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Chapter 6: The Black Fang (2)

I felt my mouth grow heavy of its own accord, which, when I think about it, is only natural.

When you hear that a friend's stock investment has dropped by about 10%, that's almost good news.

If you're close, you'd be busy teasing them, spinning them around in all sorts of ways for fun.

But what if you saw the news that the stock your friend had invested all their savings in was delisted?

Especially if you knew that friend had gone into debt to invest in that stock.

Could you even bring yourself to tell them that news?

"…Are you okay?"

I had just left the mine when I saw Siel collapse suddenly.

Lying on the ground, drained of strength, Siel shook her head from side to side.

I had seen this before in previous works.

It happens when the power given by a contracted spirit or demon is used excessively.

But the critical point is, she had only used her power once.

Though the manager wasn't a weak opponent... he wasn't world-class like the Imperial Knights. And yet, she had paid the price of half her soul.

The answer this fact presented was clear.

This poor girl had been severely tricked in her contract.

To have given up half her soul for such meager power.

What kind of petty and insignificant creature had she contracted with?

It was enough to make me depressed.

'Besides, if it weren't for me, she might have contracted with someone much better.'

Of course, Siel, having taken the role of the protagonist's companion, a key position in the game, couldn't possibly be weak.

She wouldn't have contracted with some vile demon.

She probably would have soared to great heights with a contract with beings like the Spirit Kings.

I debated whether to tell Siel or not and came to a conclusion.

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

Let's bury this story.

Telling her would only upset her for no reason.

After all, it's not like regretting the contract can undo it.

"Can you walk?"

At my words, Siel tried to stand up by pushing off the floor, but then she collapsed with a faint sound.

Had I not caught her, she would have surely hit her head hard on the ground.

I helped Siel up and sat her back down on the nearby stairs.

What should I do now? That was the moment I was deep in thought.

"...So you've stopped talking altogether now."

Siel had gone beyond being sparing with words to expressing herself solely through gestures.

Sitting and waiting, she extended her arms forward in a gesture.

Even when she spoke briefly, I understood everything, so she's pushing the limits.

I had no choice but to comply with her gesture that blatantly demanded to be carried.

There's a peculiar tickling on my back.

I can feel her breath.

The sensation of her hair touching my neck with each step is strangely stirring.

And then... the place where my hands hold her becomes a concern.

Where to hold without appearing perverted is a serious consideration, and the mere act of deliberating such possibilities already brands one a pervert, which is an inescapable dilemma.

I tried my best to divert my attention from the sensations under my hands.

Fortunately, it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.

Soon enough, sceneries worthy of diverting my mind appeared before me.

It was as if I was walking through the streets of the medieval era.

The night sky gradually darkened.

There are no concrete buildings or street lamps here.

That's why the stars shine brighter.

However, if there's one thing that disrupts that sparkle, it's this:

'That place has definitely developed more.'

In the distance, the city sparkles more than the stars.

A world completely different in genre from this place.

The magic trains that appear in the prequel, the magic engineering machines that have begun to be supplied, are all products available only in that capital.

All of the empire's advancements are grotesquely concentrated in the capital.

All technology, all facilities, are the exclusive domain of a privileged few.

...In the prequel, since the protagonist was of noble birth, I wasn't aware of this. But seeing it now, there's a limit to how absurd things can get.

I mean, one side is medieval fantasy, and the other is steampunk? How does that even make sense?

What on earth is going on with this crazy empire?

As I sighed at these thoughts, I felt an odd sensation.

From somewhere near my head, I felt a soft, caressing sensation...

"...What are you doing?"

It was such an abnormal act that I couldn't help but ask in astonishment.

However, Siel's response was calm.

"I was stroking your hair."

"...Why?"

"You sighed."

"What does that have to do with stroking my hair?"

Was it her way of offering comfort because I seemed troubled?

"My mom used to do it like this."

Suddenly her speech becomes fluent only at such times. It was somewhat odd, but I couldn't really say anything against it.

"Do you dislike it?"

Siel suddenly asked this question, making my head spin.

"It's not that I dislike it..."

"Do you like it, then?"

If I had to choose, it would be the latter, but...

...Saying I like it here would make me sound like a total creep.

I desperately searched my brain for a topic to change the subject.

"If you have the energy to say weird stuff, help me look for the guild instead."

Fortunately, it wasn't a difficult task.

We really did need to find the guild.

Whether this era was before or after the original story, the guild would definitely exist.

There's no better place to gather information.

'We need to find the others, too.'

I had successfully recruited Siel as a companion.

...Though it was my fault she might have messed up her skill tree, let's consider it a success for now.

Still, Siel alone wasn't enough.

We would undoubtedly need more power to face the upcoming crises, no matter how much we gathered.

'...The empire was definitely engulfed in flames in the trailer.'

This is the problem with being possessed into a game without having played it.

Thankfully, the spoiler post had given me bits of information, but it's too scant.

Not knowing exactly why the world ends, but not wanting to die, I have to find a way to prevent the apocalypse.

There's a limit to how hopeless a situation can be.

Naturally, a sigh escaped me.

And then,

"...I really didn't do it on purpose."

I was stroked again.

"I get it."

"I really didn't do it on purpose!"

"Why do you keep repeating the same thing?"

"..."

I eventually chose to keep silent.

Is she good at talking, or not? I can't tell if she's teasing me or if I'm just being sensitive.

"Ian."

"I didn't sigh just so you would stroke my hair!"

"Not that, look over there."

I turned my gaze to where Siel was pointing with her finger.

Soon, a sign with a familiar sword and shield came into view.

It was that familiar Adventurers' Guild.

*****

"It's noisy."

"Well, that's to be expected. This place also serves as a tavern, after all."

I respond to Siel, who's still being carried.

Indeed, this place is just as I remembered it from the prequel.

A place where people from various backgrounds, from various races, and various types of people gather together.

I felt a slight sense of relief.

After all, this was one of the few safe zones within the game.

As if to authenticate the gloomy world, all manner of horrific events transpire outside.

Like when approaching a crying child to receive a quest, only for the child to suddenly turn and attempt to stab you in the throat.

Or when killing what seems like a deranged child, only to later discover that the child was under the control of a dark magician.

Choosing to apologize when the grieving parents of the child approach, lamenting the loss of their offspring, leads to an ironic twist.

-How foolish.

Turns out, those 'parents' were the dark magicians in disguise, using their child as a puppet.
A player who is caught off guard will either die or end up being used as the dark magician's next puppet, a twisted bad ending.

Such vile and mind-boggling incidents are thankfully absent here.

An unspoken agreement exists in this place; no one is allowed to harm another.

Breaking this rule would mean making enemies of the entire guild.

It's in this way that peace is maintained.

"There should be something here."

Navigating through the crowd, I checked the bulletin board plastered with various notices.

Well, even though it's a guild, given its location in a slum, it's not exactly well-organized.

"...?"

As I searched for my objective, something peculiar caught my eye.

'The Black Fang? Was there such a group in the original story?'

Upon closer examination, the notice revealed something significant.

They had killed a knight commander and taken down a noble who was exploiting children in an unauthorized factory.

It seems to be an emerging revolutionary organization opposing the empire.

'Well, it doesn't seem to have much to do with me.'

A substantial bounty for simply identifying a member of the organization, not to mention the promise of granting whatever one desires for capturing one alive, is quite tempting.

But this is surely overreaching.

A knight commander is a formidable foe, only to be faced in the very endgame. How on earth am I supposed to capture a crazed monster who has killed such a person?

"Stay still for a moment, Siel. It's hard to carry you like this."

In any case, this story has nothing to do with me.

Therefore, I turned my attention away and continued to scan through the list of requests... and soon found it.

My second target.

The location where my next companion awaits recruitment.

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