— Forest of Beginnings —
In that fresh and lush forest, a party of 4 people were walking as they parted the bushes and branches obstructing their way.
One of them, a girl with bright light blue hair was grinning as she walked at the back. Her hands grasping a staff and her body twirling every few steps.
Elinalise and her usual party: Alfred, Frank, and Ryan. They were walking the Forest of Beginnings in what might be their last time in it.
Frank looked at the happiness of Elinalise and couldn’t help laughing.
“I have been wondering for awhile now but, why are you so happy today, Freyhart?”
Alfred also smiled at this display of hers and spoke.
“You were incredibly impatient yesterday, hurriedly trying to finish your Journey before the time limit because you said you wouldn’t be able to make it in time. But now, I can see you have gained some leeway. Frank cried when you left saying you wouldn’t be able to make it at this rate, you know.”
“Alfred sshh! I mean, I wasn’t crying. It is true that I was sad, but I wasn’t crying!”
“Hehe. Things happened and it has been postponed~. Now, let’s do our best today!”
“Okay okay, but let’s not do anything rash. Yesterday was terrible.”
Frank joked lightly, but Elinalise didn’t laugh and her happy face turned slightly dark.
“Ah I wasn’t blaming you, Freyhart. We should have been more careful ourselves.”
“Frank, just zip it.”
It felt as if cold water was spilled at their mood, but after hunting mana beasts and finishing their requests, the mood soon returned to normal and the three were walking to their next destination as they chattered cheerfully.
They didn’t say it directly, but the party was happy that Elinalise was still here with them.
Ryan, who was at the back, was shouldering his spear as he looks at them with a neutral expression, staying silent which was uncharacteristic of him. Since the time Elinalise meshed with the group, the times he has teased her have decreased as well. Actually, it looked as if he was bored.
‘Aw, Youma hasn’t visited us. Now that he is rank 3, he can’t accompany us either. What was the point of this party now?’, Ryan was pouting and complaining in an inaudible voice, kicking the grass around him.
He suddenly stops and his eyes shift to the back. A sneer appearing in his face.
‘It looks like today won’t be as boring. Hope Youma watches this~.’
This time, his steps grew livelier and he catches up to the group.
I close my eyes and connect my senses with Kiur. Immediately after, a scenery of green flashes through my vision, wind hits my body, and a whole set of new sounds begin to register in my mind.
“Where did all these mana beasts come from?!”
“We are as confused as you!”
“This is pretty bad kitty.”
“Ryan, how can you be so tension-free?!”
In that newly flowing vision, Kiur’s eyes follow the figures of a group of 4 that are desperately running away from an astounding amount of mana beasts. Around 15. Composition of Granite Deers, Jumping Ferrets and even some Shell Spiders. There were also some whose attention was caught on the way, but soon gave up because of the lack of speed, like the Munching Turtles. For some reason, they are all zealously chasing after the party without interfering with each other. Maybe they consider humans as a priority.
(Kiur, what is happening? Why are they being chased?)
(Blue girl got attacked by mana beasts, but suddenly, a big amount of mana beasts were attracted. Looks like that blue girl of yours has been caught in a trap.)
(Are you saying this was no coincidence?)
(A lure was used. It is stuck at the bag of the blue girl. It uses its odor to attract mana beasts. But you need to activate it remotely with mana.)
(You are very informed.)
(Hm, I have seen those before. It is forbidden in my Pride though.)
He sounded like a kid bragging.
(Also, I don’t like this pathetic methods. Their side surpasses the blue girl’s in numbers, and yet, they are using such a tool. As expected of humans.)
Their numbers are greater than Elinalise’s party and they still used a lure like that.
(Kiur, can you get a visual on them?)
(Huh? A visual? Are you telling me to look for them?)
(I’m asking you to look at them. Tell me their configuration.)
When I told him that, the vision shifts to a group that was slightly further from Elinalise’s. Most likely to avoid being caught in that swarm of mana beasts.
2 heavy armor, 2 light, 1 leather, and 1 cloth. About their classes… as I thought, I can’t use [Discern] in conjunction with [Shared Senses]. This is troublesome. I can’t tell their strengths. Since they are in the Forest of Beginnings, they are most likely all below rank 3.
(There are 6 of them, and they all have a disgusting expression fitting of them.)
Indeed, they do have an unsightly expression full of happiness. Every single one of them is sneering in pleasure.
I cut off the link between Kiur momentarily and turn to Ethan who is looking at me with a paler shade than before.
“Elinalise is okay. Kiur has found her and reported to me. For now, I will have him follow her. Don’t worry, if anything really happens, Kiur is quite strong. I can assure you that nothing in that forest is his match.”
“… That’s great. Then, I will be counting on you. Please keep Elinalise safe. I know she is doing her best out there.”
After having Ethan leave, I hurriedly go back to my inn room, close my eyes, and resume surveying the situation.
I can’t have Ethan losing his nerves here. Once everything is over I will apologize, but right now, telling him will only be detrimental.
Also, since I already assured him, I will definitely bring Elinalise back safely.
Why is this happening?!
I’m currently running from a group of mana beasts that have appeared from nowhere.
We didn’t do anything to attract them. We made sure our equipment was not too smelly from the mana beasts we slayed, we didn’t make any excessively loud sounds, and we didn’t roam into any territories. I have explored this forest for weeks and I am sure of that, and yet… and yet!
I couldn’t bring myself to look back. Those wild stomping sounds, that dreadful shaking coming from the ground, the several cries of different mana beasts; they were all chipping away at my breath, as I could feel my heartbeat grow faster and my legs heavier.
“A Granite Deer coming from our right!”
A shout from Alfred signals our attention. Shifting our gaze at the right, I could see those rough legs skipping up and down, quickly closing onto us.
I point my staff at it, but all that came out from my mouth was gasping. And as I saw that mass of stone, I could feel my pupils shrinking, my vision zooming on it, unable to avert my eyes.
“Kitty, snap out of it!”
A spear comes in between me and the Granite Deer that had come surprisingly close to me without noticing.
“If you got the breath to thank, save it for when we are outta here. I will make sure to rack them up!”
I firmly nod and clench my teeth.
I don’t know how far we have run, but I feel like their numbers have increased. Worst of all, our stamina is running out. I can tell from the party’s faces that the energy we have left is going to be gone before we can actually reach the exit.
“Everyone, we will be holding ground here!”, Alfred voices a loud and slightly hoarse command.
“Got that!”, Frank immediately stops and turns.
“Roger that Leader!”, Ryan does so as well.
“Understood…”, but my voice was the only one that lacked the vigor, gasps escaped from my mouth.
“Don’t force yourself Freyhart, you are a mage after all. Stand behind, take your spots!”
All of us prepared our stance, and for the first time, I get a clear view of the mana beasts chasing us.
The moment it came into view, I forgot to breathe, my mind shut down for a second as if trying to escape.
“Freyhart, prepare the best spell you have that has the widest area of effect! We will definitely cover you!”
I decide to just follow the instructions and desperately concentrate in constructing the spell.
As I chant the spell, blue light begins to amass at the tip of my staff that’s pointed directly at the rushing mana beasts.
In the time I was chanting, Granite Deers and a few Teeth Ferrets reached our location, but Alfred, Frank, and Ryan did a great job at holding them back.
“Clear the way!”
When my chant is finished, I notify the party. They quickly step aside and as they did that, the area around the mana beasts was covered in small particles of ice, lowering the temperature drastically.
I shout the name of the spell and activate it. Right after, small pellets are formed and begin to fall down ferociously onto the mana beasts. Cries echoed loudly and the mana beasts fell to their knees on the sheer amount that was buffeting their bodies. Soon, a few collapsed completely while others were severely injured.
As the hail subsided, so did the cries, their energy sapped away.
“It’s not over!”
“Aye aye Leader!”
The three return to their stances and charge towards the mana beasts that survived. Some were injured and there were others that the area was out of their range. Luckily, it didn’t amount to many.
In the past, the party did not have much coordination nor did they move from their position frequently, but now we have clearly increased in experience. I can leave this to them without any worries.
“Freyhart, rest! Take a mana potion. I know it might be costly but chuck the one that recovers you the most!”
When I heard that, my body moved reflexively to follow that instruction.
I drink a High Mana Potion and rest as much as I can without losing sight of what’s happening in my surroundings, providing cover whenever needed.
The last mana beast gave its final cry.
And just as that occurred, the whole party followed the same motion and collapsed to the ground in relieve. I too was the same.
“We… we did it!”
“I don’t know what was up with that, but I definitely don’t want any of it again.”
“Wau, we got them good!”
“Hehehe”, I let out a laugh as I watch the party drenched in sweat. My training in this forest had almost ended, but with the appearance of this many mana beasts, my progress instantly jumped to the point where I was already done by a lot.
This might not have been that bad after all. We were able to get through it and got a good amount of experience out of it.
“Wohohohou, it was actually impressive! I will give you that, Black Cat!”
Amidst our resting, a loud voice resounded through the silenced forest.
The whole party lift their bodies from the ground and turn their heads towards the source of that voice.
There, a man in heavy armor had his arms crossed as he looked down at me with a scowl, his mouth curved downwards and his yellow teeth showed.
I have seen this man before…
Suddenly, the bushes around him rustle, and several more figures appear. 3 more people stood at his side and glared at us.
“I wonder, if you had such impressive magic, why did our comrades have to die?!”
The moment the man said that, my mind was jolted.
Right. He is the one at the guild when I went with Youma and first met this party. He shouted at me about his deceased comrade that I failed to protect.
“Judging from your expression, you remembered huh.”
He stomps the ground and raises his head up high, with his bushy eyebrows furrowed, creating several wrinkles in the middle, he shows me a face filled with anger.
“Answer! Why is it that you failed to protect your party members when you possess such magic?!”
“I…”, my words couldn’t come out.
He should already know that we were ambushed by a Blood Bear… I know that, and yet, I can also tell that’s not a good reason.
I know… that I failed to protect them.
It’s not like I wasn’t strong enough. As he says, I did have the magic. At that time, I could have made an escape possible at the very least.
But I froze.
I couldn’t use a single spell when it counted the most.
At the man that was asking for an explanation, I couldn’t find the words to answer him. I didn’t have the heart to say it.
“Heh, can’t tell us huh. Black Cat, you see the people here? They were all acquaintances of the people you murdered!”
I look at the people around that man.
They were all glaring at me. Those eyes, I could feel they were blaming me.
“Sorry… I’m sorry”, an apology spilled from my mouth.
I couldn’t say anything else. It was actually my fault. Not only was it my luck that killed them, I had the power to save them, yet I didn’t.
Just like he said, I am a murderer!
“Even a scaredy cat like you should understand why we have gathered here right? It is us who attracted those mana beasts, and it is also us who will be bringing you down!”, He stops his words and sweeps his narrowed gaze. “I heard you had gained a party of trusty friends. Looks like it was true. How shameless you are. Changing partners like you change diapers. You can only blame your luck little friends of Black Cat. The moment you chose to follow her, you chose to forsake your luck!”
He plans to involve my party in this?!
“You will face the pain of losing important comrades! Retribution for our fellow comrades!!”
“For our fellow comrades!!”
The group in front of us roared in anger as they raised their weapons. A roar that pierced through the forest and went straight to my heart.
Welp, this is trouble.
Elinalise and her party have been worn out by a bunch of mana beasts and a group of adventurers appeared right after Elinalise’s party defeated them all. Their intentions are obviously not pure.
I am unable to do anything myself; watching via [Shared Senses] like a T.V.
(Oy, your woman is about to be killed by a bunch of disgusting humans. What are you gonna do? I don’t mind slaughtering them all.)
No no, you are itching to slaughter them all. I can feel your hands are opening and closing in anticipation.
(Wait. For now, just continue watching and telling me the progress of the situation in detail.)
(Hah?! Are you stupid?! This is the moment when you have to jump in and get the bad guys! What are you hesitating for?!)
The angry shouts of Kiur echoed loudly in my brain. That hurts.
(Kiur, everything has its ideal moment of action. For now, just follow my instructions. I believe one of these days you will understand.)
(Tch. I will never understand cowardice.)
Kiur quickly retells the events in a super summarized manner.
Since I have [Shared Senses] active, I could see and hear everything that transpired, so I already knew all that he told me though. Really, he is incredibly bad at summarizing. If I only had his summary as a guideline, I would definitely mess up. Actually, his explanation was so bad that I even began questioning if we were actually seeing the same thing, even when I am sharing the same vision as him.
By the time he finished, the group of adventurers that appeared were all shouting about retribution.
I see, so this guy gathered a bunch of people to get his revenge. The remaining two are hiding just in case huh. This guy is actually very cautious, counting the lure and all. I won’t question his real reason, but I really don’t think it is all about simple friendship here.
Being an adventurer means risking your life. They should already understand such a basic thing. And seriously, he doesn’t strike me as the type that leans onto camaraderie.
Whatever the reason may be, this is a problem of Elinalise.
Black Cat is a nickname that is deeply embedded in her self. It is important that she faces this problem and finds some sort of conclusion to it. Being able to deal with this before leaving, in a sense, is a lucky situation.
For now, I will watch and see how she deals with it.
I hope Kiur also does the same and learns something, aside from the ugliness of human beings that he has been seeing all this time.
This is a lie. This… this must be a lie.
I held my head within my hands and curled my body.
“What, finally imitating a cat and rounding up your body in fear? Can’t face reality?!”
My body shook. Every word reached deep inside a wound that I thought had already healed. No, I was just trying to forget it was there.
“When I heard that you were going to be leaving, I was actually worried you know. Since I went through a lot to gather all these people that hated you and even obtained a luring trap . I was so so worried. But when you crossed the entrance of the Adventurer Guild, for the first time, I felt happiness looking at your wretched existence! That’s when I felt: ‘Ah, luck must be on my side!’”
The heavy armored man laughed, all his companions laughed. They laughed so loudly that I felt as if the very laughs were surrounding me.
Yesterday, I tried my best with Alfred’s party to finish the Journey of Comprehension in time, but I was unable to make it and the gap was impossible to close with the other remaining day.
That’s why, when I heard that Youma postponed his departure for one day, I was truly happy. I thought that maybe luck had finally smiled upon me.
Being saved by Youma, teaching him, meeting a great party… these days felt like the world had turned colorful.
Why was I so conceited? Thinking I had obtained such luck when I don’t deserve it.
Right, the party members that believed in me, I injured them all. I had the ability to accomplish the tasks, yet I couldn’t utilize it.
And when it mattered the most, I even caused a party of mine to die.
Now they have come to take revenge on me. No, not only me, they want to drag my precious party, my friends.
It is happening again.
It is all happening again!!
“Stop it already!”
Suddenly, a familiar voice shouted the laughs away.
I lift my head from between my arms and look.
Frank was standing in front of me. I couldn’t see his expression, but his clenched fists were trembling.
“What do you bunch of bullies know about Elinalise anyways?! From what I see, not a single one of you has partied with her. Without even knowing it first hand, do you think you will understand?! It may not have been for long, but in the time I was partied with Elinalise, I learned that she is not the type of person that would abandon her comrades. Actually, even if it’s for a short time, you would instantly be able to tell after partying with her!”
The heated shouts of Frank shot out rapidly without pause. Once he stops, he begins to catch his breath without lowering his head.
Frank… he actually stepped forward for someone like me.
“Yeah, just like Frank said, I can easily tell that you don’t know Elinalise at all.”
This time… Alfred walks to the side of Frank?
“I was curious about those weird rumors after experiencing being in a party with Elinalise, so I asked a few of the adventurers that actually partied with her. And… do you know what they said?”
Alfred stops his words and glances back at me for a moment before turning his head back.
“That it was the worst. They said it was the first time they felt as if the world was against them.”
I knew it.
“BUT! They added that it was also thanks to Elinalise that they were able to get out of that mess! Not only that, instead of leaving after, she actually provided them with potions and healed them! Apologizing over and over! That’s why they couldn’t bring themselves to blame her!”
Eh? Giving them potions and providing treatment is obviously something I should do since I was the cause, and it is a given that I should apologize.
Or more like, is that really what they think?
“Keh!”, The heavy armored man spits as Alfred ends speaking, as if spitting away something disgusting he had just taken in. “As an adventurer that’s working with my life on the line, of course I would avoid something that I know will only bring me bad! And about those adventurers you say, heh! Those brats are all chicks that get blinded by a little bit of kindness. But we are different, we can see the root of the problem! No matter how you try to mend it, you won’t be licking it away! Because you can’t give potions or heal our dead comrades!”
Another adventurer steps forward.
“Yeah! If you want to apologize, you better lower your head when you go meet them!”
“IF sinning cats can go to the same heaven as us that is!”
I… can’t take this anymore.
I place my hand on the ground to stand up, but a hand stops me.
Alfred’s hand. His hand is also clenched tightly, to the point that I see blood coming out from it!
I quickly begin chanting a basic healing spell. I may not be good at healing magic, but if it’s just the basics…
But that hand soon leaves my magic range.
“What? Do you plan on fighting for that cat? That’s some guts you have there. So you are one of the victims that was bewitched by her, just like my friend.”
“What do you even know?!”
Alfred was going to respond, but Frank stepped ahead and shouted before him.
“You are not the only one that lost someone important!”
Alfred tried to stop Frank from continuing, but…
“We also lost Julee here!!”
What did he just say?
Julee…lost? She died?
But I thought they said Julee was visiting a relative at a village in the outskirts of Arnesti and couldn’t join us for a while.
“She died from a Shell Spider when she was running away from a quest we had taken with Freyhart.”
She died… at that time?
“Julee was engaged with Alfred!! They promised to become adventurers together!”
“I told you to STOP!!”
Alfred hit Frank. Hard enough to send him to the ground.
“I… so that’s what really happened.”
Alfred tried reaching out his hand, but I push it back.
I am not worthy of his kindness.
At that time, I finally thought I managed to conquer my bad luck and protect my party. But it was all a lie.
I let the precious fiancee of Alfred die!
“Sorry… Alfred, Frank, Ryan…Julee… I’m sorry”
I get up and walk forward.
“Freyhart, where are you going?”
Frank tries to hold my hand, but I push it away as well.
“Hahaha, so you were comrades. Why didn’t you say so sooner?”
The voice of the man was filled with amusement. Laughter continued to come out.
“Frank, you idiot!”
“I’m sorry. I just couldn’t take it.”
I turn my head.
“It’s not Frank’s fault. Thanks for telling me this. Now I understand well that I am really cursed.”
The tears I thought wouldn’t flow again, I could feel them streaming down my eyes, blurring my vision.
I continue my steps, I head towards the hunters that will most likely put a stop at this cursed monster that is me.
“Elinalise, that’s not what I was trying to say!”
“We don’t blame you for what happened!”
“Pfft hahaha!! You did well comrades!”
When I reached an appropriate distance, I get on my knees and lower my head.
“I know this won’t be enough, but allow me to apologize here.”
“Peh! Try begging.”
The man spitted. It landed straight on my face.
“It may not be enough, but I headed back to where the party was.”
At that time, I returned to see if there were any who could be saved. It was a faint hope, I already knew of it.
All the bodies were in a precarious state, too far from being saved.
Only a few pieces of equipment were left.
I placed my hand in the travelling pouch at my waist. It is a good thing I always bring it with me since then.
“These are the things I could recover.”
A bow, sword, staff, and a few pieces of the equipment I found that were still salvageable.
I couldn’t bring their bodies with me, so I had to burn the remains.
“This is the sword of Heralt.”
“Yes. And the bow of Meilon, staff and gloves of Carol, armguards of Arnold.”
I list out the party whose names I will never be able to forget.
“I can’t believe you actually did that. Did you walk in the Forest of Beginnings alone to get this?”
There’s no way I would be able to bring someone else to do something like this.
It was my responsibility after all.
“… It is really the sword of Heralt.”
The man looked at the sword and his eyes were looking at it lovingly.
“This is great. You guys, take the other things as well. We will be holding a proper burial with these items.”
The other adventurers take the pile of mementos and return to their place.
“… Elinalise, you did a good job. It seems I have misjudged you.”
The moment those words came out, I felt a pain at my shoulder.
My shoulder had been cut, blood was dripping down from it. That stinging pain reflexively made my body fall back on my rear.
I look up in confusion and finally see the reason of it.
A clear and beautiful sword that was a bright silver color, was now coated in red.
The person who had this sword in his hands had a twisted smile on his face.
It didn’t take long to see what had occurred, but understanding it was a different matter.
“W-Why?”, my confusion surpassed my pain and came out as a question.
The man just sneers and caresses the weapon in his hand.
“Man, this really is a good weapon, as expected of a rich boy like him.”
“Hey! What are you trying to pull here?!”
Frank stomped and shouted high and loud in anger. But his face was also agitated and he probably already knew part of the answer.
“Heh, when you get new toys, you normally want to try them right away, right? It’s just that. A test swing.”
“A test swing, you say?!”
“It is okay, this much is nothing.”
I stop Frank from getting even more riled up, and then, I bring my hand to my shoulder and try to cast a healing spell…
But my hand wouldn’t move.
Not only my hand, my whole body felt as if it were stuck in place.
“Even the effect is as good as I heard! Damn, such a good paralyzing effect. Lvl 2 paralysis on a weapon with no level restriction. Isn’t that just crazy?!”
The man claps and lets out a laugh.
His other companions were also letting out gasps of wonder as they check out the equipment in their hands. Their mouths slowly curving into a smile filled with greed.
“You guys want to test your new toys as well right?!”
“Well then, there’s some great testing DUMMIES right there. Better make sure these things are working!”
The moment the man said this, the others take a stance with their weapons.
“Hey Caras, Votz, come out already! You two want to test them out as well, right?!”
The man shouts to a different direction from his party members, as if…there are more.
The situation was slowly being dragged deeper and deeper down.
Despair was settling in, the pain in my shoulder was already secondary compared to the dread I was feeling at this moment.
A while of silence passed.
“Hey! Caras, Votz, get your asses here! There’s no need to hide anymore!”
A second time.
A vein popped from the forehead of the man, and he shouted once again with even more force!
“Get your damn asses here! Or I will beat you up myself!”
The man began shouting repeatedly, over and over in rage……but there was no response.
His breathing had gotten ragged from all the shouting, and confusion began to take over his face.
Not long after that…
The bushes in the direction the man was facing rustled.
“What, so you guys really were there?! Come out quickly already! Don’t expect to get the same share as everyone else anymore!”
Seeing this, the man recovered and took an imposing stance again.
But the one who came out from the bushes was someone no one expected.
“A beast brat?”
“What is a beast kid doing here?”
Several question marks appeared over the head of everyone.
No one recognized that kid, but I did.
I shouted that name in surprise. I could feel my eyes had opened wide.
For some reason, he had an incredibly bitter expression on his face.