Around the time when the sun had slightly gone down from the zenith.
The sky at the other side of the majestic mountains that were visible at the far distance was showing a slightly rusty coloring.
It was a mysterious scene where the mountains acted as the boundary line that separated the daytime and evening.
It was really a fantasy sight. Hajime and others were watching such sight from inside the magic powered 4-wheel vehicle Brieze that was running with full speed on the highway.
「What an amazing side……it’s like there are two worlds. It’s really mystical isn’t it, Hajime-kun.」
The one who said that while leaning forward from the rear seat to speak her impression over the shoulder of the driving Hajime──at a very close range where their lips might touch if Hajime carelessly looked back was the new member of hajime’s party, Shirasaki Kaori.
At school she was even extolled as a goddess and at this other world she was a prodigious healer who couldn’t be matched by anybody else. Coupled with her outfit that made her looked like a saint as though to embody her gentle personality, she gave a vague impression of a purity and sacredness that made other hesitated to violate it, like when someone hesitated to step on fresh snow.
Such Kaori was whispering into Hajime’s ear with a romantic topic. A normal boy would turn red while showing their agreement fiercely or getting flustered and prattled on incoherently but……
「Is that so? That rusty color is because of the sand that is blown up by the wind of Great Desert Guryuuen you know? In other words, you will get sand all over you if you go over there. That place is the symbol of annoyance.」
The person himself who was talked to was passing back the ball of the conversation with realistic words and completely serious expression.
Kaori’s smiling expression that was at very close distance with Hajime froze. A beat later she complained 「Geez, I know that alreadyyyy」.
Kaori had confessed her feeling to Hajime after that rescue drama in Great Labyrinth Orcus, but there was zero development since then. No, at least now they could call each other by name, so perhaps that could be called as development, but frankly speaking it was only a negligible development. It was something that was still within margin of error.
Although her confession had been flatly refused, Hajime had become slightly aware of Kaori’s maiden heart……that was what she thought.
And then there was someone who never let go of such opening that Kaori made since they resumed their journey. That someone was also the cause of Kaori getting rejected, the peerless beauty──the vampire princess Yue-sama.
「……Fuh. Kaori’s attempt to create a good atmosphere ended up in a swing and miss.」
Kaori’s face reddened and her gaze snapped toward the source of the voice.
Yue who was sitting snugly on the front seat was making a clearly provoking face.
Even that kind of irritating expression was formed by a miraculously beautiful face, so Kaori’s heart skipped a beat even though they were the same sex and she was also her love rival. It made it even more irritating.
Kaori was grumbling 「Gununu」 for real. Yue glanced at her and then she turned her gaze to her beloved as though to say 「Watch and learn!」.
「……Hajime, Hajime. The sky over there is pretty like the evening sky.」
「Yeah. It’s like your heart is washed watching it. Perhaps it will look even more amazing when the actual evening come. Let’s watch it together later.」
「Wait a second-, Hajime-kun! Isn’t your reaction too different compared to your reaction with me? Didn’t you say that place is the symbol of annoyance!?」
Yue-sama’s face was extremely smug! Kaori couldn’t stop herself from getting teary-eyed!
Kaori looked like she was going to leap to the front seat, but Shia grabbed her tightly from behind. Shia’s expression was clear as though she was a bunny who had reached the spiritual level of an enlightened Buddha.
「S-Shia! Let go! I got the feeling that I mustn’t back off with this kind of thing!」
「No, Kaori-san. You won’t be able to breakthrough into that pink world with such reckless attack. You don’t know how many times I have been utterly beaten, left behind, and gotten even my existence completely forgotten by them.」
The words of her senior was heavy. Kaori was at a loss for words 「Ah, u, err……」 in front of Shia’s smile that was like holy mother and couldn’t say anything.
But, Shia who was in the middle of growing up to graduate from being a merely regrettable rabit didn’t abandon her junior. She showed her the way.
「If pushing is no good then try drawing back.」
「D-drawing back? Will that be alright?」
「By doing that, a distance will be created and you will get forgotten.」
「That’s no good isn’t it?」
「Then will it be better if you push, push, and keep pushing? No desu. A resounding no. Even if you barge into Hajime-san’s room you will only get kicked out, even if you try pushing him down with brute force you will only get punched flying, and even if you push your feeling on him, for some reason the pink space will only evolve instead and reflect a mental damage back into your heart. You will only feel a gaping void desu.」
「Aah, Shia’s eyes are hollow! Get a hold of yourself Shia!」
「I have reached enlightenment after overcoming such path of hardship. Kaori-san!」
The Buddha rabbit spoke the truth austerely~ with an affectionate expression.
「I will simply love. I will simply, wholeheartedly, devote myself without any calculation! I won’t seek any reward! That is the true love! Desuu!」
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「True, true love……」
That was convincing. Before, Shia saved Aiko even at the risk of her life without any calculation simply because she was Hajime’s teacher. From there she succeeded in going to a date with Hajime for the first time.
Kaori gulped. She could see a halo shining behind Shia! She felt like her eyes had been opened by the maiden rabbit’s pure heart! Though she also looked like a slightly dangerous founder of a new religious sect in her eyes though!
「What are both of thee doing……」
Shia-senpai and Kaori-kouhai grasped each other’s hand and stared to each other with a beautiful expression. Tio whose heart was disturbed from watching such farce from right beside them looked like she was slightly annoyed.
「Both of thee, listen well. The true love is devotion. Something like that deserves a thousand laugh!」
Or not. It seemed she actually wanted to speak her objection in high spirits instead. What did you sayyy! Shia and Kaori asked with their gaze toward her. To that, Tio puffed out her jiggling chest and proclaimed boldly.
「For people, it’s only natural to wish to be rewarded! It’s nonsense to call something that forced thee to abandon thy humanity as true love!」
She was saying something that sounded good somehow.
But, however, it was a well-known fact that this hopeless dragon was a matchless pervert.
「Offering devotion, and then receving punishmenttt──within pain is where thee wouldst feel the truest love there is!」
「Just shut up over there pervert.」
「Tio, how about I apply healing magic? On your head.」
Shia and Kaori naturally looked at Tio with a scornful gaze at the answer that was just as expected. But of course, the pervert wouldn’t falter with just that much. The aim of her argument moved toward the master she respected.
「Say say, Goshujin-sama. Surely, Goshujin-sama wouldst not tie me up once more on the rooftop as soon as we enter the desert won’t thee? Haa haa. Goshujin-sama also won’t tie me up and drag me behind this vehicle through a scorching hot and sandy place by myself right? Ha haa-fuhih」
People called this “pretending”. It was the standard act like when someone insisted Don’t push me okay!? Absolutely don’t push me okay to their friends. The proof was at how the hopeless dragon’s eyes were sparkling with expectation. Her breathing was rough and a little drool trickled from the corner of her mouth from her wild imagination.
What a disappointing stat that she was showing here. Even though her appearance was that of a noble and intellectual beautiful woman.
「This damn pervert. You are showing your perversion without the slightest reservation when you are in front of Myuu like now. Then if you really want it that much there isn’t any need to even wait-」
I’ll tie you up right away and drag you behind the car, Hajime was about to say, but his words were stopped by the childish voice that suddenly spoke up at that timing.
「The desert, it’s a harsh place nano.」
The young child of fishman race, Myuu was sitting snugly on the front seat between Hajime and Yue while drinking juice joyfully.
Since she looked up to Hajime as papa and accompanied them in their journey, she was a bright child whose smile never ceased to be but……why then. Her eyes were dead. For a four years old girl to make such look where the highlight vanished from her eyes like that, how should it be described, like, there was something truly earthshaking from it.
「Over there the air is really dry and your throat will become dry nano. Your lips will quickly dried up, and your eyes will also feel painful nano.」
「……Myu, Myuu? Calm down a little okay?」
Yue reached out toward Myuu who was producing an atmosphere that seemed like a bad news for some reason, but right at that moment, Myuu’s face turned toward Yue without any portent at all. Yue unconsciously let out a scream「Hih」.
「Staying days by days inside a horse carriage, with Myuu’s whole body in pain, hearing the voices of the other children who are in pain. From outside, there were the voices of monsters, the voices of the scary people, it was hot, really hot, and at night it was really cold.」
「Got it! I got it already! You don’t need to remember any further than that!」
Come to think of it, after Myuu was kidnapped from the west sea, she was brought across the desert and sold at the underground organization of the neutral commercial city Fuhren. It was like her usual brightness was just a lie. Myuu’s monotone voice pierced at the heart of Hajime papa and the Onee-chan~s.
Hajime’s voice and the rubbing on her hair returned a bit of light into Myuu’s eyes and then she turned her gaze toward each one of them firmly.
「Things like mystical, or pretty, or dragging people outside……those who don’t know about desert don’t know about how harsh that place is nano.」
「「「「「S-sorry for that……」」」」」
Everyone chorused as one. Even Shia who didn’t say anything frivolous about desert was included. The scolding 「Don’t you dare underestimate desert」 that was based on Myuu’s gruesome experience forced everyone to apologize together.
After that, everyone fussed over Myuu who was radiating a slightly delicate atmosphere before she finally returned to her usual innocent personality. The group also arrived at the nearest city to Great Desert Gruen, Glyna City around that time.
Based on the map that they had obtained beforehand, there was a possibility that they wouldn’t be able to arrive at the next city that was located within the desert even with Brieze’s running speed if they departed at this time.
Glyna was a city that was used by a lot of people that was coming and going to the desert. It was an ideal place for people to confirm the credibility of their map to people who actually knew the desert, asking what needed to be watched out in the desert, and preparing the necessities for crossing the desert.
They weren’t in a race against time right now in their travel. Hajime suggested to stay for the night here. Not a single one of the group raised an objection. ……It was also because of Myuu’s effective warning.
Brieze’s appearance and the composition of the people inside it that consisted of just one man and the rest were all beautiful females naturally caused a commotion, but the group was already used to deal with that.
Hajime and co liberally used the authority of a gold ranked adventurer that they received from the guild master of Fuhren and entered the city.
This city was a relay city that connected the rest of the continent with the oasis cities that were dotting the various spots of the great desert. Because of that there were a lot of rare commodities of the desert that would be hard to find in other city. People who came here for those products and merchants who were busily preparing to challenge the desert after this were filling the city with a lot of liveliness.
The group was advancing through such bustling crowd with Hajime at the center and Myuu on his shoulder. Hajime ignored the various kind of gazes that naturally focused on them while opening his mouth.
「Now then, first let’s book an inn. And then perhaps we can look around here for a bit because there is still time until the sun set.」
「Papa, you aren’t going to ask around about the desert nano?」
Myuu leaned forward and peered into Hajime’s face with her head upside down. Her hands that were small like maple leave were tapping Hajime papa’s cheeks *pechi pechi* lightly.
「I’m not underestimating the desert.」
He was going to ask around checking various things. Even so that would only just to make doubly sure. Rather the main purpose here was to take a bit of rest before entering the desert and shopping for some things.
「We couldn’t resupply anything at Horaud after all.」
「We especially need to resupply our food stuff and spices. We still have enough but, there is nothing better than bringing a lot desu.」
「Normally bringing a lot of luggage like that wouldst be troublesome. Goshujin-sama’s treasure warehouse is truly convenient.」
「……Nn. Even merchant who know how important trust is at their line of work completely changed attitude when learning of its existence.」
Kaori’s expression turned a bit apologetic while they were having such talk.
「I’m sorry everyone. It was our fault that you couldn’t go shopping at Horaud.」
Of course it was also caused by the rescue drama, but as expected after that they had to depart from the city in a bit of rush was certainly due to the feeling of Kouki and others toward Hajime and the tumult of the city that burst in excitement of the return of the hero party, so they couldn’t stay there for long.
「……Kaori, you are wrong about that.」
Unexpectedly the first one to speak up at the dejected kaori was Yue. As expected, regardless of everything between them, Yue had a kind personality that could be considerate──
「……Don’t say ‘our’ there. It was wholly Kaori’s fault. It’s really rude of you to spread responsibility like that.」
There was no way that was the case. She savagely dealt an additional blow on Kaori. Kaor’s tear duct instantly was on the verge of bursting.
「Right right, Yue-san. Please don’t go any further than that in bullying Kaori-san.」
「Good grief. Yue, thou art always immediately regressing to be childish when dealing with Kaori aren’t thou?」
「……Rude. I won’t be merciful to those who oppose me. My act is only natural as Hajime’s lover.」
「Oi you, don’t drag me into this. Look, Kaori is already shaking all over to hold back from crying over there.」
Yue who often picked (?) on Kaori, or perhaps she was caring (?) about her in her own way. Even though normally she had the atmosphere of a calm and adult lady, she would sometimes act childish since Kaori joined their journey.
She would do something like suddenly bending her knees to hit Kaori’s knees from behind, tapping her shoulder to poke on Kaori’s cheeks when she turned around, doodling on Kaori’s face while she was sleeping……she only did that kind of thing with Kaori.
And then Kaori too,
「Y-Yue, you, someone like you……」
「Hmph, what? If you have something to say then say it to meee」
「Uu, uuh~, idioooott」
She also became really childish. Her vocabulary as a female high school student with top grade had vanished to somewhere.
The two’s childish quarrel was in the process of turning into a routine, but there was also a child that ranked up to adult level in inverse proportion to their regression.
「Geez, Yue-oneechan and Kaori-oneechan, why are you two unable to get along with each other nano! Bad-」
「……Nnguh. I’m sorry.」
「Auh. Forgive me, Myuu-chan……」
The tiny big sister Myuu swiftly pointed at the quarreling duo. Both Yue and Kaori could do nothing but hanging their head down.
「Come on, let’s search for an inn before your dignity as big sister fall any further to the dirt.」
Hajime smiled wryly while urging them to keep walking. He moved Myuu to his hug and patted his head with a praise that she had done well.
Then Yue returned to her usual atmosphere and casually activated gravity magic.
「……Nn. Come over here, Myuu.」
Yue’s slender fingers ewre moved like a conductor baton. They designated Myuu’s small body and made it floated lightly. Then she was pulled toward Yue to settle snugly in her arms.
「……Hajime, let’s split up. The group to search for an inn and the group to ask around for information, and also a group for shopping.」
「That’s, well, that way will be more effective but……」
Could it be this was an invitation for a date? Hajime wondered while tilting his head.
Recently he had little time to be alone with Yue, and right now Yue had just gotten into quarrel with Kaori. It was only natural for Hajime to think that Yue wanted to show off because of that.
Shia, Tio, and Kaori seemed to think the same. They were pouting and firing up themselves. It was clear that they were wracking their brain of how to win the position at Hajime’s side.
「……Myuu and me will search for the inn. Shia and Tio will ask around for information. ……Hajime, go with Kaori for shopping.」
「Eh!? Y-Yue? Is that alright?」
Everyone showed shock in their face. Especially Kaori, her shock was already at the level that shook her up greatly.
「Myu……papa can’t come with us too?」
「Uguh……Myuu, lend me your ear for a bit.」
Yue made a face of getting damaged in her heart at Myuu’s pleading upward gaze. Even so she sneakily whispered something into her ear.
Then Myuu’s face was filled with the color of understanding and her gaze moved busily between Kaori and Yue, then right after that her expression brightened radiantly. She whispered 「Yue-oneechan is kind as expected nano!」. It was clear that Yue had told her something.
「……Hajime. You have a lot of things that you haven’t talked about with Kaori right? You also didn’t have alone time with Kaori until now.」
It still had been several days since they departed from the town of Horaud. They had shared the information with Kaori to some degree about the truth of the world and the great dungeons that they learned in the bottom of abyss, the objective of their journey, the detail of Hajime’s encounter with Yue.
Even so in the end the information they shared was only at the level of summary.
Most of all, the two of them were two people from the same world who had deep connection with each other. Then the two of them should slowly talk with each other alone at least once. After all they were companions who might entrust their life to each other from here on.
Yue conveyed that explicit consideration of hers with a somewhat gentle expression. Hajime scratched his cheek awkwardly.
That thoughtfulness had certainly been conveyed to Kaori, Shia, and Tio too. Tio and Shia gave a warm gaze in understanding. Kaori was making a conflicted expression, even so she was sending a thankful gaze toward Yue.
Perhaps such gazes from her comrades embarrassed her, so
「……Kaori. Let me remind you to not lead Hajime to a dark place to assault him.」
「I won’t do that you know!? What kind of woman do you think I am! Geez-」
Yue’s words that couldn’t be guessed whether she was joking or serious made Kaori protested loudly in trembling anger.
Hajime shrugged and put an end to the talk.
「I’ll leave searching for inn and gathering information to you all. We will meet again at evening. Tell us the location of the inn with telepathy. Then let’s go, Kaori.」
「Ah, yes! Err, Yue. Thanks.」
「Go away! Go away already! Kaori, disperse!!」
「D-don’t treat a person like an evil spirit! I don’t know someone like you anymore Yue!」
Yue and Kaori turned their back to each other and started walking. Hajime, Shia, and Tio, even Myuu were exchanging warm gaze with each other, then they each started walking to a different direction.
This city Glyna was built along a hill with gentle slope. Houses were lined up like a terraced farm, the top of the hill that was located at the altitude of 300 meters above the ground was opened as a public park where they could see the unbroken view of the whole city.
Hajime and Kaori had quickly finished their shopping. Currently they were walking up through a gentle slope that was paved with stone toward the park.
The atmosphere of the space was truly that of another world. They had bought cold sweets midway that looked like gelato. Added with the serenity of the area that was filled with lived-in feel that was far away from the hustle and bustle of the main street, this place was really wonderful to be a date spot.
Kaori’s expression naturally slackened and her steps became lightly like feather that was drifting in the wind. Her gaze was continuously turned toward Hajime’s face from the side without getting bored.
「Then you know, you know! When I had forced myself too much in training and almost gotten eaten by a monster because of that, Shizuku-chan gallantly came running and saved me! Shizuku-chan was really cool! But you see, after that──」
「O-ou. I get it, so calm down a little. Also distance, aren’t you standing too close?」
Kaori was having lot, lot of fun that it felt like her heart was already flying away to somewhere. Kaori was talking about what happened at their side after Hajime fell into the abyss with such atmosphere.
When he noticed the distance between them was rapidly shrinking and now they were so close it looked like they were walking while holding arm and leaning on each other. Kaori was also deftly leaning forward while talking, so her face’s position was also extremely close. Seen from the side it could be seen like she was approaching for a kiss.
Kaori finally noticed the closeness of their distance after Hajime pointed it out. She looked startled for a moment before her face turned bright red in an instant it even looked like she exploded.
「S-sorry. When I thought, that Hajime-kun is really here, I……」
「Yeah. I’m right here. I’m not going to just suddenly vanish.」
Kaori shyly opened a distance of one or two steps between them and smiled wryly.
「Looks like you had been really reckless to search for me huh.」
「I wasn’t aware of it myself at that time but, thinking back now that might be the case. But, I have to go as quickly as possible to where Hajime-kun is. My head was only filled with that thought.」
The end of the hill path was coming into view. From there, there were trees that were planted. They could begin to see some trees lined up orderly.
Hajime absentmindedly looked up to the trees while making a slightly troubled expression. He formed some words as though he was talking to himself.
「I was told about it when I reunited with sensei at Ur. That Kaori is the only one who believe in my survival and continue to challenge the great dungeon because of that.」
「Ai-chan-sensei said that……」
「Besides, Endo also told me. That you have changed. I also think so. Just a little though. How should I describe it, like you have lost your flighty side, or you have become more realistic……I can’t describe it well.」
「Yeah. I think that’s true. Because I realized some things about myself when I lost Hajime-kun.」
The saying that there were things that could only be noticed for the first time after losing something was often said, but she never thought that she would learn the meaning of those words from actual experience.
The expression of Kaori who had rosy cheeks on her face from having fun until just now had become completely clouded.
A gentle pat touched Kaori’s head while she was looking like that. She gasped and when she looked up, she gasped again. Hajime’s eyes that were located slightly higher than her memory was filled with kindness that was exactly like in her memory.
「I acted recklessly even though Kaori had cautioned me that night.」
Don’t go to the great labyrinth, I have a bad feeling. Kaori came to persuade him like that. Perhaps the result would be different if he obediently followed her advice.
As someone who only had commonplace talent and was even disparaged as incompetent, he understood his own limit better than anyone, even so he stood up against a mighty enemy. It should be clear how great the compensation that he would have to pay for that if he thought about it.
However Hajime ran straight toward the darkness just like Kaori said the night before.
「If you say that you have broken your promise to protect me Kaori, then I too have broken my promise to be protected by you. As the result I made you felt terribly pained. So much so that you had to change because of that, ……it was my bad.」
「That’s, that’s not-」
Before they knew it, the two had stopped walking on the stone pavement. There was a large tree with a bench under its wide foliage at the center of the circular clearing. There were more than ten people relaxing as they pleased there.
Several people reacted to Kaori’s slightly loud voice and turned their face this way in surprise. Their eyes immediately sparkled with curiosity at what seemed to be a lover’s quarrel.
Hajime smiled wryly and took the gelato that had completely melt from Kaori’s hand. He threw it into the trash can that was placed at the side.
And then, he pulled Kaori’s hand and led her until the edge of the park. Kaori placed her hands on the firm railing that was made from wood and stared at the townscape of Glyna and the majestic mountains at the west.
The wind felt pleasant on the skin. It seemed Kaori’s heart was also calming down from it.
「Don’t apologize Hajime-kun. I understand it after all.」
Hajime tilted his head at the words that Kaori whispered. Kaori looked at Hajime with an expression that was brimming with affection, as though she felt unbelievably proud of such him.
「That you are someone who won’t back away no matter what when you think it’s necessary, even if you don’t have any strength.」
Before they became classmate in the high school, Kaori happened to see Hajime by some chance when they were still at middle school. He was doing dogeza in front of some scary people for the sake of someone in trouble.
He was a person who could do something for somebody else even if it made him looked pathetic and uncool.
Kaori was irresistibly attracted to him by that strength.
「I see……then, let me thank you once more. Thanks, for believing in my survival.」
Tears blurred Kaori’s eyes. She felt rewarded……such feeling could be seen from her glistening eyes.
Hajime didn’t intend to say anything worth crying for, so he felt really awkward. Perhaps that was why, after falling silent for a while, Hajime finally spoke.
「……Is it really okay? About you coming with us.」
Kaori’s feeling had been rewarded in its truest meaning by Hajime’s survival. But in regard to her affection toward him, Hajime had already gave her a clear answer that left no room for misinterpretation.
Hajime couldn’t repay Kaori with anything more than his thanks just now. He had no intention for giving any more than that.
Kaori said that she was fine with that even then. Yue also gave her permission. And so she joined their journey as a comrade, but Hajime couldn’t say that he was completely free of doubt. It would still be easy for Kaori to leave while they still hadn’t entered the desert. So in a sense this was just a nice timing to once more ask for this confirmation to Kaori.
As expected, it seemed that Kaori who had grown slightly could understand Hajime’s sentiment.
She replied back with slight feeling of loneliness and a determination that surpassed that in her smile.
「I don’t want to regret it anymore, so I wish that you will at least allow me to do my best.」
She would do her best so that Hajime’s heart would turn toward her even just for a bit. Just like what Shia and Tio were doing. When she thought that one day in the far future Hajime was surrounded by a lot of people, but she herself wasn’t among that circle because she didn’t do her best, because she gave up, such regret was the only thing that she couldn’t possibly accept. And above all else,
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「I think there is also something that I can do.」
「Something that you can do?」
「Yes, something that I can do. Something that only I can do. As someone who know about Hajime-kun from before.」
「……I’ll be troubled even if you sought for the previous me though.」
「That’s not what I mean.」
Surely Hajime hadn’t lost everything from his previous self in the abyss. It was vexing for Kaori to admit it but, it was none other than Yue’s existence that barely secured that little bit of Hajime’s previous self from vanishing.
「I don’t want, I won’t deny the current Hajime-kun how has gone through hardships in this world where you were forced to fight and had to change. But you see, I can also feel it. There is still the previous Hajime-kun inside there.」
「I think that’s impossible though. You saw right? How I easily killed someone. I should have also told you about what happened at Ur.」
「Yes. But you see Hajime-kun, if that’s all……if you are a person who isn’t concerned with anything else other than Yue and your objective,, then Shia and Tio, and most of all Myuu-chan, they won’t adore you that much.」
Hajime was at a loss of how he should reply when faced with Kaori’s straightforward gaze.
「If Yue is the one who secured that important part of Hajime-kun from vanishing, I’ll be the one who pull it up. The current Hajime-kun, and the previous Hajime-kun. Both are Hajime-kun, so Hajime-kun will be the strongest with the two forming a full set I think!」
「……I wonder about that.」
「That’s absolutely the case. Besides, you are going to return to Japan you know? I think it will be easier for Hajime-kun to live there if you regain a part of your previous self to add on your current self. Because, it’ll be a bit lonely if you live forever with only you and no one else right?」
──Please don’t live in a lonely way.
Suddenly the figure of his teacher who he made cried at Ur crossed his mind.
Good grief……Hajime couldn’t hold back his wry smile. Even though he wasn’t even asking for it, every one of them kept making all kind of efforts. They were wishing so that Hajime’s world would be filled with as much important thing, as many color as possible.
「I get it. Do as you please Kaori. I welcome a healer to join our group.」
「I wish you would say that you’re welcoming my presence here because it’s me.」
Kaori pouted her lips ‘muuuh’. It excessively amused Hajime that he burst out laughing.
He didn’t care about his classmate for even one bit. That hadn’t changed even now. However, at the very least he could honestly think that he was glad to have saved Kaori.
『……Hajime, Hajime. Are you safe?』
「Why are you asking if he is safe I wonder!? I wonder!? I’m telling you now that I didn’t attack Hajime-kun or anything! Yue you idiot!」
Kaori reflexively performed a splendid tsukkomi at the telepathy that suddenly entered.
When they noticed, the sun was already setting to the west and the sky’s color was overlapping with the rusty color of the sky at the other side of the mountains. It seemed it would be time for them to meet up with others soon.
『……Shia and Tio are already here too. The inn is called Madder Sky near the adventurer guild.』
「Roger. We’ll also go there.」
『N~n. Hajime can come back alone.』
「Y-you are saying mean words like that again!」
『……Kaori, sayonara. I won’t forget you for at least three seconds.』
「You forget too fast! Or rather don’t forget at all!」
The reply……didn’t come back. It seemed the telepathy had been cut off.
Kaori was shaking because of Yue-sama’s act that only followed her own pace.
She had never received this kind of sloppy treatment for her whole life, whether it was at school or even after being summoned. For Kaori, Yue’s treatment to her was something completely unknown.
Was this what they called love rival……
She didn’t understand how to deal with it and made a strange growl Uuu, uuu~u from her throat.
Hajime laughed once more seeing Kaori like that and he said.
「You really have changed, Kaori.」
「You have completely become a bullied character type and tsukkomi character type.」
「I don’t want that kind of change!」
It seemed that the school’s goddess and other world’s saint had job changed to be an entertainer before she knew it. Hajime finally couldn’t endure it anymore and laughed loudly while leaving the park. Kaori chased after such Hajime while hitting his back *poka poka* all the way back.
That day, the “Inn of Madder Sky” that was known as a particularly bustling inn in this city where the bustling clatter had never ceased was enveloped in still silence.
It wasn’t that the inn was in a slump and didn’t have any guest. The restaurant at the first floor was full like usual. But no one was talking.
Even the red faced mister who started to get drunk from alcohol, or the tough and hot-blooded looking adventurers, or even the inn’s mistress and her daughter who usually would be lively and full of energy while taking the order of the guests, all of them were holding their breath with nervousness drifting from theim.
The innkeeper who was also the head cook who usually wouldn’t come out from the kitchen was taciturnly peeking out with half his face out from the kitchen’s doo. Bluntly speaking, the atmosphere was eerie.
Hajime and others who were sitting on a table were also in the same state. They were gulping their saliva while watching the situation in suspense.
Yes, everyone was looking. Watching.
At the little girl who was giving all her effort in carrying the food! At Myuu who was wearing a small apron dress and white headband on her head while devoting herself in her part-time work with serious expression even while her legs were slightly shaking because the plates were heavy! Her figure was more of a small maid-san rather than a waitress!
Myuu stumbled. Her body tilted. The sausage combination platter on the plate ran wild. Screams broke through the inn! But, there was a reliable vampire princess there. The godlike activation of gravity magic put Myuu’s posture back to normal with a natural motion that nobody noticed it.
Myuu was dumbfounded that she just ended up stumbling slightly without anything of note happening, even so she had been a clever child since the start. She understood that it was Yue who helped her. Her gaze turned toward her and she smiled widely to express her gratitude.
Sighs of relieve rose from here and there accompanied with writhing voices. It seemed the smile of Myuu just now looked like she was trying to hide her embarrassment from almost falling just now to others.
「Yue-san!? Are you alright!?」
「Shia, I leave the rest to you.」
Naturally (?), Yue who received the direct hit didn’t stand a chance. She lied prostrated on the table with her cheeks and ears dyed bright red. 「Adorable-, Myuu is adorable-」 She kept repeating while writhing endlessly. Her hand was hitting the table *tashi- tashi-* repeatedly.
「Well, I understand thy feeling. That was brutal. It feels like I’ll get purified mon.」
「That’s like a confession that you are a wicked being you know?」
Tio was watching Myuu with a warm smile, but mysteriously it was like her figure was becoming transparent. It was like, there was a sparkling radiance from her while she was going to rise to heaven and disappear.
Kaori who received the designation as tsukkomi character type from the person she had a feeling for made a tsukkomi as expected. While that happened, Myuu somehow arrived at her destination table. Her thin arms shook even more while she placed the plate of food for a red faced mister merchant.
Instantly the tension in air immediately softened completely. The success of the small waitress’s in setting the table wholeheartedly made the guests sighed in relieve simultaneously. Myuu herself also sighed 「Fui~」 a satisfied sigh from her achievement. She directed an angelic smile at the mister merchant.
「Sorry for the wait nano! Please enjoy the food slowly! Nano!」
「Y-yeah. Thank you small waitress girl. By the way, what do you think about becoming my daughter──」
Adorableness that blew away even drunkenness. The stubborn mister merchant who lived in a world of calculating interest got his rational mind blown away and tried to become a papa.
And then he froze. Cold sweat was trickling down like waterfall. When he turned his gaze with a stiff movement like a machine that hadn’t been oiled, there was the figure of Hajime papa with murderous eyes over there……
「N-no, it’s nothing at all. Come on now, return back to the inn’s auntie.」
Myuu obediently nodded and returned back to the inn lady with adorable footsteps *tote tote*.
「Hajime-kun! Hajime-kun! The restaurant’s air is freezing! So calm down!」
「Aa, my bad. A serial papa came out for a bit, so I unconsciously…」
「What is serial papa!?」
It referred to a lawless fellow that came out of nowhere like a serial killer to try becoming a papa. When encountering one, either you reported him to the police or beat him up until beyond recovery. The choices were basically just those two.
Now then, why was Myuu doing something like serving as waitress in the inn they were staying the night in……
It seemed that it was for returning the favor, or so they were told.
Normally she was only at the side that kept getting saved, taken care of, and only received without giving anything back. It would become even more so when they entered the desert.
There Myuu thought. Was there anything she could do at this moment to return the favor?
The fishman race was the only type of demihuman that was protected by the kingdom because of their particular usefulness. Naturally it would gather attention when a little kid from that race was accompanying the group.
It was necessary to give an explanation to the inn where they would be staying, and during that explanation the group got into a lively conversation with the inn mistress and the guests. There the inn mistress learned about Myuu’s thought and gave a suggestion.
That suggestion was, how about working here for a bit and then giving a present to Hajime and others.
This was purely a kindness from the inn mistress. The apron dress and other accessory were the used articles of the inn’s daughter, and Myuu would only need to help serving for Hajime and co……but, Myuu accepted the suggestion in high spirits and gave her all to diligently work in the first part-time work of her life. Myuu was too cute.
It was to the degree that she had tightly grasped the heart of all the people there. Even now,
「Inn mistress-san! The most expensive cooking please! Put it on a small plate so that Myuu-chan can carry it easily!」
「More wine here! Just fill half the glass so that it won’t be too heavy!」
「Rather Myuu-chan should be my exclusive waitress! I’ll pay your asking price!」
The customers were all making expensive order. They also named Myuu to be their waitress. Myuu was like a devilish little girl like this.
「U-uwaa, somehow the inside of the restaurant is turning amazing……wait, Hajime-kun? What are you doing?」
「Kaori, don’t talk to me right now. I’m concentrating.」
「Concentrating you say……what are you making with transmutation?」
Requests flooded the highly popular Myuu without end. The inn mistress and her husband raised a happy shriek, while their daughter was scheming to squeeze even more money from the customers.
In the middle of that, Hajime papa who Kaori thought would become angry was placing a lot of ores on the table for some reason while making a really focused expression.
When Kaori asked him, Hajime spoke without taking off his eyes from his work.
「I’m really a big idiot. How could I forget something like this. Sh*t-, the golden time will end if I don’t hurry-. Hurry me! It’s possible if it’s me-, I can still make it in time-」
「H-Hajime-kun!? Everyone, help! Hajime-kun has turned strange!」
Yue and others were focusing on the inn’s daughter who was laughing loudly while saying 「Just as planned!」 after making Myuu posing with one hand on the waist and one hand forming a horizontal peace sign in front of her eye while saying 「There is still expensive alcohol remaining you know」 with a wink!, which made the useless adults to cheer loudly and ordered the expensive drink one after another.
「……Hajime, what’s that?」
「Obviously it’s a camera!」
No, even if you say obviously……everyone made a look that seemed to say that. But Kaori was the only one who somehow guessed what Hajime was doing. It was that, This was the reaction of a father when their daughter was going to appear in sports day or a recital.
In the past Kaori too was often made to feel so embarrassed that she would want to enter into a hole if there was one.
Like when Kaori papa came to school bringing something that looked more like a bazooka instead of a camera, or when there was a broadcast「The father over there! I understand your feeling but please don’t get out from the parent’s seat! Please don’t crawl there just to take photo! Climbing the pillar is also no good!」.
「A daughter’s first part-time work. How can I call myself papa if I don’t preserve this moment in perpetuity-. I’m completely lacking in self-awareness!」
「……Nn, Hajime is broken.」
「Recently Hajme-san would run wild for a bit when it come to Myuu-chan isn’t he?」
「I can’t believe that this is the same person who jammed pile bunker into mine butt.」
Ignoring the voices of his companions, Hajime papa created the photography artifact “Camera Imitation” with a level of focus that he had never shown before. He looked at the result, something that resembled a bazooka and nodded before,
He turned a determined expression toward Yue and others before gallantly rushing forward. Toward the center of the restaurant where the situation was starting to become like a great banquet with Myuu as the center and the customers cheering enthusiastically.
In the end, for several hours after that, due to Myuu’s posing & indirect coaxing that she did with twitching face, and the competition between the customers for ordering food and drink, the inn of Madder Sky recorded a sales with unprecedented amount that had never been seen before since the opening of the inn.
The way the inn’s daughter (15 years old) was roaring in laughter like a last boss really left an impression. Surely this inn’s future was bright.
After that, the restaurant finally regained its calm when the night was getting late.
「……W-working is really hard nano……」
Myuu muttered such thing with an air like a salary man who was working in a black company. She was lying prostrated on the table with a completely exhausted look. Perhaps it was just an imagination, but the white headband she was still wearing looked like it was also wilting weakly.
「But Myuu. You have managed to wonderfully return the favor. I got a lot of picture. I have properly preserved the moments of your first part-time work.」
「……Myuu didn’t work with that kind of intention nano.」
Truly. Myuu was looking at Hajime like she was watching someone who was a pain in the ass, but Hajime papa himself was busy checking the photos with a pleased expression. Yue and others were also getting excited with a good smile on their face.
Seeing that, Myuu smiled weakly as though to say Well, I guess it’s fine if they are happy with that~.
There, the inn’s mistress came toward them while smiling wryly.
「Myuu-chan, thanks a lot for today.」
「Myu, inn lady-san! Many thanks for today! Nano!」
The inn lady’s wry smile slackened at the employer-employee exchange that Myuu seemed to have picked up and her expression turned slovenly.
「Really, many thanks for your hard work. You have really worked very well. Sorry that my daughter did all those shady things. That girl is absorbed with counting the money so don’t worry.」
Certainly, the loud cackling was still echoing from deeper inside the restaurant. Also there was even a suspicious line that seemed to say 「I can’t stop laughing! If it like this I have to directly negotiate to formally employ Myuu-chan here……」 amidst the cackling.
There wasn’t any factor that didn’t need to be worried about from there. Myuu’s expression muscle had kept twitching a lot today.
「Okay, here. It’s your salary for today. I added some extra in it. I hope your returning the favor thing will go well.」
「Wah, thank you nano!」
Myuu accepted the money inside the leather pouch that was the frist money she earned by herself since she was born. Myuu strained her ears at the jingling sound inside the bag and her expression became filled with fulfillment.
Hajime watched such Myuu with a kind smile, while Yue and others simultaneously hugged and patted her affectionately.
「Sorry. You did a lot of favor for us.」
「It’s fine, it’s fine, we also unexpectedly earned a lot from it. But more importantly you guys, although you all are gold ranked adventurer this will be your first time at the desert right? Seriously, be careful over there okay?」
The inn lady turned her gaze toward Myuu with a worried look. It seemed she really had taken a liking to Myuu. Her worry whether Myuu would really be able to arrive at the sea city Erisen at the west sea safely or not was oozing out from her being.
「Should I introduce you to some adventurers or merchant who are used to traverse the desert?」
「No, it’s alright. We have been preparing properly. I’ll just accept your good will.」
「Is that so?」
Other than the inn lady, several guests who were still remaining behind also called out to them. It was clear just from looking at them that they only had good intention without any ulterior motive.
「……Myuu-chan’s lovability is really staggering.」
As a fellow demi human, Shia’s rabbit ears were trembling seeing this sight.
「……Nn. To be able to grasp the heart of so many people in this short time……Myuu, what a terrifying child!」
「Certainly. Deep down there Myuu hath something that attract other people to her.」
「Even Hajime-san has completely turned into a papa for her……fufufu-」
「……Kaori, you must be imagining what if you and Hajime have a child of your own. This hidden pervert-」
「Yo, y-yo, you are wrong! I’m not thinking anything like how I want to have a girl or something!」
It seemed she was thinking it.
The inn lady brushed away her anxiety seeing their conversation and laughed heartily.
「Well, you guys are adventurers who are even endorsed by the guild head of Fuhren branch. I won’t meddle any further than this. Go bring Myuu-chan back to her family safe and sound.」
The inn lady nodded in satisfaction before she gave them one last warning.
「When I desert, make sure to only aim toward something certain okay? Don’t go off chasing something like mirage no matter what.」
But I guess you must have known that already, the inn lady said while turning around. But then Shia and Tio reacted to those words.
「Ah, sorry inn lady-san. We have also asked around about information of the desert but, is it true that people will disappear if they go chasing mirage at the desert?」
「From what I heard from some adventurers, they said that the mirage at Great Desert Gruen art not just a normal mirage. They said that with a really serious expression. I heard that every year there art hundreds of people who went missing because they mistook a mirage as oasis and chased after it……」
It had been completely forgotten amidst the uproar of Myuu’s part-time work, but Shia and Tio had been asking around for information of the desert. Even Hajime and others looked astonished by what the inn lady said because they hadn’t heard about this.
But hearing that question, the inn lady laughed out loud with her portly body shaking from how amused she was even though she was the one who gave the warning about chasing after mirage.
「Ahahahahah, those guys were just teasing you! Perhaps they saw how beautiful you two are so they tried to give you a scare thinking that they might get lucky and got requested to accompany your travel?」
「Mu, certainly after that the talk turned into advertisement how it wouldst be better if we hire them.」
What is the truth here? Hajime and others wondered that with a puzzled look. The inn lady then cleared her throat with a cough.
「──You who walk through the desert, absolutely never forget. The land of sand is a repository of death. Although you have your eyes toward the oasis looking for tranquil, ask yourself whether it’s reality in the end. You must never chase the mirage. That is the invitation to death. An illusion that your hand shall never reach forever. However, if you can catch up to it, in exchange of discarding reality, the mirage will invite you to the place you wish for.」
The inn lady recited those words with a sonorous voice. Oo~, impressed voices were spreading around.
「It’s a legend that has been passed down since the past. It’s a warning that you mustn’t get led astray by mirage. But……」
The inn lady looked like she was choosing her words slightly carefully next.
「A long time ago there was a man who went missing after chasing the mirage and then he miraculously returned. That man brought back a “story” with him.」
「Story, what story?」
「About the part of the legend regarding the place you wish for……he said that he went to another world.」
Hajime’s eyes snapped wide open. He stood up so suddenly that he chair clattered. The inn lady backed away in surprise at his sudden movement.
「What do you mean? What is this other world? How did he go there?」
「W-wait, calm down!」
「Never mind that, just tell me more about that story──」
Hajime looked like he was going to grab the inn lady and shake her for more information, but he gasped and returned to his senses from the sensation of a hand that gently enveloped his hand.
「……Hajime. Calm down.」
Hajime realized that he was losing his composure and took a deep breath. Seeing Hajime like that, Shia and others also understood just what had stolen Hajime’s heart to such degree. Especially Kaori.
Other world, the place that one wished for──then perhaps, the path to earth also existed there?
「Err, are you alright?」
「Yeah, my bad, I got surprised. Can you tell us about that story a bit more?」
「Looks like you have your own circumstance……but, sorry. In the end it’s just a legend. What I mentioned just now is already everything.」
To put it another way it was like an urban legend. Trying to ascertain its source and its veracity would be no different than chasing a mirage.
「Papa……are you okay?」
Myuu had come until right beside Hajime without him noticing it. She was holding the hand at the opposite side of Yue.
He was really hopeless if he even made a little girl worried about him. A fairy tale where other world was mentioned could be found anywhere. It should be said that this time Hajime had overreacted.
「Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry, I startled you didn’t I?」
「Nope, Myuu is fine nano!」
Myuu smiled. Hajime naturally also smiled seeing that.
「Hajime-san, what now? Should we try investigating the legend about that mirage a bit more?」
「Goshujin-sama. What if after entering the desert, we try chasing after a random mirage if we find one-」
Hajime shook his head calmly at Shia and Tio’s consideration.
「No, we have no free time to chase something uncertain like that. We won’t change our priority.」
The conquest of the great labyrinths and sending Myuu back to her mother. Hajime declared so with a firm voice that contained no hesitation. Shia and Tio nodded in satisfaction while Yue and Myuu also nodded with a smile.
For the last, Hajime turned his gaze toward Kaori who came from the same homeland with him and should also strongly wish to return back.
「I’ll follow Hajime-kun. That’s all.」
She returned back a smile that was gentle but strong back at him. It looked like she had no objection.
「Err, guess I should apologize. I brought up a strange story.」
「No, don’t mind it. It was a good story to hear.」
「Is that so? Then it’s fine I guess……」
The inn lady sighed in relieve. Then, her daughter rushed out from inside the restaurant with gold coin mark on her eyes with that timing.
「Myuu-chan! Everyone! I have something to discuss for a bit-, can I ask you all to stay here for three more days? If we can borrow Myuu-chan during that time, I’ll let everyone stay here free of charge for the room and for the food tooo-」
It seemed Myuu’s excessive effectiveness had completely turned the inn’s daughter to be money-grubber.
Myuu screamed「Hiih」 a little and hid behind Hajime. She was like an employee of a black company who was running away from a boss who was showing a sign of asking the employee something unreasonable.
The inn lady sighed. She massaged her forehead to endure her headache before she yelled angrily.
「This stupid daughter! It’s despicable that you are scaring a little girl like this just to earn money! I’ll beat you back into shape so come over here!」
「Eh! Wait Okaa-san! This isn’t like how it looks like」
The inn’s daughter got her collar grabbed and dragged into the back of the restaurant. Myuu saw off the daughter that was sending her an expression that asked for help while muttering seriously.
「……Myuu, doesn’t want to work anymore for a while nano.」
The working condition of a black company was showed to her for a bit too much in her first part-time work……and so Hajime and others spoiled Myuu rotten until their departure at the next day in sympathy and appreciation.
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