As I faced Roxy-sama on our return to the Royal Capital, I desperately tried to suppress the painful ache of the Gluttony skill searching for a soul. Knowing that a single wrong action may leave me unconscious, I felt cold and sweaty. The situation that Greed had informed me about was not entirely a lie.
We arrived at the Royal Capital as night fell. A messenger from the castle came and called for Roxy-sama so she set off immediately. It seemed like the Holy Knights of the five noble lineages were given no time to rest.
As for me, the master gardeners in the Territory had tasked me with digging and removing roots from the Heart Family mansion's garden and it was then that I had overheard this. Whatever the case may be, the Royal Capital was apparently in rivalry with the Territories.
They had said that I had maintained the garden wonderfully and the area of the garden that was visible from Aisha-sama's room was done especially well. Then, the master gardeners had said, "I guess he's pretty smart, huh?" and praised their rivals.
Since it was already dark today, I would resume my work as an apprentice gardener tomorrow. I had dinner with the other master gardeners and we crowded into the bath. While soaking in the bathtub, one of the masters said,
"It's time I taught you how to prune the trees in the garden. How about it, want to try?"
"Yeah, Fate worked very earnestly. It was really worth teaching you. Everyone else thinks the same."
Either way, it seemed like the masters had discussed various things about me while I was in the Heart Family's Territory. The masters were already elderly so they wanted to teach their successor seriously. That would be me. I thought it was a great honour… I felt happy and while washing my master's back, I guess I used too much strength and was scolded.
"Ouchh, be more considerate of this old man!"
Since my status had risen considerably, I had tried to be careful but my master had instead praised me for showing my strength. I should be more attentive to these things in the future. It was necessary that I adjusted how my status was reflected on my body. If not, Holy Knights with such strong statuses could accidentally kill someone.
By killing the Crown Kobolt, my status had surpassed that of a novice Holy Knight. Hence, it was time I began thinking about the training needed to control my status. Well, no matter how strong I became, my stats would return to the starting point if I used them to evolve Greed. In any case, as long as I had the Gluttony skill, it was inevitable that my status would suddenly increase from fighting.
For today, let's try controlling my status while washing the master gardener's back.
"Ah, I'm very sorry."
"I'm an innocent old man you know. Please be more careful."
I lost control if I became careless about it. It seemed like it would take some time until I would be able to do this without thinking.
When midnight came, I wore the Skull Mask as usual and went to where the goblins ran rampant. I would be hunting in the Hobgob Forest today.
Since I had been fasting for two days in the Territory, my Gluttony skill was quite famished. Even in the dimly lit forest, I could see the hobgoblin's locations with my <Night Vision> skill. I mercilessly hunted those who were sleeping at the bases of trees.
<Gluttony skill has been activated>
<Status update: HP +440, Strength +220, MP +110, Spirit +110, Agility +110>
The inorganic voice sounded multiple times in my head. However, my hunger was not satiated by much. Maintaining this situation would not be good. Up until now, I had been satisfied by hunting goblins… Somehow, I knew the answer. Greed spoke to me through the <Mind-reading> skill.
"It's because the Gluttony skill remembers the taste of the Crown Kobolt. You cannot be satisfied with the lowest level monsters anymore."
"But, I don't feel hungry when I'm hunting…"
"Fate, you know this the best. Before long, the situation will gradually become worse and worse."
It would have been better for the Gluttony skill if I had not eaten something good (like a Crown Demon). If this was the case, I should have eaten a full course of only goblins. Yet, there had been unavoidable circumstances regarding the Crown Kobolt. If it had been left unchecked, the Heart Family's Territory would have been overrun.
Although I was glad that I had been able to defeat it then, the problematic souvenir that I had been left with was…
"Ugh… my right eye is burning."
When I finished killing the tenth hobgoblin, I felt that there was something wrong with my right eye. Quietly, I looked at my reflection on Greed. I could see it behind the Skull Mask.
"Greed, it's exactly as you said. …It worsened."
"Right? It's obvious."
On just one side of the black blade, a bright red pupil stared back at me. The left eye was black. The right eye was red enough to be repellent. To be in this state meant…
"Halfway into the state of starvation. It'll come soon."
I could sense it already. Soon, all the monsters surrounding the Royal Capital ─ the goblins would not be able to sate the hunger of the Gluttony skill. The crawling Gluttony skill in my body would wait for no one.
"You can leave it as it is for today. You don't have much time left. It will definitely come."
Even if I already knew, I still rebelliously asked Greed.
"Your future path from here onwards."
Without further reply, I returned to the Royal Capital. I encountered a number of warriors on the way, but I paid them no need. When they saw me, they fled with screams.
"Lich is back! Mukuro has returned! Everyone run away!"
In the Goblin Meadow that was devoid of people, I took off the Skull Mask and pocketed it.
"It became quiet, huh?"
"And so, you became lonely."
I continued returning to the Royal Capital, facing the wind that blew through the meadow.
The next day, I put an eye patch over my red right eye to hide it. Then I brushed off my fellow servants by saying that I had injured my eyes after falling asleep.
The master gardeners asked something like, "Being so lax, can you prune a tree?" I could not tell whether they were scolding me or being worried. Though they were probably just being worried about me. When I replied, "I can do it even with only one eye," they said, "Then try not to overdo it," and it was decided that I would prune the garden tree as was promised yesterday.
Firstly, I managed to do one tree while my master guided and taught me.
"Not bad. Then this time, do you want to try making the same outline on that tree over there by yourself? I will go do other things."
"By myself, huh…"
"If there's anything you don't understand, call out to me."
This master was the type of person who valued action over words. I had no choice but to just try it. With the pruning scissors in one hand, I moved towards the tree when I saw Roxy-sama heading off wearing her white, light armor.
It seemed like she had just returned from the castle. Normally, she would head inside the mansion immediately. Yet, I wondered where she was going. I tried to call out after her but… I was unable to.
Roxy-sama knelt in front of her father's gravestone, her expression showing a grimness that I had never seen before. It was as though she was about to battle something from now on.
After talking to the grave, she stood and turned around towards the mansion. I was standing there watching Roxy-sama at that moment, unable to hide, so she discovered me.
"Fate, why are you here… Oh, what happened to your right eye?"
I acted calmly and showed the pruning scissors to Roxy-sama.
"My right eye was injured when I fell asleep. Also, I will be able to tend the garden trees starting today. Uh, I'm trying to prune this tree."
As I said this, I placed my hand on the tree next to me. In truth, I was told to prune a completely different tree.
"Um… Roxy-sama. Did something happen? You seem different."
Perhaps something had occured at the castle? I was afraid to ask. However, her expression that she had shown to her father's grave earlier disappeared, returning to the usual Roxy-sama.
"It's nothing. Anyway, they'll be angry at you if you don't get to pruning."
Roxy-sama pointed at the master gardener who was glaring at me with his arms folded. It was just like he was telling me that this was not the tree he had pointed at and it was the one over there. Roxy-sama walked off to the mansion as if running away from me. For some reason, I had a bad feeling when I looked at her retreating back. On the contrary though, when I looked up, the sky was clear and cloudless.
When I had finished my servant duties, I visited my regular tavern and stayed until I could go and hunt monsters at midnight. There, I heard a clue about the information I most wanted to know. Placing my order of food on the counter where I sat, the owner spoke to me. He said that in order to kill Lich (Mukuro) who had reappeared, the second son of the Breric Family, Hado, had finally made up his mind to take on the problem and would go to the Hobgob Forest tonight.
A Holy Knight just like Roxy-sama was coming to my hunting ground at long last. Hado must know the circumstances clearly. It was possible that the Breric Family had done something. I should ask. Besides, Hado owed me a huge debt.
I downed the rest of my wine in one go and stood up.