While walking through the forest following Puuse’s guidance, Hifumi discovered the same thing he saw not long ago. It was the figure of an elf entrusting their back to a large tree.
It’s a different person from the one he saw first. The elf still hasn’t completely changed into a wooden figure.
Once Hifumi got close without listening to Puuse’s shy restraint, the left eye of the sitting elder elf opened.
“You are conscious?” (Hifumi)
“… Human, eh? I was able to see something unusual just before my death…”
The elder elf, who talks in a fragile voice, was a male. Wearing a plain attire as if he has wrapped himself in a cloth, he is sitting in a cross-legged posture.
Most of the visible part have transformed. Around one third of the mouth on the right and the right eye in the face had turned into moss-covered bark.
The voice, which leaks from a gap in the slightly opened mouth, seems to be really strained.
“Is it painful? Are you seeing properly?” (Hifumi)
“What a barrage of questions.”
The elder elf, who spilled a laughter as if leaking air with a “fufu”, shifted his attention to Puuse, who is standing behind Hifumi.
“Puuse, huh…? The one who brought along a human is you?”
“E-Excuse me.” (Puuse)
“There’s nothing to apologize. I was able to have an interesting encounter in my last moments. Human, do you want to ask something?”
Returning his sight onto Hifumi, the elf muttered “I don’t have much time left.”
“My body will gradually stop to move. The tree-turned parts don’t feel anything, be it getting wet or cracking.”
“Even my hunger vanished before I realized it”, the elder elf explains.
“A gentle death, huh?” (Hifumi)
“Fufufu… Human, it’s different.”
The elder elf turns his eyeball in a circle. His gaze turned towards everything in visible range.
“I can watch like this, but it’s only in the range of my eyeball’s movement. I wonder how far it will become.”
“Fuufuu”, his breathing goes roughly.
“My breathing- is slowly- getting painful. It’s not- a gentle sensation. What is certain- is me gradually heading towards the approaching death. Undoubtedly, if it’s like this and even if I stop moving completely, I will probably survive- for a while. Without seeing, without hearing and unable to move.”
“That probably doesn’t mean that it’s not scary”, he says.
“Even my tears aren’t flowing anymore. It seems I’m going mad due to the despair of being unable to handle my own death.”
“Such a…” (Puuse)
Puuse has become speechless with a pale face due to his fear towards death, she heard of for the first time.
“The ones, who were unaware of it, isn’t only you. It’s an unapproachable law, created by someone, for anyone facing death, but that’s wrong.”
Without anyone knowing the truth, they vanish into the forest believing to be visited by a gentle death.
“The result of that is this. Therefore, I’m grateful- for being able to talk to someone. And, human.”
“What is it?” (Hifumi)
“Please- kill me. Any more and I will cease being a living creature. I don’t want to taste dread…”
“I see. It’s fine, I guess.” (Hifumi)
Hifumi readily accepted his request and drew the katana from his waist.
“P-Please wait! Something like killing him…” (Puuse)
“You are a cruel fellow.” (Hifumi)
“I was told something unexpected”, Puuse raised a voice of surprise.
“It’s as the human says, Puuse. For the current me death is a salvation.”
“Such a…” (Puuse)
“I want to examine the corpse.” (Hifumi)
The elder elf smiled within the range of being unable to change his expression due to the words of Hifumi, who prepared his katana.
“If I can die, it’s fine for you to do as you like afterwards. Human, your name is?”
“It’s Hifumi.” (Hifumi)
“I see, Hifumi, huh…? You have my gratitude.”
“See ya.” (Hifumi)
Holding the katana above his head, the katana, which was brought down head-on, divided him into two separate halves up to the head with its marvellous sharpness.
Moreover, the head drops sideways due to a horizontal slash.
The head, which was split into two parts, tumbled down from the neck stopping its breathing.
“What’s cruel is the state inside his body.” (Hifumi)
Using the point of the katana, Hifumi pointed at the cut end of the head, which fell to ground, up.
While somehow enduring the stuff swelling up from within her throat due to the gruesome view, Puuse timidly turns her sight.
Hifumi examined it carefully from point-blank range while squatting.
“Even the head’s contents have mostly transformed. So, what’s this?” (Hifumi)
Hifumi, who had seen the interior of humans many times, knitted his brows due to the appearance as if an entire part of the components was created to be replaced by wood.
Moreover, there’s another part Hifumi doesn’t understand.
“Do you know what this white thing is?” (Hifumi)
“I don’t know. It’s the first time that I saw this, but…” (Puuse)
What Hifumi saw was a sticky white something, which clung thickly to a part which was on the verge of changing to wood within the head.
Once he tries to lightly scoop it up with his finger, there are sticky strings drooping.
“I don’t know this. It might be something characteristic to elves.” (Hifumi)
Wiping his finger with a paper, Hifumi stood up and muttered in a small voice,
“It would be best, if I could see the contents of a still safe fellow though.” (Hifumi)
“Eh? What did you say?” (Puuse)
Hifumi, who saw Puuse’s look of not having heard it, is intently glaring at Puuse’s head while staying silent.
“Did something happen…?” (Puuse)
Feeling something frightening from his gaze, Puuse asks nervously.
“No, it’s nothing. Rather than that, let’s hurry up.” (Hifumi)
According to Puuse’s explanation, the barrier for imprisoning the demon race deep within the forest is apparently created with the elves’ mana in a special location, where a magic square was drawn, just past the village.
“In the end it won’t work unless we pass through the village?” (Hifumi)
“Please, I’d like you to have peaceful talks in the village.” (Puuse)
“That depends on you guys’ behaviour. I don’t have a playful mind to attempt being on good terms with hostile fellows.” (Hifumi)
On the contrary, questions are rapidly released by Hifumi. Even though Hifumi knew about it once he entered the elven forest, perception magic for the sake of protection has been set up close to the barrier. He realizes that it’s unclear whether it has been done by elves, beastmen or humans.
As he only met accidentally with Shiku in the midst of his patrol, it was Puuse’s group, who came to welcome him upon Zanga’s order.
While having such conversation, the village came in sight.
Two elves, holding bows, are standing in front of the simple wooden gate.
“Ah, we arrived…” (Puuse)
Puuse believed that it would turn into a quarrel, if she guided him there just like that, but they ended up arriving without her coming up with any idea in the end.
The two elves, who stood watch at the gate, call out to them.
“Human, huh? We were told you would be coming, but why Puuse… and on her back Shiku? What happened?”
“Let me see… Since it will be too long to explain, I want to lead him to Zanga-sama’s place first.” (Puuse)
“Is that so? Please take the human along since I will carry Shiku to his house.”
Lifting up Shiku, who was still unconscious, one of the elves leaves.
“W-Well then, it’s this way.” (Puuse)
While being relieved that she was at least able to avoid a critical situation without resolving the unacceptable circumstances in any way on purpose, Puuse continues to guide him.
All of the houses as far as the eyes can see are one-story houses, which were build with wooden planks and some ivy and twigs. Without having anything door-like, slightly dirty clothes are hanging at the entrances similar to a sign curtain hung at shop entrances.
“Zanga-sama’s house is over there.” (Puuse)
The building, pointed at by Puuse, is two times bigger than the other ones. A simple door, which was made with a board and not a cloth, was installed at the entrance.
Hifumi, who stopped and watched it for a short while as he had some feeling of discomfort, noticed that building to not have any windows. The other buildings have openings, although those are merely hollowed out, for the sake of letting skylight in, but those can’t be seen in that build at all.
Without realizing that peculiarity, Puuse stood in front of the door and called out towards the building’s interior.
“Zanga-sama, it’s Puuse. I have brought the human.” (Puuse)
“Ah, thank you. Come and enter.” (Zanga)
A hoarse voice of an old woman resounded from inside.
“Since we got permission, please go ahead.” (Puuse)
Being urged on by Puuse, who opened the entrance by detaching the whole board, Hifumi steps inside without hesitation.
The building seems to have only one room. A bed, which was a cloth covering a pile of dried grass, and a low wooden table are visible.
With the entire building having no windows, only a small flame, faintly swaying in a place, similar to a sunken hearth, in the middle of the one room, is dimly illuminating the inside.
“So you came, human-san. Look, it’s fine for you to sit down over there.” (Zanga)
Sitting in the centre of the room, the old woman points at the opposite side of her across the sunken hearth. Skilfully breaking a thin branch with only her right hand, she fed it to the fire.
A cloth, similar to the bedding, is covering a pile of dried grass at the designated spot.
Hifumi, who sat down without reservation, looked straight at the old woman. Equal to the elves, who were reduced to arbour and whom he saw in the forest, she has well-regulated features. Her face, carved by deep wrinkles, can be even regarded as similar to annual tree rings giving her the impression of having lived for many years.
“Puuse, you can go now. Since I will talk with our guest, return to your other work.” (Zanga)
“Yes. Then, excuse me.” (Puuse)
Once Puuse leave, the old woman sighs and throws a small branch, she held in her right hand, into the fire again. Suddenly approaching the fire by getting on her right knee, the aged face of Zanga shines more vividly than the swaying flame.
“Although you seem to be quite old, your body still moves?” (Hifumi)
“… By that way of speaking, it looks like you know what will happen to an elf at their final moments, eh?” (Zanga)
With her talking about the details, Hifumi knows, in order to confirm, he nodded indicating that Zanga was correct.
“The elves, you know, live in this forest since long ago. They died in this forest… no, were absorbed into large trees… Seen from a human’s standpoint, what do you think about this?” (Zanga)
“It’s abnormal.” (Hifumi)
“Fufu… Hihihi.” (Zanga)
Zanga was happy and laughed due to his direct and denying words.
“Abnormal, huh? I guess that’s true. Something like there being no other way but to only wait for oneself becoming unable to move is strange.” (Zanga)
“Did you especially invite me to ask me that?” (Hifumi)
“No, not at all. I only tried asking you because I was worried about this a bit.” (Zanga)
“That”, Zanga pointed at the katana, Hifumi laid aside.
“What made the elf pass on some time ago was that sword, right? I want to be killed in the same way, too. I can’t make such request to another elf.” (Zanga)
Elves absolutely won’t do anything like injuring their brethren. They seem to have established the concept that all of them should die in the forest, with the exception being death by sickness or accident.
“By the looks your transformation hasn’t yet started, though… no, your foot and the left hand, huh?” (Hifumi)
“Keen insight, eh…” (Zanga)
“As you surmised, my left foot and left hand have already stiffened and I have lost the ability to move them”, Zanga says.
“I had a weak body since back then though. While obediently secluding myself within my house, I ended up dragging on my long life before I realized so myself. However, I wondered whether I should disappear into death by leaving to the forest, if this progressed a bit more… even though it’s shameful, I got scared.” (Zanga)
Zanga laughed with a feeling of self-mockery, but that laughter settled down before long.
“Therefore, human guest, I want to die before that happens. Death isn’t scary. Waiting for death while unable to do anything, that’s scary.” (Zanga)
“Well, it’s fine, I guess. However, is it fine, even if the villagers die as result of that?” (Hifumi)
“… What do you mean by that?” (Zanga)
“You don’t know?” Hifumi glared at Zanga.
“I don’t particularly mind killing you. I don’t care either way. But, the other elves, who would become aware of it, will probably try to avenge you. I don’t have a spirit of self-sacrifice to be done in easily due to that, is what I’m saying.” (Hifumi)
“… I wonder if you can’t wait for one night. I will explain to the villagers.” (Zanga)
After hesitating for a short while, Zanga said that and promised Hifumi to make sure that no harm comes his way. Even if there was someone causing harm to Hifumi and if that someone had the tables turned on them, it would be up to Hifumi to do as he likes, she says.
“I will prepare a bed. Apart from that, as exchange for listening to my request, isn’t there something I can do for you, I wonder?” (Zanga)
“Why are only you among the elves scared to enter the forest?” (Hifumi)
Zanga quickly averted her look due to Hifumi’s question.
“Well, there’s no point even if I hear it. It will be fine, if you stay silent until your death. There is nothing I want to request from you. I heard everything I wanted to hear from that elven woman.” (Hifumi)
“Is that so…? Thank you. If you head right after leaving this place, there will be a small house. Since Puuse’s home is next to it, it would be good, if you greeted her. I will arrange for a meal as well.” (Zanga)
“No, it’s unnecessary because I have food.” (Hifumi)
“I see. If that’s the case, see you tomorrow. Please come to this place tomorrow.” (Zanga)
“Since I have to resolve myself for death”, Zanga regained her smile once again.
Inn the appointed hut, Hifumi, who rested on dry grass, woke up after sensing a presence stepping inside.
The time is still before dawn.
“Who is it?” (Hifumi)
What came leaping into the sight of Hifumi, who pulled the katana towards himself swiftly and took a stance of nukiuchi, was that young elf Shiku.
Due to him awkwardly calling out while being afraid, Hifumi doesn’t release his stance.
“It’s a smart move to attack someone while they are asleep, but you are fare too unskilled at erasing your presence.” (Hifumi)
“I-It’s different! Puuse-neechan is in great trouble!” (Shiku)
“Puuse? Ah, that elven woman, huh? … I don’t care.” (Hifumi)
Hanging the katana at his waist, Hifumi sat down on the grass bed.
“Such a thing! I beg you, please save Puuse-neechan!” (Shiku)
“Putting that aside, wouldn’t it be better to hide?” (Hifumi)
“Eh? … Au!?” (Shiku)
The pellet, which came flying from behind Shiku, grazed Shiku’s shoulder without hitting Hifumi.
Wind blades, mixed with stones of various sizes, come flying one after the other. The cloth, hanging at the entrance of the hut, has been torn to pieces.
Him having fallen down at the moment of receiving an injury bears results. With the exception of the shallow cut on his shoulder, Shiku has sustained no injury worth mentioning.
However, the building, which has suffered damage in succession, is very unlikely to last any longer.
The walls are riddled with holes and the pillars are shaking grandly as well.
Watching the roof collapsing at last, Shiku clung to Hifumi.
Seeing the hut collapsing completely and getting enveloped in a cloud of dust, the elves, who cast the spells, raised laughters.
“Hee, the likes of humans. You will pay for the crime of having killed our brethren with your life.”
Laughing foolishly, the elves can hear someone’s voice with their ears.
“Crime, eh…? I don’t have any intention to go along with your revenge game.”
The cloud of dust vanished in an instant and above the collapsed hut a large, dark disk was rotating.
And, the one who stood on top of it was Hifumi.
Shiku is clinging to his waist.
“Though I didn’t have any intention to do this either.” (Hifumi)
Hifumi thrust his hand into the round dark magic, which absorbed the roof and the dust, and took out the kusarigama.
“Let’s reply with a big service, if you want to kill me.” (Hifumi)
While whirling around the counterweight attached at the end of the chain, he tightly grasps the sickle with his right hand.
“Use you magic steadily. It’s going to be an enjoyable contest of strength between fantasy and martial arts.” (Hifumi)
Hifumi slowly took one step forwards.