Ascendance of a Bookworm – 026
Interlude: My Assistant
My name is Otto . I am the man who loves my beautiful, adorable wife Corinna the most in the whole wide world .
Her hair is the color of cream, and the irises of her eyes are gray . Each of her pale colors adds to the gentle, pure atmosphere that floats around her . The bridge of her nose may be long, but she’s so cute when she worries about how the plumpness of her cheeks makes her look a little bit baby-faced . She’s so lovely when she laughingly tells me that she doesn’t know what she’s going to do about me . She smells great when I hold her close, her huge breasts squishing up against me . She’s the best .
I’ll shout it from the top of the world! My Corinna is the best woman in the world!
Today, at the behest of my helper Maine, I met Lutz, a young boy who said that he wanted to become a trader . I gently hit him with the harsh truth of reality, leaving his dreams smashed into tiny pieces .
“I’m home, Corinna!” I call out . “Benno’s with me too . ”
“Welcome back, dear . …So, even after bullying children that haven’t even been baptized, you can still come home with a smile like that . ”
“She’s so cute even when she’s pouting!”
I unintentionally blurt out my inner thoughts . Corinna looks at me in shock, then lets out a long sigh . This is a regular sort of shock, so I just shrug my shoulders and explain myself . I really had no intention to bully those children, so it’s not like what I did could be considered bullying . All I did was talk to a child who still believed in fairy tales and told him about how reality truly works .
“I didn’t have a choice . There’s nothing good about becoming a trader, after all . Sure, I had to shatter his dreams completely, but it was for his own good . ”
“I guess so, but…”
Corinna looks down at the ground with her gray eyes, her eyebrows knitting together in concern and pity . Seeing my Corinna worrying about another man, even if he’s just a child, makes my heart tremble, though just a little bit .
“You’re such a kind person, Corinna . You’re so worried about a child you haven’t even met…” I grab onto her shoulders and hug her close, just ready to kiss her .
“You’re blocking the door, Otto,” says Benno, crossly, from behind me . “Actually go in the house, please . ”
Corinna, looking a little flustered, shoves me off to the side and shows Benno in .
“Come in, big brother! …You look quite depressed, are you maybe feeling guilty about rejecting those children?”
Deep lines are carved between Benno’s knotted eyebrows, and not a single trace of his usual affable demeanor can be found in his expression at all . Contrary to what Corinna is thinking, Benno actually didn’t wind up rejecting Lutz, so, of course, his gloomy mood has nothing to do with guilt at all .
“No, no, Corinna, it’s not that,” I say . “He tried to drive away Lutz after the boy said he wanted to become a merchant’s apprentice, but Lutz wouldn’t be driven away . Maine set forth a few conditions, and Benno actually accepted them . She completely turned the tables on him . That’s why he’s depressed . ”
“Otto…” says Benno in a low, warning voice . I ignore him and head into the house with Corinna .
He must be feeling the effects of being done in by a child . This is great . Savor this, Benno . This is how I feel every time Maine does something shocking to me .
As we walk towards the parlor, I embrace Corinna from behind, and kiss her lovely cream-colored hair over and over . Benno clenches his first, telling us that we should wait to do that until he’s not around . Even though I want to be mad at him for interrupting our couple’s time, but if I were to actually say that in front of Corinna, she’d tell me to cut it out immediately, so I bite my tongue .
The parlor is typically where Corinna entertains her customers . She works hard to keep it very clean so that she can use it whenever a customer may happen to come by . In the center of the room stands a round table, unlike the one in the dining room . Four chairs are set around it . Since the use of cloth for things besides just clothing is the mark of a wealthy individual, this parlor has much more cloth in it than any other room in the house . For instance, display shelves are arranged along the right wall, showing the patterns that Corinna can make, On the left wall, a vividly colored tapestry has been hung, sewed together out of leftover cloth .
I don’t usually come into this room, since I rarely need to, but it’s fun for me to just look at it, since it’s decorated with Corinna’s handiwork . I sit down at the table opposite from Benno, broadly grinning at him .
“Well! That really was an unexpected turn of events! I never would have thought that Benno would make a compromise…”
“What? Benno did?” asks Corinna, her gray eyes going wide . “Otto, you have to tell me everything!”
She’s so cute when she pesters me with those wide eyes . Also, after she sits down on the chair next to me, she scoots it just a little bit closer . She really is adorable .
It’s rare for Corinna to pester me like this, so I cheerfully recount the day’s events to her, applauding Maine in my heart for her efforts .
When I finish with my story, Corinna looks at her brother, her eyes wide .
“He made himself look as good as he could before he met you, then showed up in the plaza to wait for you long before the bell actually rang… Benno, weren’t you losing that fight from the very beginning?”
Benno’s mood is only growing more and more foul . Even as he pours the liquor Corinna had brought out down his throat, the knot between his eyebrows doesn’t loosen even the slightest . Both maintaining at least a minimum level of personal grooming and making sure you arrive earlier than the person you’re requesting a favor of to avoid making them wait are obvious, basic things for a merchant . Benno thought that he could see how prepared Lutz actually was based on whether or not he could do those basic things, but Lutz actually cleared both of those hurdles .
It was, however, probably Maine’s doing .
From expression that flashed across her face the moment she saw us enter the plaza, I can’t think of anything else . Today’s victor was clearly Maine, and, thanks to that, I got to see a scene where Benno was forced to make a compromise .
“Well! Thanks to Maine, today was much more fun than I thought it was going to be!”
“You’re talking about your squad leader’s daughter, right? The one you said was extremely bright . ”
“Yeah, that’s right . Even though it’s been nearly half a year since I made her my assistant, I still don’t have a good grip on her . She’s so peculiar that I can’t help but wonder how a child like her could have been raised . ”
As a trader, I went to many different places and met with many different people of many different social positions, and Maine’s peculiarities stand out from all of them . Benno, my companion for the day, has similar experience; as a merchant, he knows many people of note . If you think of my breadth of knowledge as wide, but shallow, Otto’s is narrow, but deep .
“Hey, Otto,” he says . “What was that?”
“I told you already, that was my assistant . ”
“No, I get that, but don’t lie to me: was that really a soldier’s daughter?”
“No doubt about that at all… but I, for one, think it’s strange . ”
“How so?” asks Corinna, head tilted to one side in wonder .
Usually, when I tell her about my day, I mention a few things about Maine, like how she’s smart, or how she’s frail, and so on, but this is the first time I’ve ever described her as strange . After all, I think she’s so strange that you can’t truly understand just how strange she is unless you see her for yourself .
“First of all, her appearance is unusual . She keeps herself so tidy that you’d never think she was ever a soldier’s daughter . The clothes she wears aren’t all that different than what you see on other children like her; old, worn-out, and patched in places . Her skin and hair, though, are so clean that they shine . The squad leader is a man that looks just about the same as all the other soldiers, but neither of his daughters are slightly dirty like he is, and their hair is glossy . ”
“Surely their mother must be helping them take care of their skin and hair, then?”
Corinna was raised as the daughter of a wealthy merchant, so even if she’s seen how poor people live, she really can’t truly grasp what it’s really like . Putting effort into taking care of your skin and hair requires time, money, and supplies . Poor people have none of those things in abundance at all .
“…I last saw their mother this past winter, but she didn’t seem like she was taking the initiative to put in that kind of effort . She is, though, so beautiful that she’s really wasted on the squad leader . ”
During a clear winter’s day, Maine stayed at the gates for a while so that her family could collect paru . When her mother came to pick up her daughter, I didn’t get the impression that she was remarkably tidy . All I really noticed was that she looked a lot like Maine, and that she was beautiful .
“Ohhh, is that so?” says Corinna, an amused twinkle in her gray eyes . It’s very rare for me to compliment other women . “Of course, you’re the best woman in my whole wide world, and that will never, ever change!”
“Yes, yes, dear, that’s quite enough . …So, Benno, did Maine seem strange to you too?”
Benno puts his glass down, leans back in his chair, and looks up at a beam holding up the ceiling . Slowly, he takes a breath .
“Yeah . Her hair, the color of the night sky, was so glossy that it almost seemed to glow, her skin was an untarnished white, and her hands did not look like those of someone who lives a life of manual labor . Her teeth were white, too . The beat-up dress she was wearing matched her so poorly that it almost looked forced, no matter how I looked at it . ”
“Wait… hair so glossy that it almost seemed to glow?! What did she do to make it do that?!”
“Huh?” I say, blinking in surprise . “Corinna, but you’re already so beautiful just as you are!”
“Quiet, Otto! I’m talking to my brother . ”
To women, it seems that the shininess of one’s hair is a matter of utmost importance . It’s rare for Corinna to express this much interest in something that’s not related to sewing .
“It looked like she’d put something in it, but she didn’t tell me what exactly she’d used . ”
“Benno, she said it was a secret,” I added .
“Otto, do you think you’ll be able to ask her about it?” asked Corinna .
“…Yes, but she’s probably going to be on guard from now on, so I don’t think I’ll be able to get an answer . ”
Corinna wants to know what Maine does to her hair . For Corinna’s sake, I’ll ask Maine about it the next time I see her, even though I’m certain it’s useless .
“Aside from her hair,” I say, “I think that the reason her hands are so clean is because her body is so small and weak that she can’t be of much help around the house . The whiteness of her skin is probably because she gets sick at a moment’s notice, so she doesn’t go outside very often and thus doesn’t get a lot of sun . Honestly, she’s only really started to be healthy enough to go outside since this spring . ”
“…Now that you mention it, we cancelled the meeting last time because she had a fever, didn’t she?”
I nod, unable to keep off my face a faint expression of irritation as I remember how jumpy and distracted the squad leader was during his daughter’s five-day fever .
“So, in other words, Maine’s appearance is due to her weak constitution?” asks Corinna . “That’s not quite enough to call her strange, isn’t it?”
It seems that Corinna has decided this isn’t that big of a deal after hearing all of this . She shrugs her shoulders, looking like she’s rapidly losing interest .
Benno shakes his head . “No, it’s not just her appearance that’s strange . What stood out to me was her posture and her speech . …Those were something that she couldn’t have mastered without very good upbringing at home . Otto, don’t tell me that she had such a strict upbringing because her parents are disgraced former members of the nobility?”
I wouldn’t draw that conclusion about the squad leader’s family circumstances . If you look at the rest of Maine’s family, it’s quite obvious whether or not they have any connections to the aristocracy .
“The squad leader has one more daughter, who is perfectly ordinary . Her hair is unusually glossy and her skin is relatively clean, though, but that’s it . She’s not so far beyond her peers as Maine is . ”
Benno nods slightly, then looks over to Corinna .
“Corinna,” he says, “that girl doesn’t just look strange . She had the courage to maintain eye contact when I was staring her down, was crafty enough to protect her advantages with regards to the secret behind her hair, was able to feed me a wild bluff without anything to back it up, and even negotiated terms… none of those things are things I’d expect from a child that hasn’t even been baptized . ”
“A child that doesn’t flinch away under your glare, Benno?!” asks Corinna, her eyes wide . “That child is strange . Without any doubt, that child is strange . ”“
When Benno starts to lay on the coercion, his eyes grow sharp like a predator’s . Benno is the eldest son of the family and Corinna is the youngest daughter, so when they lost their father while Corinna was still very young, Benno stepped in to raise her in his place . He scolded her a lot whenever she got immature, and the fact that even to this day she still averts her eyes is a sign of how scary Benno can get .
“A~ah, her memory and calculation ability are also amazing!” I say . “Now that I think about it, when I gave her my slate, she surprised me again . She picked up the slate pencil and started writing immediately, without anyone even needing to show her how to hold it! It’s almost like she already knew how to write . ”
“Did she maybe learn by watching you?” asks Corinna, her head tilted to the side in thought .
She glances down briefly, noticing that my glass is empty, and pours me another . I take a mouthful, hesitating about how I should answer . It’s true that I showed her how by example, but…
“Writing isn’t something that you can just simply start doing after watching someone else, especially with how smoothly she was writing right from the start . I train all of the new apprentice soldiers in how to write every season, so I know how difficult it is to learn . When they first start, they can barely draw a line, let alone write a single letter . ”
“Ahh, that’s right…”
Corinna has instructed quite a few apprentices of her own in a variety of things, so she knows how rare it is for someone to be able to learn how to do something just by watching .
“Her calculation abilities are also very strange . She said that she learned how to read numbers when her mother took her to the town market, but surely it’s impossible for someone to learn how to do math just from being taught the numbers, right?”
“Well,” says Benno, “the apprentices who come to me already know a little bit of math . It’s something their parents teach them, you know?”
The children who become apprentice merchants are generally the children of merchants themselves, so it’s not uncommon for the children to know how to read, write, and do basic math by the time they go through their baptismal ceremony . When I was a child, traveling with my trader parents, they taught me math and writing . Maine’s calculation abilities, however, are on an entirely different level .
“It’s not just a little bit of math . The south gate’s financial report calculates the quantity and costs of all of the equipment that we’ll need over the course of the year, right? These aren’t the tiny numbers you see at the town market, these are very significant sums once you start adding them all up, and she was able to just start doing those calculations like it was an everyday sort of thing . Also, she didn’t even need to use a calculator1, she just worked everything out on her slate . ”
“…That really isn’t something that you make an assistant do, usually? Letting a kid like her work on your financial report . ”
I shoot a glare towards an amused Benno . For the sake of shocking them, I then tell them something that I’ve never told anyone before .
“Don’t tell anyone I ever said this, but I think I could trust her to do about seventy percent of the financial report on her own . ”
“…Seventy percent… Otto…”
They’re even more surprised than I thought they were going to be . Their faces have gone rigid and their eyes have gone wide with shock . I can’t help but start laughing .
“And it’s only seventy percent because there’s vocabulary words she doesn’t know yet! And it only gets worse . When I was away from the office, she was able to perfectly handle what needed to be done when someone came through with a letter of introduction from a nobleman . ”
That had been shocking . I had been in a meeting that day, where my squad leader was constantly, restlessly, nervously fidgeting in his seat because he was missing the baptismal ceremony for his beloved daughter . When that let out, Maine came to me to give a report: a merchant carrying a letter of recommendation from a low-ranking member of the nobility was waiting for processing .
Essentially, when a visitor comes through with a letter of introduction from one nobleman to another, we want to accommodate them as quickly as possible, validating their information and letting them through into the town . Even if they’re commoners, they should still be treated like low-ranking noblemen . That day, the meeting I was in had been called by a high-ranking nobleman . Of course, when having to decide what to prioritize, a high-ranking nobleman’s request comes before that of a low-ranking nobleman’s . However, if we were to mistreat a guest, then they’d get furious at how rude we were being, brandish their low-ranking noble’s letter of introduction like a shield, barge into our meeting, infuriate the high-ranking nobleman present, and make an enormous mess out of everything .
Instead, Maine directed the merchant, who was not a nobleman, to the waiting room for low-ranking noblemen, tickling his sense of self-conceit, then explained the fact that the ranking officials were in the middle of a meeting called by a high-ranking nobleman . Then, immediately after the meeting finished, she came to deliver a report so that there would be no misunderstandings with the leading private and the merchant could be swiftly processed through . She did all of this by instructing a new recruit what to do, despite the fact that he was so flustered that he was practically useless . It was perfect .
“What an amazing girl, isn’t she?” says Corinna .
“Amazing, hmm… more like strange . Weird . However, I think that Squad Leader Gunther hasn’t paid much attention to her peculiarities . From his perspective, I think he just sees her as his adorable, frail little girl . If I hadn’t told him that I wanted her to be my assistant, nobody would have noticed her excellence, would they? Even now, he says things like ‘my little girl is so clever!’ without, I think, actually realizing how abnormally clever she really is . ”
“It’s a good thing he’s so slow, isn’t it!” laughs Otto . “If she weirded him out, it wouldn’t be strange at all for him to throw her away!”
Corinna frowns, sadly . “Don’t joke about things like that . I don’t even want to imagine it . ”
“It’s alright, Corinna,” I say, with a comforting smile . “Even if the squad leader did get weirded out, and if she were to be thrown out, then maybe Benno could adopt her instead . After all, she’s so brilliant that she was able to turn the tables on him completely . ”
Corinna softly smiles at that . Yep, as I thought, Corinna is way cuter when she smiles .
“Hey,” says Benno, lightly drumming his fingers on the table, “do you think that girl’s going to be able to make that paper?” As he looks at me, I notice that his eyes once again are filled with a merchant’s shrewd gleam .
“A kind of paper that isn’t parchment, was it? I think she can definitely do it . ”
“You’ve got a lot of faith in her, huh?”
“Hmmm… earlier, she told me that there was something she wanted immediately, and she really wanted to make it, but she didn’t have the strength to do it herself… could it be that? I told her that she could always try to convince someone to do it for her if she couldn’t do it herself . If Lutz is going to be her hands and feet, moving as she directs, then she’ll be able to complete it . ”
She told me that she regretted how little strength and stamina she had, which means that she must already know how she wanted to make it . Then, she declared that she was going to be able to make it, as if she knew her probability of success was high . Most likely, that wasn’t a bluff .
“…If she actually does this, it’ll turn the town’s market upside down . How am I going to handle this girl?”
“Are you thinking of taking her on yourself?”
From what Benno is saying, it sounds like he’s thinking about taking on not just Lutz as an apprentice, but Maine as well . It’s just a guess, but when I say it out loud, Benno’s eyes go wide .
“Of course! You thin I could let a something like that fall into someone else’s hands?! Just what kinds of things is she capable of making by herself? That ‘hairpin’ she wore, whatever product she uses in her hair, paper that isn’t parchment… and that’s just the things that I know about from today! She has to have even more ideas secreted away . She is a calamity that could singlehandedly throw the entire market into chaos . ”
“Wait a minute! That’s my apprentice! You can’t just steal her like that!”
I don’t think that Benno’s claim is wrong, but I do have objections . I’ve spent the last half-year training her, raising her so that she can unleash her full potential on the year-end budget reports . There’s no way I’m just going to stand idly by as Benno snatches her away from me . Benno, however, lets out a snort of laughter, puckering his lips into a smug sort of smile .
“She said that becoming a merchant was her number-two aspiration . She has no interest in being your assistant! You’ve only been training her for, what, half a year? Find someone else, Otto . ”
“Where am I going to find someone else who can be trained into usefulness in half a year?! Maine can think of things, Lutz can make those things, so then there’s no problem at all with her continuing to work at the gate, is there?!”
I’m especially not going to surrender her during budget season . Benno and I glare at each other with all our might, willing the other to capitulate . I grab my cup, and pound back the rest of my drink .
“Of course there is!” Benno roars . “I’m going to make her contract with the merchant’s guild . I can’t risk her getting snatched up by someone else . ”
“Think about her health, then! Working with the merchant’s guild will be impossible!”
Benno deflates, like he’s suddenly exhausted . I see an opening, and immediately hammer home my point .
“Her constitution is so weak that she’s almost shockingly feeble, right? Getting her to do any sort of work that involves her body would be impossible!”
“…She’s that frail, huh?”
“Yeah, when she went to a nearby village on pig-slaughtering day, she suddenly collapsed . The squad leader brought her back to the night duty room so she could rest . That was the first time I really came into contact with her . I thought that she was going to be fine, since she was in a warm room with a fireplace, so I gave her a slate so she could kill some time and left her alone . Not even one bell later, she got a fever and collapsed again . ”
I needed to stand watch that day, so I’d left her next to the fireplace in the night duty room for a while . When I came back in to check on her, she’d collapsed due to fever . When the squad leader came to pick her up, he told me to pay it no mind, because it happened all the time . Her extreme feebleness seems to be something her family just kind of accepts by now .
“When spring came around, it was awful for her . She couldn’t even walk on her own from her house to the gate . ”
“Wait… to the gate?” asks Benno .
“No matter where your house is in this town, making it to the gate isn’t really very far, you know?” adds Corinna .
The city is surrounded on all sides by a wall, so the town itself isn’t actually all that big . Even going at a child’s pace, going from the west gate to the east gate shouldn’t take more than one bell’s worth of time .
“That’s right, the squad leader’s house isn’t particularly far from the south gate . However, that didn’t do Maine any good . She’d get exhausted about halfway there, and after the squad leader carried her the rest of the way in his arms, she was laid out in the duty room, unable to move, all the way until noon . After that, she’d usually have to stay in bed for another two or three days . ”
“Hey, that… is she really alright? Won’t she just die if she has to do any work?”
I can’t at all say that I’m not afraid of that . In particular, Benno is always full of vigor, and his workplace is so busy that it’s always brimming with raw energy . I can’t imagine that being a place where Maine would be fit to work .
“Well, by the time spring was halfway through, she was finally able to make it all the way to the gate, and she needed to stay in bed far less than before . When spring was over, she was able to make it all the way out to the forest, but I think she still doesn’t have the strength to do any ordinary work . So, I was thinking that she should work at the gate, where doing paperwork is her sole responsibility and she can take care of herself…”
I’d said she had a weak constitution, but it seems like Benno hadn’t thought that she was quite so frail . He furrows his brow as he contemplates . He might be figuring out how to change course now that he knows that all of his previous plans aren’t going to work out for him . If that’s the case, then I should probably give him one more piece of information .
“Lutz is the one who’s always been keeping an eye on Maine . Whenever she got separated from the rest of the children coming back from the forest, Lutz stayed behind to escort her all the way back . The squad leader gave him some pocket money for it, but I think he did it because of his strong sense of loyalty and responsibility . ”
Lutz is at that age where most boys just want to run around wildly, but he’s instead always accompanying Maine . That’s not something that just anyone could do . Incidentally, I don’t have any strong sense of loyalty like that; there’s nobody to whom I’m devoted besides Corinna .
“…I can’t fathom all of that girl’s abnormalities, but that boy is pretty strange too,” says Benno .
Benno rubs his chin lightly, looking like he’s just remembered something . Gradually, an unpleasant expression creeps onto his face .
“It wasn’t just the girl who was able to stand up to my stare and clearly state their own opinions . Moreover, most people would ordinarily see a sickly girl like that as trouble, but he seems to treat her like he’s her guardian? He stood in front of her, like he was trying to protect her from me . Despite that, though, as soon as she started negotiating with me, he stepped back like it was only natural for him to do so . ”
“Yeah, now that you mention it…”
Just like Benno said, after he clearly made his declaration, he handed the reins over to Maine as she made the proposal . This doesn’t seem to me like the usual sort of protector/protectee relationship . What kind of relationship could they possibly have?
“There aren’t very many kids who think about when they should step forward or when they should let someone else do the talking . On top of that, even though I couldn’t get any information out of the girl, she tells him everything so that he can make things for her . If I only had the girl, I wouldn’t be able to get information out of her, so it would be meaningless . If I only had the boy, then the girl would find someone else to make her things for her, so that would be meaningless too . It’s much better to keep those two as a set . ”
I can’t help but smile when I see the sharpness of Benno’s merchant’s intuition . He didn’t just notice Maine, he also sized up how useful Lutz was, and after meeting the two of them just once, he so clearly noticed all of those things about them . He’s as quick-witted as they come .
“You’ve got a keen sense of smell as always… The squad leader seems to put a lot of trust in Lutz as well . He seems to be the person who has the greatest influence on her . He’s there for her right when she collapses, and he can prevent her from running amok to chase things outside her reach by skillfully helping her out . ”
“Hmm, if he’s able to confidently state that he’ll make everything that Maine can come up with, then he must have something to back that up . ”
Lutz had said something about how Maine was always like that . There’s probably even more things that Maine has done that I’m not even aware of .
“I think they’ve probably made some other weird things together, probably . Didn’t they mention something called ‘clay tablets’?”
“…Weird things? Damn, I have no idea what kind of things they could be making! Regardless, those two are a single set . I’ll take them both . I’ll surrender neither of them to you . ”
With a single stroke, the subject was settled . Corinna stands up from her chair, leaving to go start preparing dinner . She leaves behind a lamp for the table, a small cask in case we wanted to refill our drinks, and some snacks to go with our liquor . As I gnaw on the slightly salty jerky, I look over at Benno pouring himself another drink .
“Hey, Benno . Do you have any idea of what Maine was asking about, that wriggling sort of fever inside her body?”
“I’ve never heard of a fever that thrashes around inside your body like that, feeling like it’s going to consume you . ”
From his reaction when Maine asked the question, I think he might have some inkling of what might be happening, and from his reaction now, I think he really does know something . His eyes are raised, just a little bit, as if he’s worried about whether or not he should say anything . After spending a while in contemplation, he mutters something in a voice that’s almost too quiet to hear .
“It might be… the devouring . I don’t have any proof, though . ”
“…The devouring? What’s that?”
“It’s not an illness . It’s where you let too much mana build up in you with nothing to use it on . It eats you from the inside, then you die . ”
“Wh… what?! Isn’t mana something that only the nobility have?”
My eyes fly open as soon as I hear that rare word . Mana is not a thing that commoners have . It’s a mysterious and powerful force . It’s not something that’s seen frequently, so I don’t know much about it at all, but it’s said you can change the course of nations if you have enough of it . That’s why those who possess mana are the nobility, governing the country at the top .
“…It’s not common, but there are people outside of the nobility who have mana . However, the magical implements needed to release that mana are very expensive, so it’s more accurate to say that only the nobility have the ability to properly use their mana . ”
Benno is quickly rising through a company with connections to the nobility, so his knowledge about the workings of this country is much deeper than mine .
“Huh! Maine has mana . I wonder if that’s why she’s so strange?”
“Didn’t I just say that I have no proof? If it’s the devouring, though, that would explain why she’s so small for her age and why she collapses so frequently . ”
“Is mana so hazardous?”
I had thought that mana was a wondrous, useful, but mysterious thing, but if Maine’s weakness is the result of magic, then I wonder if it’s something dangerous as well .
“If this somehow really is the devouring… yeah . If it’s the devouring, and she can’t release that mana, that girl is… going to die very soon . ” “Wh–?!”
An image of Maine’s doting father flashes into my mind, and I’m hit with a feeling like a bucket of cold water was dumped over me . I stare at Benno in shock . From the serious expression on his face, this doesn’t look like any sort of joke or friendly banter .
“It seems that mana builds up in someone as they grow up, and it starts to devour their heart . There are many commoners who don’t have access to magical implements who just simply die before they’re even baptized . ”
“Is there anything she can do?”
If anyone knows of a good solution to this problem, it would be Benno . As I plaintively ask for advice, he combs his fingers back through his hair, then lets out a sigh .
“If she had the backing of a noble, then they could lend her a magical implement and postpone her death . …However, she’d effectively be theirs until she died . She’d only be living for the sake of using her power for that noble . Between dying surrounded by her family or living her entire life as a noble’s pet, I don’t know which I would rather choose . ”
There was no salvation in anything he just said . To be honest, I have no idea which of those two I’d pick, either . I don’t want to die, but I also am deeply concerned that being a nobleman’s pet for life would be equally awful .
“It’s a somewhat different story if you can keep the built-up power pinned down with your willpower . A child, though, doesn’t have the sheer force of will to be able to keep that up indefinitely . …I wonder how that girl will do?”
Just looking at Maine, I can tell that she has much more willpower than other kids her age . However, I don’t know if even she’ll be able to hold down her mana long enough to keep the devouring at bay . She seems to be keeping it in check for now, but if her mana keeps growing as she does, then I don’t think anyone could have any idea about when she might finally reach her limit .
“Otto, don’t look so serious . We still don’t actually know if it’s the devouring . Look at it this way: if it really was, she’d be very close to death . Do you think she’d be able to walk around outside if that were actually the case?”
“I… guess so…”
A tiny bit of relief and a heavy pile of anxiety simultaneously crash through my heart .
That’s right, Maine has seemed close to death countless times . She may be able to walk around outside now, but that was the result of her enormous struggle during the spring . Before that, I hear that she really wasn’t able to go out like that .
Is she really going to be okay? I don’t know whether I should tell the squad leader about this or not .
Inexpressible emotions tumble around in my chest, and I down the rest of my drink .