Chapter 3 – The Etna, the Fourbirds and the Separation

Chapter 3 – The Etna, the Fourbirds and the Separation

Unedited

I regain consciousness and realize, I must be alive. But even though I should be grateful, I couldn’t. Since I’m in so much pain, I want to die.

“You’re back!” An excited and relieved outcry and something, which could be a hug. Or an iron maiden, for what I care, it hurts so much, that I couldn’t even muster a sound of pain. “I almost thought…” Sobbing.

I slowly open my eyes and see a crying Rine, who is full of dirt. She’s bending over my body, but already out of the embrace. She just chant one healing spell after another, all aimed at me.

My max HP are pretty bad, maybe because of all the major injuries I received by falling. But my current HP are full to that measly account and healing magic doesn’t change anything. Maybe I’m broken.

DON’T WORRY, BOY. THIS MIGHT HURT, BUT YOU CAN LEAVE THE REST TO ME.” Somehow a deep, echoing voice could be heard. I try to locate it.

“Ah, that’s Etna. It saved us.” Rine is pointing in a direction, but all I can see is-

“That’s a mountain.”

“It’s Etna.”

NOT QUITE. I’M AN ETNA. BUT YOU MAY CALL ME SIMPLY ETNA.” Did this mountain just moved? And is that cleft a mouth? And these glittering holes, are they eyes? Even though it doesn’t even have a head and rather three legs and seven arms?

I try to focus on it, but there is something in the way. A message box.

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

You’re separated from Momokawa Kyou.

The curse will come back, step-by-step, coming over you and your beloved wife. After 47 hours the curse will be at its full potency, so let your love overcome this trial!

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

… …

“Aaaaaahhhhhh!”

“It’s alright, Kenta. Etna isn’t an enemy.”

“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” I double the volume, since I totally forgot about that mountain-creature.

“YOU SHOULDN’T EXERT YOURSELF BY SCREAMING, BOY. I’LL MOST LIKELY NOT HARM YOU ANY FURTHER.”

“WHY DON’T YOU KILL ME ALREADY!” This isn’t addressed to anyone particular, except life.

“ME, WAKING UP, HARMED YOU, BUT IT WAS NOT MY INTENTION.”

“DAMN IT! I HATE IT, I HATE IT, I HATE IT!!!”

―○●○―

Inoue Masahiko and his party is currently in the same mountain-range. They thought, maybe the princess returned there to capture some more bandits. The path Kyou pointed them was full of traps and it was very unnerving to navigate through it.

“What is Kyou thinking?”, he mumbled for about the twentieth time. If he could just talk to her, to ascertain what exactly the traps are about. He and his friends thought continuous about it and even though there are a few ideas, there is no way to be sure.

He thought so much about it the last days, that he just imagined hearing Kyou’s voice in these mountains. This… wait a minute, it is Kyou’s voice!

“STUPID BIRD, JUST DIE AND LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY!”

It’s a faint scream, coming from above. Masahiko could see giant, flying creatures in the direction the voice comes from. Is Kyou kidnapped by these creatures!?

“Masa?” Eri asks Masahiko.

“We need to save her. She’s one of us.” Everyone nodded. There was no hesitation.

―○●○―

Let’s summarize the last hour. First, while I was barely able to move, Rine constantly cast healing spells on me, even though I already told her to stop. She kept it up, until her MP (if she have those) were exhausted and she continues, after she recovered enough for another spell. Stop-and-cast. I broke every rip and have partial fractures in my whole body, which can’t be quite counteracted with Rine’s spells alone.

Etna, on the other side, did a lot of exposition, so much, it would kill any game. Too much story in a short amount of time, especially since most of it was boring.

So I abbreviate it: Etnas are an old race of living mountains and sleep most of the time. But this one woke up, after it took too much boak-crawler-guts. Etna is already about to sleep again, but since it’s sorry about what happened, it wanted to help us a bit.

The four-winged creatures are called fourbirds, which are roughly as intelligent as humans. They are vicious and cunning and invent new ways to hunt for their new environment. Normally, they’re living in the lands of demons, but somehow a clan got a hold here. Well, it’s just behind the borderlands, so it can happen.

Etna also perceived, that one of our kind, a human, was taken by one of these fourbirds. This has to be Kyou-san, who surely fell into another hissyfit and wishes unreasonable things again. Most likely my death, since whenever things go wrong, she blames me for it.

“YOU WANT TO RESCUE THAT HUMAN?”

“Yes”, while Rine is full of vigor, I just shrug my shoulders.

I’M MOVED. FOR A SPECIES OUTSIDE THE ETNA TO CARE ABOUT EACH OTHER, IT’S GREAT!” Could you please not cry sand? A big sand cloud is forming and I like to not choke to death. “I CAN’T HELP YOU MUCH. I CAN ONLY GIVE YOU MY BLESSING.”

“That’s more than enough, Etna.” Rine answers with a broad smile. I’m rolling my eyes. What good could this blessing do.

Oh, another message window.

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

You gained the Etna’s Blessing!

Regeneration greatly boosted

Max HP +100%

Max SP +100%

Max MP +100%

Vitality +50%

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

Yep, I like being blessed. Please bless me more!

It might be a side-effect, but my Max HP rapidly returned to normal or more like double than normal. I can actually feel how my broken rips are mending. The pain dulls, that’s great!

TAKE MY BLESSING AND RESCUE YOUR FRIEND. I’M… TIRED… WILL SLEEP…” And it nodded off.

“Will it really sleep until the final confrontation between the gods and the end of the world are about to begin?” Rine took into all the stories Etna told like a sponge.

“Is that important? It’s not like we’ll live that long. And it will probably be disturbed a few times again, before that happens. I mean, about a dozen gutting boak-crawlers in short intervals were enough to wake it up in the first place!” I try to stand up. It works. “We have to rescue Kyou-san first.”

“Oh, now you’re talking.” Rine is getting ready, too. “You are friends, after all. We all are.”

“No.” I’ll work with her, but I have enough of all that.

I’m not so stupid to charge an enemy like the fourbirds alone with so little information. Especially, when she can use healing magic, while at a certain point my own recovery rate will cease to work.

But that doesn’t mean that I have to continue this pretend game. “We do it, because I’ll die otherwise.”

“Huh?”

“And afterwards we’ll see. Maybe back to Esse.”

“I don’t want to. If father gets me, he’ll make me do boring work.”

“And he’ll give me quite the reward, so just shut up.”

“Re-Reward!?” After a second of shock, Rine’s mood darkens, but then it brightened up like a rising sun: “Ah, I see! You want to keep me safe, afterwards, since we almost died. But don’t worry, we’re friends, so we’ll stick together. Risking you life for each other is normal.”

This isn’t naivety! It’s stupidity! “Please spare me! Just shut up, Etna told us the rough direction and I will try to [Track] it, even though I don’t think that flying creatures are leaving behind anything usable in flight!”

“Oh, you’re shy, Kenta.”

“And you’re annoying!” But I need her murder-skills to get to Kyou-san… Damn it! I hate it! I hate it!!!

This is so much like the chasm: I can’t split from a crazy girl, which object anything I say, while everything out here is trying to kill us!

―○●○―

Etna’s movements were destructive. The dirt and plants that covered him over probably centuries of sleep has been spread all around the area and even if these fourbirds have left any tracks, they’re all gone now.

So the only lead we have is the direction they were flying to. I’d really prefer something like a flying pet or mount or at least a goat to pursue them, but since we don’t own some, Rine and I have to do it on foot, until I get some sort of hint, where the fourbirds are.

Well, climbing mountains is tiring, but I already are somewhat used to it. Rine, on the other hand, is something I’m not used to and just becomes more annoying every minute. “’If I don’t rescue Kyou-san, I’ll die!’ Kenta, that’s so cool!”

“I already told you, we’re cursed.”

“Bound to be together, cursed when separated. It’s romantic.”

“It’s horrible. You don’t know Kyou-san at all. She just wearing a facade around others. Before becoming lovers, I would rather date a… erm… how about…” A cat? A dog? An otaku-girl? I just have no idea. “Doesn’t matter…” I think its futile to explain Rine the facts.

Even though she’s really annoying me.

“Phew…” One foot after another. Searching for clues, finding a track. Maybe a fallen feather. Maybe a place, where the fourbirds rested. But the chances to find those are microscopic. Most likely the curse will return in full strength and I’ll die in the end.

The fourbirds will probably eat Kyou-san before the day is over. And then I’ll see, what becomes of the curse when one of us is death. Maybe it will just reset. Maybe it’ll kill me off right away. Damn it, that’s so depressing, that I don’t see any point in searching for Kyou-san in the first place.

And in these negative thoughts, a voice chimes in: “Don’t worry.” Of course, it’s Rine. “We’ll find her. Trust me.”

And I hate myself for being reassured by it.

If I look at the whole Rine-thing objectively, there is only one conclusion to draw: Katarine von Stolzherz is a cheater-character. She was brought up in royalty, but instead of confronting any responsibilities, she’s now here, doing what’s fun for her.

She can murder about everything in her way, she can use [Divine Magic] and she got an attractive appearance. Everything about her, even her idiocy, is just making her look more beautiful and because she’s beautiful, she’s even charming me, who can’t stand her.

All my life, I thought my classmates were cheaters in life, but they’re just trying to be a shade of Rine. I hate her! I hate her!

Half an hour after our farewell from the Etna. We climbed up another mountain and are looking around the area. The vast mountain range around us made me dizzy. It’s so much to cover.

Wait, what’s that? “Aren’t these fourbirds?” They are so far away, even my [Farsight]-skill have problems discerning them, aside of the four wings per creature. “There are a bunch of them flying around that peak. About a day, I guess.”

“Hm…” Rine is looking around. “Isn’t there a faster way?”

“How? Did you grew wings, while I wasn’t paying attention?” On second thought, with Rine it was very possible, that she’s actually hiding a pair of angle-like wings, just because she’s already too much of an imba-character.

“Sadly no. But look.”

I look where Rine is pointing to. And now my mouth is agape. “What… what is that?”

“Don’t know, but it’ll help us, either by choice or by force.” Rine is drawing her sword.

Below us is a furrow and in there a dragonfly-like-creature, bigger than a horse, is sleeping there. Instead of chitin, it have fur all around it’s body, but the gigantic wings are insect-like.

A hundreds of questions are brimming my head, like: ‘What is this?’ or ‘How comes it’s right there when we could need it?’, but in the end the answer was probably something along the line like: Because Rine is a cheater!

Without further hesitation, I change into the [Pikeman]-class. Rine and I exchanges looks and she begins to descend the furrow slowly, while I’m ready to charge in at any time.

Then she calls out: “Hello? My name is Katarine von Stolzherz and I want to ask you something.”

The sleeping creature slowly awakes and look at Rine in confusion. But it doesn’t attack. Maybe it can understand the human language.

Rine, excited about the success so far, asks her question: “My companion and I are in trouble and we want to appeal to you, if you’re willing to let us ride on your back for a bit.”

The creature tilts its head and after a second, it nods. It’s… helping? Can it be? Can it be, that there is actually a creature out there, which is willing to help us? Wait… it have to be Rine’s cheat-charisma!

“Great, um… I don’t know your name, sorry. How about we call you… Winger?” I’m pretty sure, it’s because it flies and has wings. And Winger nods. So Rine got another friend. Yay, a cheer for the princess. I’m being sarcastic, you know?

Winger bends its insect-like legs and Rine mounts him. Of course, she does so gracefully. I climb down the furrow as well and sweet princess is reaching out her hand for me.

And I put my spear into her hand. “Nah, I want to sit in front.” With that, I clumsily climb on Winger myself, it took a while, but in the end I sit right behind his neck and take my weapon back. The left hand is grabbing some fur, so I won’t fall.

“Are you ready, Winger?” Rine exclaims. “Take off!” And with this, Winger began to rise into the air. “Kenta, give the directions!”

“More left. Right, see that summit? We’re going there.” Winger nods and begin to fly to the summit, higher and higher.

“It’s great, I fly! I’m really flying, Winger, you’re great.” As if fired up, Winger began to ascend even further and further, Rine is laughing at full strength. Like me, she feels how we glide through the sky, unbound from the shackles of gravity.

Even I smile. But for another reason. “You’re smart.” With a swift movement, I put the spear-pole in choking position, right below the larynx of Winger. “You’re flying quite high, even though there is no need.”

“Kenta, what are you doing?”

“Don’t worry, trust me, Rine.”

“OK.” So gullible.

“So Winger, you thought that you can trick us, huh?”

“Winger wouldn’t do something like that!”

“Be quiet, Rine!”

“…ok…” So obedient.

“Trying to fly as high as you can, then one turn and we fall into our deaths, crushed into bite-size pieces, right?” Oh, Winger is trembling and sweating. Or something like that. It doesn’t exactly sweat, but it’s close enough. “Sadly, I trust no one. And I have more than enough strength to crush your windpipe in this position. So either all of us live or die, isn’t that great? If you understand, turn right.”

And Winger turns right.

“Good. Do you see the plateau there? You will fly there and then we go our separate ways.” The plateau is about an one hour walk away from the mountain. I guess about three hours of climbing to reach the summit. But I can’t fight while keeping Winger in check, since I trust him. Trust him to kill us off at the first available opportunity. Don’t fuck with me, Winger!

“Wait…” Rine is beginning to understand, that she was tricked. “Why, Winger?”

“Don’t you know? Because he likes humans. As food, that is!” So again, my suspecting nature saves the day. Now I need to save Kyou-san, too, or I’m done for.

―○●○―

“Katsuo, aim at its wings. Try to only grace it. Eri, be prepared to soften Kyou’s fall with magic if our plan fails. Daichi and Teruko, we three will engage it, if necessary.” Inoue Masahiko gives the orders to make that four-winged-creature land, even though he’s also prepared for the other outcomes.

Don’t worry, Kyou. We’ll rescue you!

Katsuo is an [Archer] and he used the [Quadruple Shot]-skill to grace every wing of that strange bird-like creature. The bird cries out and flaps its wings a few times. It can’t hold itself to the air, so it drops weight. In other words, Kyou.

“Eri!”

“Right! [Wind Pillow].” Eri cast a spell, which creates a puffer of air, mostly used to break falls, soften impacts and it can be used as stepping stone once.

With a very unfeminine groan, Kyou falls into the pillow, which deflates immediately and even though most of the momentum of the fall is broken, it’s still not soft, Masahiko presumes. She doesn’t move, she seems to have lost consciousness.

Unloaded, the bird-creature flies away, even though its slowly. Katsuo and I exchange looks and he used another skill to ground that creature. “Engage!” We move out to finish the wounded creature.

But there is another bird-monster, which turns to engage us in return. But arrows and wind blades are flying at it, so it had to stop its nosedive. “Teruko and the others, please keep the flying one at bay, we finish off the grounded one.“ With a spear, Teruko should have a much easier time than Masahiko or Daichi, when it comes to stalling time against a flying enemy. “Daichi, I will weaken it, you finish it off!”

“Ossu!”

Learning from the time, Masahiko and his friends had to leave Kyou, they had established a killing schedule. As long it’s possible, the person whose turn it is will deal the final blow. While traveling to the border, they decided upon that. There were also suggestions to travel back and help Kyou to level up, but in the end Kyou is smart and they had to become stronger as fast as possible.

With a swift motion, Masahiko draws his two swords and uses a skill: “[Dual Thrust]!” With both swords in thrust-position, he rushes at the opponent. It seems that most weapon-abilities have such a rush-skill at the low levels. Maybe because it’s that useful to shorten the distance between you and your opponent as fast as possible.

Both of his swords are stabbing the grounded bird’s torso and he yanks both blades to the right, opening deep wounds. Since the creature is so big, he needs to deal more damage, since Daichi is preparing for the final strike. Most likely his [Earthcleaver], to decapitate it. So Masahiko has to bring its head down.

“[Steel Wolf]!” Like fangs, his swords are biting into the leg of the bird, it’s a skill to trip the enemy, while dealing quite some damage. Its tripping effect works against everything so far, so even though it’s a large monster, it’s now prone.

“[Earthcleaver]!” It’s a mighty [Axe]-skill, which needs some charging time, but since Daichi was only waiting for an opportunity, it’s already fully charged. The head of the creature is chopped off. The next on schedule is Teruko.

“[Speedthrust!]” Ah, she’s already stabbing it, using a [Wind Pillow] as a stepping stone to connect to the flying creature. So you can use it even for a rush-skill. Masahiko is impressed by the resourcefulness of his friends.

[Speedthrust] is a strong rush-skill, if the user can take a run-up. The bird is crashing to the ground, while Teruko is caught by another [Wind Pillow].

The rest of the fight was easy, it took seconds for the five of them to deal enough damage, so that Teruko could deal the finishing blow. But instead of bathing in their victory, Masahiko’s party is checking on Kyou.

Eri takes a look at her. “She’s sleeping. It may be the relief.” Who knows how long Kyou was carried by this creature, it must have been a very stressful experience.

“Let her rest. I’ll carry her.”

“Masa. I’m the tallest one here. It would be more comfortable for her, if I carry her.”

Daichi is right. He trains in judo, since childhood and would be able to carry her well due his training and tall build. “I leave it to you.”

“Ossu!”

Eri seems to be hesitant. Maybe she’s still worried about the traps from before and how Kyou is involved in them.

“We need to head to a safe location. When Kyou wakes up, I’m sure, she can explain everything!” Masahiko is worried about Kyou, since they’re friends and he fears that Kyou is in trouble.

―○●○―

Winger lands on the plateau. “Great job, Winger.” Of course I’m complimenting it.

I wait for Rine to dismount. She doesn’t seem happy. “I can’t believe, that Winger would do such a thing.”

“Naming a creature doesn’t mean it’ll be important.” By the way, I hate most mascot characters. They’re annoying as hell!

Finally, it’s time to say goodbye to Winger. I loose the spear around its neck. Then I grab the spear near the tip with both hands, change into [Pikeman]-class and thrust the spear through Winger’s cervix. Gamer Rule: Don’t waste any XP.

“AH!” Rine shouts loudly. “Winger! You… you killed Winger!”

“Didn’t I already explained? Heroes have to kill to become stronger.”

“But…” Tears are welling up in Rine’s eyes.

“Phew…” I sigh. Why is that girl so difficult? “What’s your problem?”

“You… *sniff* Winger and I couldn’t become friends and…”

“He tried to eat you. There was no chance to begin with.”

“But…”

“Come on. Before we get spotted by fourbirds.”

Redundantly, Rine follows me. While shedding tears and sniveling.

This girl… is annoying.

Maybe its because of genetic make-up as a male, but I can’t endure it, when a girl cries like that. Damn you, genes!

“…Come on.” I’ve no idea what to say in this situation, so I’m a bit clumsy. Or more like: A lot. “I’m sorry, OK?” Only sorry to make her cry. Winger’s death, on the other side, was appropriate.

“…sometimes I think, you don’t like me.”

…Huh!? Didn’t I already say that I hate her, right in her face?

But I can’t repeat that now. Because she’s crying. I’m a wuss. “…I’m bad at words. So let me say it straight: I need you!” I need you to rescue Kyou-san, so I won’t be set under the curse’s effects again and die at the end.

Her tears stopped but she’s still upset, looking down. “You’re only saying it. Maybe you’re lying…”

I hate it! Why are girls so complicated? What does she want?

Something snaps in me and I take her face in both hands and forcefully turn her to me: “I’m not lying, I need you and now shut up and follow me!”

“Y…yes!” Look at her face, all flustered with that crying. Does she want to appeal me? Don’t look like that, if you don’t want to be violated!

Damn it!

I’m a healthy, young man. So even though I’m relieving myself sometimes, I should still be normal. But I get the feeling, I have a boner all day long, since my reunion with Kyou-san in Esse!

Is that because I’m around defenseless girls my age the whole time? Or is it the curse? Please say, that I’m still normal, since I can’t stand the thought, that I may become so perverted, that I’d even jump on Kyou-san or Rine!

“Kenta, why are you walking slightly bend over?”

Don’t point that out!

Wait a minute. It feels like a small devil is whispering to my ear. Rine is naive, right? So I might be able to convince her to ‘help’ me, right?

Wait, wait, wait, what I’m thinking? It’s Rine, Miss Killer! What would happen to me, if I let her handle ‘that’? She might crush it!

Oh. My boner is gone.

Imagining Rine ‘handle that’ is a boner-killer. Yes, Rine can even kill boners. She’s that deadly.

Good thing I had that thought before I did something like that with this monster in a girl’s disguise.

And by the way, deceiving her to do such acts would be criminal.

I straighten out and finally answer Rine’s questions, without even looking back: “Just checking if I’m sore from riding Winger.”

“Ah I see. I got some ache in my inner tights. When we rest, I have to check, if I have a chafing there.”

Why is she… “Rine. Would you please not bring my attention to your inner tights?”

“Why’s that?”

“Because it sounds like you’re trying to seduce me.”

“What does have seduction to do with my inner tights?”

I facepalm. This time I face Rine. “What do you think is right next to it.”

“…” She’s really pondering? “Ah! My v*****! Ah, I mean, eh…”

This is too much! First, a pretty girl who says v*****! Second, the embarrassed face she makes! The little devil on my shoulder is telling me, that jumping on her might be the only way to deal with that emotion and I’m about to listen to him.

But Rine draws her sword, before I could even make a move. Then she looks in every direction. Are enemies here? I snap out of my sexual desires and use about every [Perception]-skill I know.

No enemies. Strange.

“Rine? Why did you draw your sword?”

“Erm… I somehow felt danger. As if someone is looking at me like prey.”

Ah, her instinct told her, that a wolf was about to attack her. While her instincts are sharp, her brain is not.

Maybe it’s for the better. No, definitely it’s for the better. Everything might be better than to assault Rine. Except assaulting Kyou-san. Ah, the worst would still be dying. And now we wasted time by doing nonsense…

“Rine, I guess it’s because we’re near the fourbird’s base. We should better concentrate, so no talking, unless it’s crucial. No crying, no laughing and other things that would distract me, OK?”

“Yes!” She nods earnestly.

Finally, some calm.

―○●○―

We’re almost there. I’m currently using [Camouflage] to scout on the fourbird’s nest and what a nest it is! Practically the whole summit is like a village, made out of giant bird-nests. Two, four, eight plus six, fourteen. The only way up to this plateau is actually climbing, so it’ll be hard to sneak in without being noticed, I think.

Since there are fourbirds flying in and out, I can only roughly esteem the numbers of enemies to be about twenty adults and a lot of hatchlings, which might be dangerous, too. At least it seems that they’re still not able to fly.

At the center of the plateau, there is a rock spire surrounded by holes, which are covered by heavy rock slabs. I can see a fourbird walking to one, lifting the rock with two of its four legs and dragging a living bearington out, which is fed to the hatchlings. Even though bearingtons are able to defend themselves, its simply surrounded by four hatchlings, which opens up its body with their sharp beaks and begin to drink the blood of the still alive monster.

After it got sucked out, the rest is eaten by the parent.

I feel sick.

Fourbirds are supposed to be as smart as humans, even though they’re still monsters. So they feed the chicks the blood of the living. Are they vampire birds? They’re definitely too big to prey on humans. Maybe the hatchlings can’t eat flesh at this point of their growth, their wings aren’t developed and their eyes are still closed, who knows what they can eat right now.

But I should definitely count them as combat potential.

So if I have to sum up the fourbird’s nest, it would be: They’re many, they can fly and there is not much of a chance to evade them, since their prey is in these holes at the middle of the nest. And that means, Kyou-san is also in one of them.

I hate it!

I can’t do anything here alone, I can’t fight all these enemies. Even if I manage to sneak unnoticed to one of these covered holes, I might be unable to lift one of these stone slabs and especially not without being seen.

It was the right call to let Rine accompany me, but even with her it might be impossible! I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!

But I have no choice but to do it.

So I return to Rine, which is hiding behind a escarpment, which makes it hard to see her from most angles. “Kenta, you’re back!” Obviously. “Did you find Kyou?”

“I didn’t see her, but I know where they keep their prey.”

“Great! So what do we do? Charge in?”

I facepalm. “No. We don’t. And can’t.”

“Why?”

“You know how we decided to let me climb the rock face, since we couldn’t find a path up there quickly? It was the right decision, since there is no path up there. And the climbing tour is long, even though there are ledges where you can rest, it’s still very taxing. Even I, as a hero, aren’t able to climb the distance without getting the [Strained]-condition. Despite all the advantages I have, I feel the pain. And the moment we reach the top, we have to fight. That’s too much to ask for.” Thankfully as long there are SP, my body won’t rebel with this degree of abuse. Especially with Etna’s Blessing, which increases my regeneration rate.

“I’ll be fine. I think.” Only Rine thinks that these are reasonable conditions.

“Did you ever fought flying monsters?”

“Erm… no.”

“Yes, you have. You fought against the fourbirds, and that makes a loss. I already fought against the fourbirds, strange bat-gnomes, sickle-beaks and Winger, of course.” When I mention Winger, Rine’s expression becomes sour, better I continue, before we have another argument. “And what that taught me was: Don’t fight flying creatures! And these fourbirds are huge, to boot! There are about twenty right now in the nest, plus their offspring, are you confident to defeat all of them?”

“If I have to, I will!” Her ember-eyes are burning with determination and even though I’m about to let her do it on her own, I have to maximize my chances to get Kyou-san back. And that doesn’t involve Rine getting herself killed so far.

The real problem is, that I don’t know the combat-strength of a fourbird, only that it seems to be stronger than boak-crawlers and bearingtons. At the plateau, I would have no problems defeating a dozens of bearingtons, since I can actually move there and they can’t use their climbing skills.

But if I consider their flight, I think that the fact that they outnumber us is the real danger. They are big and strong enough to lift us up and throw us down the cliff. And even if Rine is able to kill every bird which comes near her, she might have troubles with the amounts of talons per bird.

“Kenta, you’re quiet. Say something.”

“I’m thinking! Are you so bored, that you can’t endure a bit of silence!?”

“But… you look scared and haunted.”

“Rine, this is a serious situation, so of course I look like that. I can’t be happy-go-lucky like a certain someone!”

“Try smiling.”

“Smiling!?”

“Yes, like that!” She smiles cheerfully, like a drugged sun of a picture book. “With this, everything will look brighter.”

“But only look, not be.”

“You’re stubborn.” Without respecting my personal space, Rine mercilessly grabs my cheeks and lift them. “See?”

I give her a glare, but she doesn’t mind. What an idiotic princess! I try to push her hands away, but her grip is iron, so I just yield and try to relax my face as much as possible, so that it will hurt less. Surprisingly, Rine’s hands are soft and feminine, even though they spread death wherever they go.

After a minute of face-stretching, Rine let go and I rub my cheeks, which are hot. She giggles. “See?”

“And we are still clueless what to do.”

“Then talk to me. I’m not that clever, but if you talk to me, you might be able to order your thoughts.”

Stop making sense, princess!

But she’s right. “Phew. I resign.” While telling Rine my thoughts so far, she simply nods to every argument. I sit down after a while and consider the different problems aloud.

That the only way to get there is an exhausting climbing tour.

Our disadvantage in terms of mobility.

The fact that we’re facing thirty-times the numbers.

Worries about being simply picked up and thrown down the cliff.

The impossibility to evade the fight.

And, of course, the unknown time-limit.

As I number these known problems, others came into mind.

That most likely there are more fourbirds, which are currently hunting, so there may be reinforcements.

That we can’t do a night attack, since we won’t be able to climb the cliff in the dark safely. Or at least not Rine, since she doesn’t have [Darksight].

The possibility, that the fourbirds will fetch some boak-crawlers again, if we prove to be too strong for them.

The more I talk about it, the more hopeless it seems. But Rine is still nodding while smiling. And somehow its comforting.

“…I guess, that’s all for now.” I end my worries at that point.

“Kenta, you’re smart. So tell me, what are our strong points?”

Even I can tell, that I look at Rine blankly. This questions just blows my mind. It’s just too unexpected.

Rine just smiles. “Don’t look at me like that.” She takes my face in both of her hands. “Just tell me.”

“Our strong points? Erm… you’re strong, really strong. You can fight like a overpowered cheat character, executing everything within reach in a matter of moments.”

Rine blushes: “You may exaggerate here. But thank you. What about you?”

“I… I can use the hero-system.”

“Kenta, that’s just a tool. Do you know what? I think you’re clever, resourceful and able to handle every problem with ease, since you can think things through.”

Now even I blush. A pretty girl looks straight into my eyes with a glint of admiration, how could I not blush at that rate? Saying, that the hero-system is just a tool, more or less the only thing that makes me remotely special, is just too much! I could giggle like a girl right now, that’s how much I feel flattered.

Tool… Tool! “Rine! Thank you! I… I know what to do! It’ll be still risky and I will rely on you a lot, but there may be a chance!”

“Rely on me, Kenta! We will rescue Kyou-san together.” Her hands leave my face and take my hand instead. “I promise!”

―○●○―

Slowly I climb the cliff.

“Kenta, can you still go?” Rine’s voice is near and her breath is tickling me.

“Yes, but don’t breath in my ear! It’s distracting!” And arousing, but I will leave that out.

“Sorry.”

There is a reason, Rine is able to breath in my ear. I decided to forgo my personal space and while I climb the cliff, Rine is riding on my back. Of course I’m in the [Pikeman]-class, since I need the [Strength] to climb with another human on my back plus her equipment.

The hero-system is a tool. It allows me abuse of my body, as long as I’ve still SP left and can deal with certain conditions. But the most important thing about it, is that I can regenerate faster and use items to cure some conditions. The Etna’s Blessing is also increasing my MaxSP, while it additionally enhances my natural recovery. So I can take the brunt of climbing that cliff, so that Rine is able to fight at almost full strength at the summit.

When we get to the top, it’s consumable-time. So I will use all these bombs and pots to create the best conditions for us, while recovering my SP and cure the [Strained] condition with one of Kyou-san’s poultices.

But climbing with Rine on my back is hard. It feels totally different, since I got additional weight which is toppling me and I have to look carefully, which of these protrusions are able to carry both of us.

Whenever there is a chance, we take a short rest on a ledge. Even though I want to hurry, it won’t do any good, if I run out of SP while still climbing.

So little by little we reach the summit. At the last spurt, I ask Rine: “You remember the plan?”

“Yes. The moment we’re spotted, which might be immediately, you’ll throw a smoke bomb, we can use as cover to get to the center, so that we can get to the spire in the middle. There we take position, so that we have one side less to worry about. Then I’ll fight, while following your orders.”

“Well memorized.”

“Eheh.”

She’s even glad to hear that questionable compliment. Oh well, if this makes her happy.

Finally, the summit!

I lift ourselves over the edge and Rine climbs down my back. We’re still not spotted, since the fourbirds aren’t looking in our direction, but it might be any moment.

And then I changed class to [Student]. Or more like, it just happened.

Rine is as shocked as me and whispers: “Kenta, you’re round!”

Flabbergasted, I stare at the message window, which just popped up.

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

The return of the curse begins. For now, you’re only forced to use the [Student]-class, but if your wife doesn’t return to you soon, the curse will come back at full power.

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

“WHAAAAAT!?” What’s with this timing!? Right when you challenge the boss fight!

Of course all of the fourbirds could hear me shouting!

The nearest ones are approaching us on foot.

“Kenta!”

Rine’s yell brings me back to reality and I throw a smoke bomb, I already got in my belt pouch. The bomb explodes in a smoke fog right before us and we hurry in.

The fourbirds are flapping their winds and the fog begins to disperse, but in that time we were already out, dashing to the spire, which is about forty meters away.

Then I finally say the words, which I owe Rine: “Sorry, but I won’t be as useful as we thought.”

Rine is not smiling, but she’s not angry either. She’s determined. “Don’t worry, I will shoulder everything you can’t.” Who is this girl, which makes me feel like a damsel in distress? Isn’t being helpless supposed to be a princess’ job?

“Phew.” I need to put on my glasses, since I’m a bit short-sighted. Even though they’re annoying in close quarter melee, I need a perfect field of view for this fight. Done, I can see our enemies clearly.

Oh, I can witness those birds smirking, even it should be impossible, since they have beaks. But they are certainly smirking at how vulnerable we are! Slowly two of them are approaching us, while the others on the plateau are looking at the spectacle like onlookers.

And then both fourbird fell. It was quick and merciless. Rine steps between the two of them and hews off two legs per fourbird. Unable to stand, both of them are falling sidewards and their heads bangs together, rendering both of them unconscious.

“Two down, eighteen to go.” Rine cleans her sword from the blood with a swing and point at the next group with it menacingly.

And the fourbirds understand. A real monster have appeared.

Some of them began to gather the hatchlings in a single nest, while the others are getting airborne. The real fight begins. But I already took the opportunity to replenish my SP and put a poultice on my arm to cure the [Strained]-condition.

One of them is diving at us, I throw a stink bomb. Even as a student, I’m still level 39 and my attributes are still untouched. That means, that even me in the weak [Student]-class, I’m still much stronger than before the chasm!

The accuracy and range isn’t to laugh at, I hit the beak and the fourbird is in a tailspin. It crashes right before us and Rine jump on its body, stabbing into the bases of its wings. “Third!”

I hear the sound of rubbing stone and I already know what it’ll be. One of them is getting the boak-crawlers from one of these holes. If they explode near us, Rine and I will be unable to defend ourselves due excessive retching.

But I already have a strategy. “Let me handle the boak-crawlers!”

“OK!” Rine is currently evading the attacks of two fourbirds, which comes from different sides, but at that moment, one shows an opening and before it could realize its mistake, it got cut from stomach to breastbone.

But let’s concentrate on the air. There it is, it’s flying in a curve, most likely trying to get above us. It’s propelling itself with its four wings, while being dragged down by the weight of two boak-crawlers.

I throw a stink bomb, but it’s still outside my range. I would have hit it, if I were [Pikeman], I’m sure. But this was only to calibrate my aim. “Phew.” I have to ignore all the screams of terror and death right before me.

Then I got hit by a talon. It hurts! I’m thrown several meters back and the landing is also painful.

Rine seems shocked. “KENTA!” But before she can hurry to me, she has to evade a talon herself.

I totally forgot, that Rine isn’t able to cover me. She might be able to bring death to everyone in her reach, but she completely overlooked that fourbird, which bypassed her and attacked me.

I stand up, Etna’s Blessing is increasing my [Vitality] and [MaxHP], so one hit isn’t dramatic. But now the boak-crawler-carrier is approaching Rine, trying to fly over her. I throw another stink bomb, aiming at a boak crawler.

Like I hoped for, it bursts and it’s enough for the other one to do the same. The fourbird is jerking and can’t maintain it’s balance, it’s falling down and hopefully broke its neck. But other fourbirds are about to get me, I dash as fast as I can back to my position, the fourbird which hit me already got Rine’s treatment.

And another fell to her blade, which tried an aerial attack, Rine ducked under it and stabbed its ass from behind, ripping a whole new hole into its backside. So she’s even able to defeat the flying ones!

This works much better than anticipated. At this rate, we won’t run into any problems.

Rine’s swords cut the fourbirds like a hot knife butter and another one goes down. “The tenth!” We already got rid of half of them. And two are fleeing with the nest, where their hatchlings are in, so eight left. And even they don’t seem to eager to fight us.

Slap! Suddenly, Rine is flying at me. And since I’m unable to evade, she crashes into me and both of us are knocked against the rock spire.

Rine is spitting blood. Rine is… how? She’s a monster! How could she… Something in my brain is clogged. What happened, anyway?

… One of the fallen fourbird, the one with the cut at the front, slapped Rine with its wings. She didn’t realize that it was still living.

And some of the others are also standing up.

How could that be!? “Rine, why are they still alive!?”

“You… you said, I can’t. I can’t kill them.”

“When did I say…”

…No. I did.

I’m an idiot! A complete idiot! Because I forgot, that Rine is stupid!

I said before, that she may not kill the opponents, so I may get their XP. And I didn’t take it back. The reason why no heads are chopped off is, that Rine is trying to incapacitate the fourbirds without killing them.

Rine is so stupid, that she is not able to tell, that in this situation it’s essential to kill off the enemies, since I won’t have time to deal any deathblows. And she won’t have time to cripple them completely. So after the initial shock is over, they may return to the battlefield.

Rine is seriously hurt. She’s bleeding on her head and most likely broke a rip.

“Heal yourself, first.”

“I can’t.” Carefully she stands up.

“You must!”

“I can’t, I can’t!”

“Why!?”

The fourbirds are slowly approaching us. She has to heal herself. How could it be, that Rine got hurt so bad? The attack was unexpected, but her level would be…

No, level is a hero-thing. Rine is a human. She may be in so much pain, that she can’t even concentrate on a healing spell.

But her answer is different: “The moment I cast a spell, is the moment they’ll attack all at once.” She looks at me and I can still see the fire of her determination in her eyes. “It may be not much, but I can still buy time. I’ll charge them and while I keep them busy, you have to defeat them. Ignore me.”

She’s walking into her dead. Willingly. Sacrificing herself. She’s a princess, but much more of a hero than I am. It’s stupid. “Don’t be stupid! You can’t!” The fourbirds are still examining the situation, most likely they’re still deciding, if this is a trap. And they know, that the first ones to attack will probably die by Rine’s hand and who would be eager to be that unfortunate fellow?

“Kenta. I also hate TeePeehKays.” She pronounce it wrong, but it’s the same what I said before. I hate if someone is not willing to sacrifice the own character to save the rest of the party.

In games, it is! “Stop it, we will win! Both of us!”

“I can hardly stand, Kenta. If I don’t charge, I’ll just fall down and then all of them will attack you.”

“Then use healing magic!”

“I already told you…”

“NO! I TELL YOU!” I can’t understand where all these emotions are coming from. I don’t like Rine, more like, I hate her! Normally, I might be even delighted to see her die right before my eyes. But not like that. “I need you! I need you to rescue Kyou-san, I need you for the bounty, I need you for… I don’t know, but I would hate seeing you dying like that!”

Raw anger. The gamer’s desire to accomplish our mission flawlessly. The feeling of reliability she gives. All of these emotions are confusing me, I give in to them and won’t accept that outcome.

Tears are flowing down Rine’s cheeks. “Kenta…”

―○●○―

Masahiko’s party sets up a camp in a bush-choked dell. They already ate and now they are more or less waiting for Kyou to regain consciousness. Katsuo and Eri are patrolling the perimeter, Masahiko and Daichi are watching the camp, while Teruko is taking care of Kyou.

And finally, Kyou moves. She slowly opens her eyes and looks around. “What… Teru-chan? Masahiko? Daichi-kun?” She seems to be confused and tries to sit, Teruko is helping her. “What happened?” Kyou doesn’t seem to remember.

Masahiko explains: “We saw you being carried by flying creatures and we saved you. But in the process, they drop you to the ground. We’re sorry.”

Kyou’s expression begins blank, but changes to a smile. “Thank you. All of you.” She’s looking around. “Where are Eri-chan and Katsuo?”

“On patrol. They’ll return any time.”

“I see.” She breathes in and out, calming herself. “Is Ken here, too?”

“No.” Teruko looks at Masahiko, urging him to ask about the traps they encountered, but for now, he wants Kyou to take it as easy as possible. “We don’t know where he is. He might be…” Dead. But Masahiko couldn’t say it in Kyou’s face.

“He’s alive.” Kyou is playing around her left ring finger. She’s wearing gloves, but the way she did, remembered Masahiko of playing around with a ring.

“Did he give you a ring?”

Kyou looks like Masahiko told her, that he invited a clown for her birthday party. “Yes. It’s magical, some minor bonuses.” She takes off the glove and shows a simple copper ring. “It’s not much, but he said, it’s better than nothing. And I don’t exactly know, if he’s still alive, but I can’t imagine him dying.”

“Me too.” Katsuragi-kun is too stubborn to die.

Daichi mutters something, he dislikes Katsuragi-kun much. Teruko is also looking unpleased. Katsuragi-kun is a bit unsocial, so that reaction is understandable.

“Kyou-chan!” Loudly, a girl is clinging to Kyou. It’s Eri. She just came back from the patrol with Katsuo, who just nods to Masahiko. Everything is clear. Eri is whispering something in Kyou’s ear, but Masahiko can’t tell, what it is. Maybe a girl’s secret.

It’s time to steel himself. “Since everyone is here, there is one thing, Kyou.”

“Yes?” Kyou is tense, she already knows that this will be a serious matter.

“Is Katsuragi-kun blackmailing you?”

Ah, he hit a nerve. Kyou’s eyes are wide opened and she’s nervous. “How do you… what make you think that?”

“We set out to find the princess. We used the route you told us and then we fell into several traps. Most of them are ill-meaning and… They were obviously aimed for humans!” There were thorns, rocks and other things, which made some of these traps really dangerous!

Kyou’s eyes become empty. It’s as if she’s not looking at anyone here. Then she put her face into her hands: “No… he didn’t… it’s impossible, he can’t… no. No! NOOOOOOO!”

Surprised by her extreme reaction, Masahiko tries to calm her down: “Kyou, it’s alright! I believe you, you didn’t know!”

“KEN, YOU IDIOT! YOU DAMN IDIOT! HOW COULD YOU!” She screams these words to the air, aimed at a Katsuragi-kun, who is far away.

Even Eri and Teruko, which were the most skeptic ones, try to calm Kyou down.

Masahiko doesn’t know what exactly Kyou and Katsuragi-kun are to each other, but it was obvious, that he betrayed her trust big times.

A reaction and facial expression like that can’t be acted.

“JUST DIE ALREADY!”

Even though her words might be a bit overboard.

―○●○―

“Kenta…” The crying Rine is looking at me and nods. “Yes, we will do it together. We’ll survive together forever! Nothing will stop us!”

And then a strange light shines. From below.

I get the strange feeling of déjà vu. When did I already saw that light? With a bad feeling, I look to the light’s source. It’s a ring. The cursed ring on my left ring finger, which even shone through my glove.

A second glow appears, in front of me. “No. No. No-No-NoNoNoNoNoNoNONONO!” Of course, my loud denial did nothing. Only a message-window pops up and I don’t even need to read it, to know what’s written there.

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

Congratulation!

You just wed Katarine von Stolzherz.

You finally got your second wife and it’s a princess, to boot. You may gain WPs with your new sweetheart, the same way as with Momokawa Kyou.

Since your new wife is not a hero, she will be transformed into one, gaining access to all the advantages of that status. Additionally, her backpack will become an [Inventory], so you may share your [Inventory] with your new wife, as well. This is a wedding gift, be thankful.

Your luck has just doubled!

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

While Rine’s whole body is engulfed in the strange light, I fall into despair. How did my luck doubled? Ah, because my luck is negative, of course it can be doubled, it just is double the negativ value! So my misfortune became that much greater, huh?

“Kenta, something strange is happening to me.” Oh, what a coincidence, something horrible happened to me at the same time! “The pain is dulling, I can breath normally now, and I see things at the border of my field of vision.”

“Rine, just ignore it.”

“And the fourbirds are backing away.”

“You shine, Rine. They think that you’re charging death rays or something.”

“Why is your voice so lifeless.”

“I feel the urge to kill myself, and I don’t have the energy left to do so.”

“Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

“You may throw me off the cliff.”

“Kenta, we said to survive together.”

My eyes are tearing up, but I don’t have even enough emotional energy left to cry. Slowly, I take my spear out from my backpack and clench it. There is still work to do. I need some exercise. “Rine.”

“Yes?”

“Kill.”

“OK.”

Without any hesitation, Rine is rushing to the fourbirds, which tries to get away. They sure know what’s best for them.

Even I, the [Student] charge right in, since I don’t want to think about anything right now. The uninjured fourbirds lost all confidence of winning and left their wounded kin, which rears up, since they know, they can’t escape.

With the usual casualness, Rine amputates their legs and chops their heads, the moment they fall to the ground. Finally she’s serious and the quickness is nothing to laugh at.

I, on the other hand, am not that deadly, but without hesitation, I pierce the heart of one of the fourbirds, goring it like a pig in fiction. My mind still refuses to work right, there is no feel of accomplishment or satisfaction, just emptiness.

So the two of us fell into a killing spree, the fourbirds didn’t stand a chance.

At the end, we only got the wounded ones. With no power left to muster, I sit down. Actually, my SP are still OK, it’s more of a mental fatigue: “Phew…”

“We did it.”

Without a word, I nod.

“Are you sure to take a rest, here? Among all the corpses, while Kyou ist still imprisoned?”

“At least she can’t run away.” I may murmur that, but stand up nonetheless. Rescuing Kyou-san is the only reason we did this stunt. “Let’s try to uncover these holes.”

“OK. But what are these things?”

“What things?”

“The ones at the border of my field of vision.”

“Phew… one thing at a time. Just ignore it, like forever.”

“Nn? It’s that bad?”

“Not bad, but now is not the time.”

Rine must talk about the HP-, SP- and MP-bars and the minimized status window. They are within the peripheral sight and if we try to concentrate on them, they’ll grow and move into our line of sight. But since Rine tries to just look at them, her pupils are wandering around without seeing them. Maybe it’s something, which is easier if you know PCs or other digital screens. I never had much trouble with it and the trick how to open them is written in our manuals.

I don’t know much about optics, but there may be a relation to modern media and operating your status screen.

Nonetheless I may look at Rine’s stat, which also appeared right next to Kyou’s minimized status window. I just take a casual glance.

“WHAT!?”

“Are the enemies here!?” Rine has already drawn her sword and istrying to look in every direction.

“No… sorry, I… it’s nothing.”

This is unreal! To understand it, you must compare my attributes and Rine’s. And I will use my stats as a [Pikeman], to be more precise.

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

Class: Kenta [Pikeman], Rine [Princess Knight]

[Level] Kenta 39, Rine 24

[Health] Kenta 406, Rine 346

[Stamina] Kenta 369, Rine 397

[Mana] Kenta 304, Rine 334

[Strength] Kenta 132, Rine 100

[Vitality] Kenta 106, Rine 88

[Dexterity] Kenta 54, Rine 113

[Agility] Kenta 41, Rine 144

[Intelligence] Kenta 38, Rine 21

[Luck] Kenta 35, Rine 114

[Persuasion] Kenta 20, Rine 97

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

Most of her stats surpass mine with ease, while her level is much below mine! And even where my attributes are higher, it’s not by much of an margin, if you consider the level difference.

How can her level be similar to Kyou-san’s while having these stats? Is the [Princess Knight]-class that much of a cheat!? I want it, make me a princess, just let me have this class!

And how can the machine of destruction have less [Strength] than I, if she butchers everything with ease? Is this another cheat?

It doesn’t make sense!

“Kenta. You’re looking scary. Is it that serious? Am I sick?”

I just spaced out. Concentrate! “No, in fact it’s the opposite. But let’s talk later, we uncover these holes first.”

I better try to find her cheats when we rest.

Currently, my [Strength] is far below Rine’s, since I’m stuck to the [Student]-class, but with Rine’s help, it’s possible to move these stone slabs and look into the holes.

The first, more boak-crawlers.

The second, another bearington, which is slayed by Rine, before it could do anything. So since I gave her the kill-order, she’s not hesitating. But since we’re -urgh- married, I should get XP, too.

I wonder if Kyou-san is also getting part of the XP. I check my status and I think, I got less than before for killing a bearington.

Before Rine joined our cursed-club, I got only 50% of the kill and I guess, now I get a third. Three people, a third of all XP, anyone of us does.

“Kenta?”

“Sorry. I’m just thinking.”

“Don’t worry. Kyou has to be still alive. I’m sure, that she’s fine.”

…What have Kyou-san’s well-being to do with it? Maybe I want her to be alive, but a bit of suffering would do her good.

We shove another slab to the side, and then another. More boak-crawlers, some mountain-crawlers, bearingtons and some of the holes were empty, and the more holes we open, the more irritated I grow. In the end, we couldn’t find Kyou-san.

“DAMN IT! I HATE IT! I HATE HATE HATE HATE IT!!!” I cover my face while yelling, bending my body in anger, which wants to be unleashed, but the frustration is far worse. “WE DID THIS WHOLE SUICIDE-COMMANDO FOR NOTHING!” This is the nest, she has to be here! If she died, I would surely get a message, and she even gets XP for Rine’s kills, so Kyou-san has to be alive!

It’s not like I have no time left, I still have a SP-cushion, so it won’t kill me that quickly. But if Kyou-san is not here, then I don’t even know where to look. And searching through a whole mountain-range is too much to feel comfortable with.

“Damn it!” I kick against one of the boulders, it hurts, but the pain is worth it, since I could vent at least some of these aggravating emotions.

Something wraps around me. It’s warm. It feels like a person. “Don’t worry.” It’s Rine. She’s embracing me from behind. “We’ll find her. I promise. We can do it, together.”

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

You gain 1 WP.

Your wife is bringing comfort to you, who suffers through a life crisis. She may not be able to solve all your problems, but at least she’s there for you.

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

Damn curse! Why do I have the life crisis in the first place!? It’s all your fault!

“Kenta… maybe I got hit on the head. I see things… ‘You gain 1 WP… Bringing comfort to your husband… husband? I don’t know, what that means.”

“Phew…” I can’t take it anymore. I’m about to jump from the cliff… “We need to talk. A lot.” But in the end, I submit. This is how things are and whining about it won’t change anything.

I already told Rine some bits of the whole mess, but if I want her to shut up, I better tell her the whole story.

―○●○―

Kyou finally ended her screaming tantrum and now it’s like all her energy is used up. Neither her eyes nor her movements have any life in her. She’s just staring at nothing and sometimes, Masahiko hears a wail.

All of his party-members are huddling together to determine, what to do.

Masahiko. “We need to take care of her. That’s what friends for.”

Daichi. “What did he do to her, that she would react like that? I never thought Katsuragi as someone, who would even be able to deceive someone and now she looks like he betrayed her big time.”

Eri. “It’s a world of magic. Maybe he’s brainwashing her and after they separated, the mind control is wearing off.”

Katsuo. “… It could be.”

Teruko. “Poor Kyou-chan. And I thought she might have betrayed us.”

Since none of them knew the truth, they jumped into their own conclusions.

Masahiko remembers something. “The ring. He gave her one, it might be a mind-controlling device.”

Katsuo. “What do we do?”

Masahiko. “We must take it. Daichi and Katsuo, you will hold her down, Teruko and I will fixate her arms and Eri, you will take the ring. Any questions or other suggestions?”

All of them comply. While trying to be unsuspicious, all of them surround the lifeless Kyou. “Let’s go!”

Two boys push a single girl down, without knowing the context, it’d look criminal. Daichi is pushing down her body and Katsuo is holding her legs. Masahiko hold down her left arm and Teruko her right and Eri is pulling down her glove. The copper ring is in plain sight.

Kyou, of course, isn’t taking that well: “Are you crazy!? What are you doing! Get off of me!”

“Sorry, Kyou-chan!” With an apologizing face, Eri is pulling down her ring… or more tries to. “It doesn’t move?”

“Is it stuck?”

“Try harder!”

“Kyou-chan, that might hurt!”

“Wait, don- Ah! Stop! Hurts!”

“Masa, it’s not working.”

“Let’s switch!”

“Stop it, you all! It can’t be removed, listen to- Ouch! STOP!”

Even though unable to put up any resistance, Kyou is still trying her best to escape the hold. At the end, Masahiko’s party realized, that there is no way to remove that ring by force, without risking Kyou’s finger.

“Teruko, Eri, bring the rope.”

“Masahiko-kun, what are you trying to do to me!?”

“Kyou, I’m sorry, but we have to be sure.”

“Masa, hold her arms down, she’s clawing me!”

“Sorry!”

Swiftly, Masahiko took both of her arms and fixate them over her head to the ground.

… …

… … …

Finally, some calm.

While binding her, Kyou bit, scratched and pinched everyone in reach of her arms and the moments her legs were unsupervised, she kicked out. This amount of resistance just cemented the suspicion Masahiko’s party had: Katsuragi-kun has to mind-control Kyou!

Kyou would never hurt her friends like that! Masahiko is sure of that.

Since she would shout all the time, they had to even gag her.

Now Kyou is looking at Masahiko and his friends with contempt.

“Masa, what do we do?” Daichi seems to be conflicted.

“I don’t know. We should think about it together.”

“In front of her?”

Masahiko wants to discuss it with all of them, but they couldn’t go to a place, Kyou-san can’t listen to. Otherwise, she might be attacked by monsters, while she can’t defend herself, being bound and gagged. So he asks his childhood friend. “…Eri, do you have a spell to deafen her temporarily?”

“Sorry, I don’t. But there may be something in our equipment.”

In the end, they improvised using clothes. A scarf was wrapped up several times above her ears. This should at least make it hard for her to understand what will be said.

Matsuhiko begins the meeting: “Does anyone have a bright idea?” He keeps a low volume, that way Kyou won’t be able to hear them.

Of course, nobody answers right away. The silence shows how little they could do, right now.

“We don’t know anything about this mind-control.” Katsuo reminds the gang the root of their problems. “So the only thing we can do, is ask Kyou-san or Katsuragi-san.”

Teruko sniffs. “Asking her won’t help and why should Katsuragi undo his stuff? Should we force him? … Wait, that’s an option. Beat him up a bit, beat him up a lot, and then force him!”

It should be said, that Teruko can’t stand Katsuragi-kun.

“Teru-chan, you’re right! He will pay for what he’s done to Kyou-chan!”

Eri dislikes him, too.

“He thinks, he’s all great, but now he went too far. Time to take him down!”

Even Daichi had one or two episodes with Katsuragi-kun.

“Me too. He called me a good-for-nothing bootlicker for Masahiko and I always wanted to beat him up for this. Now we’re not at school and he did something horrible, no reason to hold back!”

Maybe that’s the reason, Katsuo pointed to that direction.

Masahiko feels like helping Kyou lost in priority to beating Katsuragi-kun to a pulp, and even though Masahiko doesn’t hold a grudge before, now with Kyou on the line, he doesn’t dislike the idea of being a bit rough to him.

“So we’ll do this. But how do we find him?”

This time, Eri got the idea. “We might use Kyou-chan for this. They may be connected or maybe there is some form of communication they can use.”

After discussing the details, it’s time to confront Kyou once more.

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