Two stump-like logs coupled with a long wooden plank, supported by a couple of stakes driven into the ground. This was the negotiation room set up in the middle of the wilderness.
Atop one of the stumps, sat Breman with his legs slightly ajar, and his hands straightened out on his thighs in a serious pose.
Opposite him was Hilda Carlyle, sitting in a reserved fashion with both her legs closed together, and her hands clasped on top of each other as they laid on her thighs.
Everyone else was slowly backing up in order to prevent any possibility of eavesdropping without any wish ability aiding them. By now, they were several tens of meters away from the pair.
Even so, both of them maintained their silence for a long while.
Both of them knew that their ensuing conversation was one that required the highest of confidentiality.
Breman: …Inquisitor Hilda Carlyle.
The first to speak was Breman who had already prepared his key talking points beforehand.
Breman: Is our initial agreement still in effect?
Hilda Carlyle: Naturally, the Divine Hall will not interfere in any governmental affairs nor will we take part in any one country’s exploratory mission.
Hilda Carlyle: This investigation team will not interfere in any way with your country’s exploration efforts.
Breman: Well, isn’t that strange then? Hilda Carlyle.
Breman: This area lies on the path where the expedition must pass through, and prior to setting off, all relevant information including this was already made known to you.
Breman: So what are you doing in a place where you shouldn’t be in?
Hilda Carlyle: ……
Hilda Carlyle: We’re just passing through.
Breman: Passing through? *cough*…
Breman: The route the investigation team took when they left the city of Honor was a completely different direction than the one the expedition took. So exactly how did we end up meeting?
Hilda Carlyle: If you suspect me of lying, please allow me to explain myself.
Breman: Please go ahead.
Hilda Carlyle: In the southwestern frontier of Honor, there lies an unnamed frontier village.
Hilda Carlyle: It was built because the surrounding soil was suitable to grow Theat. It’s a village consisting mostly of squarish houses with courtyards and roads demarcated by stones.
Hilda Carlyle: I take it that you know of this village?
Breman: Naturally. It’s one of the fruits of the expedition ten years ago.
Hilda Carlyle: You were really young then, in fact, you probably didn’t even expect to be a part of the expedition yourself.
Breman: —–please get straight to the point.
Hilda Carlyle: …alright.
Hilda Carlyle: We found a lake there. For an open-air source of water, it was a pretty big lake.
Hilda Carlyle: To me, it was a lake full of mysteries.
Hilda Carlyle: That’s right. Even with the relevant wish ability, we were barely able to detect the resonance that lake had with Westrealm.
Hilda Carlyle: It was like…the claw of a bestial wrath that had just broken through the surface.
Hilda Carlyle: Without digging further, one would not be able to see the entirety of the creature.
Breman: What does this “resonance” mean?
Hilda Carlyle: ……
Hilda Carlyle: ……
Breman: You aren’t allowed to talk about it?
Hilda Carlyle: No, I’m just evaluating if Officer Breman is able to handle the truth, and whether he can keep the secret for us.
Breman: Your actions have already intruded on an official, legal and publicly known military operation. You still wish to cover this up??
Hilda Carlyle: There’s no need to get so riled up…I’ll tell you what it’s about.
Hilda Carlyle: There were traces of a large amount of wish points having congregated there at one in point.
As those words left her mouth, time seemed to stand still in this breezeless lake.
Hilda Carlyle: Initially, it was merely news of “a resonance being discovered in a faraway place” let out by the inner ring of the Divine Hall. This sparked an investigation mission.
Hilda Carlyle: It was an ordinary chain of events. After all, anything related to God required our immediate and undivided attention.
Hilda Carlyle: However, it seemed we were too late. We didn’t discover any life form which possessed a large amount of wish points.
Hilda Carlyle: Perhaps it escaped, or it had simply hidden itself. Either way, there were no clues.
Hilda Carlyle: Of course, we couldn’t just simply return to the Divine Hall because of that, so we decided to investigate the lake.
Breman: The lake?
Hilda Carlyle: Beneath that lake was a vast underwater world. We stumbled around for a while before finally finding a path that led somewhere.
Hilda Carlyle: We spent an unknown amount of time in that dayless world, searching about with our wish abilities until finally, about an hour ago, we barely managed to find a way back to the surface.
Hilda Carlyle: This is the exit point we found.
Breman swept his gaze over the lake, the suspicion in his eyes not lessening one bit.
Breman: Alright then. Even though our country isn’t one of the Divine Hall’s neighboring countries, we still don’t want to have any conflicts with any inquisitors of the Divine Hall.
Breman: The matter regarding investigating the wish points will be left to your team.
Hilda Carlyle: It’s great that you understand.
Breman:—-so in celebration of finally reaching the surface, you killed that worm and so happened to save my two contracted laborers?
Hilda Carlyle: Mhm, huh? Why do you assume that we’re the ones who killed it?
Breman: There’s no way that ordinary unarmed laborers are able to kill that worm. Besides, there are traces of an inquisitor having used their abilities.
Hilda Carlyle: ……
Hilda Carlyle: Well it doesn’t matter if you think so, either way it’s not an important matter. The fact that that worm got killed won’t change as a result.
Hilda Carlyle: However… “ordinary laborers”? Aren’t you a little bad at lying?
Breman: —what do you mean?
Hilda Carlyle: Putting aside those laborers for now, Officer Breman, as an officer and a soldier, aren’t you being a little on edge about these matters?
Hilda Carlyle: I don’t think we’ve done anything to offend the expedition.
Hilda Carlyle: What are you so anxious about? Are you afraid that this situation will devolve into some kind of bad outcome?
Hilda Carlyle: I am an inquisitor, an apostle of God, a person any faithful believer would trust.
Hilda Carlyle: If you are a faithful follower of God, who basks in the gifts of our Lord, you shouldn’t have any problem with explaining this to me.
Hilda Carlyle: Even if I can’t help you, it’s a lot better than bottling it up isn’t it?
Breman: Hilda Carlyle, your words have already impinged on another nation’s military secrets. Are you sure you haven’t broken the regulations of Divine Hall?
Hilda Carlyle: Secrets and all that…is nothing before me.
Hilda Carlyle: You, Breman, you’re a secret yourself.
Hilda’s gaze had left the boundaries of her hood and scanned Breman’s entire body.
Hilda Carlyle: Aren’t you worried? Carrying such a secret wherever you go.
Hilda Carlyle: Don’t forget about the wish ability flowing through your blood.
Breman’s lips trembled at her words as if he was reluctant to say something, but ended up saying it anyway.
Breman: …yes, I’m worried.
He couldn’t resist it after all.
While he was able to avoid such a situation up to now, in the face of such direct questioning, he was no longer able to resist the effects of his wish ability.
He had intended to gather some useful information by interrogating her, but had instead gotten his weakness revealed.
That’s right, if she’s an inquisitor, she should be able to notice that secret as well. Wasn’t this the situation he wanted to avoid by asking Ethan to handle the investigation team?
To think he actually forgot about this…was it because of anxiety?
Either way, the wish ability left behind by Breman’s ancestor, the previous king, left him unable to resist the requests of Hilda.
This was the price of “Faith”.
Breman: …the expedition ten years ago was abruptly terminated.
Breman: Back then, the expedition encountered an accident along the same path as this expedition. A small army was wiped out…
Breman: The first batch of scouts never made it back; their last transmission was…their wish points and wish abilities were all gone.
Breman: Furthermore, once they attempted to make a wish, the stars which represented their wish points would fall out of the sky like an asteroid and disappear.
Breman: The commander then, decided to dispatch a few more exploration teams. While he had taken precautions to ensure that there wouldn’t be any casualties, the members ended up losing their wish points.
Breman: That place which consumed the gifts from God…it was labeled in the records of the expedition as “Starfall”.
Breman: The commanding officer then, ended up getting executed as a punishment, and all large-scale expeditions were halted for 10 years.
Breman: To outsiders, it merely looked like we were consolidating the gains of our pioneering; building up Honor city…
Breman: …only the people who went through that expedition would know that we were simply too afraid to continue.
Breman: However, all this changed when the king suddenly decided to embark on another large-scale expedition, even though there has been no progress in the investigation of Starfall.
Breman: It was at this time that the Divine Hall sent out an investigation team that arrived in Honor city…
Breman: Why don’t you tell me why I shouldn’t be worried about this matter? Why shouldn’t I overreact?
Hilda Carlyle: ……
Breman: Wishes that interfere with another person’s wish abilities are strictly prohibited by the Divine Hall, and so only the members of the Divine Hall would have any knowledge of such a matter.
Breman: If you were in my position, do you think you would be stupid enough to not think that this was a trap of some kind?
Breman: Why did the king suddenly decide to dispatch an expedition, why did your investigation team suddenly decide to take action at the same time. No matter how you look at it, these two matters must have some connection!
Breman: For all we know, the king and the Divine Hall already know about the truth behind this matter and have decided to use this expedition as bait, as fodder for a trap!!
Breman: That’s all I have to say…it’s time for you to tell me what you know. LADY IN-QUI-SI-TOR.
Hilda Carlyle: …
Hilda Carlyle: I understand your concern. But…
Hilda Carlyle: According to what I know, this was merely a coincidence.
Breman: —-it’s not a coincidence.
Breman: My wish ability tells me that this is not a coincidence. This is the reminder given to me by God.
Hilda Carlyle: Officer Breman, I’m not aware of any matter regarding the Divine Hall and your king, but as for Starfall, I do know something that could help you.
Hilda Carlyle: As long as you investigate this matter yourself, you would know whether this is a trap or not.
Hilda Carlyle: While it had only been a short while since we’ve emerged from the underwater world, we managed to discover two interesting facts.
Hilda Carlyle: One, regarding that worm, while its wish points had already been returned to God, I managed to catch a “glimpse” of that moment.
Hilda Carlyle: In life, its wish points was about 3,000.
Hilda Carlyle: Aren’t you happy that it’s not intelligent enough to use them?
Hilda Carlyle: But then, compared to the traces of that anomaly we found a few days back, 3,000 wish points isn’t that strange after all.
Hilda Carlyle: The fact that this place has given birth to such fantastic life forms might just be a sign of things to come.
Hilda Carlyle: Two, please look over there.
Hilda Carlyle pointed at the area on the opposite side of the lake. It was a dense forest with nothing but a smooth cliff face after that.
Hilda Carlyle: There’s a cave in that cliff wall.
Hilda Carlyle: It’s not a very tall cave, but the width is about as wide as this ravine.
Hilda Carlyle: Whether it’s the cave or the Grand Ravine, it seems like both of them weren’t formed by natural means.
Hilda Carlyle: Being well-versed in geography, you should’ve known about this as well.
Hilda Carlyle: The direction of that cave seems to lead towards this “Starfall” you guys are headed to, is it not?
Hilda Carlyle: This should be enough, right?
Hilda Carlyle: I’ve provided useful intelligence to the expedition, and you’ve forgiven our transgressions. And so, this matter is settled. What do you say about that?
Hilda Carlyle: As for matters regarding your king, I can’t help you with that. However, I can investigate the matters regarding the Divine Hall.
Hilda Carlyle: From the look on your face, it seems like you agree with me?
Hilda Carlyle: If that’s the case, it’s time for us inquisitors to leave.
Hilda Carlyle: While this place is beautiful, I’m not exactly a tourist either, I have work that needs finishing.
Hilda Carlyle: I’m sure you’re the same as well, Officer Breman.
Hilda Carlyle: In that case…farewell.
As she gracefully left her seat, Breman continued staring at the ground; silent.
While he wasn’t a rookie at negotiating, it was obvious that today’s negotiation had ended in his defeat. He lost due to his age and insufficient experience.
He didn’t manage to get the outcome he wanted, but at least the magnanimous inquisitor was kind enough to leave him some clues.
He took out a map and placed it on the makeshift table in front of him. It contained all the geographic information gathered by the expedition up until today.
He took out a pen and added a few lines onto the map.
At the same time, a new plan took shape in his mind…
Special thanks to Steve Granger, Ichitsuzen, and LaRue Martin!!