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    [Rui’s POV]

    I—Rui—was at the guild, trying to get information on Lisa and Airi when someone shouted at me, making me turn around. There was a man who looked like an adventurer standing there.

    This guy mentioned Airi and Lisa. Could he be an acquaintance?

    As I continued my thought, the guild’s entrance door opened, diverting my gaze for a moment.

    The next instant, I saw two familiar faces.

    I was surprised by the sudden reunion, but Airi and Lisa seemed unaware of me.

    “Cross-san, why are you raising your voice like that?”

    Airi spoke, seemingly concerned for the man. Their relationship might be quite close.

    I looked again at the man called Cross, and beside him was a woman—someone who seemed to have a similar vibe.

    “No, it’s just that this guy was asking around about Lisa and Airi. Both of you are beauties, so I thought it would be too late if something happened. I ended up yelling,” Cross said, twisting his face.

    Upon being called beauties by Cross, I could sense that the cheeks of Airi and Lisa were slightly flushed.

    However, they soon regained their composure and addressed me.

    “Do I know you from somewhere? There’s something strangely familiar… I feel like I’ve seen you before…”

    “Lisa-san, you feel that way too? I also had the same impression.”

    I was still surprised by the sudden reunion, but I gathered myself and took a fresh look at the two people before me.  

    Lisa still maintained her stunning figure as always. However, what was particularly worth noting was her well-defined face, radiant with luster, adorned by soft blonde hair. She perfectly embodied a beauty that was captivating.  

    Perhaps it was because I’d gotten older, but I found her more attractive than when I had seen her in the past.  

    I shifted my gaze a bit to observe Airi next.  

    Her blue hair seemed to have darkened a shade.  

    The hair had grown longer since before, now tied in a ponytail. Had she also gotten a little taller? About shoulder-height to me now, perhaps? She’d always been cute, but she seemed even more polished now.  

    After taking a thorough look at the two, who I hadn’t seen in a long time, my focus shifted to Cross and the woman next to him.  

    A few seconds of observation triggered my 〈Intuition〉 skill. It warned me that these two were up to no good.  

    I hurriedly used〈Appraisal〉on Cross.  

    Turns out, this man had a 〈Acting〉 skill level of 7. These people are dangerous, I concluded.  

    I shifted my gaze back to Airi and Lisa, but they still hadn’t realized who I was.  

    Feeling that this couldn’t go on, I opened my mouth to reveal my identity.

    “It’s been a long time for the both of you… I am Rui, the son of Dan and Sara. I’m now sixteen years old. I’ve successfully completed the task requested by Chronos, so I came to see both of you as promised.”

    Upon hearing my words, the two were frozen in utter surprise.  

    Then, their faces quickly transformed into expressions on the brink of tears. Both seemed truly overjoyed by our reunion.

    “Rui-sama, I’m glad you’re safe. There wasn’t a day when we didn’t think of you. You’ve grown so handsome,” Airi said.  

    “Rui, you’ve… grown so much… and even managed to complete that difficult task… you’ve really become strong and even more handsome,” Lisa added.

    I felt that both truly rejoiced in my growth.  

    To that, I thanked Lisa and Airi.

    “Ah, thank you. Both of you haven’t changed much.”

    I had wanted to catch up with the two now that we were reunited, but Airi mentioned that she originally came to take a B-rank exam.  

    Therefore, she had to head to the examination area soon.  

    However, as soon as I told Airi and Lisa, “Let’s talk more later,” Cross rudely interrupted our conversation.

    ◆◆◆

    [Cross’s POV]

    I—Cross—had come to the kingdom of Midgar with my sister Aisha about six months ago, upon receiving a request from Lord Tran. 

    We had already achieved a certain degree of success in our mission. 

    We had captured four beast-women and two dwarf women, put slave collars on them, and handed them over to Lord Toran’s envoy.

    After that, our next targets were to find elves and demons.

    However, we couldn’t find any demons in this area, so we had given up on them. 

    As for the elves, while we did manage to locate a few, they were either already the slaves of the Midgar nobility or were weaklings without any distinguishing characteristics other than being elves.

    Naturally, we couldn’t interfere with the nobles’ slaves, and we had no use for weak elves.

    Aisha and I discussed what to do next, but couldn’t come up with a good idea.

    It had been a while since we’d gone to a tavern, so for a change of pace, we decided to head to one.

    It was in that tavern that we found Lisa, an elf who possessed both beauty and strength.

    To Aisha and me, she looked like a prize we had finally caught.

    Thanks to our <Acting> skill, it was easy for us to build trust. Furthermore, being S-rank adventurers lent us credibility that was easily understood by all.

    So for us, winning over Lisa and her friend Airi was almost too easy.

    However, Lisa was an A-rank adventurer and was somewhat famous in this town.

    And it seemed she only took quests that were within a day’s travel.

    Attacking someone like her near Midoria posed a risk of drawing attention.

    Aisha and I began devising a strategy to somehow enslave her.

    We planned to pretend that we had another elf in our party who needed rescuing from bandits. We would ask for their assistance and enslave them along the way.

    Airi, who wasn’t our primary target, would serve as our trump card when putting the slave collar on Lisa. Once we had no more use for her, we could sell her to some slave trader.

    We had spent nearly a month gaining their trust. Just when we were about to execute our plan, someone at the guild started sniffing around Lisa and Airi.

    Had our plan been exposed?

    That’s when Lisa and Airi inconveniently arrived.

    This was the first time they had ever seen me raise my voice, so I was at a loss for words until Airi spoke up.

    “Cross-san, why are you raising your voice like that?”

    “No, it’s just that this guy was asking around about Lisa and Airi. Both of you are beauties, so I thought it would be too late if something happened. I ended up yelling.”

    I hastily came up with an excuse.

    Of course, it was true that they were both beautiful. That’s why we were planning to enslave them.

    I tried to paint the nosy guy as suspicious, but couldn’t come up with a good idea.

    While I was pondering what to do, the three started conversing.

    It became clear that this man was the one Lisa and Airi had mentioned before, the guy they had parted ways with in Dallas.

    When I took a better look at him, a chill ran down my spine—

    Even though Aisha and I were S-rank and quite strong, I instinctively felt that this man was on a different level.

    My instincts were screaming a warning: This guy is dangerous.

    I hadn’t noticed until now, maybe because I was panicking…

    We couldn’t let this man get involved any further. I exchanged a glance with Aisha.

    Quickly thinking, I formed a plan on the spot.

    “Lisa-san, Airi-san, we were supposed to depart tomorrow, but let’s change that. Once Airi-san’s exam is over, we’ll set out immediately. I don’t want to wait any longer, and besides, we’ve finished our preparations faster than expected. That’s why we’re here waiting for you two.”

    In reality, we hadn’t finished our preparations.

    To ensure that nobody would find it suspicious when Lisa and Airi disappeared, we had spent time making a good impression on the receptionist at the guild and networking with other adventurers.

    And a long journey required a lot of preparation.

    We would just have to cancel our current quest and somehow manage the supplies on the way.

    ◆◆◆

    “Rui, we’ll be leaving soon,” Lisa said to me, turning her back as she did so.

    My <Intuition> skill screamed that this was absolutely a bad idea. Letting the two of them go with Cross and his gang would be a bad move. Deciding that there was no time left, I spoke straightforwardly.

    “Airi, Lisa, if you two don’t have time, then explaining this gradually will be pointless. I’ll just state the matter at hand. You shouldn’t go anywhere. Those people can’t be trusted. They’re clearly suspicious.”

    Even in my haste, I continued to speak.

    “This warning is for both of your safety. I’m telling you this because my <Intuition> skill senses danger, and because that guy has a <Acting> skill.”

    The two were so taken aback by my sudden words that for a moment, they seemed unable to comprehend what I had just said. But then, their expressions changed to one of bitterness—it seems they can’t understand or agree with what I’m saying.

    “What!? Rui, why would you say that? Cross and Aisha are nice people. Both Airi and I owe them a lot, and we’ve even formed a party with them. We’ll be going to the Steania Empire for a small favor, and we’ll be back within a month. If we go around doubting everyone who has a <Acting> skill, then nobody with that skill can do anything. Moreover, can your <Intuition> skill really be relied upon?”

    “Rui-sama, I thought you weren’t the type to say such rude things upon first meeting someone. Although, the Rui-sama I remember was still a child… Skills are just skills and do not define a person. While I’d like to believe in your <Intuition> skill, I’ll continue to trust Cross and the others. Their kindness up until now doesn’t feel like a lie.”

    Such harsh words from Airi and Lisa pierced my heart. My attempts to persuade them failed. They weren’t possessed by <Dark Magic>, and looking at Airi and Lisa’s status, they weren’t brainwashed either. I could feel my emotions going beyond sadness and shock.

    Have I really come all this way just for this kind of treatment? They trust Cross more than me? Is our bond so weak?

    I spent my childhood with Airi, and yet, neither of them are willing to lend an ear to what I have to say. In any case, forcing them to stay, or beating up Cross and Aisha isn’t an option. I’ve already told them about my <Intuition> skill and their <Acting> skill. What else can I do for these two now? Perhaps jealousy is part of what I’m feeling now.

    In that instant moment, I felt as though my ties with Lisa and Airi had diminished from valued comrades to people who no longer matter in my life. It was surprising how I was now indifferent towards them, I realized. Then, a remarkably emotionless and subdued voice escaped my lips.

    “Disappointment, huh… disappointment, is it… I see… I get it… alright. Fine, if you’ve gone as far as to say that, it’s okay. You all can go on and do as you like. But… I never want to see any of you ever again. And if things go as I wish… we won’t be meeting again. As of today, you and I are complete strangers. What I’m about to say is neither irony nor anything else, got it?”

    With my final act of kindness, I relayed my final words to the two of them.

    “I have this warning for you two whom I used to know. Your lives will most likely be steeped in darkness in the near future. Do your best to not despair and live with a strong will… Let’s go, Eleanor!”

    There were no more words left for me to say to Airi and Lisa.

    Except one more thing I needed to say to Cross, for good measure.

    “And one last thing, you are Cross, right? I don’t care about those two anymore, but if you ever mess with me or Eleanor again, I’ll erase you.”

    I glared at Cross and declared this with a killing intent.

    After giving the four of them a glance, Eleanor and I left the guild and returned to the inn.

    However, I still felt mentally drained. Even after returning to the inn, my mood didn’t lift.

    Eleanor didn’t ask me anything. Instead, she just showed a gentle smile.

    And she embraced the dispirited me kindly.

    I felt a little calmer, touched by Eleanor’s warm feelings.

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