Translator(s): Yomigaeru Editor(s): Yomigaeru Proofreader(s): Yuzuha
「Downriver to the highway, is it?」
「Yeah. Taking a detour around the Kobold village and leaving the river would be unwise. I was thinking it’d be better to follow the river until we get onto the highway, to minimize the amount of time we spend in the forest.」
When I propose to go downriver, Yuel quietly closes her eyes and starts to think. My number one reason is that I’m worried about Yuel’s stamina, but even if I say that, I doubt Yuel will take it into consideration. Thinking about that time when she started working at the tavern, Yuel is the type to disregard her physical condition and overexert herself for the sake of her goals. I need to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t overdo it.
Yuel deliberates for a while, then nods gravely.
「…Certainly, a detour could be dangerous. Besides, with that many Kobolds living here, it’s very likely there are multiple nests nearby of the small monsters that serve as their prey. If we were attacked by many of them at once, I might not be able to protect Master… I think there’s a better chance that I would be able to protect Master if we go towards the highway.」
Nests of small monsters. I didn’t consider that possibility. Yuel is really knowledgeable. To the extent that I wonder if she’s had previous experience with survival in the forest. It wouldn’t be strange if she did.
With the discussion settled, Yuel stands a few steps ahead of me and starts to move. All the while restlessly monitoring our surroundings.
We proceed downriver. By following the river, we should be able to reach the highway in less than a day. It’ll diverge somewhat from the route back to town, but this is the shortest distance to get back onto the highway without getting lost.
However, there’s one thing I’m concerned about.
It’s about Yuel, who’s walking a few steps ahead of me. I sense something off about her.
With every slight sound, even the wind rustling through the trees, she has a pronounced nervous reaction. I feel like she’s being overly sensitive. Is it me or is she too worked up?
During the times we explored the labyrinth, Yuel was a little more relaxed.
Vigilance is important, but there’s a long road ahead of us. At this pace, I wonder how long she can endure.
「Yuel, we have a long way to go. If we’re attacked by monsters, so long as I don’t get knocked out or die in one hit, I can recover as much as we need it. And we have these protective bracelets too. So don’t strain yourself too much, okay?」
Yuel speaks hesitantly, but her appearance doesn’t change. Perhaps that means this is the minimum level of vigilance required in this forest. Honestly, it’s not like I would know. Yuel could very well be more knowledgeable than me in that area.
「Yuel, have you had experience with survival in the forest before?」
Those words unexpectedly leave my mouth, and Yuel stops moving.
I immediately regret asking. I might have just stepped on a landmine. I ended up asking Yuel about her past.
Up until now, I’ve tried to touch upon Yuel’s past as little as possible.
Since it concerns the times when her status became that of a slave, I doubt her past is something she would want to talk about.
For example, her parents could have sold her into slavery, or they could have been killed by monsters. Simply by asking her about it, I might have just dug up painful memories for Yuel.
「Yes. Back when I was in the orphanage, I would go to the forest to earn money by picking medicinal herbs or hunting monsters. Since I was apparently abandoned by my parents as soon as I was born.」
And yet Yuel’s response doesn’t show any particular indication that she’s bothered by it.
Orphanage. So Yuel used to live in an orphanage, huh?
It’s just a conjecture, but I’m guessing she was sold to that slave trader by the orphanage. Though I have no idea if it went bankrupt, or if she was raised from the outset in order to be sold.
Well, setting that aside, if she’s always been hunting monsters since her days in the orphanage, she must be familiar with the dangers of the forest. Perhaps I shouldn’t be critiquing her mindset.
I fully understand now that Yuel has detailed knowledge of the forest.
「Yuel, was that orphanage in the city of Merhatz?」
But I did end up hearing a bit about her past. I have a feeling it isn’t something I should ignore.
If that orphanage still existed, and Yuel wished to, there’d be options like providing financial support. She might still feel some emotional attachment to it. Maybe even now she’s thinking that she’d like to go visit it.
Although there’s also the opposite possibility.
「No, it was a bit further away, in a small town known as Crusell. Besides, the orphanage was going bankrupt when I was sold, so it’s not there anymore.」
So it did go bankrupt. Which must mean that Yuel was sold due to financial difficulties. And that’s when she was transported from that town named Crusell or whatever over to Merhatz.
Well, Merhatz is a big city. Business was probably much better over here. And Yuel had combat skills, so the slave merchant might’ve thought she’d fetch a higher price in Merhatz since it’s a labyrinth city.
But then what’s the right thing for me to do at a time like this? There’s not much I can do for Yuel since the orphanage is already gone. Having said that, I’m not that great at comforting people. It’s a bit awkward.
「As for me, just being with Master right now makes me incredibly happy.」
When I remain silent, Yuel says that with a pleasant smile.
…Now I’m the one who’s being comforted instead.
So courageous. So innocent. Lemme pat your head.
Then when I reach over to Yuel–
Yuel abruptly whips around and runs off.
Brandishing a knife.
There must be a monster nearby.
Taking occasional breaks for rest and meals, we continue downriver. Food and drinks aren’t a problem. There’s plenty of food in my item box, as well as the warm water magic tool we found previously in the labyrinth.
Perhaps thanks to Yuel’s vigilance, we haven’t encountered any enemies that she couldn’t defeat, nor any large groups of monsters. Although I didn’t really notice when we were surrounded by knights, monsters attack suddenly and frequently. We can’t ever let our guard down.
But even so, we’ve been able to cover a great distance so far. Seems like a lot of time has passed, as the sky is beginning to lighten.
I only looked at the map for a moment, so I don’t know the exact distance to the highway. But it probably shouldn’t be much further now.
「Yuel, are you alright?」
However, or should I say after all? Yuel is obviously getting exhausted.
Her gait is wobbly, her pace has slowed down, and her head occasionally droops and snaps back up. She seems considerably drowsy. I get the feeling that she hasn’t been holding her knife arm as high either. Staying focused for who knows how many hours, her nerves must be shot.
If I think back on it, Yuel was constantly monitoring our surroundings even when we were with the subjugation unit. Ever since yesterday, she’s constantly been straining herself to remain vigilant for nearly an entire day. Her body may be at the limits of its endurance.
I wonder if we need to take a break.
No, wait, even though we’ve taken a few breaks so far, Yuel has barely rested. Even during meals, she doesn’t let down her guard at all. Just letting more time pass will likely be counterproductive. At this point we may just need to try to make it out of the forest as quickly as possible.
–In the middle of that, Yuel’s ears flicker again and she runs off.
Her attention is on a lone wolf-like monster up ahead. Before it notices her, Yuel twists a knife into its throat. It’s her tried-and-true instakill pattern.
…However, the wound is shallow.
Yuel draws the knife back, but the wolf isn’t dead.
The wolf makes a sharp cry and struggles violently to ward off Yuel. As I thought, Yuel seems exhausted. The usual Yuel would have taken it down in one hit.
Yuel immediately swings the knife down again and finishes off the wolf.
This time for sure, the wolf is no more. And yet, the battle caused quite a commotion. That cry would’ve been audible from quite far away.
Yuel scowls and her eyes dart around rapidly.
「Master, we need to leave immediately. There’s a chance that monsters will be attracted by the noise. Please follow me.」
As I was afraid, the noise of that battle was bad news for us. Yuel’s tone indicates that there’s no time to waste. She immediately starts to run, and I run after her.
Running and stopping, running and stopping, Yuel advances while repeatedly changing our direction in small increments. Most likely she’s avoiding monsters.
Nevertheless, similar wolf monsters as the one earlier sporadically come at us.
Yuel meets the incoming wolves’ throats with her knife while trying her best not to lose any time as we continue on.
「Master, this way!」
Yuel’s expression is stiff, and her voice shows some desperation. She probably doesn’t have much left in her.
Then, suddenly, there’s a rustling sound from the thicket between me and Yuel. From it, a wolf monster’s face pops out. It must have escaped Yuel’s notice. It’s extremely close.
When Yuel hears the sound, she trembles with a start, and instantly turns her gaze to the shadows within the bush.
–And at that instant, I notice something.
When Yuel turns her gaze to the overgrown bush, and sees the face of the wolf monster emerge from the shadows, she makes an expression of relief.
–There’s a strong sense of incongruity.
Then a single doubt arises within me. Even though we’re being attacked by a monster, why is Yuel showing a relieved expression?
I look at Yuel again.
…Have I perhaps made a huge misunderstanding?
Yuel instantly kills the wolf monster and begins to run again. I reflect as I run after her.
Yuel has been more vigilant for monsters than necessity would dictate. This entire time, she’s never dropped her guard.
Why would that be?
Yuel is exhausting all her strength in order to protect me. She’s the type to continue pushing herself past her limits.
I’m sure that’s part of it. And yet, by some chance–
isn’t she just afraid?
Yuel reacted excessively to a noise from the shadows. Then the instant she saw the wolf monster, an expression of relief.
There’s one possibility. Yuel was only afraid of something. If I think of it that way, everything about her behavior thus far falls into place.
What could Yuel possibly be afraid of? Why would Yuel, who’s always been hunting monsters since her days in the orphanage, be this afraid in the forest?
Something comes to mind.
…Come to think of it, at the time that I bought Yuel, didn’t she have a huge injury? As if she was maimed by a monster?
Yuel was transported to Merhatz from another town as a slave. The slave merchant would’ve considered Yuel to be valuable when he bought her, since a slave merchant makes purchases with the intent of turning a profit.
And yet, at the time that I bought Yuel, she was gravely injured. Her eyes and nose were ruined, and she was missing an ear. From the scars, didn’t it look almost as if they were torn off by the claws of a large monster?
It’s hard to imagine that the slave merchant would damage his own property. Actually, the injured Yuel wasn’t selling, and as soon as he found a buyer in me, he left in a hurry as if to escape. With such an unsightly slave, he must’ve been in a real bind.
In which case, Yuel was injured in the time between when she was sold to the slave trader in Crusell and when I bought her.
…She was injured while being transported. Attacked by a monster on the way? And they would’ve been using the highway for transportation.
Yuel and I are going towards the highway now. I may be trying to head for the exact place where Yuel was taken out by a monster.
It’s only a theory. But right now Yuel clearly looks like she’s afraid of something. This theory is starting to feel more realistic.
Near the highway, there’s something that would strike fear into Yuel.
Do we need to keep following the river?
No, Yuel has been on edge ever since we left the city. Even if we had continued upriver, she surely would’ve been just as overly vigilant. Then, with Yuel on the verge of exhaustion, we would’ve been surrounded by a horde of Kobolds or small monsters. Things easily could have ended up that way.
Besides, we should already be close to the highway. There’s no way we can turn back at this point.
「Master, I’m going right!」
Just before we change directions, a wolf jumps out of a thicket again.
Yuel makes that same expression of relief again when she confirms that it’s a wolf. Even though we encountered a monster.
Promptly eliminating it, Yuel maintains our route. I re-think things as I run after her.
What kind of expression was Yuel making when I told her I would be going outside the city?
…I have a feeling I missed it when I was preoccupied with Eris’ chest.
Back when Yuel bought me the bracelet, didn’t her expression darken? I brushed it off as her being gloomy because she had a complex about her own chest or whatever.
A bracelet that can only nullify a single powerful attack and then breaks after a single use. Why did she spend all of her hard-earned money up until now on buying me such an utterly practical magical item?
Now that I think it over, maybe what Yuel has been afraid of this entire time is going outside the city. And yet, despite that she came with me because she wanted to protect me from danger.
Yuel suddenly comes to a halt.
「…Master, I’m terribly sorry. We’ve been surrounded.」
Wolves appear from the thicket. From the front, from the sides, and from behind.
There are five… six… no, more.
Sweat drips down my cheeks. I can no longer tell whether it’s ordinary sweat or a cold sweat.
This is probably too much for Yuel to handle alone in her exhausted state. I wield my mace.
Encircling us, the wolves slowly close the distance between us. However, Yuel acts quickly.
She takes the knives she’s holding in each hand and flings them at the two beasts in front of us. Without confirming whether or not they hit, she produces a new knife from her item box and stabs it into the eye of the wolf to my side. Three down in an instant.
If it’s Yuel, she might be able to defeat them without any injuries. She might just manage it.
The air reverberates. It’s a wolf howling. The one on Yuel’s side just raised a piercing howl.
Then, as if in response to that call, three additional wolves approach from the distance.
Not good. Not good. I understand now why Yuel said that the scariest situation in the forest is getting surrounded by monsters. Even if a lone beast is weak, if you’re surrounded by many of them, you’ll eventually be overwhelmed. Yuel might possibly be able to escape if she was by herself, but I’m here. There’s no mistaking it, at this rate it’s not going to end well.
–But then the wolves stiffen for a moment.
With no hesitation, Yuel takes out three of them. I bring one down too with a mace to the head.
At which point the wolves abruptly turn tail and run off.
What’s going on? Did they run because too many of them were sacrificed?
While I’m in the middle of thinking — Yuel suddenly shudders.
Then she immediately turns to face me.
With a desperate expression.
With all her might, Yuel shoves me away.
I feel myself sliding along the ground. The slightly muddy soil feels disgusting.
「Yuel, what’s wro…ng?」
I pick myself up and turn around. Yuel isn’t there.
In her place, there stands an ogre.
A massive physique, over 2m tall. That ogre just mowed down the place where I had been standing with its giant arm.
Some sort of glittering shards are dancing in midair. What could those be?
I remember that color, that pattern. It’s… Yuel’s bracelet.
My heart leaps into my throat. I look beyond the area mowed down by the giant arm.
There lies the figure of Yuel, having flown a great distance, smashed into a tree.