9: Slum Quarter
Part 1: Vagabond Arc "Ash-crowned Princess of Slaughter" Chapter 1: The Heroine Went Against Fate
I finally arrived to the neighbouring town late at night.
The town was completely surrounded by a stone wall the size of a two-storey building, and its gates were already closed.
But even if the gates were open, it would be difficult to enter as a "street urchin", dirty all over from exploring and training in the forest.
In the countries of this continent, people could be roughly divided into four categories.
First, "nobles" were the ruling class. They could travel anywhere they wanted within the country, and could even travel to other countries as long as they had a reason to do so.
Next were the "commoners". This referred to people who became citizens by paying taxes to the ruling noble—I was currently in a baron's territory—which allowed them to travel anywhere within the territory they registered in. If commoners wanted to travel to a different noble's territory they only had to pay one silver coin as tax, but travelling to a different country required a special permit.
Bellow them were the so-called "free folk", which, simply put, were homeless people. They weren't required to pay any taxes, but instead were restricted anywhere they went. They couldn't even enter a town or a large district without paying a toll of one silver coin.
The lowest category was that of the "slaves". In short, they were people who sold themselves. It might be easier to understand if I said they were commonly referred to as serfs. They tilled their landlord's fields and were paid according to how much was harvested. They could have a family to some extent, but had no freedom to stop working.
Just like there were people like that orphanage's old hag who sold orphans, there were also nobles and wealthy people who kept illegal slaves as lovers, but that was an exception.
I was currently part of the "free folk", so I would have to pay one silver coin as tax to enter the town.
Furthermore, as free folk lacked not just citizenship but even a family register, they were under the risk of not receiving help from guards when they were the victim of a crime. And as was the case for a street urchin like myself, if I was unlucky enough to be confronted by a nasty gatekeeper upon entry, not only could all the money I had on hand be taken away, but I could even be forcefully sold as a slave.
The reason I wanted to enter the town deliberately despite the risks, wasn't only because I wanted to replenish my food, but because I also wanted to acquire a weapon along with a certain "thing".
By joining one of the four guilds—Adventurers' Guild, Merchants' Guild, Sorcerers' Guild, Alchemists' Guild—even the free folk who had no freedom could receive treatment similar to "commoners" in accordance to their Rank. But in the first place registering in the Adventurers' Guild required you to be in possession of at least a level 1 combat type skill, which was unreasonable for the current me, so I wasn't aiming too high.
Returning to the original topic, it was difficult to enter this large town where the lord—a baron—resided through the front gate, unlike the rural town I lived in before that only had a wooden fence.
But that woman's "knowledge" taught me a hidden method of entering the town.
After taking a nap on top of a tree in the outskirts of the forest, I investigated the exterior of the wall when it was nearing dawn, and around the time it was becoming bright I finally found what I was looking for.
There were two figures walking in the forest near the outer wall. ...Are those children perhaps? They collected wild grasses inside the forest, skilfully caught a single snake and went back to the wall.
The children looked around them carefully, entered inside a bush near the wall and disappeared.
I also moved there while erasing my presence, and after investigating inside that bush I found a hole covered by a plank on the lower part of the wall, with a size that a child could pass through.
...Just like I though. That woman knew that the residents of a large town's slums would have other means of exiting the town.
In order to erase the lustre of my pink-blond hair I smeared the ashes I kept aside on my head, then I concealed half of my face by wrapping a cloth around my neck and while suppressing my breath I stealthily trespassed into the town.
Coming out of the hole that could only be traversed by a crouching child, I quietly lifted up the plank that covered the exit and examined the situation outside. When I saw that it was certainly the slums and confirmed that there were no presences in the area, I came out of the hole and returned the place back to how it was, covering the hole with the plank.
Now then...I wonder, where can I find a shop that would buy even from a street urchin?
Such a shop would probably not be on the main street, but inside the slums or the low-income area near the slums. Confirming that my hair had lost is lustre and became ashen, I began to investigate the area while matching my presence with the magic particles of my surroundings.
This area appeared to be an old residential district. When I tried to peek inside the buildings through the decayed and broken doors and windows, the stench of rotten food assaulted me.
While there was barely any human presence, there were plenty of traces of people living there. I couldn't feel the presence of people at the moment. I didn't know whether they simply returned only at night, but more important was the fact that compared to the forest there were barely any elemental magic particles inside the town, which made it a pain to erase my presence.
It wasn't that there weren't any at all, if I had to say, I had the feeling that light, dark and non-elemental magic particles made up the majority.
I need a different kind of training compared to the forest to adapt to this, huh... Feeling a little mentally fatigued as I looked around, I found a well so I thought I'd take some water from there.
I didn't want to use magic while I was mentally fatigued. The well wasn't dry so there was water, but it seemed a bit muddy so I only wet a cloth and wiped my sweat off.
"Oi, you! Who gave you permission to use the well!"
I heard a voice from some distance away. ...A child? I slowly looked over my shoulder and found an proximately ten-year-old boy wearing simple children's clothing slightly dirty all over along with a girl around my age.
...Ahh, the child I caught sight of near the wall. Are they siblings?
The voice of the boy that was trying his best to appear threatening reminded me of the older orphans that stole my food and pushed their jobs on me, so I reflexively glared back at him, making them both flinch slightly.
"Th-this is our turf! You have to pay for using the well!"
The town's well can't be private property, right? I had no reason to go along with that kind of street urchin logic, but I changed my mind since every place had a minimum amount of rules, so I flicked a copper coin towards the boy's legs, and as I immediately tried to leave, the boy raised his voice again.
"Y-you! If you got money, hand over more!"
It seemed that the boy was overcome with greed seeing me take out money so easily. Next to him the younger sister was trying to stop him but he shook her off and came at me.
I didn't wait for him so while circulating my magic power I hit his leg and knocked him down. I straddled the disturbed boy, and while coldly looking down on him drew my knife and raised it.
The girl leapt to push me off from him, so I immediately dodged and rolled away, taking a stance with my knife.
But the girl only cried while clinging to her older brother, showing no intention to attack me.
The boy also didn't have any more will to fight as he laid on the floor, trembling with a pale face, having been nearly killed by my blade.
Seeing me approaching him with my knife still drawn, the boy twitched with a frightened expression and hugged his sister, who was still clinging to him, tightly even though he himself was trembling.
"...Where can I find a shop that sells things even to street urchins?"
"...Th-that way...two blocks ahead..."
"Is that so? Thanks."
That was tough... At any rate, I learned what I wanted to know, and I had no intention of killing or getting involved with them now that they had lost their will to fight, so I began to leave. But just as I was about to turn the corner, I heard an adult voice behind me.
"Hey! Ya damn brats! The hell ya doin' there! Told ya, gotta pay to use that well!"
Slightly concerned, I turned to see a dirty, red-faced man raising a bottle of alcohol to threaten the cowering siblings.
Ahh, I see. This man was using the well to extort money from the street urchins.
"W-we, we didn't use it!"
"Shaddap! Don't care! Don't matter, just pay up!"
The man pulled the little sister away and took the coin the boy was holding.
"Tsk, just one copper. Yer fucken broke, huh."
"Ple-please, don't take it, old man! That's for Shuri's bread..."
"Then go steal or whatever, just get me the damn money!"
The man raised his bottle overhead. A child could easily be killed by something like that if it hit the wrong place.
What came into my mind at that moment was the face of that old hag laughing while beating the orphans with a rolling pin.
After a stone grazed the man's head, the drunkard raised a scream while holding it.
The boy and girl showed a surprised face. But the one who was surprised the most was myself, who threw the stone with my sling on the spur of the moment, even though I had decided not to get involved.
"...Yo, y-y-you damn brat!"
The man realised it was me and instantly became furious.
He smashed his empty ceramic bottle against the well, turning it into a brutal weapon. But even if the opponent was a drunkard, there was no way that a child who had trained for only two or three days could win a head-on challenge against a grown-up.
So I immediately ran away.
The drunkard started chasing the fleeing me. I was hoping those siblings would use this opportunity to escape, but at the moment I was in a much more critical situation than they were.
The man was so angry that he was relentless in his pursuit. I turned the corner of a building while taking a "certain something" from my waistband and waited.
Am I in the wrong in this case...? But I won't stay still and let myself be killed. And so, the moment the drunkard chasing me appeared from the corner, I swung it down with all my strength.
Receiving a blow to the top of his head, the drunkard staggered and fell face down.
What I used was a weapon I created with a string about a metre long, made of my hair twisted together, and a weight wrapped in cloth attached to the end.
The weight I used wasn't a stone, but ten copper coins. Proper copper was heavier than iron. Moreover, the coins had sharp edges, and the impact, reinforced by centrifugal force and magic power, would explode not from the "surface", but from that sharp "point".
I immediately drew my knife and stabbed it deep into the man's medulla oblongata to finish him off.
If I left him alive he would only become a seed of trouble for the future. I pulled the cloth near the man's neck closer so that blood wouldn't spurt out, then rifled through his pockets to make it look like a robbery.
There were three small silver coins and five copper coins inside his dirty wallet. Having confirmed that, I threw the wallet with the coins to the boy who, instead of running, came to check the situation and was standing there, shaking with a pale face.
"Deal with the corpse using that. You should know how as a slum dweller, right?"
When I said this, the boy received the wallet and nodded over and over wordlessly.
The life of a slum dweller was cheap. Even more so if you didn't belong to a mafia. It's the same for these street urchin siblings...and for "me" as well.
That's why, in order for me to "survive", I won't show any mercy to someone who has become my "enemy", no matter who they are.
Without saying anything to them, I turned my back on the frightened siblings and left immediately for the shop I had heard about.
Next time: First time shopping.
- [+] Something that was added in the light novel.
- [–] Something that didn't make it into the light novel.
- [≠] Some difference in details.
- [+] A little preface stating that people's actions were limited based on social status before going into the explanation.
- [+] Specifically mentioning that there were more inorganic substances and very little nature inside the town when explaining about the magic particles. And right after, mentioning that she had to also match the size of the magic particles and not just the element.
- [+] She felt the boy approaching before he called out to her.
- [+] A Hyun-! sound effect before the stone hit the man.
- [+] Her thinking "It went well..." before explaining the weapon she used to knock the drunkard out.
- [≠] She didn't send a cold gaze to the siblings in the web novel, just ignored them.