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Chapter 14: Solo

Solo

... Inside the forest.

The boys who had run off with the money watched over their surroundings as they counted the coins.

Within the dimly lit trees, the cries of birds created an uncanny air.

"Hurry up!"

On the urging of one of them, the boy counting them spoke.

"Fifty silver. No doubt about it!"

They were funds gathered for the sake of the village. And the boys had known where it had been kept.

The adults pressing down on them due to their carelessness in hunting beasts destroying the balance of the forest, they had resolved to head for more urban lands.

The money for such a venture had come from the village's coffers.

"Okay, if we've got that much, we can make it in the city."

The city... if they managed to make it to a city, they thought it would work out one way or another.

"It was the perfect chance to part from those noisy adults. Even so, that outsider's high-and-mighty act sure was irritating. Even when he wasn't that great an adventurer at all."

The outsider likely referred to the chief.

From their point of view, the chief had lost out in life, having to spend the rest of his years in that village. The adventurers they had pictured in their minds were those who built up estates in the urban districts, and lived elegant lives.

"Pops and big bro said it. That he was so low class as an adventurer, that we only ever get those frail-looking sorts dispatched here."

While laying out complaints against the head, they preciously held the money tight as they began thinking up plans for things to come.

"Hey, how are we going to leave the village from here? Even if he have money alone, it's not like that instantly turns into food or equipment."

The three boys all seemed to have the same answer on their minds.

"Isn't it obvious? There's a perfect place to borrow it from."

They had not the gear to travel.

Of course, the method they thought of was to take Lyle's party's equipment under the pretense of borrowing it.

"Taking around so many women, I hate that guy. That chief as well, homely as he was, he gets such a beaut for a wife. That's definitely where his money went."

Being second and thirds with weak standing to begin with, they had grown to dislike their lives in the constrained village.

At times they would hear tales of the city's adventurers from the passing peddler, and at some point, those stories had entered their dreams.

But reality wasn't so forgiving.

While the villagers of Beim were relatively plentiful, they didn't have much a sum to spend on the independence of a second son.

Having long since given up on reclaiming some land and getting a field on their hands, the three of them only ever helped in farm work, and hadn't put a serious effort to it.

No fields or houses to be left to them, the answer to their independence came as adventuring.

That if they became adventurers, they believed with baseless confidence that they would win out. Of course, it's also true a large majority of adventurers were as oblivious to the truth as they were.

It's one of the reason the number of reckless adventurers doesn't ever seem to decrease.

"Hey, then what comes after getting the equipment? Walking to the nearest village will take at least two days, you know."

One of the boys purposefully brought the bag of silver up to eyelevel, and shook it to produce a clattering sound.

"If we manage to get that far, we can buy food stock with the money. If we board a wagon while we're at it, we'll be in the city in no time."

With the image of their independence in a city of dreams on their minds, smiles surfaced over their faces.

"Then we'll infiltrate when night comes to fall. We should be fine as long as we don't enter the deeper parts of the forest."

As Lyle's group had started going around the woods, the number of monsters around the entrance had decreased considerably.

If they just waited until night, it would work itself out, they thought.

"In that case, we've some time on our hands."

They divvied up the bread and water they had brought when they fled, and brought it to their mouths. While munching on the hard and dry bread, they looked to the weapons on their waists.

"Het, if we collect up some materials and magic stones, we can sell them at our next stop, right?"

When one said that, the other two looked turned eye to the sack of silver.

It was a fortune from their eyes, but if possible, they didn't want to have to touch it until they reached their destination.

The money was what they'd use to procure equipment as adventurers.

So economizing it was important for good gear.

"... We have the time, so let's at least earn a meal or two."

And so the boys dove further into the forest...

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Having received an additional request from the chief, I examined my equipment and fastened it on to prepare to enter the forest.

As I planned to go in alone, Miranda looked over me with a tired expression.

"You did indeed accept it, but you don't have to push yourself to go in now, do you?"

Confirming the weapons at my waist- a spare sabre, dagger, and knife- I tucked a robe into my bag.

"They're just loitering around the entrance area, so we should catch them while they're still there. It'll be troublesome if we end up finding nothing but corpses, after all."

Sarcastically quipping at my kindness, she continued watching me.

"Take me or Eva along."

The only ones who could sufficiently move around the forest were Miranda, Aria and Eva the elf. But the challenge didn't really call for that much.

"If the three runaways are headed deeper in, I can drag them out. And I have Skills on my side."

I held up the Jewel, and Miranda spoke.

"... Don't push yourself. And make sure you speak up about whatever you're hiding some time. I won't ask again until you're ready to say it yourself."

Watching her back as she walked away.

(She noticed...)

I scratched my head, and took my hands off the Jewel. The Fourth spoke.

[Looks like there was no meaning inlying about kissing the quilin. It's best you begin preparing an environment where you can get the message across.]

The Sixth.

[Right. Not that it has to come right away.]

I didn't think it really made a difference, but because of Shannon, I couldn't go on without explaining it. Last time was bad timing, but once things calm down, I should prepare a time to talk about it.

Explain it all properly in order, and make sure they have no doubts on the matter. That the Jewel in my hands was different from the one in Celes'...

At that time, I thought.

(So what exactly is different between mine and hers? Celes definitely said something about mine being a fake or a failure or something... the purpose of a Jewel is to record one's Skills, isn't it?)

I shook my head, and set my train of thought towards recovering the three boys.

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Entering the forest alone, I could walk around fine due to Eva's instruction.

I wasn't completely used to it, but with my Skills, I could proceed without getting lost, and while avoiding all monsters.

Before I had stepped in, the three had begun to proceed deeper.

"But it looks like I'll be able to catch up."

It seemed I could catch up to them before they entered a dangerous area, so I continued pursuing.

The map that popped up in my head, notifying me of friend or foe, was something quite suited to adventuring work.

It's proof of just how proficient the Fifth and Sixth's Skills were.

As I followed their trail, I discovered a corpse on the path.

It was a Gray Wolf, and perhaps they had given up on removing the pelt half-way through, and only the magic stones had been stripped.

"Terrible."

It's not that the monster was in tatters or anything, their material extraction was terrible. They didn't now the basics.

"The fur is actually the highest-selling piece."

If you want to speak of prices, the pelt was the most valuable item on it.

From one who had gotten used to an adventurer's life like me, I could only think it a waste. More importantly, what interested me was...

"If they already swiped the money, why do they have to head deeper in? No, in the first place, have they even made preparations for their escape?"

Could it be they had planned this all beforehand, and hidden supplies in the forest's depths? I really don't think they thought it through that much.

Monsters began gathering around them, and oblivious to that fact, they were huddled around something.

"They're gathered around a beast? It's a trap!"

The beast had been there from the beginning, but I hadn't noticed it had been snared in a trap.

I ran forward, cutting down the vines and weeds as I hurried on.

There...

"... That can't be."

Understanding the present state from my Skills, I hurriedly raised my speed.

From the Jewel as well, came a voice of surprise.

It was the Fifth.

[May...]

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... Surrounding the animal, the boys looked over its lifeless body, and let out a collective sigh.

"The hell? Not a single magic stone n' it."

Splashed with a spurt of blood, one of the boys vexingly wiped off his hands and clothes with a cloth.

The reason for their irritation was the time spent on the task, versus the lack of any tangible reward.

"Told you ya' can't tell them apart."

"And wait, these guys attack us all the same, so why do we have to treat them with care?"

Passing by one of the traps they had laid a while back, they had coincidentally found a wolf snared.

They had surrounded it and taken its last breath, but it was more tenacious and troublesome than any Gray Wolf.

"How much was two magic stones again?"

"Ah~ I get the feeling I got around a large copper last I..."

When they leisurely turned to leave the area, a thunderbolt suddenly fell.

It was followed by the rumbling of the earth, and a pale light brightened the area.

Looking up, the small bits of sky they could see through the gaps in the branches and leaves was as bright as day.

"What? What's going on?"

"Oy, you're not telling me a troublesome monster showed up or something, right?"

"F-for now, let's run!"

A monster that could use magic came out? Arriving at that conclusion, they quickly turned to run. But before they noticed it, in the gap between them stood a girl of small build.

She was a girl severely lacking in a sense of reality.

Her clothes were of a sort they'd never seen before.

Her white garments showed off the shoulders and navel. No, it's just that the spaces around the breast, hip, and down both arms were each covered by a separate piece of fabric.

The cloth around her chest and wrapped around her hips gave quite a firm definition of her body. Narrow waist, and a protruding bust.

A small rump at that.

(TL: This is what happens when Lyle is not narrating)

Even with such garments, what hung over her arms was so loose that they even covered up her hands. Her feet were in sandals, and down to her knees, a belt was coiled around like a web.

Her short golden hair swayed, as she exited the gap between the three, destroyed the metal digging into the wolf's legs, and held up the bloody animal to her body.

The three boys couldn't find it in themselves to breathe freely, their legs locked with complicated sentiment.

The moment they say her, they had thought her beautiful.

And at the same time, they thought her impossible.

What grew from her hair in the area above her ears, was a set of two horns.

Watching the girl with golden horns, the three were trapped in beauty and fear.

Among all demi-humans, they had never heard of a variant that had horns sprout from their heads. Even if they were merely ignorant, and such a race did exist, seeing her for the first time invoked fear.

Of all else, her atmosphere was different.

One of the boys somehow managed to squeeze out his voice.

"W-who are you? An adventurer off to the village? Never seen you before, but..."

When she turned around, her eyes were blue and clear, but at the same time, they looked down on, and despised.

"Eeek!"

The surprised boy fell onto his back, as the wolf's companions began to gather around the girl. They ignored the boys, drawing near her feet, and taking in the scent of their fallen comrade.

The girl opened her mouth.

"I'm sorry, I didn't notice you in time... farewell, brave soul."

Saying that, the girl placed the wolf on the ground. Its comrades howled, and touched their foreheads to her legs. Some of the pups pressed their bodies to her.

She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, the wolf's corpse burst into flames.

The pale blue flame flickering, she...

"Go on, there is nothing left here."

After the wolf pack returned to the depths of the forest, she glared at the boys. Walking around the flame, and approaching them, she spoke.

"You see, I have quite a hatred for ones like you. Ignorant, yet prideful... right, to make sure you'll never repeat something like this, I'll have one of you disappear. The other two should return to the village nearby, and hand down the tale they saw today. And that will be the end of the matter."

The girl spoke disinterestedly. The boys exchanged pale glances with sweat streaming down their faces.

The girl.

"So who will disappear?"

Disappear. That's all she said, but they could understand.

Among them, one was to die.

"W-we're sorry. We're sorry, so please let us off."

One of them said that, so the girl tilted her head.

"And what are you sorry about? If you can say it, then out with it."

They looked t one another.

"F-for killing a wolf."

Hearing that, the girl burst into laughter.

"Ahahaha, you're right about that one. Yep, you're not wrong about that. But you see..."

In an instant, her form had changed.

From a small woman, to a beast with white scales and golden mane. A quilin.

Her two horns disappeared, to be replaced by a single one in the center.

One for offense, a sharp prong.

"I won't tell you not to kill lifeforms. Even I kill to survive. To be quite frank here, I wouldn't even have a complaint if you enjoyed killing it. That's your personal problem. But..."

With a step forward, she caused all the boys to fall onto their backsides. The one who was on the ground already got on all fours in an attempt to escape.

The first quilin they had ever laid eyes upon was directing malice at them.

With that divine form, she showed hatred.

Understanding that, the boys pleaded for forgiveness with teary eyes.

But the quilin didn't seem to hold any interest in that.

"I just don't like you on a personal level. And you've pointlessly destroyed the balance of this forest. That is your sin. Now once more, who shall be the one to disappear?"

There was quite an off sense, hearing a young girl's voice from the large beast's mouth.

But more than that, the boys valued their own well-beings.

"I told you not to do it! You're the one who dragged me in!"

"Don't screw with me! You were the one enjoying it the most!"

"Well I sure don't want it! I don't want to die! I don't want to die at all!"

They cried out and began cursing at one another. The quilin was listening patiently, but...

"Who's disappearing?"

Their pleas for forgiveness hadn't reached her.

But the quilin suddenly turner her eyes from the boys to a point to the side.

"So you're here. I've been waiting..."

What the boys saw was the adventurer with blue hair.

Perhaps he had been in a rush, and twigs and leaves were stuck fast to his hair. He was out of breath, and changing the dagger in his right hand to his left, he drew out a sabre.

Lowering his hips, he took a stance and glared at the quilin.

Unlike them, he had taken a posture to confront her.

After raising its forefeet high in the air, the quilin leapt. When she landed, she was in the form of a human once more.

And looking down at the sobbing boys...

"I don't care anymore. I've found something more important than you. If you ever appear before my eyes again, I'll be sure to make you disappear."

The threatened youths hurried down the forest path from which they had come.

They had thrown aside all the baggage they were carrying, as they frantically raced off.