Ardis and Rona who were conversing on the way to the capital eventually arrived and found their way into the inn they’re familiar with, 『Seseragi Inn』.
「Welcome――Ah―! Isn’t it Ardis-san! Where have you gone for an entire year!? 」
Opening the front entrance, the signboard girl of Seseragi Inn exclaimed after seeing Ardis.
「Sorry. There was some trouble I had to tend to. 」
While making his way to an empty spot in a corner, Ardis vaguely explained his absence. After all, he couldn’t exactly say that he was transported into another world because of a magic tool.
「There was a troublesome organization that I had matters with. And on top of that, there were nobles involved in it, so I couldn’t return to the capital until everything calmed down. I feel sorry for not saying anything though. 」
「Is that so……」
Not knowing that almost all of what he said were lies, Melir seemed worried about Ardis. As Ardis found his seat at an empty table, Rona as well naturally curled up on the ground.
「Ah, but your belongings……」
Melir recalled something and looked really apologetic.
「Oh, were they disposed? It’s not anything important anyways, so don’t mind it. 」
「Sorry, it’s a rule of our inn. 」
After all, Ardis couldn’t blame them not looking after a customer’s belongings that had gone missing for an entire year. And for Ardis who only originally used this inn to stay for short periods of time, there’re only daily necessities that he wouldn’t be troubled without.
「Ah, but as an apology, let me treat you something today! I have a new recipe that I came up with today! 」
Hearing that, Rona’s ears seemed to jump and quiver.
「No, it’s fine. Just serve your father’s dishes as usual―― 」
「Don’t be reserved, it’s something I’m confident in today! I will bring Rona’s portion too! 」
Although Ardis tried to respectfully turn down her offer, Melir totally ignored him and push on the offer anyways, before disappearing into the kitchen.
「I did refuse already. 」
Ardis tried to justify himself after receiving a hateful stare from his partner. Melir’s creations which are well known for its difficulty is even titled 『Ultimate Weapon of Seseragi Inn』 by many guests.
If not for the unimaginable destructive power it holds to completely overturn someone’s stomach, Seseragi Inn would’ve already made it to one of the best inns in the country. Since Melir’s father is a good cook as well as the inn’s reasonable prices, there’re many fresh mercenaries and explorers that stay here often.
But just as the inn was getting so popular that it would always be booked out, Melir’s cooking duty was arranged as if waiting for that. Of course, countless people who had tried her creations collapsed at the dining table, and as a result, rooms would get emptied and new guests would find their way here, it is such a cycle.
Though it’s a problem simply solved by not letting Melir cook, it seems like the inn owner is quite doting on his daughter. As Ardis surveyed around, there were two young men sprawled on the table.
They are the victims who had fallen prey to Melir’s cooking that would be served twice a month.
「Well, since she’s treating us, we should gratefully accept it right? 」
Are you serious about that? With a gaze that only said that towards Ardis, he became silent. And eventually, Melir had reappeared from the kitchen with a tray with food on it.
「Please don’t be reserved and dine in! 」
A plate that has a deep bottom was put on the table. It was filled with something that looks like stew.
There were root vegetables cut in small pieces and chicken meat submerged in the cream-colored liquid. It looked normal at the very least, as Ardis spooned it up and tried it.
Sourness that immediately numbed his taste buds. The urge to vomit arises at the same time. As if noticed Ardis’s expression that had twitched, Melir started explaining her grand dish.
「Ah―, are you worried about the taste? But I’m sure it’s fine, fermented food all tastes like that. And it’s also said fermenting food brings out more flavor. 」
Certainly, Ardis had known about the existence of fermented food in the world. But is it even correct to call something like this fermented?
He could feel his mouth rejecting it as purely rotten vegetables. 『A something that is right on the verge of decomposing』 would better describe it.
That’s not anything like fermenting, as Ardis swallowed the questionable thing along with his words. Just as Melir left the spot, Rona started complaining.
「Hey Al. Isn’t this totally rotten? 」
「…… It feels like, it’s critically on the safe borderline. It’s not, inedible……」
「I just really wanted to have something nice though……」
「Don’t complain. It’s better compared to Nedulo meat right? 」
「How underhanded of you to compare it to that……」
Even while grumbling about it in a soft voice that won’t be heard by the others, Rona flattened the questionably fermented dish.
「Is this inn going to be okay? Won’t it go under after a food poisoning incident sooner or later? 」
「Regarding that, it seems like her father is properly looking. He stops her before anything critical is done. 」
「Though it would be better to completely stop her from cooking……」
After finally finishing the plate, Melir had once again come to them.
「As expected from Ardis-san! It’s only Ardis-san who would ever finish my dish! Should I bring more? 」
「No, it’s enough. I’m not that hungry after all. So really, you don’t have to bring more. 」
「Is that so? Was it nice? Should we add it to the menu after all? 」
「Mu……, rather than asking me, isn’t it better to ask from your father? He’s a pro in cooking after all. 」
「Eeeh, but father would only 『Mu……』 or 『Umu』 even if I asked him. 」
At least properly tell her it’s impossible, as Ardis grumbled about the owner in his heart.
「Well, it’s fine. Since it’s a busy period now, a new menu won’t be coming anytime soon. 」
「Unn, after all, the Lotus Cup is coming soon! We have to attract new customers too! 」
「Lotus Cup? What’s that? 」
「Eh? You don’t know about it, Ardis-san? 」
Ardis asked about the term that he’d never heard before. Though, it seems like Melir was a little surprised at that.
「They do it annually right? It was cancelled last year though. 」
「What do I see here, Countless Swords, you never heard of the Lotus Cup? 」
Did he overhear their conversation?
A mercenary at two tables away said.
「Well, if you’re not around during this period in the capital, then it can’t be helped. There’re mercenaries and explorers who always travel around after all. 」
Ardis recalled just as it was pointed out. Certainly, just as he pointed out, he realized that he was never around in the capital during this period after moving here from Thoria.
It was purely coincidence.
「So, what is this Lotus Cup about? 」
「Lotus Cup is a martial arts tournament organized by the army. Many martial artists gather from around the Kingdom and decide who is the strongest, there’re many amazing mercenaries, soldiers, and even explorers that will participate, Ardis-san should not miss out on this year! 」
「Fu―n……, a martial arts tournament huh. 」
「Well, that’s the pretense of it anyways. 」
The mercenary hinted meaningfully, and Ardis asked.
「It’s just something for putting out Marquis Holguin’s name out there. 」
「Marquis Holguin? 」
Ardis felt like he heard that name before. After all, it’s the name of the noble that he had heard from Duke Nyrestia who is behind the assassination of Minerva.
「On official papers, it’s said that it’s an event held by the army, but it’s actually by Marquis Holguin, an authority in the army. Even when they say they gather martial artists all over the Kingdom, it’s not like anyone can freely participate. Mercenaries and explorers that want to participate will have to get a recommendation from the organizer. So of course anyone who is on bad terms with Marquis Holguin can’t participate. And those that are from the army are all under his banner anyways. 」
「But that’s just a rumor right? 」
Though Melir asked, the mercenary flatly rebuked.
「It’s not just a rumor. In reality, there’re only people under his banner winning the championship every year. I mean, the one that wins are capable, but there’re more talented mercenaries and explorers out there. But they would never be allowed in the Lotus Cup. 」
This time, Ardis raised a question.
「Isn’t it more like there’re not much interest in it? It’s not like everyone wants to make a name for themselves. 」
After all, Ardis in the past is like that. He didn’t think that every mercenary or explorer in the world wishes to be popular.
There should be many who don’t want to be known as well.
「I mean, that’s a possibility as well. After all, the championship is only fame, and a measly fifty gold coins. 」
Although fifty gold coins might seem much for the average people, for any experienced mercenaries, it’s not worth that much. It’s an amount that Ted’s party can earn in a single request depending on the content.
「Because of that, there aren’t many complaints about the limited entry, and since there’re not many strong people that participates, Marquis Holguin’s people win in it every time, and those who are in the top ten are mostly his men as well. He has his face to keep as well, coming from a house that produce military figures every generation, though it’s really boring for people like us to spectate. After all, all it boils down to is the Marquis’s men trying to decide who is the strongest. 」
「So in other words――」
Ardis suddenly have an evil expression.
「If someone unrelated to the Marquis won, then his face would hurt? 」
「That’s the case but……, there’s no one with that caliber who is going to participate anyways. And participating requires permission from the organizer as well. And the entire army is mostly under his banner, no one is going to go out specially on their way to challenge someone like that right? 」
Ardis who heard that decided.
「It sounds interesting. I guess I will try taking part. 」
It’s not like he needs any more popularity than this. And of course, the fifty gold coins is just a bonus. But when it comes to Marquis Holguin being involved, it’s a different story. Minerva who was his target went missing for an entire year in this world.
Because of that, she was publicly announced as being sickly and couldn’t show her face. In the end, she absented from the royal tea party for choosing an empress candidate, and of course she wasn’t chosen.
And after a year, the candidates had gnawed at each other, and one of the two candidates that is left is the third daughter of Marquis Holguin who is the perpetrator behind the incident with Minerva.
In other words, Marquis Holguin had successfully retired the lady of Duke Nyrestia who has the most potential to be a candidate.
Although the Duke had said that 「I had retaliated as much as I could」 but, it’s obvious that he couldn’t bring someone who has mighty power over the army into judgement easily. Of course, it’s a regretful thing for the Duke.
And Minerva who had been publicly missing for a year won’t have good reputation. It seems like information about the magic tool was leaked from somewhere, and there’s a rumor about a curse, she would have a hard time finding a marriage because of that.
Of course, Ardis wasn’t particularly fond of the idea. Although it wasn’t for a long time, Minerva is his pupil that he had taken care of. Being so openly hostile towards someone he considers dear, in other words, he’s Ardis’s enemy.
Though of course, considering that his opponent is a noble with a Marquis title, and an authority over the army to boot, he couldn’t just rush in straight for him but, there’s no need to worry if he just let him taste some pain in a totally legal manner.
The proud members under his banner, Ardis would outmatch them with just a sword despite being publicly known as a magician. For the Marquis who has a powerful authority over the army, there’s nothing else that can give a better blow on his reputation than this.
In other words, Ardis had thought to participate in the Lotus Cup as a means of retaliation of his own.
「Eeh……, Ardis-san. Magic is not allowed in the tournament though? Even if Ardis-san is strong, a magician without magic can’t compete with soldiers who are warriors right? 」
「Melir is right. Since it’s a tournament only using a weapon, there’s no using your powerful sword magic. Better rethink since it’s just going to soil your image. 」
Subjugating the Three Great Demons, and even contributing greatly in the war, Ardis’s name is known as one of the best mercenaries in the Kingdom.
But that is merely his feats as a magician.
Just as his second name of Countless Swords Sorcerer, there are many who misunderstand Ardis as a magician. It’s natural why Melir and the mercenary thought so.
「And in the first place, it’s not like you can easily participate even if you want to. You will need a recommendation from the organizer. A normal mercenary wanting to participate, they probably won’t even spare a glance at you. 」
「Well, I have an idea for that. 」
If the opponent is going to defend with his shield of political power, Ardis has his spear of political power as well. Fortunately, Ardis has Duke Nyrestia on his side.
No matter if Marquis Holguin is the organizer of the event, it’s impossible to have everything under his control. With the Duke’s power, it should be easily to let Ardis participate in the event.
「I will just go wild, of course, without the magic part. 」
With Melir looking at him worriedly, Ardis said so as a matter of fact.