The thin mist cleared as the sun appearing from the horizon gradually illuminated the earth.
Amongst the diligent workers who had started work at this early hour, the wagon, full of wooden boxes and hemp bags overflowing onto the cobblestone paved street, made a rumbling noise. It was a daily scene for the owners of stores that faced the street as they prepared to open their stores. The contents of the luggages were groceries such as vegetables, meat, and various liquors.
Before long, the wagon arrived at a palace surrounded by high walls where one needs to look up to see its end.
The middle-aged human coachman, who was holding onto the reins of the carriage, noticed that the castle gates were already opened. It was odd as it should be shut unless the guards had finished examining carriage luggages. When he found the figure of guard whom he saw almost everyday, the coachman called out to him.
“Hey, what’s up? It’s unusual for the gates to already be open.”
“Well, it’s that time of the year. It’s not opened for you. There was a sudden guest who just came and passed through.” The gatekeeper mumbled as he went to the back of the wagon.
He had rough fur similar to a cat’s, vertically slitted pupils, and a splendid set of canines sticking out of the edges of his lips even when he closed his mouth. The gatekeeper was of the tiger tribe. At the wagon’s entrance, boys and girls, whether human or beastmen, were squeezing inside any space left, sitting down together without discrimination. The children had already been familiarised with each other since long ago.
It was not uncommon for children of 10 years old to work, especially in the rural areas, where it was common to consider children who could already move around with their own feet as a helping hand to some extent. These children also worked as labourers, where their job was to unload cargo to the back of the kitchen.
As part of the inspection, they knocked on the wooden boxes, sniffed with their noses to check fo if there were things other than the goods that were supposed to be inside. After the inspection, the wagon would then go through the gate together with the guard. After going through the thick castle walls, he saw unfamiliar wagons parked in front of the main entrance.
It was a small escort wagon, which they usually used for transporting criminals, and a tattered wagon. It was human nature to be curious as those two carriages were incompatible with such a place.
When the door of the escort wagon opened, a beautiful red-haired lady was revealed, causing the coachman to be surprised by her beauty. It was a beauty which made the handcuffs seem out of place, to the point that the coachman and other men were frozen on their spots by her charm. Judging by her appearance, she seemed to be a well-known female knight from somewhere.
The fascination with the female knight’s appearance lasted only until her head was covered, and she was escorted out from the carriage. The coachman finally returned to his senses and hurriedly gripped onto the reins when he heard the guard calling out to him.
Neither the men nor the soldiers noticed that a human girl working as a cargo labourer was looking at the escort wagon until it was out of her sight.
The Belcania Allied Nations’ Imperial City, Berulind, was a city formed in an enormous depression of land, and was also where a large variety of races and tribes lived.
As a result of a sudden rebellion by the demi-humans and a part of the humans in various places of the Kingdom of Alwina, tens of hundreds of independent nations were born. Most disappeared, and eventually, Belcania survived at the center of it.
Originally, the city used to be a large mining town during the time when the Kingdom of Alwina still dominated the continent. It boasted of not only considerable surface area, but also a huge cave with tunnels that stretched like an ant’s nest underneath. It also produced a mountain of gold, but this was a story of the past.
As a result of the continuous mining, they finally hit the underground water, resulting in the flooding of most of the tunnels. Thus, the mines were closed.
In exchange for the gold, it became a rich source of water instead. Fortunately, there was no mineral contamination in the water, and the people seeking for water sources gathered, and thus, a kingdom and a capital city were born just like this.
Outside the hollow ground, three sides of the city were surrounded by farmland, and in the remaining side, a rugged mountain range existed. At the foot of the mountain range was where the Royal family, who reigned over the Belcania Allied Nations, built their palace to overlook the scenery of the city streets. Waterways spread across the city like a spider web, a useful characteristic of the city for the residents to do their laundry and transport goods in small boats.
Even when a war had broken out due to a one-sided Alwinan invasion, the atmosphere around the Imperial City was still relatively calm.
This is because at this time, information about the fierce battle that took place in the fortress city, the Citadel, where the army was able to repel the Alwinan army and made them retreat with tremendous damage, had just arrived into the ears of the citizens. Besides the pessimism of the families of soldiers who lost their fathers, lovers, or siblings, the rest of the citizens’ complexions were bright.
Although they were burdened by tax increases during wartime, the residents’ hearts lightened upon hearing of the army’s victory. People went to bars and talked about the good news while drinking, especially those people who managed to evacuate to the Imperial City from Citadel safely.
They were dragged by the citizens to bars for them to hear about a more detailed situation. At first, the refugees were taken aback as they had escaped with only the clothes that they wore. However, after they were welcomed generously with liquor and food, and in addition to the tips given by the residents, the refugees started to talk about their experiences one by one with the help of alcohol.
Amongst them, the most popular were the testimonies of those who had joined the battle with the Defense Forces. Upon hearing the chivalrous story of the men who won the overwhelmingly disadvantageous war to protect the land where they are born and raised, praise from the residents rained on them.
And amongst all the testimonies, without fail, there was always this one existence that appeared.
A mysterious man dressed in a strange black armor which did not resemble any other armor at all. He used a mysterious weapon that spat fire, burning all his opponents, be it a dragon or the numerous soldiers who filled the landscape as far as they could see, crushing the opponents one after another.
Not only was his equipment black, but he also had black eyes and black hair. It was rumored that the man was a soldier of a rare race from a far-off land.
His achievements were not limited to battles. It was his noble actions of offering delicious military rations to all the starving refugees, which came in a metal container that they’ve never seen before, free of charge.
However, when it came to battling, the corpses that he left behind were appalling. The bodies of enemy soldiers were shot one after another with a flash that spewed from a cane-like iron object. He could destroy several buildings together without prior notice, and lastly, with a barrel-like attachment connected to a pipe-like object, he burned thousands of soldiers alive with fire at the stronghold.
At the end of the war, he was told as being able to fight evenly against a beautiful red-haired female commander, who led a small troop equipped with silver orichalcum armors who came attacking from the sky, and captured her alive.
As the residents listened to the story, half of them thought that the story had been exaggerated while the other half were assaulted by astonishment and awe of the jet black soldier’s achievement.
Before long, someone had become interested, and asked.
“Who is that soldier?”
The refugee, whose face had reddened from the liquor, shook his head and answered.
“I do not know the details of his identity. However, it seems that his acquaintances, a pair of beastmen sisters, called him...”
Karito, that name, and his rough features of black eyes and black hair were spread among people.
“What a flashy sneeze. Did you finally catch a cold this time?”
“Well, I think this is different. Come to think of it... Can this body actually get sick...?”
Without even knowing that his name was spreading around, Karito continued conversing with Reona.
“However, as expected of the Imperial palace. Everything I can see seems so expensive.” Reona stared.
“Onee-chan, you can’t touch anything as you like okay?! If you break it, we don’t know how much we’ll need to pay to compensate for it!” Rina scolded.
The three of them were currently in a guest waiting room in the Berulind Palace. Although it was just a waiting room, as expected from the place where the ruler of a country lived, the size of the room and the interior were both overwhelming.
Just the size of the room was comparable to that of a small gymnasium’s width and height. Of course, the ceiling was decorated with murals and a chandelier. Although there was some silverware decorating the area, it was not the indecently excessive gold and silver decorations of an upstart’s mansion. Setting aside the size of the room, even for Karito, who possessed the common sensibility of a Japanese, couldn’t help but feel amazed by the way the interior design harmonized glamor and calmness.
“Have the both of you come to imperial palace before? This is the place where King lives, isn’t it? How can the both of you act so normally like this ?!” Rina’s aching body had turned stiff from nervousness as she sat on the soft sofa.
Hearing the complaint from her younger sister, Reona looked at Karito while scratching her cheek.
“Well, I understand that the king who lives here is a big shot of this country, but I’ve never have any relations with the king at all. And, I don’t even know his face. But still, since he’s the person father serves, I will pay attention to my manners.”
“How should I say it... In my original world, kings and royal families still exist in other countries, just like there’s an emperor in Japan. But, as far as I know, I still can’t really grasp this as reality now. But, I think I might feel more nervous when I see the king.”
What Karito was feeling now was closer to that of waiting to be called by the principal.
Under normal circumstances, Rina’s reaction was much more normal than Karito’s and Reona’s.
“But, we are going to wait here while Karito and Father are summoned, right? Since we’ll not meet the king directly, I don’t think it’s necessary for Rina to be so tense.” Reona comforted her sister.
“Urgh, is that so...?”
As a commander who fought in the frontlines of a fierce battle from the beginning until the end, Ordy was not in the room right now as he was granted the honor to report directly to the leaders of this country.
Karito will be called on after Ordy’s report was over.
The door of the waiting room was knocked on.
“May I enter the room?”
The one who came in was a maid about Karito’s age. She was a beautiful girl with glasses, her face giving the impression of an intellectual and cold person, but the bear ears peeping out from the back of her headband softened her features.
“Pardon my rude behavior, but would the gentleman mind cleansing himself before having an audience with the royal family?” She asked.
“That’s right, huh~ I’ve been trying to say it until now, but honestly Karito, you stink.”
Karito was shocked when Reona pointed that out.
When he brought his nose near the camouflage clothes and the undershirt, he realized that besides the smell of sweat, the smell of gunpowder had also seeped in even though he had already unequipped his tactical vest when they entered the Royal Palace.
When one fires a gun, gunpowder smoke would definitely stick onto the clothes and the body of the one who fired it. This was what they called the gunpowder residue. Since he had been shooting a large amount of bullets when they were attacked by the thieves and the herd of funeral beasts, it’s no wonder that a lot of smokeless gunpowder cordite had stuck onto his whole body without him realizing it.
Furthermore, after they managed to fend off the herd of funeral beasts, they had to let the overworked horses rest for a night, and Karito had not changed his clothes during that time.
When he became aware of it, Karito became worried and sniffed his clothes repeatedly. Because it had never happened inside the <WBGO>, it was the first time someone had pointed it out to him.
“We have already finished the preparations for you to cleanse yourself. Then, let me guide you there.” The maid stated.
“Alright, sorry for the trouble.” He reflexively lowered his head slightly.
The maid stared at Karito strangely for a moment, but the maid’s expression returned quickly, and Karito, who had his face downwards,
never noticed it.
Under the bear-eared maid’s lead, he walked on the thick carpet spread out on the passage, one that looked like the one in the waiting room where his foot seemed to sink into it. During that time, he was fascinated by the interior, the oil paintings, and tapestries that hung on the wall. Karito unconsciously gasped as he looked around like a country bumpkin. The maid was aware of it, but did not point it out.
“Please take off your clothes here.” She instructed.
“Where should I put my clothes?” Karito asked.
“Please let me take care of it. I will wash the clothes while you cleanse yourself. You wouldn’t mind it, would you?” The maid replied.
“Ah, I don’t mind. Sorry for the trouble. But, how are you able clean it right away?” He questioned, curious.
“There’s no problem as we wash it using magic. Thus, it can be dried immediately.”
He unfastened the button of his camouflage clothes and took off his coat. His hands suddenly stopped when it came to the khaki T-shirt’s turn.
Turning his head, he saw the figure of the bear-eared maid standing while folding the camouflage clothes which she had picked up with a nonchalant face.
Sweat started to appear on Karito’s forehead.
“...Um, I would appreciate it if you could leave while I undressed.” He said hesitantly.
“I will do as you wish.” The maid bowed.
“I will stack the clothes in that corner of the room.” He quickly said
“Understood.” The maid replied calmly and left.
Karito sighed in relief when he saw the bear-eared maid leave.
(Thank god. If it was Reona seeing me undressing with a nonchalant look like that, I’ll get unnecessary mental damage before the audience with the king...)
After that, he quickly took off the rest of his clothes. Looking down at his naked body, he saw that was sturdy and slender, with each muscle’s lines carved clearly. He did not remember doing any training while he stayed in the hut, but it seemed like his endurance and physical strength that was trained in the <WBGO> didn’t show any signs of decline at all. Karito himself wondered how his body could be maintained as it was.
As he looked at his sturdy body, he sighed at the fact that his real body couldn’t hold a candle to this.
...Perhaps if he had such a body, he wouldn’t have gotten bullied?
“Well, at any rate, it has been a long time since I’ve had a decent bath.” Trying to change his mood, he turned towards the bathroom that was separated by a door, talking to himself without thinking too much.
Since there were no baths or restrooms in the hut where he stayed for more than a year after he arrived in this world, whenever he wanted to cleanse himself, all he could do was wipe his body with a cloth dipped in hot water, or take a dip in the cold river. Even after he arrived at the Citadel with Reona and Rina, it was the same. In other words, he had never taken a decent bath after he had arrived in this world.
Surely the palace’s bath would have large bathtubs similar to those of a Japanese public bath with plenty of hot water in it. More like, Karito hoped so. As a Japanese, he would like to submerge in a bath up to his shoulders and be warmed to the core.
Karito was the type that liked to submerge himself completely inside a bathtub. Rather, he would like to praise himself for being able to endure not taking a decent bath until now.
His tension had become high even before seeing the real thing. He was in such a good mood that he was humming lightly to an upbeat song.
He placed his hand on the door.
(Here I come, Eden!)
When Karito opened the door, dense steam greeted him.
What he saw over there...
There were two maids wearing only a headband and see-through aprons.
“”We have been waiting for you. Please let us wash your back.”” They greeted in unison.