Leader – Part 2
The next day, the main street square was filled with a huge crowd that counted every member of Valeria, a hundred and twelve in total.
On their faces there wasn’t a trace of the happy mood of the festival or the fatigue it should have left on them.
The slums witnessed a similar scene only once before.
The funeral of Valeria’s founder and leader, Vatel Famille.
At that time, his comrades and subordinates stood still in a solemn silence from the moment his empty coffin was lowered into Verna’s water to its disappearance beyond the lake’s boundary. Like them, the people living in the slums silently prayed to the sky.
Vatel’s loss had been a shock for everyone.
Now that the mood was similar, everyone anxiously wondered if another funeral was going to take place.
Some of them were silently standing with their face cramped in an anxious and confused expression.
Takumi was simply sitting on a fountain’s bench, looking at the crowd.
“It’s about time… where’s our leader?”
Asked Gaitsu, who sat near him with an impatient smile.
“A girl needs time to get ready. Patience is a man’s virtue.”
“Tch, now you think you know women? You really are annoying.”
The moment he spat those words, the crowd started to stir.
“Sorry for making you wait.”
Her tender voice sounded cold like ice.
Mirta wore a fur coat, Vatel’s favorite, over a simple dress.
“Dressing took more time than expected.”
That must have been hard to wear for her, but she decided to show Valeria’s symbol.
She was standing as a leader, not as a helpless girl.
“Dear me! Can women change this much in a mere night?”
“Of course. I tried my best to make you fall for me, Takumi.”
“It is such an honor. I admit that you charmed me quite a bit.”
“Quite a bit, huh…? Next time I should do better, then.”
In her smile there wasn’t trace of doubt or worry.
He nodded at her words, then got up.
“We can now start discussing who will be Valeria’s next leader.”
Announced Takumi quietly, but everyone heard him.
“The candidates are Gaitsu Ejistan, the current proxy leader, and Mirta Famille, the current leader. Do you want to say something before the poll starts?”
“There’s no need for something like that. The one who stands at the top will be followed even without a speaking a word. That’s what it means to be a real leader.”
Gaitsu snorted, sure about his victory.
The gaze of everyone shifted from his confident face to Mirta’s.
“If you can excuse me, I’d like to take a little of your time.”
In the words of their leader was braided humility, but her eyes housed a fire comparable to her father’s.
“The slums are a harsh place. A wasteland of nothingness… A valley where cold winds rob people of their warmth… And then, Valeria bloomed into a warm flower, thawing out its home… This is the meaning of the name my father chose, and I cannot help but love it.1”
She showed the crowd a tender smile.
“Smiling together in happy moments, comforting someone in difficulty, getting mad when someone does something wrong… I want our existence to be like a warm, colorful family for the cold slums.”
Everyone knew that she was just spouting her stupid ideals.
But she would have never felt ashamed of expressing them.
“As Valeria’s leader… I will always be with all of you.”
Her words resounded loudly because of her firm believe.
Great performance, thought Takumi.
“…Now, time to start the poll!”
He announced loudly.
“Choose the candidate you believe more fitting to be the next leader. If you want Gaitsu, kneel down and lower your head. If you want Mirta, raise your right arm.”
Valeria’s members hung their heads and clutched their fists uncertain about what to do.
Seeing their doubt, Takumi rose his voice again.
“So, what’s your choice?! The stupid, gentle idealist… or the man who paid you like slaves?!”
The curious bystanders started to murmur, while someone lost his cool.
“You bastard…! Spitting falsehood to avoid…”
Takumi poked the enraged Gaitsu with some parchment.
In it were written the names of each member of Valeria, and a number alongside them.
There were some big differences between those numbers.
“This is how much you spent on them. A miser like you should remember that, no?”
“W-What are you talking about?! That’s obviously fake!”
“This choice is not up to you. They have to choose.”
Ignoring the furious man, Takumi looked at the crowd.
Those who weren’t siding with Gaitsu were clutching their fists in rage.
People were divided into those who would’ve never betrayed him, who were the majority, and veterans who worked alongside Vatel and adored their former leader, who were the minority.
That was the gap between new and old members.
What Gaitsu did was deciding a price for that tag.
Exactly like… they were a bunch of slaves.
“C’mon, decide for yourselves! Are you slaves waiting to be bought or prideful people chasing after an insane ideal?! Pick your choice!”
Someone raised his right arm from the crowd, a leather bag of money in hand.
When it fell on the ground, a high-pitched sound echoed in the square.
Again and again, the scene repeated itself, and more coins clinked around.
But soon, no more hands imitated the others.
Takumi’s lips curled into a smile.
“And so be it! You are filthy slaves of the slums, and those who raised their arm are people of great integrity! Remember that pride can’t be bought by money!”
Valeria’s members let out a roar at his exaggerated words. It was so loud that the whole slums seemed to shake, and maybe even reached the middle part of Listina.
“You… idiots! Are you really getting pumped up by the words of a filthy slave?!”
Gaitsu was confused and angry at what was happening.
But as he talked, the nearby bystanders shoot him down with poisonous words.
“Close your trap, miser! You only know how to complain about money!”
“Your subordinates are mental! They should have protected my shop but kept destroying stuff while drunk!”
“Yeah, fuck you, pig! If you’re that unreliable, I should just kick their ass and get my money back!”
In that storm of insults, people started to throw stones and garbage at him.
As everyone turned their back at him and despair painted his face, Gaitsu screamed an order to his men.
“What are you waiting for! Kill them all! Leave the cheeky squirt alive and kill every traitor!”
“Oh, you think you can do that?”
A lively voice reached him from his side.
Kunon wore a cheerful smile as she grasped a dagger in each hand.
“If one of your dogs tries anything funny, I’ll rip their arms off. I’m really, really fast, you know. You won’t even draw your weapons. Wanna try?”
Her warm smile only served to make her words more terrifying.
Every member of Valeria knew the Hound’s strength.
That’s why Gaitsu’s men started to shiver.
The miser’s mouth opened and closed from anger and humiliation, while Takumi’s face was full of confidence.
“Seems like you don’t belong to the slums. Can you leave already?”
“Don’t… Don’t think this is the end! You have no power compared to the major merchants! They will crush you!”
“Really? I’m looking forward to it.”
Takumi’s gaze pierced Gaitsu with his bottomless black irises.
“Return to your pigsty, you disgusting pig.”
The man’s face flushed from anger, but since he was at a disadvantage, he couldn’t do anything but leave.
Both he and his subordinates got away under a rain of stones and garbage, and once they weren’t in sight anymore, the turmoil slowly came to an end.
Then, Takumi let out a deep sigh.
“Sorry for the ruckus. Today, Valeria has officially chosen its leader! What a glorious day! Let me take the opportunity to apologize and ask you a favor!”
He lifted a leather bag from the ground and held it high.
“Our leader said the slums are like a family for her, and families should celebrate together!”
He then put his other hand in the bag and extracted its contents, which were thrown into the air without sparing a single coin.
“Let’s use the money to pay for food and drinks! It’s time to celebrate our new leader!”
Shouts of joy resounded in the square.
Valeria’s members imitated Takumi’s gesture, and the shopkeepers started to bring wine and food, moved by the scene.
It looked like another festival was going to start.
“Aaah… It became quite something.”
Said Karin, approaching Takumi from the midst of the crowd.
“Well, it’s better this way.”
“I agree. You acted like Gaitsu, though.”
The man bought trust with money, while Takumi gained trust from scattering money.
There wasn’t much difference between the two. If anything, the young slave merchant was corrupting people for the better.
“Well, this is the difference between first-class slave merchants and third-class ones.”
“In your case, we should add ‘scheming’ before ‘slave merchant’. Poor Elsa, handling you must be a pain.”
“Isn’t that fine? This way, she can see Mirta more often.”
“She will get sick if you keep this up…”
While Karin imagined her friend and wore a pitiful expression, Kunon was running toward them producing a soft pitter-patter with food in her hand.
“Look Takumi! They gave me a lot of food!”
“Good for you! It must be good now that you finished your work!”
“Yeah! Fupeh yummy!”
She started to stuff her mouth with various treats. The cute girl who was standing there until a moment before was nowhere to be found.
“I’ll go grab some food too before they get me into custody.”
“Err… Wait a minute, I have something to tell you.”
Turning to face Karin, Takumi saw her toothy smile.
“Thank you… for getting mad at that pig for us yesterday.”
Trying to hide her embarrassment, she spoke while playing around with her black hair.
“Yeah, thank you! I also felt all better when I saw that!”
Said Kunon smiling innocently, and Takumi also curled his lips.
“That was a natural action as your employer.”
He turned his back at them, and the girls walked around him to peer at his face.
“What’s that? Takumi, don’t tell me you’re embarrassed.”
“Woah, that’s even rarer than him getting angry! Lemme see!”
“I’m not embarrassed. I mean, who was the blushing elf between us?”
“What?! I wasn’t blushing! I’m older than you, how can I possibly get embarrassed by just praising someone?!”
“Karin, Karin! You’re not convincing anyone, you know?”
When Kunon pointed that out, Karin’s face flushed again.
“C’mon, we still have something to do. Let’s grab some food and get to work, young lady.”
“Ggh… I swear I’ll make you cry one day…”
“Ah, then I’ll also do that! I’d love to try making Takumi cry!”
“Kunon, don’t plan on beating me up, please.”
The three merged into the crowd and enjoyed the festival.
They had to take the chance to rest, given how exhausting the next days were going to be.