LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
Scattered about Altana’s marketplace were a few shops that sold sundries, but no matter which, the highest any would pay for a silver coin with a hole in it was thirty capas . Haruhiro found it rather incomprehensible that the value of the coin was cut by two-thirds just because it was a little damaged . But quite unexpectedly, the animal fang had been worth one silver .
Three species of wolves dwelled in the forested areas of the frontier . There were the forest wolves, sometimes called grey wolves, there were the white wolves of Eldritch the White Goddess, and finally there were the enemies of the white wolves: the black wolves of the Black God, Rigel . Apparently, the fang they found on the mudgob belonged to a black wolf .
It was believed that the fang of a black wolf contained magical power and made for a good charm against warding off evil . That brought the total of their day’s earnings to one silver and thirty capas .
Twenty capas were paid for their lodging that night while the rest was split evenly among the six of them . That made for eighteen capas per person while Manato held on to the remaining two capas, to be added to their earnings next time .
After each of them got dinner at the marketplace, they made their way back to the shabby reserve force soldier lodge near Nishimachi . For some reason, it felt like they had finally returned home . Despite the fact that reserve force soldiers who presented their Crimson Moon contracts could stay for free, the place was empty .
The public bath was a single room with a hole lined with stone, dug into the dirt floor, which acted as the bathtub . The boys went in and washed themselves first, then let Yume and Shihoru know that the baths were available to use before returning to their shared room . Haruhiro was rather tired, so he laid down on his straw-lined bunk and closed his eyes .
The lodge offered two types of rooms; one of them could accommodate up to four people while the other could accommodate up to six . Both were the same price at ten capas per night, so the sizes of the rooms were probably the same as well . The only difference was that the six-person room was equipped with six beds, making it very cramped . Not to mention the six-person room beds were smaller than normal .
The beds in the four-person room were already on the small end, but the beds in the six-person room were too small even for the 5’6″ Haruhiro . The 6’1″ Mogzo would definitely not fit into them . Their room was bare of all furnishings except for two straw-lined bunk beds and a single lamp that hung off the wall . Except for sleeping, the room couldn’t really be used for anything, and no one was intending to use it for anything else either .
It was going to be yet another early morning tomorrow and Haruhiro intended to turn in for the night . The soft crunching of straw could be heard in the bunk next to him; it seemed as if Mogzo also intended the same . Bunking was arranged with Haruhiro on a top bunk and Manato on a bottom of one set, while on the second set next to them was Mogzo on the bottom and Ranta on the top .
“…Manato? Are you still up?” Haruhiro whispered .
“Yeah, I’m still awake . Something wrong?”
“It’s nothing, really…” But that wasn’t entirely truthful .
They had only earned eighteen capas each today . From the ten silvers Haruhiro had received from Bri, eight had been paid to his guild and he had spent four capas on a kebab . That had left him with one silver and ninety-six capa after the weeklong training course with the Thieves Guild . Yesterday, he had spent four capa on lodging, then another ten on food, without earning a single capa . Then today, he spent twelve capa and earned eighteen . Presently all the money he had came to one silver and eighty-eight capa .
However, carrying around all those coins had become cumbersome, so he had deposited sixty capa at Yorozu’s Bank, which meant that the deposit fee would eventually be deducted as well .
Haruhiro was still okay, but he was concerned for Mogzo . His share of the lodging fee was split between everyone and Manato was lending him money for food . And perhaps it was because of his size, but he would eat quite a large amount . Mogzo was already in debt .
How long would it be before Haruhiro ran out of money and had to borrow from someone else too? No, unlike Mogzo who could borrow money from them, Haruhiro wouldn’t drop into the negative unless he could find someone to lend him money as well . He would just hit zero and be moneyless . When that happened, what would he do?
They needed to find a way to increase their earnings . Food and lodging per day was about fifteen capas . It would be great if he could make around double that . Wait, double? Only double? The lodge they were using was run-down and dirty . The straw-lined beds were hard, uncomfortable, and lacked blankets . The shallow holes in the ground that served as toilets smelled sickeningly of human waste and the walls of the bathhouse were so thin that when winter came, the inside would probably be freezing .
He wanted better lodging . But even before that, he wanted at least a set of spare underclothes . He only had one pair of underwear now, which he washed in the baths and hung up to dry overnight . That meant that even now, he wasn’t wearing any underwear . Neither he, Manato, or Ranta had need to shave very often but Mogzo’s face was starting to look extremely unkempt . They had to at least be able to buy a razor, or even a small knife .
They needed to earn enough money to buy daily necessities . The mudgob they had run across today just happened to be carrying a black wolf fang that sold for one silver, but what if that was just a lucky find? Did that mean that today’s earnings were on the high end? Or was it on the low end?
Even if they were able to find and bring down another mud goblin tomorrow, it didn’t guarantee that it would be carrying a damaged silver either . Damaged silvers were worth thirty capas, which meant five capas each when split among the six of them .
Even if they spent the night on the streets, it still wouldn’t be enough to live on . When he thought about it, Haruhiro realized how bad of a situation they were all in .
He wanted to say exactly that to Manato, but stopped . If he opened his mouth to say something about it, it couldn’t be left just at that . He would have to actually do something about it . Today hadn’t exactly been a horrible day and no one knew what the future had in store; tomorrow might be even better, so maybe it was better just to leave it as is .
“It’s nothing,” Haruhiro concluded .
“I see,” came Manato’s reply . “If you say so then . ”
“Alllllright!” Ranta suddenly jumped down from his top bunk . “I’m going out for bit!”
Haruhiro sat up . “What? Where?”
“Yesterday, I decided to pass . ” A dark smile appeared on Ranta’s face . “But not today! A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Haruhiro said .
“Slow, aren’t you? What’s there not to get? The baths, idiot . B-A-T-H-S . ”
“What about the baths?”
“The girls are in there right? Washing their bodies and hair… and completely naked . So there’s only one thing I, as a man, am supposed to do . ”
“Y-you… You’re not…”
Ranta cackled . “Here I go!”
“No way! You can’t do that!” Haruhito climbed down from his top bunk and chased after Ranta .
Only at times like this could Ranta move fox-like, quick and nimble . Haruhiro wasn’t able to catch up to him until he was already at the baths . They were located in a different building than the main lodge, but the two were still attached; it had been built as an annex on the side, so perhaps it was more accurate to call it a bathhouse rather than a bathroom .
Ranta crouched low at the entrance and put his ear against door .
“Ranta—” Haruhiro started to say, but was cut off by a furious-looking Ranta putting his index finger to his lips .
Ranta’s expression clearly said that he would murder Haruhiro if he said another word . Intimidated, Haruhiro shut up . What was he going to do? He quieted his footfalls and approached Ranta .
“You can’t,” Haruhiro whispered in Ranta’s ear . “This isn’t something any human being would do…”
“I know,” Ranta mouthed the words silently to Haruhiro . “I don’t care if I lose my humanity . As long as I reach my goals, I don’t care if I become a demon or an Asura . ”
“Demon, Asura, whatever, you’re still overdoing it . Don’t you have any self control?”
“Self-control?” Ranta shrugged . “Never heard of the word . You gotta use words that are in my dictionary . ” He suddenly exhaled sharply .
Ranta pointed at the door . “You can hear them, their voices . ” He chuckled softly .
Without thinking, Haruhiro started to put his ear to the door . Then he stopped, regaining control of himself . It’s not right to do this . He admitted that he was curious, but if he gave in, he would become the same as Ranta .
Ranta laughed soundlessly . “Now’s not the time for self-control, Haruhiro . Besides, you’ve already given in to your baser instincts . If you hadn’t, then why aren’t you dragging me back by force or yelling warnings at them?”
Ouch . Ranta sure knew how to hit home . Haruhiro place a hand over his chest, looking around, and almost yelped in surprise—someone else was there, just out of sight in the darkness . Two people . And they were coming his way .
“Hey . ” The newcomer raised a hand in greeting . It was Manato . And behind him was a giant of a person . Mogzo .
Ranta blinked as if his eyes had been lying to him . “You guys…”
“No, I can expl—” Haruhiro started to say, but was cut off when Manato brought his index finger to his lips to indicate silence .
No way . Of all people, Manato too?
Yes, Manato too . Was this really okay? Haruhiro looked questioningly at Manato, who gave him a silent nod in reply . Mogzo too, nodded . Haruhiro laughed soundlessly . They had lost .
Congrats, animal instincts, congrats . We raise our glasses to you .
Honestly though, he was rather curious . And it wasn’t like they could see anything, so it wasn’t actually peeping right? There happened to be a paneless window above them where light and steam was pouring out in a sort of ‘please-come-here-and-take-a-look-through’ sort of way… but it was too high for any of them to reach .
Maybe if he rode on someone else’s shoulders or if someone boosted him up, it would be reachable, but he had no such intentions of doing any such thing . Nope, not at all . The mere thought of it never even occurred to him . He couldn’t possibly do any such thing . No, no, no .
Haruhiro and the others crowded together at the bathhouse entrance and put their ears to the door . They could hear voices, but rather faintly . Concentrate harder . He should be able to hear better . Yes, that was it . He could hear them now and clearly too .
“Even though you were wearing that…” Yume’s voice .
“W-w-what?” Shihoru’s reply .
“Turns out they’re big, just like I thought . ”
“…What? W-what are?”
“Your boobs . They’re so big… and adorably round…”
Whether it was by chance or not, Shihoru’s words echoed exactly what Haruhiro was thinking . And probably not just Haruhiro either . Ranta, Mogzo, Manato, everyone was probably thinking the same thing: ‘Big, round, and adorable…’ Just what exactly did they look like?! He couldn’t even imagine…
“Yes, adorable . Can I feel them, just a little?”
“Th-that’s, ah, tha—umm—wha—ohhhh…”
“Wow . I had a feeling they would feel really good to touch, and they really do!”
“‘Nyaa, nyaa’ you sound like a cat, Shihoru . ”
“Y-Yume, please… don’t… please don’t touch… there…”
“They go boing-boing, BOING-BOING…”
“P-please don’t… It’s e-embarrassing…”
“It would be fun if Yume had bouncy boobs too . But Yume’s boobs just do this…”
“Ah, I-I think Yume’s boobs… are cute too, though…”
“No, that’s not true… How are Yume’s boobs cute?”
“Uh… They’re not fat like mine, but they still seem soft…”
“…But yours aren’t fat at all . Yume’s are flabby…”
“They’re soft so… I’m sure they’re… they look t-tasty . ”
“‘Tasty’? Shihoru, don’t say weird things like that . Yume isn’t edible . ”
“Ahh… Umm… I know, that’s… that was just… a figure of speech . ”
“But maybe just try to give them a little lick? Here…”
“But it’s okay to take a big bite too… maybe around this spot? Here, just a little taste…”
What was going on? What was this? Haruhiro stepped away from the door and shook his head . This was no good . No good . No good at all . What were Yume and Shihoru doing in there? What was happening? His imagination was running in all sorts of directions .
Were these the sorts of conversations girls had when boys weren’t around? He didn’t know . How was he expected to know stuff like this?
When Haruhiro looked, Ranta, Manato, and Mogzo had also stepped away from the door . It was just too much… stimulation . It was all a riddle . Wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, and it all jumbled together inside his head . Haruhiro met Manato’s gaze . Let’s go back . Back to our room, he signaled . But Manato was already looking somewhere else .
Haruhiro followed his gaze and saw that Ranta was gazing up at the night sky . No, that wasn’t it . It wasn’t the night sky he was looking at . It was the bathhouse window .
Ranta was staring at the bathhouse window with the ravenous eyes of a starving wolf . Ranta stood up to full height and stretched to reach the window . He couldn’t . He looked over at the rest of them, his countenance strangely Asura-like .
“You guys don’t want to take a peek? Seriously? Is it really okay to let his chance slip by? Can you really say you’re not going to regret it? Really?”
“Well…” Haruhiro gritted his teeth . “That’s…”
“I might regret it,” Manato said frankly . “I can’t say for sure that I won’t regret it . But what’s going to happen if we go any further?”
Ranta knitted his eyebrows together and frowned . “What do you mean ‘what’s going to happen’?”
“Think about it . Even now, we’re all pretty… excited . It’ll be worse if we get even more so . There would be no turning back . Then we return . To our room . The four of us . Four boys . I won’t be able to hold back then . But if we stopped here and now…”
Haruhiro shuddered . As expected of Manato, he really thought things through . It would be more than horrible if things ended up like that . If they stopped now though, they could all just go back full of satisfying fond memories… or something like that . Supposedly satisfying . Probably satisfying . Or maybe not satisfying at all .
This was the critical moment though . If they crossed that line, there would be no going back . If it were up to Haruhiro, everyone would be on their way back already . He had already sort of crossed a line… If only he had stopped then . But he wanted to avoid regretting it if this developed any further .
“Let’s go back . ” Haruhiro grabbed Ranta by the arm, intending to drag him back by force if need be . But he never anticipated that the real threat would come from another direction entirely .
Mozgo stood up slowly and moved towards the window . When he was directly beneath it, he bent halfway down and put both hands against the wall . A platform? He had made himself into a platform? He looked up in Haruhiro and the others’ directions and gave a thumbs up .
“Don’t worry about me, everyone, climb up . ”
Haruhiro looked at Ranta, then turned his gaze to Manato . Both of them looked as if they had been struck by lightning . Not possible, Haruhiro thought . But Mogzo’s determination was set in stone . Could they really reject his offer? No, they couldn’t . Not possible .
There was no other choice .
Haruhiro nodded at Manato . Who would go first? Haruhiro was okay with going afterwards or even last . The one who was probably the most eager to take a peek was Ranta . But Ranta was crying . He was actually crying, with tears running down his face and his nose dripping . Without bothering to wipe himself dry, he patted Mogzo on the back .
“Dammit, Mogzo . Don’t make me cry like this!”
“Oy!” Haruhiro said, then turned on his heels towards the window to take a peek . Manato, however, was the faster and cut in front of Haruhiro .
“Why does Yume hear Ranta’s voice!?” Came Yume’s voice from the bathhouse .
“Shit!” Ranta made a run for it while proclaiming in a loud voice . “It wasn’t me! I had nothing to do with it! It was Mogzo! It’s all Mogzo’s fault! I didn’t see or hear anything!”
Mogzo tipped over clumsily with a loud grunt and Shihoru’s scream could be heard from within .
“Stupid Ranta!” Yume kicked the wall from the inside . “Pervert! Idiot! Douchebag! GO TO HELL AND NEVER COME BAAAAAAAAAACK!”