As the sun is approaching its zenith.
A huge man with a shaved head slowly dragged his body out of the sole tent where the bandits are camping.
This giant with his truly villainous face is the boss leading these bandits.
Stretching his large body once, this boss orders an underling to go fetch some food for him. What his underling brought in is a wooden bowl that is nothing more than a gruel that combined cooked grounded barley and some goat milk with a salty taste.
The underling smiles menially in the direction of the boss, who wolfed down the gruel with the provided wooden spoon, and says with upturned eyes,
“You’re in quite the good mood, aren’cha boss?”
Even though the gruel isn’t all that delicious, the boss was all smiles just as his underling observed.
“Anything bad ’bout me being happy?”
Seeing through the ulterior motive of the underling to get the leftovers by buttering up, the bandit boss grimaces and threatens him. Being exposed to that, the underling’s face turned pale and he left hurriedly as if he was running away.
The boss scornfully laughed at his gutless underling, but his face already revealed a broad grin once again.
However, that’s only reasonable.
They, who were no more than shabby bandits targeting the purses of travelers on the roads, relocated their base into this area. A long time has passed since they last managed to catch runaway slaves, but it was the first time that they got their hands on elves.
Even under normal circumstances there are only a few elven slaves in the western regions. Whether they bring the slaves back to their owner or sell them elsewhere, it’s doubtless that they’ll make a large sum.
However, what boosted the boss’ mood even further was that he could fully indulge in the bodies of the elves for the last few days here.
So far he had heard that the taste of an elven woman is of the best quality, and no different from those rumors, the boss was greatly delighted by that fine quality proven to be true.
Since we caught three elves at great pains, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to only sell two of them and keep one on hand for pleasure.
The bandit boss thought, but he immediately revises that thinking.
If I monopolize her, it will definitely trigger the underlings to revolt. Having said that, if she’s fucked by an additional ten-odd underlings, she will probably become wasted goods right away. It’s really regrettable, but it’s better to completely cut my attachments and sell all of them.
A single underling rushed up to the boss as he was brooding over such things.
“Boss. A moment ago this was thrown over.”
The underling presents a fist-sized stone that had been tied by a piece of cloth. The boss takes the stone and undoes the cloth. Just as he expected, words were written on the cloth.
“Hey, Volpes1 . Read this!”
The man with a fox-like slender face accepts the order while repeatedly bowing his head.
This man called Volpes was originally a peddler, but gradually deteriorated due to alcohol and gambling, and then finally fell as low as becoming a bandit. He was bad at fighting, but because he’s slightly capable of reading, writing and calculating, he’s convenient at times like these.
“Umm…it says 『Show us our friends. Once we are able to confirm their safety, we will come to you tonight』.”
“Hoo…this is great news.”
The boss grins broadly. He had left behind the message to the elves they missed capturing, thinking it would be a godsend if they came out as stated in the message. Because there had been no contact whatsoever until today, the given time limit, he had given up on it, thinking that they had certainly abandoned the captured elves and escaped. Fortunately, it seems that they cared more about their friends than he had expected
“Alright, you lazy bastards. We have to give the friend-loving ladies a wonderful reception tonight, don’t we!?”
When Erika returned from throwing the letter into the bandit camp, Kisa and the girls were playing.
“Phu, phu, phu, we are aliens.”
Surrounded by the three little girls, Kisa presses his mouth against a leather pipe and says something unknown. The girls laughed at that.
“What’s that? Weeeird~.”
“Hey, hey, what’s aliens?”
“Kisa, you say some strange stuff, don’t you~?”
Erika was surprised by the appearance of the girls, who feared and hated humans so much, frolicking around with Kisa while smiling.
I wonder, when did they become such good friends?
Certainly, Kisa is a guy so soft hearted and harmless that it’s it’s stupid to be scared of him. Not just that, he has unreliable parts that make us worry about him instead. Because of that we’ve come to hold him dear against our better judgment before we even realized while helping and meddling with him. That’s the kind of guy he is.
Moreover, I’m disturbed because I don’t hate that for some reason.
Due to this he’s probably quite the troublemaker for those close to him. As she thought that, Erika felt as if she heard a loud sneeze somewhere far away.
For a while Erika warmly watched Kisa and the girls, but somehow she gradually became irritated. Hence she approaches them with deliberately rough footsteps.
“We will go now that Sis Erika has come back!”
“We just have to pluck weeds, right?”
“Let’s go everybody!”
The girls, who sensed danger approaching them due to Erika looking sullen for some reason, quickly left Kisa and escaped. Having been left behind by himself, Kisa is drenched in cold sweat due to Erika furrowing her brows and glaring his way, despite not knowing the reason for it.
“…Umm, how did it go?”
“I properly delivered the letter. —Also I went to check the riverbank where I picked you up, but it didn’t look as if anything had changed there.”
Kisa released a disappointed sigh due to her recount.
I had expected that people would come to search for me, but it looks like they won’t be in time after all. I came up with a good plan to chase away the bandits after mulling about it, but nevertheless it doesn’t change the fact that we are going to tread on thin ice. If possible, I wanted to borrow the strength of the people that had come to look for me.
However, it’s too late to yammer about it now, Kisa resolved himself.
“Alright. Let’s do it as planned. —So it looks like rain is going to fall at night, right?”
Erika brushes up her hair, exposing the characteristically long ears of an elf.
“Yeah. The air is humid. It will likely rain off and on starting from dusk.”
Just as Erika said, the lukewarm wind was about to bring dark clouds from the west.
The bandit boss, who sat down on a stump that had been driven into the ground right in the middle of the camp, cursed without even trying to hide his displeasure.
“Damn! What are the elven brats dawdling around for?”
A thick rope has been tied to the stump occupied by the ill-humored boss. Three elven women, who were gasping for breath after having been thoroughly toyed with, are tied to the end of that rope.
“Don’t tell me they fuckin’ chickened out at the last minute?”
The sun had already sunken on the other side of the mountains in the west, and if one went a few steps away from the camp with its burning campfires, the area was wrapped in total darkness. Moreover, once he looked up to the sky, thick clouds hung there, looking as though it will start to rain any time soon.
To have the gall to make me wait, the bandit boss clicks his tongue. Once he began to ponder whether he should vent this irritation on any of the elven women, an underling, who acted as a lookout, called out to him.
“Boooss! I see a light over there!”
Just as the underling said, a single light that seemed to be a torch could be seen climbing this way from the bottom of the mountain.
“They sure kept me waitin’, those damn brats! A little punishment is in order.”
Once their boss says that with a vulgar smile, similar smiles appear on the faces of the underlings.
The boss waited while licking his lips in expectation and excitement wondering how he’s going to mess around with the finally approaching elves, but somehow the elves are not arriving at the camp.
Before long a drizzle began to fall from the sky. Getting tired of waiting, the boss grows impatient.
“Why are they so sluggish? —Hey, someone go and pick ’em up!”
Several men left after hearing his words.
After a short time the men returned, carrying three little elven girls under their arms like luggage.
“Too slow, but then again, they are brats.”
Looking down on the girls that had been tossed on the ground, the boss deeply frowns. It’s because he remembered seeing seven elves when they had surrounded them the other day.
“Hey, brats! There’s one more of you, aight? What about that one?”
The boss asks with a scary face.
Due to that, the girl looking the most faint hearted among the three girls said with a trembling voice,
“She ran away…”
“What’s that about?”
Once he asked that with a very threatening voice, a strong-willed girl stepped in front to protect the other two and replied,
“She said that she hates the thought of getting caught by humans again and ran away by herself!”
That’s a lie for sure, the bandit boss thought. Very likely these girls are supposed to pull our attention while the missing one plans to launch a surprise attack from hiding.
Things don’t work that easily, lass. The boss grins broadly.
“Yo, you who’s hiding! I’m going to bind these brats’ necks to the stump with a thick rope! They won’t be able to get away! Little bitch, if you kill even a single one of my underlings, you will see the blood of these brats before your own!”
The boss’ threats echo through the nightly mountains.
However, even after waiting for a while, there’s no response.
He had thought that she would definitely give up and come out or throw herself at them in desperation, but it might be possible that she really ran away just the girls said.
Even though he proudly yelled that he had seen through the elf’s cowardly scheme, he ended up embarrassing himself nicely in front of his underlings. The bandit boss vents that frustration on the girls.
“Hah! What pitiful brats you are. To have been deserted by your own friend!”
The surrounding underlings followed the lead of their boss and laughed raucously.
That caused the strong-willed girl to blush and yell in indignation,
“You brutes! You will certainly be punished by the great Wood Spirit!”
After a second of silence, the boss burst into laughter because of the girl’s yelling.
“That’s a good one, lil’ missy. Indeed, we are a gathering of the damned. That’s why, you know, we didn’t get punished even once so far. —Right, everybody!?”
The underlings all at once agree after hearing their boss’ words.
“T-Then we will beg the great Wood Spirit to deliver punishment from now on!”
Saying that, the elven girls began to chant prayer-like words in a language – very likely elvish – the bandits can’t understand.
“Come on, lil’ missies. If you don’t hurry, you will get spanked by us scary uncles!”
The boss mocked them in a jesting tone, and getting on with that, the underlings jeered as well.
“Before we are going to be punished by your spirit, our dicks will punish you lil’ missies!”
“Hah! For a seedy-looking asshole like you, those lil’ missies are just the right toys!”
“You sure are right about that one!”
The bandits burst into vulgar laughter.
However, no matter how much they jeer, the girls only continued to frantically pray. Teasing them with no response is no fun. Besides, because the streaks of pouring rain are gradually becoming stronger, it’s probably about time to put an end to this, the boss judged.
At that moment there was suddenly a sound similar to air escaping an inflated leather bag in one go. Furthermore, the same sound continuously occurs again and again.
“H-Hey! The smoke’s weird!”
One of the bandits shouted while pointing at a nearby campfire. A dense, red smoke rose up from the campfire, which didn’t go out in the rain due to it using oil as fuel.
“W-What is it!? Did one of you burn some strange stuff?!”
Although he tried asking that, none of them ever heard about something that would cause a red smoke like this if burned. The bandits become agitated due to a phenomenon they have never experienced until now taking place.
“As expected, there was one more shitty brat!”
However, it was only the boss who concluded that this was the handiwork of the elf who they thought escaped.
“Don’t get all chickened out, you morons! It’s only colored smoke. That’s no big deal! It’s obvious that the elf has thrown something weird into the fire while hiding somewhere!”
Thanks to his roar, the flustered underlings regained their presence of mind. Once the bandit boss makes his underlings pick up their swords and bows in preparation for an attack, he loudly declared to the elf who is likely hiding somewhere,
“I have already seen through your stupid little scheme! Just give up quickly and come out, you shitty brat!”
However, just as before, there isn’t any response.
Not only that, the elven girls, whose scheme he supposedly uncovered by now, fell on their knees and prostrated themselves without caring about the puddles created by the falling rain.
“Oh, Spirit! It’s the wrath of the great Wood Spirit!”
The bandits were surprised by the girls’ embarrassing behavior.
“Just what the heck are those brats doing…?”
Even the bandit boss, who will mercilessly punch children if things don’t go according to his wishes, was astonished by this and couldn’t raise his hand on the spur of the moment. As he’s wavering about what he should do, his shoulder is lightly tapped.
It was the skinny man who always sucks up to him. He has no courage or guts, but he’s a man whom he placed close to him as he’s somewhat cunning.
“Sup? What’s with your voice that seems as if your soul has left its body?”
The man, who always flatters him with a menial smile even if he’s flooded with abuse, only now looked completely different. His entire body is shaking while his eyes are glued to the tent.
He’s in a state that makes it hard to determine where he might be pointing at due to his intense trembling, but it seems as if he’s pointing behind me. While irritatedly wondering just what is going on, the bandit boss turns around – and then froze with his mouth wide open.
The boss couldn’t comprehend the spectacle he’s witnessing right now.
A faint, colorful light ring has appeared on top of his own tent’s cloth.
A single tree rose from within that light.
Lush, deeply green leaves growing thickly on its branches that spread towards the sky. In contrary to those leaves, needle-like, pointed and slender roots are extending below.
However, what attracted the eyes more than anything was the floating, white, thick trunk that had a mouth, which was opened as if torn apart, as well as two lifted eyes which had a red color similar to dripping blood.
『I am the great Wood Spirit!』
The bandits, who looked stupefied due to the voice filled with something like a heavy gloominess, screamed with trembling bodies as if they had just been whipped.
“I-I-I-I-I-I-It’s a-a-a m-m-m-monster!”
“A tree monsteeeer!!”
“The Tree Spirit!!”
Even the bandit boss was so surprised that his waist was about to give in, but his feet, which had followed his orders and escaped many life-threatening situations until now, persevered.
“Y-You lot, don’t piss your pants! Arrows! Fire arrows at it!”
His tongue doesn’t move well due to his fear, but even so the bandit boss mustered his voice to give that order.
Hearing that, several bandits fire off arrows from the bows in their hands while hurling curses. However those are no more than completely desperate attacks released with stiff and pale expressions, which betray their words to be fed by fear. Those swaying arrows that lack power mostly lose momentum before reaching the tree spirit and fall to the ground. And yet, several arrows hit the monster that introduced itself as tree spirit.
The arrows riddled the tree spirit’s body with black holes while causing cutting sounds as they penetrate the tent’s cloth.
The bandits raised cheers at that, but the laughter of the tree spirit is even louder than them.
『Fuhahaha! Something like arrows won’t touch me, the Tree Spirit!』
Despite having its body pierced by arrows, the tree spirit trembled unsteadily to the left and right on top of the tent while laughing loudly without a hint that it feels pain.The bandits are further horrified by the strange movements seemingly unbound to gravity.
『Foolish humans! You shall receive retribution for having oppressed mine people! Suffer my deadly curse!』
Along the voice, one of the bandits suddenly groaned lowly and collapsed, falling prostrate in a puddle.
Due to these all too sudden events, the bandits are petrified after getting overwhelmed by shock while surrounding their fallen comrade.
Noticing that their comrade had really died as he doesn’t even twitch no matter how much time passes, the bandits screamed and jumped back.
“H-He has died!?”
“It’s the curse! He was done in by the curse!!”
“It’s the tree spirit’s curse!!”
Panicked screams are released by the bandits who witnessed their comrade being cursed to death in front of their eyes.
“He’s dead! It’s the curse of the great Tree Spirit!”
“All of you will be killed by the great Tree Spirit’s curse of death!”
“If you don’t run away, you are all finished!”
Moreover the voices of the girls agitate the bandits’ fear.
『Fuhahaha! Next it’s your turn!』
Once the tree spirit yells that, another bandit collapses.
『Now then, who’s going to be next!? Anyone who wishes to receive my curse of death!?』
Due to the words of the tree spirit about them searching for the next victim, the bandits’ fear finally reached its limit.
“Run away! We will die if we stay here!”
Starting with that voice, the bandits all at once ran away while screaming. By now no feeling of comradeship exists between them. Everyone shoves the others aside, only thinking of trying to get away themselves.
“Y-You bastards! Don’t run away while leaving me here!”
Even the bandit boss turns around, trying to get away. However, at the moment he stepped forward with his right foot, he trampled on a stone that peeked out from the ground by chance. The sole of his foot smeared with plenty of watery mud slips and his posture is thrown off balance.
At that moment.
Alongside a dull impact, he felt a stinging pain from his right shoulder.
His foot, which he advanced in order to attempt fixing is posture, gets entangled due to this sharp pain and the bandit boss grandly falls over while splashing up muddy water.
However, there wasn’t a single among his underlings who tried to help him up. Rather, thinking that even their boss had died, they hasten their escape, obviously driven by fear.
“Ow! Ow! What the fuck was that!?”
The bandit boss, who had been left behind all by himself, placed a hand at the base of his right shoulder, the origin of the stinging pain, while writhing about within a puddle, and became surprised. With his fingertips he felt his overflowing, lukewarm blood and something hard alongside a slimy sensation.
Once he cocks his head in puzzlement, a rod with a size of around his index finger, which was painted pitch black with soot and charcoal, revealed its head with a length reaching up to the second joint of his finger within the overflowing blood.
The part, which protrudes outside – no matter how deeply his shoulder might have been stabbed – and lacks any feathers, has a strangely short shaft that’s no bigger than the size of a finger tip, but this is unmistakably an arrow.
Either way, this isn’t the curse of a tree spirit. The bandit boss, who realized that he had been sniped by someone, looked for the shooter while still rolling about within the puddle.
At that moment a single piece of firewood burned down and crumbled in the campfire with the red smoke rising. As there was apparently a stone right at its falling spot, the piece of firewood jumps up widely. And once the part that had become embers was smashed up in the air, the swelling part that got in contact with fresh oxygen brightly flared up once, illuminating the vicinity.
“…! The tree moved!?”
What was illuminated was not the shaking of the tree but it obviously moving and changing its form.
Was this really the curse of the Tree Spirit? Or was it the acting of an elf pretending to be the Tree Spirit?
As he was confused about that, a blackened arrow pierced the forehead of the bandit boss.