In reality, whether the following seven days were enjoyable or not… wasn’t something Haruhiro could talk to anyone about.
One was free to quit the freedom-loving Thieves Guild at any time and, if another eight silvers were paid, one was readmitted quite easily too. However, those who were not qualified to be mentors were forbidden to speak to others about the guild’s stealing techniques, surprise attack techniques, killing techniques, and other secret skills.
As a corollary, that also included everything learned in the crash course. So Haruhiro couldn’t speak of any of it. Nor could he mention the name that his mentor had given to him. It was a name to be known and used only amongst Thieves, and there was no need for outsiders to know. Not that Haruhiro wanted anyone to know his name anyway.
…That was because he had ended up being named “Old Cat.” According to Master Barbara, it was because his eyes always had a sleepy look about them, like an aged cat. When Haruhiro thought about it, he admitted it might be true, but that didn’t mean she had to go that far. She could have named him ‘panther,’ or ‘jaguar,’ or ‘wolf,’ or ‘hawk,’ or any number of other, cooler names. Anything was better than “Old Cat.”
For the time being though, Haruhiro had completed his seven days’ training, which included housing and meals, and was now a full-fledged Thief.
Master Barbara had beaten into him the rules of conduct and thieves ideology, along with the most basic thieves craft skill, [Pick Lock], the most basic of all basics in fighting skills, [Hit], and the importance of surprise attacks. However, Haruhiro could hardly say that he had mastered them; he would have to use those techniques more before they became second nature.
When the time came to learn new skills, he would have to return to the guild and train with Master Barbara. And of course, payment was required, along with spending several days overnight again.
Currently, the only skills Haruhiro had learned were [Pick Lock] and [Hit], but his proficiency levels with both were extremely low. He couldn’t say that he could use either dependably.
As a graduation present for completing his training, he had received a used cloak, a worn dagger, a second-hand set of thieves tools, and a pair of old boots, all of which he was wearing now. He certainly looked the part of a thief now, but he sure didn’t move like one.
Master Barbara’s training had been draconian, and she made sure that Haruhiro understood that the path to becoming a Thief was steep and demanding. Haruhiro was a fledgling of a fledgling that was about to turn into a fledgling of a Thief.
Was he really going to be okay?
“Old Cat” sighed and headed towards the meeting place. It was before noon, so the marketplace was not very crowded. Only two people were standing in line at Dory’s Kebabs. One was wearing leather armor and a long sword strapped to his belt. His hair was quite disheveled. The other had a bow and quiver strapped to her back and a kukri hanging at her waist. Her hair was tied into twin braids.
“Hm?” Ranta turned to face Haruhiro.
“Hrmph,” Yume said as well, biting off a mouthful of kebab and turning towards Haruhiro just like Ranta.
It went without saying for Yume’s cheerful expression, but even Ranta’s messy hair was a sight for sore eyes. It had been a long, hard week of training. Yes, Master Barbara was sexy, but she was beyond sadistic and never cut Haruhiro any slack.
Every night, right before he curled up with a single thin, dirty blanket and fell asleep on the hard floor of his solitary cell, he imagined that surely everyone else was having the same hellish time he was. The thought didn’t give him much encouragement, but it did bring a morsel of comfort.
This is actually, really, incredibly horrible. No more of this, he had thought. Having reached the limits of his endurance and unable to take any more, Haruhiro considered running away several times. His fear of Master Barbara, however, stopped him from doing so.
“Ranta…! Yume…!” Haruhiro ran towards them, raising a hand for a high-five.
“Oh?” Ranta high-fived him back, but it was clear from Yume’s expression that she had no idea what was going on, and Haruhiro’s hand swooshed through empty air.
Was he being overly happy? A little embarrassed, he cleared his throat lightly. “Hey. How’ve you two been? Where’s everyone else?”
“Alright I guess,” Ranta replied, looking around. “No one else here but us.”
“Hrmph erm murphm,” Yume said, hurriedly trying to swallow the mouthful of kebab and choking. She started coughing.
Haruhiro looked at her. “Yume, are you okay?”
“Fine. Down the wrong pipe…”
“It’s really not good to try talking with your mouth full. It’s better to take your time, swallow first, then talk.”
“Yume doesn’t know why but Yume tends to always eat in a rush.”
“Yume’s Guild Master was always saying, ‘Yume, you should try to eat more slowly if at all possible.’ But not exactly in those words, more like ‘YUME, EAT MORE SLOWLY’.”
Ranta gazed sideways at Yume, his expression questioning. “Can you actually use that bow and arrows? You don’t really come across as a Hunter to me.”
“You mean does Yume know archery?” Yume tilted her head sideways and puffed out one cheek. “Yume’s Guild Master said that Yume may not really be good at it. No matter how much Yume practiced, Yume didn’t really improve.”
“But a Hunter that can’t use a bow isn’t really considered a Hunter, right? All Hunters can use bows,” Ranta replied.
“But Yume wants a wolf animal companion so Hunter is fine.”
“A wolf, eh?” Haruhiro rubbed the back of his neck.
Apparently experienced Hunters were able to tame and share a common will with wolves. And actual wolves too, not common dogs. Haruhiro could see the appeal in that, and could understand a little about how she felt.
“A useless Hunter in addition to a Thief,” Ranta spat disdainfully. “It’s going to be tough going from here on out.”
“As if you’re one to talk, Curly,” Haruhiro shot back.
“Don’t call me that!”
“Um, excuse me,” interrupted a petite girl, wearing a blackish triangular hat and similarly colored clothing, standing directly behind Ranta.
“GAH!” Ranta yelped in surprise, jumping up and twisting in midair to face the newcomer.
The girl’s hat had a broad rim and she was leaning on a staff with her head slanted downwards so no one could see her face. Haruhiro, though, recognized her right away.
“Shihoru?” He asked.
The girl nodded silently. It was Shihoru after all. Ranta opened his eyes wide and placed his hand over his chest.
“You scared me, sneaking up on me like that!” Ranta said. “You’ve become a Mage but you act more like a Thief.”
“I’m sorry. No one noticed me so I didn’t how to approach everyone…”
“Can’t you just say something normal? Like, ‘hey’ or ‘hi’ or ‘oy’.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t say anything normal. I’m truly sorry…”
“Quit apologizing for everything! You’re making me look like the bad guy!”
“If it were between you and Shihoru,” Haruhiro said, putting himself in between the two of them. “You are the bad guy. No need to get so pissed off at her.”
“Oh, and you’re a good guy, Haruhiro? Shihoru may keep them well hidden, but all you want are her HUGE BOOBS.”
“What? Hidden?” Haruhiro’s gaze reflexively went to Shihoru’s chest.
Shihoru immediately wrapped her arms around her chest so Haruhiro couldn’t tell if they were big or not, but… Wait. What am I doing? He wasn’t supposed to be looking. His face felt hot.
“Sorry,” he said, bowing his head.
“It’s okay…” Shihoru replied.
“You’re hiding them!” Ranta pointed his finger at Shihoru. “You can’t fool these eyes! They can see right through padding and pushups!”
Haruhiro glared at Ranta. “What kind of skill is that?”
“It’s not a skill, it’s a natural gift!”
“Shihoru, your boobs are so big,” Yume said, poking at her own chest. “Must be nice to have big boobs. Yume’s chest is flat. That’d be okay if Yume were skinny, but Yume’s flabby and flat. It makes Yume sad~yan…”
“…It’s just… I’m just…” Shihoru shrank back as if trying to make herself vanish. “It’s just because I’m just fat, that’s all.”
“Really?” Yume replied. “Shihoru doesn’t look fat at all though.”
“My clothes cover it up, that’s all…”
Ranta snorted. “Shihoru. Other girls must hate you.”
“You’re not fat but you insist you are. Girls hate other girls who say they’re fat when it’s not true.”
“I didn’t mean to… I mean…” Shihoru’s shoulders began to tremble. “I mean, I really am fat…”
“Wait,” Ranta said, looking embarrassed. “Wait a sec… It’s nothing to cry about.”
“I-I’m not c-c-crying,” Shihoru stammered.
“Yes you are! Look at those tears! You’re definitely crying!”
“It’s okay, Shihoru,” Yume said, wrapping her arms around Shihoru. “Don’t cry. Yume doesn’t hate Shihoru. But Yume doesn’t really know Shihoru very well yet either…”
Haruhiro frowned. “That… That isn’t exactly reassuring her, Yume.”
“Oh? Is that so? But Shihoru’s body feels nice. Soft and squishy.”
“Ahh, please don’t touch there… It’s embarrassing…”
“You two.” Ranta inhaled sharply. Very sharply. “You two are amazing! Right out in the open too! HELL YES! Give me more!”
“Everyone sure seems excited,” someone cut in.
Haruhiro turned towards the newcomer. “Manato!”
Manato was dressed in a hooded, blue-lined garb. In his hands was a short staff.
“I seems I’m the last to arrive,” Manato smiled broadly and looked at everyone in turn. “I’m a Priest, Haruhiro’s a Thief, Yume is a Hunter, Shihoru’s a Mage, and lastly Ranta’s a Warrior. Looks like our party is ready to go.”
“Why,” said Ranta, frowning, “are you addressing me the same casual way you address Haruhiro?”
“You prefer something more formal?”
“Being addressed informally pisses me off. You should call me Lord Ranta.”
“Don’t just say ‘no’ then laugh it off!” Ranta yelled.
“You don’t have to call Yume anything but ‘Yume’,” Yume said.
“Just ‘Shihoru’ is fine with me too,” Shihoru added.
“Thanks Yume, Shihoru,” Manato replied.
“Yeeeep!” said Yume, waving him off with a hand. Shihoru, appearing fairly embarrassed, muttered something in response as well, but Haruhiro didn’t catch what she said.
“Manato.” Haruhiro raised his right hand and Manato, switching the hand that held his short staff, high-fived him. Their palms met and made a satisfying clapping sound.
Haruhiro punched Manato lightly on the shoulder. “Good to see you, Manato. What was your training called again? ‘Priest’s Apprenticeship’?”
“Yeah. How did your Thieves Guild training go?” Manato asked in response.
“Piece of cake,” Haruhiro replied at once, but frowned and thought better of lying. “…Actually, that’s a lie. It was horrible. My mentor was terrible. Real sexy, but beyond scary.”
“A real beauty, eh? Must be nice. My master was a grizzly old man, stern, and had a booming voice that made my ears hurt.”
“Made your ears hurt? Manato, how much did he yell at you?”
“I don’t remember. But I imagine that his reason for being born was to yell at me. He was angry all the time.”
Haruhiro, constantly chewed out by Master Barbara, had lost all his self-confidence before he could even build any up. Honestly, it had been quite depressing. But it seemed like Manato had had a similar experience as well. Maybe it was the same for everyone joining a guild for the first time. The thought that he wasn’t the only one made him feel a little better. Maybe there was no need to be so depressed after all.
Thanks to Manato, he was now quite relieved. Manato was also the one who had found out about the guild system and who also advised them all in deciding which guild to join. If it wasn’t for Manato, where would they be now? Haruhiro didn’t even want to think about it.
“I guess now’s a good time as any,” Ranta sighed. His expression was a little off. “Actually, I have an announcement for you all. A very important announcement.”
Haruhiro raised his eyebrows. “Like what?”
“What is it?” Yume said, blinking in surprise. Shihoru gazed at Ranta nervously and Manato was looking at Ranta’s equipment and armor suspiciously.
Something was off. Ranta was dressed in hardened leather armor and a used longsword was hanging off his belt. But that was similar enough to a Warrior.
“Hm,” Manato said, his eyes narrowing. “Aren’t Warriors supposed to be equipped with chain—”
“Listen up!” Ranta was puffing his chest out so much that Haruhiro was afraid he was going to fall over backwards. “I told everyone that I was going to become a Warrior, but I changed my mind! It became completely obvious that my ungodly, unworldly genius wasn’t going to be put to use by joining the Warrior’s Guild, so I didn’t join!”
“Wha—” Manato started, but then was at a loss for words. His face drained of color.
Haruhiro couldn’t blame him. After all, according to what Manato was able to find out, there were two classes that no party can be without: A Priest and a Warrior. The Warrior was the frontline fighter, the tank who faced enemies head on with strength and fury. The Priest was the party’s healer, who supported his companions during fights. Because of that, Manato volunteered himself to become a Priest while suggesting that either Haruhiro or Ranta become a Warrior.
Ranta had volunteered himself because he had thought it was cool, so Haruhiro decided to join the Thieves Guild.
“Hm?” Ranta’s expression was completely nonchalant. “Something a-matter? Act more shocked, will you? It’s a super surprise, right?”
“Not shocked,” Haruhiro said, rubbing his temples. “More like dismayed. Why did you decide to join a different guild without discussing it with the rest of us?”
“A feeling. A hunch. Intuition. Six-sense. The gods within me whispered to me: ‘You’re not meant to be a Warrior. It’s unbecoming. You’re a bigger man than that’.”
“Then,” Manato said, apparently having regained most of his composure, though his expression was still a bit agitated, “which guild did you join?”
“Look!” Ranta pulled out a skull-like necklace—no, an actual skull on a necklace—and pointed to his chest. Seared into the leather was an emblem of a skull. “I’m a Dread Knight! Glory be to the Ruler of Death, the Dark God Skulheill!”
Yume placed her index finger on her bottom lip. “A ‘trend light’?”
“No!” Ranta yelled, spit flying. “A DREAD KNIGHT! Isn’t it an awesome name? I’m way above any regular Warrior!”
“Please don’t say,” Shihoru softly whispered, “that you became a Dread Knight just because the name was cool…”
“‘Just’?” Ranta sighed in an exaggerated manner. “Do I need any other reason? No, I don’t. No other reasons even exist, no matter how hard you think.”
Haruhiro wanted to punch the daylights out of him. He was really tempted to. But he didn’t. Even if he did, it would be too late and wouldn’t help the situation.
“The Dread Knight Guild has a special rule, don’t they?” Haruhiro said instead. “Once you join, you’re not allowed to leave. If you try, they’ll come after you.”
“‘Until thou art embraced by the dark god, thou shalt not embrace any god besides him,’ is the commandment. Understand? ‘Embraced by the dark god’ means death,” Ranta said.
“So what can Dread Knights do?” Haruhiro asked.
“I can summon demons!” Ranta raised a clenched fist—then lowered it. “But not at the moment. During the daytime, the God of Light Lumious’ power is too strong.”
“So you can only summon it at night.”
“For now! He gets stronger as I collect Vices!”
“So what can the demon do?”
“It whispers to me, telling me when enemies are close. And once it a while it’ll burst out with demon jokes!”
“What do you mean what? Dread Knight is perfect for me!”
“You’re right,” Manato nodded, smiling lopsidedly, tone dripping with sarcasm. “It suits you perfectly.”
“That’s right!” Ranta said proudly, missing it completely.
What a carefree guy, Haruhiro thought. Ranta may have been happy about everything, but the outlook was not good at all for the party as a whole. Were they idiots for depending on a guy like him in the first place? Haruhiro hung his head.
Yes, they were.