The following day, the previous night’s incident had already spread throughout the village .
That morning, as the villagers began waking up and emerging from their houses, they were greeted with an odd spectacle in the village square .
There, Gon and his men were restrained and displayed for all to see .
Their faces were red in shame .
One of Hayate’s subordinates was standing guard nearby, providing explanations for the passing villagers .
When the villagers heard about the attempted rape and peeping of Ruri, they all directed scornful gazes at Gon .
However, they were relieved to hear that Ruri’s chastity was protected thanks to the collective efforts of Rio and Hayate .
The guard proceeded to inform the villagers about how Rio nearly beat Gon to death and how the other voyeurs were left outdoors in the freezing cold autumn night .
The official punishment was going to be decided in a meeting later that day, but Gon being the principal offender, there was no way he would get off easily .
Throughout the day, whenever any of the villagers passed by Rio, they would call out and thank him .
Gon was going to perform yobai .
It was a custom practiced among the villagers where a man would visit a woman in the middle of the night and propose to have sex .
Assuming both parties’ feelings were mutual, if the woman gives her consent for sex, the two would become formally engaged .
However, the man must back off if the woman turns down his proposal .
The Karasuki Kingdom, where Rio currently resided, practiced monogamy unlike countries in Strahl .
An exception was only granted to the privileged classes where it was necessary to produce an heir .
Therefore, once a man and woman made a pledge to one another unless there was a major issue, they would remain married for the rest of their lives .
As a result, a woman’s virginity was extremely important .
It was socially unacceptable to be unfaithful, one must only dedicate his or her life to their significant other .
That was why rape was a grave offence on par with murder and arson in the Karasuki Kingdom .
That was to say nothing of what began as a yobai ended up as a rape attempt . It was an absolutely unforgivable deed .
In this incident, Gon abused the yobai custom and threatened Ruri into agreeing that it was consensual .
No further explanation was needed for anybody to understand just how heavy the crime was .
Fortunately, the incident only ended up as an attempt and Ruri’s chastity was preserved .
However, a deep scar that should have never existed was left on her heart .
Gon was now on shameful display in the village square . To the Gon who became conceited, overconfident of his own strength and as a result, straying from the correct path, nobody felt pity for him .
As for the punishment for Gon and the voyeurs, it was decided to call the village chief of Gon’s village over to discuss the issue .
Some of the people currently staying in the village returned to the other village to call the village chief .
It would take several days to decide on a suitable punishment for Gon and the others .
Although the punishment had not been decided upon yet, it was not unheard of for rape victims to only receive monetary compensation .
Whether he was to be judged by their hands or by the country and made into a crime slave, Gon’s future seemed bleak regardless .
In addition, Hayate had pledged to act as a witness if Gon was put on trial .
His punishment was as good as decided .
As the rumour made its way through the village, the residents of Yuba’s house began eating their breakfast .
「Alright everybody, let’s have breakfast . 」
Serving the food, Rio spoke in a bright tone .
Rio acted like his usual self as if a demon had been exorcised, as if yesterday’s frenzy was all a lie .
Despite a veil of darkness covering the room, yesterday, Ruri, Hayate, and Yuba all witnessed Rio’s fury last night and they responded in bewilderment .
His attitude perplexed them .
As usual, Rio was able to sense their confusion .
He nearly allowed his cheerful mask slip .
However, Rio managed to deceive them with his trademark wry smile .
He wanted to restore the peace between them, even if it was only on the surface and thought now would be his best chance .
「I sincerely apologize to everybody for losing my composure yesterday . 」
Rio did not think he could brush off last night’s incident and settle it without an apology .
Bewilderment, misgivings, anxiety, those were the feelings they must have felt . Rio felt that his actions caused them unnecessary grief .
Ruri, in particular, suffered immeasurable hardship .
When she was assaulted by Gon and panicked, far from easing her suffering, Rio only furthered her distress, causing an uproar and scaring her even more .
That was why, right now, he was going to apologize to her and everybody else .
He was truly sorry from the bottom of his heart .
He wanted to restore their relationship from before if possible .
Slight doubts and misgivings may remain but at the very least, he wished to regain their peaceful life, even if it was only on the surface .
It was necessary for him to take the initiative to mend their relationship since he was the one who created the rift .
Those were Rio’s thoughts .
Although his apology came as a surprise, it was vital that he emphasized his sincerity .
Even if it came out as imprudent, delaying it any further would only cause unnecessary worry .
「Haa… if Ruri is unharmed, then I have nothing to say right now . 」
「That’s right . If Rio-dono permits it, let me say that if at that time, had Rio-dono not intervened, I don’t know if I could’ve held back either . 」
Letting out a sigh, Yuba spoke while glancing at Ruri .
Hayate also followed up .
「Rio… are you okay now?」
Ruri voiced her concern despite being hesitant about touching such a sensitive issue .
「I am . Rather than worrying about me, Ruri-san suffered much more than me . I am sorry I frightened you last night . 」
Disregarding his own issues, Rio apologized, lowering his head so that it nearly touched the ground .
「Pl— Please don’t be . Rio saved me and… Uhm, it would be a lie if I said I wasn’t a bit scared, but Rio became angry for my sake . That’s why I’m alright . 」
Ruri’s words faltered a bit .
Still, a sense of stiffness remained in her voice .
Maybe, it was already impossible to return to exactly how it was before .
That was only natural .
What was she thinking? How did she feel about him? Rio could not read her heart .
However, he knew she was unstable .
This was the result of his actions .
He had to shoulder the responsibility .
Once again, Rio felt the weight of his actions weighing down on him .
「I deeply apologize . 」
In a sincere voice, Rio voiced his apology again .
There was nothing more he could do but to rebuild their trust .
And so, they began their meal . At a glance, it seemed like just another peaceful morning .
After finishing up breakfast, Hayate went to work, commanding his men to load the taxed crops onto his carriage since he needed to arrive in the next village by tomorrow morning
On the other hand, Rio went out to help with work around the village .
In the meanwhile, Yuba arranged to have Ruri take a rest for the day .
When Hayate’s preparations for departure were completed, the news spread throughout the village and Rio and Ruri gathered in the village square to see him off .
Exchanging farewells, Hayate turned and spoke to Rio .
「Uhm, the matter regarding Rio-dono and Ruri-dono has been weighing on my mind, so may I request a favour?」
Hayate spoke with a slightly regretful and downhearted expression .
Although Hayate could not help but worry about Ruri, he could not abandon the mission entrusted to him by the country .
That was why, he had no choice but to, with a heavy heart, rely on Rio .
His words were full of sincerity .
「Yes, of course . 」
Requesting permission from Rio was unnecessary since it was only natural for him to accept .
Rio immediately responded in a strong voice .
「It still seems that last night’s incident still weighs on her mind . It may be rude of me to ask since we’ve only just met but nonetheless, please hear me out, please don’t do anything that’ll cause her any further worries . 」
「Yeah… I’ll keep that in mind . 」
「Mhm, I’m glad . I’d like to talk to Rio-dono some more if the situation allows . I pray we meet again soon . 」
Hayate displayed a peaceful smile .
Rio deeply lowered his head .
Finally, they exchanged a firm handshake .
「Hayate-sama . 」
Waiting until the two of them wrapped up their conversation, Ruri approached Hayate .
「Ah, Ruri-dono… Is something the matter?」
Hayate smiled brightly at Ruri .
Ruri shyly reached out, revealing a small baggie in her hands .
Hayate eyed the bag with a puzzled face .
「Uhm, it’s a good luck charm . Though, it’s a bit frayed since I made it in a hurry . Uhm, I will be praying for your safety . 」
What Ruri presented him was a good luck charm unique to this country .
Inside the small bag was a strip of wood with the bestower’s name engraved on it .
It was believed that when danger befell the recipient of the charm, any harm would be transmitted to the bestower instead .
「Ah— Th— This is! Thank you so much!」
Although Hayate knew of the custom, he never expected to receive one from Ruri causing him both confusion and overwhelming joy .
Deeply moved, he received the charm with trembling hands .
「Yo— You’re welcome . You stayed by my side all of last night . This is a token of my appreciation . It’s not much but…」
「There’s no such thing! It’s the best farewell gift I could’ve ever hoped for . I will treasure Ruri-dono’s gift forever!」
Hayate blurted out what could have been taking as a confession with such intensity that it seemed like he was about to break out into a dance at any moment .
Though, the person himself did not seem to notice possible implications of his own words .
Ruri smiled awkwardly at Hayate’s excessive reaction .
「I’d also like to give you something in return but… sorry . I will definitely have something prepared the next time I come by . Uhm, I know the emotional wounds you suffered are difficult to bear, but please continue living with a strong will . If there’s anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to tell me . You can even visit my home in the capital if you need anything . 」
「Yes . …Then, please take care . 」
Bidding farewell, Ruri gently wrapped her hands around Hayate’s hand that was holding the charm .
Hayate’s face immediately turned bright red .
Breaking into the awkward atmosphere—
「Well then, I guess I should pray for your safety as well . Hayate-dono, can I trouble you to deliver this letter to Gouki-dono once you return to the capital?」
Yuba came over while speaking those words .
*Twitch* Regaining his senses, Hayate’s body flinched as he faced Yuba .
Yuba gave him a humouring smile when she saw his reaction .
He lightly cleared his throat and received the presented letter .
Rather than being conveyed orally, the message was written on valuable paper indicating that it was a message of great importance .
「To father? Okay, I will deliver it without fail . 」
「You have my thanks . Please be careful not to lose it since it’s an important letter . 」
「Understood . 」
In response to Yuba’s warning, Hayate answered in a serious tone .
「I would like to offer my dearest thanks for the hospitality we received this time . Please accept my heartfelt gratitude . Then, let us meet again . I pray for your good health!」
Hayate stored the letter of importance in his breast pocket and bid farewell to all those present .
Floating a fearless expression on his handsome face, Hayate turned on his heel and mounted his horse .
It was a magnificent horse, giving off an impression of strength with its black mane and large build .
Without a doubt, it was considerably fast when sprinting .
However, it only trotted at a steady pace to match the speed of the carriage .
After confirming that Hayate had mounted his horse, the coachman signalled his horses to start pulling the carriage .
*Katakata* The wheels resounded against the road as it slowly pulled away from the village .
Rio and the others saw off Hayate’s party with a smile .
And so, two days passed .
The village chief of Gon’s village and a man acting as public relations for the trade group were called to the village .
As one would expect, it was to discuss the incident involving Gon and his group .
Despite committing a crime within the village’s jurisdiction, they were still foreigners belonging to another village .
If they wanted to ignore that fact and have Gon executed, they would have to hand him over to the country to have him publicly condemned .
However, such actions may cause rise to resentment in the future so, for the time being, Gon’s village’s cooperation was sought .
「So how do you intend on compensating us for this incident?」
For the sake of bringing them up to speed, Yuba recounted the events first before asking for compensation without trying to hide her contempt .
「I see, I must say that I am also greatly appalled at their actions… I extend my deepest apologies for this unfortunate incident . 」
「Hee~ You’re Gon’s father and yet you have no qualms with recognizing his wrongdoings?」
Receiving an unexpectedly calm response from Gon’s father, Yuba wrinkled her eyebrows .
「This and that are separate things, don’t you agree? We have no say in his punishment at all . However, he’s already an adult so we’re troubled that you’re implying that his actions are our responsibility…」
「What did you say?」
It was a really calm tone .
However, it was an extremely selfish thing to say .
Yuba could not help but become angry at those words .
Rio, who was listening in on their conversation from the side, was also disgusted at Gon’s father .
Of course, it was expected for an adult to be responsible for their own actions, even if they grew up into a self-centered individual .
However, part of the fault also lay in the environment he was raised in .
Gon grew up in a village that treated him like a tumour .
If they left him unattended and never scolded him for his wrongdoings, then it was no surprise for him to develop such a character .
As one would guess, that was the environment in which Gon was raised, a household which only prioritized the eldest son and neglected the younger son .
Gon’s father had quite the nerve to pretend he had no part in his son’s actions .
Still, he probably would not have been able to become the village chief if he did not act like this .
「The type of person a child grows up to be, reflects the environment they were raised in . Don’t you hold some responsibility in shaping his character?」
「It is as you say, but you know, it’s also their responsibility to shape their own future . Besides, isn’t he going to become a crime slave anyway? He’ll be cheaper than a normal slave but you’ll still get some money from selling him . That should be enough for compensation . 」
Gon’s father only gave an evasive answer to Yuba’s inquiry .
For Yuba, her precious granddaughter’s life was nearly ruined .
A pathetic amount of money as compensation was just insulting .
Judging from the attitude Gon’s father held thus far, it was likely that he had already planned on cutting ties with Gon and his group of misfits if a situation like this one arose .
It was a blatantly suspicious attitude .
Amazed by his response, Yuba sent a brief glance in Rio’s direction .
Catching her glance, Rio gave a slight nod .
「You should’ve had something to gain by allowing them to travel with the trade group . Since that was the case, I suggest you utilize them to make amends for the damage they caused . To only consider the benefits and ignore the possible consequences, isn’t that quite a selfish decision?」
「Isn’t that right?」
Rio gave an indifferent reply .
Yuba nodded deeply in approval of his words .
As expected, since Gon’s father allowed the problem children to act as escorts for the trade group, he had the responsibility of supervising their actions .
He reaped the profits of employing them yet did not want to be associated with them when they caused trouble; such a convenient arrangement was unacceptable .
In modern society, this was a matter of common etiquette, but it was unknown if such manners were also practiced in this world .
「Ugh, but you see…」
As expected, Gon’s father became troubled in the face of Rio’s argument .
However, despite being at a loss for words, he still did not seem to want to accept responsibility .
Before Gon’s father arrived in the village, Rio had already consulted Yuba on how to deal with the issue and the current flow of events was within their predictions .
If an understanding between the two parties could not be met, they would seek out alternative avenues of attack to push the discussion forward in their favour .
They would have no choice but to take strong measures if the situation called for it .
Rio and Yuba patiently waited for Gon’s father to continue .
「This incident will cause me to lose a substantial amount of manpower so it’ll be difficult for the future of my village . Since we’re both victims here, can we not both just accept our losses and move on?」
Gon’s father continued to persistently deny any responsibility in the incident .
To also declare himself as a victim was absolutely absurd .
Be that as it may, the number of young men participating in the incident were five, including Gon .
Although it was still unclear as to what kind of punishment they will receive, excluding Gon, even if the others returned to the village, they would no longer be welcome .
What awaited them was a life of social ostracism .
If he had a choice, Gon’s father would prefer to exile them, rather than accepting them back into his village .
As a result, his village would lose precious manpower .
It was quite a substantial loss .
「I see . Ah, by the way, we’ve already seized your trade group’s shipment of goods . 」
Facing such an obstinate man, Yuba revealed the trump card she had been holding onto thus far .
「Wh— What’d you say!? Isn’t that plain robbery!? Don’t give that bullshit!」
The change was instantaneous, outraged, Gon’s father bolted onto his feet and started shouting .
「Well, hear me out first . I have an offer that’ll be beneficial for both of us . 」
「…What are the conditions?」
Lured by Yuba’s abstruse offer, Gon’s father seated himself again .
For the time being, it seemed that there was still room for negotiations .
「First of all, let’s assume Gon becomes a crime slave . Do you have any objections to this matter?」
It seemed that he had already accepted this as a fact .
Despite being a problem child, Gon was still his son, but he had no choice but to accept the punishment because Gon had committed an unforgivable crime .
「You believe that they should be responsible for their own actions . Those are your thoughts, correct?」
「Then that makes things a lot easier . I propose that you sell the rest of them off as regular slaves . 」
Gon’s father showed a perplexed expression at Yuba’s proposal .
「But, they didn’t commit a crime that would warrant them becoming crime slaves and a lot of them are reaching adulthood . Since they’re adults, we’ll need their consent or a reason to sell them as debt slaves . They might have peeped but I doubt they’ll agree so easily…」
「They have a debt to Ruri . It’s called reparations, you know?」
「No, reparations by itself are not enough to make them into debt slaves . 」
Gon’s father spoke with a bewildered expression as if he was told something absurd .
For somebody to become a debt slave, a deed stating that they owed money was necessary .
However, reparations was not strictly a monetary debt .
Of course, with cooperation from the perpetrators, reparations could be disguised as monetary debt but it was extremely difficult to gain their cooperation .
In the first place, it was common for perpetrators to ignore reparation payments to their victims if no evident damage was caused .
Therefore, when the victim does suffer damage, reparations would be authorized but it was usually pie in the sky . Reparations by itself were not enough of a reason to have the perpetrator become a debt slave .
「Fumu, you can make up a reason in place of reparations . 」
「…Ah, a reason huh?」
「You and those men all bear the responsibility of providing reparations . In other words, if you pay the full compensation out of your own pockets, you can then claim that they now owe their respective reparation amounts to you . 」
「Well, that can’t…」
However, even if Yuba’s proposal was enacted, it would be meaningless if the men had no means to repay Gon’s father .
Those who were second sons and below were not allowed a great amount of property so they would be unable to pay for reparations .
That was the reason why Gon’s father desperately tried to pin the blame solely on them so his village would not suffer any losses .
From the start, Yuba had not requested reparations from those men but from Gon’s father who, being the village chief, would have more than enough to pay the requested amount .
「Then, you admit that you’re responsible for paying reparations to Ruri and will pay the full amount . 」
「What are you saying…?」
Gon’s father voiced a complaint in astonishment .
With that, the negotiations were back where they started .
Since property that would be collected from the convicted did not exist, despite denying any responsibility on his part, Yuba still demanded him to pay the full amount of reparations .
Gon’ father could not understand what her motives were .
「If you do that, they will be forced to borrow money from you, right? It shouldn’t be too difficult for you as the village chief to grant them a favour by paying off their debts for them and then writing up a deed . You can easily make them into debt slaves if you follow these steps . 」
At last, Gon’s father grasped the meaning of Yuba’s words .
Up until now, Yuba, Gon’s father, and those who sought to harm Ruri were in a 3-way struggle, but Yuba was able to drag Gon’s father onto her side .
「You will hand over your shipment of goods to us . But on the other hand, you can sell those men as debt slaves to recoup your loss here . Of course, we’ll accept a monetary payment in place of the goods if you prefer . The choice is yours . Those fools will be punished and neither village suffers any loss . 」
Only those who sought to harm Ruri were going to be punished .
In other words, they reap what they sow .
However, Gon’s father—
「Isn’t it just peeping…? To go to such extents…」
He felt a tinge of guilt for them who, despite being problem children, were also residents of his village .
「Are you looking down on the importance of a girl’s virginity?」
Pressured by Yuba, Gon’s father’s voice faltered .
「Far from trying to stop Gon, they even actively supported his disgusting behaviour . Don’t you think this incident is much more severe than merely peeping?」
「They nearly caused irreversible damage to my precious granddaughter . I will not allow them to get off so easily . If you do not accept my conditions, I will forcibly confiscate your goods here and now . Well, it’ll likely cause friction between our villages . The decision is up to you . 」
Gon’s father immediately calculated the possible pros and cons of accepting the deal .
The profits from selling the trade goods in the capital were to support the village for the entirety of the coming year .
It was in no way an unsubstantial amount of money .
However, comparing that amount to selling four slaves in their primes, it was difficult to determine which one would be more profitable .
Rather than children, all four of them were males in their primes so they should generate quite a sum .
In contrast to crime slaves who had no chance of emancipation, regular slaves could earn their freedom once they have worked their sentence .
If they were driven out of the village, at worst they would become bandits .
If that was the case, Gon’s father thought that having them reap what they sow may be better than granting them mercy .
「Understood… Then I’ll transfer ownership of the goods to you . 」
Gon’s father decided on selling the men into slavery with his own hands .
Rio only stared at him in silence .
Afterwards, Yuba continued negotiations on how to collect on Ruri’s reparations .
That evening, Rio made his way to the small hill where his parents’ grave was erected .
Lately, he visited their grave almost every day after finishing work .
Signs of autumn could be seen from where he stood .
Standing before the stone pillar acting as his parents’ grave, Rio watched as the evening sun started to set, dyeing the sky red .
A few days ago, Rio had lost himself to anger .
Despite being able to recover after a single night, it was the first time Rio became strongly aware of the unspeakable anger dwelling within him .
For the following few days, he continued fighting against himself .
His own heart could not be easily understood .
Rio as himself harboured strong emotions of hatred and vengeance for his mother’s murderer .
On the other hand, Rio as Amakawa Haruto was unable to forgive the murderer of Rio’s mother .
However, the implications of the term revenge were too heavy . Up until now, Rio— No, Amakawa Haruto had been actively avoiding his other self .
He hesitated on going down a path of no return .
Amakawa Haruto had been suppressing Rio’s desire for revenge for all this time .
While it may be an imprudent way of putting it, the incident from a few days ago proved to be a good opportunity .
The incident allowed him to renew his determination to live in this world .
The incident which made him recall the death of his mother cut deep into the darkness of his heart .
Revenge would not fulfill anything for him .
Even if he achieved his revenge, only emptiness awaited .
Even though his mother was murdered, was he qualified to be an existence who could judge good and evil?1
He would become no different than the man he resented .
He refused to become such an egoist .
Those standing on the sidelines could easily spout such idealistic rhetorics .
By not directly addressing the problem but ignoring it and hoping it would go away, Haruto tried to repress the feelings of revenge .
Not wanting to face his other self, he denied Rio’s existence .
If he did it—
He would have no choice but to face the ugliness dwelling within him .
He would have no choice but to become aware of his own arrogance .
He would have no choice but to open his old wounds that have yet to heal .
These were the reasons why Haruto was afraid of facing his other self .
He wanted to keep applying bandages without actually dealing with the infection .
Why? Because it was the easiest way out; it was comforting .
Out of anger, he assumed a defiant attitude so he would not become a selfish person .
Becoming one made him felt like he was desecrating his mother’s death .
She lost her husband right after giving birth to Rio . Despite leading a difficult life afterwards, she still wholeheartedly loved him so he could not bring himself to become selfish .
Creating such an excuse, Haruto kept running away from Rio .
Indeed, he was a pragmatist .
He resolved to never lose self-control .
He resolved to not act on instincts or emotions .
It did not necessarily mean he would be an intrinsically good person, but at least one who would not bring trouble onto others .
If everybody acted like so, surely the world would become a better place .
Wouldn’t that be awfully lovely?
However, even if he lived by such a principle, the world would not follow suit .
He was forcedly made to realise that the world was cruel and unforgiving .
Even seemingly good people held a perverted sense of value .
Life was cheap and malice prevailed .
Greed and emotions made people direct malice towards others .
When one encounters another acting maliciously, they will have no choice but to act human . 2
One cannot help but act on desires and emotions .
It is an unavoidable fate .
Rio had encountered several such incidents so far as well .
During each and every one of those times, Rio repressed his desires to protect himself .
Every time he recalled any of the incidents, it left a bitter taste .
Surely, deep down, he understood that it was only a human reaction after all .
If one were to carefully analyze it, revenge was but a concentrated lump of instincts and desires .
It was a fact he could not deny but at the same time, he did not want to face .
He would become evasive whenever the thought of revenge crept into his mind; he did not want to admit the ugliness existing inside him .
Although he bore a grudge against the man who lived according to his desires and instincts, to also live in accordance with his own desires and instincts—
That was not something he could live with .
However, after experience the turbulence of emotions that day, Rio could not help but notice his hypocrisy .
He was also a human who lived in accordance with his desires and instincts .
When he understood that, he became aware of something cold, something sinister, dwelling within him .
Even now he still wanted to continue exercising strict self-restraint, to still live as a rational human being .
However, now that he realised he was merely just like any other human being—
Not wanting to face his ugliness and only licking his wounds like a hypocrite, it was no longer a kind of life he wanted to lead .
The world was cruel yet he wanted to follow the most comfortable route in life .
Therefore, from here on out, even if he faces hell itself, he will not run away .
He will make decisions based on necessity because he was, and will remain, human no matter how hard he tries .
He will not mind getting his hands dirty if the situation calls for it .
He will no longer go easy on his opponents .
He will no longer run away from the ugliness within him .
Even if all this resolve was just for self-satisfaction, he was going to see them through .
Any sins, any hell, he will shoulder all of it .
He will not run away anymore .
He will no longer try justifying his actions .
For now, Rio decided to return to Strahl to finish his business there .
As long as that man dies, he does not care if he is killed as well .
However, if he survives, he will atone for his sins .
He was irresponsibly advancing ahead .
This was farewell .
Farewell with his former weak self .
Finally, he could proudly say that this was a sincere wish he decided all by himself .
On that day, with renewed determination, discarding his former powerless self, his former grievances, Rio was born anew .