Chapter 2 – The Heroes, the Monster and the Plan

Chapter 2 – The Heroes, the Monster and the Plan

Unedited

We arrived the mountains quickly, but it was much harder to keep tracking the princess from there on. Not only did she left less tracks on this terrain, this area is also quite inhabited. We are already two days in here, and the only things we found were monsters.

“Kyou-san, heal!”

“Yes, yes, I can see it!”

While defending against three human-sized furry-things, like long haired bears, I had a hard time not falling off one of the many cliffs. This is the reason why I can’t evade quite well and had to take more attacks than normally.

These creatures are called Bearingtons and their blows are quite powerful. Even though they are slow, they have long claws and are nimble climbers, so I have a bad disadvantage in this terrain. Normally, I would just use the superior reach of my spear, but one misstep and I’ll fall down a cliff and might break my neck! I have to stay on the safe side and can’t use full physical play.

This means I get covered in blows, strike back and defeat them with endurance, a real battle of attrition. But it hurts! Even healing magic won’t let all cuts disappear instantly, they simply closes and will heal completely in time.

“Hah!” I push one Bearington from a cliff, this is the only strategy I could muster, even though it’ll be back in a minute. Damn dexterous climbers!

It took some time, but the fight was won. “Phew.” I exhale with a sigh. “I hate these things.” But nonetheless I cut them up for meat and fur. “At least they’re tasty.”

Kyou-san seems to be pissed: “Figure a way out to control your damage intake! This doesn’t work out on the long run!”

“Sorry?! Why don’t you try being in the front for a change!?”

“I do what I’m supposed to do! You’re level 39, shouldn’t you outlevel them!?”

“I don’t know? They are tough and I can’t isolate them, because you’re standing there!”

“If I wouldn’t, you’d die!”

“Do you think I don’t know!?” Getting hurt all the times is pretty unnerving! But it’s not like I have a better strategy, Kyou-san is frail after all and need this sort of protection. “Phew… just let us keep going.” I’m sick of this, but arguing won’t help us.

Well, we’re both a bit strained. For the last two days it was a lot of climbing and fighting enemies, which aren’t even that strong, but very annoying due their terrain-advantage. And the only clue we have about the princess are the carcasses she left. We already heard that the princess is a powerhouse, but seeing all these dead monsters on the way makes me feel a bit uncomfortable about meeting her.

We try to get to one of the summits to get a clear view and maybe seeing a campfire at night. But I didn’t think mountain-climbing would be like this. We have to turn back several times, since the path only leads to dead-ends, you can’t climb many cliffs without the proper equipment and if there is a chasm, you might need hours to get around it. In the Vulkan-mountains there were trails, so we didn’t need to actually climb much, especially since most of the difficult terrain was crossed by being carried by Ss’rak. Now we have to do all of this on our own.

We walked half an hour in silence, then my [Perception]-ability got something: “I hear people talking a bit in front… Seems familiar…”

“Maybe our classmates?”

“Did they already catch up?”

“Already? We lost a lot of time, since we’re practically lost here!”

“Hm… I’ll scout ahead.” I use the [Sneak]-skill and [Hide Smell]-skill, just to be sure.

And in fact, a hundred meters further are some faceless people. They have to be my classmates! I move up a bit and use [Camouflage]. My skin, hair and clothes take the color of the rocks around me and it’d be very hard to see me now. Unless I move. But now it’s time to listen.

“We are lost, right?”

“We can climb down any time.”

“The [Track]-skill is quite unreliable, right?”

“It makes tracks easily visible and helps to discern them, but there are very few here.”

Three of my classmates, all girls, are sitting around, having their backpacks, which are their [Inventory], next to them. They are taking a break. And if Kyou-san and I continue, we would run into them.

Wait, what do I hear? It’s a group of Bearingtons and they are approaching. Since I hid my smell, they’ll definitely attack the group of girls. What should I do?

I know. I wait. The Bearingtons, a group of four, attack the girls. “Bearingtons!”, one shouted.

“Attack!”

In unison all three of them face off the Bearingtons and since they are actually working as a team, they don’t have half as much problem as I’d have, even though my level should be much higher. Damn it, teamwork!

I use the [Sneak]-skill to get to the backpacks of the girls, who are too distracted by the Bearingtons and throw all of them down the nearest cliff. You can still see them, but it might take a while to get them back. Then I returned to my hiding place.

After the battle, the three of them returned and their reaction: “Ah! Our backpacks! Where are they!?”

“I found them! How could they fell off the cliff? Was it a monster? What kind of monster would do something like that!?” The answer is: Me.

“Ah! We can’t just leave it! Our whole equipment is there!”

“Mari, you should climb down!”

“It’s impossible! We need to find a way down!”

“No… please no!”

“But we have no choice… let’s go.”

This was refreshing. I return to Kyou-san.

“Why are you smirking like that?”

“No reason.”

“Creepy.”

―○●○―

The journey continued. “She might been here. Very recently, these monsters were cut. Maybe two hours ago.” If these cut up monsters, which are like cow-sized caterpillars, are the work of the princess, she have an elegant and efficient way of wielding her blade.

“Are the tracks going upwards?”

“No… down the dale. Since we found them again, I suppose princess had the same idea as us and wanted to climb up for a better view, but why would she now go into a dale…”

“Look, Ken! There is a cave down there.”

She’s right. Kyou-san points to a cave-entrance in the dale, which is big enough for horses. But why would she… “Right, she’s searching for bandits and demonic threats up here. So a cave like that might be interesting for her.”

“But how can we climb down?”

“Phew… Jumping is out of the question, but if we search for a path, we might lose her again. But we have an advantage, she most likely didn’t.”

“Which is?”

“[Inventory]. I stored a lot of rope, when I was soloing. Time to use it.”

After finding a big rock as an anchor point, we tied three of our ropes together which is enough to reach a platform far down the cliff we were standing on. It’s good that we have our attributes, which are far greater than our ‘real’ abilities as students. Climbing down about 40 meters (about 130 feet) of rope isn’t as easy as we thought at first. You can actually fall quite deep, if you mess it up!

Sadly we need to leave the rope behind, but this is an investment. From there it was much easier to reach the dale and we rushed to the cave. And maybe we can pick it up later.

We arrived at the cave’s mouth, but something is strange. We could hear barking, full of pain! I nod to Kyou-san and go in first, only to see a carnage.

One person vs. half an army of some strange, small, dog-like humans. Are they kobolds? They are wielding a wide array of weapons, including stone spears, rusty swords, tattered axes and clubs made of bone.

Their enemy is a single blonde girl, her hair just reaches her shoulders and is held back by a black hairband. She wears hardened leather armor pieces above her breast, arms and legs and wields a long, slender blade.

Her eyes are like ember, and she might be about the same height as me and even though she doesn’t seem muscular, she moves with powerful, yet elegant movements.

By the way, she’s murdering these kobolds all by herself. Seriously, she just chopped up a kobolds hand, caught the junk-axe within, threw it in the same motion to the opposite direction, splitting the head of another kobold into two, while she thrusts her sword through the body of a third one.

Everything which enters the reach of her sword is about three times dead. It’s so fast and merciless, it’s actually beautiful.

“I can’t believe it…” Kyou-san muttered. Since I suddenly stopped moving, she took a glance by herself and is about as shocked as me. “I feel almost sorry for those guys. See, they try their hardest, I can imagine them screaming ‘For the tribe’ or something stupid like that, but this is…”

“This isn’t a battle. It’s a one-sided massacre.” This blonde whirlwind even evades thrown spears and other missiles, like sling bullets.

I’ve made a decision: I change my class to [Pikeman] and run toward this bloody scene. Then I use [Speedthrust] to kill a kobold from behind! “I’m here to help you!”

The girl throws a look at me and gives me a beaming smile: “Great!” Her voice is clear and cheerful, while her hands just killed two other kobolds in that exact moment: “Please look after my back!”

“Don’t forget me!” Kyou-san enters the fray, passing through the frightened but determined kobolds. “I’m a [Priest], so I can heal everyone!”

“A priest! Now we are invincible!” She looks like she just got well needed reinforcement. Even though Kyou-san and I only want to get on her good side, since we’re afraid of her!

If we didn’t join the girl, the battle would’ve ended about twenty seconds later, I guess. I just got a few kills and Kyou-san did actually nothing. But even though I tried my best to kill as much as possible to increase our XP, the blonde girl is just too fast at massacring things!

She easily placed 2nd in my list of things I’m most afraid of, only trumped by Muaotef, who’s a f*cking dragon! This girl doesn’t deal in dps (damage per second), but in kps (kills per second)!

“Thanks for helping me!” The girl bows politely. “I was in deep trouble, I stumbled about these kobolds when I was searching for bandits. But since they trouble the people, too, I asked them, if they could stop that and then it became like this… But where are my manners: My name is Katarine von Stolzherz. What are your names, if I may ask? You don’t seem to be from around here.”

Of course, we’re Asians around all these western-like people. Well, these people often had a tinge of fantasy-like elements in their appearance, for example the princess have eyes, which are orange-yellow, just like ember. Her father had these eyes, too. “My name is Katsuragi Kenta. A summoned hero.”

Kyou-san gives me an angry look, but we can’t hide that! We look totally different from the other people. “My name is Momokawa Kyou. Likewise a hero.”

Surprisingly, princess took both of our hands in hers: “This is the first time I meet you, heroes! It’s an honor!” Even though her glove-covered hands are full of blood, her eyes are beaming and she’s like innocence itself. How can be someone a machine of murder, while keeping this kind of purity!?

Ah, she’s faking it. Must be. Well, then I fake it as well. “It’s an honor for us, too, princess.”

“Oh! How do you know?” Princess looks deeply shocked.

“You just told us your name and even though we’re from another world, we live here long enough to at least know that.”

“Oh, I see. But now I’m not a princess… well, I am, but I… don’t act as one, right now. Please call me Kati!”

“A nickname? Ka… Kach… Phew…” This would be hard to pronounce with a Japanese tongue. It would sound like Kachi.

Fortunately Kyou-san got an idea. “How about Rine-chan? It’s less obvious, if you go undercover.”

“Undercover? This sounds cool!” Ah, her demeanor slipped! And her eyes are sparkling dangerously. “I mean, it sounds exciting… wait… cool, since we’re now friends! Yes, we’re friends and friends don’t need to be overly polite to each other! Great! I have new friends! I’m Rine!”

“You may call me Kyou, Rine-chan. And this one you don’t need to remember.”

“Hey! Kenta! Katsuragi Kenta!”

“Hehe. You’re teasing Kenta, right Kyou? Since you both are close!” Kyou-san is looking at Rine like she just stole her favorite doll and threw it in a pile of shit.

Rine’s smile vanished from existence and she’s looking at me full of concern, while mumbling her words carefully: “Is it just me or did Kyou look at me like I stole her favorite doll and threw it into a pile of dung?”

Are Kyou-san’s looks so expressive, that everyone can translate them precisely!? Are they a own form of language!?

“Sorry, Rine-chan.”, Kyou-san’s smile returned: “Ken and I have a bit of a strange relationship, so it was just a bit weird calling us close. But to put it simply, yes: We’re friends, too.”

I jerk a few times upon hearing these words and I’m about to vomit. I’m sure, Kyou-san’s mouth is tasting like shit, right now, but it’s all for our elaborate scheme: Becoming friends with Rine, so we can take an opportunity to deliver her back!

“I’m glad!” Rine’s smile returned, as if she took these sickening words to heart,

―○●○―

“Let’s take a break!” Rine seems to be overjoyed.

We are… less. Since Rine is dead-set on finding bandits or demons in the mountains, we returned there, climbing up our ropes, recovering them and walking these endless mountain-trails. For two further hours. And most of the kills were claimed by the princess, who doesn’t even get any XP for this! Frustrating!

But I have to keep my cool, this is all for our goals. “Well… I’ll make fire.” Since we have an inventory, we can collect easily firewood on the way, Kyou-san already took out her cook supplies, since she’s a [Cook], it’s her usual job.

“Rine-chan, could you please look for water? Maybe a stream or such? If you don’t find anything, it’s not too bad. About fifteen minutes seems right before coming back!”

“Of course!” With gleaming expression Rine begins her search. And we’re finally alone.

After confirming Rine was not in hearing range anymore, I begin: “Before we discuss anything, I would like to squeeze a lap-pillow here.”

“Sigh. Then let me be first.” We’re still grinding WP, so I sit on my knees, so Kyou-san can lay her head on it. “It’s hard to do these things, when that girl is around.”

“Right. How can we even explain the one-hour-hand-holding-session?”

“…doing these things with you is disgusting in itself, but at least nobody is watching normally.”

“Thank you?” One day I might grow accustomed to this verbal abuse. Or snap and do something I might regret later. “But how should we handle her? Tying her up in her sleep seems to be a lot more reasonable, now. Safety first!”

“I could try the sleeping-drug, but it’ll hard to move her, while we are in the mountains. We’re attacked too regularly by monsters.”

“Right… But there isn’t much choice, isn’t there? Unless we want to wait until we catch a bandit or two, who we can deliver to the fortress. This might take too long.” There are still our classmates and, of course, our own safety to consider, since this girl might stir up more trouble in the progress, than Kyou-san and I could handle. “Well, for starters, we should become her posse, until we find an opportunity. For now she thinks we help her, since we got a serious case of ‘helping people’.”

“I would actually feel bad for tricking her, if it weren’t for that reward and the curse-removal.”

“I wouldn’t. She’s just a fake.”

“No, Ken. She’s actually that naive.” Where does that come from. Kyou-san and I know Rine only for few hours. “Maybe she even thinks of us as her first real friends. She wouldn’t survive one day at school, without being bullied.”

“Wouldn’t she just break everybody’s bones, then?”

“You have no idea of bullying, right?”

“Only on one end.”

“Ken, you weren’t bullied!”

“I know. Only kinda.”

“No, it’s… just forget it, it’s a waste of time to explain it to you.” Kyou-san turned her head and sank deeper into my lap. “This makes me sick.” If she would nestle her head a bit above, this would be arousing. But actually her face is just above my knees to get as less lap as possible.

“Well, Rine is able to take care of herself with brutal violence. So-”

“Just forget it! I’m sorry I said something like that! Doing it in your presence was unbelievable stupid of me, so leave it at that!”

“Ah…” She overpowered me verbally in a succession, which made it impossible to me to make a comeback without losing more ground.

After ten minutes of lap-pillowing, we finished our camp preparations and a bit later Rine returned: “Sorry, I couldn’t find any.”

“No problem, Rine-chan. I’m about to cook, so could you help me?”

“Cooking? Gladly!” She seems genuinely happy. I, on the other hand, am about to hurl.

Kyou-san put an iron plate on a frame above the ember of the fire and take out Bearington-meat. “I already stewed it, minced it and since Rine-chan and I became friends, I’ll make steaks!”

I’m about to complain, that Kyou-san is only trying at cooking, when… never! But it’s all part of the befriend-plan, so I can’t make a fuss here.

“Please cut the vegetables, Rine-chan.”

“Leave it to me!”

Rine takes a knife and the way she hold it makes me feel uncomfortable. Kyou-san is looking after the meat, so she couldn’t see that Rine’s gripping the bulb and the knife like a preschooler. “Wait-”

But my warning comes too late, Rine cut into her finger. “…” Tears are welling into her eyes. “Don’t worry… well, worry about the turnip. I’m sorry. I got my blood on it.”

Kyou-san hastily leaves the meat to look at Rine’s hands. She took it into her own. “Wait, I’ll heal it right away.”

“No, I’m the one who’s at fault. I can heal it myself.” She winces when Kyou-san fastens her grip.

“You won’t!” She cast the [Heal]-spell and the cut closed, even though it was still there.

“…Kyou… thank you…”

“Don’t worry.”

“…may I ask you something?”

“Yes?”

“Why didn’t you remove your ring for cooking?”

What!? Wait, of course Kyou-san wouldn’t cook with gloves on! But why did Rine notice?

But Kyou-san remains cool. “I can’t remove it.”

“…I see, even though I don’t. I make no sense again, right?”

“It’s OK, Rine-chan.”

Strange, wouldn’t everyone think about a wedding ring here? Or are people here normally not wed with rings? … Should I even care?

Afterwards Kyou-san cooked alone. It was delicious. Not that I would ever say it.

“It’s good, Kyou! It’s on par with the cooks at the castle!”

“Well, I do have the [Cook]-class, so it’s natural.”

“[Cook]-class?”

“It’s a hero-thing.”

“Ah, the one where you can pick up skills which normally takes a long time to learn. Like fighting and making Kenta all bulky! So cooking, too? That’s great, I’m jealous!”

No, Rine, I’m jealous of your capacity of killing everything you see without the need of changing class! If I were as strong as you, Muaotef’s chasm wouldn’t be a challenge… except Muaotef. Somehow I can’t picture how even Rine would be able to fight him. Strange, I didn’t see Muaotef do anything, but…

“Why are you shivering, Kenta?”

Suddenly, Rine’s face is right before my eyes. “Woah! Too close!”

“Huh?” Rine’s head is tilting.

“Back away!”

“Oh. Sorry.” She does as I say. Now I have space to breathe. “Are you alright?”

“It’s nothing. Just a bad memory.” Why isn’t this fear declining?

Kyou-san gives me a knowing glance, but I can see her tremble slightly, too. If this ‘aura of fear’ of Muaotef is really a skill, it’s still working. We were willing to do anything to stay alive, we couldn’t even muster the slightest dishonesty, we were helpless. And I hate thinking back on it.

Rine

―○●○―

Some time later.

With a thrust, I pierce a bearington to death. These suckers are really everywhere on these mountains. I got hurt again. Even though Rine is cutting the bearingtons down like grass, she’s not covering me in the slightest. So I get the same injuries as when I’m fighting alone, but not all the XP? Thank you very much!

You know, you can have too much trust into your teammates!

“Kenta! You’re hurt! Wait, I’ll heal you.”

“Wait, Rine-chan. I know, you can use [Divine Magic], too, but healing people is the only thing I’m good at. Concentrate on fighting and spare your magic for emergencies.”

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

Your wife is jealous!

=======================================================================

“On the other hand… uh… please… heal him. *pant* I… think I’m sick.” Kyou-san’s face is green and she’s retching. She backs a bit away, maybe she’s really about to hurl and doesn’t want to have anyone see it in that case.

This hurts! You’re hurting me, Kyou-san!

“Poor Kyou. Maybe it’s altitude sickness. But first comes firsts. [Heal]!” My wounds closed up, but I’m pretty messed up over days of being cut up and having these cuts magically healed. “You really look bad. You should let me handle the battles for a while. I can’t let you go on like this.” Her ember-like eyes are full of concern. “Please think about it. Kyou, I come to you!”

Rine is leaving me here alone. “What a fake.” I hate it! She’s only nice, since she wants to be liked!

“Kenta! We found a mountain spring!” I roll my eyes and follow Rine’s voice. Kyou-san is sitting by a small waterhole, while drinking a lot. I can faintly smell the scent of vomit. Damn you, Kyou-san!

“I was so worried, since I didn’t find any water before, but look at this!” Rine is already ready to fill up her waterskin, but is patiently waiting for Kyou-san to recover. “It’s pure mountain water! I’m so glad, I thought I busted it, even though both of you are pros at camping outside…”

I can’t comment the last part in any way. “Don’t worry. But the spring is the reason the bearintons were here. We should remain careful, since other monsters might want to fetch some water.”

“…You’re a genius, Kenta! I never thought about it, but even monsters need water to live!”

I couldn’t muster any answer to such open admiration. “I will take a look, maybe I can find something before it finds us.”

“You’re like a ranger, you know, Kenta?”

“I’m just a [Scout]. And being careful keeps us alive.”

“Thanks to you, we are safe. But please, call me, if there is something to fight! That’s the only thing I’m good at and I don’t want to see you hurt anymore.”

“…” Normally, it’s a man’s job to say something like that, but damn! This girl is beautiful! I just realized it, while she was looking at me with her big ember-eyes. This might be the first time I can actually understand, why some Japanese are attracted by western women. “It’s just a bit of scouting. Don’t worry.”

I stroll around and activate several skills from the [Survival]- and [Perception]-ability. My [Track]-skill found something. These are talon marks, from very big birds of prey. This might get dangerous, since neither the girls nor I have ranged weapons.

And there are quite a few other tracks. This is a vital spring for animal-life and monsters. I return to the girls, who finished filling up the skins. “We should use the rest of today to find a place for night camp.”

“Huh? Why?”

“Explain, Ken.”

“We have only a few hours left before dusk and around that time a lot of nocturnal monsters will go to the spring from all directions. For drinking and hunting. It’ll be hard to leave the perimeter in time, so I’d rather use the time to search for a cave or something. We might have to kill the inhabitants, but there are giant birds of prey around, and I don’t know if they are nocturnal, so I want to have some cover at least. And it’s less likely we’re disturbed in camp, if we’re not in the open. All of us are mentally exhausted. And Rine might be physical exhausted, too, since she can’t rely on a hero-status.”

For Kyou-san and me, physical exhaustion is measured in SP, so as long as we have some, we are fine. But Rine’s body is like a normal human girl’s… most likely at least.

“I’m fine.”

No. Even if your body is still good, mental exhaustion is as bad as physical. We need to rest in peace. We don’t have any pressure, right?” Well, Kyou-san and I have, since there are classmates on this mountain, but she doesn’t know yet and even then, its unlikely to run into them again.

“You… Kenta, you are thinking about so many things I didn’t even considered!” Why is Rine looking at me with so much admiration? She sounds just like those newbies I trained in MMORPGs per voice chat, but her beautiful face is tipping me off. She must be trying to trick me!

“Ken, your first paranoias are acceptable. But please spare us the new one.” How comes that Kyou-san can read me so easily?

The next part was simple, I just used the [Track]-skill until I found a beast trail, followed it, until some larger game was splitting up from the trail and followed it then. “The prints are wolf-like, so it may be a few, but with a bit of luck, they have a cave.”

We are lucky. The track really led us to a cave. “I will sneak in.” I use [Hide Smell] and [Sneak] for stealthiness, while [Darkvision] made it possible to look into the dark cave. There are several wolf-like monsters, but they all have horns and are half-covered in scales. There are eight of them and those are currently sleeping.

I report back.

“These are lizalupi. They should be no problem.” Rine exclaims.

“They most likely wake up after getting a sniff out of you, right? Have they good eyes?”

“…I’m sorry, I only know the name.”

“Phew. Well, I have a strategy. But if something goes wrong, you need to rush in, Rine.”

“What are you doing?”

“I think he’s about to do something stupid.”

“Rine will position herself at the entrance, I’ll sneak in and maybe I can kill one or two, before they are awake due the stench of blood. I can mask my smell and have an optical camouflage, so I might be overseen and then they will come for Rine. Then I can attack them from behind and we have a pincer.”

“This seems dangerous, Kenta.”

“And stupid.”

“It’s efficient.” This should up my kill-count and therefore my XP. It’s frustrating seeing Rine killing all mobs, when I won’t get anything out of it. “And like I say, I’m counting on you, Rine, if anything goes wrong.”

These seem to be magic words, since Rine’s eyes are sparkling. “You can count on me.”

“Even though it’s stupid.”

I just ignore Kyou-san and sneak back. Even though I’m in my [Scout]-class, I should be able to kill one instantly, if I aim for a vital spot. With my [Stealth]-ability, the lizalupi are not noticing me. I go to the furthest one back and aim for its neck with all my might.

An ugly noise can be heard as I separated flesh and bone and a sudden rush came into the Lizalupi, so I activate [Camouflage] right away. I just have to hope, that their sense of smell compensates for bad eyes.

Ah, my luck! They looked right at me and rushed to me.

I swiftly swap to [Pikeman]-class and yelled: “Plan failed! [Whirlwind]!” I sweep the spear to knock back the incoming Lizalupi. Even though the darkness in the cave is somewhat annoying without [Darksight], I can still see their figures. This has to be enough.

“[Torch]! I’m coming!” With the sword in one hand and a magical light in the other, Rine fearlessly rushes into the cave and within seconds, two of the Lizalupi are slaughtered. She aims at their vital points with precision and her weapon might be OP too, so there was actually no need for any strategies in the first place. But I don’t want to rely solely on Rine!

Most likely I can take care of them all by myself, I’m a level 39 after all! And if I don’t kill them myself, I won’t get any XP! Kyou-san neither, but it’s about me! But I couldn’t not involve Rine, since she’s right there… Wait a minute!

“Rine, don’t kill them! I have to do it! It’s a hero-thing!”

“Um… right?”

Well, keeping the lizalupi alive is still given, after chopping of their extremities. It took about a minute, until I could deal the deathblow to the last one.

Now, that the creatures are dead, Rine asks me: “Why do you need to kill them?”

“Kyou-san and I are growing stronger, the more enemies we kill. It’s one of the things we have to do.”

“Then… then why didn’t you tell me before? We faced several monsters to this point!”

“I… I… It just dawned to me, OK!?” I couldn’t possibly say, that I never even thought of taking the Rine-bus, since I have some pride left.

“Puh!” She’s pouting!

“Could both of you please just leave it? And let me tend your wounds. Both of you!”

“Eh?” Is Rine wounded? Yes, she had a cut on her armored-covered arm. Since it’s only light armor, it doesn’t cover everything, so that mobility stays guaranteed. Did she get it while dissembling these creatures?

OK, I might be guilty of at least this.

―○●○―

Rine’s mood improved after dinner and now she’s as needlessly close to me as before. And prying again. “I still don’t know how holding hands is a hero-thing.”

Yes, Kyou-san and I are holding hands. I removed my right glove and took Kyou-san’s left hand, while sitting down. She explained, that holding hands has something to do with the hero-system. “It’s a normally not known fact, Rina-chan, that we heroes need to share the power we get from defeating monsters among each others due skin contact. But it takes quite some time, so hand-holding is the easiest way to do it. Right now, Ken is transferring the monster-power to me, so I can become stronger, even though I didn’t kill a single one.” If there would be something convenient as that, most of Kyou-san’s current problems would never be.

“It’s just looking like both of you are more than friends. Same as with the lap-pillow before.”

“I told you, Ken had vertigo, so I wanted him to lay down and on my lap I could observe his eyes more easily.”

“But… these are things lovers do…”

“Come on, he and I as lovers? It’s nothing like that.”

“Mmmm…” Rine grimaces. “I think it’s wrong.”

“So you’re interested in romance, Rine-chan?” What a unsubtle way to change the topic!

She blushed deeply, I never saw a face as red as this before. Maybe because she’s kinda westerner? It’s blushed in a pinkish tone, this is strange. “O-of course, I do! Even though I have no say in marriage, I can still be interested in romance!”

Ah, she’s the crown princess. So she already knows that she can’t marry the man she wants. Well, it’s a common story-line in RPGs. In games it’s custom to break that custom, but in reality you can’t, I guess. Might suck.

“Rine-chan, it’s the other way around: Since you can’t decide who to marry, you want to have some hot romance fantasies, right? Let’s have a girl’s talk.”

“Kyou-san, are you forgetting, that I’m here?”

“And why should I bother?”

“I’m a man! I have nothing to do with girl’s talk!”

“Ken, you have nothing to do with anything, so shut up.” I’m abused! My wife is abusing me! Why isn’t the law protecting me right now!? “Rine-chan, what would be your ideal man?”

Rine steals a glance at me, maybe a bit unsure how to answer with me present, but then she just joined the ‘Let’s ignore the Kenta-trash’-club. “Someone smart. I tend to be a bit thickheaded at times, so I keep to get into trouble. And someone strong! He should be able to protect me!” As if you’d need protection! “And he should be kind and even-tempered.”

“Ah, I can see it. How about looks?”

“What about it?”

“Do you like muscles, more a slender one or is a beautiful face a must?”

“Uhm… I guess something between. Too many muscles reminds me of my instructor and that’d be creepy, but if it’s too skinny, then it won’t do.”

“Ah, so a rather vague one…”

“My ideal would be Fabian Leise!”

“Who’s that?”

“From… a fable. I like it since I was a child.” She seems to be embarrassed. But witnessing in this conversation is much more shameful than your fantasies!

“Ah, right. In this world, there are much less media. So a fable-hero?”

“No, it’s the husband of Miriam Leise, who… well, Fabian is… ah, why don’t you know it? I can’t explain it well!”

Kyou-san giggles: “No need, I get it. You seem to be someone who’s very devoting, right?”

“…yes…” How could Kyou-san come to this conclusion!? And how is she right!? “And you, Kyou-san? What would be your ideal?”

“Um… how about we start from the opposite of Ken?”

That… hurts! I mean, I don’t like Kyou-san much, but if she says something like that with this bluntness, it hurts my pride as a man. How little it might be.

“Well, I think it must be a handsome, after all. Caring, smart and possibly rich. He don’t need to be strong, but rather be able to avoid fights in the first place. Some kind of mindfulness is important, so he knows what I need without me saying it.”

“Oh, Kyou’s scale is high.”

“Where I come from, it’s normal.”

“Ohh!” Rine is easily impressed. “And Kenta, how about you?”

…What? “Don’t drag me into this!”

“But now that we shared our interests, I want to hear yours.” Stop sparkling, eyes! Please, I can’t defend myself against this!

I look at Kyou-san and she’s making a face like I should just drop dead! Between her and the sparkling eyes, I can’t decide which is worst!

“Come on, Kenta! Please!” Definitely the sparkling eyes! Ugh, don’t I have any rights? “Pretty Please?”

Men are weak creatures. Even I, who’s not that receptive for the charms of a real woman, can’t deny these begging eyes. “Well…” Wait, wouldn’t that mean, that Rine is my ideal type?

Sexually speaking, there is a physical attraction to Kyou-san as well, but it’s just me being horny. If I put Rine into these fantasies, what… Now I have the urge to leave and relieve myself, but for now I have to fight down my boner due sheer willpower.

Rine is still staring at me with sparkling eyes. I shift my eyes away to not confront her. “Come on, tell me!”

“It would be… Lita Blanchimont.” One of my first games, Atelier Iris. When I was a child, I kinda fell in love with that character. She’s thoughtful, but lively and have a tragic fate, which had to be fought. And she’s cute! The game was fun overall, even though there was about no character-customization and the story is, looking back, a bit too easy. But I was a child, so it’s OK.

“Who’s that?” While Rine is looking at me with sparkling eyes-

“…game character, of course.” -Kyou-san sighs heavily, as if I’m affected by an incurable disease.

“It’s… a character in a story, you might say.”

“Oh, then we’re the same, Kenta!”

“…why did you grab my hand?”

“Because we’re friends! And Kyou does the same!”

“…please stop.” A girl’s hand in each of mine. Kyou-san’s in my right, for WP-grinding. And Rine’s in my left for… whatever reason. Even though I still wear a glove on that hand, her heat is transmitted through it.

Rine tilts her head “?” but slowly withdraws her hand. Then her face darkens: “I’s sorry. I… I’m sorry.” Her mood worsens in a blink.

“Ouch!” Kyou-san pinched my backhand!

“He’s just nervous.” She smiles innocently. “Because he doesn’t have any friends.”

“Hm?” Even though the darkened expression on Rine’s face remains, she’s asking: “Aren’t you his friend, Kyou?”

“Well… something like that. We didn’t get along at home, but coming here all of the sudden and such made it complicated.”

“Ah…” Rine’s face darkens even more: “Of course you don’t want to be friends with someone, who is part of the world, which forced you… which practically kidnapped you!” What… why… an ominous aura of dark emotions surrounds Rine.

Even Kyou-san doesn’t know what to say anymore. She looks at me and is transmitting her thoughts with her eyes alone. ‘Come Ken, take her hand!’

‘Don’t pass it on me! You’re at fault.’

‘Because you’re so much of a wimp, that you can’t even endure holding hands a bit.’

‘I can’t handle her! Please don’t make me do it!’

‘Oh, so you’re not just drag me into that curse-thing, but can’t even endure some inconvenience to bring us out? Think of the reward! Without it, how can we remove that curse, huh? Now man up and take her hand or I’ll show you hell!’

I’m not afraid of Kyou-san, it’s just taking Rine’s hand, because Kyou-san’s arguments are good. It’s not the non-verbal threat. Really!

“Huh?” Rine is looking at her hand, which is held by mine.

“I… I…”

“Like I said, he’s just shy, Rine-chan. See, everything is alright. He’s holding your hand.” You coerced me to!

Monsters! I’m holding hands with two monsters! One is a soul-crushing tyrant, which takes any opportunity to torture me mentally and emotional. The other one is a childish death-machine, which lives in a fantasy-world, both literally and figuratively, and uses emotional outbursts, if anything isn’t going her way.

And I’m between! Please, somebody, HELP ME!

―○●○―

The camp is set and it’s time to sleep. “Are you sure, that you want to take the first watch, Kyou? I can do it.” Rine asks carefully.

“It’s OK. Just go sleep already. I didn’t exercise much today, so both of you should sleep.” Kyou-san voluntarily takes the first watch. The fire mostly burned down and only ember remains, occasionally a twig or two are added, to keep the cave warm. night-watch is more than just watch out for enemies, it’s also taking care of the campfire.

With this, Rine and I lay down and sleep.

As if.

I have the [Sleepurnal]-skill, which allows me to perceive my surrounding even while sleeping. So I only sleep until Rine’s breaths becomes regularly.

After about half an hour, I awake. “Rine?” I ask her to be sure. No reaction, she’s asleep. “So Kyou-san. What do we do?” Of course I’m whispering.

“I slipped something into her dinner, so now she should be in deep slumber.” Kyou-san is talking aloud. She’s really confident. And she really did it. Poisoning her. And even I didn’t realized it. “RINE-CHAN! It’s an attack!”

… …

No reaction.

“So now we can tie her and…”

*swing*

Suddenly, Rine swings her sword, eyes half-opened. She looks down, right in front of her. I follow her look and see a single bug-like creature, which is cut in half. Even at this distance, my [Perception] allows me to perceive, that it has the stinger of a mosquito. Maybe it sucks blood line one, too?

And the one who killed it? “Oh… *yawn* Just a bug.” With a euphoric grin Rine’s body falls back to the ground, while shedding her blade. She… she’s asleep again.

“Ken, what happened?”

“Erm… a mosquito-like bug tried to suck Rine’s blood and she killed it while she’s asleep. … Just to be sure: RINE!? ARE YOU AWAKE!?”

… …

… … …

No reaction.

But hearing my previous words, Kyou-san’s eyes opened wide. “But… how? I mean, she should be asleep for at least a few hours.”

“Let’s do an experiment.” I take a red-hot twig from the ember of the campfire and throw it in Rine’s direction. The moment the twig is within an arm-length, Rine instantaneously draws her sword and swing at it. She splits the twig and even though sparks came out, she swings her sword again to quench them with a fluent motion. “… falling twigs are annoying…” She sheds her sword and falls asleep again.

“RINE?!” I shout to be sure. Still no reaction. “We know three things now. First, she seems to be able to act like I with my [Sleepurnal]-skill, just instead of waking up, she just slashes at everything dangerous in reach. Second, she’s barely aware of her environment and just realizes what happens after she murdered it. And third: I WON’T GET NEAR HER, WHILE SHE SLEEPS!” She would kill me, if I try to tie her up! Damn it, Kyou-san can be gutted, if she wants to, but I won’t do it!

“Hm… we need to change the plan. Instead of sleep, I’ll aim for full unconsciousness next time.”

It might work, since the brain activities are at a bare minimum in a coma. But there is one thing which bothers me. “Phew, why are you moving everything up? Didn’t we agree before, that it’d be hard to transport her down the mountains?”

“Because it’ll be harder to capture her, the longer we wait.” Kyou-san seems to be bitter about it. But she’s right, the longer we wait, the more opportunities Rine have to realize, what we’re after. And of course, there are our classmates, which might close in.

“I need sleep before I can think of the next plan, you’ll watch the fire, Ken.” With these words, she lays down.

“Yes, yes.” Even though it’s unfair, I don’t have the energy to argue. If I complain about every little thing Kyou-san does to annoy me, I’d have no energy left to do the actual important stuff. And it’s not like I can’t use this opportunity.

After a while, Kyou-san sleeps. I’ll soon sleep next to her, watching the fire is a task I can do with [Sleepurnal], since I’ll hear when it’s not spitting. So we can still grind the WP for sleeping next to each other. But before that…

Studying the sleeping faces of Kyou-san and Rine, I reach a decision. It’s time to leave that cave, go to a lookout where I can watch the entrance and relieve all the pent-up stress in one big session!

―○●○―

Next day.

Luckily Rine didn’t remember anything when she fell asleep, if anything she feel sorry that she ended up not doing night-watch at all. In the end Kyou-san was able to play the ‘friendship-card’ which proved very effective.

We’re back to mountain-climbing, but somehow I’m on the edge. It’s like something is wrong, even though I can’t put my finger on it. I didn’t told the girls, since it might be only uneasiness. Maybe because we’re trying to reach a peak. Altitude-sickness, maybe?

Oh.

“Ken, why are you looking around like that?”

“…enemies. Three crawling types, can only hear them.”

“Crawling? Maybe mountain-crawler.” Rine draws her sword. “But are you sure? I don’t hear a thing.”

There! I run around a man-sized rock and “[Speedthrust]!” with a tearing sound, one caterpillar-like mob is obliterated, guts is flying everywhere.

Two more are lurking there, but suddenly I start to gag. What is happening?

With a swift motion, Rine overhauls me and slashes the remaining two with a single strike, the guts are flying. But then she gags as well. “The guts…”

Ah, I see. So the guts have some odorless chemical, which causes this nausea. But it passes quickly, maybe about 10 seconds. But a deadly time-frame, if you’re fighting multiple of them… is that their strategy? Lurking around, ambushing prey and if that fails, the first to die will immobilize the enemy with its nauseating guts?

But thinking of it, that body easily bursts open. Who thought of monsters like that!?

“These are mountain-crawlers?”

“No, mountain-crawlers are bigger. These are boak-crawler, I think.” Ah, so the cow-sized ones we found before are the mountain-crawlers. These mountains have too many caterpillar-like monsters!

“Let’s wait a bit.” I suggest. “I feel still a bit sick.”

“Me too.”

Kyou-san nodded: “Alright.”

“Ah!” I exclaim and look to the direction of the peak we’re aiming at. “Not good.” There are at least a dozen flying creatures, most likely the ones who left the talon marks the day before. The marks let me think, that they’re very big, but this is between a cow and an elephant! “And what’s between their talons…” Each of those birds, which have two pairs of wings and a long, blade-looking beak, have a boak-crawler in each talon. And since these creatures have four legs each, it’s 48 centipedes on the fly! “RUN!”

Please let those birds be stupid! Please!

I’m already a few meters away, while the girls are still wondering, but now they’re finally moving. But I realize, that we’re not only detected, but too slow, the creatures are already catching up!

And the flying bastards do as I feared: They’re flying right above us and let the boak-crawler fall on us. They might burst, if they reach impact and immobilize us with their gut-chemicals!

I change class to [Pikeman] and shout to Rine: “Support my jump! And run afterwards!”

Rine is looking at me confused but goes into position, hands hold together under her stomach. I run at her and jumps on this provisional platform, she propels me even higher, right into the first clutch of boak-crawler. “[Whirlwind]!”

Guts are splattered around me, but the [Whirlwind]-skill pushes enemies away, so the carcasses are flying even higher, smashing into the second wave of boak-crawler, Nausea overwhelms me and the last thing I thought was ‘This will hurt’ as I crashed into the ground, without the chance to break my fall. I could see my HP decreasing in an alarming range. My Max HP decreased as well, I might have broke something.

The third wave of falling boak-crawlers is falling right on me and while they burst, I take even more damage. My SP are decreasing as well, maybe because I’m suffocating because all this gagging. I try to stand up, but I can already see three of these bizarre birds approaching, the ones who hurled wave one to three.

Ah, I’m dead. But the hell I will give up! Every ounce of willpower went into my body, trying to move it.

And then, *swing* with a beautiful arc, a sword is biting into the body of one of these creatures. Rine. That idiot! If I say ‘run’ to you, you should run!

And your aim is wrong. How could you mess up your one-swing-one-death principle? Must be, because she hurried to me. Of course, Kyou-san isn’t here. She’s smarter than that.

Rine’s resistance is short-lived. A fourth wave of falling boak-crawlers is falling near her and she’s gagging now, too. Now one of these four-wing-creatures is approaching her, the one she slashed earlier. It seems to be heavily wounded, but the eyes burn with hatred. I see. She’ll die before me. Since she tried to help me. She’s stupid.

I’m trembling! The world seems to tremble. Why am I trembling that much? Is it regret? Is it self-hatred? Is it pride? I don’t know, actually I feel kinda hollow inside.

Wait a minute, the world is trembling! At least the mountain! What… The ground! The ground rises right before my eyes, while I’m unable to move! And the earth under me is shifting… I’m rolling in the direction that was uphill until now.

The winged creatures fall into panic and try to take flight. Could you please take me with you, we can still discuss all the ‘you tried to kill me’-stuff, but I don’t want to be left behind, when the earth and rocks around me are moving and about to crush me.

Ah, that won’t be my biggest problem, now. I’m rolling down a newly formed cliff. Well, I’m dead. Next life, I want to be a gamer again.

Suddenly, something is grabbing my collar from behind, choking me: “I got you, Kenta!” It’s Rine, who was able to shake off the nausea. Well, mine is over, too, but my body doesn’t move. It might be overwhelming pain, which is shut off by adrenaline. Or something like that.

Rine is hanging on the still shifting ground and it becomes steeper and steeper. Her fingers dig deep into the earth, but my exact question is: How long until we both fall? “Stupid.” My voice is groaning.

“Huh?”

“Stupid! Let me go and try to save yourself! Helping me is killing you!”

“No!”

“The ground itself is trying to throw me off the cliff! Just behave like a stupid princess and act as if you’re well-meaning, while stepping over corpses!”

“You… you try to make me abandon you, since we’re friends!”

“No, I’m not! I hate your guts! You act all noble and strong, while sacrificing yourself, I hate that!”

For a moment, Rine staggered, but then she embraces her determination: “You just tried to safe Kyou and me by sacrificing yourself as well!”

“I just hate TPKs and especially those players, who evoke them by not doing their job! One dead is better than a TPK, especially in raids!“

“TeePeeKay?”

“Total Party Kill, you dumbnut!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, so I’ll ignore you!”

“Immature brat!”

“Beh!” Is she just sticking out her tongue to me!?

“Lift me up, so I can spit on you!”

“Gladly!” Rine enforces her grip on my collar and tries to pull me up, but with a sudden movement, the ground beneath us goes vertical. How the heck is that even possible?

For a moment, Rine has to carry both our weights with one hand alone. Then the earth under her hand broke away and both of us are feeling the gravity.

Ah, we’re lucky. Beneath us is one of these strange four-winged creatures. We’ll land right on it… wait, we’re unlucky, we’ll fall next to it, almost in reach, but with no chance to get it.

Well, we’re dead. The only good thing about it, that the person who I’m currently most irritated at will die, too. Too bad I can’t move and shove Rine aside, so we can die at different places.

And then something unexpected happens. Or more like ‘happened again’ as suddenly another ground appears and picks the winged creature I mentioned before from the side. I can hear the sound of crushing bones and bursting blood.

We’re landing on that new part of ground, but it’s still about eight meter free-fall. Guess, it can’t be helped. If I die, but Rine might survive, I may as well let her suffer by doing the following: I use the last bit of willpower, grabbed Rine’s arm, which is still holding my collar, and pull her into an embrace. I will impact first, hopefully I’ll die fast. And shielded that way, she will survive and my death will put her through mental hell! Serves you right!

The main-problem is about to happen: The landing… Strange, the earth is giving in… is it that loose? Oh, that patch of ground just moved again, we missed it and we’re still free-falling.

HHHAAAHHH???” A deep sound is echoing all around us.

Another bit of ground appears below the one we missed and… captured us. The impact itself doesn’t hurt much, but the fact that I’m getting Rine’s knee into my stomach is kinda bad. Oh, who just spat out all that blood? And where do so much of my HP go?

Oh… Blackness engulfs me.

―○●○―

For me, Momokawa Kyou, things didn’t go well. I was captured by strange bird-like monsters the moment, Rine-chan returned to help Ken out and then the ground moved. I’m actually glad, that I was not down there at the moment, the earth began to move.

Because that is no mountain we were on. It was gargantuan creature made of earth, rock and stone! It was laying there and the so-called peak was actually it’s butt!

I don’t know what happened to Rine-chan and Ken, but while this mountain-creature was standing up, I could get a glimpse of the damage, it caused. Several monsters were crushed by some of its minor movements.

Even though, I still hold one hope at that moment: ‘Please, let Ken die.’ There is still the possibility, that his death will lift his curse which befell me. But there was no curse-message-window and the ring is still on my finger, so all I can do is hope.

But soon it becomes worse. The creature made of a mountain attacked the flying ones and crushed one after another with its big arms. It’s like catching bugs with hands! But something distracted the earth-giant, so two of the winged creatures could flee, including the one, who captured me in its talons.

Now I just need a way to survive. And with a bit of luck, Ken is bleeding out currently, only a few seconds away from dead and the curse will be lifted thereafter.

I might be lucky, for a change.

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