Finally, it took a lot longer than I planned but it is finished
Chapter split into four(4) pages
Volume 5: Chapter 3
While I spent the morning awaiting the arrival of the persons of interest, someone came to me with news of another’s passing.
“Boss, the dried up old coot’s gone an’ kicked the bucket. Heard he showed his smile durin’ his final moments for the first time in ever. Said somethin’ about givin’ you his thanks.”
“I see. Let’s pray that he’ll be happy in the next world. What do you do with the deceased here?”
“We’ve jus’ been gettin’ the newcomers to bury ‘em somewhere.”
“We’re building a public cemetery in the new area to the East. Make it a shared job. Also, let’s name the hot springs the ‘Withered Old Man Spring’. It’s thanks to him we even have that, after all.”
“Roger that. I’ll tell the others!”
I couldn’t help but muse that my followers acted much more lively nowadays. Maybe it was just my imagination.
Just what had the Withered Old Man done to be thrown into this underground prison? There was no way of finding out now, but I could still remember the face he wore when we were in the bath. It didn’t come off as the face of a prisoner. He had been a good-natured old man, at least that’s what he felt like to me… I hoped that he’d lead a proper life in the next realm.
“Boss, I’ve got Galdmira and Psyshin here with me!”
I couldn’t say for certain whether I’d sparked some suspicions among the followers by calling upon the two so suddenly, but they had all assembled. It was almost as if they believed their existence was one of vital importance to me.
“You think we’re gonna get killed here?”
That was Galdmira to a tee. He didn’t bother to hide his lack of composure.
“Yeah, I’d bet on it.”
The Money Grubber, on the other hand, looked as if he was ready for whatever was to come.
“I wouldn’t do something that scary. I’ve never even given those kinds of orders.”
“That so… You know, I always thought you were one amazing bloke, but now that much is clear. It’s only been two weeks since you came to this hellhole, and you already have it in your grasp. You seized this place with all its ruffians.”
“Enough about that. You already know what I want to ask, don’t you?”
Perhaps it was because a portion of my ire had leaked through, but the two of them broke out in a sweat in spite of the dry air. They looked as if they’d just finished moving about.
“… Can I start?”
Galdmira appeared willing to speak.
“I do feel sorry. Also, I don’t mean to try and prove my innocence to you, but I will speak the truth and nothing but the truth. Can’t say for sure you’ll believe me, though.”
“That’ll be enough of that, just say it.”
I assumed that even he would have trouble speaking when surrounded by fellows as rough-looking as these, but I had no other option but to let him bear it. It was thanks to both of them, after all, that I was even here.
“See, I was put in here for the crime of killing a fellow hunter. With the sword you gave me. That’s what the record says, but I didn’t do anything. They forced me to confess that I’d killed him under the influence of your sword. They had me on the damn torture rack for three days straight. There wasn’t anything else I could do…”
“How’d it really go, then?”
“Well I wasn’t being controlled, obviously. I kept denying it at first, but they used some pretty mean methods to get me to say I was, you get me? This is what really happened. When I entered my buddy’s room, he’d already been stabbed in the back. While I was holding him in my arms, a bunch of guards broke through the door and rushed in like some damn avalanche. Then they caught me. We’ve both been set up, screwed over.”
“Screwed over, huh…?”
“I’m sorry. But I didn’t have any other option. I had to give that testimony…”
If he’d really gone through as much as torture, then there really wasn’t much to hold against him. It was all done to set me up… through a series of extremely contrived machinations.
“Wait, so does that mean yer hear ‘cause of a crime ya never committed, Boss?!”
The calls of my adoring followers came from all around, enraged for my sake. Come on now, let’s calm down.
“I’d like to hear your story too, ‘Money Grubber’. You attacked some important apprentice, didn’t you?”
The man in question kept his gaze glued to the ground, seemingly utterly unwilling to speak. So that’s why he’d looked so prepared.
“Boss, jus’ let me squeeze the answer outta him.”
“No, no need for that. My swords don’t have the power to control people. That much I already know. What I want to know is why he cut down that apprentice in the first place. I hear that a lot of eye witnesses spoke up against you too.”
He remained silent.
“Doesn’t look like you’re willing to talk. Mr. Galdmira, if you’re really innocent, then I know you’ll get out of here eventually. I myself want to prove my innocence and get out of here.”
“Really? I appreciate that. Guess I’ll be relying on you again up top.”
“That the case? Then I ask you to make a safe return. Money Grubber, you should know that I have the right to hear your reasons. It’s your testimony that got me in here. Let’s forget about me being caught. The only thing that’s important is what we do now. At least, if either you or I want to start over…”
In the end, that did little to move him to speak. Under the escort of the followers and their rather nerve-wrecking expressions, he left the room.
If he didn’t want to speak, that was just as well. I just had to find another way.
Once afternoon had rolled around, the construction work for the public cemetery had already made great progress. Apparently there were plenty of people that were grateful to the Withered Old Man. The finished cemetery turned out to be simple and slightly crude, but he never seemed to be someone that pined after gaudy baubles. Rest in peace…
Really, there was nothing better than a bath after a day of work.
I’d wanted some time to myself, so I only entered the bath once everyone else had gone to sleep. The hot water was just warm enough to be a great fit in this dried up patch of land.
The moon could be seen clearly today.
Something splashed in the hot water, sending waves rippling throughout.
Next to me was the Money Grubber himself. He’d come to have a good, late soak in the hot water.
“The water’s nice.”
“It really is. It’s so comfortable that it’s barely different from the outside.”
“The only complaint I have is that I can’t smith.”
“That’s a pretty big issue. I feel the same.”
I had a valley’s worth of questions to ask him, but if he refused to speak up about them, then there wasn’t much I could do. That in mind, there was nothing wrong with focusing on enjoying the bath instead. Why, even the moon was out, for once not obscured by the clouds.
“Why would you build a grave in this prison? You know that this place only holds scum like me.”
“… It’s better than not having one.”
“I wonder about that. This place was pure Hell when I arrived, but once it got a new boss, I was able to lead a pretty cosy life. I do thank you for that.”
“There’s really no need to thank me. It’s because everyone here worked together. I couldn’t dig out this hot spring on my own, could I?”
“You always choose the broader look, don’t you? You can’t even grasp how amazing what you do even is.”
“I’ve never done anything that spectacular. I’ve just been doing what I can.”
“… There’s something I want to tell you. Not that I think speaking up this late in the game’s going to do much.”
“Hm? Sure, I’ll hear you out. I’m in just the right mood.”
The Money Grubber appeared to hesitate time and time again before he finally found his resolve. He talked about my sword, the one he’d wanted, and spoke of the reality he’d been so hesitant to elaborate upon.
“The blade you forged was perfection. I thought you’d pull one out eventually, but never did I dream that you’d do so in a single day. It should have been impossible… right? Who’d even think it wouldn’t be? I mean, come on! It was one day! I thought you were playing me for a damn fool!”
… I was sort of sorry. Really, really sorry.
“I just couldn’t accept that, I couldn’t. There was no way I could. If you can just show me something that perfect, then what the Hell did I spend four years for?! That’s what I thought.”
… I really didn’t have anything to say as a rebuttal.
“So, I ran away from reality. I pretended I never even saw your sword. I erased it from my mind. But that apprentice… when the two of us were alone, he said something to me. He told me that there was absolutely no way to establish ourselves in those territories, no matter how hard we tried. He said that Kururi Helan was the greatest craftsman around, no doubt about it.
“That was when this uncontrollable anger just burst out of me. I used the sword I had to cut into him. It was the kind of anger I just couldn’t rein in. It was a violent fit of envy. To hide my shame and disgrace, I went and accepted the dark, sweet words of the Dartanelles. I excused myself by saying that your sword had taken over my mind, all to hide this petty, jealous heart of mine.
“Luckily, the apprentice survived the ordeal. But… I just kept covering myself in the mistakes I’d gathered.”
“… So that’s what happened.”
“Your sword was perfection. I’m sure you can aim even higher. Once you get out of here, do me a favour and aim to do even better. Some day, I want you to show me how far you’ve come. Not that I’ll be out of here anytime soon…”
“I’m happy you could tell me the truth. I’ll try and be more confident in my capabilities from now on. If I do that, who knows. Things like these may not even happen anymore.”
“You don’t have to think that way. This was my blunder, through and through. It’s what I get for falling to my own weaknesses. You just have to keep on aiming straight up. That’s it.”
It really felt as if today’s bath had washed more than grime away. The Money Grubber appeared to share my sentiment, given the enlightened expression his face bore.
“I think I’ll be able to work a lot better, starting tomorrow.”
The way he said it resounded in a rather pleasant manner.
Any intent to deceive had flown away, along with my anger towards him. My own innocence had been completely brought into the light.
Now I finally had it in me to take on the Dartanelle Household.
Alright then. I just had to get out of this bath before I spent too much time inside.