Chapter 24: Your Knight
Ann’s admonition didn’t take effect immediately, and the habits of being law-abiding citizens were not easily discarded. They did not take the initiative to look for the invisible shady parts of the town. The daily market alone was enough to dazzle the two of them.
Noer was only a small border town, but the worst streets were still busier than Roadside Town, which only had a few scattered shops and couldn’t be compared to the surging flow of people they saw before them. From time to time, caravans passed by on the cobble paved roads and the air was mixed with the smell of horse dung and sweet and pungent spices. As the temperature rose, merchants were no longer willing to sell cooked food, so the aroma of hot grease was far less intense than the weird sweetness of rotting fruits. Oliver picked a good place. The aroma from the bakery covered the overly strong smell of the market. The shadows casted by the sunshade separated them from the blistering sunlight and delimited them from the too noisy market.
Nemo weighed the pouch. He only knew that a place like Dawn Tavern existed was thanks to Oliver. Now he was completely out of ideas. The sun was scorching above. Even if he wasn’t afraid of the heat, it didn’t mean he would be willing to throw himself under the blazing sun either.
He silently loosened the strap of his backpack and pulled the mouth of the bag wider. Although it was unlikely, he was a little afraid that Bagelmaurus would suffocate quietly inside.
As a boring adult, Oliver obviously had no enthusiasm for adventure. He moved his whole body in the shade to stay away from the sunshine. The citizens on the street have long been on guard against this. Headscarves and hats with wild bird feathers could be seen everywhere, while two young men with bare heads stood out conspicuously.
The market was close to a river, and the smell of bread was mixed with the water. Nemo walked around behind rows of shops and saw that the side facing the river was also full of small shops, and the narrow walkway was covered by shade from the building, making the area slightly cooler.
He saw a vine-wrapped tavern at a glance. Unlike the Dawn Tavern, which was formally decorated and atmospheric, this tavern small broken signboard gave people an inexplicable sense of peace of mind. Of course, it may also be because the owner put a huge mermaid ice sculpture at the entrance of the shop, that was probably attached with a non-melting spell, so it exuded cold air that felt fresh and comfortable.
The two rushed into the shop as if they were fleeing something.
Perhaps it was because it was just after lunch time, but there were few people in the shop. Nemo picked a table in the corner of the room, then stuffed himself and his backpack into the corner together, posing as if he was going to stay here all afternoon. Oliver shook his head and sat opposite of him.
The interior of the tavern was not as old as it looked on the outside. The only special thing was that the entire wall was plastered in documents and portraits. The content was all related to—
"Tin Soldiers." Nemo confirmed whether the parrot was still alive in his backpack, then he put it on the floor with his bag. "It seems that the owner is a loyal supporter of the Tin Soldiers."
"How discerning, young man." A bearded man approached with two huge wooden wine cups and placed them heavily in front of them. There was a faint scene of wine coming from them, and the ice cubes made a pleasant sound. "Alas, nowadays, young people don’t know much about the Tin Soliders. This is my treat. You’re welcome."
He didn’t seem to want to talk more. The wooden prosthetic leg on his right leg stomped back to behind the bar where he then laid down and took a nap.
"Tin Soldiers?" Oliver asked in a low voice.
"The most famous mercenary group more than 20 years ago." Nemo’s spirit came back in an instant. "Now, many people have written books about their adventures. The last Hero was born from the Tin Soldier mercenary group, but unfortunately, it was disbanded after the last expedition."
"Because most of the members of the team died in that expedition." Being a librarian was a rather boring profession. He didn’t know how many times the books on the Tin Soldiers adventures had saved him from countless boring afternoons. Nemo himself was even considered to be a supporter. "It’s a pity. There was even a dragon among their members! Even the Hero himself did not survive."
"Wait, the Hero himself didn’t either?"
"It’s impossible for the Demon King to be defeated by anyone alone. Every time there’s a crusade, an entire army will go together." Nemo shook his glass. "The one who gives the Demon King the fatal blow will only be awarded the title of Hero. I remembered the last Hero. The Deputy Commander of the Tin Soldiers, Abbas Alastair, a powerful warlock. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it out of the Abyss alive. It’s said that there were only two people alive during the last expedition, and that was the testimony they provided."
Oliver wrapped his hands around the cup, looking as if he didn’t want to drink it. "In other words, our Mr. Hero was only the deputy commander? What about the commander?"
"Well, do you see that strange man in the mask?" Nemo excitedly pointed to a portrait posted on the edge of the wall. "Lopez was recognized as the strongest swordsman on the mainland at that time."
Oliver stretched out his neck and glanced at the yellow parchment. The mask was so weird that he quickly lost interest. "The taste is… quite special."
"He’s quite a controversial figure." Nemo downed more than half the glass in one gulp, smacking his mouth, and decided that it was at best a sweet drink with hints of alcohol. Still, it was quite refreshing and it quenched his thirst. "He rose too fast and had no background. There are opinions that he achieved the position by relying on emotional intelligence and deception, especially after the expedition. He had lost his right arm from an ordinary demon hunting. At that time many people thought that he couldn’t do anything without a team… I haven’t heard much about him since."
"Do you like stories about the Hero?" Oliver’s gaze slid from the weird mask to the beautiful elf portrait pasted to the side. "Amazing, there are elves in their team."
"Yes, their archer," Nemo said. "There were also dwarves and necromancers. I don’t know if they were too lucky or something, at that time, the members of the Tin Soldiers included most of the well-known races. Some people even suspected that there was even a superior demon mixed in, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s surprising even if there was." Looking at their team, they were two pure humans, two of whom were still inexperienced novice. His only romantic spark had blown out before it was even ignited.
"Is that why you rushed out at that time?" Oliver suddenly drank a sip of his wine. "Because you yearn for the ‘Tin Soldiers’?"
"What?" Nemo had no reaction.
"During the test." Oliver said softly.
This was the first time they talked about it after the test. Nemo sat up unconsciously.
"If it was me, I don’t know if I would have done it." Oliver took another sip of the transparent liquor. "The parrot clearly guaranteed that you would survive, if you did nothing."
He raised his bright emerald eyes and could not see any expression on Nemo’s face.
"Uh… I… didn’t think too much?" Nemo scratched his head a little embarrassingly. "Besides, can you watch Ann or I die… Wait. Why are you making that kind of expression? I thought we were friends!"
"I don’t know." Oliver shook his head. "To be honest, I’ll definitely hesitate… even if it’s only a second, I’ll still hesitate. How did you do it?"
Nemo wasn’t an extrovert. He was reluctant to go to dances full of strangers or laugh naturally with people he just met. This was one of the main reasons why he chose to work as a librarian after there was no financial pressure dragging him in the form of his siblings in the orphanage. Oliver, on the contrary, could directly ask what ordinary people weren’t wiling to say, such as now.
Nemo drank all the wine and desperately found that he wasn’t the slightest bit drunk, let alone gaining a bit of courage from the alcohol.
"…Relying on my conscience that I have accumulated for many years," he stubbornly concluded. "Anyways, I can’t stand there and watch the two you die. Of course, if I didn’t think of an idea at that time, I might… cough! Besides, didn’t we survive? Don’t worry so much about it. If you hadn’t gone with me at that time, I would probably have tripped over some roots and smashed into a tree… to my death…"
Oliver stood up, leaning his face towards Nemo with a very serious expression.
"Different," he said. His slightly hot breath sprayed on Nemo’s face. "Every time I slow down, I need someone to rush in front of me first."
Nemo began to regret that he had chosen a position that was against the wall as he didn’t have much room to shrink back to. He cleared his throat awkwardly and planned to reach out intending to push Oliver away to make room for himself, so he can get some fresh air, but found that as he was about to stretch out his hand, he saw a light redness spreading around Oliver’s neck…
Nemo pulled Oliver’s cup over and sniffed it in disbelief, making sure that he was drinking the same drink as himself. When he looked at it, it was even more shocking. Oliver’s reaction was like he was drunk, but this degree of alcohol couldn’t make even a little girl drunk.
"God, I’m a selfish bastard." Oliver continued sadly, leaning back in his chair with dejection. Now Nemo had affirmed his conjecture. "If I had taken the initiative in the first place, would more people have survived? Tell me. Don’t lie to me, okay?"
It’s survivor’s guilt. Nemo instantly reached the conclusion and sighed secretly in his heart. Ann’s thoughts were correct after all. This person’s idealism needed to be fixed, or maybe he’s a complete perfectionist, but aimed that only to himself, making the situation even more difficult.
He thought about it for a while and suddenly realized that something was subtly wrong. He himself seemed to have never been troubled by such thoughts, even for a second. He was indeed happy for those who had survived, but he didn’t feel sad for those who died. The death shocked him, and he did lament on the deaths of some, but thinking about the victims he had never met, he seemed to…
Nemo’s hand holding the handle of the cup shook slightly.
"Don’t think about. It’s human nature," he said dryly to Oliver. "It’s human instinct to subconsciously consider one’s own safety."
However, he couldn’t really answer Oliver’s other question, because he really didn’t know how and why and he really didn’t want to know the answer to that question.
"Besides," Olive said tipsily, "I’ll work with you…. I’ll work with you to find out what that parrot is. You need the help from your comrades-in-arms. I need to figure it out…"
His voice fell silent.
"I need answers…"
"Cheer up. Haven’t we already agreed?" Nemo decided to put the annoying thoughts to the back of his mind. "And we’re friends—"
"No, just… just like a knight," Oliver belched as his face flushed even more. "At least… Help…"
"Okay, stop drinking." Nemo grabbed his cup and drank what was left in it in one gulp. He stretched out his fingers and tapped Oliver’s left shoulder a few times hastily. "Are you satisfied, Mr. Knight?"
"You… haven’t said any admonition yet…"
"Help me pay back the money." Nemo pondered for a few seconds, then opened his mouth.
Oliver laid down on the table, buried his face in his arms, and laughed sullenly. "Fuck you," he said softly.
It was an extremely crude canonization ceremony, and none of them took it seriously at that time. Nemo put the glass neatly on the table, while Oliver fell asleep. They didn’t know how much trouble this joke would cause them in the future.
On a summer afternoon, the hot wind blew into the tavern, making the portraits of the tin soldiers resound. The portrait of Flint Lopez was blown off the wall. Nemo glanced at the bearded man who was still napping and pasted it back carefully. After smoothing the folds in the corners, he stared at the weird mask on Lopez’s face, and the wonderful emotion in his heart reappeared.
This time he deftly ignored it.
End of the first arc.