OmaeGotoki: Volume 1 009 - Finally, We Meet Again

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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…”

“Maria-san, too…?”

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.

Anyhow.

“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?”

“‘Course!”

They suddenly run forward, leap into the air with their hands above their heads, and land face-first onto the bed.

Floomph!

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?”

“Yeah, su.”

“There you have it.”

“Okay…”

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.

“Um… Master?”

“Hm?”

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.

“Ah...”

“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.”

“But…”

“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.

“GUGO…”

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.

BOOOOOMM!!

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.”

“...”

“Oneesan?”

“...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.

“What the…?”

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!?”

“S-Scan!!”

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.


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