His verbal flogging session finally over, Khiel starts handing out balloons to the passing children again. I wander closer to Khiel, or rather, the rabbit.
“It’s been a while, Mr. Khiel. Remember me?”
When I speak up, there’s a split second when the rabbit costume’s shoulders twitch visibly. Some time goes by, and neither of us makes a sound until he offers me one of his balloons.
“No thanks, I don’t need one.”
“…I am not Khiel. I am Mr. Rabbit.”
“Didn’t know rabbits could talk. Can they?”
Whoops, now he’s totally quiet. I guess it’s my fault for trying to talk to him while he’s still on his shift. Then again, he is the kind of person who’d completely give up on their time off and just continue working. There’s no good way to time this, really. Waiting until he’s done is a little too much effort, too…
“Hey, you can take your break now.”
The same man from earlier, the one with the boss-like attitude calls out to Khiel, who gives a slight nod in response before moving into a little shed that’s been built decently close to us. Oh, so now you’re going to take a break?
I ask the man for his blessings, and he’s nice enough to let me enter too. Khiel’s standing there, the rabbit head of his costume off. He wipes sweat from his brow and begins his attempt to stay hydrated.
“…The High King, eh? It’s been some time.”
“I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t call me that this time around. What with me pretending to be human and all.”
I pick out a random chair as I talk and sit down.
“So then, do I call you Hamou? Like I did before?”
“No. Please, call me Yuuto. Hamou was just a fake name, you know?”
“I see. I’ll keep that in mind.”
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“Also, weren’t you the one going on about how a warrior ‘has no need for rest’ or something? Sure isn’t stopping you from resting now.”
“…As you may have noticed, I have camouflaged myself as a rabbit. I need not fear that they will find me. A bit of rest won’t put me at risk, at least.”
Again, who’re ‘they’ supposed to be? Well, dressing up as an animal for a living is probably much harder than working at a general store. I don’t see how anyone can go through with it without resting up every now and again. One miscalculation and you’re totally dehydrated.
“Oh yeah, whatever happened to that store job of yours? Did you quit?”
“I’m still at it, naturally. I am not a man who is to be chained to a single battlefield.”
I guess that’s one way of saying that the job pays so little he has to find more work on the side to make end’s meet.
“Anyhow, what business do you have with me?”
“There’s just something I’d like to ask you. People have been falling unconscious recently, and it’s happening pretty frequently. Do you know anything about that?”
“…Who can say. There is nothing I could tell you.”
The way he says it is heavy, and clearly holding on to something more, but I decided not to pry any deeper.
“Why would you think that I might know, anyhow?”
“…Just a hunch, I guess. A little burst of intuition.”
“Hmph, an interesting lad you are. Well, while I can’t say for sure that it’s because of the incident you mentioned, I have indeed noticed that the children who go to the park and play are fewer in number. I can’t help but feel that the situation is a pressing one.”
Are you sure you’re not at least half responsible for that?
“But why would you, a High King, feel the need to care? You certainly don’t strike me as someone who’d concern himself with whatever happens to a human.”
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“…I’ve got my reasons. Sorry for disturbing you while you’re on your break.”
I stand up, mind already set on leaving the shed. That’s when the door slams open, and someone in a panda costume trudges inside. It looks like the mere act of standing is too much for them to handle, and two more people, one a cat the other a dog, lend their shoulders in support. Khiel, seeing this, stands up abruptly. His eyes are wide.
“What happened?! Did the enemy finally strike?!”
“…No. It’s just anemia.”
“Damn them! How dare they injure a sworn ally on the battlefield?! They shall have no forgiveness from me!”
You can stand to listen to what people have to say, you know.
“You really shouldn’t push yourself anymore. Just take the rest of the day off.”
The person in the panda suit shakes their head at what the dog tells them.
“I’m fine; I can still go on. All those children waiting for me… I can’t just wilt away in a place like this…!”
You’re just handing out balloons, people. Why are you risking your lives for that?
“Let’s hurry. We need to go back to work… Urgh!”
The panda’s legs give out again, and the costumed folk surrounding them pulls them back up.
“See, you’ve got no room to talk! Just go home and rest up, okay?!”
“B-But then, who’s going to take my place and hand out those balloons?!”
“…We do have someone.”
Khiel’s words are enough to draw their collective attention towards him.
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“Are you serious?!”
“But who could it be?!”
Khiel doesn’t speak. He just looks straight at me. Almost naturally, the gazes of the others present follow his until they’re all on me.
Anyway, that’s why I’m standing out here, dressed up in a panda costume and pitching in for some poor anemic bloke by handing out balloons to children.
Why am I doing this? We’re just giving out balloons here, one set of hands fewer isn’t going to put anyone back.
“Listen well, young Yuuto. Do not lose sight of your surrounding just because you’ve disguised yourself as a beast. You should know; one of our comrades has just fallen. It is just as I’ve told you before: never let your guard down in a fight. It can be the end of you.”
I just give a non-committal nod. Come on; you know that animals aren’t supposed to talk.
“Mr. Panda, I wanna have a balloon!”
“Me too, me too!”
I go about handing out balloons to the children around me. Good grief, I’m really keeping Rina waiting. I just want to be done with this and go back as soon as possible. Well, at least this shift’ll be over in about an hour. I do feel bad for Rina, I really do, but she’s going to have to wait until then.
About twenty minutes go by. It really shouldn’t be that much time, but I’m already starting to get tired. Today’s climate is relatively bearable, but the inside of this costume is boiling me alive. Never would I have thought that this job would be so taxing. 9,999,999,999 points of HP or not, I just can’t handle the stress or the heat.
“What’s the matter, Yuuto? Beaten, and so soon?”
I shake my head when I hear Khiel’s voice. I’m the High King for crying out loud, if only for the time being. This much won’t be enough to make me squeak. Then again, being a High King who works himself to the bone dressing up as a panda and handing out balloons isn’t the best alternative either.
“I think you’ve already noticed, but allow me to say it anyway. You are not only at battle with them; you’re at battle with yourself. This is a place where both your mind and fortitude will be put to the test. There is a rule, one clad in iron: the one whose spirits breaks on the battlefield will perish–”
“Hey, you! I told you not to talk while you’re working, didn’t I?! I swear, all you ever do is make me have to remind you over and over!”
And, just as you might expect, Khiel goes quiet as a mouse once the boss is done with him. Just a quick reminder, this is the same man who said that whispering on the battlefield is a strict taboo.