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The moon is not out. The forest remains pitch black.
Still, with [Sensory Spores], there is no way to hit a tree. We proceed by sensing the newly trampled animal path.
Tamiko’s sense of smell is not as good as her hearing. Even so, she seems to sense that Noa’s scent continues to follow the path in the direction Tamiko is taking. She is not mistaken, Noa and the man are truly up ahead.
(Or maybe he’s doing it on purpose.) (Shuu)
That man said he was waiting in the hideout. In other words, this is something like an invitation… or most likely a trap.
(Ugh, Scary!) (Shuu)
(Humans are seriously scary. Scary in a different way from Metro Beasts.) (Shuu)
(…10,000 times crazier than beasts.) (Shuu)
After walking fast enough, I see a faint orange light ahead. The trees, which had been lit up like a blazing fire, suddenly cease to exist past this point, and the view suddenly opens up.
“…Hey, you’re here early, aren’t you? Heh~ heh~.” (Kidnapper)
It is a circular depression, like a plaza.
There are two campfires. A bird, skewered from mouth to rump, is roasting. Surrounding them is a group of disheveled men. They are bandits, ten in all.
I signaled Tamiko and me there alone.
“Well, aren’t you something? I can’t believe you came alone, just like I told you.” (Kidnapper)
In the middle of the square, where the man from earlier is sitting on a rock. A few meters behind him is Noa.
She is stripped of her cloak and jacket. She is lying on her face, bare, with her hands tied behind her back. She seems to be unconscious. Her smooth, porcelain-like back is exposed.
“I thought it was a little boy, but it’s a little b*tch. If you had come a little slower, we would have had time to enjoy ourselves. Heh~ heh~!” (Kidnapper)
The man laughs, and the men around him follow suit. It seems that he is the boss after all.
His vision is now red. Even the color of the flames is blurred.
“Oops, stop. Don’t move any further if you want to spare your precious little b*tch’s life.” (Kidnapper)
A subordinate of his points a spear at Noa’s back. I could only grit my teeth and stop.
A preliminary check with my [Sensory Spores] shows no ambushers around the plaza. There is a rock wall at the back, and there is a cave in it. The spores cannot reach the inside of the cave, so there might still be some of his lackeys in there.
“What’s your name?” (Kidnapper)
“Shuu Abe.” (Shuu)
“Shuu Abe, I like it. Tell me your tribe and level.” (Kidnapper)
“I don’t belong to anyone. I’m a Free Folk. My level… is 45.” (Shuu)
There was a stir around the place.
“…how old are you?” (Kidnapper)
“Twenty-eight and level 45, huh? It’s pretty high for a Free Folk but it’s okay. There should have been a test paper, but… If I look at your actions earlier, it doesn’t seem like you’re lying.” (Kidnapper)
I’m not very good at lying, and he seemed to believe me.
“Abe, is this little b*tch important to you?” (Kidnapper)
The boss has Noa’s goggles around his neck. He fiddled with them with his fingertips as if they were toys.
“Then I’ll let you be my second slave. I’m going to ask you to do me a little favor, and if you do it right, I’ll give her back to you.” (Kidnapper)
“Second? Slave?” (Shuu)
“If you don’t like it, that’s fine. I’m just going to get this little bitch all banged up, beating her to a pulp. You want to bet how long she can keep her sanity? Heh~ heh~ heh~” (Kidnapper)
So, you want to hold her hostage and make me help you do some kind of evil crap? You’re the scummiest scum across time.
“ All right, let me introduce you to your senior. Hey, Obuchi. Get up.” (Kidnapper)
The boss turned to see a man lying on the ground. He was a plump, slightly obese man.
When his subordinate kicked him several times in the side, the huge body got up slowly.
(……A pig?) (Shuu)
He has a pig-like face. He has round eyes, a flat and large nose, and pointed ears spread like butterfly wings.
(Oooh…… a real “Red Pig”…) (Shuu)
Is this a new creature of New Tokyo? A new human? Some other creature? No way.
But his face… it was beaten repeatedly, most likely, and is covered in bruises, bumps, and his nose still bleeds. He can barely open his eyes.
“Obuchi, I’ll give you your first job. Discipline that junior of yours. Use those fists of yours.” (Kidnapper)
The man called Obuchi approached me slowly with a limp.
“Don’t do anything strange, unless you want to come face to face with your cat’s gouged-out eyeballs in the back.” (Kidnapper)
“No, please don’t… don’t put your hands on Yui…” (Obuchi)
“Then do what I say. Then listen to me. Move your ass, you slow, lazy pig bastard.” (Kidnapper)
This pig man is also a hunter, and if what he said is true, someone is being held hostage in the back cave.
Up close, his pig-like face is smooth and natural. He is, after all, the real thing, not some special makeup from a movie. His height is a little taller than a 5’7″ man, but his body is thick. He is might be obese, but his neck and wrists are strong and sturdy.
Standing in front of me, Obuchi’s clenched fist is shaking. His right eye’s gaze is swimming. His breathing is ragged.
“Obuchi, hit Abe. If I think you’re holding back, I’ll hurt your pussy with the same force. Abe, silently take it. If you even avoid even one hit, this b*tch is next.” (Kidnapper)
It seems that the plan was to make him turn into an accomplice for his schemes, but first, to break our will. Both the one who hits and the one who is hit.
“It’s alright.” (Shuu)
Obuchi hesitates so I assure him. I show him with my expression that I will be fine. Though my heart is freaking out.
Obuchi grits his teeth looks up at the night sky and then opens his eyes.
“……Forgive me.” (Obuchi)
A thick fist flew and my head creaked.
It’s heavier than I thought. It’s painful. But my body is not weak.
“Hey, Obchi. Next.” (Kidnapper)
Obuchi clenches his fist and swings again. He punches me squarely in the cheek.
“What the…” (Kidnapper)
He wiped the blood from his nose with the palm of his hand. The first time I’ve been hit this hard was on the 50th floor. Still, it has a lot of power. But still not on the level of an Ogre or a Wraith.
“He is pretty tough, isn’t he? Obuchi, beat him until he loses consciousness.” (Kidnapper)
“… It’s fine (not really).” (Shuu)
Amidst the sneers of the lowlifes, a dull thump, thump, thump echoes through the square.
The face of a man is fully covered in blood. Still, he does not fall down but instead holds on with his hands on his knees.
Obuchi’s reddish-black fists were shaking, and he was breathing on his shoulders. He had not thrown ten punches. This hunter may not be exhausted that he is out of breath, but the mental fatigue is probably heavier.
“I can’t do it anymore… no more please…” (Obuchi)
Tears are pouring down his eyes.
“…I’m still, fine…” (Shuu)
My face is covered in blood. But there’s not a single bruise or swelling.
To be precise, they have been repaired as soon as they were formed. Even the missing teeth are growing back. Obuchi doesn’t seem to notice.
“…Please run away.” (Shuu)
“I’ll give you a chance… in the meantime, take her with you…” (Shuu)
“Obuchi! Don’t f*cking stop!” (Bandits)
“Do it! You f*cking pig!” (Bandits)
Jeers from the outside fly in. Blood drips from Obuchi’s clenched fist. It’s not his blood.
“So, you should…” (Shuu)
“…I don’t care… I want to save Yui, but even so, that girl is noble and doesn’t want anyone else to be sacrificed for her…” (Obuchi)
“Well, no, no one will be.” (Shuu)
“You’re kind of in the way.” (Shuu)
My [Sensory Spores] caught the presence of the little furball sneaking around. It has infiltrated from the back of the square, slowly and soundlessly moving its way under the thief’s feet, and has reached the back of the man who is spearing Noa.
I’ve earned enough time.
I took a deep breath and shouted.
“Do it, Tamiko!” (Shuu)
A sudden scream draws the attention of everyone present.
At the same time, I take a step forward and moved close to Obuchi’s space.
I slam my clenched fist into Obuchi’s rubber ball-like belly with all my might.
Obuchi’s body folds into a crumpled heap, and he collapses to the ground, spewing vomit.
The first to look back at Obuchi and the others is the boss.
Before he could do anything else, I was leaping with all his might. I kicked the boss to the edge of the plaza with the same momentum that propelled me almost horizontally. I spun on my heel and swing my [Hypha Hammer] at the two men who were frozen in front of me.
The spearman is lying on the ground, holding his left eye. Blood is flowing profusely. Next to him, Tamiko is standing in a position ready to protect Noa, as she is checking the others. Tamiko’s figure is clearly visible to Noa’s eyes, and she seems to have released her Fungal Skill.
“Tamiko, good job!” (Shuu)
I put Tamiko on my shoulder and hold Noa at my side. I slam down an arrow that flew at my back. I rushed out while the boss is still getting up, and with my [Enhanced Leaping Ability], I escapes out of the clearing immediately.
“Your master is proud, squeak!” (Tamiko)
“The credit is yours, Tamiko.” (Shuu)
Before entering the plaza, I used Tamiko’s [Risk Counter] to take a rough estimate of the strength of the battlefield. The boss was at least level 50, and the spearman and hatchet wielder was around 15. The rest were between 3 and 6.
The single-digit numbered small fries did not count as a force. Noa was around the middle, and the others were probably “those who can’t use their Fungal Skills.”
But it is not a simple matter to outwit the level 50 boss. The fact that there were two double-digit included was not to be underestimated.
I knew that if we went in head-on, we would not be able to rescue Noa safely.
So, the strategy we came up with was simple: “I draw the boss’s attention, and Tamiko rescues Noa while I am the focus.”
Noa was laid out almost in the center of the square. No matter how small Tamiko was, it would have been difficult to approach him without being noticed by the others – if not for her Fungal Skill.
Tamiko, fifth Fungal Skill, [Camouflage].
It is the ability to hide oneself by changing one’s hair color at will and blending in with the surrounding landscape. We speculate that Tamiko’s ability is where she is covered with spores that have some kind of effect on light.
It does not mean that she is completely invisible. If you look closely, you can see her silhouette, and my [Sensory Spores] can’t be fooled by it.
Still, it was difficult to catch sight of Tamiko on a moonless night with poor visibility. The Sneak Squeak successfully sneaked into the center of the square and surprised the spearman, who was the biggest obstacle in his way. Thanks to this, I was able to evade the boss and rescue Noa.
“Those guys, are insects compared to the level 50 monster, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“That’s right.” (Shuu)
“–Don’t let them escape! You louts! Chase them!” (Kidnapper)
I could hear the boss’ angry voice coming from the square below. I thought I had kicked him pretty hard, but he seemed to be in a better state than I had expected.
“Abeshuu, what are you going to do, escape, squeak?” (Tamiko)
I gently lower Noa from my arms and put the wolf cloak on him. I try to erase from my memory the glimpse of her ample mounds that I caught a glimpse of. At least that’s what I’ll try to do.
“Tamiko stay here. Take care of Noa.” (Shuu)
“Squeak. Abeshuu, please be careful, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“Yeah, leave it to me.” (Shuu)
Shuu stands at the edge of the square, looking down at the bandits. Once they spot him, they braced themselves, and ready their arrows.
He wiped the blood on his face with the back of his hand. The smooth, unscathed youthful face peeks out.
—I am surprised at how well I have endured that.
I naturally smile when I think I don’t have to hold back anymore.
A kind man, Noa sees me as someone like that, as someone who had stopped them from killing.
(Well, this time it’s different.) (Shuu)
(I’m not that good of a person.) (Shuu)
(Because at this moment, I want to chop them all into eight pieces.) (Shuu)
I condensed all the dark emotions and spun them as a thread on my fingertips.
“Too bad, this time I have to say, ‘I’m not letting you get away with this.’” (Shuu)
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