Section 5: Emerging Thoughts
After Toslin finished making her report to the receptionist, we all moved over and took a seat at an empty table. And then as soon as a bowl of steaming hot soup was set down in front of her, Carol jumped right in.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm~!! Hot! Tasty! I am aliveeeee!!”
Draining her soup, Carol reached for some bread. It had apparently only just been baked, because steam rose up after it was broken in half, and the sweet smell of butter drifted over to my nose from across the table.
“Uu, it looks so good……”
“Aren’t you going to eat Iris?”
Carol tried sharing some of her bread with me, but I had to turn her down. Saluena and I had breakfast before we came here. No matter how good it smells, if I give in and eat here, my lunch will be completely ruined.
“Uwa, this meat’s really good too. Iris is losing out by not eating here.”
“How nice. I’ll be sure to let my mom know you said that.”
Carol was currently sinking her teeth into some herb grilled barbato. The Shining Hen in Rifront had a dish with the same name, but while they grilled the meat as is, this place minces the meat before kneading it with the herbs to make something similar to a hamburger. The juices overflow as the knife cuts through the meat making me hungry just looking at it. But, is there something in there besides the herbs?
“Oh my god, is there an entire sausage packed in here? Woohoo, my excitement is reaching its peak♪”
“Rather than exciting, isn’t this dish more like they just took a whole bunch of things that they liked and rolled them all together? I mean, I guess I don’t hate that way of thinking.”
“T-This is……perhaps a little too heavy for me……”
While Carol was delighted by the dish, Rose-san’s face was a little cramped as she looked at her own hamburger. But that can’t be helped. After all, this is a place with an overwhelmingly high male ratio, so naturally the menu would reflect that.
“Does that mean I can have your sausage!?”
“Sorry Carol-san, could you please?”
Breakfast finished just like that, and as I was getting started on my second cup of tea, “So about those ruins……,” Toslin started talking about their job.
“Eh, so there weren’t any ghosts?”
With Carol and Rose-san popping in to add on a detail or two, the story goes that after the three of them left the city and entered the mountains, there wasn’t a single undead among the monsters they encountered.
They had only managed to explore a small part of the ruins for now, but Rose-san could not confirm anything unclean inside either.
“Like we said though, the mines are a complex maze, and we’ve only been able to investigate about ten percent of the ruins. So, there might still be something there deeper inside.”
Carol patted her bulging belly, and with a relaxed, satisfied look on her face, muttered,
“If a certain somebody hadn’t lead us down the wrong road, we could’ve gotten more done.”
“You picked the wrong road too though?”
Even together these two have zero sense of direction. But the job takes place in a mine this time, so it can’t be helped if they get lost in there. They showed me the map the church gave them, and it’s as complicated as an ant farm. Plus this map is old and hard to make out. The paper has faded in some areas, and in others, I can’t tell if that’s supposed to symbolize something or if it’s just a stain.
“You said you did encounter some monsters though. What kind exactly?”
Saluena spoke up while I was looking over the map. Rose-san was sitting right next to her, pouring some more tea into Saluena’s empty cup. She’s so chivalrous.
“Ents, Sally-oneesama. There were maybe a dozen of them. Despite their numbers, Toslin-san and I managed to defeat them.”
“I just watched.”
“There’s not much a dagger can do against wood after all. And you might start a forest fire if you tried to burn them.”
Simply put, the monster called an ent is just a moving tree. They’ll stand still pretending to be your average, ordinary tree. Then once their prey carelessly draws near, they’ll wave their branches and attack.
You might wonder how a tree could possibly start moving, but a tree that gains a ring every year is a vessel that can hold that much power. Ents are supposed to be made once an evil spirit transfers into this vessel and makes use of that built up power.
“Hey, Iris. Is it normal for an ent to appear around here?”
“Yes, there are plenty of mountains around here as you can see, so there are multiple sightings every year. With that being said, I’ve never heard of anyone ever seeing a dozen of them at once.”
Solretta Litta has conifer trees all around, and our lumberjacks go out almost every day year round to chop them down and process them into lumber.
There have been quite a few cases where a lumberjack would end up attacked by an ent during their work. But thinking back, it wasn’t exactly a frequent occurrence either. If this was such a dangerous area that a dozen ents could attack you in one night, I probably would have never been asked to go to Rifront in the first place.
“I see. The receptionist was pretty surprised herself when I reported it to the guild.”
But what were they surprised about? Is it because that many ents showed up at once? Or because just three people were enough to kill that many of them?
“But I’m sure an ent doesn’t moan though?”
“Yeah, you’re right about that. Somebody heard the leaves rubbing against each other and mistook that noise for moaning…….it’s an explanation that seems a little hard to believe.”
“Then the spirits dwelling inside the ents were moaning?”
“Can spirits moan?”
“Yeah, I don’t know.”
“All right, shut up for a bit.”
Toslin stabbed her fork into the last bite of her sausage and shoved it into Carol’s mouth.
“Gack, *Munch* *Munch* *Munch*………Delicious!”
“Depending on the power of the spirits themselves, I know there are those spirits that are able to communicate and hold a conversation.”
“Is that really true?”
“Yes, most spirits don’t know what to think or do, but the powerful ones can possess an ego. Powerful spirits like that tend to control and order around the weaker ones.”
“In other words, there’s a powerful spirit nearby, and it’s telling the weaker spirits to rampage around?”
“Considering your story, it’s certainly a possibility. But if all you encountered were ents, then as strange as it is, maybe it really is as simple as you having run into a dozen of them at once?”
Toslin started looking pensive as she mulled over Saluena’s conjectures.
“Well for now, we’ll carry forward assuming the worst.”
“Nyaaa, I’m getting sleepy…..”
Carol opened her mouth wide in a huge yawn, her eyes already almost closed entirely.
“Indeed. We did not receive any sleep last night……”
Having been quietly taking care of Saluena until now, Rose-san caught Carol’s yawn, putting her hand to her mouth and shrinking back a little.
“Oh, to yawn in front of you onee-sama, my sincerest apologies…….”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s only natural you would be tired right now.”
Saluena lovingly gripped a tuft of Rose-san’s silky hair and rubbed it between her fingers.
“Sally-oneesama…….ah, don’t. Feeling my hair in a place like this…….”
Indeed. Just where do you think you really are right now?
“Yes yes, let’s save the flirting for later.”
When I hit the table a little harder than I had intended, Rose-san jumped in her seat.
“Ah, Iris-san? I wasn’t…….I mean, that was not our intention.”
“Ohoh, apparently Iris is starting to get jealous. But of which one of us? What do you think Rosa?”
Huh? I’m feeling really irritated right now for some reason. I would usually be a lot more careful with my words. Should I let Rose know here and now about how seriously Saluena prayed to that stuffed animal……..no, that’s really pathetic, so let’s stop thinking like that right now.
“O-Oneesama. Iris-san is actually angry, so let us stop with the playing…….”
“Hmph, if that’s what Rosa says, I’ll keep it here.”
Thinking about it, Saluena and Rose-san have started a sisterly relationship with one another, so maybe they’re feeling lonely because they can’t spend any time together. And if I keep thinking about that, maybe that irritation from earlier will change into something else.
“Once Rose-san’s job is finished, don’t you think it’s a good idea to go out somewhere together with her, Saluena? You need to take a breather every once in a while.”
“……what are you saying all of the sudden Master?”
“I-Indeed. Our mission is to protect you Iris-san……”
“It’s fine, isn’t it? We’ll stay with Iris in the meantime.”
“Rather than just calling yourselves sisters, you should get to know each other in all sorts of ways. Otherwise there might be trouble if an emergency were to ever come up.”
After weighing both options based on which one would bring them the most fun, Toslin and Carol decided to join my side, giving us the majority vote. If I can return the favor to the two people who are always taking care of me, I owe Saluena an especially deep debt, then I’ll be happy.
“Well then, it’s decided. Oh and sorry to bother you, but could you do me a favor Iris?”
“Hm? What is it?”
Toslin picked Carol, who was already sleeping like a log, up into her arms.
“We’re going to head back to the inn and get some shut eye in order to go back out investigating tonight, so could you fill Aronda-san in on everything I just told you?”
“Yeah, it’s no problem at all.”
“Thanks, I’ll leave it to you.”
Toslin gave a small wave of the hand before leaving the table. Carol was thrown over her shoulder and carried off in a scene similar to a kidnapping.
“Um…….Iris-san? About before……..did you really mean that?”
After Rose-san had finished her farewells with Saluena, she came over to me and asked in a small voice.
“Of course. There’s a theater in this town meant for tourists, so it would be good if you two went and had some fun together.”
And then while you’re together, please pamper Saluena who is surprisingly lonely. I couldn’t say what I really wanted to say in my heart, so I did my best to keep showing a calm smile.
“I-Is that so…… I understand. Thank you for your consideration.”
I don’t know if my feelings were transmitted correctly, but if it’s Rose-san, then I’m sure some time alone together will be enough for her to understand and help Saluena heal the wounds on her heart.
Hm? …….but, I wonder why.
I did something good.
Right, just a moment ago. I think so, especially after seeing Rose-san’s honeycomb like smile………
“Well then, pardon me. I shall see you the same time tomorrow.”
“Yes, same time tomorrow.”
And yet, there’s a small pain in my heart.