As I stared out the moving window, scenes of lush jungles, quaint villages and vast gullies flash past my eyes, not stopping for even a second.
The rapid change of scenes almost had a hypnotic effect as I focused on them.
As the locomotive-like contraption chugged along, its humming vibrations compounded the drowsiness I felt.
That’s right, I am inside the compartment of train…this world actually had a train-like mode of transportation.
Seated across the small table in front of me was the commanding officer of Faith’s expeditionary forces, Breman—– real name, Breiya —- looking at me with a fascinated expression on his face.
Dressed in a sharp military outfit, his statuesque disposition was a clear indication of who I was facing at the moment; his public persona, Breman.
Breman: How’s your first try riding this fellow? Not bad isn’t it?
Di Qi Ju: Ah ah…
Perhaps he thought that I was awed by the sight of this contraption, but in actuality, my reaction was borne out of shock from discovering that this contraption actually existed in this world.
According to his introduction, the tracks were maintained by the Country of Faith and extend northward through several major cities and capitals, ending in the Country of Skill.
The train system not only functioned as a rapid form of transportation between the frontier countries and the inner human countries, it also maintained communications between them. As a communications method, it did a pretty good job of keeping these countries up to speed on current events.
This was a guarded technology that had not been released by Faith. Furthermore, driving these trains required a specialized wish ability which basically required all of a person’s wish points.
As such, the resulting ticket prices are exorbitant. Along our walk down the train compartments, the lavishly dressed passengers whom Breman greeted were an easy indication of the type of clientele onboard the train.
The final destination of this trip was the country sandwiched between the Country of Skill and the Divine Hall, Reitdarke’s Corridor.
I retracted my gaze from the window and took out an object.
This was a gift given to me by my friends before I left on the trip with Breman. They had purchased this pocket watch-like object from an exploration merchant.
Popping up the watch cover, I spotted a clock face with four needles of varying length, rotating within. Their rotation fluctuated between quick and slow and even stopped intermittently. Judging from the lack of uniformity between these changes, this clearly wasn’t a tool to measure time.
Breman: From that expression of yours, I’m guessing you don’t know what that is, do you?
Di Qi Ju: …nope.
Breman: It’s known as “traveller’s time”, a memento that is convenient to carry around, it’s a pretty fitting gift for a friend leaving on a trip.
Breman: Each needle represented a friend and it’s said that when all the needles are gathered together, that meant that your friends were reminiscing about you.
Breman: Apparently, this greatly increases the chance of reunions in the future. The meaning behind the name “traveller’s time” is “I look forward to the next time we meet again.”
Di Qi Ju: Which means it’s a farewell gift laden with their wishes?
I carefully pocketed the “traveller’s time” and turned my gaze to the giant chest, the size of a person, lying right next to Breman.
Di Qi Ju: By the way…is it really alright for us not to bring anything except for that thing? And isn’t your outfit kind of attention grabbing?
Breman: Oh, you don’t have worry about that. I’ve naturally considered these matters well beforehand.
He straightened his collar, exuding a dashing aura that no one, neither men or women would’ve mistaken for a female’s.
Breman: Revealing my identity is the choice with the largest gains and the least drawbacks, although it does cause some unavoidable trouble.
Di Qi Ju: Couldn’t we have just brought more people then? With just the two of us…
Breman: Aren’t you enough already, Di Qi Ju?
Di Qi Ju: ……
Di Qi Ju: Are you sure you won’t have any misgivings about trusting me so much?
Breman: Tsk tsk, I’ve said so already haven’t I, mankind’s nature is to lean towards the exceptional and being exceptional is in of itself a reason for trust.
Breman: With that in mind, if I had to pick a person I could trust the most, you would’ve been more suitable than Ethan.
Breman: And if I had brought more people with me, I would’ve drawn even more attention.
Di Qi Ju: Thanks for the undeserved praise…then what’s the giant chest for?
Breman: That, you’ve seen before.
As he said that, he gave it a pat; from the sound of it, it wasn’t that heavy. He then leaned in and whispered.
Breman: …it’s the pincer from that giant worm.
Di Qi Ju: —!?
Breman: It has no practical value left in it. At best, it can be used as a glorified trophy of war; perfect for our current purposes. This thing is more than enough to convince any of our potential investors.
Breman: This is one of the ways we are planning to attract investors, make sure you look after it.
Di Qi Ju: Alright…but whoever tries to steal it would probably get the shock of their life.
Di Qi Ju: Wait…”one of the ways”?
I gave our compartment a look around, there was nothing else that was remotely helpful to our negotiations.
Breman: What are you looking around for? Isn’t it already right in front of me?
Di Qi Ju: ………
Di Qi Ju: So I’m currently a Sacred Rite attendee, bodyguard and negotiation tool?
Breman: Mhm mhm, and don’t forget to add in “lover” to that list of roles.
Di Qi Ju: —-pfft~~~!
Breman calmly shifted to the side, avoiding my exaggerated reaction.
Di Qi Ju: —*cough cough* !
Breman: I hear that there’s been some misunderstands about how you got in through the backdoor with my help.
Di Qi Ju: That…is right…
Breman: And that you are my bed warmer.
Di Qi Ju: Err….
Breman: In my opinion—there’s nothing bad about that.
Di Qi Ju: —huh???
Breman: You need to understand that lust has always been a tool to cajole those of us from a military background.
Breman: Just by remaining silent about—neither confirming nor denying it—we can avoid others using “women” against us.
Breman: This way we avoid some unnecessary trouble so there isn’t anything bad about this arrangement.
Di Qi Ju: But you’re actually a—
Breman: —hm? Are you unhappy with my female self being your lover?
Di Qi Ju: No…not really.
I quietly averted his playful eyes.
Di Qi Ju: It’s just that I don’t have…any experience with a normal man-woman relationship. I might end up disappointing you in some areas.
As I said this, the image of Poppy flashed through my mind.
Come to think of it, my relationship with Poppy…can’t really be considered “normal” can it? I’m not really lying about not having experience with a normal relationship!
Breman: That’s alright, I’m familiar with the etiquette and behavior expected of the male side of the relationship so you should be fine just taking on the female role.
Di Qi Ju: ……
Why does it feel like I’ve unknowingly strayed off track!
I don’t think I’ve ever had any experience on Earth where I had to engage in a homosexual relationship with an older female.
And I don’t think I want to have such an experience here either!!
Breman: You don’t have to pay too much attention to this. I’ve heard that male couples aren’t particularly intimate with each other in a public setting, they mostly remain at the stage of a new couple.
Breman: Just treat me the same as always, if there’s any special situation, I’ll handle it.
Di Qi Ju: No…I didn’t want to accept this arrangement in the first place.
I’d rather avoid being suspected of being in a homosexual relationship with Breman…
Breman: Come to think of it, I haven’t told you about your mission for this trip.
Breman took out a folded map and unfolded it layer by layer, spreading it out over the small table in front of us.
It was a map depicting the borders of the several kingdoms. On the side were the map legends for the following territories: Divine Hall, Reitdarke’s Corridor, Country of Skill and the Country of Numbers.
He pointed at a point near the southern borders of Reitdarke’s Corridor.
Breman: This is the home of Ethan and Alvin. Their parents still run an inn there.
Di Qi Ju: So that’s where we’ll be staying at?
Breman: Mhm. Once we arrive, we’ll apply for the qualifications to perform the Sacred Rite in the middle ring. We might have to wait a while before entering the Divine Hall.
Di Qi Ju: Roughly how long is that wait?
Breman: Previously when I had the King’s recommendation, I had to wait for 30 days.
Di Qi Ju: …30…days.
Isn’t that a tad too long given a monarch’s recommendation.
Breman: The Divine Hall is unable to admit every application it receives. Waiting is to be expected.
Breman: Furthermore, you aren’t automatically granted permission to enter the Divine Hall even after they’ve approved of your application. You still have to undergo several examinations.
Breman: In order to pass those examinations, you still have to brush up on your knowledge.
Breman: If I’m not mistaken, you are illiterate aren’t you?
Di Qi Ju: ……
Di Qi Ju: …that’s right.
Breman: So that anxious look on your face during the initial selection was in fact due to your illiteracy.
Di Qi Ju: You actually knew about it that early on…
Breman: It’s alright. I’ll arrange for your enrollment in a school. They’ll teach you how to read and write. You can pick up some basic knowledge while you’re there as well.
Breman: No matter how dim you are, they’ll be able to drill the required knowledge into you.
Di Qi Ju: There’s no need to set the bar so low.
Breman: Sigh, it’s such a waste that a person like you had to miss out on schooling because of happenstance.
Di Qi Ju: ……
I could feel the sincere regret emanating from her heart just by looking at her face and listening to her words.
Di Qi Ju: …thanks…
Breman: You’re welcome. But…
Di Qi Ju: …?
Breman: Why do you have that resigned look on your face while you’re thanking me?
Di Qi Ju: ……
That’s because I’m unable to reciprocate your sincerity. I have a secret that I can’t tell you about.
I can’t tell you that, on top of my gigantic true form, I possess even more terrifying abilities.
For the sake of my own safety, that sordid bit of evidence…will have to remain under wraps.
Throughout my silent pondering, Breman stared intently at my eyes as if trying to read my thoughts.
I immediately pointed at a point of interest at the intersection of Reitdarke’s Corridor, Country of Skill and Country of Numbers, hopefully diverting the topic in order to break this bit of awkwardness.
Di Qi Ju: —by the way, what’s this place?
Breman: Ah, the Grand Coliseum…
Breman: The Country of Skill is kingdom that worships individual abilities. As such, the country hosts a grand tournament known as the “Three Battles” banquet every two years. This summer so happens to be one such session.
Di Qi Ju: “Three Battles” banquet?
Breman: “Three Battles” refer to the “Battle of Righteousness”, “Battle of Death” and the “Battle of Loyalty”. Each battle has its own rules and applies to a different kind of spectator.
Breman: Simply put, it’s a martial tournament where winning is everything and the winner might even be selected as a candidate for the throne.
Di Qi Ju: …
While I still don’t know what these three battles entail, that “Battle of Death” sounds pretty savage…
Well, I don’t really care to find out about it anyway…after all, it has nothing to do with our trip.
Breman: If my negotiations and your schooling lasts longer than expected, we might just have the chance to spectate this battle.
Breman: It’s an atmosphere and display of might that you definitely won’t be able to see in Faith. I’m sure you will be able to learn about the different cultures from those visiting countries.
Di Qi Ju: About that…ha ha…we’ll have to see about that.
Breman: While we’re at it, I’ll be able to approach those wealthy merchants who enjoy this form of entertainment. It will be a good chance to sign some financial deals with them.
Breman: I should prepare a name list of targets to visit while we’re on this trip.
Di Qi Ju: That “while we’re at it” sounds more like your true aim.
I sighed and turned back to the scenery outside my window.
Where this train would take me to, I had no way of knowing but I’ve already made my choice; this is a chance I mustn’t give up.
—Understanding the Divine Hall, entering the Divine Hall and thus finding a way for Miss Poppy to leave the Divine Hall entirely.
Until then, I’ll have no choice but to shamelessly rely on Breman’s trust and gratitude.
I’ll repay him once I’ve succeeded…
Amidst the changing scenery of vegetation and villages, the only constant within was that gully stretching along the length of the tracks.
As that gully undulates along our path, it gradually narrows into an almost fingerlike shape.
Almost like an…organism that grew up as it travelled along. With the Divine Hall as its origin, it slowly makes its way towards the direction from which we came from.
I suddenly recalled that telepathic message Starfall sent to me.
Was, this the road you took all those countless years ago, Starfall?
Within the clock body of the “traveller’s time” given to me by my friends, I had quietly snuck in a half cm wide piece of silica.
It was a remnant of Starfall’s core left in my palm after reverting to back my human form.
In a sense, I’ve fulfilled your wish of “homecoming”…
Special thanks to Steve Granger!!