Nozomu went to the kitchen after changing clothes, and as soon as he entered, Seta Azusake gave him a quick and tight hug, going to his stove again. He spoke as he mixed the stew while Nozomu was wondering why that warm reception, "Take the wheeled cart to the main room and when you finish delivering the plates with food, start making dough for the pizzas tomorrow morning."
"I won't be here tomorrow, Mister Azusake. The Guild Master said that Taisetsuna and I will go with the little Cat-kind girl we saved to the Castle in the Capital because that girl has some powerful Magical Items to sell, but she doesn't want to go alone with the Guild Master."
The big cook nodded and Nozomu filled the cart, leaving the kitchen in a jiffy. Seta Azusake took a slow deep breath and mumbled, "I am getting too attached to that brat..."
In the main room, Nozomu placed the plates over the reception counter, with some Adventurers there staring at him in silence. He returned to the kitchen while Taisetsuna went to deliver the plates to the tables. One Adventurer spoke, over the noise, "You should tell your friend to be more careful with his words, Taisetsuna! He might one day need help, and he won't get any!"
Some Adventurers nodded, and others supported him. Taisetsuna put one plate over the nearest table and looked at the Adventurer that spoke, sadness spread all over her face and eyes, "Like you and everyone here did today, by not helping us? Don't worry, we will make sure to never need your or anyone else's help. I was almost eaten by a bunch of Goblins that overpowered me, and you know what he did? He jumped to that big pile of Goblins that was over me without even thinking, and took me out of there. How many of you did such a thing? Instead of being angry, you would be better thinking about what he said, because deep inside, you know he was right. I always admired Adventurers ever since I can remember, and he and I always dreamed of becoming one and joining a Party. But this morning, seeing a Cat-kind couple begging for help, and none of you moved? Adventurers used to be my heroes, fighting Monsters and saving people, but after today? I just feel pity for you… Please, don't talk to me, I am embarrassed already for being among you and your friends…"
Taisetsuna went to grab more plates while quickly cleaning a single tear that was trying to come out. Some Adventurers noticed the sadness upon her, but none said a thing.
When Nozomu was bringing a new batch of trays from the kitchen, the Guild Master went to the Quest Board with a paper in his hands. He pinned it to the Board and turned to face the inquisitive eyes of the Adventurers. He cleared his throat and began to speak, "Aham… The events today, and after talking with the Priest and Nozomu, made me think about a subject that I am sure also bothers you all, my fine Adventurers. I mean, your reputation and how people see you and react near you. Many of you are way too scary for the normal citizen that lives in our City, and other citizens of other Cities when you go there during a Quest. Not only because of your reputation as fierce fighters, but by your scary looks. Scars, missing limbs, weapons and armours. All that makes the people fear you. I understand that some of you may like to input fear everywhere they go, but most of you surely agree with me that Adventurers shouldn't have that kind of reputation."
Some Adventurers nodded, while others stopped eating and turned to face him, intrigued by his words. Udo Eskola, their Guild Master and Leader, continued, "With that in mind and thanks to an idea that Nozomu gave me, we now have a new rule in this Guild. Once a month, each Party shall accept a job, a favour or a call for help, from anyone that doesn't have money to make an official Quest. We shall call it 'Free Quest'. More than one Party may do that 'Free Quest' if the job is too dangerous for a single Party, but everyone has to do it, at least, once a month. Feel free to do more, if you want."
One Adventurer dressed in dark ragged clothes, and with a scar from his chin to his left ear, asked, "Guild Master, you are really saying for us to risk our life without any pay? That's just ridiculous!"
"No, ridiculous is two youngsters with no experience whatsoever, going to a mountain infested with Goblins, saved two young girls, and returned alive with only a few bruises and damaged clothes. Especially because this is a Guild of Adventurers, one of the strongest in the entire country. I would never have the guts they had today when I was their age. And you? Or any of you? Think, what were you doing at sixteen? They shamed me, and every one of you. I bet that tomorrow when they go outside, the entire City will already know what they did, and I bet they will cheer them a lot. When was the last time you entered this City and the people cheered you and congratulated you for a job well done? They never cheered me when I was an Adventurer! Most of them ran away as soon as they saw me!"
Silence. Absolute and utter silence. Not even the sound of someone gulping from a cup. The Guild Master looked around and saw Koyaga nodding at him with a slight smile from the reception counter. He faced the Adventurer that looked so annoyed previously and was now looking at the floor, "If Nozomu and Taisetsuna didn't go today to that mountain and diminished the number of those Goblins, they would come to this City one of these nights, and a lot of people would have died. Some of those deaths could be any of you. Instead of being angry because they were a bit harsh to you and their words made you want to punish them, why not give this idea a chance?"
One Adventurer, a woman, dressed in a long dark Mage robe with her long dark hair tied in a high ponytail, asked, "Guild Master, the Quests grant us insurance. If any of us die during one, the Guild compensates our family. A free job can't do it!"
"That is where you are mistaken. Did any of you notice the mess we had here during most of the day, with people coming to buy that new food that Nozomu created? The money from the selling of pizzas was going to be divided by three. Nozomu, Seta and the Guild. Seta already told me he just wants half of what his share would be considering he works here, so the Guild is now getting a lot of money from the pizzas. I am betting that tomorrow there will be another line outside, with people wanting to buy more. As soon as the news spreads, other Cities will for sure order some, and we might need to think of a way to sell pizzas to other Cities. With that, this Guild will have money for insurance regarding the 'Free Quest', so that part will be covered."
The Mage woman asked after glancing at Nozomu that was placing more plates over the reception counter, leaving to the kitchen afterwards, "Why… Why Nozomu doesn't also offer half his share to the Guild? I get that he was the one to create that amazing new food, but he also works here, like Seta Azusake!"
- "Because Nozomu and Taisetsuna want to save money to apply for the Academy of Adventurers, that's why. The same Academy from where so many of you came. They need to learn far too many things, and none of you would accept them in your Party because they lack experience."
The Mage woman slowly shook her head, "Not after what they did today! I wouldn't mind having them at my side!"
More Adventurers shouted that they also wanted Nozomu and Taisetsuna with them until the Guild Master clapped his hands asking for silence, "This is not up for debate, people! The subject here is the 'Free Quests'. Nozomu and Taisetsuna are off-limits. After they graduate from the Academy, you may attempt to convince them to join your Party. Or they can find new friends in the Academy and make their own Party, like many of you did after meeting each other in that same Academy. So, about this new rule, any more questions?"
One Adventurer got up with some effort, because of his old wound on his left leg that always caused him trouble if he was seated for more than one hour, and made a slight smile, "The 'Free Quest' sounds like a good idea, Guild Master. Despite the way that Nozomu insulted us when he arrived, he was right. We care way too much about the money that we can get from Quests because we all want a good life when we retire, and we sometimes fail to remember that there are a lot of people that are not able to do what we do, and even like that, instead of them being grateful and proud of us, we often get some scared looks when we return to this City. I won't mind, and neither will my Party, to be the first ones to apply for one of those 'Free Quest' as soon as someone comes asking for help."
A lot of cheering followed his words, together with some shouts of other Parties also offering their services. The Guild Master nodded and left after taping the paper with the new rule, leaving the Adventurers behind, making plans and mocking each other about who would be the first to receive appreciation from the people living in that City.
After tidying up everything and closing the last window, Nozomu and Taisetsuna went for the stairs. Koyaga was cleaning the counter with a rag, and she signalled Nozomu to come to her. Taisetsuna went for the stairs, biting her lower lip out of curiosity.
Nozomu sat on a bench near the beautiful Bovine-kind woman, and she looked at him with a worried look in her eyes, "You still look sad, Nozomu. Are you alright? Do you need some company tonight?"
"No, I am better now, but thanks for asking. I think I just need to have a good night's sleep and think about some stuff. If you don't mind, I just want to go to my room, and… I don't know what I will do, maybe read, or meditate. What happened in those caves will for sure haunt me for a very long time, but I need to think about it, and find out what I could have done differently so that if I am ever in another dangerous situation again, I don't hesitate as I did."
- "I understand, but if you need me, my door is always open for you. For talking, cuddling, or something else."
Nozomu gently caressed Koyaga's hands, "Thank you, but tonight I just need some peace and solitude."
She nodded with a gentle smile, and the shine in her eyes made Nozomu think that she was not extremely beautiful, but also a kind and gentle soul.
He left for the stairs, and when he reached the top floor, Taisetsuna was in the middle of the corridor, talking with the two Cat-kind sisters.
Nozomu made a slight smile and lifted the little girl as soon as she went to him, "So, why are you still awake? Weren't you supposed to be sleeping by now, considering that tomorrow morning we are going for a trip?"
"It's still early, Mister Nozomu! You said we could talk some more, so I waited!"
Nozomu gently bumped his nose against the tiny nose of the smiling Cat-kind girl, "You can call me just Nozomu, you know? Calling me Mister makes me feel old!"
"Alright, but you shall call me cute Takanari Sumomi! Or just cute Takanari! And you shall call my sister Miss Asadate Sumomi!"
So, no comments, then... Is anyone reading this? Hello!!!!