Walking up the familiar path filled with Wisteria blossoms glowing enchantingly with the support of the surrounding lanterns, Nik, Elizabeth, and Nezuko had finally reached their destination and unlike the infrastructure of the swordsmith village, the camps established above the wisteria belt covering the mountain was barely sustainable. The leather surface of each of the tents was slightly wet and the situation of this outpost was far more different than the swordsmith village.
After all, even though the noble lineages of the state handpicked by Ubayashiki were honest, the fact couldn't be refuted that each of these daimyos and samurais had long gotten comfortable with their luxurious life and they all were more than unhappy with the current situation.
A burly blonde youth with a bandana covering his forehead stepped forward, with measured steps, he made his way towards the three newcomers and casually welcomed Elizabeth with a sincere bow. Who else could it be aside from the Bubble Pillar Caesar?
Unlike others, Caesar sported a yellow jacket with a purple undershirt and an equally bright pair of yellow pants. His face chiseled and his muscles pressed against his clothes.
"It has been a long time since we met last time."
Caesar gazed intently into Elizabeth's eyes, attracting Nik's attention to bring Caesar's handsome self to Ray's notice for the Pillar of Bubble needs Ray's extraterrestrial enlightenment.
"We just met a little over a week ago. Anyway," Elizabeth looked around, "Where is that brat, Jojo?"
Oblivious to Elizabeth's tone, Caesar pointed out the direction where she could find Jojo and Elizabeth took off instantly, leaving Nezuko and Nik looking at each other.
"Is there a problem?"
Caesar looked towards Nik with a weird expression on his face. Surely, Jojo hadn't offended master once again, right?
"I don't think there should be any," Nik smiled and shook his head, "So? Do you have a stay for us?"
Nik inquired and looked past Caesar, instantly observing the disheartened face of the supposed nobles of the state alongside a group of children huddled together with sour expressions as they all gazed at the large bonfire while the cooks of the nobles and the demon slayers continued cooking meal out of anything they could find from the forest surrounding the camp region.
"It's not much," Caesar admitted while signaling the other demon slayers to carry out their patrol and gestured Nik to follow him while glancing towards nezuko with a cautious expression, "While the stay and the food is already good enough to keep us going, the daimyos and their relatives simply cannot get used to the such a hard life.
With the wooden fence surrounding the circular perimeter, Caesar led Nik into the camping region that was constructed upon a wide clearing. The bonfire had already attracted Nezuko's attention, but she was hardpressed with the choice of staying with Nik to accompany him or sit by the bonfire as she observed the crackling of the flames. In the end, she held Nik's hand continued following Nik until Caesar led Nik towards a slightly larger tent.
"Usually, the pillars aren't entitled to such a luxury," Caesar sighed and then gazed at Nezuko, "But we cannot have Nezuko staying in another tent... it isn't a problem to ask you to keep an eye on her, right?"
"Don't worry," Nik waved his hand and looked around with interest. Nezuko liked sleeping on him while he could sleep anywhere, so his stay wasn't a problem. And when it came to food, he wasn't that picky and Nezuko's source of nutrition, once again, came from Nik. So the duo was set.
"Elizabeth told me that Sakonji would be here... is master busy?"
To Nik, Sakonji's position was what Elizabeth's was in Caesar's heart. So, of course, Caesar did not like it when Nik, as the acknowledged successor of his master, called her by name. But Caesar couldn't control everyone and to argue with Nik based on his belief was something Caesar wasn't willing to do.
"The Cultivator of Water will be here shortly. He usually scouts the entire mountain every dusk before returning. I should also explain to you the situation of the other pillars."
Caesar pulled the opening of Nik's tent and welcomed them inside before introducing them with each of the items. After he completed the basic introduction, Caesar made sure to explain the political importance of this outpost.
While the Cultivator of War was issued to protect the swordsmith village, the cultivator of water was issued to protect the political interest of the state alongside the remaining pillar except for the Pillar of Stone Gyomei. Meanwhile, the remaining cultivators and Gyomei were asked by the demon slayers as a whole to protect Ubuyashiki and his family, since he had been extremely reluctant to utilize the effort of more than 30% of the strength of the force to protect his blood family.
The noble lineages here, too, were picked out of necessity. Each of the families selected was extremely brilliant in what they did and they all were suppressed by the old lineages with high reputations. Of course, most of these families were later massacred by Nik, leaving their kids alive in this particular outpost.
"Excuse me? Am I interrupting something?"
A handsome youth practically barged into Nik's tent, his deep black pupils landed on Nezuko for a moment before he matched Nik's gaze and smiled politely. The youth wearing the demon slayer uniform behind this pretentiously well-mannered youth was sweating in dismay and even Caesar showed a sour expression.
"Your highness, can you show not a single shred of respect for another pillar? Or are you that interested in being forced out of this outpost to be sent back to your father?"
Nik silently gazed at Caesar while his hand didn't stop rubbing Nezuko's head. Judging from the situation, this particular youth must have a rather excellent background behind him and the fact that such a boy had barged in when even the family heads of the suppressed daimyo lineages failed to act in such a discourteous manner showed that his elders may not be present within this outpost.
Of course, the most simple reason that Nik classified the youth as someone connected to the late emperor was the fact that Caesar specifically identified the youth with his title His Highness.
"It is nothing like that," Even though the youth's clothes had turned dirty due to living in such a harsh state for almost a week, the charisma rippling through his face made it hard for others to ignore the youth.
Whatever agenda the youth had, Nik decided to tolerate him for a single reason The poor boy had just lost his parents and it would have been cruel of Nik to not entertain the youth.
"I am Minarva Gobei, the eldest son of the Emperor."
'The late Emperor,' Nik mentally corrected Minarva whilst introducing himself, "I am Nik, it is nice to meet you."
Of course, it would be bad manners in Nezuko's part to not introduce herself. So, mentally communicating with Nezuko, he finally made her introduce herself.
Reciting her name, the little demoness fell silent. But it was already enough.
"Stop annoying us," Caesar groaned out in frustration as Minarva kept his easy-going smile. Had it been someone else, they would have already lost their head for such disrespect in front of his face, but Caesar was no mere citizen. He was a Pillar!
A position that could potentially deter even the emperor, much less one of his sons.
"I won't take much time," Minarva opened up and looked at Nik, "I would like to hire you for... a task. Payment will not be a problem, so, I hope that we can discuss things personally once you are free."
"It is my understanding that you cannot simply promise me monetary reward, am I incorrect with my assumption?"
Nik inquired. While the news of Emperor's demise was hard to reach this place, it wasn't hard to assume that Minarva cannot take out a large stash out of somewhere, it was impractical.
"Details can always be sorted with hearty instructions. Please do not hesitate to ask for me once you are free."
Minarva smiled and stood up before nodding towards Caesar and taking his leave.
Of course, Nik wasn't going to look for Minarva, he had other people to meet.
For example, the person with outrageous life force signature entering the perimeters of the outpost. Judging from the pressure that only Elizabeth could suppress, Nik easily identified the newcomer as his teacher.
"I have someone to meet, thank you for giving us your time, Caesar."
Nik smiled and stood up.
"My master has arrived and it would look bad in my part to not greet him."