Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: Volume 1
He opened his eyes, feeling like he’d heard someone’s voice.
It was dark. Nighttime, maybe? But not pitch black. There were lights. Fire. Above him. Some kind of lighting. Candles, it looked like. Small ones affixed to the wall. Not just one, but many, spaced evenly, continuing as far as he could see.
Where was this place?
It was kind of hard to breathe.
When he tried touching the wall, it was hard and rocky. This was no wall. It was just bare rock. Little wonder his back was sore after lying against it. His butt hurt, too.
Maybe he was in a cave... A cave? Why would he be in a cave...?
Those candles were pretty high up. He might be able to reach one if he stood; that was how high they were. Moreover, they didn’t even give off enough light for him to see his hands and feet.
But he sensed the presence of others nearby. When he listened closely, there was a faint noise that sounded like breathing.
Humans? What if they weren’t? He might be in trouble. But they sounded human, somehow.
“Is anyone there?” he asked hesitantly.
“Uh, yeah,” a man’s voice shot back.
“I’m here...” came another response, likely that of a woman.
Another man’s voice gave a short, “Yeah.”
“I figured as much,” another person added.
“How many of us are there?”
“Should we count?”
“And... where are we, anyway?”
“What? Doesn’t anyone know where we are?”
“What’s going on?”
“What is this?”
Seriously. What the hell was this? What was he doing in a place like this? And why? How long had he been here?
He clutched at his chest tightly, as if trying to claw something off of it.
He had no clue what was going on. How long had he been here? Why was he here?
When he began to consider his situation, something began to tug at the back of his mind. But it suddenly vanished before he could latch on to it.
He didn’t know. He didn’t know anything. He was at a complete loss.
“Sitting here won’t solve anything,” said one man in a low, husky voice.
There was a sound, like someone stepping on pebbles. It sounded like the man had stood up.
“Going somewhere...?” a woman’s voice asked.
“Following the wall,” the man answered. “Going to try heading towards the light.” The man’s tone was surprisingly calm.
Wasn’t he scared? Why wasn’t he shaken up by this?
The man was now beneath the second candle from him, and he seemed very tall.
He could make out a bit of the man’s head in the candlelight. The man’s hair wasn’t black. Was it... silver?
“I’m going, too,” the woman said.
“Me too, I guess,” a man’s voice said.
“H-Hold on, guys! I’m coming, too, then!” called another man.
“There’s the other direction, too,” said yet another person. The voice sounded slightly high-pitched, but it was probably another male. “We can probably go that way. There’s no candles, though.”
The silver-haired man said, “If you want to go that way, be my guest,” and started walking.
It looked like everyone would be following the silver-haired man. I had better go, too, then, he thought. He stood up hurriedly, not wanting to be left alone.
He nervously stepped forward, keeping a hand on the rock wall. The ground wasn’t smooth. It was uneven, but easy enough to walk on.
There was someone in front of him, and someone behind. He didn’t know who, though.
Judging by their voices, nobody here was all that old. I don’t know any of these people... at least, I don’t think so, he thought.
Who were the people he knew? Acquaintances. Friends. But just exactly who were they?
Strange. He couldn’t think of anyone. No, it was more like whenever he tried to work backwards from the faces that did come to mind, they would suddenly vanish.
He didn’t know.
It didn’t just happen with just friends. Family, too. It wasn’t that he didn’t know them at all. It was more that he ought to have known them, but he was forgetting.
“Maybe it’s best not to think about it,” he said out loud.
“Did you...” asked a voice from behind. Definitely a young girl’s voice. “Did you say something?”
“No, it was nothing—”
Nothing important? Really? Nothing important? How was it not important?
He shook his head to clear it.
At some point, he seemed to have stopped walking. I should continue on, he thought.
He needed to keep walking. It was better not to think about it. The more he tried to remember, the less he felt like he knew.
The row of candles continued. There was no end in sight.
How long had he been walking? Had he walked a long way, or not? He couldn’t say which. His sense of time and space had become dulled.
“There’s something here,” said someone up ahead. “It’s bright. There are... lamps?”
The silver-haired man said, “It’s an iron grate.”
“D-Do you think it’s the exit?!” exclaimed a different man, his voice shrill and excited.
The sound of the heavy footfalls lightened. Even in the dark, he could tell that everyone was hurrying ahead.
He could see the light sources now. They were much brighter than the candles had been. Those were definitely lamps. Were they hanging on the wall? The lamps were illuminating what looked like an iron grate.
The silver-haired man grabbed the iron grate. Not only was his hair silver, the man was dressed like a gangster. He shook the iron grate violently, like a gangster would, and it began to move.
“I’m opening it,” the gangster called, pulling the grate inwards. With a creaking noise, the iron grate door opened.
“Oh...!” several people cried out at the same time.
“Can we get out?!” exclaimed a woman dressed in flashy clothes who was standing behind the gangster.
The gangster headed through the door. “There are stairs. We can go up.”
Through the door was a cramped, moldy corridor. Beyond that, there were stone steps. There were no lights, but light was shining down from above.
The group ascended the stairs in single file, one step at a time.
There was another iron grate at the top of the stairs. This one looked like it wouldn’t open.
The gangster bashed the grate with his fist over and over again. “Is nobody there?! Open the door!” the gangster roared, like a beast.
The flashy woman joined in, shouting, “Hey, someone, anyone, open up!”
From behind them, a guy with curly hair shouted, “Hey! Open the door! Hey!”
They didn’t have to wait long. The gangster took his hand off the grate and stepped back. Apparently someone had come.
The flashy woman and guy with curly hair went quiet, and there was the sound of a lock turning. The iron grate opened, and a man’s voice said, “Get out.” He assumed the voice belonged to the man who had unlocked and opened the door.
They ascended the stairs, and there was a stone room. It was windowless, but brightly lit thanks to the lamps. In addition to the stairs they had come up, there was another set of stairs going up to a higher level.
The whole place feels too old, like it doesn’t belong in the modern world. The man who opened the gate is dressed weirdly, too. I mean, those aren’t clothes he’s wearing. That metal stuff he’s wearing is... armor? I’d call that headgear he has on an armored helmet, too. And that object hanging from his waist, it doesn’t look like a nightstick. Was it a sword... or something similar? Armor, a helmet, and a sword? What era did this guy come from? Then again, I guess that’s not the problem here.
The man in armor pulled a blackish switch on the wall.
The wall and floor shook slightly, and a heavy sound echoed through the room. The wall moved.
It opened. Part of the wall slowly opened.
It sunk down, leaving a hole. An oblong, rectangular hole.
The man in armor simply said, “Get out” again, gesturing towards the hole with his chin.
The gangster went outside first, and the flashy woman followed. Everyone followed after them, going through the hole one after another as if being pulled along.
This time, they were really outside.
It was either predawn or twilight. The dimly lit sky spread out as far as the eye could see.
This was the top of a small hill.
When they turned around, a large tower rose in front of them. They had been inside that tower... or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, beneath it.
Counting everyone in the group, there were eight males including Gangster, Curly, and himself, and four females including Flashy. Twelve in total.
It was dark, so he couldn’t see that much detail. Still, he could make out their figures, roughly what they were wearing, hairstyles, and general facial features. As he had thought, he didn’t recognize anyone.
“You think that’s a city?” asked a slender man with silky hair. He was pointing to the other side of the hill.
said a girl with her long hair in two braids. Looking in that direction, he could see buildings crowded together.
A town. It certainly looked like one. It had to be a town. Except that the town was surrounded by a high fence— No, not a fence. It was surrounded by high, solid walls.
“Rather than a town,” said a thin man wearing black-rimmed glasses, “it’s almost like a castle.”
“A castle...” he whispered, but for some reason his own voice sounded like someone else’s.
“Um...” a petite girl behind him timidly asked, “where is this, do you think?”
“Look, asking me isn’t going to help.”
“...Right, of course. Um, d-does anyone... know? Where is this place?”
No one said anything. Unless they were deliberately trying to trouble the girl, or were concealing the information for some other reason, that meant none of them had any idea.
Curly scratched at his curly hair and said, “Seriously?”
“I’ve got it!” said a man who looked like a playboy, clapping his hands together. He wore a bordered cut-and-sew outfit. “Why don’t we just ask that dude?! Y’know, the one who was in, like, armor or whatever!”
Everyone turned to look at the tower.
And then it happened.
The entrance began to shrink. The wall rose up again, filling in the hole.
“Whoa, whoa, wai—”
Playboy made a panicked run for it. He was too late.
The entrance vanished, leaving the spot where it had once been indistinguishable from the surrounding wall. Playboy tried touching and hitting the wall in all sorts of places while crying out things like, “Oh, come on, you can’t be doing this! Wait, wait, stop it! Please, man...” But nothing happened.
After a while, Playboy sat down, dejected.
“Well, this is a problem,”said a girl with her long hair in two braids. She said the word “problem” with a funny accent.
“You said it,” replied Curly Hair, crouching down and hanging his head.
“And, now, with that perfect tiiiiiiiming!” a high-pitched woman’s voice rang out—
There were four girls in their group: Flashy, the one with braids, the petite and timid one, and an even tinier girl who had to be shorter than 150 cm. That high-pitched voice didn’t sound like it belonged to Flashy, Braids, or Timid. It probably wasn’t Tiny’s voice, either.
“I appear, you know. I take the stage, you know. Where am I? I’m right heeeere!”
“Right where?!” cried Playboy, standing up and shouting.
“Don’t paaaanic! Don’t be alaaaarmed! But, still, don’t relaaaax. Don’t pull out your hair, eiiiither!”
Singing something like “Charararararahn, charararararahnrarahn.” a woman poked her head out from the side of the tower, where she had apparently been hiding.
Is her hairstyle what they call “twintails”? he wondered.
“Heeeey. Is everyone feeling fiiiine? Welcome to Grimgar. I’m your guide, Hiyomuuuu. Nice to meet youuuu. Let’s get along? Kyapii!”
A man with a buzz-cut ground his teeth loudly. “What an annoying speech style,” he muttered.
“Eek!” Hiyomu ducked her head back into the tower, but soon stuck it out again. “You’re so scary. So dangerous. Don’t get so maaaad. Okay? Okay? Okay? Okay?”
Buzz-Cut clicked his tongue in distaste. “Then don’t piss me off.”
“Yes, sirreeee!” Hiyomu hopped out next to the tower, raising her hand in a salute. “I’ll be careful from now on, sir! I’ll be reeeeal careful, sir? Is this okay? It’s okay, right? Teehee.”
“You’re doing that on purpose, aren’t you?”
“Aw, you could teeeell? Ah, ah! Don’t get mad! Don’t punch me, don’t kick me! I don’t like being hurt! Generally, I want you to be niiiice to me! Anyway, is it okay if I move things along now? Can I do my job now?”
“Hurry it up,” said Gangster in a low voice. Unlike Buzz-Cut, he didn’t look openly agitated. Still, his tone was intimidating.
“All righty, then,” Hiyomu began with a grin. “I’m gonna do my job now, okay?”
The sky was getting brighter by the moment. It was much brighter now than it had been earlier, which meant it must be morning, not dusk. The dawn was breaking.
“For now, just follow after meeee. Don’t get left behiiiind!” Hiyomu started to walk, her twintails swaying behind her.
Looking around, they saw a path from the tower leading down the hill. Grass fields spread out on both sides of a dark path of exposed earth that had been hardened with use, and there were large white stones scattered around the grass that covered the hill. A whole lot of them. Too many. It looked almost like they were in orderly rows.
It was as if someone had lined them up.
“Hey, are those...” Curly asked, pointing at the white stones. “Could they be... graves?”
Speaking of which, he noticed some sort of writing carved into them. Flowers had been placed in front of some, as well. A graveyard. Could this hill be a graveyard?
At the head of the group, Hiyomu giggled without turning around. “I wondeeeer. Well, don’t you worry about that now. Don’t woooorry. It’s too soon for any of you. I hope it’s too soon for any of youuuu. Hee hee hee...”
Buzz-Cut clicked his tongue in distaste again, kicking the dirt. He seemed pretty ticked off, but it looked like he still planned to follow Hiyomu for now.
Gangster had already started walking. Glasses, Flashy, and Tiny followed him.
Playboy shouted, “Whoa! Me too, me too! Me too!” and began chasing after them, then tripped.
It looked like there was no choice but to go along. But where was Hiyomu planning to take them? Where was this place?
He sighed, looking up to the sky. “Ah...”
What was that? It was pretty low in the sky. It couldn’t be the sun. It was too big to be a star, though. It wasn’t even a full circle, anyway. Its shape was somewhere between a half and a crescent moon. Did that mean it was the moon, then? That’d be a weird moon, though.
“It’s red,” he said out loud. He blinked, taking another look at it. No matter how many times he looked, it was still ruby red.
Behind him, Timid gulped audibly. He turned around to see she was gazing at the moon, as well.
“Ahh,” said Braids as she seemed to notice it, too. She blinked repeatedly, then chuckled. “Mr. Moon is red. That’s super pretty.”
The man with silky hair looked up to the red moon hanging in the dawn sky, standing still with an absent look on his face.
Curly said, “Whoa...” with a wide-eyed stare.
An excessively large, but seemingly quiet, man let out a low groan.
He didn’t know where this was. Where had he come from? How had he gotten here? He didn’t know those things, either. He couldn’t recall. But... there was just one thing he was certain of.
The moon in that other place wasn’t red.
A red moon was just weird.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: Volume 3
Social Status, Talent, and a Slight Bitterness
“Ranta! Don’t wander off too far!” Haruhiro cautioned.
Even as he said that, he got in position behind a kobold foreman Moguzo was exchanging blows with and started to look for an opening.
Yeah, there are openings. Lots of them.
There was one a moment ago. Right then, too. We can do this. We can.
The foreman was shaking its tail and moving around a lot, but Haruhiro had a grasp of its quirks. When Moguzo attacked a certain way, he knew how it would defend, and then he had a good idea what it might do after that. He could finish this with Backstab or Spider, of that he was confident.
And yet, Haruhiro didn’t close in on the foreman. Because that wasn’t the point.
Haruhiro was after something else.
Will I see it? he was wondering. —That line.
That vague, hazy line that shone just a little.
If he could just see that.
“That line you saw is something anyone who’s gained some experience will have seen once or twice—or felt, rather. That might be the more correct way to describe it.” That was what Barbara-sensei from the thieves’ guild had said to him. “Sometimes I see it, sometimes I don’t. It’s not something you can see by focusing, after all.”
“That’s not a bad sign,” she had said, as well.
“However, don’t misunderstand. It’s nothing special,” she had made sure to point out.
It was a thing anyone who gained some experience would see once or twice. However, Haruhiro had seen that line a good number of times. Even the time he had taken down Death Spots—No, that time the line had been clearer, more defined. If he hadn’t been able to see that line, Haruhiro would never have been able to slay Death Spots. That giant kobold would have thrown Haruhiro off and chased down the rest of the party.
If that had happened, there could have been casualties. Someone might have died.
Haruhiro had—No, Haruhiro and the party had been saved by that line.
What if it had been pure coincidence that he had been able to see it? Just then, at the perfect time, he had happened to see it by chance. What if that was all it was?
It would mean fortune had been on his side then. Haruhiro had gotten lucky. Without that fluke, they might have all died.
I don’t want to think I just got lucky—do I...?
Haruhiro honestly didn’t know, but he knew for sure that being able to see that line would help him. He wanted to see it.
If possible, I want to have complete control over when I see it.
Whenever I want, however often I want, if I could see the line on those terms—Just maybe, I’d be kind of invincible...?
It’s not that I want to be invincible, that’s not it. But, if I can get stronger, if I can gain a power that’ll give me that decisive edge in battle when I need it...
“Thanks...!” Moguzo shouted.
While Haruhiro was thinking about the line, the line, and nothing but the line, Moguzo used Thanks Slash, or what was more properly known as Rage Blow, to hit the foreman with the most powerful diagonal slash he could muster. Moguzo’s blade buried itself 15 to 20 centimeters deep inside the foreman’s shoulder. The foreman’s chain mail armor didn’t do anything to stop it.
Moguzo’s dumb, brute strength is a thing to behold, Haruhiro thought. However, there’s more to it than that. It’s the sword.
His cleaving blade, The Chopper.
After discussing it as a group, ultimately they had gone with Ranta’s suggestion, and that was what it had been named.
It was only about 1.2 meters long, which wasn’t that long, but it was fairly thick. While it did have a hand guard, it gave off the impression of a gigantic carving knife.
That thing came from Death Spots. I’m impressed he can wield it so well.
“Hungh...!” Moguzo kicked the foreman to the ground. Without missing a beat, he slammed The Chopper down on the foreman’s head, smashing it open with a wet thud. “Next...!”
Somehow, I feel like I can rely on him.
While he was busy admiring Moguzo...
“Haru!” Merry shouted.
“Huh?! Wh-What...?!” he stammered.
“What do you mean, ‘What...?!’” Ranta demanded.
I don’t want to hear that from you, Ranta, but, well, I guess I kind of deserve it.
Haruhiro and the others had been frequenting the third level of the Cyrene Mines, a residential area for kobold workers, for their hunting and mainly targeting elder kobold foremen. The talismans the foremen carried, while they could be hit or miss, sometimes sold for a high price, and now that Death Spots was gone there wasn’t much danger on the third level. It was a good hunting ground for making a constant income.
Even so, this was a stronghold of the kobolds, a hostile race, so it wasn’t without danger. Actually, if they let their guards down, they would pay for it.
Moguzo had taken down the foreman, leaving only two followers. Ranta was taking on Follower A, while Yume and Merry were clobbering Follower B. With the scary foreman taken care of, it was easy to think this would be an easy win, but it was the way of the world to betray such expectations.
Because here another foreman came, three little minions in tow, energetically running towards them.
“Six...” Haruhiro whispered, having done some quick mental math, but then Moguzo bellowed “Thanks...!” and slammed The Chopper into Follower B, the one Yume and Merry had been facing.
“—Ah. Five,” Haruhiro said.
“Why, you...!” Ranta shouted.
Ranta and Follower A had locked blades—Or so it seemed, but then Ranta knocked the follower back with a loud clang.
That was his newly learned dark fighting skill, Reject. When an enemy gets in close, he uses his sword to push them back and gain some distance. It’s a rather plain skill. Considering Ranta’s personality, I’m amazed he decided to learn it. Though, if he follows Reject up with another skill, it leads to good combos.
“Anger!” Ranta shouted.
Once Follower A was pushed out of range, Ranta stepped in, stabbing at its gullet.
I’m disappointed in myself. Just now, for a brief moment, Haruhiro had thought Ranta was cool.
Ranta hasn’t just learned a new skill; because he’s not able to use his beloved bucket helmet anymore, he went and bought a visored helmet called a bascinet. He bought it used and it was darkened with tarnish, but he was probably thinking something stupid like that that just made it a better fit for a dark knight like him. Though, as a matter of fact, it does make him look kind of dark knight-y, and maybe just a little cool.
“—Wait, it’s four now!” Haruhiro hastened to give orders. He was technically the leader, after all. “Moguzo, take the foreman! Ranta, one of the followers is yours! Take it out as quick as you can! For the other two, Yume and I will manage them for now...!”
With a shout, Moguzo charged the foreman, crossing blades with it. He used Wind to make it back down, then pushed, pushed, and pushed some more.
“Hatred...!” Ranta leapt at Follower C. It dodged his first slash, but with one blow coming after the next, he was still pushing it back.
Follower D charged straight at Yume, but when it swung its shovel down at her, Yume let out a cat-like cry and did a low backwards somersault to avoid it.
That was Weasel Somersault, which she just learned. It’s a machete fighting skill. I don’t feel like it’s directly related to fighting with a machete, though.
As Follower D was looking surprised, Yume closed in on it. She executed a combo with Brush Clearer and Diagonal Cross. Follower D was faltering.
“I can do something, too!” Haruhiro called.
Haruhiro didn’t particularly want to show off, though, and taking on enemies in straight up fights wasn’t a thief’s specialty. Follower E came at him swinging its shovel. With not just the blade but the handle being made of metal, it was a sturdy shovel that could function in combat just as well as it could digging holes. Haruhiro knocked it aside with his dagger.
Swat was primarily a defensive skill, but when the opportunity arose, it could be used like this, too.
When Follower E went for a big swing with its shovel, Haruhiro dodged it, deliberately choosing not to use Swat this time. Follower E must have sensed the danger, because it quickly pulled back its shovel, using more compact swings from then on. It was focusing on speed over power.
Haruhiro used Swat. A strong hit, meant to push the shovel away from Follower E’s body.
As a result, it created an opening.
Haruhiro got in close, seizing Follower E’s right arm with his left hand and his own right arm. Follower E yelped as he bent its elbow to an extreme, then he swept the legs out from under it, knocking it over.
It was a fighting skill Barbara-sensei had taught him—or, rather, like she always did, beat into him—Arrest.
It feels good to pull it off, but it sure isn’t showy.
Haruhiro stomped on the fallen Follower E’s jaw, dislocating it. Kobolds had a dog-like head, giving them a lot of bite strength, but their jaws themselves weren’t especially sturdy. They were especially weak against strikes that came from the side. Follower E passed out, or was in a state close to it.
“Ohm, rel, ect, palam, darsh!” A shadow elemental that looked like a mass of black seaweed launched from the tip of Shihoru’s staff, flying forward in a spiral. “Yume!”
“Yikes!” Yume cried, crouching down as the shadow elemental soared over her head and collided with Follower D. The shadow elemental worked its way into Follower D’s body through its nose and ears. As soon as it did, Follower D stood there, staring into space.
The confusing shadow, Shadow Complex.
Despite saying she wanted more attack power, the new Darsh Magic spell Shihoru had learned was one that affected the target’s brain and caused a state of confusion. It was similar to the one that lulled them into a deep state of sleep, Sleepy Shadow, but Shadow Complex would also work on enemies that were prepared for it or were in a state of heightened emotions. It was the sort of choice he would expect from Shihoru, and it was useful in its own way.
Despite Yume being right in front of it, Follower D threw its shovel away and clutched its head.
“Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow!” Yume unleashed a flurry of blows on Follower D. It seemed Follower D noticed, but it was much too late for it to do anything. By that point, it was slashed up so badly there was no way it could have turned things around.
“Why, you...!” Ranta using Reject to push his opponent back and Anger to finish it, taking down Follower C with the combo he’d been using a lot lately.
Is Moguzo struggling against the foreman? No. That’s not it.
Just now, the foreman’s sword had hit Moguzo’s left arm, but he must have intentionally allowed it to. Moguzo had bought some reasonably priced arm and waist guards used and then paid an armorsmith to resize them for him. He had also learned one heavy armor fighting skill.
The foreman’s sword bounced off of the armor on Moguzo’s left arm with a clang. It hadn’t been deflected in the normal way, though.
Not being a warrior, Haruhiro didn’t really understand it, but it was a skill that knocked away enemy attacks using defensive gear and particular methods of applying power.
Incidentally, Haruhiro and the others currently had their athletic ability, their resistances, and their natural healing boosted by Merry’s new light magic spell, Protection. Maybe it had something to do with the symbol of the god of light Lumiaris being a hexagram, but its effect covered up to six people for a period of thirty minutes. When the spell was cast, a hexagram of light would appear on their left wrists, their bodies would feel noticeably lighter, and they would be in top form.
Thanks in part to that, Moguzo was able to pull off his next move with panache.
Of course, he used that one: “Thanks...!”
It was the one that had become a fixed feature of all their fights, with both power and stability, the Thanks Slash.
With the foreman’s sword deflected and it knocked off its balance, Moguzo slammed The Chopper down on its shoulder. It was nearly identical to when he had killed the first foreman.
Moguzo may not look it, but he’s pretty skillful, and he doesn’t try to act cool or come up with little tricks like Ranta. He’s straightforward in a good way, you could say. He sticks to basics, and as he repeats the same actions he perfects them in his own way—If I praise him that much, I may be overstating it, but Moguzo’s Thanks Slash is definitely turning into a killer move.
Of course, there are his strength, his polished technique, and the quality of his weapon, among other things, that go into it, I’m sure, but, anyway, his timing is good. The Thanks Slash always shows up at the ideal moment. It makes me want to applaud. Maybe I will.
While Haruhiro was wondering whether to or not, Ranta came up behind Follower D, which Yume had been working on cornering, and brutally took it down.
“Yeah! Got my vice...! Mwahahahaha...!”
“Augh! What’re you doin’? Yume coulda handled that one by herself!” she complained.
“What? You wanted to kill it yourself? Hah! You may have tiny tits, but you’re a bloodthirsty wolf, you know that? Are you going to convert and start worshiping Lord Skullhell like me now? Hmm?”
“Nuh-uh, no way. Yume’s a hunter. And Yume loves her white god Elhit-chan, too. Yume just thinks, since she was facin’ that kobbie in solar combat, she shoulda kept it that way to the end! Also, don’t call my boobs tiny!”
“—Yume, you mean solo combat.” Haruhiro tried to correct her because he couldn’t bear not to, but, as per usual, he was completely ignored.
“It just goes to show, girls with tiny tits can’t do anything! If you don’t like that, make ’em bigger!” Ranta mocked.
“You say that, but Yume, she doesn’t know how to make her breasts get bigger!”
“Huh?! You do this...” Ranta mimed squeezing his own chest.
Shihoru looked at Ranta with disdain, such incredible disdain. “...That’s sexual harassment.”
Merry sighed a little. “You’re terrible.”
“Damn straight!” Ranta said, standing tall. “I’m fine with being a harasser! And fine with being terrible! Keep it coming! Don’t think you’ll make me back down with just that! If that’s what you’re going to call me, I’m gonna become the terrible king of sexual harassers!”
“Murrgh,” Yume mimed squeezing her own breasts, or, rather, actually squeezed them. “If Yume squeezes ’em, her breasts’ll grow bigger? If that’s all it takes, it’s not so hard, huh?”
“Bwuh!” Moguzo spewed out whatever was in his mouth.
“Y-Yume...” Shihoru grabbed Yume by the arm, stopping her. “I-I don’t think you should do that in front of other people...”
“Huh? Does it work better if Yume does it when no one’s around?”
“No, uh... That’s not the problem...”
Ranta laughed derisively. “Your pitifully tiny tits ain’t big enough to squeeze anyway, so you don’t need to worry about it. Gwahaha!”
“Augh! Ranta, you dummy!” Yume wailed.
“I’m no dummy! I’m the terrible king of sexual harassers! Freshly crowned! Revere me!”
“Don’t get so stubborn...” Haruhiro muttered.
Haruhiro started checking over the kobold bodies. Their equipment and other stuff wouldn’t sell for enough to be worth the extra weight, so he was fine with just collecting the talismans.
When he crouched down next to a follower and began to carefully remove an earring, Ranta came running over. He quickly tore a golden nose ring off of a follower that was right next to the one Haruhiro was working on.
Come on, that crudeness is what people don’t like about you. Well, that and a whole lot of other things. Actually, they dislike pretty much everything about you.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: Volume 4
The Unbearable Heaviness of Reality
It’s terrible when a person dies.
In the end, Haruhiro had probably never imagined that he would be forced to experience that again.
Of course, he had thought it was a possibility. He had probably thought about it more seriously than any of his comrades, and he had feared it from the bottom of his heart.
But the death, the loss, that Haruhiro had expected wasn’t like the reality.
This was very different from what happened with Manato. That time, it had come without them really understanding what was happening, and by the time they had noticed, all that was left was pain.
They had carried the body back to Alterna, had the body burned at the crematorium, then buried his ashes on the hill where the tower with no entrance stood. Those memories hadn’t blurred in the least, but it all went by strangely quickly. That was probably because Renji and the others had helped them out, so things had moved along without any hitches.
However, from there on, it was terrible.
Haruhiro’s comrade, his friend, was dead. They had burned him, reducing him to ash and bone, and now he rested eternally on that hill where no one would disturb him. Moguzo was lost to Haruhiro and his friends now.
Though Moguzo was gone, there were still traces left behind that showed he had once existed.
His equipment, for instance.
There was his heavily dented plate armor and his crushed helmet, along with The Chopper, that sword they had taken off Death Spots. They couldn’t burn those things with him. Even if they had wanted to, they were made of metal, so it was physically impossible.
Even so, they couldn’t just throw them out, either. But if they were going to keep them, they didn’t have the space.
“...For now, we could put them on deposit... maybe,” Shihoru said.
No one objected to Shihoru’s proposal. However, when they went to the Yorozu Deposit Company, they discovered a serious problem.
“Yes, it is possible for you to deposit items other than money with our company,” said the fourth Yorozu, a young girl wearing a gaudy red and white outfit accented with gold along with a pair of gold-rimmed glasses. She tapped her gold pipe on the counter. “When you deposit money, the deposit fee is 1/100th of the amount deposited. When you deposit an item, it is 1/50th of the appraised value. But even without an appraisal, I can tell you that that helmet and armor are worthless.”
“Huh...? Why?” Haruhiro asked.
“Do you need it explained to you, insolent one?”
Ever since the first day they’d met, Yorozu had kept calling Haruhiro “insolent one.” It was awful.
“That helmet and armor are useless,” she said. “Even if you were to spend the money to repair them, I question whether they could ever be useful again. Anyway, I suggest you go to a blacksmith and have them take that scrap metal off your hands.”
“Hey, you! Watch your tongue...!” Ranta screamed.
Haruhiro did at least hold Ranta back from jumping over the counter, but he felt the same as Ranta did.
Scrap metal! What’re you calling scrap metal? That’s my comrade’s armor, I’ll have you know! It’s a memento. You can’t call it scrap metal. You don’t know a damn thing, so don’t give me that crap!
However, that wasn’t quite true.
Yorozu narrowed her eyes, then shrugged her delicate shoulders. “They are mementos of your comrade, correct? Information of all sorts tends to find its way to the Yorozu, you see. I am aware of your situation, but at this company there are some rules that even the fourth Yorozu cannot bend. No matter what the reason, we cannot give you special treatment. You cannot deposit items that are of no value with our company. Our warehouse space is finite, after all. If those items are so precious that you cannot bear to dispose of them, then you should take care of them yourselves.”
There was nothing Haruhiro could say back to that. If the items were so important to them, they could take care of them themselves. No, not just could—should. Yorozu was absolutely right, and it would have been wrong to fault her for it.
“...Well, how about the sword...?” asked Shihoru.
Yorozu nodded. “That, you can deposit with us, of course. However, it once belonged to the Death Spots, did it not? It will not be cheap.”
When they had one of the specialist clerks appraise it, it actually did come out to an incredible price. It was 25 gold. The deposit fee would be 1/50th of that, so 50 silver. While it wasn’t beyond their means, it was enough to give them pause.
“Yume’s thinkin’ maybe we don’t need to decide right now...” said Yume.
Haruhiro agreed. Practically speaking, putting it off still left them with the problem of what to do with the items. It felt like, in the end, they were going to have no choice but to deposit it anyway. Still, they didn’t need to decide immediately. They could do it tomorrow, the day after, or even later. They had other things that they would need to do.
Yorozu said, “While you’re here, out of concern, let me ask you, what do you wish to do with the deceased’s assets?”
“Assets?” Haruhiro asked.
“The deceased had money on deposit with our company. Only he himself would normally be able to withdraw it, but in the event of death, it is possible for someone else to do so by going through the proper procedures.”
“Huh... Really?” Haruhiro asked.
“Specifically, you would have to go through the Volunteer Soldier Corps office to acquire a death certificate and a certificate granting you power of attorney, both issued by the margrave,” she said. “On confirmation of those documents, our company will return the deceased’s assets to his legal representative.”
“The office... Certificates...”
“For your information, at present, we are unable to disclose any further details regarding the deceased’s assets,” Yorozu informed them.
How much did Moguzo have saved up? Haruhiro wondered. He bought armor whenever he had the money to, and his meals cost a lot, so he can’t have had much in savings. Still, I feel like it’d be sloppy to just leave it. When we lost Manato, we didn’t know left from right, so we couldn’t handle it properly. This time, I want to do things right. I have to.
Was Haruhiro the only one thinking that?
The day after they went to the Yorozu Deposit Company, Haruhiro visited the Volunteer Soldier Corps office on his own. Ranta wouldn’t get out of bed, and Haruhiro couldn’t get a clear response when he tried to call Yume and Shihoru. As for Merry, she wasn’t even in the same building. Haruhiro had had no choice but to come alone.
When he went to talk to Britney, a.k.a. Bri-chan, about the paperwork, Britney called out to him first.
“Oh, it’s you! Fabulous timing. Let’s talk bounty money. Huh, what’s that, you say? You never went to the meeting to decide how it would be divided, you say? I hear that caused some trouble for them. Renji and Kajiko, that is. Well, I’m sure you were too busy worrying about other things to attend. Still, it’s times like that when you need to get in there and stake your claim, otherwise you’ll lose out, you know?”
“...Bounty money,” Haruhiro muttered. “—Wait. Huh...?”
They had already received the payment for the order when they had returned to Alterna after the operation was complete. The rest of the balance they were owed came to 80 silver each, paid in the form of military scrip: thin copper chits issued by the Frontier Army.
“Ah,” Haruhiro realized. “Do you mean for the keeper, Zoran Zesh, and the sorcerer, Abael...?”
“Yes, for them.” Bri-chan licked his black lips and closed one eye.
Oh, please, stop, thought Haruhiro. Don’t screw around with me now.
“Zoran Zesh was 100 gold, Abael was 50. That’s 150 gold total,” Bri-chan said. “The way I heard it, you and your party took out Abael almost entirely on your own.”
“Ah... Well, yeah... I guess. Now that you mention it, maybe we kind of did.”
“That said, in cases like that, things are generally split evenly,” said Bri-chan. “There’d be squabbling otherwise.”
“Well... you could be right about that. I wouldn’t know.”
“What’s the matter with you?” Bri-chan demanded. “You really distinguished yourselves there. Aren’t you happy?”
“Happy...?” Haruhiro almost burst out laughing. Not because he thought it was funny, of course. No, that wasn’t it. How would he put it...
All he could do was laugh? No, that wasn’t it, either. Like, “Don’t you get it? Are you stupid?” Like, “I’m gonna send you flying.”
Haruhiro looked downwards, clenching his hands into fists. “...No, I don’t think I’m happy.”
“I can see that.” Bri-chan sighed.
Haruhiro was still looking down, so he couldn’t see the expression on Bri-chan’s face. He didn’t really want to see it, either.
“Regardless, you have a right to a share of the reward money, and I’m holding onto your share. According to Kajiko, Renji basically steamrolled her, but you get 60 gold.”
“Sixty?!” Haruhiro gasped.
He couldn’t help but be shocked by that number. He felt like he’d suddenly woken up from a dream.
Oh, if only it had all been a nightmare. How glad he would have been.
“Sixty gold—you mean, like, 60 gold coins...?” he stumbled.
“That’s right,” said Bri-chan. “Or, if we convert it to silver coins, 6,000. Divide it by six—no, five—and you each get 12 gold.”
“Twelve...” Haruhiro murmured.
It touched a nerve the way Bri-chan had corrected himself from six to five, but it was such a large amount of money that it still hadn’t sunk in that it was real just yet.
But I’m not happy, Haruhiro thought. Not happy at all.
“...We’ll take what we can get, but...”
“But?” Bri-chan demanded.
“No... We’ll take it. Gratefully. It’s better to have money than not to, after all. Having it’s not going to hurt us. Ah, but before that—”
“A death certificate and power of attorney, right?” asked Bri-chan.
“It’ll take a while.”
“It will?” Haruhiro asked.
“It has to go through the bureaucrats, after all. Be prepared for it to take ten days. I’d guess around seven, maybe. They almost never issue them within six days. What? You look like you just want to get this over and done with.”
“...Honestly, I may feel that way a bit, yeah,” said Haruhiro.
“It’s not going to be that simple. If you were blood relatives, you could go to Tenboro Tower and sign the papers yourself. But volunteer soldiers aren’t family. If he’d been married, it would be a different matter.”
That was another word that just didn’t feel real, and Haruhiro couldn’t help but think about how Moguzo would never be able to get married.
He never can. Because he died. It feels like a lie. I lifted Moguzo’s motionless body with my own hands, carried him all the way to the crematorium, and even saw the bones and ashes that were left afterwards, and I still can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe.
“He wasn’t yet, right?” Bri-chan asked. “Married, that is.”
“...Yeah, he wasn’t.”
“For a volunteer soldier who’s single, they’re without any relatives, so the Volunteer Soldier Corps office is the one that confirms their identity. I’ll need signatures from all of you.”
“Huh? Not just from me?” Haruhiro asked.
“Yes. The whole party,” said Bri-chan. “And I’ll need you all to sign it in front of me. That’s the law.”
“So, then...” Haruhiro began.
“Come back later.”
As he walked away from the office dejectedly, Haruhiro was at a loss for what to do. Ranta, Yume, and Shihoru would be fine. But what about Merry?
Now that I think about it, up until now, we’ve never really talked about plans, thought Haruhiro. We just gathered at the north gate every morning, as if that was the natural thing to do. After Moguzo died, did we talk at all about what to do the next day? Wait, no, that’s just it. The day it happened, we had to take care of the burial and stuff, so Merry stayed in Yume and Shihoru’s room that night. I think it was around noon, the next day. When I saw her at the lodge, we got talking about what to do with Moguzo’s things, then we went to the Yorozu Deposit Company... and when we split up in the evening, I don’t feel like the topic of what to do the next day came up.
I wonder what Merry’s doing, he thought. Yume and Shihoru might know where Merry’s renting a room. Guess I’ll have to try asking. Actually, it might be better to have Yume and Shihoru go instead of me. At times like this, it might be better if they were all girls. Either way, I need to find a way to get in touch and meet up with her.
Haruhiro was holding onto a chit for 60 gold. He needed to split it between five people.
—Five, huh. Five people. One short. Split it five ways...? I can’t split a chit. I’ve got to exchange it for money first. If I recall, I should be able to trade it in at the Yorozu Deposit Company. I wish we’d gone to the office before we went to Yorozu’s. Still, we only found out about the procedure we need to go through from Yorozu, so I guess it wouldn’t have worked.
As Haruhiro dragged his feet down the road back to the lodging house, he started to feel sick of everything.
“What a pain...”
I want to stop and stand still. I want to crouch down and clutch my head. I want to curl into a ball and stay like that forever.
Suddenly, he remembered Choco. He’d totally forgotten. Haruhiro was appalled with himself.
I’m seriously terrible. So terrible, all I can really do is laugh. Choco died, didn’t she? Choco’s party, too. They were probably wiped out. I wonder what happened to Choco. Did someone give her a proper burial? The plan was driven by the Frontier Army to begin with. I doubt they’d leave bodies lying around after the battle.
We burn them, reduce them to bones and ash, then bury them up on that hill, but what good does it do? Nothing really comes of it. It’s just that, if we don’t cremate them, No-Life King’s curse will turn them into zombies. It wouldn’t sit right with me to let Choco come back as a zombie. I don’t want that. Absolutely not.
For those who’ve died, they aren’t able to do anything about the bodies they leave behind. It falls to the living to do something about it for them.
Did we manage to handle things right? Are we handling things right? What do you think, Moguzo? Isn’t there more we could be doing? Like, some way you’d wanted us to do things? Or were there things you wouldn’t have wanted us to do? We’re not doing anything wrong, are we?
I can ask, but he won’t answer. Moguzo’s gone. Choco’s gone, too. They’re dead.
It doesn’t feel real, but they’re dead.
That’s no lie.
It’s the truth.
“We never should have gone...” he murmured.
The order. We never should have accepted it. Neither should Choco and her party. It was too much for us.
“Who was it who brought up the idea...?” he asked himself.
It was Ranta. Damn him.
“...But I was the one who made the decision.”
If Haruhiro hadn’t voted in favor, they might not have accepted the order. No, there was no “might” about it. They probably wouldn’t have.
If he hadn’t talked with Choco about how her party was going to accept the order, Haruhiro probably wouldn’t have convinced himself to do so. Back then, he should have done whatever it took to stop Choco. He should have told her that it was dangerous. It was reckless. That she couldn’t go.
If her party hadn’t been willing to change their minds, she could have left them. He should have persuaded her to. Haruhiro should have voted against. No matter how much of a fuss Ranta would have kicked up about it. They couldn’t handle what they couldn’t handle. It was too dangerous. The risk was too great.
But, at the time, Haruhiro had thought the risk wasn’t that high, so he’d voted in favor.
I know, he thought bitterly. Hindsight is always 20/20. Once something like this happens, it’s natural to think that everything I did was a mistake. I want to blame someone, even if it’s myself. Even though that’s pointless.
No matter what I do, Moguzo’s not coming back.
Haruhiro looked up to the sky.
What time is it now? Around three o’clock in the afternoon. It’s awfully sunny. I dunno what to say. It’s a sunny day, Moguzo.
“I just have to keep looking forward, don’t I?” he asked himself. “There’s nothing else I can do...”
The sky’s so beautiful, it almost seems like a joke.
Haruhiro covered half his face with his right hand. It stung his eyes.