I can’t hold back the smile when I hear Laladi groggily draw breath. The poor girl had stayed up fairly late yesterday, completely adamant that she tag along with me.
It doesn’t take much to see the repercussions of her choices, as exhausted as she is now. I certainly hadn’t planned on forcing her to walk, especially not considering her lacking experience in said field, and had, therefore, carried her on my back and walked on.
Laladi is light, much more so than one might anticipate, and I’m not in the least worse for the wear. Both the roads and the village are close by now, a fact which may or may not have contributed to the fact that I don’t have any trouble walking, and that my legs have yet to tire.
“Mmh… Does Lala smell the Master, or does Lala go to sleep? Oh, choices, choices…”
Hm? You… really sound like you’re making yourself a little too comfortable, Laladi. You know, if that’s true, then I really wouldn’t mind if you walk on your own for a bit… oh, I can’t bring myself to say that to her, not so directly. The inability to say these things is what makes me dote over my guild members so much in the first place.
Oh, well. Any adorable child reserves the right to be doted upon.
“…She’s making herself a little too comfortable, isn’t she?”
I smile wryly when Maho speaks to me. I like to think to think that her hitting me with the full force of the feelings she had kept buried until then had thinned the walls between us, if only a little.
When I greeted her this morning, she’d even returned the gesture. She hadn’t even left a conspicuous amount of space between us when we’d eaten today. The other members of her party had been surprised by the change in her demeanor, and Laladi, for reasons I still can’t quite grasp, had done nothing but stare at her with ice in her eyes.
Come on now; we just started getting along. You can’t just up and intimidate her, alright? In any case, despite the many things clearly dancing around in Laladi’s mind, they had yet to strain the mood. So far, we’d been able to enjoy our travels in peace.
“Hmhm… You sure like to spoil Laladi, don’t you?”
When I make it clear to Maho that, no, I’m just carrying her on my back because the poor thing’s exhausted, she narrows her eyes at me. Is… is it just my imagination, or is Maho giving me the same sort of vibes the girls sometimes throw each other’s way…?
“Hmph, of course he does! The bond the Master and Lala share is stronger than orichalcum, shinier than the divine!”
What kind of bond is that…?
Laladi’s elaboration on our relationship, self-assured as it is, is enough to make me break out in involuntary shudders and make my expression go taut. But hey, she did mention that she adores me, at least. That makes me happy.
“Trying to snuggle up to the Master now is completely ridiculous. The others are giving him enough to work with as it is!”
“S-Snuggle…?! T-That’s not what this is about…!”
Laladi pulls an odd, wild face and practically spits out her words while Maho goes beet-red. She takes fervent looks in my direction.
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Huh? As far as I remember, Maho hadn’t done any such thing. If there’s anyone who keeps snuggling up to me, then forget about Maho. It’s clearly Laladi.
She’s doing it even now, letting her body shake in the strangest of ways and rubbing up against mine. Granted, I thought it was a little strange at first. But it had gone on for such a long time that, honestly, I don’t bother to question it anymore. I also have this sneaking suspicion that if I do ask her about it, things won’t end well…
“Ah, there it is! There’s the village!”
Right about the time I can feel my stomach starting to ache from the sheer pressure of being between Laladi, who refuses to not cling to me, and Maho, who’s looking up at her and glaring, Yuuto’s voice reaches us.
Good work, Yuuto! You just cut off the flow before it could get any worse!
Guided by the sound of his voice I look forward, and a small village enters my field of vision, its houses small and sporadic in their placement. It looks like our journey with the hero party is finally coming to a close.
You have my thanks for bringing the two of us this far. Our journey was much easier, thanks to you.
“Oh, don’t mention it! Besides, we were the ones who let the orcs escape your way in the first place!”
Yuuto’s response to my thanks and smile is an almost affronted, denying wave of his hands. Oh, this Yuuto lad’s heart sure is in the right place. He’s on the right track. I can see why he would be a hero.
“It’s such a shame, though. I’d have loved to travel a little more with the adorable little Laladi… You know, if you want, we can let you join our party!”
“Don’t make Lala laugh.”
I’m happy to see that Longmann’s still in the same spirit. He isn’t even taking me into account right now, his focus purely on Laladi, although she hasn’t shown him anything that goes beyond disdain. Laladi’s own expression seems awfully calm, almost as if she’s too glad to be rid of him.
“We can’t apologize enough for getting you involved.”
Mary, the nun and follower of the Angel Faith, gives us quick bow and apologizes. Yes, she’s another well-meaning one. She’d kept apologizing for our run-in with the orcs, even.
Strangely enough, I can almost swear that I briefly saw her eyes take on a different sort of look.
…Is there something going on? I might’ve guessed as much. I really don’t know how to handle the dear faithful, do I?
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Finally, there’s Maho, the same girl I’d gotten much closer to in the span of a night. She just keeps staring up at me.
Well, we didn’t know each other for that long, but we were certainly in your care. Thank you for that.
“That’s not…! I mean, you helped me out a lot too, so…!”
At my thanks, Maho’s expression immediately drops.
“You saved me from that one goblin, and you even listened to everything I had to say… I’m really, really thankful for that, and…”
Oh, come on. What I did really doesn’t bear mentioning. A fight against any goblin is going to be immensely one-sided anyhow, and it was less that I listened and more that she vented.
I’m actually rather touched by the latter. The other members of Yelquchira hadn’t much relied on me as of late, after all.
“To tell you the truth, Master, I’d be more than happy to see you join the Hero Party, but…”
“What’re you on about? If you have to pick someone, then it’s gotta be Laladi. Come on, be sensible.”
There goes Longmann with his counterargument. He certainly… doesn’t hold back, does he…?
Still, as happy as I am to hear Maho say that to me, I’m afraid it just wouldn’t work out. I mean, I am the leader of a dark guild.
It can’t be a good idea for what is essentially a crime lord to get involved with a party of heroes that holds justice in high regard, can it? It certainly doesn’t seem like it’ll be the best influence for Maho and Yuuto, so there’s really no way I can accept.
“…I understand, I do. You have your own things to do, don’t you, Master?”
Things to do, eh…? Well, yes. I suppose I do a lot of management and administrative work for the guild.
Without me around, I doubt the paperwork would get done right… It’s honestly a little tragic that that’s the extent of what my existence contributes to the guild.
“So this is goodbye, then…”
Maho speaks with some sorrow tingeing her voice, and even I feel myself getting sentimental. Oh, come now. It’s not as if we’re having our final farewells, is it? We might meet again someday.
…I just hope it won’t be as enemies.
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“…You’re right. Let’s meet again. Someday.”
My words seem to be enough for Maho, who nods. There’s still a sad, lonely smile on her face.
…I make a mental note to go and visit her once I’m completely done with my paperwork.
‘Pheh, that’s what you get! As long as you’re part of the Hero Party, the Master is all Lala’s!’
Laladi, still at my side, shows a smile that can’t be construed as anything but vicious, though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what’s going through her head. Regardless, it’s about time our travels with these heroes come to an end.
I won’t lie, when we’d started I’d just assumed it would be a huge hassle for all involved. But really, it wasn’t a bad trip overall.
Well then, Laladi. Let’s go home. The others are probably getting worried about us.
“Ah! That’s right. If we go back now, then Lala’s flirty time with the Master’s already over… Oh, what a fleeting dream…”
My attempt to urge the issue of our return only results in the overall tension taking a nosedive. What do you mean, flirty time…?
I force a grin at Laladi’s antics, then finally turn to the Hero Party. I take the time to look each one of them in the face before finally settling on Maho’s. She’s wearing the kind of smile you’d make when you’re sure that you’re leaving something behind forever, her hand waving and bidding us farewell.
Just when we’re about to go our separate ways…
“E-Excuse me… You wouldn’t happen to be the Hero Party, would you?”
…a single man appears, engaging us in direct conversation. The clothes that cover him look worn and beaten, but he appears to be quite fit.
“Yes, we are… pardon, but who might you be?”
“I’m the village chief.”
The man doesn’t waste time responding to Yuuto’s puzzled inquiry. Then, with great effort and vigor, he lowers his head to a bow.
“I beg of you, dear Heroes! Save us!”
There’s a sort of restlessness to the man’s words. Is… is this where I start regretting getting separated from Maho and the others?
‘Nice, mister! Master and Lala’s date can still go on!’
Well, it looks like he’d done wonders to Laladi’s mood. No harm in it, I suppose.