Rockwall Lou – V4 Chapter 6

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟔

(6)

The Wilderness Guild is the largest organization in the city of Arche. Its building is located near the west gate inside the walls, with a large portion dedicated to the Demon Beast Market where demon beast meats and materials are traded. For Crozet, who had been coming and going since childhood, it was a familiar place.

“Hello, Mipp-san.”

“Hey, Kuro-chan.”

While busily giving instructions to the young ones, the lively old man smiled shyly.

He is Mipp, the market chief.

“Lately, it seems like Star Guardian is doing well.”

“Thank you, but.”

Crozet looked around.

“It seems like it’s not just us who are doing well.”

Even though it was just past noon, products from dismantlers other than Star Guardian were being brought to the market.

“Lately, it’s non-stop from noon to dusk. Our daily transaction volume has tripled.”

“Yet the purchase price has risen.”

Thanks to this, Hamaji, the accountant, is delighted, but Theresa and Maasa looked puzzled.

The market reflects the changes in the world. This might be a cue for the Wilderness Guild to do some investigation. Hence, Crozet was dispatched.

Mipp said in a feigned ignorance.

“Well, you know, Star Guardian has always been thorough in their work. Lately, with them being the first on the scene, the freshness is also great.”

“Is that all?”

Knowing the curious nature of the young Crozet, Mipp gestured hesitantly, then motioned her closer.

He whispered some inside information.

“Between you and me, it seems the Royal Knights will be dispatched from the capital. On the orders of “His Majesty”, officials are buying up food and liquor left and right. This has caused prices to skyrocket, and even regular customers aren’t getting supplies.”

“The Royal Knights? Why?”

“Who knows.”

Mipp shook his head, seemingly not wanting to think about it.

“Anyway, one thing is for sure, the number of demon beasts is increasing. I’ve heard rumors of a “massive beast” in the wilderness. Many are enthusiastic thinking it’s a good time to earn, but it’s better to be cautious during such times. Tell that to your folks when you get back.”

“Yes, I will.”

After finishing her intelligence gathering, Crozet returned to the Star Guardian’s gathering place and reported to Theresa and Maasa.

“Hmm. Something smells fishy.”

“A Demon Beast War, perhaps?”

Beasts that the demon beast hunters can’t handle, ones ten times larger than humans, are called “massive beasts”. The Royal Knights typically deal with them. Such extermination battles are always intense.

Theresa didn’t agree with Maasa’s opinion.

“Their response seems too quick for that.”

Theresa thought it was improbable that the slow-moving Royal Knights would be dispatched when the truth of the rumors was still uncertain in the Wilderness Guild.

“Perhaps something unusual has occurred in the capital.”

Maasa’s eyes widened.

“You can’t be serious.”

“Hey, don’t jump to conclusions.”

The two started discussing in hushed voices.

 ㅤ

“Demon beasts have been active before. There’s a cycle to these things.”

“Yes.”

“By the way, how’s the barrier holding up?”

“For now, yes. It’s all good.”

“I see. Well, in any case, we can’t make a decision until we understand the situation better.”

“If the Royal Knights take action, there will surely be an official announcement.”

“What we should watch out for is the movement of the Black Neck Squad. Behind the commotion, they move discreetly.”

Leaving the tough talk to the two of them, Crozet decided to go to her room to call Luo.

After lunch, Luo isn’t focused on studying, so she lets him nap. He ended up using Crozet’s bed. She doesn’t mind that, but she strongly denies the side effects her mother mentions.

“Luo-kun, it’s about time for your studies—.”

Entering the tent, Crozet was puzzled.

The futon was trembling.

“Luo-kun?”

Rushing to the bed, wondering if he was sick, Crozet was at a loss for words.

Luo, crying, was murmuring in his sleep.

“Eat. Please.”

With both hands firmly clasped in front of his face.

“If you don’t eat, you’ll die. Please.”

As if offering a prayer.

“Mom.”

Realizing he was having a terrifying dream, Crozet understood.

She had heard about Luo’s family situation during the inquisition. Luo’s mother, who was already weak, caught a contagious disease. After losing her husband, she couldn’t bear to eat anymore.

“Don’t die, Mom.”

“Luo-kun!”

Unable to stand still, Crozet picked Luo up.

“It’s okay, Luo-kun. There’s nothing to be afraid of here. No one is going away. So, don’t worry.”

Waking up in Crozet’s arms, Luo looked puzzled.

“Huh? Crozet-oneechan?”

Holding him tightly once more, Crozet wiped away Luo’s tears and straightened his messy hair.

“Luo-kun, you had a scary dream, didn’t you?”

“Dream?”

“Yes, a scary dream. But it’s over now.”

Luo shook his head.

“I always see it.”

At those words, Crozet felt a chill. Had this child always been haunted by the memory of his mother’s death?

“But, it’s not a scary dream.”

“Huh?”

“It’s a memory of my mom.”

 ㅤ

Luo, with a face that suggested he had a good sleep, stretched out and asked if it was already time to study.

After dropping Luo off at the community tent, Crozet began cleaning the premises. As she swept the ground with a broom, she got lost in her thoughts, realizing she knew nothing about Luo.

Luo apparently had been living alone since he lost his parents at the age of six. According to Maasa, he learned basic reading, writing, and arithmetic from his mother. He was also taught manners.

After the traumatic experience of losing his parents, Crozet realized that Luo probably hadn’t received any psychological care. His childlike behavior for a ten-year-old might be because of that.

What were the adults around him doing during that time?

As she got lost in thought, she found herself at the edge of the premises. She was about to turn back with a sigh when she encountered a suspicious-looking man. He was wearing rural, unfashionable clothes and carried a large backpack. Perhaps he was a traveling merchant.

The man seemed to recognize Crozet and approached her, waving his hand unsteadily.

“Miss, can I ask you something? Is there a dismantler called “Star Guardian” around here?”

“Do you have some business with “Star Guardian”?”

“There should be a wizard child named Luo staying there.”

His eyes looked tired, but there was a sarcastic smile. Although he looked like he was in his twenties, he could be in his thirties. Crozet didn’t have a good first impression of him.

The man introduced himself as Saji, and he claimed to be an acquaintance from Luo’s hometown. Although cautious, Crozet led him to the gathering place.

“Luo-kun, it seems you have a visitor. Do you know a man named Saji?”

Upon hearing this, Luo who was studying, immediately showed a reaction.

“It’s Aniki!”

Seeing Luo rush out of the tent, the man raised one hand and grinned.

“Hey, you seem well.”

“Aniki, why are you here?”

With a smile, the man gave Luo a friendly noogie.

“Ouch.”

“You should’ve at least written your address in the letter. I had to search everywhere.”

“I wrote it.”

“What does ‘inside the wall’ mean? How am I supposed to know that?”

Crozet observed their interaction with astonishment. While they were acquaintances from the same hometown, they didn’t seem to be family or relatives. Yet, their relationship seemed very casual.

Both Theresa and Maasa appeared, and the man introduced himself.

“My name is Saji. I’m something like a younger brother to Luo’s father. I learned from the letter that he’s working at a dismantler called “Star Guardian”. I apologize for the late introduction.”

As a token of acquaintance, Saji gave Theresa a wooden package. Inside was a spice called “Aomoke”, and Theresa was overjoyed. It’s an expensive seasoning that goes well with meat dishes and stews.

“Well then, since you’ve come from so far, perhaps we should give Luo a break from his studies. Please, make yourself at home.”

“Thank you for your kind consideration.”

 ㅤ

Crozet wondered if he might be a surprisingly decent person. But when she considered the circumstances of Luo living alone after his parents’ death and being driven out of the village, she reconsidered, suspecting he might not have good acquaintances.

After seeing Luo’s tears earlier, Crozet couldn’t trust this man.

“Alright, Luo. It’s time for introductions. Now you can introduce the Star Guardians.”

“Okay!”

Recently, Luo has been reporting signals of smoke first thing in the morning. The transport team led by Gangi would bring back parts of the demon beast before noon, and by afternoon, they all took a break.

That’s why Luo was able to introduce Saji to all members of the “Star Guardian” at once.

The two were invited for dinner.

“In our village, we also have a demon beast called a rock lizard. It’s poisonous, and its meat tastes bad, making it inedible.”

While savoring the town of Arche’s specialty, demon beast cuisine, Saji grumbled about it.

“Maybe it’s not prepared right.”

“You have to add tamarind and remove the bitterness.”

“For the lizard demon beast, the tail is safe. When sliced and dried, it becomes very useful.”

A young man seemed unusually exhilarated. Sumi, Nura, and Morin were engaged in a lively discussion about cooking.

Despite his cheeky demeanor, Saji was respectful to the elders, so people like Bekios, Chara, Bon, and Totom seemed fairly content.

Amidst this, Crozet looked displeased.

Saji explained the reason for his visit.

“Well, originally, it was my fault.”

He had instructed Luo to write a letter when sending him to the town of Arche.

“I thought maybe during the change of seasons, but he sends a letter every ten days. The postage is not cheap, and we can’t send a letter back because we don’t know his address.”

 ㅤ

I thought the frequency would decrease and I wouldn’t write as often, but the content of the letter was very prosaic.

Luo almost goes to the central market every day after finishing work to look for things to buy. He’s not aware, but among the market vendors, he’s known as the “pitiful boy” who gets ripped off at the trinket shops. Sometimes, they’d share unsold food with him out of pity.

Luo remembered the prices of all the items he saw and noted them down in a letter to Saji. Today, the prices increased a bit. They remained unchanged. There’s a big sale.

Luo faithfully practiced what Saji taught, writing down his thoughts and feelings in daily life.

Saji was amazed by the never-ending content of the letters. What caught his eye was the price of moss in a spice shop. It was much higher than what Saji had anticipated. Having been a moss collector and now running a general store, Saji thought he knew the general market rates, but this info came from Gordu, the head of the moss collector guild.

Gordu might be underreporting the moss market price and buying moss from collectors at unfairly low prices.

Suspecting this, Saji sought the cooperation of young moss collectors and confronted Gordu with the suspicions during their annual meeting.

“The meeting became chaotic. We all demanded him to present the account books, but he refused.”

That’s virtually admitting to wrongdoing.

“That’s why I came for a market survey.”

Crozet was indignant, realizing he hadn’t come to see Luo after all.

“Luo, can I stay at your place for a while? I’m a bit short on cash.”

Luo looked at Saji’s belly.

“Is your clothing too tight?”

“I mean I don’t have money.”

“Okay, got it.”

“Also, introduce me to the strange-bearded shop owner you mentioned in your letter. I want to gather information and negotiate.”

The next day, Saji said he wanted to see Luo’s workplace. He toured the “Star Guardian” and other exteriors, and in the afternoon, they decided to head to the central market together.

Crozet offered to accompany them.

She couldn’t help but be wary, thinking this man might be trying to use Luo.

The owner of the spice shop, which Luo frequents, is a very business-minded man. He eagerly discussed sourcing moss from its place of origin and proposed an exclusive contract.

 ㅤ

“The young moss collector follows me. If business goes well, I might be able to give back to those guys. Things are getting interesting.”

Saji seemed to have some free time since he achieved his goal faster than expected. While Luo was on lookout duty, he offered to help Crozet.

Crozet had a mischievous idea in mind. The “Star Guardian” lacked strong male workers. There were many tough tasks that had been put off.

After being worked hard by Crozet all morning, Saji was made to entertain the elderly when the transport team returned. Mostly playing board games, but it seemed Saji wasn’t very good, losing continuously. The elderly seemed quite pleased with themselves.

Everyone said he was a serious young man with potential, but Crozet couldn’t see it.

“Saji-san is just like you.”

Maasa said teasingly.

“What do you mean by ‘just like you’?”

“People are concerned if the “Star Guardian” is a suitable place for Luo-san.”

That’s why they actively engage to understand the person better, just as Crozet tried to understand Saji.

The next morning, Saji came to say goodbye to the “Star Guardian”. Luo was already on his lookout duty, but it seemed they had already said their goodbyes.

“I’ll see you off.”

Outside three gates, excluding the northern one leading to the “wilderness”, there was a facility to leave carriages. Crozet couldn’t warm up to Saji until the end, but Saji seemed indifferent.

“This is a good city. Lots to buy, good food, and above all, it’s lively. I was a bit surprised by the ‘house on the wall’, though.”

For some reason, that was irritating.

“Everyone at the “Star Guardian” is great. I heard they even provide education. Luo sure landed in a good place.”

Hearing him talk as if it was someone else’s business was irksome.

“Why?”

Crozet found herself stopping without realizing it.

“Why did you leave Luo-kun alone?”

The things he deserved were never given to him. He’s still haunted by the death of his parents.

“Do you know? The nightmare Luo-kun always sees.”

After a brief pause, Saji confirmed.

“Yeah. He can’t forget the day his mother died.”

“Then why didn’t you!”

Recalling the praying figure of Luo shaking with fear, tears filled Crozet’s eyes in anger.

Saji caught her gaze.

“You’re right.”

Expecting a shout in return, Crozet was taken aback.

“I ran away from him, from my own guilt. I should’ve taken in and raised the only son of the man I respected, my older brother. That’s what I should’ve done.”

Crozet thought she saw his lips quiver for a moment, but it quickly turned into a sarcastic smile.

“I heard about you from Luo. He seems to have depended on you a lot. Maybe someone as assertive as you is what a shy person like him needs.”

It was hard to tell if it was a compliment or a tease.

 ㅤ

“I was surprised to see you after such a long time.”

Saji said that Luo has changed. He has become much gentler. Probably because he met many people and had various experiences, he might have grown.

“Maybe even within him, the stagnant time has started moving.”

Crozet felt something odd about the subtle wording, but she couldn’t question it.

“I’m fully aware that I’m being too nosy, Crozet-san.”

Suddenly, Saji bowed deeply to the younger girl who rudely snapped at him.

“Please take care of Luo. He is already out of my hands. All I can do is visit this city a few times a year and check on him.”

It occurred to her that maybe he came to this place not to look for a moss supplier but for that reason.

“Please, I insist!”

Even though this area is “outside the wall”, it doesn’t mean there aren’t people around. Crozet replied in a flustered manner.

“E, Even if you don’t ask, I’ll properly take care of Luo-kun. Luo-kun is one of us━—.”

The words just naturally came out.

“He’s family.”

This time it seemed to surprise Saji. He blinked a few times and then muttered with a wry smile.

“You’re a kind girl.”

For some reason she couldn’t quite understand, Crozet became flustered and looked away.

“Recently, it seems the number of demon beasts has increased. Please be careful when you head back.”

That was all she could manage to say.

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