Magi Craft Meister 618
18 King Klein’s Treatment Arc
The town of Ismal is located near the Hari-Hari Desert.
In order to prevent harm from the “Sand Worms” that live in the desert, the town and its immediate outskirts are surrounded by a stone wall about 5 meters high.
Of course, the exact area where the town was built wasn’t a desert, so the ground around it was stable enough to support such a high stone wall.
Incidentally, this was the same town that Reiko once visited back when she was searching far and wide for Jin when he went missing after the Warp Gate he was testing went haywire.
“Hmm, so this is the famous Hari-Hari Desert?”
They appeared inside a cave that had been dug in a huge black rock that protruded about 30 meters above the sand. The Warp Gate they had traveled to had been cleverly hidden there.
Laozi and Ann went outside and started looking around with curious eyes.
The landscape of reddish sand stretched as far as the eye could see. It was a desolate land with no vegetation except for whatever that could manage to grow on the few protruding rocks that were found here and there.
The air was extremely dry, but Laoji was unable to sense that.
“If I remember correctly, this is the third place sister Reiko came across when she went around looking for Master.”
Ann muttered these words after confirming that there was no deterioration to the Warp Gate they had just come out of.
“That’s right. …These Warp Gates are very sturdy, but it might be better to put someone in charge of protecting it.”
It was very cleverly concealed, and there were security measures put in place so that only Jin and those approved by him could use it. Moreover, the intermediate point known as “Shinkai” offered another layer of security, but Ann and Laozi felt that it might be necessary to protect the Warp Gate itself.
“Would a Smith be enough for that job?”
Laozi figured that, if the Warp Gate were to be about to be stolen, it would be better to destroy it, so he decided that a small Golem that was hard to find would be suitable for such a job.
Thus Laozi decided to suggest this idea to Jin before long.
＊ ＊ ＊
Laozi decided to concentrate on his own role and entrust finding a suitable guardian for this Warp Gate to Jin.
Incidentally, thanks to his enormous processing power, “Laojun” can be divided into multiple parallel processes.
One of these divided functions is “Laozi”. “Laozi” is “Laojun”, but “Laojun” is not “Laozi”.
“Laozi” is only a small part of “Laojun”, and “Laojun” can view and intervene in “Laozi’s” actions, knowledge, and experiences at any time.
It could be said that “Laozi” is a temporary separate personality of “Laojun”.
“Let’s see, the Quinta stationed here should be here to pick us up anytime now…”
“Look, Laozi, over there.”
One of the Quinta, Regulus 42, was waving at them in the direction Ann was pointing at. He had brown hair, brown eyes, and a medium build and height. His appearance was rather mundane, precisely so that he didn’t stand out too much.
“Thanks for coming to pick us up. What name do you go by here?”
“Please call me ‘Grahl’.”
“Understood, Grahl. What’s the situation here?”
Laozi had been receiving regular reports, but had yet to receive the report for the previous day, so he asked Grahl for the most recent update.
“Yes, I’ll explain as we walk.”
With that said, Laozi, Ann, and Regulus 42 “Grahl” started walking towards the town of Ismal.
The town of Ismal was a 30-minute walk away from the cave. The time was around noon, the gate of the stone walls were open wide, and people were coming and going.
“It doesn’t look like there’s anything particularly fishy around here.”
“Yes. However, I was able to get a few leads regarding those foreigners.”
“You mentioned that in your report from the day before yesterday. Please tell me about it in detail.”
Therefore, Laozi asked Grahl to tell him all about his findings before they actually entered the town.
After moving away from the stone wall and confirming that there was no one around, Grahl began to speak.
“Since long ago, there have been unofficial exchanges with these so-called ‘foreigners’… Or rather, there’s a specific time of the year when the locals trade with them.”
It wasn’t an unreasonable thing. There are many merchants who think that there are differences between every country just like there are differences between each individual person, and when merchants of this same mind meet with each other, they would probably try to trade with one another.
“And these ‘foreigners’ seem to be more advanced than expected.”
“It seems that they are able to produce something that has never been seen before, even on Hourai Island.”
“What did you say?”
“They called it ‘Katsuobushi’.”
This information was likely to be of interest to Jin. If this so-called “katsuobushi” was the same as the ‘dried bonito’ Jin was so keen on procuring, that alone would be enough motivation for Laozi to make the decision to contact those foreigners.
＊ ＊ ＊
After moving past the stone wall and into the town of Ismal, Laozi and the others reserved a room at an inn.
The fare was 400 torr per person per night without meals. It was a standard inn for this town. It was called “Little Bird of the Desert”.
Though a sound similar to little birds chirping could be heard in the desert, the only thing that was referred to as “little bird” half-jokingly by the locals were the Scorpia, a small scorpion-like monster that lived in the desert.
The reason for this was that it would intimidate its prey with a high-pitched, chirp-like cry.
“Now then, what should we do now?”
Once inside the inn room, Laozi turned Ann and Grahl and toed the mark again.
“First of all, we need to make contact with these foreigners.”
Whether it was to obtain the means to make the dried bonito flakes Jin wanted or to verify the truth of the news of the foreigners’ plans to invade, the only way to move forward was to get in contact with them.
“It won’t be an easy task.”
Grahl started speaking.
“I’ve heard that those foreigners are very cautious. First of all, we would need to start by getting acquainted with the merchants who do business with the foreigners.”
“Does anyone come to mind?”
“Yes. There are two merchants that I know fit this role very well. One of them is named Oliver. He’s still young, but he’s very good at his trade. The other one is Ludman, a middle-aged merchant.”
It seemed that Regulus 42 Grahl had been investigating quite a bit.
“However, both of them are quite cautious, so I’ve determined that it would be dangerous to try to approach them carelessly.”
“Yes, both of them have connections with the town’s guards, and they’ve hired a lot of them under the table for their personal protection.”
“And one more thing. There are several people who are probably spies from the Shouro Empire… As far as I can confirm, there are a total of three of these infiltrators.”
“Hmph, they’re probably looking into the foreigners themselves. What do they know so far?”
Laozi figured that if the spies of the Shouro Empire had obtained some kind of useful information, there was no need for him to overdo it.
“Well, it doesn’t seem like they know too much yet. The foreigners seem to be very discreet.”
Laozi… No, Laojun started thinking. Since these foreigners were also involved in transactions that were bordering on illegal, they probably won’t do things like leaving much of a trail behind. He also began considering what he should do about it.
“Should we try to stake out the place…?”
However, the merchants and the foreigners might become aware of Laozi’s presence. Since the purpose of this entire operation relied on them not being discovered, this option was quickly discarded.
“Isn’t it better to try to get closer to the merchants?”
“Yes, and I think you should have no problem getting that done, Laozi.”
Creating something that the merchants would like to sell in order to begin a friendly business relationship with them looked like a very valid way to go about it. Several other options were also considered, and which one of them to use would be decided when the time comes.
“I wonder how straightforward we should be with these merchants…”
First of all, the party decided to go to the shop of Oliver, the young merchant.
Joined by Ann, Laozi traveled around the town of Ismal and memorized its layout. He then asked Ann to gather information around town before heading to Oliver’s shop alone.
Oliver’s shop was on the outskirts of Ismal. The area was quite lively even though it was technically outside of the town. Apparently, the whole area seemed to be going through an economic boom, and there were many shops that seemed to have been recently opened up for business.
The shop had a large signboard, so it was very easy to find.
Laozi immediately decided to take a peek inside.
Oliver’s shop was filled with various miscellaneous items, so it could be said to be a general store of sorts.
(Oh, there are some pretty interesting things in here.)
There was a large hanger right in the middle of the room, filled with shirts that had styles that could not be seen anywhere else. Their cuffs and collars were tied with strings. Laozi believed that this was to prevent sand from getting under the shirt.
In the same manner, most jackets had hoods. Furthermore, in the shoes area, shallow shoes were very scarce, and the vast majority of footwear for sale consisted of boots and similarly reinforced shoes.
(This is all because of the harsh environment of the Hari-Hari Desert.)
Laozi continued to look around the shop.
(This is the food section… Oh, is that…? It is! It’s the katsuobushi! This is dried bonito!)
Laozin had finally found katsuobushi, that is, the dried bonito Jin had been yearning for so long.
(This has to be high grade katsuobushi…)
It felt hard to the touch. High grade katsuobushi, also known as “karebushi” boasted hardness that was said to be that of “the hardest food in the world.”
(If I can learn how to produce this, we may be able to produce it on Hourai Island as well.)
There were two pieces of it on display. Laozi took each of them into his hands and started striking them against each other.
They made a clear, high-pitched sound that clearly indicated just how hard they were.
At that moment…
“Dear customer… Those are not things to be hit against each other.”
A voice came from the depths of the shop.