeting.
Since he started crying, all the finer details were handled by Coralde himself. Roa had no reason to be treated so kindly by him.
“I’m…I apologize for the trouble I caused…”
“Don’t worry. Even if you feel you overcame your troubles, they’re actually still deep down in your heart…it happens often. There’s nothing to be concerned about.”
Coralde’s kind words made Roa feel even more embarrassed, as his face turned beet red.