After that, Roa’s group ate their meal at one of the tables laid in the grass near the rest stop. Roa and Nostalgia’s members sat at one table, the coachmen at the one next to it.
Someone had to stay near the carts to keep watch, so the coachmen took their meal in turns.
“We won’t be able to eat warm food for a while after we leave, so eat up!!”
Dietrich continued piling food on Roa’s plate. To save time, this rest stop served food on large plates placed on the center of the table: guests would then take what they wanted to eat freely. Drinks would also be served in large jugs or teapots.
At first Roa just picked a little bit of everything, out of restraint, but Dietrich noticed and started putting the most delicious bits of food on Roa’s plate, ultimately looking like he was forcing him to eat more.
The leader’s going overboard…
Nostalgia’s members were wary of the situation, but Roa seemed somewhat happy, so they didn’t stop Dietrich. If he really went overboard they would have stopped him, by force if needed, but for now the leader and Roa had created a “balanced” relationship of a spunky kid and his timid cohort.
“Okay, stop! He can’t eat that much. Think about Roa’s pace too!”
Cornelia stopped Dietrich when the food on Roa’s plate had become mountain-like in size.
“And Roa! Don’t just do everything you’re told, if you don’t like something or are troubled you must refuse, even if the other person does it out of kindness! If you use too much restraint this dumb leader will grow an ego!”
“…yes, I’m sorry…”
After thinking about it a lot, Cornelia decided to treat both Roa and Dietrich like children…though her attitude towards Dietrich was the same before too.
The two men sulking together looked just like brothers.
“Anyway, is the Whiteroot Grass far from here? …ah, you can finish eating first.”
“No, it’s very close…just behind that building.”
Roa pointed to a building in a corner of the grassy plain. It was a small hut, apparently the rest stop’s stockroom.
“I guess it won’t take much time to gather the Whiteroot Grass. So, if that’s okay with you, Roa, after the gathering can I check your actual ability?”
The “ability” mentioned here obviously referred to ability in battle. Adventurers wouldn’t be interested in any other kind of abilities.
Roa, who couldn’t find any talents in his seven years of All-Rounder work, didn’t know what to answer, precisely because he knew well how much ability he had.
“I just want to know in case of emergency, no one is forcing you. I have no intention of making you fight in our battles. In case we have to escape, I need to know more or less how you can move…no good?”
“…well…if that’s the reason…”
“Good, thank you.”
Roa gave an uncertain reply and returned to stuffing his mouth with food, more restless than before.
The reason why Cornelia wanted to know Roa’s actual ability was as she explained, but she had another one too. The previous night, Nostalgia’s members had a meeting before the mission: one of the topics that came up during the meeting prompted her request to Roa.
That was “Does Roa really lack the ability to work as an adventurer?”
In Nostalgia’s homeland, after years of education, even a person with extremely poor physical skills would acquire the minimum amount of ability to work as an adventurer. And that was while training in other professions too.
Roa had survived for seven years on actual battlefields as an All-Rounder, so they doubted that he really lacked the necessary ability.
Just by looking at Roa walk, board the cart and other small movements, they could tell that his motor skills weren’t bad. Cornelia found it hard to believe that he wasn’t fit for adventuring in any way.
Well, there is the possibility that he lacks something else, something vital…
Cornelia looked at the nervously eating Roa and, to his side, Dietrich wolfing down food with a carnivore’s appetite, as she was lost in thought.
After the meal, Roa, Cornelia, and Bernhart went to gather the Whiteroot Grass, while the other members went to watch the horses and check the carts.
Whiteroot Grass grew close to small rivers. Its roots had the greatest medicinal properties, so it was harvested from the roots up, but it had to be harvested in a way that it could grow easily in the future too. Because of this, the members with the highest dexterity were assigned to the gathering party.
“Pick up only the bigger ones. Don’t just rip it out, but put one hand inside the mud, unwrap it from the other roots nearby and pick it up. If you just rip it out you’ll take the neighboring roots with it, so be gentle, in order not to damage the other plants’ roots. If there are many big plants clumped together, don’t just take them all, try to leave at least half.”
The group reached the small river and started harvesting as Roa instructed, but as the plants grew on soft mud, they were surprisingly easy to pull out. The cold river also felt pleasant to their bare feet.
Once they filled Roa’s basket, their work would be done. They had an agreement with the manager of the rest stop, so they couldn’t take more than that. It didn’t take much time for the three members to finish their task.
“Okay, let’s have a little sparring match then.”
Cornelia wiped her feet with a cloth, put on her shoes and called to Roa.
His expression stiffened instantly, but she knew it was going to happen, so she continued without paying too much attention to it.
“I’m going to strike a few times, you just need to defend yourself.”
Roa was only equipped with the knife he used for gathering and self-defense.
He didn’t even have a practice wooden sword and Cornelia knew well that he wasn’t skilled enough to do proper sparring, so she just picked up a tree branch and gave it to Roa.
Cornelia also picked up a tree branch and swung it to test it. She had taken off her armor before the meal, so her equipment was lighter now too.
“Okay, here I go.”
Cornelia then swung the branch several times, targeting Roa. They were just practice swings, so they weren’t very fast, and Roa could parry them all with his branch.
Oh? I thought he’d be much worse than that…
Roa’s movements were clearly a beginner’s, but even so, Cornelia’s assessment was not negative.
“Thank you, I know now.”
She thought that if he trained he could become fairly skilled, but it would be pointless to say that now, so she kept the evaluation to herself.
“Can I try too?”
Bernhart spoke of his own will!?
Cornelia was shocked that the always silent Bernhart spoke, but he paid her no mind.
“Can you create fire magic, about as big as a palm?”
Roa did as he was told and created a fireball from his palm. He used it every day for his alchemy work and as a light, so he could do it without problems. If they had talent for magic, even little children could do it: it was an extremely basic spell.
Bernhart looked at it and tilted his head.
Roa watched Bernhart go, wondering what his motive could be.
Roa’s group then left the rest stop and proceeded on the latter half of their journey, eventually reaching the outer edges of the Aldon forest.
The Aldon forest was home to magic beasts. In the center of the forest there were pools of magic essence or exit points of underground veins of magic power. Thanks to the magic essence released by such spots, plants grew in an unnatural manner, also giving birth to flora species unique to places where magic essence was abundant.
It was an ideal environment for magic beasts, where great numbers of them dwelt. The quantity of overflowing magic essence influenced the flora and strength of the magic beasts, so such locations were ranked and managed as to only let adventurers with sufficient rank inside.
The Aldon forest was ranked by the Adventurers’ guild as a rank B forest. It was the most dangerous forest rank B adventurers could access however: it was also said that it would soon be changed to rank A.
The Aldon forest was located next to the Norfar valley, where the magic essence from the forest flowed to. Because of this, despite lacking any sources of magic essence, magic beasts roamed the valley too.
Magic beast forests were ideal habitats for magic beasts, so they rarely appeared anywhere else. Thanks to the presence of such forests, damage and casualties caused by magic beasts could be kept to a minimum.
Furthermore, the flora grown in magic beast forests, because of the unique environment, had very high medicinal capabilities: many of them could be used to make potions impossible to replicate with normal plants, so despite how dangerous such areas were, they were vital for human life.
Roa and the party started setting up camp in the designated area at the edge of the Aldon forest. They would spend the night there and enter the forest the next morning.
The “designated area”, despite the official-sounding name, was just a wide clearing where carts could be stopped and it was easy to keep watch of the surroundings. There were poles to tie horses to and stones forming fireplaces, but it was just a square in the end.
Roa and the party set up two tents: one for Roa and Nostalgia, the other for the coachmen. It was too small for all of them to fit in, but someone always had to be out to keep watch, so there was no problem.
“Hm? I smell something good?”
Cornelia mumbled to herself. She had removed her full body armor to prepare to camp. She couldn’t lie down and get up in her heavy gear, so she removed it whenever she could.
“What? We haven’t started cooking yet. Are you hungry or something?”
“You idiot, I’m not like our leader, you know! Can’t you feel a…kind of sweet scent?”
Kristoff replied to Cornelia’s mumble, and Dietrich then protested for being insulted all of a sudden.
Kristoff concentrated on the surrounding scents and felt a faint sweet scent, just like Cornelia said: something he had never smelled before.
“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s me.”
They looked at Roa and saw that he had a small pouch in his hand.
“This scented pouch keeps magic beasts away. I was thinking of putting some around the camp.”
“Oh, it sure smells good. Very different from Mente.”
Mente was a kind of medicinal herb, a plant with a very strong smell and a main ingredient in monster repellents.
Monsters also hated citrus smells, but the smell Cornelia felt now was completely different than the ones she knew: it was a sweet, spice-like scent.
“I made this myself, I guarantee that it works well. Weak magic beasts will definitely stay away.”
Normal monster repellents managed at most to keep away small, weak magic beasts and magic beasts with a very sharp sense of smell. They couldn’t definitely keep magic beasts away.
Repellents that definitely kept magic beasts away emanated smells that people couldn’t stand either. Roa’s scented pouch was different however.
“That’s a really nice smell though. Couldn’t you make it into a perfume? If it works as monster repellent and smells this nice, I bet you could sell it not only to adventurers, but to nobles too. Honestly, I’d like to have some.”
Roa fretted a little, looking troubled.
“Er, miss Cornelia.”
“What? Aah, this smells really good…”
When Roa replied, Cornelia took the pouch in her hands.
“Ah, Roa, you should call us without titles or anything too. Don’t only make us call you like that, that’s cheating, okay?”
“Eh? O, okay, Cornelia.”
Roa didn’t know why that would be cheating, but he simply did what he was told. Cornelia was savoring the scent of the pouch, almost rubbing against her cheeks.
“So, Cornelia, about that scented pouch…”
“What about it?”
Roa wasn’t sure how to explain.
“Well, magic beasts have territories, right? In a strong magic beast’s territory, weak ones would never get close.”
Cornelia was confused as to why the topic suddenly shifted to magic beast territories. The other Nostalgia members and coachmen, who were listening too, failed to understand in the same way.
“In towns, dogs and cats have their own territories, right? Have you ever seen how they mark their territories?”
Cornelia tilted her head even more.
“They piss on trees or walls, or rub their butts against them.”
One of the coachmen replied instead. Even so, no one managed to understand what Roa was getting at.
“Well, in the party I was in before there were three servant beasts, a gryphon and two magic wolves.”
No one had any idea why Roa was talking about something like that.
“The magic wolves…well, they’re big dogs, pretty much. The gryphon too, it has a bird’s had but most of its body is of a lion’s…a big cat.”
At this point, one of the coachmen realized, then started grinning.
“So, if you have something that expresses a strong magic beast’s territory…other magic beasts will think there’s a strong magic beast nearby and won’t get closer…or so I thought.”
“Ah!! So the monster repellent in that pouch is magic beast piss!!”
The loud comment of realization came from Kristoff.
“No, it’s not!! It’s not!! It’s not piss, it’s liquid that comes out from a certain spot on their butt!! Something used to mark their territory! It’s a totally different thing!!”
Roa denied with all his strength, but since he seemed concerned when Cornelia took the pouch and put it near her nose, it was clear that this “something” did not come from a very clean place.
“I…think I’ll go wash my hands.”
Cornelia quickly let go of the pouch, then dashed off towards the carts, where the party’s water supply was. She wouldn’t falter even when sprayed with magic beast blood when fighting, but things like “that” concerned her, apparently.
Actually, Cornelia and Roa were both unaware that perfumed oils with animal origins already circulated among nobles; even ones like Roa’s scent pouch, which came from preferably unspecified places, were sold at quite high prices.
The quality of the scent won against its source. These scented oils came from normal animals though.
After Cornelia left, the atmosphere was rather awkward. Everyone had wry smiles on their faces, but in front of the apologetic Roa they couldn’t laugh openly as they wanted.
“So, Roa, do you have any more of that monster repellent? More than the wolves, the gryphon’s would be very effective, I think, so if you have any left I’d like some…”
Dietrich tried to change the awkward mood.
“I have some left, yes. I couldn’t take the base liquid with me when I left Crack of Dawn, so I only have some in small bottles, thinned with alcohol. If it’s thinned the smell is only effective for a few days though.”
Roa took out small bottles of monster repellent, thinned with alcohol. It was a very small quantity, left by accident in the bag he brought: he didn’t take it from Crack of Dawn on purpose.
“Do you have to thin it before using it? The stronger the smell, the more effective it is, no?”
It was a normal question to ask: the more effective a monster repellent was, the better. Meeting an unexpected magic beast could very well prove fatal, after all. The smell wasn’t something people would dislike either.
Roa probably expected such a question, because he replied right away.
“If the smell is strong, the opposite effect occurs. What do you think would happen if, inside the territory of a certain beast, the strong smell of another magic beast suddenly appears?”
“….the owner of the original territory, furious, comes to attack the intruder?”
Dietrich imagined two rabid dogs fighting over territory. Roa nodded happily as he obtained the reply he expected.
“That’s right. So it’s better to thin the smell, so it doesn’t travel too far.”
Magic beasts and animals were pretty similar in that regard…
Dietrich nodded, convinced. Just then Cornelia came back, still a bit embarrassed.
The sun was beginning to set.
Crack of Dawn’s cart also reached its destination, a camp close to the entrance of Norfar valley.
In the distant past, a river flowed through Norfar valley, but it was now completely dry. In the past it was used as a stone quarry, so even now it was filled with rocks and boulders.
The camp was the former quarry’s rest stop. It was pretty crude, but in true quarry style it housed buildings made of stone, including huts and horse stables as well. It was strange to call it an outdoor camp even if it had huts, but it was the common name for such locations.
The leader Stefan and Bonne quickly entered the huts to secure a place for themselves.
The coachmen, Serge, Eric, and Olun pulled down the luggage from the carts.
“Tch, they could at least help with the luggage…”
They voiced their frustration with Stefan and Bonne, who went straight to relax.
When Roa was still around, all luggage duties were left to him; they didn’t lift a finger to help him, though it seemed like they had forgotten about it now.
There was no need to pitch tents this time, but that too was a task Roa did by himself: he had even customized the tents to be able to set them up by himself. Thanks to the party’s many magic bags, though, it wasn’t such a tough job.
“We don’t need to light up a fire, do we?”
“Yeah, the magic beasts around here are all stone types, so they don’t fear fire. It would be pointless to light one. Set up the monster repellents instead.”
In the rocky Norfar valley, most magic beasts were of a certain type. Most monsters had adopted rocks or minerals in their carapace, like Rock Lizards for example, and did not fear fire. Lighting one would instead attract their attention.
The targets of their extermination expedition were Silver Golems, creatures created by alchemists which had lost their master and turned feral.
They never feared fire and their bodies were mostly of silver, so fire would not damage them.
Golems created via alchemy were said to be based on slimes: just like slimes, as long as the core inside their body wasn’t destroyed they would continue regenerating, making them quite a difficult opponent. Maybe thanks to their slime origins, though, they were affected by monster repellents like other magic beasts.
“Let’s see here…”
Serge rummaged through the magic bag and took out a small bottle.
“Guess I should spread it in a wide arc…”
He walked off while talking to himself. Serge then dropped a few drops of the bottle’s contents, forming a large circle with the huts in the center. Had he used a Mente & citrus-based repellent, this would be the correct usage.
The label on the bottle, however, read “Monster Repellent – Base Liquid”.
Crack of Dawn’s members were used to the smell, so they didn’t notice, but that was Roa’s special gryphon “liquid” repellent.
They had clearly forgotten about thinning it before using it, as they said before leaving.
The servant beasts glanced towards them as soon as the liquid was scattered, but did nothing more. The gryphon knew the smell, of course, as did the twin wolves: it would not affect them at all, but they were concerned that it was a little too strong, at least for a second.
The beasts then took a spot near the huts and enjoyed the cool feeling of the stones. They were feasting on the rabbits and deer they hunted on the way there.
Serge and the others, noticing the prey, thought they wouldn’t need to give them food for dinner, just as the servant beasts hoped. They did their best to show off their prey, so that they wouldn’t have to see “those” Crispies anymore.
The scent of the monster repellent wafted throughout the surroundings, led by a warm breeze towards the valley.
Deep in the valley, the scent had no way to escape anywhere, nor could it be absorbed by the rocks. It kept flowing towards the depths of the valley…triggering something that no one present expected.