LEVEL 3: Even the Best Laid Plans go Awry, but Such is This World
PART 1 of 2
What the hell!? What happened?! An accident!? Fire!? Hurricane!? Earthquake!? An… an elbow? Stupid retarded Ranta had elbowed him in the chest, smack on the breastbone, jolting him awake .
“What the hell, Ranta!?” Haruhiro raged . “Quit doing dumb shit and leave me the hell alone! I’ve had enough of your stupid antics!”
“No need to get so pissed off!” Ranta said . “You were sleeping like the dead and I had no idea when you were gonna get your ass outta bed, so I did you a favor and politely woke you up!”
“I couldn’t fall asleep last night so I was up late!” Haruhiro roared . “What’s wrong with me sleeping in!?”
“So even you admit you’re wrong!”
“How the hell did I admit that!?”
“You’re wrong to sleep like sleeping beauty when I went through all the trouble of getting the information early so I can tell you!”
“Um… Ranta…” Mogzo interjected hesitantly .
“Shut up, Mogzo!” Ranta yelled . “This is between me and Haruhiro! You stay out of it! Neither of us can move on with our lives until this problem is solved, so this is what’ll determine who’s the real man! You got that, Haruhiro!? We’ll finish it here and now!”
“Finish what!?” Haruhiro demanded .
“What do you mean, ‘what’!? That, you idiot! THAT! In other words… what was that again?”
“Like I would know!”
Haruhiro let out a heavy sigh and sat up . Above his head was the same lodge ceiling as always, and because he slept on the top bunk, the bed creaked when he moved .
“So,” Haruhiro turned reluctantly to look at Ranta . “What’s this information you’ve got?”
“It’s—!” Ranta grinned fiendishly .
The expression on Ranta’s face annoyed Haruhiro to no end . How the hell Ranta could piss someone off just by grinning, Haruhiro didn’t know, but it pissed him off . It must be another one of Ranta’s “special” talents; the talents of the lowest of low-lives .
“Since you decided to sleep in,” Ranta continued . “And Mogzo said something dumb about waiting until you were up, I got super hungry, so I went to the bakery by myself . B-A-K-E-R-Y . Got it? That cheap but good one right outside of Nishimachi, Tattan Bakery . There just happened to be a couple of Crimson Moon people hanging around and they were talking about it . So I asked what they were talking about, and… hold on! Everything’s got a sequence, order, progression . Just like dating girls, yeah? Whoa, whoa, Haruhiro… it’s waaaaaaay too early for you . No reason to get pissed off about it . ‘Cause you’re still a virgin, right? Not me! I’m the Fucking King . Fuck is my middle name . Experienced in all the positions . Got it? The grandeur of my manhood gets all the female tigers to dance in wild ecstasy for me…”
“And… how long are you going to make me listen to you spouting shit?” Haruhiro casually inquired .
“I’m not shit talking! Everything that comes out of this mouth is nothing but the truth! The facts!” Ranta exclaimed .
“Fine . And the information?”
“First, you get down from there . I don’t like it when you’re looking down at me, like you’re high and mighty . It’s ridiculously stupid . ”
The bunk beds weren’t that high . The top bunk was just about the height of Ranta’s shoulder when he was standing . And Haruhiro wasn’t even standing; he was sitting up on his bunk . He didn’t feel particularly good about looking down on Ranta, and it wasn’t from all that high up, but it wasn’t a bad feeling either .
“I’m staying right here,” Haruhiro stated .
“You got a death wish or something!? Want me to kill you!?” Ranta shouted .
“You’re a pain in the ass . ”
“What? Did you say something to me?”
“Yeah, I did . I said that you’re like a parasite . No, I’m sorry . Not ‘like’ . I said you ARE a parasite . ”
“Idiot! I’m not a parasite, I’m a worker bee!”
“So you’re okay with being an insect?”
Not wanting to continue the annoying and pointless exchange, Haruhiro climbed down from his bunk and sat down on the bottom bed .
“Just get to the point already and tell me what that information is,” Haruhiro demanded .
“Quit making fun of me! I’m not some senile old retard!”
That made Mogzo chuckle, which in turn caused Ranta to grin from ear-to-ear .
“Unlike Haruhiro, Mogzo knows where I’m coming from!” Ranta said . “Mogzo can appreciate a good joke! Haruhiro sucks . He doesn’t get anything ‘cause he doesn’t have even a shred of a sense of humor!”
Haruhiro felt his thoughts becoming darker and darker but strived to keep his head clear and temper in check .
“The information, Ranta,” he prompted again .
“Hey, don’t go blaming me for your shortcomings, Haruuuuuhirooooo…”
“Ranta . The information . ”
“Whoa . Here we go again . Persistent, aren’t we?”
“Goddamn it!” Haruhiro lunged at Ranta and began to choke the life out of him . “Spit it out! I’ve had enough of you so quit messing around!”
“E-enough!? W-wait… C-c-can’t… breathe… you trying to… k-kill me!? F-fine! I’ll t-tell you… Crimson Moon… directive…”
“Crimson Moon directive?” Haruhiro repeated, exchanging glances with Mogzo .
Mogzo, or rather his stomach, replied with a loud grumble, and his face turned red with embarrassment .
“S-sorry… I’m kind of hungry…” Mogzo explained .
“No need to apologize, Mogzo,” Haruhiro said . “It’s not like you can help it . Ah, there’s some bread over there . Why not have some of that?”
“That’s MY bread!” Ranta shouted . “I’m the one who bought it at Tattan’s cheap but good bakery just outside of Nishimachi! I bought it, it’s MINE, and I’m NOT sharing!!!”
Since Ranta was being such a selfish greedy-guts, Haruhiro and Mogzo decided to go into town together to grab breakfast somewhere else . Not wanting to be left out, Ranta tagged along with them, ostentatiously eating the bread he had bought while they walked and haughtily explaining the Crimson Moon directive to them .
Apparently, a directive was a set of orders given to the members of Crimson Moon’s Altana branch . At least, they were called a “set of orders”, but compliance was not enforced . It remained up to the individual members themselves whether or not to respond to the directive . However, those who were capable of carrying out the mission given but chose not to do so without a good reason tended to lose respect amongst their fellow Crimson Moon members .
That basically meant that if it was a reasonable directive, everyone was expected to just carry it out without complaining too much . And there was also another incentive for agreeing to participate in missions .
Monetary compensation .
A portion of the payment was given in advance when they signed up and the rest was paid upon successful completion of the mission . If someone were to accept the advance payment but not do the work, a monetary penalty would be applied . If it was judged that the person had acted with malicious intent, they would also be summoned to appear at Crimson Moon’s Headquarters . Failure to obey the summons would result in a bounty being placed on their heads .
Bounties were also considered directives and were placed on criminals or dishonest merchants . Some Crimson Moon members actually liked collecting this sort of prize money and made a living out of it . They were aptly called Bounty Hunters .
Compensation for taking on a directive wasn’t paid in cash, but rather a thin bronze coin that served as a payment certificate of sorts . The coin could be exchanged for cash at Yorozu’s or any financial institution contracted with either the regular army or Crimson Moon .
Haruhiro and Mogzo decided to stop for breakfast at a food stand in Laborer’s Alley that specialized in a noodle dish called sorruz . The food stands in the area were packed with workers since early morning, and it was much livelier here at this time of day than the marketplace in the Altana’s northern sector .
Sorruz was a dish with yellow-colored wheat noodles and broiled meat in a salty broth . Haruhiro didn’t think it was all that good when he first tried it, but it reminded him of something faintly familiar, so he ended up coming here to eat every now and then . “Every now and then” soon became habit and in the end, he developed a fondness for the dish .
Haruhiro and Mogzo blew on the hot broth as they ate, slurping the noodles vigorously . Even as he munched on his bread, Ranta couldn’t stand just watching them eat and ended up ordering himself a bowl of noodles too .
“Man, this is awesome! Sooooooooo good! Sorruz is the best!” Ranta declared .
“Quit making a scene . And your runny nose is dripping snot into your bowl,” Haruhiro admonished .
“I can’t help it! It’s running like crazy! Haruhiro! You just don’t get how good sorruz is!”
“Sorruz is really good,” Mogzo agreed, working on his second order of noodles already . Or not…
“Mogzo, that couldn’t be your third bowl already?” Haruhiro asked .
“W-well… yes,” Mogzo admitted . “It’s so good I can’t help it…”
“Damn Mogzo!” Ranta exclaimed . “You’re a worthy rival, alright! But I’m not gonna lose!” He turned to the middle-aged cook . “Hey mister! Another order of sorruz!”
“Coming right up!” the cook confirmed .
“Heh,” Haruhiro grunted, taking his time bringing the noodles to his mouth with the wooden fork . Yeah, it was good, but he couldn’t stuff himself full this early in the morning . His stomach couldn’t take it .
“But you know, Mogzo,” Ranta continued . “Good as this is, couldn’t we make it ourselves if we tried?”
PART 2 of 2
“Err…” Mogzo hesitated . “Uh… y-yes, I suppose we could… maybe? But the broth is…”
“Nah, we definitely could,” Ranta insisted . “The soup’s just throwing stuff in a pot and boiling it ’till it looks done and tasty . Yep, no problem!”
“I… don’t think it’s that simple…”
“Really? Doesn’t seem all that complicated… what’s in the soup anyways?”
“Umm… let’s see,” Mogzo mused . “Probably chicken stock with some pork lard and meat . Vegetables, like onions and carrots…”
“Whoa,” Ranta replied, impressed . “You’re pretty pro at this, Mogzo . I couldn’t even begin to guess . ”
Haruhiro wanted to say that knowing the ingredients didn’t mean they could replicate the taste, but decided to let it go . Yeah, he didn’t need to say anything .
Mogzo lifted the bowl up to his mouth and took another sip of the broth . “Yes, and garlic too . If they added a little ginger, it might make the flavor even bolder…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Mogzo, you can do it! Once we save up enough money, let’s open another sorruz stand!” Ranta proposed .
Mogzo laughed good-naturedly and replied, “But I’m a soldier for Crimson Moon . ”
“Don’t be dumb! That doesn’t matter! If we can make enough money, it doesn’t matter what sort of work we do! Who says we gotta keep doing this hack-and-slash stuff our entire lives? We can retire someday and start second careers! Get what that means? It means… uhh… a number two career!”
“You can’t define a phrase with the same phrase,” Haruhiro sighed .
“Shut up, Haruhiro!” Ranta replied sharply . “I mean it! I’m having a super important talk with Mogzo so shut up and go away!” He turned back to Mogzo . “So, Mogzo, how about it? You and me! We’ll call it ‘Sorruz Stand: Ranta & Mogzo’ . We can split the profits, seventy percent for me, thirty for you—but okay fine, fine, fifty-fifty . We’ll start trying to figure out the recipe now so that everything will be ready to go afterwards! What do you say!?”
“A shop, huh…” Mogzo’s expression was thoughtful as if he didn’t think it was a bad idea at all . “That might be nice . Seems more enjoyable than fighting, too . I’ll think about it . ”
“Right! You do that! Way to think positive, Mogzo!” Ranta said . “Let’s get rich! Wildly rich! We can even start up a chain! Ten shops in Altana and then seventeen hundred stores throughout Grimgar! If it’s you and me, we can do it! Eventually!”
Ranta practically inhaled the rest of his soup then exhaled deeply in satisfaction . Then he continued, “Anyways, about this directive thing . You guys ready to hear it!? Ready to hear what I got to say!? Are you!? Really? You guys really ready!? Because once you hear it, I won’t take no for an answer, got it!?”
“Ranta, you’re already beyond excessively loud and annoying so just say it,” Haruhiro said .
“Haaaaaaaruhiroooooooo… you’re one to talk ‘cause you’re a hundred times louder and more annoying than me! No, wait! A thousand times! Ten-thousand times! No, five billion times more annoying! Just admit it, dumbass!”
“Okay, sure . ”
“Say okay sure a hundred times!”
“Okay sure a hundred times . ”
“Hey! Quit treating me like an idiot! I see what you did there! ‘Cause I can outsmart you any day! Bow down to Lord Ranta!”
“At least Mogzo’s getting a laugh out of this…” Haruhiro sighed .
“S-sorry… I just thought that just now was pretty funny…” Mogzo said .
“Moggggggzoooooo! ‘Just now’? What do you mean by ‘just now’? I’m always funny! I’m always awesome! I’m the Comedian King Rantaman! If you doubt my one outta one hundred comedic genius, future business partner or not, I’ll kick your ass!”
“I don’t think one in one hundred is all that rare,” Haruhiro quipped .
“Hey! Haruhiro!” Ranta shouted .
“What are you shouting for?” Haruhiro asked . “It’s kinda irritating . ”
“I meant one outta a hundred thousand! Not a hundred! Got it!?”
“Okay, sure,” Haruhiro said . “Now talk about the directive . We haven’t gotten anywhere on that topic yet . ”
“AND WHOSE FAULT IS THAT!?” Ranta yelled . “YOURS!!!”
“Why are you so pissed? I’m the one who should be pissed off at you . ”
“‘Cause it’s my turn to be pissed!”
“Whatever . Just tell us about the directive . ”
“Hahaha! Wait ‘till you hear what I gotta say, you guys are gonna flip your shit!” Ranta suddenly stood up, twisted his arms around each other and fashioned his fingers on both hands in the shape of a… snake? Or something resembling one . “This, guys! THIS!”
“I don’t get it . You’re gonna have to give me more than that . ”
“It’s a twin-headed snake! Get it!?” Ranta made his right-hand snake head say hello to his left-hand snake head . “The offensive to retake Capomorti Fortress and Steelbone Stronghold, codenamed ‘Operation Twin-Headed Snake’! The directive is apparently aimed at covering up something about the operation . Signups for the Steelbone front is already over, but that was meant for highly experienced warriors anyway . If we participate, we’ll be part of the forces going to Capomorti . The compensation is twenty silvers in advance with eighty more after the completion of the mission . That’s one whole gold! And entire gold! One per person! Awesome, ain’t it!?”
Mogzo’s eyes went wide even as his jaw dropped .
“A gold…” Haruhiro breathed .
It was no small amount to him either . Haruhiro suddenly remembered the time right after they had lost Manato . Renji had given them a gold coin saying, “My condolences . Take it . ” And he also recalled his surprise at Renji causally tossing around such a huge amount .
“If Capomorti Fortress,” Ranta sat down again and pointed to a spot on the table . “Is around here… or is here better? Maybe here instead…”
“Does it really matter where?” Haruhiro asked .
“Okay, whatever . It’s about four miles north of Altana and occupied by orcs . Four miles is like nothing, right? Super close . So of course Altana’s attacked it a number of times and managed to drive the orcs out too . But no matter how many times we attack and win, we’re never able to keep hold of it for long . The orcs always take it back . You know why?”
“Uh…” Mogzo crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head a little . “Not enough… patience? Or something like that?”
“Of course… NOT! No way! The correct answer is… here . ” Ranta pointed with the index finger of his other hand to a different spot near the edge of the table . “Steelbone Stronghold . It’s about twenty-five miles west of Capomorti, by the side of the Great Funryuu River . If you follow the river upstream, you’ll soon enter into what remains of the Nananka Kingdom . You guys know that what means? Probably not . The Nananka Kingdom . It’s orc territory now . The entire kingdom’s been taken over by the orcs . They use ships on the river for transportation . Commodities, soldiers, you name it . Capomorti is a super small fortress, but when it gets attacked, the orcs send some sort of message upriver . Then Steelbone sends reinforcements back . ”
Haruhiro’s brows furrowed in thought . “But it’s twenty-five miles away…”
“The orcs have a special type of unit called a ‘dragoon’ . ” Ranta said, striking a strange pose . It looked like some kind of animal… an octopus, maybe? “But they’re not dragons or anything, just huge lizard-like beasts called dragon-horses and apparently they run ridiculously fast . At top speed, it only takes them about an hour to cover the distance between Steelbone and Capomorti . ”
“I see…” Mogzo smacked his right fist into his left palm . “That’s why we’re attacking both sites simultaneously this time . ”
“Right on! I knew you had the brains to be my business partner!” Ranta snapped his finger, or attempted to but no sound came out . He tried several times but had to give up in the end . “Stupid dry skin . ”
Haruhiro sighed . “Blaming it on dry skin, huh?”
“What do you have against me saying my own skin is bad!? You my evil mother-in-law or something!?”
“Quit pretending! You wanna fight me!?”
“Isn’t attacking Steelbone and Capomorti at the same time pretty much the same as declaring open war on the orcs?” Haruhiro asked instead .
“Oh, so you’re ignoring me now, eh . And didn’t you know? We humans are already in a state of war against the orcs and undead . Have been since forever ago . ”
“Yeah, I got the idea, but it’s just been skirmishes here and there . Nothing really huge,” Haruhiro pointed out .
“We attack each other whenever we get the chance if that’s what you mean by skirmish . Orcs attacked Altana a while back, didn’t they?” Ranta said .
“Oh yeah… Ishh Dogrann? I think was his name . The guy Renji killed . ”
“Yeah . This operation is probably partially in retaliation for that attack . At least originally . But this time, it’s not just some casual poke to annoy them, Altana’s army is serious about retaking and holding the fortress . They already failed to hold the fortress a number of times so I guess they’ve decided to stop repeating the same mistake . ”
Ranta laughed haughtily as if he was some sort of master strategist, schooled in the military practices of Altana’s regular army . The more Ranta explained though, the more it seemed like open war to Haruhiro .
“Sounds like a pretty dangerous move . It’s not just Crimson Moon that’ll be attacking the fortress, right?” Haruhiro asked .
“Nah . Of course the regular army will be there too . They’re the main force; we reserve force members are just supporting them . Are you retarded or something Haruhiro? Use your head a little . Quit looking sleepy all the time and wake up, Haru-Heroine . ”
“Quit making fun of my looks or I’ll backstab you . And what the hell is a Haru-Heroine?”
“You just don’t get my jokes, do you, Haru-Helium . ”
“Ranta, I swear I’m gonna…”
“Um…” Mogzo interrupted . “How many? I mean… how many people are participating in the operation?”
“How many?” Ranta stroked his chin . “Let’s see… about five or six hundred from the regular army plus a hundred to a hundred fifty from Crimson Moon for Capomorti . The fighting looks like it’s going to be tougher at Steelbone so I heard that Souma’s Daybreakers, the Red Devils, Dak’s Berserkers, Taiman Max’s Iron Knuckles, and Shinohara’s Orion clans will all be over there . Crazy, ain’t it? It’s almost like they’re saying small fry aren’t needed there because we’d just get in the way and die . ”
Why Ranta just had to add that last bit of information even though it was completely superfluous, Haruhiro could guess . Ranta was thinking that the tough fight was going to be at Steelbone, while Capomorti would be taken down with ease . He probably even thought that maybe Capomorti would surrender as soon as Altana’s army and Crimson Moon marched up to the gates .
“Anyways!” Ranta had his arms twisted together again and was making his snake head hands snap at each other . “An entire gold! It’s decided then! We’re gonna do it! Let’s go get ourselves signed up right now! There’s only three more days before the deadline so gotta strike while the iron’s hot or some phrase like that . Whatever! Let’s head over to headquarters!”
“H-hold on…” Mogzo beat Haruhiro to it . “Shouldn’t we at least ask the others?”
“Whaaaaaaaat!? WHY!? Who cares about them? About that? The convo’s gonna be, ‘We gonna do it?’ ‘Yeah, let’s do it’ ‘Okay go’ and everyone’s gonna agree so no worries! They’re just girls, too!”
“No, you can’t just assume that,” Haruhiro said, rubbing the back of his neck . “Let’s get everyone together tonight and talk it over . Besides, we’ve still got plenty of time before the deadline . ”
Ranta frowned, exhaling noisily through his nose . “Fiiine . Whatever . ”
The next time he says inconsiderate things like that, I’m going to reply by punching him in the face, Haruhiro decided .