Part 29: Star Door 4: Journey's End-Primal Grounds-
-Royal Capital of Grancel-
I sort of expected it would only be a matter of time before you returned to the Republic... Your mind is made up, then?
'Fraid so. I've made the guys over there take care of everything without me long enough.
Call it an A-rank bracer's duty to his peers and society, I guess.
Well, I suppose when you put it that way... I do wish you could stay here a while longer, but if that is your decision, I'll respect it.
So when are you planning on returning?
Well, there's no point in lingering here any longer than I have to now that I've made up my mind to leave...
...so, honestly, I was thinking about tomorrow. Think I could ask you to arrange a ticket to Calvard for me?
Are you not planning to go and visit Kilika first, though? I would have thought you'd want to...
That WAS part of the original plan... but she wouldn't have any of it. Surprise, surprise.
Her stance was, 'If you're going to waste time coming to see me, use it to go back to Calvard earlier and get some work done.'
Haha... Very well, then.
That doesn't sound like a position you'll be able to talk her out of.
It's no big deal, though.
I mean, it's not like we'll never see each other again.
I suppose that's very true.
I'm not sure there's anything in Zemuria that could keep you two apart forever.
Haha. It feels like that to me sometimes, too.
Well, regardless, I won't keep you any longer. So that's one ticket to Calvard for tomorrow, coming right up!
Sorry. Let me just get this.
Yes, this is the Grancel branch of the Bracer Guild.
He's here as we speak, actually. Zin?
It's Ambassador Cochrane at the Calvardian embassy.
She'd like to invite you on a hot springs trip...
Two days later...
-A Cat Relaxing in the Sun-
The atmosphere is so relaxing.
Maybe because it feels so similar to our hometown.
*sigh* Still, Ambassador Cochrane had me going for a while. When I first heard about this whole trip, I thought it was just gonna be the two of us out here.
Oh, my... You look almost disappointed that it isn't.
I'd be happy to take my leave if I'm getting in the way of your dream date with her.
I'm good, thanks... She's not someone I've ever seen as a potential partner. Besides, it's you she wants to talk to, not me. This meeting might as well not be happening if you're not here.
It never takes much to put you on the defensive, does it? Is it beyond you to just play along a little?
You just can't help but mess with people, can you? With you in charge of the Zeiss guild, I'm amazed it has any bracers left.
Correction: I can't help but mess with you. I don't do this with anyone else.
Would you be happy if that were true?
Woman's Voice: Ah, you've arrived.
Thank you for inviting us here today.
Is something the matter, Zin? You seem oddly flustered.
Me? I-I'm just fine! You're imagining things!
Who could blame him, Ambassador?
After all, he's a man on a hot springs trip with two beautiful women. That's hardly a recipe for a calm and composed mind, is it?
Knock it off, Kilika...
Haha... I suppose not.
If I were a little younger, I doubt I would be able to keep my hands off him myself.
All right, I suppose that's enough joking around. We should get our dinner. Mrs. Mao is going to be making tonight's food herself, by the sounds of it. The serious discussion can wait until after that.
Y-Yeah... That sounds fantastic.
-Under the Moonlight-
hi Mrs. Mao
bye Mrs. Mao
So there's going to be a new intelligence agency set up in Calvard, huh?
It's to be known as the Rocksmith Agency. And as the name suggests, it's going to be an organization that answers directly to the president.
I presume that is so parliament can't have any influence over its operations?
Perhaps this new agency's biggest advantage is that it's separate from all those issues and vices. The last thing we need is an organization like this suffering from parliament's failures to make prompt decisions or general ineptitude.
Or being run in the same opaque and shady manner by a privileged few.
Hmm... That does sound like a good idea, I'll admit.
We're never going to compare to the Empire's Intelligence Division or Liberl's old one if parliament's at all involved.
It's already difficult enough to get anything done in a nation with such a lack of unity.
I guess that's just the fate of countries that take in immigrants by the truckload, though.
Though honestly, I think the thing that surprises me the most is that the president's actually being proactive for once.
He's always struck me as a real conservative type, so this isn't the kind of thing I thought he'd go for.
That said, given the state of the Republic right now, it's hardly surprising that he would choose to act this way.
Outside the country, we've got the threat of a rapidly expanding Erebonian Empire, while within, we have terrorists and extremists. And to make matters worse, we have the enigmatic society on the loose.
Evidently, something has to be done, and I think he knows that as well as anyone.
Indeed. In the times ahead of us, we're going to need to be able to respond flexibly to a variety of new and unforeseen threats.
...All right. I think my introduction to the matter has gone on long enough. It's about time I get to the point.
Oh, yeah... You've got something you need to specifically talk to Kilika about, right?
So, what position in the agency are you here to offer me?
Haha. I love a sharp mind, Kilika.
Your instincts are, of course, dead on.
We think your talents would make you perfectly suited to joining the agency and are eager for you to be a part of it. That's why you would be offered a position of division chief should you decide to join.
And that's something President Rocksmith has proposed himself.
What led to you being the one to bring this to Kilika, anyway?
A fair question, I suppose. Ordinarily, this would be a scout's work...
...but I've known the president on a personal level for quite some time now. So he took it upon himself to ask me to come to you personally.
That makes sense...
Then what's his reason for wanting me?
Surely you know that without asking... Or do you want to hear it said anyway?
Naturally, your master-class Taito skills are one reason for you being selected by the president...
...but above all, he wants you for the exceptional analytical and information-handling abilities you've shown in your position in the guild. Those are just what the new agency is going to require if it's to succeed.
W-Well, I can't say this doesn't all make sense to me... I'm more dumbfounded that you'd up and attempt to steal a capable member of the guild right in front of an active bracer like this.
That takes some nerve.
Haha... Well, I do think rather highly of you. I thought you would be able to mediate without letting such trivial matters cloud your judgment.
Still...what do you think, Kilika? I'm not asking for an answer immediately, but I would like to know what's going through your mind.
Well, it's certainly an interesting proposal...
At the same time, I'm not sure I have any reason to accept it.
But you have no reason to refuse it, either.
Am I right?
It's rare that you find it difficult to make quick judgments, but with such a big decision to make, I can't very well fault you.
I won't rush you. Take a night to think long and hard about it. It was so you could do so that I booked a room here tonight.
I'll ask you for your answer again tomorrow.
I'm looking forward to hearing it.
Oh, and one more thing before I depart.
If you ask me, remaining in your position as a simple guild receptionist just isn't going to let you use your abilities to their fullest.
Well, a pleasant evening to you both.
You're out rather fast... Have you finished in the bath already?
I was in there for an hour!
And nothing untoward happened. Nobody stumbled into the wrong bathing area, nobody slipped on a wet floor and fell into anyone else's lap...not even any ambushes by Creepy Sheep. This is an event wholly unprecedented in world history.
Man, it's not often I see you looking this deep in thought.
I suppose you don't.
I feel like I'm one step away from making a decision but just need one last push to take it.
Still...being here like this with you really takes me back. Hard to believe it's been six years now since Master Ryuga's passing.
Let's talk about Kilika's slain dad for a while, that'll clear her head.
Sounds like you went on one hell of a journey between then and joining the guild, too.
You could say that.
Going on a journey makes it sound like something I did deliberately, though. In reality, it wasn't quite as organized as that. I simply drifted from place to place before ending up being drawn to one point where I settled.
'I think I may have founded a lesbian biker gang in the Empire? I'm not quite sure.'
Much in the way a leaf that fell from a tree ends up floating down the river.
Were you able to find that answer you mentioned a while back?
Haha. No. I still haven't.
Still... I do feel as though I've found a conclusion of sorts.
What's that supposed to mean?
Say, Zin... Why do you think I chose to take on a noncombat position like guild receptionist to begin with?
Because you didn't want to follow the same path as idiots like me and Walter?
I wouldn't follow us either if I were in your shoes.
Not quite, although I'm not going to deny that the two of you are idiots.
Hey! That was the one part I DID want you to deny!
I wanted to find out the meaning of the Living Fist ideology my father advocated. I still believe that being able to better oneself through combat, while your opponent does the same, is a good thing in itself.
As a warrior, it's probably close to the ideal way.
...Still, I couldn't help but wonder why the ideology had to be based around the premise of fighting.
I can certainly understand the significance of living and dying as a warrior. I can also understand how one who lived that way would have no regrets when the time to pass away came. Nothing has changed within me in that regard since the days we trained together.
Yet with Father dead and Walter gone, I couldn't help but wonder...
Wonder whether there was some way to make use of the Living Fist without having to fight.
That was when I started roaming the continent in search of one. And as I roamed, I found myself face to face with countless conflicts and acts of violence, and I felt powerless every time I did.
That was how I came to encounter Liberl's guild. They had arrived to quell one of those conflicts. Something about their ideology--putting the safety of civilians above all else--made me feel that perhaps working under them may give me an answer. So that was what led me to start working for the guild.
...But even then, I wasn't able to run away from fighting completely.
'The nature of humanity means that as long as we exist, conflict will never cease. Instead, what's important is not blindly preaching idealism... but preaching ideals while keeping a firm eye on the reality of how to quell conflict.'
Master Ryuga's words have never left me.
Nor have they left me.
But all the same...
...I've been looking away from reality all this time.
Come on, now...
You know full well that's not actually true. When he says 'reality,' he's not saying fighting is the be-all, end-all of quelling conflict.
That's not what I'm trying to say.
All these years, I haven't been trying to walk on my own two feet. Not at all. I've just been using trying to find a new way to live by Father's Living Fist ideology as an excuse to stand still.
All while indulging myself in the comfortable environment the guild gave me.
In that sense, I must be the biggest failure of Father's students.
I might not agree with the path Walter took... but he, like you, has chosen his own path and started walking forward along it. You two have been facing up to the Living Fist ideal of Father's and slowly reaching your own conclusions on it. In your own ways, you've been able to face up to reality.
And I haven't. I've been standing still the whole time.
That's the biggest load of crock I've ever heard.
You've been walking forward just like we have.
In what way?
It's just that the path you've been walking has been one for others rather than yourself. That river you think you've been helplessly drifting on? You've actually been building a bridge so others can easily cross it behind you.
When the road is hard, you soften the ground so your fellow guildmates have an easier trek. There's no shame in your way of the Living Fist--it's as true as mine and Walter's.
Are you trying to comfort me?
Ugh... Sorry for not having a way with words.
A-Anyway, all I'm trying to say is this...you know.
As a person, you're way too strong and way too serious. And at times, it's like those two things just end up restricting you and stop you from seeing things you otherwise could.
So try and relax a little, all right? Just a little.
If you do, I'll bet you'll start seeing things you couldn't before.
... Say, Zin.
Hmm? What is it?
Would you be happy if I returned to Calvard?
Wh-What brought that on?
It doesn't matter. Just answer the question.
If I had to pick, I guess I'd rather you be back home, yeah.
Why do you ask?
Oh, no reason.
I've decided I'm going to accept the president's proposal.
Wh-What?! J-Just because of what I said...?
Don't misunderstand me. All I wanted was some kind of reason to bring this journey to an end.
As well as a place to make better use of my skills.
-A Cat Relaxing in the Sun-
I hope the two of you enjoyed your stay as well.
I know I did!
I'm feeling very refreshed, thank you.
Refreshed enough to take on a new position in a new environment, even.
I would like to accept your offer.
However, I have one condition for doing so.
Oh? Name it.
While I am willing to join the president's new agency, I am not willing to stop living in line with my own beliefs.
As such, if I should end up feeling the slightest doubt about how the agency itself is being run... I will do everything in my power to correct it from the inside using any means at my disposal. If he still wants my membership after hearing as much, please tell him that I accept his offer.
Oh, that won't be a problem at all.
I think he may well be encouraging you to take the reins. I believe he chose you expecting you to fulfill that role should it be deemed necessary.
After all, you have experience in the guild, an organization which has managed to remain neutral and independent all this time. That's no mean feat.
Haha. I wouldn't be so sure about that.
Also, I'll need to get things ready for my successor, so I won't be able to return to Calvard for two or three months. As such, I won't be able to start work till then.
That's perfectly understandable.
Well...I look forward to meeting you again in the Republic.
Is something on your mind?
Oh, I was just thinking about what you said back there. You said you'll need two or three months to get everything ready for your successor, right?
Yes, I did... What of it?
Well, while I'm guessing it's pretty busy over in Calvard right now, too, it doesn't sound as though there's anything so urgent I need to be there NOW.
So I was thinking maybe I could stay here for the next few months while you get things sorted out before I head back.
You can't be serious...
There's no reason why you should stay around here in Liberl with me. Go back to Calvard.
*sigh* You don't have to be so cold. It's me, you know.
Heehee. Well, it's the truth. We'll end up spending enough time together whether we like it or not after I'm home. You don't need to go out of your way to make more now.
...Heh. You win. There's no need to rush things...
Zin? What are you standing there for?
You could say that BEFORE starting to walk off on your own, though!
Side Story [Journey's End] finished!
Received 4,000 mira.