On the next morning all members of the caravan gathered on the plaza outside the town.
While Kei was checking their luggage together with Aileen, Dagmar, equipped with a shortsword and composite bow approached them.
“Hey,” he raised his hand in greeting. “How’s it going Kei?”
“Not bad I guess.”
“I see, I see,” He grinned and nodded over and over, then glanced meaningfully at Aileen and asked quietly. “So, how did it go?”
Kei couldn’t help but smile bashfully as he responded, “…It went well thanks to you.”
“Ohh! How far did you go? Maybe this far?”
Dagmar started to make obscene movements, but Kei responded with a cold stare.
“…There is a proper order to things before doing that stuff.”
“Gehh, you’re so uptight.”
Dagmar slapped his forehead and laughed loudly for a while, but with a sudden sigh, his expression turned serious.
“Well, leaving that aside, Kei. Also, Aileen. Hear me out for a bit.”
Given his serious tone, it had to be about work. Though confused, both of them strained their ears attentively.
“…I want you two to be more focused than before until we reach Urvan. There are two pioneer villages along the way, but those are quite dangerous places. They’re located inside the forest, in patches of cleared land, so the animals keep attacking them all year ’round. There are no bandits thanks to that, but there have been Hound Wolves attacks too. Anyway, what I want to tell you is, please give maximum preference to avoiding damages to the carriages.”
It seemed this was the reason for him being armed heavier than usual.
“I’ll do my best…”
Unlike Kei, who specialized in hunting, Aileen had quite a long face, as the only projectiles she had on her were throwing knives. She specialised in PvP, so humanoid monsters aside, she was not so skilled when it came to fighting hordes of animals.
“I’m placing big hopes on your spell in particular, missy!”
Dagmar waved his hand with a broad smile and walked away. Aileen had quite a vague expression, having hidden the fact that she could not use her spells during the day.
“…Well, unless something like a Wyvern shows up, I’ll take care of most of them.”
Kei tapped her back as encouragement since she had winced, lacking confidence.
“…You’re right. There aren’t that many scenarios where we’d need magic.”
It seemed to have done its job to recover her mood, she responded with a light smile as she put her wooden round shield on her back.
The caravan departed Yulia as scheduled.
Aside from skilled merchants such as Holland, who conducted business during their stay, everyone else seemed to have recovered their spirits in these two days, their expressions looking full of energy. Especially the mounted escorts had apparently rid themselves of their tension in a good way, chatting lightly while not forgetting to stay vigilant with bows at hand.
It looked like Pierre had finally gotten his carriage properly fixed, too. Now that there was no worry that it would break down again, Kei could return to his initial position, that is, at Holland’s side. Needless to say, with Aileen riding next to him.
“Still, the galette from that stall sure was delicious.”
“It turned out to be a better town than I gave it credit for.”
“Yeah! Let’s come back again sometime!”
“Right. I’d love to check that temple once more.”
The surrounding people looked warmly at the two’s pleasant chatting which missed the awkward mood from before.
Kei had reported the outcome to Dagmar before they set off, so it was natural that the information had spread throughout the caravan. Fortunately, both Kei and Aileen were too absorbed in their conversation to notice that they were being observed.
Incidentally, Alexei, apparently too ashamed by his drunken blunder, obediently stayed inside Pierre’s carriage.
The caravan remained on the northern course, aiming for the Stronghold City Urvan.
As they traveled along the riverside highway, with the zigzagging Aria on their right, it gave off an optical illusion as if they were traveling the same road as before. But if one were to point out what was different compared to the road between Satyna and Yulia, it would be the difference in the vegetation around them. Different from the Morla river region where one would immediately enter grasslands after passing the woods, this area had an endlessly, dense forest spreading out — the Great Lanacell Forest.
Filled with broadleaf trees, it blocked the sunlight and made the inside so dim that even Kei’s eyes could not see all the way through it.
Truly an abundant forest — was the thought its sight engendered.
Kei was being alert while speaking to Aileen, and he had already seen countless animals around them. Not only birds, but also foxes, deer, and even small carnivores that looked like cats.
According to Holland, the Ackland domain that was under Urvan’s rule, had gained a lot of land by reclaiming this forest. The trees provided lumber, and the animals were a daily source of food. The forest was also filled with herbs, meaning its black soil would make for excellent fields, if cleared. The pioneer villages they were planning to visit could be called the frontline of such development.
“To be frank, it’s quite difficult even from a merchant’s perspective. By nature, the ones who are sent to pioneer villages are people with debts, or the second or third sons of farmers. If I had to say, it’s mostly poor people.” Holland grumbled.
Apparently, the villages they were planning to stop by were so unprofitable that any other peddler would just ignore them.
“Having said that, they require the supplies, and peddlers are responsible for the distribution of goods. We can’t simply disregard them.”
“You are a role model for merchants, Sir Holland.”
Holland was feeling quite grumpy as he did not manage to get proper rest due to being swamped with work, so Aileen made an appropriate comment.
Kei was also listening silently, but suddenly his eyes were flashed by a dazzling light.
“Ugh, what the?”
That light was too intense for his strong yet sensitive eyes. Looking towards the source, he saw Edda smiling impishly on top of the cart. In her hand was a palm-sized metallic disc.
“Ah, wait! Is that a mirror!?”
Aileen realised it instantly and eagerly brought her horse close to the cart.
“Yeah! It is!”
“Edda!! Didn’t I tell you not to bring that out!?”
Holland turned around and yelled. Edda flinched at that and fled behind the canopy with a “Soooorry!”
“Put it away properly! What are you going to do if it breaks!”
She responded with a sulky voice. “Good grief!” muttered Holland in anger and grasped the reins again.
“Sir, is that merchandise?”
Aileen asked with sparkling blue eyes, brimming with interest.
“Yes, something I’m transporting from Satyna. Originally it was created in the Mining City Garon. I hid it so my rascal daughter wouldn’t find it… But it seems that she rummaged through the cargo during our stay in Yulia.”
“I see. I suppose it’s pricey?”
“Well, the retail price is about twenty silver coins. It’s small but the quality is guaranteed. It doesn’t rust either.”
Aileen nodded with a hand on her chin, her expression clearly suggesting that she didn’t consider it to be expensive.
Holland immediately caught on and continued, “Ah, no, sorry. It is a requested article, so I can’t sell it.”
“…I see.” Aileen responded, visibly disappointed.
“Now, now, perhaps there will be another opportunity…” Holland added while glancing meaningfully at Kei.
Kei nodded in return, secretly making up his mind to rely on Holland once they reached Urvan. He could buy it immediately if it only cost twenty silver coins.
The peaceful journey continued for some time.
If there was anything worth mentioning, it would be the deer that showed up on the highway around an hour after they left Yulia and was taken out by a vanguard with a bow. But that was the only incident, so Kei and Aileen even felt disappointed, considering how much Dagmar had warned them in advance.
When they reached the first village in the evening, that peaceful atmosphere was completely blown away.
“…What is that? What is going on?”
Holland, who was the coachman, could not help but exclaim as the village came in sight beyond the highway.
The pioneer village was surrounded by a wall made out of logs, pretty much looking like a small fortress. But a part of that wall had a huge hole, as if it had been blown apart by something. The villagers could be seen with lumber in their hands, working to repair it while looking worn out.
The caravan members decided to enter the village and ask what was going on for the time being.
“Something awful happened…”
A man called Elledore started to explain with a tired expression. He turned out to be the chief of this village, but Kei’s first impression was him being fairly young for a village chief.
He was probably in his late thirties, and although he was muscular, his drooped eyebrows made him appear constantly troubled, making him look unreliable to those around him.
Maybe it was due to fatigue, or maybe he was not very bright, his explanation was still not clear, but to sum it up, it went as follows.
It started at noon two days ago.
One of the villagers found a wounded animal in the forest at the edge of the village.
Its body was about three meters long. It was a strange yet beautiful animal. It had the body of a horse and a beautiful skin with a green lustre, as well as a single sharp horn. Though it was clad by an aura of aggressivity, it had deep wounds on its leg and abdomen, and was gasping in pain by the time the villager found it.
The villager realized at a glance that it was no simple beast, called his friends over from the village, and with a joint effort, they succeeded in bringing it down after showering it with blows.
Thinking it would fetch a high price, the villagers skinned it and took its horn, and ate the spoilable meat together in celebration. They merely roasted the meat and seasoned it with salt, but even so, the taste was out of this world.
They then threw away the strange internal organs that seemed inedible while storing away the “leftovers” like bones in the warehouse, and went to sleep in full satisfaction — everything was fine until then.
The tragedy happened in the evening of the next day, in other words, yesterday.
They suddenly heard a terrific roar from the forest and in the next moment, a giant monster that they had never seen before showed up.
Being so large that its head was visible from the other side of the village wall, it was—
“—A bear. A crazily huge bear.” Elledore announced in rejection.
The bear had destroyed the wall with a single swing of its paw and went straight for the warehouse where they had stored the “leftovers”, but once it discovered that only bones and skin remained, it flew into rage and attacked the villagers.
“It ate six people. Three men, two women, and a child. They were swallowed whole, leaving practically no corpse. …There were two more injured, but they died before dawn.”
Upon hearing Elledore’s gruesome story he had recounted falteringly, everyone of the caravan twisted their faces and fell dead silent.
“…What do you plan to do?”
Holland’s question was met with a heavy sigh.
“I sent out several people to Urvan this morning. But by foot, since even our horses were eaten… However, we don’t know if they’re going to send some help over at all, let alone believe our story.”
Holland groaned while looking at the collapsed wall. It was certainly hard to believe that there was a bear which was even taller than this wall with a height of around three meters. That said, seeing the destroyed wall and houses made it clear that Elledore hadn’t exaggerated the story.
“Aren’t we in danger too…”
“Maybe we should flee…”
The merchants started discussing in whispers, but it also reached Elledore’s ears and his expression worsened. If they let go of the caravan — or specifically, the escort they had with them — it was clear as day that the village would get annihilated.
“Please wait. Don’t abandon us!”
“…I understand your feelings, but I wouldn’t want to face such a monster even if you piled up gold in front of me.”
Dagmar voiced his opinion as the representative of the escorts. He looked at the collapsed wall with pity and compassion coloring his face.
“Rather, wouldn’t it be better to run away as soon as possible?”
“Yeah, let’s get out of here! This doesn’t sound like an opponent we could take on with our forces!”
“We’d be facing the monster which wrecked that wall…”
“How about you villagers flee with us?”
“It might chase after them…”
“…That would be bad.”
“Hey! Are you telling us to stay here, playing bait!?”
The villagers had also gathered, and started now to also join the conversation, causing even more of an uproar.
Slipping out of that crowd, Kei headed towards the collapsed wall by himself.
Not paying any attention to the villagers who were doing repairs with resigned expressions, he first directed his sight at the ground outside the wall. He did not even need to search to discover a giant footprint. He crouched down and compared the size with his palm, and he estimated the “bear’s” paw to be easily over 50 centimeters long.
The ground dug out in the shape of its paw, the trees unrooted and toppled over, and the giant claw marks etched into the wall – he carefully inspected each of them.
“What do you think, Kei?”
He heard a voice from behind. He did not even need to turn around to know it was Aileen.
“…Well, Aileen, can you take a look at that wall for me? There’s some fur caught in it.”
“Hmm, let’s see.”
Aileen swiftly ran up to the part of the wall Kei pointed at, lightly jumped, and grabbed hold at a place about two meters high. The villagers around them were dumbfounded by her jump that would put acrobats to shame, but Aileen failed to notice any of it.
She pulled out several strands of animal hair stuck in a gap of the wall.
“I’m surprised that you’ve noticed these within this darkness, Kei.”
“Well, yeah. Let me have a look for a bit.”
He held out the hair that she passed to him towards the evening glow illuminating the sky and inspected it. It was a hard, dark red hair with a luster.
“There’s only one bear species that has fur of this color…”
“But isn’t it a little too small for that, based on what we heard?”
“It’s probably a young individual. Maybe that’s the reason it came all the way to a human settlement?”
Dropping their gazes at the fur and then staring in the direction of the forest, their expressions turned gloomy.
“What do we do? I can 【track】 it, if you want.” Aileen remarked as she glanced up to the sky where the sun had finally disappeared.
“…We can’t really decide this by ourselves. It’d be smarter to discuss it with our client.”
If it was just Kei and Aileen, they could have easily dealt with the bear at any time, but considering the caravan and the villagers, they could not risk acting carelessly. Thus the two went back to the center of the village where the heated discussions kept escalating.
“It’s a waste of time! Let’s leave!”
“Please don’t abandon us! Please help us!”
“Wouldn’t it be more dangerous if we carelessly escaped under these circumstances?”
“I’d probably make fighting easier if we stayed together…”
“No way, that’s too dangerous! We’re talking about a monster that destroyed that log wall over there with one hit, you know?”
It seemed that even the members of the caravan were divided between those wanting to run and those wanting to remain. Adding the villagers, who were just begging them to help, the conversation was in an utter mess.
“Sorry, can you listen to us for a bit?”
But then, Kei raised his hand and asked Elledore with such a sincere tone that it caused him to stick out like a sore thumb. As if being a corpse, Elledore turned his head slowly and answered, “What is it?”
“Let me ask some things about the bear. Was it over four meters tall, with dark reddish fur, and a white speckled pattern around its neck? And did it have unnaturally long fangs on its lower jaw along with a pair of fiery-red eyes?”
Hearing his detailed question, Elledore was momentarily taken aback. He closed his eyes, apparently racking his brain, and spoke.
“…Sorry, I don’t know about the color of its eyes, I was desperately trying to run away. The fur, I think it was red, yeah. And the fangs…yeah, the lower ones appeared to be long. As for the pattern… Hey, everyone! Were there any white specks around the bear’s neck? And what color were its eyes?”
“…I don’t remember.”
“Now that you mention it, I feel like it had some specks…”
“It was too frightening to meet its eyes…”
The villagers answered, murmuring in chaos. Because of this, Elledore’s expression turned apologetic.
“…Sorry. It looks like they don’t remember well.”
“Then, what about its howls? Were they heavy and deeps roars, like GROAAAAR, as if they were coming from the depths of the earth?”
“Ahh, I remember! They were like that! I feel like just the memory makes me shiver…”
Elledore repeatedly nodded in response to Kei’s mimicry.
“I see,” nodded Kei with his arms folded.
“…Do you have some idea what it could be?” Holland asked in place of everyone who had gone silent.
“Yeah,” Kei confirmed. “Based on what you have told me, I would say it was almost certainly a Grande Urs.”
His assertive claim had clearly shocked the people present at their core.
It was a giant monster holding the name of 『Ruler of the Forest』, rivaling even the『Land Dragon』Green Salamander.
The primary trait that caused it to stand out from a normal bear was its physique, followed by its tough skin and extraordinary defensive abilities originating from its thick muscles. Average weapons could not penetrate its skin, and even if they managed to pierce through, layers of muscles and fat would block further penetration, limiting the injury’s lethality.
It did not have poison like the Green Salamander, nor could it unleash a breath attack like a Wyvern, but the Grande Urs boasted a simple yet tremendous strength thanks to its defenses and brute strength. In addition, unlike the Green Salamander that rushed recklessly at its target, it was highly intelligent, allowing it to employ tactics on the level of humanoid monsters, such as laying ambushes, retreating, avoiding traps, misleading through a cunning use of its footprints, launching long ranged attacks by using trees and rocks, and so on. For these reasons, it was feared by the players as an extremely difficult opponent in the game.
And it seemed this also applied to this world. Everyone except for Aileen flinched back when they heard Kei mention Grande Urs.
“No, that’s impossible!”
“That’s really pushing it…”
But this panic only lasted for a moment. The members of the caravan immediately calmed down, laughing Kei’s claim off as something unthinkable.
“A beast from the 【Abyss】 would never show up in a place like this. Even if this might be a cleared land inside the forest, it’s still a human settlement close to the highway.”
As Elledore expressed his doubts, Kei nodded and continued.
“True, normally it wouldn’t show up here. But fundamentally — and this goes for all bears, not just Grande Urs — they have a strong attachment to their prey. As soon as they decide on eating something, they’re going to chase it all the way to the end of the world.
The『Green Beast』that your people have slain seems to be a monster called Uisge that lives in the 【Abyss】. It has delicious meat and nutritious internal organs. Most likely, it fled all the way here while being chased by a Grande Urs.”
“T-Then… are you saying that the village was attacked because we killed the Uisge?”
“Mmh. Either way, it’s a fact that it’s shown up here. Probably…it’d have resulted in the same outcome, sooner or later.”
“I see… So we were out of luck at the moment it managed to come this close… Shit!” Knitting his brows, Elledore lamented with a sorrowful expression.
Kei felt sympathetic, but could not really deny that the Uisge was one of the causes behind the village attack.
“…I understood your reasoning, Kei, but aren’t Grande Urs supposed to be monsters as tall as hills? According to what I’ve heard, this one seems to be way too small… I mean, by Grande Urs standards.”
Dagmar asked, still unconvinced, while observing the pulverized warehouse. Hearing as tall as hills, Kei could not help but smile wryly.
“An adult Grande Urs is certainly large enough that you’d need to look up, but it still does not exceed seven meters. Well, it still means that it’s freaking big… but the one that attacked this village was probably a young bear that had only just left its nest. An experienced Grande Urs wouldn’t leave its territory, nor would it let its prey get away, in the first place. Also, we found red animal fur earlier, which also matches with one of the traits possessed by Grande Urs.”
“You describe it as if you’ve actually seen one.”
Kei limited it to a light shrug at Dagmar’s words, which showed that he wasn’t quite convinced.
“At any rate, the enemy is a monster that can destroy a wall with one swing. Whether we run or fight, I suggest we decide it fast. They are the most active during the evening and early morning hours when the light is still dim.” Kei said while looking up at the crimson sky, triggering everyone to look at each other anxiously.
“I…as the one in charge of the caravan…wish to avoid risks as much as possible, but I don’t want to abandon the villagers either.” Holland frankly voiced out his thoughts while being stuck between the caravan members and the villagers for a while now.
“Kei, please let me hear your opinion. What should we do?”
“Let’s see…” He started pondering for some time with everyone’s gazes focused on him.
Having said that, his plan was already decided. When he asked Aileen with his eyes, she answered with a decisive nod.
“…I would suggest we fight.”
The surroundings turned noisy as could be expected. Holland raised his hand to quieten the merchants who were screaming that it was dangerous.
“It’d be hard to escape, or rather, dangerous. Bears have good noses, and it’s hardly possible for our carriages to move at night, right? Besides, the idea of getting attacked by a Grande Urs while on the move isn’t overly appealing either. If it’s like that, it’d be easier to intercept it here where we know it’s going to show up.”
“Hmm… You have a point.”
“I’ve considered leaving a few horses back as decoys to use the time for escaping. But not only would this sacrifice horses and carriages, it’d only buy us a little time at most. Since it’s eaten humans, it already knows their taste. Sooner or later it’ll grow hungry and follow the caravan’s smell. If that happens, its next target would be the northern village, or maybe Yulia… Either way, we cannot avoid a fight – though we might be able to push it on other people.”
Kei’s nasty remark, said in an extremely casual tone, was met by Aileen’s wry smile and Holland’s bitter expression. Holland did not want to abandon the villagers, but he also did not want to sacrifice his carriages. That said, he did not want to drag other people into this either.
“Still, is it an opponent we can fight and win against?” Alexei, who silently stood at the outer edge of their group so far, suddenly asked his question with a serious expression. “I’ve taken part in hunting large game at the eastern border several times, but we only managed to succeed by setting big traps, having a lot of people and a detailed strategy. Even with such careful preparations, we still faced casualties, not to mention, we’re facing a monstrosity like Grande Urs this time. Do you think we can do something with our current battle power and no proper preparations?”
“Sure we can.” Aileen answered in Kei’s place. “My magic works particularly well against Grande Urs. And Kei’s arrows can even penetrate its thick skin. It might take some time, but the two of us alone are enough to take it down.”
She declared conclusively, and somewhat proudly.
As she said, Grande Urs could be called easy opponents for Aileen during the time period she could use magic. After all, she could steal its sight by covering it with shadows. Then Kei would just need to finish it off from a distance while it blindly rampaged around.
Even Grande Urs with their strong vitality would die instantly if their heart or brain got destroyed. The village facilities would probably suffer some damage from its rampage, but as long as the people watched carefully from afar, they would not get dragged into it. If it was a group of monsters, the targets for her spell would grow in number, making it impossible for her to use it on all of them due to catalyst consumption, but this extremely cowardly tactic was effective against practically every individual monster.
That said, there were also monsters unaffected by blinding, such as reptiles including the Green Salamander. They possessed heat sensing organs with their eyesight being bad to begin with, so they could still deal accurate attacks even while unable to see anything.
Due to that aspect, it was in a way fortunate that their opponent this time was a Grande Urs instead of a Green Salamander.
“I see, we had a magician with us…”
“Maybe we can deal with it after all…”
The merchants who had an immense, even exaggerated, level of faith in Aileen’s magic, brightened up as if they had found a ray of hope. On the other hand, the villagers, who did not know what was going on, became more displeased when they saw the merchants going along with what a braggy blonde girl said.
“What’s this little girl saying? They can defeat that monster with just the two of them?”
They gazed suspiciously at Aileen who had thrown out her chest in pride.
“I mean, that girl is a magician even if she doesn’t look like it.”
“Moreover, she’s skilled enough to defeat an entire drug cartel on her own.”
At once the merchants backed her up with looks making it clear that they knew what they were talking about, but they couldn’t dispel the villagers’ doubts.
“Well, seeing is believing as they say. Give it a go, missy!”
One of the elated merchants urged Aileen, his previous fear having disappeared without a trace. Just what was he asking her to do? Still, Aileen went along with it.
“Right. For now, guess I’ll search for the damn bear’s location. If we know where it is now, it should make it easier to form a strategy, right?”
With those words, she took the Grande Urs fur from Kei and took out a catalyst from her chest pocket with the other hand.
【 Mi dedicas al vi tiun katalizilo.】
With a dripping sound, the crystal fragment got swallowed by the shadows at her feet.
【 Maiden krepusko, Kerstin. Vi sercas la mastro, ekzercu!】
Aileen’s shadow flickered, then became a straight jet-black line that stretched towards the forest. She had used the 【Tracking】 spell.
Everyone watched her, the villagers with wide eyes, the merchants in excitement, and Kei in silence…
But then, Aileen asked while flabbergasted as she saw the shadow quickly revert into a humanoid shape. The shadow lady at her feet raised her hands, as if throwing them up, and wrote something on the ground with a finger.
『 Antau okuloj 』
Seeing the text, Kei and Aileen’s expressions stiffened.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“What does it say?”
Before they could answer…
A heavy sound could be heard from deep inside the forest.
“It seems that we’ve wasted a little too much time chatting…”
Contrary to Kei’s calm murmur, the villagers stopped repairing the wall, and rushed back inside the village, looking as if the world was going to end any moment now.
Thump, thump, the vibrations drew closer. Mixed with the noise of trees cracking down.
“…Looks like the monster in question has made its appearance.”
Aileen said with a chuckle.
A red-eyed monster had suddenly emerged from within the forest’s darkness.
The thoughts of everyone present could be summed up with that one word.
Dark red fur. White spotted pattern around its neck. Bulging shoulder muscles. Sharp fangs protruding from its mouth. Long claws each looking like grass sickles.
It easily exceeded four meters too.
Kei called it a young individual, but a strong aura befitting the title of 『Ruler of the Forest』 was seeping out into the surroundings.
The Grande Urs that stopped before the village narrowed its eyes as if glaring at the humans ahead of it.
And then, it howled a terrific, intimidating roar. That thunderous roar dominated the air, making the escort warriors shiver, the merchants collapse in fear, and the carriage horses succumb to panic.
Putting strength into its hind legs, the Grande Urs charged towards the village, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. It quite literally pulverized the wall, which had been in the middle of repairs, and charged through it, heading for the center while ignoring the humans. Its aim was the place with the wagons, and the horses which were tied to those wagons.
The beast was hungry. And it remembered the taste of the prey it ate the day before.
Not the seedy bipedal monkeys, but the meaty, quadruped animals.
Luckily for the beast, its prey neatly lined up on today’s hunting ground. With a roar of delight, it rushed towards them.
In response, Kei also made a move.
Whistling through his fingers caused Sasuke to quickly rush over from behind a nearby hut. After jumping onto his back, Kei rummaged with his right hand for a bit, and then pulled out an arrow from the quiver attached to the saddle. It was an arrow with excessively colorful ornaments and a somewhat thick design — the Whistling Arrow of Arrow Crafter Montand’s special series.
He pulled his bow to the limit and let it loose in one breath.
With a bustling whistling sound, the arrow flew straight for the nose of the Grande Urs. As the attack was plain obvious, especially because of the piercing bloodlust behind it, the Grande Urs reflexively swatted it down with its front paw.
The arrow snapped in two, but the beast’s legs stopped. A single archer straddled on a dark-brown horse was in front of its glare, full of suspicion. Neither horse nor rider showed any signs of being intimidated by its imposing sight, merely staring back at it with calm gazes.
Their very calm demeanor wounded the beast’s pride as ruler of the forest. Maybe the bloodlust it had felt just moments ago had sufficed as a threat. The beast had clearly recognized the small beings in front of it as enemies.
It fully turned about, facing Kei with its fur standing on end. Then it stood up on its hind legs and raised its paws up in the air, just like you would imagine any monster would do. It was an intimidating behavior to make its body appear even larger. Immediately following, it opened its red mouth.
It once again let out an ear-bursting roar. A number of villagers fainted, while the horses started to struggle to break free and run.
But, only one animal remained calm in front of the Grande Urs – Sasuke.
Perhaps he knew one fact very well. That his master, who was straddling his back right now…was much scarier than some beast that could not do much more than howl..
Remaining on Sasuke’s back, Kei drew his bow. With a blue-feathered arrow nocked on it. The long arrow he had specially ordered from Montand and which was usually used with longbows.
Kei pulled back the string to its limit to draw out the maximum power of Dragon Stinger, while glaring at the Grande Urs.
The surrounding people hallucinated about seeing a single line drawn between Kei and the Grande Urs within the frozen atmosphere.
Then Kei released the string. Followed by a surge of silver light.
The arrow flew straight with its bloodlust hidden by Stealth, and got sucked into the left chest of the Grande Urs.
Alongside a scream that could be simultaneously interpreted as shock and bewilderment, the Grande Urs staggered greatly with a paw on its chest. And then, it went down on all four while turning around, and started to flee towards the forest.
However, no sooner than taking a few steps, its legs lost their strength, and with its massive body crumbling down, it planted its face straight onto the ground.
Its fall caused the ground to tremble. The Grande Urs groaned and restlessly tried to get back up, but then it started to vomit fresh blood. Its movements gradually weakened, until they finally came to a stop.
“Hrm,” Kei muttered as he returned the third arrow he had already nocked on the bowstring back into the quiver. “Looks like it luckily ruptured its heart.”
He spoke as if it was someone else’s doing. His words sank into everyone’s minds as they stood there, their mouths gaping wide open.
And — as time went on, they comprehended their meaning.
The first one to raise a joyous yell was one of the escorts. With him as a trigger, the rest of the people finally realised what had happened, and followed his example, their cheeks flushed. Holland timidly approached the Grande Urs’ corpse, Dagmar was still looking astonished, Elledore embraced the other villagers while shedding tears, and Alexei muttered in great agitation, “I’ve never heard about anyone taking down a Grande Urs with a single shot!”
However, unlike all the excited people around them, only Aileen smiled wryly, remarking, “…You stole my turn.”
After that, they started to dismantle the Grande Urs following Kei’s instructions.
Even if the greatest threat had been eliminated, the village’s wall still had a huge hole in it, so they did it while making a big bonfire. They stripped the corpse while taking extreme care not to damage the skin, gouged out its eyes that would become fine materials for magic items, and even collected its claws, fangs, and a part of its internal organs that could be used for medicine. Given how huge it was, the work proved to be extremely difficult, but thanks to a joint effort by the villagers, escorts, and apprentice merchants, they somehow managed to safely finish it.
The materials belonged to the Grande Urs, a being that could be called a living legend. The skin in particular would yield a huge profit, according to Holland.
“The skin is in perfect condition! If you use it for animal stuffing, it’s definitely going to sell for heaps of money…!” Holland said excitedly. “Look forward to it when we reach Urvan,” he added.
This time, Kei took down the Grande Urs on his own, so the profits earned from its materials would go to Kei, but not a single person complained about this. They made a stew with the bear’s meat, and the merchants drank and partied late into the night.
And around the time when the party was in full swing, Kei, who had been praised as a hero and forced to drink booze in buckets, went to lay down in his tent, completely wasted.
“Agh, I’m dooneee… can’t drink another drop… everything’s going in circles…”
“That’s so lame Kei, you’re down already?”
Next to Kei, who was groaning with a flushed face, sat Aileen who smiled with her cheeks also flushed from drinking too much alcohol.
“…But still, Kei, you were great there.”
“Yeaaa… even I… didn’t think I’d take it down with one shooot… Lucky meee…”
He said with a pleased smile. He was drunk, but those words definitely expressed his true feelings.
“Liiike…it started stupidly intimidating meee, so it was an easy shoot…”
“Such sweet situations rarely occur, don’t they?”
“Riiiight, otherwise, I couldn’t have pierced its heaaart…”
Just like the initial whistling arrow, arrows would usually be shot down midair. The physical ability and reflexes of a Grande Urs were plenty to accomplish as much. But the Grande Urs this time was still young and lacked experience. If it had been an experienced individual, it would not have shown Kei such an opening, allowing for itself to get attacked with a ranged weapon.
Kei gawped at the tent’s ceiling with a faint smile on his lips for some time, but then suddenly shouted “I’ve decided!” and turned towards Aileen.
“Hey Aileen. I made up my mind.”
“Huh? About what?”
“I’m thinking about becoming a hunter!”
His sudden declaration made her blink.
“I’ll go around helping people, killing harmful beasts just like this time. Sounds great, right?” Kei smiled like an innocent child.
—He felt satisfied.
Had there ever been a time in my life when I’ve been praised and thanked so much by others? Kei thought back on his life within his drunk mind.
So far, if pushed to say, his life was all about staying alive.
Kei lived while dedicating all his attention to accomplishing that alone, as if he was protecting a dying candle flame, fearing a gust of wind that could blow past at any time.
However, could you really call a life of aimlessly living your days in peace and safety while single-mindedly protecting that flame a life?
—Would that not be almost the same as being dead?
Then, what about now — Kei switched his thinking. It felt so fulfilling, so dazzling. As if the world was granting him its blessing.
The him from some time ago probably would not have even considered putting his life at risk for complete strangers. But now, the words risking one’s life actually held some charm to him, as if it was only natural.
“Being able to live on while praised and thanked by people… Wouldn’t that be fantastic?”
The words seeking social approval crossed his mind, but he did not mind. Was that really so bad? Why would it be wrong?
“Yeah, that sounds good. It’s a really wonderful idea.” Aileen approved it in a gentle tone accompanied by an affectionate smile.
Kei also returned a smile while being assaulted by an intense sleepiness.
“Right? …That’s why, Aileen… Please support me.”
“Okay, I will.”
With a smile, Kei lost out to his drowsiness, being drawn into the land of dreams.
Aileen watched his sleeping face with love.
“…Sweet dreams, Kei.”
With those words, she reached out and gently brushed his head.
A young girl was wrapped up in a futon atop the carrier of a certain covered carriage.
As the bonfire flames crackled outside, the little girl played by reflecting the light of a mirror against the canopy.
But then, an old woman in a long robe appeared within the mirror.
“Oh, Edda. You’re not asleep yet?”
Heidemarie climbed inside the carriage with some effort. Edda gently put down the mirror next to her pillow and turned over slightly.
“Hehe, you’re not supposed to be playing with that, are you?”
Heidemarie lightly scolded the girl, picked up the mirror, and put it back into a chest.
“You’ll get scolded by Holland, if he finds out.”
“…No problem. I’ll be careful.”
She could not help but smile wryly at Edda’s brazen statement. Heidemarie sighed deeply as she entered the futon next to the girl.
“…Today was truly shocking.”
“Yeah!” Edda responded with sparkling eyes. “Big Bro Kei was amazing!”
—When the Grande Urs showed up, Edda had been inside the covered carriage. Seeing the monster charge in her direction with all its might scared her so much that she almost fainted.
But, for this very reason Kei, who took the Grande Urs down with a single arrow, seemed to her like a hero.
Without a doubt, Kei was the very definition of a hero as they appeared in stories for Edda.
“No kidding. He’s truly someone extraordinary…”
Heidemarie, who had also barely escaped death, felt just like Edda, but didn’t voice it out.
The silence continued for some time. Edda seemed so excited that she repeatedly tossed around, over and over again.
“…You can’t sleep?”
“…Mhm…my mind keeps replaying today’s events, no matter what I do.”
The thought of how cool Big Brother Kei was kept surfacing in her young mind.
Accompanying that, Aileen’s smile appeared in her mind, just to crumble away like a fleeting, brittle dream.
“…Hey, granny. Tell me a story.”
“A story, eh?”
Heidemarie started pondering about Edda’s request.
“…Let me see. Then let me tell you the legend of the Mirror of True Self.”
“Mirror of True Self?”
“Yes. This is a story of a mysterious mirror and a certain man… Once upon a time, there lived a man—” Heidemarie started to narrate. “That man was very frail, and was always bedridden. As he couldn’t move properly, he was attracted to the heroic tales, so he kept pestering his family to tell him the stories about knights who killed dragons, or warriors who displayed their mettle in war.
But one day, his kingdom was actually visited by war, making their life difficult. As such the time for his family to take care of him gradually decreased. With too much time on his hands, the man had no choice but to enjoy daydreaming all day long, until eventually, he became able to play inside his dreams.
Inside those dreams, he was a hero. A warrior making a name for himself on the battlefields. Strong and gallant, with a body so robust that it couldn’t be any more different than his real one. Believing that that was his true self, the man spent most of his days inside those dreams—”
Listening to Heidemarie’s calm narration, Edda frowned a bit.
“…What a sad person.”
“…Indeed, he’d have been a sad man, if things had continued like that.
But one day, he had a strange dream. There was a big mirror, as big as his body. And in his dream he faced that mirror.
A brave warrior was reflected in the mirror. Seeing him, the man thought, “Yes, this is the real me.” That warrior was the imaginary form of himself inside his dreams.
Then, when the time of awakening drew near — the man’s body had truly turned into that of the warrior that he dreamt of so much.”
She paused to take a breath.
“…What he saw in his dream was the Mirror of True Self. A legendary relic that was brought into this world by angels in ancient times, and then lost later on.
It was an unimaginably pure mirror, said to reflect the true form of one’s soul. Because he had dreamt so much, his soul had actually changed.”
“So he became the hero that he was convinced to be?”
“Yes… he had obtained the The body of a Hero. And he was every bit as strong as he fantasized himself to be…
Having become healthy, he dived into battles just as he had always imagined. He gained fame and military exploits, gaining success very fast…”
“Ohh! Then, then what?”
“…And then, he died in the war.”
Edda’s smile froze upon Heidemarie’s words.
“He got hit by a stray arrow and died. He was as strong as a hero and lived as a hero, but he could not become the hero of the stories — the protagonist. No matter how strong, he was still no more than a human… And just like that, he died pointlessly, by coincidence.”
“This is a tale telling us that humans, after all is said and done, live their life in a way that suits their station…”
Fefefe, Heidemarie gave a short laugh. On the other hand, Edda, who was wrapped up in the futon, revealed an expression of mixed feelings.
“…I wonder if Big Bro Kei is a hero.”
She finally muttered while gazing at the shadows flickering on the canopy above her, urged by the fire illuminating the tent.
“…I wonder.” Heidemarie responded. “…But yes, he is a hero.”
She added and gave Edda a gentle pat on the head.
“For us at the very least… He was truly gallant today. I believe that he can become a hero.
Now then, Edda. Time for you to sleep. We have to get up early tomorrow.”
She obediently closed her eyes and pulled the futon over her head.
And then the night advanced—
The following day, the caravan left the village despite its members suffering from awful hangovers.
They departed while being seen off by the entire village. Though Kei felt a bit embarrassed and was dealing with a headache, he still responded in a cheerful manner.
All while once again reaffirming his decision from yesterday and carving it into his heart.
The journey afterwards was so peaceful that it was actually a letdown.
They didn’t encounter any particularly strong monsters, and reached the next village by dawn.
The tale of Kei’s heroic battle was also spread here in all its glory, and with the pelt of the Grande Urs on display, the villagers flocked to him and the girls fawned over him, making Aileen jealous, for a while. And then, although this and that happened, the day came to an end without any major problems.
That happened the next day.
When Kei got up and left the tent early in the morning, a youth was waiting for him.
It was Alexei, donning an unusually serious expression.
As Kei wondered what was wrong, Alexei drew his sword.
He raised the shining silver blade at the height of his eyes and opened his mouth.
“—Warrior of the Snowland people, Son of Sergei, Alexei.”
He started with a clear, heavy voice.
“Archer of the Vermillion Bow, Kei, you are my rival in love, pursuing the same maiden.”
“Come again?” Ignoring Kei’s mutter, Alexei continued.
“Therefore, in the name of my ancestor, Alexandre,—” He fixed his blue eyes on Kei. “—I challenge you to a duel.”
A/N: There are “manners” and “etiquette” to go about it a different way.