The phantom fox’s real body and the new comrade
We’ve got sporadic guests even in that afternoon—that wasn’t a problem, though, as we pretty much opened our bar pretty much to welcome new requests, our own guild members or the nearby citizens who only wanted to grab some food.
I left the bar to take care of some ingredients when I went on my break. I was a sort of regular of every wholesale and retail store of the capital, even the smallest.
The shopkeepers of “Cardila store”, a little shop located in the 10th Street, passionately sold rare stuff. Since their goods weren’t common at all on the marketplace, they were often away to restock the shop, but whenever it opened—and I thought they could’ve just kept it opened more than once a week—I was always tempted to buy something from them.
“Aquarius’, are you interested in the ‘blue fox tribe’?”
“Yes. I’d love to stock up some food for them.”
I didn’t know the shop owner’s age, but she looked on her late twenties. She ran the shop with her husband, but I had never seen her before as she took off way more often than him.
Her generous clothes revealed plenty of her golden brown skin and I guessed she was probably from the southern regions—the desertic ones.
She wore many accessories on her neck and arms, but she didn’t look fond of divination or fortune-related stuff. They were probably hitting ratio boosting items1, albeit I wasn’t sure about it. I could tell they weren’t mere decorations, though.
She used to call people by shortening their guild or shop name instead of using their real name. This was a sort of rule for her, and yes, I was “Aquarius’”.
“I found that ‘coconobi fruit’ on a mountain nearby the blue fox tribe’s zone. Unluckily, I faced a blizzard, so I couldn’t meet any of them.”
“I see… this sure have a weird shape.”
It was a slightly curved blue fruit divided into nine bunches. I could smell its sweet fragrance even at a short distance.
“I heard it’s quite sugary. Do the blue fox tribe grow these by selective breeding?”
“Maybe they do, Aquarius’. They eat this fruit in many ways—drying the white fruit under the blue skin to preserve it, or they just mash it, or they drink it along with cattle milk… It’s very nutritional, a real help against their freezing winter.”
“I see. Can I have one?”
“One bunch is ten silver coins. Buy five and one is on the house, so forty coins.”
“Please, with all the trouble you got through, let me buy them at full price.”
I put my fifty coins in the bag on the desk and she handed me five bunches with a smile on her face.
“This stuff grows in the wild. I only took some. Even five silver coins each would be enough.”
“Nah, this price is right in my opinion. It’s still fresh too.”
“Actually, I found them three days ago. This fruit hardly spoils, so even leaving it ten days at room temperature won’t make it rot. Also, it gets sweeter in time. I heard it tastes the best right before it starts to rot.”
“I see… I’ll taste it when it’s well ripe, then.”
People can make fruit ferment to sweeten its juice and use it to make drinks and liquors.
Wine was the main booze in the capital that used fruit juice—grape juice, to be more specific—as its core ingredient. The sugariest juices were usually used to flavor liquors or make syrups, and even this coconobi fruit could be used for something like that… but now I had to think about my plan before anything else.
I was looking for a collaborator who could help me make a liquor in our guild’s cellar. If we did it, we could’ve sponsored it as our guild’s specialty.
Still, making it would cause us to stand in the limelight. Even if we gave it only to our most trusted regulars, would we be able to keep doing it? Trying to create something like that could’ve been a great hobby, but managing the bar and the guild was way more than that—it was my job.
“You look lost in thoughts. Why don’t you just try to do whatever crosses your mind until you can? You’re still young to do it.”
“Well… right, thank you. Mind if I come again to talk in a few days?”
“I’ll go on another trip in three days, but I’ll be here until then. We still have a lot of stuff you might want to see.”
I put the fruit I had bought in my bag and left the shop.
Aileen and the others should’ve already brought the ice fox—the blue fox tribe shape-shifter—to our guild.
We had to keep her for a while and show her that not all humans were disgusting and daunting people like Garamdoor’s. We wanted to make her experience what “friendship” meant for us.
I didn’t know if it was the right choice and I didn’t know if I should’ve welcomed her pretending not to know her.
What I knew was that we all had something to do, and my job right now was to trust Aileen and her party. I had to get back to our bar.
About an hour before the night shift, Aileen and the others brought the ice fox to the bar… along with Zect Crucifer.
“Bro, we’re back! Aileen took care of everything!”
“We’re back, Dick. We removed her collar and managed to bring her here.”
“I see, great job… is this the ice fox…?”
Zect was carrying in his arms a little girl wrapped in the man’s overcoat. She was steadily breathing in her sleep until he stopped walking, then after a few moments her long eyelashes trembled a little—she was probably about to wake up.
The man carrying her opened his eyes wide for a brief moment as if he had just realized that the drunkard he had seen before really was Silver Aquarius’ Guild Master, then he returned to his usual poker-face.
“So you were the Guild Master huh…? I thought you were just a regular. I guess my eyes deceived me.”
“No, please, let me apologize for not introducing myself first.”
“I should be the one apologizing for my rude manners. If it wasn’t for this guild, I wouldn’t have been able to save her. Thank you for everything. And again, I’m sorry.”
His words were proof of his close relationship with the girl he was holding in his arms.
“Please, don’t mention it. Thanks to you we got to know about Garamdoor, Zect. We won’t let them keep doing this sort of stuff.”
“…Do you have any proof about it? Did they really seize demi-humans, forced them into their beast shape and sold them…?”
Verlaine switched with me to answer his question—she wore a pair of glasses along with her usual maid dress.
She heard Mylarka and Manarina talk about it during one of their studying sessions. I bet it piqued her interest.
“Our guild investigated on the matter and we have confirmed that the rare articles sold by Garamdoor were demi-humans. Soon their headquarter will be searched.”
“I see. So Garamdoor did seize and force them into their beast form, huh…? My guild is directly connected to them. I didn’t want to doubt anybody, but… I cannot ignore your proofs.”
“What do you mean? What connection does your guild have with Garamdoor?”
Zect lowered his gaze and fell into deep thought. I got that revealing information about one’s guild was hard, but this wasn’t a conversation he could escape from.
No one talked for some more instants… then a crystal-clear voice cracked the silence.
“Brother, you should stop hiding it. I was able to come back to my senses only thanks to them.”
The little girl’s accent was peculiar, probably because she was part of the blue fox tribe. The next moment, she got down the man’s arms.
She was quite a short girl… I was about to look down on her. She was barefoot, but she didn’t seem to mind it and looked up to me with her big round eyes. When she took off her hood, I saw her aqua-colored hair and her fox ears stood right on her head. I guessed her tail was still hidden under the overcoat.
“Brother…? Zect looks like a human, how can you two be blood-related…?”
“Nice to meet you, my name is Mizuha. I and my brother have the same father, but not the same mother. He is my step-brother.”
She politely lowered her head to everyone while Zect’s face didn’t budge—or rather, he was watching over her.
It was a shock to think they were siblings. They didn’t resemble each other at all.
“Our father is from the blue fox tribe and my mother is a human. I had fifty-fifty chance to born as a human or as a demi-human. As you can see I’m human, but I still inherited my father’s hair color.”
“I thought your dark hair were sort of bluish, but who would have guessed this…”
Truly, his hair color was peculiar, but that alone couldn’t be a distinguishing feature of his blood.
Not even Verlaine could guess his origins, so we can say it was impossible to get.
“If you allow me, I cannot see any similar features between you and Lady Mizuha.”
“Both my parents are from the blue fox tribe. Sometimes our ancestors wake up within us, so we inherit the power to shape-shift… although it is very rare. Aileen, sorry for trying to hurt you back then.”
“I’m fine, don’t worry. What about you, Mizuha? Are you hurt? It’s been a while since I found someone that strong, so I go a bit too serious…”
“No, even in that daze I could tell you weren’t going too hard on me. When you smashed my collar, I felt relieved and it only took a few deep breaths to snap out of it. I kept losing control of my body until that moment… I was so afraid I would’ve never returned myself…”
She reminisced about those dreadful memories with watery eyes. Seeing her in pain, Aileen knelt in front of her and hugged her small body. She then patted the child on the head and on her back.
“We were born in a village on a very snowy mountain. Basically, Mizuha is forbidden to leave the village for long due to her power, but she always wanted to, so I talked to the head of our family and I was allowed to take her here for once… Maybe making her used to people from depopulated villages would’ve been better than bring her straight to the capital.”
“Don’t beat yourself over it, Mister Zect. You and your sister didn’t do anything wrong. I’d love you not to regret your choice. Could you please wait here until you decide what you really want to do?”
I knew my request was hard to accept, since both of them had been through a lot, but I couldn’t accept that Mizuha was going to return home with these bitter memories alone…
It was just too sad.
“I don’t want to think badly of Blue Sagittarius. They kindly offered me a meal and a room to sleep, but now I don’t feel the same… They seized me, brought me to Garamdoor and…”
“Wait, someone from Blue Sagittarius has seen your fox form?”
“Y-Yes… I turn into a fox whenever it’s full moon… and…”
Zect closed his eyes slowly. He was oblivious to what happened.
He had joined that guild because he trusted them… and he had been badly betrayed. Now his seething killing intent was reaching the boiling point.
“There are still people we need to punish, huh~? What if we get rid of a rival guild at once~?”
“Aileen, I can’t ask any more help from this guild. I will make the Guild Master of Blue Sagittarius spill the beans by myself.”
“You want to take responsibility for what happened? I suggest you to let the authorities handle their public judgement.”
“Do you want to stop me, Guild Master?”
“No. I only want to expose their wrongdoings. What’s between you is none of my business.”
It wasn’t impossible for fellow guilds to fight each other. Sometimes even members of the same guild could get into a fight.
But we all would be restricted and receive a stake-out if we were to fight Blue Sagittarius, as we could toss the capital into chaos.
That didn’t mean we were going to sit on our hands, though.
“Still, despite everything, we’d like to offer you and your sister a place to stay. You came all the way here, so let me repay you for it.”
“Repay me…? I’ve been rude to you so far. My apologies alone shouldn’t be enough to make you repay me.”
“We had accepted the request to seize the ice fox, although we did not know all the details behind it. Now we canceled it, but as a matter of fact, we have still brought here the ice fox, so we should take responsibility for what is going to happen next. This is the policy of our Guild Master as well as the duty of our guild.”
Zect looked at Verlaine baffled. I would’ve thought her words were hard to believe too if I was in his shoes.
“Let me be honest—I long for people like you and I want to create a world where demi-humans can be accepted as they are. I believe my dream can become reality if we act the right way, so… can you help me transform this capital into a place filled with good memories for Mizuha?”
“Wow, Bro, you really are nice…”
“I’ve thought you spent all your days drinking… I never imagined you could think big like this…”
“There is probably some remarkable side in the insolent man who helped Lady Timis’ elder sister, then.”
I wanted to tell Rigel’s party to stop that, but I couldn’t just misinterpret their goodwill.
Zect stood still in silence when I held out my hand to him… then Mizuha took his hand and brought it over mine.
“I’m Mizuha Crucifer. Forgive my brother and, if possible, me for accepting your offer and live here for a while.”
“…Mizuha, that’s taking it too far. This guild already helped us plenty, so we can’t…”
“Would you work for me? I promise you Silver Aquarius will know better than Blue Sagittarius how to handle your true abilities. We will arrange a suitable room for your sister too. Remember that we aren’t doing this out of charity, so don’t hesitate to accept and stay as long as you want.”
The other presents in the room held their breath to hear his final answer.
After only a few instants, Zect shook my hand. The equipment covering his body and the back of his hand were just another proof of the huge experience he had.
“Once this is over, I’d like to work for you. I’m looking forward to it, Guild Master.”
His words sounded sincere as he wore a deadpan expression. His smile was probably plastered on his sister’s face, as she looked up to her brother.
If we hadn’t helped him, he would’ve probably made the wrong choice and hurt his sister forever in that fight—we had to prevent that.
Now Garamdoor and Blue Sagittarius were finally going to face their end.
1 The original sentence is “的中率を上げるためにつけているアクセサリーらしい“, but I don’t really know why would he think something this specific. Maybe there’s a common feature about this kind of items that’s gonna be explained later in the story