LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
While it felt good to leave Crimson Moon’s headquarters, where should he go from here? Even if learning more about Altana was the first step, Haruhiro and the others had no idea where to start . They didn’t know anyone they could ask for help either . Renji’s group, Kikkawa, Manato, and even Raghill and Mogzo were nowhere in sight . It seemed like everyone had gone their separate ways .
Haruhiro, Ranta, Shihoru, and Yume stood outside Crimson Moon’s headquarters in a daze for some time .
Shihoru was the first to break the silence . “…What should we do?”
Why ask me? I’m the one who should be asking you, Haruhiro wanted to snap, but in gentlemanly consideration to her being a girl, replied instead, “Good question . What to do…”
“What… should we do?” she repeated .
“You guys…” Ranta sighed heavily . “You guys need to be more, you know, self-reliant or some phrase like that . Now isn’t the time to be asking ‘what to do, what to do’ . ”
“Any ideas then?” Haruhiro said .
“I’m thinking really hard about it . What we should do, that is . ”
Yume giggled . “So you have no idea either . ”
Ranta rubbed the bottom of his nose with his index finger . “Damn straight I don’t . ”
This honestly kind of sucked, Haruhiro couldn’t help thinking . Maybe Raghill was right, maybe they were the good-for-nothing leftovers . They were the four dregs who couldn’t make any decisions, couldn’t do anything on their own . It wasn’t even like they decided to team up in the first place; they just sort of ended up all standing in front of the headquarters building with each other . Out of all the possible outcomes, this was probably the very worst .
“Mogzo’s so lucky,” Ranta said, and inwardly, Haruhiro didn’t disagree . “Raghill seems like the shady sort, but he’s a veteran . Mogzo’s home free, maybe even having an easy time, joining up with a veteran party who knows their way around . Why did he get picked? I’m the one that shoulda got picked . I’m seriously way more useful . SERIOUSLY . ”
“I dunno about that,” Yume said pleasantly, and Haruhiro added, “I doubt it . ”
Ranta pointed an accusing finger at both of them in turn . “You’re only saying that because you have no idea what I can do! Don’t forget this: I’m a man of ability! I’ve been famous as a man of hidden potential since birth!”
“Your potential wouldn’t be very hidden if you were famous,” Haruhiro said .
“Minor details! You’ll tire yourself out worrying about details all the time . ”
“I’m kind of tiring myself out just by talking to you . ”
“You’ve got no stamina at all, Haruhiro . Not useful at all . Nope, no good at all . No good, no good . ”
“Says a guy whose only redeeming feature is his curly hair . ”
“Don’t call me curly!”
“I said redeeming feature . Curly hair is a strong point, right?”
“You really think so? Is curly hair really okay? I’m not really convinced…”
“Yume’s hair is straight~yan . Yume’s always been jealous of naturally curly hair . Curly Ranta is great!”
“Really? Is my hair really that nice? Seriously?”
“Yep! Twisty hair means a twisty mind and it’s adorable!”
“Adorable? I dunno about that, a guy being called adorable by a girl… but it’s not bad, I guess . Still, twisty mind makes me sound kinda like an idiot…”
A small choked voice could be heard . Haruhiro turned and saw that Shihoru was hiding her face behind both hands, and her shoulders were trembling slightly .
“Whoa . ” Ranta stared in surprise .
Yume also looked over at Shihoru; she blinked . Of course, Haruhiro was surprised, too . Shihoru was crying .
“W-what’s wrong?” Haruhiro asked, extending a hand to place on her shoulder but stopping halfway . Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to make physical contact . She was a girl, after all .
“…N-nothing . ” Shihoru hiccupped . “I just… it’s nothing… I’m just a little worried, that’s all…”
“Ah…” Haruhiro said .
When he thought about it, he had nothing to say . Even under these circumstances, there the three of them were, bantering away without due gravity . At least Shihoru was saying what she really felt about the entire situation .
“There, there,” Yume gently patted Shihoru’s back . “Good girl, good girl, it’s okay . Everything will be okay . How they’ll be okay, Yume doesn’t know, but…”
Ranta frowned . “That’s not really reassuring…”
Haruhiro rubbed the back of his neck . “But I don’t think it’s good to stand here and not do anything . Even if we stopped talking, it won’t help . Maybe we should, you know, maybe… There’s got to be other veteran Crimson Moon members like Raghill around . Maybe we can look for someone like that and ask some questions . ”
“In that case, go for it!” Ranta slapped Haruhiro on the back . “Find someone quick and get info outta them! I’ll leave it to you, Haruhiro!”
“How refreshingly original, making others do all the work . ”
“Like a breath of fresh air!”
“You really piss me off . ”
“To be totally blunt and honest, I don’t really care about your feelings . ”
“Asshole . ”
“Shut up . It was your suggestion, so go do it . That’s how things usually work,” Ranta stated . “But fine, let’s split the work then . Haruhiro, your job’s to go find a Crimson Moon member and get information, Shihoru’s job is to be all depressed, Yume’s job is to make her feel better, and my job’s to stay here and wait for you to come back!”
“Ranta, you really intend to just be lazy and stay here?” Haruhiro replied .
“I’m more than glad to do anything, but I don’t wanna do anything that’s not fun . ”
“Having fun… isn’t the point . ”
“But fun’s the entire point! I’m a guy whose entire goal in life is to enjoy life . If my life isn’t enjoyable then it wouldn’t be my life . What ’bout you, Haruhiro? You’re probably the don’t-enjoy-life type, what with your sleepy eyes and all . ”
“This is the way I’ve looked since I was born!” It seemed that Ranta had another comeback ready to throw at Haruhiro, so he continued, “Fine . I’ll go . I’ll look around for a Crimson Moon member . ”
“Finally . Why didn’t you just say so in the first place and save us all the trouble?”
Haruhiro was tempted to snap back at him, but thought better of it . Guys like Ranta had a way of making you get your hands dirty . It just wasn’t worth it .
“I’ll be back in a bit, just wait here,” Haruhiro said to Yume and Shihoru instead and left the Crimson Moon headquarters behind . He still had no idea where he should go . The direction of the sun was probably east, so that meant over there was north, here was south, and west was that way .
To the north, a huge castle-like tower soared into the sky . It made for a good landmark, so Haruhiro decided to head in the tower’s direction for now . But it wasn’t like he was here as a tourist, Haruhiro reminded himself . Was it a good idea to go there then?
Haruhiro had no doubt that everything was going well for Renji’s group . Manato was probably managing one way or another and the excessively happy-go-lucky Kikkawa was probably unreservedly questioning everyone in town . Haruhiro hoped that Mogzo hadn’t been deceived by Raghill . If not, then Mogzo probably had the best start out of all of them .
“…Guess I have no choice but to find someone to ask,” Haruhiro said to himself . But who? Maybe those people, walking down the street there… but wait . Firstly, what should he ask? The reserve force . Right, he should ask about Crimson Moon . Where would he find a Crimson Moon member then?
He began searching the other passersby for someone appropriate to ask . Age didn’t matter, but someone who looked friendly would be good . Almost half those he passed in the street met his gaze . More accurately, they were staring at him . Was Haruhiro that strange looking? He probably was . His clothing was entirely different .
No matter where he looked, he couldn’t find anyone who seemed approachable . He got the feeling that everyone saw him as some sort of alien . Or was he just being paranoid?
“Doing this is too high a hurdle . Or maybe I’m just too cowardly…”
Haruhiro wandered the unfamiliar streets, heading in the general direction of the tower and trying to summon up his courage . Well, something told him, from the back of his mind, that sooner or later his courage switch would suddenly flip on . Better sooner than later, but…
Then he arrived . Past a spotlessly clean public square stood the lofty stone tower . The buildings surrounding it were mostly two stories high, with a few three storied buildings here and there . The shorter buildings might have made the tower seem even taller in contrast, but even so, it was huge .
It was a magnificent structure . It looked extremely sturdily built and its windows and gate were adorned with finely crafted decorations . Beside the gate and here and there around the public square stood men covered in armor, standing guard, wielding spears in one hand and shields in the other . Such a heavily guarded building probably meant that someone high ranking lived there; the governor maybe, Haruhiro thought .
While Haruhiro stood in the middle of the square, staring wide-eyed at the sight before him, a guard approached, armor clanking with the sound of metal on metal .
“What are you doing here? Do you have business with Tenbourou Tower?”
“Tenbourou? Err, no . No business…”
“Then leave . Or do you wish to be arrested on sight as a disturber of the peace of his Excellency, the Earl of Altana?”
“Uh, no, I don’t want to be arrested… Right . Sorry, I’ll go . ”
Haruhiro hurriedly left the square . He couldn’t be sure, but apparently the tower called Tenbourou housed the person who was this frontier city’s earl . He got the feeling that he had successfully collected his first piece of information about this place . But anyone who lived in such a conspicuous building would have been known by all the residents here .
“Altana . Earl of Altana . His Excellency . Tenbourou Tower . Frontier… Frontier Army . Crimson Moon . Reserve Force…” Haruhiro whispered all the foreign words to himself as he continued to make his way north .
As he walked, the number of people on the street started to increase little by little . Shops . He had arrived in an area where shop stands and street stalls were crammed next to each other on both sides of the road . While some of the stands were still being prepared, more than half were already open for business . Food stands, clothing shops, sundries, all kinds of goods in large numbers could be found . The loud voices of lively merchants promoting their wares echoed through the street .
“A marketplace?” Haruhiro said to himself .
As if someone was luring him in, Haruhiro found himself heading into the marketplace . The level of liveliness was amazing . The prices of all items were written as 1C, 3C, 12C, and so on . Haruhiro could read the price tags well enough, but had no idea what it all actually meant . The merchants called out to him, “You sir, how would you like to buy…” or “You sir, come take a look at…” But Haruhiro avoided them and hurried on his way, cursing himself for his timidity even as he did so .
Suddenly, a wonderful scent filled the air . The hair on the back of Haruhiro’s neck rose .
His mouth began to water . Food… A stand over there was grilling kebabs, something was bubbling in a huge pot in another stand, a mountain of bread was stacked in yet another stand . Some sort of sandwiches there, meat buns over that way… The steam, the smoke, the smell . Haruhiro couldn’t stand it anymore . His hands went to his stomach and found that it was sunken inward . Why hadn’t he noticed until now? He was starving .
“But… but Shihoru and Yume are waiting,” Haruhiro admonished himself . “Who cares about Ranta, but… it’s not right to leave them there while I stuff my face . But… the old saying goes, ‘can’t fight on an empty stomach . ’ Can’t walk on an empty stomach either… don’t want to walk on an empty stomach… Excuse me!”
Unable to resist any longer, Haruhiro made a beeline towards the meat kebab stand . He frantically searched the leather pouch and pulled a silver coin . Would he be able to pay with this? Would it be enough? What if it wasn’t enough? He’d cross that bridge when he got to it .
“One kebab, please!” Haruhiro said .
“What!?” The eyes of the potbellied man behind the stand widened . “A silver?! You don’t need that much! One kebab is four capas, look, it’s written right here, see? I don’t do discounts, but I won’t take more than that either! That’s how Dory Kebabs does business!”
“Four capas?” Haruhiro looked at the coin . “You mean I can’t buy a kebab with this?”
“One silver is worth one hundred capas . You can buy 25 kebabs with it . There’s no way you’ll be able to eat that many, right? And it’s not lunch time yet, so I only have 50 capas worth of change at the moment . ”
“So a capa is…”
“The bronze colored coins, of course . ” The potbellied man pulled out a coin that looked like the Crimson Moon trainee symbol, but maybe one or two sizes smaller, and showed it to Haruhiro . “This is a capa . Don’t tell me you didn’t know? You’re sure dressed strangely though… You’re a Crimson Moon member?”
“Um, not really . Just a trainee . Just became one, actually . ”
“I see . Well, you Crimson Moon members are all a little ‘different,’ if you know what I mean . Even though you’ve got silvers, you don’t have any capas?”
“No, no capas . And one silver is a hundred capas…” In other words, the ten silvers Haruhiro had now was the same as one thousand capas . He could buy 250 kebabs . But just one of those kebabs was so big, it pretty much made an entire meal . So 250 kebabs was 250 meals . Three meals a day and that would equal more than 80 days of food . That was quite a lot . “Sorry, I’m still just a trainee . ”
“So you didn’t know about capas . ” The potbellied man frowned and then took a deep breath . “I guess that means that you don’t know about Yorozu’s Bank then . Why don’t you go there and have a look? You can get change from there and, for a fee, deposit your money too . ”
“It’s south of this marketplace . Exit from the Tenbourou Tower side, go three streets down, then make a left . It’s around there . There’s a sign outside so you shouldn’t have trouble finding it . ”