The Hero Party moves on, the villagers’ request to defeat the monster well underway. Laladi and I do the same, though we’re only being strung along for the ride.
Our original plan was to remain in each others’ company until reaching the village, and we really have no concrete reason to speak of for continuing to accompany them, though I suppose that helping slay a monster is a simple enough manner of repaying their kindness. Still, I expected Laladi to throw some kind of fit and advocate against the idea. She went and subverted my expectations, and now seems almost giddy at the idea of remaining with the party.
And so, here we are, a rag-tag little-mismatched group trooped by both the Hero Party and a dark guild, both venturing into the forest that grows so close to the village. This is where the monster will appear, or so we were told. Furthermore, they informed us of the winding road nearby, and of how the forest-dwelling monster has a penchant of assaulting the passers-by.
“I really can’t express how sorry I am. The orcs were bad enough, now we’ve gone and involved you in a whole new issue…”
Oh no, there’s really no need to fret… probably. There can be no other way of saying this: the mysterious, unearthed nature of the monster itself is enough reason for worry.
But, oh well. If I prove to be ineffective, then there’s always Laladi to count on, should the worst come to pass. Not that the ladies and gentlemen of the Hero Party are aware or anything, but still.
I direct my smile at Yuuto, who just can’t stop offering me his sincerest of apologies. Come on now, I’m not angry, not at all.
Laladi still clings to my side, her spirits soaring and her adorable, soulful humming seeping into my ears. Had she given in to some form of irritation, we might be a bit of trouble. But as it now stands, her mood can’t possibly be more pleasant. There’s nothing I need to say on the matter, then.
“Well, I suppose you’ll be with us just a little longer, won’t you?”
Maho walks at my side as she makes conversation and looks up at me. It is just my mind playing tricks on me, or does she actually sound a bit more lively? When I venture to respond with a simple nod, Laladi dishes out a grand display of overreaction.
“Humph! You and the Master’ll be separated again before long; it’s a done deal. But by all means, go on. Enjoy the honor of talking to him while you still can.”
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“Why thank you, I’ll do just that.”
Though Laladi is of a rather small build, clinging to me gives her the added advantage of glaring down at Maho. It’s not just her eyes that look down on the girl; you can practically hear the disdain in her voice. She sounds like she’s about to go on the offensive.
Laladi, why are you getting so prickly with Maho? Did something happen between you two? Noticing that my stomach aches in proportion to the depths my mind goes to, I decide to stop then and there and focus on other things.
Really though, this party is a hodgepodge, a coalition of heroes and dark guildies… it’s a team-up you’d only expect to see in your dreams. If they ever find out, though, then I sincerely doubt it will maintain this order. I wonder how shocked those clueless villagers would be if they knew, or how taken aback the Kingdom would be, considering that they’ve made us out to be public enemy number one. Well… I certainly didn’t start this by planning to tell them about ourselves, and I certainly won’t do that now. But the urge to do so is getting a little stronger.
“Hey, Maho… Still not gettin’ any response on that detection magic of yours…?”
“Not yet, no. If my magic isn’t responding, we’ll just have to walk further.”
“Come on, seriously…?”
Maho’s tone goes flat as she responds to Longmann, who seems to be getting more listless by the minute. Longmann was given the role of vanguard, and, much unlike Yuuto, is responsible for tanking the attacks that come their way.
His role doesn’t rely on dancing around the lunges of enemies with pure speed and leading them around by the nose, but instead relies on the firm security that his defenses provide him. He just soaks up whatever damage the enemy would throw at him.
The party’s main battle strategy banks on exploiting the interval created by the enemy’s recoil from the attack, which Yuuto follows up with his own. For this to work, the armor Longmann wears happens to be on the heavier side, making him unsuitable for prolonged journeys on foot across the unpaved, forested grounds.
Longmann is clearly the one who has to endure the most fatigue in this team. Laladi has a similar issue which manifests itself as a strong disinclination to walk and a lack in physical endurance, but seeing that she keeps hanging on to me, it doesn’t give us much trouble.
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…Do keep in mind that I adore her as I would my own daughter and that I can never quite manage to tell her this, but this isn’t a walk in the park for me…
Yuuto, on the other hand, is equipped with a much lighter set of armor to emphasize his mobility, despite sharing Longmann’s position in battle. He’s going to have a much easier time weaving about, clearly.
“Huff, huff… Where’s that damned monster, anyway? I’m gettin’ tired… I just wanna go back…”
And, just as Longmann had gone back to sharing his grievances, it happens.
“…?! Longmann, move!”
Maho calls out his name, projecting her voice as she does so. He, in turn, nerves already dreary from exhaustion and her constant reprimands, turns to look at her.
“…Took them long enough to notice.”
Laladi whispers as much into my ear, a hint of exasperation tingeing her voice but not robbing her of her lackadaisical demeanor. That’s when the earth began to shake beneath us, the tremors reaching us with a reverberating sound in tow, the latter of which is so deep it rumbles all the way through us and to the bottoms of our stomachs.
The ear-splitting battle cry is soon followed by the monster itself as it knocks down the trees around it to make its appearance. A crudely fashioned club is in its hand, which it swings down violently, aiming directly for Longmann. He just so happens to be right next to where it’s chosen to reveal itself.
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Any other man would have likely been crushed by the assault, completely unable to muster a reaction. But Longmann is different, his somewhat salacious attitude towards the younger of the fairer sex notwithstanding. Nothing less should come out of the tank of the Hero Party, really.
Despite the attack being backed by the element of surprise, he manages to raise his enormous sword. It clashes against the impending strike of the club, saving him from a direct hit. But even Longmann, for all his strength, can’t quite manage to fully intercept the mighty power behind the swing, and the sheer force sends him hurtling towards the depths of the forest.
“Did it get him?!”
Come on, Laladi. Longmann’s on our side, remember? Also, any time you say something to that effect, it’s almost guaranteed that he actually made it. In my experience, at least.
Though Longmann has indeed been sent flying, I doubt the damage he’s received is anything close to fatal. He guarded well enough against the assault; it’s the shock that sent him sailing off and has now, in the process, been neatly dispersed. So, rather than lose time worrying for his safety, I instead take a good look at the monster that stands there so composedly.
“T-This can’t be happening… What’s a monster like that doing in a place like this…?”
Mary, being the only actual resident of this world in a group of heroes otherwise composed of people summoned from another looks on with wide eyes, her despair on her sleeve.
True, I have to agree. This certainly isn’t the kind of monster you’d expect to see in this sort of area.
I myself hadn’t seen this specific type of monster in some time. Then again, as much as I keep to my study these days, I can say the exact same thing about the likes of wild orcs and goblins. The thing in front of us bears a certain, but rather slight resemblance to the former.
Closer observation makes it clear that this monster is, both in terms of its strength and appearance, in a league of its own. Its skin shares next to no similarity to the warm red of Kühling’s hair, despite its deeply crimson pigmentation. No, its hue is much too dull for that, much too odious.
Much unlike the orcs, whose faces tend to be dull and vacant, the ogre-like aspect of its own visage betrays a sort of sharp wit. Its jutting fangs are much sharper and more pronounced than those of the orcs and look plenty imposing. Its build is a sharp contrast to that of the flabby, chunky orcs. Bulging musculature lines its form, and it’s easy to estimate the potential of its strength, given how the well-built Longmann was tossed aside so easily.
The thing lets out another ferocious war-cry. Ogres, that’s what these things are called. One of the creatures considered to be the masters of a strength that put many of the countless species of monsters to shame has appeared right in front of us.