Chapter 29 Forest of Rotting Souls (2)
Evening, four days after entering the forest. While preparing for the camp, I looked towards the sky. Covered by mist like miasma, the setting sun could not be seen but some of its light was passing through.
I expect us to get out of this mist by tomorrow, but there’s a high chance that zombies or ghosts will appear. I wonder if it’s my imagination that those guys were appearing solely for the purpose of hindering our advance.
There were a lot of uncertainties like Feirona’s health and the yet to be seen giant skeleton. I might be getting a bit impatient to get out of this as fast as possible but it would be suicide to travel on horses at night. Even with the elf to guide us, we will still get ambushed.
And even if I don’t hurry we will get out of this mist tomorrow for sure. I can still endure for a few more days. Well, it’s usually at such moments that something unexpected is bound to happen though. Going by my experiences in this world, tomorrow will definitely be a rough day for us.
While thinking such, I once again sighed at the fact that the medal inside my pocket was still silent.
“are you still sulking?”
[I’m not sulking. I was just thinking about something.]
At such a white lie, for a second I hesitated how to answer, but then decided to let it go.
Though it might not accept it, it is definitely sulking that I don’t use it as a weapon. It can be so cute at times. As I gave a slight smile, Ermenhilde sighed disappointedly. Deciding to ignore that, I focused on gathering dry branches for the fire.
“Mururu, how much have you gathered?”
“Only a little.”
As I look towards her who was doing the same thing as me, she had only gathered sticks enough which could be held in one hand.
Maybe due to the dense mist, it couldn’t be helped that most of the dead branches were moist. We were still a bit short. Even after including the ones I gathered, we will still need a bit more. She understands that as well it seems as she went back to looking for dry branches after answering me. She will not say it out loud, but she must be fatigued as well. In a rotting forest like this one, even a beast woman’s senses would go out of order, which is why she must be irritated. Though a human like me wouldn’t understand that.
“I’ll gather the rest so you can go take a rest if you want.”
“I’m fine. This is my job.”
One thing I understood during the journey was that this girl had a strong sense of responsibility and duty. That should be obvious from the fact that she accepted the spirit gods request alone and came to this city by herself.
But because of her absent-minded or rather careless attitude, I ended up getting an impression that she was an airheaded girl.
She’s the type that will finish what she started. Even now, she’s working hard even though she’s tired. It’s pretty amazing for kid, I really think that. Well it’s pretty normal for an adventure though.
But exactly because she treats this ‘ normal quality’ of hers as obvious, it is valuable.
“I wonder what Ms Francesca is making for dinner?”(renji)
“….. As long as I can eat it anything works.”
Though that might sound rude, I ended up agreeing with her.
During our previous journey, I was the one in charge of the. That was because I thought that Ms Francesca, as a noble, wouldn’t know how to cook.
That might have been a one-sided prejudice from my side but it was correct. Yesterday’s meal was prepared by her alongside Aya but……. Well, you can guess the result.
It was a dish that needed actual courage to eat it.
Aya seemed to have practised a lot in this one year. Making an ordinary dish, she came to me with such a triumphant look that I couldn’t decide how to prevent. It was level apart from an year ago. Though I got scolded even when I complimented her for some reason. As expected, it was probably because I ended up telling the others how bad she was back then.
“Well, that’s fun in its own way.”(renji)
“Violence towards ingredients is unforgivable.”
[……. You’d go that far, eh?]
Seriously, I gave a wry smile inside my mind.
Apparently this girl was not just a glutton, she actually had deep feelings for food.
It’s not really bad—— but not something to be complimented for either. Seeing that the reason for such a comment from was our own comrade, I couldn’t decide how to respond to that.
I lose no matter which side I take. Well, I guess I can only wish that Ms Francesca’s cooking skill improved quickly as days pass. Since she likes studying, I think she’ll get better soon enough.
That said, most of our meals during journey will involve just dried meat and crackers. I doubt it is easy to cook different things out of that. Though Me, Feirona or Mururu can arrange for meat by catching wild animals as well. They taste good just by roasting them. It will be great we could make a stew by using that and wild grass.
I started feeling more hungry just by thinking of that. As I rubbed my belly, small rumbling sound came.
“Renji can you…..”
A bit after collecting branches in silence, Mururu spoke up surprisingly.
When I looked towards her to answer, she had accumulated lots of branches in both her hands. Whether it be her or Feirona, I really am no match for them in preparing for camping.
“What is it?”(renji)
“can you cook?”
I looked at her with a blank face due to the sudden question. No well, I guess it’s not sudden considering we were talking about food I guess.
“I’m pretty normal I guess. I can make things eatable at least.”
Well, I don’t think I’m bad at it…….. I have made a lot of stuff and have never received complaints from Souichi or the others.
“Men are pretty much at that level normally. Though Feirona……. Seems like he’d be great at it.”
[That’s true. That elf does look like he’d be good.]
Going by his atmosphere he gives of a feeling that he really can do anything. Is that just because he’s handsome?
After all, the scene of him cooking feels like it could become a painting or something. In that sense, does that make Ms Francesca hopeless beauty?
……… This might sound weird considering I was the one who thought of all this, but that really was a harsh evaluation. I definitely cannot say that in front of Ms Francesca. The first place, she is a noble lady, she probably has never cooked in her life before. I guess it’s amazing that she still could produce something that could actually be eaten. Her future is something to look forward to, yup.
“What about you? Have you ever cooked before?”(renji)
“Does roasting meat count?”
What the hell. This is the first time someone actually said that……. well not really.
In the past, both Aya and Utano-san were the same as well, I remembered. It is truly a misconception that all women can cook. That’s the biggest fantasy here. Well, it makes sense though. You can’t expect someone who has never cooked before to suddenly make something good.
“Next time, maybe you should learn something from Aya or Feirona?”
“I prefer to just eat.”
Instant reply. Unable to answer her back, I could only avert my gaze and continue gathering branches.
It truly is very Mururu-like to say something like that. I’m really worried for this girl’s future.
“What are you planning on doing after completing your requested at the capital?”
“Return back to my forest….. I think.”
“I’m not sure. I want to try other food —–”
The moment she had said till that, she threw all the branches in her hands to the ground and quickly crept close to me.
Her white cloak got soiled but she didn’t seem to mind that and glared towards the place she was standing before. At that the abnormal presence, I also threw away my branches and drew my iron knife.
“There’s something there!!”
Next instant, Mururu slashed the empty space with her claws. With a heavy clanking sound, sparks flew all over the place.
“I don’t know!!”
Depending on just the slight sound of wind cutting, I also jumped backwards. When I did so, the place I was standing before burst up.
As dust clouds rose up, the invisible assailant’s weapon became slightly visible. It can hide itself in magic but not its presence or sound. While keeping on guard for another sound of wind cutting I looked at the place where the mist like miasma was slightly wavering. Probably that’s where the main body of the enemy is. It’s clearly very far away. It could be using something like tentacles to attack as well. It is an attack from out of our reach. It’s clever….. I could conclude that it was not at the same level of ghosts or zombies. And if it can even use magic, it must be a very troublesome monster. But are there really monsters of that level in this forest? Before I could answer myself, once again the sound of wind cutting came. A cold sweat ran down my spine.
Enemies location is not certain, neither is its aim. Panicking at something I couldn’t see I ended up getting a bit late deciding whether I should block or dodge.
[Renji, fallback for now!]
I somehow took that attack with my iron knife but my left hand went numb and I dropped it.
I somehow restrain myself from screaming which I was about to leak due to the insanely heavy attack. Unable to object at Ermenhilde’s advice, I did as it told and took some distance and took cover behind a big tree. On the other hand, Mururu was cutting apart through the invisible enemy’s attack without leaving any opening.
Must be due to her wild instincts, or maybe she was detecting the attacks from the swaying of the dislike miasma. In any case, her skill was incredible.
Without any sense of shame, I called for my comrades with a loud shout.
I bit my lips. Was this monster waiting for us separate? For such a highly intelligent monster to have moved, it must be confident that it could at least take both me and Mururu together.
Instincts like that come to monsters or beast men much easier than to humans like us. That was irritating in itself. I was about to call Mururu but hesitated. Until the others come I have no other choice but to have her face this monster with all her strength. I don’t want to break the concentration unnecessarily.
With those words, a silver long sword appeared in my hands.
Among the seven jade green gems embedded in its handle, two were shining. I don’t know which of the two conditions had been fulfilled but two alone won’t create a very strong weapon. I clicked my tongue in irritation but that won’t change the situation. The weapon to protect me has simply changed from an iron knife to a long sword, that’s all. I once again confirmed the swaying in the mist. From what seems to be the origin of the swaying, a tentacle like, whiplike something was attacking Mururu. It’s movements were incredibly fast. It was impossible for me to follow it with just two of my covenants released. I could only confirm that the mist was swaying.
If it goes on like this, she’ll be in danger. No matter how strong she is, I don’t know how long can she fight against an invisible enemy. She is more suited to a fast paced attacking battle. To stand in one place and take on enemy attacks is not how she fights. She probably is not moving because she would lose the movements of the opponent. If you cannot see the opponent it is better to stand your ground and focus on defence, she must have thought that way.
Should I wait for the others or should I move? Opening and clenching my left hand, I tried to get rid of the numbness.
“We are going to rush it.”
Saying that, I jumped out from the cover of the big tree and rushed towards what I thought of as the origin of the swaying in the shortest distance. Due to my movements which came exactly when it’s attack had been deflected by Mururu, the enemy’s movement stopped for a second. It must have hesitated in deciding which one to attack first between the two.
But that hesitation only lasted a second. His aim was me. Confirming the swaying of the mist, I predicting the place and timing where the attack would come. Silver sword in my hand creaked from the impact, and my body felt like it had gone completely numb for a second. Just how strong is this monster. I screamed inside my head.
But the very next instant, this time Mururu rushed towards it. Unlike me, she closed in incredible speed and slashed with her beautiful sharp claws. The sound of something hard breaking resounded throughout the forest. But—— there was no blood.
Confirming that, both of us took some distance from the monster. The space swayed and twisted and the outlines of the monster became more and more visible. It’s as must have been voided due to Mururu’s attack.
The first thing I saw was that it was white. It was not a pure, beautiful white like Mururu’s, it was more dull, impure—— it was bones. It’s size was equal an adult elephant. Inside four legs, like a spider but body was long and slim like a centipede. It’s head was like an Orc with one horn. And above all that, the most conspicuous thing was the speed at which it moved in scale; so fast that it left after-images—-
My body moved faster than I could warn her.
I blocked the attack, which could even be followed, by pure intuition. The sword I was holding was blown off and my body flew unable to withstand the attack.
Next moment, my body hit the ground and I rolled and then hit the trunk of a tree as a final blow. All of the air was knocked out of my body and my vision blurred due to lack of oxygen. My body limped to the ground powerless but that lasted for only a second. Forcing my body to move again, I stood up while taking support of the tree I hit just now. It might be easier if I just fell asleep right there but I know that if I did, I won’t wake up ever again.
“I can hear you. Don’t shout in my ears……..”
The next moment, a familiar feeling entered my hands. Grabbing it with my both hands, I took the Seigan stance which is often seen in Kendo. (T/N: google seigan to see what it looks like.)
My body stiffened as I heard the sound of its foot moving. Next time, I’ll cut off its damn tail with a counter. Practically speaking, it’s really difficult but I still held the sword with full confidence.
But, no attack came towards me again. Only my own rough breathing resounded in my ears.
How long did I simply stand like that I wonder. Finally, something touched my swordtip. The next moment, I swung my sword overhead and——
“It’s fine now.”
At that voice, my tension depleted. It was a voice I had become used to listening.
That calm voice was definitely hers, and it proved that the battle was over. Realizing that what had touched the sword just now was her finger tip, all tension left my body.
And just like that, I fell back to the ground and took a deepe, deep sigh.
“What happened to that monster?”
“It ran away.”
Even though it was a great chance to finish me off. Perhaps it plans to make sure to kill me easily after I have weakened?
That must be the case. I started feeling a bit depressed. Considering that it knew exactly when to fall back, it must be really used to hunting. Or contrary to its appearance, it’s actually a coward. In either case, it doesn’t change the fact that its very difficult to fight against. Almost invisible, and insanely strong as well. This is cheating really! I cursed in my head.
Suddenly I felt a pain from my right hand. On looking, I had a big, deep cut running from shoulder to the elbow. Taking on that kind of attack, I’m actually lucky that this much is all I had to bear. In the worst case, my whole arm could have been ripped off.
I feel exhausted just to have survived this but I really have to stop this from bleeding too much as well.
“Are you okay?”(mururu)
While looking at my arm, she asked worriedly.
Feeling a bit happy at that, my cheeks slackened involuntarily. Though I got hurt, it’s great that we both survived this ordeal. I felt a bit better thinking like that.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
But we can’t stay here like this. Seeing that the others didn’t come here even after all this time means that something must have happened on that side as well.
As I stood up with the support of the tree again, I started walking towards what I felt was the direction the camp was in……..and then soon stopped again.
“Which way is the camp?”(mururu)
Due to this battle, I’ve completely lost our bearings. Even the tree I had marked as a landmark had been destroyed due to fight. I can’t even tell which way is west and which is east.
Mururu is the same as me so she is also just standing by me.
I shouted in a loud voice but there was no answer.
I’m certain now that something must have happened there as well. It’s not like we went very far to gather the branches anyway. They should have noticed if such a big battle happened.
The only conclusion I can get to is that they must have been attacked as well. But I doubt there would be a more than one monster of that class so nearby each other………or rather, I don’t want to think like that. Let’s try and not imagine the worst scenario directly. If I didn’t do so, we’ll just end up standing here all day.
As time passed, I thought of what to do next. It’d be too dangerous to just recklessly start running around to look for the camp as well. We’ll definitely get lost. But, it’ll be dark very soon. Then it’ll be time for ghosts to rampage. Before that, I really want to meet up back with the others.
“Mururu, can you smell where that monster or Aya is?”
I asked that but she shook her head. I feel that her wolf ears drooped a bit as well.
“Is something the matter?”(renji)
“You seem very less energetic than usual.”
At the same time, I confirmed my wound as well. The cut is pretty deep but it’s not gotten to the bones. The blood vessel seem fine as well so the bleed wasn’t as profuse I had expected. A small piece of luck in misfortune, eh? It hurts so much I could cry but I won’t die at least.
I took help from mururu to rip of my left sleeve and used it to tie my right arm tightly to my side to stop the blood loss. This should hold it back a little. As the pain lessened my thoughts became more arranged as well.
“Cheer up Mururu, we’ll soon meet up with Ms Francesca and others.”
“Un. But will they be okay?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine. Those guys won’t make a blunder like me after all.”
With those 2 there, they should be able to deal with it while protecting Ms Francesca as well.
I am a bit worried but Aya’s there as well. Let’s believe that they’ll be fine. Right our situation is the bigger problem. We’re lost and have no items either. And one’s injured as well. Let alone being a burden, with this kind of wound, normally you’d just abandon me. Well, I doubt Mururu’s actually that cold of a person to do that though.
“With this place as the centre, let’s look around a bit. We shouldn’t be very far away from the camp.”
“Un. We, need to treat your wound as well.”
“There’s that as well but I’m more worried about those guys.”
We are both frontline fighters. Those three are all rear line fighters. This isn’t just at the level of being a called a bad party balance. We have to really meet up fast since I’ll be the next one to get targeted definitely. I have been weakened and there’s really no condition for much of my covenants to get released so I can’t even fight properly.
While thinking of that, I realized that Ermenhilde hadn’t said anything for quite a while now.
“Oi, what happened?”
I struck my pocket with my working left hand.
For some reason, I was apologised to with a heavy sounding voice.
I ended up tilting my head in confusion. Did something strange happen I wonder? I thought but couldn’t come up with anything. Is it just worried about the attack from that monster? But that had nothing to do with Ermenhilde though?
[Even though I kept saying things like I want to be of use to you, this is the end result.]
“No, this isn’t really your fault you know?”
I was the one who was just weak.
In fact, it’s a miracle that we survived after facing something like that. Neither Mururu nor Ermenhilde did anything to get blamed for.
“Don’t worry about it partner. We’ll win next time.”
It’s still depressed. Now how should I cheer up this partner of mine who gets depressed at the weirdest of things? While I was thinking that, I felt my mantle being pulled slightly.
On looking, Mururu was looking up towards me with upturned eyes. Shit, she’s really cute.
“What is it?”(renji)
“Who are you talking to?”
“Now that I think about it, I haven’t let you hear it, c’mon Ermenhilde, greet her.”
[What’s up with that——-no, well, never mind, I guess it’s fine.”
Normally it’d snap at me but I guess she took more mental damage than I thought.
In my opinion, it’s fine as long as I live though. As usual, its really hardheaded.
On looking at the ground, the iron knife I was using before came to my view. It had completely broken. I picked its handle but its pretty much unusable now. I just put the handle back in the sheath. Guess I’ll have to depend on Ermenhilde completely from now on.
[Hm Hm, can you hear me Beastwoman?]
Her small shoulders jumped up in surprise. It looks like she can hear Ermenhilde.
“My name is Ermenhilde. The sword of the Hero and the GodSlaying weapon granted unto Yamada Renji by the Goddess Astrarea.]
“What kind of intro is that. I’m not suitable as a hero.”
How many times do I have to say that, this idiot.
I ended up sighing.
“un, nice to meet you.”(mururu)
But, Mururu’s reaction was simpler than expected. She must have heard about me from either Aya or Ms Francesca already I guess. She must have been explained that back when a great hero like Aya took on this request.
But apparently, Ermenhilde would have preferred if she was a bit more surprised I guess since she doesn’t seem to accept her reaction.
She was surprised when you spoke up first so it’s fine right? Be satisfied with just that.
“With the introductions now complete, let’s join up with Aya and the others as quickly as possible.”
If this goes on, if we get attacked again, Mururu may be fine but I’ll be dead.
Saying that, I began walking while looking for trees that could act as a landmark. I guess it’s a small blessing that terrain became easier to recognise due to the battle. I decided to look around the area with this place as the centre.
I hope we can join up with the others before the sun sets.
Just when I was being optimistic thinking that we could leave this forest by tomorrow, this happens. It’s really heart-breaking but I can’t really give up either.
There’s someone here who’s more than 10 years younger than me. I can’t be the one who gives up before her. Let’s do our best and keep walking. I’ll take this girl to the capital safely. Definitely.