Interlude – 2
“By the way, Khalija-san, I heard this from Diana-san earlier, but there are paintings of Dad in Resteria, right?”
“That’s right, there are an uncountable number of paintings, from those that are good enough to be designated as national treasures, to those that look like scribblings.”
“Diana-san was saying that Onii-chan looks a lot like Dad when he was younger, but is it the same in the paintings as well? Won’t people immediately realize who Onii-chan is if there are paintings like that spread around the country?”
“I don’t think they are that common… but you’re right. Even I thought that Yasuo resembled him, and moreover, didn’t Major Krone say anything about that to you?”
“No, she did. She said that Onii-chan looked a lot like my Dad from some painting that was a national treasure, it was called the sunrise or something. And besides, I’ve seen photos of my dad when he was younger at my grandparents’ house, and even I thought that he looked so much like Onii-chan that it was almost creepy.”
“That’s a little harsh.”
“But when it comes to paintings, it depends on the skill of the painter, right? And besides, Diana-san is always so soft on Onii-chan and her view of him is distorted by her ‘Respect for the Hero’ filter, so I wondered if the paintings really resembled him that much.”
“I suppose 『The Hero, Hideo, gazes upon the sunrise at the Sacred Mountain』 is loved so much by the people because it is painted very realistically, and the Krone couple also praised it for being the most faithful reproduction of Hideo and Madoka.”
“Ah, that’s it, that was the title.”
“Oh well, the image of Hideo that most people have built up in their minds and his resemblance that was carved into the numerous lithographs don’t particularly look like him, so I don’t think there is any need to worry about Yasuo’s cover being blown due to the paintings commonly found throughout the city.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right… but now I’m curious to see what those poorly drawn paintings of Dad look like.”
Chapter 3 – The Town of Beginnings
The young swordsman in Catalina’s painting appeared to be the exact likeness of Yasuo, but after looking closely, there were a number of small differences.
The young man in the painting appeared to be wearing something that resembled a gakuran .
At the Takeoka high school that Yasuo attended, the uniform for boys was the style that had a blazer.
The youth in the painting had shorter hair than Yasuo, and the way the hair was parted was a little old-fashioned.
Catalina laughed upon seeing Shouko blankly staring at the painting.
“He is the Hero Hideo’s son, isn’t he?”
Thinking about it rationally, saying that Yasuo was completely unrelated to the young man in the painting would be a little far-fetched.
Also, Shouko was aware of just how dangerous it would be for people to discover that 『The son of the Hero Hideo is in Ante Lande』.
“I don’t… know what you’re talking about.”
Shouko gulped and tried to evade the question, even though she realized herself that it was a poor attempt.
Shouko had let down her guard because this woman had saved them and given her shelter and a bed to sleep in.
Was this elderly woman an enemy, or an ally?
Shouko wasn’t worried about whether this lady was an enemy of Resteria, or an enemy of Diana’s.
She was worried whether this lady was an adult who was willing to help the two of them, just as they had wished for.
“Where… exactly are we?”
“That’s a strange question.”
“We only came over from Japan recently.”
“Oh, that’s quite amazing. How did you get here?”
Shouko did not know of any means of making that trip other than using the Gate Tower.
She couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“It’s like I said earlier. We just found ourselves in this forest before we knew what was happening.”
Hearing Yasuo’s voice from behind, Shouko turned around, and what she saw made her break out in a cold sweat.
Yasuo was standing there, with fatigue clearly showing on his face.
“Oh, you’re awake?”
“Yes. Sorry, I seem to have fallen asleep at some point.”
“It was inevitable, you were so tired, after all.”
“……I didn’t realize it when I first came here, but this really looks a lot like me, doesn’t it?”
“You’re right, I thought the same thing as well.”
Catalina nodded and continued to speak.
“I never imagined that I would get a chance to meet one of the Hero Hideo Kenzaki’s family members. You said your name was Yasuo, correct? Would you be so kind as to tell me the name of your sweetheart?”
“……It’s Shouko. Shouko Tatewaki.”
Shouko was not so incapable of reading that situation that she would lose her composure upon being referred to as Yasuo’s sweetheart in a tense situation like this.
Most likely, Yasuo had run into Catalina in the forest, and asked her for help.
However, thinking about it calmly, it was strange for a woman to be walking around alone in a forest filled with such dangerous beasts.
Yasuo had agreed to stay in her house temporarily for Shouko’s sake, but he had not let down his guard.
“The two of us had been living as usual in Japan. We had made plans to go out together. Right, Shouko?”
However, even Shouko lost her composure for a second when Yasuo easily called her by her first name, something he had been very hesitant to do before. Even so, she managed to nod.
“We planned to have lunch and opened up our bento, and the next thing I knew, we were inside this forest. There was a massive amount of light. We don’t know how we ended up here. Where exactly are we?”
“My father’s name is certainly Hideo… But have you met my father in the past?”
Catalina put on a neutral expression and nodded.
“Please wait here for a little while.”
Saying that, she turned around and left the workshop.
Yasuo walked forward, pulled Shouko by her hand, and made her stand half a step behind him.
Shouko did not resist, and moved to a spot behind him that would not be unnatural, and continued to look up at the painting, when Catalina came back while carrying a large piece of paper.
“Can you read a map?”
“……No, I can’t.”
“I see. Well then, look over here.”
Yasuo couldn’t tell if she had noticed his momentary hesitation or not, but Catalina spread out a stiff piece of parchment on one of the tables in the workshop.
“This is the forest that we are in. The cabin we are in is around here.”
The points that Catalina pointed to were almost in the middle of the forest.
There was no way to tell where exactly Yasuo and Shouko had first landed here, but looking at the map it was clear that they had just been heading deeper and deeper into the forest.
“The closest town from here would be this one, Galedeite. Have you heard about it?”
“No, I’ve never heard of such a place.”
The place Catalina was pointing to was located east of the forest.
“Where is the river? When we were in the forest, we saw a fairly large river in the area.”
In reply to Shouko’s question, Catalina traced her finger along the southern part of the forest, where there was nothing written on the map.
“That river is not on this map. This map is quite old. That river was created by Yasuo’s father, thirty years ago.”
Yasuo managed to control his suddenly increased heartbeat, and somehow managed to keep a calm expression.
“Created by Dad… Wait, what does that mean? Actually, it’s been bugging me since we first got here, but is this place really not Japan?”
Catalina started Yasuo as if trying to gauge his real intentions, but she soon shook her head.
“Didn’t your father tell you anything at all?”
“Tell me about what? My father is just an ordinary salaryman. He works for a company that deals with foodstuffs and makes measurement devices, and I didn’t hear anything about him creating rivers. Nor did I hear anything about him doing something that deserves such a wonderful painting.”
“I see, you really don’t know anything… In that case, I suppose it’s only natural that you are confused.”
“Yeah. And speaking of things we don’t understand, we don’t know what is going on with her eye either.”
Yasuo tried to take a light jab at her regarding the Shii, but Catalina did not show any overt reaction and continued to move things forward.
“In the beginning, I thought she was badly injured, but she insists that she is fine…”
“……I don’t really know anything about that either, but do you mind if I ask a question?”
“What is it?”
“Before the two of us met, which one of you let out that shout that reverberated throughout the forest?”
Yasuo glanced at Shouko for just an instant, before frowning and replying.
“I think that was me.”
“I mean, there were these weird and scary wolf-like things and I screamed my head off for a while, so I’m not sure exactly what point in time you were referring to, Catalina-san. However, I can tell you that I was the only one screaming.”
“That’s a little pitiful of you, don’t you think? A man should keep his act together and allow his sweetheart to rely on him.”
Hearing Yasuo’s shameful confession, Catalina’s expression finally relaxed.
“In Japan, the girls are quite strong.”
“Yes, I know that.”
Catalina folded the map.
“I’m sure you must be confused after going through a lot of things, but if you’d like, I will escort you to Galedeite tomorrow morning. It will be easier to obtain information in a large town compared to wandering around in the forest, and I think that there are a lot of things that you two will be able to gain from that as well.”
“That would be great. Thank you very much.”
Yasuo bowed his head, and Shouko also imitated him.
“The two of you can use that guest room. Be a gentleman and let the lady have the bed, okay? Also, I’m sure that it must be hard to have your date interrupted by such strange events, but save the adolescence for after the situation has calmed down, okay?”
“Eh? Haa… Okay? Umm…”
Yasuo looked puzzled because he didn’t understand what that last bit meant, and Shouko turned bright red after vaguely understanding it. Seeing that, Catalina had a satisfied expression for some reason.
After that, Catalina brought two cups of hot water, a pitcher, and a candle holder with a new candle to the guest room where Shouko had been sleeping earlier and left after leaving them in the room.
“Fuuu… I was so tense.”
Shouko still looked restless while sitting on the bed, but Yasuo pretended not to notice. He stretched his body and sat down in the chair after picking up the blanket that he had dropped on the floor.
“I wonder what she meant about that adolescence or whatever that she said in the end… Did I hear her wrong?”
“Haa!? You didn’t understand that!?”
“Ah, yeah, it’s nothing…”
Shouko, who had unintentionally raised her voice, struggled to hold her voice in check.
They had introduced themselves as lovers, and had done their best to convince Catalina that they were just victims from another world who were stranded here and had no idea about anything related to Ante Lande.
In that sort of situation, there was only one sort of gentle warning that elderly people would give to a vigorous young couple when they had to sleep at night in a room with only one bed.
“I mean, boys should be better at picking up that sort of thing… oh, never mind. Knowing Yasu-kun, I guess that’s only natural.”
Due to Yasuo’s reaction, it looked like she was the one who had some strange expectations, which only served to embarrass her even more.
Father, Mother, I’m sorry.
“S-So, what should we do from tomorrow onwards?”
“I suppose there’s nothing for it but to stay under Catalina-san’s care for a while. She seems to know about my father, after all.”
“Ah, right, that is…”
“Besides, she looks like a foreigner no matter how you look at her, but I’m glad she can speak Japanese.”
“In any case, I’m glad we didn’t end up as some wolf’s dinner while being lost. Let’s just go to sleep for today. I have no energy left at all.”
Was it just her imagination, or did Yasuo say something strange just now?
“Mind if I get into the bed with you?”
Shouko blinked once, and the next second, she turned bright red all the way from her toes to the top of her head.
“It’s a little chilly, and I think we’ll be warmer if we stack both blankets and sleep under them together.”
“T-T-T-That’s… T-That’s true, b-but Catalina-san said…”
“It’ll be fine so long as we don’t make too much noise.”
“W-W-W-W-W-W-What happened to you? Did you fall in the forest and hit your head or something!?”
The way he was speaking was quite different from the Kenzaki Yasuo that she knew.
He acted like he hadn’t understood the meaning of Catalina’s teasing earlier, but did he get carried away after introducing her as his girlfriend?
Shouko had gone past blushing and was now at the state where she might start giving off red light at any moment, and she started to panic, but–
“What’s wrong? We do this all the time, don’t we?”
“Eeeeeeeeeeh… Ummmmmm… Yasu-kun wha-wha-what do you intend to do…”
“What’s wrong? I’m not talking about intending to do something, this is what I meant.”
“Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-This? H-H-Hang on, I’m not prepared to…”
In that instant, in that room that was only illuminated by candle light, a new strong source of blue-tinged light appeared.
It was Yasuo’s Slimphone.
There were some words typed on that familiar blue-tinged screen.
『Your Slimphone battery isn’t dead yet, right? Let’s communicate through text.』
“It’s obvious what I mean, right?”
Beside Shouko who was sitting on the bed and continuously blinking in confusion, Yasuo was sitting so close that they were just barely not touching each other, and continued to input text using his Slimphone’s flick input keyboard.
『I know where we are. But I don’t want Catalina-san to find out the extent of our knowledge. In the unlikely chance that she’s spying on us, I’d like to talk under the blankets so that it doesn’t look strange. I understand that it might make you uncomfortable, but I promise that I won’t do anything strange.』
『I’m almost certain that she is eavesdropping on us right now. As far as she is concerned, we are just clueless people who came to Ante Lande from another world, like “Hideo” and “Madoka” did in the past. I want her to assume that we are not thinking too deeply about it.』
“…F-Fine, I d-don’t mind, if that’s what you mean…”
It was true that Shouko was also wary of Catalina, and she understood the dangers that came with being 『The son of the Hero Hideo』.
Shouko was convinced that Yasuo’s request was perfectly justified, and she pulled her Slimphone out of her bag with dull movements and slowly lay down on the bed.
And then, when the bed let out a slight creak after taking Yasuo’s weight as well–
At this point, Shouko realized that this was still incredibly embarrassing, but it was already too late to back out.
The two of them lay facing each other on the bed that was fairly narrow, while blushing furiously and holding their Slimphones in front of them like shields.
Despite speaking so calmly earlier, Yasuo was also completely red now that they were actually in the bed together, and seeing that, Shouko also got more and more embarrassed.
Yasuo could see that the flame in Shouko’s eye had significantly reduced in size.
Still, the flame didn’t completely go out, so he could see see the red eye of the Shii in the center of the flame.
“……No, it’s nothing.”
Since it didn’t disappear, there was nothing particularly significant about the fact that it had reduced in size.
Yasuo stopped himself from talking further, and let out a large sigh.
“Hiiii… Hey, Yasu-kun, you’re too close, so don’t let out such a large sigh…”
“A-Ah, sorry… that reminds me, I haven’t brushed my teeth…”
Speaking about such things in whispers, the two of them found it hard to get to the main topic.
“A-Anyways, good night, S-Shouko.”
“R-Right, good night.”
After exchanging a bedtime greeting for the sake of Catalina who might have been eavesdropping, Yasuo pulled the blankets a little higher around them, and that caused Shouko, who was still nervous about each movement he made, to stiffen her body even further.
Shouko glanced through upturned eyes at Yasuo, who was desperately avoiding looking at her while typing something on his Slimphone.
『We are currently in a place called the Gaz Commonwealth. The Knights Division of Resteria that Diana belongs to doesn’t have any influence here.』
That was the first thing Yasuo showed her on his screen by typing it out.
Seeing Shouko frown, Yasuo flicked his finger on the screen keyboard a few times as if he had anticipated her question, and once again turned it towards her.
『I’ve heard about a river that my father was said to have created during the fight with the Demon King’s army. Apparently, it’s called the Hideo Holy Sword River.』
Shouko couldn’t help letting out a laugh at that ridiculous name which sounded like something any sane person would object to, and then immediately realized what she had done and went back to being alert after looking at the door of the room.
Since everyone in the Kenzaki family, Hideo included, had the same reaction back when Khalija had first come to their house and told this story, Yasuo was not particularly annoyed by her reaction.
『The river is famous and the water is considered to be holy, and there is supposed to be a church near the riverbank. I think it might be in the town that Catalina-san mentioned earlier.』
After Shouko nodded wordlessly, Yasuo once again started typing on his Slimphone.
Shouko suddenly realized that she had been intently staring at Yasuo’s face from up close while he was busy typing, but turning her gaze away also felt unnatural, so she spent the time until Yasuo finished typing by staring at the back of his Slimphone that was slightly moving back and forth in accordance with the movement of his fingers over the screen.
『I have no idea how far Resteria is from the Gaz Commonwealth, but I don’t think it will be at a distance that the two of us can easily cover on our own. Even if it is a neighboring country.』
Shouko nodded after reading that.
Even if it was a neighboring country, for the two of them who had no means of transportation other than walking, it could not be considered close by any means.
『I think it will be impossible for both Diana and my father to reach out to us without having any hint of our current location. There is no guarantee that the two of them made it to Resteria either. That’s why I plan to reach out to this country’s Knights’ Division sometime soon and reveal myself as the son of the Hero Hideo.』
Shouko’s eyes opened wide.
“There is no other choice.”
After quietly whispering that, Yasuo went back to typing on the phone keyboard.
『Rather than looking for a way to let my father or Diana know that we are here, I think it would be more efficient to let Resteria, and Diana’s mother in particular, know where we are. The person that Catalina-san mentioned, Erijina Radagast, is Diana’s mother.』
At this point, Shouko started typing on her own Slimphone for the first time.
『In that case, how about asking Catalina-san to reach out to her? It sounded like she knew Diana-san’s mother, after all.』
『That’s still too dangerous right now. We need to wait at least until we reach the town and find a large organization to look after us.』
『Why is that?』
『There is no guarantee that Catalina-san is on Resteria’s side.』
『She said her painting is a national treasure of Resteria, though.』
『Even Khalija-san was a Knight sworn to serve the country. But she still betrayed her country and obeyed the orders from Carnelian. There is no proof that Catalina-san won’t do the same.』
Shouko looked like she still wasn’t convinced, but Yasuo silently pointed at her left eye.
『Back when I first saw her in the forest, Catalina-san showed some surprise upon seeing your left eye, but she didn’t show any trace of fear. I find that to be odd.』
『In Ante Lande, the Shii are seen as terrifying monsters. It is strange for an ordinary artist to not be afraid of something that can even defeat a Magitech Knight.』
『Just like Khalija-san, she might know about the Latch as well. Of course, there is a chance that she was not afraid simply because she is actually an incredibly strong magician despite her age, but I can’t let down my guard around her until I know for sure.』
『That is why, from tomorrow onwards, we must appear to be outworlders who know nothing. There are actually more things that we don’t know, and half of the things we do know are still surprising even if we have heard about them before, so I don’t think there is any reason to get worked up about it.』
『What about your mother? She’s famous as well, right?』
Yasuo put on a complicated expression for a few moments, but immediately resumed typing.
『Since I said that I didn’t know anything about my father’s life here, I suppose there is no choice but to say that I only know that my mother is a housewife as well. However, it would be suspicious to try too hard to hide the fact that her name is Madoka, so we need to tell her that if she asks.』
If Catalina was someone who was interested in how the Hero Hideo’s life turned out after the war with Demon King Kaul, she would no doubt ask him 『What kind of person is Hideo’s wife?』
Yasuo was supposed to pretend that he didn’t know that his mother was considered to be a Great Sage, so he would have to pretend that he thought she was just a regular person and a housewife.
If Catalina brought up the name 『Madoka』 on her own, he would have to act surprised and say that his mother had the same name.
If Catalina asked him what his mother’s name was, he would have to reply with 『Madoka』 and then act surprised when she would inevitably tell all about Madoka also being a magician who fought alongside Hideo in Ante Lande.
In any case, if they were going to keep playing dumb, they would need to prepare a large number of lies for when they started talking about Madoka Sugiura, so the sooner they got it over with, the better.
After Yasuo explained that to Shouko, she nodded strongly.
“……Sounds like a lot of work.”
She unintentionally whispered that aloud.
Deep down, Yasuo also agreed with her.
Would the two of them really be able to pull off such an act?
How far could they go with their makeshift lies, against that artist who gave off a feeling of craftiness and intelligence even when she was silent?
“…In any case, let’s get Catalina-san to take us to a large town, and discuss what to do after that once we get there. There’s no point talking about that now. Also, let’s ask her tomorrow if she can help to hide that eye of yours in some way.”
Since there was no problem even if those words were overheard, he just said them aloud.
The fact was that they had no options except to reach out to either Hideo or Resteria.
Unlike Hideo and Diana, the two of them did not possess any means to safely escape from danger, so they had no choice but to rely on Catalina even though she seemed suspicious.
Shouko nodded and gripped her own Slimphone with both hands.
『Okay, we should probably go to sleep. I’ll sleep on the floor, so…』
He had finished talking about everything that he wanted to discuss.
Yasuo tried to leave the blankets that had become warm from the heat of both their bodies, but he was stopped by Shouko’s anxious voice and trembling hand.
“W-Wait, Yasu-kun…… It’s fine. Let’s just sleep together like this.”
Hearing Shouko say that all of a sudden, it was Yasuo’s turn to go bright red.
“I-If you do anything strange, I’ll give you the same treatment as those wolves from earlier… B-But, you’re tired as well, Yasu-kun, so if I was the only one who got to sleep in a bed, I’d feel bad… Umm… I mean…”
Shouko put her slimphone under the pillow and held his hand.
“I want you to hold my hand. Being alone is scary.”
Being stared at directly with her anxiety-filled eyes, Yasuo unconsciously gulped.
“I-I’m embarrassed by this as well, you know… And now you’re acting like this despite saying all those things earlier that made me want to die from embarrassment… Ei!”
Growing tired of seeing Yasuo just getting flustered, Shouko pulled him by his hand strongly and dragged him back into the bed.
“If you do anything strange, you’ll end up like those wolves in the forest, okay? I’ll bash you in the jaw with my knee, okay?”
“Y-You already said that……!”
“Y-You just have to hold my hand, okay? I mean, we are supposed to be lovers, right? This way is more natural, right? So…”
“I get it. I get it…!”
Despite Yasuo giving in to her demand, just by holding his hand, Shouko could tell that his whole body had become stiff.
Lying side by side on that bed that was by no means large, Yasuo and Shouko maintained a distance from each other where their bodies were just barely not touching, and their hands grew warm as if they were communicating their presence to each other just through their hands.
“……We’re supposed to be lovers, right?”
“What’s wrong? You called me so naturally by my name earlier, so I was a little happy…”
That was because it was necessary, In other words, it was just an act.
However, if they know the weight of a real sword, they will be able to represent that in their acting and make it look more life-like.
While thinking about acting, Yasuo unconsciously remembered the words said by his classmate, Aioi Aoto, regarding preparing for plays.
If you know what the real thing feels like, it will seem more life-like.
If your acting is accompanied by real-life experience, then it will cease to be acting and will become real.
So what were the real feelings in his heart, seeing as he had been able to call Shouko by her name so easily…?
“I felt that… I had to protect you, Sh-Shouko, so… I was able to call you that.”
Yasuo spoke so softly that his words were unclear even though their faces were so close to each other, but Shouko heard it perfectly.
“I’m glad. I’d be even more glad if you could call my name without hesitating.”
Shouko looked just a little embarrassed after saying that, and hid her face behind their interlocked hands.
“…I’m sorry, for things ending up this way.”
“It’s not your fault, Yasu-kun. I don’t have any serious injuries, and I am still alive. I’m a little scared, but there is a person who is willing to help us out. And moreover… you’re with me, Yasu-kun. So I’m fine.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Yes, I’m counting on you.”
As Shouko said that with a red face and smiled, the fire of the Shii in her left eye suddenly disappeared.
“Sh-Shouko…… the flame in your eye just……”
“Yeah. My vision didn’t particularly change or anything, but I thought that might be the case.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure…… Yasu-kun?”
“If do anything strange, you get the wolf treatment, okay?”
“How many times are you going to say that…”
Yasuo wasn’t able to say anything more than that.
Shouko pulled him even closer, put her forehead against his chest, and wrapped her arms around his body.
Yasuo felt every muscle and joint in his body stiffen simultaneously, and he became incapable of moving.
In front of his chest, Shouko’s head moved slightly.
Yasuo had absolutely no leeway to realize that she was laughing because she found his situation to be funny.
Even though he had been hugged, he had no idea what to do with his own hands that were currently floating in the air.
Yasuo thought about that until it felt like his brain was going to overheat.
His brain was caught between the questions on whether it was okay to touch her, or whether it was a bad idea to touch her, and then it moved on to a never-ending argument in his own brain about what sort of posture he should take to keep from touching her, or in case it was okay to touch her, what parts were okay to touch.
And then, Yasuo realized that Shouko had fallen asleep without caring about his dilemma.
Yasuo had thought she was just messing around with him, but he could clearly feel that her arms were leaden as they encircled him.
Shouko, who had used the power of the Shii’s flames to drive away the pack of beasts, must not have fully recovered from that ordeal.
Her anxiety and mental stress from their exchanges with Catalina earlier must have also reached their peak.
She didn’t respond even when he twisted his body a little, so when he tried to push her shoulder a little, she easily rolled away from him and lay on her back.
Even though it was only for a little while, Yasuo could tell that the posture of sleeping on one’s side while embracing another person put a lot of strain on the body.
If he left her in that position, there was a chance that she would not recover her strength by morning, and moreover, his mind would not last.
Yasuo slowly moved Shouko’s hand that was still on his waist back towards her, and put it in a position that would be comfortable for her to sleep in.
After that, Yasuo tried to get up and sleep on the floor as per his original plan, but Shouko was gripping his hand tightly as if she had see through that plan of his.
If he tried to forcefully free his hand from her grip, he might wake her up.
After a few seconds, Yasuo gave up and once again lay down next to Shouko.
The space available to Yasuo was fairly small since Shouko was sleeping on her back, but there was nothing he could do about that.
As he gazed at Shouko’s sleeping face from the side, his own eyelids started to get heavier.
Yasuo himself had also accumulated a fair amount of fatigue.
“…I’ll do my best.”
Yasuo, who found himself in the unprecedented situation of sharing a bed with a girl he knew, was unable to resist the will of his body that cried out for rest, and before long he had fallen into a deep sleep as well.
After that, by the time the candle that the two of them had forgotten to blow out had burned down completely, the door creaked open and Catalina entered the room.
Seeing the boy and girl sleeping on the same bed with barely any distance between them, the artist gave a small smile.
“Right then… Is this a coincidence… or perhaps…”
She looked out of the window.
“Did someone arrange this?”
Was it the wolves’ will o’ wisps that cut through the darkness far in the distance, in the noisy forest that blended into the darkness of the night?
After glancing at the will o’ wisps that cut across the view shown outside the window, Catalina gently stroked Yasuo’s hair as he slept, and left the room.
“I suppose I should reach out to that person, just in case.”
The next morning, Yasuo and Shouko, who gratefully ate a breakfast consisting of some fairly sour bread and tea made from beans that grew in the forest, were unable to look each other in the eye other for some reason.
They had experienced an embarrassing moment when they accidentally looked into each other’s eyes after waking up… It was not like that. In actuality, both of them had forgotten about falling asleep in close proximity to each other, and when they woke up they simultaneously pulled back from each other on top of the small bed, and as a result, both of them had ended up falling out of bed.
The sound was loud enough to startle Catalina and cause her to come running to see what had happened, and the two of them found themselves in an indescribably awkward situation.
Incidentally, the black flame had returned to Shouko’s left eye at some point.
“It must be nice to be young.”
Moreover, the situation was basically equivalent to admitting that they had slept in the same bed, so the fact that Catalina had some strange misunderstanding was reflected in her words.
After the two of them underwent the baptism of using an outhouse in this other world, Catalina urged them to prepare for their departure.
After giving both of them well-used greatcoats that had attached hoods, Shouko was given two things that closely resembled cushions used to correct seating posture.
“Here, carry these.”
As for Yasuo, he was given a large sack that was packed full of something, although it wasn’t all that heavy.
Catalina herself was holding one of each in each hand.
“What are these?”
“The bags contain some things that we can exchange for money in the town. They are important merchandise so don’t drop them, okay?”
Yasuo understood what she was saying. Since they were going to be staying under her care, being given such tasks to do made him feel better as well.
He had still not let down his guard, but as long as they were both behaving amicably towards each other, it would be better to follow the social niceties.
“As for what Shouko is carrying, we will be using them soon.”
Catalina smiled mischievously and gestured for both of them to step outside.
“Uwaah, we were in this kind of place?”
Shouko saw Catalina’s workshop from the outside for the first time.
Shouko had imagined that it was a log house with a gabled roof, but it actually looked like a solid fortress-like structure that had been built around a cave and reinforced with some material that looked a lot like concrete.
There was a strangely large space cleared around the workshop, but it did not look like it was meant for a garden or fields, as the soil had been compacted until it was fairly flat and the area was almost devoid of even weeds.
“Even I thought it was a factory or fortress when we brought you here.”
Yasuo guessed what Shouko was thinking and said that.
“I would have prefered a more charming exterior myself, but that’s not possible in this forest.”
Saying that, Catalina pulled out a silver-colored tube and put it in her mouth.
A whistle that sounded more shrill than the one used for soccer games penetrated the trees of the forest and echoed around them.
And then, they waited for about ten seconds.
Suddenly, their surroundings were filled with a flurry of wind, and Shouko inadvertently looked up and saw something that caused her to widen her eyes.
“Yasu-kun! That is—!”
“That thing is—!!”
An incredibly giant creature slowly descended from the sky while flapping what looked like wings, and settled down on the ground near the three of them.
It was without a doubt the 『scelephant』 that Yasuo and Shouko had been following in the forest.
The reason why the game trail had suddenly come to an end was because the scelephant was capable of flying.
However, it was hard to believe that something so massive could fly through the air by flapping its wings.
Seen from the front, the face of the scelephant looked more like that of a round rhinoceros than an elephant.
The scaled elephant, or rather, the scaled rhinoceros that had calmly landed in front of the three of them lay down flat on top of the compacted soil.
“This is a scaled dragon. We will ride to the town on its back.”
Despite the fact that it had such a rotund body, it was apparently neither an elephant nor a rhino, but a dragon instead.
“This forest is the habitat of scaled dragons, so they occasionally land on top of my workhouse.”
If such large creatures were in the habit of landing on top of the house, then it certainly made sense to reinforce the house to that extent; if not, the people who lived inside would find it intolerable.
Most likely, the strangely compacted soil around the house was also due to these things.
“I-Is it really okay to ride on top of this?”
“Despite their appearance, they are actually quite placid creatures. A scaled dragon of this size can carry six adults. I’ll climb up first so throw the chairs to me, okay?”
Catalina climbed up scaled dragon’s back in a practiced manner, using its leg and shoulder as handholds, and then proceeded to attach those things that looked like tatami chairs used to correct seating posture on top of the scales on its back.
So those things were basically saddles used to ride on top scaled dragons.
“It’ll take around three hours to reach Galedeite, riding on this one’s back.”
“Is it going to fly while carrying us?”
“Of course not. If we did something like that, we would get shot down by the Anti-flight Sorcery Division stationed on the town walls. We will be moving on the ground at a sedate pace.”
“Anti-flight Sorcery DIvision?”
Shouko, who had truly not heard that term before, asked for an explanation of that term, and hearing that, Catalina’s expression turned slightly pensive.
“……It looks like you’ll need to learn a few things. We have plenty of time, so I’ll explain on the way. Come now, hurry and climb up here.”
After that,Yasuo and Shouko climbed up on the back of the scaled dragon, taking almost five times as long as Catalina did.
When the scaled dragon stood up, their vision was suddenly elevated, and, both Yasuo and Shouko let out a shout of joy.
“Uwaah! We’re so high up!”
“I didn’t think you would find it so entertaining. Yasuo, be careful to not drop the sack.”
After giving a wry smile, Catalina once again blew on the small pipe and the scaled dragon started to move.
The movement itself seemed relaxed, but because of its giant body the length of each stride was massive and the trees in the forest that they had taken so much effort to walk past yesterday started to go by in a blur.
The weather was not clear today either, but the rain had stopped, and there were brief periods where the sunlight broke through the clouds.
Their view was also clear, and they saw some massive ferns and trees with bright blue fruit, which served to further reinforce their thoughts that this place was very different from Japan.
During their trip through the forest, Catalina gave Yasuo and Shouko a lecture on the basic facts about the world called Ante Lande.
“I suppose I should start with the war against Demon King Kaul, thirty years ago. That’s when your father and his companions defeated the swarms of demons that appeared from the land beneath the Grand Duchy of Torjesso.”
She didn’t mention anything about what happened thirty years ago, save that the demons had been defeated by the hero from another world, Hideo. Yasuo did not get the chance to bring up the topic of his mother during this time.
Regarding the Shii, what she said was basically a rehash of what they had already heard from Diana and Khalija.
However there were a few pieces of information that they had not heard from Diana, who was a citizen of Resteria. Namely, the current position of the Gaz Commonwealth, and what kind of impression the people of the Gaz Commonwealth had about the Hero, Hideo.
The Gaz Commonwealth was located between Resteria, which was one of the major world powers, and the Baskelgarde Federation, and was apparently under constant political pressure from both of them.
The Commonwealth was a republic, but due to that there was no single authority within their borders who held absolute power, and the people who lived there were split among the pro-Resteria and pro-Baskelgarde camps.
The Gaz Commonwealth was also the place where the most battles involving the Hero Hideo took place during the war against Demon King Kaul.
Due to that, the tendency of the people from the Gaz Commonwealth to view Hideo as a Hero was just as high, if not more than the people of Resteria, but on the other hand, it was also a fact that the Gaz Commonwealth was the area with the largest number of war casualties.
There were a lot of people who blamed that on the fact that both Resteria and Baskelgarde had used the Gaz Commonwealth as a breakwater, and while they still celebrated the actions of the Hero Hideo, they felt resentment towards Resteria and Baskelgarde for making use of them and forcing them to take unnecessary casualties.
It had only been thirty years since the war against Demon King Kaul.
There were still a lot of people around who remembered the wartime, and faced with the modern day Shii crisis, it was said that in the background, the political situation of the nation was slowly but surely starting to come apart at the seams.
“Thanks to the fact that this nation is sandwiched between two major powers that it is on friendly terms with, there is no overt loss of public order as of yet. The Knights Division, which has not forgotten the lessons learned during the wartime, is powerful. As are the Magitech Knights, who currently hold the most power as of now. However, if something were to happen that greatly shifted the balance, if the Magitech Knights were to to be divided for some reason, this country would be in dire straits. The war refugees who were unable to find protection in Resteria and Baskelgarde also aimed to settle in the Gaz Commonwealth for the time being.”
“That sounds… quite troublesome. By the way, how large is this country, approximately?”
“It’s not very big. It is wholly incomparable to the size of Baskelgarde, and even comparing it to Resteria, it is probably around half the size. However, thanks to the fact that it has been an important trading point since ancient times, this country’s financial position is quite good. Due to that, this country has a long history of being a republic. Do you know what ‘republic’ means? Although, I seem to remember hearing that Japan is a republic as well.”
“Umm… It’s actually a little different, but I guess you could say there are some similarities.”
While it was certainly true that the country of Japan had some things in common with a republic, such as being based upon democratic principles wherein the power rested with the people and the elected representatives of the people were responsible for the administration of the country, Japan was actually a constitutional monarchy due to the fact that they had an Emperor.
Also, since a democracy and a republic were not the same thing, there were cases where a nation claimed to be a republic while belonging to a federation of states, and there were also cases where a republic had a crowned ruler.
“Is there a head of the state? I think that many things would depend on which faction that person belongs to.”
“I’m not sure how to put it in your terms. Let’s see, umm… pres…. President? The President claims to be neutral, but for all intents and purposes, he is on Resteria’s side.”
When it came to finding countermeasures against the Shii, even Resteria had a divided opinion on whether to invite the Hero Hideo to their country or not.
No doubt, countries that did not possess a cheating technique like summoning a Hero would find themselves in even deeper chaos.
“Once we get close to the town, Shouko, pull the hood down low over your eyes, okay? Since you’re accompanying me, I don’t think they will pry too deeply into your identities as long as we play a slightly higher entry toll, but there’s no disadvantage in being a little cautious.”
Due to the current situation in which fear of the Shii was rampant, if a girl were to appear while bearing the flames of the Shii in her eyes, it would no doubt cause a panic.
After resting for one night, Shouko’s left eye was once again alight with a black, smoldering flame.
The flame did not burn anything that was brought close to it, but they were not able to cover it up even by wrapping a bandage around her eye, so there was no choice but to hide it from others by wearing a hood low over her eyes.
“……That reminds me.”
William had also said that his red eye was the one thing he could not conceal, did William perchance have the same nature as Shouko?
“What’s wrong, Yasu-kun?”
“……No, it’s nothing.”
“If you’re worried about the flame, I don’t think anyone will notice as long as they don’t get right up in my face…”
Shouko said something different from what Yasuo had been thinking about, but then she took off her hood, and after hesitating for just a moment, with a small shout to pump herself up, Shouko grabbed Yasuo’s hand while he sat beside her.
When she did that, the black flames that were flickering in the wind and were big enough to reach from her forehead to her bangs suddenly reduced to the size of a cigarette lighter flame.
Catalina looked at Shouko’s eye and the sight of them holding hands, and, she looked at Yasuo with a gaze full of some hidden meaning.
“Oh my, oh my…”
“W-What is it!?”
Yasuo shouted towards her with a red face, but on the other hand he didn’t have the option of shaking off Shouko’s hand either. Meanwhile Shouko was being herself and her face was certainly a little red, but she looked like she was actually enjoying herself, so Yasuo had no idea what he should do.
He didn’t know the logic behind it, but it appeared that the flames of Shii grew smaller the closer Shouko was to Yasuo.
In order to erase them completely, they would have to do something like last night……
“It’s nice that the two of you get along so well.”
“Please don’t make fun of us!”
“Yeah… but doesn’t this make it look like I’m really important to you or something?”
“And you too, what the heck are you saying?”
Yasuo found himself being steadily cornered into a situation that he could not endure, and both Shouko and Catalina gave contended smiles and turned to face forward once more.
“In any case, this should do the trick, right?”
“Well, yes, but you still shouldn’t let down your guard. The damage in Galedeite has been relatively minor, but speaking of the Gaz area as a whole, the threat from the Shii is fairly serious, after all. Due to that, there are a lot of people saying that they don’t want to be used as pawns by the major powers once again, like during the war with Demon King Kaul. Because of that, there is a faction that wants to maintain a state of true independence, and they are gaining a lot of popularity.”
It might not be at the level where it could be called nationalism, but precisely because this country was a republic, it was possible for such factions to suddenly gain power.
In some ways, that was an extremely natural thing, and something that could normally be ignored as it was part of the politics of a country they were not affiliated with.
More importantly, the warmth and softness of Shouko’s hand that he was feeling with his own would normally pose a bigger problem for Yasuo.
“The faction that came up with the plan to obtain a stable form of independence were originally an organization that took care of displaced war refugees, called Carnelian of the Coal Mine……”
That is, if not for the fact that Catalina mentioned the name Carnelian of the Coal Mine.
The field of view suddenly got larger, and Shouko let out a shout of joy.
As soon as they left the forest, the three of them were greeted by the sight of a large, open plain, and although it was still quite far away, they saw something that looked like a citadel as well.
“Is that Galedeite?”
“That’s right. It’s the greatest fortress town in the Gaz Commonwealth. There is a cathedral belonging to the Church of the Divine King here where people worship the Hideo Holy Sword River, so this place is an important town in the Gaz Commonwealth, speaking from a religious perspective as well.”
The Church of the Diving King.
Yasuo had heard a little about that organization from Khalija.
He had heard that it was an organization that had a long history of both good and evil deeds, just like its counterpart on Earth, and it was hence a “holy place where wicked men gathered.” However, in the eyes of the general public, it probably served perfectly as the foundation for their daily prayers.
That aside, he couldn’t seem to get used to the name “Hideo Holy Sword River,” no matter how many times he heard it, but encountering the name of his father in this fashion after being separated from him gave him a very strange feeling.
“Yasuo, you should hide your face as well, just in case. I don’t think there are many people who know what Hideo looked like, but there might be a few people who remember.”
Since their view had improved after leaving the forest, they could see things here and there that resembled wagons, slowly moving towards the fortress town.
Yasuo and Shouko decided that it would be better to stay alert from on onwards, and put on the hoods that were attached to their greatcoats.
Certainly, both of them were tense.
However, despite that, they weren’t able to suppress their anticipation.
To put it shortly, going to another world meant interacting with a new society.
It was a society that was not constrained by their own set of values and common sense.
Before long, they had stabled the scaled dragon outside the city walls in a stable meant for that purpose, passed through the gate without any issues in particular, and Yasuo and Shouko beheld the town of Galedeite in the other world for the first time.
“It kind of… doesn’t feel like a town at all.”
It was a town with a lot of shadows.
Catalina widened her eyes at Shouko’s whispered statement.
“You can tell?”
“Well, it’s just a vague feeling. The whole place seems really dark, as if there’s not enough sunlight.”
Compared to the sunny plain they had crossed after leaving the forest, it felt like they had entered a man-made forest this time.
The buildings were tall, the alleyways looked complicated, and there weren’t many people out walking on the streets.
Unlike the back alleys of Japan, even the entrance and exits of alleys here appeared to be perpetually shrouded in darkness.
However, the town did not appear to be dirty or dilapidated.
The alleys did not appear to be overflowing with garbage or have graffiti on the walls, and nor did they appear to be a gathering place of people who might be difficult to approach.
In any case, both Yasuo and Shouko instinctively felt that this place was completely different from any 『town』 that they knew.
“That’s right, we still have some time, so would you like to go sightseeing?”
Both Yasuo and Shouko looked surprised on hearing that word.
“Shouko. Don’t raise your head like that, even if you are surprised. No matter how small it is, the Shii’s flame will still attract attention.”
Shouko panicked and pulled the hood even lower.
The flame had reduced in size somewhat because she was walking close to Yasuo, but the two of them could not very well walk around town while constantly holding hands.
She had to stay alert at all times.
“Remember all the things I told you about this country on our way here? I think you’ll understand why you felt uncomfortable about this place after we do a little sightseeing and see what this town is famous for, Shouko. Both of you, follow me.”
Saying that, Catalina stated walking ahead of them.
“This place is a fortress town, and during the war against Demon King Kaul, this place served as the de facto front line for this area. Also, this town is an important hub for travelers. That’s the reason why this town ended up in this way. To begin with, let’s go over there.”
What Catalina pointed at after saying that was the tallest tower in their surroundings.
Just how many times had she let out shouts of amazement since coming to this world?
Shouko, who was standing on the edge of the terrace, was struck with amazement after seeing the magnificent view that filed her whole vision, something no artist could ever hope to reproduce.
The tower was made of stone, and was approximately fifty meters tall.
The terrace on the topmost floor of that tower offered an unbroken view of Galedeite’s surroundings, and so it served as a viewing platform open to the public as well as a watchtower.
Although they had left their luggage at a guard station on the first floor, climbing the steep stone steps was quite a challenge for Yasuo, as he was a boy from the modern age who was used to things like escalators and elevators. However, the view from the top most floor immediately made him forget about his fatigue.
If you consider just the height of the tower, it was not something Yasuo and Shouko, who lived in a modern city close to the capital, found particularly astonishing.
However, the sheer width and depth of the view was something that people who lived in modern Japan would probably never see.
The view of the town of Galedeite below their feet was also marvelous, but what amazed the two of them the most was the vast amount of nature that surrounded the town.
Their attention was wholly occupied by the forest, the plains, the mountains in the far-off distance, and the sky.
The view from the top of the famous viewing platforms in Japan is one of an endless expanse of cities and towns, punctuated by scenic mountains.
However, from this viewing platform, the boundary between the sky and the ground was clearly visible.
“Amazing, amazing, amazing!!”
As soon as Shouko reached the topmost floor of that tower, she became incapable of saying anything except that, and the fact was that the view had such a big impact on the two of them that there was nothing else to say.
“That forest is the same one you live in, right, Catalina-san?”
Catalina nodded when Yasuo pointed his finger towards it and asked that.
“Yes. Also, you can see it from here, right? That river that is cutting through the forest and flowing into the western side of the town is the one that your father created towards the end of the battle with the Demon King, the 『Hideo Holy Sword River』.”
“Really, can’t something be done about that name?”
“There’s no point saying that to me.”
Seeing it from above, Yasuo could tell that the Hideo Holy Sword River was very wide and long.
His father had said something about the river being created due to the demon’s attacks in the middle of the battle, but it seemed to originate from a lot further away than the phrase “flash food” would imply.
The river appeared to originate far away, in the slightly hazy mountains that were on the far side of the forest that the two of them had spent so much time wandering through yesterday.
If this river had not existed thirty years ago, just how wide-scale and bizarre must have the battle between his father and the demons been in order to create it?
If you had to replicate the same thing with a modern weapon from Earth, there was no doubt that it would have to be something off the charts.
“I think it should be clear after seeing this, but there is nothing in the vicinity of this town that would hinder an invading army. Once the enemy gets over those mountains far, far away, they just need to travel in a straight line to get here. And to the rear of the town is just a vast, open plain that is open to traffic from both Resteria and Baskelgarde. That’s why this town of Galedeite ended up in this form, like a turtle that has retreated into its shell.”
The reason why the town looked so dark was because it was fated to serve as a stronghold in times of emergency.
The town walls were tall, the buildings were crowded close to each other, and the alleys were narrow and complicated in order to confuse invaders.
Even long before the war with Demon King Kaul, this town must have weathered many attacks due to its nature as an important checkpoint for traffic and an economic center.
“My destination is a little difficult to see from here; it’s that market over there. The sacks that Yasuo left in the guard room earlier contain the same dried beans that were used to make the tea you drank this morning. As for your destination…… considering the situation, I suppose it would be over there.”
The place Catalina was pointing to was on the opposite side of the town from the market, and the viewing platform was located almost exactly in between the two. It was a building that was almost the same height as the viewing platform.
Unlike the other buildings in the town that were crowded together, this building had a fair amount of empty space around it.
“What is that place?”
Catalina answered Yasuo’s question nonchalantly.
“It’s the Galedeite headquarters of the Gaz Knights Division. If they learn that you are a family member of the Hero Hideo, they will likely give you a warm welcome and offer you their protection.”
Yasuo unconsciously gulped.
No matter how much he tried to control it, his body would stiffen every time she mentioned the name of his father; Yasuo wondered if she had seen through that.
Yasuo asked Catalina a question, as if to cover that up.
“Catalina-san. What kind of social position do the Knights have in this country?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if you look at the word ‘Knight’ in japanese, it basically refers to a soldier who fights from horseback, someone more extravagant than a foot soldier. However in reality they tend to be more than that, so…”
Yasuo felt annoyed that he wasn’t able to properly put it into words, but Shouko seemed to understand what he meant and continued from where he had stopped.
“The social position that accompanied the title of 『Knight』 in the world we came from differed greatly depending on the country and the era. I think what Yasu-kun is asking about is if they are akin to feudal lords who rule over a demesne, or if the title is honorary and given to people who are recognized by a ruler, or if they are career soldiers.”
Catalina seemed to understand after hearing what Shouko said.
“In this country, 『Knight』 is the name of a profession, and the post does not imply any special social position or nobility. The Knights Division Headquarters in the capital city of the commonwealth oversees the activities of all the Knights, and in essence, all the 『Knights』 are actually 『Magitech Knights』. Their work consists of maintaining public order and defending the territory. Does that answer your question?”
“Ah, yes. Thank you very much.”
In other words, if they sought protection at that place called the Galedeite Headquarters, they would not need to worry about being imprisoned by some local noble who was a Knight in name only.
While he was thinking about that, he made eye contact with Catalina, who had a serious expression on her face.
“The two of you have had some fairly high standard of schooling, correct?”
“During the short time it took for us to come here from the forest, I understood that the two of you possess fairly good knowledge about history, politics, mathematics, and economics.”
“When I was talking to you about this country, neither of you asked me to clarify what a particular word meant, even once. For example, even many of the people who live in this country do not know what the word 『republic』 means.”
Wasn’t she rating them too highly?
At the very least, neither Yasuo nor Shouko thought that their knowledge was particularly extensive, and any liberal arts student who took their exam preparations seriously or a student aiming to get into a national university would be able to follow a conversation of that level.
When they meekly told her the same thing, Catalina looked amazed and slumped her shoulders.
“The fact that you can say that that is normal proves what an extraordinary place the other world is. There must be children like you all over the place, right?”
Yasuo and Shouko unconsciously looked at each other.
From their perspective, both Catalina and the town of Galedeite were worthy of admiration, due to their otherworld nature.
People here could use magic as if it was the most natural thing in the world, could fly through the air, and had trained fantastic creatures to work for them.
Why would people of this world who could do such amazing things ever see Japan as a threat?
Catalina seemed to have guessed what the two of them were thinking about.
“Even if you search the length and breadth of Ante Lande, you won’t find a single country where every child is able to go to school and receive an education. Do the two of you think that all the people in Ante Lande are capable of using sorcery or magic?”
Yes, they had been thinking that.
Yasuo discovered that he had developed that misapprehension in some corner of his heart, and he was shocked.
“In Ante Lande, the number of people who can use magic, become Magitech Knights, or even go to school and receive and education are limited to a select few. You can say that ever since the war with Demon King Kaul, that trend has increased even more… This is a good opportunity, so there’s one more place I want you to see before we go to the market. Although it might be a little too depressing to be called sightseeing.”
Saying that, Catalina started to climb down from the tower.
“W-Where are we going?”
“To see a scar from thirty years ago.”
Catalina’s answer was concise.
“T-This place is…”
Among all the buildings that lined the streets, that building in particular looked conspicuously old and run down.
From the outside, it appeared to be a church or a chapel, and in this town filled with tall structures, it was one of the rare buildings that was only two storeys tall.
They saw something that looked like a courtyard after passing through the rusted gates, but the ground was mostly bare with just a single seedy-looking tree growing on it. Overall, it made for an appearance that was not particularly inviting.
Catalina pointed towards what looked like a nameplate that had been nailed perfunctorily to the wall that surrounded the building.
“It says 『House of the Fireflies』. Do you know what sort of insects fireflies are?”
“Well, of course……”
“Since the insects are luminescent and there is no danger of them sparking off a fire or explosion, they are often used as a light source in deep coal mines.”
“Oh, I see…”
Didn’t Catalina mention a strange word just now?
“Of course, the light given off by fireflies is fairly useless. However, for the people who work in coal mines, that feeble light is enough for them to trust their lives to it. This is that kind of place.”
Yasuo unconsciously put himself on guard.
It was almost purely on reflex.
Catalina just clearly mentioned the word 『coal mine』.
“This is one of the facilities managed by the Carnelian of the Coal Mine, the organization that works to assist displaced refugees.”
He went stiff and felt a chill run through his heart.
The wariness he had kept bottled up within himself until now suddenly rose up and forced his heart to beat faster.
Catalina’s intelligent eyes were looking sideways at Yasuo who was drenched in a cold sweat.
What exactly was it that lurked deep within her eyes?
Had Catalina guessed that Shouko was the 『Latch』 as he had suspected, and brought her here to hand her over to the Carnelian of the Coal Mine?
Could he take Shouko and escape from Catalina, who appeared to be capable of using magic?
Just before Yasuo’s panicked thoughts were about to explode…
A shrill bell sounded within the 『House of the Fireflies』, and Yasuo, Shouko, and even Catalina unconsciously looked in that direction.
The next instant.
Where exactly had they been hiding?
A large number of children suddenly appeared from the various alleyways and ran towards the 『House of the Fireflies』 each one fighting to be the first one there.
The children who darted past their legs all looked shabby and underfed.
However, they had a sharp and shrewd look in their eyes.
“Who were those kids…?”
Instead of replying, Catalina just pointed in a certain direction.
The children were sitting in a circle around that seedy-looking tree.
While Yasuo was wondering what they were doing, an adult person appeared from within the 『House of the Fireflies』.
It was an old woman who was wearing a long and threadbare robe.
The woman had a basket hanging from one arm with bread that looked similar to what they had received from Catalina that morning, and the children were all staring directly at that basket of bread.
One of the children tried to stretch out a hand towards that basket when the old woman was not looking.
Shouko unconsciously let out a small shout.
The old woman kicked backwards at that child without even looking.
The child who had been kicked fell flat on the ground, but didn’t cry, and instead just directed a sulky look at the old woman.
On the other hand, the old woman seemed to have good hearing as she head Shouko’s exclamation, and she appeared to glare in their direction for a second from under her hood.
Seeing that, Catalina bowed towards her.
The old woman appeared to notice Catalina as well, and she slightly raised her heavily wrinkled eyelids, but she immediately turned back towards the children and started to say something to them.
Yasuo could not understand a word of what the old lady was saying.
It was probably the language used by the people of this region.
Even though he could not understand the language, he could tell that her voice was not gentle by any measure.
However, the children appeared to still listen to her attentively, and after a few minutes, she distributed the bread among them, one loaf per child.
Of course, the child who had been kicked earlier also got a share.
After the old woman finished distributing the bread among the children, she moved toward a corner of the courtyard.
There was a well with a hand pump mechanism over there.
The old woman said something to one of the children who appeared to be older than the other children in the group.
The child she had spoken to finished eating their share, licked their hands as if unwilling to let a single crumb go to waste, and went over to the pump and started to move the handle up and down.
Before long, water began to flow out of the mouth of the pump, and the children who had finished eating their bread rushed towards the pump, fighting to be the first one there, and drank the water while spilling it on themselves.
Only after all that had happened did the old woman properly turn towards Catalina, and walked over in their direction with slow steps.
Yasuo had started to feel very tense after hearing the name “Carnelian of the Coal Mine,” but the sight he saw before him differed greatly from what he had imagined.
No, perhaps this was the original nature of the organization……
The old woman who eventually came to stand in front of them asked Catalina something, in a voice that was close to a shout.
Catalina also replied to the old woman in the same language that Yasuo and Shouko could not understand.
The two of them just waited while being tense and watched the conversation, and eventually the old woman turned to look at Yasuo and spoke.
“I see. I knew it the moment I saw him.”
“You are Hideo’s son, aren’t you?”
Her voice had some strange inflections, but she was still speaking clear Japanese.
What’s more, she declared that he was 『Hideo’s son』 without any doubt.
Yasuo’s panic born from suspicion once again flared up, but the old woman just sighed once and looked away from him.
“Hideo’s son has come here from the other world. I wonder if war is going to break out again. That would be bad. We’re already living on scraps as it is.”
“W-What do you mean?”
“Haa? Isn’t that obvious? The Hero, Hideo, was brought here by God because no human could stand up against the Demon King Kaul. And what is it exactly that is threatening to throw the world into chaos right now? It’s the Shii, right? It is obvious that God has summoned you here because, once again, the people of Ante Lande cannot hope to win on their own.”
It looked like this woman was fairly strange.
The old woman seemed to have a dangerous personality, but despite the fact that she had declared that he was 『Hideo’s son』, she did not raise a fuss about it, and despite the fact that she was living in a facility run by the Carnelian of the Coal Mine, she did not attempt to hide her hatred of the Shii.
This was an attitude that was wholly incompatible with what he had heard regarding people affiliated to the Carnelian of the Coal Mine, based on the information he had heard from Khalija.
Yasuo, who was completely lost, looked towards Catalina, but she just spoke to the old woman in Japanese without even sparing him a glance.
“Are things really that bad?”
“It’s been thirty years since then, of course the support will dry up.”
The old woman answered the question with a twisted expression, turned back towards the『House of the Fireflies』, and looked at the children who had filled buckets with with water and had started washing their clothes.
“The House of the Fireflies that once took care of two hundred people is now struggling to even feed a bunch of brats like them.”
“……Umm, those children, just who are…”
Shouko, who had been silently observing the situation until now, muttered that question, and the old woman gave a concise answer.
“They are orphans.”
Shouko was unable to say another word at the weight of the truth contained in that short answer.
“They all have different circumstances. There are some children who were abandoned, and some whose parents died for whatever reason and they had no other relatives, and they all live in these back alleys. To put it in the same terms as Japan, this place is an almshouse.”
It was not a word Yasuo was familiar with, so he was not able to understand what that signified.
It looked like the same was true for Shouko as well, as she showed a baffled expression after blinking a few times.
“This place isn’t an orphanage?”
“To be called an orphanage, the institution would need enough leeway to provide those brats with a place to live, right? This place has neither the beds for them to sleep in nor sufficient food for them to eat. Right now, this place is a gathering spot for those brats, but it was originally an office for the purpose of helping the the war refugees from Torjesso to somehow get settled in Galedeite. Even if I wanted to take those brats in, I don’t have the infrastructure required. And if I tried to make it official, I’d just get hit with taxes and such.”
According to what the old woman told them, for ten years after the war with Demon King Kaul, the neighboring kingdoms and the Gaz Commonwealth themselves provided a considerable amount of support, due to which the Carnelian of the Coal Mine, including this House of the Fireflies, was able to provide a lot of help and support for the refugees.
However in recent years, the fact that a lot of the refugees had become permanent settlers caused the amount of support to dwindle, and once the Shii started to appear, the government had no leeway to support the poor people anymore due to rising social tensions, and support for such causes had gone down all over the country.
Due to the sharp decrease in the amount of support received, the Carnelian of the Coal Mine lost a fair bit of their organizational ability as well, and in the present situation, small facilities like this one were considered to be formerly associated with the Carnelian of the Coal Mine and communication with the main organization was basically non-existent. The day-to-day administration was seen to by the people who were originally the caretakers, such as this old woman, and they were keeping the facilities running with just whatever support they could gather from the local area.
“What sort of relation do you have with this House of Fireflies, Catalina-san……?”
“This woman is a pretty strange one. She keeps trying to send us money that she earned from her incomprehensible job of being an artist that just sounds like a bored noble’s hobby.”
The old woman’s answer to Yasuo’s question sounded quite spiteful, but Catalina just smiled.
“Director Kelly here has always been a shy person, although she denies it vehemently. During the war with Demon King Kaul, she provided support for my family, but despite that, she refuses to take any but the bare minimum of support from other people. I for one just want to help because she is the person who saved the lives of my family members, but it’s so hard to even get her to accept my donations.”
Not knowing if they were actually praising each other or being spiteful, the two young people could only stare at the two older women.
The old woman, whose name was apparently Kelly, was not cowed by something of this level and she spoke as if spitting out something nasty.
“I have no intention of raising these children to have a mindset that someone will make it rain money if they are in a bad way. If all they do is to crawl on the ground and drink muddy water, then they will be shunned by society even after they become adults. By giving them the bare necessary amount of food and a place to clean their clothes, these brats can keep their self-dignity. That’s good enough. These brats have already had a bad birth and upbringing, so they need to learn that the world won’t save them even they get sulky. Too much support will only bring them harm.”
From those words that Director Kelly spoke quickly, no matter how coarse her language was, her love for the children was easy to see.
From her manner of speech, there was absolutely no hint of her willing to do something like controlling the Shii and misdirecting the self-respect of people.
“So, that’s why…”
Director Kelly one again looked at Yasuo and grabbed his shoulders with her thin arms.
“This is my request to you. Please, save this world.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t do something stupid like going around and spreading word of your existence. However, in return, if you have come to Ante Lande to take up the same mission as your father did in saving this world, then please protect the future that these brats will live in when they grow up to be adults. That is my only request……”
Perhaps that was something that could be called an entreaty.
However, Yasuo could not bear to shoulder her feelings, even as a lie to make her feel better.
That was because he had been shown many times that he did not have the strength required to do so.
Perhaps she sensed his bewilderment, Director Kelly showed a surprisingly gentle smile.
“I see, you’re a honest kid. My bad.”
Saying that, she took her hands off from Yasuo’s shoulders.
“I heard that your father had a strong tendency to run away from things when he first came here as well. I get it, it can’t be a nice feeling to be told all of a sudden that the fate of the world is in your hands. I hear that people in Japan are not considered adults by the society until they are fairly old. No matter, I’ll just wait without hoping for too much.”
All Yasuo could do was to give a vague nod.
However, he got a more than adequate understanding of what Catalina wanted to show him here.
It was one side of the reality of 『the other world, Ante Lande』.
Catalina should not have any idea that Yasuo and Shouko had ties to the the higher-ups in Resteria.
However, despite that, she had attempted to dispel their misunderstandings about the society of this other world by showing them this reality.
Of course, this did not mean that Yasuo and Shouko’s goal would change.
However, they were now acutely aware of the fact that this society in another world was still a fully-fledged society of humans that just had a different cultural background from Japan or any other country on Earth.
“……Your Japanese is quite good, Obaa-san.”
When Shouko said that in the atmosphere that had become slightly more relaxed, Director Kelly snorted.
“Back in the old days of Carnelian, there were many cases where knowing the language of Hideo’s hometown was a basic requirement to acquire the support of nobles and the like. There aren’t many people who can speak it in Gaz, after all. By the way, you look like you are from Japan as well. Don’t tell me, are you Madoka Sugiura’s daughter or something?”
“Ah, no, I am……”
When Shouko shook her head, Yasuo felt a moment of indecision.
The name Madoka Sugiura had appeared in the conversation all of a sudden.
Should he just go ahead and reveal that that was his mother’s name? Just the fact that he was Hideo’s son was enough to make Director Kelly entrust the future of the children to him.
If she were to find out that he was the son of the Hero and the Sage, he might never be able to go back to Japan.
However, that moment of indecision turned out to be a blessing.
They suddenly heard the voice of a man who was calling out in their direction.
Yasuo suddenly lifted his head and looked in that direction, and Shouko unconsciously hid behind Yasuo.
He appeared to be in the first half of his twenties. He was one head taller than Yasuo, and had a robust body and gentle features.
Although Yasuo had never seen its like before, the thing the man had hanging from the belt of his well-ordered uniform was something even he could easily identify as a 『Techno Weapon』 that had the shape of a sword.
He was a Magitech Knight of the Gaz Commonwealth.
It looked like the Magitech Knight knew Catalina, as his face lit up with a smile and he rushed towards her.
Catalina also smiled and gripped his proffered hand, and returned some sort of greeting to him.
Yasuo made sure that Shouko was hidden behind him just in case, and asked Catalina in a low voice.
“Who is this person…?”
“Ah, this man is a Magitech Knight of the garrison here in Galedeite. His name is Feigreid, and his rank is Sergeant Major.”
“Oh, I see we are speaking in Japanese now.”
After Catalina introduced the young Magitech Knight to Yasuo, the man who had been called Feigreid also suddenly began talking in Japanese.
“It is good that we ran into you here, Sergeant Major Feigreid. We had planned on visiting the office at Headquarters later. Will you be at the office today?”
“If you just say the word, I think even the Lieutenant Colonel would keep me in Headquarters until your business is complete. Is it important?”
Feigreid was speaking very politely to Catalina.
That was not particularly strange, seeing as Catalina was older than him, but if the 『Lieutenant Colonel』 whom he mentioned was his superior or the person who was in charge of that place called the headquarters, then perhaps Catalina had far more influence than Yasuo had suspected.
“I actually wanted to consult you about a request I have for the Knights Division. The matter is quite important, however, so I will explain the details later at Headquarters. I have some business I need to finish in the town first… let’s see, can we meet in the afternoon?”
“I understand. I will wait for you there. By the way…”
Feigreid looked at Yasuo and Shouko who were standing behind Catalina with their hoods pulled low over their faces.
“Ah, these two?”
Catalina turned around as if she just remembered that they were tere.
“They are actually relatives of a certain venerable person, so they are keeping a low profile while I show them around Galedeite. I’ll introduce them to you later when we meet at Headquarters. Is that fine, you two?”
Yasuo and Shouko felt very uneasy because they could not introduce themselves right away despite the fact that they were standing right in front of him, but they were also discomfited by having a Magitech Knight staring seriously at their them in the middle of the town like this.
Feigreid didn’t seem to mind it much, however, and he straightened his posture and gave what appeared to be the Gaz Commonwealth’s salute.
“I am Feigreid Rubiz, a knight assigned to the garrison here in Galedeite. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
It was a self-introduction with an extremely refreshing and sincere attitude.
Due to the that, the two of them just grew increasingly discomfited, but managed a polite reply.
““It’s nice to meet you…””
They spoke at the same time and bowed deeply.
“So, what business does the great Magitech Knight have in a place like this?”
At that point, Director Kelly saw her opportunity and inserted herself into their conversation.
As usual, her manner of speaking was acerbic, however, there was an undeniable joy in her voice.
Feigreid also looked like he was used to it, and he pulled out a bag from inside his shirt and tossed it in Director Kelly’s direction.
As Director Kelly caught it, a fairly heavy sound of metal could be heard.
“I didn’t want my little brothers and sisters to go hungry.”
Saying that, Feigreid slumped his shoulders.
“This mother of mine is as frugal as they come, so if I don’t give her an allowance she won’t even eat properly. Actually, I was finally promoted to Second Lieutenant recently so I have a fair bit of leeway in my finances now.”
In contrast to the straight-laced impression he had initially given, he now spoke in a very casual tone.
“Oh my. Congratulations!”
Catalina looked between Feigreid and Director Kelly and gave a small smile, and Yasuo and Shouko understood that this was a standard conversation between these people.
“Feigreid-san, are you from the House of the Fireflies as well?”
“Hey, what kind of question is that. We don’t raise brats here, we just feed them.”
Director Kelly spoke as soon as Shouko asked that question as if trying to interrupt her, but Feigreid spoke over her as well.
“Yes, I am. Mother saw that I was particularly clever, so she zealously taught me what I would need to enter the Knights Division. Learning Japanese was a part of that as well.”
“Well, that’s just what I think. Mother doesn’t accept it.”
“I see she’s the same as ever.”
Catalina smiled once more, and Director Kelly made a face like she had swallowed a bitter bug.
“If that’s all you came here for, then hurry up and go back!!”
“Yes, Yes, I understand. Well then, Catalina-san and the two of you as well, I look forward to meeting you this afternoon.”
Feigreid said that with a wry smile and bowed to Director Kelly and the rest of them, and walked away towards an alley with a bearing suitable for a soldier.
“Seriously, that boy always talks too much! By the way, Catalina! What exactly did you even come here for!?”
“Didn’t I just say it earlier? I was showing these esteemed children around the town and just dropped by to say hello.”
“Hmmph. I see, so you want to paint a picture of these kids and make another fortune, right!?”
“That’s not a bad idea. If I can sell it for a high price, I’ll consider making a donation to the House of the Fireflies.”
“Isn’t that what is called 『counting your hippos before they hatch』 in Japanese?”
“What’s so funny!?”
Both Yasuo and Shouko couldn’t hold in their laughter at Director Kelly’s bizarre mistake, but they apologized in earnest when they provoked her wrath.
At some point, the children had come to stand beside Director Kelly and were looking at the three of them with half-curious and half-fearful gazes.
Shouko bent down a little and waved her hand while making sure that the flame in her eye could not be seen, but there children didn’t react.
“U-Umm, do these children not know Japanese…?”
“These brats can barely read the language of their own country, you think they’d be able to speak a language from another world?”
“I-I see, that’s right. Umm, we’re not suspicious people or anything…”
“Hahaha… I guess that sounds pretty suspicious.”
Even though Shouko tried speaking to them in a cheerful voice, she only received expressionless faces or suspicious looks.
Moreover, since Shouko had let go of Yasuo’s hand, she had to ensure that her face was covered to prevent the flame in her eye from being seen and couldn’t make eye contact with them at all, so that result might have been unavoidable.
“If you want to appeal to the brats, bring them something to eat.”
“Something to eat… But the snacks and bento I have are nowhere near enough for all the children, and we’re basically penniless right now……”
In contrast to the children’s cold response, Shouko was worrying about them earnestly.
“There’s no point worrying about it. To these children, the two of us probably just look like strange outsiders. I think at the most they just trust that we are not bad people because they saw us speaking to the Director.”
Yasuo said that in a consoling tone, and Director Kelly also nodded.
“That’s right. Besides, if you underestimate them because they’re brats, you’ll regret it. Even I have no idea what sort of trouble they get up to in the town.”
“I’d really like to believe that that isn’t the case, though.”
Children who live on the streets after losing their parents have limited choices in what they can do to rebuild their lives.
Among them, there might be a few who take up criminal activities like pickpocketing.
However, Galedeite did not seem to be a town with such lax security, so it should be unlikely that they would actually do something to Yasuo and Shouko…
“Like I said, that sort of thinking is too naive. You there!”
When Yasuo was thinking that aloud, Director Kelly suddenly grabbed a boy who was standing a little away from the other children who had gathered around them, and forcibly dragged him towards her by the back of his neck.
Yasuo was taken aback at Director Kelly’s sudden actions.
“Show me what’s in your pockets!”
The boy had washed his shirt using the well water, but his pants were still covered in soot.
Looking closely, they could see that the boy had something rectangular in one of his frayed pockets, and Director Kelly forcibly pulled it out of his pocket despite his resistance.
Yasuo’s eyes opened wide when he saw what it was.
What Director Kelly had snatched away from the boy was nothing other than Yasuo’s Slimphone.
“Oh my. I suppose he took it earlier when the bell rang and they came running towards us.”
Yasuo also remembered after Catalina said that.
A large number of children had darted past their legs when the bell rang in the House of the Fireflies.
So his Slimphone had been pickpocketed at that time?
“Hmm. What is this thing? It looks like strange slate, but is this one of the mysterious tools from Japan?”
From the way the boy was shouting at Director Kelly, he appeared to be angry that his catch had been taken away from him. However, she just let go of his neck and delivered a blow to the top of his head, and returned the Slimphone to Yasuo.
“This is a one-time deal. The next time you let your guard down, I won’t help you out.”
“It would be too hard to bear if you lost interest in saving this town because that slate was stolen from you, after all.”
Director Kelly said that, and it appeared that she was already seeing him as a prospective savior who had come from another world, just like Hideo.
“I… don’t have the intention or power to do something like that… but……”
Yasuo looked from the boy’s resentful gaze to the Slimphone in his hand, and gritted his teeth.
And then, he took a step forward, and bent down in front of the boy who had pickpocketed him.
Yasuo brought his Slimphone closer to the boy who was looking at him suspiciously.
All of a sudden, music started to issue from the Slimphone’s speaker, and the boy, the other children, and even Catalina and Director Kelly were taken aback.
“What was that? It didn’t sound like the music from a music box…?”
Catalina said that in a surprised tone.
“It’s just that kind of tool.”
Yasuo gave a brief explanation, and beckoned towards Shouko.
While the others were still surprised, Yasuo showed Shouko the screen without letting any of the others see it, and after seeing what was on it, Shouko looked at him with a slightly surprised expression.
“I-I’ll give it a shot. It’s been a while, but I should be able to manage while looking at the lyrics. Yeah.”
Despite her face going a little red, Shouko understood what Yasuo intended to do and touched the replay button on the screen.
When she did that, the gentle melody of 『Hometown』 started to fill their surroundings.
On his Slimphone, Yasuo had downloaded a large number of practice songs back when he was still in the Choir Club that no longer existed, and he had many recordings of practice songs as well.
That song was once loved by the people for its representation of Japan’s roots. However, in this day and age, there were probably not many people who spent their childhood, as the lyrics of the song went, 『chasing rabbits and fishing for carp』.
In the current era, Yasuo felt that if anything, the song served as a symbolic reminder that was different for everyone, and served to remind each individual of their own childhood.
Shouko took the lead, and Yasuo supported her by taking the bass line, and the two of them sang the relaxed lyrics of the song.
First, they sang of their childhood, then they sang of their memories of their parents and friends, and finally they sang about how the best kind of success is the success you bring back to your hometown.
The children of the House of the Fireflies were certainly not living a blessed life.
However, they still had adults who loved and cherished them, and there would be people like Feigreid who achieved success in life and cared for their juniors.
Yasuo felt that the song 『Hometown』 perfectly suited the children from the House of the Fireflies.
By the time the relaxing melody ended, the children had a slight, but definite, look of curiosity in their eyes about the mysterious tool and Shouko and Yasuo’s mixed chorus.
A little girl who kept looking between Yasuo, Shouko, and the Slimphone, shouted something while tugging on Yasuo’s great coat.
“***!” “***!” “***!”
After that, the other children also started to shout the same word one after the other, causing Yasuo to become confused.
“They are saying, ‘Once more.’”
“Once more? I wonder if it’s fine to sing the same song again.”
“Singing the same song would be fine, but I think a different song would make them even happier.”
After hearing Catalina say that, Yasuo took back his Slimphone from Shouko and started to search for a song that would not be too difficult for Shouko to sing.
“Find something which has the lyrics displayed, please.”
“Yeah, I know, but…”
Since they could not connect to the internet, Shouko would not be able to use her own Slimphone to confirm the lyrics of songs that she barely remembered.
However, the majority of the songs on Yasuo’s Slimphone were just audio files, so he was not sure what to do.
“Do you remember this one? The set piece from the chorus competition in middle school.”
“Ah, this one. Yeah, compared to the others, it should be fine.”
Completely different from the previous song, a rhythmic melody started to play and while the children, Director Kelly, and Catalina once again widened their eyes in amazement, Yasuo and Shouko lightly tapped their feet in time to the beat and started to hum the melody.
It was a cheerful ballad of a monster that traveled along with a human caravan because it wished to see the ocean.
The cheerful rhythm appeared to lift the spirits of the children from Galedeite as well, as a few of them started jumping up and down in concert with Yasuo and Shouko who continued to tap their feet.
Eventually, the boy who had originally pickpocketed Yasuo’s Slimphone also couldn’t resist, and he joined the other children as they started to either sing or shout in tune with the song from a foreign land which was in a language they had never heard before.
“They never say a word of thanks to me despite the fact that I give them bread every day, and now look at these stupid brats.”
Director Kelly snorted like she was displeased, but her eyes never left the group of children and Yasuo, who was at the center of them.
“They’ve just grown used to your affection. But they will remember it once they grow older, like Feigreid.”
“That sounds pretty aggravating in its own way.”
Catalina looked at the tool that was playing music using some mysterious ability, and the young boys and girls who were singing and dancing.
“It’s strange, isn’t it?”
“He possesses barely any mana. If not for that face of his, no one would believe that he is Hideo’s son.”
“Well, despite what I said earlier, I don’t really believe it either.”
“Even so… he is using his own power to make the children smile, as if it’s the natural thing to do. I wonder if it’s in his blood after all.”
“Don’t you think it’s just because he was brought up well? Still, I won’t deny that it might be a talent that is rare in this current world of ours. More than that, I am curious about that young girl.”
“……So you noticed it after all?”
“Well of course, given that we were talking while standing so close to each other. It keeps increasing and decreasing in size every time she moves farther or closer to the boy, it just stands out even more that way.”
“I’ll make sure to warn them about that. What about the children?”
“The brats have never seen that before, so even if they catch a glimpse of it, they shouldn’t know what it means.”
“If I was going to make a fuss about that, I would have done it long ago. There must be some circumstances behind it, right? I’m not so young that I would go sticking my head into such troublesome things.”
The two of them were looking at the hood that Shouko still wore low over her eyes.
No matter how much she tried to hide her eyes with a hood, from the angle that the children were looking at her, it should have been apparent at a glance.
The girl who had a black flame burning in her eye.
The children were not afraid simply because they didn’t know what it was.
“What are you going to do? If you take someone like her to Feigreid, you can’t complain even if he throws her in prison right away.”
“Of course, I will properly explain the circumstances to him.”
“Well, that’s fine and all, but even I’ve gotten a message from the Foreman after a long time asking me to send her any information I come across regarding the Shii, so that she can trade that information with the parliament of the Commonwealth in return for more support. That girl isn’t as safe as you people seem to think. The fear of the Shii is growing more tangible as the days pass, and there’s no telling when some bastard will find fault with the girl and stab her in the back.”
“……I’ll keep that in mind.”
Director Kelly slumped her shoulders like she found the whole matter to be boring, walked up to the group of children who were pestering Yasuo and Shouko to sing another song, and set about the task of forcibly pulling them away from the two of them.
“That’s enough, any more and they are going to start charging you money to listen. And you two as well, if you are performers, then stop putting on a show for free!”
“You play music from some strange contraption, sing, and dance. What else am I supposed to call you, if not performers? Ah! Which one of you brats just kicked me!?”
All the children unanimously shouted abuses at Director Kelly who barged in to interrupt their fun time, but Director Kelly just glared at the two of them… or rather, she glared at Shouko.
“You two, it’s not really a good time for you to attract attention, is it? If some strange person comes to see what all the fuss is about and makes a report to the guards, it’s not going to end well.”
Both Yasuo and Shouko were taken aback when they saw Director Kelly point at her left eye.
Director Kelly had realized it, and in spite of that, she had trusted Shouko for the sake of the children.
She had trusted that Shouko was really a human being.
“……I’m sorry. That was careless of me.”
Shouko immediately apologized, and once again adjusted her hood so it covered her face.
“You two are staying with Catalina right now, aren’t you? Don’t do anything that would cause trouble for her. Also…”
Director Kelly sniffled once and picked up a child who was sticking close to her legs.
“The next time you come here, make sure you are able to show these kids your faces. If you do that, I will at least serve you tea.”
Shouko said that in a trembling voice, and Yasuo also bowed to her.
Catalina judged that it was an appropriate time and came to put her hands on their shoulders, and the three of them turned away from the House of the Fireflies.
Yasuo, who had once again picked up Catalina’s luggage suddenly turned around, and saw that the children were standing as a group near Director Kelly and were shouting something to him while waving their hands energetically.
“They are saying, ‘Come again.’”
Both Yasuo and Shouko felt tears rise up in their eyes after hearing Catalina’s translation and they pulled their hoods even lower over their eyes, but they did still properly wave back to the children and Director Kelly as they walked away from the House of the Fireflies.
 The actual Japanese idiom is “捕らぬ狸の皮算用” which basically means the same thing as “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”. But Kelly says it as “虎とタヌキとカバさんよ” which sounds similar but is just gibberish. ↑