1

The carriage journey from Dungeon City to the Royal Capital was expected to take two days, which would require a campsite stop on the way. Tsutomu, whose body had been rocked by the carriage from early morning until evening, stretched as he watched the setting sun.

Hannah, who had started out this trip full of excitement, found herself spending enough time in the carriage to grow tired of the scenery. Still, with eleven people present, conversation flowed continuously, sparing everyone from boredom. Especially Xeno, who had been talking incessantly, left Daryl, seated next to him, with a drained expression.

Preparations for the camp were mainly handled by the knights, while the laborious tasks fell upon Garm and Daryl. The more delicate work was led by Ollie and Korinna. Generally, the knights of the Royal Capital also delved into God’s Dungeon to receive the blessings of status and skills. Due to their duties in the Royal Capital, however, their levels were not as high as the Explorers residing in Dungeon City.

Observing Garm and Daryl, with their high status ratings, effortlessly tackling physical tasks, the knights had hints of awe in their eyes. Another carriage eventually arrived, bringing along cooks who set up a makeshift kitchen with items from an oversized Magic Bag.

Ollie assisted in setting up the kitchen but refrained from getting involved in cooking, opting to watch the process with admiration. Korinna, enjoying both eating and cooking, marveled at the skills of the cooks dispatched by House Kantjelucia.

The efficient cooks swiftly prepared dishes, lining them up on a table that they had pulled out from their Magic Bag. Indeed, being knights of House Kantjelucia, they were equipped with various facilities and personnel ensuring warm meals could be enjoyed even outdoors.

As the members of the Absolute Helix and House Kantjelucia, including knights and servants, partook in the meal, Xeno suddenly stood up, holding his bowl of soup.

“Chef!? Where is the chef who made this food!?”

“…Yes?”

“Chef! This soup reminds me of the old days! Could it be that you used to run a restaurant in the northern district of the Royal Capital!?”

“…I did run a restaurant there five years ago, yes.”

“I knew it! Your place served large servings of delicious food at reasonable prices! I was a regular back in my student days!”

“I also recognize you — the young man who abandoned his scholastic pursuit and departed for Dungeon City. Needless to say, you were quite infamous.”

With the exchange between the cook and Xeno marking the beginning, the members of the Absolute Helix and the knights engaged in light yet lively conversations. Garm and Daryl, praised for their work just now, were approached by the knights, while Ollie and Korinna chatted with the servants.

Amidst the lively dinner, Tsutomu, too, found himself approached by the tall man who seemed to be the captain of the knights.

“You are the one who received a commendation from House Babenberg for your achievements during the previous Stampede?”

“For what it’s worth, yes, I am.”

“…I see.”

It seemed Tsutomu’s reputation had reached the Royal Capital, but the knight captain looked down at him with a skeptical gaze. Certainly, Tsutomu’s physique was slimmer than Ollie’s, and relatively speaking, his level was not particularly high. Even if Tsutomu was said to have contributed the most to the defense during the Stampede, it did not quite register as fitting from the knight’s perspective.

Tsutomu, navigating his way past the knights’ watchful eyes, finished his dinner early and returned to the tent. There, he found Diniel reading a book under the light of a hanging fire magic lamp. She had already prepared for sleep, with her body wiped clean with a damp towel and her golden hair let down.

“<<Flash>>, <<Barrier>>.”

Without much reaction to Tsutomu entering, Diniel, engrossed in her book, glanced sideways as Tsutomu produced a sphere of light. Normally, <<Flash>> was a skill that emitted a dazzling blast to blind the eyes, but by concentrating the mental energy to the weakest level, one could make it produce a persistent gentle illumination suitable for reading.

Wrapping the light-emitting sphere with Barrier, Tsutomu hung it next to the fire magic lamp, making the text significantly more readable. Diniel silently raised her thumb in approval.

“I’ll set one up on your side too, so you’d better go over there.”

“Okay, fine.”

After casting another <<Flash>> for the women’s tent and sending Diniel there, Tsutomu took a folded towel from the pile, intending to wipe himself. Not being able to take a bath was quite unpleasant, but this was the best he was going to get for now.

Tsutomu did have a portable tub with him, but putting it together was troublesome, and it would take time to prepare the hot water. As such, he had initially planned to go without bathing for a day, but it turned out to be more uncomfortable than expected.

He debated against himself whether to assemble it now but worried about being noticed by House Kantjelucia’s knights. Eventually, Tsutomu reluctantly abandoned the idea of setting up the bath, went outside, received the water Ollie had prepared, and lightly wiped his body in a sufficiently secluded area.

After finishing up the dinner cleanup and engaging in a brief discussion with the knights about future plans, Tsutomu proceeded to enter the men’s tent. The knights would handle the night watch, so it seemed he could sleep without worry tonight.

“…Yes, it looks like the monsters have truly disappeared from the southern Dungeons. Normally, it would be impossible for there to be no monster attacks at this time of year.”

“I also heard from the knights that they couldn’t find a single one inside the Dungeon. Hmmm… what could this mean?”

While speculating based on information obtained from Garm and Xeno’s conversations with the knights, Tsutomu, feeling quite tired, decided to go to his sleeping spot first. When he reached the allocated area for the Absolute Helix, he found Daryl already peacefully asleep, looking quite worn out from enduring Xeno’s endless chatter during the day.

After spending a moment watching Daryl, who occasionally murmured and wagged his black-furred tail in his sleep, Tsutomu let out a yawn and then tucked himself into his bed, falling asleep.

▽▽

The next day, everyone woke up early to pack up the tents and everything into the carriage. After a light breakfast, they immediately set off for the Royal Capital. Diniel and Amy, perhaps awakened earlier than they were used to, appeared drowsy during the trip.

“Yes, yes… In the castle, you will be…”

Xeno, on the other hand, seemed to have no concept of morning fatigue; he continued talking endlessly from the moment the sun rose. Conversations revolved around him as the carriage made its way to the Royal Capital.

By noon, they arrived at the Royal Capital without incident. As they approached the inspection point with a long line, the knights showing the House Kantjelucia emblem was all that was needed for the whole crew to bypass the queue.

“Whoooaaa!! It’s HUGE!!”

Hannah, sticking to the carriage window, excitedly fluttered her wings upon seeing the towering castle in the city. The gust of wind from her fluttering wings disrupted the pages of the book Diniel was reading, and shortly after, Hannah found herself on the receiving end of Diniel’s wrestling clawhold.

The lively carriage made its way to the center of the Royal Capital, eventually arriving at the Kantjelucia estate. Everyone was guided to guest rooms, allocated individual rooms, and then given some free time.

However, one representative from Absolute Helix — Tsutomu, obviously — was scheduled to have an audience with the head of House Kantjelucia. As such, he temporarily split from the other Clan members and accompanied the knights to the meeting.

“You will have to leave your Magic Bag with us. Also, we’ll be conducting a body inspection.”

“Of course.”

As expected, when meeting the head of the noble family, he was not allowed to be armed. Tsutomu packed his equipment and handed the Magic Bag to one of the knights. After a thorough body inspection, Tsutomu was instructed to wait in a lavishly decorated room.

“<<Heal>>.”

Just to make sure his skills were functional, Tsutomu tried casting some spells and, with some free time on his hands, reached for the sweets placed on the table. But then the door to the room suddenly swung open, prompting him to retract his hand. A woman entered the room — and it was someone he recognized.

“Tsutomu.”

“…Ah, hello. It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it?”

Christia — the woman with silver hair and distinctive long, pointed ears — was the leader of the Labyrinth Conquerors, a clan active mainly in various Dungeons outside of Dungeon City. Tsutomu had also provided some knowledge and training to them some time following his sessions for Golden Tune and Ealdred Crow.

Although technically an Elf like Diniel, Christia was a Dark Elf, a subspecies without the magical ability to create potions. However, she compensated with exceptional physical abilities and an archery skill rivaling Diniel’s.

“What brings you here, Miss Christia?”

“I came to report to the head of the House Kantjelucia about the Dungeons. And you, Tsutomu? Were you summoned to the Royal Capital by Brooklyn Kantjelucia?”

“Yes, I was.”

Hearing Tsutomu’s response, Christia proceeded to speak with an unmoving expression,

“She is… what one would call a collector. Her interest in you, one of the few people respected by House Babenberg, is not necessarily a good thing. Tread carefully.”

“…Yes, of course. I appreciate the warning.”

“……”

Christia, covering her mouth with her hand, stared back at Tsutomu with emotionless eyes. Quite some time ago, when he was instructing her on casting long-ranged <<Heal>>, Tsutomu could not help but think that Christia was a woman whose thoughts were difficult to grasp, even more so than Diniel.

Tsutomu tried to pass the time by asking some casual questions about the Royal Capital, but there were moments when she would not even respond, making the overall conversation awkward. Sitting in the same room with Christia, whose inscrutability seemed to be on an even higher level than Diniel’s, felt quite uncomfortable.

Eventually, when Tsutomu was summoned by a knight, he had a subtle expression of relief as he left the room to meet with the head of House Kantjelucia.

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