Chapter 2 – The Heroes, the Monster and the Plan
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.
“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.
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?”
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.”
“[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…”
“…may I ask you something?”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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