157. Chapter 157 – The Future Path
The hustle and bustle caused by the movement of people and goods continued without interruption.
Slipping by the side of a man carrying a coarse gunny bag, avoiding a child looking away, and passing behind a soldier glaring at a bottle of liquor with a sly expression, Walm weaved through the crowd. It was the call to invite customers that slowed him down.
“Hey, mister over there, there’s good liquor from the Archipelago.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve had enough alcohol.”
“Really? Well then, if you feel like it, stop by. Hey, that soldier over there, what have you been worrying about from a while ago?”
If it were daily necessities or other luxury items, stopping by to see might not hurt, but for Walm, who continued to abstain from drinking, it wasn’t an interesting item.
The merchant changed his target. He must have compared the contents of his wallet, which wouldn’t increase no matter how much he looked into it, and the liquor, since he was going to a soldier who seemed to be in conflict, perhaps assuming that such a person might drop some money.
The scenery and noises weren’t the only things busy. From the smell of sweat to the fragrant smell of grilled skewers, even the sense of smell was overworked. The layout of this market was just that extremely chaotic. First of all, the exterior and the upper part weren’t patched up, as this wasn’t important. Then, both sides of the street were lined with wooden huts. No, not a house intended for living.
There were several markets within the Imperial City, and the one where Walm now was the newest.
Just because it was the newest, of course, didn’t mean it was clean and tidy. After all, the place where the market was located was an empty lot in an area that had been severely damaged by the Flame Emperor Dragon and other monsters. The strange appearance of this open-air market, which lacked uniformity, was also due to the active use of wreckage as building material.
Conventional markets and warehouses managed by large merchants were preferentially filled for trade with the Principality of Myard and the Archipelago. This was due to the fact that the current Imperial Capital was designated as the only artery connecting the territory of Myard and Highserk. That said, it also fulfilled its function well within the Highserk Empire as a central location for the redistribution of accumulated personnel and supplies
The only thing the Highserk Empire, which suffered from poverty due to resource scarcity and war turmoil, could offer was military power. Although, that was now a thing of the past, as the discovery of a rare Mithril Mine became the Highserk Empire’s main lifeline. It was a monster’s rampage that drove the empire to the brink of doom, but had the monster’s habitat not been altered by this phenomenon, the Mithril Mine would have remained unnoticed and dormant. Really ironic.
After dismissing the merchant, Walm continued to wander aimlessly through the city with various thoughts. He had stocked up on the necessities and luxuries he would consume on his journey, and had stuffed food into his magic bag. It had been three days since he had arrived in the Imperial City, and he needed no rest. Right. He had become accustomed to the life of a soldier moving from place to place.
“What should I do now…”
Whether he should continue to walk around and look at the stalls, Walm couldn’t figure out. Not to mention that, he also had his meal.
Unlike Walm, who had plenty of free time, Battalion Commander Jaff and Company Commander Friug were busy with their military duties. To annoy such a busy person would only cause resentment, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he were suddenly stabbed in the ass by them on the battlefield. So, it was out of options. There was still the possibility of training hard on the training ground, but for now he had been ordered to rest. Just that, unfortunately, he had completely forgotten how to rest.
“Oiー, you there.”
Walm, who was in an envious dilemma, stopped his behavior when he heard a voice calling him. Thinking that it was just another merchant, the answer was ready in his throat.
Unexpectedly, the voice sounded familiar to him.
…Some soldier I know?
With that in mind, turning around, Walm caught the owner of the voice.
A slender man with a load that exceeded his height was coming toward him. The sight of objects that didn’t match was a masterpiece and left Walm speechless.
The sight reminded Walm of a salesman with a bunch of dolls and key chains hanging around in his former world.
Letting go of his guard, Walm spoke the name of the peddler as if to confirm.
“Hugh, is that you?”
“Right. Just as I thought, you’re Walm-san, aren’t you?”
It seemed as if they were half in doubt about each other, and only after matching their answers, they finally recognized each other.
“It’s been since the Adelina voyage.”
“That time was a disaster. For a while after that, I didn’t want to smell the sea.”
Reminiscing the past, Walm frowned along with Hugh.
An enclosed space surrounded by flammable objects on a ship was a bad fit for 《Demon Fire》 and fire-attribute magic. Not only that, but the sea creatures were really annoying. The Kraken was a powerful monster that could destroy even large ships, and depending on the situation, such as at night, the whole ship could become seaweed trash without anyone noticing. Invited by flesh and blood, many Sahuagins appeared. Apart from their intelligence and dexterity in handling weapons, their numbers were also a challenge. Above all, the stench after death was stronger than that of some undead. There was no end of things to complain.
Putting aside memories of the past, Walm asked Hugh.
“Why were you in such a remote place like this?”
Walm, who shared a cabin with Hugh on the voyage, deepened their relationship in their own way. As far as Walm could remember, Hugh was supposed to be a peddler who traded in the cities and villages of the Archipelago.
“Due to the Gundor disturbance that occurred in the Labyrinth City, my suppliers literally went bankrupt. There were many merchants who found themselves in the same situation when it came to new business, and as you might expect, a weak individual simply can’t win the competition.”
The Undead Dragon, which caused enormous damage to the city’s functions, also hit the labyrinth facilities, which were a resource area, at the same time. In a series of riots, adventurers and labyrinth explorers were mobilized to defend them, making it impossible to acquire resources on the scale that they had in the past. And the effects reached Hugh as well.
“Recently, when I visited the Dalimarx territory, which was doing well with Mithril Mine, I noticed people and goods were flowing into Highserk. The flow of people and goods, means business. That’s why I came here to seize business opportunities.”
Looking at Hugh’s feet as he proudly explained the situation, his worn shoes stood out. In the truest sense of the word, he was making money by wearing out his feet.
“What a touching story.”
Paying respect to the effort and power of action, Walm obediently uttered words of appreciation.
“Thanks to that, I was able to sell most of the items I brought. Now, if I could just secure a sales channel for specialty products, that’d be the best.”
“That being said, that sure looks heavy.”
Hugh was lamenting, but the shoulder strap was strongly digging into his shoulder. That wouldn’t happen if the load on your back wasn’t so full.
“I’m not saying I couldn’t stock any. Just that, it lacks stability, not a guarantee, so it’s not suitable for the next time. Inside is a monster. A unique monster that you can’t even buy in the Labyrinth City.”
Probably, a monster that overflowed from the demon territory due to the Great Outbreak. Even in the Battle of Dandurg Castle, so many rare and uncommon species were springing up that it would be foolish to even try to count them or classify them.
After answering, Hugh asked questions about Walm.
“By the way, Walm-san, are you going to work in the Archipelago? That outfit seems to be quite popular there you know.”
Hugh obliquely suggested that Walm was a Highserk soldier. He seemed to be tired of it, but it wasn’t all that strange. After all, this was the base of the Highselk Imperial Army.
“No, it’s for minor business. I came back with the help of an old acquaintance.”
“I envy you that you’re blessed with good people. By the way, is the name “Walm” often used in Highserk?”
Walm answered the unexpected question with a question mark floating on his head.
“No? Well, I don’t know much about it. But, why so sudden?”
“A person I met recently in the market was looking for his brother, who had died in the war, named Walm.”
Walm’s heart leaped with shock and confusion.
No way. It can’t be… But, right, it’s no use just expecting.
Walm, gasping for breath, slowly moved his dry lips and squeezed out words.
“……Did you hear his name?”
“Hmm, I think his name was Haze.”
It was the same name as Walm’s eldest brother, word for word.
A man, named “Haze”, looking for his younger brother, named “Walm”. Such can’t be just a mere coincidence…
Walm resumed the conversation while suppressing his inner turmoil.
“Where, did you meet him?”
“The place was a street market, but he said he would return to his hometown, an abandoned village. He said it was in a village northeast of the Imperial Capital. He seems to be on the verge of giving up, and may go to the Archipelago or Republic afterwards, but――is he really your brother?”
“Yeah, must be.”
Even if Walm pieced together fragmentary information, the result would definitely be his brother. After returning home too late, he burned many things, but his parents were the only members of his family whose death he directly confirmed.
“Sorry for the trouble. Thank you. At least let me express―”
Walm took out a coin bag to pay the benefactor who had brought him the news of his family.
However, Hugh pushed the bag back with his hand.
“No, you saved me on the ship, and then there was also the matter of the chipped axe. Please don’t worry about it. I earnestly hope that you’ll be able to meet your brother again. It’d be nice if our paths crossed… Really.”
Said Hugh with a smile.
“Yeah, thank you.”
Knowing the survival of his older brother Haze, Walm relaxed. Though with all things that were in his mind, he didn’t notice Hugh’s unchanging smile until the end.
Hugh, who had received repeated words of thanks, looked at the back of the Highserk soldier running away.
“Is he finally gone?”
Hugh packed his load back on his back and with slow steps left the open-air market.
From the bottom of his heart, Hugh personally hoped that the Highserk soldier’s family, the brothers who had been separated from each other due to the ravages of war, would follow the same path. After all, he was indebted to this soldier, and he had also had the experience of spending time together in a small room of a ship.
Hugh, pushing his way through the crowd, was like a merchant who had completed a big order. Of course, his heart was beating fast, and he was desperately trying to keep his hands and feet from shaking. Not to mention his neck, even his eyes were still fixed on the front, but he kept a careful lookout for anything that seemed strange or odd about the people he passed.
Then Hugh came to a corner where abandoned houses used for gathering materials were crowded together, and finally he sat down on the remains of a stone pillar foundation. Fortunately, there were no tracks following. All that was following him was a burning feeling of guilt and fear.
“Haa, aahh, even if it’s a strict order from my home country, I don’t know…”
In a voice that sounded so weak like an insect, Hugh complained. Originally, Hugh was just one of the sources of information covering a wide area of the Archipelago to bring to his homeland. He had some experience in negotiating and bargaining, but he was neither an intelligent officer nor a spy who had received special training in his homeland. Considering the whip, which was beyond the scope of a normal threat, and the tasty reward, he finally accepted, albeit reluctantly.
Would there even be a human being who would comply with such a request? As far as Hugh knew, no.
During the struggle to defend the ship “Adelina”, Hugh couldn’t forget that he was being stared at by eyes that, despite their golden color, could only be described as muddy. More than that, they weren’t human eyes. Besides, the turmoil in the Labyrinth City, the war of the Four-Country Alliance, and the devastating blue flames in Sarajevo Fortress, even if they were only rumors, were simply awe-inspiring. And the man of the rumor held back in the fight against the Kraken on board. Just killing Hugh, the man could even do that with one hand.
“I’d really like to follow the same path. If――if we were on a differ…”
Imagination flashed through Hugh’s mind, making him stopped speaking further.
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