The street itself was lined with trees, making it more of an avenue than a regular road. The walls of a few odd houses were covered in green, red or even blue climbing plants. I never even knew such plants existed. At the end of the avenue, we could see a small fountain, surrounded by four banners, each one a different colour: Black, green, red and blue.
There were also many weird contraptions on the streets and the houses. From magical lamps over the entryways and a few lampposts lining the street to large machines—each as large as I was tall—attached to the corner of a few houses. If you listened closely, you could hear them humming, working, and if you looked at them with mana sight, you could see a steady flow of mana throughout the machine.
To top it all off, coloured cloths were fluttering below each windowsill. Not one windowsill was missing it and each of them came in all different kinds of colours.
“I honestly thought it would be gloomier than this,” commented Karen.
“Nn, I thought so, too.”
Well, I didn’t know whether I could call it pretty, but it definitely wasn’t a bad impression I had.
“Surprised? Welcome to Melfin! Well, it’s my first time here as well, though.”
Lily puffed out her chest, proud for some odd reason.
“I guess I am surprised, yeah. I mean, I expected the town to be in pretty bad shape but…”
There was no sign of damage anywhere.
“The damage was supposed to be in that development district, wasn’t it? It’s probably not near the gate.”
“Nn… Seems like that’s the case.”
“This is the main road, after all. It would be an issue for the town if it was blocked due to damage or something. Even if it’s not very busy here,” explained Lily.
Good point. That would be an issue.
“Nn… Now that you mention it, though… We didn’t really come across any other people along the way. I guess there are other trade routes between Lafria and Aldreigh then?”
“That’s right. There are two routes that could be called the main trade routes. One leads to the capital and proceeds north, the other goes through a major town in the south of Aldreigh and leads to the federation. There’s also a route to the empire, though it’s not quite as well-travelled since they aren’t trading as much with each other. And apparently there’s also some trading between Lafria, Krohmea and Aldreigh by ship through the Grand Spirit Lake.”
I stared at Lily as she explained all that, surprised by all this knowledge.
“You know a lot about this, Lily.”
“Of course, I do. Papa taught me all about it!”
That was also a little bit surprising. Then again, merchants were probably important clients for mercenaries. They might have to take jobs to guard them and knowing the major routes would be important for that. Also, the mercenaries might simply use the same routes for travelling, too. Yeah, once you thought about it, there were quite a few reasons why he would teach her. If anything, this was something we might have to study up on as well.
“Anyway, I think we did enough staring at the scenery. We should find Papa and the others.”
“He said they’d wait at the town square, right?”
“That’s right. It should be that plaza with the fountain over there.”
With our destination decided, we walked along the road, between the trees. We passed by the weird houses with the colourful climbing plants and the ones with weird machines next to them. It was hard not to stare and Lily chuckled as she watched the three of us staring wide-eyed.
“Hehe, haven’t seen anything like this before, have you?”
“Nn. Just… what are those machines? They’re magic tools, right?”
Lily chuckled again as she answered me.
“So, what do they do?”
“They… Well, they process waste.”
“Waste? Like, food waste?”
“Among other things, yes. But they also, well, replace the latrine and the like.”
It basically made a toilet possible.
“But that’s pretty amazing.”
“Right?! It’s such a great invention! It’s too bad that the tools are incredibly expensive, though. The ones you see here are owned by the town, too. And each one works for several buildings.”
“But that means that everyone here has access to them?”
“Yes. If you have food waste or similar, you can even just walk up to them and throw it inside.”
How convenient. Like, I had gotten used to the… troublesome situation in regards to the lack of a toilet. There were ways to deal with it, though it wasn’t very pleasant. The saving grace for me personally was that I had much less of a need to do so since coming to this world. In fact, I had the subtle feeling it got less and less… Err, enough about my personal situation.
“How much does one of these costs, Lily?”
“Mmm… I asked Papa a few years ago, so I don’t know how accurate it is now. Back then he said, you wouldn’t see one of these going for less than three hundred gold coins.”
Apparently, our toilet situation wasn’t going to improve anytime soon.
“That’s a lot of money.”
“Yes, it is.”
“I’m surprised they would make them so readily available to the citizens, though.”
“Mmm… Maybe they wanted to improve the situation for the citizens? I don’t know… but I bet they had a good reason.”
There was always the question of hygiene. People were surprisingly clean overall, considering the living standards, but it also didn’t apply to everyone. Korwen and Greyward, or rather the mercenaries as a whole, knew the danger of a dirty lifestyle. At least, I was pretty sure they did. But when I thought back on the slums in Arkesta, then hygiene wasn’t something anyone really paid attention to. How could they, anyway, when they were wondering if they had enough food and water to make it to the next day.
“How do they process it, though? Do they burn it?”
“I wonder. I don’t think they burn it but…”
It should be easy to figure out if they were burning it... None of them seemed to be putting out smoke or anything, so maybe they really weren’t burning it. How mysterious.
“Well, regardless of how they work, they are pretty much everywhere nowadays in Aldreigh. They’re amazing, after all and most people living here are very grateful about them.”
“Not surprising, to be honest.”
“True that. But it also makes me jealous… Haaa…”
Lily sighed wistfully, staring at the machines as we passed by them. She really wanted one of these. It was written on her face. But the equivalent of three hundred gold coins… and that was the minimum price. A single one wouldn’t be enough for the mercenaries and it was probably far too expensive to outfit the whole band with them. There was the question of how to do that anyway. Could you even install one of these in a wagon?
These machines are so massive, they’d barely fit into a wagon. It doesn’t seem very feasible. It’d be different if it were, like, the fort… Nn, actually…
Considering the fort wasn’t mobile, the issue of… dealing with waste would become far more important. Maybe that could be something…
“... Hey, Lily.”
“Couldn’t we ask the Captain and Mr Greyward if it would be possible to install them in the fort?”
Lily stared at me, her eyes wide. She seemed to think about it for several seconds, considering what this would mean. Her expressions bloomed into a bright smile as she turned around, grabbing my shoulders in excitement.
“Yumi! That’s a genius idea!”
She was staring straight into my eyes. Her fluffy ears were twitching wildly from her excitement, giving her the impression of a very excited puppy. Not like I’d ever tell her that.
“Let’s ask Papa immediately!”
“Err… I know that was my idea but don’t get too hopeful…”
“It’ll be fine! This is important, after all!”
Now I was worried if I hadn’t accidentally raised a hope that was doomed to fail… They still were absurdly expensive but hygiene was a far bigger issue with the fort now… We couldn’t just, well, discard the waste at the roadside anymore, so to speak.
“Lily, calm down. We won’t know if what Yumi suggested will work.”
“No, Karen, I’m sure it will. This is solely to improve our quality of life, after all! What are a few waste processors in the face of a whole fort’s costs?!”
“I mean, if you put it that way…”
Even Karen was a little taken aback by Lily’s enthusiasm, unsure how she should respond. She looked at Rina and me, pleading for help with her eyes. I couldn’t do anything, though.
Well, guess it’ll depend on Greyward how this will end.
If he said no… I didn’t want to imagine it. I couldn’t imagine the waterworks coming for the… well… toilet-like machines… but it might turn into a bit of a fuss.
And just as I thought how it would end, I already spotted Greyward waiting for us near the fountain. What a timing…
He spotted us as well and came over.
“I see you got in. Did everything… The hell’s up with Lily?”
Greyward raised an eyebrow, seeing his overexcited daughter. His expression was clearly one of worry. Maybe he could already expect something troublesome coming his way.
“... What is it?”
“The fort needs a waste processor!”
His expression of worry turned into pure disappointment. I wondered what the heck was going on in his head right now. Was it because his daughter was excited over such a, well, troublesome topic? Or maybe something else?
“I hate to disappoint you, Lily, but…”
“... one of our purposes here is to inquire about the current market price.”
Wow, really? As expected, they had really thought of everything…
Now, that was a blooming smile if I ever saw one.
“Yay! We did it!”
With her arms raised into the air, Lily let out a cheer. The situation must have really bothered her.
“Except you didn’t really do anything, Lily. Well, I wanted to inform you all about our plans this morning but…”
A few things made that a little hard, yeah.
“Anyway, you needn’t worry about that. In fact, you should be looking forward to it. One thing Korwen wanted us to do was to look into all kinds of tools that would make life more comfortable. If you find anything interesting, don’t hesitate to inform me.”
Greyward smiled wryly at Lily’s enthusiasm.
“But setting that aside… We should move elsewhere. Follow me.”
He turned around, beckoning us to follow him down the road. After a few moments, he spoke up, his voice a tinge quieter than before.
“What happened at the gate?”
“The three got registered. Rina and Karen were already registered, though, as expected. He claimed the exile was rescinded, though,” answered Lily in a surprisingly brief manner.
“Rescinded? Didn’t know a common guard had the authority to do that.”
“He said it was part of a law revision.”
I couldn’t see Greyward’s face but I had the feeling he was narrowing his eyes in doubt right now.
“If that’s true, it would be welcome. Nonetheless, we should be careful. If any of you notice anything strange, inform me immediately, got that?”
He turned around, looking at Rina, Karen and me specifically.
“Nn, got it.”
“Understood, Mr Greyward.”
The only one still cheerful about it was Rina… Well, that was fine.
“Mhm, let’s just hope nothing happens.”
Hope dies last, and all that.
“Let’s put that aside for a moment. I already sent the others to do some information gathering about oru supplies. In the meantime, we’re going to take a look at the development district.”
“Where the accident was?”
“Yes. I want to see with my own eyes what happened there. The original plan also included greeting Melfin’s governor, but they seem to be out of town currently.”
“Out of town? While his town is… err, in a bit of a crisis?”
I was this close to saying it was turning into rubble.
“Mhm, that’s right. It might be because it is in a crisis, though. Or it might be unrelated. Unfortunately, the guards couldn’t tell me the details.”
Either way, he wasn’t available. So greeting him wasn’t an option, huh…
“We’ll need to postpone the greeting to some other time. And with that, our destination is going to be the development district for now.”
Huh. Well, that was just fine with me. I was curious about the development district as well, after all.
We followed Greyward for quite a while as he led us through the town. Once in a while, we had to take a short stop and ask for directions, which the locals happily gave us.
Right now, we were watching as Greyward was asking yet another person for directions. Probably. I couldn’t understand most of it, after all. These people could only speak Aldreighan, after all.
Somehow, I’m really glad that I can at least speak Akkian… I don’t even want to imagine what would happen if I couldn’t even do that…
I would’ve been utterly helpless… and I would be here as well, without someone to interpret for me. Only one more reason not to stray from Karen and the others.
“What is it, Karen?”
“I’ve been wondering but… we’ve seen very few demonkin, haven’t we?”
Karen was looking around at the other pedestrian. I hadn’t really paid much attention to it but now that she mentioned it… All of them were human or beastkin. Wasn’t this a nation of demonkin?
“Mm… Karen, you’ve probably only been in the large cities of Aldreigh, have you?”
“Err… I think so but… It’s been too long so I’m not sure. But I am pretty sure I saw more demonkin on the streets back then.”
“Yeah, that sounds like one of the large cities. Most demonkin live in the central area of Aldreigh. The further out you get, the more it’s only humans and beastkin. Apart from the officials and the military, we probably won’t see many demonkin.”
“Is that so…”
Karen furrowed her brows as her gaze swept another time over the pedestrians.
“Then again, many demonkin are hard to recognise at first glance. We might have passed a few without knowing.”
If I recall correctly, demonkin didn’t have many common traits in regards to their appearance. Some had tails like Karen and Rina did. Others had wings or even horns. I was told that there were even some with slitted pupils like mine. And to make it worse, these traits came in all kinds of combinations, too.
“Speaking of which, are there demonkin without any notable traits at all?”
“I never met one, at least. They might be simply rare, though.”
Or another instance of being unrecognisable.
“You girls, stop talking and come. I got our directions.”
“Ah, we’re coming!”
Not our fault he took so long… Err, nevermind that.
“We’re nearly there. It should be right to the left over there.”
“Oh, it was that close already?”
We followed the road and turned left. And all of a sudden, we found ourselves in front of a destroyed town.
“Woah, what happened here…”
Collapsed buildings, giant piles of grey rubble, pieces of metal all over the place, wooden frameworks for building, building utensils like hammers, shovels and so on, and even some remains of clothes, dishes and other everyday items. It was, simply put, as if a bomb had exploded right in the middle of town.
“Crap. This is pretty bad, isn’t it?”
Even Greyward was taken aback by the sight in front of him.
“Whatever tool they were setting up here, I get the feeling it might be better served thrown at an enemy camp.”
How to say it… that was a pretty mercenary-like conclusion he came to.
While we were staring at the devastation spreading out in front of us, a man approached us from within the ruins. He wore thick clothing, thick gloves, boots and all that.
“Excuse me. Are you, visitors?” he asked, clearly not used to speaking our language.
“Yes, we’ve come from Lafria. We heard about the accident and wanted to see it for ourselves. Are you a worker here?”
“Worker. Yes, I am. Cleaning up.”
Someone hired to remove the rubble and the ruins, apparently. Well, they couldn’t just leave these ruins in the middle of town.
“Do you know what caused this?”
“Of course. We all, do. Big, magic thing. Set up, for test. Suddenly, smoke. Fire. We ran. Everyone ran. Big rumble. Stones flying. Tools flying. Horrible. World ending.”
The man’s agitation was clear to everyone as he recounted the tale.
“Do you know what kind of magic tool it was?”
“How would I?”
He shrugged his shoulders before he continued.
“I just worker. Planned work here. Good future. For all of us. We were happy. Then, this happened. Devastating. But, at least we work. At least we work. Not what we imagine. But alive. And work.”
“Would you happen to know who knows more about the incident?”
“Want to know more? You, inspectors?”
“No, we are mercenaries.”
The man raised an eyebrow. He probably couldn’t imagine why mercenaries had any interest in this.
“Odd people, you are. Want know more, go to foreman. Foreman in red. Her.”
He pointed to a spot a little away of the ruins. A small group of people stood there around a table and seemed to be discussing things. Among them was indeed a woman, with fiery red hair.
“She know all.”
“Thank you for that information. Here, treat yourself to a nice meal.”
Greyward handed him three silvery-looking coins, upon which the man broke out into a wide smile.
“Ohh! Good man. Good man! Thank you!”
In an euphoric mood, the man held up the coins before thanking Greyward again and returning back to his work.
“He was quite… talkative.”
“Not surprising. People always want someone else to listen to their troubles. Lend them an ear and most will happily talk until your ear rots away. And hey, we get information, they can vent. Everyone’s happy.”
And he even got a bit of money out of it.
“Nn, I guess so. So, are we going to ask that… forewoman?”
“Mm, I wonder. I’d love to know some more but it’s no good if we make ourselves suspicious simply because of our curiosity.”
Huh? We were actually doing this only out of curiosity? I mean, yeah, I was. But Greyward, too?
“Either way… Seeing all of this with my own eyes does leave quite an impression.”
Greyward stared at the ruins, letting out a sigh.
“No wonder they told us it’d be hard to get supplies. With damage this extensive, they’re going to focus all their efforts on cleaning this up.”
“We could always help them, Papa.”
“We’re mercenaries but we’re not handymen, Lily.”
Mercenaries were probably too expensive to hire for a job like this anway. I could imagine them being quite good at it, though.
“What… were they building here?”
“I wonder… residential buildings?”
“Does a residential building need such a massive chimney?”
I tilted my head, trying to find a chimney. Not with much success, until Karen pointed it out to me among the rubble. Sure enough there was a massive chimney. Or rather, that looked exactly like a smokestack.
“... Don’t tell me… were they building factories?”
The only buildings with such a smokestack I could think of on the spot were factories. But I simply couldn’t imagine that being the case. Was… Aldreigh really that far ahead with their technology?
“Yumi? What are you talking about?”
I spied over to Greyward, who was still within earshot.
“There were similar buildings in my… old home. All kinds of things were produced in them but on a massive scale. Quantity-wise.”
“That sounds… amazing.”
“Nn, it was amazing.”
It did come with its own set of problems, but it definitely was.
“While that sounds interesting, it was probably the chimney of a mana smelter,” interrupted Lily.
“A mana smelter?”
That was a word I hadn’t heard of before.
“Mm… Yumi, do you know how magic iron is made?”
“No, not in the least.”
Sorry about that.
“Then, do you know about the process of making iron?”
“I know more or less the… basics? There’s iron ore and you smelt it to get iron.”
“Yumi, it’s not really wrong but… never say that to Wormaz or you’re going to regret that deeply.”
“If you simplified it, it’s pretty much how it works, yes. I mean, I’m not an expert on it either. But, well… I had to listen to Wormaz’ lecture before because I said that, too. Don’t repeat my mistakes.”
Lily glanced at me with a wry smile.
“Anyway, you don’t really need to know much more anyway. Magic iron is a little more complicated as it needs certain monster materials among other things.”
“Monster materials? Seriously?”
Now I was the one who was confused. We were still talking about metals, right?
“Surprised? But I’m not joking. The particulars like their type aren’t publicly known but monster materials are processed in the mana smelters together with iron and then turned into magic iron. And whatever materials they use, it needs tremendous amounts of temperature to smelt. And that’s what mana smelters are for.”
“I see. Then, these mana smelters are hotter than a regular furnace?”
“That’s right. A lot hotter. Way, way hotter. They need to create special buildings for them. If you look closely at the chimney, you notice a lack of pattern from bricks and the like, right? And if you look at it with mana sight…”
She paused, grinning. It was basically a prompt for me to check by myself and so I followed up on it and took a close look at it.
“... It was made by an Earth magician?”
“That’s the case.”
“I see. So that’s why you thought it might be such a mana smelter.”
“That’s right. Not many places would need an Earth magician to create their chimney of all things.”
In that case, this development district… Was it going to be a smelting plant or something like that? A production facility for magic iron? If it really required so much effort, it wouldn’t be surprising that they were developing this whole area.
“That’s quite something… Nn… Does that mean there is an iron ore mine nearby?”
“No clue. Haven’t heard about one, at least.”
They could still import the iron ore but having it nearby would make more sense to me… But, well, that wasn’t my problem even if it wasn’t like that.
A smelting plant, huh… Greyward mentioned something about that expansion project, didn’t he?
It wasn’t hard to guess that this was related.
“Lily, could it be that the tool that exploded was related to the… mana smelter, you called it?” asked Karen.
“Maybe. Wouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, the worker said the tool was smoking and caught fire, right? Can’t imagine many other tools that do that.”
Yah, that would make sense.
“Mhm, a mana smelter’s furnace that exploded? That’s a pretty good guess. I admit, I didn’t think of that.”
“Sorry for listening in, but that was a pretty interesting discussion you had.”
“It’s fine, you can always listen in!”
No, I’d prefer he didn’t always do that… But no point in telling Lily that. She was happy to be praised right now, anyway.
“I won’t do that, Lily.”
Greyward sighed, shaking his head.
“Whatever. We should soon return to the town square. I assume the others should come back soon from their information gathering and we don’t want to make them wait more than necessary, right? So, if you still want to look for something, do it quickly.”
I exchanged a glance with the others but everyone was shaking their heads.
“Nn, I think we’re all good.”
“That’s fine, too. Let’s get back then.”
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