I look upon the bulletin board where the details of all the available contracts are posted. I skim the board, glancing at the most promising contracts and narrowing it down to the easiest ones. “Ah, this one is good. I only have to kidnap,” Wait, who says that, but me? My eyes drift away from that contract and end up to a contract beside it. “Kill General Pareyo,” I gasp. “Wait, what? Kill a general? Who would dare post such a contract?” Pursuing to learn more, I read the details. Then I find out that General Pareyo resides in a castle in the Kingdom of Sitierra and commands an army called the “Sister Army.” This contract doesn’t describe what he looks like, or states the reward, or names the contractor. Such an ambiguous quest with an even ambiguous reward. “Please collect the reward in Sitierra,” is the final note. But this contract entices me. “Who would dare place such bounty on a General’s head? Let alone it being in a prominent place of a famous kingdom.” I mutter. But this is a winning situation for me. For once, I get a reason to travel to Sitierra. I rashly make a decision and take the contract’s token and talk to Risho. “Yamade-san, I will be leaving for Sitierra. Would you please brief me?”
“What contract did you take?” Risho asks.
“This one,” I show her the token and the paper I took from the board, “ the— uh… ‘Kill General Pareyo.’”
“Are you crazy!?” Risho hurriedly takes the paper from me.
“No,” I say with a smile.
Risho leans to me and whispers, “Do you not know what you’re getting into?”
“I see no trouble at a—”
“That’s what you think,” Risho interrupts, “General Pareyo is a Sword Ace and second-in-command of the entire kingdom.”
“Sword Ace?” My eyes narrow in another unwanted discovery.
Risho leans backward and stops whispering, “That is the highest rank of skill of the sword to be given to anyone.”
I open my palms, “And what determines that?”
“The Queen of Sitierra.” Risho answers.
“Then she has low standards,” I say half-sarcastically.
“The Queen herself is an Ace,” Risho speaks in an annoyed tone, “and she was defeated by this general.”
I take the token and look away, “I don’t care.”
“If that doesn’t matter to you,” Risho leans toward me, “then consider who ordered this contract.”
“Last time I checked—,” I hesitate, “why should this bother me?”
“Killing a prominen— right,” Risho sighs, “you wouldn’t care, but consider how suspicious the reward is. It’s not guaranteed at all if you will receive the reward.”
“There is that, but,” I look to Risho, “where did your confidence in me go?”
“You may have super speed,” Risho relaxes, “but you don’t have the power a Sword Ace general.”
“Super speed?” I slam the table, “that’s my power?” My power finally gets a name!
“I think. With that power, you can stand a chance against General Pareyo,” Risho shakes her head, “but the chances of defeating him are slim for you.”
“That’s true,” I pause for a moment to find a reason, “but I killed the strongest guild member and have defeated an entire squad.”
Risho stares in silence. “Yes, all with your rare ability.”
“It is?” I steer the conversation in another direction.
“Yes, it is a power only one Magician I knew had.” Risho stares into a blank space.
“And who is this?” I steer further.
“The name is Izumi Lishi. She is specialized in Air.” Risho states unenthusiastically.
“Air?” I prepare myself mentally for more information.
Risho looks at me with shocking disappointment, “You still don’t know?”
“Yes, I planned to research in Sitierra after all.”
“I see how you could be so motivated,” Risho weakly laughs, “Anyway, there are four basics elements of the universe, Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. The most powerful is Air.”
I think back to Lina and Rina, and a thought comes to me. “Where is ice?”
“Ice? Oh, those were only the basics. With combinations among these four and certain conditions, you could create different compound elements. Ice, for example, is created by simply creating water in winter.”
“I see,” I support my head with my two hands on the table, “so how can I learn to create elements?”
“You just have to be born a Magician.”
My eyes narrow, “How do I know that I am a Magician?”
“You will know it through time, especially when you get to Sitierra. That’s where people go to find their hidden abilities.”
“Can you be a Magician and an Aura user at the same time then?”
“No, you can’t. You have to be born either one of them or neither.”
I sigh, “I will be completing the contract then.”
Risho hurriedly corrects her posture and looks at me intensely, “Then I shall accompany you there.”
“You don’t have to” I look away to avoid her eyes, “it’s my contract after all.”
“You will need me,” Risho holds my hands, “especially because you are inexperienced compared to the General. And I will provide transportation for you.”
I pull my hand away, “Will I still have to pay for that?” I’d just rather walk.
“Didn’t I just say that? I’ll pay,” Risho sighs.
You didn’t say anything about that.
“You will need armor too,” she follows up.
“I will do away with that. It sounds expensive,” I shake my head, “and this is an assassination job anyway.”
“You may be right,” Risho rests her head on the table, “but you will never know when you will encounter him head-on.”
“It’s alright,” I can’t add more expenses on my really tight budget. I take a stretch and stand up from the table, “So, let’s start then.”
Risho hails a horse-drawn carriage heading to Sitierra for four hundred silver coins. The travel took two days and one night, and I, Risho, and the driver hunt for food during the trip’s layovers. Fortunately, I utilize my new sword I have acquired through another painful loan. During the trip, I learn more about the basics and differences of “magic” and “aura,” the elements, and how Risho usually unleashes the power of elements as a Magician. I try doing the same, but I can’t produce any results.
I seat next to a tree with Risho as we wait for the driver to draw water from a nearby river. “Yamade-san, is it possible to learn all four elements?”
“Yes, it is. I may be an Air Magician, but I can create the other three. It’s just that, I focus on the Air element making me an Air Magician.”
“I see,” I sigh, “but why is it that I’m having a hard time producing any of the elements?”
“It’s because you aren’t focusing enough. You should memorize and polish the movements I’m making to create an element.”
To produce an element, we have to “write” our instructions on air. It is like a spell but written by hand movements and gestures as if writing individual letters and words. And I didn’t have the best body coordination or fast thinking. And the actions Risho is doing seem to be complicated dance moves using only hands. “Is there no other way other than dancing frantically like that?” I complain, “this is ridiculous.”
“No, you must make your letters with graceful motions.”
“That makes sense I guess,” but I struggle to practice for the night.
On the day of the arrival, I spot on the horizon a sight to behold. A grand wall with a great gate adorned with gold. And behind that is the kingdom’s commoners, and at the faraway center of the encircling walls is a mountain with a castle on top. This is what I would imagine a fantasy world is like. It ticks all the boxes. We enter the gates with no problems. There were no guards nor checkpoints to delay our arrival, but there were occasional guard squad patrols in the streets looking about for any suspicious behaviors that might cause any trouble. This must be the world’s equivalent to the police. The wagon drops us at the gate, and Risho drags me by the arm while I look around mesmerized about the wall and the streets. We arrive in front of a familiar-looking banner. “Hey, this banner has two swords in a cross position with a fl—”
“This is another branch of the mercenary guild. We are allies throughout the land,” Risho interrupts.
“Oh?” I think about how I embarrassed myself. How much more of an airhead should I be? “Let’s go inside then.”
Risho stops me, “But this branch is meticulous to manners and etiquette,” she fixes her posture, “you had better not insult them.”
“What did you think of who I was anyway?” I mutter. Don’t tell me one without class.
Knights greet us as we enter the building. They are the polar opposite of the definition of a mercenary. But I deduce that this is their uniform. Still, I couldn’t believe they were mercenaries in a knight’s clothing.
Risho greets them with a knightly gesture, “Salutations, comrades.”
They return the gesture, and I copy Risho’s motions while staying silent. I could feel a hint of scorn and judgment from their eyes, but they didn’t reflect it on their faces. Compared to Lunis’s mercenaries, their condescending scorn is more comfortable than their pressuring gaze. I have experienced it before.
Risho approaches a white-armored knight on the desk.
“Oh, Risho-chan! What brings you here?” a girl’s voice greets from an iron helmet. Her entire body is covered in iron armor, and she didn’t bother to lift up the eyeshield to reveal a portion of her face. Also, it’s very surprising that a girl is inside that bulk of armor.
“I told you not to say that,” Risho seems to look somewhat displeased as she replies to her.
“Is that how you return the greeting?” the knight whines.
“This is unfair. You greet me impolitely yet you react as if I’m the rude one,” Risho retorts.
“You have yet to greet me~” the knight’s helmet turns to face me with the same condescending gaze, though I couldn’t see it, I could sense it. “And who is this?”
Girl, I am better than you in class. Don’t ask with such disgust.
Risho introduces me to her, “This is Bari Deliruu.”
“Hello, nice to meet you,” I bow at the knight.
“Quite the crude manner of introduction I see,” the knight comments.
Pardon me for being ignorant of the customs of your world. You’d rather have a handshake? In order to keep first impressions higher than the low standards she has set, I quickly bow lower toward her, “I’m sorry for my lack of manners.”
“Don’t mind his manners when you don’t have one yourself,” Risho interrupts with her hand raised.
Slight burn. Do you want some water?
The knight flinches and attempts to justify her actions, “A knight is never wrong on their manners! And you have yet to properly introduce me to him.”
Way to emphasize the ‘properly’ there, girl.
Risho turns at me and points at the knight. “This is Izumi Li-”
The knight slaps Risho’s shoulder with her hand, “Hey! Wait for a second! You should introduce me first with my title!”
I want to punch this girl so bad, but then, she is a girl. I hate such highly self-placed persons. But I learned to keep my cool around them.
“You still have a large ego,” Risho removes the Izumi’s hand from her shoulder and sighs. “This is the Air Magician I was talking about,” Risho introduces reluctantly.
“What did you tell him about me?” the knight asks, practically jumping in excitement.
“That you could dodge and attack swiftly,” Risho answers coldly.
“And what else?” the knight squeezes her helmet with her hands and peers into Risho’s face.
“That you are the greatest Air Magician I know,” Risho heavily sighs and pushes her away.
“Yes, praise me more. What else?” the knight peers once again into Risho’s face.
I might be hallucinating, but I think I see a dog’s tail behind her.
“That’s it,” Risho smirks. She sure knows how to handle her.
“Eh!?” the knight begins to complain at the speed of light, “that’s all!? You didn’t tell him how cool I was when I defeated Utino and Pima at the Magician tournament?”
More unnecessary information.
“Oh, there was that?” Risho says in a sarcastic tone.
“What do you mean there was that? I told you about it. How could you have forgotten?” The knight waves her hands frantically.
“Eh,” Risho shrugs, “I probably chose to forget it.”
“What! You are a traitor!” the knight screams, “you were not my friend but my enemy!”
“Yeah, alright,” Risho proceeds to shove the white knight aside.
The knight persists, “What do you think you’re doing? You mustn’t ignore me you infer—”
Risho smacks the knight’s helmet with her fist, and the knight falls to the ground.
“Ouch…” the knight rubs the helmet, for some reason.
“You are not acting knightly Izumi-san,” Risho faces me and points at the laying white knight, “She may not look like it, but she is the strongest Air Magician.”
“That knight is a Magician?” I ask doubtingly. It is not because I doubt Risho. I just doubt that ‘Magician,’ more.
“No, she isn’t a knight. She is just a mercenary with knight’s armor,” Risho answers seemingly to concur with my thoughts.
“That makes sense,” I laugh weakly.
The staggering knight helps herself up and points her wavering sword at Risho, “Don’t do that again.”
Woah, she had a sword ready, and unsheathed?
“This is Izumi Lishi, an Air Magician,” Risho points at her once again as Izumi charges with her sword, but Risho takes her down with her Air magic and Izumi flies to the ground, “She defeated the Ace of Water and Fire simultaneously.”
How long will this long introduction take this long? It’s so long that it’s even longer than my longest stick, if you know what I mean.
I stare at her in shock, with a hint of doubt. “Really?” I say in false amazement, but I thought of saying more of “Oh, really?” in unbelief.
Izumi stands up again and raises her hand at me, “I’m the Air Magician, Izumi Lishi, don’t listen to her under-exaggeration.”
“Nice to meet you, Lishi-san,” I bow to Izumi.
“Don’t call me that,” Izumi makes a pose resembling a knight, “Call me Izumi-sensei.”
I bow slightly to Izumi, “Okay, Izumi-sen—”
“That’s enough ego growth for today,” Risho interrupts and straightens my posture, “will you please accommodate our rooms?”
“Yes of course!” Izumi hands Risho a key.
“Only one?” Risho asks.
Izumi latches onto Risho. “I’ll give you another if you go on a dinner with me~” she smiles and ends with a wink.
Meanwhile, tired of this pointlessly long introduction, I slowly make my way to one of the rooms, not because I knew the room where I’ll be in, but because I want to stay away from such infectious disease.
“No, of course not,” Risho pushes her away, “you are way too annoying.”
“So you would prefer to share a room with that guy?” Izumi points at me, and I get stopped in my tracks.
Risho, having realized this, blushes. “W—well, I guess I would…” Risho spaces out.
“Just get the key alright?” I quickly face Risho.
“Ah, ha, yes— no! Absolutely not!” Risho declines.
“Oh? Is he your fiance perhaps~?” Izumi teases.
“No!” Risho shouts.
“Then why are you choosing him over me?” Izumi puts her finger seductively on her helmet’s ‘mouth.’
If you were a guy, you would be creepy, but no you are a girl, so you are creepy. “I—it’s because…” Risho spaces out again.
“H—hey, now,” I wave my hand up and down gesturing to her to end this quickly. Risho’s face turns red, and she fidgets in place, “Yes! Yes! I wouldn’t mind…” she looks at me drowsily, “sleeping with hi—”
“W—what!?” I jump backward in awkward surprise. Risho!? What the hell!? We just met days ago!
In the end, Risho got a key to her room, but I couldn’t say I wasn’t disappointed though. She said she wouldn’t have minded after all. “Stop it, you stupid idiot!” I shout to myself as I settle in my room.