LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
It didn’t matter whether or not Haruhiro could lead or not . As long as he was alive, time wouldn’t stop for him . He went to bed, morning came like it always did, and then it was off to Damroww again .
They caught two goblin unawares and, with a surprise attack, immediately wounded one . Ranta and Yume faced off with the injured goblin while Mogzo and Haruhiro took on the one remaining . The unwounded goblin was equipped with a dented helm, a crude chainmail shirt, and a worn-down sword . Still, it made for a tough opponent, though in terms of pure power Mogzo and his size clearly had the advantage .
Mogzo could have thrown himself at the goblin . He could have won, using brute force alone, but he didn’t . He was hesitating . But why? Was Mogzo a coward? Of course it wasn’t necessary to fight like Ranta, recklessly bum rushing enemies, but why was Mogzo so cautious all the time?
Haruhiro watched as Mogzo and the goblin faced off . It was rare for goblins to have helms, but this one was wearing one . It was then that Haruhiro realized: if protected by a helm, a slight blow to the head wouldn’t be life threatening . Without one, even a graze from a blade might be a serious wound, and anyone would think twice about fighting aggressively .
Mogzo had said last night that he wanted a helm and plate armor . He never mentioned anything like a new sword with a sharper edge—what he wanted most was protective gear . Haruhiro guessed that if he had full body armor, he could fight more assertively and with less hesitation .
As for Haruhiro, he always positioned himself behind the enemy, so that was all that he thought about . He wore no armor, so being attacked was frightening . One stroke of a blade could end it all for him, so he always did everything he could to avoid fighting head-on .
But Mogzo couldn’t avoid it . It was his job to take on enemies directly, and if he tried to fight like Haruhiro by always putting himself behind the enemy, things would fall apart for the team pretty quickly .
Haruhiro had never realized this because all he thought about was his own position and role in fights . He had never considered anyone else’s roles . The act of thinking about the roles of everyone else on the team never even occurred to him .
“Mogzo!” Haruhiro called as he slashed at the goblin with his dagger .
When the goblin turned towards him, Haruhiro backed away as he always did . The goblin hesitated between its two targets for a fraction of a second, then turned to face Mogzo once more . But Mogzo was already moving, thrusting his bastard sword at the goblin with a shout . The sword impaled the goblin deep in the gut .
Living beings, however, do not die so easily . The goblin made a high-pitched shriek and tried to bring its sword back around to bear on Mogzo . Haruhiro didn’t intend to let that happen . Positioned directly behind it, he closed the distance and aimed for the goblin’s sword hand; [HIT] .
It wasn’t enough to cut off the goblin’s wrist, but the dagger bit deep to the bone . The goblin dropped its sword . Mogzo gave his bastard sword a twist and the goblin let out a horrible scream, flailing its arms at Mogzo . Haruhiro grabbed the goblin’s helm, pulled it backwards with all his strength as if to pry it off, and then rammed his dagger into its exposed throat .
Even after that, it still took a good while before the goblin stopped struggling . Manato had said once that their opponents wanted to live just as much as they did . But fights were to the death, so opponents fought just so . There was nothing more somber and it was neither simple nor easy . Haruhiro and the others killed to take their opponent’s valuables, and they did that in order to pay for food; they did it for their own survival .
Yume and Ranta battled the remaining goblin with Shihoru’s support . After Shihoru weakened it with a spell, Ranta delivered the killing blow .
As Haruhiro collected the goblin pouches after the fight was over, Mary placed the fingers of her right hand against her forehead so that her middle finger was right between her eyebrows . It was a quick motion, so fast that Haruhiro almost didn’t catch it .
It was the same hexagon symbol gesture that Manato made after killing their opponents, but Haruhiro didn’t expect to see it from Mary . She didn’t seem like a person who would do any sort of ritual for the sake of a dead enemy, but then, Haruhiro realized, he didn’t really know . He didn’t know anything about Priests . He hadn’t even thought to get to know anything about them .
During their lunch break, Haruhiro tried approaching Mogzo .
“I’ll help pay for it, so let’s get you a helm,” Haruhiro said . “Even if it’s a cheap one . Plate armor too; let’s try to find you a used set that fits . If we can’t find one your size, let’s find out how much it costs to get it adjusted . ”
“…But that’s… But… It’s not like you’ve got money to spare… I’d be a horrible person,” Mogzo said, uneasily .
“Don’t worry about it . As long as I have this, I’m fine for the time being,” Haruhiro insisted, indicating his dagger . “But if you don’t have the proper gear it affects the entire team, so it’s for my sake too . Metal armor’s super expensive, so unless we’re making tons of money, paying for all of it by yourself isn’t really feasible . ”
“Now that Haru mentions it, Yume agrees,” said Yume, and smiled slightly . “Yume will also help pay for it when Mogzo buys his armor . Let’s all go shopping for an adorable helmet!”
Shihoru timidly raised her hand . “Me too . I don’t have that much to spare, but I’ll help too . ”
“I’m gonna say it here and now, I ain’t shelling out a single capa!” Ranta declared .
“Fine . No one expected you to contribute anyway,” Haruhiro said, briefly shooting a glance in Mary’s direction .
She was gazing at something in the distance, as if the conversation had nothing to do with her . For some reason though, Haruhiro got the feeling that she seemed to be a little lonely too . Maybe it was just his imagination .
Next time he had a chance during a fight, he decided he would observe Mary . Everyone’s general impression was that all she did was stay back and lean on her staff . She didn’t properly do her job and heal them, and had no intention of ever properly doing it . That’s what everyone believed, but was that really true?
After lunch, the first goblins they ran into were a group of three, and Haruhiro didn’t get a chance to worry about Mary all through the fight . After that, they didn’t run into any lone goblins, let alone two .
But just as they were about to leave Damroww’s Old Town, they unexpectedly collided with a pair .
Caught by surprise, the fight immediately turned chaotic; Shihoru and Mary didn’t have a chance to move to protected positions at the rear, and one goblin went straight for Mary .
“Useless girl!” Ranta yelled at Mary, as he full-body tackled the goblin that attacked her . “Quit spacing out!”
“Are you talking to me?” Mary retorted .
As the remaining goblin leapt at Shihoru, Mary swiftly spun her staff and struck it with a massive amount of force . It was the Priest’s self-defense skill, [SMASH] . Haruhiro knew it when he saw it; Manato had learned the same one . Mary had been paying attention after all .
There were only two goblins, so the fight went well from then on . As Haruhiro attempted to get himself behind his target goblin, he occasionally stole glances at Mary . We were wrong, he realized . That staff wasn’t just for decoration, after all; she had learned the [SMASH] skill so she could use the weapon . And she might not have wanted to fight at the front, but when it came down to it, she protected Shihoru .
On top of that, her eyes never left Mogzo until the goblin he fought was dead . When Mogzo took a head-butt from the goblin to the chin, in that moment, Mary’s expression turned grave as she watched . Shortly afterwards, she shook her head ever so slightly . She had determined the injury light enough not to warrant healing immediately .
Mary just “stood around doing nothing”? She had “no intention of doing her job”? No, they were wrong about that . From the back lines, Mary carefully observed the fight, and every time one of her teammates took a hit, she made a judgment call to heal or not . And she could fight with that staff when needed .
When the fight was over, Shihoru went up to Mary and said, “Thank you . For earlier . ”
Mary turned away . “I don’t know what you’re talking about . ”
Did she really have to reply like that? Haruhiro thought . If she just responded with a smile and the normal ‘You’re welcome’, Haruhiro had a feeling that Mary would be well-liked, by girls and guys alike . It wasn’t like it was that hard or anything . And it would ease things up for Mary too . Why did she go to such lengths to antagonize people?
After they returned to Altana and sold their day’s loot, Mary wordlessly began to take her leave . Haruhiro stopped her .
“Mary, hold on a second . ”
Mary, running a hand through her hair, turned around, clearly annoyed . “What business do you have with me now?”
The formality . That was why, every single time, it terrified Haruhiro to talk to her . Sometimes, for lack of a better reason, Haruhiro thought Mary had to like being hated . But she was their companion, wasn’t she? Wasn’t it better to be liked? If it were something he had the guts to point out to her, he would have .
But there was no way he could say something like that . Not at the moment—not so soon after she joined their party . Considering that it was Mary, she would just leave . She would say, ‘Enough’s enough . Goodbye’, and leave .
“It’s not really business,” Haruhiro said, “but do you want to eat dinner with us? Then go to Sherry’s afterwards?”
“I respectfully decline . ”
“Why so formal?”
Mary’s gaze dropped to the ground and her eyebrows narrowed a tiny bit . She seemed angry, but Haruhiro sensed a little embarrassment as well .
“No reason in particular,” she replied .
“Ah, I see . Sorry, weird question . ”
“It’s fine . ” Mary’s scowl faded, but she didn’t look up . She shook her head and began to say, “I will…”
Haruhiro guessed that she meant to say “I will see you tomorrow” . He never possibly expected to hear that from Mary, who usually left them without a word at the end of the day . In the end, though, she never finished her sentence .
Leaving it at “I will”, she turned her back to him and walked away briskly . There was something off with her stride; it was almost as if she were leaving in a panic .
Ranta scoffed . “Horrible girl . Seriously . ”
“Really?” Mogzo stroked a stubbly chin . His facial hair was quite dark . “I get the feeling that there was something different about her today . ”
Yume nodded vigorously in agreement . “Mary was different today . Yume got the feeling that she was an eensy bit adorable . ”
Ranta glanced sidelong at her . “Quit using adorable for anything and everything . Your definition of adorable is so broad, I have no idea what you’re trying to say . ”
“It’s okay if Ranta doesn’t get it-yan . Yume doesn’t particularly care if Ranta understands anyway . ”
“How’s that an adorable thing to say?!”
As they pacified Yume and Ranta, they searched the marketplace for Mogzo’s helm . They found a variety of used metal ones on display in an armor shop and bought an inexpensive “barbute”-type . Barbute helms were cheap because they were forged from a single sheet of metal, making the crafting process relatively simple .
They were shaped sort of like the big toe on a person’s foot, with a “T” shaped opening for the eyes, nose, and mouth . Upon first glance, it looked like it would slide off pretty easily, but an inspection of the leather-padded inside told them otherwise .
The helm fit Mogzo’s big head perfectly, but it was scratched and dented so Ranta haggled tenaciously until he brought it from forty-two silvers down to eighteen . Haruhiro paid four silvers, Yume and Shihoru three each, and Mogzo the remaining eight .
As they ate dinner at a food stall, Ranta puffed out his chest and pointed out, “It’s like I pretty much paid twenty-four silvers, so you guys should be thanking me!”
Yume and Shihoru both narrowed their eyes at him and Haruhiro was slightly taken aback by the brag, but had to admit that it might be true . If Ranta hadn’t been such a shameless barterer, they might not have been able to bring the price so far down . Twenty-four silvers was an exaggeration, but thanks to Ranta, they probably saved about ten silvers more than what one would expect .
“Thank you, Ranta,” Haruhiro said with an deliberately serious expression .
Ranta’s eyes went wide with surprise and he looked away towards the ground . “…A—As long as you guys know it . My amazing abilities of… of… Price bartering? Price evaluation? Whatever . You guys constantly underestimate my abilities, so be more respectful next time, okay? Seriously . I’m asking a favor here . Not that I really expect anything…”
They had planned to search the shops for plate armor after dinner, but it was late by the time they finished eating so they went straight to Sherry’s . Mary was nowhere to be seen, and Haruhiro wondered if she purposely avoided coming tonight because he had invited her earlier .
“Seriously, that girl is anything but adorable . Same goes for Yume,” Ranta said . It seemed that he was bitter about Mary not thanking him after he saved her in the last fight . “She doesn’t say hi, she doesn’t say thank you, she doesn’t say sorry . It’s over for her . All she has is good looks and nothing but good looks . She’s top-class hot . Not as hot as that elf in Souma’s party though…”
“B—but…” Mogzo hadn’t taken off his new helm yet . It seemed that he was really into it . It must be hard to drink with it on, though . “Last time she healed me, she said sorry to me . Mary . ”
“Quit lying, Mogzo,” Ranta replied . “She ain’t that kind of person . ”
“I’m not lying . When I got wounded on the head that time, she touched the cut and said she was sorry if she was hurting me . ”
“That’s right, she did…” Haruhiro remembered now . He was out of earshot, but Mary definitely said something to Mogzo . “So that time, that’s what she was saying . She was apologizing…”
“She protected me during that last fight,” Shihoru nodded . “She’s not friendly, but I don’t think she’s cold-hearted, or a bad person . ”
“Mary’s super adorable!” Yume declared .
“I made it a point to watch Mary today and—” Haruhiro explained everything he noticed from that last fight to the others .
In her own way, it seemed that Mary did her job thoroughly and completely . It was just that she never told anyone what she was thinking, and that she spoke so curtly . She had an attitude problem, and that was what invited misunderstanding .
“I think that if we made an effort to understand why she does things the way she does,” Haruhiro continued, “we could definitely work with her . But the question is, is it enough to stop there?”
“What’s so bad about it?” Ranta scoffed, and took a big swig of beer . “As long as that bitch does her job, then what’s the problem? And I’m not convinced that she’s even properly doing her job in the first place!”
“But you thinking that is the bigger problem,” Haruhiro replied .
“How does what I think matter to you? You guys just ignore my opinions anyway . ”
“Quit whining . ”
“I ain’t whining, just telling it like it is . That bitch is an outsider, but I’m no different . ”
Did Ranta really feel that way? Haruhiro had never noticed . It wasn’t just Mary; Haruhiro never properly made an effort to understand Ranta either . Thinking about it now, Ranta was like a little kid . He wasn’t okay with callous treatment; but in that case he should be more careful about what he said to others . Whatever treatment he got, he brought it upon himself .
However, telling him to fix that was like telling him to fix his personality, which was easy to say but wasn’t nearly as easily done . It wasn’t like Ranta had no redeeming qualities with the way he was . He had his good points too .
“I’m sorry, Ranta,” Haruhiro apologized . “It’s my bad . I’ll be more careful from now on . ”
“T-That’s right! Y-You’d better be, idiot!”
“You didn’t have to go that far . ”
“There’s nothing wrong with calling an idiot an idiot, eeeeediot!”
“Ranta…” Haruhiro rubbed the back of his neck .
He didn’t even feel like getting angry anymore . Ranta was a little kid . A bratty little kid, through and through . Rather than respond properly, better just to say whatever and leave it there . And Haruhiro recalled Manato doing exactly that .
Haruhiro sighed and taking a look around the tavern, noticing someone wearing a surcoat with Orion’s symbol . It was Shinohara . He was heading up the stairs to the second floor .
“Er, I’m gonna go say hi to Shinohara . ”
“Whaaaaat?!” Ranta protested . “You’re planning to join Orion all by yourself, aren’t you?! I won’t let you! I’m going too!”
“I don’t plan on any such thing . But I guess if you want to come along…”
“Me too, then,” Mogzo said .
“And Yume’s going too!” Yume declared .
“Umm… then, me three,” Shihoru said . “Being left here all alone is…”
A small part of Haruhiro wondered if it was really okay for everyone to come, but the five of them filed up the stairs to the second floor nonetheless . Shinohara noticed him coming before Haruhiro had a chance to say anything, and stood up from his seat .
“Well, it’s been a while, Haruhiro . Are those your teammates?”
Wow . They had only met once but Shinohara remembered him . Haruhiro was impressed . He also noticed that around them stood only Orion clan members . There must have been twenty, no, more than thirty present . There were more males, but around a third were female . Everyone wore white Orion cloaks .
“G-good evening,” Haruhiro stuttered . “Umm…”
“Come, come, over here,” Shinohara invited . “Hayashi, could you grab some chairs for them?”
“Sure thing . ” The one called Hayashi was a short-haired, narrow-slit eyed man and he brought a few chairs over from where he was sitting . “Here you go . ”
Shinohara sat back down and invited Haruhiro and the others to take a seat as well . Haruhiro noticed the other Orion clan members were incredibly well-mannered . Rather than stare at the newcomers, the other Orion members quietly chattered and laughed amongst themselves, and even though Haurhiro and the others didn’t order anything, drinks were set down before them .
Mogzo, Yume, Shihoru, and even Ranta . Each was as silent as a mouse; everyone was awed by Orion .
“So, how are things going for you, Haruhiro?” Shinohara asked . “I see you haven’t bought your Crimson Moon contracts yet, but have you at least gotten used to life here?”
“Yeah, but how did you know I haven’t bought my contract yet?”
“Everyone’s interested in how rookies are doing . You’re working in Damroww’s Old Town area, right? It seems that behind your back, there are some who mock your party as ‘The Goblin Slayers’ . ”
“Ah . Well, we really don’t go after anything but goblins…”
Shinohara was silent for a few moments then straightened in his seat . “I’m sorry about your friend . ”
“…Thanks . ” Haruhiro’s gaze dropped to the table and clasped his hands tightly together .
So Shinohara even knew about that . But maybe it wasn’t all that uncommon for word to spread quickly . In the beginning, Altana seemed to be a sprawling behemoth of a city, but in reality, it was a town with everything crammed into a very limited amount of available space . The small world of Crimson Moon was just a mere chip .
It seemed to Haruhiro one should assume that, as long as information wasn’t deliberately being hidden, it would spread in an instant .
Haruhiro continued, “…I don’t know what else to say, except that I’m sorry too . He was a good person . ”
“I may sound ostentatious,” Shinohara said, “but I know how it feels to lose friends . I’ve lost companions before too . ”
“Is… that so? I don’t know what to—”
“Never forget that feeling . ” Shinohara spoke in a quiet tone, but in his eyes was a deep, deep sadness as he looked from Haruhiro to each of the others . “Although you move on bearing the pain, carve it well into your hearts and hold dear the companions who are with you now . Hold dear the time you spend with them, because once it goes, you will never be able to get it back . There will always be regrets, but try your hardest not to be left with any . . ”
Haruhiro and the other’s hands automatically went to their chests as they listened to Shinohara’s words . Hold dear the companions who are with you now… If only they had treated Manato more dearly, if only they had appreciated him more while he was still alive . If only they tried to understand him… but they couldn’t do any of those things now .
But because of that, they had to hold dear the time they had with each other now, in order not to be left with any regrets .
Haruhiro didn’t know when he was going to die . It was the same with Mogzo, Ranta, Yume, and Shihoru . And Mary as well . If someone else were to die, Haruhiro didn’t want to regret not having said this, done that, not anymore . He didn’t want to any of the others to have any regrets, either .
“Shinohara, can I ask you something?” Haruhiro said .
“Sure, if it’s something I can help with . ”
“It’s about Mary . I saw you talking with her yesterday and I’m sure you already know that she’s in our party now . ”
“Yes . What about her?”
“Can you please tell me what you know about her? I might be asking the wrong person, but even if tried to ask Mary herself, I doubt she’d talk to me . ”
Shinohara tapped his finger on the table . “I believe… that’s something Hayashi would be more suited to answering . They were in the same party once . ”
“…Really?” Haruhiro shifted his gaze to the table next to him, where Hayashi was taking a drink from his tankard .
Their eyes met . Hayashi held Haruhiro’s gaze and nodded .