Proofreader: Orion Dye
“You enjoy it, right?”
“Yes, I do.”
Looking at Kyou-san, who flashes a fake smile at me, I can’t help but feel all unnerved. My body listens to almost nothing I do, and now she serves me a cold, slimy soup, which tastes like something you’d pick up off the ground.
Most likely she did pick up these ingredients.
The worst of all is she’s feeding me, since I can’t even hold a spoon without shivering so much that the swill will fall from it! Enjoying my helpless state, she put the spoon right in front of my face so that I have to engulf it with my mouth like someone desperate.
At least I can speak clearly again.
I vaguely know about what happened yesterday, before I arrived at the oni fight and after I passed out. I think this kind of torture Kyou-san is giving me is payback for how I struggled back then.
More or less some stupid coincidence ended up saving us. We have no idea, what exactly the mercenaries are up to, how Correo and his oni will act, or anything else, so being all helpless and unknowing is grinding my nerves.
Next to me is Ara-san, who was already fed, while Rine is currently sleeping in another corner of the burrow.
“And you think we should head south? To… What is it called, Ara-san?”
“It’s Goldbrunn.” I already knew about a city being there but, if I trust Ara-san’s information, while it may be on the larger side, it’s rather uninteresting for us. Basically just people gathering and making a profit of the road to Feuerberg.
The only thing we could do there is to gear up a bit, but we had already done that in Aroahenn, so it’s more or less unnecessary. Well, I thought so before encountering the mercenaries. Now I think about buying some horses or other mounts there. We need the speed! For some reason, people are after Rine, and I can’t part from her without triggering the curse.
Maybe we can get some other stuff there, too. In Aroahenn it was a bit alfr-themed, and we used up some SP-pots the last few days, not to mention the number of bombs I used for trapping the mercenaries, I just hope we have enough money for what all might come in handy.
“Phew… alright. Goldbrunn it i-” With this, Kyou-san thrusts the spoon right into my mouth, causing me to cough.
Seriously, this girl knows how to hold a grudge!
In the commanding tent of the Bloody Nose Mercenary Company, the leader and commander of the company, Bloody-Nosed Ikkslibit, looks at a rough map of the surroundings. Getting accurate maps of this landscape is hard, since civilization is mostly concentrated on the roads, so he had his mappers make these.
Ikkslibit is an older hynoar, his fur already graying. He got his nickname on his first mission as a newbie mercenary when he got smacked in the face, causing his nose to bleed. Though he was the one who took down the monster that they were hunting, somehow the name stuck, and since then he has used it for years.
He is just known as Bloody-Nosed Ikkslibit.
Now he is an experienced mercenary leader, fulfilling a request. The whole operation seemed too easy to be true, and Ikkslibit hoped that they just had to wait out the time that Correo set, but the target came in their direction instead.
Despite having around 400 people, they had to take care of all of the southwest of Aroahenn by making safe points and fortified camps, and such.
Since there was no guarantee that the departure of the target would be seen, Ikkslibit had to spread his men over a vast region. However, these strange squirrels could communicate from afar, so the messages were able to go around. Generally, the plan wasn’t bad. Under normal circumstances that is.
You can’t consider everything, so simple plans are the best when you don’t know much. Having the troops spread out, and moving them to encircle the target was easy enough, but one vital information was missing. A ranger is among the target’s companions.
It may not seem like much, but rangers are quite troublesome if you try to corner them. They’re experts in getting out of tight spots, using stealth, deadliness, and even nature itself.
In the Wildlands, rangers are revered as some kind of demi-heroes. Some of the elven communities in the very corners of the land are training people to become rangers, who help the people of the Wildlands on their own account.
Considering their skills and reputation, no mercenary would like to fight one, especially unprepared. Yet, at some point one of his squad-leaders was too careless. Now he’s dead, along with some of his men.
A small loss in numbers, a huge loss in morals.
That’s the reason Ikkslibit sent Hrarks after the target. Hrarks is also a ranger, but is most likely more experienced than the boy called Kenta.
When Correo described the three humans, he didn’t mention that the kid was already a ranger at his age. What a blunder. Ikkslibit hoped for Correo that he didn’t know, since this alone would have raised the price of the mission.
If you go against a ranger then the compensation had better be big, it’s too much of a loss in reputation and manpower otherwise.
For Rine, their target, he has prepared his spellcasters to use non-lethal means to take her down. She is supposed to be a superbly talented fighter, as good as Ikkslibit’s best men in combat. That was hard to swallow. Ikkslibit, Hrarks, and others in the company are forces to be reckoned with, but sometimes there is just someone with that much polished talent.
Then there is the other human girl, this Kyou, and an alfr girl whose name Ikkslibit doesn’t know, and wasn’t part of the original request.
He had already thought of it, but a group of young, talented people, may be heroes, but he accounted for it, so it should have worked out in the end. Inexperienced heroes are a threat, but still nothing his mercenaries couldn’t handle.
In the end, Ikkslibit couldn’t exactly tell where it started to turn out this way. Everything is still doable, but somehow his instincts tell him that something is off about these kids.
Considering that all of them are heroes, some of them might have been here since early childhood. So if this Rine has been a hero since she was 5 years old or so, then she might have ten years of experience as a hero. The thought is frightening, but it’s still manageable with the right tools.
Maybe the problem is Correo and his demon. Ikkslibit has been employed by some twisted customers in the past, so he didn’t mind the stench of wickedness around Correo. However, now that Ikkslibit feels the pulse of the mission, the air of the chase, something tells him that he should abort it.
Hynoars have a sharp instinct. Something went wrong here and even if he doesn’t know what, he can still sense this wrongness.
Yes, Ikkslibit feels like he knows what is making him so cautious. The fact that there were too few monsters around, while a horde of them attacked his cavalry out of nowhere. That’s what really stank here.
Of course his men eradicated some of the monsters around here to make their camps, but still, there should have been more on the move. Yet the moment that his cavalry closed in, they were attacked by moletons, which don’t even have their habitat nearby.
“Commander!” His tent-guard looks inside. “Haa is back.”
“Send him in.”
The hynoar ranger doesn’t lose any time and strides in. His smell is almost non-existent, which makes it hard to figure him out. “Back.”
The same goes for his few words. “Which direction did they go?”
Ikkslibit is no idiot. Hrarks didn’t say that the target went north, but that the company should look north. Since Ikkslibit interacted with many species, he became better at figuring his own out.
“I see.” But Hrarks is an hynoar as well, so he thinks of the pack. If he thinks that it’d be better for the pack if they go north, then Ikkslibit won’t disagree.
Some mercenaries, mostly humans, believe that it’s important as mercenaries to fulfill every contract as well as possible, but that’s not the case. You do the work in the contract and just try to make it as easy as possible, while preserving your strength.
If Hrarks, as the ranger, tells the company to go north, then Ikkslibit can tell Correo that. If Correo has a problem with it, Ikkslibit will personally tear his throat out with his teeth. Ikkslibit is a hynoar and the pack comes first, not some merchant, who gives uncertain information, and somehow is involved in stuff that won’t set well with the pack.
So the Bloody Nose Mercenary Brigade moves north.
By using the whistle, the oni had played all her cards, and it’s bad. She has to look for Katakata, but she doesn’t know where she is. She doesn’t know where the mercenaries are, and can’t afford to lose time looking for them.
But going back to Master seems like a dumb idea, since it was her who messed up. If she had waited longer, then the mercenaries would have either captured Katakata, or hurt her and her friends enough so that the whistle-summoned moletons would have finished them off.
Totally messed up the timing!
But if she gets Katakata herself, then that failure will be forgiven. It must! Because, if it’s not forgiven, Master will use ‘that,’ and she hates it sooooooo much, if he uses ‘that.’ He has done it only twice so far, but that was two times more than she could bear!
She still has the item, which will lead her to the heroes, but it needs to charge for two days. So for that time, she has to look using the squirrels, but now they’re scattered all over the place since the mercenaries were handling most of them.
They will surely return to Master, but with the few she has left, she might still find them and get them. Katakata has a broken arm so, as long as she finds a way to get rid of the other two, the oni will surely win!
So the oni started her search in a panic.
Goldbrunn. The lord mayor of the city is sitting in his office with a woman in shiny armor. A golden emblem is worked into her chest-piece, a claw clenching the blade of a sword. The lord mayor looked at the woman. In her late forties, her graying, dirty blond hair was cut as short as a man’s.
The woman’s name is Lady Tiferia Alchenain, and she’s one of the Knight Commanders of the Crusaders. “Lord Mayor, we took care of the surrounding monsters like you asked.”
The Crusaders are a free military force, supported by many countries and temples. They are the fire that purifies the scourges of the world, an elite force of people blessed with the power of skills and spells, almost like heroes.
“Lady Alchenain, I’m thankful.” Like most people, the lord mayor is a little afraid of the Crusaders, and she is one of their ten Knight Commanders with one thousand soldiers under her banner. However, he can’t act too meekly, Goldbrunn is still a city-state, which makes him the head of a nation even though he may not be nobility. Few are in the Wildlands.
“You don’t need to be. I just want you to uphold your part of the agreement. Twenty of my men garrisoned inside your city for investigation and resupply. We need to purge the demon threat in the east, but before that, we need to make sure that it didn’t spread to here.”
“Sure.” Twenty Crusaders in the city, and one hundred outside. It’s like having a village of Crusaders outside the city walls, but it was worth it considering that the Crusaders cleaned up the north and south of the trading route from monsters, making a year of peaceful and lucrative travel possible, it was worth it.
Especially since the Crusaders will just leave for Feuerberg anyway.
Lady Alchenain smiles like a kind mother. “Excellent. The commander of the Crusaders in Goldbrunn will be my son, Sir Archibald Alchenain. Let me call for him so that I can introduce the two of you.” She doesn’t ask, but she still leaves him the option to refuse. This is the fine line between obligatory politeness to the head of a nation, as insignificant it may be, and the habit of being in charge.
“My Lady, where will you be heading?”
“West. There are still many of my men in other towns and cities, and it’s time to gather them.”
The conflict in the east, the war between the humans of Feuerberg and the demons of Daemonicus, will soon become much fiercer.
The mayor just hopes that Goldbrunn will be spared.
Feuerberg. In the study of the king, the chancellor just finished his war report.
“So the heroes at the border are growing successfully. Ask Rüdiger if there are any soldiers we can spare. Now that the combat heroes are independent, we need to support the non-combatants.”
“Yes, your majesty. Regarding those heroes, we have some good news. Yamaguchi-dono’s cooking techniques are almost passed down, and it looks like our efforts to grow rice will turn out well.”
“That is really good news.” The new staple food imported from the south, with the farming techniques of the heroes, will raise the amount and diversity of food in Feuerberg. This will keep the citizens well-fed and give them the feeling of a better quality of life. It’s a good way to suppress rebellions.
“But, regarding Saegusa-dono, there is still no progress.”
“I see. Let’s give her a month before we press her. She was a teacher of these students, so if we’re too rash, then it might turn the others against us. How about Taniguchi-dono?”
“At least he keeps the scholars entertained.” The chancellor scrunches his nose up. He doesn’t believe that the teacher’s new mathematics will have much of an impact anytime soon.
“Anything else worth reporting now regarding these heroes?”
“Nothing much, but the master artisans are excited to meet some of them.”
“I see. How about the transfer of Inoue-dono and his party?” Inoue-dono and his party underwent special training in Esse over the last three weeks, and now they’ve successfully classed-up. The plan is to send them to the dwarves, no, the dari, in the east. They’re allies of Feuerberg, and even though they may demand a lot, they can show them how to get stronger, and maybe even teach them their class-ups.
Cultivating a hero is a very difficult task, and it takes some time, but still much less than training a soldier for similar results. Further, that soldier needs to be talented, while every hero can become terrifically strong, no matter how useless they were before.
However, if someone as talented as Inoue-dono becomes a hero and is cultivated right…
“Ralf, what about the other thing.” This is a matter of the heart for the king.
“Yes. We can send them out soon.”
Prince Eberhardt is already declared as the new crown prince, but after almost a month, they are finally ready, the search party for Katarine.
At the gates of Goldbrunn, a tattered looking old man is sitting in front of the gate. He has a raddled cape around his body, his skin is stained from dirt, and his gray-white beard and hair look like they haven’t seen much care in a long time.
He is sitting there until the guards have time to take a look at him. He looks like a vagabond, so they will most likely try to find a reason not to let him into the city, but he wants to stay there for a few days before he travels west. After traveling so far, he just intends to rest for a few days where he doesn’t have to care about monsters. Afterward it will be west.
He has a date with the future and the past.
The people formerly known as Hoshibashi and Yoshimura are accompanying Correo. They are in a faraway land, in a long-forgotten palace. The ceiling shows stars and constellations that none of them have ever seen before.
Correo lead them to a pair of bronze double-doors. “Stay on your knees, keep your eyes low and only talk, if M’lady speaks to you. She has little patience for those without the proper manners, so please, do yourself and me a favor, and just let me do the talking.”
The wizard, formerly known as Yoshimura, decided upon the name Lent Wood. It seems only appropriate to use a new name for a new person, and Lent’s memories about his former life were given to him without any form of emotional attachment.
His partner has already decided upon the name Star Killer, even if it sounds rather stupid, but that’s what he wants to be called, so it’s his business.
Lent and Star are about to meet the person that Correo is working for. It’s not a demon supposedly, it’s much more, but Lent wants to see it before believing it.
“Ready?” Correo removes his hat while asking. He put some effort to make his hair and beard look proper. “Then, let’s go.” He opens the door.
The room behind the doors is something between a night sky and a throne room. At the ceiling are crystals, which shine gently like stars. The walls are painted like woods, mountains, and the vast sea. A stronger light was produced by a single yellow crystal, like a moon. The floor is hard stone, but green carpets are lying around, like patches of grass. At the back of the room stands a throne made out of silver, and engraved with depictions of stars, moons, and owls all over it.
Amidst all of it stands a woman. Her clothes are dark and flowing, reminding one of a kimono. Her long, midnight blue hair is falling straight down, but something is special about it. There are lights in her hair, like stars. It’s like she has the night sky as hair, and it blends into the room, while overshadowing it at the same time. Protruding out from her hair is some sort of hair accessory, like wings. No, those are real feathers growing out of her head. Owl-feathers. For some reason, Lent just knew that.
The woman turns her face their way. She has subtle, round eyebrows, like some archaic Japanese beauty. Her nose is almost non-existent, but what really caught Lent’s attention are her eyes. The eyeballs are pitch-black, but the eyes themselves are full moons. Literal full moons, they look like they could float in any night sky.
«Correo, you made Us wait.» The full moons narrowed sideways, making them half moons.
Her voice is something else. It vibrates through Lent’s whole being, and he feels like he looks at his mother, despite the fact that he has forgotten how this feels. Star’s jaw is just falling, and he stares at her like an idiot.
“On your knees!” Correo warns them with a soft voice. Lent and Star fall to their knees immediately, almost like they worship this woman. Correo also goes on his knees. “M’lady, I brought you a present.”
«Of course you did.» The woman is talking like Correo just declared, that he breathes. «You promised Us them, and told Us that you need to prepare them, so you made Us wait for what is already Ours!»
“M’lady, I needed to get both of them in a better shape, before I blemish your eyes with their wretchedness.”
«Then you did well, Correo.» The eyes of the woman became crescent moons. «But We have little patience. Remember it.»
Correo certainly made Lent and Star train a lot, making them raise their level and perform class-ups, so that they will be of use. “Yes, M’lady.”
«You two, what are your names?»
Lent gulps. “Lent Wood.”
«You smell like sin! Oh, changing your names, while denouncing your former ones. What an evil sin. But We don’t mind. Or We won’t.»
Lent and Star don’t know what she means, but they don’t dare to ask her either.
«Lent and Star. Listen to Us. You are bad. You’re worth nothing, because you have sinned. Don’t despair though. If you swear allegiance to Us then We’ll accept you. Be thankful.» The way she talks, the way she just thinks that everything she does is just and makes sense, it makes her different. «So, Star and Lent, become Our heroes! Stand at Our side and make Our wish come true, so that We can make yours real as well!»
Correo told them that the lady is something else, something more.
Not a mortal, but a goddess. A goddess, who will accept them as her heroes, giving them support and a purpose. They were summoned to slay the demon king, but now they don’t need to. If they follow a new deity, then they get a new mission, a new purpose.
For Lent and Star, who lost part of themselves, someone who would give them directions until their new personalities are fully formed, is something to welcome.
“Please, take care of us!”
Since their minds are still so impressionable, they are like pudding in the hands of the goddess.
However, Lent has one question left. “My goddess, What is your sacred name?”
«Oh? Correo, you didn’t tell them?»
“M’lady, I didn’t want to be too hasty.”
«You’re prudent for a mortal, Correo. Our heroes, be in awe as you hear Our name. The divine Us is called-»
Hearing the name baffled Lent and Star, in more than one sense.
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