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.”
“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?”
“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!”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
“I can’t, I can’t!”
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…”
Masahiro’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, Masahiro 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.
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