“Thank you for saving it!”
After returning the stolen bag, its owner gripped both of Flamm’s hands while thanking her with tears in his eyes. The man appeared to be around thirty years old, but he had a crooked back and seemed to have a weak constitution. He did not look like the kind of person who should be walking alone through the West District.
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself. I am Rich Mancathy and I run a small shop.”
He introduced himself politely. His bearing and his clothes both marked him as a member of the upper class. Besides that, Flamm remembered hearing the name Mancathy. Not in a distant memory, but only recently.
Milkit touched her shoulder. “Is that the shop Master visited earlier to buy dinner?”
The two of them had stopped by a large store handling fresh food just before heading back to the West District
“Oh, yes, that Mancathy Shop… no, wait, it’s not small!”
“Ah, you’re too kind.”
Although Rich was not putting on airs, the Mancathy Shop was the largest store dealing with fresh food in the capital. Just about everybody who lived in the capital had shopped there one time or another. While Rich looked a bit scrawny, Flamm was impressed that such a rich person would be so polite while talking to a pair of slaves.
“By the way, what is your name?” he asked.
“Well, I am Flamm. I am registered as an adventurer in the West District. This is Milkit,” Flamm said.
“I serve Master,” Milkit added.
Milkit deeply lowered her head as she was introduced. Thanks to the maid clothes, the overall impression was striking.
“Flamm and Milkit. Flamm, your face seems familiar.”
Rich scratched his chin, lost in thought, while Flamm felt her heartbeat pick up.
“I thought so too,” the young nun added.
As a member of the Hero’s party, Flamm was not exactly a celebrity but she was somewhat well known. Whether it was the people at the church who worked with Maria or the president of a large store who collected information as part of his work, it was quite possible they had seen her face before.
“No, well,” Flamm said, then laughed. “I often hear that I look like a celebrity.”
Flamm was calm as she deceived the two of them. Nobody would imagine that Flamm Apricot would become a slave. Even somebody who had seen her before wouldn’t believe their eyes in the face of the slave brand.
“Ah, I’m sorry if it bothers you.”
“No, I don’t mind.”
“Also,” Rich said, “who is this nun here?”
“I am Sarah Ambiren,” the young nun said. “I am doing my best to serve Origin.”
“Well, thank you for your help!” Rich said. “I just can’t thank you enough.”
“It’s only a matter of course as a nun to fight guys like that.”
Sarah put both hands on her waist and puffed up her chest as she spoke.
Flamm’s mental picture of nuns being pure and weak was being overwritten by the image of a fighter. The two men groaning at her feet probably also couldn’t have imagined they would be beaten and captured by a young nun.
“By the way,” Flamm asked, “what are you going to do with them?”
“I have my bag back,” Rich said, “so I don’t think there’s need for anything more.”
“Yeah,” Sarah said, “They should be discouraged by this much.”
Flamm made a noise of disagreement after hearing the two of them suggest letting the men go. She didn’t believe that two men who followed Dain around were struggling to make ends meet. While somebody who stole out of desperation could be reformed, these two probably just stole for fun. She didn’t think that people like that would repent their actions so easily.
“You disagree?” Rich sked.
“I think it would be better to report them,” Flamm said. “I think these guys will probably start stealing again if we let them go.”
“Do you really think so?” Sarah asked. “After being hurt, won’t they reflect on what happened? Why would they do the same thing after getting beaten up?”
“You’re a nice girl, Sarah,” Flamm said. “Bad people like these won’t reflect on their actions unless they suffer serious punishment.”
“That’s sad,” Sarah said, looking distraught. “Sad.”
Flamm crouched down and stroked her hair. “Well, the world is sad sometimes. I think it will get better though, if somebody like you does your best.”
“I understand, I’ll do my best!”
Sarah’s mood recovered quickly. She was definitely a simple child. If everybody were simple and pure like her, the world would be a peaceful pace.
“So,” Flamm said, “I think you should call a guard or a church knight.”
“All right,” Rich said. “Ah, maybe you would know more about where to go in this area?”
“I know where the church knights are,” Sarah said. “I’ll go get them for you!”
With that, Sarah took off at a full speed run. Flamm and Rich both stared at the back of her head as she ran out of sight.
“She’s really something,” Milkit said.
“A little impatient. That’s how kids are,” Flamm said.
Rich smiled at the conversation between the 16-year-old Flamm and 14-year old Milkit.
For teenagers a four or five year age difference could feel bigger than the actual number. Although for the two of them in particular there was a bit of envy at seeing the happiness of childhood that they have lost.
After a moment, Rich lost his smile and spoke with a more serious expression.
“By the way, Flamm…”
“Yes?” Flamm asked, picking up on the change in mood.
“You seem to be an adventurer with good skills,” Rich said. “Could you handle a personal request?”
“Personal request?” Flamm asked. “I’m only an F rank adventurer.”
Although Flamm was an adventurer, somebody in charge of a business the size of the Mancathy Shop certainly should have his pick of adventurers to choose from. She wasn’t sure why he would want to make a request to somebody he just met.
“Was that the ability of an F rank just now?”
“Well, I only registered yesterday.”
Simply looking at Flamm’s stats, they were above the F rank category. However, her experience was still too shallow. The capability of an adventurer wasn’t just determined by strength. Experience and knowledge was also important. One fight, even against a high ranked monster, wasn’t enough for Flamm to say that she had definitely surpassed the F rank.
“So they don’t know your skills yet,” Rich said. “Honestly, it’s more convenient for me if you are not high-profile.”
Flamm felt uneasy. For Rich to be happy with such a thing suggested that this was a request that he didn’t want other to know about. Even more so considering that he was asking directly without going through the guild, making things a little awkward.
Rich seemed to notice Flamm’s feelings. “In fact, my wife is ill.”
“I’m sorry,” Flamm said. “Have you asked the church for treatment?”
“It seems that it is a disease that magic cannot heal,” Rich said. “The priest told me that I have no choice but to believe in my wife’s ability to survive and wait for her to get better.”
Milkit flinched. The situation sounded much like the Mustard poison that had ruined her face.
“However,” Rich continued, “when I looked it up I found that it is a disease that can be cured with medicine.”
“I see,” Flamm said. “What is your request exactly?”
If Rich put the request through the guild, it would be revealed to the church that he wanted to make medicine using herbs. The church had crushed pharmacists in order to protect its own interests. That was not just a bit of interesting history. It was still a crime, illegal drug manufacturing, to produce herbal medicine, no matter how effective.
The kingdom has walked hand in hand with the church in the regulation of medicine. Even the head of the Mancathy Store would not be able to avoid prosecution if his request were discovered.
“My wife’s condition gets worse day by day,” Rich said. “If she doesn’t get medicine as soon as possible, she could die.”
So he felt forced to obtain medicine even if it was illegal. An adventurer like Flamm with low rank and high ability was just what he needed.
“Of course, the reward is high,” Rich said. “I understand a request that doesn’t go through the guild won’t help your rank, so you need to be compensated appropriately.”
As Rich said, a request that didn’t go through the guild wouldn’t be included in calculating Flamm’s rank. On the other hand, the guild wouldn’t be taking a cut out of the fee. Also, the request itself wasn’t inherently violent or immoral, and Flamm wouldn’t have to deal with the obnoxious guild receptionist.
“What do you think, Master?” Milkit asked.
Flamm shrugged, torn. The reward was great, but so is the risk. If Flamm were sniffed out by the church, she would be in danger. Still, though, she can’t help but respond to Rich’s feelings for his wife.
She turned back to him and spoke clearly. “I will perform your request.”
Rich smiled as his face lit up with hope. “Really! O God, thank you for this encounter!”
Flamm was uncomfortable in front of a public display in a belief she didn’t share, but it didn’t shake her resolve. She was happy to receive Rich’s tear-filled gratitude. Although, while she had accepted the quest, she still didn’t know what medicinal herbs were needed or where to get them.
“Ah, where do the herbs grow?” Flamm asked, slightly embarrassed.
“Actually, I don’t know the location,” Rich admitted. “I know that it is a plant with a blue flower called Chiaraly, but it is hard to find any books about medicinal herbs any more.”
With the Church suppressing information on medicinal herbs, it was already impressive that Rich even knew what material was needed. He had probably only succeeded because he was so desperate to save his wife.
“I see, finding it is part of the request.”
“I know it’s an unreasonable thing to ask,” Rich said, “but this is my only hope.”
“I’ll do my best. I won’t give up halfway.”
Flamm wasn’t completely confident in her ability to handle this quest from scratch, but she was willing to give it a try.
It shouldn’t be impossible to find the missing information. Flamm could start from her basic understanding about herbs and try to figure out the location on her own. Ideally, she would be able to ask her friend for help. Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure whether her friend will cooperate, or really even if she is a true friend.
“They were slightly troubled, but they eventually agreed.”
“Those two thought you were the biggest burden.”
Flamm remembered Jean’s words. She didn’t know if he was telling the truth or not. Even just the memory was enough to make Flamm’s heart tremble. If he had been telling the truth, then Eterna would not cooperate with Flamm. But she had no choice than to believe.
“But,” Flamm continued, “I think it will take some time.”
“While my wife’s condition is poor, she shouldn’t be dying soon,” Rich said. “All I can say is that getting the herbs as soon as possible will be fine. I’m sorry to put such pressure on you.”
There is no specific deadline, but if she took too long then Rich’s wife would die. It was a heavy burden to bear. A life was in the balance based on Flamm’s performance of his request.
“My notes summarizing the characteristics of Chiaraly are at my house, should we go and pick them up?”
As the two arranged the final details of the request, Flamm could hear Sarah’s voice approaching them.
“Oh, here they are!”
Sarah ran up to the three of them, followed by two other knights wearing white plate armor. The knights made a magical ring of lights that restrained the two unconscious robbers. In the mean time, Rich, Flamm, and Milkit made idle conversation. Presumably things went so smoothly because Sarah was a member of the church.
Sarah shook hands with the knights and waved them off. She had sweat beading on her forehead from running back and forth, but the smile on her face was still untouched by any kind of fatigue.
Sarah turned to Flamm after the two knights disappeared into the crowd. “I hope that those guys mend their ways.”
“Me too,” Flamm agreed. It would help public security in the West Ward, and it would also reduce the power of Dain’s faction.
“By the way,” Sarah said, “I have something I want to ask.”
“What is it?” Rich asked.
Sarah looked up at him and tilted her head. “Is something bothering you? Specifically, with medicinal herbs.”
Flamm’s heart skipped a beat.
Rich hesitated, but otherwise maintained his poker face. “No, nothing like that.”
He and Flamm were both surprised. Sarah hadn’t eavesdropped on the two of them, but despite that she had seen through the request Rich made.
“Well, in the past, when I’ve seen someone with similar expressions who had similar troubles,” Sarah said, “I helped look for the herbs and handed them over.”
“Handed out herbal medicine?” Rich asked. “Aren’t you a member of the church?”
“Well, it’s the duty of clergy to help those in trouble,” Sarah said. “I learned that from Maria.”
“Maria is an amazing person who is traveling with the Hero!” Sarah said. “When I was just starting in the church, she was very kind to me.”
Sarah seemed to be speaking of the saintess Maria Afengens. Sarah’s eyes glittered as she spoke about her, and it was clear that she adored Maria from the bottom of her heart.
Flamm’s experience with Maria had been a bit different. Certainly she was kind. But during their travels she always acted strange in the presence of the demons. She also followed Jean’s instructions not to use restoration magic on Flamm in order to conserve resources. Flamm found it hard to think of someone like that as a saint.
“I think it is strange that the church forbids the use of herbal medicine. If a person can’t be saved by magic, why not save them with medicine?” Sarah continued. “Oh, don’t tell anybody I said that, I’ll get in trouble.”
Rich, Flamm, and Milkit all looked at each other. Sarah’s remarks sounded like somebody who barely followed church teachings. Rich seemed to be asking Flamm with his eyes whether he should trust Sarah.
“I understand that you don’t want to say anything, but I want you to understand that I want to help,” Sarah said. “Also, the church still has some information on medicinal herbs. I think it would be useful.”
“The church has that kind of information?!” Rich asked, shocked.
“A little bit, yes.”
It was hard to trust somebody associated with the church on this matter. But on the other hand, the information on the habitat of Chiaraly might be in the church documents. Speaking up would be risky, but it could also help Flamm complete the request quickly. Rich was forced to choose.
“I think you can trust Sarah,” Flamm said. “She has very pure eyes.”
After Flamm spoke, Rich closed his eyes and remained silent for a while, thinking.
“Well, if you say so… Sarah, I certainly have a problem with herbs,” Rich said. “My wife is suffering from a disease. We need an herbal remedy for her treatment.”
“That kind of thing? I guess I will understand when I examine it.”
“I already asked Flamm to help,” Rich said. “If you can cooperate and find what I need, of course I will give you a reward.”
“I don’t need it,” Sarah said. “Helping others is a nun’s job.”
Sarah glared a bit at Flamm. While Sarah persisted in a life of service, Flamm felt a bit wretched for always acting for rewards.
“No, it’s okay,” Sarah said. “You don’t work for the church, after all.”
The three of them, Flamm, Milkit, and Sarah, followed Rich back to his house. They would be working together to find the Chiaraly.
◇ ◇ ◇
Sarah left to gather information from the church based on what she learned from Rich. Flamm tried to look for information as well, but she was unable to find any books relating to medicinal herbs.
Two days later, Sarah returned. She had notes written in her childish handwriting describing the location of a cave where Chiaraly could be gathered.
“I had a hard time stealing a look,” Sarah said, laughing. “I’m glad I found it safely.”
Even the people within the church didn’t have free access to materials on medicinal herbs. Sarah had to sneak around in order to take a peek. Flamm was surprised and a little guilty and finding that she had led an innocent like Sarah onto such a dangerous path.
In any event, Chiaraly could be found near a town called Enichidae. From the capital city, it would take about two days traveling south by coach to get there.
The three of them gathered at Rich’s mansion to make preparations to travel. Rich was delighted that they knew where to find the Chiaraly and gladly handled all of the travel arrangements. Flamm was prepared to handle the request by herself from that point, but Sarah insisted on coming along. After Milkit agreed that it would be a good idea, Flamm could only acquiesce, though she was worried that the church would find out what Sarah had been doing.
“There’s no problem with traveling around to help people,” Sarah said. “Other nuns do it all the time.”
It would probably be ok.
They decided to leave the next morning.
◇ ◇ ◇
Milkit was lying in the hotel bed that evening, staring at the ceiling. She seemed too tense to sleep.
“Milkit, are you awake?” Flamm asked from the other bed.
“I still… I’m nervous.”
“Heh, that’s right, you’re like that.”
Flamm also seemed to be nervous and couldn’t sleep.
“Well,” Flamm said, “do you want to talk a little?”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Well, can I ask about you?”
Flamm’s voice hitched slightly. She was glad that Milkit was showing interest in her.
“Has Master traveled?”
Milkit had no idea that Flamm had traveled with the Hero’s party, even after spending time with Flamm. As a slave, she knew about the existence of a Hero, but not the identities of everybody participating.
Flamm had not spoken about her past before being sold into slavery, but now Milkit was showing interest in learning more about her. She decided it would be better for the relationship between them to speak now instead of hiding things until later on.
“Actually, I was traveling with the Hero.”
The room was silent for a moment. It seemed that it was impossible for Milkit to believe such a ridiculous fact right away.
“A heroic person?”
“Well, specifically, I was traveling with Cyrille, Eterna, and Gadio for months.”
Even Milkit who didn’t know much recognized those names. She leaned up, tilting her body to look towards Flamm’s bed.
“You… were one of the heroes chosen by God?”
“I don’t know if I believe in that kind of thing.”
“Master, you were a wonderful person.”
Milkit had thought that Flamm was not a simple person. However, she had never imagined that she was one of the heroes. She peered through her bandages and studied her closely. Flamm felt suddenly shy.
“Well, in the end they kicked me out,” Flamm said. “Not just that, I was sold to slave merchants and given this mark because I was chosen by God.”
Flamm still didn’t understand why Origin chose her. On balance she felt she had been hurt by being chosen.
“Oh, I see.”
Milkit seemed to have decided something.
“Master seemed dazzling to me. Even though we were both slaves, it seemed like you had not been stained by any part of a slave’s mindset. Even though I was in the same cage I did not understand… now I finally understand the reason.”
Was she dazzling? Rather, Milkit, a slave for years and years, might have been seeing things too positively. Well, Flamm could agree that she wasn’t “stained,” at least.
“Perhaps Master is in a place that I can reach.”
“Why say that… I do not even like myself.”
“I am still in a place where I can fall back,” Flamm said. “But if I hear that Milkit is sinking, then I will raise both of us.”
“Master says such a thing again.”
Milkit acts as if she were upset, but her voice sounded slightly happy.
“Is that wrong?”
“I want to believe you, so I’m in trouble.”
“Well, good,” Flamm said, laughing.
Milkit puffed out her cheeks and huffed a bit in frustration.
“Leaving tomorrow… I hope everything ends safely,” Milkit said.
“Yeah, let’s plan to eat something delicious with the reward.”
“Today’s lunch was very tasty, it was the first time I ate such a thing.”
“It wasn’t that fancy, but… if you like it, we’ll go there again.”
By talking with each other, much of their anxiety faded. However, it didn’t completely disappear. Especially since the church was doing things that they didn’t understand. Still, as Flamm thought about it, it seemed useless to speculate when she knew so little. She swallowed the premonition that was bothering her and closed her eyes.
With those words, the room was filled with silence. The night grew darker. The time for departure drew near.
TN: Happy New Year everybody.