Proceeding through the forest, I had Novem and Eva following along behind.
Miranda, Aria and Clara were moving in a separate group, as we circled around eliminating Gray Wolves.
Small packs of them dotted the trees.
Of course, it’s not like we were too far away from Miranda’s group. We occasionally let of flashes of magic to communicate with one another.
Though all we were really communicating was our locations.
(Perhaps we need to make some signals for when we move separately.)
It allowed enemies to find us, so I didn’t really want to use it. But if I just led everyone, it would get in the way of Miranda, and Aria’s growth.
And I wanted to test how things would go if we divided our forces.
The ground beneath my feet was quite uneven. The branches and grass that grew up to my hips impeded our progress.
I went forward while mowing it down with a dagger, but the sound of that attracted enemies.
Easy as the request was, the location was a problem.
In the past, I made sure to never get into a fight in a place like this.
“Alright, break time. Novem.”
When I looked over to Novem, she held up her staff, and used it to produce magic light. After flickering it a few times, Clara reacted, and flashed her own in response.
We were to reunite with Miranda’s group, find a suitable spot, and take a break.
Perhaps they were having the same problems as us, as their movement speed was low.
I chose to fight in the forest itself, because I thought it would make for good experience. There was also the matter of Eva.
She had originally lived in the forests, and had a certain affinity for them.
In the places so hard for us to traverse, she just kept going forward. She was sensitive to surrounding noises and smells, and quite quick to discover enemies.
And on top of magic, she could use a dagger and bow.
Even so, according to the individual herself, “I’ve still got a long ways to go if you want to compare me to the tribes that solely live among the forests.”
(Yep, I’m never going to try and pick a fight with an elf in a forest.)
That on my mind, I looked to Eva.
“How about it? Sense any enemies?”
Our request was one to take our Gray Wolves, but it’s not like that’s all we found.
We’ve already encountered orcs and goblins a number of times.
“None, but is there really a need to ask me? Lyle, can’t you already sorta tell where the enemies and dangerous spots are?”
Good of her to have noticed, but…
“No, I’m sure I already explained that I just have that sort of Skill.”
Eva was as of yet unsatisfied.
“Then just what meaning do these actions hold!? Just find them all, and have us take them out already! Since you weren’t keeping it up, I was sure you were economizing your mana or something.”
While telling her to contain herself, I explained.
“Unlike you, we aren’t accustomed to the forest terrain. This is a good opportunity, so we’ll spend two days wandering it normally, is what’s already been discussed, is it not?”
We couldn’t just walk normally like the elf. In such a state, it would be a waste for me to use Skills and promptly take out the Gray Wolves alone, to get nothing out of the affair.
“And my goal is to defeat Celes. I want as much experience as possible. You can grow by repeating the same action over and over again, but differing environments and brand new personal experiences give off a different amount, or so I’ve heard.”
From the ancestors, of course.
The Second, who I can’t meet at present, was quite knowledgeable on the matter.
And using what he taught me, I thought it best to go out and experience new things, rather than repeating a routine.
This goes without saying, but diving into a labyrinth, and defeating monsters there is also a valid option.
As we are now, we can go out to experience plenty of new things, but quite a bit was wasted on movement time.
“Eva-san, you’ve looked quite sleepy since morning, but could it be you weren’t listening to any of our discussions?”
When Novem said that, Eva latched onto her.
“Forgive me, Novem. And when I practiced song yesterday, all the villagers came and gathered. They wanted to listen to me!”
Watching Eva speak as if asking to be pampered, I let out a sigh.
I already knew why she had stayed up late, and I had been awake as well.
Because the Seventh had been busy making a beehive of me time and again in the Jewel. I thought he would be sweet on his grandchild, but saying it wouldn’t kill me anyways, his attacks didn’t slow at all.
Each of the heads of history was, to put it bluntly, stronger than me.
It wasn’t their base specs, they all had made a fighting style of their own.
Swordsmanship was the same. I couldn’t beat the Third in that.
Compared to him, I somehow don’t get the feeling I fall short in technique. But when it came down to fighting him, he carried something that overwhelmed whatever difference in ability we had.
And as expected, they were skilled in using Skills.
They had each gained full mastery of the Skills they had manifested themselves.
I sensed a nearing presence, stood, and grasped my sabre’s hilt…
“Ah, a horned rabbit. Mine!”
By Eva’s bow, the approaching horned rabbit was pierced in its vitals the moment its head popped into view.
『… I… hate elves.』
The Fifth’s bitter voice came from the Jewel, but I ignored it and turned to Eva.
Ever since coming into the forest, her movements had changed.
“Do you get stronger within the trees? And wait, that’s quite some skill you have there.”
Her bow was a small one, but it was made for considerable output, and Eva used it masterfully.
“It’s not like anything’s changed about me. But I did enter these sorts of places a number of times, and mine’s an elf tribe that left the forest after all. We’re specialized to things like bows and such.”
She said that simply brimming with pride, so I…
“Yet for a tribe like that, you sure like to sing in such scanty attire. Do you make a hobby of exhibitionism?”
It was only then that we finally managed to reunite with Miranda’s group. While Eva complained at me, she went off to retrieve the spoils of the prey she took out.
“Attracting customers is a different matter altogether! And I don’t want to hear that from you, Lyle!”
Watching her stick out her tongue as she nimbly retreated into the forest, a mud-covered Aria…
“Elves sure get vigorous when they enter forests. I’m jealous.”
From the look of things, she’d been tripping quite a bit since she entered the woods.
Clara took a towel out of her bags, used magic to wet it, and handed it over to Aria.
Accepting it, Aria unloaded her equipment onto the ground, and began wiping herself off.
Novem was keeping watch of the surroundings, and was stationed a little further from our circle.
Miranda reported the progress of her team.
“Three goblins, and six Gray Wolves. I do think it’s a bit much, but as expected, finding them is a trial. It’s quite horrendous when you’re attacked all of a sudden.”
In an unfamiliar environment, she was going through the expected troubles.
At present, we’ve done enough to satisfy the requested requirements, but I decided to stay here and build up some more experience.
With the horned rabbit in hand, Eva approached, looked at Aria, and…
“What, you fell?”
She began laughing.
“Oh shut it! Unlike you, it’s not like I was raised in the trees!”
With Aria’s usual bearing, and the mentality so as not to mind being seen naked, would she not fit into the forest soon enough? Or so I ended up thinking.
Eva shrugged her shoulders, a little sour, she tossed the spoils onto the ground, and took out a knife.
“Yes, in the end, I’m just an elf. Now then, you stab right here…”
Humming a tune, she began dismantling the rabbit.
From the Jewel came the scream of a bitter Fifth and the lament of a fed-up Third.
『I hate this womannnn!』
『Yes, well I hate you. How can you find those horned demons cute? Good grief, I guess there’s a reason why you fell for that quilin when its form was that of a little girl.』
I contained the urge to nod at the Third’s cynicism, as I looked over the materials Miranda had collected.
Stripped monster parts and magic stones. Some were of good condition, while others worse for wear. It’s likely some attacks missed their mark.
(Well, the earnings for this request don’t really matter. Let’s just get as used to the terrain as we can.)
With such breaks sprinkled around, we moved through the forest.
“Hey, if we’re going to be working apart anyways, then how about testing out Lyle’s Skill? Connection, was it? Why not use it on me?”
On Miranda’s sudden proposal, Aria burst out.
“W-what are you talking about!? It’s a kiss, a kiss! What’s more, an adult one!”
As Aria was thrown into a disarray, Clara adjusted her glasses, a little flushed in the face.
Novem seemed more concerned about me, as she sent a few glances in my direction.
And Eva looked at Novem.
“… Is there really a need to use it? It hasn’t even been tested yet. Underestimate the forest, and you’re in for a world of pain.”
She held Miranda back.
From the Jewel, the Fourth…
『Well, if you’ve got over three humans gathered, then factions’ll form. Oh my~ now’s the chance for you to show off your Skills, Lyle. Fight on!』
(I don’t need that sort of advice! Why not say something helpful at times like these!?)
I gripped the Jewel, and tapped it to get some suggestions. Third and up…
『I only had one wife. I no understand.』
『Same here. No idea how to manage multiple ones.』
『Do nothing. Over.』
『… It didn’t go so well for me, I don’t think I should give advice here.』
『I was faithful to Zenoire.』
The ancestors were of no help.
The air kept becoming more and more strained, and in that, Miranda smiled…
“Then let’s go and test it after we return. I’m ready anytime.”
And said that.
To match eye level with me as I say, she leaned in, and sent her smile right at me.
“N-no, well…! I-I don’t have much experience in that, and…”
When I averted my eyes, stood, and tried to take some distance, Clara…
“Even when you tried to kiss the quilin?”
Several days had passed, and still I was treated as the pervert who pissed off a beast by trying to kiss it.
“Novem, you can take a break. I’ll take up lookout duty.”
I heard the clicking of a tongue followed by the words, ‘he ran,’ but Ignored all that, and switched out watch with Novem.
“Then I’ll leave it to you.”
Thanking me with a smile, she returned to the rest of my comrades. But after I left, the conversation was reduced to bits and pieces.
From the Jewel, the Third let out a bored-sounding voice.
『Tsk, how about you persevere a bit more, and provide some more entertainment?』
(Why do I have a need to entertain you all!?)
I contained my irritation, remained wary of the surroundings, and used a Skill.
To practice, I confirmed a scope greater than what I usually viewed.
The map came up in my head, and a number of red dots peppered it.
(There are still some Gray Wolves. If we go further into the woods, there seems to be a bigger pack. It’d be easier if they came out to meet us, though.)
While I thought that, I saw yellow and red, and the occasional blue, a complicated and changing dot.
When I turned in that direction, the source of it immediately distanced itself.
An ominous sweat dripped down my back, and I found a little relief at their retreat.
“… So she followed me.”
That response was undoubtedly the quilin… May’s.
“For today’s dinner, I’ve utilized the Chicken Dickwad’s favorite chicken meat, and I’m thinking of making a stew of it. Now then, assistant Shannon-san, have you properly diced the ingredients?”
In the adventurers’ and travelers’ lodging building in the village, Monica and Shannon were preparing a meal for when Lyle’s group returned.
If Shannon went into the forest, she would just be a burden. The individual herself understood that, and she didn’t want to go in to begin with, so she used an excuse.
But that didn’t mean she would be permitted to do nothing at all.
Under Monica’s lead, she helped cook and clean for her comrades that were to return.
“Hey, you usually just call me Shannon, and treat me like a little girl, so why is it you add a –san the moment I become your assistant?”
“Hm, there’s some beauty to be found in formalities. Now then ingredients… you little girl!!”
Monica looked at the vegetables Shannon had chopped, and raised a loud voice.
“W-what!? Isn’t that fine? It’s cute, is it not?”
The vegetables she had chopped had lost a large portion of their edible volume to create star and heart-shaped cross sections.
But perhaps because they were carved out with a standard kitchen knife, they were a bit misshapen.
“Listen here, when you want to make a shape like that, you have to use a standard mold! The shape aside, discarding the remaining parts is… well, just cut them up finer, I suppose. Alright, fine, since you made them after all, be gentle when you put them in the stew.”
The fact she didn’t mince Shannon’s stars and hearts was Monica’s kindness.
“Leave it to me. These’ll be like a game for the ones that eat it.”
“We don’t have the prizes, or is that to say the shaped ones are both the game and the reward… now then, let’s start the fire…”
When Shannon tossed the ingredients into the pot, Monica once more…
“You fool!! What do you take cooking for, little girl!?”
“I mean, I’m usually on dishwashing, or peeling duty! I’ve helped, so isn’t it fine!?”
Her twin tails tangled, Monica was furious as she lectured Shannon.
“And teaching you cooking was the damn Chicken’s order! I, Monica am to put the maximum effort to, and bring about the greatest results for whatever he commands! Such is my directive! I’ll drive the foundation of housework into you, and until you’re perfect at it, I am resolved to even be called a demon.”
Shannon made a reluctant face at Monica’s resolved declaration.
And she looked behind her.
There, the village youths… rather, those twelve or thirteen of age. The boys were looking at Porter parked beside the building.
She had thought they were just looking into it, but the truth was different, it seems.
“Hey you guys, what are you doing!?”
When Shannon yelled, the boys ran in surprise.
Monica sighed, and restarted her cooking.
“Are you fine with that? Those boys came to steal something.”
While taking care of the pre-cooking, Monica spoke to her.
“Porter’s luggage door is locked shut. It is impossible to open. Even so, just what would they want to steal… could it be my work in progress, my Maid Uniform That Doesn’t Stand Out!?”
Shannon made a cramped expression as she wondered whether the automaton was serious.
“No, won’t the matter be resolved if you just part with the uniform altogether? Just what the hell is a Maid Uniform That Doesn’t Stand Out supposed to be? The point was that maid uniforms stand out as it is.”
Shannon also restarted her assistance, but using her eyes to take in the surroundings, she saw the boys still quite close.
They likely meant to hide, but Shannon could see them quite clearly.
And she could also understand they held feelings none too amiable.
Envy, fear, and contempt.
“It seems we aren’t quite welcome here.”
When Shannon said that, Monica…
“And that’s why your hands have stopped? If you don’t do your work properly, I’ll report it to Miranda.”
“How underhanded! Automaton, how can you machines be so unfair!”
“Hah! It is no concern of mine what any besides the Chicken Dickwad think of me. Unfair? Well that sure sounds like a compliment to me. What of it?”
Shannon and Monica seemed to be having fun as they cooked, but occasionally Monica put herself on guard as well.