“Oh, you guys are early! Did you get enough rest last night?”
After Junius forced Shin to organise his stuff and clean the room, the two orphans headed down for breakfast.
“Senior Marshall, thank you for your hospitality. We rested enough.”
“Hoho, there’s no need to be so formal. This is now your home too! You can be more forward!”
“But, senior Marshall…”
“Junius, too much humility can sometimes be read as an insult. Just accept it.”
Initially, the bony man was rather pleased with how down-to-earth Junius was. But after Junius tried to protest his gifts for like the thousandth time, Marshall clearly got a little miffed. Narrowing his eyes, he lightly chided Junius.
“Hahaha, it’s alright. Just be mindful of that in the future. Oh dear, have you two eaten?”
Regaining his cordial look, Marshall reached his right hand out to pat the boy on the head.
“Oh, how forgetful of me. I didn’t tell you about the canteen! There is a canteen on the third floor that serves food. My goodness, you must be starving. My apologies!”
Marshall apologised, clearly remorseful that he had omitted such a vital detail yesterday.
“No, we aren’t that hungry!”
Shin nodded like a bobblehead to Junius’ words.
“Don’t be shy. To make it up to you, let me take you to one of my favourite restaurants in town. They serve amazing sweet and sour pork ribs that are seasoned with the best peaches in the empire! We just need to wait for Lou and Ines.”
“There’s no need senior, we can just eat from the canteen!”
“No, no. Either way, you will need a guide to tour the waypoint. So it’s not that troublesome. Furthermore, bringing you to the Paradise Inn gives me an excuse to skip work!”
Winking playfully, Marshall offered to bring the duo for food.
“We just have to wait for Lou and Ines.”
“Here! Here! Senior Marshall! What about me? Don’t I get to go to the Paradise Inn?”
Overhearing the entire conversation, an alluring young woman, stood up from her position and walked over gracefully.
“Riko, you have to stay here and man the reception counter. There’s no way you can leave. And didn’t you eat earlier? I saw you stuffing your face with dumplings!”
“No fair! Then why do sister Ines and brother Lou get to go? I want to eat sweet and sour pork ribs!”
“Just treat it as a welcoming meal for them! To celebrate their arrival.”
“Then I want to celebrate with them!”
Pouting furiously, Riko attempted to skip work too and join them in their food adventure.
“Enough! Fine, I’ll order some takeout…”
“Yay! You’re the best senior Marshall!”
The beautiful woman had understood that she was unable to leave her post. After all, there was no one in the building that had her experience in dealing with customers. Thus, her earlier outcry was to guilt Marshall into buying back one of the most expensive dishes for her to eat.
Witnessing the interaction, Junius and Shin were reminded of the First Elder and Ariel. No matter how stern the old man was, he always had a soft spot for his precious granddaughter. Even though the two individuals in front of them didn’t seem to be directly related, the two orphans could tell that they shared an unbreakable bond.
“Arghhh, I should really stop letting you walk all over me. Do some work for once and call Lou and Ines down!”
“There’s no need, we could hear you from a few levels up.”
Two figures exited the elevator and slowly walked over to greet those gathered at the main entrance. One was a beefy, bald man, who kept an unkempt beard, making him look like a prehistoric caveman. With his eyes bloodshot and clothes dishevelled, it was evident that he did not get a good night’s rest. The other figure, however, was well-dressed and as fresh as can be.
“Marshall, you’re going to treat us to sweet and sour pork ribs?! Hooray!”
“Hey, it’s just a one-time thing. Don’t get used to it.”
“Still, I want five servings of that signature dish, please! It’s been a while since I’ve gone to the Paradise Inn.”
With her Spirit being a Flame Ainu Wolf, Ines had inherited an enormous appetite. Sometimes, Marshall would wonder how she maintained that figure even though her stomach was akin to a bottomless void.
“Hey! No one eats five servings! You only get two servings, you hear me? Two servings!”
Terrified that Ines would spend all his money, Marshall rejected her demands.
“I’m glad that you get along, but before we go to the Paradise Inn, we need to make a stop somewhere.”
“Hmmm? What do you mean?”
Interrupting Ines and Marshall’s argument, the Instructor disclosed that they were needed someplace. Relaxing his shoulders, the muscular man gave a bitter smile.
“We need to go to Yakkyoku Clinic.”
As he said those words, everyone except the two orphans flinched. Ines covered her creased forehead as if saying ‘Ah, I didn’t want this day to arrive so quickly. But since it’s here, let’s just get this over with.’ Marshall raised his eyebrows and mentally questioned the sanity of the Instructor and Riko just stood there, her healthy complexion turning as white as a sheet.
There was dead silence in the room as Shin looked around, unaware of why the adults had stopped moving.
“Lou, do… do you have business there?”
There was a little quiver in Marshall’s voice as he questioned the Instructor.
“I have to deliver this letter to Lady Seph from the First Elder… It’s not like… I want to go or anything…”
The Instructor had gotten back late last night, but that was not the reason why he barely got any sleep. Before leaving the mountain, the First Elder had given him detailed instructions of how to settle the two orphans down in the new environment. Junius would be dispatched to the mayor’s office where he would be training to serve as a constable. Whereas Shin…
Thinking about the fate of Shin, the Instructor couldn’t help but tear up. The worst part was, he had to deliver the letter that the First Elder had personally written to the demon he was about to visit. Looking back, the First Elder might have been reluctant to visit the woman himself and thus, he sent a sturdy courier.
The contents that the letter contained would only cause an inconvenience to the monster, ticking off the slumbering beast. Serving as the delivery boy, the Instructor could clearly predict his future. A future where he won’t be happy. Hence, he had been having trouble sleeping the night prior.
“I see… Let… let me lead you there…”
Marshall reluctantly dragged his heavy feet out of the Mushinkei. Riko swallowed a mouthful of saliva, glad that her job had saved her from the fate of meeting that demon.
“Why is everyone so uptight?”
“I don’t know…”
Shin bent down and asked Junius, who was still sitting on a wheelchair. But he didn’t get any good answers. Tilting his head in confusion, Shin pushed Junius as they followed the adults out of the building.
The Mushinkei was at the heart of the commercial district of Chilyoja Waypoint, making it one of the most central locations in the town. However, Marshall had claimed that their destination was at the westmost part of the waypoint. Hence, although the town was rather small, it still took the group a half hour to reach their destination.
Marshall thought of using an aether car to transport them over, but he realised that the walk could actually serve an introductory tour for the two orphans and help familiarise them with the roads. In that half hour, Shin and Junius had learnt multiple things about the waypoint. Where the restaurants were, which places to avoid and even met new acquaintances.
The long walk also gave the group a chance to know each other better. Marshall asked numerous questions about the orphans while Junius and Shin asked many questions about him. Sharing stories about one another made them grow closer. Overall, it was a fun bonding experience. However, all good things must come to an end.
Sighing in melancholy, Marshall stopped in front of a small little storehouse. Unlike the Mushinkei, this building was much more simple and unassuming. Thick green moss grew up the walls of the storehouse as the white paint had started to fade. Broken windows and walls with holes in them were prevalent in the building making onlookers wonder how such as run-down house had not caved in yet.
And atop the front door, there was a black signboard with golden letters that read:
A contrasting place where dread and joy met, it was Shin’s first encounter with the infamous building.