I woke up to the slow, but rhythmic knocking sound that was coming from our door. I slowly and carefully rubbed my eyes to not wake Ari up from my movements. I gently got off from bed, once I was out of bed I headed towards the door and opened it. My vision was still hazy as I was still rubbing my eyes, but I could somewhat see the silhouette of the inn lady.
“Oh, it’s you. I brought you girls breakfast.”
The lovely lady moved aside, I noticed it was the usual wooden trolley. I took the handle and pushed it into our room.
“Thank you.” I said in a somewhat tired voice.
“No problem. Take care.”
Her voice was nice and soothing. She patted my head for some reason and left.
I pushed the trolley into the room, everyone seemed to be awake now. ‘Did I really make that much noise?’ I muttered as I was setting the table. The breakfast was the same as always. Meat and soft bread. 'Honestly, I think I could keep eating the same thing forever…' I thought while savoring the delicious food.
“Oh, yeah… We have to go right?” Aizen suddenly remembered.
“Go where?” I wonder where should we go?
“To the capital.” Right… We were supposed to go to the north gate…
We finished breakfast in a hurry and did not have time to tidy up the room. We left in a rush and went downstairs. The lady glanced at us.
“I am sorry we couldn’t organize the room today.” I apologized feeling somewhat embarrassed. However, she just shook her head and waved her hand at the same time, as if saying ‘Don’t mind it.’ We left the inn and trotted towards the north-gate. Running would've been quite awkward for us seeing Ari was struggling to keep pace with Aizen and I. Passing a lot of wooden and stone houses, we could see the north gate. I saw three wagons with white cloth roofing and what seemed like a group of adventurers. The wagons had two horses individually. I also heard a somewhat tired voice as we were approaching.
“Are we all here?”
“We just arrived.” I said while raising my hand. Looking at the person that made the question, it looked like a merchant. At least that is what I assumed, seeing he seemed to be dressed in smooth red and white fabrics that looked expensive. He did not have armor unlike all the other people present here. The merchant was looking at us and then tilted his head.
“Wasn’t this a [Silver] request? Why are you girls here?”
“We took the request.” I nonchalantly answered. He seemed even more confused by this, but he just sighed and turned around. He began walking towards the carriage and climbed up to the coachman sit. He stood up to see the adventurer crowd and started speaking, to my surprise he had an all-enveloping voice unlike before. It was quite loud and I am sure everyone could hear him.
“As you all know, I am the merchant that has asked for escorts. You will all serve that purpose, we will be taking an unconventional more direct route towards the capital. That is why I hired you all. This is a special request. Your life depends on yourself. I have taken the liberty to hire a [Gold] ranked adventurer. Welcome Clay of the Bloody Axe!”
The merchant ended his announcement quite enthusiastically. 'What’s with that name? It sounds like something I would call myself when I used to dress all in black…' I dejectedly thought -- for some reason, the adventurers started chanting his name like if it was some kind of cult or something. Then they all glanced at the coachman sit in awe. I lifted my gaze to the coachman sit where everyone was looking. It was the lumberjack… He had a bright smile however, his smile turned sour as soon as he saw our group. After waving his hand like a celebrity and the enthusiasm dying out. He stepped down and came towards us.
“You girls! What are you even doing here?! And what was that dirty trick you played on me on the guild!”
He seemed somewhat agitated. Taking a glance at our group Ari seemed indifferent. Fenri was wagging his tail and Aizen had a smirk.
“We are going to the capital. Also what trick? I just saw you freeze and your eyes started trembling.” Aizen calmly answered while adding some naiveness into her sentence. The lumberjack’s gaze turned sharp but he did not say anything despite his protruding veins that looked like they were about to pop.
Some of the adventurers fixed their gazes on us after the interaction with the grandiose Bloody Axe. I did not quite care, so I paid it no mind. Everyone just kept idling around for quite some time. ‘Wasn’t the merchant on a rush or something?’ As I was muttering I heard the merchant yet again.
“We are leaving now, just walk at the pace of the wagons and take down bad guys. We will camp when I see fit.” The merchant casually said with a strong enough tone for everyone to hear. I heard a bell ring a few times and the carriages started moving forward. Some of the adventurers were chatting with their groups but it was pretty uneventful.
As we were leaving the gate, a guard seemed to recognize me and tilted his head. I got a few weird stares from the guards in general. They did not say anything, so I guess it was fine.
We were walking at the very back of the entire group. Mostly, because I thought it was more comfortable. No one said a thing so it was decided. After a few minutes of walking, some adventurers approached us. They were a group of three men. They all wore leather armor that looked pretty worn out with a lot of scratches. However… Maybe it was just my instinct, but I felt like they beat up the leather armor themselves, instead of it being beaten up by monsters.
“Hey, girls, what brings you here? Adventuring is pretty dangerous y’know.”
“We took the request to go to the capital so, yeah.” I casually answered.
“That is no good. Allow us to protect you and in exchange.” He licked his lips. At this point, I felt disgusted. I took a glance at Aizen and the next thing I knew is that the adventurers were on the ground groaning in pain. Ari looked at it and then nodded and turned back to where she was looking. ‘I guess she got used to it?’ I murmured to myself.
We continued walking without talking much for an hour or so. The adventurers showed no signs of coming back. ‘You know I think it’s nice that the request technically allows such things.’ I happily thought to free myself from guilt.
* * *
The adventurers did not come back.
'I am wondering… Should I tell Yami and Aizen? They did tell me a lot of things about them… Will they accept me? I wonder… Every single time I think about it. My heart starts to shrink… Will I be able to go with them? Both of them said they are fine with it but… Are they really fine?' I continued walking while frustratingly thinking about it.
Everything seemed pretty calm. No one really approached us. Some adventurers just looked at us with narrow eyes as if paying the utmost attention in what we were doing. Despite everyone looking at us, I wanted to ask…
“Hey. Yami, is it true that you only killed monsters to level up?”
“Well… Aside from smithing, yes pretty much.” Yami nonchalantly answered making me sigh. Noticing my sigh from her abnormal answer, she started muttering in a somewhat annoyed tone. Biting her finger and looking at the ground.
That’s not even what I wanted to ask! I-I have to ask her the right question…
“Since we are going to the capital. Can I stay by your side?” I quietly asked filled with negative thoughts. It wasn’t what I wanted to ask either…
“Well, that was kind of the plan.” Yami paused for a second and answered while scratching her cheek.
“Ari just don’t worry about it. I said I would, so I will. You have my word.” Aizen said with a puffed up chest. For some reason her tone made me feel at ease. I felt like I didn’t need to ask anymore. But I still had to.
After a few minutes of not saying anything, I made my decision and stopped walking. Yami and Aizen noticed this and also stopped walking to look at me. I looked at Yami to reaffirm my decision one last time.
“Yami, Aizen... While I am sure both of you did not tell me everything about yourselves… I have made my decision. Rather… It is not a decision, I-It is more of a question...” I started to feel more and more insecure toward the end and started shaking. But I had to ask…
“W-Will, both of you accept me. No matter who am I?” I got no answer.
I started fidgeting and looking at the ground. ‘Is this really fine? Will it be okay?’ Thoughts I did not want to know about, plagued my mind.
* * *
Aizen and I paused for a second, the more time that passed the more she quivered. Was that really her question? Was she serious? I might be stupid at times. But these types of questions are the ones that you shouldn’t make...
“Ari, we already said it. We will take care of you. No matter who you are, besides… It is not like you are in a worse situation than both of us…” I ended my sentence with a wry smile trying to change the atmosphere. Besides, despite me wondering who she is. There is no way she has it worse than us, absolutely none.
Ari lifted her gaze from the ground and looked at us. She wanted to say something...
"I guess, I will tell you... I-I--"
"No need." I interrupted Ari. If she isn't comfortable telling me, then I would rather not know.
"Is it really okay?" She nervously asked.
Both of us nodded and Fenri did his woof thing. Her hazy eyes cleared up and I could not see a single speck of gloominess nor uneasiness anymore. She started fidgeting while looking at the ground. This continued for a few seconds until she stopped. However, what Ari said aftewards was something I wasn’t expecting…
She paused and started fidgeting again with flushed cheeks.
"C-Can I join your family?”
I froze. Aizen had an amused smile as if expecting this just looking at my reaction.
I guess it’s fine? I don’t think there will be a problem. Despite the weird family name… It should be fine?
“I guess so? I don't mind." I said in a carefree tone.
“I don’t either.” Aizen added. 'Well then. I guess there is absolutely no problem if she is also okay with it.' With those thoughts, I asked her what she wanted to hear.
“Ari, would you like to join our small family?” I said extending my right hand towards her. Her eyes sparkled and she eagerly reached for my hand with a cheerful smile.
“Yes!” She excitedly said while tightly gripping my glove. She slightly shivered after her declaration. ‘Looks like I forgot about that…’ I awkwardly muttered. My thoughts did not last long as a notification flashed inside my mind.
[New family member: Ariel.]
“Ariel…” I reflexively said reading the notification. Ari walked close to me and started fidgeting more.
“Please just call me Ari…”
She said in a quiet voice, however, she suddenly stopped fidgeting and stiffened a second after.
“More importantly, Yami... Why didn’t you tell me you were the disciple of the [Master Craftsman]?!” Her voice was a lot louder and she started basically shaking me from tugging my clothes.
“What?!” I reflexively questioned her ludicrous claim.
“That family name... I did not think much of it when I first noticed it... But now..." She paused for a second.
"It's the same as the [Master Craftsman]! Why didn’t you tell me?! No… I should’ve known… You are that good at smithing. Of course, that is the only way!”
She kept excitedly persuading. Aizen was just chuckling behind me. ‘Why are all things this complicated?!’ I inwardly complained. ‘I had to do something’ Thinking of a solution I knelt down and grabbed Ari’s shoulders. I peered into her soul with the most serious face I could muster.
“Ari, you are right. Please forgive me. I just… Did not want to tell anyone…” I lied through my teeth trying to sound regretful.
I already hate myself for doing this...
“No, no, no. Don’t worry about it Yami. I am sorry for being like this after you accepted me…” She frantically apologized from guilt… ‘Why am I so trash? Can’t you just tell her that you aren’t?! Useless self!’ I kept inwardly scolding myself in anger. I slightly gritted my teeth but Ari did not notice and Aizen narrowed her eyes as if looking at trash…
Yeah, I deserve that stare... I guess I should change the atmosphere as soon as possible.
“Well, Ari now that you know. I think we should all catch up to the wagons.”
Everyone nodded and we started walking in a group. 'I guess that is fine? How does this work anyways? The system thing is so random at times... I can't help but also feel annoyed about people's constant staring. I mean, I get that I look like this, but... Can't they just not look or something?!' After a few minutes of thinking and inwardly ranting, I noticed. Ari was ever so slightly fidgeting with flushed cheeks. She called to us.
“Umm… Yami, Aizen…”
We both paused, standing next to her and started looking at her, to see what she wanted to say. She paused and looked at the ground. Then started talking in a pretty quiet tone while fidgeting.
"I have one more request..." She paused.
"What is it?" I asked Ari in curiosity.
She was silent and her fidgeting increased, I noticed the tip of her ears became red.
“Can you both be my big sisters?”
We both froze.
'Big sister? Isn’t this too much?! Just… How did this happen?! What did I do that led to this? So many questions yet so little answers...' Trying to clear my mind, I took a glance at Aizen to see how she handled the situation. She was completely unmoving with wide-open eyes. I guess she is also quite shocked.
“Umm is it no good?” Our thoughts were interrupted by Ari’s timid voice.
“I-it’s fine. I am just not used to it, but I can try.” I desperately said. Aizen, on the other hand, was still thinking. She blinked a few times and regained her composure. She firmly looked at Ari with an unmoving stare. I noticed she started getting nervous, but shockingly all she said was.
“Only if you want. Hmph.” She ended up pouting and hugged Ari. Looks like she decided to go ‘that’ route huh…
I took a look at Ari and she had a faint smile with closed eyes. ‘I guess that smile is just worth it alone?’ I muttered just by looking at her smile. It made me happy. I felt happy. My heart was warm. ‘A family huh? I have come really far…’ I nostalgically muttered.
I noticed Ari was being firmly and lovingly embraced by Aizen. She had a warm smile on her face. Seeing this I couldn't help, but smile myself.
I remembered something… We needed to catch up.
“Well… We should really go back to the wagons...” I awkwardly interrupted the lovely atmosphere. However, they both seemed to agree with the idea, seeing that they cheerfully nodded.
We continued walking without saying anything. But we felt a lot more comfortable than ever before. The sky was getting dimmer. We had been walking for a few hours and hadn’t seen the wagons yet. The only reason we did not think much about it since It was a straight road.
A few more hours we could somewhat see the stopped wagons on the dirt-road and a campfire. ‘Looks like we made it.’ I tiredly muttered and breathed a sigh of relief. Aizen and Ari did the same. We walked in a more relaxed manner seeing we had finally arrived.
“Where were you girls?” I heard a voice behind me as we were approaching. Turning around it was THE Bloody Axe. Or lumberjack looking guy, for short.
“We had a few problems.” I awkwardly said keeping my answer vague. The lumberjack sighed and looked at us with bloodshot eyes, but just walked past us towards the camp. We walked towards the camp as well, when we arrived. No one really noticed us, the sky was getting dark so everyone was eating their own rations and doing their own things.
'Also kind of weird that there were no mountains. Only grass plains. We did not take this route when we went to kill the dragon, so I guess it's different? Also why is the grass unusually tall? It’s taller than me...' I muttered my thoughts out-loud.
“Should we camp a little bit further from the carriage?” I casually suggested.
“Umm, I think it's a good idea.” Ari agreed with me.
“I can do whatever.” Aizen gave her usual carefree answer.
We moved further away and entered a random spot in the tall grass. We started having dinner. I gave Fenri some raw meat from my inventory. We ended up having dried meat and some apples. A few bites in, and we all had disgusted faces. ‘Looks like we made poor decisions.’ I muttered regretfully.
'I guess, since I am the god of time himself. Cough. Inventory. Cough. It should be fine to buy fresh products? Also it's unusually quiet. Wouldn’t tall grass be filled with bugs or things? Ah well, this is fine.’ I thought for quite a while, but I did not see a problem with it. We had already flattened the grass so it was more like a private area than anything else.
'I placed cloth to sleep on because I forgot sleeping bags were a thing. Although to be fair, it was a piece of cloth that sported great quality. That’s right. They were disposable items from my inventory.' I inwardly excused my actions as everyone was getting ready to sleep, we all decided to sleep a bit separated from each other, since decided that it was better, only for today. We all wanted to reorganize our thoughts.
I made Fenri come over to me since I had remembered something that I needed to ask.
“Fenri, can you wake me up if you detect anything suspicious?”
“Woof.” Soft bark.
“If nothing happens, just wake me up in the morning before the adventurers. I will give you extra meat.” Fenri started drooling, his tail was excitedly swaying and he also had sparkling eyes. Seeing that, I could only take it as a yes.
I fell asleep shortly after.
Dumb. Votes: 34 17.5%
Uninterested. Votes: 26 13.4%
She is actually neither of them, jokes on you. She is just special! Votes: 44 22.7%
Just give her Iced tea. Votes: 61 31.4%
Did I mention I like Iced tea? Votes: 29 14.9%