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 I Ask You #1

Theo's expression changed subtly at Randolph's words.

'After returning home in five years, I get an identity check.' Theo couldn't laugh or feel angry.

Randolph grunted and scratched his head as he interpreted Theo's expression in his own way. He understood that it could sound quite rude to verify a person's identity after they had helped him. "I don't want to be fussy. But looking at the situation, it is hard to let you pass easily without checking. It will just be a brief verification."

"Yes, it is understandable."

They were fighting a group of undead in a corner village like the Miller Barony. Theo didn't know why the mercenaries were in this place, but now wasn't the time to question it. Theo first needed to gain Randolph's trust and enter the village.

Theo pulled out the investigator's badge and the certificate that he had received from the awards ceremony.

"Oh, an investigator's badge. It has been a long time since I've seen it. And this is... the owner of this certificate is an honorary baron, Theodore Miller. There is a royal seal stamped, so I am pretty sure... Huh?" Randolph looked at the certificate carefully and touched his chin with a puzzled expression.

The names of nobles were different from the common people. Even if the first names overlapped a little, there wasn't a single family which used the same surname as that of another. For nobles, their surname was a proof of honour received from the king and evidence of the blood flowing through their veins. What idiot would want to share that with others?

However, this name was the same as the lord of the Miller Barony.

"...I heard that the lord here has a son."

"My father."

"Darn, you're the son of my employer."

Theodore laughed, and Randolph smiled as he realized why Theo had such a strange expression on his face before. The lord's son had returned but needed to prove his identity. It was funny when they thought about it.

Randolph's pleasant expression returned, and he stretched out his hand. "Welcome home, Young Master. There has been a small fuss, but so far, it hasn't been a big deal."

"It was a pretty big group."

"Well... let's go in and talk about it."

The undead didn't strike when the sun was shining, so Randolph turned around first. It seemed like the story he needed to tell was quite long. Theo and Sylvia followed behind him. In a sense, it was definitely a surprising return home.

***

By the time the two people and Randolph entered the village, the mercenaries were already scattered all over the village. It was because of the fatigue which came from staying up all night. The residents gave bowls of warm porridge to the mercenaries and wrapped bandages around the injured.

One of them recognized Theo sooner than anyone else. "Eh...? You, aren't you Theodore?"

"What? Why would Young Master be here when he is studying?"

"No, just look!"

"Well, he certainly looks a lot like the Young Master..."

It had been five years, and Theo was dressed fashionably, so the people hesitated to call his name. He looked like a nobleman at first glance, so they didn't believe their Young Master had returned.

As buzzing started among the residents, an old man stepped out. "Y-Young Master Theo...?"

Theo felt like crying when he heard the faint voice and looked over. "Grandfather Albert...!"

Since early childhood, how many pieces of bread had he received from those hands? The hands of the old man were much weaker than he remembered, but Theo grabbed them without hesitation. A gentle feeling was conveyed through the old man's wrinkled hands, causing Theo to hug him while crying. Theo could finally feel the weight of all those years.

For the old man who didn't have any relatives, Theo was truly like his grandson.

"Ah, our Young Master! How is it that you look so respectable...?"

"Grandfather!" Theo couldn't speak and just hugged him tighter.

"Young Master!"

"Young Master Theo has come back!"

After that, the residents started flocking from everywhere. Someone was still holding the thread they had been knitting, and another person had rushed out with a piece of bread in their mouth. As all the residents of the village ran out, Theodore was instantly surrounded by a large crowd.

"...?!" Sylvia was standing close to Theo. With her silver hair which shone like a fairy from a story, she drew attention wherever she went. She was unfamiliar with people's attention, so she stuck closer to Theodore, causing the residents to cheer at her reaction.

"Who is the young lady? Young Master, perhaps?"

"Ah, come on. Why else would he bring such a lovely girl?"

"Young Master! There is silk at our linen store! It will be enough for a veil!"

"Come on, don't make me laugh! It is lucky if rags don't emerge."

"What is wrong with you?"

The loud commotion caused the mercenaries to wake up or look up from where they were eating. The atmosphere had darkened as the fight against the undead continued, but now there was an air of warmth about the village. It was proof of how precious Theo was to them.

The disturbance soon passed on to the Miller Barony's manor house.

"Theo, where is our Theo?"

A middle-aged man, with thinning hair and dressed in a humble tunic, moved through the crowd. Fortunately, those who recognized him gave way. Everyone wanted to welcome Theodore, but this person had more right than anyone else.

The man who finally reached the center, Dennis Miller shouted, "Theo!"

"...Father." Theo could never forget that voice.

As Theo's father pulled him into a tight embrace, the familiar smell of soil and bread tickled Theo's nose. The smell of his hometown was emitted from his father's body. No words were needed. They hugged for a while until Dennis let go first.

He firmly grabbed his son's shoulders and said, "Welcome home."

"Yes, I've come home."

"Don't you have a lot to ask about? Returning home after so long... I'm sorry this had to happen."

"Don't say that." Theo shook his head. What did his father have to be sorry about? The residents and his father were the ones suffering from the undead.

Dennis was pleased with his son's appearance but noticed the dust on Theo's robes. He also noticed Sylvia's shy existence.

"Aren't you tired? Let's discuss the rest of the story at home."

The two tired people nodded at the same time.

***

It had been a while since Theo had returned home, but nothing had changed.

The fireplaces and the staircase were still worn out, and the floor creaked every time he stepped on it. The sound of water could be heard coming from the kitchen, and the stain on the ceiling was still there. In fact, Theo could see that the number of stains had increased as he looked at his family seated before him.

His father had a bit of a moustache, his mother was a little slimmer, and his three year old brother was holding onto his mother.

'Oh, it is the first time I've seen him personally.' His little brother's growth was a sight he had missed out on seeing.

However, the caring conversation between his family members was still the same. Theo prioritized solving the problem before his personal feelings. It was enough to spend time with his family after solving the immediate crisis.

"...Then, the undead started appearing around a month ago?"

"Yes, the woodcutter was the first one to find them."

According to his father, the undead had appeared around a month ago, and they had only started the attacks a week ago.

It was a time difference which Theo couldn't understand. What had the undead done during those 20 days? Perhaps the missing magician had fallen into black magic, but it would require more than two months to learn how to create a ghoul wyvern. Even a swordsman like Randolph would find it hard if there were more than one on the battlefield.

Moreover, Theo had one more question. "What about the mercenaries? Our estate doesn't have the money to hire those type of mercenaries..."

"Hoo, I owe too much to them."

'Owe?' Theo looked at his father quizzically.

"They are mercenaries who came to fight the bandits around here. There was no relationship with our territory. But on the same day that they stayed in our village, the monsters came."

"...So they've been protecting this place for a week?"

"Yes. When they leave, I can't feel regret... I can only say thank you."

It was hard to believe. Mercenaries were people who would do anything for money. A rare few were righteous and faithful, but many became mercenaries because they wanted to be able to kill people legally. Those people needed to be filtered out. Nevertheless, they were never the type of people to volunteer to do a job.

'Unless there is a hidden treasure in this village but... that isn't possible.'

It seemed like he would have to talk directly to Randolph.

After thinking that, Theodore didn't speak anymore and just quietly ate the soup his mother had prepared. The thin soup with few ingredients went down his throat. There were many delicious soups at Bergen Academy and also in Mana-vil Capital. However, he had wanted to eat this soup.

Sylvia didn't seem to be picky about food as she also chewed on hard bread. Theo pretended to be unaware of his mother's glad face and lifted his spoon again.

However, there was still a stack of problems to worry about. The temporary calm of the moment continued as only the sound of cutlery moving could be heard.

"Then I'll see you later."

"...Yes."

After finishing their meal, Sylvia and Theo separated toward their own rooms. They had traveled awkwardly together for five days from Mana-vil, but a man and woman absolutely couldn't stay in the same room. Sylvia followed Theo's mother nervously.

Then Theo entered his room with familiar footsteps.

Rattle.

His room, which he returned to after five years, looked no different from when Theo had left. Even the order of the books on the shelves was still the same. The bed he collapsed on was still mushy, and the torn wallpaper showed no signs of repair.

"Huuuu..." Theo took a few deep breaths and then said, "Hey, can you wake up now?"

He was speaking to Gluttony, who was sleeping quietly.

It was something Theo had started to get a sense of after the last question and answer. Not long ago, he had begun to be able to detect the condition of the being living in his left hand. He could sense when it was hungry or whether it was feeling good or bad. Thanks to that, he could feed it the books without worrying about Sylvia, but he thought it was possible to call Gluttony directly now.

Unsurprisingly, Gluttony responded to his call.

-...You understand. You are more sensitive than I thought.

A sullen voice emerged from the hole in his left hand. The voice had a distinct drowsiness to it, meaning that it had just still been asleep. Theo realized that his awareness was starting to increase slowly.

"Long words aren't needed. How many books do you need today?"

-Two or three.

"Okay. Then I will feed you two books."

He grabbed the two books he'd prepared in advance with his left hand.

Gulp. The tongue swallowed the two books.

['Magic Wall' has been consumed. Your understanding is very high.]

[Proficiency with the 4th Circle magic 'Stone Wall' has increased.]

['Explosion is an Art' has been consumed. Your understanding is very high.]

[4th Circle magic 'Explosion' has been acquired.]

He learned two 4th Circle magic at one time, but luckily, he had already learned one of them. Thanks to that, the headache affecting him was reduced.

Stone Wall was a higher ranked application of Earth Wall. It was a persistent magic which built a wall with solid rock. As for the Explosion magic, Theodore used his knowledge and could quickly organize the information in his mind.

This was one spell which would surely be able to deal with a lot of undead.

"...Okay, it is done."

After the waves of wisdom passed through him, Theo looked down at his left hand with sharp eyes. He could feed it three books, but he had chosen two so that he could ask a question. It was more important to dig around than to have extra magic.

Theo had to figure out how to stop this disaster.

"Then I will ask."

The grimoire might just know the right answer.

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