"(Well, this isn't what I had in mind when I called this 'the trip of our lives')." Kaito was sitting in front of a large dining table. Beside him was his girlfriend Mayu.
After meeting the Heroine Raquel, she invited them to her house to talk. Since none of the six had eaten yet, they had a meal first. Raquel said it was nothing special, but this was Kaito's first time eating venison.
"Thank you for the meal! It was really good." Mayu said with a big smile on her face.
Kaito and Reiji also thanked Raquel for the food, although the later wasn't as enthusiastic as his sister.
At that moment, a servant of the Rubellite family entered the room and took away their now empty plates.
After the servant left, Leo looked at the three strangers sitting in front of him, "Now then, shall we talk about what you told me earlier?"
"Let's see..." Kaito said while organizing his thoughts, but his friend Reiji went straight to the point, "We are not from this world. Someone who claims to be one of this world's guardian deities brought us here to assist the Heroine, and that's the gist of it."
Raquel's eyes sparkled with excitement, but her friend didn't seem as thrilled.
"Hey, Leo... what kind of prank is this?"
"Wait, Arc. I know it sounds hard to believe, but some legends speak of worlds parallel to our own, so there's a small chance they are telling the truth. It wouldn't be wise to simply dismiss their claims without properly looking into it."
"OK, so what do you plan to do?"
"For now, why don't you show them around and talk for a bit? I would accompany you, but someone from the Order of Light is coming to check on Raquel's progress so we will be busy for a while"
"'We'? So I have to show them around by myself?" Arc sighed, "I guess I have no choice," she got up from her seat and headed to the door, "you three, let's get going."
"Huh? Are we leaving so soon?"
"Yes. The sooner we get done with this, the better."
Kaito, Mayu and Reiji followed her, leaving Raquel and Leo alone in the dining room.
"Wow, another world... Isn't that cool, Leo?"
"Don't get excited yet. There is a chance they are lying to get close to you and cause you harm. Arc should be able to figure if they are telling the truth or not."
"What should we do in the meantime?"
Just as she said that, the auburn-haired girl realized she was alone with Leo in that room, and the words of her friend came to mind.
"(The dude is infatuated with you. How will you answer to his feelings?)"
Apparently the young knight had yet to realize that only the two of them remained in that room, because he answered naturally to Raquel's question.
"That reminds me, your birthday is coming soon. You won't have to train that day, so is there anything you would like to do?"
"L-lets see... oh, I know. There's gonna be a festival on a nearby town that day. Can we go?"
- - -
Kaito, Mayu and Reiji followed the wolf girl outside and explained their situation to her with more detail.
"So you were those guys I jumped over this morning."
Arc stopped walking and wiggled her dark gray tail, then she turned around. "Assuming what you said is true, a guardian deity picked 3 guys with no fighting ability to help the Heroine of Light, just because they were about to die?"
The black haired boy pointed to the pin on his cap.
"I know it's hard to believe in the existence of other words, but do you see this? You don't have anything like this here, right?"
"Since you decided to pick that as proof over our smartphones or all the crap we brought with us, I take it you just want to brag about the anime pin Mayu gave to you." Reiji commented.
"Don't worry, I believe you. I can feel you are being honest, and the fact that you have been staring not only at my ears and tail, but also at all the non-humans walking past us tells me you are not from this world."
The three high-schoolers felt relieved.
"However, there's still something bothering me."
"Which god sent you here?"
Kaito and Mayu panicked, but Reiji's blank expression remained intact. With this guy, it was hard to tell whether he felt nothing or was just bad at showing his emotions.
"I'm guessing you can tell when people lie, so if we don't answer honestly you will act like you believe us, only to attack us when no one's watching. So I will tell you the truth. That god told us to help the Heroine, nothing more, nothing less, we mean no harm to her or anybody else, and nothing that god said implied he wanted us to harm anyone, however that doesn't mean I trust him completely."
Arc observed every movement the brown haired boy made, no matter how minuscule. His lips, his eyes, his breathing rhythm.
And then, he said one last thing.
"That god called himself Nero, which is another word for 'black'."
"I see... That explains why I feel strange magic coming out from that thing in your wrist."
"(Leo once told us that according to some old legends, the black god is not a bad guy but even if that was true... why would he decide to help a world that loathes him? Why would he go to such lengths to help the Heroine? Does this mean the church really fucked up by starting Raquel's training this late?)"
"Ok, I'll let you hang around with us for now, but you have to pull your weight. Now, let's find you a way to make some quick money."
Arc led the group to the town's inn, where, according to her, you could sometimes find some odd job and earn a bit of money.
"By the way, did a man near the town's entrance try to convince you to visit this inn before doing anything else?"
"Yeah, something like that."
Mayu tried to recall that middle-aged man's facial features, but she didn't really pay attention to his face.
"I figured," Arc let out a sigh, "I told my uncle to stop pestering travelers like that. It's not like this inn has any competition."
Once again, Mayu tried to remember that man's appearance. There's one thing she was sure about, unlike Arc, that unremarkable man that would probably be a generic NPC in a RPG lacked animal features.
"OK, let's go."
When the four of them entered the inn, a black-haired woman greeted them. Just like Arc, she had wolf ears.
"Hi there, Arc."
"Hi, Aunt. I came to show these guys the request board."
"I see. Did the training with Raquel go well?"
"I guess so..." Arc turned to the group following her, "see that board there? There must be some simple odd jobs posted. Why don't you go have a look?"
Mayu let out a nervous laugh in response.
"Hehe... Thanks for showing us the way here, Arc, but..." she leaned close to the wolf girl, and whispered something to her.
"Oh, that makes sense. Hmm, that's gonna be a problem. Fine, fine, come with me."
She accompanied the foreign trio to the board hanging from a wall. It was used by the locals to post things ranging from odd jobs to advertisements. Whenever someone needed help with something, they would usually post a request there and hope that a traveler in need of money or maybe a fellow resident of Valdreed with nothing better to do would give them a hand in exchange for an appropriate reward. Since this was also a way for local children to make a bit of money, there were some simple jobs that even someone with no particular skills could do.
"This one seems easy enough. You just have to collect some herbs."
And so, their first "adventure" was decided.
- - -
"May I ask you something, Arc?"
After leaving the inn and heading outside of town to gather the requested herbs, Kaito started thinking about several things. First, he reflected on the reason they got caught in this situation. His plan to go camping with the Hiiragi twins is what led to that incident, which in turn led to the black god Nero to bring them to this world, so Kaito felt responsible. If anything happened to them, he would feel it was his fault for making plans to go to that forest on that day, at that time. "If only I suggested something else..." he thought.
Second, he thought about how they could be of help to Raquel, the Heroine chosen by the white goddess. They lacked any combat experience, and while they had some books with useful information on their phones, it was unlikely someone who had just turned 18 would be able to make the most of that knowledge, not to mention the fact that their batteries will run out sooner or later. And, since this world had magic in it, it was possible that some things didn't work exactly as in their world.
And finally, he recalled something about wolf girl Arc that had caught his eye earlier. So he decided to ask her.
"Kaito, was it? What do you want to ask?"
"This morning, when you jumped over us in that grassy field, where did you come from? You live in Valdreed, right?"
"Oh, that," she replied. "Yesterday, I went to a town north of here to run some errands, but it turned dark right when I finished so I had to spend the night there. I was supposed head back first thing in the morning to train Raquel, but, well..."
Reiji disliked when people dragged things too long, so he made a guess to move the conversation forward.
"Did you oversleep?"
Just as Arc prepared to teach some manners to that boy, something else got her attention.
"Something big is coming... Tch, I was hoping this wouldn't be a bothersome job. Good thing I tagged along."
She reached for the sheathed sword on her back.
Something rushed at them.
A beast with a large number of legs moving in unison.
"Look at the size of that thing!"
The arthropod towered over Arc, yet she didn't hesitate to swing her weapon at it.
"Look closely, guys. This will be your first combat lesson!"
She got close to the giant centipede and slashed at it.
But that beast wasn't going to let itself be hit that easily. It swerved and circled around Arc.
Kaito got his phone out of his pocket and opened the camera app.
"What are you doing?"
"She told us to look closely, right?"
Although he forced himself to say that in a calm manner, his shaking hands gave away how scared he was.
So, why did he want to record this?
"(If this kind of thing is a regular occurrence, we will need to be prepared)."
Meanwhile, Arc's yellow eyes reflected the enemy she was focusing on. After analyzing its movements for a while, she figured the best moment to strike.
Her blade emitted a faint glow, similar to Raquel's fist when she broke a wooden shield during her morning training session with Leo.
It happened in an instant. Arc swung her sword and the large arthropod fell to the ground.
She then turned to her audience, with a smile brimming with satisfaction.
"And that's how you do it. Huh? Where's the blunt guy?"
Not far from there, someone had taken cover behind a tree.
"Reiji? When did you...?"
"He probably hid as soon as that thing attacked. He's never been good with bugs, spiders, reptiles..."
Reiji was about to point out that he was fine with turtles, but he didn't feel like opening his mouth, so he let his sister continue.
"...cephalopods, crustaceans, and while he isn't afraid of dogs and cats, he doesn't particularly like them."
- - -
After dealing with the giant centipede, they successfully acquired the herbs the were looking for, so they went back to town.
"Where do we turn these in?"
"We have to deliver them to the person who put the request."
While leading them to the requester's house, Arc worried about something.
"(Giant centipedes aren't usually found in this area, so why was one here?)"
After finishing the request, they headed back to the Rubellite's residence.
And what awaited for them was...
"It's just like I said. The Order of Light wants to continue the Heroine's training in the duchy's capital city. We are to depart in a week."
Leo sighed. "The church is divided on how to proceed with the Heroine's training. It seems the faction in favor of relying on her power to deal with that problem garnered enough support to overturn the decision to let us train her at a 'relaxed' pace."
"So they want Raquel to hurry up and do their job? Those bastards..."
Arc scorned at the thought of her friend being the church's plaything. First they acted like her power wasn't needed, that the various armies around the world would deal with them. And now they where telling her to hurry and get strong?
"While I have my thoughts about how this has been handled so far, I can't disobey orders. But..."
Leo changed his serious tone. Now he sounded like had found some solace amidst this mess.
"I managed to postpone our departure long enough to properly celebrate her birthday."