“Aah! T-T-T-That’s not fair! I-I-I-I want some too, me too!”
While I’m in the middle of petting Kühling, I can hear Krankheit playing up a rowdy number while she hops in place beside me.
Come on now; you’re not even trying to hide your feelings…
Completely aware of her intentions, I give a small laugh, as if I think her request to be out of the question. Of course, I have no issue with petting her head if she wanted me to… But considering that I’ve already pulled Kühling’s leg enough, I can hardly let poor Krankheit miss out on the fun.
Once she hears the compensation I demand for being petted, Krankheit’s body gives a small shudder as she throws furtive glances to Kühling and me.
My demand is pretty simple. I want her to tell Kühling about the thing she’s supposed to show me.
“If… If Master’s alone, then I don’t mind, but…”
Yep… She never was the type of girl to open herself up to anyone before, either. Then again, that doesn’t just apply to Krankheit herself; the same can be said of every other member of this guild.
Seeing that I’ve raised all of them since they were wee children, I can’t imagine there being much of a wall between us. But I still can’t help but wonder if the same applies for their relationship with each other.
For now, I just ask her to show me.
“A… Alright. I-I-I-If Master’s the only one looking…”
Now put at ease, if her softened expression is anything to go by, Krankheit takes what I asked her to show me and holds it out towards me.
The thing in question was a single book. Quite the bulky specimen, the words on the cover spelled out its title, “The Courtesan’s Demon.”
Oh, of course… I’d given this book to Krankheit half a lifetime ago.
“D-D-D-Did you remember…?”
Of course, I remembered. Granted, I’ve long since conditioned myself to give my guild members a present whenever their ‘special day’ came knocking on the door, but I’ve taken the time to remember each and every present I’ve ever handed out if only to avoid giving the same gift twice.
Everyone… Everyone here’s been asking me for things to have since they were little scamps, but there haven’t been many of these requests in recent years. Everyone keeps saying how they’re just fine and dandy with just spending time with me…
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I’m happy, of course, but it’s plain as day that they’re just being considerate of me. I really have to resolve myself to become the kind of dependable guild master that everyone can get spoiled by.
Really though, this thing takes me so far back… I never would’ve guessed that Krankheit still holds on to this thing after all this time.
“T-This is… This is an important book that the Master gave to me… I-It’s my very own, precious little…”
Krankheit holds The Courtesan’s Demon close to her chest, her expression utterly beautiful. Really, she’s grown into quite the beauty. I’m kind of looking forward to the day I can see her off on her wedding day.
“Hafuuuh… So, what was that thing anyway?”
Apparently thoroughly satisfied by my petting, Kühling looks over to Krankheit and raises a question. Just as I think it’s safe to remove my hand, for the time being, Kühling pierces me with a sharp glare.
Well, it looks like she still wants more. If I pretend I didn’t notice her and just take my hand away, there’s no question that she’ll break out into tears – I really can’t risk that. Having a strong will but being quick to cry is one of her special traits, after all.
“…?! Hey, get away!”
Kühling tries to peek at her book, and Krankheit responds with quite the vicious refusal. Sharp tongue, that one…
Normally, she only shows me the face of someone who’s the complete opposite. I can safely say that this is a rather fresh kind of experience. I check to see if Kühling’s taken by surprise, but she barely even bats an eye.
“This is… This is something important! I got it from the Master. I wouldn’t let you touch it with a ten-foot pole.”
“Hey, watch your mouth. I can get behind the idea of taking care of whatever the Master gives you, but putting it like that just pisses me off.”
Krankheit’s attitude takes a turn back to the norm, returning to the smile that seemed to always know something you didn’t and the disposition of a mysterious lady. It’s good to see her going back to normal and all, but it’s obvious that the situation between her and Kühling’s became even more volatile.
If I’m still at ground zero when the two of them start fighting, there’s a good chance I’d bite the dust. The way these two fight always ends up being flashy…
Wearing a smile drenched in cold sweat, I play the intermediator.
“I-If Master really means it, then…”
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I ask her if it’s alright if I’m the one who explains the nature of the book, and Krankheit gives me a reluctant nod. Nervously, she holds out The Courtesan’s Demon to Kühling.
“Oh, is this that thing Krankheit keeps holding on to? Why even bother with hiding it?”
Kühling’s question has an air of confusion. Well, it’s more likely that Krankheit just doesn’t want her to know the contents of that book.
Slowly, carefully, Kühling opens the book. After some time with her nose buried between the pages, she raises her eyebrows and turns to Krankheit.
“It might just be me, but the protagonist kind of reminds me of you. Nah, strike that… It’s more like you’re some bad rip-off of her!”
Kühling’s words, more than piercing for the poor girl, make Krankheit keel over and hold her chest.
Aah… Yep, that one has to sting…
It’s not like Kühling meant to hurt her with her words, either…
That’s right. Krankheit holds a strong admiration for the protagonist of The Courtesan’s Demon, even to the point where she’ll try to emulate her, down to the way she speaks.
The main character of The Courtesan’s Demon is a mysterious lady in her prime, who goes about destroying one country after the other. I can’t say that the story has much appeal for someone like me, but the minute I’d given it to Krankheit when she was still a child, she had completely fallen for her escapades.
“Hmmm… Well, do your best, I guess.”
I’m not quite sure whether it’s because she’s already lost interest, but Kühling unceremoniously tosses the book back to Krankheit. Although taken by surprise, Krankheit still managed to catch the book, holding it close and throwing a poisonous glare the other girl’s way.
Well… I suppose she really has to let off some of that steam…
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Gently, I run my hand through Krankheit’s locks. I can’t say if it’s that effective, but I thought it might work considering that all the other girls had been happy about it.
“A-A grown woman’s head shouldn’t be petted lightly… Eheheh…”
Oh, thank goodness. It looks like I could at least make her forget her anger against Kühling. She tries to copy the way the main character of The Courtesan’s Demon talks but gives in almost immediately, her tension melting away.
Her expression is so adorable I can’t help but want to care for her a little more. As I continue petting her head as well as I could, the nearby Kühling puffs out her cheeks to the point that I fear they might explode.
“For crying out loud! That’s just about enough, don’t you think?! Don’t you have somewhere else to be?!”
Oops, Kühling’s not far off. Talking with my guild members is just so much fun that I keep forgetting about the passage of time.
Since I’ve gone out of my way to meet so many members, I really should take the time to visit ‘her’ last…
I bid the two girls adieu, and make my way to the place that girl usually keeps herself occupied in.
“So… Were you really that much against the idea of me being petted?”
“Of course I was, what do you think? I hate seeing the Master act all close and cuddly with anyone else.”
“I can relate… Still, I’m surprised you returned The Courtesan’s Demon without making trouble. You really strike me as the kind of person who’d rip it apart and throw it away.”
“Well, I can’t say that didn’t cross my mind. Master was right there, too. And besides, you’d probably lose your head over a regular copy.”
“Naturally. I’d kill you in a heartbeat. This is a textbook the Master meant for my eyes alone.”
“Whoa there, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’d kill you, clearly.”