TL Note: I don’t know how I didn’t notice this before… Rigel actually addresses Dick as “(big) bro”, not “mister”. It isn’t relevant for this chapter, but it will be for the next one. I apologize for this huge slip-up.
Oh, in the note before the image I explain the difference between web novel and light novel in that scene. It changes a bit, that’s why the image is different from what’s described in here.
The demon girl living alone and the beast’s collar
The Water Cave had three floors.
There was a lake in the third one, where a special race of water spirits called ‘ice nymphs’ lived.
The lake was frozen due to the spirits’ power and highly transparent lumps of ice called ‘perennial ice’ could be extracted from it. The power of the spirits was so strong that the ice kept its cold temperature even outside, so it could be brought home.
During the Lord of Fire Spirit’s non-stop activity on the eighth month, the ice nymphs were weaker, so their power couldn’t keep the ice frozen outside, but any amount could be preserved if well covered by straw.
If the ice fox fled into that cavern, my shop would stop receiving that wonderful ice… But that was just a trivial problem. What was bothering me was the root of this entire problem, which was way deeper and big than expected.
I knew that humans and demi-humans weren’t in good terms, given what I had seen when I saved Riko, but since the current accident was affecting the capital too and no one was acting to fix the matter, I couldn’t let it be anymore.
“…A confrontation between species?”
“Master, there is no need for you to feel responsible about it. This problem is as old as the history of this kingdom, so it is not something we can just solve overnight. Nothing has changed in all this time, after all.”
Verlaine answered the thought that slipped through my lips while pouring me a cup of strong tea, then, after placing it in front of me, she sat on the other side of my office’s desk, over which was spread the Water Cave’s map. Sitting on my chair, eyes fixed on the paper, I was trying to figure out how to make Rigel’s party move.
She was still wearing her maid uniform without her headdress and her white skin had now returned to its natural dark color. I wanted to thank her for the help as I looked at her listless figure after work, but if I was too concerned about it, she’d scold me like she had done in the past, so I kept it to myself. Thinking about it, why did I want my guild members to hold back that much?
“That map is very well made. Did you draw it, Master?”
“When I first brought perennial ice home, I went into the Water Cave myself. It’s not that dangerous, and when a monster appears, a B rank adventurer can handle it.”
“How strong do you think that ice fox is?”
“…I’d say they match a B rank adventurer, but I’m not that sure…”
That beast could be a bit too much for Rigel’s party. I had to ask Aileen for help and make her act for the next day.
“Zect… if that guy from Blue Sagittarius is involved, the ice fox might actually match an SS rank adventurer… or maybe a S rank one. Right, Master?”
“That’s possible. I have to ask someone who can make sure both the ice fox and Zect are gonna be fine…”
“Grrr… the demon girl, huh? I was thinking about the light blade hero, but if the opponent is some beast, Aileen is probably a better choice. The fierceness of her attacks is always astonishing.”
“Yeah, you’re right. You’re starting to get how I think, Verlaine.”
“I always think about some plan whenever I look at you, so I keep my mind at work… but something praiseworthy has yet to cross my mind.”
She brought her own tea cup to her lips and crossed her legs.
Was she planning to do something to me…? She was a beast during the night and a fool with her head filled with absurdity during the day, so I couldn’t tell…
“The demon girl might misunderstand why you dropped by this late at night, but she has an iron will.”
“She’s bad news when she’s half asleep… but I can wake her up with magic.”
I was frightened by what was waiting for me at Aileen’s, but I had to do it to help Rigel, so I headed to my doom.
Aileen didn’t want any house in particular and her income allowed her to live wherever she wanted without effort, so she ended up renting the best apartment in the 12th Street, which was constructed for the ‘12th Street’s Bests’ and wasn’t that far from my guild.
The 12th Street Bests were a family of shopkeepers who offered some fun to tired women and men for brief periods of time and also managed some information. Even so, Aileen never felt anxious or troubled whenever she bumped into one of them. That was one of her best sides.
Her apartment complex was constructed so that the many apartments on the second floor—the last of which had ‘Superia’ written on its doorplate—were connected by a common space.
Aileen didn’t want to write her name on it because she was afraid that people, recognizing her as one of the members of the expedition party, were going to sightsee the place like it was a tourist attraction and breach her private spaces repeatedly.
In the neighbourhood, she was known as Aily, and thanks to that she managed to keep her real identity a secret.
If I rang her doorbell, I’d bother the closest neighbours, so I knocked at her door with a specific sequence: two, one, three. That was my signal.
I really had a bad habit when it came to codes if I used one even there…
A few moments passed without an answer, and when I was about to repeat the code, the door opened.
“Thank you. Sorry for coming this late, but I have a favor to aAHH!”
Behind the door was standing a woman—Aileen, her gorgeous figure wrapped in a towel while a good smell of soap wafted all around her.
“Don’t worry, I knew it was you. Otherwise I wouldn’t have opened the door like this.”
“W-Well, it should be a problem even if it’s me. You could’ve taken your sweet time—”
“So, what do you want to ask me? Something urgent?”
I was breathless in front of her stunning appearance: her long hair usually tied up were now hanging down her shoulders, dangling in front of her flushed, healthy skin—she didn’t seem to notice it, though.
Was a friendship between a man and a woman something like that? Did it mean that she didn’t see me as a person of the opposite gender? That was fine, since people tended to lose sight of the important things around them when they wanted too much, but a huge conflict was raging inside me anyway.
“Don’t stand there, come in and wait a minute. I have to dry my hair… right, can you do it with your magic?”
“S-Sure… I don’t mind. But before that, can you put something on…?”
“If I dress up while I’m this hot, I’ll just end up being sweaty all over again. I don’t wanna take another bath, you know?”
Still, the towel wrapping her body wasn’t that thick and it was somewhat short on the lower part of her body. If I had to see her from behind, I felt like I could…
“C’mon, dry my hair from behind. It makes me feel sooo good when you do it~! I bet anyone would want someone like you in their house!”
Turning on her heels, she started to walk deeper into the house. As I looked at the lowest edge of her towel, the question “is that her butt or her thighs?!” flashed through my mind, but frowning in front of reality, I calmed down. It was obviously the latter.
I infused a comb with some Recovery Magic and combed her hair to repair it. Then, I dried all the water in excess from it, leaving behind only the moisture her hair needed.
I remembered that five years before, when we were on our expedition to defeat Verlaine, Aileen’s pink hair, colored like a peach’s flower, was heavily damaged due to the harsh environment she’d lived in. Still, after I combed her hair, she could run her fingers through it smoothly and that same scene repeat this time too.
“Okay, this should be fine. What’s up, Aileen?”
“Nothing, you did a great job. How come that you didn’t comb my hair for so long but you seem still used to it? Do you perhaps comb Verlaine’s every day or…?”
“No, she’s never asked me to. I just comb myself.”
“I see… It’s been a while, isn’t it? You really are good with your hands.”
“Thank you, but I won’t do it often. Let’s keep it around once a month.”
“Okaaay! Hahaha, I look like a little girl again! When I was young, my mom combed my hair for me.”
I remembered that when I was little, I used to take care of my two big sisters. My parents were never home, so those two girls were the closest I could have for a parent.
Sometimes I wondered how my family was doing, but I never felt like going back to them. They were a bunch of people who liked to stand in the limelight and they thought of our home as their base. I often ended up wondering if I missed home… but thinking about it, both I and my family probably had a lot on our plate right now.
“That’s a shame, though… so if we were to live together, you wouldn’t comb me every day… I didn’t expect Verlaine to hold back that much.”
“I can tell from your eyes that you’d like to make me comb your hair… and well, it’d be fine as long as it won’t be a daily duty. By the way, Aileen, I know you just finished your last job, but I need your help urgently.”
“Mh, sure. Urgently as in within tomorrow?”
“Yes. Rigel’s team accepted a quest that was accepted by another guild too, and one of the other guild members is a SS rank adventurer named Zect. Could you make sure that those two parties won’t clash against each other?”
I showed her the quest’s information document and she nodded every now and then while scanning it.
“I think I got it. So this isn’t about kicking some ice fox’s ass but about capturing it alive, right? Do you think this Zect guy will attack us if he finds us before its target?”
“Yes, that’s possible… but we’ll probably be fine if we avoid him. If we can get the ice fox before him, we’re probably gonna be okay.”
I told her this ice fox could actually be a shape-shifted demi-human from the ice fox tribe and that Zect could be connected in some way.
“…Selling shape-shifted demi-humans as rare animals? Dick, why don’t we just destroy those Garamdoor bastards? We can’t let them do stuff like this.”
“I asked Sakuya to investigate their headquarter. She should come back soon.”
“Oh, that’s fine, then. As a demi-human herself, she’s probably gonna blast the hell out of them all.”
“I can’t say she won’t, but I’m sure she understands that we can punish them whenever we want, so it would be better to keep a low profile for now.”
“Well, I have no complaints as long as we’re gonna punish them. I want them to pay, no matter the consequences.”
She clenched her fist tight as I wondered if she was still hot from the bath. She’d been wrapped in her towel from a while, right now.
“Aileen, what about you get some clothes…?”
“Right, sorry. I’ll go change right away…”
Still, no matter who you are—even an invincible martial artist like Aileen can’t escape fate…
That thought flashed through my mind while, after she got up, her towel gave in to gravity and fell to the ground in front of me.
Aileen gasped, her voice stuck in her throat. My mind went blank, my muscles forgot to move, and so my voice to sound, as the tempered graceful body of Aileen was reflected in my eyes.
Yeah, probably the best part of those curves was her bosom. I heard that tempering one’s body resulted in a reduction of the chest, but it looked like that rule didn’t apply on someone who’s still growing. I never minded being close yet distant to her like a friend could be, but there I was changing my mind in a mere instant.
The next moment, Aileen tried to hide the most of her body as she could, leaving her chest to her hair that was partially covering it—her face flushing red from embarrassment. Leering at her didn’t help either.
That familiar name she had pronounced so often now sounded… off.
Showing up this late in the night and being invited to enter her house while a thin towel was the only layer that covered her body—it didn’t make me feel in turmoil… who knows why I was actually calm.
Aileen probably thought the same.
If I spoke now, it would have been decided—the end.
While thoughts zapped through my brain like bullets and my indecisiveness was taking the better of me, I…1
“Master, am I interrupting something?”
“HOLY SHHHOO-Oh, S-Sakuya? When did you…?”
“You didn’t answer, so I felt that something was strange and unlock the door. Verlaine told me you were here.”
“Y-You’re not interrupting anything… Actually, we were waiting for you, Sakuya.”
“…Perhaps naked, Miss Aileen?”
“W-Well, I mean…! Y-You know, my knots aren’t that tight…! S-Sorryyy!”
Aileen stormed out of the room, leaving the towel on the floor. Her back was so—no. I had to pretend I’d never seen anything. For the sake of world peace…!
“…This was quite the unexpected scene, maybe a little disturbing too… I will just try to digest this as a bad dream.”
“T-Thank you… you’d save me… By the way, could you…”
“Yes, I’ll tell you everything once we return to our guild. But before that…”
She extracted something similar to a belt from her overcoat. Magic runes were carved on its leather, which was also decorated with magic stones and gems.
That was something a human would never wear… it was a collar for beasts.
“…That magic tool was used to block the process of shape-shifting of demi-humans, blocking them in their animal form… am I right, Sakuya?”
“Yes. Luckily, I found one in Garamdoor’s basement.”
“Great job. Have you already examined it?”
Her long ears drooped and her eyes darkened at my question. That showed how cruel were the collar’s effects.
“This thing robs demi-humans of their reason and awakens the beast within them. It’s basically a magic tool that enslaves the wearer.”
The ice fox fled from Garamdoor surely had their shape-shifting ability blocked, but it wasn’t enslaved at all—their instinct commanded them to flee.
According to Sakuya’s words, almost every rare animal sold by Garamdoor was actually a demi-human trapped into their beast form.
Now, all that was left to know was the connection between Zect and this ice fox. No matter how, they were surely connected in some way.
Once the collar was removed, the ice fox could return to their demi-human form, and regaining their reason, they were able to speak again. In that case, they could personally tell us what was their connection with Zect.
“Thank you, Sakuya. Now we only need to go all the way.”
“You mean that we’re gonna make Garamdoor pay for enslaving demi-humans?”
“You will receive your reward right away, but what we received from this job will be way bigger than that. They’re gonna regret asking us for help… this will be a lesson for them.”
Sakuya’s tense expression loosened into a smile.
“You keep denying it, but you really deserved to be a member of the expedition party, Master.”
“I just move according to the situation. I don’t deserve that much praise.”
“Well, this is what I think. I really hope to stay by your side for a long time.”
She was very happy to know that we were acting to save demi-humans.
I didn’t know much about her past. The only things I knew about her were that she was the only ravirim still alive, as her race had been destroyed, and that she despised humans.
That was all the more reason to stop this everlasting dispute between humans and demi-humans… this was our chance to help this reconciliation from the shadows.
1 Long story short: in the light novel Aileen is more aggressive. She takes his hand and pulls it towards her body pretty much saying that she wouldn’t mind if it was Dick ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) then Sakuya interrupts. Guess the LN has more fanservice around.