The Consequence of Saving the World
As Bernard was in the middle of sorting everyone into three-person teams, I snuck in the request to put Anita and Ain together with the blond archer, or Talbot as he was called. While Sereya claimed that Talbot was the most suspicious, I couldn’t help but feel doubtful towards Bernard.
After all, he was the one who was the most insistent on keeping everyone here. If people were going missing and you weren’t making any progress, shouldn’t you go get help? Intent aside, he was seriously incompetent as their leader. At least he knew how to divide people into groups.
Thanks to the earlier display of our Dragon-ranked adventurer status, everyone was very obedient. It felt a bit awkward, honestly. No one wanted to make eye contact with me as I circled around the assembled pilgrims.
On the other hand, too many people, especially the guys, were stealing glances at Sereya! I admit, I was guilty as well, but you could be a lot more discreet about it!
Moreover, none of the ladies even looked at me. I walked past a few of them, and even though I didn’t have a Hero’s enhanced senses, even I could tell that all they felt was fear. I wasn’t that ugly, was I?
“Alright, that’s all of you. Keep an eye out for each other and wait for further instructions from the Dragon-ranks. Dismissed!” having put everyone into groups, Bernard let everyone return to whatever they were doing before.
The biggest difference between the current atmosphere and before we made our presence known was that everyone was highly suspicious of each other. Some were chatting and getting to know each other, but it was obvious that mistrust was rife. The tension in the air was so thick, you could cut it with a knife.
With everyone settling down or failing to do so, I gave Sereya the signal to talk to Talbot. We headed to the corner of the camp where Anita, Ain and the man in question were seated on the ground having a rather cheerful conversation. His expression changed for a brief moment as he saw the two of us walking towards him, but he carried on laughing as Ain was explaining something.
“So even though he’s all big and all, his name is actually Uncle!”
“Ain,” the tone of her mother’s voice was grim, as is the shadow that I just cast over her as I stood behind them.
“O-Oh, hi Uncle, w-what a coincidence,” she talked behind my back, and now she was struggling to do so from the front, eh? “I thought you were busy finding the b-bad guy?”
“He just did. There’s a very naughty one, right here, too,” Anita teased her daughter, but there was no doubt that Talbot was feeling the pressure.
“Uncle, I’m sorry! I was talking about you with Talbot. I didn’t say anything bad, please forgive me!”
I knelt down to meet her at eye level as I patted her head, “Well, good thing you’re honest enough to come clean, otherwise I’d have to punish you.”
Something in me felt very smug as I said that. I felt like an evil villain, saying an innocent line but with a darker, hidden meaning behind it. The best thing about it was seeing Talbot sweat. Sorry man, but you were looking mighty guilty.
“Is s-something the matter?” his quivering voice as he asked certainly didn’t help his case.
“My partner and I just wanted to have a little chat with you in private. Let’s talk over there behind those trees,” I beckoned.
As he stood up, I saw his adventurer plate hanging below his neck. A bronze plate—that meant he was Ogre-rank. He must be feeling like a mouse being cornered by two lions. Good thing he didn’t realise that one of them didn’t have any teeth.
“Uhh, isn’t this far enough?” he questioned, but neither me or Sereya answered him. We kept walking into the woods until I was satisfied.
“Talbot,” as I stopped walking, it was my mouth’s turn to run, “tell me—why do you think we walked so far away from the others?”
His eyes were locked onto his feet. He clearly doesn’t want to answer.
“Talk with me. I just wanted to understand you better,” my voice was gentle, but even I was surprised by how intimidating I sounded.
Sereya placed her hand on her sword, unsheathing it slightly.
“If you’re gonna kill me, do it!”
He made up his mind. I applaud his guts, but I had no intention of actually seeing them.
“Kill you? What in the Goddess’ name are you talking about? I don’t want to kill you,” I placed my hand on his shoulder, which jolted instantly, “I want in.”
“I want in,” I repeated, “Whatever you’re part of, I want in on the profit.”
“If that’s your approach, I’m not falling for it!” he affirmed his stand.
“C’mon, Talbot, think about it—do you really think that the Guild actually sent us to investigate this missing person case? You’re in the middle of nowhere! No one reported it to the Guild that fast,” I pointed out the obvious, something that everyone failed to realise as they succumbed to our authority.
I continued, “We’re here purely by luck, and I’m lucky enough to smell a—how should I put it? A good business opportunity. I just want to make a quick buck, and I’m guessing it’s the same for you, too.”
“B-But you guys are Dragon-ranked, you make enough—”
“Money?” I didn’t let him finish, “These are times of peace, my friend. With the Demons gone, what money is there to make?”
Talbot swallowed his saliva and asked, “What do you want me to do?”
“I already said it. I want in. Whatever you’re getting out of this, I want some of it, too.”
“The boss wouldn’t want to share.”
Bingo. Finally, something good to go from.
“Share? Open your eyes, Talbot! This is a business opportunity. Your boss couldn’t attack the camp outright, no? Well, guess what? We’re here, and that’s a lot more money you, your boss and all of us will be making once we divide the spoils!”
“W-Who are you? If she’s Sereya, the Merciful Blade, w-who in the world are you?!” the panic in his voice was palpable.
“If I tell you who I am, would you let me meet your boss?
Talbot gathered himself and stayed quiet for a while, his mind racing to come up with a solution. While I didn’t show it, I prayed that he’d cave in.
“Alright, deal. Who are you?”
I had to hide my enthusiasm. I couldn’t believe it actually worked!
I smiled, “Evansmith Mattheld.”
Talbot’s eyes widened as his back slowly slid down the tree he was up against. Even if he had his doubts, I simply told him the truth. He seemed a lot more frightened than before, though.
“But why would you, the saviour of the world—no, a god, be doing this?”
“Let me get this straight—I’m no god. These people worshipping me? They’re dumb. I don’t want anything to do with them. As to why I’m doing this, I’m supposed to be a Hero, you know? Do you know how the countries treated me after I saved them? If I want to take them down, I’m gonna need some money, and help from guys like your boss, understand?”
“So, this is how it's going to go. You’re gonna head back to camp like nothing has happened and we’ll catch up later in a bit. When we do, I’m gonna announce a search, and that’s when you lead us to your boss, clear?” I explained.
Talbot nodded. His colour was returning to his face.
“Alright, off you go then.”
Just like that, he scurried off into the thicket.
Once he was far enough, Sereya finally said something, “You know, you actually sound convincing. I thought you were an enemy at the moment.”
“It was all made-up! That was the only way I could get him to say something.”
“I know, but you didn’t have to tell him your name,” that fact must have really annoyed her.
“It’s okay, right? I mean, they’re all going to be behind bars anyway.”
She sighed, “I suppose. But there is one thing that scares me, though—since when were you this good at lying? You’re even better than Hanasuke.”
“Well, it’s not like I could beat people into telling the truth, can I? I have to find some way to get things done.”
“Just make sure you’re putting that tongue to good use. If I ever catch you cheating on me, I’m cutting it off.”
Damn Sereya, chill!
“As if that’ll happen. None of the ladies at the camp were looking at me, but all the guys were stealing glances at y—”
“Oh, so you were looking at other ladies, huh?”
What? Was it my turn to get interrogated?
“That’s not what I mean! I was keeping an eye out on who’s suspicious, remember?”
“But you wanted the girls to look at you, right?”
“N—” I stopped myself. If there was one person I should never lie to, it was her, “Yes, I’m sorry, okay?! You’re so beautiful, but I look like—”
Before I could even react, Sereya’s lips found their way to my cheek. As she pulled away from the quick peck, she remarked, “Do you think I care, hmm?”
It wasn’t fair. That was too fast for me to dodge, or make a comeback.
“If you’re that self-conscious about your appearance, we could do something about it once we reach Breven. But for now, let’s head back to camp.”
I swallowed my pride and followed. No matter how much I could talk my way out, Sereya was just too large of a mountain to climb.