Another day, another batch of paperwork yours truly has to finish.
Most of the guild members had left on account of their work. They’d all gone out against staggering odds, and the kingdom’s armies appeared to be on the brink of setting out on some sort of demon-slaying request. I have to admit that I fear for their safety, but I know those girls. They’ll pull through.
I’m their guild master. I have a duty to believe in them, to await their safe return. I carry on like this for some time, occupying myself with paperwork. Then…
The door opens, and Laladi totters through. Her fluffy green hair is, as always, adorned with that adorable flower.
She looks towards me with the most bright, angelic smile you can imagine. It really puts a mind at ease. I can’t even bear to wait until she waddles closer, so I stand up instead, walk over to her, then hold her up in my arms.
“Eheheh. Work’s done! It went great!”
Oh, well done! You really tried your best, didn’t you?! I tighten my hug around Laladi.
She reacts by rubbing her cheek – the one imbued with our crest – against me. She does the same with the rest of her rather lacking body.
Well, lacking as she may be, she’s still a young girl. Admittedly, I do feel a bit of squishiness here and there, but this is another way of her showing her dependence on others. If I had an ounce of carnal intrigue left in my body, I can’t say I’d have the same reaction. But now that I’m practically a dried prune on the inside, there’s really nothing to worry about. She’s so adorable, in fact, that I could just do this all day.
…Really can’t hold on to that logic if she makes noises like that. Yep. Let’s never do this again. The second she lets out those strange, restless noises, I offer her a small smile and pull the two of us apart.
“Oh… What a shame…”
I really wouldn’t mind if she just said anything a normal child might say…
But let’s put that all aside. So, Laladi’s the first one to finish up with work, is she? And here I’d thought that either Reese or Kühling would make it back sooner…
“What?! Lala’s the first one here?! Yaaay!” (“Whoever comes home first gets to spend time with the Master. The early Lala catches the worm!)
She looks really happy. I can’t say why, not for sure, but I have a habit of becoming happy when she does. What can I say, it’s nice to see.
(“That no-good lot of perverts’ probably still on monitor duty. Good thing Lala just had to deal with those Heroes.”)
Laladi grins in a way that almost looks maniacal. That’s really not a face a child should make, you know?
“Master, Master! Lala’s gonna go practice walking. Wanna come?!”
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Laladi clings to me as she speaks, her face positively glowing. Walking practice, eh?
Laladi’s species has a sort of natural disadvantage when it comes to walking. That’s why there’ve been multiple occasions where I’d tag along with Laladi while she tries to train herself to walk properly.
I think of Laladi as I would of my own child. If she wants to put effort into something and grow for it, then I have a duty to support her. I’m almost done with my paperwork anyway.
“Yaaay! Come on, let’s go outside!”
Laladi grips my hand and pulls me along. Wait, outside? I wouldn’t mind walking around the guild grounds… We even have a garden here…
“It’s all about mood. Going further out sounds fun!” (“It’s high time the others come back. They’ll definitely get in the way when they see Lala and the Master together. Lala can’t let that happen!”)
Makes sense to me. Laladi has a point. Come to think of it; I’ve just been holing myself up in the guild. Going outside might be a good change of pace. That settles it. We’re going outside.
“Good!” (“So far, so good. This’ll help Lala and Master get even closer. Lala’s plans are gonna come true! She’ll be his queen!”)
I give Laladi a warm smile, which she returns with one so innocent it’s clear that she’d never be up to anything malicious. We leave for the outdoors, each holding the other’s hand.
“Curses! She’s stolen the lead from me. Indeed, she has!”
The lone voice that rang out once the two of us had left, however, is best left for another time.
“Aaaargh! I’ve had it!”
“Come now, Longmann. You’re being rude.”
“Never! And I don’t see how that matters. I’ve had it up to here with this shtick! Fighting demons; going to see the king afterwards… It’s just so tiring!”
Somewhere in the king’s castle, the home to the highest authority in all the kingdom was a room with an adventuring party of four. One of them had collapsed onto a bed, still smothered in heavy armor. This gentleman was known by others as Longmann.
“Ahahah. Well, I can’t disagree. It’s a bit exhausting. Come on, Mary. Don’t get mad.”
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The woman garbed in habit was Mary, the same person who’d just reprimanded the man. The other man who attempted to placate her with a strained laugh was known by the name Yuuto. He had put his sword aside, now busy watching the other squabble, smiling at their antics.
The last member of their party, a sullen girl of few words, went under the name Maho.
“In any case, we all did well. Can you believe it? We defeated Doss. We defeated an actual leader of the Demon Lord’s forces…”
“I wouldn’t say that. Doss ran away before we could land the finishing blow.”
Mary had clapped her hands together as she rained her praises on the three, but Yuuto humbly, or rather embarrassedly, waved them away with a laugh.
“What’re you on about?! What did his Highness say? He told us that we, the Hero Party, were the first to drive away one of the Demon Lord’s leaders! Show some pride, man!”
Longmann clapped Yuuto’s shoulder with a heavy hand, roaring with laughter.
It was all true. Until they’d driven away one of his leaders, the Demon Lord had kept the kingdom’s forces in a tight grip, pressed against a corner. There was no doubt that these heroes had accomplished a grand feat.
“…Tell me. Do you really think we can keep this up?”
Maho finally spoke up, dousing the party’s high spirits. And while both Mary and Yuuto gave her looks of sympathy, it was evident that Longmann didn’t take too well to what she had said.
“…Come on. How many times do you think we’ve talked about this?”
“B-But…! If we really do defeat the Demon Lord’s armies, can we… can we really go back home? Back to our own world?”
Maho’s voice was almost stifled by her tears. Yuuto couldn’t meet her eyes.
Yuuto, Maho, and Longmann were all from different worlds. They had all been summoned into this unknown realm, each of them an otherworldly visitor in their own way.
“The King told us we’d be sent home. But what if he’s lying?! It just doesn’t make any sense! We didn’t ask to come here; we were just dragged into all of this to fight the Demon Lord!”
“I-I can’t apologize enough for what they’ve done to you… But their hands were tied. The Demon Lord’s forces were just overwhelming. Please, I beg of you. Restrain your anger.”
Mary, the woman who now attempted to quell Maho’s ire, was the only member of the party who had been born into this world. She had been tasked with showing them the manners and traditions of her realm, along with offering them support during battle without stepping into the front lines.
“That’s your problem, not ours! We don’t have anything to do with this!”
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“B-But if we don’t fight back, the countless people living here will be faced with nothing but hardship… I just want to save them.”
Yuuto attempted to calm her down, seeing that she was only getting more and more riled up. With a tense expression, he went on to offer some noble words of encouragement. Unfortunately, that only served to add fuel to the fire.
“Why do we have to risk our lives for the people here?! I just wanted to have a normal life!”
“Shut it! Just shut up already!”
Longmann’s own voice had finally risen in tandem. Even as the giant of a man approached her, Maho’s anger refused to let up. She gave him a pointed glare through a veil of tears.
“What’s there to complain about?! The King feeds us! He gives us the best foods! The best women! He has our backs!”
Longmann was unlike Maho. He had adjusted to this world much quicker than she had, for one thing. He had even gone so far as to change his name to what it was now.
Longmann had no issues with their current situation. He had been a regular salaryman back in his home world, someone who blended into crowds and went unrecognized. But in this world, he had been asked to join a whole party of heroes. He had been elated. Yes, he was much unlike Maho. He preferred the idea of spending his whole life in this world.
“Don’t you think that’s crazy?! What did he just tell us?! He told us to take care of that Dark Guild, Yelquchira! What does that have to do with the Demon Lord, huh?! We’re just being used! We’re just pawns to him!”
“That’s… That’s not…”
Similar thoughts had been beleaguering Yuuto’s mind. The first thing the King had told them after their defeat of the Demon Lord’s underling was that they were to go and defeat Yelquchira.
It wasn’t too long ago that a group of kingdom knights had been dispatched for the same task, but not one of them had returned. Well, that wasn’t quite true. There had been a lone survivor. His mind, however, had been so shattered and violated that no one could discern what might have happened. Their best guess was that he had come across something so terrifying it had just… broken him.
“It doesn’t matter. We have to think of the people that live here. We have to fight for them.”
Maho’s words, as stock-full of emotions as they were, failed to reach either Yuuto or Longmann. The former’s expression was stalwart, unwavering. The latter simply appeared stubborn, completely unwilling to leave his life in this world behind.
“Oh, fine! Forget about it!”
Maho, now fully aware that nothing she would say would convince them, flew out of the room in a huff. She could do nothing to stop the tears she’d been holding in from bursting through.
‘Why doesn’t anyone understand? Don’t they want to go back to their own world? Don’t they want to go home? I know I do…’
The various maids and knights she passed by were more than startled by her appearance, but that did little to keep her feelings reined in. They’d all been dragged here without any say in the matter, only to be met with a war that could cost them their lives. Maho herself, who’d been so distantly removed from her regular high school struggles back in Japan, had been forced to endure this unfamiliar style of life.
‘Someone, please… Save me…!’
Maho screamed, letting her grief loose to the world. There was no one there who might have heard her.
But… while her wish went unfulfilled at the time, Maho had no clue just how soon it would come true.