Chapter 5 – Finish-up!

Chapter 5 – Finish-up!

Artwork: MioChin
Proofreader: Orion Dye

After I splinted Rine-chan’s arm and made her an arm sling, I took a look at Arako, who was as unable to move around as Ken.

As I was not able to put her staff in the [Inventory] -the staff is still somewhat living- I bound it to her back. Ken’s spear, also alfr-made though he declined the living variant, wandered into the backpack.

Now Arako is leaning on me, while Rine-chan supports Ken as much as possible. Good that both of them are about the same height.

Ken also switched to [Ranger], which made him a bit lighter, but Rine can currently only use her right arm, which makes things strenuous.

Staying here would be suicide, but transporting Ken and Arako will be difficult.

I could probably carry the alfr girl on my back for a while, but I’m the one who will surely get the [Worn Out]-condition next, so I have to save as much of my stamina as possible.

Furthermore, Rine-chan is just not able to carry Ken with her broken arm, so there is no point to putting Arako on my back in the first place.

We’re only as fast as the slowest member; carrying one won’t change that.

So in the end, Rine-chan and I are slowly trying to get these two away. They can’t even stand by themselves anymore, and their walking speed is sluggish even with support, but we have little choice.

“Are you alright, Arako?” At times I ask her that.

She looks at me then and answers in between ragged breaths. “No… but I… will manage…”

Seeing her in such a pitiful state is painful. Her eyes are unfocused, and she has a fever that the cold medicine doesn’t work on. It still can suppress the actual cold, but this fever has another source: Strain.

The same goes for Ken, but he’s doesn’t tire of cursing almost every step. Mentally he seems to be okay, while Arako is about to pass out.

Maybe he’s just cursing to try to stay awake?

We leave the forest. Without the help of these two, it’ll be too hard to move in there. According to Ken, the mercenaries might follow us after they regroup, since they might have some good trackers that will pick up our trace.

South is the direction we’re aiming at. We can only roughly estimate where that is, since the sky is cloudy again, blocking the sun. It might even rain again.

No, it will.

I’m sure of it, even though I can’t tell why.

I check the status of everyone. Rine is stable, her Max HP decreased, same goes for her Max SP. This is because of her broken arm.

Despite that handicap, she still might be the healthiest out of us four.

Arako’s and Ken’s statuses are grave. The [Worn Out]-condition is decreasing most [Attributes] substantially, but there is nothing I can do. Even Arako doesn’t know a single way to remove that condition except for a day of rest, and Arako knows a lot.

Leaving any one of them here was not an option. Well, except maybe Ken.

No, just kidding, but there is no harm imagining it. Ah, I’m about to giggle, even though it’s not the time for that, even though it is only fun thinking about it.

I may be harsh on him at times, he might be a big idiot, and sometimes I have the urge to kill him, but that’s because of his behavior and a bit of my own immaturity, plus other issues.

Considering what I have had to live through since I met him, it’s reasonable.

I met Ken in high school. We were in the same class. The only people I knew from middle school were Teru-chan, Harada-kun, and Kuga-kun, which I knew from parallel classes.

My other acquaintances were in other classes, and most of the other students in mine were from different middle schools.

Since I wanted to become class president again for my report card, I decided to befriend as many people as possible to get voted in.

I have already abandoned the idea to join a club again this year. I did dancing in elementary and middle school, but that was out of a childish obsession.

It was fun while it lasted, but I wanted to become an adult, so I aimed for the student council this time.

Befriending my classmates wasn’t exactly much of a challenge. Some were easy, like Masahiko-kun, who just gathers other people around him.

Even I was drawn to him, but it’s because he’s just such a pleasant person.

After I was friends with him, I had two-thirds of the class on my side. Enough to get voted as class president.

I didn’t want to stop there though. I wanted to have a perfect victory, and have as much support as possible for becoming school council president.

Most of the rest weren’t hard to convey, even though being as good-looking and popular as I am always causes some contempt, especially with other girls.

However, those jealous bitches were at least superficially friendly to me, especially since being against me would destroy their chances with Masahiko-kun.

That left three people out of the whole class who were especially hard.

Hoshibashi Takashi-kun, someone who would later become a delinquent, was a challenge of endurance. Maybe he started with a bit of a crush on me, or he is just that bad with girls, but he was uncooperative at first. I had to show a bit of care over the course of two months, and after putting a little bit of effort over a long time, he would grudgingly help me whenever I asked.

Kita Katsuo-kun, I befriended later. He didn’t mingle with others and always had the air of someone who already failed at life. He did talk to me when I initiated it, but he also put distance between himself and everyone else. Saegusa-sensei asked me to try to include him in class, but I had no chance. In the end, it was Masahiko-kun who somehow had an event with Katsuo-kun, and the two of them became friends. Then, that friendship extended to me as one of Masahiko-kun’s friends. After becoming friends with Masahiko-kun, he joined the Kyuujutsu club in our high school, which he had avoided previously. Later on, I learned that there was an incident regarding Kyuujutsu in middle school. Katsuo-kun aimed to become a pro, but this incident made him change his mind.

The last one of my hurdles was Katsuragi Kenta. Well, he still is.

While Katsuo-kun merely put up a barrier, and Hoshibashi-kun was uncooperative, Ken smashed his own barrier into everyone’s faces. His face always had the same expression, as if he’s suffering from constipation, and his eyes looked at everyone with hostility. He wouldn’t even maintain eye contact while talking with someone.

My first exchange with Ken…

It was still spring. I think it was on the third day of the school year, when I spotted him on the way to school. “Good morning, Katsuragi-kun.” My sweet smile, my friendly voice, everything was supposed to go well.

But it didn’t. “…are you pressing me for money?”

“Eh?”

“You’re pressing me for money, right? I don’t have any. Scram.”

Unable to muster an answer, I was left behind by him. That was our very first conversation.

I even remembered his full name, despite only hearing it four times!

If I consider his self-introduction: “Katsuragi Kenta, Kitakou.” He didn’t even stand up, he just said his name and his former middle-school in a bored voice, as if it was the biggest annoyance ever.

I decided to befriend the others first. I thought he might need more time.

The week after our first exchange, I talked to him during recess. “Katsuragi-kun, can I take a look at your notes? I think I missed something.” I saw how he wrote them diligently, so I thought that might be a good way to start a conversation. This would also make him feel smart, another plus.

“No.”

That was within expectations. “Then could you help me with the last equation? Taniguchi-sensei was a bit fast there.” Sensei really was, most of the girls weren’t able to understand it, so it was a perfect opportunity for Ken to show off.

To show off an arrogant smirk, that is: “You didn’t even understand something on that level?” That was the first time he even made eye contact with me, looking down on me, like I was some retard.

That. Jerk!

I spent my time with others, mostly, and started to hang out around Masahiko-kun more, but it’s not like there was no time to talk with the rest of my classmates. While I still had trouble with Hoshibashi-kun, Katsuo-kun, and Ken, I got along with most others by that time. So I observed these three to learn about them.

Ken was often playing some handheld console during recess and lunch break, not even caring about who would see him. During lunch, he ate some bento with one hand, while his other played. A boy with the same game system tried to open a conversation, but from what I observed, it didn’t end well. He rushed out the classroom, almost in tears, while Ken didn’t even look at him during the entire conversation. So I never dared to ask him about his games.

Two weeks into high school, the class president was voted. I won by a landslide, being friends with Masahiko-kun and being friendly to my classmates by showing them my notes, helping them wherever possible, and taking charge, was more than enough to accomplish it.

Then, I had to collect some papers, so I asked Ken: “Katsuragi-kun, do you have a minute?”

“Do you?”

“What?”

“Why are you ‘-kun’ing me!? When did I ever give you my permission? Whatever your name is.”

He didn’t even remember my name! So hard to keep that smile!

“Katsuragi… My name is Momokawa Kyou. You can also call me class president.”

“I didn’t vote for you, Sekozawa.” I was already sure that he was the one who put the vote into the box, which made Saeguchi-sensei cringe and void it after she drew it.

“Katsuragi, you’re mistaken. It’s Momokawa. Written as peach river.”

“Peach, sweet on the outside, poisonous on the inside. … How about I call you ‘Fake #2’?”

I was about to hurt him. I didn’t even know how, but at that point, I wanted to make him feel pain.

Summer came, everyone in class except Ken accepted me. “Katsuragi, you didn’t apply to any event in the sports festival. Follow me and finally write your name on the list!” This wasn’t the first time I reminded him.

“Why don’t you just write my name on that damn list? You like to decide everything anyway, Fake #2, why should I even make the effort to try to play along?”

“Just shut up!” I was very frustrated at this point. I was in the sports festival committee, and the preparations were numerous and difficult and then I still have to keep after Ken, who didn’t even do his basic obligations. “And don’t call me Fake #2!”

“OK, bitch.”

“What did you call me?!”

“Bitch, or how do you call someone who whores herself out to almost every boy in class to get votes for the student council? Well, maybe ‘slut’ would be better.”

Oh, his face. I wanted to punch it so hard, that his teeth fly out. He is like that to everyone in class, but unlike my classmates, I can’t just avoid him at every opportunity. I’m class-president!

But whenever I talked with Ken, I deeply regretted being one. “Just call me by my name.”

“Phew… Momokawa, just write my name down wherever.” By the way, during the whole conversation there was no eye contact, but the way he looked out of the window, it was clear as day that he thought of me as a pain in the neck.

There is not one single positive memory about Ken in my whole high school life. He was often called by the teachers and the principle, since his behavior caused many problems. Not major ones, but people don’t like being called names, students and teachers alike.

However, for some reason he never got suspended or anything; maybe his demeanor wasn’t bad enough. Rumors spread that Ken’s parents are rich and donating to the school. Even Katsuo-kun, who was in the same middle school as him, didn’t know the truth;, it was hard to get any intel about Ken from him. Maybe Katsuo-kun was so fed up with him already, that he didn’t even want to talk about him.

At some point even I stopped trying to be nice to Ken, I was only annoyed to see him offending everyone whenever he opened his mouth. It was clear as day that this one would never fit in with the rest of the class, and soon nobody actually cared about him anymore. Most just tried to ignore him as much as possible.

Then we were transported into this fantasy world, and I was abandoned by my friends.

Feeling frustrated about myself, about the situation with my life-expenses, about the future perspectives, I was slowly tormented.

In this torture, I met Ken again.

He was kinda dejected. Since it was two months since I saw him last time, I talked to him. A known face, for a moment I even forgot how furious he made me in school.

He was cursed, and he offered to help me level up if I help him with that curse. It was an attractive offer, even though I was skeptical. It was Ken, after all.

The first part of the journey to Heißquellen was fine, although a bit unnerving. Ken did actually put some effort into working together with me. If he had done that back in school, my whole school life would have been blissful.

Do you know how infuriating it was? I tried for months to get him to treat me a bit like that, but now, in a fantasy world, he suddenly did it as if it was an easy task!

He was also reliable! He was cursed, but he was someone who could fight these monsters, knew about camping outside, and how to become a better hero. While I degenerated to some helpless girl in an unknown land, he actually grew from a jerk to a jerk with useful skills!

But the moment we were caught in Heißquellen by the ss’rak, he went on a rampage and made them really mad at us. Which made them throwing us into the chasm.

I was at a loss. Everything went wrong, and it seemed that we’d die. I had to do something, I didn’t want to die, but everything seemed pointless.

While I was trapped in this cycle, Ken took charge. I let him, since I was unable to bring up much motivation. I concentrated on how to stay alive, while Ken’s eyes were always focused on something else.

Without Ken, I would die. I had to keep him around.

I hated how much I needed him, but this hate kept me from thinking about our certain doom. I was afraid of him going somewhere, so I wouldn’t let him go away, putting my hand on his while sleeping in that cave, keeping him nearby when I took a bath in that hot spring…

He didn’t let me go. When we were chased by the birds with the saber-beaks, he didn’t let me go.

He didn’t let me fall.

Being so near to death made me feel alive, ironically. Pure panic. Then I got infected with his curse. Another thing that kept me from thinking about our doom, a marriage curse. He didn’t know about that, but I blamed him, because it was easy to hate him.

He deserved some of it, but not because of the curse. Rationally, it was nobody’s fault, but I wasn’t rational back then. I felt played with. I felt like the whole world was against me, laughing at me by marrying me off to the one person I despised the most.

Without him, though, I would die, I had to keep him alive. Even when he attacked the crimson bear. Even after he was almost killed by ss’rak when he realized that he just committed murder.

I had to keep him alive. So I murdered the one, who almost killed him.

I’m fine with it. I could say, I did it to save him. I could say it was necessary. Really, I was afraid of what would happen if Ken died. I was dependent on him, even though I hated it.

In the chasm, I saw many sides of Ken that I didn’t even know about. He was selfish, but reliable, and vulnerable. He needed me as much as I needed him, not only because of my spells, but because I was another person.

It could have been anyone, but it was me.

We really didn’t used to get along. Back then we fought almost every day, now he doesn’t fight back as much as before.

It’s a bit lonely.

He defeated the patriarch and I gave him my first kiss. This alone makes me cringe, whenever I think about it I usually push that memory aside, only to remember it whenever he’s away.

Ken is no hero. He didn’t look like one when he fought the patriarch, but, in the end, I kissed him. Now I can accept it, but that irritated me for so long.

After all that, I was seeing him in a better light. He was still a jerk, but at least he was a jerk I could put up with. I even planned to ask him to stay with me for a while, so that we can raise my level, while I would somehow find something he also wanted. At that point, I really was ready to work with him, after we got rid of the curse, as real partners.

A hope which got betrayed.

We came back to Esse, and the curse couldn’t be removed. Somehow Ken lost all that divine power he gathered. We would learn much later, that it was used up by infecting me with the curse, but at that moment, when I heard that he somehow lost it, I was only thinking about how he put me in grave danger several times for nothing!

All the positive turned into negative, completely meaningless. No! Everything was even worse.

Maybe it made me stronger as a hero, but I wasn’t given a choice if I wanted to work with him or not. Instead, I was forced, the description of my ring told me that I have to stay close or the curse would activate on me.

On top of that, I was married to him!

You can’t charge someone a kiss or being married! That’s not exactly something that you earned, but what you are granted. Seriously, I had my own plans, and they got trampled!

I knew the marriage was just a strange curse, but if you are always reminded by these stupid pop-ups, then anyone would feel like there is not much difference anymore.

Especially when you cooperated to gather these WP. It was too late to take my permission back, and it made sense, but over time it turned something special into something trivial. My whole picture of romance got shattered by this curse, and Ken was at the center of it.

I hate that curse, and I hated Ken, so putting both of them into the same bag might not have been fair, but I didn’t care at that point.

This, and other very private issues, turned me into a bitching nagger, but I was in a situation where the ground suddenly fell out underneath my feet.

I was sick of having no choices and needed an outlet. Ken was the only one available.

All the more so when we met our classmates in Wächter, where I could see how it was supposed to be. I should have been part of them, but I was isolated instead. I was different from my friends, and the reason was Ken’s curse. I felt even more lonely, and all that mountain-climbing didn’t improve my mood.

When the fourbirds took me, I was afraid. So afraid. If they let me fall, I would hit the ground and die but if they carried me to their nest, then they would eat me. At that moment, I was alone in the truest sense, and I wished that Ken would die as well, since he was the object of all my hatred. That day was the worst since waking up!

Well, thinking back, I might have been afraid to be the only one who dies, but emotions aren’t that simple. You can feel one way, think another, and come to the conclusion that you want a third thing to happen.

In that agitated state, I was saved by Masahiko-kun. I had to return to Ken, who was still alive, or the curse would affect me as well. I didn’t want to tell my friends about the curse, because… I don’t even know.

Was it embarrassment? Was it because I didn’t want them to worry? Was it because Eri-chan would have made fun of me, making it impossible to return to them, and holding it against me forever?

I still have no clarity about that, but it caused misunderstandings that I couldn’t resolve. Who besides Masahiko-kun would trust the words of someone who might be brainwashed?

So I used their misunderstanding to lead them to Ken, which ended up in the monkey spider encounter.

I was really glad, when Ken decided to help Masahiko-kun and the others, even if he was being a jerk again. As annoying as he is in general, he is still dependable when it means fighting something.

But why did he picked up that bow? Why did he forced me to run away with him? With all these misunderstandings that I should have at least tried to clear, both of us dealt a killing blow to my friendship.

So I started to befriend Rine-chan, and later on Arako. For some reason, I really became friends with them, but what about Ken?

We are not friends. Ken doesn’t want friends, because he already rejected me in Japan, because he would never say something kind to me. For him, I’m just a nagging bitch, and maybe I act like one when dealing with him. I can be very mean to others at times.

Ken and I aren’t lovers. I gave him my first kiss, we hold hands almost every day, we sleep next to each other, but we are not lovers, and I don’t want to be. I’m sure he thinks the same of me. Actually, who would want to be the boyfriend of a nagging bitch? … actually, that thought makes me angry at myself.

Maybe we’re partners. But on what basis? Partners to break the curse? Partners as this world’s heroes? Party-members?

What are we?

What is Ken to me? I still don’t know.

I hate him. I want him to at least like me. I want to keep him alive. I want him to be kind to me for a change. I want to know about him. I don’t want him to know about me.

How do I feel about Ken? … When I asked myself that question the last time, it was a bit of dislike.

I guess, now it’s a bit of like, not like a friend, not like a lover, just a bit of like, if that makes any sense.

Really, if he rescued me from the oni in a manlier way and said some cool line back then, I would have at least felt some heart-pounding excitement and relief. His way was just too creepy.

Well, he was there, that’s what counts.

Maybe I could treat him a bit better at times. Not that much, so he won’t get the wrong message, but a bit. At least if he treats me kind as well.

Ah, that’s where it will end in failure.

“Momo?” Arako, who I am still supporting, groans my name. “What… is so funny?”

“What?”

“You are… giggling.”

“I see.” I smile at Arako, showing her my genuine one. “I’m thinking about good things since the situation is so dire.”

“Humans… are strange…”

―○●○―

Dusk is coming. The landscape is just some hills with clusters of trees and bushes here and there. Overall the same rough and wild, but boring terrain as before. The sky is darkening, not only because of the sinking sun, but also because dark clouds cover the sky.

My prediction is coming true, it’ll rain any moment.

Rine-chan breathes roughly, while trying to support Ken as much as possible, and he continues to mutter curses. Arako and I aren’t better off. At times, Arako seems to fall asleep for a second or two, while I continue to help her and worry about when my turn comes to suffer the [Worn Out]-condition as well.

Maybe it depends on the [Vitality]-attribute. As a [Herbalist], mine is not that bad. Arako’s is worse, and Ken strained himself much more than I, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to take it much longer.

The distance we could travel so far was maybe a fourth or fifth of what we’re usually capable of. Now I see something on the grayish horizon. “Arako? Can you see it?” While Arako can’t use skills right now, her good eyes are something, that every alfr has.

She slowly lifts her head and blinks a few times. “Too far… Is something there?” Maybe her eyesight isn’t actually that good. Or maybe she just sees different.

“Rine-chan, can you see it? Ken?”

Rine-chan cocks her head. “Not sure… It moves.”

“…phew… I hate it.” I’m sure that Ken is expecting the worse, and I’m inclined to do the same.

“Monsters?” I ask nonetheless, though I don’t even expect an answer.

“I guess?” But Rine-chan delivered. “They’re coming closer… and there are many.” She narrows her eyes. “Yes! Monsters!” Her face already shows her readiness for battle.

She said there are many, but that is an understatement. I can only guess, but concerning the size of that mass…It far exceeds the number of monsters I have seen before, including those ostriches in the chasm, or the scaleetles from two days ago.

“Rine… don’t…” Ken tries to stop her by fidgeting with his lifeless limbs, which isn’t very effective.

“Rine-chan, we have people to protect.” I look for a place to take cov- “No…”

“Kyou? What is i- Oh.”

“…What… … I hate it.”

“…urrggh…”

A single look behind showed us the next problem: People, riding on big lizards and some kind of horses with claws, catching up to us. Most likely the mercenaries and there are also many of them. Not as many as the monsters, but still far too many for my liking.

A wolf at a front door and a tiger at the back.

“Rine-chan? Both are running toward us, right?” I’m sure of it, but I hope at the same time that I’m wrong.

“Yes.”

“And we’re too slow to run away, right?”

“Yes.”

“What should we do?”

“Fight our way through!”

I want to wince, but looking at Arako, who does just that, and Ken, who exhales in his strange noise, I can’t lose my composure here.

Though to be honest, I was thinking about leaving at least Ken behind for a split-second, since he’s so heavy that he’ll slow us down.

However, even if I’m mean to him on occasion, or find it funny when he gets hurt by his stupid actions, or wish him suffering at times, it’s not like I’ll abandon him.

“Rine-chan, give Ken to me. I will support both.” Even with a broken arm, Rine is most likely the only one who can cut us a path through those monsters. I’ll just have to follow her, while dragging both of them.

“OK.” Even in these times of despair, Rine-chan’s determination and dependability are giving me hope. She is overly optimistic, and she doesn’t even think of failure, so she is sure that she will open a path.

“Which one?”

“The monsters!”

She loads Ken on me and we exchange glances. It’s a form of language that both of us developed over the time we’ve been together. ‘What about my opinion?’

‘Overruled, you can’t even speak fluently. Also, you’re heavy!’ Ken certainly is. Boys sure weigh a lot, and they’re cumbersome. Arako just fits into my arm, while Ken is like some sort of boulder that I have to carry.

‘We’re dead, you know?’

‘Since when do you care? Haven’t you always fought despite being in a situation of certain doom?’

‘…point taken.’

“But for real, can’t you change classes?”

“…why?”

“You weigh too much!” His look tells me that he doesn’t understand. “Change to [Student], I want to see if your fat weighs less than your muscles.”

His eyes try to burn me, but he’s not the one who has to carry two people at the same time, soon enough, his body shape changed to his original one.

… There is something I have to confirm, so our look-language continued. ‘Have you actually gotten slimmer?’

‘WHAT!?’

‘I thought you would be fatter.’

‘I’m not fat!’

‘Yes, yes…’ Actually, he’s just a bit chubby, now that I lend him my shoulder, I can’t help but think that he might have been losing weight since coming to this world. Maybe I just didn’t actually care about it before, and just imagined him to be fatter.

“This way is better.” Even if his back muscles almost vanished, which made it harder to get a grip, his overall weight decreased. Well, there is a saying that muscles are heavier than fat, that’s why I proposed it.

I take a look back at the riders. They decreased their speed. Looks like they see the monsters now and are planning to let us clash with them. At the front, I could see strange beast-like people, almost something between a dog and a horse. Maybe these so-called hynoars? Plus a human and something hairy that I couldn’t even name.

The monsters at the front were also discernible. I thought before that they looked like some kind of zebras, but that was only at a distance. Up close, they are striped, but seem more like long-legged moles.

Wait, those aren’t stripes, they’re bones! These things wear their skeleton on the outside!

Their speed is crazy. They’ll be on us in a moment!

Something cold touches my face. It’s a raindrop. Another one follows, and in seconds it’s already raining.

Is this a blessing or a curse?

The skeleton moles are right in front of us. Rine-chan lowers her body, “[Crescent Moon]!”, and cuts one in front of her, using her skill.

The fallen foe blocks the path of others, but many just avoided it. I brace myself, ready to be attacked while being unable to defend any of us, but instead of attacking me, those who part before Rine-chan’s first victim just run forward.

Are they ignoring us?

Are they not caring about us at all?

Is the only reason why they’re moving through us because we are in their way or? … I quickly glance back. Those moles are just walking straight, but that path will lead into the mercenaries, who also brace for battle, yet the monsters just run in one direction, not even trying to do more than minor adjustments to their course.

More raindrops fall. My clothes are getting soaked. Ken and Arako are also becoming heavier.

Rine, at the front, is carving a way through with quick motions. She uses slashes and skills to slay the monsters in front of us. I check her status and make a grimace. She moves swift and agile, but every movement takes a bit of her HP.

Currently, I can’t heal her. If I do, I have to change classes to [Priest] and drop either Ken or Arako afterward to have a hand free. But I won’t be able to pick the person up again on my own, I’m not strong enough!

I look at Arako. She is lifeless, but her feet are still moving. She might be in delirium.

“…look…” Ken is mumbling something, and my eyes wander to him, and I can see it in his eyes. ‘Just drop me already!’

It feels like I just swallowed a block of ice. Ken is really telling me to abandon him, and I can see that he’s serious about it. I can’t muster an answer.

“…see…” His mouth tries to speak the words, but I can already see the message on his face. ‘There is no other way. Rine will give out soon, so you have to leave me now, while she can still fight.’

That’s logical; Rine-chan can still fight. I can still try to carry Arako, so there would be a small chance that the three of us can escape. The moment I drop Ken, the three of us might survive.

Further, when he dies, the curse also might end, since the ring on his finger is the source.

There are so many reasons to sacrifice Ken here. I might like him a bit, but I want Arako and Rine-chan to live, and I want to survive myself, so everything points towards leaving him behind.

―○●○―

A red bunny watches from the bushes with a small whistle in its mouth. Somehow it turned out different from what the bunny thought.

It was hard to collect all these moletons, especially since the monsters around here were much fewer than anticipated for some reason. But after catching them, binding them, and hypnotizing them with a magic item, they will come when the whistle is blown.

The whistle is another magic item the bunny got from its owner. It sends a tone that only those whom you want to hear will hear it, even from miles away. These kinds of items are rare.

Maybe it’s an item that came from the Lady?

The bunny’s owner is working for the Lady, and the Lady gives the owner a lot of rare magic items. Magic ink that can open gates, the midnight dolls, the whistle, everything comes from the Lady, but the owner has a lot of magic items as well.

Slowly the bunny changes, and it becomes a she. The oni’s true form. She is wasted, unable to fight at the moment, and her survival was her masters wish.

His wish is her command.

So she can’t do anything that will end up with her losing her life. She has a bit of leeway, but the moment death is sure to happen then she has to pull back. Fighting with bro, sis, Katakata, and lynxy at the moment would lead to her death. Even she knows that.

But man, is that frustrating! She wants to rampage in the midst of all that mayhem that’s unfolding right before her eyes!

Why is there mayhem in the first place!? She thought that the mercenaries are still somewhere else and now they show up when she already blew the whistle!

The moletons are running and just fighting everything they see. That’s the command they got, since it’s hard to train them to attack specific people. It was the best she could do. Master said the same! Yet now the moletons are here and attack everything non-moleton in sight. Further, since Katakata’s companions are few and the mercenaries are many, the moletons have only eyes for them!

Ah, she messed up.

That’s the reason why Master told her to use the whistle at a later point. As a last resort, the last line of defense, when Katakata and Co are already tired and spent, and while there are no forces left to throw at them.

Well, the first condition was still cleared. They’re spent, so everything is fine, right? It’s not like all the moletons are attacking the mercenaries, so Katakata’s friends will be crushed. The mercenaries are supposed to take her alive as well, so there is no need to worry.

Too bad that the oni has to sit this fight out, but her youki is still too weak to handle the wounds of combat.

She sits on the ground, embraces her knees with her arms and watches while singing a bit. “Nanananana. Nananana. Nanananananananana.” It is an irregular melody with a quiet but high-pitched voice.

Squirrels appear from around her. Two climb on her shoulders, one on her red-haired head, and the others surround her. They try to sing with her, but to the oni it’s a fun game to change the melody in order to make it impossible for them.

Waiting is sooooooooooo boring!

Plus, the stupid rain is making it harder to watch the battle, and it’s becoming heavier by the second.

“Maybe they’ll freeze to death?” She wouldn’t care about jinxy and sis, but bro has to die painfully, and Katakata has to survive. Katakata is the strongest of the bunch, so it will surely work out.

Waiting is really boring.

―○●○―

Ken is trying to convince me with his eyes alone to leave him behind. Thinking about it rationally, there was no reason not to.

But since when do I need to act rationally?

Copying his demeanor in school, I just looked away.

“…hey…” His out-of-breath voice intensifies “…stop…looking…away…bitch!” The moment someone else does it, it gets under your skin, right?

My grip on him only tightens as I continue dragging him with me. Then he just stops moving his feet, which makes it harder for me, but, without even saying a word, I just continue to push him forward. Finally, he lets go of his body tension, which makes him so much heavier, but I just go on stoically. I won’t even give him ground to argue. I just keep my eyes forward and try to get him and Arako to safety.

Rine-chan is still doing her best, she kicks the corpses of the monsters to the side to open a path for me and the two I’m supporting.

Suddenly I feel Ken get much heavier. He finally changed into [Pikeman] as he tries his best to part from me now. This time I turn my face to him. “Seriously, what do I do with you.”

His mean eyes show his unwillingness to cooperate with me. “…let…me…” He’s taller than me. But my arm is currently supporting him.

I lower him, then I put all my strength into a headbutt. Ow! This hurts!

Did I do it right? I hit Ken at the side of his head. It’s a bit red there, but he’s looking at me wide-eyed as if he never saw me before.

Yes, look at me! And get another headbutt!

This time it landed on his nose. I could hear him groan in pain, but he’s still conscious. I want to knock him out, but it seems that it’s not as easy as I thought, so I just hiss to him, “Just work with me here!”

“…no.”

This massive moron! Even if his life depends on it, he just won’t cooperate with me!

There is only one choice left, “Rine-chan!”

“What?” She just pierced the jaw of one of these skeleton moles from below and now pushes it to the side, relying on the strength of her right arm only.

“Knock Ken out when you have the time!”

“…no…Rine…don’t…” Of course, he objects, but his voice is too faint for Rine-chan to hear it at this distance.

“Why?”

“Because otherwise, he will sacrifice himself!”

Less than a second, that is the time needed for Rine-chan to open her eyes wide in shock, rush to my side, hit the side of Ken’s neck with the hilt of her sword, and return to her original position. It was so fast that even I need several seconds to realize what just happened.

The same goes for Ken, whose eyes turn white just now, moments after the deed. I felt the impact of the hit on my shoulder, but it’s actually not that bad. Considering the red mark on Ken’s neck, most of the power was probably concentrated there.

His body went totally limp and was heavier than ever. “Is he out?” Rine-chan asks me, while she cuts the upper half of a monster’s head off. “Or do I need to return? Kenta will not sacrifice himself on my watch!”

“He’s…” Fine? Alright? Definitely not. Looking at his face which still has the expression of shock and pain, it’s clear as day that he’s not fine or alright. “…out of commission.” I end the sentence diplomatically.

“Good! Don’t fall behind and we’ll be fine! We’ll get through this!”

Ken’s unconscious body is dragging its feet, and I try to lift him up a bit higher, but, even though I’m stronger than ever before as a [Herbalist], I’m still not that strong.

[Strength] helps with lifting weights only this far.

Arako still is unfocused and barely aware of her surroundings, but she still puts one foot in front of another.

The rain is falling, the ground is muddy with water and blood, my clothes are soaked, the feet in my boots are squelching, my hair falls into my face, and Ken’s armor is scraping my breast. I‘m shivering from cold, from fear, and from exhaustion. It becomes harder to see through all the raindrops, and I’m about to slip on the ground.

Ken is heavy as a brick, Arako is walking ahead of me, who has to drag Ken along, and I feel like I’m about to lose either one of them.

It feels horrible!

I grind my teeth and take another step, and another, one at a time.

Ignoring the cries of the monsters, the shapes in the rain, the fact that just an arrow just hit the ground next to me.

One step.

Rine decapitates a monster. She tries to kick it out of the way, but is confronted with two more, so I have to circumvent them.

One step.

Ken is about to fall, and my fingers claw into him. They feel numb and cold, while my arm is burning and twitching. It cramps.

One step.

Arako is about to fall. I pull her closer to me while trying to match my speed with hers, feeling strong pulls from my legs while doing so.

One step.

My head feels light. I think I can do this. It’s easy, my whole body feels so light.

One step.

But Arako feels heavy. She passed out, so I just have to drag both of them, right?

One step.

Ah, a monster mole.

One step.

Something is strange. My whole front feels cold and wet. My head clears up.

No!

I’m lying on the ground! Arako and Ken are lying next to me. I have to stand up!

Good.

Now I need to pick up Ken, he’s the heavier one.

No! The monster comes first. It was the one, which tackled me in the first place. My numb fingers are wandering to my hip, drawing the ss’rak knife. It’s a good knife, but it feels strange and unfamiliar in my hands right now. The blade is trembling.

No, I am.

It attacks, trying to slash me with its skeleton claws. It hits me on the arm, and my clothes are ripped, but I don’t even feel the pain. While it hurts me, I stab at it, and stab, and stab, right into its chest.

Putting up resistance, it howls and strikes out at me, but as long as it’s HP, then I have some to spare. I need to stay focused; I need to have the stamina to keep going, so you can take my health.

I stab again. Its resistance grows weaker, and now it’s dead.

“Kyou!” Rine is trying to fight three of them at the same time. Her face is distorted with pain as her broken arm chips off her strength and HP, but she doesn’t give up. The same goes for me.

A pile. Yes, we need a pile of bodies. Something to hide in.

Then, suddenly, the rain goes red. No, someone just splashed a lot of blood in the rain. Someone from behind me.

A hynoar. His figure is intimidating. Wearing a hood and a coat, I couldn’t see much, but a big monstrosity in a humanoid shape. His claw-feet dug into the ground, while he used a spear with a long blade to fight his way through to us. The hood covered most of his face, and it was clamped on his nose. Can he even smell like this?

With ease, he swings his spear at one of these skeleton moles, and it cuts bones, flesh, and innards.

His head turns directly to me. My hands are still trembling, but I tighten my grip on the knife. The hynoar looks at Arako and Ken on the ground. Then he walks toward them.

Rine-chan is still busy killing these monsters while trying to stay alive. I’m the only one, who can stop that hynoar! “No, you won’t!”

“The boy.” With a voice like a growl, he points with his spear at Ken.

“He’s mine!” Even I feel intimidated by my voice, it’s filled with so much hostility that I feel goosebumps, and my words were totally the wrong ones, but my head just stopped working correctly. What I meant is, that he’s my companion and that I won’t let that hynoar take him.

The hynoar dashes at me. I thrust my knife, ready to stab him, and the blade goes into his body. Yes!

…No? There is no resistance? My blade and arm just pass through his body, which flickered and vanished.

What just happened?

I look around and see the hynoar at Ken’s side. The strange creature just lifts up Ken’s [Pikeman]-body as if it weighs nothing and puts him on his shoulder. “Take the alfr.” His snarling is full of urgency.

Is he an ally, or does he want me to carry Arako to his mercenary friends? … I don’t know, but this way we might survive.

I lift up Arako, and my body almost gives out, but I clench my teeth together and bear with it. Then the hynoar takes Arako and puts her on top of my backpack for a piggyback. “Come.” He points at Rine-chan and walks next to her. “Stop fighting.” His words have little credibility when he stabs a skeleton mole with his spear at the same time.

“Kyou?” Rine-chan tilts her head, asking me what to do.

“Trust him.” We have no choice. We might end up being prisoners, but if we keep this up then we’ll die.

“OK.” Rine-chan breath is ragged, and she keeps a keen eye on the monsters, but doesn’t attack them anymore. Surprisingly, the monsters don’t attack us either. As if they just forgot that we are here, they flowed past us. Even those whose paths we are blocking just circumvent us.

“Follow my steps.” The hynoar growls. He just walks in the direction we were aiming at, and wherever he goes, the hynoar just opens up a path past the skeleton moles by being there.

Are we saved?

―○●○―

The oni is still lying in wait in the forest, her youki is still recharging. Youki is the energy of a youkai, one of the types of those beings who are regarded as ‘demons.’ Demons are very diverse, and even the oni doesn’t know why some of them are referred as youkais. They just are.

Youki is something that won’t be used up but, when it’s used it becomes all polluted and much harder to use, and then it needs mana to be cleansed. The best way to let the youki cleanse is to stay as still as possible, so that the flow of mana and youki is undisturbed.

But staying still is so hard!

She sways back and forth while trying to come up with a new song. “And when I come, it… will be some… so I hit hard, until it falls apart!” The squirrels around her shake their heads; it’s horrible.

Usually, she would just tear down some trees for entertainment, but if she does that then it’ll be longer until she can finally charge in, grab Katakata, swing her bat at sis and lynxy, and step on bro until his bones break.

Ah, maybe she should just practice it. Since it’s just practice, it won’t be too bad on her youki-cleansing.

She stands up, and the squirrels watch her as she grabs a bush, tears it from the ground, then swings her bat at two trees, whose trunks dent, while she kicks at the roots of a third tree until they break.

This is fun! Again!

With this, the oni starts to waste her time and energy, while her youki has a hard time being cleansed.

―○●○―

“Here.” The hynoar carried Ken into a large burrow, ten minutes away from the battlefield. He lays Ken down gently on the ground. “Hide here.”

Rine-chan bows to him, “Thank you for your help… What is your name? I’m Katarine von Stolzherz.” I have to admire her open-mindedness during this whole situation.

“Hrarks. Or Hrarks’naail.” He takes the part of the hood that is clamped on his nose, and removes it. His face… is still like that of a beastman, I can’t tell him apart from any other hynoar.

I’d better go with this, “I’m Momokawa Kyou… Hura… Hya…”. Ah, I can’t pronounce his name.

“Go with Haa.” He seems to be used to it.

“Thank you. Haa-san. Why are you helping us?” I’m sure he has to be part of the mercenaries, so I suppose that he brought us to safety for a reason. Maybe to pick us up later with his comrades? This would explain why he knows about this burrow.

However, his answer is not what I expected, “He,” Haa-san points at Ken. “Ranger-pack. I care for pack.” …so Haa-san is a [Ranger] as well? Same as Ken or Oro’hekk? If I’m right, rangers are warriors and hunters of the alfar. Even non-alfar can be trained to be ones, which means Haa-san was once an apprentice of the alfar, maybe even the alfar of Aroahenn?

Now only two questions remain, “How do you know about Ken, and why help us, rather than your friends?”

Haa-san seems to be a hynoar of few words. “He wears hood. Squirrels told about hood. Coming from alfar village wearing a hood, I wasn’t sure. Until I arrived where he fought mercenary pack. Saw his tracks, could see how he moved and acted. No doubt a ranger.”

What exactly did Ken do when he was confronting the mercenaries before? How could it persuade Haa-san into helping us? “Isn’t he an enemy? Hasn’t he killed?”

“He did. Still, pack is important. Pack against pack, not good. Don’t want that. People died for the pack, that’s sad, but pack must survive. And…” Haa-san’s eyes wander into far realms, and he seems to think back, “Everyone who learned from alfar… I feel sympathy.”

“…I can feel you.” When I consider what I had to go through to learn [Herbalist] from Pavi’yorn-shishou, I surely understand what he means.

Everything she taught me about herbs was right, but she only included what was fun to her. Like how ingesting nittleborg in large amounts works as an aphrodisiac, while she left out that you rub it on your skin to ease muscle pain.

Once she also made me compound a powder by her teaching, then I had to apply it on myself. Then it started itching like crazy!

When she told me to drink that tea to ‘awaken’ my spiritual energy, which would lead me to use [Spirit Magic], it ended up with me being drunk! Good thing Ken was on an outing that day, since he would surely hold it against me forever.

Whenever I questioned if her next assignment was another prank, she would ask me if I wanted to abort my apprenticeship.

That’s the reason why I excessively studied all those books about herbs in the first place! I did my hardest not to let anybody find out about how humiliated, and made fun of I was on a daily basis.

Rine-chan, who also heard Haa-san’s words of sympathy, tilts her head. I wonder how her tutoring went if she can’t understand. Was she not harassed or did she not understand it as harassment? Both seem plausible in her case.

Haa-san continues, “You stay. I’ll rejoin fight. If mercenary pack wants to resume, I’ll lead them west. You go on south. City there, Goldbrunn.” The hynoar exits the burrow, and puts some seeds in the ground. Without even telling how it is possible, the seeds begin to sprout. “Soon cover.” Haa-san vanishes in the rain.

I fall on my behind and exhale. “We… we are safe, right?” I tear up, I feel how relieved I am. “Rine-chan, are we safe?”

“Yes!” Smiling like always, Rine-chan takes my hand in hers. “We’re safe!” She talks like she always knew that we’d be fine. No, she really was sure all this time.

The sprouts begin to grow twigs and their first leaves. Within minutes, there will be some bushes here that might cover the entrance to the burrow.

Maybe Haa-san will betray us; I couldn’t tell from his face.

He used [Spirit Magic] to make the monsters ignore us and to make these seeds grow, so him being a ranger seems plausible. Plus, hynoar care for their pack, and he considers Ken, who is also a [Ranger], as one of his pack. Just because of that coincidence, we might be saved.

Isn’t it fine? Isn’t it sometimes because of that one coincidence that your whole life might change? Can we actually be really lucky this time, to get away like this?

“I’m so glad.” Tears are running down my cheeks. “So glad.” Even if it’s too early to tell, I cling to the hope that this time at least, everything is alright. With this, I embrace Rine-chan by the hip and bury my face into her stomach.

“Hn?” Rine-chan is not sure what to do, but, after a while, I felt her hand rest on my head. A girl younger than me is comforting me, but I don’t care at this point.

This was the worst day ever, but this might be one of my happiest moments as well.

―○●○―

Given their respective numbers, a battle with moletons of that scale is demanding for the mercenaries, but not challenging,. At least, under normal circumstances.

The torrential rains brought another layer of difficulty to it, since, unlike the monsters, the mercenaries acted as a team by relying on each other. As a unit, muddy footing, wet clothing, and poor visibility are like sand in gears; it clogs their whole teamwork.

Further, there are only three spellcasters in this squad. That’s why, when the moletons appeared, the mercenaries went into a defensive position.

The squad leader yells in irritation as he stabs into one of the moletons with his halberd, trying to pin it down long enough for the two mercenaries at his side to finish it off. The squad leader is a human in his thirties. Once just a farmboy with aspirations, now he is a lieutenant of the Bloody Nose Mercenary Company. His talent in taking care of and taming animals made him the leader of a cavalry squad.

When the company leader asked him to catch up to the four kids, it was an honor. He even got Hrarks, one of the leader’s most trusted men and a ranger to boot, assigned to him. Rangers are admired in the Wildlands. Protectors of the wild, of the humans and other species, they are experts in hunting down monsters and criminals. There are only a few elven communities, and they are spread out to the farthest corners of the Wildlands, but some of them will train non-elven rangers, like Hrarks.

With Hrarks on their side, there seemed to be nothing that could go wrong. Even though that also meant that the company leader had decided that the target and her three allies were skilled enough to demand Hrarks’ skills.

Now they’re engaged with moletons as a cavalry in a muddy terrain. Good thing that the claws of their horses and riding lizards can guarantee some hold on the ground, but it’s still bad footing. For the moletons as well, but they don’t seem to care.

Why are they attacking the mercenaries in the first place? The squad leader doesn’t know, but the fierceness and timing of the assault make it hard not to consider some crazy theories, even though the squad leader tries to put them out of his mind. Fighting and surviving are enough!

Suddenly grass begins to grow, and the squad-leader exhales in relief. Hrarks is here! This is the kind of magic that a ranger would use. The hynoar-ranger stabs a moleton with his long-bladed spear, and steps towards the squad leader. “Suggest retreat.”

“Where have you been?” It’s not like the mercenaries are bad off currently, the situation is just unfavorable.

“Tried to find the quarry. Escaped. Too hard to look for them now. Nothing to gain by fighting.” Hrarks is right. Since the number of moletons just doesn’t seem to dwindle, retreating would be the better option.

“How many can you take with you?” One of Hrarks special spells lets him take some people with him unnoticed.

It’s something Hrarks has done in the past in order to lead covert ops through the battlefield to slay enemy leaders.

“Five with mounts.”

“Then look for the most wounded.” The squad leader takes a bugle from his saddle-horn and blows it; it was wet and hard to use due to the rain. Yet the signal for the rear to switch with the front, the fighting retreat, soon sounded out.

―○●○―

Wet from sweat and rain, the oni hears the sound of the retreat signal, and turns her head toward it. She can hardly see anything, and she doesn’t know the meaning of this noise, but it piques her interest.

Slowly she steps out of the forest, just to feel a stinging pain in her chest which makes her hurry back in. Her Master’s order still says to her that going out there might be deadly.

Why is her youki still so polluted? It doesn’t make sense!

She waits, and waits, and waits. After five minutes, she returns to her training.

Finally, when the sky is pitch-black and the rain continues to come down, the last of her wounds heal, and she is back at full strength. With this she can at last leave the forest. As an oni, she has no problem seeing in the dark, but there is nothing left standing: No mercenaries, no living moletons, no Katakata and friends, only dead bodies lying on the ground, all of them moletons at first glance.

Time to look at the corpses. With brute strength, the oni picks up corpses and hurls them away. There are a few humans and a hynoar, but no Katakata, no bro, no sis, and no lynxy.

One of the squirrels, which stayed by the oni’s side, comes up to her. She picks it up and asks, “Do you know where they are?” The oni isn’t very smart, so she is bad at thinking about possibilities and options, so when she is confronted with a riddle like that, the oni just relies on others.

―○●○―

Hello, Rine here!

Finally, Kyou is asleep. She was on the brink of total exhaustion, but still insisted on making the preparations for the bedding at least. Now she lies on the prepared bedding on Kenta’s right side, while Ara lies on his left.

My arm hurts really bad, but Kyou did her best to make it as painless as possible. Looks like it will heal soon, much faster than it should, as long as I don’t use it. So that’s being a hero, being able to recover quickly.

Somewhere I messed up today, and Gottfried always told me that I should at least try to think about how it happened and how to avoid making it again.

The oni struck me from behind; she was sneaky. I could only sense the danger at the moment she was already raising her fist, so next time I have to be faster. I was too slow to dodge, so I counterattacked instead, but if I had been faster I could have done both at the same time.

I’m a hero now, so I have to start acting like one. I can’t be beaten up every time I face a bit of danger. That’s not how heroes work.

I now have a broken arm. This will make training that much harder. Especially since Kyou said that I should rest.

Doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything. I open up the status; it’s still something I have to get used to. Moving my right hand more or less helps me focus on operating the system. Then I select [Tailor] to change class, and I feel how a wave goes through my body.

Whenever I become a [Tailor], some muscles change. I feel more power in my fingers and less in my legs, and the way I move my fingers while handling needles and such is much smoother.

I pick up my current work from the backpack. It will be a pajama for me, designed from Kyou’s, because hers are too small for me. If I wear a pajama, maybe I can sleep next to Kenta as well.

My left arm might be broken, and I shouldn’t try to use my hand, but that doesn’t mean I can’t sew a bit. I just need to use my teeth whenever the needle goes through the cloth. At some point, I may mend the clothes which got ripped open today, but they are still wet right now, so I had better wait until they dry.

Too bad that a fire would be a bad idea now. We’re hiding, and the smoke would fill the burrow, but it’s becoming cold. It’s also dark, but it doesn’t hinder me much for some reason. Maybe it’s because Gottfried tried to teach me to feel the surroundings instead of seeing it. I don’t know what that means, but I can somehow handle sewing in the dark as long as I concentrate on my fingers.

Maybe it’s because I’m a hero now.

Soon I will have my own pajama. Then I can sleep next to Kenta. Feeling his warmth, smelling his scent, hearing his sounds, and he’ll be the first thing I’ll see when I wake up. “*giggle*” This must be heaven.

He became a bit kinder to me. Maybe he is overcoming his shyness. That’s so cute, being all shy, even though both of us love each other. It could be that he doesn’t realize it. Kenta might be smart, but even smart people can be oblivious sometimes.

Thinking about how it would be, if Kenta actually doesn’t love me makes my heart hurt, so I just don’t.

Ah, I remember something!

I slowly crawl to Kenta, who is still sleeping. He is in his most muscular form, the form I like the least. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the tingling behind my navel when I look at him, or the fire in my lungs, or the pounding of my heart.

No reaction. Usually, Kenta will wake up if I try to get close to him when he’s asleep, but this time he does nothing. Maybe because he’s all muscular currently, so his hearing went into his biceps?

I remove the blanket and mount him. The tingling behind my navel become more intense. I feel like I’m breathing fire, and I can hear my heart pumping my blood throughout my whole body.

Finally, my chance!

I snuggle my body against him, since Kyou and I removed his armor, and I also donned mine off with her help. It’s almost direct body contact. My chest lying on his, and our legs intertwining. My broken arm hurts when I press my body to his, but my head feels all light in the bliss of the moment.

My face is directly looking at his. It’s too dark to tell much, but I can still see his face clearly in my mind. Not handsome, but he’s so cool and he could look very attractive if he ever made another expression.

His black hair and eyes would suggest that he’s from the south, while his skin color refutes it. A man from a strange land, a hero.

He’s as tall as me, but doesn’t that make us just that much more of a perfect match?

The way he acts toward me, without any sort of respect. He gets angry at me. A lot. That’s how much he cares about me.

My hand wanders to his cheek. I think he just shivered. My nose is touching his.

Time to do it.

Slowly my face descends, my nose strokes his cheek. I’m about there. My cheek rubs his, then they meet, our ears.

Ear-plugging, the form of alfr connection which is practically a kiss for humans. Kenta doesn’t want to kiss yet, but he will have nothing against ear-plugging, I’m sure.

My ear is touching his; they’re rubbing each other.

… …

… … …

That’s it. It doesn’t feel good or anything. Maybe it’s because we’re humans, but this moment is undoubtedly intimate.

Kenta didn’t ear-plug with Kyou or Ara before, so this is mine, this first ear-plugging of his. “*giggle*” I feel my face burning, it feels so good.

Happiness.

All over my body.

It makes it squirm. It washes away the exhaustion and the pain.

Kenta and I did ear-plug.

I didn’t ask him, but this is now mine. Mine.

Ah, I took it without his consent, but he will forgive me since it’s him. Kenta is kind.

My face hurts because I am smiling that hard.

I should return to night-watch. That’s what my task is currently. The moment I go off his body, mine feels the regret and loneliness, but I have to endure it.

“wrrr…” Some strange sound escapes Kenta’s mouth. Ah, it’s not only Kenta, Ara and Kyou are doing the same. I see. They’re shivering. It’s cold after all.

But making a fire would be dangerous, so how can I get them to be warmer?

This might work. I take Kyou by the shoulder and roll her to the side, slowly putting her hand on Kenta’s chest. Then I do the same for Ara. Finally, I put the blankets over all three of them. This way, they’ll share their warmth.

I envy them. All three of them are now lying together, I want to be part of that as well. It looks warm and comfy.

Ara makes a very pleased sound, she seems to be having a good time. Kyou’s right hand on Kenta’s chest moves a bit, but then her fingers clench into his shirt.

Kenta is making sounds, which I can’t even describe. He just has to feel good.

“*giggle*” It makes me happy that he feels well, my dear husband. Even though we might be sinners who deserve to burn, it doesn’t make us any less husband and wife, and when my dear husband feels good, it makes me a good wife as well. Now he has it all warm and comfy.

As long as I don’t think about the whole sin-business, it’s just like a dream. I just need to figure out how Kyou and Ara exactly fit into my dream, and then all of us will be happy.

Also I’d better not think of Feuerberg for the time being. Somehow I turned my back on it, but I will return someday. Before that though, I need to become a splendid hero. Like the other heroes, I need to train and develop before I can partake in the war as one.

Traveling with Kenta, Kyou, and Ara will surely turn me into one. All of them are real heroes, people from other worlds, who are destined for greatness. They will guide me to how to become as splendid as they will eventually become.

Then I will return and make Feuerberg safe again. After that, I will try to talk to Father, so that he will overlook the sin we committed.

Oh, but he will be furious that we wed without making the proper rituals. Would only Kenta need to go through the challenges, or Kyou and Ara as well?

Also, when should we start with making babies? We need them soon because it’s important to have heirs. Even though the moment we do so, it’ll be hard to return to the adventurous life.

How should we call them? Since Kenta would marry into my family, they would carry the ‘von Stolzherz’-name. Then he will be Kenta von Stolzherz as well. Would Kyou and Ara also change their names?

This is becoming complicated. Maybe that’s the reason marrying more than one person is considered a sin.

―○●○―

“Karina von Stolzherz? No, that’s only my name. How do I get Kenta’s name into it?” I slowly open my eyes because someone is rambling some nonsense, and waking me up. The smell of earth and mud is strong, and a bit of light shines through the bushes at the entrance. It’s still the burrow that Haa-san showed Rine-chan and me, but something is strange.

Not only Rine-chan’s voice, but there is also the sound of breathing. I look into Arako’s face. It’s as expressionless as always, but her weak left ear sometimes twitches. She’s still asleep. She looks almost like a corpse.

She’s still asleep, but the deeper breathing is what alarms me. I look up and see Ken’s sleeping face. I have only a few opportunities to see it since he tends to be the first one awake, but it looks even more annoyed than usual.

What kind of dreams does he have when he even looks like that while asleep?

My head is on his chest, same as my right hand. It almost seems like I’m snuggling up to him, but, thinking about it, there is no way that I would do that.

I have a suspicion.

“Kerine? But what kind of name is that?” Most likely it was her.

It doesn’t change the fact, that I’m in this position. Yet my body doesn’t move. Normally, I should have some sort of reflex kicking in, but it’s not. Maybe because of the headache and the running nose. I feel terrible. My cold got worse, and I have muscle pain all over my body, but mostly in my right arm and in my legs.

That’s the reason why I’m still lying like this; I just don’t want to move.

There will be a point when I have to, but I still want to sleep a bit, to just close my eyes and continue. I have the feeling that I had a pleasant dream, even though I can’t remember it. I want to resume it.

But, taking another look at Kenta and Ara, I just get the feeling that I have to get up. Both of them wore themselves out yesterday, so now I have to take care of them.

First, I’ll try to make something easy to eat. Rine-chan should also eat something and get some sleep. She was up the whole night, despite all that happened yesterday.

I slowly lift my head. I guess the first thing I need to do is to swallow a cold medicine pill.

The moment I flake my body off Ken’s, I feel the cold air. Something like regret is building up inside, but someone has to take charge here, and that’s me.

So much to do, even though we won’t do anything other than resting for today.

I just hope that Haa-san stays true to his word and that he’s safe.

Thank you, Haa-san.

Looking at Rine-chan, whose eyes are red from sleep-deprivation, while she is thinking about things I don’t even want to know, I can’t help but smile.

Thank you, Rine-chan.

I swallow a cold medicine, and turn my eyes to Arako, who is the frailest of us all despite having the highest level. She did so much yesterday, taking her body over her limits.

Thank you, Arako.

Finally, I take a glance at Ken, who just had to overdo it and end up like this, just to be where he was needed in the nick of time.

Thank you, Ken.

Previous Chapter Volume Page Epilogue
Advertisements