Roa and Nostalgia, who had no way of knowing the gryphon’s evil plan, continued their gathering mission without any trouble. In the evening, they reached a camping spot as planned.
The sky had just started turning red, so there was still a little time until sunset. It was probably thanks to the gryphon’s monster repellent that they managed to proceed so far.
They reached a camp at a clearing near the depths of the Aldon forest. Normally, such a place would be close to the center of the forest, where magic essence concentrated. The magic essence in Aldon forest, however, also flowed into Norfar valley, so the depths of the forest were very close to Norfar valley.
The following day the group would gather materials along another route as they returned towards the exit of the forest. Unlikethe valley, where the entrance was restricted by its structure, the forest could be entered freely from anywhere, as long as there weren’t obstacles.
The party would return to the spot they entered from simply because the horse carts and coachmen were waiting there.
If they encountered any serious trouble, they would forget about the entrance and use the shortest route to leave the forest.
Since there was still time before sunset, the party decided to take a break before making preparations for camping. Roa and Nostalgia’s members were sitting around the clearing.
“….this is bad…”
Kristoff whispered to himself.
Why didn’t he warn Roa in time…?
Praying that things hadn’t turned for the worst yet, he checked the situation.
Roa was sitting on a fallen tree with Dietrich. For both hierarchy and safety reasons, they made sure the employer and leader were close as often as possible. The employer would be given the best spot, with the strongest party member next to them.
Because of that, Roa and Dietrich were often together and had become quite friendly, so they were often close even if no one encouraged them to.
Kristoff peeked at them.
His expression was as cool as possible, as he prepared to deal with the situation. He predicted that this would happen sooner or later, but he thought he still had some time. A prediction was only a prediction, after all. Losing his cool would not improve the situation: that was an undeniable truth.
He continued the observation, as composed as he could.
“So Roa, what kind of girls do you like? You have someone you like, right? You’re a healthy boy too, there’s no way you don’t! Riiight? C’mon, tell me! Whisper it if you have to! Come on!”
“Er….ehm…you’re too close…don’t pressure me smiling like that…”
“I’m not telling you to say her name, come on. Speak up, won’t you?”
Roa is in a pinch…
Dietrich had fully turned into “annoying adult” mode. Being a rather shy person, Dietrich would usually take time before opening up to people: during that time, he acted like a sensible adult, but little by little this facade would peel away: ultimately he would show his true nature, which was very fitting to be called “annoying adult”.
Normally, the facade wouldn’t crumble in just a few days. It took a few weeks at the earliest and even years in some cases. It was normal to always act professionally with business partners, after all.
This time, however…the meeting with Roa possibly had very good affinity from Dietrich’s standpoint. They had become friends at breakneck speed.
Roa looked troubles but was actually enjoying himself and started initiating conversations with Dietrich, which accelerated the process even more.
Rather than a bad adult, Dietrich was starting to look like a drunkard by how he pressured Roa.
Kristoff planned to leave them be as long as Roa seemed to be having fun, but the current topic was not good.
Love was the most taboo topic of all during puberty: Roa seemed genuinely troubled.
It was obvious that Kristoff would find the situation dangerous.
He wasn’t like this before, though…
Kristoff looked at Dietrich with pity in his eyes, but the latter failed to notice and kept talking to Roa. Differently from the other members, Dietrich and Kristoff had a slight age gap between them, but knew each other since school, so it could be said they were childhood friends.
Learning all sorts of things at school, finding out to be capable with the sword or magic, some would delude themselves to be really strong and start acting violent: it happened rather often in their country.
Dietrich and Kristoff weren’t exceptions: they too were young delinquents who engaged in all sorts of tomfoolery.
At the time, Dietrich was the leader of the delinquents: a calm, smart kind of bad guy. They had been caught by the guards, won over real bad guys, beaten to a pulp by then, rinse and repeat. People even said that one day they would become pirates.
One day, however, Dietrich’s mother put them through the wringer in a way too chilling to recall even now, so the whole gang turned over a new leaf. After this change, a kind of silliness impossible to hate was born inside Dietrich.
Until then, he had just acted like a cool and calculating leader: that new character was probably his real one. His personality was now serious yet a little dumb, easily excited and reckless.
The adults said that it was like all poison had gone out of his body.
It was a positive change, so his companions and adults welcomed it, but did not think he wouldn’t change even after turning into an adult.
I guess he was spoiled too much….
At the time, the memories of Dietrich as delinquent were still fresh, so he wasn’t scolded or reprimanded, for fear of retaliation. Dietrich was, without a doubt, the strongest and scariest of his generation.
“Hey!! Can’t you see that you’re putting Roa on the spot!?”
While Kristoff was relishing past memories, Cornelia -who couldn’t bear looking at Dietrich’s rampage anymore -kicked his back and stopped him.
For Kristoff, her presence was really useful.
Dietrich pouted like a puppy scolded for playing around too much. Nothing in that silhouette resembled the old leader of thugs.
“Boss…I know that you’ve taken a liking to Roa, but you overdid it this time. You’re not a kid anymore, so you should n….wait, everyone, get ready for battle!!”
Kristoff started by teasing Dietrich, but his tone quickly turned very serious. At the same time, all of Nostalgia’s members grabbed their weapons.
“They’re still outside my detection field, but I have a really bad feeling about this! Get ready for battle and stand by.”
Kristoff then closed his eyes and focused. Everyone watched over him, with serious looks on their faces.
“…found them. They’re to the right of the boss, coming from the direction of the valley! Three…no, five units. They’re the size of humans and are coming straight this way. They’re really fast! There might be more too!!”
Kristoff related the results of his detection and all Nostalgia members got in position, ready to battle. They didn’t need words: their training let them know instinctively where to stand. Roa too, thanks to instincts developed during his many years as All-Rounder, quickly found a safe place to hide.
After a while, the sounds of the magic beasts’ footsteps and the plants they ran through reached the group’s ears.
“Here they are…I can see them. Wait…what? Rock Lizards? Why here!?”
All members swallowed their breath after hearing Kristoff’s words.
Rock Lizards were lizard magic beasts smaller than humans. They fed on soil and rocks, so they wouldn’t usually be found in a place rich in green like a forest. Despite this, however, they know were, and very close too.
Roa and the group were confused for a moment, but prioritized eliminating this menace rather than pursuing the mystery behind their presence, so they focused on the magic beasts.
They were fully ready to start fighting the very moment the Rock Lizards jumped out of the bushes. This was surely thanks to Kristoff’s detection and Nostalgia’s advanced battle expertise.
Rock Lizards did not usually moved much, but when needed they could show reptile-like quickness. Average adventurers would have been attacked before they even realized they were coming.
“There’s 3 more behind them, they’re 8 in total! Same direction! That’s all for now!”
Dietrich replied to Kristoff and Cornelia started moving. She stepped in front without a word: the first Rock Lizard which jumped out was smacked back by her shield and crashed into the others coming after it. Because of this several lizards were bunched together and they all stopped moving.
Dietrich swiftly approached them and attacked the bunched up Rock Lizards.
One, two, three, four slashes. The mithril blade shone in the dark. With each slash, the head of one rock lizard was separated from its body.
The Rock Lizards’ heads and backs were protected by stone armor: without proper equipment to break through it, adventurers usually aimed at their belly or throat.
Dietrich’s mithril blade was capable of breaking down the Rock Lizards’ armor, but the blade risked to be chipped or dulled, so he aimed at their necks.
The Rock Lizards behind the first group, crawling on the ground trying to overcome the corpses, raised their heads. Dietrich swung again, aiming at the throat they exposed.
“Five, six! The other two went to the right!”
Probably thinking they couldn’t match him, the remaining Rock Lizards cut off to the side.
“Sure, leave them to me.”
Cornelia casually replied and moved to assist Dietrich.
The Rock Lizards noticed and jumped to attack her at the same time, foolishly exposing their belly, not protected by armor like their heads and backs.
Cornelia did not use her shield and easily slashed through both beasts’ stomach with her sword.
“Kristoff, is it over?”
“…yes, at least for now.”
Dietrich was concerned by Kristoff’s vague reply. His expression was stern, his words heavy. He looked completely different from the man who was playing with Roa until moments before.
“I’ve got the nastiest feeling…coming closer from just outside my detection field. I guess the Rock Lizards were on the run from that.”
“They were running away, huh…”
Those words made everyone present understand that the source behind the anomaly was in Norfar valley. In that area, a place where Rock Lizards could run away from was only Norfar valley. A threat that made Rock Lizards flee was now present in the valley.
“Okay! We’re running away too. Let’s go as far away from the valley as possible. Roa! I’m sorry, but in the worst case we might have to walk all throughout the night.”
Dietrich loosened his stern expression and smiled to Roa to make him feel safe.
Kristoff said that the monsters were on the run. He wasn’t sure if it was the complete right answer.
The Rock Lizards were indeed running out of fear of the Silver Golems and the gryphon, but they did not attack Nostalgia and Roa just because of that.
There were many other escape routes through the forest. There was no need to rush to attack potentially hostile presences.
The reason why the Rock Lizards attacked them was the gryphon’s monster repellent.
The Rock Lizards were running away from the gryphon’s presence, its smell, but something emitting the same smell, although fainter, was also on their escape route. They probably panicked, thinking they had no way out, and attacked as a last resort.
This also applied to the golems, which had increased so much to spill out from the valley. If the golems found Roa and the party, emanating the same smell as the gryphon, they would probably attack them, judging them as enemies to eliminate.
Roa and Nostalgia, however, had no way of knowing this.
They could only conclude that they were attacked, by pure chance, as the monsters were running away from Norfar valley. They had no idea why the beasts were clearly hostile and rushed in their direction to attack…
“Cornelia, I leave the rear guard to you. It’s highly likely we’ll be attacked from behind, so I’d like the toughest among us to do it. Bernhart, try to preserve your energy and magic as much as you can. Your magic is our trump card, so the less you have to act, the safer we are. Kristoff, be wary of enemy presence from all sides. I know it isn’t easy, but only you can do it on a wide range.”
Dietrich gave orders and talked to the other members. They knew each other and their respective abilities well. He didn’t have to actually talk for them to know what to do.
Dietrich did so all the same as a sort of ritual, to reaffirm how trust he had in them. He wanted to show his trust and to raise their morale by even a little. A higher morale meant higher survival rate. Dietrich knew it by experience.
Dietrich smiled at Roa. A warm smile one would hardly imagine possible in such a risky situation, enough to make Roa feel safer.
“Do you still have some of that candy? I’m sorry, but things will probably turn sour, so the more you can give us, the better…”
That candy was Roa’s recovery candy, of course. To go as far away as possible quickly, it would be extremely useful.
“Yes! Yes I do!”
Being relied on in a situation where he would only be a burden, Roa couldn’t help but smile broadly.