I haven’t had the chance to delve into combat in quite some time, but my body, surprisingly enough, remembers the motions well. Laladi had underestimated just what the ogre was capable of, and had then found herself at the mercy of his counterblows. I could hardly stand by and do nothing.
The girl’s like a daughter to me, after all. I’d much rather spare her any excessive injury given half a chance. I suppose it doesn’t matter how much she underestimated him, in the end – the fact that ogre even managed to drive her into a corner is proof enough that he was cut from a different cloth.
This ogre was much stronger than I had originally surmised; a special one, to be sure. Still, he hadn’t been anything beyond what I could handle, and I’m convinced that he wouldn’t have lasted a minute against Laladi had she not held herself back. Maybe the issue doesn’t warrant much worry.
“Haah… There’s so much happening at once, and none of it makes sense. You’re way too strong, Master…”
The way Maho sighs makes her seem dead tired. Then again, she only just lost two close members of her party whom she’d gone through so much with. This sort of mental exhaustion isn’t out of place.
Yuuto, again, looks like he’s at the end of his rope. It only takes a quick glance to realize that he’s not taking this nearly as well as Maho is.
The boy’s a gentle spirit, and to make matters worse, he likely feels some responsibility as the party leader. Who knows, there might be even more layers to how he feels. I have to admit that I, being Laladi’s superior in the guild and all, can’t help but feel a twang of guilt when she’s the one who took care of them.
Awful as this might sound, it was Longmann and his bedfellows who had set all of this up in the first place, and the only reason she even fought was so that she could protect me from them. Apologizing for what she did in any capacity would mean negating everything she worked to achieve.
So, seeing that I’m not at leisure to put my sorrow into words, I’ll just keep my apology silent. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m also just a little concerned for Laladi at the moment.
While it’s true that we weren’t in their company for the longest time, Laladi had still killed Longmann and Mary, two members of a party she’d traveled with. I can’t even imagine the toll this must be taking on her psyche…
Laladi runs up to me and wraps her arms around my form, almost as if she’s actively trying to throw my worries to the wind.
I count myself very lucky that Laladi, despite her powerful and unequaled abilities, can’t be counted among the physically strong. When she tackles me, I can still stand my ground with ease, something that wouldn’t have been true if I were entertaining the whims of people like Ritter or even Reese. I can positively hear my bones screaming in agony whenever either of them tries to grapple me with a hug…
“Master! You don’t have to worry about those two gorillas right now!”
Well, Laladi, it looks like you can practically read my mind. Also, if I may be allowed an opinion, it’s just not right to call them that.
“Lala did her best, you know! She got rid of all those idiots who tried to hurt you! Lala thinks her show of loyalty deserves a reward!”
Both Maho and Yuuto visibly twitch at what she has to say. There’s some disparity, interestingly enough, with Yuuto reacting to the word ‘idiots’ while Maho showed herself more fixated on the mention of a ‘reward.’
L-Laladi? Could you do me a favor and keep from mentioning anything that might get the wrong reaction out of people? They just sided with us, you know. I’d rather not be forced to fight them. In any case, and in a partial attempt to seal away any outburst that might prove incendiary in some way, I let my hand ruffle her soft green hair.
Laladi closes her eyes, and the coloration of her cheeks seems a solid indicator of her enjoyment.
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Excellent. My subterfuge is a success.
“You looked so cool back there, Master! Lala never knew that being protected felt so good!”
The girl seems almost bashful as she says this, all the while letting her finger trace circles on my person.
O-Oh, really? You think so? Hearing that from someone who’s like my own flesh and blood makes me quite ecstatic. How I imagine any father would feel upon being praised, really.
“Well, since Lala got her reward, she’s gotta make you happy too. There’s a really good place she knows about. All you have to do is get inside a plant, Master. You won’t believe how happy you’ll be after.”
Laladi’s invitation is accompanied by an enthused gleam in a pair of large, doe-like eyes.
Huh, interesting. I can find happiness just by getting into a plant?
Wait, this plant wouldn’t be composed of anything funny that would make me feel happy, would it? It’s not made up of some illegal narcotic, right? A-Also, there’s something off-putting about the way she’s looking at me…
“What are we supposed to do now…?”
“Tch… Getting in the way again…”
Yuuto’s short murmurs immediately draw my attention to him. Laladi says something when I do, but her face is pressed up against my body. I can’t make out what she’s trying to say. With two members of their party gone, I don’t think either Yuuto or Maho will find it in themselves to go on about life as they have been so far.
“Well, I’m not about to keep up this whole ‘hero’ business. I may not know what this ‘Prince Faction’ is all about, but that doesn’t change the fact that knights from the kingdom tried to take our heads. I’d rather die before I risk my life fighting demons for those people.”
Maho spits out her words as she looks out at the numerous corpses littered around her. Despite the betrayal giving her every reason for bursting into wrath, there’s not even a hint of anger in her eyes, not the smallest vestige of a grudge. There’s nothing but sadness in her gaze. While her usual prickly demeanor makes it difficult to read her proper, it’s still evident that she’s a sweet girl at heart.
“What about you, Yuuto? Are you going to continue playing the conveniently present hero for their kingdom?”
After a moment of hesitation in light of this debacle, Yuuto opens his mouth to speak again.
“I just don’t know what I’m fighting for anymore. I don’t even know if it’s even my duty to fight… I think it’s better if I give myself some time to figure things out.”
Yuuto appears to share Maho’s sentiment, willing to forget about heroism. Well then… While I certainly can’t make any assumptions as to what effects this may have in the future, I also can’t say that I think it’s a bad idea.
Well, I suppose that means the hero party’s practically gone now. It shouldn’t take long before the kingdom gets wind that the heroes haven’t come back. Considering that they’ve already dispatched several of the kingdom’s knights, I’m willing to bet that they’ll figure out our guild’s involvement in no time.
…It’s unavoidable, I assume, but this is going to turn the contentious relationship between the guild and the kingdom from bad to worse. Then again, it was Longmann and his grey guild crew who came up with this whole plot. They initiated this, and I’m not about to back down on that point.
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I might have reconsidered if I was their only target, but if they’re out for Laladi, for the girls of my guild that I practically see as my own children, then that would be more than enough incentive to take the fight to them. Now, with my mind made up, I present the others with a question that just sprang to mind.
Them being heroes makes little difference. Now that both Maho and Yuuto have cast aside their roles, what are they going to do next? Laladi and I have a guild we can call home and return to, but what about them?
“Our homes aren’t part of this world – we have no way of going back there. And the Kingdom’s just left a bitter taste in my mouth. I guess I’ll look for some guild and convince them to take me in. I’m still a magician who fought with the Hero Party; I think it’s safe to say that I can fight better than the average person at least.”
Oh, I see. Maho’s idea actually encompasses a fairly realistic view of their situation. There were other guilds, guilds without affiliations to the Kingdom, and they were far from few.
One of the Kingdom’s guilds would undoubtedly be familiar with her history. Other guilds, on the other hand, ought to be much more accessible. She’s quite the looker too, and should it come out that she doesn’t shy away from a fight, she’s bound to become popular in no time.
I nod my head and hum in a vaguely affirmative fashion in support of her train of thought, but Maho just sort of shifts her weight from one foot to the other and winds her torso, almost as if there’s something else she wants to say.
Hm? Is there something else on your mind?
She spends some time opening and closing her mouth wordlessly before she finally makes a face that shows she’s made up her mind.
“I-If you… If you don’t mind…”
“Do you think you could let me join your guild?”
My eyes open wide while Maho’s cheeks flush red. Laladi chimes in with a particularly resounding cry, which I can only assume is brought on by surprise.
You do realize that we’re a dark guild, don’t you? We’re pretty much the Kingdom’s sworn enemies, and we haven’t exactly done much to stay on good terms with any legitimate or official guilds. You do understand what you’re asking here, right?
“We’re not exactly close to the Kingdom now that the party’s dissolved. They worked us to the bone and then just tossed us aside, I wouldn’t mind adding salt to their wounds.”
Maho closes one eye and lets out a peal of mischievous chuckles.
Heheh, well, I can’t say I hate it when someone just refuses to take a loss. Well, let me think. She does seem to fully understand that we’re a dark guild, so I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm to let her join…
The thought crossed my mind not seconds ago, and Laladi’s already standing in front me, her arms crossed in front of her. She’s not even supposed to be that adept at walking, but that doesn’t seem to stop her from hopping from place to place.
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“Hmph! We’ve got enough sows trying to get with the Master!”
“T-That’s not why I want to join! Also, you’re not the one who gets to decide!”
“Master doesn’t have to bother with this decision, you hear? Lala’s gonna be the judge of you. And there, you fail the inspection.”
“Are you kidding me?!”
Now I just have to bear witness to a pretty acrid verbal exchange. For all that I hear Laladi saying, I can’t even remember if she’s ever acted this way with anyone who wasn’t a guild member.
They honestly seem to be getting along pretty well, all things considered. I just keep on watching the two, the smile on my face feeling just a little painted.
Who knows, maybe letting Maho join us is going to be a breath of fresh air for the guild. Despite all of Laladi’s posturing, all I need to do is agree to let her join. She’d keep on complaining, of course, but wouldn’t go any further than that. That in mind, I turn to Yuuto. He still hasn’t said anything.
“I… well, let me think. I could travel the world, broaden my horizons. Although, just like Maho, I’d much prefer to go back to my home world if I could.”
He laughs as he says this, though not without a tone of melancholy. With his strength, I’m sure he’ll be more than capable of keeping whatever dangers roam the path of his journey at bay.
…Huh? That reminds me of the night when Maho had exposed her feelings to me. There’s something that I just didn’t have the chance to say to her at the time…
“Come on! Nothing good’s gonna come out of wishing for what can’t be done!”
“Now, hold on! Lala still hasn’t said you could join!”
Maho drags Laladi’s petite form behind her on her way to admonish Yuuto. He, in turn, musters a weak smile at the sight of her.
“That’s right. You’re… you’re right, Maho. I’ll go on a journey, and I’ll look for a way back home.”
“There you go! That’s the spirit!”
It looks like Yuuto’s mood is finally on the rise again, if only by a fraction. Yes, indeed, that’s wonderful to see. Maho’s cheerful approach pulled him out of a real bind.
Just then, right when I’m in the middle of appreciating the sanctity of true comradery, something finally pops into my head. Huh. I just remembered what I wanted to say. I call out to the two and share my knowledge.
– – – – – I can do that.
Forgetting to bring up the right subject matter to them just confuses the two, and they both quirk their heads questioningly.
Oh, right. Sorry. I was just so excited to tell them that I didn’t bother adding the appropriate context. I try telling them again.
– – – – – I can send you back to your home world.
After a somewhat lengthy spell, Yuuto, Maho, and even Laladi let out joined yell that echoes through the forests.