- 1 Novel Illustrations
- 2 Episode 1: The Reversing Girl Who Challenges Origin's Benevolence
- 2.1 Chapter 1 - The End of the Girl Who Only Wanted a Normal Life
- 2.2 Chapter 2 - From The Curse, The Girl's Blessing
- 2.3 Interlude 1 - That Tiny Missing Cog
- 2.4 Chapter 3 - There are good people, too. We'll make it somehow.
- 2.5 Chapter 4 - A Quest Like This is Nothing
- 2.6 Chapter 5 - The Palm of Your Hand is Too Small for a Dance Hall
- 2.7 Chapter 6 - The Beginning Ends, A New Fate Starts
- 3 Episode 2: The Marked Slave Who Desires Endless Days With Her
- 3.1 Interlude 2 - Ruinous Good News
- 3.2 Chapter 7 - We Aim for 'Normalcy' From The Depths of Hell
- 3.3 Chapter 8 - The Paradoxical Girl Purely Shining in the Hallowed Darkness 𝛽
- 3.4 Chapter 9 - Finally, We Meet Again
- 3.5 Chapter 10 - Into The Depths Of Despair
- 3.6 Chapter 11 - My Time There Wasn't Pointless After All
- 3.7 Chapter 12 - What Are We Supposed To Believe Now?
- 3.8 Chapter 13 - Melting Hearts
- 3.9 Chapter 14 - Private Property Priced To Move (Housemate Included)
- 3.10 Chapter 15 - My Sweet Home
- 4 Side Story - Everyday Life For Three
- 5 Afterword
- 6 Translator's Notes and References
Episode 1: The Reversing Girl Who Challenges Origin's Benevolence
Chapter 1 - The End of the Girl Who Only Wanted a Normal Life
“Don’t think for a second someone like you could ever defeat the Demon Lord.”
The legendary sage grabs her collar and glares at her, and all she can do is cower in fear.
She doesn’t have to be told that. She knows. Not only was she useless in their last fight against the demons, but her party members ended up having to protect her. She only got in their way.
She wasn't quite timid enough to just sit there as he yelled in her face, though. She’d tried to calm him down by making a little joke, but his feelings on the matter are clear. In one last attempt to appease him she forces a smile, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.
Seeing her pitiful expression, the man snorts, loses interest in her, and walks away. She stands there alone, facing the ground, wiping at her eyes with her sleeves.
“I never wanted this, either...”
Flum Apricot whispers to herself in a trembling voice.
Following the prophecy of the God of Creation Origin, she’d left her village to join the Hero and defeat the Demon Lord as one of the Hero’s companions… or so she was told, at least.
They couldn’t be more different from her.
The “Lone Sage” Jean Inteige is the man who was berating her just moments before, and he’s a prodigy who can control air, fire, earth and water.
The “Godslayer Archer” Linus Radiance is skilled enough with a bow and has senses sharp enough to hit a target a thousand leagues away.
The “Saint of Love” Maria Affenjenz is a priestess whose merciful heart and Light magic can supposedly cure any malady.
The “Starcrushing Strongarm” Gadio Ruskett can create a shockwave strong enough to reduce an S-Rank monster to dust with a single-handed swing of his giant sword.
The “Eternal Witch” Eterna Rinebow has enough raw magic power to send any enemy to a watery grave.
Finally, the “Hero of Salvation” Cyrill Sweechka is stronger than any of her companions, and supposedly was born only to slay the Demon Lord.
Of course a party assembled to slay the Demon Lord would be filled with famous people --- famous enough that even an ordinary farm girl from the middle of nowhere like Flum would know about them. It's painfully clear that she doesn't belong there. Her only power, “Reversal,” is a mystery even to herself, and her stat total is an impressive 0.
Cyrill herself is also from a farming town in the middle of nowhere, but there’s still an insurmountable difference between the two girls.
Cyrill is strong. Flum is weak.
That's the undeniable truth.
Flum nonetheless does everything she can for the party. She works longer and harder than anyone else, but still nobody respects her.
Whenever she hurts herself covering for one of the others, they tell her they don't have the magic to spare on her and ignore her injuries.
Whenever she gives someone a hand in camp, they tell her to mind her own business instead of thanking her.
She makes all their food, but she has to practically beg them to eat every time.
Maybe they aren’t as bad as she thinks. Maybe it’s all in her head. Every time she’s bullied and abused, however, she can’t help but ask herself why she’s even trying so hard in the first place.
Those simple words 'even so' have been her only real comfort as of late, but it's only a matter of time before they offer her no more comfort than her party members.
As she stands there alone, Flum suddenly feels a gaze on her and looks up. At some point, somebody had come to see her.
Maybe they came to cheer me up? --- but even as that hope crosses her mind she looks up to see Cyrill simply standing there, watching her.
Her golden hair is just long enough to cover her ears, and she’s smaller than Flum herself, but she’s strong enough to make even demons tremble in fear.
Cyrill Sweechka --- the Hero herself.
Flum can’t tell from her expression what she’s thinking, but it's clear it's nothing pleasant. Just in case, Flum calls out to her anyways.
Before Flum can even finish calling her name Cyrill turns her back and leaves.
Flum can feel her chest grow tight. She bites her lip to stave off the tears rising in her eyes.
---I’ve been completely abandoned.
The more desperate Flum was to be helpful, the more she failed, and the greater the distance between them grew. Now Cyrill won’t even try to comfort her.
Flum had no intention of joining Cyrill on her quest to begin with, but as one of the Chosen she had no right to refuse. Even if she could, there's no way she could betray the expectations of everyone in her village who'd seen her off with such enthusiasm.
I wonder what everyone would think if they knew I'm useless, bullied, and depressed all the time...?
“They’d all be so disappointed in me…”
She imagines her friends and family looking at her with the same eyes as Cyrill and she feels ill. Even so, she can’t give up and leave --- regardless of what she wants for herself, this is her duty.
Wiping away her tears with her palms, she runs to catch up with Cyrill and the others. It’s pathetic that even now she has no choice but to rely on them.
Without a friend left in the world, she now feels completely and totally alone.
In the continent’s south lies the Human Realm, while the demons live in the Demon Realm in the north. The Demon Lord’s Castle is at the northernmost part of Demon Realm, which means that the Hero’s Party is always headed further north.
As with any journey, there’s a limit to the amount of supplies they can take with them, but Cyrill's Return magic helps mitigate that issue. By using Return, Cyrill can take them back to any place she has designated as a Return Point --- specifically, the Capital. Then, by using the spell again, she can take them from the Capital to anywhere she has designated as a Continue Point.
In order to create a Continue Point, however, a tool found only in ancient ruins known as a Teleportation Stone is needed, and as they cannot be manufactured with modern technology their number is severely limited. In order to make the best use of the stones, they pace themselves and plan where to create Continue Points ahead of time.
On top of that, magic of the highest order is needed to utilize the Teleportation Stones, magic that only a select few mages can use. In the Hero’s Party, only Jean and Eterna can use such magic.
Return is not a be-all-end-all that they can afford to use lightly, though nobody would deny its usefulness. By making frequent use of Return, Cyrill and her companions have grown ever closer to the Demon Lord’s Castle without ever having to worry about running out of supplies.
That day, after they make enough progress to warrant and Continue Point, they return to the Capital as always.
Return brings them back to the Teleportation Room beneath the Royal Palace. It’s a dark place out of the public eye, and it also serves as a muster point for when they’re ready to continue their journey.
“Fuu… The air here tastes a lot better.”
Back in the capital for the first time in days, the witch Eterna takes a deep breath. The air in the underground Teleportation Room isn’t fresh, but being able to relax is a huge weight off their shoulders.
“Yes, the air in the Demon Realm is so stagnant.”
As the saint Maria agrees with her, the archer Linus edges closer to her, his hands stroking the air in front of him suggestively.
“Maria-chan, your muscles are probably still all tense from all that walking, right? If you’d like, I could give you a massa--”
“Linus-san, you know I hate jokes like that.”
Maria replies with a smile, and Linus’s shoulders slump in dejection. Back when they’d first met she had reacted to his dirty jokes with a bright red face and a trembling voice, but she’s grown used to dealing with him over the time they’ve been travelling together.
Regardless, Linus doesn’t give up.
“I knew a crass pickup line like that’d never work on you... How about dinner instead?”
Quickly changing gears, he asks her out on a date instead.
Putting a hand to her mouth, Maria replies with a good-natured laugh.
“Fufufu, in that case I don’t see any problem.”
He pumps his fist, not even trying to hide his joy.
Then, without even saying goodbye to their other companions, the two leave the Teleportation Room.
The sage Jean lets out a conspicuous sigh, but he knows he has no right to stop them. Until they meet up in two days’ time, they’re allowed to spend their time however they want.
The rest of the Party quickly follows suit and in moments only Cyrill and Flum are left.
Cyrill closes her eyes for a moment, and the jewel-encrusted sword that she’d been holding the entire time they were in the Demon Realm fades into motes of light and a small crest appears on the back of her hand.
She casts one last glance at Flum, narrows her eyes in a scowl, then leaves the room.
---How did it get to be like this?
No matter how hard she wracks her brains, she can never find the answer.
They both like sweets, so they used to go out for cake together whenever they returned to the Capital. There’s no hope of that happening now.
“I wanna go home… I hope Mom and Dad are doing okay…”
She fondly remembers her home village. It’s only been a few months since she left, but already she can’t help but find the thought of her hometown nostalgic. Just recalling the warm, sweet air is enough to bring tears to her eyes.
Rubbing her eyes with her arm, she shakes her head clear of her self-pity. Shifting her thoughts to the task at hand and renewing her determination, she heads for the exit.
This is no time to be crying.
In just two days they’ll be meeting up again, and before then she has to have finished restocking their supplies --- she can do that much for them even as weak as she is.
She leaves the Teleportation Room and steps into the dark, chilly corridor beyond.
She’s surprised to see a mountain of a man in black armour waiting there for her, his arms crossed in front of him as he leans against the wall.
“Gadio-san…? Oh, and Eterna-san, too!”
He was supposed to have left already.
A second, much smaller figure pops out of Gadio’s shadow and waves.
She’s dressed as eccentrically as always, clad in something halfway between a white one-piece swimsuit and a leotard. A pair of strange devices that almost resemble deformed fish float by her shoulders. As if trying to look the part of a witch she’s also wearing a pointy wide-brimmed hat and a fluttery cape, but they end up only making her look stranger.
“You’re going shopping? I have some stuff to do, too. I’m coming with you.”
“Eterna told me to carry your things. Normally, though, I wouldn't have the time to waste with that kind of thing.”
His expression is unmistakably kind.
They likely noticed she was feeling down and decided to wait for her. Gadio has a long history as an adventurer, and Eterna is supposedly far older than her small, youthful body suggests, so it’s not surprising that they’d notice her insecurity.
“Th… Thank you so much!”
Flum bows deeply in gratitude.
Despite the simplicity of their gesture, all of Flum’s fears are alleviated, and even though hardships beyond anything she could ever imagine may be just around the corner she feels safe and secure once more.
After they finish shopping she parts ways with Eterna and Gadio and delivers the supplies to the Palace before returning to her room at the inn.
The first thing she does is look at herself in the mirror and let out a deep sigh. Even though they carried the bags for her most of the way, she feels exhausted.
All her stats are 0 --- with a Strength of 0 she can’t carry anything heavy, and with a Stamina of 0 her breathing grows heavy and labored even walking short distances. While she can still live a more or less normal life, she’s far weaker than the average person.
She hates how weak she is, but she's been living with her condition her entire life.
The cause of all her misery is her Attribute.
Every living thing has an Attribute, most often one of Fire, Earth, Water, Air, Light, or Dark. If they have enough mana, they can even cast magic drawn from their Attribute.
Every once in a while, however, someone is born with an Attribute other than one of the six.
Jean’s Primal Attribute, for example, gives him control over Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, and Cyrill’s Hero Attribute gives her access to a wide variety of unique spells. These Rare Attributes are often fundamentally stronger than the other Attributes, but even among the Rare Attributes there are special cases --- exceptions among exceptions.
Flum’s own Attribute, Reversal, is one such rarity. It also happens to be the reason why all of her stats --- Strength, Magic, Stamina, Agility, and Intuition --- are stuck at 0.
Normally, one’s stats increase naturally through normal everyday life, but in Flum’s case, the process is reversed; instead of her stats steadily increasing they’re always decreasing. Since stats can’t fall below zero, that’s where hers have stopped. With her Magic at 0, that of course means that she can’t even use the unique magic supposedly bestowed upon her by Reversal.
“Everyone in the village was so nice to me back then...”
Nobody made fun of her for her weakness, and even the adults treated her the same as the other children. Among the kids her age, even, nobody looked down on her. Thinking back on it, she really was fortunate. After being forced into Cyrill’s party and the real world, she's experienced the normal state of the things first-hand. It was something she was bound to run into eventually --- from the moment she was born she's been one of the victims.
Cursing the ‘power’ of her Attribute, she jumps onto the bed and clutches her pillow to her chest. She closes her eyes and lets the comfort of her bed envelop her.
If I’m this tired I may as well just sleep.
Just then, someone knocks on the door.
“Nn? Who is it?”
Already half asleep, she asks in a drowsy voice.
“It’s Jean. I have something important to discuss.”
As soon as she hears his voice she bolts upright, springs from the bed, and rushes to the door. Halfway there she trips over herself and scrapes her knee, but enduring the pain and swallowing back her tears she quickly unlocks and opens the door.
Standing there in the doorway is the sage himself, a sour look on his face.
“Wh-What’s wrong, Jean-san?”
“Come with me.”
He turns and starts to walk away without explaining himself or allowing her to refuse.
She grabs the key off its place on the shelf, and after quickly making sure the door closes behind her she hurries after him. Jean doesn’t look back even once as he leads her out of the inn and into the street. He never even considered the possibility that she wouldn’t follow him, not because he trusts her but because he believes it only natural that she hang on his every word.
Turning a corner, Jean leads her into a narrow alley devoid of any human life. A few thin men sit cloudy-eyed with their knees hugged to their chests or lie on piles of thin rags. She'd never come to a place like this normally. Finally, she works up the courage to talk to Jean.
“Um... Where are we going?”
No reply. She should’ve expected as much.
Giving up on communication, she simply follows Jean wordlessly.
Turning another corner, they arrive at a slightly more open space. The unsettling feeling of the square almost gives the impression that they aren’t in the Capital at all, but given the sheer size of the city it’s only natural that some places feel foreign to her.
“Is this where we’re going to talk?”
Jean finally turns around to face her.
He reaches out and grabs a fistful of hair from the top of her head.
Just like that he drags her across the hard cobblestone street until they come before a hunchbacked man with an unpleasant grin on his face.
“Ow, Oww! P-Please stop, Jean-san!!”
Her pained cries echo throughout the square, falling only on deaf ears.
Neither of the men are so softhearted as to stop before they’ve even begun.
She struggles and flails in an attempt to break free, but she simply lacks the Strength to do so.
“Hehehe… Are you really sure about this, Sir? I can really have this little gem?”
He talks with honeyed words as he studies Flum top to bottom, eyes running up and down her body as if licking her all over.
“You can do whatever you want with this trash.”
Jean throws Flum to the ground at the man’s feet as if she really is nothing more than a bag of trash.
She hits the ground hard.
She can’t bring herself to stand, only able to lie there on the cold ground.
Her legs are scraped and bleeding from being dragged.
Flum can’t grasp the situation she’s found herself in.
She looks up at Jean in confusion and fear, and in response he returns a cold-hearted glare.
“You’re nothing but a snivelling, pathetic commoner, but despite that you have the audacity to interfere with us real Chosen! Just the thought that I breathe the same air as you is enough to make me retch! To be honest, I’m rather impressed that I held out as long as I did.”
Jean's words drip with venom.
“What gives trash like you the right to address me so casually!?”
As if responding to his rage, Jean’s magic activates, and a nearby stone flies at her with the speed of an arrow. It leaves a thin red line and stinging pain behind on Flum's cheek. She brings a hand to her face in disbelief and her fingertips come away wet with blood. A squeal of fear escapes her lips.
“C'mon, Sir, no more of that. That’s valuable merchandise you just damaged there.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself... but perhaps this is for the best, actually. Wouldn’t that be the ideal spot for the mark?”
“Well, a little scratch like that is sure to fade, so it shouldn’t matter much. I’ll leave the decision up to the young Sir, yes?”
The man hands Jean a metal rod about twenty centimeters long. One end is a handle, and the other has a flat metal part. Jean nears his hand to the flat end, and muttering “Heat” it begins to glow red. Flum shies away from him.
“Wh… What’s that?”
“A branding iron, specifically one for a slave mark. Surely someone of low birth such as yourself is familiar with slaves.”
Slave - a type of human that can be legally bought and sold.
Some people are born slaves, some are orphans or criminals forced into slavery, but the number of slaves on the whole has been on the decline. In the past, when instead of the single unified Kingdom there were warring lords who fought endlessly for land, it was fairly common for countries to turn prisoners of war into slaves or to kidnap the residents of neighbouring lands, resulting in a large number of slaves overall. The issue, however, was that during the war and even afterwards the slaves would flee abusive nobles or horrendous working conditions, eventually resorting to all natures of horrible crimes just to survive.
In the end, the law was changed in response to the violence perpetrated by both slaves and owners, and slaves started receiving better treatment - on the surface, at least. The recapture of such ‘free slaves’ was allowed by law, and illegal slave merchants sprung up and started catching these free slaves and selling them to nobles with a special love for torture. Even now, slave-related issues grip the Kingdom.
“To refresh your plebeian memory, all slaves must have a slave mark somewhere on their bodies. This is an instrument for precisely that purpose. There are, of course, many more pleasant ways to go about the process, but to allow you to better come to terms with your new lot in life I chose a brand. What do you think? Are you not grateful for my overwhelming generosity?”
As he says, the slave mark is always engraved somewhere easily visible, and it’s quite common for it to cover an old injury. His choosing the brand is also, as he claims, his own personal choice. There’s no real reason for him to force that glowing hot clump of metal onto her face.
“N-No… I don’t want to be a slave!”
“And yet you have no right to refuse.”
“This is just wrong! Why do I have to become a slave!?”
While the recapture of slaves is legal, selling people into slavery is of course illegal. The hunchbacked slave merchant is regardless unfazed by the scene unfolding in front of him. He’s probably already prepared all the equipment he will need for processing and selling Flum after the branding is complete.
“Why are you doing this!?”
In response, Jean’s face twists with rage.
“You bitch! Do you really have no idea how much trouble you’ve caused us already!? If not for you, we probably would be at the Demon Lord’s Castle by now! All of my carefully laid plans have been ruined by you, always slowing us down and getting in our way! You, a mere commoner! A weakling with no power to speak of! Soon you'll understand just how grave a sin that is!!”
Regardless of how cruel and unreasonable his words are, he doesn’t tell a single lie.
Their party is composed of legends whose names are known by every man, woman, and child in the kingdom; he himself is one such legend, a genius.
Her very presence among them is mud on their exalted names.
“Do… Do the others know what you’re doing? I might be useless, but I'm a Chosen just like everyone else! You can’t get away with it!”
“Of course they do --- the decision was unanimous, in fact.”
“That’s a lie.. You’re lying! Eterna-san and Gadio-san didn’t stop you!?”
They were just shopping with her a few hours ago. She can’t imagine them going along with such a plan.
Jean’s response is firm and unwavering.
“They took a little persuading, certainly, but in the end they agreed. It’s for the best if we defeat the Demon Lord as soon as possible, and you held them back most of all, you know.”
It's true --- Eterna and Gadio are the kindest to her and looked after her the most, which means that she’s the biggest burden on them. Even Flum herself feles bad about all the trouble she puts them through on a daily basis.
This can’t be happening… I’ve gotta be dreaming...!
Even as she repeats the words over and over again in her head, her chest tightens.
“What about Linus-san and Maria-san!?”
“They didn’t care either way. Not surprising, considering you really weren’t that close.”
It makes sense. Since they barely even talked, it was only natural that neither of them would pointlessly cover for her.
“Wh-What about… What about Cyrill-chan?”
She’s been cold to Flum as of late, true, but until just recently they were close friends. Flum can’t imagine someone as kind as her going along with such a horrible plan.
Jean grin is bigger than any she's ever seen him make before.
“She was positively overjoyed to hear of my little plan. ‘I’m glad I’ll never have to see her face again’, she told me.”
“It’s the truth.”
“No… You’re lying...”
“Would I ever lie to you?”
“Aah… Aaaahh…! No… You’re lying! Liar…!”
She can’t bring herself to believe any of it, but what she thinks and wants has never mattered to Jean before and certainly doesn't matter now.
“You’re free to think whatever you want, I suppose, but that won't change the truth. You'll finally be useful to us for once --- we could always use a little more money. Isn’t that what you've always wanted? To be useful?”
“No… I don’t wanna be a slave…!!”
“From the day we first met until now, this is the most use you’ve ever been to me. You should be proud of that.”
“Take me back home… I wanna go home…!”
If there’s nobody left in the Hero’s Party on her side, that leaves only her friends and family back home. They might even welcome her back.
Jean can’t help but feel discontent at leaving her that one last hope to cling to. He twists his lips into an evil grin.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. If I took trash like you back there, you’d only burden them, and that would hardly be fair.”
“I'm sure your parents are living a life of luxury now that you're not holding them back! Even if you're useless, they'll probably be able to live off their newfound fame as parents of one of the Chosen for the rest of their lives! Hahahaha!”
No matter how much she screams or complains, he'll never let her go.
Desperate, she tries to crawl away from him on all fours, but arms of earth rise out of the cobblestone, grabbing her limbs and immobilizing her completely. She writhes and flails, but the earth magic of The Lone Sage could never be broken by someone with a body as frail as hers. Tears streaming down her face as she flails in a frenzy to escape, and Jean simply cackles with glee as he draws closer, and then --- with a sizzle, he presses the hot iron brand onto her cheek.
A hoarse scream rips itself out of Flum’s throat.
Tears fall onto the iron and evaporate instantly.
She tries to turn her head away, but more earthen arms emerge, holding her in place, taking that last freedom from her. Even as her voice turns raw, her scream doesn’t stop.
Jean, watching her suffering---
“Hahaha! This is only what you deserve! This is all YOUR doing!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!”
---can’t help but burst out laughing.
His pride would never allow her to call herself his party member. He could never even consider something so utterly humiliating.
“Aagh, ahk, ahh, aggh… gh… gah, agh…”
Finally, she can scream no longer. Her entire body is drenched in sweat, and both her shirt and her shorts are dripping wet. No, not just sweat --- her spasming body had been unable to control her bladder.
Left in such a terrible state, she loses consciousness and finally ‘escapes.’
Jean peels the branding iron away from her face, the stamp having lost its heat. Some burnt skin and flesh try to hold it in place, but he's more than strong enough to pull it free. Throwing it away, he turns to face the merchant.
“You looked like you were enjoying yourself, Sir.”
Even after witnessing all that, the man seems completely unperturbed.
The world he lives in is clearly different from the norm.
Something of that level is a simple part of everyday life.
“A little, I suppose. Honestly, after all the bitch has put me through, I’m still not quite satisfied.”
“I’d appreciate it if you stopped there, Sir. She’s not worth anything dead.”
“Even I’m not cruel enough to kill her. Well then, where’s my money?”
The gold-filled purse makes a conspicuous clinking sound as the merchant hands it to Jean. Smiling at its weight, Jean turns and leaves the square.
After watching him leave, the merchant starts tending to Flum’s face. Not only was her face burned, but a special dye on the branding iron ensures that the slave mark will be a curse Flum will bear for the rest of her life.
---In that one brief encounter, Flum lost both her dignity and the right to live the life of a human being.
Chapter 2 - From The Curse, The Girl's Blessing
The slave merchant drags Flum to his room and kicks her in the gut over and over again, holding her up by her golden brown hair.
“Dammit!! Do you have any idea how much I’ve lost on this deal!? You bitch!!”
“Ugh, uu… h-haa…”
Every time the toes of his boot makes contact with her gut she lets out a pained sound, saliva leaking from the corners of her mouth. Every time even a little touches his boots his anger flares up again and he starts hitting harder.
Her expression is already filled to the brim with despair and fear, her body curled up as small as she can manage in her position. The merchant’s blood boils just looking at her.
“Don’t pretend you’re the victim here! This is all your fault, you worthless little shit!”
The dull sound of boot hitting flesh continues to echo throughout the room.
The merchant seriously regrets trusting Jean so completely just because he was one of the Chosen. By the time he had seen Flum’s Status and his face had gone white from shock, however, Jean was already long gone.
When Jean contacted him saying he had a woman to sell, the merchant had thanked Origin. Not only would he be able to form a connection with the Hero's Party, but the woman herself was one of the Chosen. She’d be worth a fortune, no doubt. Jean himself had assured him that she’d be worth all the trouble in the end.
Selling an innocent girl into slavery is obviously illegal and someone like Flum would be difficult to sell without getting caught, but Jean had convinced the merchant that he would keep everyone off their trail, and the merchant makes a living finding buyers for illegal goods. As long as they both did their job, neither of them should have any problems.
The merchant was nonetheless very cautious in cutting the deal.
Jean had given the distinct impression that he didn’t want the reasons behind the deal to be known, so the merchant was careful not to spoil the deal by saying or doing anything to pry.
---Maybe he should’ve gotten suspicious instead.
It wasn’t as though he didn’t have any misgivings about trusting someone who clearly had something to hide, but in the end his greed won the upper hand.
The first time he began to suspect something strange was afoot was the moment Jean started relentlessly criticizing her.
Useless, he had called her. Right in front of the man he was about to sell her to.
She looked to be, without a doubt, the famous Flum Apricot herself, companion of the one and only Hero --- all the merchant could do was tell himself it was all a bad joke on Jean’s part.
At the time, he still trusted Jean. He trusted him up until he took Flum back to his base of operations and looked at her Status.
Checking someone’s Status is incredibly easy. Anyone can cast the Attributeless magic Scan.
Flum Apricot Attribute : Reversal Strength : 0 Magic : 0 Stamina : 0 Agility : 0 Intuition : 0
Scan was supposedly created by a great mage in the distant past, and not only does it turn abstract combat ability into quantifiable values but it even reveals the target’s Attribute.
Normally, he would’ve used Scan before handing over the money. If it was a normal deal, the merchant wouldn’t have hesitated to.
But this wasn’t a normal deal.
If he had shown any sign of doing so, Jean probably would’ve called off the deal then and there. Jean’s intimidation tactics worked in the end.
A week had passed since the merchant traded that hefty bag of gold for Flum.
No matter how much he regrets it he can’t just ask for a return, and nobody would ever be stupid enough to buy an illegal slave with stats like hers. Her only use now is as a punching bag --- but even that's about to change.
As long as Flum lives, he’ll remember his failure every time he looks at her face.
This loss isn’t enough to bankrupt him. If he’s going to continue as a slave merchant, he’ll have to put this behind him and focus on business as usual. He should dispose of that useless, irritating piece of trash as soon as possible. He lost money, yes, but part of running a business is learning to cut losses. Even if he was deceived, he can't just play the victim forever.
Finally, he decides on his course of action.
Grabbing Flum by the collar of her battered shirt, he drags her down the rough stone corridor. The floor bites into her skin, scraping at her as they go.
She barely even reacts to such little pain. She can’t even bring herself to care where she’ll be dragged off to next.
Wherever they go, it won’t be pleasant. Maybe she’ll be sold to someone else, maybe she’ll be killed --- no matter what, her future is grim.
The moment she had the slave mark branded onto her face, her dreams of returning to her village were dashed. At first she wondered what she’d done to deserve such a fate, but she stopped even thinking after she decided to give up.
Still dragging her behind him, the merchant descends a staircase. As her butt and legs hit the hard stairs over and over, she lets out small cries of pain.
Finally, the merchant arrives in the basement. He unlocks the cell there, throws Flum in, and quickly locks it again.
Battered and beaten, she collapses onto the cold floor. Slowly sitting up, she looks around her. She finds herself in a cage, the kind used for displaying the slaves to potential buyers. Aside from Flum there are four other people there, all of whom have dead eyes, convinced like her that their lives are over. Their starved limbs have been reduced to nothing but bones.
In the back a woman is sitting in a pile of human waste, a thin smile on her lips. Her will was probably crushed long ago. Her heart still beats, but she’s already dead.
The living conditions are abysmal. The smell alone is horrible enough that even in her apathy Flum scrunches up her face in disgust.
“It looks like I finally have enough to start.”
The merchant mumbles to himself as he sits in the chair in front of the cell. He stands up and heads into the darkness of the far end of the room, but none of the living corpses in the cell could care less.
The only sound left in the room is the sound of slaves’ breathing.
Flum drags herself along the ground to the wall, then sits with her back to it.
She looks up at the weathered stone ceiling, simply breathing in then out again and again. It takes a while for her to notice the gangly slave beside her with the heavily bandaged face.
“You… How long have you been here?”
Flum starts talking to the slave on nothing more than a whim. The slave slowly turns to face her, stares at her wordlessly for a moment, then finally gives an emotionless reply.
“I’ve been here for three days.”
Until she heard her voice, Flum didn’t even notice the slave was a she.
Her body is nothing but bones, and her face is covered in bandages --- in such a state nobody would be able to tell her gender with any certainty.
Her thin hair is diluted grey and reaches down to her shoulders --- maybe if she took a proper bath it’d be a pretty silver colour. Its length is fairly feminine, but the ends are frayed and uneven, as if hacked at with a rusty knife. Maybe she’d never had a proper haircut and her hair had just grown out like this naturally.
Her clothes are filthy, her skin is blackened with dirt, and she smells unpleasant. She’s by no means pretty.
But looking straight into her eyes, however, Flum’s breath is taken away.
What beautiful eyes --- Flum is completely captivated.
Her eyes have a feminine sort of kindness within them, and her irises are incredibly clear.
Even in the darkness of that basement, her eyes give off such a radiance that Flum is convinced that if things had gone only slightly differently for her she’d be living out a blissfully happy life right now.
“If we’ve been brought here, then… we’re gonna die, aren’t we?”
“I don’t know. But Master did say that he was going to dispose of us.”
“The man who was sitting there a minute ago. Since nobody wants to buy me, that makes him my Master.”
Flum is brought to the stark realization that the girl is completely different from her.
She can probably only call that horrible man ‘Master’ without hesitation because she’s been a slave from a young age. The girl is a slave at heart.
Flum then finally notices that the skin peeking out from under the girl’s bandages is red and inflamed, maybe the result of some unspeakable abuse from her former master --- as soon as she thinks that she can’t help but shiver.
She doesn’t have any interest in continuing the conversation with the girl. The thought of a girl even younger than herself enduring such torture is simply too much.
Flum awkwardly stops talking. The girl, first looking Flum up and down, finally loses interest and slowly turns to look at the ground once more.
Just like that the two girls sit side by side, knees hugged to their chests, and stare at the grey all around them. Several nameless bugs squirm around on the floor, moving their countless legs beneath them. Normally Flum wouldn’t want to be anywhere near those unpleasant creatures, but now she does nothing but watch them.
Not long after that, the sound of footsteps approaches the cell. On the other side of the bars is none other than the slave merchant. Dragging the small chair closer to the metal bars he sits down, crosses his legs with an air of self-importance, and makes an announcement.
“Well then. I’m sure you’re all aware by now, but you're all defective since nobody'll buy you. Your very lives are worthless, in other words. I don’t have the luxury of being able to keep worthless meat here, so I’ll get rid of you all here and now.”
If he was only going to kill them, however, he wouldn’t need to make any preparations.
The corners of his mouth rise slightly.
“It cost me a pretty penny to get my hands on you, didn’t it? And up until now, how much money do you think I’ve lost feeding you? If you don’t at least make it entertaining for me in the end, doesn’t that seem unfair?”
The slaves don’t answer.
He wasn’t expecting much, but he can’t help but click his tongue in annoyance as he once again disappears from sight. He walks up to the circular valve sticking out from one of the walls, puts both his hands on it and begins turning it clockwise. As he does so, the sound of stone on stone emanates from the ceiling of the cell, and sand and pebbles start falling in.
Flum dumbly looks up at the sound, and just then --- thud, three somethings of roughly human size fall through the hole in the ceiling.
No, at one point they were humans, even if they're clearly not alive now. The corpses fall in a twisted heap in the middle of the room. Blood and an unknown clear fluid splatter everywhere, and the smell of rot soon fills the cell.
The various insects in the cell scatter at the impact, running aimlessly in circles.
Having finished with the valve, the merchant once again appears in front of the cell, a smug look on his face.
“Heh… Do you know what those things are? They’re ghouls, human corpses that move on instinct thanks to residual magic power. F-Rank monsters.”
The ghouls slowly rise to their feet with spastic movements, an unsettling squelching sound emanating from their rotting flesh. They jerkily swing their heads, searching for prey.
An unsettling cry comes from their rotting throats.
Flum knows a little about them from her time in the Hero’s party. Ghouls are only F-Rank, which makes them some of the weakest monsters. Their movements are slow and jerky, and their rotting bodies are surprisingly fragile.
“If you can kill these three, I’ll let you all out of there and sell you. You’ll have earned yourselves a slightly longer life, I suppose. But be careful, because ghouls…”
It isn’t rare to hear of novice adventurers who let down their guards and got their throats ripped out by these ‘weakest of monsters.’ Unarmed, inexperienced, ordinary people have no hope of beating them.
“Ah, I didn’t even get to finish and they’re already swarming.”
All at once, the three ghouls rush the woman sitting in human waste in the corner.
Ghouls move on the instinct of ‘hunger’. Always seeking to replace their rotten bodies with fresh flesh, they move only to devour human flesh.
Strands of saliva branching between their yellowed teeth, they open their mouths wide and bite into her flesh. The woman doesn’t even scream, only watching apathetically as the monsters tear into her. The first goes for her thighs, the second for her shoulders, the third for her face.
Crunch, munch, slurp --- the ghouls sloppily dig into their first meal.
Finally the woman’s body starts convulsing, bloody saliva escapes her lips, her head falls limply to the side, and she breathes her last. Her expression seems strangely content, finally having escaped all her suffering, and even after she dies the ghouls continue to greedily devour her.
Flum and the other two remaining slaves were ready to give up on their lives, but witnessing the woman’s death they come to a realization.
I don’t want to die yet...!
The only one of them still watching with disinterest is the bandaged girl.
The merchant smiles as despair starts to well up within the cell.
“Oh, how awful! Unless you do something, the same thing is going to happen to the rest of you, too! But you can’t beat ghouls bare-handed... Don’t you wish you had a weapon?”
Clearly enjoying himself, the merchant continues as if reading off a script.
“Oh, what’s that? There’s a giant sword on the wall over there! It looks really heavy... but wait, what if it’s Epic-tier and enchanted so that even weakling slaves could use it?”
It's obviously a trap, but they have no choice but to take the bait.
The only man in the cell runs over to the wall, gripping the hefty hilt.
Unable to even hold it up, the blade falls with a klang to the floor, sending small sparks flying. Of course there’s no way he could hold such a massive piece of metal with his thin, starved arms. The man obsessively maintains his grip on the handle, but unless he can call forth some desperate strength it’s all for nothing.
Responding to the sound, the ghouls start to expressionlessly close in on their next quarry. As much as he struggles, he can’t call up enough strength to lift the sword, let alone attack.
“Hahh, hahh, hahh…! I-I… I’m gonna live, and then… I’m gonna start my life… ov…”
The man’s voice, filled with false bravado, peters out.
The merchant cackles with glee.
“You put on a nice show. You must’ve worked hard for that --- you’re still going to suffer, though!”
“H… Hot… My body, it… AAAAAAAAARRGH!?”
The man suddenly starts screaming.
The skin on his hands peels away, exposing raw flesh and bone. His arms, shoulders, neck --- even his torso and legs concealed beneath his clothes meet the same horrific fate. His flesh starts to melt and run, and soon he's no longer recognizably human.
“Kuhahahahaha! Really, too bad! You really showed me you’ve got guts, but I forgot to mention that sword is cursed. A really nasty curse, one that melts your flesh just by holding it. Just the kind of thing you’d expect from such a creepy sword, isn’t it? Just like with that Flum girl, I was tricked into thinking it was a top-class Epic-tier weapon. Aah, I guess I don’t learn, do I? Well, it really is Epic-tier, so maybe I wasn’t scammed after all. Kuhahahaha, hyahahahahaha!”
Finding it all simply hilarious, the merchant lets out a full-bodied laugh, clapping his hands with glee.
“I guess since it’s become a valuable little prop for my little garbage-disposal show, you really can’t tell at first glance what’ll turn out to be useful, huh!”
While he talks, the ghouls close in on their next target --- not Flum or the bandaged girl but the other woman.
“Why are you coming over here…? Go away… Stay back, stay back!!”
The woman frantically tries to shoo them away as she scrambles backwards across the ground. Evidently finding the woman’s flailing to his liking, the merchant laughs loudly.
Against such an enemy and in a place where not even pleas can be used as a weapon, there’s no way to resist, no hope left in the cell.
The woman turns to her last resort.
“Please, save me! Please, I swear I’ll work hard! I’ll do everything I can to make sure I sell, so please...!”
Flinging herself at the bars, she presses her face against the gaps and begs for her life, throwing away the last of her pride and surrendering herself to the detestable man who put her in that situation in the first place. It’s better than being eaten by monsters or melting; as long as she makes it out alive.
“Please, I beg you, I beg you!!”
Hearing her pitiful plea, the merchant stands up, a kind smile on his face. He crouches down to her level and looks her straight in the eyes.
“Ah… You… You’ll save me?”
Seeing an expression on his face unlike anything she’s ever seen before, a small glimmer of hope sparks to life in her chest. In the end, even the merchant is human --- surely he still has some semblance of humanity left.
She looks at him with hopeful eyes, and he replies with one word.
He says coldly, without even changing his expression.
Pulling a long, thin knife from his belt, he drives the thin tip up through the soft part of her lower jaw.
The blade pierces the root of her tongue, passes through her nasal cavity, and reaches her brain.
“Ugh, what a smell! I can’t believe such a stench could come from a human! Well, I guess she’s not human anymore... Hah, saves me the pain of being called the same as the likes of her. Haha!”
Face still pressed against the bars, she slowly slips downwards, dragged by gravity. Propped up by the knife still sticking out of her jaw, she seems to watch him return to his chair. Noticing the expression still stuck on her face, he can’t help but laugh.
---The world is a very wide place.
She knew only a narrow slice of it, and leaving that little slice seemed to fill her with pain and suffering.
If only I’d never left... I never even wanted to be here!
Flum curses Origin for making her join the Hero’s party in the first place.
I don't care about some ‘prophecy’! Who would honestly believe I'm a ‘Chosen’!? If not for Origin I wouldn’t be in this mess!
From morning to noon she’d help with farmwork, have a warm lunch with her family, then in the afternoon she’d plan to keep on with her work but would be told by her parents to go play with her friends when they came to invite her. They’d make small-talk, go window shopping, and explore the nearby forest for pretty flowers until dark. She doesn’t have a lot of stamina so they’d have to take a lot of breaks, but everyone around her was nice enough to not blame her for things beyond her control. When she got home, it’d be time for dinner. Surrounded by smiles and warm conversation, she’d eventually fall asleep and wake up the next morning to find the start of another day just like it---
Those days were happy.
I never wanted anything more than that!
She almost never asked for anything selfish, and everyone told her that she was a good girl. Maybe she was a bit of an awkward child, and maybe she did give her parents a hard time due to her low stats. So what? All children trouble their parents every once in a while. The problems Flum caused were pretty insignificant overall, and once they’d even laughed and told her that they were glad to be able to baby her every once in a while.
She was never supposed to be eaten by ghouls. She was never supposed to die in a basement, suffering and screaming until the very end. This is all a mistake --- no matter how she looks at it, Origin made a huge mistake in choosing her.
“No… no… I don’t wanna die here… I didn’t do anything wrong!”
Anger and fear, terror and rage swirl and spin endlessly through Flum’s head as the ghouls draw closer, rotting flesh squishing and oozing with every movement, groaning terribly.
“No, you did. Did you forget lying to me? Letting that bastard run off with my money? Have you already forgotten that I can't sell you!? Lucky for you, I'll forgive you if you die.”
“That wasn’t me! I didn’t do it, that wasn’t my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong!”
She was sold, turned into a slave, and is about to be killed.
I'm the victim here! He can't just shove all the responsibility onto me, can he!?
“No, it’s ALL your fault. It’s your fault for being sold for so much and your fault for being so worthless.”
---The world shouldn’t allow this.
Why is it that in this basement, the merchant’s words are the ‘truth’? Why is the real truth being smothered into nothingness?
At this rate Flum will die and powerlessly, ingloriously, unhappily become a corpse even more twistedly grotesque than the one that used to be the woman in the corner. Nobody would mourn her death like that, nobody would feel sad. Not even her parents would ever learn her fate. Her slave-marked body would probably disappear into a trash heap somewhere, never to be seen again.
Anything but that.
“If you don’t want to be eaten, I guess your only option is to pick up a weapon and try to fight, isn’t it? Ahahaha!”
Lying there on the ground a few infinitely large steps away is the black greatsword. Beside it is the pearly skeleton of the slave man, resting in a pool of his own flesh.
Give up, get eaten, and die.
Resist, melt, and die.
In the end, she’ll die no matter what she chooses. Face twisted with suffering, screaming and protesting, in the end, she’ll die. There’s nothing she can do.
But… maybe if she dies holding the sword, dying because she tried to fight back, the truth might be a little easier to bear.
Either way, the bandaged girl will die right after her so the only person who will remember her last stand will be the merchant.
It’s certainly better than just getting laughed at and dying, though.
“Ugh… uuuuu… Uuuuuuurrgh...!”
Flum slowly stands up.
She’s not exactly athletic to begin with and she’s starving, so she barely has any strength left. On top of that, she’s been the merchant’s punching bag for the past week and her injuries are still fresh.
She finally manages to stand, trembling and bowlegged.
The merchant watches her with a bemused smirk.
Gritting her teeth, she puts all her strength into her legs.
She takes a step forward. It’s not a big step, but it's forward.
At this rate the ghouls will reach her before she can reach the sword.
“Ha… agh, ah… Aaaagh…!”
Even so --- facing such unfair odds, she repeats her old mantra from her days in the Hero’s Party in her head.
Even so, even so, even so---!
Crushing her weakness with those words, she takes another step. As she starts to slowly build momentum, she thinks she can feel her stride growing longer.
Unfortunately, no amount of courage alone is enough to break through the nightmare she's in. A ghoul reaches her side before she realizes it, latching onto her with its festering arms .
Pulled with a strength far exceeding her own, she can feel her body leaning back.
It pulls its face up to her left shoulder and opens its mouth horrifically wide, its filthy brown teeth glisten with saliva, and it bites into her.
Its teeth break through the cloth and into her skin, causing hot red blood to pour out.
“Aaaaaagh! Kh, hahh, uugh…!”
The ghoul shakes its head back and forth, digging itself in deep before tearing out a chunk of flesh.
Pain shoots through her shoulder, causing her face to twist with pain. Unable to withstand it, she hits the cold stone floor before she realizes she’s falling.
Even so, she keeps her eyes fixed on the sword.
Giving up on her numb left arm, she crawls forward on her remaining arm and legs, inching ever closer to the weapon.
“Keep it up, you’re almost there~!”
The merchant calls out mockingly.
The bandaged girl watches at Flum with disinterest, her eyes empty and disinterested.
“Uu, uuugh… uu, uuugh, g-guuuuugh…!”
Breathing roughly through her nose, fighting the pain, she slowly draws closer to the sword.
The other two ghouls soon catch up, and one of them flops onto the ground, digging its teeth into her right calf.
The first ghoul digs its teeth in, pulls out a chunk of tender flesh, and swallows. The second ghoul bites into her left thigh. The last ghoul, the one that had started on her shoulder, starts to gnaw on her heels.
There’s no way she can use her legs anymore --- only her right arm.
She’s lost so much blood that her body feels cold, but she still manages to break out in a cold sweat. Her lungs tremble as she breathes, but no matter how much oxygen they suck in her pain doesn’t lessen.
She can feel her consciousness start to leave her. She could pass out from the pain at any moment, and it's almost surprising her heart is still beating after so much abuse.
That’s why the miracle that follows is probably thanks to her determination alone.
The tip of her middle finger on her right hand grazes the hilt of the sword.
Flum extends her arm even further, gripping the handle firmly.
Finally, she can melt and die.
The ghouls continue to devour her numb legs. Her bare flesh and bones are coated in her own blood. Even if the ghouls stopped she’d doubtlessly die due to her injuries.
The important thing is that she chose the sword of her own will --- she somehow feels a sense of accomplishment.
Closing her eyes, the pain seems to fade away all at once. She even feels warmth, and her body grows oddly light.
It seems as though she’s already begun to pass on.
She can hear the merchant’s voice, but Flum will soon be far outside the merchant's reach.
“What the hell’s going on?”
…Or so she thought.
“What the hell… Why the hell are her wounds disappearing!?”
Hearing his confusion and growing curious, Flum hardens her resolve and opens her eyes.
She notices the ghouls have backed away from her and are just standing there, stock still. They seem just as confused as rest of them.
Even more surprising is that her legs, half-devoured only moments before, are now completely healed. Even her shoulder is back to normal.
Flum holds her left hand up to her face, opening and closing it just to see if it moves.
Finally she pinches her cheek and pulls.
It’s not an illusion, nor a dream, which means that this lightness she feels in her body---
She stands up and lifts the sword single-handedly.
It’s certainly not light, but she can hold it.
She’s supposed to be helplessly weak, but now she’s holding a sword four-fifths her height with one hand.
“I think I get it now…”
She understands what's happening even though she doesn’t understand why.
She didn’t give up.
Even when faced with absolute despair, even if it meant dragging herself along the ground, she did everything she could to fulfill her dying wish.
“...It’s okay for me to be alive.”
The power now flowing through her body is no doubt thanks to that resolve.
“That’s right… Yeah. That’s right. I didn’t do anything wrong, so I can’t die in a place like this… I've got to live.”
The ghouls slowly start to advance on Flum, their hesitation already gone.
Closing her eyes, she exhales deeply, sharpens her senses, puts strength into her swordarm, and by her own will she advances to meet them.
She has nothing to worry about. The sword's reach is much greater than the ghouls’.
Just like she’d learned from that former party member, if she waits carefully for the right moment to swing---
The upper halves of three ghouls’ bodies go flying through the air, enough driving force behind the blade to cut through all three ghouls as if they weren't even there --- definitely not the kind of strike that a girl with a Strength of 0 could make.
The sword itself clearly had something to do with it, but at the moment, Flum has something else on her mind.
The important thing right now is escaping the basement alive.
She approaches the locked door of the cell and swings downwards with all her strength.
The weight of the sword alone creates a tremendous amount of force as it cleaves the lock of the cell, and with a screech the door swings open.The slave merchant looks up at her in terror.
“W-Wait! You can leave, you can leave right now! J-Just spare my life…!”
Just a moment ago he was watching the slaves die and laughing, and now he’s the one begging for his life.
It’s not like she has a real reason to kill him now. She has no intention of becoming a murderer. If it turns out the merchant is anyone important, there’s a fair chance she’ll become a wanted criminal.
For a slave it’s suicide, plain and simple.
---she decides to stab his right shoulder first.
The broad blade brilliantly severs his arm, and after falling to the ground it twitches briefly before stopping moving completely.
“AAAAAARGH!? M-My aaaaarm!!”
Next, the bloody black blade pierces his left shoulder.
His screams echo throughout the underground room.
Flum is so calm she surprises herself. She’s never killed someone before, yet she feels as guilty as she would cutting up a steak. It's not surprising --- the slave merchant just went out of his way to prove that he's inhuman, after all.
Just as she drives the sword into his left leg, she remembers how just a little while ago he’d kicked her with that leg, over and over again.
It had really hurt.
Her stomach was bruised black and blue, and she hurt to the point where she hadn’t even been able to swallow the scrap of mouldy bread he gave her.
“Ugh, urk…! P-Please--- Gaaah!!”
It’s the same with his right leg --- it’s just fat, flesh, and a femur. Once cut off it’s just a bone with meat on it, but just being attached to that man makes it an instrument for spreading pain and misfortune.
It’s only natural for him to lose it if he’s going to misuse it.
“P-Please… forgive me...”
His voice is weak as rivers of blood flow freely from his four fresh wounds, his breath thin and ragged.
Flum can’t help but feel discontent at the thought of him dying of blood loss.
She swings the sword straight down from above, splitting his head clean in half. The black blade, already covered in blood and fat, cleaves him straight through to his jaw.
His cranium opens like a flower in bloom. Blood and cerebrospinal fluid flow out.
He’s far filthier than the woman whom he’d called filth minutes before. An unpleasant smell fills the air.
Flum is still surprisingly calm; not only does she not flinch away from the sight before her eyes but she still doesn’t feel any guilt.
It felt just like cutting apart those ghouls.
Yes, all she did was kill a monster that looked a lot like a human.
It made no sense to make out the merchant different from the ghouls, since he was even more rotten.
A perfectly logical conclusion.
I’m fine, I’m normal, I haven’t lost it.
I’m not mad --- I just see things a little differently after this week from hell.
The greatsword in Flum's hand never had a sheath to begin with. Even though she can carry it one-handed, she can’t just walk around town like this.
How should I store this?
At that moment, the sword turns into motes of light and disappears.
On the back of her right hand, a red crest appears.
“Oh, I guess he did say it was Epic, didn’t he… Cyrill also had the kind of sword that you could put away just by thinking.”
This is one of the unique properties of Epic-tier equipment.
Equipment is divided into the five categories of Common, Uncommon, Rare, Legend, and Epic, and the closer it is to Epic the higher its abilities tend to be. Just like a person or monster’s Status, one can check the tier and properties of equipment through Scan. With Epic equipment, the wielder can store or retrieve it from an extradimensional space simply by thinking, but since not only are the base abilities high but transporting it is extremely easy, Epic equipment is ludicrously expensive.
It’s not the sort of thing that a slave merchant would normally be able to afford --- but it was probably sold to him relatively cheaply after it absorbed the hatred of humans and became cursed.
As long as she doesn’t have to walk around in public with her sword out, the details don’t really matter, though.
Having successfully secured her new sword, she turns back to look at the cell.
The bandaged girl is sitting there wordlessly, watching her.
Flum walks back into the cage and extends her hand.
The girl cocks her head to the side, not understanding. Her dried-out bandages tremble along with her head.
“Don’t just look at me like that. Let’s escape together.”
“The merchant’s dead, so there’s no real reason to be here, is there?”
The girl simply stares at Flum’s face in silence. Her eyes really are pretty, but they have no emotion in them, and it’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking.
“Really, it’d be bad if anyone found out that I killed that guy. C’mon, let’s go!”
Unable to wait any longer, Flum grabs the girl and pulls her to her feet and starts leading her out of the cell and out of the basement.
“Will you… become my Master, then?”
Flum stops dead in her tracks.
“I wasn’t really planning on it, no.”
All Flum did was try to help her escape and somehow she arrives at that conclusion.
“But you’re taking me with you, aren’t you? You’re going to use me, too, aren’t you?”
“Am I wrong? If not, why would you take me with you? If you’re not my Master, then I have no idea what to do.”
Flum remembers what she’d felt from the girl when they first spoke.
She’s completely different from Flum, a slave at her roots. She’s likely been a slave since birth, so maybe the only relationship she's ever had before was that of master and slave.
To be honest, Flum doesn’t have any real reason for wanting to help the girl escape. If she had to say, it might be that she’d feel disheartened and lonely without anyone else around, nothing else --- but maybe she wouldn’t have even realized it if the girl hadn’t asked her.
“Fine, I’ll be your master from now on. Now will you come with me?”
The girl nods.
‘Is that really all it takes!?’ Flum retorts inwardly.
“Well then, I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Flum Apricot, sixteen years old. You?”
“My name is Milkit. I’m fourteen years old. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Master.”
Milkit bows deeply.
“Uh… yeah… Nice to meet you, Milkit.”
Not sure how to respond to her new title, she just grabs Milkit’s hand and starts running again.
They climb the staircase, leaving the gloomy basement behind, and look for the exit to the merchant's base.
Just being away from the smell of corpses is enough to raise their spirits.
It isn’t long before they find a door that looks like it leads outside.
Not wanting to walk out onto the street in their beaten rags, they ‘liberate’ some cloaks from their hooks. They get dressed and head outside.
Shortly after leaving, they come across the small square, the one where Jean had sold Flum. She stops as the memories come back to life --- but noticing Milkit watching her with doll-like eyes, she starts to move her feet again.
Remembering the route Jean had lead her down, they arrive at the main street. Suddenly finding people all around them, she lets out a deep breath… they can relax now.
Inhaling the air of a respectable place once more, Flum feels deeply relieved that she’s finally returned to the life of a normal human being.
Interlude 1 - That Tiny Missing Cog
Two days have passed since Flum was sold into slavery.
Obviously, she doesn’t show up in the Palace basement’s Teleportation Room at their agreed meeting time. As soon as they're all gathered, the sage Jean opens his mouth to speak.
“Flum went back home. She won’t be accompanying us any longer.”
Surprisingly, Cyrill gives an immediate reaction, eyes wide with shock as she stares at Jean.
The other four only give subdued responses; the witch Eterna furrows her eyebrows, the warrior Gadio seems lost in thought, the saint Maria looks at the ground and bites her lip, and the archer Linus mutters "Maybe that’s for the best..."
“How do you know that, Jean?”
Cyrill asks, her voice trembling slightly, and for a split second Jean makes an expression like biting down on an insect. He was convinced that once that irritating little dung beetle left the party that it’d be like she never existed, but evidently he was mistaken. Flum had apparently burrowed deeper into Cyrill's heart than he’d thought.
Even now, she’s still getting in his way.
“I was able to convince her that leaving was for the best. I told her that it was impossible for us to continue travelling together, you see. Believe me, she looked quite troubled by the whole affair, but I didn’t force her. She went home of her own accord.”
“Her own… accord…”
“Yes, that’s right. Honestly, we should all just forget about her now. We all know she was only getting in our way --- I thought you would’ve agreed to that much at least, Cyrill?”
Jean knows that he is the perfect match for Cyrill. Since he’s twenty-eight and she’s only sixteen some people might complain that he’s too old for her, but the important thing isn’t age but genius. If he’s going to pass on his genes, it has to be with someone as great as him or greater --- he’s thought so since long before he left on the Journey.
And then he met her: Cyrill Sweechka, the perfect ‘material.’
Instead of falling for him as she was supposed to, however, the first person she’d gotten close to in the party was that talentless, worthless piece of trash Flum. Apparently the advantage she had for being the same sex, the same age, and having the same country roots was more significant than he'd thought.
He was indignant, simply too prideful to accept it. It was only natural for superior humans to be attracted to each other, so why did she choose Flum, of all people, over him?
That’s why, in order to set things right, he got right to work.
Hard work happens to be Jean’s specialty. He achieved the position of sage not through his natural talent alone but with an incredible amount of sheer effort on top of that.
Driving a wedge between the two and chasing out Flum was child’s play in comparison.
“In that case, you shouldn’t be so reluctant to let her go, now, should you?”
Jean draws closer to her and puts his hand on her shoulder reassuringly.
“...Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
She gives a short nod.
Everything up until now was to get her to accept that Flum couldn’t do anything at all.
Nothing stands in his way now.
Now that she’s a slave, they should never see her again.
He has no reason to be concerned even if Cyrill remembers her. All he has to do now is lead her heart to where it should be, carefully and thoroughly tainting her image of Flum until he scrapes her out completely.
Other than Cyrill herself, none of their party members seem to have any doubts about the situation.
Casting Return, the room is bathed in light, and the remaining party of six are taken back to their last Continue Point.
Jean is as giddy as a gradeschooler the night before a field trip at the very thought of a journey without any unnecessary burdens.
“Hey! Cyrill, Jean, wait up!”
Linus’ irritated voice echoes loudly across the Demon Realm. He's lost count of how many times he's had to call out to them already.
Cyrill stops, turns to face him and apologizes, visibly depressed. Jean kindly pats her on the back and reassures her.
“There’s no need to apologize, Cyrill. Flum isn’t here anymore, Linus. There’s no need to proceed so slowly, is there?”
“Hahh… Look, I already told you, we weren’t going so slowly because Flum was with us. This is enemy territory. We need to be careful!”
“We’re strong enough that we don’t need to be so careful!!”
His confidence isn’t unfounded. Even if a monster or the average demon attacks them, it’d be almost too easy to defeat them.
“Oh yeah? What if one of those Three Demon General guys attacks us again? With monsters like them around we can’t be too careful.”
At the mention of the Three Demon Generals, Jean loses his nerve.
Of all the Demons that serve the Demon Lord, those three are the strongest. So far, their party has encountered Neigass “The Bloody Gale” and Tsaion “The Flickering Inferno.” Both of them were strong enough to go head-to-head with the Hero, and on top of that their magic had enough raw power that even Jean recognized them as a genuine threat.
“If you get it, then slow the hell down.”
Backed into a corner, Jean has no choice but to do as Linus says. He was only walking faster because he was convinced they'd finally be able to make some real progress now.
Cyrill, on the other hand, is so preoccupied that she isn’t paying attention to anything around her. The person on her mind is, of course, Flum.
I said so many awful things...
I must’ve really hurt her...
And then to be separated from her without even being able to apologize --- maybe they weren’t friends, but Flum was undeniably a treasured companion. If not for bright, cheerful Flum, innocent and ignorant, Cyrill probably would’ve cracked from the pressure of being the Hero long ago.
But even so---
“...I never actually thanked her, did I?”
No matter how much she worries, Flum isn’t coming back. The only thing she can do is defeat the Demon Lord and save the world for her.
There’s no way her companions don’t notice her mood, of course. Linus, turning back to walk with Maria after yelling at Jean, lets out a sigh.
“I’ve still got a lot to learn, huh.”
“What’s wrong, Linus-san? What happened to your usual confidence?”
“It’s the mood, I guess. Honestly, I said some pretty rough things to her, too. I’m just kinda shocked everything’s so different now that she’s gone.”
The party was so much more relaxed before. Even back then Jean was always angry at something, but that really seems to be more of a personality trait of his than a product of the mood.
“Hmm… Now that you mention it, Cyrill-san’s clearly feeling down, Jean-san’s stomping around more than he normally does, Eterna-san’s in an unusually bad mood, and Gadio-san hasn’t said a word since then.”
Flum’s determination to be helpful must’ve been lifting all their spirits without any of them even realizing it. It’s not surprising Linus didn’t notice until now if Flum herself didn’t.
“How’re you holding up, Maria-chan?”
She hesitates. Linus peers into her face.
“At a loss?”
“That’s kinda surprising. I thought you were like me and didn’t really talk to her much.”
“I talked about her a lot with Cyrill-san. When we first set out, Flum-san was all she talked about.”
She always looked so happy talking about Flum, like she was really having fun. Just listening to her talk was enough to put a smile on Maria’s face.
“I guess if Cyrill-chan’s feeling down then the mood of the whole party tanks, huh…”
Even though she’s only sixteen years old, she’s undeniably the driving force behind the party. Without her the Three Demon Generals would be almost impossible to beat, let alone the Demon Lord.
“I feel a little weird saying this to a priestess of the Church of Origin like yourself, but...”
“I don’t mind if you say something rude. You’re always a little blunt, so nothing you say now will offend me.”
“I guess, yeah. Well, here goes. When I heard that someone with stats of zero was going to be joining our party, I was convinced Origin had lost it.”
Listening to his cautious confession, Maria gives him a broad, warm smile.
“Origin-sama never makes mistakes, and he definitely hasn’t ‘lost it.’”
Holy crap, she’s cute!’ Linus thinks as she smiles at him.
Blond hair, porcelain skin, pure in both speech and personality --- she's exactly his type.
“O-Of course he doesn’t. She did end up playing a pretty big role, after all. But that being said, it’s not like we can afford to just stop now that she’s gone.”
They can’t go back and get her now. Not only would Jean be furious, but they can’t drag her back into such a dangerous journey in good conscience.
Even without Flum, they have to keep going.
“That’s exactly right, Linus-san. We have the noble role of annihilating the demons. No matter what, failure isn't an option---”
Her voice is filled with strong resolve.
Linus has his doubts.
Does she really have saving the world as her top priority deep down, or does she have some darker emotion lurking at the bottom of her pure-as-glass heart...?
If I ever find out, that’ll be the end.
Linus, getting that strange feeling, decides not to cross that line just yet.
Since Flum used to cook all their meals, they now have to take turns cooking. On the first day Gadio cooks for them, since as an S-Rank adventurer he’s used to camping out.
“I can’t guarantee it’ll taste any good.”
As far as meals made from monster meat go it’s quite tasty, if a lot rougher than what Flum used to make. Almost everyone there is content with the meal, but Jean scrunches up his face in disgust.
With very few exceptions, all monster meat has a very unique stench and taste to it. The foulness is dulled down a lot by herbs and the like, but enough remains that anyone who doesn’t like it would still notice.
“Gadio, can’t you do something about this meat? None of the meals before now have had this stench.”
“Don’t expect so much from me.”
“You’re seriously telling me that Flum could do what an S-Rank adventurer can’t?”
He tries to get a rise out of Gadio, but the warrior’s expression is unchanged. Eterna, sitting beside him, narrows her eyes at him in irritation.
That’s not to say Gadio is unoffended, however.
“That’s because of all the extra effort she put in for a certain someone who can’t stand bitter things.”
Gadio isn’t being sarcastic; all he does is tell Jean the truth.
“Ha, haha, she really used to waste a lot of time on pointless endeavors, didn’t she?”
Visibly perturbed, Jean sticks a chunk of the meat into his mouth in a show of defiance. With a pained expression he chews, trying to withstand the bitter taste spreading throughout his mouth.
Snorting, Gadio returns to his own meal.
After that none of them say a word, simply eating as they sit around the campfire.
When Flum was still with them she used to try to start up a conversation whenever the mood got like this, but there’s nobody left to do that now.
Since they don’t travel at night unless they have a reason to, the time between the end of dinner and bed is free time. Cyrill, Gadio and Linus perform the necessary maintenance on their weapons, Maria offers prayers to Origin, and Eterna spends the time meditating.
Jean typically spends his evening with a cup of sweet-smelling herbal tea while he reads books on magic, but since Flum isn’t there anymore, the tea doesn’t automatically appear in his hand.
Left with no other option, he rummages through his things, finds the necessary tools, and tries to make it himself. He hasn’t made his own tea since before his time in the Royal Magic Research Laboratory, used to being catered to as a genius.
At a loss as to what to do with all the little implements, he fiddles with them until Linus finally notices.
“Looks like there are some things impossible for even The Lone Sage.”
“Be quiet. I normally leave trivial matters like this to a servant is all.”
“Life at the top sure is nice, huh? Look, I’ll make it for you. Give it here.”
Jean himself is surprised at just how humiliating it is. As the man praised as the most talented mage in the kingdom, to be unable to do something that the likes of Flum could do is the greatest insult.
He folds his arms and kicks idly at the ground until Linus is finished.
“Here, it’s done.”
Jean takes the steaming teacup, takes a sip, and---
He immediately spits it out.
“What’s this supposed to be? It’s horrid.”
“Is that any way to say thank you!? I made it just like normal.”
“I said it’s horrid, so it’s horrid. This bitterness is simply the worst. How on earth did you manage to turn those leaves into something so disgusting!?”
He releases all the frustration that’s been building inside him since the incident at dinner at Linus.
Linus was only trying to give Jean a hand, and he certainly wasn't expected to be treated like that. He knows full well that Jean's a little too prideful for his own good but despite that tried to be his friend --- no matter how he looks at it, he's gone too far this time.
“There’s just no satisfying that pretty-boy mouth of yours, is there!?”
The next words prove to be lethal --- just as the furious Linus reaches for Jean’s collar, Eterna, who happens to be passing by, speaks with the same casual expression as always.
“Maybe Flum made it so that a certain big baby wouldn’t throw a hissy fit?”
Having said her piece, she leaves with a skip in her step.
This time, it’s Jean’s turn to boil over.
“Flum this, Flum that… Why on earth won’t you all shut up about that insect!?”
His teacup hits the ground, the fine porcelain scatters all over and the hot tea splashes all over Linus’ feet.
Instead of apologizing, Jean simply turns and storms away.
“What the hell, Jean!?”
Linus studies one of the many shards he picked up and grumbles. After collecting as much of the shattered porcelain as he can, he starts drying off the ankles of his pants by the campfire.
Spacing out as he watches the flickering flames, he starts to feel a little down.
He may be only twenty-four, but he’s an S-Rank adventurer just like Gadio. Having grown up in a dog-eat-dog world, he’s been through a lot more than other people his age.
Right now, his intuition is blaring warning sirens in his ears.
“This isn’t good... This is the kind of mood that comes right before a bad break-up.”
The single biggest cause for adventuring parties to break up isn’t monsters or money or anything insignificant like that.
It’s the bonds between companions getting tangled and broken that does it.
“I hope nothing too bad happens before we reach the Demon Lord’s castle.”
Even though he hopes for their journey to continue without difficulty, his experience tells him something very different.
They’re already as good as lost.
Chapter 3 - There are good people, too. We'll make it somehow.
Flum and Milkit hold hands as they walk through the town. They don’t have anywhere to go, so for the time being they’ve decided to just get as far away from that basement as they can.
Simply walking is enough to attract a lot of cold looks from passersby. The two girls’ faces are thin, their hair is messy, they’re wearing long cloaks and on top of that the two of them are clearly slaves. The sight of them holding hands alone is more than enough to pique interests --- but Milkit’s short stature, her being with Flum, and her bandage-wrapped face provide more than enough food for thought.
Regardless, Flum wonders if people really need to intentionally bump into them, sniggering.
“Hey, Milkit. Are slaves always treated like this?”
Flum asks Milkit as they thread their way through the crowd.
Milkit cocks her head to the side.
“What do you mean, ‘like this?’”
That response alone is enough. Just a moment ago someone had tried to trip her and almost sent her sprawling, but judging from her reaction this much unwarranted abuse is perfectly normal to her.
Anyone can torment a slave however they please --- in fact, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say they exist for that precise purpose.
Flum subconsciously touches her face with her free hand, feeling the ridges on her face that aren’t supposed to be there. Even if the rest of her wounds healed themselves, the special dye in the slave mark will ensure that it'll never fade.
A full week has passed since the branding and it’s still painful to touch, but the psychological damage is far worse than the physical.
“Master, are you hurting anywhere?”
Noticing the dark expression on Flum’s face, Milkit asks with obligatory concern.
“I was just feeling the whole I’m-a-slave-now thing all over again is all.”
Milkit tilts her head to the side again.
It’s probably impossible for her to understand Flum’s feelings after being a slave for so long herself. Even if Flum is no longer a member of the Hero’s Party and doesn’t have to worry about defeating the Demon Lord anymore, she can’t just go back home with a face like this.
In the end, the human named Flum Apricot died after all.
But she’s still alive.
Flum put her feet to the ground and started walking of her own free will.
And she’s not alone.
Even if she does feel a bit conflicted about what she should be doing now, there’s someone by her side now.
“If we’re going to stay alive, I guess we’ll have to earn some money first.”
“Yes… I suppose I’ll have to start selling my body. I don’t have any experience with that sort of thing, but I’ll do my best.”
The first thing that comes to Milkit’s mind is prostitution, of all things. Flum lets out a big, long sigh.
“Milkit, how about you treat you your body with a little more respect?”
“Respect? I’m not sure I understand.”
“Selling your body is your last resort, not your go-to.”
“What do you propose, then?”
“I guess we should head for the West Quarter first. We should be able to get work there.”
“Work that even slaves can take on...?”
The West Quarter is the only place in the capital where there’s a way for anyone to earn money, regardless of social standing. Milkit herself doesn’t think of that option until they arrive in front of the building itself.
Putting a little more strength into her grasp, Flum leads Milkit forward a little faster than before.
The Capital is divided into four Quarters: Central, East, West, and North. The largest of them, the Central Quarter, is home to a wide variety of shops, and away from the main streets are residential areas. The elitist East Quarter is where nobles and wealthy merchants live, and the North Quarter is where facilities important to the function of the country like the Royal Palace and the Grand Cathedral lie.
The West Quarter is where the poor and the homeless gather.
The slave merchant’s base is on the westernmost edge of the Central Quarter, and as such Flum’s destination is relatively close. After walking for about twenty minutes, they stop in front of a certain building and look up at the sign.
“This is… the Adventurer’s Guild?”
Milkit looks up at the symbol drawn there.
The Adventurer’s Guild --- a place where adventurers gather and take on quests.
‘Adventurer’ is the title given those who support the brave settlers of the wild and monster infested lands that still remain in the Kingdom.
“Yeah. I’ve heard of slaves-turned-adventurers before, and now I can fight and everything. I think I’ll at least be able to handle the easy quests.”
Having killed the ghouls and the merchant, she has some confidence now. She’s aware that she crossed a certain line back then, but in order for a person who’s strayed from the right path to rejoin society, they need some good deeds under their belt.
“Since you’re strong enough to kill a ghoul in a single strike, you can probably earn money here --- but Master, how is that even possible? As soon as you grabbed the sword your wounds healed, and you suddenly became strong enough to swing it so easily…”
“It’s probably because the sword’s Epic-tier, just like that merchant said. Maybe it’s got a strengthening enchantment on it or something?”
“That other man melted when he touched it.”
“Well, yeah, I’m curious about that too, but since my Magic’s zero I can’t cast Scan...”
If she could, she’d be able to see all of the sword's enchantments.
“Wait a sec. Since my body feels a lot lighter now, maybe my Magic also…?”
“Hold on a minute,” she says, pulling Milkit off to a small alley beside the Guild.
Thinking ‘come out’ in that dark, abandoned alley, light motes appear above her hand, spiral, and form a sword. Inwardly surprised, Flum takes a deep breath, then tries to cast Scan on the sword.
The basics of casting magic are to grasp the mana from within one’s body, manipulate it, and expel it in the desired form. Up until now she’s never felt it work --- but now she feels something shapeless almost like smoke flowing out from within her body.
She smiles to herself.
She can’t help being pleased. She’s been trying to reach this power for sixteen years, and this time she’s actually done it. As she starts getting distracted, however, the mana she’s gathered starts dissipating. Hurriedly renewing her focus, she causes the energy to flow up to her head, finally focusing it all into her eyes.
The information appears in front of her.
Name: The Soul-Devouring Zweihander Tier: Epic [This equipment lowers your Strength by 318] [This equipment lowers your Magic by 96] [This equipment lowers your Stamina by 293] [This equipment lowers your Agility by 181] [This equipment lowers your Intuition by 107] [This equipment melts your flesh]
Flum reads those worrying words aloud without thinking.
It’s a fitting name for a cursed sword.
At one point, it was probably just a two-handed sword like any other --- but somehow the resentment of the dead was gathered in the blade, its curse grew every time it claimed a victim, and finally it devolved into a sword that slays even its wielder.
“But why? Since all these enchantments lower stats, there’s really no way I should be able to use it…”
“It lowers them?”
“As far as I can tell, yeah. Why don’t you cast Scan and see for yourself?”
“I can’t cast it, so I’ll have to refuse.”
There’s no way that’s true. Even someone with a Magic of 1 should be able to cast Scan.
Flum then realizes what Milkit means.
It’s the most fundamental of magics, but if she’s never been taught, then there’s no way she could cast it --- her masters up until now have denied her even that basic knowledge.
“Even if I could see its status it wouldn’t mean anything to me. I can’t read.”
I’m the one better off for once --- Flum comes to that harsh realization.
“I’ll teach you to read, so once things calm down a little bit we’ll study together, okay?”
Flum smiles at her.
Milkit is silent for a few seconds, then she looks down, breaking eye contact with Flum. Her expression is filled with confusion and embarrassment.
“If you insist, Master, then I’ll do whatever you say.”
Flum is bothered slightly by her weak-willed response, but she decides to just accept the way Milkit is for now.
“It’s decided, then! I’ll teach you all I can, so leave it all to me!”
Getting a little carried away, she puffs out her chest with pride.
“...Wait, we didn’t figure out what’s up with the sword, did we? My stats are supposed to drop and I should’ve melted by now, but instead my stats have gone up and my wounds healed.”
“Yes. If we can figure that out, then we might figure out how to make you even stronger in the future, too.”
“I wish. Raising instead of lowering, healing instead of melting. Hmm...”
“It’s completely switched around, hasn’t it.”
“Yeah, it’s the opposite… it’s flipped…”
The opposite, flipped --- in other words, it’s reversed.
Flum’s Attribute is Reversal.
It’s supposed to be a useless, false power, nothing more than the cause for all her stats being zero, but if it turned out to be the reason for this sudden strength of hers---
“There’s a way to actually use my useless Attribute…?”
“I actually have one of those Rare Attributes, Reversal. It made all my stats zero, and I was positive it was worthless, but… I guess you never can tell what’ll be useful, huh…!”
Lowered stats become raised stats, melted flesh becomes regenerated flesh --- it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the curse itself has reversed and become a blessing.
“I always wondered why I had this useless power… haha, I never noticed because I would’ve never tried to use cursed equipment on my own… hahaha, hahahaha!”
Flum’s ecstatic voice echoes through the alley.
Milkit, not understanding the situation completely, stares at her blankly.
“Uh, sorry for getting so worked up all of a sudden. The bottom line is, because of my Attribute I get stronger the more cursed stuff I use!”
“I see. I don’t get it, but you really are amazing, Master.”
Her reaction is weak.
Flum’s mood suddenly deflates.
Of course she doesn’t get it. Not only have they just met, but Milkit isn’t the most emotional girl to begin with. She’s a little sad Milkit won’t celebrate with her, but they don't have the time for that anyway. The sun will set if they don’t hurry, and Flum wants to earn at least enough by then to pay for a room for the night.
In order to register at the Adventurer’s Guild, it’s necessary to clear a simple F-Rank quest. After that she’ll get her license and the reward money for the quest, which should be enough for one night at an inn.
Coming in front of the guild once more, they compose themselves and enter.
The inside of the guild isn’t exactly clean, and the smell of liquor saturates the air from the bar inside the guild, designed to allow adventurers to ‘meet-and-greet’ and form a party.
A number of adventurers are gathered there, ranging from well-kept to vulgar. They look at Flum and Milkit, and noticing the slave mark on Flum’s cheek many of them start to snigger crudely.
The receptionist’s window is just inside the building, and the woman with thick makeup behind the counter stops languidly playing with her nails long enough to twist up her face in disgust at the two girls.
“What’re you slaves doing here? You don’t look like some noble’s handmaids or anything.”
“I’m here to be an adventurer. Can I get a license?”
The receptionist ignores the laughter from the adventurers at the bar.
“Don’t kid yourself. Do you have a death wish or something? That bandaged girl might not do so well, but you're young enough you could make a pretty penny as a whore. Want me to introduce you to a guy?”
She smirks ill-naturedly.
Flum swallows her irritation, but a few adventurers follow up from the bar.
“Hey, brown-hair, if ya want I’ll buy ya for tonight right now! Lose the bandage-bitch somewhere first, though!”
“Haha, that’s cold!”
“What, you’d screw a monster like that?”
“Hell no… but hold on a sec, it’s been a while since I had a go…”
“Hyahahaha, ya jackasses’d probably go for stray dogs if ya got the chance!”
“Hey, if they don’t got diseases…”
“Are ya serious!? Gahahaha!”
Flum grits her teeth and clenches her fists, trying not to give them a reaction, but in the end she's unable to hold back. She glares and steps forward to shut them up when suddenly Milkit grabs her sleeve to stop her.
“Why are you…!?”
“There’s no point standing up for me, Master. There’s nothing for you to gain by hurting them.”
“Look, I’m angry that they said that stuff about you, but I’m angry about what they said about me, too!”
About ninety percent of her anger is for Milkit’s sake, though. Because Milkit seems to realize that, Flum stops.
“Okay, but seriously, they’re willing to buy you, so why not take them up on their offer? It’ll be a lot easier that way.”
“I already told you no.”
“Ah, I see.”
Giving her an offhand response, the receptionist turns her attention to the paperwork in front of her.
“No, uh, what are you doing? I said I wanted to be an adventurer…?”
“Gawd, you’re loud! You just don’t know when to shut up, do you? I don’t have any work for slaves that ignore my charity like that. If you get it, then go spread your legs over there.”
After being told that with a faint smile, Flum’s finally reached her limit. She’s halfway across the counter, reaching for the receptionist’s collar when someone calls out to her.
“Now, now, now, there’s no need to be so hard on these poor girls.”
A man approaches them from a crowded table by the bar. He’s thin, and maybe a head taller than Flum, but from his lean muscles it’s clear that he’s not starved but simply lean. His hair is light brown and cut short, and he gives off a sense of cleanliness. Perhaps because he was just enjoying a casual drink, he isn’t wearing any adventuring gear except for an expensive-looking dagger at his waist.
“I’m sorry for so suddenly butting in on your conversation like this. My name is Dane Finneas, and I’m an A-Rank adventurer affiliated with this guild. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He extends a hand, which Flum takes with suspicion. It’s large, and the skin on his palm is rough and calloused. Maybe because of the thin scar on his cheek, or the sharp look in his eyes, or maybe even the way Flum can’t tell what he’s thinking, he gives off a sense of being very strong.
If he wasn’t, he would never have made it to A-Rank status.
All adventurers, without exception, start at F-Rank. They can rise in rank as they take more and more difficult quests, but only those that the guild deems as competent are even given that chance.
“Ila, we’ve finally got a newcomer wishing to join the West Quarter guild despite how damned unsafe it is around here, so why would you turn her away?”
“Whether or not she can survive as an adventurer is based on her strength alone. It doesn’t matter if she’s a slave or a noble, I believe it’s important to give her a fair chance.”
“...If you say so, Dane-san.”
Dane likely holds quite a bit of influence in the guild, enough that Ila listens to him so readily despite how she was treating the two only moments before.
“Shouldn’t this one do?” he says, reaching across the counter and pointing out a quest from the stack of Ila’s paperwork.
For some reason Ila seems confused, but not in a position to turn down his suggestion she nods a moment later.
She hands the sheet of paper to Flum, who reads: ‘Gather 1 werewolf fang.’ The quest is F-Rank. Flum also receives a map, marked with the location werewolves can be found.
“Here, take it. If you come back alive I’ll give you your license.”
Flum responds in a low voice as she takes the map from Ila, clearly in a foul mood. If she’s going to become an adventurer, she’ll probably end up spending a lot of time with Ila --- having already antagonized her, Flum heaves an inward sigh.
“I can call you Dane-san, right? Thank you so much for your help. It looks like I’ll be getting my license after all.”
As they leave the guild, Flum turns and bows to him. “No need to be so proper with me,” he says with a pleasant smile. He returns to the bar area and sits back with the same group of adventurers as before.
After watching Dane go, she turns to Milkit.
“Should we get going, then?”
Flum naturally takes Milkit’s hand in her own and the two leave the guild. Their destination is, of course, the place marked on the map.
Dane continues to watch them with a smile until they pass out of sight, then bursts out laughing.
“What’d you do, Dane-san?”
One of the men at his table asks him.
“Just as you saw, I let her take her first quest so she can get her license. I’m so nice, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, right. There was probably something funny about the quest, wasn’t there?”
“Well… Maybe out of concern for my little kouhai’s future I raised the bar a little bit.”
Saying so, he downs the cloudy white liquor in his glass in a single gulp.
“Puahh! Kuhehe, normally new adventurers take an F-Rank quest, right?”
“Well, yeah. So?”
If it's someone Dane likes, he can waive the exam part of the license process completely --- but if the newbie is someone he doesn’t like he can do the exact opposite.
“I raised the bar on her a little.”
“Oh yeah? How much?”
“Only a little bit. The quest she walked out with was a D-Rank one. If she really has a talent for the job she’ll have no problem killing a mere werewolf.”
Hearing that, the man looks a little turned off.
“D-Rank is like, three, maybe even five times as hard as F-Rank. The girl’s a goner.”
“It can’t be helped. Unlike me, she has no talent.”
“Haha, that’s our Dane-san!”
The adventurers laugh as they imagine the two slave girls getting mercilessly slaughtered. The thought is the perfect companion for their booze.
---“The Daring Dastard”, Dane Finneas.
He has a long history of colluding with the guild to unfairly manipulate quests. He controls many of the adventurers in the West Quarter; in exchange for a part of their quest rewards, he plays the system to pad their adventurer rank. Using that and other underhanded methods, he’s reached the status of A-Rank adventurer without the strength he would normally need.
Unaware of his true identity and malicious intent, Flum and Milkit leave town hand-in-hand, headed to the location marked on the map.
Chapter 4 - A Quest Like This is Nothing
About an hour after leaving the Capital’s west gate, they arrive at the forest marked on the map. Thanks to the stat ‘increases’ of the Zweihander Flum still has energy to spare, but Milkit seems a little short of breath.
“Wanna rest a while before we go in?”
“There’s no need to stop here for my sake. I’m fine.”
“Okay then. We’ll rest for a bit.”
Milkit seems to be saying that there’s no need for Flum to worry about a mere slave like her, but if she does it’ll be clear that she really does want to rest. She idly fiddles with the ends of the bandages covering her face, probably feeling quite uneasy.
Flum doesn’t pick up on that, of course, but even if she did she wouldn’t do anything different. She’s decided they’re going to rest, so they’ll rest.
She finds a log near the entrance to the forest and sits on it, kicking her legs and feeling the refreshing breeze on her skin, watching the sky.
Finally, they can relax for a while. They can’t afford to rest for long, though, so she wants to make the most of it and relax in both body and mind.
She notices that Milkit is still standing straight as a board and finds herself unable to properly unwind. Slightly irritated that she still seems determined to subordinate herself, Flum pats the log beside her invitingly.
“Please don’t worry about me.”
“I can’t relax if you’re hovering like that. C’mon, sit down. Please?”
“Is that an order?”
“Fine, it’s an order, just sit already.”
Noticing that Flum seems to be at a loss, Milkit finally gives in. She seats herself on the far edge of the log, careful to keep the right amount of distance from her master. Flum is still a bit put out by the space she’s put between them, but she settles for Milkit’s compromise.
Milkit calls out to Flum, a bit of confusion in her voice.
“Hm? What is it?”
“Don’t you feel sick looking at me?”
Her words are accompanied by the rustling of dried cloth.
Flum answers with her true feelings.
“I do. You’re honestly a little creepy.”
There’s no point in lying. Some of the bandages are stained a deep reddish brown, and the skin that can be glimpsed through the occasional gap between them is an unhealthy colour. Flum can’t help but find the sight of her condition unnerving, even if Milkit is a girl just like her at heart.
“Then why did you take me with you?”
“Because I’d be lonely and sad alone.”
“If that’s your only reason, then you shouldn’t bother with an untalkative and unfriendly slave such as myself. You should probably sell me and buy someone new.”
Milkit is exhaustingly negative. Flum has no real reason to be so fixated on her --- they just happened to be in the same cell together, and they happened to both survive.
For some inexplicable reason, though, Flum knows that she wouldn’t treat any other slave the same way, only Milkit.
“If I had to be more specific… it’s because I’m a hypocrite, I guess.”
Not something beautiful like a sense of justice, just hypocrisy. A big, tainted, warped mass of self-satisfaction.
“The reason why you took me with you, you mean?”
“Yeah. I’ve never been able to do anything, or save anyone. That’s why I was sold into slavery in the first place. It’s not really something I’m proud of, but… I thought that if I could take you out of there and give you a proper, happy life, then I’d feel fulfilled somehow, like that'd give my life meaning. I think, maybe just a little bit, that’s what I really wanted.”
She hadn't even noticed her true desires herself, the feeling was so faint inside her, and had only realized it herself after the fact. She only wanted to help Milkit out of the depths of hell, to put it nicely --- one might even call it the desire to become a hero. She got the feeling that if she saved Milkit she'd be able to regain some of the courage she lost after being sold into slavery.
“I don’t understand, Master. Regardless of what the reason might be, doesn't that mean that you want to make me happy? In that case you really should sell me. I don’t deserve anything so pleasant.”
“Did you forget that you’ve already accepted me as your master? Just accept it. I’m sure not going to trade you in now.”
“In that case---”
Milkit reaches behind her head and nimbly unties her bandages, and they start to unravel before Flum’s eyes.
Her bare face is in such a state that Flum recoils unconsciously.
From her jaw to her forehead, her entire face is red, mottled, and swollen. In some places the skin is inflamed, in some her skin is split, in some a clear substance is oozing out---
“Can you still say that you want me after seeing this?”
Milkit really doesn’t want Flum to abandon her --- but unless she shows Flum what she really looks like, she doesn’t feel as though it’s fair. She couldn't care less about why Flum saved her --- if she's going to choose her, then anything less would leave Milkit feeling guilty.
Flum puts a hand to her mouth and is silent for a long moment. Countless thoughts swirls and dance through her mind.
I feel sick.
That looks so painful.
I feel so sorry for her.
She really does have pretty eyes.
Nothing she says to Milkit now will be anything more than empty words, however.
After a moment passes, however, she realizes that there's one small piece of useful information mixed in with the clutter of her mind.
Only her face is affected. This condition, didn’t she --- didn’t she hear something about this from Eterna back when they were travelling together?
“Are these… mustaad poison symptoms?”
Having never heard of it before, Milkit gives Flum a blank look.
“I’m going to touch it, okay?”
If it really is what she thinks it is, then there shouldn’t be any pain by now. To confirm her theory she reaches out to Milkit’s face, but Milkit suddenly stands up and causes Flum to miss.
“You can’t, Master. You’ll catch it, too.”
“C'mon, you can't catch a poison. It’s not a disease or anything like that.”
“I heard other people can catch it, though, so you must be wrong.”
“Wait, where’d you hear that?”
“From my previous master. I was told that it’s infectious and incurable, so I can’t allow anyone to touch it, not even you.”
Flum’s outstretched hand clenches into a fist, hard enough that her nails dig into her palm.
There really are some awful people out there...!
The weak ones who can’t fight back are always the victims. The sinners live large while their victims suffer, struggle, and even after they die they’re laughed at.
That can’t be right --- no, it shouldn’t be right.
“Lies, all of it… Everyone just keeps on lying!”
She’s angry enough that if the culprit was there she’d cleave them in half with the Zweihander without a second thought, but they’re both victims. The only thing weaklings like them can do is lick each others’ wounds.
Flum suddenly stands up and draws Milkit close in an embrace. Milkit tries to resist, but Flum isn’t afraid.
Flum matches her cheek with Milkit’s and gently starts rubbing the two together.
“No, Master, you can’t. If you catch it, you’ll end up looking just like me...!”
Despite how muted her emotions have been up until now, there’s a rare hint of panic in her voice, probably because of how she was threatened by her former master --- Don’t you dare let anyone touch it. They’ll catch it and become ugly, too.
“I don’t care!”
As if to blow all those bad thoughts away, Flum responds with a loud voice.
“I told you already, I’m sure not going to quit being your master now! Maybe you were planning to scare me off, but too bad. In fact, now I know I’ll never leave you.”
“That wasn’t my intention at all. It’s just, even if you say you’re going to make me happy, I’ll probably just be nothing more than a burden to you…”
“I’m tired of hearing that already. It’s true that you can’t cure it with recovery magic, but…”
Nowadays, healing within the Kingdom isn’t done by doctors but by priests and priestesses. With Light magic it’s possible to heal and even prevent a lot of different maladies without needing any special equipment or fancy techniques. Because such magic has become commonplace, the average lifespan of people in the kingdom has risen dramatically.
Not even magic is all-powerful, however. There are some poisons and illnesses that just can’t be cured so easily.
“I know a way to cure you. It’s really easy. If magic won’t work, then all you need is some medicine.”
“You certainly know a lot, Master. But there aren’t any apothecaries left in the kingdom, are there?”
The current pope, as soon as he received the position from his father, started a campaign to drive out all the apothecaries with the desire to put all healing into the hands of the Church of Origin. They put immense pressure on businesses and even colluded with the Kingdom itself to bend the laws and force them out. The single largest factor, though, was that the very citizens of the Kingdom itself, many of them adherents of Origin, supported the Church's plot.
“Putting your body as well as your soul in the hands of Origin is a powerful sign of your faith,” the pastors had told them.
In the end, the apothecaries were pressured from all angles until they couldn’t even afford to support themselves and went out of business.
That’s not to say that all of their practices were lost, however. Until leaving with the Hero to defeat the Demon Lord, there was one person who lived outside even the Church’s reach. All the knowledge and techniques of the apothecaries now exist only within her --- Eterna Rinebow, the very same Eterna with whom Flum had been travelling until just recently.
In an effort to be useful to the others, Flum had learned a thing or two about healing magic and medicines. Although in the short time they had while travelling Flum didn’t learn enough to be able to make medicines herself, she knows enough to be able to identify a few conditions.
“I know the herbs that are needed for the antidote, so why don’t we look for them once we’ve settled into our new life a bit? Of course, in the end we’re going to need the help of an acquaintance of mine, but…”
Since Eterna had supposedly agreed to Flum’s being sold into slavery, she probably wouldn’t be eager to help her.
She remembers that laid-back witch who had been so kind in teaching her. Even if Flum was useless, she tried her best. She hopes that she had managed to build a relationship of trust with her --- though now, she’s not confident about what Eterna thought of their relationship.
Unless Flum asks her face-to-face she won’t know the truth.
That’s why for now Flum will focus on only the good things.
The world's too full of unpleasant things for anything else.
At least within her own mind, she wants to live in a world where everything goes as she hopes it will.
That’s why she’ll believe. She’ll believe that if she gathers the materials and tracks down Eterna, she'll make the medicine Milkit needs.
“But first, I guess we’ll have to make it through today.”
“Y-Yes. If we take too long, the sun will set on us.”
The two separate their bodies. Flum smiles warmly at Milkit, but she only looks at the ground, blushing faintly.
Flum honestly thinks that habit of hers is adorable.
She helps Milkit wrap the bandages around her face again, and as soon as their preparations are finished, they set foot in the forest where werewolves dwell.
The sun’s rays are scattered by the leaves, making the forest floor dim and cool. The ground is so covered with gnarled roots that if they aren’t careful with their footing they’ll trip. Even when it looks like Milkit’s about to fall Flum supports her, their hands still connected, and they head ever deeper into the woods.
This is the first time she's ever had the strength to fight --- but more than that, this will be her first time in a proper fight with a monster.
Her heart pounds with nervousness.
Is this really the best way forward?
Her inner weakness shows its face and her feet grow heavy. From the warmth of Milkit’s hand in hers, however, she remembers what she has to lose if she doesn’t try.
That desire to protect Milkit, at one point so unlike her, gives her enough courage to stamp out her weakness completely.
Fifteen minutes have passed since they’ve entered the forest. Even though they’ve barely started walking, Flum stops in her tracks. Pulling Milkit into the shade of a nearby tree, she puts her index finger to Milkit’s lips.
Ahead of them is a small pack of three wolves.
Grey Wolf Attribute : Earth Strength : 108 Magic : 9 Stamina : 61 Agility : 109 Intuition : 98
Their stat totals are 385 each. E-Rank monsters.
The stat total that Flum receives from the Zweihander is 995. As long as she’s careful, she should be able to defeat them without getting hurt.
She was told that the werewolf is an F-Rank monster, which would make it even weaker than these grey wolves. They’re not ideal as a trial run --- but just then Milkit shifts her feet slightly, rustling the fallen leaves beneath her feet loudly.
All at once, the three wolves turn their attention to the tree they’re hiding behind.
It’d be difficult to run away with Milkit, so rather than turn and run it’d be better if Flum took the initiative and charged in at them. Probably.
She motions for Milkit to stay put.
Facing the sky, she inhales, and as she exhales she shows herself to the monsters.
Quickly realizing that Flum is unarmed, they all leap at her.
Flum, in a ready position despite being unarmed, waits until she’s drawn them in close enough. Then, as soon as they’re all in reach, she calls her sword forth from its extradimensional space.
Letting out a battle cry, she swings at them from the side.
The black blade’s arcing strike connects with all three wolves’ heads.The heavy strike from the two-handed blade pulverizes their skulls and scatters their brains. Losing their strength, the three bodies fall to the ground, all in the same moment.
“Hahh, hahh, hahh...”
Her hands tremble with the raw realization she just took lives.
Her body feels hot with exhilaration as she realizes that she really can fight.
Taking deep, calming breaths, she looks down at the corpses on the bed of fallen leaves.
Their heads were crushed, their deaths instantaneous, and already insects have started to gather around the corpses. Soon the bodies will return to the earth and eventually give new life to the forest itself.
“That was amazing, Master.”
Milkit’s emotionless voice comes from behind her. Hearing that empty compliment, Flum is able to calm herself somewhat.
“Let’s go,” she says, putting away her sword and extending her hand towards Milkit.
The quest monster wasn’t any of those three, but if she can kill E-Rank monsters then an F-Rank monster shouldn’t be a problem.
Armed now with that confidence, they head even deeper into the woods.
“There it is. A werewolf.”
About twenty minutes after slaying the grey wolves, they meet the target of their quest. Whispering so as not to be noticed, Flum points out the stoop-backed wolflike humanoid as it searches for food.
“Master? Since I can’t fight, why did you bring me all the way here?”
It’s a good question, but it’s a little late to be asking it now. Flum, looking a little troubled, answers as quietly as she possibly can.
“I thought about leaving you in the Capital, but to be honest, I’m a lot more worried about the monsters there than the ones in these woods.”
There's no telling what might happen to Milkit alone in the Capital --- they might never see each other again. The forest is safer for her, even considering that they might be attacked by monsters at any time.
“I'd be helpless if something happened to you, Master.”
“For today it should be fine if you just run away. It’s only F-Rank, so you should be able to escape just fine. We’ll talk about next time after we’re done here.”
Everything comes after they get enough money for a room at an inn. As long as they’re penniless, they’ll be dead before long no matter what else happens.
Flum starts by checking the werewolf’s Status with Scan. The rows of text and numbers appear before her eyes.
Werewolf Attribute : Earth Strength : 159 Magic : 22 Stamina : 79 Agility : 207 Intuition : 54
As soon as Flum finishes reading, she curses.
“Seriously… We aren’t supposed to make it back alive, are we? That Dane guy's as rotten as the rest of them after all.”
“Is something the matter?”
“That monster’s stat total’s 521. Anything from 500 to 1,000 is a D-Rank monster.”
“But wasn’t it supposed to be F-Rank?”
“We were lied to --- by Dane and by the guild.”
No newbie adventurer would stand a chance if they ran into a D-Rank monster, and no amount of planning or preparation would give them enough of an edge. Dane and Ila must be specifically trying to kill them.
“Too bad for them. I’m not that weak.”
Thanks to the Zweihander, Flum’s stat total is still almost twice the werewolf’s. Since her stat total is 995 she’s almost as strong as a C-Rank monster, and on top of that she has the power of regeneration on her side. She shouldn’t have any problem with a monster like this.
Flum mentally calls out to her sword and the hilt appears in front of her. Grabbing it, she pulls the giant sword into the real world. Now that she’s all ready to fight, all she has to do is quickly close in and hope that one good swing with the element of surprise will be enough.
Just when she drops into a ready stance and is about to launch herself forwards---
“Master, please look at that.”
Milkit’s voice interrupts her.
Following Milkit’s finger with her eyes, Flum spots a second werewolf. Looking around, she spots another, then another, for a total pack of four werewolves.
The werewolf’s tendency to form packs makes it one of the most problematic D-Rank monsters. “If you can only see one werewolf, the other three must be hiding well” --- they’re famous enough to have their own saying among adventurers, even.
Even if they walk around on two legs, they’re social creatures just like the grey wolves Flum killed earlier. Regardless of how high Flum’s stats are, it’d be difficult to take on four opponents at once.
If only I could separate them somehow...
As she watches them, one of the werewolves suddenly shakes its head suspiciously and wanders out of sight, nose to the ground. Seeming to notice something off, the remaining three werewolves turn in the direction their packmate went, restless and alert.
Flum and Milkit wait behind a tree for the werewolves to relax again.
Suddenly, a powerful gale blasts through the woods, shaking trees and stirring up clouds of leaves.
Flum clamps her eyes shut automatically.
Covering her face with her arm, she tries to peer through at the werewolves.
Lying on the ground is the bottom half of the werewolf that went missing. Its upper half is in the jaws of the giant lion-like creature that now dominates the small clearing, but unlike a normal lion massive avian wings sprout from its back.
The remaining werewolves lunge at the new monster, but one flick of the lion’s paw sends them flying back into trees. Then, one by one, the creature devours all three of them.
Having never seen any monster like it before, Flum hurriedly looks at its Status.
Anzu Attribute : Air Strength : 542 Magic : 408 Stamina : 301 Agility : 442 Intuition : 214
Its stat total is 1887 --- almost twice Flum’s.
“A C-Rank monster…!?”
“That can’t be…”
As she is now, even handling those D-Rank monsters would be difficult --- but against a C-Rank monster that was able to kill them effortlessly Flum doesn’t stand a chance.
They need to get out of there before it notices them.
Hiding behind a tree isn’t enough to hide from its sharp senses, however. The anzu already knows they’re there.
Gore and viscera still dripping from its mouth, it turns to face Flum and Milkit next.
It lets out a low growl. Flapping its wings, some sort of energy starts manifesting in the air.
To Flum, it looks like it’s about to attack.
She moves on impulse.
As long as she makes it!
Flum pushes Milkit’s small body away with all the strength she can muster.
Hitting the ground with a cry, without even standing up she turns to look at Flum.
With a second, stronger flap of the anzu’s wings, the air magic explodes outwards, and countless blades of wind cut massive gashes into the ground before reaching Flum.
There’s nowhere for her to run.
Flum’s body is cut into as mercilessly as the trees around them --- and with a massive spray of blood, all four of her limbs are sent flying through the air.
Chapter 5 - The Palm of Your Hand is Too Small for a Dance Hall
Flum’s body, ripped apart by the wind magic, is sent flying across the forest.
Milkit cries out without thinking, her emotions showing on her face for the first time.
Arms, legs, torso, head --- Flum’s scattered body parts start staining the fallen leaves a new shade of crimson.
I can’t believe she's dead...
Overwhelming despair roots Milkit's body to the forest floor.
Snorting with satisfaction, the anzu turns its black eyes towards her, the last living thing left in its sight.
Its mouth twists as if laughing, its prey right in front of it. Its fangs are still dripping red werewolf blood, as if telling Milkit how she’s about to die.
She’s not really disturbed by the thought of death, either her own or others’. She knows her own life is worthless --- it’s not death that she’s afraid of.
A massive body over four meters long, claws that could rip through armour like paper, razor-sharp fangs, powerful magic --- Milkit wouldn’t even have a chance to resist if any one of those tools of death is used on her.
Faced with such overwhelming power, any person would be gripped with an overpowering fear that defies all reason.
Her legs, trembling, still won’t listen to her.
Her instincts don't scream at her to live --- they tell her to run.
With a roar, the anzu’s claws tear apart the earth as it leaps at its prey, its massive body flying at her with incredible speed. Milkit reflexively crouches, covering her head with her arms.
Claws barely grazing her, it lands with a heavy crash behind her, scrabbling to turn around a split-second later and tearing up the earth in the process.
Milkit’s heart pounds in her chest, her lungs tremble with every shallow breath. The terror hasn’t faded, but she thinks she can finally move her legs again.
She knows she can't escape, but her chances of survival are better, if still almost zero, if she does something. Hastily, she breaks into a stumbling run.
The anzu isn’t worried for a moment that she’ll get away. Of course it wouldn’t be --- it’s far larger and faster than she is. No matter how hard she runs, it could easily catch her in a single pounce.
“Hahh, hahh, agh, ahh…”
Milkit, not being used to running, is almost laughably slow. Watching her sloppy form as she stumbles and runs, the anzu comes to a realization.
---That isn’t an enemy.
She isn’t prey, but rather, a toy.
The anzu shows its teeth again. Baring its fangs cruelly it leaps at her, purposefully missing by a hair’s breadth.
Screaming, Milkit is sent tumbling across the forest floor.
Ah, how fun, the anzu thinks as it watches her.
This time, it lightly slashes at her clothes. She lets out a cry of terror, trembling.
It’s simply too fun to stop. If it could make human expressions, it’d probably be grinning like a madman. It brings its face close to hers and opening its mouth slightly, and all she can do is curl up like a pill bug.
Milkit’s body is too frail to continue the game for too much longer, however. The extreme stress will break her before long.
Noticing that her responses are growing more and more subdued, the anzu starts to grow bored.
As she feebly tries to crawl away, the look in the anzu's eyes changes. It’s time for her to fulfill her duty as its meal.
Gathering strength into its front legs, it’s about to pounce when---
“...That hurt, y’know.”
Something grabs its tail.
“That really, really hurt. I don’t know if I should be amazed at the regeneration this thing gives me or terrified that I’ve become such a monster that I can already talk after getting literally ripped apart.”
An anzu’s tail is incredibly sensitive --- but regardless she strengthens her grip and yanks hard.
The anzu bares its teeth to the gums and furrows its brow it tries to turn around to face her, but before it has the chance to attack---
“You made me go through all that… and now you think you can get away with picking on a weak little girl!?”
Swinging her sword with her empty hand, Flum cuts off its tail.
It leaps away from her as pain shoots up through its backside, and as soon as it lands it collapses onto its side, legs flailing in pain.
Flum, at its side a moment later, raises the greatsword above her head. Her joints are still bleeding freely, and the pain of lifting the Zweihander causes her face to twist with pain. Taking a deep breath, she grits her teeth and plunges the blade into its back leg.
It sinks deep into the anzu’s thigh, and a river of fresh blood gushes out of the wound. It starts howling and flailing, taking out a few nearby trees.
“It hurts, doesn’t it? What you did to me was way worse. I was literally in pieces! I know I’m still coming back together, but it still hurts like hell!!”
She knows it can’t understand her, but she can’t help herself.
When the air magic hit her she was sure she was dead. Her consciousness rapidly started to fade as she bled and the world started to grow cold around her, but she would’ve been content as long as Milkit made it out alive. Strangely enough, though, her blood stopped flowing out, and she got the feeling that all of her separate pieces were reconnected with magic. Then some unseen power pulled her limbs together and before she realized it she’d already begun to heal.
The regeneration took a lot longer compared to when she was half-eaten by those ghouls, but thanks to that she’s now alive again. Since not even total dismemberment is enough to kill her, she’ll probably only truly die if her brain or heart is crushed and she dies instantly.
Getting to its feet, the anzu glares at Flum, its fur crimson and matted with its own blood. Not even a monster as large as it can just walk off a direct hit from a greatsword.
“Master... I’m glad you’re alright.”
Fist clutched to her chest as she stands behind the monster, Milkit is deeply relieved. Flum similarly lets some of the tension out of her shoulders, relieved that Milkit is okay.
“Milkit, get out of here while you can!”
“As you wish. Please don’t push yourself too hard.”
Milkit starts unsteadily running back the way they came.
Flum’s main worry is alleviated. Now she can focus on the fight in front of her.
“Sorry, Milkit. Against this thing I don’t really have a choice.”
She smiles bitterly.
Perhaps because the anzu has decided that Flum is its new prey, it ignores Milkit as she flees.
“With its leg hurt, I should be able to match its speed. As long as I avoid taking a direct hit from its claws or fangs and watch out for its magic… I can do this.”
In order to use that long-range wind blade magic, it probably needs to move its wings just like it did last time --- as long as she’s able to move, she should be able to avoid taking a direct hit at the very least.
Dealing with its fangs and claws will be a lot simpler --- she just has to dodge with everything she’s got.
Taking an appropriate distance from it, Flum starts circling around to the anzu’s right. Shuffling its feet, it keeps turning so that she stays in front of it. Since its leg is still bleeding, the longer she can draw the fight out the bigger advantage she’ll have.
Noticing that she’s making no move to attack, the monster grows restless.
It digs its front claws into the ground again.
Is it about to charge?
Flum readies her counterattack.
The anzu doesn’t charge forward but up, and the violent wind created by its sudden takeoff hits Flum like a wave.
Looking up, she can see the anzu flapping its wings high above her. She watches it with bewilderment, convinced that it was about to pounce just a moment ago.
The anzu’s wings aren’t large enough to keep it aloft for long since they’re mainly to help it jump or glide, but if only for a short amount of time it can fly like a bird.
Flum tries to keep track of it, but before long the canopy above her hides it from sight completely.
The anzu, taking a moment to collect itself, finds Flum and takes aim. It waits for just the right moment, then suddenly dropping into a dive, headed right for Flum.
Its giant body cuts through the air with ease. Fortunately for Flum, it creates enough air resistance to be audible, and she throws herself out of the way right in the nick of time.
The anzu hits the ground hard, as if trying to punch straight through. The ground shakes, masses of leaves fall from the trees all around them, rotten trunks split and break, and the sheer force of its impact leaves a massive crater in the earth.
No matter how powerful the attack, however, it’s pointless if it doesn’t hit.
Successfully having dodged the dive, Flum notices the monster’s opening, and taking advantage of the opening she leaps at it.
But just then, a massive gale blows through the forest.
“Don’t tell me it’s---!?”
A chill runs down her spine, but it’s already too late. Already halfway inside the crater, she can’t stop herself in time.
That last attack wasn’t a simple dive.
The anzu was wrapped in Air magic the whole time --- as it lands, a hurricane-force wind blasts through the woods.
“I knew its magic was bad news… Kyaa!!”
She drives her sword into the ground, but her anchor gives out a moment later and she's sent flying.
Even if she has the strength to fight now, she lacks the experience. No matter what her strategy may be, if her body’s not used to fighting she can’t put it to use. As many openings as the anzu has, she’s bound to have more.
She slams into a tree. With a crack she feels her spine break, but by the time she slumps to the ground it’s already finished repairing itself.
As she lies there, she can barely make out through her clouded vision the claws of the anzu right in front of her.
Hurriedly she picks herself up and ungracefully leaps out of the way. Behind her, she can hear the tree splinter and crack --- if she hadn’t gotten up she’d be mincemeat now. An attack like that would’ve killed her instantly. The thought of being only a split second away from death makes her feel like vomiting.
As she stands up, she realizes with a start that she’s no longer holding her sword. She must’ve let go of it when she was blown away by the wind, and casting a quick glance around her she realizes it’s nowhere nearby.
Finally she notices that the crest has reappeared on the back of her hand, indicating that it’s back in its extradimensional space. It must’ve returned there when it separated from her.
She focuses on her hand, and a moment later the Zweihander appears.
“Hahh, hahh, how considerate… that’s Epic equipment for you, I guess…”
Squeezing out the words, she reestablishes her grip and turns to face the anzu once more. It glares back at her.
She reminds herself again to watch out for its magic.
It’s a lot more versatile than she’d thought. No matter the range, it shows no real openings. There’s probably no way to safely take it down --- and to be honest, she shouldn’t have expected that to begin with.
“My only advantage is… this body, I guess.”
She’ll have to let it rend her flesh and snap her bones. She’s not used to the pain yet, but as long as she avoids getting killed instantly her regenerative power is a massive advantage. She should’ve been making better use of it from the beginning.
“I really hate pain, but… If I die, Milkit’s dead, too. If I think of it like that… then I guess I’ve got no choice but to play the hero and do it.”
Closing her eyes, she imagines Milkit frantically running to escape the forest.
She can feel something, maybe courage, welling up within her.
Then she remembers the warmth of Milkit’s hand.
She knows now that it’s courage.
It turns out that Flum’s inner hero is very simple; she’s willing to risk life and limb for a girl she’d met earlier that same day. Without that inner hero, though, she’d probably give up right then and there.
“Alright, Hero Flum, let’s do this!”
After saying that to herself with a tint of irony, she charges the anzu head-on, holding her sword so low it grazes the ground as she runs. Confident that it’s still stronger, the anzu accepts her challenge and charges to meet her.
It’s still out of her reach. She crushes her doubts and continues forward.
The tip of her sword would reach at this distance, but she needs to get even closer to land a real hit.
Three steps --- contact.
The anzu swipes downwards at Flum’s head.
She bends her leg, tilting her body to the right. Missing her head, the claws cut through her left shoulder like a knife through butter, and chunks of her shoulder are sent flying. Losing another body part and exposing bone to the air, a burning heat bursts from her wound --- but only heat.
Her brain hasn’t processed the sensation as pain quite yet. Before that can happen, she continues forward without slowing down, and as she passes she runs the broad edge through its flank.
They both let out screams of pain. The damage they’ve inflicted on each other is severe. A few seconds later, though, the difference between them is made clear as Flum’s wound heals itself and the anzu’s wound remains.
Flum stops running, slides for a moment on the fallen leaves, then turns around to face the anzu once more.
A look of pain and suffering on its face, the anzu stretches its wings and begins to move its wings.
---If it’s using that magic now, it must be desperate.
It starts casting the same magic that dismembered Flum a few minutes ago. She remembers the pain and the sensation of being hacked into pieces and shivers.
Fortunately, it can’t seem to concentrate on the spell as well with its injuries, and its movements seem slower and sloppier than before --- but at this distance defending against those wind blades would be impossible. Even if she rushes forward to stop it, the anzu could simply use fangs and claws and still manage to inflict a heavy wound on her.
Then she should just avoid it --- no, if she starts running it’d be too hard to regain the initiative.
Since her opponent is a wild animal, if she doesn’t finish it with her next attack it might run away on her. She can’t just accept that after all it’s done to her.
The anzu is clearly almost at its limit, so one more good hit should finish it --- the question is how.
Quickly looking around her, she notices an exceptionally tall tree within her reach.
---Yeah, this’ll do.
She doesn’t have time to think about how her plan could go wrong. Quickly turning, she cuts at the trunk with all the strength she can muster.
A loud, dull thud resonates throughout the forest. There's a lot of resistance, but the blade cuts deep enough that the tree starts to fall. The giant tree rustles loudly as it plummets through the canopy, but it looks as though it’ll miss the anzu completely.
Yelling loudly, she hits the tree again, this time with the flat of her blade. Her two-handed full swing makes solid contact, and through brute force, she makes the tree fall the way she wants it to.
The anzu’s magic is almost complete, but with all its focus on casting it doesn’t notice the tree falling on it until it’s too late. The tree hits the flat of its back with a loud, heavy thud. Its legs bend and give out beneath it, and belly to the ground the giant lion is completely pinned.
If it had the time, maybe it could escape on its own --- but Flum doesn’t just sit back and watch. She hadn’t let her guard down for an instant.
Dashing forwards, she arrives at the anzu a moment after the tree.
She stabs at the middle of its head.
The blades punches through its skull and reaches its brain, but still the beast groans. That alone isn’t enough to kill such a massive creature.
Putting the rest of her strength into her hands, she drives the sword in up to its hilt and puts her weight down on the grip as if it were a lever.
The blade moves within the monster’s head, finally reaching a vital part of its brain. The anzu loses consciousness, lashing out at random with its fading strength it enters its death throes. Not wanting to get hit, Flum quickly lets go of the sword and backs off.
Finally, with the giant sword still lodged in its skull, its body collapses awkwardly to the side. With a loud thud and a spray of leaves, its head follows it to the ground.
Shoulders rising and falling with her breath, she stares for a moment at the corpse.
“Haa… isn’t this a bit hard… for a first quest…?”
Its body is completely motionless. The anzu is finally dead.
The strength leaves Flum’s body all at once.
The bed of leaves is a lot more comfortable than she’d expected. They may be damp and cold, but she’s so covered in blood that she doesn’t even notice. Looking up through the slim gaps in the leaves above, she notices that the sky is starting to turn orange.
The colour seems to be urging her back to the Capital before nightfall.
“The world really is cruel, isn’t it...?” she mumbles to herself.
Not even scars are left on her body, but she can still feel the pain --- it feels less like proper pain and more like an unpleasant itch, but still, it remains.
Her clothes are honestly in far worse shape. She’d started out with a white half-sleeve shirt and shorts, but both have been shortened even further, and she’s even lost her cloak to boot.
“Already I’ve had to fight a real monster among monsters, and on top of that there isn’t anyone half decent at the guild… I wonder if we’re really gonna make it.”
Unease spirals in her chest. A part of her honestly doesn’t want to go back to the Capital.
The thought of Milkit waiting for her return at the edge of the forest is enough to convince her they’ll manage, strangely enough.
Feeling some of her energy return, she sits up.
“I guess the silver lining here is that Dane guy’s plans got wrecked.”
He’d probably be floored if he heard that she killed not a D-Rank werewolf but a C-Rank anzu.
Smiling at the thought of Dane and his flunkies' shocked faces, she stands up.
Chapter 6 - The Beginning Ends, A New Fate Starts
Despite having just defeated the anzu, Flum is at a loss. In order to get her adventurer’s license she needs a werewolf fang, but all said fangs are currently inside the anzu’s stomach.
“Damn gourmet, eating only the top halves…!”
She kicks its massive corpse.
She doesn’t have enough time before sunset to go find another werewolf, and even if she does manage to find it there are no guarantees she’d make it out alive. Not only is she already exhausted, if it came to that she’d likely have to fight in the dark.
There’s only one way to get the fang.
“I guess I’ll have to cut it open, huh…”
The anzu’s hide is thick and its organs are protected by a thick layer of muscle and fat, but it’s nothing the Zweihander can’t cut. As she starts to pull out its entrails, an almost unbearable stench fills her nostrils. Fortunately, she finds its stomach and the partially-digested werewolves fairly quickly. Actually reaching inside the sticky, wet organ and pulling a werewolf out, however, is a completely different matter. Even though she grew up in the country she’s never had to do anything like this before.
Pinching her nose with one hand and turning her face away, she cuts a slit in the stomach and reaches inside. The stomach squelches and is still unpleasantly warm. Reaching even further in, she finally manages to grab hold of what feels like a werewolf’s snout and yanks it out. Throwing the corpse away from her in a hurry, she’s sent reeling from the intense stench on her fluid-coated arm.
She tries to rub it off on nearby grass, leaves, trees, anything, but the smell refuses to fade.
“Asshole!” she shouts as she kicks the anzu’s corpse again. Even after it’s dead, it seems determined to give her a hard time. Heaving her shoulders, she recomposes herself and sets about removing one of the werewolf’s fangs.
Taking a tooth from its sawlike row of fangs is a pain, but a walk in the park compared to cutting open the anzu. In doing so, she finally completes her quest. Once she takes the fang back to the guild she should get her license… she hopes.
“I can’t imagine that receptionist will just welcome me back, though…”
Flum wants to have a little something extra on top of the completed quest to leave her speechless, just in case she’s as disagreeable as she was the first time.
Fortunately, the anzu is right in front of her.
“Unfortunately, I’ve never even heard of this thing before today. I’ve got no clue what part I should take back.”
All monsters have some parts that are valuable and some that aren’t. Since she doesn’t even have a backpack, there’s a severe limit on what she can bring back with her. She’ll have to take her best guess at the most valuable part.
Even if she came fully prepared to harvest the anzu, however, she couldn’t afford to just take everything with her. If she’s going to make a living as an adventurer, she’ll have to develop an eye for valuable parts. There are, of course, some Epic-tier magic bags and the like that can carry a ludicrous amount of stuff, but only S-Rank adventurers can get their hands on such items.
“I guess I’ll just take a fang from the anzu, too.”
Generally speaking, monster fangs have a lot of use in making weapons, accessories, even armour.
After smashing the anzu’s teeth with broad of the Zweihander’s blade over and over again, a fang finally comes loose. It falls to the ground with a heavy thud, and it takes both of her arms to lift it. It’s surprisingly heavy, but manageable.
After making sure she still has the werewolf fang, she heads back to where Milkit waits for her.
The sun sets and night falls.
Milkit sits on the log at the entrance to the forest, listening to the sounds of the crickets around her. Her eyes are downcast with worry, a hand clenched to her chest.
It’s already been three hours since she parted with Flum. The fight should be long over. If she won and managed to get the werewolf fang, then she should’ve returned by now.
Maybe she lost. Maybe she’s dead.
That's... I hope that's not the case...
“I don’t want to wait any longer...”
We might never meet again --- the thought makes her heart ache. She’s never been so worried about someone’s life before, not even her previous master’s.
Up until now, her relationship with her master has been incredibly simple --- she gets tormented, and in exchange she gets enough scraps of food to keep living. By normal standards it's an unpleasant lifestyle, but as long as she keeps her feelings in check and doesn't get too attached to anything or anyone it’s an easy way to live.
“I think I might’ve gone and gotten attached, though...”
If Flum comes back, then what?
She can’t even imagine what her life would be like. She’d be allowed to laugh, treated as a human being, and maybe her face would be healed --- but the more time she spends with Flum the harder it’ll be for her when the dream ends. The more Flum heals the cracks in her heart, the greater the fear of losing her will become.
But even so---
“I think… I would like that kind of future.”
She hates pain, and she hates suffering --- but just because she’s managed to stay alive despite that doesn’t mean she never wanted a normal life. In the end she’s always given up on such a future, not because she talks herself out of it but because she’s never had a chance.
If she actually had the chance, then---
“Nnn---... Finally, the exit! I’m so tired...”
Standing up and turning to face the forest’s entrance, Milkit sees Flum walking slowly towards her, bloodier than last she saw her, carrying a gigantic fang and dirty metal gauntlets but clearly alive.
I’m so glad she’s okay!
Seeing her standing there in perfect health, those words are the first thing that comes to mind. Without even realizing it herself, she smiles faintly.
---I suppose that's my answer.
No matter how much she thought about it she was never going to come to a conclusion. In that instant, she knows exactly what she truly wants.
As Flum leaves the forest, Milkit trots towards her and Flum breaks into a smile.
“I’m back, Milkit.”
“Welcome back, Master.”
She moves to take some of Flum’s burden.
“Thanks for the thought, but if you take this you’ll get covered in blood too.”
“At this point, I don’t mind if I get a little dirty.”
“Really, you’re too hard on yourself… If you’re going to call yourself my slave then you’ve got to take better care of yourself.”
With a half-smile, Flum hands the werewolf fang and gauntlets to Milkit. The anzu’s fang is obviously too heavy for her.
“By the way, Master, where did these gauntlets come from? That fang is likely the anzu’s, but…”
“Ah, those. I took them off an adventurer’s skeleton on my way back.”
Walking through the dusk, Flum accidentally kicks something hard on the ground in front of her, and noticing that it’s a human skull she drops the anzu’s fang and screams. Given everything she’s been through recently her response is surprising, but some things are just plain creepy. She can’t help it.
Looking closely, the body doesn’t have a lower half. Maybe the body belonged to an adventurer who had tried to get a werewolf fang and ended up meeting the anzu, just like she did. The skeleton is still wearing armor and gauntlets. Seeing its equipment, she remembers something from her time in the Hero’s Party.
---I want to help, but there’s nothing I can really do.
At the time she was still wrestling with her own powerlessness. She couldn’t do anything on her own --- realizing that, she asked the others to teach her what they could. Everyone there was a master in something, after all.
At first she was a little hesitant, thinking that she’d only be burdening them even more, but surprisingly there were a few people who were eager to teach her. She was convinced that they were only helping her out of pity, but nonetheless.
One of her teachers was Gadio Ruskett, “The Starcrushing Strongarm.”
He was a giant of a man who never seemed to take off his black platemail and always scowled, but despite his appearance he was very kind to her. He taught her a lot of swordplay even though she was too weak to put the knowledge to use, and he even gave her some useful adventuring tips.
“Every battlefield has its corpses. Many of them die wearing their best equipment, so only the truly religious adventurers just leave them alone.”
“You mean... they loot the bodies?”
“If their owner’s dead, it’s better to put their equipment to use than just let it rot. It’s a good way to honour the dead.”
“But aren’t you scared they’ll come after you or curse you or anything?”
“I never took you for the superstitious type.”
“I-I’m sorry! I guess adventurers have to be realists, don’t they?”
“Not really. You’re not wrong, actually. Every once in a while you come across something that has its former owner’s regrets burned into it, so it pays to be careful.”
“Yeah --- cursed equipment, it’s called. Sometimes it lowers your stats, sometimes you can never take it off, sometimes it can kill you just for equipping it… nasty stuff. As long as you make sure to cast Scan first, though, you’ll be fine.”
“But I can’t cast Scan…”
“Hmm. In that case, make sure you bring along a friend or two. Adventurers should never work alone anyways. It’s important to have a partner who’ll give you a push when you need it or stop you before you do something too stupid.”
That was just one of the many ‘lessons’ that he gave her.
She remembers a lot more than she needs to, but the part about the dead sometimes cursing their equipment is the important thing.
Casting Scan on the skeleton’s gear, she finds just one thing that seems to be cursed.
Name: Bloodied Steel Gauntlets Tier: Rare [This equipment lowers your Strength by 82] [This equipment lowers your Magic by 101]
It’s nowhere near the Zweihander’s level, of course, but even so it’ll ‘raise’ her stats by a total of 183, so she won’t complain. She apologizes to the dead adventurer as she pulls the gauntlets off it.
If what Gadio said is true, he shouldn’t hold it against her.
“...And that’s how I found them.”
“Cursed equipment… I see.”
After hearing Flum’s story, Milkit looks at the gauntlets with mixed feelings.
“Don’t worry, you should be just fine just carrying them unless you put them on. If you’re still nervous, though, I can take them.”
“No, if you’re carrying that big, heavy fang all on your own, then there’s no way I should go empty-handed.”
“Haha, you're a little too serious, aren’t you? Thanks.”
Successfully reunited, the two return to the Capital.
The capital at night shows them a very different kind of hustle and bustle than it did during the day. Magic lamps light streets lined with noisy bars and women showing an abundance of skin. The barkers are also out in force, and a few of them approach the two girls before noticing Flum’s slave mark and recoiling in disgust.
“Looks like we weren’t able to make it back before nightfall after all.”
“I hope the guild’s still open.”
Flum was thinking the exact same thing.
The sign outside didn’t list any hours, but---
“Since it’s also a bar, it’s probably still open. Or actually, I really hope it is. I don’t want to spend the night in the street with this fang.”
They make smalltalk as they head for the guild. When they arrive, they can hear the clamor of drunk adventurers even from outside. They didn’t have anything to worry about after all.
As Flum pushes the door open with her shoulder and enters the guild, she can feel a number of gazes on her. Unlike the first time she came in when everyone seemed to be hostile, a few people actually seem happy to see her --- they must’ve bet that the two of them would come back alive. One of the men strikes a victory pose as others drop coins onto the table in front of him.
“Up we go---”
Flum heaves the anzu’s fang onto the counter as the receptionist, Ila, looks on in shock.
“Here’s what you asked for.”
She takes the werewolf fang from Milkit and drops it beside the anzu’s. Ila picks up the fang, casting Flum an annoyed look.
“What’s wrong? Didn’t I pass the test?”
“...Don’t tell me you actually defeated it?”
“Of course I did. Werewolves aren’t that big a deal, really.”
“What is it?”
“I take it back! I take it all back! There’s no way I’m letting a filthy slave like you become an adventurer!”
In the midst of her hysteric cries, she throws the werewolf fang back at Flum. She swiftly catches it and sticks it right back into the receptionist’s heavily made-up face, still twisted with regret and irritation.
“Isn’t it your job to reward adventurers who complete their quests? Isn’t that why there’s a guild in the first place?”
“Oh, and buy this, too.”
She puts her hand on the anzu fang and the counter bends slightly under its weight.
“A-And what is that?”
“The fang of a C-Rank anzu. I happened to run into it while hunting for werewolves, so I killed it and took whatever looked valuable.”
The guild will often buy any in-demand materials adventurers bring back, even if they haven’t issued a formal quest. Flum could, of course, make more money if she sold it to the craftspeople directly, but selling it to the guild is the easier and more popular option.
“D-Did you just say C-Rank…?”
Not only did she survive the werewolf, but she killed something even stronger --- faced with such an impossible truth, Ila is shocked speechless.
To take her place, two rough-looking men with weasely faces wander over from the bar.
“C’mon, don’t lie, honey. An anzu? No way a few shrimpy slaves could kill something like that. That’s the kinda thing even we real adventurers gotta hunt with a party. We saw your Status, too, and there’s no way you could kill even an F-Rank monster. You don’t even have real equipment. If you’re gonna lie, you’ve gotta make it more believable than that.”
Thug A grins unpleasantly.
“Eww, what’s that smell? Somethin’ reeks in here. What kinda body fluid have you been bathin’ in? Nah, I guess I should say ‘whose’! How many guys didja hafta screw for enough money to buy somethin’ like this? Or wait, maybe you got it straight from some guy comin’ home from the hunt? See, I knew you’d make a better whore than a---”
Hands in his pockets, Thug B leers into Flum’s face when---
Unable to stand him any longer, she punches him as hard as she can.
Not expecting to suddenly get attacked, he was completely defenseless. Her fist hits him square in the face and he collapses backwards, blood spraying from his nose like a fountain.
“Wha--- You bitch!!”
“Hey, what rank are you?”
“The hell? We’re D-Rank!”
“Ah, I see. I never knew D-Rank adventurers could get dropped by one punch from a status-zero little girl. You learn something new everyday.”
“Don’t… don’t you screw with meeeeee!!”
Drawing his sword, Thug A leaps at her.
Flum waits until the last second to pull out the Zweihander.
His sword is sent flying through the air as the Zweihander heads for his neck. By the time he realizes it the blade is stopped a hair’s breadth away.
If Flum puts even a little more force into the blade he’s dead.
“An Epic-tier sword…!?”
“It’s cursed, but yeah.”
Judging that he won’t try to attack her again, she returns her sword to its extradimensional space.
The strength leaves the man’s body and he collapses to his knees.
“Now do you believe me?”
Flum smiles at Ila, a triumphant expression on her face.
Ila’s face is still twisted with disgust, but she can’t just turn Flum away now. Taking the werewolf fang and quickly processing the paperwork, she hands Flum a small pouch of money and an adventurer’s license.
Holding the card up to the light, she reads her name and the words ‘F-Rank Adventurer’ with a contented smile. On top of that Ila hands her the reward for the anzu’s fang, a bag of coin large enough for Flum and Milkit to do whatever they want for a few days at the very least.
Having received her just reward, they have no more business there. Turning one last time to wave mockingly at Ila, Flum and Milkit leave the guild.
As soon as the door closes Flum lets out a long breath, shaking out her arms.
“Ahh, I thought my heart was going to explode…!”
Though she was smiling fearlessly inside the guild, she’s already returned to her normal expression. The mysterious new rising star of the West Quarter Guild is gone.
“You were great, Master.”
Milkit knows that Flum was putting on a front the whole time --- that’s exactly why she’s so grateful.
“Thanks… but now I’ve really tired myself out.”
Accepting Milkit’s thanks with a smile, Flum reaches out and grabs her hand. Already used to the gesture, Milkit reassuringly returns her grip.
“I was expecting Ila to complain, but I never thought that those two thugs would suddenly show up. I don’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved that Dane wasn’t there, though.”
“We were able to earn enough for a room at an inn, so I think that’s sufficient for today.”
“Yeah. Alright then, we’ll get a room and then I want a bath--- although I guess first thing tomorrow we’ve gotta buy some new clothes.”
“Yes, I think you should certainly have something new and clean to wear, Master.”
Flum, looking down at herself, laughs bitterly. Even Milkit’s battered and torn clothes are better than what she’s wearing now.
Milkit herself was just thinking that she should change into new rags as soon as possible.
“I knew you’d say that. Just to be clear, you’re getting new clothes, too.”
“There’s no need. I’m only a slave, after all.”
“In that case, it’s an order. You’re getting new clothes tomorrow, period!”
Milkit faces the ground, blushing. She’s convinced that no matter what she wears it won’t change anything, thanks to her bandaged face.
Seeing right through her, Flum pats Milkit’s head.
“Don’t get so worked up about it. Just relax, it’ll be fun. I’ll be with you the whole time. Okay?”
Faced with her innocent smile, Milkit’s heart races.
What is this feeling?
If this is what the future she chose, her future with Flum is going to feel like, then---
She nods deeply.
She’ll accept it.
Eventually, she’ll change and become someone new.
The girl who lost everything and the girl who’s never had anything --- the two of them, abandoned by even the gods, take the first step towards their new life hand-in-hand.
Episode 2: The Marked Slave Who Desires Endless Days With Her
Interlude 2 - Ruinous Good News
“Not enough… It’s nowhere near enough…!”
The blue-skinned man floats in the air far above them, his red hair flowing unnaturally upwards. He raises both of his hands above his head, his arms trembling with rage.
“You aren’t hot enough… We finally get to fight all-out, so why the hell are you so damn cold!?”
His howl almost bursts Cyrill’s eardrums. As if responding to his rage, the temperature of the air around them suddenly spikes.
“Prometheus: Illegal Formula!!”
After gathering enough mana into the spell that it almost bursts apart on its own, he thrusts his hands down towards them. The earth below him splits, and ten-storey scarlet flames engulf the land as far as the horizon.
The Demon Realm is suddenly the very image of hell itself.
‘Illegal Formula’ is a magic technique that consumes an inordinate amount of the caster’s magic to increase a spell’s effect exponentially. Normally, the Fire spell Prometheus only turns a hundred-meter radius area into a sea of flames, but Illegal Formula expands it to more than ten times that. In exchange the spell is extremely difficult to control, but there’s only one demon in the area: Tsaion the Flickering Inferno himself. All of the lesser demons have already retreated --- he doesn’t have any reason to hold back.
“Eterna, hurry up and put out this blasted fire!”
The sage Jean gives the witch Eterna an irritated order even as they and the saint Maria put up a Shield spell to protect their party.
Eterna gives him a curt reply. She'd started casting before he’d even opened his mouth.
Concentrating, she draws mana out of the depths of her small body. The two fishlike things floating by her shoulder start glowing, helping her shape and expand the spell.
A massive sphere of water appears above Tsaion’s head, falling at him as if to crush him --- in one spell, an attack and a fire extinguisher.
“You’re still only lukewarm!!”
Tsaion wraps himself in flames before flying straight through the sphere of water and out the other side. Now looking down on the massive sphere, he gathers intense heat into his right leg.
Yelling, he kicks it away with all his might, and Eterna’s own spell is sent falling towards the party at an intense speed.
“Impossible! He can’t just kick it like a soccer ball!”
“Demons really are nonsensical things, aren’t they?”
“...This is unexpected.”
Not even the three holding up the shield are sure they’ll be able to withstand the attack.
Just then, Gadio rushes forward to intercept the sphere.
He leaves a small crater behind with every step. The ground simply can’t stand the combined strength of his legs and the weight of his black full-plate and almost two-meter-long greatsword.
It’d be a mistake to think him an ordinary human.
The weight of all his equipment isn’t even enough to slow him down --- not only that but he's completely mastered the use of his own magic.
Moving only his mouth, the spell erupts into being. Focusing his mana into the ground at his feet, a steeply sloped stone pillar rises out of the ground in front of him. Every time he takes a step he creates a new outcropping of rock in front of him, the staircase of boulders leading him up into the sky.
Halfway up, he draws his massive blade. The sphere is still a fair ways off --- he shouldn’t be able to strike from here, but he nonetheless stops and raises his sword above his head.
Letting out a deep breath, he converts his stamina into a different power entirely: prana, an energy similar to but distinct from magic. By consuming the wielder’s stamina, it temporarily enhances the user’s body past its natural limits.
Gadio pours prana into his sword, saturating it all the way to the very tip.
Then, he swings.
The speed of his swing is so great that the air around him bends with an earsplitting screech. The edge of his sword releases an invisible shockwave.
He unleashes Cavalier Arts: Prana Shaker, an ancient sword technique said to have been passed down through knights in the Kingdom for generations. Because it’s only an elementary technique of the Cavalier Arts style, his full strength is on display.
For someone of Gadio’s level, even cutting through a powerful spell like Eterna’s is easy. The shockwave slices effortlessly through the watery falling star, splitting it clean in half, and without losing strength or speed it rapidly closes in on Tsaion himself.
“Tch, stop getting in my way!”
Extending a hand in front of him, a thick black smog forms.
The smog isn’t Fire Attribute but Dark Attribute --- Tsaion’s Attribute is Flickering Inferno, just like his second name, a Rare Attribute that allows him to control both Fire and Dark.
Passing through the smog, the invisible Prana Shaker becomes visible. Following it with his eyes, Tsaion catches the shockwave with his right hand. A loud, almost electrical crackling fills the air --- the sound isn’t coming from his hand but from the thin layer of protective flames enveloping his body.
“Still not enough… It’s not hot enough, none of you weaklings are hot enough!!”
Bringing in his left hand, he stops the shockwave completely.
“ORRRAAAA!!” he yells roughly as he breaks it over his knee. Crumbling it up like a piece of scrap paper, he throws it over his shoulder.
He thought that if he crushed Gadio’s attack by sheer force he’d lose the will to fight, but Gadio doesn’t let up his attack there. Finishing climbing his stone staircase, Gadio kicks off the last step and flies through the air, making a direct attack this time. Tsaion responds to Gadio’s sword with a fire-clad fist.
Fist and sword clash, the very air around them trembling with the force of the impact.
“Let’s get on with the REAL fight already!!”
In terms of both magical and physical power, Tsaion far surpasses Gadio.
Putting even more strength into his fist, he sends the armoured warrior crashing to the ground, but fortunately the split sphere of water hits at the same time, extinguishing the fires around him. The air is filled with hot white steam.
“Hey, Hero! Stop crawling around on the ground like an insect and come up and fight me already! You’re the only one who can REALLY turn up the heat on us Three Demon Generals!!”
What Tsaion says isn’t a taunt but the truth. With the Hero’s power, all of their fights with the Three Demon Generals up until now have been on roughly even footing. Cyrill, however, is still hung up on Flum's departure and hasn’t been able to concentrate properly as of late.
“Looks like my chance.”
Just as Tsaion tries to provoke Cyrill, a single arrow comes flying from beyond the area of effect of Prometheus, beyond the horizon, far further than the naked eye can see.
The archer Linus puts everything he has into that one arrow, saved for the moment Tsaion’s attention is completely occupied by Cyrill. Despite being such a long shot, the arrow travels in a perfectly straight line, not slowing down or turning off-target in the slightest. Hidden by the thick steam, Tsaion doesn’t see it coming.
The arrow cuts through the steam and wind, headed straight between Tsaion’s eyes. As soon as it enters his field of vision, in the split second before it hits---
Acting purely on reflex, he snatches the arrow clean out of the air.
“Crafty little assholes… Not like this… This is wrong, wrong, WRONG!!”
Tsaion lets out a cry of rage, and the arrow in his hands bursts into flames and is reduced to ash in an instant by his soaring body temperature.
As someone who believes in heated battles more than anything, being sniped at is nothing less than the ultimate insult. Letting his anger take over, he raises his hands above his head as he pours even more mana into his spell than last time.
The massive sphere of fire that forms above him makes the Water Meteorite that Eterna cast seem like a marble in comparison.
“Fine, if you won’t turn up the heat on me, then I’LL turn up the heat on YOU!! Flare Meteorite---”
The spell is the same as the one Eterna cast, only Fire Attribute. There’s only one reason for the sheer difference in size and power between the two.
He uses an Illegal Formula.
He puts as much magic as he can into that one spell, determined to kill Cyrill with a single blow.
As the steam clears, the humans on the ground stare up in shock at the second sun growing in the sky.
“If that thing hits us we’re all dead!”
“Good game, everyone.”
“How can you stay so calm, Eterna!? If you weren’t so weak we wouldn’t be in this predicament to begin with!!”
“Nn? This is my fault?”
“Yes, of course it is! This is all your---”
“This is no time to be fighting, you two!”
Maria, instead of staying calm as she normally does, harshly scolds Jean and Eterna just as he looks ready to boil over.
“Everyone, gather in as close as you can! Gadio-san, you too! If we cast the same Shield as before but with a far smaller area, we might be able to make it!”
“Do you really think something so petty can stop that monster!? Unless Cyrill uses Brave, we’re all dead!! Can’t you see that!?”
“I’m trying to figure out what we can do since Cyrill can’t use it right now!”
“Kh… How did this happen!? Why on earth can’t Cyrill use the Hero’s greatest weapon anymore!? Cyrill, can’t you just make it work already!? This is no time to be slacking! If you’re really the Hero, then just do it!!”
In response to Jean’s words, all Cyrill can do is clench her teeth.
She has no excuse.
Right now she’s showing a weakness utterly unbecoming of the Hero. At heart she’s still just a normal girl, still too immature to be able to put aside her regrets and her guilt and do what she has to.
“You can’t stay fixated on useless trash like Flum forever! You’re one of the Chosen! You don’t need to care about every pathetic, ignorant little commoner you meet! Focus only on protecting those actually worth saving!”
“If you’re a Hero, then act like it! Stop making idiotic mistakes! Get rid of such trivial emotions!!”
“Jean-san!! Stop yelling at the poor girl and help us!”
“Dammit! Why don’t you understand!? It’s only the absolute truth of the matter! Why can’t any of you comprehend that!?”
Only Cyrill knows how painful his words are to her.
In the end she can’t bring herself to act and Jean, Eterna, and Maria get into formation and start putting up a Shield spell.
Far above them, the Flare Meteorite only continues to grow larger.
“And here I thought I’d get to have a smouldering fight with you… Looks like you burn out here!”
Already the spell is strong enough to reduce their entire party to ash. All he has to do is release it.
But just then, a figure suddenly approaches him from behind---
“What do you mean ‘burn out’, you idiot!?”
She smacks him in the back of the head.
“What’d you say!?”
Brow furrowing with rage, he whips around.
Floating in the air behind him is a blue-skinned woman in a revealing dress. Tossing her deep blue hair, she glares at her colleague.
“Oh, it’s just you, Neigass. Don’t interfere.”
The woman is another one of the Three Demon Generals, Neigass the Bloody Gale.
The Hero’s party watches powerlessly from the ground as the two Demon Generals argue.
“No, you’re the one interfering! If you go through with this you’ll kill them! Don’t you remember our orders?”
“Yeah, yeah… Wait, what orders?”
“‘Don’t kill any humans,’ obviously! Do you seriously not remember ever being told that!?”
“Ahh, those orders. I totally forgot.”
Finally remembering their orders from the Demon Lord for the first time, he dispels the magic he’s casting.
“I guess that’s it for today, Hero. Just remember, next time I’ll be expecting a real hot fight!”
Tsaion, having completely lost any desire to fight them, waves as he flies off.
Cyrill and the others look on in utter confusion as he simply leaves without dealing the finishing blow.
“I wish I could just convince you to turn around and go home right here and now... but it looks like there’s no chance of that happening.”
Neigass tries to offer a peaceful resolution to their little conflict, but noticing the murder in Maria’s eyes she gives up.
“Well then, until we meet again, you peace-destroying little 'Chosen.'”
With a parting wink, she follows after Tsaion.
The Hero and her party can only stare blankly at the sky for a long moment.
Only one of them watches the backs of the Demon Generals as they leave, her eyes filled with a bottomless hatred.
After the battle, Linus meets up with the rest of them as they assess the damage done. Fortunately, none of their injuries are beyond Maria’s ability to heal, though most of their supplies were reduced to ashes. They can’t continue forwards with what they have left.
“We can’t afford to use a Teleportation Stone here… Dammit, this entire trip was completely pointless!”
If Cyrill was to use Return here, they’d be able to freely move to from here and the Royal Palace. Given how limited their supply of Teleportation Stones is, however, they can’t afford to create a Continue Point wherever they want. At times like this when they run out of supplies or fall hopelessly behind schedule, they have no choice but to cast Return without creating a Continue Point and try again next time.
“Up until a little while ago we were on schedule, if only barely... Why are we falling behind now!? We should be completely unburdened now!”
“Jean-san, please calm down.”
Maria tries to calm Jean down while she treats Gadio’s injuries, but he doesn’t listen to her.
“Calm? How am I supposed to be calm at a time like this!? Why didn’t you do it, Cyrill!? How in blazes did you get to be so weak!? What’s wrong with you!?”
“Do you seriously think apologizing is going to fix anything now!?”
“Hey, Jean, calm down, will you!?”
Linus puts a firm hand on Jean’s shoulder. Jean shakes off his grip immediately.
“Damn, damn, damn it all!! I’m right! I’ve always been right! Why can’t any of you plebeians understand that I know what’s best for you!? You’re all absolute idiots! I’m disappointed in the lot of you!!”
Without meeting eyes with anyone, he storms off alone into the scorched wastes.
“Seriously, what’re we supposed to do with him?”
Linus knows Jean has feelings for Cyrill, and that’s exactly why the situation is so delicate.
He’s jealous of Flum, plain and simple.
His god complex is just making Cyrill’s rejection more painful, especially now that Flum isn’t even there --- worse, he has nobody to vent his frustration at anymore. He’s probably suffering plenty in his own way, unable to do anything with his emotions.
Even though he’s Jean’s friend, however, there’s no way for Linus to really support Jean in such a situation.
“There, all healed.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“You don’t need to thank me. Healing the injured is my job.”
Maria finishes Gadio’s treatment and he stands up, rolling his shoulders to see how they feel now. They still hurt, but not as much as when he’d taken Tsaion’s fist head-on.
Eterna, who had been watching Gadio’s treatment a short distance away, stands up when Gadio does and walks in the opposite direction that Jean did. She’s always been a bit capricious, so nobody but Gadio pays her much attention -- but since he’s closer to her than any of the others, something about her attitude tips him off.
He almost gets the impression she’s calling him.
“I’ll be back.”
He leaves those words behind as he follows after Eterna.
The only people left there are Cyrill, Linus, and Maria.
An unsettling silence fills the air.
Cyrill feels it strongest of all of them, afraid that it’s her fault.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. We all have our off days, right? You're human, just like the rest of us.”
Breaking the silence, Linus gives Cyrill some words of encouragement.
“Just take it at your own pace, Cyrill-san. There’s still a ways until the Demon Lord’s Castle, so you still have time to pull yourself together.”
Her heart sinks deeper into her chest as they shower her with hollow words of encouragement.
Linus and Maria exchange worried looks. Nothing they say will help her, so maybe it’s for the best that they let her be.
“I wonder why those demons left without killing us? They said something or other about not killing humans, too…”
Linus forcibly changes the topic.
He wasn’t anywhere near them at the time, but he was able to read their lips and get the gist of their conversation. He's confident that bringing up a topic they’d all be able to relate to would help fix the mood --- but at the mention of the Demon Generals Maria starts rubbing her nails together with irritation.
“Yes, it is strange, given how many innocent people they’ve slaughtered already.”
“Y-Yeah… It’s probably a lie, or at the very least it’s too late for them to change their ways now. They’re probably plotting something evil.”
“Without a doubt. I wish they’d all hurry up and die already.”
Her words drip with venom.
Linus had always gotten the impression she hated them, but now it’s clear that her hatred far exceeds that of any normal person.
Unlike last time, however, Linus knows the reason now. The last time they were in the capital, he put his years of experience in gathering information to use in secretly looking up her past. He knows it was wrong, but his curiosity got the better of him.
Maria Affenjenz, age eighteen.
Her talent for Light Attribute magic has earned her a high enough position within the Church of Origin to have earned the title of ‘Saint,’ but it turns out she wasn’t a worshipper of Origin her whole life. She grew up in a village that had its own folk religion, and she herself was a fervent believer in their gods. Even now, rumor has it that one can still see the faint remains of a tattoo showing her devotion to those gods on her back.
Ten years ago, when she was only eight years old, Demons attacked her village and destroyed it completely. Having lost her friends, family, and even her home, she was taken in by the Church and started worshipping Origin. Since she just happened to be Light Attribute, she became a priestess.
Then, as per Origin's prophecy she became a Chosen and joined the Party. End of story.
She has more than enough of a reason to hold a grudge against the demons, but looking at her Linus can’t help but feel as though that doesn’t explain her completely, as if there’s still some secret lurking behind her saintly mask.
“Is something the matter, Linus-san?”
Feeling his gaze on her, Maria cocks her head to the side.
She really is cute --- cute enough that he really doesn’t want to think she’s hiding some deep darkness in her heart.
No, he doesn't care even if she does have some inner darkness.
If only she’d tell me what’s really going on, then I’d love to support her and everything she is---
“Nah, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
---but I don’t have the resolve to take on all her burdens yet. Someday...
Slightly sickened by his own irresolution, he starts doing all he can to cheer up Cyrill again.
Her smile doesn’t return.
Unless she meets Flum again and apologizes properly, she’ll probably never return to her former self.
Even while slowly succumbing to the bleak mood himself, Linus continues to do all he can to keep all their spirits up.
After walking for about five minutes, Eterna stops. She turns around and Gadio, who had been following close behind, stops as well.
“Why're you following me?”
She pokes one of the strange things floating at her side --- apparently some sort of magic amplifying device.
“You’re the one who called me out.”
“Really? Hmm. Maybe you're right.”
Either she really forgot at some point as she was walking or it’s supposed to be a joke. It’s impossible to tell what’s going through her head at the best of times.
“Question: What do you think of this party, Gadio?”
“What do you mean, exactly?”
“Is it fun? Boring?”
Gadio has been suspecting that Eterna isn’t really interested in defeating the Demon Lord at all for some time now. Despite being on the same level as an S-Rank adventurer, before joining them she lived a simple life alone in the mountains. She looks about the same age as Flum, but her real age and motives are shrouded in mystery --- or maybe she’s just deceptively simple, just doing whatever she happens to find most interesting at the moment.
“I was kind of excited to be a part of something as hero-y as defeating the Demon Lord.”
“Yeah, I get what you mean.”
“I realized something after Flum left, though. I think she made it interesting. Nothing's fun anymore. The food and the mood are both toxic.”
“I can’t say you’re wrong there.”
Gadio has also, of course, noticed the party slowly starting to crumble.
Jean'sthe primary reason for it, but between Cyrill’s easily-triggered guilt and Maria’s unsettling mood swings it feels as though he’s always treading lightly. Anything could set any of them off at any time.
To think all this happened just because Flum left them.
He certainly knows that she was trying her best, but he didn’t realize before now how essential she was to their cause.
“That’s why I’m out,” Eterna says matter-of-factly.
“If Flum can leave, then I can leave. Even if you try to stop me I’ll be gone before you know it.”
This is the flaw in Jean’s plan --- since all of them were convinced that they had a duty to defeat the Demon Lord as the chosen ones, they never even really considered leaving.
Flum’s departure --- or rather, her being driven out --- awakened them all to that possibility.
“According to Jean, I’m just weak, useless, and in the way. Apparently he’s always right, so I’d better just leave.”
“Holding a grudge, are you?”
“Of course. His Magic is only 8,800, you know? Mine is 10,000. There’s no way I’m weaker than him. No self-respecting mage would let a weak little brat like him talk down to them like that.”
“I see. Well, I won’t stop you. Do what you will.”
“Oh. I thought you’d start lecturing me about discipline or something.”
“Do you really think any of us are that disciplined?”
“You won’t be lonely without me?”
“Losing my ‘apprentice’ was one thing, but I’ll be glad to not have to keep up with you anymore.”
“Nn. I feel the same way.”
Eterna chuckles, and Gadio doesn’t manage to keep a straight face either.
After everyone meets up again, Cyrill casts Return and they go back to the Capital. There, Eterna suddenly breaks the news of her departure. Jean practically explodes with anger and Cyrill is dismayed, but nothing they say can stop her now. With an aloof wave, she leaves the Teleportation Room, never to return to the Hero’s party again.
Chapter 7 - We Aim for 'Normalcy' From The Depths of Hell
Flum and Milkit have troubles finding an inn for the night, despite having the money from Flum’s first quest in hand. Between the slave mark on Flum’s cheek and Milkit’s bandaged face, they’re turned away no matter where they go. Not many inns are willing to lodge slaves simply because it might hurt their reputation.
Their search continues until finally they arrive at a run-down two-storey inn in a corner of the West Quarter near the slums. Just inside the entrance is a small restaurant. At the counter is a bored-looking man in his mid thirties sporting a scraggly beard, resting his chin in his hand and yawning. He glances over at them and suddenly freezes.
“Oi… don’t tell me yer customers? Ah finally have customers!?”
He’s surely noticed that they’re slaves by now, but he looks overjoyed nonetheless. He stands up and approaches them, arms spread out wide and a welcoming smile on his face.
“Welcome, valued guests! Ah thought Ah wouldn’t get no more customers ‘fore Ah closed up shop fer good! Ah was so lonely here by mahself!”
Flum feels a little overwhelmed by his excitement.
“So, what can Ah do ya for? Want a bite? Want a room? Want both!?”
“B-Both, I guess… You really don’t mind that we’re slaves?”
“Why would Ah care ‘bout somethin’ silly like that? Ah don’t even need yer money! Ah was just about ta close up in a few days anyhow! Gahahaha!”
“Uh, no, I think we should probably pay like anyone else…”
As Flum looks around, however, she really can’t see any sign of anyone else. He probably really is just happy to have customers. He might even be serious about letting them stay for free.
“Ah really didn’t think Ah’d be lucky ‘nuff ta get any more customers ‘fore the end, so ya’ll prolly be the last ta stay here.”
“You really don’t get many customers, then, do you?”
“Darn right. Ah came here from a lil’ town in the middle a’ nowhere called Enchide chasin’ mah dream, but life don’t go that easy. Ya think it’s ‘cause Ah look so bumpkin?”
Flum looks away and lets out a fake-sounding laugh.
His problem clearly isn’t how he looks, it’s where his inn is. Even by West Quarter standards, the slums are remarkably unsafe. Nobody in their right mind would stay at an inn that has such unpleasant neighbours. It doesn’t matter how cheap the rooms are, most people would value their lives more.
Fortunately, the man himself doesn’t seem like a bad guy.
“By the way, what’re ya called?”
“I’m Flum. This is---”
“...My name is Milkit.”
“Flum-chan an’ Milkit-chan, eh? Ya can call me Stude. Ah’ll do all Ah can ta make yer stay a nice one!”
Saying so, Stude sticks out his slightly pudgy hand.
Unable to keep up with him, Flum limply returns his vigorous handshake.
True to his word, Stude does all he can to make the two feel at home. Not only does he let them both stay for the price of one, but he puts his all into making a luxurious supper for them. On top of all that, he refuses to accept their money in advance. They start to feel bad for making him go so far for their sakes.
The next morning he even prepares an oversized full course breakfast for them complete with bread, soup, salad, scrambled eggs, bacon, and even fish. Even after Flum eats her fill and Milkit (being a light eater) eats all that she can, they still don’t manage to finish.
“Ah don’t mind, Ah just like cookin’,” Stude says with a smile in response. He probably is just a good guy at heart.
“I wish he'd show a little more restraint, though...”
Flum mumbles to herself when he’s out of earshot.
After finishing all their preparations, Flum and Milkit head for the Central Quarter, just as they’d planned. Walking around town in the clothes that the anzu wrecked is, of course, a little too embarrassing, but fortunately Stude is kind enough to lend them some plain white loungewear for the day. They’re plenty warm and in fairly good condition, but they’re not well suited for being out in public.
Deciding to buy clothes for Flum first, they head for a reasonably-priced general clothes store on the Central Quarter’s Main Street, a long road that extends from the Royal Palace to the South Gate.
Cheerfully humming to herself, Flum looks through an assortment of bottoms. One of the employees glares at her with distaste, but Flum doesn’t pay her any mind.
The first thing she picks out is a knee-length checkered skirt. She holds it in front of her waist and faces the mirror, checks it out for a little while, then finally turns to Milkit.
“What do you think?”
“It suits you, Master.”
She gives an offhanded response while trying to figure out why Flum would ask her something like that. To tell the truth, she thinks that a skirt would be too hard to move in for an adventurer.
Flum looks deep into her eyes.
“Hmm… You don’t like it?”
“I never said that.”
“If you don’t like it or something, then say it. I’ll take it into consideration.”
“...I can really just say it?”
Milkit remembers her former master.
Whenever she was asked something like that in the past, she was whipped if she didn’t respond. If she gave her honest opinion, she was beaten anyway.
The memory of that pain traps her words in her throat.
“Of course! I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t want your opinion. C’mon, don’t be shy.”
The person asking her now isn’t her old master --- it’s Flum. If their relationship is going to be any different, she should probably tell the honest truth.
Working up her courage, she turns her thoughts into words.
“In that case…”
“Go on, go on!”
“If you’re going to be fighting monsters, then maybe… um… pants might be better…?”
She still can’t help but feel impudent. Near the end her voice had betrayed her hesitation.
“Ah, right!” Flum exclaims, returning the skirt to the rack.
“Now that I think about it, you’re right. Ehehe, thanks, Milkit. I wasn’t thinking about that at all.”
Unsure of what to do with a thank-you, Milkit stands there with her hand pressed to her chest.
Flum walks off to a different part of the store, coming back a moment later with a pair of hotpants in hand. Holding them in front of her waist, she asks Milkit again.
“What about these?”
“They suit you, and they look easy to move in. They’re… nice.”
She answers honestly.
Flum beams, perfectly content.
“I’ll get these, then.”
After buying a simple shirt to go with the hotpants, she changes into them.
The outfit gives off a somewhat rough impression overall but is nicely set off by her skin tone, lightly tanned thanks to her travels up until now. She gets the feeling that people won’t look at her as harshly on the street anymore.
“Well then, I’m all done. Your turn, Milkit.”
“I’m fine with what I’m wearing now.”
“You might be, but I’m not. Don’t you have anything you want to wear? We still have a lot of money left, so whatever you want just name it.”
If she asks for a fancy gown or something they might have some issues, but Milkit probably won’t ask for anything that extravagant.
After a long moment of deep thought, she opens her mouth.
“I really am fine with this.”
“No, you’re not.”
After arguing back and forth for a while, Milkit finally comes clean and tells Flum what she wants.
And so, they head to a slightly higher-end store that sells it.
“...You really want to wear that?”
Milkit walks out of the changing room wearing a black dress with a white apron over top --- a maid outfit.
“I think I should be the one asking, Master. Are you sure that we have the money to afford such expensive clothes?”
“Don’t worry, we can afford it. But… really, why a maid outfit?”
The frilly lace around the hem of the skirt and the chest area make it look like a more conventional dress, at least to an extent. Precisely because of those embellishments, however, it seems like it would make work more challenging, so it might have actually been designed with a certain type of roleplay in mind.
That’s not to say Flum doesn’t like Milkit’s new look, though. She finds the mismatch of the bandages with the vaguely gothic dress especially charming.
“This was the type of outfit that I saw the most when I was with my former master. I’ve always wanted to wear it myself.”
Milkit says, holding the hem of her skirt and twirling around as she studies herself in the mirror. To be honest, she said she wanted one on nothing more than a whim, but now that she’s actually wearing it she’s quite content with it.
“Well, I’ve got to admit it’s pretty cute… I guess I'm fine with it if you are.”
“It is quite well designed, isn’t it. To the point that it doesn’t suit me.”
“No, I wasn’t talking about the dress. It's cute only because you're the one wearing it. Ah, hello? Over here, please!”
Flum’s words are embarrassing enough that Milkit stops spinning, staring at her with a blank look. Flum herself doesn’t seem to even notice, turning away to call over a polite-looking shop assistant.
The shop assistant hurries over, and when she notices the slave mark on Flum’s face she quickly hides her disgust with a business smile. As expected of a customer service professional, she changes gears quickly.
After buying the maid outfit at a nearby counter, the two leave the store.
One of them is a slave in a rough outfit with a pair of bloody gauntlets hanging from her waist, and the other is a maid with most of her face covered by bandages --- together the two girls make something of a strange pair. Even though they went clothes shopping specifically to blend in more, they somehow ended up standing out even more.
Fortunately, Main Street is crowded beyond description with tourists from outside the Capital, shoppers, and everyone in between. Everyone is so busy simply trying to find their own way that they don’t have the time to stop and judge them. There isn’t any sort of special event going on; Main Street is always this crowded.
Flum can’t help but wonder how many times more people are in that one street at that moment than in her whole hometown.
If they let down their guard they’d be swept away in an instant. To avoid that, Flum and Milkit grasp each others’ hands as tightly as they can and keep moving forwards.
There's still so much they need --- since they’re essentially starting their lives from scratch, they could fill their arms with only the essentials and still need more.
They’ll only buy what they need for today, like shoes, underwear, toothbrushes and other toiletries.
Flum will need a bag as an adventurer --- a backpack will probably be the best balance between capacity and utility. She’ll also need a lantern and a knife to help with exploring.
They probably won’t run out of money, but time will be an issue as always.
Moving quickly so that Milkit doesn’t get too tired before they’re finished, they go around to a variety of stores and buy all that they need. As busy as they are, the experience of buying what she’ll need to live out her own life is the only priceless thing Milkit takes from the trip.
“Thank you very much! Please come again!”
Finishing their business at a store unusually welcoming to slaves, they head out onto the street once more.
They’ve divided their load between them, only sharing each other’s warmth through their hands as they head down the street.
“I’ve never had this much fun shopping before now.”
“I know what you mean. There are so many new things I don’t know what to look at first.”
“Hehe, I didn’t know what to do when you went and bought the most expensive tableware in the whole store.”
“I-I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that row of little circles was the price…”
Milkit looks down at the ground, slightly embarrassed.
Remembering something, Flum stops. She turns back to a certain store that they’d passed just moments before.
“Is it okay if we take a quick detour?”
“Of course, Master.”
What had caught Flum’s attention was the largest bookstore in the Capital.
Looking through the big glass front window, they can see rows of shelves, all of them stacked with spines of a myriad of colours.
The unique smell of ink and paper fill their nostrils as they enter.
Books are by no means cheap; only the well-off can afford them. The mood of the store is rather solemn, and all the customers give off an air of nobility. It’s certainly not a place slaves can feel at home.
Timidly, the two go take a look around.
The shelf closest to the door is filled with the holy tomes of Origin.
Back before books were as available to the common folk, the only books were in the hands of the Church. They regarded books as essential not only for containing the word of Origin but for history, education, and all sorts of other knowledge. Driven by their increasing need for such knowledge, the Kingdom was motivated to develop their first printing press. Because of those origins, the Church’s influence is clear in countless printing houses and bookstores throughout the kingdom. Even on the sign outside that very bookstore is the holy symbol of Origin, the so-called 'twisted circle.'
The reason for the holy tomes being placed so prominently in the store has nothing to do with the Church’s influence, though. It’s only natural to make the bestselling books stand out the most.
Neither Flum nor Milkit have any real interest in Origin, though. Ignoring the holy books, Flum checks the shopper’s guide posted on the nearest pillar before heading deeper into the store.
“Do you like reading, Master?”
“Hm? Oh, this isn’t for me.”
Arriving at her destination, Flum pulls a book off the shelf and studies the cover. The look in her eyes is dead serious.
If it’s not for herself, then who? --- Milkit wonders as she watches Flum’s expression, head cocked to the side.
“Who is it for, then?”
“Didn’t I tell you I’d teach you to read and write as soon as things calmed down a little? Since we got a little more money than I was expecting, I thought I’d start getting ready.”
“You were serious?”
“Did you really think I just said it to make you feel better?”
“I just thought that you wouldn’t really spend that much time and effort on a worthless slave like me…”
Flum’s used to her self-deprecation by now --- but she’s not content with just correcting Milkit every time she says that sort of thing about herself. She wants to give Milkit enough confidence that she’ll stop herself before she even says anything. In order to do that, she’ll have to give Milkit the strength she needs to stand on her own two legs.
“Are you planning on making me completely independent, Master?”
“I’m not thinking that far ahead, really.”
“But if you give me so much knowledge and experience that I really can stand on my own, then---”
Her voice is steeped in uncertainty. Flum, understanding Milkit’s worries, responds with a little self-deprecation of her own.
“Don’t worry about it, really. I’m honestly not sure I could even live on my own. Even if you try to leave me I won’t let you. Okay?”
“...I think you said something similar yesterday.”
“You don’t trust me? Do you think I’ll suddenly disappear, or that I’ll suddenly abandon you?”
“I don’t know about trust or anything like that. I just want to stay with you as long as I possibly can, Master.”
Flum can’t help but break into a grin at Milkit’s words.
“Ehehe, I think that’s called trust. If you trust someone, then it’s only natural to want to be with them.”
As if trying to find the shape of that feeling and where it’s hiding within her, Milkit puts a hand to her chest.
Sometimes, when she’s talking with Flum, her chest feels tight. The reason why she sometimes feels like she’s suffocating but in a good way must be this ‘trust.’ She feels more at ease now that she knows what to call it.
Flum picks out a few reference books aimed for teaching children and buys them. When Milkit hears how expensive the books are at the counter, her eyes grow wide with shock, but before she can argue Flum hands the money to the cashier.
After buying stationary to go along with the reference books, they head back to the inn.
Unfortunately, they bought so much that they can’t hold hands anymore, but there are far fewer people on the streets closer to the West Quarter so there’s no need to worry about them becoming separated.
“You spent so much money on me, of all people…”
Milkit has her full negativity on display. She’s no doubt feeling guilty that she’s made Flum spend so much money on her.
“If you’re happy, then I’m happy. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“Don’t you feel happy after making someone else happy?”
“...I’m not sure I understand that, either.”
She’s never once received charity out of kindness or anything positive like that, so she can’t help but feel confused.
Milkit’s previous masters would occasionally be kind to her. Every time, however, it turned out to be nothing more than a setup. They took great pleasure in lifting her up and knocking her down.
Such torture is the single greatest fear of illegal slaves like herself, far more feared than simple physical or emotional abuse. Some slaves even killed themselves, unable to bear the suffering. Some stabbed themselves in the neck, some strangled themselves with a towel, some just banged their head against a wall until they eventually stopped moving --- all while their masters watched and laughed.
Supposedly, the greatest joy of owning a slave is watching their last moments.
Experiencing that bait-and-switch torture time and time again, Milkit decided to shut off her emotions completely, determined to remain cool and collected no matter what her master did to please her.
It was a means of self-defense.
But Flum --- she wouldn’t betray Milkit.
She’s confused precisely because she doesn’t know what to do with her feelings of ‘trust’ towards Flum.
She doesn’t know how to respond to Flum’s simple wish for her to be happy. Her brain has simply never had to process this sort of thing before.
“Don’t worry, just get used to it at your own pace. You’ll understand eventually.”
“Will you… wait for me until then?”
Milkit’s chest grows tight again as Flum gives her a broad smile.
She doesn’t want to make her master wait for her, she wants to understand Flum’s kindness as soon as possible. She doesn’t realize yet that those feelings are in and of themselves more than enough of a reason to help and support someone.
She likely won’t realize it for some time yet.
“Stop, p-please wait! You can’t take that, anything but that!!”
As they near the West Quarter, they suddenly hear the desperate voice of a middle-aged man, and a split-second later two men sprint past them.
“Whoa, slow down!”
Watching the two men run off, Flum suddenly recognizes them. They were drinking with Dane at the guild during their first visit.
“Master, doesn’t that bag they have look rather expensive?”
“It’s certainly not something West Quarter thugs normally carry around, is it? And that guy behind us is yelling pretty loudly… Watch the bags for a moment, Milkit.”
“Yes, of course.”
Putting down her load, Flum runs after the two men.
As she runs she puts on the gauntlets hanging at her waist. They won’t do anything for her Agility, but once she catches up to them it can’t hurt to have a little extra Strength.
Judging from their speed, the two men are probably D-Rank adventurers.
Since she has the ‘benefit’ of the Soul-Devouring Zweihander on her side, there’s no way they’ll be able to outrun her.
“Dammit, it’s the slave bitch!”
One of the men looks back over his shoulder and recognizes her. They split up, running off in opposite directions.
“Tch, looks like I’ll have to give up on one of them.”
She follows after the one with the bag without hesitation. She passes him a few seconds later and blocks his path, ready for a fight.
He draws a shortsword from his belt, but then---
He casts a small sphere of fire at her.
Fireball is a fairly low-level spell. Not only does it not pack much of a punch, it moves slowly, too.
Flum bends out of the way, easily dodging it.
The man interprets that as an opening and charges in with his sword. He was probably hoping that the Fireball would be enough of a distraction to land a hit.
He thrusts towards her chest, fully intending to kill Flum. To her, however, the attack is so slow it almost seems to be in slow motion, probably because of all her enchantments. Somewhat impressed, she grabs his wrist just before the blade reaches her chest and squeezes. She can feel the soft crunch of bone even through her gauntlets.
He screams, drops his shortsword, and collapses to the ground right after. His arm is bending in an unnatural direction. She’s somewhat taken aback at her own strength.
“Gah… agh… it hurts… help me…!”
“Oh, please. You got what you deserve.”
Casting only a brief look at the man as he suffers on the ground, she reaches for the bag.
Just at that moment, however, a pebble about three centimeters across comes flying at her hand at high speed. She pulls her hand back at the last moment and the pebble hits the cobblestone, breaks, and scatters.
It must have had a huge amount of force behind it.
She looks up to find three more men standing there. One of them has a sling, one has a spear, and the last is holding a longsword.
The spearman at her left charges forward, and she calls out her own weapon.
His reach with the spear is almost three meters, far longer than the Zweihander’s. She gets the impression that he isn’t very experienced with it, however, and she easily deflects his thrust with the flat of her blade.
The swordsman charges in next, slightly late to the party. She spins around to avoid the glinting blade he tries to bring down on her skull, and using her momentum she hits him in the side with her sword’s flank.
The man is sent flying as if she’d hit him with a hammer, not a sword.
Flum puts the spearman between the sling user and herself, taking advantage that the spearman is still trembling after seeing what she just did to the swordsman. She doesn’t want to have to worry about another stone coming flying at her. He makes a sloppy thrust at her, and with a swift movement she drives the spear’s head into the ground. A spear may have the advantage of reach, but in close quarters a sword has a clear advantage. She smashes the flat of her blade into his side, too, shattering his arm and sending him flying. He rolls on the ground in pain.
Now it’s only Flum and the sling user left.
She slowly walks towards him.
He slings a few more stones at her, but she casually deflects them with her black blade every time.
Standing directly in front of him, she raises her sword and glares at him.
He’s completely lost any desire to fight.
Flum swings her sword down at him nonetheless --- stopping a hair’s breadth from his skull.
He collapses, passing out as a wet patch slowly expands on the front of his trousers.
“Whew. I wasn’t expecting more of them to suddenly show up.”
Putting a hand to her chest in relief, she reaches down and this time succeeds in picking up the bag.
As she heads back to the middle-aged man, she hears a sound not unlike a small animal getting crushed from the alley the other man fled down.
“Oh, did someone stop him for me?”
Until just a moment ago Flum was convinced there was nobody else around. Stopping to look down the alley, she spots a tiny form dragging the unconscious thug by the collar.
It turns out to be a young girl, probably only about ten years old. Her golden hair is slightly messy, and slung across her white-robed back is a large mace. She’s short and has a slight childish pudginess, almost giving her the impression of being more stuffed animal than little girl.
The man’s cry was likely from when her mace made contact with his head, however.
Just swinging a weapon that large must require a lot of strength. Anyone who can defeat an adventurer with a weapon like that can’t be your average little girl.
“A priestess of the Church of Origin…?”
Judging from her robes there’s no doubt. The only women wearing such robes in the capital are all associated with the Church.
Flum remembers Maria wearing a similar white robe and handling a mace with ease in combat.
Many regard priestesses as kind, quiet healers, but evidently the Church trains all their members to smite evil should the need arise.
“Nnn? Did you beat up those bad guys, su? Thanks a lot, su!”
Her large, spacey eyes give the impression that she was born and raised in the country.
After thanking Flum with her strange speech tic, she energetically bows her head, then pops right back up again. She giggles and shows her teeth in a big, innocent grin.
Chapter 8 - The Paradoxical Girl Purely Shining in the Hallowed Darkness 𝛽
“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done!”
After returning the stolen bag, the man grabs Flum’s hand shakes it vigorously, tears welling up in the corners of his eyes as he thanks her. He looks to be only in his thirties but his back is stooped as if he’s much older and he has a kind, soft face. There’s no way someone like him should be walking through the West Quarter alone --- anyone could tell that much just by looking at him.
“Ah, sorry I didn’t introduce myself sooner. My name is Reach Mankathy, and I run a small business in the Central Quarter.”
Smiling, Reach bows politely in a practiced motion. His bag, his clothes, even his mannerisms are all very upper-class.
Flum knows she’s heard the name Mankathy somewhere, not long ago but very recently.
Milkit taps Flum on the shoulder and leans in to whisper into her ear.
“Isn’t the symbol on his bag the same as the logo of the store where we bought dinner a short while ago?”
Right before returning to the West Quarter, they’d stopped at a large store to pick up some fresh foodstuffs --- and the name of that store was Mankathy Mart.
“Ahh, Mankathy as is in Mankathy Mart--- hold on a second, that’s not a ‘small business’ at all!”
“Nonsense. It’s nothing, really.”
Even modesty has its limits. Mankathy Mart is the single largest market in the entire Capital. It’s so famous that it’s practically a household name. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say everyone in the Capital has visited it at least once.
Flum had never thought that the owner of such an enterprise would be such a gentle man, much less that he’d treat even slaves with respect.
“Is it alright if I ask the names of my rescuers?”
“Uh, my name is Flum. I’m an adventurer working in the West Quarter. This is Milkit.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you.”
As Flum introduces her, Milkit curtsies politely. The action fits beautifully with her outfit, almost as though she were a real maid.
“Flum-san and Milkit-san... I don’t suppose we’ve ever met before, have we, Flum-san?”
Reach strokes his chin in thought. Flum’s heart skips a beat.
“I think I’ve seen her before, too, su.”
The young priestess agrees.
People associated with the Church of Origin or people who make a living out of gathering information like large business owners would probably at least recognize her. She was travelling with the Hero until just recently, after all.
“Ahaha… It’s just your imagination.”
Flum laughs and firmly denies it.
Nobody would believe that THE Flum Apricot is now a slave --- even people who know her face probably won’t associate the two of them given how much of a presence the slave mark has. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, however, is a different question entirely. For the time being she decides to deny it.
“I see... I’m sorry for suddenly saying something so strange.”
“No, it’s fine. I get that a lot.”
Being apologized to after lying to his face gives Flum a strong pang of guilt.
“And how about you, young lady?”
“Me, su? I’m Sara Anvilen, su! As you can probably tell I’m a priestess, workin’ hard to serve Origin-sama, su!”
Her slightly rougher manner of speaking seems to oddly suit her country bumpkin face.
“Oh, so you’re from the Church of Origin! I honestly can’t thank you enough for helping me. I’m truly in your debt.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it, su! It’s a priestess’ job to beat up the bad guys, su!”
She puts her hands on her hips and puffs out her flat chest with a self-satisfied grin.
Flum always had the impression that priestesses were physically weak and all about virtue and the like, but having met a second exception to the stereotype Flum’s mental image of them is quickly being replaced with warrior monks. The unconscious thug at Sara’s feet probably wasn’t expecting a mere priestess to be able to lay him out in a single blow, either.
“By the way, what’re we gonna do with these guys, su?”
“My bag was returned safe and sound, so I don't believe that anything else needs to be done.”
“Yeah, I think bein’ beat up will have taught ‘em a thing or two, su.”
Reach and Sara are ready and willing to just let them go.
Flum can’t help but be knocked speechless.
Just how naive are they?
If the thugs were just stealing to make ends meet, things might be different, but there’s no way that D-Rank adventurers would need to stoop to petty theft. Even if they are in desperate financial straits, then as members of Dane’s gang they should be able to find more decent work if they ask their boss. They probably tried to steal the bag just so they could have a little more money to waste. They won’t suddenly change their ways after getting beat up once.
The least they deserve is jail. Nothing less will make any difference.
“Is something wrong, Flum-san?”
“I think it’s for the best that we lock up thugs like these where they belong. They’re not going to just turn over a new leaf so easily.”
Sara seems a little uneasy, however.
“Don’t bad guys become good guys if you punish ‘em, su? If I do somethin’ bad and one of my senpais punishes me I don’t do it again, su.”
“That’s because you’re a good girl, Sara-chan. Real bad guys need a lot harsher punishment or they’ll never learn.”
“That’s kinda sad, su...”
Flum crouches down to her level and looks her in the eyes.
“It’s sad, but it’s the truth. If good little girls like you help them, though, they might learn their lesson and not do bad things ever again.”
“...I’ll do my best, su!”
A moment ago she seemed genuinely sad, but already she’s back to her energetic self. She must be a very kind and honest girl at heart. If everyone was as simple and pure as her, the world would be a lot more of a peaceful place.
“That’s that, then. I think we should call the guards or the paladins as soon as possible. What do you think, Reach-san?”
“Since you know the West Quarter better than I do, Flum-san, I’ll leave the decision to you.”
“Oh, I know some paladins, su! I’ll go get them, su!”
Sara suddenly sprints off before anyone can say another word.
Watching her leave just as quickly as she came, Milkit speaks up.
“She’s full of energy, isn’t she?”
“She’s certainly eager, that’s for sure. Ah, youth.”
“I would never be able to keep up with her, certainly.”
Reach smiles bitterly as he listens to the teenaged Flum and Milkit talk like old ladies.
“I think you’re both far too young to be talking like that.”
“Maybe so, but her energy really is something else.”
That few years’ difference between their ages carries a surprising amount of weight with it. Flum can’t help but feel jealous of Sara for still having that special youthful kind of energy.
“...By the way, Flum-san.”
Flum turns back to face him and is somewhat surprised to see that his expression has suddenly changed into something far more serious than before. Sensing the shift in mood, Flum braces herself for Reach’s words.
“You look like a fairly competent adventurer to me. Would you mind accepting a little quest from me?”
She wasn’t expecting someone like him to be so willing to give somewhat he’d only just met a quest. It feels less that he doesn’t care about the proper procedures and more like this is a quest he doesn’t want turned down no matter what.
“I’m only an F-Rank adventurer, so you should probably ask someone more qualified…”
Flum refuses apologetically.
“With strength like that you’re only F-Rank, you say!?”
“Well, I’ve only been an adventurer since yesterday… I think you’ll see why if you cast Scan on me.”
“Let’s see… All zeroes? How did you beat those men, then!?”
“My equipment’s a bit… special.”
If only looking at her equipment she’s clearly not F-Rank, but she’s still a novice experience-wise. Being an adventurer is more than just strength; experience and knowledge are invaluable. Flum herself doesn’t feel that she deserves to be any higher-ranked than she is at the moment.
“Regardless, if you can fight like you did with stats like these, then you clearly have talent.”
“No, I wouldn’t go that far…”
“And judging by your Rank, I’d guess that you haven’t gained much of a reputation yet, have you? Perfect.”
Suddenly the entire situation seems suspicious. If being highly skilled and having a low reputation is a good combination, then this must be a quest that he wants to keep secret. On top of that, he’s asking an adventurer directly instead of going to the guild --- the job reeks of bad news.
Reach senses Flum’s hesitation and relaxes his expression as he begins to explain himself.
“My wife’s gravely ill, you see.”
“Uh… That’s really too bad, but you should probably go see a priestess, not an adventurer.”
“It’s apparently a sickness that can’t be cured by magic. The priest told me all I can do is pray she’ll recover.”
Milkit twitches. It’s the same with the mustaad poison afflicting her face.
In other words…
“After doing a bit of research, however, I discovered that her illness has been successfully treated with medicine in the past.”
“Ah… And that’s why you can’t go to the guild with this.”
If he did, word would definitely get out to the Church. Of course Reach would want to avoid that if at all possible.
The Church once took extreme measures to drive out all the apothecaries --- no, even now the conflict continues. The production or consumption of medicine for any reason is still treated as a grave sin. Since the Kingdom is working with the Church, even someone as powerful as Reach would be labelled a heretic at the very least.
“My wife’s illness only grows worse with every passing day. If I don’t get her the medicine she needs, she might not make it.”
Reach’s expression clouds over.
He has no choice but to resort to less legal means of finding a cure. If he makes use of a low-ranking but strong adventurer like Flum, his wife still might have a chance.
“I’ll reward you handsomely, of course. I realize that this request won’t help you raise your Rank, but I’m prepared to compensate you for that.”
Honestly, Flum couldn’t wish for better terms. The request itself is for a good cause, and on top of that she won’t have to go through the guild like last time. The more the request pays the bigger the guild’s commission, but if she doesn’t go through the guild she can get the greatest possible reward without benefiting them.
“What will you do, Master?”
After Milkit asks her, Flum thinks hard.
They have a lot to gain. They also have a lot to lose.
If the Church finds out, they could find themselves in real danger.
Even so, Flum wants to help him out of sympathy if nothing else --- that alone is enough to make her answer clear.
She turns to face Reach once more.
“I’ll do it. I’ll take on your request, Reach-san.”
There’s no hesitation in her voice.
Reach’s apprehensive expression turns into a hopeful one.
“Really? Thank you so much! Oh, gods of business, thank you for letting me meet this girl…!”
Maybe he’s always been quick to tears, or maybe he’s been through more hardships than Flum could ever imagine. The tears on his cheeks speak volumes as he clasps his hands in prayer.
He has yet to explain, however, what herb is needed, where it is, or any of the other important details.
Flum waits until he’s calmed down a little to ask.
“So where is this herb?”
Reach makes a difficult expression before replying.
“To be honest… I don’t know. The medicine requires a blue flower known as a chiaraly, but there aren’t enough records left to pinpoint where it grows.”
It’s a miracle in and of itself that the Church overlooked enough records for him to have found as much as he has --- or maybe the fact that he’s found even that much shows the strength of his desire to save his wife.
“I see... So finding the chiaraly is part of the job.”
“Unfortunately, yes. I’m sorry to push such an unreasonable quest on you, but there’s nobody else I can rely on! Please!”
Starting from square one is a bit harsh, granted, and Flum isn’t confident she’ll be able to pull it off, but regardless---
“I’ve already accepted your quest, so don’t worry. I’ll do everything I can.”
She just so happens to know someone who is an apothecary herself. If Flum can find her, she should be able to do something, though whether or not she’ll help is a different matter entirely.
[They took a little persuading, certainly, but in the end they agreed.]
[You held them back most of all, you know.]
She remembers Jean’s words.
She still doesn’t know for certain if her other party members really agreed to sell her into slavery or not --- the words eat away at her heart even now.
If he was telling the truth, she probably wouldn't lift a finger to help her.
All she can do is hope Jean was lying.
“It’ll probably take a while to get the flower, though.”
“My wife’s condition may not be great, but she shouldn’t be in danger of death for a while. All I can ask is that you find it as quickly as you can manage.”
The time limit, in other words, is until his wife's death. With such a free time frame, it’ll leave more than just a bad taste in her mouth if she doesn’t make it in time. No matter what, Flum has to find the flower and get it to Reach in time.
“I have records on the chiaraly back at my mansion. Could you come by later to pick them up?”
Just as soon as they finish talking, they hear Sara’s voice drawing closer.
“Ed, Johnny, over here, su!”
She runs over to them with two knights in white armour in tow.
“Ohh, you got a bunch of them again, didn’t ya? It’ll be a pain to haul ‘em all back.”
“All that means is that she did an excellent job. Stop complaining let’s finish this already.”
“Yeah, yeah, why don’t you relax a little, Johnny? Thanks a ton, Sara!”
The more casual paladin, Ed, pets Sara’s head.
“I told you not to pet me, su!” she shouts, flailing about.
The three seem to be quite close friends.
After that, the paladins restrain the unconscious thugs with magic bands of light. They then hear Flum's and Reach's testimonies before hauling them off.
Flum herself is impressed at how quickly and professionally the two handle the situation --- though it probably only went so smoothly because they know Sara.
“See you later, su!”
Sara sees the two paladins off with an energetic wave. Having just ran to the Church and back her brow glistens with sweat, but her expression is still bright and cheerful. She’s still full of energy.
As soon as Ed and Johnny pass out of sight, Sara turns to Flum.
“I hope they’re good guys by the time they get out of jail, su.”
“I hope so, too...”
Not only would the West Quarter become a little safer, Dane’s influence would weaken, too.
“By the way, Reach-san, I’d like to ask you somethin’, su.”
“What is it?”
Reach replies casually.
Sara cocks her head to the side and peers up into his face as she asks.
“You're not worried about medicine or anythin’ like that, are you, su?”
Flum’s heart practically stops beating.
“...No. No, of course not.”
After a short pause, Reach replies with his merchant’s poker face. He was probably just as shaken by her question as Flum.
She can’t have been eavesdropping on them, so she must’ve gleaned that information from their expressions alone.
“Really, su? You reeeeeally aren’t, su?”
“Of course not. Why do you ask?”
“Someone I met a little while ago had a problem like that, but they wouldn’t tell me anythin’ at first ‘cause I’m a priestess, su. If you were lookin’ for somethin’ like that I would’ve offered to go get it for you, su.”
“Wait, even though you’re with the Church?”
Flum can’t keep her surprise out of her voice.
“That kinda stuff doesn’t matter, su. Maria-neesama taught me to help anyone in trouble no matter what, su!”
“Maria? You don’t mean...”
“Maria-neesama’s helpin’ the Hero right now, su! She was really nice to me when she was still at the Church, su!”
There’s no doubt now that she’s referring to the saint Maria Affenjenz. Sara’s eyes sparkle with admiration as she talks.
Flum can’t help but feel a bit of a difference between the Maria that Sara’s talking about and the Maria she was travelling with until a little while ago.
Maria was generally kind, true, but whenever they encountered any demons she'd start acting like a different person entirely. Not that, at Jean’s request she never once cast any healing magic on Flum. She certainly never gave the impression of being as open-hearted and kind as her sainthood would suggest.
Of course, I can’t say that for sure just because she didn’t treat me very well… I really was useless, after all.
“It’s just not right for the Church to say medicine’s bad, su! If it can cure sick people then there’s nothin’ wrong with using it, su! Ah… but don’t tell anyone I said that, su. I don’t wanna be punished again, su…”
Flum, Milkit, and Reach exchange glances. Reach’s expression in particular makes it seem as though he wants to trust her.
“I get that you probably don’t wanna tell me with all the Church has been doin’, but I really just wanna help, su. I even know where some old medicine books are in the Church so I don’t think I’d be useless, su…”
“Did you say inside the Church!?”
“There’s only a few, but I did see ‘em, su.”
Regardless of why they're there, those books may tell where Chiaraly grows. It’d mean taking a big risk, but there’s certainly a chance of it paying off.
Reach seems deep in thought.
“Reach-san, I think we can trust her.”
“Oh? What makes you so sure?”
“Her eyes are too pure to be a liar’s eyes. Trust me, I’ve met enough scum to be able to tell that much at least.”
Reach closes his eyes in thought and thinks hard for a moment before replying.
“...If you say so, Flum-san.”
Skepticism is a virtue for a merchant, but Reach knows full well when he should listen to his gut. This is one of those times.
“The truth is, Sara-san, I'm looking for a certain herb.”
“I thought so, su.”
Hearing Reach’s confession, Sara finally seems content.
“My wife has fallen terribly ill and the only thing that can cure her is medicine made from a chiaraly flower.”
“Chiaraly, su? I’ve never heard of it but I’m sure I can find somethin’ in those old books, su.”
“I honestly can’t thank you enough! I’ve already hired Flum-san, so if you don’t mind working with her I’ll gladly reward you as well.”
“I don’t need any reward, su. Helpin’ people is a priestess’ job, an’ I get plenty of allowance anyways, su.”
Sara’s pure desire to help is almost blinding.
I feel kinda bad for getting so excited about the reward now…
“No, I need to properly---”
“It’s really fine, su! Actually, if I do get paid they'll get angry at me again, su. I don’t like pain, su...”
Remembering some past punishment, Sara rubs her bottom with a dark expression. Reach can’t help but burst out laughing.
“I suppose it can’t be helped, then.”
As a merchant he of course wants to reward her for her work, but he’ll have to give up on that just this once.
The party of Flum, Sara, and Milkit follow Reach back to his house to receive his records on the Chiaraly.
At Reach’s mansion they retrieve the documents, then split up to search.
Sara heads back to the Church to look through the records left there.
Flum checks all the bookstores and libraries she can find, but of course she doesn’t find anything related to medicines. While she’s at it she also looks for her, but that search also comes up empty.
To be honest, she's disappointed she can’t find anything at all.
Two days after they split up to search, Sara visits Flum and Milkit’s inn. Sara hands Flum a notebook crammed with messy handwriting that gives the location of a small cave where Chiaraly blooms.
“It was a little tricky not gettin’ caught, but I don’t think they expect anythin’, su.”
Even though she’s a priestess she had to be careful --- there must be some reason for the notes surviving, a reason that the Church doesn’t want known. Flum feels bad for making Sara go so far as to put herself in danger.
According to the notebook, the cave is close to a town called Enchide.
“It really does look like it’s in the middle of nowhere, su. I’m not even sure they have an inn, so it’d be nice if we could find someone who knows the area, su.”
“Enchide… Where’ve I heard that name before…?”
“Master, isn’t that where the innkeeper Stude comes from?”
“Oh yeah, that’s right!”
“You mean that super cheery guy at the front desk, su?”
The three of them head down to the first floor where Stude is. They can’t just tell him they’re going to commit heresy, though, so Flum leaves the herb-gathering part out of her explanation.
As soon he hears they’re headed to Enchide, he stares at them in shock for a moment before bursting out laughing.
“Ya really gotta go out in the middle a’ nowhere, dontcha!? Gahaha, whatta coincidence! So whaddya need? A guide? An inn? Ah couldn’t ask fer more! Mah fam’s been runnin’ an inn there fer generations, an’ Ah was plannin’ on headin’ back ta see mah Ma soon anyhow!”
Even before they've properly asked he's eager to help --- he may be a little forceful but he’s a good guy.
After Flum explains what exactly they’ll need (with frequent, energetic interruptions from Stude) they plan to all head out together.
Having learned where the Chiaraly is and how to get there, Flum, Milkit, and Sara report to Reach at his mansion.
When they tell him the flower can be found nearby Enchide he starts crying yet again. It’s impressive he’s been able to work as a merchant for as long as he has, given how quick to tears he is. He generously offers to cover their transportation costs, and Flum gladly accepts.
“Now that everything’s squared away, I think that I’ll be fine with just Milkit and Stude.”
The trip is supposed to take three full days each way, and Sara's already done more than enough for them --- or so Flum tries to explain, but Sara adamantly refuses to listen.
“I’m goin' with you no matter what, su!”
They argue for quite some time before Milkit says that she doesn’t see any problem with it, at which point Flum finally cedes defeat and agrees to take Sara along.
The only problem left is how to explain Sara’s absence to the Church, but Sara herself shrugs it off.
“If I tell them it’s to help people in need there’s no problem, su. The other priestesses do it all the time, su.”
If she’s so confident, then it’s probably nothing to worry about... hopefully.
They plan to depart the next morning.
That night, Milkit lies wide awake in bed, too nervous to sleep with the first journey in her life in front of her. She stares up at the ceiling of their dark room.
“Are you asleep yet, Milkit?”
Flum’s voice comes from the other bed.
“No… I’m too nervous to.”
“Hehe. You too, huh?”
Flum has the exact same problem.
“In that case, how about we talk for a while?”
“That said, I don't really know what to talk about…”
No matter how hard she thinks, nothing comes to mind.
“Do you mind if I start, then?”
“Sure, go on ahead.”
Flum’s glad to see that Milkit is interested enough in something to take the initiative for once.
“Have you ever been on a journey before, Master?”
She doesn’t know that Flum traveled with the Hero for a time or anything about her being one of Origin’s chosen ones. As a slave, probably all she knows is that the Hero exists.
Flum isn’t exactly eager to talk about her time in the Hero’s Party, especially since it ended unpleasantly --- but this is the first time Milkit has actively tried to learn more about her. She wants to answer her feelings.
She can’t help feeling that she should tell Milkit everything sooner rather than later because it’ll be important to their relationship moving forward.
“Well, you might not believe me, but I traveled with the Hero for a little while.”
Flum can’t see Milkit’s eyes suddenly widen in shock. The truth really is too much for her to believe right off the bat.
“With the Hero, you say… Is that perhaps some sort of metaphor?”
“Nope. The one and only Hero of Salvation, just like you’re probably imagining. Have you heard of Cyrill-cha… Cyrill Sweechka?”
“Yes, I have.”
“I travelled with her, Eterna-san, Gadio-san, and all those other famous people for a few months.”
Milkit didn’t really have the chance to follow current events as a slave so all she really knows about them is their names. She turns her entire body so that she faces Flum’s bed.
“So… Doesn't that mean that you're one of Origin-sama’s Chosen, Master?”
“You’d never believe it looking at me now, but yeah.”
“You really are amazing, Master.”
She knew Flum wasn’t any ordinary person, but she never even imagined she was one of the Hero’s companions. Her gaze through her bandages is filled with newfound respect.
Flum bashfully laughs her compliment off.
“Maybe I was chosen, but it’s really not that amazing. It was because I was chosen that I was kicked out, sold into slavery, got this brand…”
She has no idea why she was forced to go through all that, to the point where she still holds a grudge against Origin.
“Ah, so that must be why…”
Milkit seems to come to a realization.
“What is it?”
“That must be why you seem so radiant even though you’re a slave like me, Master.”
When they first met in that cell, Flum clearly seemed different to her, totally unlike the other slaves.
“I noticed that you didn’t have the same air about you as the rest of us, but then it didn’t make sense to me that you were put into that cage. So you had just become a slave back then… I finally understand now.”
That also explains why she was able to adapt and think positively much sooner than a long-term slave like Milkit. Flum likely didn’t realize it herself, but it’s probably because the slave mindset hadn’t fully sunk in yet.
“I think you probably still have a home to return to, Master.”
“Hey, why’re you making it sound like you don’t have one?”
Milkit pouts a little.
“Because I don’t.”
“In that case, if I ever do find a home, it can be yours, too.”
“I can’t believe you’re still saying things like that, Master.”
There's a bit of happiness in her voice.
“You don’t want to live with me?”
“It’s because I want to that it’s a problem.”
“I can live with that, then.”
Flum laughs, and Milkit can’t stop herself from silently giggling to herself.
“I hope the trip goes well.”
“Yeah. As soon as we get back, let’s eat out somewhere nice.”
“Lunch today was very tasty. I’ve never had anything like it.”
“That wasn’t exactly a high-class restaurant or anything, but if you liked it that much, how about we go there again?”
“I’d like that a lot."
Milkit responds energetically.
Just by talking they’ve relieved a lot of their anxiety. All they can do is leave the rest to sleep. Milkit closes her eyes, ignoring the bad feeling in her gut.
“Good night, Master.”
They exchange those final two words and the room is filled with silence.
The night grows deeper.
The dawn of their journey draws ever closer...
Chapter 9 - Finally, We Meet Again
Flum, Milkit, and Sara stuff themselves with lunch as they bounce along in the back of the wagon. They'd packed enough food for four, but Stude is currently snoring loudly with his mouth wide open so they leave his share alone for the time being.
Their lunch consists of sandwiches made from cutting a slit in the side of a thick slice of white, fluffy bread and filling the gap with meat, vegetables, and spicy sauce. The bread’s sweetness serves as an excellent compliment for the sauce, making it mild enough that even a child can enjoy it.
Milkit had woken up earlier than anyone the morning of their departure from the Capital to make their lunch, though the ingredients and the paper the sandwiches are wrapped in she’d received from Stude.
“Iff tafty, fu.”
Sara tries to talk with her cheeks full of food, making her look like a little hamster. Flum barely manages to stifle a laugh.
“I’m glad you like it.”
“I never knew you could cook so well, Milkit.”
“It’s nothing, really.”
“It really is good, though! I can understand why Sara’s… mm, fufu… Yeah, I love it, too!”
“Oneefafu, fonffaff fe, fu!”
Sara tries to object to Flum's laughter, but her cheeks are still so full nobody can tell what she’s trying to say.
“Really, Sara-chan, talk or chew, pick one or the other! Anyway, you made this sauce from scratch, right?”
“Well, I did, but…”
“Then you’re amazing. No matter how strongly you deny it, flavour speaks louder than words.”
Confronted with a sudden volley of compliments, Milkit looks down at the ground in embarrassment. Skill in the kitchen is one of the things that she picked up as a slave. Flum can also cook, of course, but Milkit far surpasses anything she can do.
I’ve got to get her to teach me this recipe…
Flum bites into the sandwich again, a determined look on her face.
“By the way, Master, what kind of place do you suppose Enchide is?”
“Iff afoffifaffy liffl fown in fa fiddle of fowwa, fu.”
“Pfft… Really, swallow then speak!”
Flum laughs as she admonishes her, prompting Sara to quickly chew and swallow everything in her mouth at once. Somehow she avoids choking on that massive glob of bread.
Ahh, youth, Flum can’t help but think.
“Ngu… It’s an ordinary little town in the middle of nowhere, su. I read somewhere that it used to be a big center for medicinal herbs, but you should really ask Stude for the details, su.”
“That’d be way before any of us were born, though. I think I remember learning that the Church outlawed medicine just after the end of the Demon War.”
The Demon War ended some thirty years ago. To make a long story short, the demons suddenly invaded the Human Realm looking to expand their territory and the Royal Army stood up to fight them. In the end, the Kingdom was able to push them back at great cost. The Church supposedly played a big role in the conflict, and following the end of the War they began to wield a lot of political power thanks to that. Back then there were many other religions worshiping many other deities within the Kingdom, but over the past thirty years those other faiths have all but completely vanished.
“I don’t get what the Church’s problem with medicine is in the first place, su.”
“Did nobody ever teach you why?”
“They told us a bunch of obvious lies like ‘medicine weakens your faith’ an’ ‘medicine stops healin’ magic from workin’,’ su. Some people really believe it, though, su.”
If that’s what they teach to children from a young age, then it’s only natural that some will believe it.
The carriage hits a stone in the road just then, sending Sara falling forwards.
Flum can barely spot a strange blue mark at the base of her neck.
“What’s that on the back of your neck?”
“Ah, that, su.”
She touches it as she speaks.
“My village isn’t around anymore, but they used to worship a god other than Origin, su. My parents were real strong believers, so they gave me this tattoo as a sign of my faith even though I was really young back then, su. They used a special ink, so it’s probably stuck there for the rest of my life, su.”
The special ink that Sara refers to is probably the same as what’s in Flum’s slave mark.
Flum wonders for a moment whether she should ask about what she means by her village not being around any more, but fortunately Sara starts explaining.
“My village was destroyed by the demons, su. I was only two years old at the time so don’t remember anything, su...”
She laughs weakly.
“Maria-neesama went through the exact same thing, su. Maybe that’s why she was so kind to me, su…”
Flum and Maria never talked much, so this is of course news to her. That might explain why she'd always act so strange around demons, though. Maybe that makes Maria more determined to defeat the Demon Lord than any of them. It was probably only natural for her to see as nothing more than a burden, then --- and it’d also explain why she never 'wasted' any healing magic on her.
“Even now the demons destroy villages in the Human Realm all the time, su.”
“Eh? You mean it’s still going on?”
“None of it’s made public, but they've destroyed a ton of 'em, su.”
Flum’s never read anything like that in the newspapers around the Capital, so the Church must be keeping it under wraps.
Sara’s willingness to leak that information --- and the notebook containing the Chiaraly notes, for that matter --- must mean she doesn’t agree with the Church’s methods.
“Fortunately nobody’s died yet, but I can never forgive ‘em, su! If I ever see a demon I’ll beat ‘em up for sure, su!”
She may not remember the destruction of her home, but her hatred of Demons has definitely taken root in her heart.
Flum can understand Sara’s point of view full well; thirty years have passed since the War and the Demons still haven’t learned their lesson and continue to destroy --- but something definitely strikes her as off.
How could entire villages be destroyed without any casualties?
She's witnessed the strength of the Three Demon Generals firsthand; they could turn a little country town into a sea of flames in a heartbeat. If nobody has died yet, however, then the only thing that makes sense is that killing people isn't their goal --- but then that’d conflict with cases like Sara’s.
If the demons aren’t trying to kill humans, though, then what are they after?
No, she knows the answer already. They’re probably destroying villages as some sort of payback for humanity’s --- the Hero’s Party’s invasion of their lands.
In that case, who's really to blame…?
“Before I can do that, though, I gotta get a lot stronger, su.”
Sara vigorously bites into another sandwich as Milkit cocks her head to the side.
“Come to think of it, you were able to capture that thief with ease. Just how strong are you, Sara-sama?”
“‘Sara-sama’... You can call me ‘Sara-chan’ like Flum-oneesan does, su. ‘Sama’ makes me feel all itchy, su.”
“I couldn’t possibly.”
“If Sara-chan really feels that strongly about it, then there’s no problem, right?”
“...If you say so, Master. How does ‘Sara-san’ sound?”
Sara nods energetically in response before biting into the sandwich again.
“Hyu can fee my Fueehafu iff hyu cafft Shan, fu.”
Translation: ‘You can see my Status if you cast Scan, su.’
“O-Okay, I’ll see what I can do… Scan.”
Miraculously understanding Sara through her full mouth, Milkit starts casting.
This marks the first time she’ll be using magic in the field, so to speak, and her entire body trembles with nervousness --- she’s only been able to cast Scan since the night before, after all. Although their reading and writing lessons ended up getting put off, Flum spent the entire evening tutoring her, figuring that she’d have a lot of opportunities to use it. At first Milkit was saying things like “There’s no point teaching someone like me,” but it only took an hour for her to get the gist of it. Scan is the most basic of basic spells, and as it turns out Milkit's a quick study.
After that she spent a few hours learning how to make sense of the various numbers and symbols that would pop up. She was only trying to get down the basic vocabulary and make sense of the numbers, but Flum couldn’t help but smile at how hard she worked at it.
For a while after that, Milkit cast Scan on whatever she could find. It’s impossible to forget one’s first magic, and at the time she was filled with the wondrous sensation of having her eyes opened to a whole new world.
The only thing left for Flum to do now is help her to just relax.
“Don’t worry, you can do it,” Flum encourages her with a smile.
Her words seem to work wonders as Milkit relaxes her body and carefully gathers her mana into her eyes.
Watching Milkit stare at Sara, leaning so far forward she might fall out of her seat, Flum decides to cast Scan on Sara herself.
Sara Anvilen Attribute : Light Strength : 285 Magic : 301 Stamina : 123 Agility : 227 Intuition : 133
She’s honestly shocked.
Is this really the Status of a ten-year-old!?
Her stat total is 1069, putting her on par with a weaker C-Rank adventurer. On top of that, she’s still young and has plenty of room to grow on top of that.
Maybe the Church gives her so much free reign because they've recognized her as a prodigy.
Flum hurries to cast Scan on the crest on the back of her hand and the gauntlets at her waist, just to check her own Status.
Name: The Soul-Devouring Zweihander Tier: Epic [This equipment lowers your Strength by 320] [This equipment lowers your Magic by 99] [This equipment lowers your Stamina by 297] [This equipment lowers your Agility by 183] [This equipment lowers your Intuition by 111] [This equipment melts your flesh]
Name: Bloodied Steel Gauntlets Tier: Rare [This equipment lowers your Strength by 82] [This equipment lowers your Magic by 101]
Seeing her own stat total is 1193, she lets out a sigh of relief.
It’s okay, she’s not stronger than me.
It would seem as though the Zweihander’s curse was strengthened, if only a little, by killing the anzu. If she wants to strengthen it even further she’s going to have to kill a lot more monsters. Even then, she’s not certain she’ll be able to stay ahead of Sara for long.
It’s not like they’re competing or anything, of course --- Flum just wants to stay in a position where Sara can respect her as her ‘oneesan.’
“Your clothes look like they’re just Common, su.”
Sara casts Scan on their outfits.
Common indicates an object with no enchantments, like the average tool.
“Well, if we weren’t picky about how they looked then I would’ve wanted them to be Rare at least, but you know how it is.”
“Yeah, I guess there aren’t many clothes that look good and have good enchantments, su.”
All Scan can really do is identify enchantments on equipment. It can’t determine the quality of the clothes themselves.
“Your clothes really are cute, su. If I wore somethin’ like what you have on now, Flum-oneesan, I’d just look really childish, su...”
She looks down at her own developing body and hangs her head in disappointment.
“Don’t worry, you’re still young. You’ll grow out more, I’m sure”
Flum voice brims with confidence even though she’s not exactly curvaceous herself. If anything, she’s the opposite. She looks down at her own chest and feels vaguely depressed.
Sara, in the meantime, has already recovered and turns to Milkit next.
“I’m really jealous of what you’re wearin’, Milkit-oneesan, su. That dress’s so cute with all that frilly lace an’ the ribbon on the chest, su! I wanna try wearin’ somethin’ cute like that too, su.”
Flum imagines Sara in a maid outfit. She’d certainly be adorable, but she’d look maybe a little too doll-like.
“Milkit chose this for herself. Doesn’t it look great on her? Really, I feel like just the sight of her in a maid outfit would make anyone happy.”
Flum follows Sara’s compliments with a few of her own.
“I can totally see it, su! I wish I had a Milkit of my own, su.”
“You can’t have her! She’s my maid!”
Saying so, Flum hugs Milkit’s arm to her chest.
Milkit’s not used to being complimented to begin with, so being teamed up on leaves her at a loss, facing the ground and blushing.
She reproachfully looks at Flum with upturned eyes.
“You’re not just teasing me, are you?”
“Hehehe, you got me.”
“Milkit-oneesan’s really sharp, isn’t she, su?”
“Of course she is! I wouldn’t be so proud to call her mine otherwise!”
“There you go again, really…”
Even through her bandages, they can clearly tell that she’s puffing out her cheeks poutily.
Flum's feelings for Milkit have grown to the point where even just through little actions like that she honestly finds her adorable.
Milkit herself is slowly getting to the point herself where instead of automatically denying all compliments that come her way she can accept them and feel happy. She gets no less embarrassed, of course, but it’s a significant change nonetheless.
Even though they’ve only been living together for a few days, the distance between them has already shrunk dramatically.
“I really am jealous, su...”
Sara watches their exchange from across the carriage.
She remembers her ‘big sister’ Maria. She’s been really busy with her journey and her other work so they’ve barely seen each other lately.
Neesama’s workin’ hard, so I can’t be selfish, she tells herself again, trying to seal away her feelings for Maria.
Watching Flum and Milkit having fun together like sisters, however, causes the loneliness that she thought she’d sealed away to fill her chest.
The dull carriage ride seems to pass in a flash as they chat. Stude wakes up after a while and joins the conversation, talking about Enchide or even stuff completely unrelated, and together they talk about whatever they can think of.
They stop at a town about halfway there to spend the night and try the local delicacies before heading out again the next morning.
The original plan was to spend another night on the road if the conditions were poor, but they make more progress than they’d expected and arrive in Enchide that night. The carriage lets them off before heading off to the next town.
The carriages drop by the village once every three days, so they should be done picking the Chiaraly they need by the time the next one arrives.
Flum, Milkit, and Sara take in the village before their eyes.
While there are rows of houses lining the street, very few of them have lights in the windows. Even the main street is left with shadows cast by the setting sun with no lampposts in sight, and already it's dark enough that they have to light the lantern that they’d bought for exploring the cave.
Stude had told them that there was really nothing there, but seeing their reactions he starts to guffaw.
“Gahahahaha!! Ain’t it somethin’? There really ain’t nothin’ here at all!”
“It’s like a ghost town, su.”
“People actually live here, right…?”
“There’re only a few dozen people left, ta be honest, an’ almost all of ‘em are old folk. There’ll prolly be nobody left in ten years.”
Having already accepted it himself, he's quite cheerful.
“I'm surprised that you're able to run an inn in a town like this.”
“Naw, it’s closed most a’ the time. Ma jus’ opens it fer travellers like yerselves. Ah’ll show ya to it. The rooms are big an’ spacey an' the beds're comfy, Ah promise!”
The three girls follow Stude down a dark street that looks like it was once a bustling marketplace and turn into a small residential area.
“When Ah was a lil’un these parts were still fulla life.”
“I suppose losing your main business put an end to all that, didn’t it.”
“I’m impressed it’s lasted this long, su...”
“Ah guess, but in the end a home’s a home. There’s still a buncha folks here that wanna protect it, an’ it’s thanks ta them we’ve lasted this long.”
He gazes at the empty houses as they pass them, a lonely ring to his voice. Even though he’s accepted their fate he still remembers the old days.
Finally, they arrive in front of an old house with lights still on inside.
“Ah’ll talk ta Ma. Wait out here fer a minute.”
Telling the three of them to wait for a moment, he heads into his mother’s house.
According to what he’d told them on the way there, Stude’s father passed away ten years ago from an illness that ironically could’ve been cured by medicine made from the herbs growing in the area. Since then, his mother has lived in Enchide alone while he sends money back to her from the city. As she grows older, though, she’ll need someone to take care of her, which is why he’s planning to close his inn in the Capital.
Five minutes later Stude comes out with his mother, and after they all introduce themselves she shows them to the inn next door.
“This is a pretty big place, su.”
The inn is at least large enough to house everyone who currently lives in Enchide, although they’re all surprised to hear that it wasn’t able to fit everyone who needed a room back in the town’s golden days.
“Ah make sure ta clean the place frequently, so no worries there,” Stude’s mother tells them as she unlocks the door and leads them inside.
She lights the candles sitting on brackets on the walls as she leads them to their rooms. Given how old the inn is it’s only natural that it doesn’t have any modern fixtures like magic lamps, but the candlelight gives the hotel an old-fashioned welcoming atmosphere.
“The room on yer right’s got a double bed, and on the left’s got a twin. Which do ya want?”
The three of them put it to a quick vote; two votes for the double bed and one abstention. They take the room with the double bed.
They enter the room on their right to find a room much bigger and cleaner than anything they were expecting from a country inn, let alone one that that hadn’t been used in years. Stude’s mother must spend a lot of time in these old rooms, dutifully maintaining the rooms so that they can be used by travellers at any time.
“Ya should be able ta use the kitchen, so if ya get any ingredients ya can cook here, too.”
“You mean there’s still a shop around here that sells that kinda stuff?”
Stude’s mother replies to Flum’s question with a slightly strained smile.
“Ya can buy ‘em at the old lady’s shop on main street, but she’s prolly closed up this late. Ya can come eat at the house if ya want fer tonight.”
“We get food too, su!?”
Clapping her hands together, Sara’s eye begin to sparkle. Seeing her enthusiasm for food, Stude’s mother breaks out into a broad smile.
“Haha, yer gonna be payin’, a’ course. Ah can’t just let ya eat me outta house an’ home fer free.”
After she finishes explaining anything else they may need to know, Stude’s mother hands Flum the key and leaves.
As soon as she’s gone Flum and Sara drop their luggage in the corner of the room, line up facing the bed and exchange fearless grins.
“We gonna do it, su?”
They suddenly run forward, leap into the air with their hands above their heads, and land face-first onto the bed.
They sink into the soft down mattress, unable to move.
Milkit watches their bizarre behaviour in confusion.
Still sunk into the bed, Flum pats the mattress beside her invitingly.
She can’t defy her Master. Breaking into a trot herself, she jumps and lands beside Flum on the bed.
The three very differently-dressed girls lie face-down with their arms outstretched on the bed, making for a bit of a surreal sight.
Miklit doesn’t understand the meaning behind their actions, but she can’t help but enjoy herself.
“...Why did we all just jump on the bed like that?”
Her voice is barely audible through the down mattress.
“Doesn’t everyone just wanna jump into fluffy beds on sight?”
“There you have it.”
She still doesn’t get it, but she concludes that fun must be for its own sake.
The three sit up on the bed and chat for a while.
As the sun finally sets completely and they’re starting to get hungry, Stude comes in with perfect timing to call them for dinner. He also tell them that they’ll have to take a bath over at the house, so they end up bringing a change of clothes with them.
The five of them sit around the table laden with country vegetable-heavy dishes in a spread one small step short of being a feast. It’s clearly too much food for just five people, which just goes to show just how long it’s been since Stude’s mother had an opportunity to cook for guests.
Just as they think that, however, Sara starts stuffing her face at an alarming rate. Even though Flum’s had more of an appetite as of late Sara easily outpaces her, and by the time Milkit’s finished her first mouthful of potatoes Sara’s emptied her first plate.
“Stude was quite the heavy eater when he was jus’ a boy, but not nearly as much as you!”
Stude’s mother’s expression is equal parts shock and happiness.
By the time she’s demolished dessert Sara’s stomach has formed a distinct bulge under her robes.
“That was good, su…”
“You sure you’re not hiding a second Sara-chan under those robes?”
“You’re exaggerating, su.”
“You certainly did eat a lot, though.”
Being told that by Milkit, even, Sara is forced to accept the truth.
They all help clean up, and after that it’s time for a bath… but regrettably, the bath at the house isn’t large enough to fit multiple people at once.
“Takin’ a bath with everyone is one of the best parts of bein’ on vacation, though, su...”
No matter how much she pouts, however, the impossible won’t become possible --- not to mention they’re not on vacation to begin with.
After finishing their baths and thanking Stude and his mother, the three of them head back to the inn.
Once they get back to their room they change into their pajamas and once more pointlessly jump onto the bed.
Just then, Sara suddenly says “We’re on vacation so we gotta talk about who we like an’ stuff, su!” She may be a little young to talk about stuff like that, but it’s because she’s at just that age that she wants to act more mature.
That being said, since none of them has any romantic experience to speak of the conversation ends as quickly as it starts.
Sara suggests a few more topics of conversation, but partway through she suddenly falls asleep. They did spend most of the day travelling, after all.
“She was just as energetic as ever, so it’s hard to believe she’s asleep already…”
“I think it’s just like her, in a way.”
“Yeah, I guess. I hope she stays this innocent and pure forever…”
Flum mumbles on like an old lady.
“You’re still too young to be saying things like that, Master.”
“Ahaha, you say that, but sometimes, watching her… Well then, how about we not-young people get some sleep, too?”
It’s earlier than they normally go to sleep, but Flum puts out the lamp and closes her eyes regardless.
Milkit’s uncertain voice comes out of the darkness.
“Are you certain I shouldn’t be sleeping on the floor…?”
“Are you really still worrying about silly stuff like that?”
Flum sighs, pinching at the bridge of her nose with one hand. She thought Milkit had improved a lot, but evidently she still has a ways to go before she no longer sees herself as a slave.
“I guess it can’t be helped.”
She turns to her last resort.
She grabs Milkit’s hand under the blankets.
“Now you can’t run away. G’night, Milkit.”
She firmly cuts off any chance Milkit has to argue.
Milkit turns to look at her troubling master’s face--- but then gives up on being upset and smiles beneath her bandages.
“Thank you, Master.”
Whispering a thank-you, she closes her eyes.
“Wake up, su!”
The next morning, Flum is shaken awake by Sara.
Since she’s used to life in the Church, she’s used to getting up unnaturally early. Even Milkit, who’s used to waking up early as a slave, still isn’t awake yet, but Flum is the first to fall into her evil clutches.
“Good morning...” Flum mumbles as she rubs her eyes, a grumpy expression on her face.
After they finish getting dressed, the three of them head out, both to gather the ingredients for the day’s meals and to gather information on the cave.
Enchide in the early morning gives off a different impression than they got the night before --- the daylight makes it seem even lonelier. The main street was at one point probably lined with all sorts of shops, but little trace of that liveliness remains. The multitude of empty houses, now clearly visible in the morning light, really makes the town feel abandoned.
The three of them look curiously at the ‘ruins’ around them as they head down the main street in search of any open stores. Finally returning to almost where they arrived in town, they find a small store selling vegetables and a few basic necessities.
Flum takes the vanguard and they head inside, noticing an old lady behind the counter with a pair of spectacles perched on her nose reading a book.
Noticing Flum’s presence, she looks up.
“Oya? Yer a new face ‘round here. Customers from outta town are rare these days.”
Sara pokes her head out from behind Flum and energetically raises a hand.
“We’re from the Capital, su!”
The old lady returns a welcoming smile as she stands up to meet them.
“Ohh, from the Capital. Just ya three strangely-dressed lil’uns? This’s cert’nly rare, ‘specially since ya can’t even pick the herbs growin’ ‘round here anymore.”
“You can’t pick ‘em but they’re still growin’, right, su?”
“Ah think so, but with that monstrosity loiterin’ around nobody can get at the cave where they grow no more. If ya plan on headin’ out that way Ah’d advise ‘gainst it. It ain’t the kinda place people belong no more.”
The lady replies with a warning tone. This time Flum asks a question.
“What kind of monster do you mean by ‘monstrosity’?”
“Ah sure don’t know, never seen it mahself. Ah don’t even know if it’s a monster at all, since nobody’s come back alive. Ah can’t count the number a’ adventurers that’ve tried ta get at them herbs an’ never came out.”
“Nobody, you say?” Milkit questions hesitantly.
“Not a soul. Come ta think of it, there were a coupla men who came askin’ about the cave just like the three a’ ya. Never had two groups come in one day ‘fore. Ah warned ‘em, but they’re prolly dead by now…”
The old lady murmurs to herself, a faraway look in her eyes.
Flum, Milkit, and Sara are quiet for a long moment.
Not a monster --- a monstrosity.
Just what’s in that cave?
They can’t just give up after coming so far, however. After buying some ingredients they head back to the inn. Making use of the kitchen there, Milkit makes a picnic lunch for two and hands it over to Flum and Sara.
Milkit herself won’t be going with them. They can’t just bring her into a cave where a ‘monstrosity’ is supposed to lurk, after all.
“Are you sure you’ll be fine?”
Her voice is heavy with worry as she sees them off.
“If it looks like trouble we’ll run away. I promise.”
“Don’t worry, she’ll have me, su!”
“Yeah, I won’t be alone. It’ll be fine.”
“...If you say so.”
She finally agrees, but she still looks nervous.
“C’mon, Milkit, I get that you’re worried and everything, but if you don’t send me off with a smile I might not be at full strength, y'know?”
“You don’t play fair, putting it like that…”
“Hehehe, you know that’s the kind of master I am. I’ll be back, I promise.”
“See you later, su!”
Waving, the two of them start walking away.
There’s still a bad feeling lingering in her gut, but it’s her job as a slave to motivate her master.
She forces a smile onto her bandaged face and waves back.
“Master, Sara-san, good luck!”
Hearing her voice, Flum returns a pleased grin.
For about an hour after leaving the village, they walk an overgrown path through the dense woods just outside the town.
Then all of a sudden, the gaping mouth of a cave appears before them. Back when the cave was frequently traveled it must’ve been artificially expanded; the opening is unnaturally wide. Just as the old shopkeeper said, however, the moss dotting the rocks suggests that the cave hasn’t seen much traffic in recent years.
Flum lets out a deep, calming breath.
Not even Sara is as enthusiastic as she normally is; her expression is unusually stiff.
They can’t just stay standing outside forever, though. Lighting their lantern once more, they mind the moss at their feet so as not to slip as they head inside and start walking the dusky path ahead of them.
“Isn’t it kinda bright in here, su?”
Sara’s voice is quiet enough that Flum can barely hear it.
“Yeah, you’re right. It looks like there are some gaps in the ceiling.”
Where the rays of light hit the ground bundles of small plants grow. The chiaraly is probably growing somewhere very similar. Just to see how bright it really is, Flum extinguishes the lantern and looks around. It's stilll bright enough that they can see around them, and more importantly they don’t have to worry about tipping off any potential enemies this way. After getting Sara’s O-K, they head deeper in relying only on the cave’s natural light. The deeper in they go the wider it seems to become --- looking at the walls, Flum can tell that this is also thanks to human hands.
Suddenly, a bestial growl comes from further inside the cave.
Flum puts a finger to her lips, and nodding Sara quiets her breathing. They stop walking and strain their ears to listen.
They can barely make out inhuman footsteps.
Carefully, Flum edges forward and sticks just her head out around the corner.
Standing there is a muscular humanoid monster, standing almost three meters tall with distinctive white horns sprouting from its forehead. The monster is wandering around the cavern just in front of them.
“It sounds like a C-Rank ogre, su,” Sara whispers into her ear.
Visible from its open mouth is a row of razor-sharp fangs, dripping with saliva.
Flum casts Scan and checks its Status.
Ogre Attribute : Earth Strength : 608 Magic : 9 Stamina : 623 Agility : 136 Intuition : 81
Its stats are clearly oriented towards raw physical power. Since ogres don’t cast magic and tend to be solitary, they’re regarded as some of the weakest C-Rank monsters. It's certainly nowhere near the level of the magic-casting anzu, and on top of that it’s two against one this time. Flum herself has grown stronger, too, so the battle should go fairly easily.
That being said, with a Strength like that there’s a chance that she’d die instantly if she got hit in the wrong place. She can’t afford to be careless.
“It’s nothin’ the two of us can’t handle, su!”
Flum explained her Status to Sara the night before. She was of course shocked to hear about the effect Reversal had on cursed equipment, but she was there when Flum took out those four thugs in the alleyway. She doesn’t doubt that it’s the truth.
“...Alright, let’s go.”
The moment the ogre turns its back, Flum and Sara both charge in.
The fight is surprisingly one-sided.
Not even the ogre’s thick layers of muscle and hide are enough to protect it from Flum’s Zweihander and Sara’s heavy mace. Every time they swing flesh is rent and bones break as they literally hack away at its life. Flum’s especially surprised by the sheer power behind Sara’s strikes as the ogre’s body twists with every impact. If she’s this strong at ten years old, Flum can’t imagine how strong she’ll be in the future.
The ogre howls as it turns around swinging its arms in rage, but Flum and Sara stay calm and dodge it, making use of the openings in creates with every swing.
The more damage it takes the slower and weaker its movements become before Flum finally stabs it straight through the ogre’s heart. She pulls out the bloody blade and the monster falls face-first to the ground.
Flipping over its massive body, they pull a fang out of its mouth. Their objective may be the herb, but it can’t hurt to take the fang, especially since it sells for a fair bit as a weapon material. They wipe it off and stuff it in a pouch before continuing their search.
The cave turns out to be a lot larger than they’d expected. Occasionally they hear a monster’s distant howl, but it never seems to get any closer to them and they never encounter it. Even if they did, as long as the two work together they can probably handle almost anything.
As they advance they mark the walls so that they don’t get lost, eventually noticing that it seems to be getting brighter.
“Do you think we’re close to the outside, su?”
“It doesn’t feel like we’ve gone in a circle… We’re probably getting closer to a different entrance.”
Turning another corner, they approach the bright light ahead of them until---
“Now I get it… To think there’d be something like this here…”
“I thought it was weird for the whole town to make it big off of pickin’ herbs but now I understand, su.”
In front of them is an expansive open-air cavern, bathed in the sun’s rays. A small river trickles through the space and the sheer number of herbs growing there makes them forget for a moment that they’re still inside a cave.
“It’s like a full garden, su.”
“Even if we weren’t here on business it’s the kind of place I’d love to visit.”
Provided they had the time, of course.
The cavern even has a variety of flowering trees of different shapes and sizes. It’d be odd if the Chiaraly wasn’t growing somewhere in the mix.
Flum takes a step forward into the cave, but---
“Doesn’t it feel kinda, I dunno…”
Sara doesn’t move, an uneasy expression on her face.
“...doesn’t it feel way too quiet in here, su?”
The air is clear, and the temperature is pleasant. The cavern should be perfect for animal life as well as plant life --- emphasis on ‘should be’.
Flum stops walking, finding it strange now that Sara mentions it. There’s no sign of any animals or even monsters anywhere in sight. Only the oddly unnerving sounds of the trickling stream and the leaves swaying in the breeze reach their ears.
“The chiaraly’s probably here, so we can’t just not look for it.”
“I guess, su… Let’s hurry up and get out of here as soon as we can, su.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Having agreed on a plan, the two split up and start to look for the herb in question.
But at that moment.
The overpowering sound of an explosion comes from right behind them.
Startled, Flum whips around.
The walls supporting their only way out of the cavern crumble and collapse, and barely visible beyond the rockfall are two men giving her crudely mocking grins.
“W-What was that, su!?”
“That couldn’t be… more of Dane’s cronies? Did they seriously follow us all the way out here!?”
This is probably their idea of revenge for having their buddies turned in to the paladins, and the pair is most likely the other group that the old shopkeeper mentioned before they left. Following them all the way out into the country for a little revenge, however, seems more than a little obsessive.
After the rockfall stops Flum nears the pile of boulders to check the damage done.
“It’d be a real pain to move these rocks by hand, but I guess it wouldn’t be impossible…”
“If we try movin’ it by force it’ll only collapse, su. It’d be better to just find another way out, su.”
“Yeah, I guess. Sorry for getting you wrapped up in all this.”
“Don’t apologize, Oneesan, su. Dane’s that bad guy who controls all those bad West Quarter adventurers, isn’t he, su? That makes this all their fault, su. As soon as we get out I’ll punish him myself, su!”
She makes a fist, justice burning in her eyes. Flum feels a bit relieved that Sara’s still as energetic as always.
Regardless, if they can’t get out the way they came in they’ll just have to find another way out --- assuming there is one, of course.
The cavern really is vast, though, so they’ll have their hands full searching for the chiaraly. They’d only barely started.
“Right, then. We’ll find the chiaraly, and then all we have to do is find the ex---”
The sound of something rustling cuts her off.
She turns to peer into the greenery.
“Somethin’ wrong, su?”
“I thought I heard something move… Might be a monster.”
Standing still as she can, she peers through a gap in the trees, faintly catching a glimpse of a large green something.
“It’s just another ogre, su. We should probably deal with it first, su.”
“...Hold on a second.”
Something about the ogre strikes Flum as off.
It’s definitely an ogre.
There’s no doubt about that, but --- she caught a glimpse of its face.
Something about its face, only about its face, seemed off.
It moved behind a tree so she can’t see it at the moment, but it moves again, out into the open.
Flum is speechless.
It has no face.
Its skin is peeled back and something that shouldn’t be there is there.
It could probably be called a spiral of meat.
It almost looks like a clump of intestines, and as she watches it rhythmically pulses, throbs, and squirms. A copious volume of blood spurts out with every pulse, dripping sloppily down its neck and staining its green-skinned chest deep crimson.
“It’s not an ogre, su…? But its body, it looks just like an ogre’s, su!?”
If they’re going to figure out what it is they’ll need to cast Scan.
The monster’s Status appears before Flum.
foundyou why runFROMibute : orig cagesTRengthH : 7sin maGIC : SUBMITSUBMISUBMIT Staminamina : fate, accept9deald Agility : sALvaTioN DIE : 14 come back to us, flum apricot
Nothing makes sense.
Everything about the creature screams ‘danger.’
Flum’s heart feels as though it’s being squeezed. She clutches her chest and shrinks backwards.
“W-What is this thing… I’ve never seen anythin’ like this, su!”
Sara, having also cast Scan, steps back in terror.
It’s possible for magic to misfire, but probably not something as simple as Scan.
It’d never happen to two casters at once.
The Status Flum saw is its real stats, then.
That thing has such nonsense carved into its very being.
“W-Why… Why is your name in its Status, su!?”
“I don’t know, but---”
As soon as they cast Scan its head turned and fixed that spiral on them and slowly started drawing closer.
The perfect spiral of flesh on its face warps into an oval.
As if it’s smiling at them.
“We probably need to run, right now.”
It raises its balled fists above its head.
Flum instinctively senses danger.
The monstrosity swings its fists full-force into the ground.
For a normal ogre, such an action could only be a threat --- but at that moment, the ground beneath Flum starts twisting in on itself.
Chapter 10 - Into The Depths Of Despair
The ‘ogre’ slams its fists into the ground and the ground at Flum’s feet starts twisting in on itself.
The sound of something breaking comes from the ground below her, and with a tremble her field of vision starts to lower.
She looks down at her feet.
The ground has reshaped itself into sharp bladelike protrusions and has started twisting and spiraling, just like the face of the ‘ogre’ itself. Her legs are right in the middle of it, getting dragged into the hideous shape as she watches.
The sight is so unrealistic that it takes a moment to realize that the red chunks of something that have started to take flight are part of her. As she watches, her legs sink deeper and deeper into the ground---
“Aahh… agh, gya, GAAAAAAAHH!!”
The pain finally reaches her brain and she screams.
Already the earth has swallowed her ankles, her calves, and is working its way up her thighs --- no matter how hard she wills her legs they won’t move and she can't regenerate fast enough.
At this rate she’ll be reduced to mincemeat.
“Guh, ahh… My legs… won’t, mo, agh...!?”
Sara’s the only one she can turn to for help. Flum breaks out into a cold sweat as she frantically reaches out for her.
Sara rushes forward and sends Flum flying with a full-body tackle, knocking her out of the meat grinder.
“Agh… u, ugh…. gaha…!”
Flum tries not to look down at the sloppy state the dull earthen blades left her legs in as she struggles to pull herself further away with only her arms. The spiral lets out a low moan as it continues to rotate despite having lost its prey.
She lets out a pained voice as she starts to regenerate.
The wounds may be disappearing, but the pain remains. Not even being mutilated by the anzu was as painful as this. Even though her blood is pouring out all over the ground, however, this won’t be enough to kill her.
If I don’t die I’ll be fine, if I don’t die I’ll be fine, as long as I’m still alive, I should be fine…!
It hurts. It hurts so much she almost wishes she was dead.
“U, geh… ugh…”
Unable to breathe properly, she vomits the entire contents of her stomach.
Sara heard that Flum can regenerate, but her injuries would clearly be fatal to anyone else. Thinking to at least prevent a possible death from hemorrhagic shock, she stretches her hands out over the remains of Flum's legs.
Light flows from Sara’s hands and envelopes Flum’s legs.
She doesn’t mean any harm. The mid-level healing magic Heal wouldn’t be strong enough to help with the regeneration, but it might at least stop the bleeding --- but instead, Flum’s legs start to melt before her eyes with a horrendous sizzling.
“Ahh, AGGGHH!! Agh, ahh, guh!!”
Flum’s expression twists with pain as she starts to writhe in agony. She digs her nails into the ground so hard that they break and bleed.
“W-What’s goin’ on, su!? Why isn’t my healin’ magic workin’…!?”
Sara is confused, but she’s bright enough to figure out the answer a moment later.
“...Reversal, su? Did your Attribute turn the healin’ into… Oneesan, I didn’t mean to…!”
Flum knows Sara didn’t mean to hurt her. She wants to reassure her right away, but she’s on the verge of unconsciousness and can’t form her words properly. Only a pained groan leaves her lips.
She takes a few deep breaths to calm herself and take control of her body again. It’ll probably be a while until she can move on her own again, but she tries again to form words as tears start to well up in Sara’s eyes.
“I’m, oka--- ugh…!”
“Guh, agh… m-more importantly…”
“What is it, su?”
“R-Run… right now…”
She’d been so worried about Flum that a slightly larger problem slipped her mind completely.
Turning, she can see the ‘ogre’ cutting through the vegetation, headed straight for them, the spiral of meat on its face letting out a disgusting squelching sound as it lumbers forward.
Flum’s legs haven’t finished regenerating yet. At this rate, it’ll attack again before she’s recovered.
She grabs Flum in both arms and picks her up. Fortunately, she’s strong enough to be able to compensate for Flum’s size and weight with sheer strength.
She starts running, easily putting distance between them and the ‘ogre’.
When she casts a glance behind her, she sees it clenching its massive green fists, lowering itself into a ready stance. Realizing it’s about to use that same attack as before, she turns her attention to the ground around her.
The creature doesn’t strike the ground, however. It thrusts its arms straight out in front of it.
“Sara, cha… r-run…!”
In other words, the target of ‘revolution’ this time isn’t the ground at their feet --- it’s the very air around them.
Sara cries out as she desperately flees.
The air starts to twist, starting as weak as a breeze but quickly accelerating to hurricane-force.
The twister forms a pillar of raw power, tearing everything inside it to shreds.
Sara escapes at the last second, barely grazing her back and sending scraps of white robe flying.
“Now quick, to the side!”
Without giving them time to recover, the ‘ogre’ strikes the ground.
Sara flings herself to the side and away from the twisting ground beneath her, but Flum falls from her arms and onto the ground as she lands.
“It’s fine, I’m better now!”
Flum catches herself with a roll and stands up, drawing the Zweihander in the process.
---We can’t let this drag out. We’ve got to fight back.
Holding the giant sword one-handed, she runs straight at the ‘ogre’.
Sara sees Flum’s attack and stands up, feeling reinvigorated. Heaving her mace off her back, she circles around to take the creature’s back.
Their enemy is focused on Flum. Maybe she’s its objective, just as its Status suggested.
It balls its fists again and strikes the air in front of it once more.
Flum, sensing the attack, jumps to her right.
The unseen power whips the air into a tight, ultra-high-speed rotating spiral, punching a perfect circle into the stone wall behind her as if it were a drill.
If she hadn't moved that hole would be in Flum’s chest --- but the real issue is that the attack was clearly different from all its other moves so far.
Up until then, there was a time lapse between when it swung its fist and when the attack hit. That last attack activated instantly with overpowering force, but the area of effect was narrower and the ‘spiral’ only manifested for an instant.
In other words, it can change the range and activation speed of the ‘rotations’ at will.
They can’t afford to get careless and think that they’ll have enough time to dodge; they need to be ready for a potentially lethal blow at any moment.
It’s all the more dangerous if they try to close in, but they’d be at too much of a disadvantage at range. Flum can’t use any offensive magic, and Sara similarly uses a mace as her main weapon. Even if it’s risky, they have little choice.
The ‘ogre’ fires the same attack as before at Flum, but since its body is so large its movements are easy to read. She keeps dodging as she rapidly closes in, but Sara reaches it first from behind.
She jumps almost as high as the ‘ogre’ is tall and hits the back of its head with the brunt of her mace with all the strength she can muster.
The head of the mace and the head of the ‘ogre’ violently collide, creating a deep, loud thud. Sara using the recoil of the strike to put some distance between them.
“How d’ya like that, su!”
She fearlessly laughs, a proud grin on her face.
It was a solid hit. Any normal ogre would collapse from such a critical hit.
The ‘ogre’ didn’t flinch.
It slowly turns to face her, as if just noticing Sara for the first time.
Blood starts fervently gushing out of the spiral.
She only made it angry.
“It didn’t work, su…?”
“How about this, then!?”
Hoping that it’s just exceptionally strong against bludgeoning attacks, Flum makes a heavy horizontal swing straight for the creature’s gut---
---but its thick skin completely absorbs the force of her swing, stopping her sword in place.
“This thing… it looks like an ogre but it’s so much harder…!?”
Even with its strange attacks, if its body had the same durability as a normal ogre’s they should be able to defeat it.
So much for that.
The ‘ogre’ turns back to Flum and raises a fist.
“Oneesan, look out, su!”
Flum backsteps to dodge the fist as it ploughs straight through the earth. Its very body must be strengthened by that mysterious power.
She gains some distance and stares off with the ‘ogre’.
She thought they’d be able to do something if they could only land a hit or two, but those hopes were solidly crushed. Not Sara’s mace nor the Zweihander have any effect whatsoever.
“I can’t win against this thing as I am now…”
Looking past the ‘ogre’, she makes contact with Sara. They both nod.
At the same instant, the two of them run deeper into the cavern. Their enemy starts to follow them, but fortunately it seems to be just as slow as a normal ogre. They put as much distance between themselves and the monstrosity as they can.
“What’re we gonna do, su!?”
“Just keep running!”
If only the way they came wasn’t sealed off, they would be able to make it to the exit.
They dash through the trees until finally they pass through them, coming to a solid wall. A large hole just in front of the wall leads deeper underground. Judging from its size, the ‘ogre’ might’ve come from there.
“Are we really goin’ in there, su?”
It would be reckless to just go charging into what might be the creature’s lair, but they’re being followed. They don’t have time to dawdle.
“We don’t really have a choice. We’re out of options.”
If it came down to it, she could distract it while Sara escapes, but that’s their last resort.
Flum takes a look inside the hole. It continues downwards at an angle in a perfectly straight line, and looking the walls it seems to be man-made.
She then casually looks behind her, and---
“What’s wrong, su? ...Eh!?”
Normal ogres are too large and slow to be able to move at any decent speed. They were convinced that the ‘ogre’ was the same.
The ‘ogre’ is running with its back erect, raising its knees with perfect form just as a professional sprinter would. The strain on its legs must be immense as they can practically hear the snapping of muscles as it skin turns purple from the internal bleeding, but its pace doesn’t drop, as if it doesn’t even notice. Its actions completely surpass the limits of normal living things.
Flum gets the terrible feeling that some altogether different consciousness is moving the creature.
...No, this really isn’t the time for that.
Right now they need to run with everything they’ve got. As she watches the distance between them rapidly shrinks.
If they weren’t in a cave they might be able to lose it, but there are walls all around them. Now, there’s even a wall in front of them.
All that’s left is that dark, seemingly bottomless hole.
“We’re cornered, su!”
“No, not yet.”
“You weren’t jokin’ about jumping down the hole, su!?”
Jumping down into those depths might be the same as committing suicide, but Death itself is rapidly closing in on them regardless.
“We don’t stand a chance up here with nowhere to go. If we don’t act now, that thing’s going to catch up.”
The ‘ogre’ draws closer with every passing moment.
If I’m going to die, it’s gonna be on my own terms.
She remembers the cell where she met Milkit, and the choice she made then. The memory urges her into action.
She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and slaps her cheeks. It isn’t enough to smother her fear, but it’s enough for one good step forward.
“Okay, let’s go.”
“I-I’ll follow you, Oneesan, su!”
Flum steps forward and into the pit, and Sara throws herself in after her.
The ‘ogre’ stops at the edge of the hole, staring down into the darkness, the spiral of flesh on its face simply ‘watching’.
After falling for a while, Flum lands on something oddly soft. Sara lands beside her a moment later and immediately sits up to look around. It’s dark, but not to the point that they’re completely blind.
“Where are we, su?”
“It looks like another artificial cave, but… uehh, something reeks!”
Flum tries to cover her nose, but discovers in the process that the fluid stuck to her hand is the source of the stench.
She looks down to confirm the source of the liquid.
The second she realizes just what it is that they landed on---
“What is it, su?”
Sara is worried about Flum, but she can’t be allowed to see it. Flum hurriedly covers her face with her chest.
“Sara-chan, close your eyes.”
“Just trust me! And don’t open them until I tell you to!”
Sara, shocked by Flum’s sudden strong tone, simply nods. Flum picks her up and starts to work her way down the mound. Every time she feels the strange softness beneath her feet she winces.
She apologizes over and over again under her breath as she makes her way down. No matter where she looks, no matter where she steps there are exposed bones, flesh browned with rot, and bloated faces --- the mountain of corpses seems endless. Many of them are human, but there are a few monsters mixed in as well. Among the corpses are some that are horribly twisted into a spiral, while others have had their limbs twisted and broken unnaturally.
No, it’s not just the corpses.
Even the strange grey walls of the room have deep spiral indentations in them, making Flum remember the face of that ‘ogre’.
“What is this place…?”
Flum has covered Sara’s eyes so she won't have to see the bodies, but it’ll only be until they leave the room… or so she hopes. There’s no guarantee that the area past the exit will be free of corpses. Hoping for the best, she’s relieved to find a slightly ajar door along one of the walls that isn’t warped shut.
She pushes it open slightly with her shoulder and checks the corridor beyond. No sign of monsters or corpses. Letting out a sigh of relief, she walks into the corridor and closes the door behind them before finally putting Sara down.
“Is it okay now, su?”
“Yeah, it should be fine now.”
Sara finally opens her eyes and peers around the room.
“It’s really dark here, su...”
She spots a spherical crystal sticking out from the wall.
“Should I turn on the lights, su?”
By putting one’s hand to a magic lamp’s activation switch and channeling magic energy into the crystal it’s possible to turn it on. The shape of the switch is different from what they’re used to in the Capital, but it should work the same way.
Flum nods, and Sara puts her hand to the crystal and channels energy through it. The magic lamps lining the corridor above them illuminate. Finally getting a proper look at the place, they’re left speechless.
“I wasn’t expectin’ anythin’ like this, su...”
“It looks kinda… I dunno, futuristic?”
“It doesn’t look like that ogre thing’s chasin’ us anymore, but it looks like we found somethin’ just as unbelievable, su.”
Flum grazes the grey walls with her fingertips. It feels cold to the touch; it must be made of some sort of metal.
Since they fell through that hole, however, they should be underground right now. The amount of money, let alone the level of technology that must’ve been needed to make this facility is mind-boggling.
You could count the organizations in the Kingdom that could do something like this on one hand.
“More importantly, there might be some way out through here.”
“Yeah, su. There’s a lot of stuff down here that doesn’t make sense, but our lives are more important, su.”
The two of them continue down the corridor until they come to a fork in the path. The hallway to the right is still dark; they probably need to find another light switch for that corridor. The hallway to the left quickly comes to a dead end, but there’s a door along one of the walls. They should probably start there.
Flum puts her ear to the door to listen for any sounds of life on the inside, then slowly opens the door with one hand while gripping the Zweihander with the other.
She reaches inside and feels at the wall beside the door until she finds a crystal embedded in the wall. Back when her Magic was zero she couldn’t use magic lamps. She’s a little nervous using one for the first time, but the basic principle is the same as casting Scan, except she has to channel the energy into her hand instead of her eyes. Closing her eyes, she focuses her magic energy on the crystal and the lights on the ceiling flicker to life. It isn’t a real accomplishment by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s moved nonetheless.
The inside of the room is well-furnished with a wooden desk, a shelf, and two bookcases. Near the door is a low sofa and a table, likely for visitors. While the room is far smaller than the one with the corpses, it’s large for an office. Whoever used this place must’ve been important.
“There’s nothin’ on any of the shelves, su.”
Sara heads right for the bookshelves in hopes of finding a map or something similar, but Flum’s attention is drawn to the walls.
The wall is covered in spiral indentations of various sizes. Following the grooves with her hands, she finds that they’re quite deeply indented. It might’ve been caused by the same power that they’d just encountered a short while ago---
“Oneesan, did you find anythin’, su?”
Sara walks up beside Flum and nears her face to the wall.
“I don’t know, but that first room had the same indentations.”
“It looks like it’s a spiral, su.”
“That ogre thing’s face was the same way, all twisted around just like this.”
“Yeah, that was really creepy, su.”
The clockwise-revolving wall patterns, human corpses, and even the monster. This facility might’ve once dealt with that shape --- or rather, that ‘power’.
There’s no point racking our brains about it now. We need to focus on getting out of here.
Returning to the search for a way out, Flum starts searching the desk. Only one drawer refuses to open, no matter how hard she pulls.
“It won’t open, su?”
“Yeah, it must be locked or something.”
“Just bust it open, su. There’s nobody here to care anymore, su.”
What Sara suggests would normally be criminal, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Flum draws the Zweihander and stabs around the drawer, breaking anything that could be holding it in place, then opens it.
The only thing inside is a worn notebook. Flum opens it and Sara trots around to read over her shoulder.
[Two days have passed since we lost control of it. Finally we received word from the higher-ups. They told us to destroy all our data and ignored me when I asked when they’re sending help. Maybe we’re part of the ‘data’ that they want destroyed.]
The writing is too sloppy and spontaneous to be a diary. There’s no date, but judging from the condition of the notebook it must be about ten years old.
[I wish I was never born into this family. I never wanted to come to a hellhole like this to begin with. I wish I could’ve just stayed up on the surface and become powerful the normal way instead of being forced to carry on this damn research. How’d it get to be like this? We’ve locked up all the test subjects in that room, but the energy they’re giving off has started to warp everything. We’ve even had researcher casualties. We’re dead. This really is the end.]
Despair practically leaks from the letter.
Test subjects --- Flum remembers the room full of corpses.
“It sounds like they did some sorta experimentin’ down here, su. Maybe that ogre…”
“It might be man-made. It sounds like they weren’t able to control it, at any rate.”
The letters weren’t pretty to begin with, but now even the lines of text wave and crook across the page.
[Who cares about some divine revelation? Who gives a damn about what’s best for the country? I sure don’t. I was only trying to do the right thing by joining the team. Don’t people make the country? Aren’t I a part of the country!? I don’t get it. I don’t get what those lunatics are thinking.]
[I did everything they wanted me to. My only problem was that I wasn’t perfect. Maybe I didn’t have enough connections, or maybe I wasn’t open enough with the team. I didn’t know everything, so that makes me wrong? No, they’re wrong, they have to be wrong. I’m right, dammit!]
[I’m me. I’m me. I’m me. I’m spinning, no, I’m not. I’m me, so I must be right. But what’s really right? Ahh, I’m connecting. I can feel everyone connecting. If spinning knowledge leads to wisdom, does that mean it’s right?]
The writing is now so large and messy that ten letters fill a whole page, making it almost impossible to read. Flum can practically feel the author losing their sanity as they write.
“Spinning wisdom… Connecting, su...”
“I don’t really get it, but I think this is thanks to that leaking energy or whatever.”
“...I think so, too, su.”
Does that mean that 'power' can even affect our minds?
Turning the page again, the writing has grown so messy that Flum has to follow the letters with her finger as she reads.
[I want to connect. I want to be connected. That’s how you gain true wisdom. I finally get it; all of us, from the beginning, aimed for this, desired this, believed in this. We’ve finally found it, so why am I holding myself back?]
[All the other researchers are connected. Soon I’ll go, too. Where? Death? I don’t know. True wisdom is beyond the reach of the human body, so that’s exactly why I need to overcome the human body. But, ahh, what if I’m not fulfilled there either? True wisdom, true peace, needs to be brought about by punishment, subjugation---]
The writing has a strange sort of regularity to it, however, so following it with her finger is more than enough to make sense of it.
The text on the final page---
---is in the shape of a perfect spiral.
They both stare at the page in silence.
Flum’s shaking grip starts to crumble the edges of the notebook.
“This is a pretty old notebook, right? It should’ve been written back when I was just a little girl, living peacefully out in the country… Why’s my name here!? This just isn’t right!!”
Not even she knows whether her overflowing emotions are terror or rage --- she throws the notebook to the floor, shoulders heaving with every disoriented breath.
“All I wanted… All I wanted was a normal life in my hometown. Even if that’s impossible now, after I met Milkit, I thought I could maybe, just maybe live an ordinary life with her in the Capital… I came here by complete coincidence, so why the hell is this happening!?”
“I-I’m so sorry, su.”
Sara is undeniably the reason Flum is here now. She herself feels the weight of that more than anyone. She regrets her carelessness as she balls her fists, her eyes moist.
Seeing Sara on the verge of tears, Flum comes to her senses. It isn’t enough to dispel terror eating away at her heart, but it is enough to make her remember that she can’t just lash out at random.
Crouching down to meet Sara’s eyes, she puts a reassuring hand on her head.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound like I was yelling at you.”
“No, it’s all my fault, su. If I hadn’t found the notes on this cave, things might’ve ended a lot better, su.”
“That’s not true. If you hadn’t found those notes for me I’d probably still be looking for information on the chiaraly.”
A fat tear falls down Sara’s cheek, not out of sadness but because of Flum’s kindness.
“I’m sorry, su. You’re probably really scared right now, so I should be the one cheering you up, su...”
“Really, it’s fine. I feel a lot better now.”
Forcing a big sister act is enough to calm Flum down a lot. If she was alone she’d probably still be panicking. She’s honestly and completely thankful that Sara is with her right now.
“It doesn’t look like there’s a map in here, so let’s check out a different room. Okay?”
Flum wipes away Sara’s tears with her hand.
Sara, feeling the warmth of Flum’s hand and managing to draw some courage from it, finally smiles again and nods firmly.
They continue searching for a map or for any door that might be an exit, but they come up with nothing. The facility proves to be a lot larger than either of them had thought, and it looks like it’ll be some time still until they’ve searched everywhere.
The deeper in they go the more warped the walls become, and at some points the corridor itself has been twisted like a screw.
The ‘power’ responsible for all this must be truly immense. No wonder none of their attacks worked against that ‘ogre’.
“This place really is something, isn’t it?”
“Whoever made this place must’ve been doin’ some really important research to have made it so big, su.”
“Well, if they could properly control that twisty power then it’d be a powerful weapon for sure.”
“It might even be enough to beat the demons, su.”
Given all they've seen so far, it’s all but certain that the Kingdom itself is involved. Since the entirety of the Human Realm has been unified, the only reason why they could possibly desire power would be to stand against the demons. In other words, the organization behind this facility is the same royal family that cooperated with the Church to drive out the apothecaries. It’s common knowledge that they’re corrupt, but not even Flum would’ve expected them to dabble in something as foul as human experimentation. She bites her lip in irritation.
Then, as they walk though the dull grey corridors, they can faintly hear a strange sound coming from ahead of them.
The facility has been completely silent up until that moment, so they both notice the faint sound instantly and stop in their tracks.
“I think it’s a voice.”
“There might be someone else alive down here, su!”
Sara tries to run ahead, but Flum stops her. There’s no guarantee that it’s a human; it might be a monster of some kind.
They proceed slowly and carefully.
“Aaa… mee…! Somebo… eee…!”
The closer they get, the easier it is to make out the sound. It’s unmistakably a woman’s voice.
“Aaagh, help meeeee! Somebody, help meeeee!”
She’s calling for help. Far in front of them they can barely make out the voice’s owner.
The woman has her white hair tied back into a braid and is wearing a long white coat. She’s sitting right before a turn in the corridor, her knees curled up by her chest as she faces the ground --- maybe that’s why her voice sounds somewhat stifled.
If she’s calling for help, why’s she facing the ground like that?
Flum, wary of her contradictory actions, motions for Sara to wait there as she approaches the woman alone.
“Aaagh, help meeeee! Somebody, help meeeee!”
Even when Flum is right behind her she continues to repeat those same words.
She almost definitely heard the sound of Flum’s footsteps.
Maybe she thought Flum was a monster, or maybe she’s lost it.
Regardless, she’s probably been through something terrible.
“Aaagh, help meeeee! Somebody, hel”
The instant Flum lays a hand on her shoulder the woman stops screaming.
Flum lets out a sigh of relief that she’s finally been noticed and casually addresses the woman.
“Are you okay? Don’t worry, I’m human, not a monster.”
The woman slowly turns to face Flum.
No, maybe it’s incorrect to say she ‘faces’ Flum.
She doesn’t have a face, after all.
A hideous spiral of meat twitches, squirms, and spirals. Not only her long bangs but her knees and the front of her clothes are stained crimson with blood.
A spurt of the viscous red fluid hits Flum in the face and she shrinks away in horror.
Then, the monstrositywoman speaks.
Its voice didn’t sound muffled because it was facing the ground; it was strangely stifled to begin with.
It nimbly grabs Flum’s hand off her shoulder and forces it into the exposed flesh on its face.
The spiral absorbs even the gauntlet on Flum’s arm, and the repulsive lukewarm sensation of raw human flesh causes her skin to crawl.
She lets out a cry of fear and tries desperately to pull her arm out, but the strength of the ‘woman’ is otherworldly. Not even the effect of her cursed equipment is enough to even budge it.
With perfect timing, the sound of a certain something’s footsteps comes from around the corner just in front of them.
It’s nothing like the sound of Sara’s padding feet as she rushes to help.
The abnormally quick footsteps suddenly stop just around the corner. Then, as if peeking in on the situation, it sticks its head out from around the corner.
Its face is a large spiral of raw flesh.
Its skin is green, stained almost black with blood in places.
Its body is far larger than that of a human’s, its muscles bulging out of its monstrous form --- it’s the ‘ogre’ they left on the surface.
Flum violently shakes her head back and forth as she tries to deny what’s before her own eyes.
It’s large enough that it shouldn’t be able to even fit through the narrow corridors, but it somehow manages by crawling like a hamster through a pipe.
It must’ve also set up the trap in front of them, forcing the woman’s ‘corpse’ to repeat its dying cries over and over again while it waited impatiently for them to come and try to save her.
“Let go! Let go, let me goooooo!!”
Flum’s and Sara’s cries echo emptily through the corridors. No matter what they try, the spiral in the middle of the ‘corpse’s face doesn’t let her go.
She can’t run.
If she takes a direct hit from it at this range, she’ll no doubt die instantly.
The ‘ogre,’ determined to finish what it started, raises its arm.
Chapter 11 - My Time There Wasn't Pointless After All
Flum’s arm is stuck in the spiral of flesh in the ‘woman’s face and refuses to budge. The ‘ogre’ clenches its fist, ready to strike her while she can’t evade its attacks.
Since there’s no way to pull out her arm no matter what she does, there’s only one path left to her.
“Sara-chan, cast some healing magic on my arm!”
“Eh!? But if I do that---”
“Just do it! Hurry!!”
Sara didn’t learn magic to hurt people. Flum knows that full well, but has no choice but to ask that of Sara nonetheless. Sara, stifling her misgiving about using her healing magic to harm her friend, holds her hands out to Flum’s immobile arm.
‘Heal’ alone isn’t strong enough to ‘remove’ someone’s arm. She has to use an even stronger spell.
Light from Sara’s hands envelope Flum’s arm, and it starts to rapidly dissolve from the inside.
“Ah, gah… AAAAAAAGH!!”
It’s far more painful than she thought it’d be. Her entire body breaks out into a cold sweat and she can hardly breathe properly. It feels as though her bones were suddenly replaced by molten lead, but thanks to that her arm is reduced to half-melted strands of flesh.
Flum pulls the strands apart by her own will at the very end, sending herself sprawling onto the cold metal floor in the process.
A split-second later the ‘ogre’s fist blows the ‘woman’ away completely, scattering bloody chunks of flesh down the hallway. The gauntlet Flum was wearing hits the ground with a loud clatter.
The stump of Flum’s arm sprays blood and for a moment she feels like she’s about to lose consciousness, but she grits her teeth and starts half-crawling away from the ‘ogre’.
Sara extends a hand to her.
“Hahh, hahh, haahh… Sara-chan… let’s go!”
She grabs Sara’s hand and stands up. She picks her gauntlet back up as they run back the way they came, away from the ‘ogre.’
It watches them as they run, still hunched on all fours.
Just as Flum looks back in surprise that it doesn’t seem to be following them---
She twists her face in horror as it starts scuttling after them like a gigantic four-legged spider. Fortunately, crawling on all fours is a lot slower than sprinting.
Flum starts running faster as her arm starts to regenerate and the pain subsides a little. By the time they make it around the next corner they’ve managed to put a fair bit of distance between them.
“Oneesan, are you really okay, su?‘
“I wouldn’t say… I’m okay, but… fuu, I think I can keep on going…!”
The pain wears on her mentally as much as it does physically, and having an arm amputated like that is a lot for a sixteen-year-old girl to have to go through.
She thinks back to Milkit waiting for her back in Enchide. As long as she’s waiting for her, Flum can’t afford to die --- she uses the thought to reinvigorate herself.
Regenerating back to the same shape she was before losing her arm, they run at full speed through the facility. They do their best to take as many corners as they can and avoid travelling straight as much as they can--- but then they realize that the ‘ogre’ is no longer following them.
“Did we lose it, su…?”
Sara stops, looking around her uneasily.
“I think so. We can’t let down our guard yet, though. I don’t think it’ll just let us walk out of here.”
“Yeah, su. Also… I think there are more of those creepy corpse things, su.”
Flum can hear their voices now too, echoing from all around them.
“Help me, somebody HELP MEEEEEEE!!”
“It hurts, it huuuurts!!”
“Agh… somebody, anybody, please… somebody come help me…”
Listening to them makes Flum’s head spin. Just like that woman from before, they’re likely traps using human corpses.
It would seem that the ‘ogre’ is not only a lot stronger than a normal ogre but a lot smarter, too, likely another effect of the ‘spiral’.
“What’re we gonna do, su? We can’t just keep runnin’ forever, su.”
They still haven’t found any way out. Since they weren’t able to find an exit while they were just taking their time, it’d probably be impossible to search while being hunted. Worse, there’s no guarantee the ‘ogre’ will just give up once they make it outside. If it follows them into town there’ll only be more casualties.
“If only there was some way for us to defeat it...”
When they fought it up on the surface, however, neither the Zweihander nor Sara’s mace had any effect.
“Can you cast any offensive magic at all?”
“I’m really bad with that kinda stuff, su. Nothin’ I can cast is stronger than my mace, su… How about you, su?”
“I can’t cast any magic, so if my sword doesn’t work I can’t do anything.”
“I guess we’ll have to find some way to hit harder, then, su. You don’t think we could use anythin’ in the facility around here to do that, do you, su?”
They’ve found a fair amount of experimental apparatus up until now, but even if they still worked they don’t know how to operate them and don’t have the time to figure it out.
That means their only hope is to find some way to strengthen themselves.
“Hmm… Come to think of it, isn’t there some Light Attribute magic that can raise stats temporarily?”
“I can’t use any of that stuff, su. Sorry, su.”
Even if she could cast it, it’d probably only make Flum weaker.
“Don’t be sorry. But in that case… hmm, what can we do?”
She puts her hand on her chin, deep in thought.
They don’t have any more time to sit and talk, however. The same rapid, heavy footsteps they’d heard just a little while ago reaches Flum’s ears.
The sound is coming from around the corner right in front of them.
“Oneesan, it found us, su!”
The ‘ogre’ peers out from around the corner in front of them, the spurting blood from the spiral staining the ground. Flum and Sara take a step backwards as it puts its hand on the wall and pulls its bloodstained top half around the corner.
They turn and run as the ‘ogre’ follows after them, straddling the corridor as it crawls along the walls.
“Kh, how’d it get in front of us!?”
“It probably knows this place a lot better than we do, su!”
“A normal ogre’d never be able to do anything like that…!”
Flum is painfully reminded of the fact that the thing chasing them isn’t an ogre in anything but appearance.
They continue to run through the halls, but this time it follows a lot more closely, refusing to lose them this time.
“Isn’t it a lot faster now, su!?”
It’s clearly a lot more mobile than it was last time they met. Now it doesn’t seem to be adversely affected by turning corners hardly at all. It’s close enough that if they were to stumble on the debris littering the floor even a little the ‘ogre’ would catch them in a heartbeat.
“Don’t tell me it’s climbing the wall because there’s no debris there…!?”
“What kind of twisted logic is that, su!?”
Regardless of how strange it might be, it’s right behind them precisely thanks to that.
If they just keep running, it’ll wear them down eventually. They need some way to break through its hard guard, and fast.
If only there was some way to suddenly hit harder---
[We adventurers sometimes have to fight monsters with stats several times our own. This technique is a method for temporarily surpassing your limits to overcome such foes.]
Flum suddenly remembers something from her time in the Hero’s party.
Even though he knew she couldn’t use it, the seasoned warrior Gadio nonetheless taught her all about a certain sword style.
“What’s that supposed to mean, su?”
Sara cocks her head to the side in confusion, having never heard of it before.
She’d been told all about it when she was his ‘apprentice’, even though she couldn’t use it. Since it’s a sword style that temporarily converts one’s Stamina into prana to temporarily overcome one’s limits, she couldn’t use it with her old stats.
Things are different now, though. She might just be able to use it now that she has her cursed equipment. It’s a little sudden to learn a completely new skill and if she fails she’s dead, but they’re going to die at this rate anyways.
“If my plan works, I’ll be able to hurt that thing.”
“I don’t really get it, but there’s a chance, right, su?”
“Yeah, but it’s really risky.”
Honestly, Flum has no idea if there’s any chance of it working at all, but she pretends to be unafraid for the young Sara’s sake.
“Need some time, su?”
If Flum says yes, Sara will probably offer to buy time.
Can I really let her fight that monstrosity alone, if even only for a little while?
“...I’ll need a little, I think.”
Still uncertain, she leaves it up to Sara.
She feels pitiful, but she has no other option. This is the best for both of them.
“In that case, I’ll go slow it down, su!”
She stops and turns around, drawing the mace off her back.
The ‘ogre’ stops, glad its hunt is finally over, the spiral on its face writhing in pleasure and spurting blood.
I can’t let this chance go to waste.
She pulls the Zweihander out of its extradimensional space and lowers it, closing her eyes and sharpening her focus.
“Come at me, su! I might just get carried away and turn you into mincemeat myself, su!”
Having long since recognized her as an obstacle, the 'ogre' quickly crawls closer and swings its right arm down at her. She jumps, dodging its attack and hitting it in the head with her mace.
A normal ogre would’ve had its brains liquefied, but the monstrosity is completely unfazed.
“I’m not done yet, su!”
She hasn’t lost heart yet.
The ‘ogre’ takes another swing at her just as she lands, but she runs out of the way, dodging its follow-up attempt to grab her by kicking off the wall and into the air.
[It’s just like using magic. With magic, you reach inside yourself and grab the energy that’s already there and give it a form. The only difference here is that you’re not drawing from your Magic, your power source is your Stamina.]
Remembering her mentor’s words, Flum imagines her vitality flowing through her body like the blood through her veins and envisions grasping it. Just as she thinks she’s gotten a hold of it, however, it slips through her fingers like water and is lost.
[Unlike magic, prana’s a fickle bastard that doesn’t like being told what to do. It’s a very pure, untainted energy source, so you need to be perfectly focused or else you’ll never get hold of it.]
She imagines going even further inside herself.
All noise around her disappears and she goes somewhere entirely cut off from the real world. In that peaceful place free from all disturbances, she hones ‘herself’.
The surface of her heart becomes as clear and undisturbed as the unbroken surface of a vast, pure lake.
“Guh…!” Sara accepts a direct hit from the ‘ogre’ with her mace.
The hit turns out to be a lot heavier than she expected, however, sending her flying backwards into a wall.
The air is knocked clean out of her lungs and she can feel a sharp pain in her back. Sensing something wrong with her bones, she doesn’t hesitate to cast healing magic on herself.
Taking advantage of that opening, the ‘ogre’ charges in for its next attack.
It drives its fist into the wall, crushing the metal as if it were clay.
Sara leaps to the side at the last moment, narrowly avoiding being crushed to death. It took all she had to dodge, but to the ‘ogre’ it was just a punch like any other.
The difference in their strengths is painfully apparent. Sara has been completely cornered.
“Oneesan’s not ready yet… su! I’m fine, I can keep goin’ for hours, su!”
She tries not to lose hope yet.
Flum, on the other hand, finally feels something. She extends her hand and feels the energy flow there naturally, not being forced there but shifting as if it understands her will. The energy that kept on escaping her is now gathered there.
She can’t be too pleased with herself, however. If she loses focus now it’ll fall right through her hands again. She moves on to the next step.
[Once you’ve got hold of it once, the rest is easy. Let it flow through your arms and into your sword.]
Unlike Attributal Magic that requires focus and specific visualization, Prana is a lot more accommodating after it’s been grabbed once.
She imagines it moving as if it were an extension of her own body from the center of her torso near her heart through her shoulder, from her shoulder to her hand, and finally from her hand into her sword --- that pure, untainted energy fills the Zweihander to the brim.
[Once your sword’s full of high-purity prana, all you do is---]
She did her best to follow Gadio’s words, and she doesn’t know if she did it as well as he would’ve, but the power is there.
Undeniably, unquestionably, the power is there.
Sara is lying sprawled on the ground, the ‘ogre’s lethal fist raised above her. She can’t dodge this time.
She isn’t asking for help, though her voice is trembling. Anyone would be scared if they were about to be killed by a monstrosity like that. Anyone would want to cry, anyone would want to scream in terror --- but Sara doesn’t do either of those things.
She simply believes in Flum, and believes that she’ll turn everything around.
Flum has to respond to the young girl’s faith in her. Silently thanking Sara with all her heart, she leaps forward.
[---swing your sword with everything you’ve got.]
Remembering Gadio’s words, Flum sets her sights on the creature’s neck.
---Prana Shaker Imitation.
Her attack is incomplete, a blade forged from necessity alone. Only an imitation.
Unlike before, however, the Zweihander bites through its skin, its muscle, finally reaching bone.
The ‘ogre’s head trembles, a copious amount of blood gushing from the frantically convulsing spiral.
“It worked --- Leave the rest to me, Oneesan, su!!”
Flum lets go of the sword and backs off. Sara jumps into the air and takes a powerful swing at the exposed blade.
The impact drives the blade even further in its flesh, finally emerging from the other side.
Its head slips off and hits the floor with a thud, and the spiral finally stops making those horrible squelching sounds.
It stops attacking.
“Ha… Hehe, that was really somethin’, but… it looks like we did it, su!”
“Hahh, hahh… I really hope that’s enough to kill it…”
Sara looks at the headless body, certain it’s dead.
Flum, on the other hand, is still oddly unnerved.
If it’s dead, good --- but then why is it still standing?
A normal ogre, or any other living thing for that matter, couldn’t survive being decapitated, but the monstrosity is unlike any other living creature. She doesn’t lower her guard yet.
There’s a chance that this alone won’t be enough.
And right then---
“Sara, chan… we need to get out of here.”
“W-What, su? It should be dead…”
The bloody stump of its neck starts moving, reforming into an all-too-familiar shape.
“No way, su… It’s spiraling…!?”
The new spiral starts violently spurting blood.
Its shoulders start to tremble, and a split-second later it’s moving again, reaching out to Sara as she watches with shock.
Flum tackles her to the ground, causing it to miss by a hair’s breadth.
“Let’s hurry and get out of here.”
They quickly pick themselves up and start running again.
That monstrosity isn’t natural. The longer they’re near it the more chances it has to catch them off guard, and eventually it’ll get the better of them.
The chase begins again, but perhaps because it isn’t used to moving around without a head yet its movements are clumsy. They have little difficulty putting some distance between them.
As long as they’re trapped underground, however, they can’t escape their fate. Eventually it’ll find and kill them. They need to come up with a plan and kill it for certain this time.
The most likely method would be to make another attack at its vitals with the Prana Shaker Imitation, but even if they pierce its heart Flum isn’t convinced that’ll be enough to stop it.
Unable to come up with an effective strategy, they run around corner after corner after corner until finally they can’t hear it following them anymore.
They rest for a moment with their backs to the wall, breathing heavily.
“Hah… hahh… t-that’s not right, su… We cut off its head… it was bleedin’ an’ everythin’, su…!”
“Ha, haha… It’s just as immortal as I am…”
“That’s only because of that curse, su…”
In other words, there must be something in that thing’s body that gives it its vitality.
“If only there was a… hahh, fuu… obvious weak point somewhere…”
“Either way… we don’t have much of a chance, su…”
Flum’s just not strong enough as she is now. She had tried to use Cavalier Arts to compensate for that, but it just isn’t enough in the end. All it does is allow her to temporarily exceed the level the ‘ogre’ is at constantly.
She racks her brains, ideas spinning through her head, asking herself over and over again what she can do.
The answer is probably ‘Reversal.’
There’s no way to raise her stats easily, but if only there were something lying around that could lower her stats---
“...Hey, Sara-chan. Feel like taking another risk?”
“I haven’t been able to think of anythin’, su… I’m impressed you can even think of somethin’ to take a risk on, su.”
“It’s really nothing to thank me about, trust me. Let’s head back to that first room.”
“That room that I didn’t see, su?”
“Yeah… I really didn’t want you to have to see it, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Relying on their memories to guide them back, they avoid the crying corpse-traps, covering their ears and doing their best to endure the horrible cries coming from all directions. The occasional sound of the ‘ogre’ moving mixed in with the other noises is enough to make Flum’s heart almost stop and make Sara’s breathing grow ragged and her skin crawl every time. Fortunately, as long as they stay still and don’t make any obvious noises whenever they hear it, the ‘ogre’ can't seem to find them. After letting out relieved breaths, they keep moving.
Maybe it hasn’t found them yet because it’s missing its head and important senses with it, making it unable to properly follow them.
They finally arrive back at the room they started in. After Flum warns Sara to look around them as little as possible, she opens the door. The powerful reek of decomposition hits them, and they both cover their faces as Flum searches for the light switch.
The wretched sight of the mound of corpses fills the room before them.
“Ugh… cough, cough… a-are these all… corpses, su…?”
The bodies piled there range from skeletons to rotting bodies, with even some almost mummified corpses in the mix. Sara resists the urge to vomit.
“Sorry I had to bring you back here…”
“N-No, it’s fine, su… I-I’m used to seeing corpses an’ blood an’ stuff… su.”
Working at the Church as a healer means that she’s used to seeing injuries and illnesses. As young as she is, she’s probably even seen corpses before. Even so, she’s probably never seen so many at once.
They can’t afford to just stand there by the door. The ‘ogre’ could find them at any moment. They need to get what they came for.
Flum nears the mound, reaches out with some hesitation, and starts pulling out corpses one by one, checking all their possessions.
“Oneesan, what’re you doing, su?”
“L-Looting… corpses, su?”
“Look, I hate it too! If there are this many of them, though, there’s a fair chance there’s something cursed in the pile somewhere.”
“You’re going to use something like that, su!?”
This was the only thing Flum could think of. If she can gather some more cursed equipment, she can raise her stats even further and hopefully kill it with a strengthened Cavalier Art.
“Ughh… I feel sick…”
As she searches, the cold and slippery sensations of entrails, blood, and rotting flesh cover her hands. If she pulls too hard, some bodies even come apart in her hands. Whenever something unsavory hits her face, she wipes it off with her wrist and just keeps on moving. At times she even has to brush off fat insects as they try to crawl onto her.
Tears start gathering in the corners of her eyes, but she doesn’t give in or give up, crushing her desire to cry and flee as she continues to cast Scan on the corpses’ clothing one piece at a time, determined to make it out of there alive.
Sara suddenly sits down beside her.
“You can wait outside if you want, Sara. I’ll be fine.”
“I’m… I’m gonna help, su.‘
“No, really, I can handle it.”
There’s no way she can let a ten-year-old girl help her with such a gruesome task, but there’s a strong light in Sara’s eyes.
“You’re doin’ this so we can both make it out alive, su. I can’t just sit and do nothin’, su.”
Squinting, she grits her teeth and reaches out for a corpse.
“Sorry… I feel like you’ve done nothing but cover for me this whole time.”
“No, I’m not doin’ much of anythin’ really, su. I should be thankin’ you, su.”
“How about I treat you to lunch after we’re out of this mess?”
“I’ll look forward to it... but I think I’d prefer to just have Milkit’s cookin’, su.”
“Are you really okay with just that?”
“I’m really okay with just that, su.”
They distract themselves by making a promise they might not be able to keep.
No matter how many times they cast Scan, they can’t seem to find even a single piece of cursed equipment.
That just means that all the curses are gathering into one thing.
Flum tries to reassure herself.
“...It’s here, su.”
The sound of the ‘ogre’s footsteps gradually grows closer.
The room they’re in currently is at the center of many rooms and corridors, all of them eventually leading right to them. If they can hear it, it’ll reach them without a doubt.
They’re out of time.
They work together to pull out one last corpse, the rotting body of a woman. Her equipment, while rotten, is on the cleaner side of things.
Flum casts scan on everything she’s wearing.
Her necklace, her ring, her blouse, her skirt --- and finally, her boots.
Name: The Misotheist Leather Boots Tier: Epic [This equipment lowers your Strength by 257] [This equipment lowers your Magic by 330] [This equipment lowers your Stamina by 885] [This equipment lowers your Agility by 731] [This equipment freezes your flesh]
As soon as Flum sees those stats she immediately strips them off the corpse and puts them on her own feet. The inside of the boots is unpleasantly cold, but she can feel power flowing through her body as soon as she puts them on.
Fortunately, there’s no sign of her body either freezing or burning.
Reversal turns negative effects into positive ones --- Flum can’t help but wonder how the freezing flesh curse will reverse.
“You found it, Oneesan, su!”
“It’s all thanks to you, really.”
Flum’s stat total is now 3,396. Her Strength and Agility are both over 500, and her Stamina is more than 1,000. She can feel her heartbeat calm and her breathing return to normal.
She should be able to generate a lot more Prana now.
“I mean it. Thank you, Sara-chan.”
“It’s too early to thank me, su. If we don’t kill that thing we’re still dead, su.”
The ‘ogre’ arrives at the door and tries to force its shoulders through, but fortunately the doorway is just barely too narrow for it to fit. Instead it starts moving the stump of its neck as best it can, scanning the room until finally it stops on Flum and Sara.
They watch it nervously as it sticks its green hands through, grabbing the doorframe and bending it wider with a shrill screech of metal, the veins on the backs of its hand bulging as it works. Finally, after the opening is wide enough, it reaches out with its right arm and digs its fingertips into the metal floor.
It pulls itself through the gap with only the strength in its arms, and as soon as it’s in the room it finally has the room to stand.
Without wasting another second, it turns and fires that ‘power’ at them.
The spiral plunges deep into the pile of corpses as Flum and Sara dodge to either side.
Its target was, of course, Flum.
Fortunately, with her new equipment, she moves like an entirely different person. Before it can attack again, she draws the Zweihander and rushes at it, slashing as she passes.
A thin red line appears on its green skin.
Thanks to her increased Strength, she can now hurt it, even if it’s just a scratch, without using Cavalier Arts.
Circling around behind it, she gathers the strength flowing through her body from the Boots this time and strikes at its back. It leaves another shallow wound, but this time the flesh around the wound freezes solid.
Unused to the sensation of having its flesh freeze, it twists its body around, spraying blood from its spiral.
It turns around and tries to nail Flum with a lariat, but she’s already gone, once again circling around behind it.
Flum takes a deep breath, letting energy flow down her arms and into her sword before making a leaping strike at it.
Prana Shaker Imitation.
With one strike she takes one of its arms clean off. It flinches from the pain, but the blood stops a moment later as the wound twists and spirals.
“You did it, su!”
Sara lets out a cheer, but they can’t get careless.
The ‘ogre’ turns around and swings at Flum, but she dodges. The large motion leaves its back wide open to Sara.
“My turn, su!”
She brings her mace crashing down on its frozen flesh, shattering its hide and muscles in the process. She isn’t able to hurt it on her own, but breaking ice is something she can do.
The giant green figure stumbles forward.
Flum freezes its right leg, and at the same time that Sara shatters it Flum’s Prana-infused blade takes off its left leg.
Its body trembles with pain and blood shoots from its neck like a geyser.
They’ve got complete control of the battle now.
Flum’s final Prana Shaker Imitation lops off the monstrosity’s remaining left arm.
The ‘ogre,’ having lost it head and all its limbs, can’t even move now. All its lost limbs twist and turn into spirals, but the creature is completely powerless now.
“I think it’s still alive, su…”
“It doesn’t feel like it’s dead yet, no… but I don’t even know what to cut off next. We shouldn’t have any problem escaping now, so we could probably just leave it like this.”
“Yeah, I’m too tired to hit it any more, su.”
“It looks like we’re finally done.”
They make eye contact and laugh bitterly. Sara’s forehead is drenched with sweat and her shoulders quiver with every breath. Flum is similarly completely spent, both physically and mentally.
Leaving the oddly quivering chunk of meat behind them, they move to leave the room.
Flum stops just in front of the entrance the ‘ogre’ had widened.
“W-What is it this time, Oneesan?”
“Is it just me, or is there suddenly a breeze in here?”
She can clearly feel the wind on her cheek.
It’s possible that their fight was intense enough that it opened a hole to the outside that they can escape from --- but the trembling ‘ogre’ behind them is a little too unsettling.
“So you feel it too, Oneesan, su.”
The wind isn't be just Flum’s imagination. It slowly grows stronger, enveloping the entire room --- no, even the connected hallways.
“I guess it’s trying to get in one final attack.”
“I think it’s already done more than enough, though, su.”
“The bastard’s still not satisfied yet, it looks like.”
Flum and Sara turn around, drawing their weapons once more.
When they weren’t looking the clump of green flesh had slowly risen into the air.
All five of its spirals, one for each limb stump and its neck, are spraying blood everywhere. It doesn’t have an expression for Flum to read, but she can feel the intimidating pressure it’s giving off clear as day.
No matter what, the ‘ogre’ --- no, that terrifying something’s consciousness that has been lurking in the ogre’s body the whole time is dead set on killing them both.
Flum has no idea why it’s so obsessed with her. At her roots she’s still just an ordinary farm girl, so there shouldn’t be any reason for it to have a grudge against her.
The accelerating winds start to slowly affect the huge mound of corpses.
Judging from how it’s used its ‘power’ up until now, the more time it takes to activate the larger the area of effect --- once it’s activated, however, no living thing can possibly survive.
The two of them leap at the floating remains of the ‘ogre.’ No matter how deeply Flum’s Prana-infused blade cuts, the injuries simply stop bleeding and twist into spirals.
Sara’s attacks similarly just don’t seem to be affecting it. She grits her teeth, but there’s no way she can just suddenly grow stronger. She turns her focus to the areas that Flum has frozen instead.
The green torso grows ever smaller every time Flum cuts a chunk off, every time Sara shatters the flesh frozen by Flum’s attacks, but the ‘revolution’ never ceases.
The wind becomes a gale, the gale becomes a storm, and the storm starts to turn into a tornado, whipping up debris and corpses as it starts to blacken with mass.
“Just how much do we have to hack at it before it stops!?”
“I don’t know, su! Just don’t stop freezing, su!”
Even the metal walls start breaking and peeling away as they join the strengthening storm. Everything within the ‘ogre’s range is rapidly being torn, shredded, and added to the mass, and Flum and Sara are finding it increasingly difficult to keep on attacking in the eye of the storm.
The torso has lost all its vitals including its heart, reduced to an orb of spiralling flesh --- but even then the storm only continues to grow.
“You don’t even have a heart left! Just die already!!”
“You’re just a twisted clump of meat, su! Give it up already, su!!”
“Kh… Stop, stop, STOOOOOP!!”
The meatball has hardened to the point where Flum isn’t strong enough to break its flesh with normal attacks and Sara can’t shatter the frozen parts.
Flum infuses her blade again with prana and stabs deeply into the flesh, and as she does so she can feel the blade make contact with something hard.
This might be it!
Convinced they’re finally making progress, she makes all the prana she can flow to the very tip of her sword, pushing the Zweihander forward with both hands.
Just at that moment, Sara slips on the slick blood covering the floor and collapses.
“O-Oneesan… g-good luck, su! I can’t…”
Her body is slowly dragged across the floor towards the wild storm surrounding them, about to join it. If that happens it’d probably only take an instant for her to be pelted to death by corpses and chunks of stone and metal. She barely manages to grab onto a crack in the floor, but it’s only a matter of time before she can’t hold on any longer.
Her hands start to grow slippery with sweat.
The only way to save her is to stop the storm.
Driven by raw desperation, Flum screams.
“Fughuuuuugh, ugh, AHHHHHHHH!!”
She’s already hit her limit but she keeps pushing nonetheless. She draws out all her strength, every bit of Prana she can muster, every last drop of energy from the cursed equipment.
It’s just not enough.
Her blade inches forward, but it’s not enough to break the hard thing.
She put everything she has into the blade.
She squeezes out the last of her power, and every time she does so she thinks of another reason to keep pushing.
I can’t die here! There’s someone waiting for me to come home!
Milkit’s waiting for me in town, all alone! I can’t leave her all alone!
Even if we’ve done nothing more than lick each other’s wounds, I decided to save her.
I can’t die here.
I can’t make her sad.
I can’t die here!
I can’t save her if I’m dead!
Thinking of Milkit, Flum pours even more into her blade, every bit of power she has regardless of the form it takes, and forces it through her blade.
She twists a scream out of her throat.
Perhaps because of all prana she's been using, her skin splits and blood pours down her arms.
Her wounds regenerate themselves but new ones appear just as quickly, and it feels as though something’s peeling the skin off her arms with a dull blade.
Her endless power, her single-minded determination to rebel against fate overpowers even the malevolence of the heavens.
The ‘something’ inside the meatball cracks and breaks.
At that moment the remains of the torso loses its strength and collapses to the ground and the storm surrounding them subsides just as it started, the debris and corpses all coming to rest on the ground.
All her strength spent, Flum collapses to her knees, arms hanging limply at her sides, and looks at the ceiling blankly.
“Is it finally… over…?”
There’s nothing left of the ‘ogre’ except a small broken black crystal lying in the middle of the floor --- but she can think about that later.
She needs a moment to rest first.
“Y-You did it, su… Oneesan, you defeated it, su…!”
Sara is lying collapsed on the ground where she slipped, lacking the strength even to stand.
“Haha…. ahh… I killed it… ahaha… haha… I knew I could do it…”
Unable to even stay sitting up, Flum falls back onto the cold, hard floor, but even that feels comforting to the two victors.
Chapter 12 - What Are We Supposed To Believe Now?
“Can you walk, Sara-chan?”
“I think… I can keep goin’, su.”
Flum grabs Sara’s hand and helps her to her feet. They’ve started searching for the exit once more, this time with frequent breaks. Their clothes are battered and their feet feel heavier with every step they take. It'd be a lot easier going if they took a proper rest first, but they want to leave that unpleasant place as soon as physically possible. They’ve recovered to the point that they can walk, at least, so they don’t want to just sit around.
They leave the corpse-filled room and find the corridors beyond it to be filled with rubble from the ‘ogre’s final attack. In some places the ceiling has even collapsed, but fortunately there’s always at least one corridor leading forward.
There isn’t any sign of other enemies left in the facility. The crying voices have also stopped, and the ‘corpses’ that were being used as traps have all collapsed, motionless. The spiral is gone from their faces, leaving behind only a bloody hole.
“It must’ve been really strong to have wrecked all the way up to here, su.”
Flum leads the way over a collapsed wall, supporting Sara as she climbs. As they descend the other side Sara almost slips and falls, but Flum catches her.
“Oof… Watch your footing around here.”
“I’m sorry, su…”
Sara looks down at the ground in embarrassment as Flum pats her on the head.
“I guess that just goes to show that if we’d ran back then instead of fighting we might be dead by now.”
“Not maybe, definitely, su. Who… who would make something like that, su?”
After killing the monstrosity, Flum made sure to put the black crystal she broke into her bag. She’d dropped the bag at some point during the fight, but she got it back in the end, even if the lunch that Milkit made for them had gotten squished.
…Well, we ate what we could, so hopefully she’ll forgive us.
“We’re going to have to leave this place before we can look for the people responsible.”
“I get the feelin’ we’ve been down here a really long time, su.”
“Yeah, I really hope it hasn’t gotten dark yet…”
Their spirits rise as they think of the outside.
They turn the corner where they’d met the spiral-faced woman and reunited with the ‘ogre’ and check a few more rooms, such as an empty-shelved archive room, a room filled with large glass tubes, and a nap room with a number of beds and sofas. Every time they open a door they’re filled with the hope that it’ll lead outside, but every time their hopes are betrayed.
Their spirits fall as easily as they’d risen. Their battered and beaten bodies feel even heavier now, but it can’t be much longer now.
“Doesn’t that look like an exit, su?”
They arrive at the depths of the facility --- although at one point it was probably the entrance. The door in front of them is clearly different from all the others that they’ve seen.
Flum and Sara look at each other and grin.
The promise of finally leaving that facility causes them to quicken their pace. Unlike the other doors this one is thick metal but opens readily to Flum’s push. On the other side is a spiral staircase, at the top of which is a metal hatch in the ceiling. Unlocking it, Flum pushes open the hatch like popping the lid off a jar.
Rays of sunset fall through the gaps in the ceiling of the cavern. She holds up a hand to shield her eyes from the light and smiles. Pushing the hatch fully open and crawling up and through, she finds herself in the same vegetation-rich area where they first met the ‘ogre’. It would seem as though the plants provided camouflage for the facility’s entrance.
Even though it’s only been a number of hours since they jumped down that hole, it feels like it’s been a number of days since she’s had a lungful of fresh air. Flum stretches her arms above her in a full-body stretch, letting a faint sound of exertion escape her lips. Sara crawls out of the hole after her and copies her stretch.
“We can finally go back, su!”
Her voice is light at finally being free, but she’s forgotten one important detail.
“Not yet. We’ve still got to deal with that.”
“That, su? …Ahh, that, su.”
Her shoulders slump as she looks at the rockfall blocking the only exit to the cavern. The ‘ogre’ had left such an impact that she’d forgotten Dane’s henchmen were ever there.
“Next time I see them I’ll really let ‘em have it!” Flum says, cheeks puffed out.
First things first, though, they’ll have to move the boulders.
“Oneesan, can’t you just use your Cavalier Arts thingy to blow the rocks away, su?”
“I could try it, but I think I’ve only got one more of those left in me before I collapse. I think your mace’d be a lot better suited for that kinda thing anyway.”
“Can’t do it, su. I’d collapse, su.”
“Guess we can’t just cut corners, then.”
It’ll be a lot of work, but since they don’t have to worry about the monstrosity anymore they can go at their own pace. They walk up to the closest of the boulders, grab hold as best they can and try to lift it on Flum’s count of three.
The rock is a lot larger than two girls their age could normally lift, but it isn’t an issue for a deceptively strong little priestess and a professional adventurer. They each have more strength in their arms alone than the average grown man has in his entire body. They carry it a short distance away before lowering it to the ground.
Flum wipes the sweat from her brow as she nears a second boulder as wide as her shoulders are broad and wraps her arms around it. At that moment, however, something catches her attention from the green, vegetated area opposite the rock pile.
---Her eyes meet its.
Or rather, they would if that thing had eyes to meet.
Nonetheless, it’s undeniably looking right at her.
The spiral of flesh excitedly starts spraying blood.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
Flum freezes like a deer in headlights, and Sara cocks her head to the side in confusion.
“Oneesan, what’s wrong… su…?”
She follows Flum’ gaze and sees ‘it.’ Her eyes widen and her body stiffens.
It only takes a second for Flum to put it all together.
She remembers a certain room they passed down below, a room with not one but many large glass tubes.
She remembers how the creepy crawling of the ‘ogre’ down there was clearly different from its sprinting movements up above.
In other words, the monstrosity that they killed down below --- it was a completely different ‘ogre’ from the one in front of them now.
“What is this, su… Nobody ever told me there were more than one of those things, su!!”
Their backs are against a cold stone wall. They’ve made a small hole in it, but not nearly big enough for either of them to escape through.
Flum bites her lip.
If she was in top condition she could probably kill it, but she doesn’t have anywhere near enough energy left. If there was somewhere to run to they might be able to rest long enough for her to recover her strength --- but there’s no place like that in the cavern.
They’re at checkmate.
“I’m sorry, Milkit…” she whispers, having half-accepted death already.
She’s of course going to struggle and fight with everything she’s got, but it doesn’t look like she has any chance of making it out alive.
She reaches out in front of her, grabs the hilt of the sword that appears there, and swings it free of its extradimensional sheath, its black blade glistening. She points the tip at the enemy in front of her. Sara similarly takes her mace in her hands and lowers herself into a ready stance.
The ‘ogre’ energetically gushes blood all over the ground as it walks towards them, arms swaying freely by its sides. It moves like a child on a picnic, elated at the thought of getting to eat the two tasty little snacks in front of it. It almost seems pure and innocent in the way it strides towards the pair, openly emitting a murderous aura.
It stops about two sword-lengths away from Flum and looks down at its prey from its three-meter-tall vantage point, noticing how exhausted they are.
It’s sure of its victory. It slowly raises its arms---
“Sara-chan, let’s do this!”
“We’re gonna win this, Oneesan, su!”
Knowing it’s futile, false bravado filling their chests, they charge forward.
Then, at the very instant the monstrosity is about to bring its fist down on Flum, it happens.
A woman appears from beyond the brush behind the ‘ogre’. She looks to be maybe in her mid-twenties, and her revealing dress puts her fine blue skin on full display. Her even deeper blue hair sways as she comes to a stop.
She strokes the air in front of her as if strumming a harp, and she chuckles through her rouged lips before saying the incantation.
A bluish-green sphere appears in front of her, and a split second later it flies at the the ‘ogre.’
The instant the sphere makes contact with its green back its massive body is sucked inside.
shuu… SHUZA, ZAZAZAZAZAZA!!
Countless blades of wind hack at the creature from all angles. It flails and tries to escape, but every time it tries to reach outside the sphere it gets another chunk of its flesh removed. Even its head and legs and torso are mercilessly hacked away at, powerless to resist. Just like the ‘ogre’ in the facility its wounds quickly spiral in on themselves and harden, but even that proves futile in the face of such overwhelming magic as it is literally ripped to shreds.
As the name of the spell would suggest, the sphere of wind is quickly dyed a beautiful crimson with the monstrosity’s blood.
Flum and Sara can do nothing but look on in shock.
The winds finally quell and the gore that was the ‘ogre’ up until a few seconds ago wetly plops onto the ground. In the middle of the sea of blood and still-quivering flesh is a small black crystal.
We almost died fighting one of those things and she comes and kills it with one attack? Just who is she!?
The woman twists her face in disgust as she plucks the crystal out of the mass. She removes the blood with a strong puff of wind and studies it resentfully.
“I never would’ve thought they’d make things like that. Humans really are troubling creatures, don’t you think, Flum-chan?”
“What do you mean, wha-wha? Cat got your tongue?”
She cheerily makes a cat’s paw with one hand in front of her voluminous chest.
Flum just stares at her, mouth wide open in shock.
Sara, on the other hand, looks at the Demon with far greater animosity than she did the ‘ogre’ just moments before.
“Oh, my… W-What a c-cute little girl, yes, too cute! You look just like one of the Church of Origin’s little nuns, am I right?”
“Kh… Don’t call me cute, su!! Murderer! Monster!! You're disgusting, su!!”
The blue-skinned woman slumps her shoulders in dejection at Sara’s tirade.
“This again? I can’t count how many times that Maria girl has glared at me, and now you, too…”
“Of course Maria-neesama an’ I are ticked, su! You filthy Demons took our homes an’ our families… I’ll never, ever forgive you, su!!”
Sara looks ready to cut down the demon where she stands. Flum quickly puts a hand on her shoulder.
“Just calm down, Sara-chan.”
“How’m I supposed to calm down when there’s a demon right in front of me, su!? I’ll never, ever---!”
“Please, just take a moment to cast Scan on her. Please.”
Sara continues hissing like an angry little kitten, but she seems a little calmer thanks to Flum’s words.
She casts Scan on the woman in front of her.
Neigass Attribute : Bloody Gale Strength : 3,596 Magic : 15,997 Stamina : 2,479 Agility : 3,698 Intuition : 7,854
Seeing those stats, something catches in the back of Sara’s throat. Quickly reading her Status again, she drops her mace. The difference between them is too despairingly great.
“Nice follow-up!” Neigass says, giving Flum a smile and a thumbs-up.
All of Flum’s memories of her are of someone who’s tried to kill the Hero and her party time and time again, so she honestly doesn’t know how to respond to Neigass’ overly friendly attitude.
“Now we can finally have a nice, relaxed talk.”
Sara isn’t relaxed by any stretch of the imagination, but she seems willing to listen now.
“Let’s start with introductions, shall we? My name is Neigass, my Attribute is a combination of Air and Dark called Bloody Gale, my age is… a lot older than you humans, I belong to a little group called the Three Demon Generals as you may or may not know, and as you can probably tell I’m a demon.”
Flum and Sara respond with silence.
Neigass puffs out her cheeks at them in a pout.
“How rude! I introduced myself, so now it’s your turn, Sara-cha…. Uwah, that’s quite a glare. I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything less, though...”
“I don’t get why you’d even bother introducin’ yourself, su. If you’re so strong, how about you hurry up an’ kill us already, su!”
“Hahh… I get the feeling I’ve said this before, but we Demons really don’t kill people,” Neigass explains as if stating the obvious.
Her all-too-casual words just seem to upset Sara even more.
“Don’t screw with me, su! You demons killed my parents, su! You took everything from me, su!!”
“Oh? And you saw this with your own eyes, did you?”
Neigass’ immediate response causes Sara to hesitate.
“Well… no, su. But the good guys at the Church who took me in said so, su!”
“In that case, I have a question for you. Do you really think you can trust an organization that conducts such obviously suspicious research in the middle of nowhere?”
Neigass turns her gaze back to the small black crystal that was embedded in the ‘ogre’.
Sara is at a loss for words.
Flum responds to Neigass’ words with a dubious expression.
“You mean the Church is behind all this?”
“Oh, I thought you’d realized. I haven’t been inside yet myself, but surely you saw their symbol around down there? It looks like Sara-chan’s put it all together already.”
Sara’s gaze is fixed on the ground as she grits her teeth. Finally, she starts to explain.
“The first time… the first time I saw Origin’s holy symbol, the ‘twisted circle’ on the door of that office, I got a bad feelin’, su.”
It was so faint that probably only someone thoroughly used to seeing it would’ve noticed. She convinced herself that it was only a coincidence, however, and she didn’t spare it another thought until a little later.
“When we read that researcher’s notebook… All that talk about divine revelation, spinnin’ knowledge, wisdom… It really stuck out to me ‘cause a lot of those same words an’ phrases show up in Origin’s holy texts… ‘Ah, this must be one of the Church’s places,’ I thought, though I hoped I was wrong, su.”
“The Church’s doing experiments on humans…? But what does that have to do with the demons?”
“Let’s just say that ‘power’ they're researching is a little… inconvenient for us. When I heard there was a lab out here I came to check it out.”
If that ‘power’ is really that problematic to the demons, then it makes sense that the Kingdom and Church would research some way to weaponize it for use against the ‘evil’ demons.
That’s hardly an excuse for human experimentation, though.
Even if that power of ‘revolution’ can be used to great effect against the Demons, every bone in Flum’s body screams that it’s not anything humans should mess with.
“More importantly, what are you doing here, Flum-chan? You suddenly disappeared from the Hero’s party, and now here you are with that mark on your face… isn’t that what you humans use on slaves?”
Flum doesn’t know what to say. Sara looks at her curiously.
“So you’re that Flum Apricot after all, su.”
Apparently she’d suspected as much all along. It’s honestly not a stretch, since her face, name, and age all fit.
“Something like that, I guess. Back then I wasn’t strong enough to be a member of their party so they kicked me out and sold me into slavery, and here I am now.”
“That’s awful, su!” “How unpleasant…”
Sara’s and Neigass’ voices overlap. Having agreed on something for once, Sara wrenches up her face in disgust and Neigass smiles warmly at her.
“What I really mean to ask, though, is why you’re all the way out here in the middle of nowhere. It certainly doesn’t seem like you came to the lab on purpose.”
“Hahh… We came here to pick plants for some medicine, su.”
Sara sighs and replies.
“Oh my, doesn’t the Church forbid that sort of thing?”
“That sorta thing doesn’t matter if there’s someone who’s sick, su. If we don’t get the medicine we can’t help ‘em, su.”
Hearing Sara’s words, Neigass puts a hand to her chest, her eyes sparkling.
“Flum-chan, don’t you think she’s just the most precious little thing…!?”
“Uhh… yeah, she’s very nice…?”
Flum still can’t keep up with Neigass, but if nothing else it makes her claim that she doesn’t kill humans more plausible. She can’t feel any ulterior motives hidden behind her smile, and her eyes are clear, so at the very least she’s not the deceiving type. She really is acting perfectly natural and exposing herself to them completely.
Even Sara seems to sense her sincerity, as she’s lowered her guard a lot compared to when she first appeared.
“I see I see, so you came here to get medicinal herbs, got attacked by that monstrosity, and you ended up fleeing into that lab. Then right when you were completely cornered by that monster, I showed up with perfect timing and saved you. Is that right?”
“Flum-oneesan an’ I killed the first one together, but that’s about right, yeah, su.”
“You killed one of those things!?”
Neigass’ surprise is apparent on her face.
“You killed one yourself, su.”
“Well, yes, but that’s just because my Magic is so high, unlike Flum-chan here. When you were still with the Hero you were just a little farm girl who couldn’t fight at all! Tell me, how’d you do it?”
Her memory of that final showdown is fuzzy at best. She was screaming, she hit it with all the energy she could muster…
“I hit it hard with everything I had, that little black crystal thing inside it broke, and it stopped moving.”
“...Did you just say you broke its Core?”
Neigass’ expression suddenly turns serious. She vigorously plants her hands on Flum’s shoulders, clearly worked up about something.
“Tell me you still have that broken Core!”
“Y-Yeah, I picked it up just in case…”
She pulls it out of her bag and hands it to Neigass, who proceeds to study it closely from all angles.
“It’s completely stopped… What on…? No, don’t tell me that’s why they…?”
“What is it?”
“...Nothing. Nothing at all. You don’t mind if I keep this, do you?”
Flum was planning on taking it somewhere to be properly examined, but she found it in a Church facility, which means that the Kingdom itself is likely in on the secret. No matter where she takes it, the best case scenario is that it’ll disappear for good.
How ironic that the only person she can trust with it is a demon.
“Sure. It’s not like I have any use for it in the first place.”
“Thank you so much!”
Flum scratches her head, unsure of what to do with such a frank thank-you.
“By the way, you still haven’t picked the herbs you need, have you?”
“We thought we’d reopen the road out first, su.”
“Oh, you’re right, it’s completely blocked off! How’d something like that happen?”
“A few assholes decided to get themselves involved is all.”
“Hmm, sounds like you still have a rather difficult time of it. In that case, let me lend a hand.”
She turns and extends a hand towards the rockfall behind them.
Black wind gathers around Neigass and flows at the boulders a moment later. The rock faces touched by that black wind crumble under their own weight and collapse, reopening the passageway in a matter of seconds.
“If any monsters try to disturb you I’ll handle them. You can just relax and focus on gathering whatever you need.”
“Why’d you go so far for us, su?”
Neigass flashes an amicable smile at Sara’s confusion.
“You may not believe me, but for the time being you can just think of our objectives as one and the same.”
“...Sara-chan, let’s hurry up and get what we came for.”
“Oneesan… Okay, su.”
Sara finally seems to come to a decision and nods.
Though having a demon watch over them is certainly a new one, they have no problem gathering the chiaraly and two other types of herbs. Neigass even sees them safely through to the cave’s exit.
Just as she’s about to leave, Sara calls out to her from behind.
“Um, Neigass, su?”
“What is it, dear?”
“Do demons really never kill people, su?”
“I can’t say we never do. During what you call the Demon War, for example, your kind tried to invade us and I’m sure there were some deaths that couldn’t be avoided. I can swear to you, however, that we’d never kill humans for our own personal benefit or for sport or anything like that.”
“Who do you swear it on, su?”
“Hmm… That’s a hard one…”
She puts an index finger to her lip, lost in thought for a good long moment before replying.
“I can’t trust Origin or any other god, so… I swear it on you, Sara-chan.”
She smiles warmly.
Sara takes a moment to digest Neigass’ words, though she still can’t bring herself to stop hating demons after so many years.
“I see, su.”
She turns away without making up with, giving in to, or rejecting her.
That’s just how it’ll have to be.
She’s hated demons for a full eight years, so even being able to have a proper conversation with one is more than enough progress for one day.
Neigass, content with that, turns on her heel and heads back into the cave.
Flum and Sara head back through the woods towards Enchide with the aid of their lantern. The bell-like chirping of the crickets all around them sounds oddly lonely. Sara is still sorting out her feelings and walking in silence with a grave expression on her face, so Flum can’t bring herself to start a conversation.
Flum finally says something when they’re about halfway back.
“So much has happened today that my head’s still spinning.”
“You too, su? I don’t know what to believe anymore, su.”
“You’re positive that the Church set up that facility?”
“I’m a priestess, so I know that for certain, su. I knew the higher ups were hidin’ somethin’, but… ”
If even a ten-year-old can tell that much, then surely many other priests and priestesses must suspect something. There are probably only a select few that have found anything concrete, though.
“I bet that if it got out that the Church was dabbling in human experimentation not even they’d be able to just walk it off.”
“Yeah, I think they’d be pretty desperate to keep it secret, su.”
If they’re not careful, they could even be ‘erased’ for what they know.
“...I guess we’d better not tell anyone, then.”
“I don’t mean to sound threatenin’, but it’d be pretty suicidal, su.”
“It’s so frustrating… It’s not like I was planning on telling everyone, but just knowing I can’t tell anyone makes it feel so much heavier.”
Sara wordlessly nods in agreement. It must be even harder for her, not only knowing what her own Church is doing in the shadows but knowing that if she tries to tell anyone she’ll be extremely vulnerable.
There’s no point in thinking about it any more than they already have.
For now, all Flum wants to do is tell Milkit she’s back and sleep like the dead.
Both of the same mind, they continue back to Enchide.
Chapter 13 - Melting Hearts
Enchide is draped in the same veil of dusk as it was when they first arrived. The lights of the few populated houses seem even darker than they remember, possibly due to Flum and Sara’s exhaustion.
The only sound as they walk down the abandoned streets is the scatter of gravel beneath their boots. Only the promise of being able to rest soon pushes them forward. The large, somewhat dilapidated inn comes into sight as they round the corner. The thought of Milkit waiting for them brings a smile to Flum’s face.
There’s no light in the window of Stude’s house next door.
No matter how early to rise and early to bed country folks are supposed to be, it’s far too early for that yet. They’re probably both out somewhere.
But more importantly, they can finally rest now. Flum is just about to climb the steps into the inn when she stops. Sara comes to a halt a moment later, turning back to look at her.
“What is it, su?”
Flum expressionlessly turns to face the front entrance of Stude’s home. The longer she looks the paler she turns.
The light’s off. The front door is wide open. Through the lace curtain on the window she can barely make out the kitchen table, covered in scattered and broken dishes.
She tries to put it all together.
Dane’s cronies used magic to seal off the exit to that cavern. Since they visited that old lady at the general store just as Flum’s party did, they should know that nobody comes home from that cave because of the monstrosity. In other words, they should be convinced that Flum and Sara are dead.
What would those two do after returning to Enchide in high spirits?
Guided by the scent of blood, Flum walks towards Stude’s house.
They call themselves adventurers, but they’re no better than a band of criminals. Dane exerts his influence as an A-Rank adventurer to have his way with not only the guild but the entire West Quarter. Even in the middle of the Capital they’re confident enough that they’d try to steal the bag of someone like Reach in broad daylight. They’d surely have no problem doing whatever they please with the residents of a country town, away from the eyes of the paladins and the guards.
She puts her hand to the door and pushes. The smell of iron grows even stronger. The tiny stubs of candles that light the corridor are all but useless.
No, forget petty theft. They’ve done far worse. Fraud, assault --- even murder. A little push from Dane and it’s as if it never happened. When they tried to steal Reach’s bag, however, things were different. Before he could do anything, those thugs were taken in by the paladins.
What did they think of that?
The floorboards under Flum’s feet groan as she enters the dining room.
Amongst the destruction is a man lying slumped against the table, scarlet blood from the deep stab wound in his back staining his blue shirt red.
She’s never seen the man before. He must’ve been one of Stude’s friends, come to visit when he heard Stude was back in town.
Flum clenches her fists and grits her teeth.
There are traces of blood on the floor, as if someone dragged themselves across the ground while bleeding, starting from one of the chairs and leading to the doorway Flum is standing in.
There are more victims.
She follows it with her eyes down the corridor, further into the house.
Dane and his men must’ve been indignant. They’d always had free reign over the West Quarter, so why should they have to be punished now? That must be the reason why they trapped Flum and Sara in that cave and tried to kill them.
The floorboards continue to wail underfoot as Flum approaches a bedroom.
Afraid of what she might find inside, she opens the door slowly. The hinges of the door screech in protest.
They wouldn’t just be content with killing Flum and Sara, though. Murder doesn’t hold any special significance for those criminals. Just killing them alone wouldn’t be enough to lighten their spirits. They need to take more from them, take everything they can.
That, of course, includes involving innocent people, people who only tried to help them.
Flum has her theory now. All she has to do is look at what’s in front of her to confirm it.
As I thought.
As I feared.
There are two people, a man and a woman, on the bed. The room’s dark, but anyone would be able to tell that much.
One of them is an old woman. The other is a man, draped over her as if attempting to protect her.
Stude and his mother.
The room is filled to the brim with the raw smell of their blood.
They did nothing wrong, ordinary villagers who committed the sin of letting Flum and Sara stay at their inn -- and yet they were killed, for nothing more than a petty grudge.
She feels the weight of their deaths for involving them in her business.
But something altogether different boils up above it, some pitch black emotion.
I’ll never forgive them.
Her emotions boil over into her howl, her indignation boiling over into madness.
Her indignation isn’t rooted in some beautiful sense of justice but in something horribly egotistical, an addiction too twisted to be called affection not directed at the bodies on the bed but at what’s about to happen, maybe what’s currently happening, maybe what already happened, an unsupressable rage in the face of an unspeakable tragedy. Leaving her body to those dark emotions, she forgets her exhaustion and sprints out of Stude’s house.
Leaving Sara to her confusion, she dashes into the inn.
Those bastards, those bastards, those bastards!
The two men surely aren’t satisfied with just those two sins.
Her feet pound the floorboards hard enough to break them as she storms through the inn.
Faster! Faster! Faster!! If I can get there a second, a moment, and instant sooner---!
The men can probably hear her coming.
Like I care! If you’re going to run then run, if you’re going to resist then resist, but it doesn’t matter to me. Even if you beg me to spare you, even if you maim yourselves in apology, even if you rip the flesh off your own faces and beg the gods for forgiveness --- I’ll NEVER forgive you!!
A little while before Flum’s arrival at the inn…
Milkit sits on the edge of the bed, patiently waiting for Flum and Sara to come back. She doesn’t have anything to occupy her time and it’s too dark outside to take a walk so she sits in the dark, letting the colourless time flow by her.
She doesn’t find it boring, of course; until recently she was often left with such empty time. She fidgets as she watches the minute hand on the clock slowly advance. They’d only taken lunch with them. They were supposed to be back by now. The sky’s grown dark with no sign from them, causing unease to stir in her chest.
“...You’re okay, aren’t you, Master, Sara-san?”
Saying it aloud makes her heart tremble and tingle.
I shouldn’t have said that.
It’s too late, however.
The seed of unease buried in her chest sprouts and grows on the dusky light shining in through the window. Her chest feels tight, and she puts a hand to her heart. The rhythmic throbbing of her heart is noisier than it usually is.
Just as Milkit worries about the two of them, she can hear footsteps from outside the room.
Two sets of footsteps.
Milkit stands up and half-runs to the door, opening it so as to not force her master to after a long day’s work.
Two men she’s never seen before are standing there.
Before she can do anything a large hand reaches forward and grabs her bandaged face.
“Ngh!? Nn! Nghngh!!”
The owner of the hand, a man with countless piercings on his lips and ears, grins at her sadistically.
“Hey, you’re not seriously gonna do it, are you?” asks the man behind him. The second man has heavy blue tattoos covering the right half of his face.
The pierced man grins at the tattooed man’s question.
“She’s ugly for a bitch, but I’d rather screw her corpse than that hag’s hole or that hairy smarm’s ass.”
“If you’re gonna complain ‘bout it then don’t do it, man. Let’s just kill her an’ go.”
“Ahh, but where’s the fun in that?”
He nears his face to Millkit’s as she tries to scream and break free. His eyes are bloodshot and his breathing is ragged.
“I’ve got one helluva boner after my first kill in a while. I can’t just go loosin’ myself on any old living bitch! Ahyahya!!”
He raises his voice raggedly, as if he’s high on something.
Fear and disgust rise in Milkit’s chest, but she’s too weak to resist as he pushes her back into the room. Her knees hit the edge of the bed and she collapses onto it. She flails at him, but she’s not even strong enough to make him flinch, or maybe she’s just in shock as he mounts her. If she resists, who knows what he’ll do to her.
“Oh, you’re a calm one. Don’t tell me you’re used to this kinda thing?”
He strips his shirt off.
“Why so quiet? Huhn? Answer me. Hey, hey, hey!! I said A-N-S-W-E-R M-E! You stupid or something!?!”
The pierced man grabs her by the hair and starts slamming her head against the bed. She can’t possibly answer like that, but he seems to grow angrier every passing moment she doesn’t respond.
---Or so she thought. Suddenly he grins and lets go of her hair. He runs his hand through her hair, letting the silver strands slip between his rough fingers.
“I’m sowwy. When Oniichan gets excited he can’t help but get a widdle rough with girls. Most of them just can’t take it. But you know what? Oniichan wuvs watching widdle girls suffer more than anything else in the whole wide world!”
“Ugh, and now you’re crying. Seriously, hurry up an’ answer already. You a virgin or what?”
Milkit silently nods.
He looms over her, looking down at her with a cold expression.
“If you don’t say it I can’t hear you.”
“Nah, I gotta hear ya loud an’ clear. What are ya!?”
“You’re still too damn quiiiieeeeet!!”
“I’m a virgin!”
She manages to force the words out and he bursts out laughing.
“AHYAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!! I LOVE makin’ bitches say that!! What am I, twelve!? Hyahahahaha, ahahahaha! Haha, ha… hahh.”
He quickly quiets down again. He’s tired of this game already.
He reaches for the shortsword at his belt and touches the tip of it against Milkit’s chest for a moment before tearing open the front of her maid outfit.
Seeing her bra exposed, he asks her a question.
“How'd you like to die?”
“After I’m done with ya the first time, I mean. I like to have a second go at bitches like you after they’re good an’ dead. Ah, that means anything that wrecks those bits down there is no good, ‘course. The typical options are havin’ a knife jammed in your mouth, maybe in your neck. Maybe you’d prefer it nice an’ quick through the heart? Or maybe I should just jam it in your gut an’ mix you up a little?”
How ‘nice’ of him to give her an option.
Milkit can’t choose so easily, of course, but if she makes him angry again he’ll probably grab her hair again.
She’s got to answer, as quickly as she can.
“What’s with that face?”
The time limit’s far shorter than she’d thought. The pierced man’s face twists, his face growing redder.
No normal person’s mood would shift so violently. He’s definitely very high on something, probably one of the illegal drugs being passed around in the back alleys of the Capital.
He’s immune to common sense now.
He slowly wraps his hands around Milkit’s neck.
“If you’re gonna be so bitchy about it then how’d ya like some strangulation play, huh!? Virgins these days’re animals! Oniichan’s worried about horny widdle sluts like you, y’know!? HA-HYAHAHAHA!!”
As she starts to black out, the only thing on her mind is her still-missing master.
Flum immediately notices that the door’s open, and as soon as she sticks her head in she cries out.
Three pairs of eyes turn to face her as one. Two pairs belong to the man with heavy piercings and the heavily tattooed man, but the last one belongs to Milkit, pinned to the bed, a pair of large hands wrapped around her slender neck. Her clothes are torn, exposing her chest so pale it seems transparent.
They all stare at each other for a long moment. All of them are stopped as if the entire room was only a painting.
It’s clear what’s happening.
Milkit calls out to Flum in a thin, plaintive voice.
Flum looks down at the ground, digging her nails deep into her palms and clenching her teeth hard enough to shatter them.
---Now you’ve REALLY done it.
They’ve proven themselves less than insects, subjugating and tormenting a girl who has no way of resisting. If they really wanted to die so badly, they should’ve just asked Flum nicely.
“I’ll end you.”
Her voice is so frigid she even startles herself for a moment.
Stepping forward one, two long strides.
The first one to react is the tattooed man. He gets as far as putting his hand on the hilt of his knife.
“You weren’t supposed to co---”
The tattooed man is shocked at the sheer speed of her movements, but he never finishes his sentence.
She lowers her waist and draws the Zweihander from its extradimensional sheath, using the unsheathing momentum to drive the razor edge soundlessly through his torso, splitting him clean in half.
She swings the blade at empty air to clean it of the man’s blood. A few fat droplets hit the pierced man in the face.
The tattooed man’s top half slips off and tumbles to the ground, hitting it headfirst. He opens and closes his mouth like a fish gasping to breathe and voices words that have no sound. It only takes a moment for his brain to realize it’s out of blood. He stops moving. A moment later, his lower half follows him to the floor and a wealth of murky fluids and ripe organs spill out.
The pierced man is suddenly alone.
He wipes at the fluid on his face, looks at the crimson at his fingertip and swears loudly.
“Shit!! I haven’t even screwed anyone yet, dammit!!”
He scrambles towards the window, flings it open, and practically falls out of it. Tripping over his own feet, the pierced man fades into the darkness.
“Milkit, wait here for just a moment.”
Flum leaves Milkit with those words as she jumps out the window after him.
It was her master’s kind voice.
In her master’s eyes, however, burned a dark desire to kill.
As soon as Flum leaves the inn, she scans the area for any sign of the pierced man.
He hasn’t vanished into the darkness completely, and he’s still close enough that she can see him with the naked eye. She shifts the blade to a one-handed grip as she runs after her mark.
The man’s a D-Rank, at best a C-Rank adventurer. There’s no way he can escape her as she is now.
He turns around at the sound of her pursuit, the metal rings on his lips and ears clanging together loudly. As he watches Flum starts to catch up and he twists his face in terror.
“You’ve gotta be shittin’ me! All this for that crappy little virgin bitch!? Dammit, he told me I could just come out here, rape an’ kill whoever I wanted, and even get paid at the end! I’ve got a mountain of bitches waitin’ for me and my money!!”
He doesn’t spare even a thought for his dead comrade. Scum like him truly deserve death.
“If only I’d killed that granny an’ the ape properly back then I’d be long gone by now, dammit!!”
“I hope that’s not what you want written on your tombstone.”
Flum’s face suddenly appears out of the gloom.
Before he realizes she’s caught up to him and matched his pace. She makes sure he gets a good look at the black sword in her hand, still faintly glistening with the tattooed man’s viscera.
The pierced man, realizing that he can’t escape, stops in his tracks. In a practiced motion, he drops to the ground and plants his forehead into the dirt.
“Ha… Haha, hyahahahaha, no no, hold on. Don’t get so worked up, it’s not like I actually screwed ‘em. It’s a misunderstanding, a M-I-S-T-A-K-E. Those clothes I wrecked… tell ya what, I’ll compensate you for ‘em. We’re even now, am I right? Anything that ugly bitch was wearin’ couldn’t be that expensive anyways, right!?”
Bowing and scraping must be the secret to his ‘success.’
She looks down at him with heartless eyes.
“I haven’t done a single damn thing worth killin’ me over! It was that asshole with the tattoos that offed the hag an’ the smarm!”
He thinks that’s supposed to make some sort of difference to me.
Wordlessly, she raises the Zweihander over her head.
All she has to do is swing downwards and it’ll all end.
The black blade fades into the darkness, making it impossible for the man to tell when it’ll come falling on him. Fear tightens its grip on his chest.
“Oneesan, hold on a minute, su!”
Just as Flum’s about to swing Sara’s voice comes from behind her.
Murder is a sin. Even if it wasn’t a sin to the Church of Origin, it’s one of the gravest crimes a human being can commit. Sara, believing wholeheartedly in human goodness, can’t just watch Flum kill him.
“Stude-san and his mom are still alive, su! I cured ‘em with my healin’ magic so they’re both just fine, su!”
Flum turns around to face her.
“Sara-chan… it’s too late for that. The other one’s already dead.”
“Well… maybe so, but that guy can’t repent if he’s dead, su! There’s gotta be some better way to punish him, su!”
Her words make perfect logical sense. Murder shouldn’t be punished with more murder. Some murderers, while few, reflect on their crimes and live normal, fulfilling lives after receiving just punishment.
There are many of people who never repent, however, who never change their ways.
“Heh… Hehe… Hya, hyahahahahahahahahaha!”
The pierced man springs to his feet and pins Flum’s arms behind her back, sticking a dagger to her neck. His fear has dissolved completely from his face, replaced by a twisted grin.
“You’re too damn careless! Thanks a bunch for the help, ya brat! I never thought a priestess’d come help me murder this bitch, su! Thank you, su! You’re a really big help, su! Seriously, who speaks like that!? Hyahahahahaha! I thought I was dead but hey, there’re nice people left in the world after all!”
The pierced man is convinced that he's won.
Sara stares at him at a loss for words. Flum gives her a small smile.
“You see, Sara-chan?”
“Hey hey, suddenly you think you can get off chattin’ right in front of me!? Didja forget that if I push on this here dagger even a liiiittle bit there’ll be blood everywhere!? Take a moment to think on that! Think good and hard, wet yourself, cry, an’ get me all excited all over again!!”
None of the man’s words have any effect on Flum.
She remembers back to Jean, and after him that slave merchant. Some people just delight in destroying the lives and dignity of others and feel no guilt whatsoever.
If only Sara could share some of her goodness with assholes like them.
“I told you before, Sara-chan. In this world, some people---”
“Oh, you’re not even gonna apologize? I guess I’ll just kill you then. Ahh, but I really wish I could at least hear some good ol’ grovelling---”
The pierced man pushes a little harder on the dagger, breaking Flum’s skin and letting a thin line of blood streak down her neck.
Flum’s expression doesn’t change.
“---some pieces of trash never repent, never learn, and are better off dead.”
As soon as she finishes gently lecturing Sara, she forces the dagger in the man’s hands deep into her own neck. It easily carves through her skin and buries itself deep in her throat. The sound of flowing water accompanies the wave of blood that gushes from her neck.
The man, shocked, lets go of the blade. She lets herself fall forward, but catches her fall, pulls the dagger out of her flesh, and casts it to the ground.
“T-The hell… How’re you not dead!?”
Blood still oozing out and staining her collar crimson, she turns and swings.
He reflexively tries to cover his face with his arms and loses both his hands. Blood gushes out.
Judging from the sheer volume of his bleeding he’ll die if he doesn’t get immediate healing, but it’s still not enough to sate Flum’s bloodlust.
“Aa, aaagh! P-Please, don’t kill me…!”
“What’re you saying? You’re the murderer here.”
“N-No, it’s all a mistake. I-I don’t wanna---”
She cleaves the man’s unsightly expression in half. The top half of his head is sent flying through the air, eventually landing in the middle of the gravel road.
“Thanks for grovelling, at least.”
The brainless sack of flesh in front of her spasms then collapses, wetting itself as it falls. Blood and human waste spread freely across the road.
Flum heads back to the inn where Milkit awaits, putting a hand on Sara’s head as she passes.
“Sorry, Sara-chan. The way I see it, this is the only way.”
She wasn’t always like this. After being betrayed and taking in more than her fair share of the world’s evils, this is her conclusion. This is who she’s been forced to become.
Sara’s voice is weak. Even though Flum’s right beside her she feels as though they’re worlds apart. Unable to follow her back to the inn, she watches Flum’s back grow ever further away as she stands there motionless under the infinitely vast night sky.
When she returns the room, the strong smell of death hits her nose. Milkit is still huddled on the bed, trying to wrap the torn shreds of her clothes around her chest.
It’s enough to break her heart.
She draws close to Milkit and puts her hand on her cheek. Milkit feels Flum’s warmth through her bandages but returns a dark expression.
“I ruined the nice clothes that you bought for me.”
The first words out of Milkit’s mouth are those.
“I’m so sorry, Master.”
She's done nothing wrong. Flum would’ve preferred to get yelled at for not coming to save her sooner. Even if she knows Milkit would never actually do such a thing, the apology hurts nonetheless.
Flum faces the ground, her lips start trembling and something hot rises in her chest as tears gather in her eyes.
“I don’t care about your clothes, don’t apologize…”
“But Master, this dress is the first thing you ever gave me. It’s very precious.”
“Even if it is! I thought I told you to treat your body with more respect! Why!? Why’s that the first thing you have to say…!? You’re wrong, the important thing isn’t your clothes… it’s something else entirely…!”
Flum snuggles up to Milkit, burying her face in her chest as she strongly embraces her.
Blood’s flowing through her veins, her heart is beating --- she’s alive.
When she thinks about how Milkit would’ve not only been defiled but killed, too, Flum feels like vomiting.
“Master, are you crying?”
Milkit looks down at her master’s trembling shoulders.
“...Yeah, I’m crying. I’m still so powerless, so pitiful, so unable to change what needs changing most… so I’m crying.”
Her voice is trembling.
Milkit feels overcome with the urge to do something for her, but she’s at a loss as to what she should do. Without thinking she moves to return Flum’s embrace but stops, staring down at her hands in confusion.
When she was being attacked by the pierced man, she could feel some strange emotion sprout within her.
Your body is worthless.
All of her masters up until now have told her that, again and again until she accepted it as truth.
But now it’s different.
Her current master --- Flum told her the opposite.
Even now, Milkit’s convinced that her body is worthless, but if she does anything to harm herself Flum will be sad. Even if she doesn’t care personally, the thought of Flum becoming sad makes her heart hurt and the area around her eyes feel weird.
Flum looks up with red eyes, meeting Milkit’s again.
“Ahh… Look, even though you say you don’t care… you were really scared, weren’t you?”
“Your eyes are all moist. It looks like you’re ready to cry… am I wrong?”
Milkit’s clear, crystalline eyes are faintly trembling. Even if she’s not scared, there’s clearly some emotion at work or else she wouldn’t be like this.
She puts a hand to her eyes to confirm they’re wet before saying her feelings as they come to her.
“It’d be too shameless for a mere slave like myself to wish to be saved by her master. I don’t know for certain if I was scared or not, but… When I was being assaulted, I imagined what it would be like if you were to swoop in and save me.”
She wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. It was a dream within a dream.
“I’m so sorry for imagining such a thing despite being fully aware of how shameless it is… I would appear that I’ve let myself be spoiled by you.”
“I don’t care if it’s shameless! Imagine whatever you want, ask me for anything you can think of, I’ll do my best to make you happy!”
“That’s how I want it! I don’t want us to be master and slave, I want us to be you and me! Ahh, but I couldn’t make it in time… I couldn’t protect you completely…”
“That’s not true. You saved me, Master. Rather, I’m the one at fault here for failing to protect this dress…”
“...Nn, that again… I don’t wanna hear it!”
Refusing to listen to Milkit pointlessly blame herself again, she pushes her down onto the bed, rubbing her cheeks with her own, whispering into her ears.
“As soon as we get back we’re going clothes shopping, okay? Anything you want, no matter how much it costs.”
“But I can’t let you just waste more money on me like that…”
“Then we’ll mend what you’re wearing now first. I’ll buy you so many clothes you’ll never be able to wear them all, but I’ll make you wear them all anyway! Then maybe you’ll finally understand that I don’t care about any stupid clothes, I care about you!”
“...I don’t understand.”
“That’s okay for now. Until you can finally tell me you understand I’ll spoil you to death! I’ll make you so happy you won’t know what to do with yourself!!”
Flum buries her face in the bed and starts bawling. Not even she knows why she’s so sad. The inside of her head’s an absolute mess.
Even Milkit is able to figure out that Flum’s tears are meant for her, but in the end she doesn’t know what she should do about it herself.
Nobody’s ever cried for her before.
Nobody’s ever wanted to make her happy before.
Flum’s given her nothing but firsts.
Milkit still doesn’t know how she should answer her. All she can do is what she feels is right and move forward by her own will --- Hesitantly, haltingly, she wraps her arms around Flum’s back.
She doesn’t know herself what that movement, what that impulse means, but---
Her chest feels warm.
That alone she can be sure of.
Chapter 14 - Private Property Priced To Move (Housemate Included)
Flum heads towards a nearby house with a light in its window and asks for help from the woman who comes to the door. She tells the woman matter-of-factly that a man, likely a friend of Stude’s, was murdered and that she’s already killed the criminals responsible. The woman seems deeply confused, but she calls the town watch nonetheless.
The group of burly men seem to doubt Flum’s word as an outsider, but they follow her to the house and get a chance to ask Stude and his mother, and hearing the tale straight from the victims’ mouths they have little choice but to believe it. They carry out the body of the man who was collapsed on the kitchen table a short while later.
There’s a strong sadness in Stude’s voice as he watches the man be carried out on the makeshift stretcher. Flum balls her fists as she watches him from a short distance away. Her chest feels tight, but as one of the people responsible for the tragedy she can’t just pretend it’s none of her business.
“Was he a friend of yours?” she asks, walking up to Stude.
“Yeah, he’s been mah friend since we were lil’uns. Ah invited him ta come an’ eat with us since Ah’ve been gone fer so long, but Ah never thought…”
Stude’s voice trembles. He grits his teeth, desperate to hold back his tears, but a fat droplet runs down his cheek nonetheless. He quickly rubs it away with the back of his thick arm.
“Ah’m sorry, Flum-chan. Ah didn’t want ya ta see me like this.”
“No… Actually, it’s my fault they even came out here…”
“Nah, yer wrong there. If ya didn’t come an’ save us, me an’ mah Ma’d be dead by now. If anythin’ Ah should be thankin’ ya!”
“Thank ya kindly fer savin’ us, fer avengin’ James, fer everythin’!”
He gives Flum a hard thump on the back before heading over to his mother as she talks to the militia.
She can’t just accept his words, however. She hangs her head and watches the dried gravel road with emotionless eyes.
After that, the mutilated corpses of the tattooed man and the pierced man are gathered into burlap sacks and abandoned in the nearby woods. The townsfolk have no way of punishing the dead, but at least by denying them any proper burial they can feel a little better about it. Soon wild animals will find the bodies and they’ll return to the earth.
The next day Sara is clearly depressed, but nonetheless they have her perform James’ funerary rights. They don’t have any local priests or priestesses, so they have little choice.
Throughout the entire ceremony she maintains her professional composure. Even if she’s still only a child she has a strong sense of responsibility, and she throws herself fully into fulfilling her duty.
To be honest, Flum doesn’t know if she should even be there. All around her people are crying and mourning James’ death, but the only thing she feels is relief that the funeral isn’t Milkit’s.
I don’t have any right to be here.
“I really am cold-hearted, aren’t I?”
She whispers to herself in the middle of the funeral, so quietly nobody else can hear her. Self-loathing wells up in her chest.
Even if she didn’t know him, she should feel something as the person responsible. If she doesn’t it’s as though she’s betraying all the kindness Stude showed them when everyone else turned them away.
Flum grits her teeth. Milkit, standing next to her, notices and grabs the hem of her shirt, trying her best in her own way to cheer her up. Flum’s expression softens as she feels for Milkit’s hands.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
She gently squeezes Milkit’s fingers before letting go.
They obviously can’t just start holding hands in the middle of a funeral, but that fleeting contact is enough for Flum to ascertain Milkit’s warmth. They both softly smile at the feeling of the other’s body heat.
A few hours have passed since boarding the carriage back to the Capital.
Nobody has said even a single word yet. Sara especially seems to be lost in her own thoughts and in no state to talk to anyone. Watching her concentrate, Flum can’t bring herself to lighten the mood. Milkit seems unfazed by it all but is quieter than usual, perhaps to match her master’s silence.
The carriage leaves an area of dry flatlands and moves into a region filled with rolling grassy knolls. A pleasant breeze reaches them where they sit. Sara tucks a loose lock of golden hair back behind her ear.
“...I’ve been thinkin’ a lot recently, Oneesan, su.”
She doesn’t shift her gaze from the rolling sea of green in front of her.
“There’s still a lot I just don’t understand, su. I still don’t know what to trust an’ what to doubt, su. I’m not that clever, so if I believe in somethin’ I wanna believe it all and if I doubt somethin’ I start to doubt it all, su.”
Sara’s still only ten years old. She’s still far too young to be able to cleanly divide the good from the bad and the true from the false on a case-by-case basis.
“There’s nothing wrong with that.”
I’m really not in any position to talk down to her about what’s right and wrong, though.
“It’s my fault… If it weren’t for me, you never would’ve got hurt like that, and…”
“It was nothing… or so I’d like to say. At any rate, it’s my fault I got my throat slit, not yours. And look, I’m still alive, so you really don’t have to worry about it.”
Flum laughs, trying to further soften Sara’s impression of what happened.
Truth be told it really hurt, and even now just thinking about it causes the area around the wound feel funny, but there’s no point telling Sara that.
“More importantly, I think you should wonder and worry about this kind of thing as long as you can while you’re still young.”
Sara bursts out laughing at Flum’s words.
“What’re you sayin, su? You’re only six years older than me, su.”
“Those six years are big ones, though. Just hush and listen to your Oneesan.”
“Muu, it sounds weird when you say it, su.”
She frowns at Flum discontentedly, but she seems a lot more at ease than she did before when she was still fretting about getting Flum hurt.
There’s no end to her worries, but there’s no need to be depressed about it.
She still has a long ways to go before she’s all grown up, and until then she has no choice but to live with her troubles and figure out how to deal with them on her own. She’s still young, which means she should learn how to fail while she still can.
Sara seems to regain her former energy and the mood pervading the carriage improves all at once. Now that they’re closer than ever before, their conversation is even freer and more frivolous.
When they get hungry, the three of them enjoy the lunches that Milkit made for them before leaving Enchide, and afterwards Sara and Milkit fall asleep, each resting their head on one of Flum’s thighs. She smiles as she watches over them. To be honest the two girls are surprisingly heavy, but it’s nothing she can’t handle. Even the bumping and shaking of the carriage feels relaxing to her now.
Eventually, the heat pressed against her body causes a warm drowsiness to envelop Flum. She bobs her head back and forth in an effort to fight off sleep, but the temptation grows to be too great.
The only sounds left on that country road are the rhythmic clopping of horses’ hooves, the revolving of the carriage’s large spoked wheels, and the faint sound of gentle snoring.
They arrive at the Capital’s East Quarter without incident, hopping off the carriage not far from Reach’s estate. Flum had thought that they’d all go report their success to Reach together, but Sara bids farewell to them there.
“If I go along Reach-san’ll probably try to reward me, so I’d better not, su.”
Given her position she can’t possibly accept a reward, so rather than have to turn it down again it’s better if she just doesn’t go.
“I’m with the Central Quarter church, so if you even need anythin’ you can find me there, su. Don’t forget you promised to treat me to lunch, su. I’ll be waitin’ for you, su!”
She energetically waves at them as she runs down the street and back to the church. Flum and Milkit wave at her for as long as they can see her. As soon as she’s out of sight, though, Flum tilts her head to the side in confusion.
“Is something the matter, Master?”
“No, I was just a little confused about what she said there. I thought for sure that she was with the West Quarter church, since that’s where we met her.”
Come to think of it, though, it’s hard to believe that the Church would let such a genius live at the little church in the West Quarter what with how dangerous it is there and how relatively shallow the believers’ faith is there. They’d no doubt want to cultivate her talent someplace a lot more respectable.
“I guess it isn’t really that important, though. We should get the chiaraly to Reach-san as soon as we can.”
Everyone, even Reach, has business in the West Quarter from time to time, so it’s probably only natural that Sara was there.
Without putting any more thought into it, Flum leads the way through the East Quarter’s residential area until finally they arrive in front of an exceptionally large mansion.
A noble they happen to pass takes one look at Flum’s slave mark and Milkit’s bandages and wrenches her face in disgust as she starts whispering something fervently to her retainer. It’s very unusual for the likes of slaves to be there, especially without their master anywhere in sight.
Flum pays it no mind, however. It’s the same no matter where they go.
One of the guards by Reach’s front gate addresses Flum.
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
Unlike the noblewoman, he addresses them politely and with a perfectly neutral expression.
“My name is Flum, and we received a personal quest from Reach-san. May we see him?”
“Ahh, so you’re Flum. Reach-sama told me to expect your arrival. Please, go on in.”
He unlocks the front gate and ushers them inside. The front courtyard is surprisingly large and filled with so many beautifully blooming flowers that they almost forget what they came there for. Nonetheless, they move straight ahead along the path to the front door.
A small spherical crystal is embedded in the wall beside the double doors, and putting her hand to it Flum channels a small amount of magic through it. They can faintly hear a bell ring from inside. Milkit watches Flum’s actions with acute curiosity.
“How do you suppose that switch works, Master?”
“I think I remember hearing that there’s a certain ore that’s attracted to magic, so they base the bell mechanism around that.”
“I see. You’re very knowledgeable.”
“Nah, it’s just what I learned in school. It isn’t that impressive, really.”
“No, you really are impressive, Master.”
It looks like Milkit’s trust of Flum is only growing with every passing day.
Unsure of what to do with that compliment, Flum lightly scratches her reddened cheeks. It really is only common knowledge, but it probably sounded pretty impressive to Milkit, who’s never received a proper education.
More importantly, though, Flum can’t imagine Milkit asking a question like that back when they first met. Slowly, she’s regaining her humanity. Flum smiles as she watches her study the crystal with great interest.
A moment later, a butler whose hair is only starting to turn grey with age opens the door, bowing deeply and apologizing for making them wait. He turns and leads them inside.
Even though this is her second time seeing it, Flum can’t help but be impressed by the size and opulence of the mansion. The entrance hall alone is incredibly vast, and she lets out a gasp of astonishment as she walks under the exquisite crystal chandelier that hangs from the ceiling above them. The elaborately patterned plush carpet that covers the floor is so clean and comfortable that she feels bad just walking on it. The walls are covered with paintings so beautiful that even she can tell that they’re masterpieces, and the vases that decorate the corners are probably as expensive as entire houses in the Central Quarter. Once again, Flum is reminded that Reach may as well be from another world entirely.
The butler leads them up a staircase with a banister so polished that they can see their faces in it, and they climb without touching it out of fear of getting their fingerprints all over it. The newel posts are decorated with finely detailed wooden statues and Milkit practically turns around to study them as she walks, completely absorbed by them.
They finally arrive at the parlour shortly after reaching the second storey. Flum sits in one of the chairs and is again amazed by just how comfortable it is. Milkit takes up her position behind her, but Flum grabs her and practically forces her to sit in the chair beside her. “Chairs are made for sitting in, y’know,” Flum says with a smile in response to Milkit’s guilty expression.
The butler tends to them while they wait for Reach, serving them an exceptionally good-smelling herbal tea and tasty little fruit tarts that they can’t seem to stop eating.
They find themselves wishing that Reach will take a few hours to get there, but he arrives only ten minutes later. His forehead glistens with sweat, giving off the clear impression that he was in the middle of some important business.
I didn’t expect him to drop everything just to see us… I guess that just goes to show how worried he is about his wife.
“I’m dreadfully sorry for making you wait, Flum-san, Milkit-san. Wait, where’s…?”
“Sara-chan said she had some urgent business to take care of back at the Church.”
“I see. That really is a pity. I’ll have to go thank her sometime soon.”
He wipes his forehead with a handkerchief before taking a seat opposite Flum and Milkit. He then eagerly voices what’s on his mind.
“You brought back the chiaraly, didn’t you?”
Flum reaches into the bag on the floor beside her and hands a small pouch inside it to Reach. He opens it, looks inside, and breaks into a smile.
“Ahh, this must be…!”
Tears start to gather in the corners of his eyes. Emotionally moved to the point where he can’t even speak, he simply stares into the bag of chiaraly. Finally he turns to Flum, bowing so deeply his forehead grazes the table between them.
“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done! With this… With this I can finally cure my wife…! I honestly can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me!”
Flum is at a loss. He’s a lot more grateful than she’d expected.
“Please stop that, Reach-san. I only did what you hired me to.”
“Even so, to think you actually found the plant I’ve been looking everywhere for… It was truly a miracle that brought the two of us together!”
Maybe for you, but it feels like I’ve just gone through hell and back… though it’s not like I can just tell you everything.
“Now, about your reward. Anything you desire, if it’s within my power to give, is yours. Anything you want.”
“Hmm… nothing really comes to mind… Milkit, is there anything you want?”
“I certainly have no ideas.”
“There you go, then. Can’t you just give us money like normal?”
“That’s fine by me. How much do you want?”
Judging by his expression he intends to literally hand them a blank cheque. The thought is deeply unsettling to Flum.
Since it’s come to this, maybe I should just be completely honest with him…
“Come to think of it, we could really use a place to use as a base of operations. Do you know a good apartment in the West Quarter where we can stay?”
“The West Quarter, you say.”
He gives them a puzzled look. If they wanted, he could easily get them a room in the Central… no, even the East Quarter isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
But Flum has no intention of running.
She’s going to make Dane pay for everything he’s done, no matter what.
Seeing the firm resolve in her eyes, Reach seems to suddenly remember something.
“If that’s the case, I have the perfect place in mind.”
“...Is this really the place?”
“...This is really the place, Master.”
Flum and Milkit stand in front of the place described in the documents they received from Reach.
“I was pretty sure I said we wanted just an apartment…”
“That’s certainly what you said.”
“Don’t tell me this is all…?”
“From what I can tell, yes, this is all ours.”
They’re utterly confused. Just as they asked, they’re in the easternmost part of the West Quarter on the border with the Central Quarter, which is comparatively a good, safe place to live.
What they didn’t expect was ---
“T-This is a whole house!”
--- a two-storey wooden house.
Looking closely at the papers, there’s also a deed to the land it sits on included.
“It’s an old place that I’d bought some time ago to turn for a profit, but I didn’t manage to sell it. Please help yourselves to it,” Reach had told them.
Not only that, but he also gave them a large bag of gold coins, insisting that the property alone wasn’t enough, and he even entrusted them with a heavily enchanted ring for Sara the next time they met.
Flum honestly felt like turning it down, but she wasn’t able to bring herself to. It just went to show how truly grateful he is for their aid.
“I don’t think there’s any problem with this, Master. You suffered through all that but didn’t give up, so think of this as an equivalent reward.”
“Well, yeah, it was hard, but not this hard...”
“I truly think you deserve it.”
“...If you say so.”
The one who decides the reward isn’t the adventurer but the requestor. If Reach is content with giving them this much, then it’s Flum’s duty as an adventurer to accept it with grace.
“Well then, wanna take a look inside?”
“Yes, very much so!”
They unlock the front door and walk in. They’d heard that it hadn’t been used in some time so they were prepared for everything to be covered in dust and cobwebs, but…
“Huh, it’s pretty clean in here.”
“It’s almost as if someone lives here.”
Looking around, they find tables, chairs, shelves, and enough other furniture that they should be able to start living there right away. There’s a full kitchen, a living room, a parlour, a restroom and a nice bath --- Flum realizes with growing excitement that it’s a far nicer house than her parents’ house in her home village.
At that moment, she hears a clinking sound coming from the supposedly abandoned second floor.
“Perhaps it’s a small animal of some kind?” Milkit wonders aloud.
The sound’s too loud for it to be a rat or anything like that. Even though the front door was locked, it’s entirely possible that someone broke in through one of the windows.
It might be a burglar, or worse, one of Dane’s goons…
Flum grips Milkit’s trembling hand and slowly starts leading her up the staircase. The second floor is also in excellent state. At the very least, it hasn’t been just abandoned as Reach said.
“There is someone living here…”
There’s no doubt in her mind now.
“You mean they just broke in and set themselves up here?”
“This is the West Quarter, after all. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
They speak in hushed voices. The clinking sounds are coming from beyond the closed door right in front of them.
Hands sweaty, Flum reaches for the doorknob, trembling slightly from the anxiety. She grips it, feeling the chilly metal through her fingertips. Swallowing hard, she twists her wrists and opens the door as silently as she can.
“...This is no good. This is… uwah, it reeks. Did it fail? No, it tastes awful but it works.”
On the other side of the door is a little girl, sitting at a desk mumbling to herself. In front of her is a mortar, pestle, a variety of test tubes and glass pitchers, and all manner of herbs and powders. She’s wearing a strange white bodysuit with a wide-brimmed witch’s hat, and floating around the room is a pair of weird spherical things.
She looks a lot like someone Flum knew very well, and there’s probably only one person in the whole Capital who would dress like that.
“W… what? You’re…”
“Nn? Is someone there?”
Casually, the girl turns around.
Seeing her face there’s no doubt about it.
Sitting there is one of the Hero’s companions, a chosen one from Origin’s prophecy, the person who taught Flum all she knows about medicine --- Eterna Rinebow, “The Eternal Witch.”
Flum has so many questions about why she’s here, what’s going on with the Hero’s party, and a million others that she’s struck speechless.
Eterna looks at her, and---
“Ah. Flum,” she says in a laid-back tone, as if her being there were the most natural thing in the world.
Chapter 15 - My Sweet Home
Flum is frozen in place, her mouth hanging wide open.
Milkit nervously looks at the mysterious trespasser, then looks at her master, then back to the trespasser.
Eterna stands up, walks up to Flum, puts a hand on Flum’s face and guides her there down to her level.
“What is this?”
She’s looking right at Flum’s slave mark. She’s pretty sure Flum didn’t have it before.
“It’s strange that you’re here when you’re supposed to be back home, but this is even stranger. What is this?”
She sounds distinctly irritated as she glares at the mark. Even though Flum knows that the icy stare isn’t aimed at her, her stomach tightens. She was planning on asking Eterna what she’s doing there, but the words die on her lips.
“Who did this? What happened?”
“I thought you… err, everyone except you knew about this?”
“About, y’know, Jean selling me for being so useless… about my becoming a slave.”
Eterna is silent for a long moment, then slumps her shoulders, letting out a vexed sigh.
“That pointlessly prideful, puny, pathetic little cherry boy sage…!”
Rare abuse flows from her lips.
Aside from the virginity thing, Flum has a pretty good idea of who she’s talking about.
“Didn’t he tell you?”
“Of course not. If we knew we all would’ve stopped him!”
At Eterna’s words Flum feels a huge weight lift from her shoulders, as if a dark fog in her heart has finally lifted.
She feels so at ease now.
“Gadio was disappointed to hear that you left, and Cyrill was so depressed she couldn’t even fight properly.”
“Even Gadio-san and Cyrill-chan…”
Gadio is one thing, since he looked after her a lot, but she was certain that Cyrill hated her. It doesn’t change the fact that she was and probably still is useless to them, but --- she has a place there after all.
She’s not really moved to hear that --- but a tear nonetheless falls down her face so naturally that she doesn’t even realize it at first. Touching her hand to her face and feeling it, she laughs. Eterna continues.
“I should’ve doubted Jean. It must’ve been hard, being a slave.”
Her typically carefree expression clouds over into an apologetic one. In response, Flum grabs Milkit’s hand and pulls her into the room to her side.
“It was thanks to that I got to meet Milkit, so it’s not like it’s all bad.”
Milkit lets out a deep inwards sigh of relief.
She was certain that they were only together because neither of them had anywhere else to go. For a moment she was afraid that Flum would abandon her now that she can to return to the Hero’s Party, but instead she was just made to realize all over again just what kind of person her master is.
She really won’t ever abandon me.
Milkit can feel that little seed of confidence take root in her heart.
“That girl’s face… mustaad poison?”
“You can tell even through the bandages?”
“It’s very distinct. Who would be that cruel?”
“Ah, that’s right! I’d like you to do me a little favor.”
“Whatever you need.”
“Alright, just lemme grab a few things! I’ll be right back!”
Flum rushes back down to the first floor where she’d left her bag, leaving Milkit alone with Eterna.
Milkit jumps slightly at Eterna’s sudden comment.
“...Eh? Ah, yes, I couldn’t wish for a better master.”
“Nn. I wish I could go punch Jean right now for selling a good little girl like her into slavery, but I don’t know where he is. I can’t just charge into his room in the Palace right now, either.”
Milkit feels oddly happy at the irritation in Eterna’s voice.
Even the other Chosen understand how amazing Master is...
“She has the strange power to attract people. Jean's probably jealous. He’s too much of a ‘genius’ for charisma.”
“Is he the person who made Master a slave?”
“Nn. He’s weak, a virgin, and a real pain in the butt.”
She must really hate Jean to still be insulting him like this.
“But if you stick with Flum, you can’t go wrong.”
“That’s exactly what I was planning on doing --- until she abandons me, that is.”
“Then I hope you’re ready to follow her for life.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“Nn. No mistake, she’s---”
Eterna is interrupted by the sound of Flum running up the stairs. She makes no move to finish her sentence as Flum reenters the room.
Flum holds two bundles of herbs out to Eterna.
“The reagents for the mustaad poison antidote?”
“Master, when did you…!?”
“I found them in that cave with the chiaraly. They’re not all that rare, so I looked for them while I was at it.”
The only real problem was finding an apothecary to make the antidote itself. Reach apparently managed to find someone who was willing to help him through some underground connections, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask him to do the same for her.
Fortunately, a skilled apothecary just happened to fall into her lap.
“Okay. Give me three hours.”
“Is that really all you need?”
“Nn. It’s me we’re talking about.”
She responds firmly, giving Flum no choice but to nod and accept her words. She’s about to leave the room so that Eterna can concentrate when she suddenly remembers an important question she has.
“By the way, Eterna-san, what’re you doing here? How’s the Journey going?”
“It was boring after you left, so I left too.”
“Eh… You just walked out!?”
“You left, so there’s no reason I couldn’t. Then I found this place and it turned out to be pretty nice, so I borrowed it.”
Flum responds with a somewhat strained laugh. Even Eterna should know better than to just take over a random house.
“You’re aware that’s technically trespassing, right?”
“I’m working for my rent right now.”
“So you knew, after all…”
“Nn. It’s a nice place. If you really want I can leave.”
“No, don’t worry about it. I own this place now, so you can use this room however you want.”
“I owe you one.”
“By the way, I have a question.”
“If you’re curious about anything, feel free to ask.”
There’s no way she’s not curious about anything. Eterna was certainly surprised to see the slave mark, but there’s one more mark that she can’t just ignore.
“That mark on your hand. Epic-tier equipment? Come to think of it, it doesn’t make sense that you got a house when you can’t even fight.”
“Ahh, that… It turns out that Reversal turns the status-down effect on cursed equipment into a status-up effect.”
Her eyes widen in shock for a moment, then she strokes her chin.
“Didn’t see that coming.”
“Neither did I, really, but thanks to that I’m strong enough to make it as an adventurer! Isn’t that amazing?”
Flum talks with enthusiasm in her voice, but Eterna isn’t so sure it’s a good thing. It may be one of the few ways for a slave to earn money, but it also means putting herself in danger every day. It’s hardly a respectable line of work.
“I can give you a hand if you need it. If you’re ever stuck just let me know.”
---If it comes to it, she can protect Flum. She’s strong enough to do that, at least.
“Thanks. If I’m ever in trouble I’ll make sure to come straight to you.”
Their conversation finished, this time both Flum and Milkit leave the room and head downstairs.
After waiting a moment to ensure that she’s alone on the second floor, Eterna mutters to herself.
“Protect… be protected… I was protected back then. No matter what… I won’t forget.”
She stares blankly at the old wooden desk in front of her for a moment, then lets out a deep sigh and gets to work on the antidote.
Flum and Milkit start unpacking all they’ll need to start living there. Thanks to Eterna all the cleaning has already been handled, but whether or not they should actually thank her or not as an illegal trespasser is another matter entirely. Between not having to clean and the fact that they don’t have a lot of luggage, they end up finishing quickly and painlessly.
They sit facing each other at the dining room table. There are a total of four chairs there, enough for the three of them and Sara if she comes to visit, but they should probably get a few more just in case they have other guests.
“I can’t believe that you own this entire house now, Master.”
Milkit looks around the room, clearly impressed, but Flum corrects her.
“You mean we own this entire house now.”
“No, I can’t possibly…”
“Yes, you can possibly. Since this is your house too, just tell me if there’s any furniture or anything you want. We’ll have to start budgeting and stuff, but I’ll do what I can.”
They’ve had this same conversation too many times already for Milkit to not know her resistance is futile. No matter what, Flum has every intention of honouring Milkit’s will.
She’s been trying her best to avoid making her opinion known to her master, but if her master insists… changing bit by bit all the while, she’ll just have to accept it.
“We ended up with an unexpected housemate, but it looks like my life as an adventurer’s about to really get started…”
Even if they don’t have to worry about rent, they’ll still need enough money for food and other daily expenses. They’ll be able to get by on the money Reach gave them for the time being, but they can’t count on such convenient requests to fall into their laps all the time. That of course means having to deal with Dane and his thugs while earning enough to get by, but no pressure he can exert on her could beat out the comforting feeling of having a home to return to.
As Flum reaffirms her resolve, Milkit speaks out to her.
“This might be a foolish question, but… will my face really go back to normal?”
Her voice is filled with uncertainty.
“Of course. Normally it’d only take a day, but in your case you’ve been living with it for so long it’ll probably take a full week.”
“Only a week…”
She feels her face through her bandages. At first she was rather depressed about her condition, but she accepted that there was no helping it.
But she was wrong. There is helping it --- and the thought terrifies her.
Milkit wants to be cured, of course, but she doesn’t want to change. If she changes, her surroundings will change with her. She might gain something new, but she might lose something in exchange.
What if I lose Flum?
What if Flum stops caring about me?
She can’t stop thinking about that worst-case scenario.
“By the way, why were you poisoned in the first place?”
Milkit is suddenly brought back to earth by Flum’s question, and after replaying what Flum said in her head she replies.
“I was never told specifically to take it, at the very least. I simply woke up one morning to find my face like this.”
“So it was probably mixed in with your food or something, then… Your former master really was the worst.”
Even though it had nothing to do with her, Flum gets angry. Her anger is for Milkit’s sake alone.
“Was your master back then a man or a woman?”
“She was a she.”
“Ah… I thought so…”
“You thought… so?”
What does gender have to do with poisoning a slave?
Milkit cocks her head to the side in confusion.
“If your master was a man, I can’t really see any point in ruining your face like that. I mean, I’m sure there are some twisted perverts out there who’d do something like that just for kicks, but…”
Flum looks Milkit in the eyes and smiles.
“Whether it’s because of some man’s twisted fetish or some woman’s jealousy, I think they must’ve done it to ruin your beauty.”
“No, that’s completely unthinkable.”
Milkit’s reply is instantaneous.
She’s never been told that she’s pretty before, so that can’t be the reason.
I’m just an ugly, filthy little thing...
“Oh really? Your eyes are really pretty, just like your heart. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say your face'll pretty, too.”
“Please stop saying such things, Master. You’ll only get your hopes up.”
“Haha, no way that’s happening. Wait, don’t tell me that’s why you seem so down? You’re worried I’ll be disillusioned and leave you, is that it?”
“...Yes, it is.”
Milkit responds frankly.
Flum stands up, walking around to behind Milkit’s chair. She doesn’t want to relieve her anxiety, all she wants is for her to face the truth.
Milkit’s naive, too naive. She should know better by now.
Calling out her name, Flum wraps her arms around her from behind.
“Do you really think you mean so little to me?”
Hearing her master’s sweet voice in her ear, Milkit starts to feel something warm and fuzzy wrap itself around her chest.
“You should know better than that. We’ve only been together for a little while, sure, but I thought I’d made that much clear.”
The warmth spreads up Milkit’s neck, through her cheeks and finally tinting her ears.
Though Flum can’t see her cheeks through her bandages, she can clearly see the tips of Milkit’s ears turn bright red. She gives one of them a playfully tug.
Milkit lets out a cute squeal of surprise at the sudden sweet stimulation.
“You’re all red. It looks like you get it after all.”
“I-I know that’s the kind of person you are, Master… That’s why I’m so afraid of losing you…”
“It all comes down to you, Milkit. Maybe nothing I say can change your mind, but I’ll say it anyway.”
She pulls Milkit deeper into her chest, letting her warmth seep into her.
“No matter what, I promise I’ll never, ever leave your side.”
The words seep deep into Milkit’s heart, filling every last nook and cranny. The words of every master before now only froze and scarred it, but now all that pain and torment is melting away, leaving it soft and pliant.
This is weakness.
If she didn’t have it she’d be better off for sure.
But the depths of her heart accept it fully, unconditionally, deepening her emotions, accelerating her feelings, and leaving her only wanting more.
Recently she’s noticed that her body has been moving a lot more on its own in response to strange impulses that defy all reason.
Without even realizing it herself, Milkit has opened her hand wide and brought it to rest over Flum’s own hands.
This must be one of those impulses.
Eterna finishes the antidote in two hours, even sooner than they expected.
Milkit starts taking it from that day forward, drinking it without complaining even once about its truly foul taste and smell.
Every day Eterna takes off her bandages to check the progress, but every time she checks she does it behind closed doors on the second floor, forbidding Flum from seeing. Flum can always hear their voices, but never clearly enough to make anything out.
“C’mon, let me see, too!” Flum had begged, but she was firmly rejected.
“Why am I the only one left out…?” she mumbles to herself as the days pass, her loneliness only growing. Whenever Eterna checks up on Milkit, Flum waits on the first floor, knees hugged to her chest as she sits on the floor beside a chair.
Whenever Milkit sees her like this, she gives her the same words of encouragement as always.
“I don’t want you to see me halfway cured, I only want you see see me when I’m fully back to normal.”
“Guess it can’t be helped, then!” Flum always returns with a full smile.
She’s surprisingly easy to handle.
It’s not like Flum just sits there twiddling her thumbs for a whole week, though.
She goes out shopping with Milkit a few times to gather all the furniture and everyday goods they need, finally making the house feel more like a home.
On top of that, Flum works at completing F-Rank quests so that she might eventually increase her rank. The receptionist Ila’s attitude and the sneers of Dane’s cronies are no more pleasant than before, but they haven’t made any further moves against her yet. News of their comrades’ deaths in Enchide shouldn’t have made it back to the Capital yet, but they probably expect them to be dead since they still aren’t back yet.
She simply waits for them to make their move, sharpening her fangs as she gathers all the information on them she can. Eventually they’ll clash, and when they do she’ll be ready for them.
She’s so busy that before she realizes it, a full week has passed and the time has finally come to undo Milkit’s bandages with her own two hands.
Flum and Milkit sit on Flum’s bed facing each other. The air is ripe with anticipation.
Eterna, not wanting to get between them, is waiting down on the first floor.
The knot keeping Milkit’s bandages in place has already been undone. All Flum has to do is pull them off.
Flum reaches forward, grabbing the ends of the bandages with quivering fingers.
Milkit clenches her fists and plants them on her thighs, leaving the rest of her body to Flum. Her entire body trembles with nervousness.
Flum takes a deep breath and starts to slowly pull the bandages away. The first thing to appear is her pale, gently flushed skin. Next, her soft pink lips are unveiled. Flum’s heart skips a beat and her hands stop.
“M-Master?” Milkit asks with uncertainty.
What am I thinking!?
Shaking her head clear of impure thoughts, she continues to unravel Milkit’s face.
Her petite nose and blushing cheeks are revealed next. Her face is on the slim side, but imprinted there on her soft cheek is a red slave mark. Flum runs her fingers across it without thinking.
Milkit twitches, unused to feeling another’s warmth there.
“It’s fine… W-We match, don’t we, Master?”
Milkit’s words strike Flum’s heart like an arrow.
She feels like if she’s not careful she could just sit there feeling Milkit’s cheeks for hours, so she forces herself to keep moving while she still can.
It goes without saying that Milkit’s eyes are beautiful, a pristine shade of green only slightly darker than emerald. Flum can see herself reflected in those eyes as they tremble with anticipation and worry.
Finally she reveals even Milkit’s forehead, and the white bandages rustle to the bed between them.
Flum lets out a gasp of astonishment.
How on earth can she think she’s ugly!?
Just looking at her causes emotions to burst from Flum’s chest.
“W-What do you think… Master?”
Milkit looks ready to curl up so small she’ll disappear.
Countless words and phrases flow through Flum’s head, but none of them are fit to describe her.
I really hate not knowing more words… no, maybe even if I knew every word of every language in the world it wouldn’t be enough to describe her beauty properly.
To be honest, there’s a fair chance that her affection for Milkit has distorted her vision somewhat, but Milkit is truly a rare beauty nonetheless.
I think I can understand why her former master was so jealous.
Flum’s silence only makes Milkit feel increasingly uneasy.
This is no time to be searching for words.
Even though she hasn’t found words she’s content with, it’s her duty as Milkit’s master to make her feel at ease.
She puts her right hand on Milkit’s cheek, causing a faint sigh to leave her lips.
She puts her left hand on Milkit’s other cheek, gently caressing the ridges of the slave mark there with her thumb.
Flum looks deep into Milkit’s eyes and announces her conclusion.
“You’re really cute, Milkit.”
The words turn out to be a lot more embarrassing for the both of them than Flum had expected.
Milkit’s face starts turning bright red. She tries to speak, but only a faint moan comes out as she tries to move her lips.
She doesn’t dislike it.
Picking up on that, Flum follows up.
“You’re really, really cute,” she says with a smile that could outshine the sun.
Milkit is finally unable to handle the mounting embarrassment. Before Flum realizes what’s happening, she pulls her face out of Flum’s hands, grabs the bandage off the bed and turns around.
“Eh? Milkit, why’re you…?”
“I can’t do it, I just can’t do it!!”
“Can’t do what?”
“I-I can’t just expose myself to you like this! I’d die of embarrassment!!”
She quickly quickly re-wraps the bandage around her face. By the time she’s turned back her face has been sloppily covered once more, but perhaps because of the hurry she was in the bandages conceal her right eye and half her mouth.
E-Even so, compared to just showing her everything like that…!
Milkit has never felt this way before.
Her heart is beating so hard it hurts, and she can’t bring herself to look Flum in the eye.
Flum, not meaning anything bad by it, puts her hand on Milkit’s shoulder and brings her face closer for a good look.
“Aww, c’mon, you’re so cute…!”
“A-Are you… you’re just teasing me, aren’t you?”
“Of course not! At the very least you’re the cutest girl in the world to me.”
“...Ah, uh…… N-Nobody’s ever told me that before…”
“Then the whole world must be blind, although I guess it’s thanks to such a blind, cruel world I met you. C’mon, lemme see your face again!”
Flum undoes the bandages for a second time, once again exposing Milkit’s real face.
Feeling oddly self-conscious, Milkit’s body temperature starts to rise. She puts her hands to her cheeks to try to cool off, but all she succeeds in doing is warming her hands. She just can’t seem to calm down.
“Um… I-It looks like I really can’t show you my face after all…”
She starts wrapping up her face again.
Flum bursts out laughing.
“I really want to see more… If you’re that cute, isn’t covering your face just a waste?”
“I-It’s not a waste at all… S-So…”
Flum wants to see Milkit’s face, no matter what.
Milkit becomes too flustered to function whenever Flum looks at her face, so there’s no way she can go out in public like that.
There’s only one path left to them.
“W-What if I only take off my bandages when we’re alone together…?”
Milkit puts her right hand to her cheek, feeling it through her bandages.
The sight of Milkit looking at her with upturned eyes, her blushing faintly visible through the edges of her bandages, is enough to cause Flum’s temperature to skyrocket.
“I-I get the feeling that’d be pretty embarrassing in and of itself…”
“Y-You really think so?”
“Well… Personally, I think it’s fine, or actually… I think I’d kinda like that…”
If she just exposed her cuteness to the world, there’s no telling what kind of weirdos would fall for her. At least if she wrapped up her face in bandages before going out Flum won’t have to worry so much.
“I-I guess that means my face belongs to you and you alone, Master… ahh, it is embarrassing, isn’t it…”
Milkit mutters the words on a whim, but it’s enough to cause Flum’s vision to swim before her eyes.
What raw destructive power.
“Well, I am your personal slave, so it’s only natural!” Milkit says, as if to better come to terms with it herself.
Flum can’t hold herself back any longer. She grabs Milkit, pulling their bodies together impulsively, reason unable to hold her true feelings at bay any longer.
Milkit blinks several times in shock, but awakening to the warmth of Flum’s body she gives in and wraps her arms around Flum’s back.
Flum didn’t plan ahead this far, so she has no idea what they should do now.
“...I’ll say it again, I’ll be forever in your care.”
“As will I, Master, until the end of time.”
Having said all there is to say, they remain there in each other’s arms.
As an aside, when they finally returned down to the first floor---
“You sure took your time.”
---Eterna gives them a slightly fed-up look.
Side Story - Everyday Life For Three
Our life repeats like a refrain.
Every time I lay eyes on Milkit’s bandaged face I can’t help but remember how pretty she is underneath.
“She really is cute…” I whisper to myself.
I’m sitting in the living room, resting my chin in my hand as I sit at the table there.
Even though I only mumbled the words, there’s no way that Eterna-san didn’t hear me from where she sits just across the table from me.
Someone’s watching me, but that someone isn’t saying anything. I quickly cast a look at her, but she averts her gaze just as quickly.
I quickly return to my thoughts.
Ever since last night I just haven’t been able to sit still. Milkit told me she’d show me her face again when we’re alone together, which means I’ll be able to see it again tonight.
I’m really looking forward to it… I think.
The area around my heart feels really hot, and I get the feeling it’s beating a lot faster than it normally does. I guess you could say that means I’m looking forward to it a little bit… though maybe it’s more than that. Whenever I think about taking off those bandages and the feeling of her soft skin on my fingertips I start to get all tingly… t-though not in a weird way, of course.
“Really, it’s just taking off her bandages…”
I mumble to myself again.
I feel someone staring at me again, but she doesn’t say anything.
I’m kinda curious as to why she’s staring at me like this, but somehow I’m getting a bad feeling about starting up a conversation with her right now so I ignore her.
I’m not the only one who’s been a bit weird since then, though. Milkit’s feeling fidgety just like me… I think.
Okay, so maybe I don’t know for sure that she’s feeling the same way I do, but I’m positive she’s been acting strangely since then. I just sorta get the feeling that she’s thinking the same things as I have been.
That means she’s been seeing me in that way too, right?
I can’t think of any other reason why.
Wait a second --- what if it’s because she’s started hating me since then?
No, that’s impossible.
It’s certainly not that.
I don’t have a real reason for being so sure, I just am.
“If anything, it feels like we’ve gotten even closer since then…”
I talk to myself for the third time.
Splash, the sound of overflowing water comes from the bathroom.
I react conspicuously.
This time I can clearly tell that Eterna-san’s smirking at me.
“I-I wasn’t thinking of anything strange, honest!” I manage to avoid saying at the last moment.
The sounds coming from the bathroom are because of Milkit, in the middle of taking one of Eterna-san’s wonderful baths. Thanks to her Water magic we’ve been able to take as many baths as we like without having to go through the pain of drawing water from a well, unlike probably everywhere else in the West Quarter.
This house is really something for having a full bath in it, though. It might be a little old, but there are a ton of rooms and it’s really spacious. It must’ve been built for someone pretty rich, despite being in the West Quarter.
“Leave it to Reach to think of the rich… Fufu.”
I mutter a lame pun to myself without thinking.
I bet Eterna-san’s going to stare at me and start smirking again for saying something so stupid---
“---You’re not even looking at me this time!?”
“You’ve been making fun of me this whole time, haven’t you!?”
“I’m just a perfectly humble top-class master mage. I wouldn’t do that. You’re overthinking things.”
“You were even saying ‘Jiii…’ the whole time!”
Honestly, I don’t know how she can say that with a straight face.
Also, I don’t think people who are actually humble would call themselves humble, let alone that ‘top-class master mage’ bit.
“Fine. If you want attention that badly I’ll play with you.”
Does she think I’m a puppy or something!?
“Why’re you suddenly looking down on me…? And no, I don’t want to play.”
“What were you thinking of when you heard that splash from the bath just now? Milkit naked?”
“Why’d you suddenly jump to that conclusion!?”
“Your face was like a pubescent teenage boy’s before his first date.”
That’s a rather harsh way to put it…
At least call me a girl.
“I’m just a perfectly normal sixteen-year-old girl!”
“Do normal girls get turned on dreaming of taking off other girls’ bandages?”
It’s a critical hit. I grasp my chest in pain.
Her words hit the heart of my worries head-on.
But wait a second, if I just back down here it’d be the same as admitting to being turned on. It’s not that, really! Her bandages were on my mind, sure, but not in that way.
And besides, couldn’t she have used a more maidenly word like ‘troubled’ or ‘flustered’?
“Hold on a second, Eterna-san, ‘turned on’ is the wrong way to put it no matter how you look at it!”
“Hm… What about ‘horny’?”
It got worse.
How’d that happen!?
“That’s not what I meant! I just, how do I put it… I’m thinking about it in a perfectly clean and pure way.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“What don’t you get?”
“Milkit recovered perfectly. You took off her bandages.”
“So why is she still wearing bandages and why does she only take them off for you? You never told me.”
Come to think of it, she’s right.
...Don’t tell me that she was just teasing me because I didn’t explain it properly? Was she just trying to get attention? I suddenly feel very guilty. I mean, she was the one who cured Milkit, so it’s just too rude to leave her out of the loop.
“I’m sorry I forgot to tell you, Eterna-san.”
I bow deeply, apologize, then proceed to explain why.
“Milkit’s just too embarrassed to show her face to anyone except me, that’s all.”
“Nn. I see. She’s spent so much time with the bandages that she doesn’t feel safe without them.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
I left out the part of the story where I practically smothered her with praise so I get the feeling Eterna-san’s explanation isn’t completely accurate, but it’s just close enough to the truth to work.
I hope she’s content with that… but I notice that she’s put her hand to her chin in deep thought.
“So she only shows her face to you, her master.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“You sit together in a room and take off her bandages.”
“Yeah, that sums it up.”
“You sit together in a locked room, take off her bandages and expose her skin.”
“Yeah, but why do you keep repeating yourself?”
“You sit together in a locked room, take off the fabric concealing her supple flesh, and…”
“Isn’t that different from the others!?”
I take it back.
Her mood doesn’t matter. She’s always like this. She was just screwing with me all along!
“Flum, you’re a pervert.”
“How!? Why can’t you seem to get your mind out of the gutter…!? … Okay, so maybe I did find her really cute. Maybe I started to overheat a little, and maybe the mood got a little weird, and maybe I did wonder a bit about why taking off her bandages made it feel like something else entirely, but… But…!”
Maybe taking off her bandages and seeing her bare face when she won’t show it to anyone else isn’t unlike seeing her naked body. But really, it’s absolutely not lewd in any way, shape, or form. We’re just not used to it yet. If we keep on practicing we’ll be able to do it perfectly normally… probably.
In response to my confession, however, Eterna’s face turns grim.
“...If you agree, I can’t tease you anymore.”
“Then how about you don’t tease me in the first place---!!”
I stand up out of my chair, my yell echoing loudly throughout the twilight Capital.
As soon Milkit gets out of the bath, she heads straight to our room. She’s a step ahead of me in getting on my bed, and she casts me a slightly impatient, pleading look as she waits for me to join her.
My heart skips a beat.
Thanks to that conversation I just had with Eterna I’m feeling oddly conscious.
Really, all I’m doing is taking off her bandages. That’s it.
We did it just fine yesterday… I mean, yeah, I got pretty embarrassed near the end, but I probably wasn’t thinking the same things I am now.
This is all Eterna-san’s fault.
She cocks her head to the side inquisitively. She’s unfairly cute in those pajamas. On top of that, she just got out of the bath, so her skin looks a little redder and a lot more charming than usual…
There’s surely not a creature alive that could look at her and walk away unfazed. Even Eterna-san’s heart would start beating out of control if she saw Milkit’s slightly damp hair clinging to her collarbone like this…
Eh? Just me? Impossible, I refuse to believe it.
I might have to admit, though, that it was far easier to call her cute last night without getting strange thoughts… although come to think of it, it’s not like I didn’t have any later on. It must all be because I’m the only one who gets to see her real face.
I guess I’m being a bit, what do they call it… proprietorial?
“Um… Is something wrong?”
“Eh? Uh, no, nothing, nothing at all! Ahaha…”
There’s no point worrying about it any more. I sit on the bed facing Milkit.
Our eyes meet.
Her flawless, infinitely deep eyes seem to peer into the depths of my soul.
“It’s really not fair…”
“Is there something troubling you, Master?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. I was just thinking of how unfairly beautiful your eyes are.”
I wonder if you’d call this an eye fetish?
Fetish… Yeah, maybe not. It sounds a bit off.
I’m helplessly drawn to them nonetheless.
“You have pretty eyes too, Master.”
“C’mon, no need to be polite. My eyes are just as dirty as my heart.”
“I’m not being polite. You really are a lot prettier than I am.”
“No, I’m telling you, you’re prettier.”
“No, you are.”
I grab both her hands and practically shout. Milkit suppresses a laugh.
I guess I was a little too forceful, but it’s the truth. I feel mildly disgusted every time I look in a mirror. The reason why I decided to protect Milkit in the first place had nothing to do with her, after all.
“Just think of this as putting up with another one of your master’s silly requests, okay?”
“I get the feeling that you put up with far more of my foolish requests than I do yours, but… If you say so, Master, I shall.”
Hmm… Somehow it sounds like I’m just being really selfish… Even if it is the truth, there’s no real need to make her admit it like this.
Well, negative thinking may be a bit of a bad habit of mine, but thanks to that the weird mood in the room is gone. I shouldn’t have any problem taking off her bandages now.
“Well then, how about we get started?”
“Of course. I have all my feelings in order, so proceed as you will.”
‘Feelings in order,’ huh… It looks like there’s a lot on Milkit’s mind after all. The feeling of sameness helps me relax even more.
I put my hands behind Milkit’s head and start to work at the knot of her bandages. She has to bring her head closer to mine so I can work, but as a result of that her hot breath tickles my ear.
I accidentally brush the back of her neck with my fingertips and she lets out a soft moan. Determined not to get distracted, I hurriedly finish undoing the knot and start to peel off her bandages.
Even though I know exactly what’s under them this time, I can’t hold back a sigh of amazement at the silky-smooth snow white skin that slowly appears before my eyes.
Slowly spreading across her skin is a red tinge like strawberry jam.
The colour of emotion.
That shade of crimson that tells me we’re feeling the same emotion, even if neither of us know quite what to call it yet. It may take slightly different forms between the two of us, but we’re headed in the same direction. I get the feeling that if we continue to let these emotions deepen and grow, we’ll eventually end up at the same point. That final destination, though, is probably so infinitely far away that we can’t even imagine it --- or something like that, I stopped understanding my own train of thought partway through.
At any rate, we’re on the right track.
No matter what Eterna-san says, we’re really not in that kind of relationship!
--- Having mentally asserted that to noone in particular, I finish unraveling Milkit’s bandages and place my hands on her cheeks, staring deep into her eyes.
“You really are cute.”
“Don’t say that too much today, Master… I’m happy, but I get the feeling I wouldn’t be able to look you in the face afterwards…”
“Fufu, got it. I’ll be more indirect about it.”
“You’re still going to say it, then…”
“Of course. How can I not when you’re this cute?”
Milkit’s cheeks turn bright red all at once. I can feel her rising temperature through my palms, and for a while I focus on getting my fill of her smooth skin.
“A-Are my cheeks… do they really feel that good…?”
“Yeah. They’re the cheeks of an angel.”
Seriously, I feel like I could live off of this sensation alone.
“Um… I know this is rather insolent of me to ask, but…”
“Hm? If you want to do something go ahead and ask. I’m all ears.”
“Okay… In that case, I think… I-I’d like to touch your cheeks, too…”
Her voice is thick with hesitation, but if that’s all she wants she really doesn’t even have to ask.
“My cheeks were just feeling Milkit-deprived, so go on ahead and do whatever you want with them.”
“I-In that case… I’m sorry!!”
Her hands envelop my cheeks completely. They feel a little cold as they suck the heat from my face, but a moment later they’ve reached the same temperature as my skin.
She gently strokes the slave mark on my cheek with blissfully narrowed eyes.
“This is what brought us together…”
Just last night she looked at that same mark and said that we’re the same. I’d thought that she was just trying to hide her embarrassment at the time, but it looks like she put a lot more thought into it than I did.
Even now she’s determined to stay a slave, and determined to have me remain superior to her as her master. If that’s still how it is between us, then the only thing truly connecting us is our slave marks.
“Is touching my cheeks really that fun?” I ask through my smile.
She firmly nods.
“It feels like a part of me that’s been empty for a long time is finally being filled.”
I know exactly how she feels.
It feels like everything we’re doing is for the sole purpose of filling that empty something --- and definitely not in a lewd way, of course. It’s not like I’m denying it just because it’s on my mind, it’s really the truth.
What’s going on between us isn’t something that occurs between family members, between friends, or even between slaves but rather something else entirely, that’s all.
“...Thank you very much.”
Milkit separates her hands from my cheeks. The air feels somewhat cold on my skin now, and maybe just a little bit lonely.
“May I do it again tomorrow?”
Milkit’s question sounds a bit apologetic, but my response is enthusiastic.
“If you want you don’t even have to stop now. Just saying.”
Her face turns a shade redder as she looks down at the bed.
“It feels like my heart will explode if I suddenly go at it for a long time… I’ll just have to go a little at a time.”
Aahh… I have no idea how this girl’s so good at hitting all my weak points like that…
“I really appreciate the offer, Master, but… Hyan!?”
I suddenly lunge forward, pushing her down on the bed and clutching her head into my chest.
“M-Master… I-If you’re going to do something like that please let me know first…”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.”
Just like last night, I moved on emotions alone, but even through the regret I tell myself that I really had no other choice. She’s just so cute that I really can’t hold back --- and so good at pushing my buttons that I can readily accept such a ridiculous excuse.
“Y-Your heart is beating really fast…”
Yeah, well, I’m sure she can hear even better since it’s not like I have an especially meaty chest.
“I was really startled, but… for some reason just feeling your warmth like this is extremely relaxing…”
She wraps her arms around me.
I feel relief from the bottom of my heart.
I was betrayed, abandoned, enslaved --- but I have her.
I can feel that I’m really not alone.
[You forgot me.]
I can practically hear Eterna-san’s voice inside my head, but I ignore it.
For the second day in a row now, we spend a long time in a tender embrace, doing nothing else.
After a while, though, she lets out a cute little yawn, and at my suggestion we separate our bodies and she returns to her own bed.
As I crawl under the covers I can still feel her warmth and smell her unique scent. That alone is sure to bring me sounder sleep and sweeter dreams than any magic ever could.
We continue that exchange every night from then on.
Regardless of how fed-up with it Eterna-san seems already, it fills both out hearts and reminds the other that we exist, and neither of us has any intention of stopping that sweet skinship anytime soon.
Even if that nightly ritual changes it’ll be sometime in the far, far future, when Milkit and I finally find a name to put to our relationship.
I’d like to start by honestly thanking all of you readers who picked up “Omae Gotoki ga Maou ni Kateru to (etc)”.
My name is kiki, and I am the author.
I hope all of you who got an unsettling impression from the cover and insert art, those of you who honestly expected a light and peaceful story about everyday life in the Capital, and those of you who know the story from the web novel all enjoyed yourselves.
Though it draws from the ‘banishment’ sort of genre, I did my best to incorporate elements of fantasy, yuri, horror, and battle as well. I’m aware that the combination of elements is... unusual, so I really have to thank all the WN readers for supporting me this far, not to mention the publisher for reaching out to me as they did. Even as I write this afterword I still can’t believe that it’s actually getting published... I guess you never know what’ll happen in life, huh?
This series may be pretty lengthy in the original Japanese, but really most of that is resolved in the first volume. In fact, the whole “I Was Told That I Wouldn’t Be Able To Defeat The Demon Lord And Kicked Out Of The Hero’s Party” part is resolved in the first chapter… no, first episode, so I guess you could say that the heart of the whole piece is the remaining “I Just Want An Ordinary Life In The Capital” bit.
Yes, the series’ ultimate goal --- Flum and Milkit’s hard struggle… no, the fierce battle… maybe the destruction…? needed to achieve their normal life.
Their slow life has died.
Their opposition isn’t the slimes or goblins or dragons that you get in typical fantasy but rather the ‘that’ they meet in the second half of the volume. It’s really more of a ‘creature’ than a monster, isn’t it? I’m eternally grateful to Kinta-sensei and the publishers who worked so hard to bring such a monstrosity to life through the design and illustrations.
The second volume has ‘this’ and ‘that’ to look forward to. Trust me, things are really only getting started.
...And I’m just realizing now that the afterword is actually a lot harder to write than the novel itself. Looking through the backs of the various other novels I have on-hand, it would seem like I’m not the only one with this problem.
Although come to think of it, there is that old the-author-talks-with-the-characters style of afterword that I could try.
Flum “Hey there! Flum here!”
Milkit “H-Hello. My name is Milkit.”
Author “And I’m the author, ki
It’s going to turn into Hell itself, I can feel it, so for all our sakes I’ll stop it here. It did take up some space, though, so I guess I’ll stop the stupid talk here.
I’d like to extend a warm thank-you to everyone involved with this book.
I know I made a lot of impossible requests, but despite that you, Kinta-sensei, surpassed my imagination about a hundred times over. Every time you sent me a new illustration I literally started dancing. Thank you so much for all you’ve done for me.
I caused a lot of problems for you since I’m totally new to this whole thing, chief editor I-sama, but thank you so much for gracefully helping me and giving me such useful advice.
I’d also like to thank everyone in publishing and printing who helped make the physical version of this book.
Finally, I’d like to extend another warm thank-you to all you readers who have supported me all this time.
I really, really can’t thank you enough.
I hope we meet again on Flum’s adventures someday.
Translator's Notes and References
- Moe speech tics are very hard to translate, so her ‘su’ is left in as-is.
- Sara uses the first-person pronoun ‘ora’ in the original Japanese, a rough masculine pronoun that is the equivalent of ‘ore’ in some rural dialects.
- There’s a slight error here in the original Japanese; despite the illustration showing the slave mark on Milkit’s right cheek the text describes Flum feeling it with her right hand, which of course doesn’t make sense since they’re facing each other.
- The Japanese onomatopoeia for staring.
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