Chapter 5-2

Artist: MioChin

Proofreader: Orion Dye

 

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?

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