Vermillion

Chapter 37.1: Detour
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Chapter 37 – Detour

Just like in any other city, armed gatekeepers had been deployed in front of Dilan’niren’s gates.

They were equipped with unrefined short swords which focused on sturdiness over beauty, as well as plated leather armor which wouldn’t obstruct their movements. Their gauntlets, greaves, and helmets used different designs, each meticulously adjusted for easier use.

Those gatekeeper squads were far removed from anything hinting at flashiness, unlike the guards in Urvan and Satyna, whose uniforms emphasized outward appearance and a sense of unity.

Moreover, the gatekeepers over here were ill-bred men with mercenary backgrounds, all having scarred faces, crushed eyes, or similar remains of past battles — in short, they looked like a tough bunch. Their work attitude was not good by any standard, seeing how they were downing alcohol and smoking pipes at their station, like common thugs you’d find in back alleys.

If not for their red-white cords matching the red-white flag fluttering above the gates, no one would have been able to identify them as part of the guard protocol.

They didn’t perform any strict inspections like the drug control in Satyna, but sometimes, the guards would stop “suspicious” — at least from their point of view — pedestrians, demanding to be shown luggage or IDs, all in an effort to find something to nitpick.

And naturally enough, Kei was also stopped.

Kei felt dejected, wondering why they ignored Aileen and stopped only him, but once he showed his Urvan honorary citizenship ID, the nitpicky guard flinched away as if having a torch thrust at him, and quieted down.

Thanks to that, he was allowed to pass without a hitch. But, if not for his ID, him being allowed to enter the city might have remained a pipe dream.

“I guess the tournament participation has proven its worth.”

“No kidding. Thank god you got that citizenship! The face of that guard, when you showed it to him, was priceless!”

Aileen laughed cheerfully as she slapped Kei on the back. On one hand, she looked cheerful towards Kei, in a considerate and supportive way, but on the other hand, traces of resentment towards the guards oozed out of her voice. Trying to pass it off as a joke was much like Aileen, Kei thought.

“For sure. God bless authority.” Kei shrugged with a wry smile.

Horse riding was banned inside the city, so he walked while pulling Sasuke by the reins.

A messy city — that was the plain impression of Dilan’niren that he got.

Stone houses following the duchy’s architectural style were disorderly stuck between wooden Northland houses which heavily relied on curvy designs. In-between those two, you could also find rectangular stone buildings which had been forcefully remodeled with wood, following Snowland customs.

The signboards used both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets side by side, and they could hear people talk Russian just by walking through the streets. As vast the duchy may be, no other city would host Snowlanders and Plainsfolk having pleasant chats in public.

…Still, this sure feels odd.

Kei muttered with a stiff expression, letting his eyes wander to the left and right.

—He couldn’t calm down. As if his spine was tingling from numbness.

This whole place felt too sharp, and too hostile.

He was just walking, and yet the passersby were actively avoiding him. Although the streets were crowded with people, an open space had formed around only him. A shopkeeper that was displaying his wares frowned at the sight of Kei, and the women who were having an idle chat also turned quiet as if they had agreed to do so in advance.

Regardless of Snowlander or Plainsfolk, all of them acted the same towards him — staring at him scornfully.

“……”

He also felt some sense of alienation when he started living in Urvan, but this was too abnormal. It went beyond simple discomfort and turned into something incomprehensible instead.

“It feels kinda strange.” Aileen, who had caught up to him without him even noticing, muttered those words. freewebnov(e)l.com

“Yeah,” Kei gave a vague nod, wondering how to deal with the situation.

He could have understood if the city were to be in wartime. But, as of now nothing particularly noteworthy was happening, so he couldn’t understand the reason behind their hostility.

“…Should we look for an inn for now?”

“We’re really staying here?” Aileen vented her displeasure as she looked up to the sky where the sun was still at its zenith.

Kei could tell what she was trying to say, but then frowned as he rubbed his chin.

“I mean, it’s not like I love this city either. But don’t you think it’d be pretty rash to march into the infamous Northland without any prior investigation?”

“…Mmh.” Aileen grunted her approval with a difficult expression after seeing the truth in his words.

The two continued to stare at each other in the middle of the street until an angry passerby yelled at them for being nuisances, bringing them back to their senses and causing them to walk on.

“…We aren’t even allowed a quiet moment to think.”

“Time to look for an inn, after all? …I mean, for me to look for one.”

“Can I leave it to you?”

“Sure.”

Aileen replied with a smile, then gave Suzuka’s reins to Kei and started to weave her way through the crowd. As she did, her golden ponytail swayed, making Kei slow down to watch her graceful figure push her way through the waves of people.

Aileen was assertively calling out to pedestrians with a friendly smile. She appeared to mainly focus on asking Snowlanders for directions by using Russian. The young men, in particular, broke into smiles and readily answered her questions.

Some of them even tried some pick-up lines on her, but after Aileen told them something and pointed to Kei, their expressions instantly changed, which amused him. Some were astonished, some turned away after becoming sulky, and some lost interest after sighing — either way, they showed a variety of reactions. Kei didn’t look at them directly to avoid any potential provocations.

After slowly walking for about ten minutes and reaching the central part of the city, Aileen came back from her information gathering.

“…How did it go?”

“Uhh… Well, I guess. I did find out some things.” She answered powerlessly, but her expression betrayed her dissatisfaction. After she cast a glance at the people around them, she continued, “It’s a bit hard to talk here. Let’s go outside the city.”

“Outside?” Kei asked with an eyebrow twitching upward.

Still, he didn’t probe any further. He knew there had to be a good reason for it, if Aileen was saying so, and thus he silently handed Suzuka’s reins back to her.

Then they went back the way they came, leaving the city through the southern gate.

They ignored the guard, who was puzzled by them coming back out as he had apparently remembered their faces after the ID incident, and moved away from the gate.

Even when looking back, the wall seemed as unwelcoming and refusing to visitors as before. As Aileen remained silent, deeply stuck in her own thoughts, Kei couldn’t hide his unease, wondering what in the world had happened.

Before long, as they headed down the road and arrived at a cluster of trees with no one around, Aileen finally relaxed her shoulders and heaved a big sigh.

“Ahhh… Good grief. The situation isn’t anything like we’ve heard.”

“So, just what is going on?” Kei flopped down on a patch of grass.

“Trouble, that’s what,” Aileen grumbled and sat down on a stump opposite of him. Resting her elbow on her knee to support her chin, she appeared somewhat sulky.

After a short pause, she started speaking.

“—To get to the point, it seems that the Grasslanders on the western highway are getting violent.”

“What? The Grasslanders?”

Kei widened his eyes, not having expected that piece of news in the least.

“…What are the Grasslanders doing in Northland?”

“Beats me. I don’t know the reason, but it seems that mounted bandits have been causing troubles west of the highway. Travelers and peddlers got attacked…some settlements got burned down with women and children being mercilessly slaughtered. If this didn’t sow resentment I wouldn’t know what else does.”

“…What the hell?”

Kei held his forehead as if enduring a headache.

“So that’s why everyone was seething with so much anger towards me.”

On this side, Kei’s appearance was extremely similar to that of a Grasslander. From Kei’s perspective, his Japanese facial features were very different from the strong European features of the Grasslanders, but the Snowlanders and the Plainsfolk weren’t able to tell the difference.

This 𝓬ontent is taken from f(r)eeweb(n)ovel.𝒄𝒐𝙢

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