We only noticed the crimson tint of the sky after we had left the forest.
After exiting the space of the dimly lit woods, the cold wind was blowing more violently then usual.
Covered in blood and grime, we wanted to return and wash our bodies with all due haste.
Slinging my leather bags of materials back over my back, I started walking, and Miranda, Aria and Eva followed behind.
I looked at everyone’s expressions.
Eva was tired out from having to lead a group unaccustomed to the forest.
And Miranda and Aria were tired, having been lead around a forest they were unaccustomed to.
(Yeah, let’s take a break tomorrow. We have to finish off the rest of the Gray Wolves soon, and leave the village.)
I decided to spend a day regaining the party’s stamina, and examining equipment.
But my real intentions behind such a break wasn’t because of our fatigue.
(And wait, I’m also quite worn.)
An unfamiliar space really was something horrid.
Our movements had improved over the two days we spent, but our clothing was a mess.
Walking around the woodlands, and proceeding down paths without paths was a pain.
Sweat, and mud and blood stuck my clothes down to my skin. I wanted to wash them quickly, as we brought our heavy bodies towards the lodging building.
While that was going on, Eva…
“Hey, make sure you properly report it. Otherwise this place will be overflowing with monsters someday.”
Having sensed an extreme lack of animals in the forest, Eva wanted me to report the fact to the village chief.
And having her bring it up directly wasn’t really an option.
The chief himself may be fine with it, but I can’t think the villagers will take her opinion seriously. Compared to humans, elves were a race with a weaker social standing.
And this was also my job as the party’s leader.
“I got it. After I change, I’ll head off to the chief’s place. But you should come along too. I can’t fully explain it myself, so I’d appreciate some supplementation.”
The one who felt something off in the forest was Eva after all. Even if I tried to explain it, I didn’t really get it as it was. And I’m doubtful I could make it sound convincing.
Based on how it goes, the important folks of the village may be gathered up. If it came down to that, I’m uncertain I would be able to get the message across.
“I want to hit the sack already, but I guess that’s not how it’ll go… fine.”
Eva agreed, so I went on.
“We’ll rest tomorrow. Two full days of activity is hard on the body. Let’s see how it goes, and rest a day or two. Should we just put the report off to tomorrow then?”
She glared at me.
“This one should be taken care of ASAP.”
It appeared to be more serious than I thought, so I apologized.
“Then after changing, I’ll finish my equipment maintenance by the end of the day. I want to take tomorrow easy.”
“It would be nice if there was some place here of interest to see, though. Come to think of it, you were singing songs on the first day, right Eva? Gonna do it again?”
Eva made a bit of a difficult expression, and put her hand to her brow.
“I was cautioned after that, so I have to get the chief, and some other’ permission next time. It seems there were some villagers who abandoned their duty to listen. That was a mistake on my part.”
When badgered by the kids into singing, it seems the adults gathered as well.
Because of that, Eva received a warning.
(But that talk’s never been brought to me.)
Perhaps someone personally went to warn her.
“Then since we’re going to his house anyways, let’s go get permission while we’re at it.”
“Well, as long as you don’t push it. As long as you rest your body and check up your equipment, I’ve nothing to complain about.”
From within the Jewel, I heard the Fourth’s voice.
『So you’ve finally gotten all the way here, my boy. At the start, you had no concern for others, and kept bringing trouble to Novem. You sure have grown, Lyle.』
He was quite purposefully making a weeping voice.
In contrast, the Third laughed.
『But he’s still got so many hopeless points even after growing. His first evaluation was just so low, that the smallest changes are too noticeable.』
『… Personally, I think getting to deep into it is a bad idea, though. Listen here, you have to equally follow through with everyone. Call out to them, and pay mind to their conditions and such. Make sure you don’t forget it.』
He sounded extremely worried.
I found it surprising, as I set off towards our lodging.
When I took Eva and headed to the chief’s house, I found they had just finished up a meal.
Thinking it would be troublesome if I went while they were in the middle of it, or cooking, I had aimed for that time, and it seems I came up right.
When we entered the house, the chief told his wife to prepare a drink, and asked us what it was this time.
“Now then, what’s the problem? Is some idiot peeping or stealing again?”
I explained the situation with Eva.
“The truth is…”
He listened with an earnest expression.
The moment we finished up the story, his wife came in with a warm drink, as if aiming for the moment.
I said my thanks as I accepted it, and sparingly poured the hot liquid down my mouth tired from speaking.
It was too hot for Eva. She blew over the top a few times.
“… How thorough of you. No wonder the Gray Wolves’ve been multiplying in number. It wasn’t always like that, you know.”
It seems Eva wasn’t the only one sensitive to the forest’s irregularity.
It was an important matter for the villagers that lived beside it.
Satisfied, it seems the man had an idea of the cause.
He put his hand to his chin, and nodded a couple of times.
“… There were those idiots gunning for your gear, right? Those guys’ve been going into the forest a lot as of late. Now that act in itself isn’t anything rare, but they’ve even been carrying weapons along. Now there isn’t a noble or lord here, so the necessary food stock can be decided by city. We’re relatively abundant here, and there are quite a few who use that abundance to purchase weapons. So they’re likely sneaking those arms out from their houses, but…”
The fact that farmers in service to Beim were prospering, and that they held weapons was something I’d confirmed since coming to the village.
The chief made an unpleasant face.
“Traps, was it? I’ve made sure to teach them not to leave them unattended, but… dammit.”
By his inference, they were likely going out fighting monsters to experience Growth.
The fact that monster slaying made one stronger was well-believed in these parts. With the amount of adventurers present, there was enough proof in those that’d experienced such a phenomenon.
“They ended up taking out not monsters, but beasts. Destroying the forest’s balance is dangerous, so I did tell them not to raise a hand to them, but… can they not tell them apart?”
… What was the difference between living beings and monsters?
The answer most people give to that one is the presence of magic stones.
If you find a stone in it, it’s a monster.
Otherwise an animal.
If you want to confirm it, go kill one and check its contents.
As a result of trial and error, I’m sure plenty a beast had fallen in a monster’s place.
Being a village by the forest, their knowledgeability on the matter of traps was their downfall.
Whatever wolf ended up snared was likely taken out as a group.
If magic stones were found, they were carried back, otherwise, the body as just left.
And by sight alone, perhaps they only saw it as slaying monsters.
The chief looked bitter.
“It’s my mistake. Sorry, it’s a lifesaver you were able to tell. But the guild’s sure sent a splendid party.”
Everyone went silent, so I tried getting permission for Eva’s song. But the chief shook his head.
“Sorry, tomorrow’s no good. It’s not ‘cause we don’t like it or that she’s an elf or anything like that. Tomorrow’s gonna be kangaroo court for all the idiots we’ve gathered up. We’re gathering up all the villagers and celebs. We’ve got to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again, after all.”
(Do you really have to go that far?)
When I thought that, it seems the Third had caught on to my doubt.
He let his voice from the Jewel.
『… There’s no helping than an idiot will surface now and again, but if they’re not made out as fools, the village will easily crumble. The methods’ll change from place to place, but they have to make sure another idiot doesn’t do the same idiocy.』
『And even if those idiots go through hell, it will all just repeat if the generation shifts. Even if you teach them, idiots will perpetuate idiocy.』
And to him, the Fifth quietly…
『… I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. When you ran away like that on a whim, you lack any persuasive power.』
Letting the ancestors’ conversations slide, I glanced at Eva.
Thinking there was no helping it, she didn’t seem to mind it all that much. More so, the fact he was so serious about the matter was likely something to rejoice over.
“Sorry. This is our livelihoods, or how should I put it, our life’s on the line here, so please put up with it.”
And with those words from the chief, we returned to our comrades.
The next day.
For once in quite a while, I didn’t have a death match with an ancestor, and was able to sleep soundly. When I awoke, the sun was high in the sky, and I could hear my comrades’ voices around.
I rose and stretched. My body still felt heavy from the built up fatigue.
“Did the village already finish their conference?”
Muttering that, I walked outside. Monica noticed me and approached.
“To only wake up just before noon, what a man you are. Please think of the maid who does the cooking and cleaning, won’t you? With such a goddamn useless master to serve, you’re making me weep tears of joy, dammit.”
So is she angry, or happy?
Monica presented the package in her hands to me.
“There’s still a little time to noon, so have a light breakfast. When your done, hand it to the little girl hiding in Porter, and tell her to wash it.”
I opened the lid to find a sandwich within.
I took it in hand, and took a bite. It was quite moist and tasteful.
“So why is Shannon hiding?”
“Hm, when I told her there was no concept of rest in housework, she burst out that it was unfair she was the only one without a break… oh, I’ll be giving my all to make lunch, mind you, Chicken Dickwad!”
While thinking that the usual was fine, I finished the sandwich, and gave my thanks.
I took the container, and went over to Porter.
Looking around, it seems Novem and the others had gone out.
The door to Porter’s loading area was open, and Clara was sitting out of it, reading a book.
It was one of the many books she had purchased for the trip.
And over the trip, she had finished them all.
When I called out, she nodded.
And looking at the contained in my hands, she turned her eyes to the girl wrapped in a blanket deeper in the golem.
She’s asleep. Miranda-san invited her to go around to see the village, but she returned in the middle of it, and she’s been like that since.“
Returning alone, she hid and fell asleep.
I hopped onto the loading area, and walked over to Shannon.
And there, Aria came running.
She was running off in Monica’s direction, and in a loud voice, she…
“Monica, is Lyle up?”
Seeing her bearing, Monica understood it was an urgent matter.
“He’s gone into Porter’s loading tray, but did something happen?”
Aria approached where Porter was parked. Monica followed along.
When it was unpleasantly cold, Aria was sweating.
“Lyle, the guys you brought up yesterday fled. What’s more, they went into the forest. The chief has something to talk about with you, he said.”
I hopped off Porter.
“The chief? What business does he have with me?”
I headed off to his house with Aria, telling Clara and Monica to stay on standby.
And on the way, I saw the adults of the village were also in quite a panic.
When I arrived at the chief’s house, I met up with Novem, Miranda and Eva who were waiting there for me.
The wide space of the building was filled with the notable names of the village, making it feel much narrower.
With a tired expression on his face, the chief addressed me.
“Sorry, having you come here again. The truth is I’d like to supplement my request.”
Hearing it was about the request, I looked around.
The adults were resentful, and my party had dubious expressions floating over their faces.
“What are the contents of this amendment?”
Unless I heard it out, I couldn’t decide whether or not to take it, so I decided to finish with that first.
“I’d like you to catch and bring the runaway idiots back. We witnessed them go all the way to the forest, but it will be difficult for the villagers to search for and find them there.”
The villagers cried out.
“Increasing the monster levels, just what are those kids thinking?”
“Chief, ain’t you bein’ a little too lenient here? This’s why I said to exile them and be done with it.”
“Running off with the village’s money… this falls under your jurisdiction and responsibility, chief.”
After words of dissatisfaction against the chief, they began to appraise us.
“And are you fine with these adventurers? They’re just woman and children, right?”
“When the last chief was around, they always sent the competent ones.”
From our ages and appearances, we surely didn’t look like seasoned adventurers.
But it didn’t feel nice to have that one pointed out.
The chief let out a sigh.
“I’ll prepare the reward for the additional request personally. I’ll clean up the mess, so you all can go home for now.”
The villagers grumbled their complaints as they filtered out of the house.
A few of them took a few glances at his wife.
All that remained was a man slightly younger than the chief, and us…
The chief slammed on the table, and glared at the door.
“God dammit! Even when they usually do nothing at all, they all get together at times like these! Who’s wife you think you’re flirting with; bastards the lot of you!”
He was quite vexed, and payed particular attention to the glances sent at his wife.
The remaining man looked to be in his thirties.
“Chief, you’ve got to proceed talks here. I’ll listen to you complaints over your next drink, alright?”
“S-sorry. Right, can I leave it to you? In the worst case scenario, as long as you can reclaim the money they took, I’ll consider the matter settled. If you can’t, then that’s alright too, but if you feel up to it next you enter the forest, please search for them.”
Searching for kids in the vast expanse of woods, now that the monsters had increased in numbers, was a harsh task even for adults.
The reward was even greater than what was stolen, lest he risk us not giving it back.
On top of that, if we brought back the young men, we would receive an additional reward.
As I accepted the quest, I addressed him.
“It must be hard, being chief.”
“Hm? Ah, this is just the norm. Even when they’re aware they can’t satisfactorily complete these jobs, nor do they have the authority to get adventurers dispatched all the way out here… it’s only at times like these, that they bring headaches to a former adventurer like me. Their treatment of idiots is too harsh, and because I’m an outsider, they think they can treat me the same. That’s why I didn’t want to do it.”
I began to sympathize with his environment, in which he was mouthed off at no matter what he did.
Then why did he decide to take up residence here to start with?
I questioned it a bit, but then I remembered my past conversation with him.
He said if I earned more, I should buy a house in a nice neighborhood. Perhaps he meant for me to make it big.
“Are the other villages no good?”
Understanding the meaning of my question, he shook his head.
“They’re all the same. The popular places all cost money. Even places where you need a fortune just to take up residence. Therefore, I chose a village where I could live cheaply, but… dammit, even if I knew it, it sure is aggravating.”
The Man in his thirties.
“If you’re a true adventurer, make sure you can earn a lot.“
After confirming all the details of the request, we left the building.
And I could hear the chief’s lamentations behind me.