Chapter 5-3

Proofreader: Orion Dye

 

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.

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