The road extends through the forest, soon disappearing from view as large, luxuriant trees border it on both sides. Fallen leaves that crack and crumble when I step onto them litter the ground everywhere and almost hide the road from view, letting it merge with the forest itself, but whether there is a visible road or not doesn’t actually matter all that much to me. My years of wandering around the gigantic floors of the Planar Tower have given me a good sense of direction.
Glancing at a map once is enough for me to be able to reach my destination without problem.
This destination was given to me by Solaire, on the morning I left.
…Well, noon, actually, because the morning itself was spent fending off Lilly’s repeated attempts to convince me to remain with her in the Springfields’ house.
Solaire too tried to get me to stay, babbling about demons and apostles and whatnot, but I couldn’t care less about any of this nonsense, so I just left as soon as I got the information I needed.
According to my map book, the place I’m heading for is a city called Kohln, on the western border of Rigonn. It’s apparently a rather large city, only a tad smaller than Fushia City.
And in this place, it seems, elves are sometimes sold to humans in exchange for money.
I can’t help but think it’s a little strange, buying and selling people like they’re objects, but maybe that’s just me. From what Solaire said, it’s actually rather common, both here and in majin territory.
I have a bit of trouble imagining what it might all look like, but it would be good if I could find Nerys there. Although I don’t know how expensive Nerys would be – she’d probably be worth a lot, since she’s Nerys – and I don’t have a lot of money anyway, I do have fists and magic and absolutely no reluctance in using them.
Oh, and I have a spider, too.
Now that I think about it, how should I introduce Sanae to Nerys?
Well, I’ll think about it later.
And where is Sanae, anyway?
She’s been gone for a few hours, saying she had to take care of something. She left before I could ask her what it was.
I don’t have to wait for long to get the answer to my question. A few minutes later, as the link between our souls gradually strengthens, I feel her quickly approach my position, and soon, she bursts out of the small shrubs dotting the side of the road, skittering across the ground fast enough to leave a dark blur in her wake. I lift my eyepatch and let her climb up my body, until she shoves herself into my eye socket.
[…Ow. Gentler, please.]
[…Your legs are poking me.]
[…So it hurts.]
I shake my head at her childish behavior, then suddenly feel something wet trickle down my cheek. I raise a hand to rub it off. When I lower it, a red smear has been left on my palm, the smell of human blood wafting from it. Glancing down at my dress, I can see small stains of red where Sanae climbed.
[…You put blood on me.]
[…Did you kill someone?]
People who inform.
That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense…
I thought I was getting better about this ‘common knowledge’ problem I have, but it seems I’m not quite there, yet. I’m still missing quite a few words.
[…What’s an ‘informer’?]
Ah, I know that one.
[…Were they spying on me?]
Wouldn’t it have been just the Springfields who were targeted?
Why would anyone spy on me?
Or is it the people who trapped me in the Tower? Are they still looking over my shoulder, somehow? Were they ever? Am I just being paranoid?
[…Did they say why they were spying on us?]
[…Did you ask?]
[…Of course you can talk. You have telepathy.]
<To you. Only.>
Oh, right. I vaguely remember Phineas talking about this subject, a long time ago. Something like a specific magic is necessary to speak to animals. Or was it? Wasn’t it that no specific magic is necessary?
…I can’t remember.
And none of Miroslav’s books said anything on the subject. I could talk to Sanae immediately after my soul developed telepathy, so the problem never really occurred. But it’s true that I’ve never been able to talk to any other demon. Sanae being the exception is most likely due to the link between our souls. I probably couldn’t talk to her if such a thing didn’t exist.
But really, I’m pretty sure that even if Sanae had been able to talk to the people she killed, she wouldn’t have asked them anything, anyway.
I probably wouldn’t have asked, either.
Well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter who they were. Since they’re already dead, whatever problem they might have been is now solved.
I reach the city of Kohln twelve days after my departure from the Springfields’ house.
Nothing much happened on the way. A few carriages and walking travelers crossed my path, but none of them really paid me any mind. Some threw a few strange glances at me, but even after noting that I wasn’t human, no one made an issue of it, fortunately.
When I approach Kohln’s gates, there is already a long line of people waiting to be let inside the city by the guards there, along with a second line parallel to the first, composed of a few carriages. I remember seeing this sort of thing in Aldenfell, when I went to fetch my identification card from that Jasper person. At the time, I made the mistake of simply walking alongside the line – and beating up the fat person who complained at me for doing so afterward – but as I’ve discovered since, one is not supposed to do this. One must instead take one’s place at the end of the line and patiently wait for the line to shrink and one’s turn to come.
It’s quite tedious, really, but that’s fine.
I can be patient.
I suppose I could simply jump over the city’s wall and sneak inside, but since I can enter openly, I might as well do so. There’s no point in taking useless risks.
I walk to stand behind the last person in the line, a tall man with a bushy beard and a sword bigger than I am – which doesn’t necessarily mean much, but still – on his back. A few groups of humans also waiting for their own turn here and there peek in my direction, whispering rude things to each other about my species or my scars or the fact that my clothes are dirty. Soon, even more people arrive, most of them in carriages of their own, which they park in a space already full of them, a bit to the sides of the gates, along the city wall, before joining the line behind me. Only a scant few actually drive their carriages to the line of them waiting to enter the gates. I don’t know why some people want to take their carriages inside the city, while others prefer to leave them outside.
And I seem to be the only non-human around.
I’ve yet to see even a single majin here.
…Well, actually, I’ve yet to see a single majin anywhere since I left the Planar Prison. I suppose it’s not called the ‘human territories’ for nothing.
But that doesn’t really matter to me, either.
I ignore the gazes and the whispers and wait peacefully.
But then, as the line slowly shrinks and my turn approaches, the person behind me appears to lose patience and suddenly speaks to me. “Damn it, I’ve waited long enough, already!” he complains. “Hey, subhuman! Make way for me! This is a human city, so humans should go first.”
I feel a shift in the air currents behind me and reflexively dodge the hand I sense is grabbing for my shoulder, then quickly spin around to look at the one who tried to touch me.
It’s a man, seemingly young, and with lots of shiny rings on his fingers and necklaces around his neck, and even things hanging off his ears, which I don’t know what they’re called but apparently pierce directly through his earlobes in a fashion that really looks like it should hurt. There are two women hugging this person from both sides. They’re sticking their whole bodies against his, probably because they’re not wearing a lot of clothing and they’re cold in the evening wind. The two women look down at me with small, mocking smiles on their faces – which quickly turn to expressions of revulsion when they get a good look at the scars on my face – but the man in the middle, his hand still extended toward where my shoulder used to be a moment ago, looks offended that I evaded his grab at me.
[…I’m not a subhuman.]
When the two women suddenly hear my voice in their minds, they let out small surprised squeaks and flinch a little, but the man doesn’t seem to be impressed.
“Huuuuh? Telepathy, huh? Well, whatever. As I said, get out of the way, subhuman. I won’t repeat myself again. Me opening my mouth toward a subhuman is already more than you deserve.”
A few people around look in our direction at the ruckus the man is causing, but none of them intervene. They all seem content to simply watch what happens.
[…’Subhuman’ implies one is at least part human. I’m not.]
“Hehehe.” For a moment, the man seems amused by my words, but then he starts angrily shouting at me. “Then you’re an even lower lifeform than I took you for! Why don’t you just disappear from our sights, already?! You’re polluting the air, you disgusting beast!”
Wait a second…
Now that I think about it, he’s right!
With the absurd amount of blood-qi in my dantian, right now, the radiation I give off must be dangerously high. I really do pollute the air around me just by existing!
I’ll need to find a way to correct that before finding Nerys.
It would be terrible if I inadvertently poisoned her this way.
Seeing me lapsing into more important thoughts than the subject of my species seems to infuriate the human who asked for my spot in the line, and he once more reaches for me, as if to grab my collar, roughly pushing one of the two women by his side out of the way to get to me.
“Hey! Are you even listening to me?!”
<Just. Kill him.>
[…No. I’m standing in line to avoid unnecessary conflict. Killing him would undermine that.]
As long as he doesn’t become an actual threat, that is.
I easily dodge the man’s hand again, simply by returning to the position I stood in before he tried to touch me the first time, but before I can answer and tell him that I was indeed listening to him, another voice suddenly interrupts our conversation.
“What is this ruckus, over there?!” Glancing over my shoulder, I see a human man break off from a group of guards standing nearby and head toward us. His face twists in distaste when he notices my horn and my ears and my tail, but he doesn’t make any comment on them and keeps shouting in our direction. “This is Kohln, not your fucking backyard! If you people want to fight, just go back into the forest and kill each other for all I care, but order will be kept here!”
The man who tried to touch me takes a step back at the qi pressure the guard is giving off, and his face becomes red. “D–Do you even know who I am? I am…”
“Don’t know, don’t care!” the guard interrupts, his voice becoming even louder than before, spittle flying out of his mouth with every word. “If you were so important, you wouldn’t need to wait in line like this! And as I said, this is Kohln! Not! Your! Fucking! Backyard! One more word out of you, and I’ll have you beaten half to death! Understood?”
The two women by his side pale in fright, and the man himself gnashes his teeth, but he eventually relents and goes back to his place in the line, behind me, glaring at me all the while as if I’m the one who threatened him with violence.
And when I was so patient and polite with him…
Maybe I really should just kill him…
“It’s your turn,” the guard suddenly says, turning to me. “Show your identification card,” he orders in a peremptory voice.
Since I already saw the people before me go through this process, I already expected it, and with a flip of my hand, the card Jasper gave me in Aldenfell appears in my grasp. I hand it to the guard without a word.
Reading its contents, the guard seems surprised.
“High-Sea Verse mercenary group?” He glances at me up and down. “A little shrimp like you is a mercenary?”
[…The size of my body is irrelevant.]
Also, I’m a wolf, not a shrimp.
Shrimps have antennae and a carapace. And they don’t have tails.
The guard apparently already figured out I was using telepathy during my previous conversation with the other idiot, because he doesn’t seem surprised in the least.
“I suppose it is.” His gaze returns to the card I gave him. “29 years old? What is this nonsense? Jasper Kellen? He’s…” The guard mutters to himself for a few moments, then hands the card back to me, nodding toward the gates behind him. “All right,” he says aloud. “You can go in. The High-Sea Verse headquarters in Kohln are in the eastern quadrant, one street out from the main plaza. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. And don’t loiter around or cause trouble for the citizens. We’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
I have no intention to go those headquarters, though. If I did, the people there might try to get me to complete some of their ‘contracts’, like Jasper did after he gave me the card, back then.
That would be annoying.
[…Where is the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce?]
The guard’s eyebrows rise up in surprise. “Blackwood? You want to go to the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce?”
The guard throws me a strange look. “Do you even know what this place is, little girl? Are you sure that you, a majin, want to go there? I really wouldn’t recommend it.”
[…Where is it?]
Before the guard can reply, the belligerent man behind me suddenly speaks up, a clear sneer on his face. “Hey, subhuman! I’m also going to the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce. How about I guide you there, if you want to go so much? Hehehe. You can consider it my apology for earlier.”
The guard glances at the man and looks like he wants to say something for a moment, but in the end, he simply shakes his head and checks the man’s identification card and that of the two women alongside him.
“So, what do you say?” the man asks again, almost eager.
I look at him dubiously for a moment.
There is no way he’s trying to apologize. Even an idiot like me can tell that this human is up to no good.
If he’s guiding me to my objective, I don’t really care what other plan he has on the side. I don’t sense any source of qi greater than myself in this entire city, so I’m confident I can crush any threat that might pop up here.
[…Good. Guide me to it.]
“Ha! Excellent! Oh, and don’t worry about what the guard said. I’m a repeat customer of the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce, and I assure you that they treat their customers correctly. And their merchandise, as well. I’m sure you’ll be satisfied.”
The man claps his hands, smirking openly. The two women next to him look at me like they’re looking at a fool.
I look at their self-satisfied, mocking faces and feel the bed of anger quietly bubbling in the back of my mind.
I haven’t killed anything for weeks.
Go ahead and give me a reason.
Avoiding unnecessary conflict is fine, but if a weakling overreaches himself and brings a fight to me, there is no point in shying away from grinding him into dust.