Translator(s): Yomigaeru Editor(s): Yuzuha Proofreader(s): Yomigaeru
Comforting by Petting.
Merhatz Labyrinth, 5th floor. Aiming for the 7th floor where the slimes are, Yuel and I are advancing through the labyrinth all fired up.
And, as we approach the center of the 5th floor–
「Woah, close one!」
I dodge as Yuel cries out.
The monster on the 5th floor, Big Chick. The chicken monster, which is about as tall as the distance from an adult’s waist to their chest, gives us our first tough fight.
There are four of them. At the adventurers’ guild, I heard that a thrust from their large beak can easily pierce flesh, and that their charge is powerful enough that we need to watch out for it.
Right, that charge is troublesome. Maybe because they’re chickens that can’t fly, they’re quick on their feet. Moreover, they don’t just target Yuel who’s right in front of them, they also come plunging towards me, on standby in the rear. It’s a relief that they move in a straight line, but either way I have to choose between taking evasive action or defending. If I don’t, I’ll become a tasty snack for their beaks.
By the way, I don’t even consider attacking. Everyone has their specialty. Fighting is Yuel’s. And with my novice skills, trying to attack would likely just get me counterattacked. I can just evade or endure until Yuel comes to my rescue.
Is it finally my mace’s turn? — I thought about it, but my opponent attacks by putting all its body weight behind its charge. Although a Big Chick’s height is only from my waist to my chest, I’m not quite sure whether or not I’ll be able to parry it. If I manage to stop its body but then I get pecked by its beak, the scene will be hard to look at. Rather, I’ll lose my eyes entirely. Too dangerous.
Even if I try to parry, there’s a feeling like “how exactly do I do that?”. Evading is faster.
Which is to say, I’m running. I’m keeping a tight grip on my mace just in case, but I’m just dodging to the left or right when a Big Chick comes charging. If I keep a careful watch, avoiding their linear charge isn’t so difficult. However, this is my first face-to-face battle with monsters, so I end up getting a little nervous. My excessively fleet-footed chicken opponents have me feeling chicken.
I take evasive action once again, but the Big Chick’s charge slightly grazes me. There isn’t much damage, but I lose my balance and stumble.
Yuel sees that and shrieks.
By the time I regain my posture, Yuel has apparently already defeated the other three. She turns to face the Big Chick that rammed me and runs toward it in a rage. Yuel slices open the Big Chick’s neck, stabs its breast with a knife, then thrusts two knives through its head from both sides.
How thorough. It’s clearly overkill. Besides, the knives look damaged. Yuel-san is a little scary.
Then the Big Chick turns into particles of light and vanishes. However, Yuel doesn’t come over to me. Even though usually she rushes over with a “Master, I did it!” feeling. She’s looking down and not moving.
When I walk over to her instead, a tiny pool of tears appears at her feet. Still hanging her head, Yuel begins to speak.
「I’m so sorry… even though I said… I would protect Master with my life. I… wasn’t able… to protect you.」
Oh yeah, I’m pretty sure she said something like that on the first day. It’ll be troublesome if she really offers me her life or something because she didn’t protect me, though. And besides, I’m not injured.
「No, Yuel has protected me plenty. Even this time, it just barely grazed me.」
「But… but I decided… to protect Master…」
Somehow, it looks like that Big Chick ended up trampling Yuel’s pride. It’s not like Yuel could stop four charging monsters all by herself anyway, though. In Shogi terms, that would be like one piece saving the king from four lances that were aiming at him. Thinking of it that way, Yuel is already plenty excellent for pulling aggro on three of them.
Besides, you could say it’s my fault for rushing into the 5th floor because I wanted Slime Jelly, and for not being able to avoid an attack of that degree. If I end up making Yuel cry any more than this, my guilt is going to balloon out of control.
Ahh, what should I do. Yuel is pressing her head into her hands and crying. It hurts my heart. Really hurts. I want Yuel to smile. She rushes over with a smile, and I pat her head. I cast healing magic, and she gives me a look of reverence. I want our relationship to continue like that the whole time.
And yet, this is Yuel’s own problem. Yuel told me she’d protect me, and she didn’t. I’m sure that’s where the problem lies. But it’s already over. The past can’t be changed. Nothing can be done about it. When you lose self-confidence, the only way to get it back is with your own power, through your own actions. No matter how much I twist my words or pat her head, something tells me this isn’t a problem I can do anything about.
Well, as for whether I’m going to pat her head or not, I’m still going to.
And no skillful words that would clear up Yuel’s heart are coming to mind, so petting her head is about all I can do. I’m bad at comforting people. At best, I can only comfort my own “Shiki Jr.”.
When I call her name, Yuel’s body shivers with a jolt. This condition is serious. My injury is a scratch. I mean, a wound isn’t even forming.
All I can do is pet her, but even if it’s just a little, I wonder if I can clear up her feelings?
I place my hand on Yuel’s head. However, she makes no movement to nuzzle her head against it like she usually does. Is it because she’s discouraged? Maybe she’s thinking something like “I don’t deserve to be petted”. Seems like it. I call and she responds, I pet her head and she smiles, that kind of communication was fun, though.
From the center of her head, I slowly, deliberately run my hand down the gentle lines of her head. From my experience so far, compared to having the surface of her hair gently brushed, Yuel probably prefers being thoroughly stroked, to the point that the heat of my palm is transmitted to her scalp. Somehow I get the impression that the latter gives Yuel a happier expression, and given her age and her circumstances as a slave, she seems starved for the warmth of physical affection.
Holding my left hand on Yuel’s back, I slowly, steadily move my right hand up and down. However, Yuel’s expression is still dark. Does that mean this isn’t enough to bring back her smile?
Continuing to pet her with my right hand, I lift up my left hand. Now that it’s free, I put it on her drooping elf ear. They’re usually pointing straight out perkily. Continuing to observe Yuel’s expression, I search for her pleasure points as I slowly rub my fingers into her soft ears.
A shallow sigh leaks out. It’s here.
I focus on rubbing the spot that made Yuel react with my left hand, and match it by intensifying the strokes with my right hand.
I continue rubbing Yuel’s head to the point that a hint of sweat forms on her brow, then switch my hands so I can firmly massage her right ear.
Yuel flushes slightly, and the sadness visibly fades from her expression. Although it doesn’t seem to be enough to recover that bashful smile of hers.
I temporarily stop petting her head, and this time I massage both of her ears simultaneously. I tightly squeeze the cartilage of her elf ears which are just a bit softer than human ears, gently tickle their inner sides, tenderly wrap them up in order to transmit the heat from my palms, and softly stretch their pointed tips.
I continue rubbing her ears. I keep rubbing, but.
Somehow I get the feeling that Yuel’s expression is different from normal. This is, how do I put it?
Rather than calling it bashful, “melted” would be more accurate.
Not this. This is different. This isn’t the expression I wanted to see on Yuel. I wanted a more, I don’t know, heartwarming smile. Not this syrupy expression that’s overflowing with immorality. That reminds me, this right hand that’s currently rubbing Yuel was used in the toilet yesterday to–
No don’t. Don’t think about it.
That’s it, I get the feeling I’m making a mistake.
I lift both hands to stop for a moment.
Yuel makes a saddened voice and her expression darkens again.
I can tell from a glance. Surely, this expression is “anxiety”.
On the first day, I didn’t lay a hand on Yuel’s body, and told her that I bought her since she could use Dagger Arts. Precisely because of that, Yuel would seek to establish her worth as a slave in battle. And her pride over being useful in battle was just destroyed.
That expression of Yuel’s is surely the very same as a child who’s been abandoned by their parents.
When I removed my hands from her ears, she felt “anxiety”.
That adorable Yuel. She’s making such a heartbroken face.
Just looking at it makes me feel like my chest is tightening.
I can’t do it.
It’s too unpleasant. I can’t stop anymore.
Helplessly, I return my hands to both of Yuel’s ears.
Ohh. She’s a little bashful. It wasn’t a mistake after all? This is the moment where all my effort pays off. Yuel lovingly caresses my hands with her fingers as I rub her ears. It’s back. Yuel’s assertiveness is back. Keep going.
Squatting in front of Yuel, I place both hands on her cheeks while gazing at her expression. I brush the moisture out of the corners of her eyes with my thumbs. I softly trace the skin under her eyes, gently stretching it. I slowly knead her cheeks along the lines of her cheekbones.
The blush on Yuel’s cheeks intensifies, but she wraps her hands over mine. She’s becoming proactive. Which means that her feelings of “I don’t deserve to be petted” have gone away at this point.
I was right. I wasn’t making a mistake.
While my thumbs are vigorously rubbing her cheeks, I don’t let my other fingers remain idle. I hold Yuel’s jawline steady with my pinky and ring fingers, and tickle the interior of her ears with my index and middle fingers.
Yuel trembles with a jolt. As I keep rubbing her cheeks like that–
Suddenly, a shadow appears behind Yuel’s back.
A monster has come.
Well, if we’re spending this much time in the labyrinth, I suppose it’s only natural.
「Yuel, there’s a Big Chick.」
Yuel’s face instantly switches to a tense expression. No, rather than tense, perhaps “angry over being interrupted” would be more accurate.
Drawing her knife, she plunges directly towards the Big Chick’s charge on a collision course. Just before colliding, she nimbly sidesteps the Big Chick like a matador. And as she evades, she swings her knife towards its neck. Spurting blood, the Big Chick topples over as it runs.
Yuel collects its drop and comes close, as if begging for a continuation of earlier. She looks slightly reserved, but mixed in with that expression is a hint of anticipation. I pet her, of course.
Once I pet Yuel, she’s okay. She has recovered. I guess in the end, she’s still a child. All that’s left is to keep this up until there’s not a shred of reservation left on her face.
「It’s about time we head back, Yuel.」
Upon my words, Yuel makes a bashful smile and gives me an enthusiastic response.
We return to the city and buy equipment.
Yuel told me that she wants throwing knives. According to Yuel, if she has a bunch of throwing knives, she may be able to protect me next time.
That reminds me, earlier I’m pretty sure she defeated a Goblin with a knife throw. Is it a benefit of her skill? There was quite a lot of power to it. Besides, if she can protect me the next time we face off against 4 Big Chicks again, perhaps she’ll gain some confidence as well. That should lead to her smiling face. If having throwing knives means she’ll be able to do that, then how can I not buy them?
Fortunately, thanks to my dual sources of income from adventuring and healing, there’s enough in my wallet to spare.
For Yuel, I buy four knives for throwing, and two that are slightly longer than the ones she currently has, and supposedly made by the disciple of a highly practical master craftsman. I end up coming back practically penniless, but with this, Yuel will be fine even if multiple enemies show up.
The day that Yuel becomes a knife artillery may not be far off.