I had not paid much attention to the inn where Elysium and the other woman – who I deduced was Rosalind – had stopped as I was tailing them earlier, but now that I was approaching it in a different context, I began to notice several things about it.
The first was that it was a rather modest establishment – especially considering the amount of money that Rosalind’s concerts no doubt brought in. Her tickets were priced at levels that bordered on being unaffordable, and if the rumours were true, she had a full house at every concert. Based on the vague information that circulated among the thieves, I expected that someone with such a position as Rosalind would stay in the upmarket district inns, with their heated baths, their high-class food and their private security forces. Instead, the inn I found myself at the entrance of was situated in the middle-class districts, on the outskirts of the city center. It had an unassuming exterior, its outer facade lacking the large signs and golden gilding that the more expensive inns tended toward. It was situated within the residential rather than the commercial district, and didn’t really stand out: if not for the small signboard placed above the door that read “The Restful Willow”, there would have been no way to differentiate it from the houses on its left and right. Elysium seemed to note my surprise, as she laughed and clapped me on the shoulder.
“A bit less fancy than you expected? Sorry about that. Well, the outside’s pretty boring, but the inside is nice and cozy. And it’s a roof over our heads, at least. And the rooms are pretty big. Is this insufficient?”
I shook my head. Of course it was sufficient. That didn’t make it any less surprising. To be completely honest, I’d been expecting to be made to sleep in the stables or something, so it was heartening to know that she intended for me to have an actual room.
“No, no, this is more than enough. I’m just curious, I expected as someone with as much money as you to stay in one of the bigger inns, for reputation or prestige, that kind of thing. If nothing else, wouldn’t it be safer to stay in one of the larger inns, since they hire guards?”
Elysium placed a finger to her lips in thought.
“Hm. Well, you’re right in the fact that we do make a decent amount of money, even after paying off our sponsor’s cut. We’ve got more than enough cash to stay in the bigger inns if we want to, that’s true. But while we’re currently rich, neither Ros nor I were born rich. I’m from a comfortably middle class family, and Ros used to be a barmaid. Neither of us would feel very comfortable staying in one of those big places. Too gaudy. Too high-profile. Makes it hard to move around, basically. As for the security issue, well…” She chuckled. “Yeah, they do hire guards. Just not very good ones. I took a look at them – I could probably take on ten of them at once without much effort and win.”
“…I feel like using yourself as a basis for comparison is a little unfair to them.”
“Well, that’s probably true. I’m sure that they’ve all put in lots of hard work to reach their current levels of proficiency, and I’m sure they’re much better fighters than the average civilian, maybe even the average soldier. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I can do a much better job of protecting Ros than they can, so their presence really didn’t factor into my evaluation of those inns’ security. And once you take the guards away, well, those inns are just asking for trouble. Large, in the open, with no buildings near them. Obvious and gaudy. It’s like a giant guiding sign for any potential assailant, and if we do get attacked, there’s nowhere to escape or hide. Something inconspicuous and quiet like this inn is much better for our purposes, no?”
I nodded in response, forming an evaluation of Elysium in my head. Despite her overwhelming strength, she was behaving as a thief would, making choices that would allow her to avoid fighting. That intrigued me. It was generally the case that those who excelled in combat wouldrarely take measures to avoid it, for they were often confident in their ability to triumph. Yet Elysium, possessed of such strength that it was unlikely any ordinary human would be able to triumph over her, behaved like one who lacked strength and relied on deceit for survival. No doubt, it was due to the “unique circumstances” she kept mentioning, and I found myself increasingly curious as to what these circumstances were. I resolved myself to ask her about them once I had gotten to know her better.
She led me through the door and into the inn, where I could see for myself what she meant when she called the place cozy. It was tastefully decorated, with a simple interior that was highly practical. Any furniture in the reception area had some practical purpose – there were no purely decorative pieces. Tables and chairs doubled as decorations, made of polished wood carved with intricate patterns. The room was lit by magic lanterns that radiated warmth, bathing the room in an inviting shade. The reception counter was made of polished wood, with a young woman behind it – she couldn’t have been much older than me – smiling warmly at us. As I returned a tentative smile, a word came to mind to describe the place: warm. It was relatively simple architecture, but I could tell from the way the surfaces were polished and the way the furniture was arranged that whoever owned the place was meticulous in taking care of it. The girl behind the counter nodded in welcome to Elysium.
“Welcome back, Miss Elysium. Will you like me to have dinner sent up to your room?”
“Has Amy already eaten?”
Amy? I instinctively glanced at Elysium, but then directed my gaze upwards, as if I were admiring the design on the lamp that hung above my head. Presumably, Amy was a fake name that Elysium used for Rosalind. Understandable, if she wanted to avoid attention. That would also probably explain the fact that her companion that morning wore a hood for the whole day. While I thought on these things, the receptionist answered Elysium’s previous question.
“Yes, your companion had her meal brought up to her room earlier.”
“Okay. Please send the meal to my room – oh, and make it two servings, if you will.”
“For this young man? Certainly.”
“While you’re at it – my room is a single room, but would it be possible for Glint here to stay in my room with me?”
The woman hesitated a bit before replying.
“Um, it’s fine if you’re just sharing a room, but if you want a second bed, I’m afraid I’ll have to upgrade you to a larger room. Is that okay?”
“No, no need. One bed is fine.”
The woman blushed furiously, but quickly recovered her composure in a remarkable show of professionalism. For my part, I had, of course, noticed the implications of sleeping in a single room with a single bed, but I didn’t particularly care. I was too happy at the prospect of sleeping in an actual room to raise any objections. Besides, it was nothing I hadn’t done before. If anything, I was more used to sleeping that way. I slept in a similar situation whenever I could convince one of the thieves to share a room with me. Sometimes I stayed with a girl, other times with another boy. Either way, it didn’t really bother me much.
If I had a roof over my head, having to sleep on the floor was a small price to pay.
As I stood stewing in the indifference born of my innocence, Elysium finalised the details of the meals and lodging with the receptionist, then gestured me to follow her up the stairs. Our rooms were located on the third floor. Our room was right next to the stairs, but she told me that she wanted me to meet Rosalind, first. So we knocked on the door next to our room. After a few seconds, the door opened, revealing a woman wearing a white shirt and comfortable-looking shorts. Her red hair splayed out behind her in an untended – but not untidy – mass. She was taller than me – just like Elysium – and so I had to look up to see her eyes. They gazed at me, blinking, curious, their golden pupils fixed on me. She looked to Elysium.
“Ely, this young man is…?”
“The one who’s been following us all day.”
“Yeah. A thief. Caught him red-handed.”
“…you caught him?” She turned her gaze to me. Her eyes seemed to bear a hint of pity. “You poor thing. That must have been terrifying.”
“Hey. What’s that supposed to mean? And you, Glint, stop nodding so enthusiastically!”
At her request, I stopped nodding my fervent affirmation. Unwilling to leave it at that, however, I spoke up.
“Yeah, it was really scary. I don’t think I’ll forget something like that in my lifetime.”
“Right? Ely can be so scary sometimes.”
“You- you- Ugh, fine, whatever. Glint, Rosalind. Rosalind, Glint. You’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future. So let’s hurry up and move into the room, before someone notices you’re here.”
Rosalind answered Elysium’s concern with a frown.
“It’ll be fine, Ely, stop being so paranoid all the time.” She then turned to me and extended a hand, which I promptly took in mine. “Glint, was it? A pleasure to meet you. I’m Rosalind. Ely’s friend. I do hope you’ll forgive her, she’s a bit rough, but she’s really a nice girl.”
“Why are you acting like a mother apologising for a misbehaving child?”
Rosalind ignored Elysium’s objection and flashed me a grin. It was a brilliant smile, one that seemed to light up the corridor, filled with a welcoming warmth. It was the most dazzling smile I’d seen in my life. Nothing came close. Still feeling the warmth of her hand in mine, I gave my reply, the reply of a child who had never once experienced genuine warmth.
“…Glint. I’ll be in your care.”