The wind carried the sound of rustling leaves over the open land.
The plains. Green land that extended as far as the horizon.
Small fluffy clouds drifted across the beautiful, endless blue sky.
…Sure is peaceful, thought Kei ambiguously as he scanned the area with a sweeping gaze from atop Sasuke.
The scenery was gentle and relaxing. Very relaxing.
However, something in his chest felt like it was smoldering with unease.
That feeling coiled around inside him, prickling at his heart.
The calm wind blew once again, but Kei’s heart was still clouded.
Then, in the corner of his vision he saw a small brown figure squirming about in the bushes. “…Found it,” murmured Kei.
Mandel sat on his horse next to Kei, and at Kei’s words his expression showed his amazement, “Again…? You’re too fast.” He smiled dryly. Tied to his saddle was a rabbit already drained of blood.
Kei lightly kicked Sasuke’s flanks and nocked an arrow on his bow.
The rabbit perked its ears up and poked its head out of the brush at the sudden sharp sound, looking around to see what the noise was. Then the arrow stabbed through it.
It let out a short squeak before dying and all of its nearby friends took off at full speed.
“The wind’s blowing, you know… How—”
“Well, at this distance it’s doable.”
Mandel put his hand to his brow and sighed at Kei’s nonchalant report, lamenting his pride.
They rode their horses forward and picked up the rabbit, laying on its back as if its feet were kicking the sky.
“Sorry about that,” Kei said as he pulled the arrow from its torso, causing blood to spurt out. Right away, Mandel pulled out a knife and cut its throat.
As Kei watched the blood gushed out and spilled onto the ground, in his hands he felt the warmth of the tiny creature fade away.
“…This should be good enough.”
Mandel took the rabbit from Kei. “Yeah… We should head back to the village,” he said as he looked over the plains while tying the rabbit to the saddle.
It was now morning. The bandits came to Kei’s mind. Originally, they were supposed to already be gone from the village.
But for some reason—he was rabbit hunting in the plains.
† † †
Last night, when Kei realized that some of the bandits got away he thought about what to say to her as he made his way back to the village leader’s house.
Without knocking, he opened the door and walked into the living room, “Hey, Aileen, I have—“
“Onee-chan, open wide~.”
“Mmm~, this is really good!”
“Careful Jessica, it’s going to spill.”
“Aileen-sama, there is plenty more, so please eat as much as you’d like.”
Bennett wore a warm expression while Jessica sat on Aileen’s lap and fed her dinner and Cynthia stared at the three of them affectionately. They looked like a family, happily sitting around the table—
“Ah, Kei! Welcome back!”
She had bread crumbs stuck to the corner of her mouth, and with her innocent smile Kei was at a loss for words.
“Welcome back. Kei-sama, would you like to eat as well? You probably haven’t eaten yet.”
Urged on by Cynthia, Kei sat down across from Aileen. Next to him, Bennet noticed the sword at his side, but looked away and didn’t say anything. It looked like as long as his granddaughter was there he would rather play the grandfather than the calculating village leader.
…I guess he can’t say anything about it in this situation anyway. For now, I’ll just accept her offer, Kei thought to himself. He realized how tense he was and gave a small sigh.
“Here you go. I hope you like it,” she said as she smiled and indicated at the plates on the table. It was vegetable soup with biscuits and pickled pork that was warmed up by the fire.
“Kei, Cynthia’s soup is amazing!”
It was a simple meal, but it was nutritionally balanced. Its sweet fragrance filled his nose.
Even so, he still had absolutely no appetite.
Kei crammed the food into his mouth without really wanting to and without savoring the flavor. He was moved not by feelings like, ‘it would be rude to not eat,’ but rather, ‘he needed to eat while he could.’
Cynthia quickly cleaned up the dishes and then left to take Jessica over to Cronen’s house. Now the only ones left in the room were Kei, Aileen, and Bennett.
“Village leader, of the goods from the bandits, I’ve been given this sword and the silvers. In exchange, your village can have everything else.”
“Ho… Well now.” Hearing Kei’s offer Bennett looked surprised and then stroked his beard while he murmured, “That’s a good deal…” But rather than happiness, his eyes held suspicion. Why would Kei give me such a deal? Bennett tried to figure out the motive behind it.
“The village has done a lot to help us out. This is the least we can do,” without exaggerating too much Kei lied through his fake smile. ‘The truth, it’s cheap in comparison to our lives,’ sounded worse.
“…You’re too generous.” He nodded, perhaps he was persuaded by Kei’s show of good will.
Aileen interrupted, “Wait a sec Kei, don’t you think only taking the sword and coins is too generous? Stuff like armor would be too bulky, but shouldn’t we take some things like arrows or everyday items?”
He had already secretly taken some of the higher quality arrows during the retrieval, but she was right about the everyday items.
With a troubled expression Kei looked at Bennett, who seemed to be choking down a laugh. “Oh my. This young lady has her head on straight, doesn’t she, Kei-dono?”
“Although I do understand your feelings. How about we just say it’s part of your profits?”
“…Thanks.” Kei lowered his head sincerely. It was only natural to be embarrassed after exclaiming with a cocky look that he would only be taking the sword and money.
Kei’s expression caused Aileen to burst out laughing, and even Bennett smiled sympathetically as he tried to hold back his own laughter.
A peaceful quietness fell over them once the waves of laughter died down.
Aileen rested her chin on the table and muttered, “From here on… what should we do?”
“Actually, about that,” Kei spoke up, as if he’d been waiting for it to come up. “I was thinking that we should go to Urvan.”
“…Wai-, Urvan exists!?” Aileen accidentally yelled, but when she looked at Bennett she quietly gasped and clasped her hands over her mouth.
Other than raising an eyebrow a little, Bennett didn’t show much of a response.
The word exists may come off as slightly strange for the people of this world.
“Village leader. I’m sorry, but would we be able to see the map?”
“Yes, of course.”
Kei took the map that Bennett pulled out and showed it to Aileen. He explained Tahfu, Urvan, Kitene, and other geographical points as well as the map being ten times the scale of the game’s map.
Fixated on the map, Aileen put a finger to her lips thoughtfully. “I see…”
“In my opinion, we should leave early tomorrow morning and head toward Urvan. What do you think, Aileen?”
He’d successfully grabbed her attention.
If he kept pushing her and didn’t tell her the real reason, they might be able to get out of here soon. But, his expectations were betrayed.
“…Sorry, Kei. But the truth is, well,” she looked apologetic, “—I can’t really use any of my strength.”
With that, they concluded they would stay in the village for another day or two.
She wasn’t in pain and her mind had cleared up completely, but perhaps due to the after-effects of the poison, she felt heavy and tired easily since her strength hadn’t returned to her. Thanks to this, they were forced to stay longer.
“If possible, I’d like to rest a little longer. If we went like this, then I’d just be pulling you down, Kei…”
“So that’s how it is…”
In the bedroom, Aileen was lying on the bed with a downcast expression.
They were left alone in the dimly lit room. Kei was unsure of what to do.
Aileen even had to steady herself by using the wall as she weakly shuffled her way from the living room to the bedroom. With one look Kei saw her condition was still serious. Right now, her physical strength was worse than that of a normal person. After a few steps she became uneasy. Jessica might even win out in terms of strength.
Originally, I planned for both of us to ride Sasuke, but if we had to fight someone then it would be problematic if Aileen couldn’t move on her own. She wouldn’t be able to fight or even go and hide somewhere, Kei thought.
Leaving was too much of a risk in her current state.
Of course, it would be better to leave before the bandits counter-attacked the village, but her rest was also necessary.
Leaving tomorrow would be too tough, I suppose. Kei sighed and gathered his thoughts. “—That’s how it is.” He raised his head and smiled brightly. “Well, let’s just see how it is after one or two days. Staying in bed for almost a whole day must have weakened your body. It might even be a side effect of the potions. Just rest up and you’ll be better in no time.”
“Y-yeah.” Aileen blinked in surprise at his suddenly positive attitude. “…Well, I guess you’re right! I’ll rest and get better soon! With that, I’m going to bed, Kei!” She smiled and slid the covers up to her face.
—For now, he’d leave the matter of the bandits aside.
That’s what he decided.
They may get caught up in the attack, but there was no point in worrying Aileen. If she did worry then it may slow her recovery, too.
Therefore, he wouldn’t make her worry. While he justified it with good intentions, he knew that the decision was actually for his own selfish reasons.
…Well she should just focus on getting better. I don’t know what will happen from here on out anyway.
He patted Aileen’s head and then stood up.
“I’ll be heading back to Cronen’s house… Good night.”
“Okay, good night.”
Kei blew out the candle and placed his hand on the door knob before spinning around. He suddenly remembered something.
“Oh yeah, Aileen. I forgot to ask since the old woman came here, but it’s about magic. You have some catalysts, right?”
“Huh…? Before we came here I had plenty to use, at least. But can we really use magic?”
“Let me have them. You can’t use them now anyway, right?” He shrugged and stared at Aileen. “Once you get better you should try it. When you say plenty, how many is that? How many times could you use 『Manifest』?”
“『Manifest』, huh… That uses quite a few… With all the catalysts and my mana, it should be around twice.”
“…I see. Well, I guess that’s how it is.”
In other words, they could use『Track』two times. Including what Kei had, three times.
Though we would be better off preserving the catalysts…
Even if he tried to『Track』the bandits that got away, it was highly unlikely that he would guess which equipment was theirs out of all the items gathered. Aileen’s catalysts were easier to obtain then Kei’s emeralds, but they weren’t something you could find in a small village. It would be better to hold onto them rather than gamble them away.
“Why did you suddenly want to ask about catalysts anyway?” Aileen tilted her head.
Kei gave a half smile and lied, “We haven’t decided on the route, even though we said we were going to Urvan. I was just thinking of things to prepare and it came across my mind.”
“…Oh, okay.” Persuaded, Aileen looked up and yawned before she fell onto her side. “Good night… Kei.”
“…Good night. Aileen.”
Kei closed the door.
Kei made his way back to Cronen’s house.
He briefly greeted everyone before he closed himself off in his small room and began to quietly don his chainmail.
Tonight should be okay, I think… He thought as he tightened a belt over the gambeson and then put on his leather armor.
Kei didn’t know where the two bandits had escaped to, but they would have needed more than just one day to regroup with their main forces and launch a counter-attack. Even if they wasted no time in readying their forces, he couldn’t see them attacking in broad daylight.
The fastest they would come would be tomorrow night. Kei considered any time after that to be dangerous.
At least the villagers have watchmen at night…
The villagers were still on alert for Hound Wolves, whether they were coming or not. The men took shifts to keep watch and keep the fires lit, which also prepared them for an attack.
So even if they come at night, Kei pulled his leather gloves on tight and scowled into the darkness. We should be able to escape while the villagers fight.
If they surrounded the village, the night would be Kei’s ally. He could easily break through with his bow if he used the other villagers as decoys.
It wouldn’t be difficult—
“…Damn it.” Kei shook his head as if it would shake off the gloom. He threw his cloak onto his back and donned his helmet.
He fastened his quiver to his lower back. All he needed to be fully armed was his bow.
With his armor on and bow in hand he slowly sat down on the shabby bed and let out an exasperated sigh.
The wood creaked behind him as he leaned his weight against the wall and closed his eyes.
It was quiet.
Kei sat in the darkness and a thought crossed his mind, I might be worrying over nothing anyway…
His battle at night with the bandits danced across his eyelids, but it already felt like a distant memory.
I wanted them all dead.
He felt the gloves against his palms. He thought he’d killed every one of them with either his bow or his sword. He believed the wounds were unmistakably fatal. The two that escaped were lucky to be breathing at all. Whether they were grievously wounded or on the verge of death—they were certainly in bad shape.
There are beasts in both the plains and the forest; they may not have even made it out…
Those two would have difficult moving about while injured. The scent of their blood could attract a pack of wolves, in which case they would most likely die.
…It’d be nice if nothing happened.
Slowly, Kei’s mind grew hazy. He entered a cycle of nodding off and waking up.
The faint twilight peeked through the window. Before he knew it, morning had come. “…So they didn’t come.” He gave a small sigh of relief.
Even though he felt fatigued, he wasn’t in the mood to take a nap. All he wanted was a breath of fresh air. He forced his sluggish body up and out the door.
Immediately, he ran into Cronen, who had his farming tools in hand. Kei’s dark eyes were dull and he was fully armored.
With an unsure and puzzled expression Cronen asked him, “…It’s pretty early. What’s with your outfit?”
The sky was dimly lit, as the sun had yet to break the horizon. Even so, a farmer must get up early to prepare for work.
Somewhere in his jaded heart he was impressed with Cronen’s hard work as he thought of how to explain himself. In his drowsy state, it felt as if it was someone else’s problem.
“—I thought I would go hunting in the plains or something,” Kei replied, glancing at the bow in his right hand.
“…Isn’t that a lot of armor?”
With a straight face he said, “Yeah. This is normal,” and quickly left.
Kei headed toward the stable where Sasuke was being kept. He led Sasuke away from the hay he was eating and the workhorses that he slept next to, and left the village.
He thought to himself that he may as well grasp the lay of the land while he hunted, and as he came out of the grove of trees, he heard hooves from behind him.
“Hey~, Kei!” Mandel came right after him, riding one of the town work horses. “I heard from Cronen, you’re going hunting?” He looked Kei straight in the eye, who slowed down to ride side by side, and asked, “Mind if I come?”
† † †
After Kei took down some rabbits while they rode around the plains to learn the area, he and Mandel turned back toward the village.
The sound of their horses’ hooves synchronized as they slowly entered the grove.
“Hm…” Mandel let out a groan as he swayed on his horse, holding his unused bow in one hand. “You’re really good… Usually it would take more time to hunt this many rabbits.”
The rabbits lightly bounced against the saddle.
“Is that so?”
“Yeah… Usually, anyway.” Mandel shrugged his shoulders slightly at Kei’s indifferent attitude.
Rabbits were not easy animals to hunt in the plains. To start, it was hard to find them. Even though there were a lot of them, their small bodies made it difficult to spot them in the tall grass.
Even assuming they were spotted, bringing them down with a bow was tough. The rabbits that dwelled in the plains were extremely cowardly, running away the moment they realized something larger than them was approaching.
According to Mandel, traps were used much more often than bows to catch rabbits that lived in the plains.
“With marksmanship like this you’d be popular as a soldier or hunter… Even if you only hunted, you would be able to live easily.”
“You easily could. Kei, this is great… Any time you wanted to, you could support a family with your skills.”
“I see… A family, huh.” Mandel’s words caused Kei to lift his head up. “Do you have a family, Mandel?”
“I have two daughters that I live with. When my wife gave birth to my second daughter, she caught a fever and passed away…”
“Sorry to hear that…” said Kei apologetically.
“No, no, it’s fine. This happened ten years ago,” he waved his hand to show that he didn’t mind. “My mother died from a disease that spread a year before I married. My father was a healthy, active huntsman up until last year, but,” he stroked his beard and quietly stared into the forest, “One day, after he said he’d take a quick look around, he left for the forest and never came back. We couldn’t find a single trace of him, not even a bone… Well, I suppose it isn’t that rare for the forest to swallow someone up. He’s probably dead.”
“Well, that’s my story. What about you?”
“My family…” The topic brought a distant look to Kei’s eyes as he rode. How many years had it been since he last saw his family? “I have a mom, a dad, and a little brother. We’re just a normal family.”
Mandel looked skeptical. “A normal family, huh?”
“Yeah,” Kei nodded emotionlessly.
‘Ordinary’ was a word that fit his family perfectly. Of course, Kei felt that he was the only one that didn’t fit into his ‘normal’ family. His father was a slightly timid salaryman and his mother worked part time and took care of the house.
His little brother would shut himself inside all day if he could. One day he said, ‘If I was like my older brother, then I’d be able to play game as much as I’d like,’ and Kei freaked out at him. They hadn’t stayed in contact since then and Kei had no idea how they were doing now.
“Hey, Kei… Are you one of the plains people?” Mandel asked Kei after he gave it some thought.
Kei hadn’t yet thought of a cover story for that. He was forced to come up with something on the fly. If he went with his chosen birthplace during character creation then he could say he was one of the plains people.
However, Mandel interpreted Kei’s hesitation in a way that made him quickly take back his question, “It’s fine if you don’t want to answer. I’ll just think out loud. I don’t know why you’re dressed like the plains people…but, since you don’t have the tattoo on your face you couldn’t have undergone their coming of age ceremony. I think you’re an outcast.”
Kei reached his hand to his face subconsciously. As he did, he remembered the tattoos that the plains people NPCs had on their faces.
Mandel took a sideways glance at Kei, who silently urged Mandel on with his eyes.
“This happened ten-some odd years ago. Perhaps to show their allegiance, the plains people caused conflict with the group governing the Dalhia plains region, Urvan’s Kraus… A lot of the people in the plains got caught up in it. Because of that, welcoming plains people is difficult.”
“Things were settled, but there still seems to be some conflict amongst tribes, and I’ve heard that some plains people pretend to be bandits to get by. They also don’t take hostages, so it’s easy to be resented. So… If I were to head toward Ri’leir, I would be careful to not look like a plains person.”
“…I see.” Kei believed him. It explained the high alert and hostility the villagers displayed when he first showed up.
Kei wore a lot of plains person-like armor because that was his character’s birthplace, and because he told his leatherworking friend that he liked the design.
He liked the uniqueness of the design and the feather decorations, but it was a different matter if it gave off a bad impression.
“In that case… would it be better to remove the feathers?”
“Yeah, I think then you would look much… better, I suppose. I think that your helmet is fine as it is though.”
Various parts of his leather armor, especially his shoulder pads, had ornaments that gave off an exotic feel. If he removed just these then he would probably look much simpler.
“…Also, take off your face mask, it’s way too suspicious.”
“I-I guess you’re right.”
The face mask gave him a small advantage in battle, where his opponent couldn’t read his facial expression, but for traveling it might be better to leave it off. Kei sighed lightly, there was a lot to consider. He never expected the people here to hate the plains people.
“Thank you, Mandel. I didn’t know about that.”
“I thought so… Don’t mention it.”
“…We weren’t hiding our birthplace intentionally, Aileen and I have a bit of a special circumstance. It’s not that we can’t explain it, it’s just difficult. Sorry.”
“That’s fine… Like I said, don’t mention it,” Mandel waved his hand
His kind warning to Kei, a stranger, hurt.
The bandits briefly came to mind. His inexpressible guilt grew in his heart.
Mandel looked at Kei, whose face showed traces of his anguish.
“…That’s right. Kei, I have a favor to ask of you.”
“W-what is it?”
“Your bow… Can I touch it?”
“Sure, no problem.” Kei handed Dragon Stinger to Mandel, whose stare was filled with interest.
The moment Mandel touched it his hands jumped up. “Ho…” he muttered and stared in wonder at the deceptive lightness of the bow.
“Guh…” He tried to draw the bow, but despite the weight, the bowstring was unexpectedly hard to pull back. The bow creaked. He drew it as far as his chest, but his face was red and he couldn’t hold it. He slowly released the tension in the bowstring.
“What a draw weight. I definitely couldn’t use this… I thought it was going to cut off my fingers.”
“Well, it would cut into your flesh if you didn’t use gloves.”
The fingers used to draw the bowstring back suffer the most. Dragon Stinger’s draw strength was much stronger than that of a normal bow. In the game there was no sense of pain, so he used the bow barehanded until his fingers were ready to fall off. However, it was impossible to use it this way in reality.
“I’ve never seen such a light bow with such a heavy draw weight. This leather, too… Just what is this bow made out of?” Mandel’s voice was filled with admiration.
Kei rid himself of any feelings of guilt and forced a small smile, “The frame is made from the branch of an Elder Trent and the bowstring is a Wyvern’s tendon. The leather came from the membrane of a dragon’s wing.”
Mandel froze for a moment and took a second look at the bow. Timid, he slowly handed the bow back to Kei without a word.
“…Some pretty pricey stuff.”
“You believe me?”
“You don’t have a reason to lie to me now. Even if I thought it was a lie, this bow feels rather monstrous… Besides,” Mandel’s eyes took a distant look, “The Dragon Scale Mail armor that Krause wore and the color of the skin on this bow match exactly.”
“Krause is… a noble? Have you met him before?”
“No, I’ve only seen him from a distance… But this happened ten years ago.” He looked wistful, yet lonely at the same time. The corners of his mouth turned up in a small smile and he lightly shrugged. “At any rate, you’re pretty amazing, Kei. I can’t even begin to guess how much your bow is worth.”
He went on, “A warrior with a fully drawn vermillion dragon bow and a wind spirit by his side, huh. He appears in the twilight to subjugate the evil bandits in order to save a young, beautiful girl’s life… Sounds like something a bard would like.” He told it like a fairytale and quietly smiled to himself.
—But the reality wasn’t that pretty.
If he were the protagonist of some fairytale then he’d just continue on to defeat the evil boss.
“Oh, I suppose,” Kei broke the excitement. All he could do was smile stiffly.