LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
They confessed everything to Yume and Shihoru, and then apologized wholeheartedly . Haruhiro, Manato, and Mogzo, that is . Ranta defiantly claimed that he didn’t see anything, so there was no need to make such a fuss about it, and thus incurred both Yume’s and Shihoru’s wrath; they thoroughly ignored Ranta from then on .
However, it was hard to say whether their lack of teamwork became any worse, just from that . In fact, it probably had no effect . The next day, the day after that, and the day after that, they didn’t earn that much . And by “didn’t earn that much”, what he really meant close to zero . And by “close to zero”, what he really meant was “exactly zero” .
Haruhiro didn’t want anyone asking about the state of his finances, so he had no idea how the others were doing either . Of course, he was acutely aware of how much money he himself still had . During the last three days, he had spent fourteen, thirteen, and twelve capas each day . That meant thirty-nine capas spent with zero earned . If the one capa technically owed to Yorozu’s bank counted, then the total sum of Haruhiro’s remaining money came to one silver and forty-nine capas .
All thoughts of buying daily necessities such as razors or a spare pair of underwear had vanished . Staying at a better lodge? An outlandish dream that was laughably ridiculous now . If he spent successively one less capa on food per day, how much longer could he make his money last? That was now his most immediate and pressing concern .
Their earnings, having been zero for three straight days, resulted in dismay so immense that when they returned to the lodge for the night no one spoke a single word to each other . They all just went immediately to bed, but it wasn’t as if anyone could fall asleep right away either . There was no one amongst them with strong enough nerves to just go to sleep in the situation they were in .
Or so Haruhiro thought, until he heard Ranta’s snores from the bunk beside him . That kid really was something . After getting past his initial disgust, Haruhiro found himself rather impressed . Maybe it was better for him to just go to sleep rather than keep thinking about the past . Today was over, tomorrow might bring something better, and tomorrow was more important since he couldn’t do anything about what happened today . So what were they going to do tomorrow?
Renew their hunt for monsters . Even if they only earned one capa, that would be fine—no, one capa was no good, no good at all . He wanted to earn a lot of money . As much money as he could . He was determined to not be left with nothing . As he turned over in his bunk, he felt the movements of someone getting up .
“Manato?” Haruhiro called tentatively .
“What is it?”
“Where are you going? It’s still nighttime . Rather, it just turned nighttime . The bathroom?”
“No . ” Manato stood up . “I’m going out for a bit . It’s not anything important so don’t worry . I’ll be back soon . ”
“Going out at this time of night? Where?”
“It’s not that late yet,” Manato said, as he flashed a smile . “I’ll be back . It’s been a long day, go ahead and get some rest . ”
“Ah, okay . ” But even as the words came from his mouth, Haruhiro thought that maybe it was better not to let Manato go alone . But it was too late . He was already gone .
Still a little worried, Haruhiro struck up a casual conversation with the still-awake Mogzo and after a while, eventually fell asleep . When he woke, Manato had returned and was already up and about .
“Morning, Haruhiro,” Manato called . “I thought we’d try going somewhere different today . What do you think?”
Apparently, Manato had gone to Sherry’s Tavern located on Kaen Road the night before to gather information from other Crimson Moon members . At the tavern, he bought drinks for people, had drinks bought for him in return, and even now still seemed a little hung over . But the issue didn’t stop at his overdrinking; Manato must have spent quite a lot of money, too .
“You should have taken me with you,” Haruhiro said .
“Haruhiro, you can drink?”
“I don’t know . ” Haruhiro rubbed the back of his neck . “I don’t remember if I ever drank or not . ”
Manato smiled devilishly . “I don’t dislike drinking, so I wasn’t there all for business . Maybe part of me wanted to loosen up a bit . ”
Later, when Manato brought up to the others his proposal to change location, they all readily agreed . Everybody was sick of forests .
There was a city about an hour’s walk, roughly two and a half miles northwest of Altana . In reality, it wasn’t a city so much as a former city . Presently, no one, not even a single child, lived there—no one human, that is . Eighty percent of the defensive wall that surrounded the city was in shambles and more than half the buildings, perhaps closer to sixty or seventy percent, were collapsed . Rubble lay scattered about, plant life had overtaken areas here and there, and rusty swords, spears, and other weapons lay strewn about or sticking out from the ground . And frighteningly, skeletal remains could also be seen all over .
Animals that seemed to be neither dogs nor cats roamed about the crumbling walls and broken rooftops, but disappeared as soon as they sensed Haruhiro and the others approach . An incessant cawing sound could be heard and when they turned towards the source of it, they saw a few dozen crows gathered on the remains of a large building being used as a perch .
Long ago, Damroww used to be the Aravakia Kingdom’s second largest city and was by far larger than Altana . However, when it was attacked and taken by the Deathless King and his confederation, it became of the undead . Now, it was different . After the passing of the Deathless King, his former goblin slaves rebelled, drove the undead out of the city, and then claimed it for themselves . Damroww was now primarily goblin territory .
However, located in the southeast area of the city was Damroww’s Old Town, a section of the city that had been left long neglected by the goblins . That wasn’t to say that there were no goblins around though . There were .
“Just… one?” Haruhiro was hidden behind a wall that felt like it would collapse if he put even the slightest amount of weight on it . He was in the ruins of a house where all that remained of the actual building was the foundation .
He was the Thief, so the task of scouting had been left up to him; however, he had no skill in either [STEALTH WALK] or [PILFER] . The most he could do was [PICK LOCK] which made him no different than an ordinary person who had some skill in opening locks . Was it really okay to let him do the reconnaissance for the party?
The mud goblin they had killed in the forest before was one of many species of goblins . The one that Haruhiro had found here certainly resembled a mud goblin, but its skin had a yellowish tint and it wasn’t covered in filth . It was also clothed and had a kind of club-like weapon hanging from its waist . Slung diagonally across its back was a small sack—a goblin pouch .
While mud goblins kept all their valuables on a cord around their necks, proper goblins kept theirs in pouches . Everything they had of value was kept in there, on their person, at all times .
The particular goblin Haruhiro was watching had sat itself down, gruffly crossed its arms across its chest, and leaned back against a wall . It hung its head down and closed its eyes . It was still daytime though, so it seemed like the thing was about to take a nap . Haruhiro hurried back to where the others were waiting, taking care not to make any sound as he moved .
“One goblin and it seems to be asleep,” he reported .
“Okay, then . Let’s go for it . ” Manato’s expression tensed as he went on . “Mogzo’s chainmail armor is going to make noise no matter how careful he is, so Haruhiro, Ranta, and I will approach it first . Mogzo, Yume, and Shihoru follow and close in after us . The three of us will try to close in and kill it in one blow without waking it up . If it does wake, however, Yume target it with your bow and Shihoru with your magic . Mogzo, come and back us up quick as you can . If it comes down to a dogfight, use the same formation as before . Everyone encircle it and don’t give it a chance to run . ”
Everyone nodded immediately in reply . They hadn’t made any money in the last three days, so even Ranta was dead serious now .
Manato, Haruhiro, and Ranta set off with Manato in the lead . They reached the remains of the house in no time at all; from there, things got a little tougher . The ruins of the house were strewn with rubble, making any misstep potentially disastrous . Navigating towards the sleeping goblin took more time than they anticipated and there were several times when their footfalls produced noise .
Finally, they were within two or three steps of weapon range . Mogzo and the others held their positions past the boundary of what used to be the house . Manato, Haruhiro, and Ranta looked at each other in turn . Ranta then pointed at himself . Haruhiro wondered if it was okay to trust Ranta to get this right, but Manato waved a hand in a signal to go ahead .
Ranta let go of the breath he had been holding and approached the goblin . Rather than bringing his long sword up for an overhead swung, he thrust the tip of it at the goblin’s head . The goblin opened its eyes with a grunt . It noticed Haruhiro and the others right away and seemed to realize exactly what was happening .
With a loud cry, it stretched out an arm to make a grab at Ranta’s head . Ranta ducked as Manato shouted, “Watch out!” and spun his short staff around to hit the goblin on the arms and head in quick succession .
“Damn it!” Ranta thrust his long sword into it then pulled it back out with a twist .
Haruhiro remained where he was, impotent . If he went in now, he had a feeling he would just be getting in Manato’s and Ranta’s way as they fought . The goblin flailed and thrashed about, cursing in some sort of unknown language, but gradually stopped moving .
The mud goblin had put up more of a fight . Was it because they had caught this one asleep and unawares? Soon enough, it was still .
“…Did we kill it?” Ranta breathed heavily as he leaned forward and peered closely at the goblin’s face .
An image of the goblin springing back up and biting Ranta on the nose flashed through Haruhiro’s mind, but nothing of that sort happened . Manato briefly closed his eyes and drew a hexagram in the air . It was over .
Mogzo, Yume, and Shihoru entered the remains of the house . Ranta placed his boot on the goblin’s head and pulled his long sword out, muttering, “Gotta remove a claw, or something… Need something for a Vice, need something for a Vice…”
Manato gingery removed the goblin pouch from its body and opened it up . Haruhiro’s eyes widened . “Silvers!”
Did goblins have a fondness for collecting human-made coins? And not just one silver coin, but four . Unlike the one they found on the mud goblin, these didn’t have holes in them . There was also a sort of glass-like stone and slender, finger-like bones from some sort of animal .
Yume’s eyes turned into dots, and she sighed . “Wow . It’s a record~yan . Though it’s only our second kill…”
“Four silvers . ” Shihoru blinked again and again, lost for further words .
Mogzo simply gaped slack-jawed .
Manato looked skywards . Then he gave a long sigh and shook his head . “No, not yet . There’s no point unless we keep going . It was easy this time, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy every time . Now isn’t the time to relax . We need to search for our next target . ”
“Manato,” Ranta patted Manato’s back . “You need to loosen up . We finally got our first big victory! And IT’S ALL THANKS TO ME! Why shouldn’t we do a little celebrating?”
Manato’s expression turned stern for a brief moment, but was then quickly replaced with a broad smile . “You’re right . It’s not like I’m against celebrating . And you did really well, Ranta . ”
“I sure did! That’s because I’m amazing! Especially that cruel smile I had on my face when I stabbed it with my blade . Super Dread Knight-like!”
“Nuh-uh . ” Haruhiro waved him off . “You were just flinging that sword around in pure desperation . ”
“Idiot! I smashed its head in, piece of cake! Where were you looking?! Ohhh, right, over that way! Your sleepy eyes were too sleepy to notice!”
“Always saying the same things over and over . Sorry, but I’m not taking the bait every time . ”
“Take it! Take it or it’ll make me really sad…”
Everyone laughed and savored the moment for a while . Then just as Manato had said, they returned to the search for their next target seriously . Things went well in Damroww’s Old Town area . Considering the days before this one, it was downright scary how smoothly things everything went .
By evening, they had killed four goblins including the sleeping one, and from the four goblin pouches had collected eight silvers, a glass-like stone, a black stone, a reddish stone, a number of bones and fangs, some sort of key-like object, a small cog, and some sort of metallic object . They sold everything except for the coins at the market in exchange for an additional two silvers and forty-five capas .
The earnings were split among the six of them resulting in one silver and seventy-four capas each with one capa leftover . Haruhiro used fifteen capas for food and lodging for the day so that meant he now had a total of three silvers and eight capas . If tomorrow went as smoothly, Haruhiro decided that he would buy a spare set of underwear and a small knife .
The next day, however, did not go as well . They had found a group of five goblins but, though Ranta wanted to engage, everyone decided to avoid them . Without the element of surprise on their side, they would struggle even against one opponent . Two was decidedly risky so five was out of the question .
Haruhiro thought that to be the correct decision, but evening was fast approaching and they hadn’t found any goblin groups of two or less . Finally, as they were returning to Altana they accidentally ran into a single goblin, which resulted in a sudden fight .
In the end, their earnings for the day amounted to one silver . Only a single silver… but thinking like in terms of “onlys” would only lead to trouble . They had earned a whole silver when they thought they were going to go back with absolutely nothing . Haruhiro accepted it as that . He would just have to earn a bit more before buying any personal necessities .
On their third day in Damroww’s Old Town area, they decided to make a basic map of the place as they searched for their quarry . Well, it was Manato’s idea and in order to draw the map, he had procured a small notebook and a brush . Manato insisted that if they were able to get an idea of the layout of the area and kept notes on where they spotted goblins, the information would be useful later on .
At any rate, it turned out that making the map as they wandered around the Old Town area was quite fun . “Let’s take look around here…” or “we haven’t been here yet…” They naturally memorized the roads and paths as they explored . They would grow nervous when they entered an area that wasn’t on their map and conversely felt a sense of security in areas that had they had already mapped out .
They killed three goblins that day and after selling the loot, their earnings totaled to seventy-four capa each . It wasn’t like that could put everyone in high spirits, however . The amount wasn’t exactly enough to get excited over . However, Yume and Shihoru wanted to go shopping, so Haruhiro also went with them to the market .
He just happened to come across cotton underwear as he was looking around and even though he did his best to barter down the price, he still paid twenty-five capas for what looked to be like a used pair . Now that he had spare clothing, he also needed something to carry it in so out of necessity also ended up buying a backpack . Surprisingly, cheap used backpacks were fairly easy to find and Haruhiro had paid only thirty capas for one made of sturdy canvas . Compared to the underwear, he got the feeling that the backpack was the better deal .
When they returned to the lodge, everyone talked for a while about what shops offered what kinds of goods and what they all wanted to buy next . The more they talked, the more animated the conversation became and no one could really fall asleep . Suddenly, Ranta, who had been jabbering away excitedly just moments before began to snore . Mozgo soon followed suit .
Haruhiro too decided it was time to turn in . He was tired and feeling rather drowsy, but for some reason his consciousness refused to fall into the realm of sleep .
“Manato?” He called out tentatively and, just as he thought, Manato too was still awake .
“Yes?” came Manato’s immediate reply .
Although Haruhiro was the one who spoke up first, it wasn’t like he had anything in particular he wanted to talk about . No, there should have been plenty of things to say; however, none of them came immediately to mind . But saying nothing at all was odd, so he had to say something .
After a moment of panic—
“Thanks . ” The word spilled almost unintentionally from Haruhiro’s mouth and he suddenly felt a bit embarrassed .
“What’s this all of a sudden?” Manato grinned . “I’m the one that’s grateful . ”
“You’re… grateful? Why?”
“For everyone . For you, being a real friend . I really am grateful . Saying it like this now, it might sound like lip service but I really mean it . ”
“No, it doesn’t sound like lip service, but…” Haruhiro bit down on the inside of his cheek . “It’s just that, we’ve been depending on you this entire time . If it wasn’t for you, we… We might not even be around . ”
“It’s the same for me . If it wasn’t for you and the others, I don’t know what would have happened to me . No matter how much I think about it, there’s no way I could have survived on my own . ”
Haruhiro hesitated on what he wanted to say next, but he wasn’t any good at hiding his thoughts, nor could he hold it all in either . “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but you could have made all the friends you wanted . You could have asked to join any party and they would have taken you . ”
“A party of other Crimson Moon members? Honestly, I never really considered it . I don’t really like deferring to others and I don’t think I’d be good at taking orders from higher ups . Though I don’t recall anything I did before we all appeared in this place, so I don’t really know . ”
And with a start, Haruhiro suddenly remembered . That feeling when he tried to recall something from his prior life . That feeling, as if the thing he was reaching for would suddenly disappear without a trace, just as he was about to grasp it . He had been so preoccupied with everything else that he had forgotten all about that .
“Me too,” Haruhiro said . “I don’t remember anything either . ”
“But I get the feeling…” and then Manato stopped, seeming a bit hesitant to go on . “That I wasn’t the type of person that had a lot of friends . ”
“That’s…” What Haruhiro really wanted to say was, No, you’re wrong . But he fell silent . After all, he hadn’t known Manato before coming here . And it was the same vice versa .
Neither Haruhiro or Manato knew anything of themselves . The more he tried to think about it, the more confused he got . So he had decided that it was better not to think about it at all . None of it mattered now and it wasn’t like he could remember anything to begin with anyway . Not to mention they had plenty of other stuff to keep their minds occupied, the first and foremost being on earning enough money to live from day to day .
“It doesn’t matter who you were before,” Haruhiro said in the most cheerful tone he could manage . “No one’s gonna ask you about it either . What matters is you’re our teammate now . And leader too . We’d be in trouble if you weren’t . ”
“I wouldn’t be able to do this without all of you either . ”
Haruhiro nodded, though Manato’s bunk was beneath him and he couldn’t see it . Haruhiro needed to say something in reply . Anything . But even as Haruhiro searched for the words, Manato started chuckling softly .
“But isn’t it odd?” Manato continued . “Everything, that is . What are we doing, running around with swords and magic? It’s like something out of a game . ”
“A game, huh?” Haruhiro blinked and tilted his head to one side . “Game . How so?”
Manato was silent in thought for a while . “I don’t know . But it’s like I said, it’s like a game . Or so I thought at the time . ”
“No, now that you mention it, I think so too . A game… But what kind of game?”
A sense of discomfort fell over them . It was as if they had something caught in their throats and couldn’t be dislodged . But it was definitely better to keep it sealed up inside . This wasn’t the time or place . Tomorrow they would head to Damroww again .
Haruhiro yawned . It seemed as if he would finally be able to fall asleep now .