The port town of Gibraltar – dotting the only stretch of ocean that belonged to the Kingdom of Sistina, this bustling hub of commerce was home to all of the seafaring trade. Even as Eryn and I arrived late in the evening, there was non-stop activity throughout the town. Sailors heaving cargo, men barking out orders, and dancers beckoning men, exhausted from the day’s work, to spend their money at the taverns.
We had received word that a shipment of GateDown was likely being transported through here before being distributed by individuals scattered throughout the kingdom. A number of magic knights had already been deployed to investigate other sites that were rumored to harbor GateDown. When the new information was received by the guild, only Eryn happened to be available, thus we were sent to quickly intercept. Hopefully, backup would follow as the other knights received word.
We parked our cart next to the Ruff N’ Rumble Tavern, the busiest one in town. Grabbing a seat and ordering dinner, we kept our ears open for any tidbits of information that would be useful.
“It’s getting cold up here. What I wouldn’t do to be sailing the southern seas right now.”
“The water seems to taste strangely good in the slums.”
“Getting sick of traveling the seas. It doesn’t help that I’m allergic to fish.”
“I’ve got lady friends down in the isles like you wouldn’t believe. Who cares about the pasty chicks here?”
“I wouldn’t poke around the slums. Been hearing about some real crazies there.”
“Hey, did you get a taste of that new crop? That stuff packs a punch! One of our guys downed a spoonful and ended up swimming with the fishes. We had to knock him out cause of all the struggling to get him back on board.”
Bingo. Eryn and I looked at each other, confirming our target. Since I was dressed as a civilian, it would be up to me to tail the guy. We ate some fish chowder as we waited for the men to leave the tavern. As the men finally got up to leave, Eryn handed me a small device.
It was apparently a magical tracking tool. Using the same principle as the Magic Homing Pigeon, this tool created a mana bird that would home in on the other device, allowing for Eryn to follow me at a safe distance.
Stepping out into the night air, I saw my breath turn into white puffs as I casually followed the men at a distance. Hopefully, they wouldn’t catch on, because I had no idea what I was doing. I never was good at those espionage type of games.
Thankfully, the streets were still quite alive with people, so it wasn’t hard to blend into the crowd. The men made several turns before stopping at an inn by the seaside. Seeing them go in, I peeked into a nearby window to confirm that they headed upstairs, before activating the device. A bird made of mana came out and flew off. I went inside, where a person was sitting lazily at the counter.
“Hello…I’d like to get a room for the night.” I pulled out some copper coins.
Lifting his head up and adjusting his glasses, he stared at me. “You want food with it? Will be extra.”
“No thanks. Just the room.”
The man scooped up the coins and grabbed a key from behind him, tossing it to me.
“Up the stairs. Second room on the right.”
Nodding after accepting the key, I climbed upstairs. The inn itself was pretty small and low class. The upstairs only had five rooms, so it should be easy to keep track of the men. Standing close to one of the other rooms, I stood still and listened for activity.
“Gwahaha. Doooon’t think yud be makin’ it wid any ladieees. You looook like ass.” A familiar voice came from behind the door, though a now very drunk one. The sound of a bottle clattered on the floor and rolled.
Seems like these guys were not likely to go anywhere for the rest of the night.
The stairs suddenly creaked behind, so I turned around and saw Eryn slowly climbing up them. Lifting my finger up to my mouth with a ‘Shh’, I pointed at the door and then motioned for her to approach. Moving to my own room, I opened the door and walked inside, with Eryn following.
There was nothing we could do until the men started moving again, so we decided to crash for the night. One of us would keep watch for them to make their move, while the other would catch some rest. Having lost at rock-paper-scissors, I sighed at my luck and took the first watch.
Eventually, the noise of the inn had slowed down, and the only sounds I heard were that of Eryn’s calm breathing. We were both still in our traveling outfits, ready to move at a moment’s notice. I stared out the window, gazing at the lit-up town below the dark sky. No doubt that this place was still lively even late at night. Looking back at the room, the furnishings were dyed with only the glow of moonlight. A ray of light had crept over Eryn’s face and caused her to scrunch up her face before she rolled away from it.
Though I was getting a bit sleepy, it felt like I could just keep watching this scene for quite some time. I spent the rest of my shift this way, while anticipating what the next day might bring.
“Hey, wake up!” I felt my shoulders being shifted. Opening one eye, I could see that Eryn had already moved to the door, putting her ear against it to listen for activity in the hallway.
I quickly got up and brushed the sleepiness away. Sometime during the night, I had traded with her to get some rest, but it felt like I had barely closed my eyes. I put my ear to the door as well. The sounds of shuffling and footsteps could be clearly heard from the room across the hallway. Moments later, there was a sound of a door opening, followed by a pair of footsteps echoing down the stairwell. One of the men let out a hefty yawn.
It was still early in the morning, as the sun had not even risen, but the anticipation of tracking their movements kept me wired.
Eryn went over to the window and cast a spell, before leaping out. I peeked out the window, seeing a whirlwind spinning on the ground below and Eryn waving to me. Swallowing my slight fear of heights, I decided to trust her and edged out the window, falling downwards. I immediately felt myself slowing down instead of accelerating. Soon, my feet touched the ground lightly. That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
We found the men soon afterwards walking towards the docks. Once again, I alone traced their steps, while acting like I was browsing the nearby stands for some fresh seafood. The two guys suddenly looked back towards me, prompting me to face a nearby tub of crabs. Acting like I was occupied with selecting some ingredients, I grabbed some tongs and proceeded to flip a few of them upside down. A younger me was strangely amused by watching crabs struggle to flip themselves back over.
“Hey! Don’t do that to my merchandise!” The shopkeeper yelled at me.
“Oops, I was…just testing how lively they were.” A half-assed excuse from me.
By the time I turned my attention back, the men had continued walking. I ignored the annoyed merchant and continued following. Eventually, they led me to a ship parked in the harbor. Men were already about, rolling barrels off the ship and onto land. A cloaked figure was talking to what looked like the ship captain. Several other cloaked figures stood off to the side near a wagon. Their bodies had been covered except for greaves protruding from the hem of the cloaks. Suspicious…
I was about to send another signal to Eryn but didn’t need to as she had caught up to me already.
“Those disguised men seem odd to me,” Eryn whispered.
“Yeah, any ideas?” I replied similarly.
“I do have one trick up my sleeve.” Eryn began to cast some magic. “Tranquil air – capture the voices of my target and carry their sounds back to me.”
A slight breeze hit my face, though suddenly, my ears could now hear some new voices.
“Got everything that you asked for. Caught some of my men crushing it up though and having a taste. Nearly drowned himself but got what he deserved. Some weird stuff they have in the southern isles.” The captain looked suspiciously at the robed man. “Not my place to question things, but rather wash myself of this stock as soon as I can. Some awful unsavory rumors being created using this stuff…what do you call it, GateDown?”
“Keep it quiet. Not many people know of the source for this yet, and we’re not at liberty to reveal it.” The cloaked man drew a knife threateningly.
“Woah, I ain’t going to blab to anyone. Don’t you worry about that.” The captain brought up his arms in defense. He was only tasked to transport the cargo after all. What happened to it after it left his ship wasn’t his issue.
“Then, load it up and we’ll be on our way. Our boss is waiting for us to produce the next batch.”
The cloaked figure parted ways and went back to the others. It seems like the ship and its crew had imported the raw materials from far away. That would mean that there was another location in which the GateDown drug was created. With little information to go by, Eryn and I decided to follow the wagon instead. Before that, I jotted down the name of the ship in my notebook, which had been engraved on the side.
‘The Lumpy Mermaid’?
That was a strange name. That was until I saw the bow of the ship. There was a figurehead of a mermaid holding up her ‘lumps’. Touché.
As the last of the barrels were rolled into the wagon, the cloaked men scanned around once before hopping in. I could have sworn that one of them looked right at us and paused, but he continued scanning the area right after. We made haste to catch up to them on foot. Luckily, foot traffic hindered its progress, allowing us to keep up with it.
The busy harbor at our backs, we continued to follow it through the rest of town, passing by the main areas of town. Eventually, we noticed that people were starting to thin out, and the buildings were getting poorer in quality. Some were in states of disrepair.
It was certainly the place to hide an illegal operation. However, since the streets had gotten quiet, the wagon started racing quickly away from us. Eryn and I had started running full speed, but it was getting farther and farther away. Finally losing sight of it after it turned a corner, the two of us slowed down to catch our breaths.
“Darn, there goes our lead. Maybe someone around here will know where they’re headed to.” Eryn looked around for any signs of life.
The two of us jumped at that sound.
“I’M IN MAGICAL ELDERBERRY LAAAAAAAND!”
A half-naked man frolicked down an alley screaming at the top of his lungs, completely oblivious to anything around him. It took us several moments to recollect ourselves.
“You sure that’s a good idea?” I tried to hold back a laugh.
“Yeah…let’s find someone else…”
In fact, that was not the last time we encountered someone strange. Nearly everyone appeared to have a screw loose here.
A woman was bent over backwards on top of a fence, trying to swim.
A man in his underwear rolling in a pile of refuse, acting like he had hit gold.
Kids passed out with pools of vomit around them.
Something terrible had happened to this area of town. There had been rumors to steer clear of the slums after all.
“Could this be the effect of GateDown?” I questioned.
At the mention of that word, a few of the conscious but delusional people perked up.
“Diiiiid youuu saaay GaaateDooown?” One of them said, their words slurred. Said person fell over as they approached me and proceeded to wrap his arm around my leg.
“Gimme, GIMME!” Another person, a woman this time, went after Eryn.
“HEY EVERYBODY! THESE ONES HAVE GATEDOWN!”
With that, a few people started streaming out of their decrepit homes, as if starving for the named drug.
“Damn it! Eryn, we have to run, NOW!”
The two of us brushed off our disoriented attackers and broke into a full run. One of the nearby men grabbed my arm and brought his mouth to it, baring his teeth.
“Oh no you don’t!” I stabbed a finger into his neck, prompting him to twitch and let go.
We escaped to the alleyways, leaving behind a scenario akin to a zombie attack. My isekai life did not need zombies, not now, not ever…unless they were moe zombie idols…I could tolerate that. Presuming that they were just high on drugs, it wouldn’t be right to hurt them, so the best option was to run and hide.
Even after a few twists and turns, we could still hear them searching around for us. Though, most of them appeared to be crashing into every object in their path or getting lost in the process.
“Hey! Over here!” An old lady called out to us from a building. She looked normal. At least, that’s what I hoped, as we made a beeline towards her.
After running inside, the old lady shut the door and bolted it. A few wails passed by the building as some people ran by, but it seemed like we were safe for the moment.
“What a time to go poking around here. You two don’t look like you belong here.”
Of course, why would a magic knight and a chef be randomly strolling through the slums? I tried not to be mean in response.
“Yeah, we were passing by for work and ran into them.”
“Madam, could you please tell us what is happening out there?” Eryn asked formally.
“Well, I suppose the problem isn’t going to just fix itself.” The old lady pulled up a chair and sat down. “I believe someone may be poisoning this town.”