Chapter 4-1

Chapter 4 – Follow-up!

Proofreader: Orion Dye

“Ara-san, it’s time.” I wake up Ara-san, who was sleeping next to me like a log. Our ‘new’ camp was just a blanket and some furs on the ground, with our bedrolls on top. Or more like Rine’s and Ara-san’s, since Kyou-san and I had night watch. “RINE, WAKE UP!” I pull the blanket a bit, and slowly Rine opens her eyes.

Every one of us looks like shit and has the [Deprivation: Sleep]-condition. A minor decrease in all [Attributes], in addition to feeling tired. I guess the less sleep we get, the greater the decrease.

In addition, three of us still have [Disease: Cold], Ara-san is taking a pill currently. We are, more or less, just two days into our journey, but we are already a bit stricken by disease and fatigue.

However we’re heroes so, as long as we want, we can keep this going for a while.

Not that this is what I planned. “Are you two awake enough to converse? Kyou-san and I had a talk the last few hours.” After Rine finally decided to follow our decision and get at least some sleep, Kyou-san asked me what I was planning to do. “We need to make sure.”

“Make sure of what?” Rine is donning on her armor, while asking that question.

“There are only three possibilities: Either the people who left those tracks are looking specifically for us, they’re looking for someone that resembles us, or they aren’t looking for us. We need to know, which it is.”

Ara-san brings a good argument into the discussion. “What about a mixed form? Some might be searching for us, like the squirrels, while others are not interested in us.”

“We don’t know and that’s why we need to find out.”

“How?”

“We came up with two options. First one would be to look for a place to hide, trying to cover our tracks and wait for what comes looking for us. Or as an alternative, we could look for a place easy to defend, but that could be hard here. There is nothing!” In times like these, I wish I were back in the mountains, but seriously: I have no good experiences with them, considering the ss’rak disaster and the princess-hunt.

I learned to hate mountains, but right now, a bit of rocky terrain with limited access would be great.

“The other option?”

“I’ll split from the group, using my [Stealth]-skills, and look for those, who are looking for us.”

“By the way, I’m for the former.” Kyou-san yawns her words out, but her eyes are hard. For some reason, she’s all about confronting these unknown enemies, and won’t yield.

“And I’m for the latter.” We would still make progress, and it gives us a more aggressive approach.

Rine cocks her head for a while and says: “Waiting for them.”

This answer surprises me. “Why, Rine?”

“To get some rest and have more favorable conditions. The enemy seems to be around us, so we don’t know, which direction we should follow to avoid or confront them. But if we can at least pick the field, then we have the minimal amount of control.”

“Who are you and what did you do with Rine?”

Rine’s eyes open wide and her head tilts. “What do you mean, Kenta?” Her eyes shimmer in confusion.

“That was way too smart for Rine!”

“Ken, you know that Rine-chan was actually taught about strategy?” Kyou-san looks at me, as if I just declared, that an electrician doesn’t know anything about Ohm’s law.

“Come on, if she really knows about stuff like that, why do I even bother with making plans anymore!?”

“Because you never asked her?”

That’s… kinda right.

If we look objectively at Rine’s education, she must know a lot of useful stuff, like how to make an inventory list, which goods and provisions are needed for long journeys, what you need to keep in mind for battle, and much more.

I look at Rine again, who scratches her head with both hands and speaks with a soft voice: “When I’m not me, who am I? Ah, that’s what Kenta wants to know!”

And that’s the reason, why I didn’t ask her before.

“Ara-san? What about you?”

Ara-san, who was watching Rine with interest, turns to me then to Kyou-san and back to me again. “If you two want to wait, I’m not against it, but I’d like you to scout anyway. We still need a viable place, and until then you can keep looking. If we find something fitting, it doesn’t need to stop there. You can still secure the perimeter, and the rest of us could set up traps.”

Well, only I have the [Set Trap]-skill, but that only speeds up the process.

Ara-san’s [Druid]-class and Kyou-san’s [Herbalist]-class both have the [Survival]-ability, even though neither of them has any hunting-related skills so far.

“Phew… then we do that.” Ara-san really knows how I tick. She’s able to make enough changes to a plan so that I can also find it acceptable.

Too bad the curse turned this friendship-like relationship into a mess.

 

―○●○―

 

I’m currently scouting ahead, using [Mask of Wildlife] and [Camouflage] to get at least a bit of coverage. Even though [Camouflage] doesn’t change its colors, it might help keep me from being noticed from above.

I wasn’t aware how many birds are in the sky before, just some miles above us. Each of them could see a mouse on the ground, or watch us. Scary.

A squirrel! It has panda-spots! It’s on this lone tree, watching in our general direction. Maybe it already spotted the girls, who are about a kilometer (0.6 miles) behind me. But it doesn’t look in my direction.

Would it be alerted, if I moved closer? Maybe. I could throw [Sneak] and [Hide Smell] into the mix, but maybe it can sense my spirit. This terrain isn’t well-suited for [Mask of Wildlife], which more or less blends it in with the spirits of the plants around me. Like all senses, a spirit sense is dependent on distance, so even if it didn’t detect me yet, it might notice if I shorten the distance.

I could shoot it. Maybe only wound it and let Rine use her [Whisperer]-skill to communicate with it. Wait, these squirrels hate Rine.

Maybe it’d be better to let it see the girls and follow it when it reports. Yes, that’s a good idea.

I could kill it instead and make it impossible for it to tell the story, but that will only buy us some time, and bring us no knowledge at all.

Laying low, I observe the squirrel, using [Camouflage] again, while it was not looking in my general direction. Then I drink an SP-Potion.

Every skill costs me some SP, except [Mask of Wildlife], which is technically a spell. [Camouflage] is an SP-burner and consecutive uses will drain me fast.

The panda-squirrel is still watching and waiting. There is no evidence that it knows that I’m here.

It climbs onto a higher branch, looking into the distance for a bit, and then turns to the other side.

Something is strange. I look at the squirrel, which doesn’t move at all, but somehow I still get the feeling that something moves within.

Wait, it uses [Spirit Magic]! But I can’t detect for what purpose. It just makes some strange sounds… [Whisper]? The spell Ara-san used?

However, it can only be used if the caster looks at the recipient.

Slowly my eyes wander into the direction the squirrel is looking at, and I use [Farsight].

There is another squirrel on a small hill.

They’re using a relay system!?

Should I stay here, waiting for what the squirrel here will do or should I try to find out, where the message is sent?

I’d better find out.

To not alarm the squirrel, I wait for a moment, until it can’t possibly see me and move with a fast walk. I don’t know how good squirrel-eyes actually are, but as long as I’m not too obvious, it should work. It didn’t see me before either, after all.

The squirrel at the hill is already moving, but I have a good chance to see it if I climb the rise myself.

Dammit! There is high grass behind the hill. No squirrel to be seen.

I use [Track], and it becomes obvious to me, where it went into the grass, but should I follow it? Unlike with alfar, the grass blades won’t avoid me, if I try to crawl through them.

Keep calm!

It has to come out. I can just wait until that happens.

After a minute, it does. While it was entering the grass to the east, it switched its direction and is now heading north.

I follow it.

While I do so, I take some paper and write a note. ‘Following squirrel north.’ It’s in Japanese, since I’m not familiar enough with this world’s alphabet to write quick-notes in it, and I used a stick of coal as a pen. But Kyou-san should be able to read it even if it’s a bit rushed.

The squirrel moves at a heightened pace, but I can still keep up.

Did the squirrel already relay its message, returning to camp? Or is it still looking for a recipient? Hopefully the former.

Another patch of high grass. I just need to wait and… Something is strange… Another manipulation of spirit?

I use [Wild Eyes] and my rather undeveloped spirit sense becomes much sharper. Now I can pinpoint that squirrel!

Or not, because there are eight of them in the grass, and they’re closing in…

It’s an ambush!

Three of them are touching each other, their spirits intermingle, and it brushes mine. So this was the reason why I felt that something is wrong!

Wait, it’s not only that…

“Show yourself.” There was another spirit.

From inside the grass, a lightly armored alfr rises. It’s a woman, she looks a bit younger than me, but in reality she’s older than Ara-san, I can see it by the color of her yellow-green eyes.

Her hair was short and dandelion yellow, but for the alfr this was no problem. She used [Mask of Wildlife] and was able to make me oversee her before I used [Wild Eyes]. Even with it, I almost didn’t sense her.

Alfar are unfair since they don’t need to be heroes to use [Spirit Magic].

“Show yourself as well.” So she might sense me by my spirit, but [Camouflage] still makes it hard for her to see the real me.

I annul the skill. “Are you a bandit?”

Her eyes wander over my red armor, most likely she asks herself, why I would wear something colorful like that, despite being a hunter-type. “A bandit? Alfar won’t become bandits.”

“Then let me rephrase that: Are you a self-employed, self-exiled acquisitor, forcefully redistributing wealth?”

“No, I’m a mercenary. And you’re a ranger?”

“How do you know?”

“The hood.”

“…yes, I’m a [Ranger].”

“This is bad.”

“Why?”

“If you’re a ranger, then you’re too much for me alone.”

“I’m still a beginner. [Entangle]!” Without warning, I use a spell to let the grass grow and capture her.

It’s still grass, and she’s an alfr. Chances are high that she will easily escape, but it might give me some seconds.

Because the squirrels are still doing something strange with their spirits, I open my backpack. Fetching my bow, I open my quiver and draw four arrows, nocking all of them. “[Quadruple Shot]!”

Four arrows are flying towards the squirrels in the high grass, but suddenly, the grass whips at my arrows, changing their course.

My [Entangle] just opens up, the alfr picks up a bow from under the grass and shoots at me as well, but I’m already running in a curve to avoid it.

I don’t want to enter the grass since the alfr will surely overpower me in terms of [Spirit Magic], so I use the bow instead: “[Seeker]!” I don’t have to aim well, which makes it possible to make this shot on the run.

The woman jumps aside, but my arrow adopts another course and still hits her in the side.

I love that skill!

Now it’s time to- “Achoo!” … shit. The cold medicine stopped working.

Ah, headache. My body feels hot, my nose is running, and my limbs are in pain.

I had something to learn. Even as a hero, a cold only becomes worse, if you don’t rest, despite taking the medicine.

I stumble to the side to avoid another arrow, but my body feels strange and my senses are not working properly. I lost [Wild Eyes], I have to reactivate it and…

I hate it.

Whatever the squirrels were doing up to now, they’re ready.

Their spirits are combined and sent to the alfr woman. I’ve never felt something like that before, but maybe only the squirrels can use this specific spell.

Suddenly, the grass under my feet begins to grow. It’s [Entangle], even if she doesn’t need to say its name for some reason.

I’m bound from head to toe, unable to move much or see anything. It clearly shows her power-up by the squirrels.

But is she serious? I change class to [Pikeman] and rip it apart before it had a chance to adapt to my new muscle mass.

This might be a strengthened [Entangle], but it’s a weak spell, to begin with.

Oh well, time for me to show her my seriousness!

Or not. She’s not here anymore.

I change back to [Ranger]. My head still feels fuzzy, but I should be able to track… Wait, alfr.

No tracks when moving through plants. Able to use [Spirit Magic], like [Mask of Wildlife]. Empowered by the squirrels.

She most likely got away. Nonetheless, I throw in another cold medicine and try my best. After all, I hit her with an arrow, so she might have bled a bit…

No. Vanished, without a trace. The squirrels as well.

Should I try to find her? If I’m close enough, I should be able to detect her with [Wild Eyes].

Maybe she just hides right under my nose, trying to find a good opportunity to attack me.

I stride up and down everything within a hundred meter (about 110 yards), but nobody is here. At least, nobody I could detect. [Mask of Wildlife] is a powerful spell, since even if you look at someone, you just don’t see the caster, if they’re good enough at it. Some sort of intrusion of the mind of everybody looking at you.

A mercenary, huh?

Also, she works with the squirrels. Means, either the squirrels hired that merc, or both parties work for the same guys.

I suppose, we have to face three dangers: Demons, squirrels, and mercenaries.

Plus, they’re organized. Using a relay system and scouts to find out where we are going, retreating when I finally got one of them confronted.

The important question is why. I busted my chance to ask that, but most likely, that alfr wouldn’t have given me an answer anyway.

I have to talk with Ara-san. About the alfr, that strange squirrel-magic, and why she could use [Entangle] without speaking a word while Ara-san and I need to say the name of the spell?

I need more intel.

 

―○●○―

 

“What is this?” The moment I find the girls, Kyou-san holds a bit of paper in my face. It’s an alfr paper, made by the fallen leaves of the trees of Aroahenn. Ara-san made it, while I wrote on it.

“It’s a note.”

“I was sure that is the case, but I can’t read it.” She has a point. Now that I see it again, I can tell that the quick note is barely readable, even for me, who wrote it in the first place.

“I was in a hurry.”

“You made Rine-chan worry and Arako too! You didn’t show up on time, there was no sign on our way, nothing! Then we found the note, but you wrote it so poorly in Japanese that I couldn’t decipher it! When we checked your status, it was obvious, that you were in a fight, and we couldn’t tell where you were!”

Ah, so annoying. I scratch my head while avoiding Kyou-san’s blaming eyes. “Ara-san, we need to talk.”

“You’re talking with me, right now!” Kyou-san takes my head in both hands and yanks my face in her direction. “And you will talk to me.”

I’m definitely not scared of Kyou-san, but if I consider her current facial expression and tone of voice, I think that I’d better work with her here. “Just stop bitching around, and I’ll consider it.” Or something like that.

Kyou-san wants to murder me. Her eyes and the fingers that dig deep into my skin tell me that.

“Kyou, Kenta!” Rine puts her hands on both of our shoulders and breaks us apart with ease. “Kenta, Kyou was worried, so you should apologize to her, and to us as well.” She lets go of me and turns to Kyou-san. “Kyou, don’t corner Kenta the moment he gets back, he was just in a fight!”

I want to say something regarding that, but when Rine is fed up with us, she can effortlessly make us obey with force, so I stay silent.

“Kenta! Your apology!” She really insists on that, huh?

“Why? I even wrote that note. It may be hard to read, but-” Something just passed my face. It was Rine’s hand, but I couldn’t even see that.

She slowly lowers it, and hooks her hand behind my back, pulling me a bit closer to her. I can see directly into her ember-like eyes, and I feel like they will burn me to ashes. “We were worried sick!”

I may not be scared of Kyou-san, but I’m about to piss my pants because of Rine. “…sorry.” So I shamelessly apologize, even though I refuse to feel sorry.

“It’s ‘I feel deeply sorry, Rine!’” Did I just leak a bit? No, I think not. But her face is scary!

If she looked like that, while performing her usual massacre among the monsters, I would be plagued by nightmares. Now she looks with that expression into my face.

“I feel deeply sorry, Rine.”

“And now it’s Kyou’s turn.” She moves my face to Kyou-san’s direction, who has a complicated look on her face.

Is that compassion?

“I feel deeply sorry, Kyou-san.” She just nods silently.

“Finally Ara!” Now I’m looking at Ara-san, who made herself small. Her ears start twitching, when her name is called.

“I feel deeply sorry, Ara-san.” Her ears twitch again, I don’t think that she wants to be part of this.

Me as well, Ara-san.

“Good.” Rine changed her grip and suddenly throws herself at me. “I’m so glad that you’re OK!” Her voice is something between laughter and crying.

You gain 2 WP.
After a fight, you can always reconcile. When it ends in a hug, it only shows how much you care about each other.

I really don’t like hugs. “Rine, stop it.”

“OK.” She releases me and rubs her wet eyes dry with her sleeve. Even though I didn’t feel guilty before, this made me think that maybe I was minimally at fault.

No, that’s just Rine, who emotionally blackmails me.

“Phew… let’s keep going, we’ll talk on the way.”

I tell them about my encounter with the alfr woman and the squirrels. “I have some questions, Ara-san. What did the squirrels do?”

Ara-san’s right ear lifts a bit. “I think it’s [Synchronization], it’s a [Spirit Magic]-spell. We alfar can’t learn it unless we’re heroes. Yet, it’s something that some awakened animals learn, especially rodents.”

“What’s an awakened animal?”

“Some alfar learn the [Spirit Magic]-spell [Awakening], which changes something within the spirits of animals and plants, giving them a semi-alfr consciousness. Practically, the ancestors of the squirrels were awakened squirrels. It’s a complicated spell. Unless you’re a hero, it’s unlikely that you can master it as long as you’re not a treeformer with experience in that line of work for more than a millennium.”

“Treeformer is a job, right?” Ara-san nods. Probably the guys, who change trees in ways, that they can serve as buildings for alfr. “What exactly does [Synchronization] do?”

“In this world, it connects the spirit of individuals, which enhances the power of all by drawing power from everyone for your spells. It only works for [Spirit Magic].”

“It worked differently in Alfarheim?” A spell, which changed its mechanics by changing worlds?

“Magic here is different from Alfarheim in general.”

“Ah, you already told me.” In Ara-san’s home world, there was something called an aura, which more or less surrounded each alfr, fed by the Aeolferelda-trees. Here magic is much more direct, and Aeolfereldas aren’t necessary, or more like going overboard. “But to put it simply, it strengthens the [Spirit Magic] of a group.”

“Yes, and you are supposed to be able to share spells. For example, if you’re under [Synchronization] and use [Mask of Wildlife], then everyone could use it at the same time.”

“I see.” I look to Kyou-san and Rine, who attentively listened to us. “Any more questions, you two?” For starters, Kyou-san wanted me to include her and Rine more and there is an off-chance that either one of these two could actually have a good question.

However both shake their heads. As useless as I’ve imagined.

“Next point on the list: Why was the alfr-mercenary able to use [Entangle] without using words?” I can understand that you don’t need to speak out the names for passive skills and no skill of [Perception], [Stealth], and [Survival] need it neither.

But [Entangle] is an active [Spirit Magic]-spell, so it’s different from them.

“Actually, you normally use [Spirit Magic] without any chants. It’s only depended on your spirit and spirit-sense.” I’m sure, that in the original Alfr language there is an individual word for ‘spirit-sense’, like taste, smell, seeing or hearing.

Even though all I can hear is ‘spirit-sense’, most likely the hero-system just translates it to me in a way, that would easily make sense.

However, normally there is no need to even call the name of the spell? “Well, [Wild Eyes] and [Mask of Wildlife] don’t need any chanting as well, while I can’t use [Entangle] without it. And thinking of it, you also call out many names.”

“Because I learned them after becoming a hero. In a normal society, who would use something like [Entangle]? And [Whisper] is complicated, I was only 52 years old when I was transported and learned everyday operations and some advanced, but peaceful usages. But stroking one’s spirit and cause a vibration within it, which will translate into a vibration of the eardrums is a very delicate process.”

“…that’s what you do with [Whisper]?”

“Yes. But using the hero-system, I must only think of that spell, the target, and speak its name. My body does the rest by itself.”

“Reminds me of how I’m able to use my [Spear]-skills. OK, let’s say that’s some strange hero-thing. So if you’re using [Spirit Magic] without being a hero, there is no forewarning, huh?”

“You can always read the spirit.”

“Well, as good as no forewarning. What about other magic? Rine, you learned [Heal] before becoming a hero, is there a need to chant its name?”

A bit baffled that I suddenly turn to her, Rine seems agitated. “Ah… Erm… yes, you have to send a prayer power into the Vastness, to channel the right divine energy, then afterward you must change that energy into the specific spell by reciting the right psalm in your head, while using the right amount of magic, and then end it and let the spell flow by saying it’s name.”

… “What is ‘the Vastness’?” This is the first time, I even heard of it.

“It’s the place, which separates the mortal world from the place where the gods live. There lies the divine energy, which is used for [Divine Magic]. When you use [Divine Magic], you more or less make yourself a medium for that energy.”

“Kyou-san.” I turn to her. “Is she serious?”

“That’s what the priests told me. It normally takes years to even feel it, but after I learned the [Priest]-class, I feel like some kind of valve, whenever I use a spell.”

“…” I really skipped the tutorial and now I don’t know shit about how magic works.

Maybe each magic has a specific way to be put to use?

I plan to ask Ara-san later, she surely knows some things about that, but for now, let’s concentrate on the mercenaries. “Ara-san, last question: Is the reason why alfar doesn’t leave tracks in the grass also [Spirit Magic]-related?”

“That’s one of the first things you learn from your parents as an alfr child. I use it subconsciously all the time, but technically, it’s still magic, even if you get to recover your magic faster, than if you had spend it on that application.”

“You do that without even thinking about it? How- no, nevermind.” At some point, people learn to walk with different kinds of shoes, like slippers, sneakers, boots, high heels, and more, which all need a bit of adaption, but at some point you can just do it without even thinking about it. Guess, it’s the same.

Which means, there might be a small slip-up here and there, but generally, there is little to no chance to find it.

How many missteps do I make while walking? Too few to count on.

Ah, this makes my head hurt! We know now that it’s not just bandits, but mercenaries, which is much worse, since fighting is what they do for a living.

At least some of them, who knows who the second group that left tracks was?

But most likely something like a scout-squad, considering it was just hynoars.

We have an alfr to consider, some humans and there is still the chance, that we’ll be attacked by monsters, not only the regular ones but also mobs that are trained to us.

What should we do?

Then someone put a stop to my despairing pondering. “Kenta?” Rine steps up to me and put her hand on my shoulder. “Relax.” It reminds me of the time I tried to save Kyou-san from a bunch of fourbirds. “You’ll find an answer if you remember, what we’re good at.”

Inhale. “Phew.” Exhale.

She’s right.

There is no way that I’ll die here. I don’t know what will happen to me if one of my ‘wives’ die, so I just have to find a solution in which we will survive.

We don’t need to win.

Our strengths… And survival…

Something like a picture is coming, every possibility I consider, every hour I spend brooding about the girl’s status in secret, everything is before my eyes, I need to connect it.

We just have to survive. We can do it by fighting the mercs or running away. The girls want to fight them, but the enemy isn’t attacking us. It’s observing us, maybe trying to weaken us, by making us tiring ourselves out.

Wait, is that a forest at the edge of my [Far Sight]? Something just clicked. “I have a proposal.”

“Seems like you have a good idea,” Kyou-san replies. “Your smirk is sickening me.” She smiles as well, but unlike mine, it’s a relieved one.

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