Epilogue

Epilogue

Proofreader: Orion Dye

“Here is your reward. It’s not much, but the Chief Captain gave a bonus for Katsuragi-san’s treatment of the wounded. Including that, it comes to 6,560 Newgold.”

I’m in [Student]-class and wearing my old hide armor as I take the reward. “Thanks.”

“You’ve worked hard!”

“We’ve done practically nothing..”

“I know, I know. You’ve ‘really’ done nothing. I mean, erm, you know, right?” No I don’t, and stop winking at me! It gives me goosebumps! “Also, take this letter.”

It’s a letter. A letter of recognition with the seal of Goldbrunn. We, the Lion’s Squad, just went up a Rank and are now officially mercenaries. “Thank you?”

“I promised your sister. Also, Chief Captain Welmar recommended you! Actually, I- nevermind.” What’s up with him? “Nonetheless, what’s your plan now?”

“We’re leaving right now. We want to join the hunt.”

“Good luck.” A wink again.

“Phew, thanks.”

Of course what I said is a load of bullshit. We just want to get away while we can. Still, skipping the reward wouldn’t make sense. I might want to return here when there are no Crusaders, you know.

I really want to go, as people are starting to look at me strangely. I think it’s what Kyou-san did when she attained her new skills, [Rumor Mill] and [Glorification], though I have no idea exactly what she did, and she’s not telling me either.

Whatever it is, people started to notice me even more, so I want to get away as fast as possible. Soon we leave the gates of Goldbrunn, showing the marks we got when we entered it a few days ago to pass the checkpoint, only to see a single Crusader waiting for us. “Wait.” He looks somewhat distressed. “I have orders to hold you. I’m sorry, Miss Katsuragi, but the commander-” He can’t say anything more.

The reason? Ara-san just gouged his eyes with her fingers. “I need to conduct an experiment soon, so please don’t waste my time.” Is she talking about the one that she wants to do with me? Is she that eager? She uses her staff and sweeps that Crusader to the ground, somehow she looks sovereign.

Kyou-san uses some of her sleep paste and rubs it in his face. “I really thought this was hard to use before.”

What’s wrong with these two!? They look so… strangely tough.

Is Rine actually a bad influence on them? Or maybe a good one?

It creeps me out! Since meeting that oni in Goldbrunn, everything is creeping me out!

We travel fast while giving the Crusader’s tents a wide berth, and walk straight into the evening. The camp is set up quickly, and we steered away from the road, trying to get as much space between the Crusaders and us as possible.

For some reason, Kyou-san doesn’t scold me for what happened in Goldbrunn. She just says: “The main point is that you’re alright.” This is strange, so I’d better assume that whatever she did with her [Conversation]-skills was directed against me.

Maybe she spread the rumor that I’m impotent, and that’s the reason why people started to act nicer, checking me out to reconfirm their own manliness, or something else entirely. The more I think about what it may be, the more I realize I don’t give a fuck. In the end, worrying won’t get me anywhere.

In the evening, I take the first watch, together with Ara-san. She sometimes looks at me, as if she is trying to say something, but she doesn’t know how to begin. It’s kinda cute, but that’s the curse speaking.

“Phew, just say it already.”

“…I’m trying to find the right words.”

“It’s about that ‘experiment,’ right?”

“Yes.”

“So, what is it?”

“…something delicate. However, you’re right. It’s not the time to hesitate, so please sit down and let me do the rest.”

“Fine, fine.” What exactly is that experiment she is talking about?

She goes behind me and takes me into a hug. “Nothing…”

“Is that everything?” This is odd. Somehow I’m kinda torn between the unpleasantness of body contact and something else, which totally agrees with making even more contact.

“No… there is still one thing left.” Her cheek brushes mine, then she puts her ear on mine.

What is tha-

Wa! Ah, this… what’s this, this feels… what’s happening? It’s like my ear suddenly got all sensitive, and it seems to be sucked into the sensation of touching Ara-san’s, which trembles. It feels… so good.

“Huah…huahh…good…ah…” Ara-san is also feeling it. How do I know?

What’s that? Something just passed my mind, something… what? Who? Me? Ara-san? Too much, too much information!

Emotions, thoughts, everything seems so much more, so expansive, but somehow muddy, it’s strange, but this sensation is the best!

“Kenta-kun…” Ara-san presses her ear with more force on mine, but I don’t mind, something primal is happening here. This… whatever it is, whatever it is supposed to be…

I also press my ear harder on hers. We’re surrounded, surrounded by something, we always were. Spirits. Did [Wild Eyes] activate? No, this feels much more common. It’s like comparing a focused glare with a nonchalant look.

Emotions are welling up inside and crashing down, writing a symphony. Confusion, curiosity, lust, and many other things I’ve never felt before. Words are flying through my mind, I can’t understand them.

It’s a kaleidoscope!

You gain 15 WP.
Finally! The two of you have ear-plugged. This is something only lovers of the alfar are supposed to do. You have an experience that no human has ever been able to have before.

Connected like this, you’re sharing something precious.

Ear-plugging? Isn’t that more or less like kissing for alfar? What… what am I doing right now!?

…Ara-san… practically kissed me. But it was something different, something entirely different.

She slowly retreats from my ear, and the sensations wane, something seems to have been broken. Now everything feels so… normal. Also strange at the same time.

“…” She takes some distance, I follow her with my eyes, see how she flicks her red ears while mumbling. “This was… different? Maybe?” She must be really disturbed because she doesn’t talk to her self usually. “Kenta-kun, did- no, you did feel it. Even though I’ve never done it before, it was unmistakably a true spirit connection.”

I better ask her what she’s talking about. “Eh… erm… ah…” After I have my voice back. My fingers tremble while touching my ear, the same ear that was connected. But the sensation is so numb and dull.

“I still think it’s different, my sight was unfocused, it was almost like seeing through the eyes of someone else… and these smells! Smells stronger than ever before, smells I’ve never noticed. In addition to these emotions… Kenta-kun, I think I got an impression of what it is to live as a human.”

What… what’s wrong with Ara-san? Her voice is so… lively? I’m about to speak, but I feel every muscle movement of my face like for the first time, I didn’t even know how many muscles are used to move my mouth. “Why?”

“Today, I got connected, with Momo and Katarine-san. It was faint, and something felt off, so I had to see if it’s the same and…” She blinks several times, and suddenly her excitement drops. “That was strange.” She is back to her normal behavior, her voice and movements are much calmer. “I think, that the effect of having a spirit connection with a human is causing some side effects.”

I also feel how this strangeness subsides. “What happened to you girls?”

“I don’t know… maybe it was just the strength of a real spirit connection, but it felt different back then. I’ll order my thoughts, then maybe I can tell you.” She gets her writing set out of the backpack and starts noting everything down.

Order your thoughts, huh? Good idea.

I open up my status, this is typically enough for me to change gears, though I can’t help but glance over at Ara-san sometimes.

You practically kissed me out of curiosity! And now I can’t stop thinking about it…

“Ara-san?”

“Yes?”

“Are we… I mean, the ear-plug and…”

“So you’re asking if there is more than just curiosity involved?”

“…phew… something along those lines. I just need to make things clear here.” Before I make any assumptions.

“I’ll be honest here: I don’t know anymore. I’m confronted with many emotions I’ve never felt before, many thoughts I’ve never thought before, and everything seems to revolve around you, but I know that it started with the curse. It’s interesting and strangely satisfying, but I don’t know anymore.”

“So why did you ear-plug me?”

“I’m still ordering my thoughts, but I think it stems from the general horniness I’m subjected to when I’m around you. Plus other factors, I still don’t understand. However, if you want to know, if I’m interested in a romantic relationship with you: Currently not.”

…’currently?’

Wait, cut it out! She just means that it’s still within the realm of possibility like it’s possible that I’ll be struck by lightning right now.

I’m just acting like a virgin here… dammit, I’m still a virgin! I had no chance to get laid, after all! So the whole reason why I went to the pleasure district in the first place, is still unfulfilled.

“Phew…” …I better check my status.

…my [Spirit Magic]-Rank went up by 2! I’ve got another [Spell] in the process? Already? I mean, I just checked a few hours ago, since then I didn’t use [Spirit Magic] much!

It has to be because of…

Did I just steal some of Ara-san’s knowledge on how to use [Spirit Magic]? This [Spell]…

Interesting.

Little do I know about the mayhem that’s going to happen when we wake up Kyou-san and Rine for the shift-change.

 

―○●○―

 

With the favor somewhat repaid, the old man is on his way west while wearing his cloak again. Even though barbarians like him tend to go topless for several reasons, he’s now old and the cold is getting to him.

How he knew that the ranger was the one who caused all this ruckus? A mix of instinct and knowing people. Guys like him are often subjected to trouble, mostly self-inflicted.

The boy’s eyes are nice. Small, mean, but they show that under a sheet of complaints and whining is a core out of steel. Someone who knows pain, someone who knows how to endure pain, he just needs to mature. That is the hardest part, but he will do fine.

The black haired girl is a feisty one. She has another kind of strength: The strength of being able to care for others. If you are on her good side, she will do everything to keep you safe, but she also looks a bit conflicted.

The blonde one is genuine. Maybe not the brightest tool in the shed, but gifted with so much talent, that it’s overflowing. If he were twenty years younger, he would have like to fight with her and then seduce her. … Let’s make it thirty years.

The alfr girl is an alfr. He hasn’t had much contact with them because they often stay in their forests, the few ones seen outside there are treated like calamity. He fought some of their heroes before, good times. How long ago? Sixty years maybe.

An interesting bunch of kids. The new generation. He messed up his own, so it’s nice to see some promising young adults out there. Maybe he will see them again. For now, it’s west to Ohlbrücken. It’s the easiest way to cross the river, Ohl.

Zethtrin, that’s where he wants to go. What the oracle told him: The connection between a broken past, his old present, and what he left behind for the world.

Though, wherever he goes his enemies will tremble in terror. That is how the worth of a barbarian is measured, and he just reaffirmed it.

Today, the old man is in a very good mood.

 

―○●○―

 

“They did what!?” Sir Archibald Alchenain, commander of the Crusaders in Goldbrunn, and son of Knight Commander Tiferia Alchenain is furious.

There are few things that can make this man angry, but sinners are one of them. The Divine Laws are absolute, they are simple, so why would anyone want to break them and therefore risk the annihilation of their whole species?

No one knows how many sinners are needed for the gods to eradicate the species, and there are no numbers on how many of them are out there. So few are able to detect those sinners, to feel how something inside them is dark, and so very, very wrong. Twisted. Dangerous.

Sir Alchenain really wants to follow this sinner, put him to justice, for the world, also for his own ego, which got some damage. He underestimated that one, that sinner who was clad as a ranger.

His skin tone was unusual and now he lost two suspects with similar colors. Maybe the brother is the sinner even though his build wouldn’t suggest it. Sir Alchenain just needs to see him up close, then he will know.

The hunt for the sinner outside the city ended up as a disaster. Some of his most trusted men never returned, and the search party had found few clues. They may have been in a fight with monsters, but there are almost no tracks. It’s like the forest just swallowed them up. Same goes for several mercenary bands.

The Wildlanders think that a ranger in a forest is invincible. While Sir Alchenain doesn’t give much credit to those rumors, every report he gets is only supporting them, like how his scouts said that squirrels were observing them.

The hunt ended up being too time-consuming, so he hoped to find more clues by meeting the Katsuragis, who used violence to resist a questioning. He instructed his underling to be polite, so beating him up only makes them even more suspicious.

Still, he got their names. “Put a bounty on Katsuragi Kenta and Katsuragi Kyou. 50,000 Newgold for each.” A small price to pay to ensure the safety of the world. “Rather 60,000 for the girl.” She made him look like a fool. “Also, at least 200,000 Newgold for the red-hooded one. Let the bounty hunters handle it, we are needed in Feuerberg.” They are still on a mission. “So be ready to break camp in two days. Send someone to Ohlbrücken, so that our other forces know about these siblings. Here are their physical descriptions.” If they head west, then other Crusaders will be on watch.

There is no escape. There is only one safe way over the Ohl within weeks. They will be found in Ohlbrücken or caught by staying here.

Nonetheless, Sir Alchenain has to head to Feuerberg soon. The demons are also a danger, which will engulf the world with violence and destruction the moment they have a chance to strike. So the Crusaders will join the war, so that the demons won’t get that opportunity.

 

―○●○―

 

Esse, the capital of Feuerberg. Meldorn walks into the study of the king. The queen is also there, and she looks as beautiful as ever. Normally, she’d look softer, more kind, but this is a semi-official meeting, and there are some faces Meldorn knows and some he doesn’t.

“Welcome Meldorn.” The king says. Normally, such a meeting would be held in the throne room, and the king certainly acts like they’re there.

Still, seeing the composition of the people here, it’s obvious that secrets are to be told. The king, the queen, and the new crown prince Eberhardt from the royal family. The chancellor, and someone from the military, maybe the marshal. Meldorn doesn’t keep track of politics.

Just the five of them on one side.

The other side, the one who Meldorn goes to, is the hunting party.

“Now that the hunting party is complete let me introduce you to each other.” The king points at the first one. “This is the former marshal, now in retirement, Gottfried. He will lead the party.” An old man, who shaves his head and beard.

“I’ll rely on you to fetch that idiot.” Dangerous. Meldorn knows Gottfried, and he is one to be feared. There is a saying, in Feuerberg resides the three great powers. The first one is the nobility, led by the royal family, who provides the ruler. The second one is the clergy, who are the only ones who know the secrets of the gods of Feuerberg, which have protected the land since the time of Hagen, founder and first ruler of the kingdom. The third great power is Gottfried.

Martial might widely varies between people. Sometimes there will be one person, who is worth a thousand soldiers. Then there are those, who fight with ten of these monsters at the same time on equal footing, and such a person would still lay down their arms when facing Gottfried.

There is a rumor that young Gottfried had once decapitated the enemy army’s leader from five miles away. Meldorn’s mentor said that story was wrong because the actual story was too brutal to be told. To cut it short, Gottfried, on his own, slaughtered his way through five miles full of enemy cavalry, infantry, tamed monsters, archers, magicians, alchemical artillery, and fortifications, to take the head of the enemy leader, who was said to be immortal.

He got it.

People might think that these stories are exaggerations, something like a whole compendium of jokes, praising a person to such heights, that it becomes a hilarious idol, but the moment you see that man you know that it’s different.

Even though he is old now, the amount of pressure he emanates is something else. He’s hiding it, but Meldorn is good at seeing through things. That’s one of the reasons why he was called here.

Gottfried wears a plate armor and a broadsword. Miraculously, his face seems to be harder and sharper than his equipment. The way he carries himself in his gear shows that even though he’s in retirement, he never forgot how it is to be a soldier.

The king continues. “Next one is from the clergy, and also a retiree. He is the pontiff Reiner Kassus.” Another old man, whose robes didn’t match his status. He looks almost like a kind grandpa from the neighborhood. He has a mustache and a fringe of hair, which is gray to white. Most likely a tad younger than Gottfried, and much softer.

“I’ll be in charge of your health, magical support, and what to do when we encounter Princess Katarine.” Meldorn can see, that this one is deep. Under his gentle face is sorrow. There is sympathy, and remorse for what he will do.

“This here is Meldorn.” Meldorn just lifted his hand, when the king mentioned him, so the same continues. “Also called ‘The Huntsman,’ he is the best in the kingdom regarding hunting anything. He is even able to find tracks that are three years old.” Meldorn only did so once. It was a hassle.

The title ‘The Huntsman’ is only given to one person in the kingdom. While a few have the abilities of a ‘Huntsman,’ there is only one person who bears the title. Meldorn has taught some people how they can claim his title, but so far, nobody has done so.

It’s not like Meldorn wanted to be someone special. He just likes to hunt. Sometimes the prey is challenging, and that is one of the reasons, why he agreed to this whole thing.

“Finally, the future archwizard August von Rotfeld.” A rather young man, at the start of his twenties. This is too young to even try to become an archwizard usually, but with this confidence…

“This was chosen to be my quest for the title. I’m looking forward to working with you.” So this is his quest of ascension? It might be even more challenging than Meldorn thought.

“As you all know,” the king says: “I need… no, I want you to bring my daughter Katarine back. There are some dubious circumstances, so I’m betting on your experience and abilities. Please travel to the Wächter-fort, track her down and bring her back. Gottfried and Reiner are already familiar with the details, so I will keep it simple.”

The queen takes the hand of her husband and squeezes it. Not because she is worried about her daughter or the success of the mission, but to give the king support.

“She is most likely in the company of two of the summoned heroes, one of them is called Katsuragi Kenta, a young man. There is a possibility that he is using brainwashing powers, but given my daughter, he might have just tricked her. Be prepared for both and more possibilities. The other one is Momokawa Kyou, a girl. In case that this is brainwashing, you can also bring her back. If she’s in the way, don’t hesitate to get rid of her. Do to Katsuragi Kenta whatever is needed. He has the least priority.”

Harsh. So even if this Momokawa-girl is brainwashed, the moment she interferes they have the permission to kill her. Still, you have to keep your priorities straight.

“Finally, even if this is a long shot: If Katsuragi has married Katarine and is unwilling to divorce her, kill him. If she is already pregnant, make her lose the child.”

The young wizard, August Rotfeld, exclaims: “Killing an unborn child!? That is ridiculous!” So he has no qualms about killing the father.

“This is an order.”

…the royal lineage of Feuerberg. The strong blood of Hagen von Stolzherz.

This order makes no sense, normally. If it would be a bastard, Meldorn could understand, but the child of a marriage acknowledged by the gods? It can’t be more legitimate.

The reason to kill the boy if he is married to her is straightforward: To divorce him by force. At least, if he doesn’t agree to a standard divorce, a ritual which can only be conducted by a high priest… So that is the reason for pontiff Reiner Kassus.

The child though? The legitimate child of marriage? Why is this so important, that the king has to say it directly, instead of asking Gottfried or the pontiff to do it during the journey?

August looks reluctant, but says: “Yes, my king.”

Meldorn put his hand on August’s shoulder. “There are reasons for secrets.” Not always the best ones, but often people are upset because someone they trusted has kept a secret. Meldorn has seen it often, he never understood.

“Any more questions?” The king is tense, but only Meldorn should be able to notice that. August’s and Meldorn’s reactions have put him on guard.

Meldorn doesn’t need to know everything. He just needs to know who his quarry is.

 

―○●○―

 

She was torn, she was sucked in, she was helpless against the flow. The oni opens her eyes and appears before her master, Correo.

“Erm… Master?” He looks at her with no facial expression. That’s bad, so very, very bad! She throws herself to his feet: “Master, I, your beloved servant have returned to your side!”

He kicks her. It doesn’t hurt much, but this shows his dissatisfaction. “Slave, don’t you dare to grovel! Where have you been? Why is the Bloody Nose Mercenary Company heading north? Tell me!”

“Erm… Master, they didn’t do what they were sup-”

Oh shit, he has the urn with him. “Tell me and don’t lie.”

Words flow out of her mouth: “-I thought that the mercenaries lost Katakata’s party, so I attacked them myself, lost, retreated, summoned the monsters on stand-by with the flute you gave me, which encountered the targets the moment the mercenaries caught up, causing a lot of damage, while Katakata and her friends got away. I don’t know why the mercenaries are heading north, but I think it’s related.”

“I see.” Ah, he takes it quite well… or not, he lifts the urn: “Pain!”

The oni cries out in pain, the amount of pain makes an [Exorcise]-spell look like a prick with a needle. She is bound to the urn by her very essence, so she has to do whatever the owner of the urn says. Whatever Master Correo wants, she will do, even if it’s impossible.

He called her with it, and it made her all gaseous and pulled her with irresistible force. Now that very power is used to make her feel pain.

“Enough.” The pain subsides. “The problem, Slave, was that you ‘thought.’ That’s your weakness. Should I put every order into you by the power of the urn? Should I ask it to switch off your brain, so that you are unable to make your own judgments anymore? Or to never have a single thought that could distract you?”

“No Master, anything but that!”

“So you even prefer imprisonment?”

“Please Master, not that, not that! I hate being imprisoned, it hurts, please Master!”

“Choose. Either I lecture you through imprisonment or I won’t make the effort and instead I make you mindless, Slave.”

“Ah… imprisonment! Imprisonment, I will endure it, Master! I will learn, I will learn, I promise, please!”

“Good. Now tell me everything you saw, everything you learned, everything you carelessly thought! I need to make preparations. M’lady is waiting for the girl.”

“Yes, Master.”

It was always like that. Bound to the urn when she was just a little oni-baby, because her mother rejected and sold her, because her daughter was just filth. So instead of an oni, she’s just a lowly servant.

The buyer was the great summoner Olvadin, who sealed her to the urn using his magic. She doesn’t even remember anything before that anymore, but she served him for the first few decades as his lowest servant. She was the first one to be summoned in order to test the enemy’s strength, and she was the first to fall just because she can heal rapidly.

She was given to the former queen of Déjuma as a present, but spent most of her time imprisoned there because she was unfit to serve the royal household. She was only called whenever her special talents were needed, and she hated those kinds of jobs!

When the current king of Déjuma ascended the throne, he gave her to Correo as a gift, and as thanks for his help in outdoing his rivals.

Correo is the best master she has ever had. He lets her do things, he listens to her, he gives her all of these wonderfully bloody tasks that make her feel alive!

Yet even though onis aren’t capable of feeling fear like the puny races do, she has something close to it for him. She knows that he has her life, her personality, her everything in his hands.

Even though she’s filth, even though she can’t feel fear, she still wants to live, so she will crush any enemy of her master, whoever it is!

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