Translated by Pryun with some touching up by me :)
Rondo of the Transient Sword: Part 20
Ten minutes later ――.
From the bar at the outskirts, Asuna and I returned to the eastern square of Taran Village.
Because it was just a village, it's inner area was much smaller compared to the Main City Ulbus. However, it also had the basic structure of «A round Table Mountain which had been hollowed out, leaving only the outer wall», in other words, it had a lot more volume from the vertical direction compared to a village built on a flat plain. In fact, two villages can be stacked up in it and not exceed the ceiling.
The round square was no exception, with tall building surrounding it. Furthermore, most of those were inns and NPC shops, and anyone could freely enter those Inns and NPC stores, because currently there were no player's house yet.
In fact, there were quite a number of people who would prefer to use a so called «empty house» over an inn. However, those empty rooms in an empty house were different from the rooms managed by NPCs, in the sense that they were not protected by the system.
Of course, while it was true that you couldn't be harmed here, sleeping in an environment where the door could not be locked could be quite uncomfortable, and the beds were so hard it was sad. I too occasionally lodged in one to save money, but I slept far from soundly compared to inside a building, and was surprised by every noise on the road while outside. It was truly an unreasonable story ―― my real body in the real world was most likely safe lying in a clean and comfortable hospital bed, with my audio and visual senses completely cut off, while in the virtual world I suffered from loud external noises and a low quality bed.
Anyway, for such reasons, from then on I abandoned being thrifty, and slept in a real inn or rented an NPC house every night.
However, for various other purposes, the city's empty houses still had some valid use. Whether it was for small meetings or to distribute item drops ―― or, to spy on someone.
"This is quite a good angle, eh."
Sitting on a chair beside the window, Asuna gave those words, while carefully staying slightly away from the window as she looked down at the square below
"This is probably the best point. If you're right behind, you probably can't see because the angle is too steep……. Tonight's meal, let's leave it here.
The four steamed buns with unknown contents which we purchased from the stores along the way from the bar here were set on a round table. They had normal creamy white skin, and were warm with steam rising and without any odd smell…… in other words, they looked perfectly normal. The item's name was 【Steamed Bun of Taran】, in Japanese that would probably translate to «Taran Manju».
Asuna turned her attention away from the source of the continuous hammering noise outside the window, and gave a glance at the suspicious buns on the tabletop and muttered.
"This…… What's in it?"
"Who knows? But, because this floor has a theme of cows, maybe it’s a beef-based nikuman(meat bun)? Come to think of it, because in Kansai 'meat' is equal to beef, I've heard what we call nikuman in Kanto being called butaman(pork bun) in Kansai."
"So? Is this town a part of Kanto or Kansai?"
At the cool voice asking about the relevancy of the trivia regarding the two regions, I apologised and invited Asuna to take a Taran Manju from the pile.
"Well, come on, take one while it is hot."
Removing the leather glove from her hand, she picked up the bun right at the top. After she was done, i too picked one up lightly.
Having not eaten any snacks since going into the dungeon until afternoon today, I was starving. If there was a way for the avatar to project the physical reactions instead of just this feeling, my stomach would been continuously rumbling loudly during the meeting with Argo. Standing and opening my mouth wide, I was going to bite into the soft manju, and at that exact moment.
At that weird sound which emitted right beside my ear, I was startled and turned to face it. What I saw was, Asuna sitting in the chair, with both her hands stiffly holding the manju. On the large manju with a diameter of 12 cm was a small, tooth sized indent ―― and it looked like a viscous, cream coloured fluid squirted out from the opening, and onto the rapier user's face and neck…….
While watching rigidly, Asuna took her first mouthful cordially despite her eyes beginning to be filled with tears. She then said in a soft voice.
"……The content, tastes like warm, custard cream…… and inside it is some kind of sweet and sour fruit……"
The Taran Manju which was three centimeters away from my mouth was quietly moved away. As soon as I lowered it to the table and released it, a voice with the sharpness of a rapier pierced my ears.
"If…… if you have had one of these during the beta test period, and asked me to eat it despite already knowing what’s the contents but did not tell me…… I don't think I have the confidence to suppress myself…… "
"I swear I didn't know. Really, truly, 'Absolutely'"
While shaking my head vigorously, I took out a small handkerchief from my belt pouch and offered it to Asuna. It could be said to be fortunate, as the «Stain Effect» in this world would eventually disappear even if you left it alone, and could be removed instantly using an item within the «Cloth» category. While the durability of a cloth based item would decrease a little every time it is used, within the category was a magic handkerchief which could be used eternally. As mobs and some terrain have a blocking/debuff class stain effect, the infinite use handkerchief is a very desirable item, but it was a considerably rare drop……
While thinking of an escape, the handkerchief returned and interrupted me. In just a few seconds, the cream covering her face vanished.
After giving me a bonus glare, the rapier user faced the window, and declared to me.
"The next time we do a surveillance, all meals will be self prepared. I don't want to eat something this unexpected a second time."
Here, saying "With a cooking skill of zero the food we prepare would be really ‘unexpected’," went against my judgement, even if I pretended to be a middle school second grade (Chuni). So instead,
"I-I’ll look forward to it."
As soon as those words left my mouth, a second shot was fired to send my smile flying.
"No one said anything about making your share!"
At the manifestation of the evil feeling of wanting to give up, and all the «Taran Manju» were completely cold, now is the time to eat it properly … … I mean, the taste would be the best. Of course, as a dessert.
The moist and chewy skin, with the modest sweet cream smoothly contained which did not splatter out, had a sweet and sour taste best described as that of a strawberry. It's probable that since the start, the Taran Manju was set to have the taste close to that of a «Strawberry Cream Bread», but it was possible that the staff had mischievously messed with the system configuration, and put it on sale while it was hot. In the end Asuna ate two, and her mood seemed to have improved.
This was good, but ―― the main aim of the surveillance somehow ended in vain.
Our aim was, obviously, to keep an eye on the blacksmith Nezuha in the square below, and to find out exactly how he scammed strengthening weapons, to determine the trick behind it.
Although the store's business was quite good, most of the customers were here for maintenance -- since we started our surveillance, only two players came for strengthening. In addition to that, both the strengthening were successes. Although I said it was because they were middle class weapons, the confidence of the presence of fraud was waning. The case where Asuna's sword was broken, although it came back with the «All Items Objectize» button, perhaps it was some kind of system error…… in other words, it was likely to be caused by a bug…….
"――No, that's can't be true……"
I murmured in a quiet voice, shaking off my own weakness.
The method of weapon substitution may be unknown, but reason why the wind fleuret broke on its first attempt at that time was already known. As to why that was, A-chan…… I mean, Asuna had bought that information from Argo.
Back at the tavern, the question that came out of Asuna's mouth when Argo offered any information whatsoever, was one I didn't expect at all. "Could you investigate if there is a «Destruction» penalty for weapon strengthening failure?"
Argo was also surprised, and gave an unexpected answer.
"There is no need to investigate. Because I have already verified it."
At both of us who were stunned, who had paid for the information through the wine, Argo said.
"If you consider a harsh penalty for failure, weapon destruction is undoubtedly the first. However, there is a situation where attempting to strengthen it always end in destruction. It is when THERE ARE NO MORE STRENGTHENING ATTEMPTS REMAINING."
In other words.
That night, in front of Asuna's and my eyes, the shattered Wind Fleuret was one secretly swapped with a still unknown method…… it’s an end product where all its 6 strengthening attempts were used up. Incidentally, the Wind Fleuret +4 currently at Asuna's still had two more attempts remaining. Therefore, even if the strengthening process failed, destruction wouldn't occur.
As the keyword "end product" appeared to me, I suddenly remembered Ryufior's case, just before Asuna
It couldn't be confirmed, even now, whether Ryufi-shi’s Anneal Blade was swapped at that time. However, the result was, rather than destruction, it failed three times consecutively. Perhaps it was because they were surrounded by witnesses, or perhaps it was because he had no stock of «End Result Anneal Blade» on hand to switch.
If the latter was the case, Nezuha, facing the frustrated Ryufi-shi, had a reason to buy the +0 end product Anneal blade at a price much higher than the market average. Rather than compensating for his loss, he was keeping it as stock for the next chance…………
A sharp whisper disrupted my thoughts.
Blinking, I realigned my line of sight. At the square below, wrapped in darkness before we knew it, the number of players coming and going had decreased.
At that time, a single player, wearing a high grade metal armor that reflected the illumination of the street lamp, as well as a dark blue vest, walked in a straight line into the round square. Undoubtedly, this person was one of the top front liners, standing with «Lind's Group»――.
Asuna and I held our breaths while watching, as the man approached «Nezuha's Smith Shop», removing his sword from his waist.