Within the Jewel.
While looking around, I simultaneously used Skills to process various bits of information.
The flickering blue dot, while there was only ever one, kept changing locations at a moment’s notice.
Thought that’s what it looked like, it was only that I couldn’t perceive it…
The scene was a blue sky, and a straight road that went on without end.
Sparks flew as I swung the sabre.
But in the next instant, a wave of pain washed over the left side of my stomach.
It was the same style as Miranda’s, but the one to truly specialize in it was the Fourth Generation Head, 【Max Walt】.
His Skill, 【Speed】, was one to elevate movement speed.
When the Third was on the verge of death, it was one that manifested as the Fourth rushed to his father’s side.
What emerged as its second stage was 【Up n’ Down】. While raising one’s own speed, it was one that allowed you to decrease an enemy’s.
“【Full Drive】 is just unfair!”
I was swinging my blade like crazy, but sparks only flew, and I felt impacts a number of times.
The only time I ever caught sight of the man himself was when I sensed his location with Skills, and turned knowing where he’d be.
And occasionally, I thought I saw two or three of him.
The sabre was parried, and it flew out from my right hand into the air. Immediately following, I felt an immense pain in my chest, sending my back flying into a nearby tree.
Seeing his position, I assumed he had done a body blow while piercing the dagger into my chest.
『Where I come from, unfair is a compliment. And having an enemy say that is simply too enjoyable for me to contain myself.』
While grinning, he pulled out another dagger.
A large amount of blood was flowing from my chest, and when I turned my eyes to the distance, I saw the very moment my sabre impaled itself into the ground.
Watching my sword disappear, I found my pained body had returned to normal. The blood that came out vanished as well, and wiping off my sweat, I stood.
I leaned against the tree, and watched him skillfully handle the dagger in his right hand.
“So the left one is for defense, and the right to cut. Was there something stopping you from using a larger weapon?”
Using an attack style the specialized in raw speed, the fourth thought a bit before shaking his head.
『Any more weight, and I wouldn’t be able to wield them freely. At the same time, the elevated speed already raises the output enough. I have tested other things, but twin daggers is the most convenient. You can aim for gaps in armor and all.』
After sheathing his blades, the Fourth instantly raised his index finger to correct the placement of his glasses.
They reflected the light as I took a deep breath.
“Can you hold up, going so fast?”
『It’s quite rough. I’m barely able to manage with the First’s Full Over. And the Second’s All lets me sense and aim for enemies. Put the Third’s Mind to shake up foes on the way, and it’s an easy kill.』
The Fourth’s final stage Skill used the First’s and Second’s as their premise, it seems.
And the Fourth earnestly looked at my face.
『… Lyle, if you become able to use my Skill, perhaps you’ll be able to surpass me. No, you have no choice but to surpass me.』
He thought back to the time I fought Celes in Centralle, and explained.
『Even if I was the one fighting, I probably couldn’t win against that girl… against Celes. She wasn’t serious at all, and yet that speed, and that power. If there really is only one in her Jewel, then it must be a considerable Skill she has. But my Skill is only feasible with the simultaneous use of others. Do you get what I’m trying to say?』
By Skill capabilities alone, I couldn’t win out.
And the identity of the Skill Celes held has yet to be grasped by any of the heads, me included.
“She’s definitely much stronger than me, is all I understand.”
『It just goes to show that as you are now, you can’t beat her non-serious side. I’ve not the slightest on what her serious face looks like, but I can’t imagine it being any weaker than what you’ve already encountered.』
The moment I decided to fight her, I had given up on winning with numerical prowess.
The reason we’re currently raising our abilities is in order to create a situation where it would be possible to fight her.
It would be a herculean feat to prepare an army of tens of thousands, but the greater issue would be dealing the finishing blow on the girl.
With her ability to charm people, I’m sure she could escape no matter how large an army surrounded her. Perhaps if we could defeat her in ability…
『Don’t be so scared. We’ll give advice to prepare the stage, and I’ll do my best to raise you high enough. It’s just that there’s no point to it if you’re to die. Please don’t forget that.』
When I nodded, the surroundings faded to gray, and began to wither away.
My conscious gradually returned to reality, and when I opened my eyes, I was in the building in the village. The sun was beginning to show itself, and the landscape was visibly beginning to brighten.
Around, the villagers had already begun to move, and I could hear voices in the distance. The barking of dogs, and the sounds of life.
I touched my chest, but I wasn’t injured at all.
But my body was quite covered in sweat, so I took a towel, and exited the building.
I stretched, washed my face, and rinsed out my mouth before confirming that the chief was on his way here.
Down the lone path that lead here, the chief was making a sullen face so early in the morning.
“I apologize for yesterday. I confirmed last night, that some of the village kids did try to fish through your belongings.”
The reason for all this was the young boys who had tried to steal when Shannon and Monica weren’t looking.
Hearing the story from Shannon, I immediately went to the chief’s house to give a report.
Telling him to look into it, I had given a list of the boys’ characteristics only yesterday.
(He sure acts fast.)
“It’s because the seconds and thirds weren’t to succeed their houses. They thought to run off and become adventurers, it seems.”
Hearing that, the Third let his voice from the Jewel.
『It’s good it ended at an attempt. Neither side need be too riled up. But it’s the same no matter what time you look at.』
I decided not to put my mouth into it as long as none of this continued.
“So they were trying to get hands on some equipment? Well, we haven’t actually lost anything, so there’s no real problem. The surveillance tower’s been burned already anyways.”
When I reported the peeping tower, the chief made an enervated expression.
“It’s a lifesaver that you’re all such nice folks. Those villagers really don’t understand what they’d get in return if they did that to an ill-tempered bunch. Hah, I want to quit this job already.”
I gave a bitter smile.
“Why didn’t you refuse becoming chief?”
In ill humor…
“My homeland’s a far one, and I didn’t have too much a mind to return to it. Having just settled here, do you think I could refuse? Familiar as I was with the countryside, I had my share of troubles. Dealing with people, or how should I put this, the customs are all mostly a pain. Got all that pushed on me as the newbie here for a few years, and finally I’ve been accepted, more or less. If you plan to spend a quiet life in the country when you retire, then I recommend you pile up more money than I did, and get a house in some large town somewhere.”
The Third voice agreement.
『It really is hard to get accepted by villagers. Like accepting immigrants is a trial in itself.』
… Not that it’s relevant to me at this point.
“If I make it big, that’s what I’ll do. Well, I’m sure it’ll be more a trial to live that long.”
“Right you are! But you’re probably headed somewhere nice. By my instinct, that is.”
And after I told him the state of the Gray Wolves, and the forest, we parted.
We entered the forest with even smaller numbers than before.
On top of Shannon and Monica, Novem and Clara were also to rest this time.
Eva at the head, me, Aria and Miranda raced through the forest.
Our goal this time was to maximize movement speed, and to take down the small packs scattered about.
Pressing on ahead, Eva…
“Be careful of the roots.”
She moved at the front, and if there was anything to note, she would call out.
Trying to imitate her movements, with yesterday’s fatigue still withstanding, the three of us were plagued with dull movements.
“I’m getting muscle pains in strange places.”
She complained as she took out a dagger to cut the vines and grass in the way.
Miranda looked around.
“Treat all that stuff as traps. Tree roots and rocks and mud pits… perhaps it was selected as a test because it was such a troublesome request.”
Walking ahead, Eva held up a hand to us, took an arrow from her quiver, and readied her bow.
We lowered our stances, and took out our weapons of preference. A rustling sound was audible.
The sound of breathe, and the smell of beast.
I could tell it was a Gray Wolf, but Aria and Miranda were different.
“Is something coming?”
Aria glanced over her surroundings.
“I want to promptly take out all the Gray Wolves, and return quickly. I don’t like fighting in woodlands.”
She was looking in the direction of the enemy, with daggers in both hands.
And a low growl started coming to my ears.
(So they’ve discovered us as well.)
Not having the form of a wolf for nothing, it was blessed with a sharp sense of smell.
The Fifth from the Jewel.
『Who could have thought it would be so painful.』
Likely due to its canine form, he found it hard to watch the scene whenever we defeated one. While chastising him a bit mentally, I looked at the Gray Wolf that leaped out of the thicket.
The first one to leap out was pierced by Eva’s arrow, and collapsed on the spot.
The second leapt at Aria, who was slow to react, so I went up front and brought my Sabre up diagonally to cut it down, using the forward motion to swing downwards and kill the one trying to bite at my legs.
Miranda threw her dagger, bringing a swift end to another of them. With her short spear in hand, Aria stepped forward, and used her Skill to impale the Gray Wolves leaping out of the brush one after another.
And like that, the pack of seven monsters was promptly dealt with.
“So that’s twenty to thirty just around the entrance. There may be more further in.”
I left Aria to lookout, wiped the blood off my blade, and sheathed it. Miranda and Eva went to collect the materials and magic stones, so I helped lookout.
(She’s still watching.)
Expanding the scope of the Skills, I confirmed the presence of a flashing red quilin, occasionally changing to blue or yellow.
Feeling that I discovered her, she escaped to the very edge of my perception as she watched us… no, watched me.
And having finished gathering materials, Eva spoke.
“Oh, don’t lay a hand on the next ones.”
As she said that, the smell of a beast entered my nose once more. But this time, it wasn’t a monster.
A few of them were observing us from a thicket, and I was able to confirm the existence of a female with children nearby.
Animals that could live in monster-infested forests were, quite frankly, a bother.
They were strong. Quite plainly strong.
Not living in dangerous lands for nothing, unlike the monsters that suddenly came to be, they had their strength built up from square one.
Eva took some meat from a pouch at her waist, and tossed it.
One of them emerged from the foliage sniffed the meat and latched on. After looking at the Gray Wolves we’d taken out, it returned to its hiding place.
In that space, the other ones had moved to locations easier to attack us from, but when their comrade had safely returned, they retreated.
Aria took a deep breath, and wiped off her sweat.
“I can’t tell them apart at all, you know? And wait, if they did attack us, it’d be alright to fight, wouldn’t it?”
“Just make sure it doesn’t come down to that. It’s because those children exist that the monsters don’t pour out of the forests. And unlike these guys, they’re a real pain.”
Having stripped off all the materials, Eva pointed at the bloody lump of meat before her.
Miranda looked around.
“I heard you brought meat around with you, but it was to tell them apart, I see. I honestly thought you were going to poison it.”
… How fitting of Miranda? Perhaps?
“Stop right there. It’s because humans do things like that, that the wolves are so wary. Well, it did make sure to sniff it first, so perhaps that sort thing has been happening here.”
Aria tilted her head.
“What sort of thing?”
Eva stood, and removed her bloodstained gloves.
“Traps to take out, not monsters, but the wolves and bears. They’re quite smart, and it seems they were considerably wary of us. Perhaps that village is the cause? If there were more of them, then we wouldn’t be finding any monsters out here.”
If we didn’t have an elf among us, I doubt they’d even come anywhere near us.
“I heard that laying traps unattended was banned, but I see… the forest has its own circumstance.”
“Well, it’s not like they never attack humans. When it comes down to that, be prepared to be fighting a distinguished military veteran.”
But Aria was…
“I’d like to fight one, at least once in my life.”
… Said something like that.
(She’s getting a little scary.)
The beasts were one thing, but my allies were also scary.
I resolved to never get into a fight with wolves, bears, or party members, but in the first place, didn’t have a single comrade with me I could safely make an enemy of.
Before I noticed it, I was in a situation where it would turn dangerous no matter who I angered.
(Huh… wait, aren’t I in a bit of a tight spot here…)
I shook my head, thrust such thoughts away, took a canteen from the bag hung around my waist, and took a swig of water.
“… What should we do? I can’t just let us be followed around forever.”
Looking in the direction I thought the quilin May was hiding, I wiped off my mouth.