The hero’s lie and the tiger-race’s feast
I identified the two bodyguards from the guild cards they brought with them.
They were part of the ‘Purple Scorpio’, a guild located on the 5th street that was famous for the high number of assassins and bodyguards among its members. There were many dangerous guys in there.
Lang and the others were Vinceburg’s subordinates, and their personal story wasn’t exactly ‘clean’. Plenty of nobles were affiliated with the obscure part of the capital, to a worrisome point.
“We should punish everyone, right? Like, even if they’re from some guild, right?”
“Well, yeah. Lang and the other guys asked for help, but accepting a request isn’t compulsory.”
“You always listen carefully to the details of requests and value their worth first, don’t you…? Well, you often end up accepting them, though.”
My guild couldn’t deal with every type of request, so I always made sure to make the right choices. Failing might prove fatal.
Still, its greatest point was information gathering, which allowed me to prepare properly in advance. Thanks to that, we hardly had problems with dirty and bothersome jobs.
I contacted my guild and asked to send here enough people to ‘escort’ Lang and the others to our closest base. In the meanwhile, Aileen went to pay the inn’s keeper for the room’s repaying fee.
She also helped me moving the fainted guys, although her help wasn’t necessary.
I couldn’t say that the reward for our actions was the country’s peace, but we were trying to prevent a civil war, so I was sure we could profit from the situation.
“Okay, I’m going to Cody’s place. Will ya come back home for now, Dick?”
Her question made me think. My body was in a safe place, but Mylarka and Riko were probably tired of waiting.
I and Mylarka were invited to the elder’s house, where the tiger-race arranged a banquet. They all started to drink, and as the mood grew livelier, they entertained us with artistic performances, but Mylarka quickly grew tired of them and tried to talk to me, since our hosts were busy partying.
At that moment, my body was pouring some drink into her glass, but since I essentially kept giving monosyllabic answers, she blatantly said it was no fun talking with me.
Yeah, it was probably better to go back, but the runes of Small Spirit were still active on Aileen’s chest…
“Dick, you heard?”
“Y-Yeah, sure. I’ll go back.”
“Nice. Take care of Mylarka. By the way, will you come back tomorrow…? Maybe in the morning after a sleepless night?”
“Do you really think she’d let me? I’m not a beast, you know.”
“How adorable, you didn’t even try to deny it~! So cute, I’m getting excited!”
“D-Deny what, exactly? I…”
“Yeah, okay, just go back now. I’m sure Mylarka is missing you.”
She was probably right, but I couldn’t imagine Mylarka missing me. Still, she was probably in a bad humor right now, so…
“Thank you, Aileen. You are a great help.”
“Uh… Y-Yeah. You don’t have to thank me like that. I’m a freelancer, but also a member of your guild.”
She said while touching her hair, which, as her blood was a mix of human’s and spirit’s, had a pale, washed out red color, almost resembling that of a peach.
“I’m going. Why don’t we drink all together after this job’s over? Let’s invite Yuma, otherwise she’ll feel lonely.”
“Yes, nice idea. Sometimes sitting back and taking it easy is good.”
She smiled and put her hood over her head, then exited from the window.
She climbed on the roof and jumped from a building to another. My philosophy was to never stand out, and she always tried her best to respect that. None of her cat-like steps could be heard in the night.
Cody lived in the part of the capital where the families of the most important knights lived, northeast of the capital.
Aileen was faster and freer to move than a horse-drawn carriage, and after some time, she finally reached Cody’s house.
“That’s his room, right…? Hop!”
She jumped on the garden’s tree, and from there on Cody’s room veranda.
“Uff… Cody, you there~?”
She lightly opened the window, and he approached her.
“Good evening, Aileen. I keep repeating you that the rear door is open, but you never change…”
“Hahaha, sorry! Thing is, I’m in a hurry and want to ask you something.”
“I had the feeling that Dick was going to call for me someday soon.”
He let her in. His clothes, armor and sword were laying on the bed, and there wasn’t a single speck of dust in the entire room.
When the King granted him his title, he was provided with a silver armor and the ancient longsword with the royal family’s crest carved on it. He never used the sword in battle, but always wore the armor.
“Do you wash yourself before going to bed? Your hair is wet.”
“Yes. Or rather, today was the first day of practice this month, so I sweated quite a little.”
He was wearing short pants, and bandages wrapped the upper part of his body. It wasn’t a look fitting a knight.
After he finished the maintenance of his equipment, he took a bath. That was his habit, both as an SSS rank adventurer and as a former member of the expedition party.
Still, something in him changed from back then.
“Cody, do you wear that thing every time you exit the bathroom even at home? You should take it easy every once in a while. I mean, everyone grows sooner or later.”
“It’s not a big deal, although lately it is becoming hard to do it by myself… but I am still grateful to you for teaching me how to put this on.”
“You completely took me off guard back then~! But in a way or another, I knew about you. Let’s call it woman’s sixth sense.”
“Hahaha! I don’t think that really fits you, Aileen. But I shouldn’t be the one to say that.”
“Oh, c’mon! You can’t take words back, you know? Anyway, I know you have a lot in your mind for keeping this secret since you joined the expedition party, but… I think you should let Dick know. At least, as a friend.”
Said Aileen while pointing at the bandages wrapping Cody’s body, which was hardened by exhausting training.
“Seriously, you just have to get used to it. You are supposed to wrap your chest when using a bow, anyway.”
“The bowstring would hit it, huh…? You don’t look happy, anyway.”
“This is nothing to worry about. I decided to do this. Also, it is troublesome if I don’t wrap it before training.”
Cody wiped his hair dry with a cloth, exposing his white nape, and Aileen let out a sigh.
“Why has Dick still not noticed about you? I and Mylarka didn’t at first, but it became evident with time.”
“Because he trusts me.”
After he invited his friend to take a seat, he put on the undershirt he used when wearing the armor, which he left on the table, and discerning something strange about his body became impossible for anyone.
“…Sorry, Cody. I might have said something I shouldn’t have to Dick… Like that you care a lot about him…”
“What is the problem with that, Aileen? I really think that, and I feel the same for you guys, His Majesty, and Albein’s citizens.”
“You always sound so honorable… So, if we say that you love Dick, how would you feel?”
He didn’t answer at first, but little by little, his mouth curved into a faint smile.
“Even then, he will never notice. He didn’t in the past, and he won’t now.”
“That’s also true… Cody, do you really want to hide it from him forever?”
“At first, I thought I needed to lie. I should be coherent with it.”
“But you know there’s no reason to keep this charade up! Didn’t you say you trust him?!”
“…Yes, I did. That is exactly why I will never betray his trust.”
Aileen struggled to find the right words, but soon gave up and took off her overcoat, leaving it on the chair’s back. Then, she took the water jug on the table and filled two glasses, chugging hers down right away.
Cody accepted the other one and gulped half of it down, exactly like he used to do with the Silver Aquarius’ ale.
“Cody, why did you do that? I always wanted to hear your reason, but it’s been five years already… Please, tell me.”
“…It was something I decided when I was very young. Meaningless.”
“No, I don’t think it was. You’ve always been a serious person, so you reached this conclusion after thinking a lot about it. What was it?”
He gulped down the rest of his water and met Aileen’s gaze.
“…I had a brother. His name was Leon, and he was an SS rank adventurer quite famous in my city.”
“Leon…? Yes, that sounds a bell. There aren’t more than twenty SS rank adventurers in the country, after all.”
“He was part of a branch of the White Aries, so rumors about him might have reached even the capital… given his bad reputation and infamous conduct.”
Cody’s expression darkened in a moment, and slowly but perceptibly, the grasp on the empty glass in his hand started to tighten.
“He was the kind of person who played with women’s heart. He used them. Party members or nobles, their status was insignificant. Maybe he did that for the best of our family, but it was easy for him, thanks to him being good looking.”
“Well… if your brother was like that, I feel like I can understand you.”
“Then… he laid his hands even on a girl who took care of me since I was a child… Of course, he did not want to marry her, so when they separated, I got punished on his behalf and was forced to move to another city.”
Aileen lost her words as she peered into her friend’s face, who showed her a gentle smile.
“This is a story of the past, but what I learned from watching him… If I ever became an adventurer, I wanted the members of my party to be all the same gender, or at least to be balanced between boys and girls. If there was only a boy or only a girl, I was sure that would have brought a lot of troubles. I knew it was stupid, but I was just too obstinate, and I could not even imagine that there were a lot of boys in the world that did not act like him.”
“…Then you joined the expedition party… right?”
“I am still ashamed of myself for this, but I could not trust Dick at first, probably because I was well aware of his strength.”
He brought a hand to his chest and felt his heart racing as he dug into his memories.
“I was with four people who were almost as strong as me… but I couldn’t understand why Dick was the strongest among you, and what made him so.”
“Yeah, that’s a mystery still unsolved… He isn’t physically strong like me, but no matter what, he will find a way to win.”
Cody smiled at her comment and filled their glasses again with water.
“When we fought together, I felt sorry for doubting of him… but I am also glad for it. If I never lied, we might not be friends right now.”
“…And with that lie, you even became the general of the Albein’s army. So, there is no turning back now, huh?”
“You strike where it hurts… My only desire was to protect this country’s people, and for that, I needed to become what I am now.”
“I admire how diligently you’re working. Even Mylarka and Yuma think the same, but we’re also worrying about you.”
“…Thank you, but I am fine. It is not hard on me, and I almost forgot about my lie.”
‘That’s just another lie’, whispered Aileen, but Cody didn’t hear her, or probably pretended not to, as he grabbed his sword and held it close to his chest like the first time they met.
“I want to be his sword, and I will slash down anything he wants.”
“…You really love him. But Dick wondered why you never let him touch your belly.”
“…If he ever found out, I would try to erase his memory… He must never know that I am…”
At that moment, his voice became a distant whisper, then disappeared along with the room.
“…ck. I have had enough… can’t you just come back here?!”
I could hear someone calling my name. My consciousness was drifting back to my body as my magic connection was cut.
“Excuse me?! You fell on my legs as soon as you got on your feet! You are heavy, so get out!”
“Oh… I-I’m sorry, Mylarka…!”
The tiger-race was still partying, and there were over a hundred of them in the tent.
Sat on the place of honor were me and Mylarka, whose lap I was using as my cushion. It was a worthy opponent of Verlaine’s, and its unique softness made my head sink ever so slightly in it.
But despite the good feeling, I couldn’t just stay like that forever, so I had to get up.
Until the runes of Small Spirit where on Aileen, I could hear her conversation with Cody. I needed Verlaine’s help to force my consciousness back to my body before the time ran out.
Still, even though I knew I would end up eavesdropping them, I heard the part about Cody’s brother, and also things I was supposed to never know.
Leon, his brother, was a philander, and that brought Cody to not trust me at first.
That’s why he lied. But… was it necessary?
Also, seeing the bandages wrapping his body and how he dried his hair made me sank into a deep sense of guilt.
Cody is a man with beautiful hair, smooth skin and cannot be delusional.
I grabbed the drink I poured for Mylarka before and chugged it down.
Yeah, I must be drunk.
“…You do not look well. Riko, can you bring more drinks?”
“Yes. This is fire beer, a drink from dwarves. Watch out when you drink it, you’ll feel like your body’s burning.”
“Thank you… Ugh, this isn’t good… there’s something wrong in the recipe, but if you wait three days, I’ll bring you the real deal.”
“Ah, Masked man, you know how to make good drinks?! Amazing! I’ll go tell the Elder!”
She dashed away excitedly.
Damn, I should’ve stayed silent…
Mylarka looked at me with a strange expression.
“There’s something wrong with you. Let’s talk about it later. Now it’s late to go back home, so I asked if we could spend the night here.
“Y-Yeah, it’s okay… thank you, Mylarka.”
I thought about it. They’d probably provide only one tent for the two of us.
As I vainly searched for a way to point that problem out, Mylarka started to sip a glass of something blended with fruit juice, and while my mind went astray, I left myself entranced by the unfolding dances of the tiger-race’s women.