Section 1: Moaning
Unicorn galloped through the forest.
Consisting of mostly evergreen trees, this forest wasn’t nearly as closed off as the Swansea Forest was, but it still prevented much of the sunlight during the day from being able to break through. As such, the forest bed was covered in accumulated snow which hadn’t had a chance to melt yet.
Relying on the few rays of moonlight that managed to break through the forest canopy to see, Unicorn’s hooves brushed past the top of the snow, kicking up a small cloud in our wake. If I were to get off and try to walk normally, the snow would probably bury me up to my waist. And yet her hooves were barely scratching the snow’s surface as if all of us put together weighed little more than a feather.
“Seriously what’s going on? No, I should just be happy with how comfortable the ride is.”
Lapris was looking down at the ground below while hanging off Unicorn’s mane.
In truth, this was just a minor application of the ‘powerful shield that can’t be broken’ magic circles which had protected us from the ents’ attacks.
“I see. So you are spreading out those barriers from before across the snow and running across them.”
Every time one of Unicorn’s hooves is about to hit the snow, she is deploying one of her magic circles across the ground and galloping across those instead. Afterwards there is a small metallic echo like a hammer smacking an anvil, and the hoof is repelled off of it.
“Yep. I figured if these shields could hold off those heavy attacks, they should definitely be able to support our weight as well.”
So I asked Unicorn if we could try it out, and it actually worked. She was awfully nervous at first, but she’s gotten used to it as we’ve continued moving. She’s still not going as fast as she can, but it’s still faster than having her trudge through the snow.
“I see~ But just hold on a sec. Isn’t this the same thing as running on air?”
“That’s right. If we were to lay out these barriers as if they were stairs, could we not keep climbing upwards until eventually we are running past entire mountains?”
“Yep, I thought about that too, but it’s impossible right now.”
“What, why? Running over the snow and running through the air, we already said it’s the same thing.”
“It’d be way too scary.”
“Yeah, you know. Unicorn…..is scared of heights. She’s getting used to this little by little, but she’s afraid she might make a mistake. One wrong step and we’d go plummeting to the ground, so she doesn’t want to try it.”
Unicorn gave a small, apologetic neigh.
“Ah, right well….. Everybody has things they’re good and bad with. Just being able to run across snow is amazing enough.”
Lapris started gently stroking Unicorn’s head.
“Lapris is surprisingly kind.”
“Haa? Just what are you trying to say? I’m not especially kind or nothing.”
“You think? Just giving me one of your important feathers and coming to me like this is already a huge kindness on your part.”
And most notable of all is the fact that she fought the dragon with us in Relton. She could have easily run away and saved herself, but she was able to work up the courage in that little body of hers to rush in and save me from danger.
“I’m only here right now because the Goddess told me to be. Otherwise I’d never go out to help those guys.”
But……groan. Judging by this reaction I’m guessing Lapris’s opinion on Toslin and Carol has already moved beyond zero and started digging its way into the negatives. I’d really like it if those two could make it up to her for everything they did when we first met. And the stuff they did to her when we met again. Then there was also all that other stuff……. Well, but, I mean, Lapris does hold some responsibility for that foul mouth of hers.
“But, even then, I’m still glad. Thanks Lapris.”
“…….s-sure. What the heck, honestly……..you always knock me off balance.”
“You don’t really have to apologize. Even though I was summoned, I still chose to come. Because, you and I are pals.”
Lapris’s face turned a bright red as her words overlapped with the sharp smack of Unicorn’s hooves striking the magic circle on the snow. The fact that her face was only about the size of my thumb and that she had the same brown skin tone as the Seed sisters made it difficult to notice. But between the snow and Unicorn’s shining white mane both acting as a backdrop, I was positive she had turned red.
“Iris, I believe me might be nearing the ruins.”
“Ah, right! Just a little more. Unicorn, slow down and approach as quietly as you can.”
It was about five minutes after I gave Unicorn those instructions.
Bit by bit the distance between the trees began to increase, and our thick forest turned into woods. The snow covering the ground continued to deepen as we went, but that’s not an obstacle so long as we’re riding Unicorn.
“Ah, oi look, over there!!”
Lapris climbed on top of Unicorn’s head and pointed out in front of us.
Our field of vision opened up all at once. With nothing left to block our gazes, we came face to face with a towering wall of rock that rose high into the sky.
“…..the ruin’s, entrance……right?”
And right in front of us was a mine shaft bored into that impenetrable looking wall. It looked like just an ordinary tunnel reinforced with wooden beams from where we were standing.
“This used to be a mine shaft. There’s the railway that leads inside.”
According to the books I’ve read, this was a functioning mine 300 years ago. Remnants from that time period are scattered all over the place. A wooden minecart that’s falling apart after being left to decay. Excavated stones and dirt piled along the side of the mountain. And of course the rail tracks Saluena already mentioned. I’m sure they would’ve been a polished silver color back in the day, but right now they’re so rusted and corroded that one only has to look at them to know they can’t be used anymore.
“There are traces here where the snow was pushed aside.”
There were several paths cut through the snow that start at the mouth of the mine shaft and go out radially into different portions of the woods all across the clearing.
“………Toslin and the others?”
“Most likely. I’m guessing some of them are also from the hunters who initially reported the moaning they heard as well.”
“That reported moaning which started this whole investigation was definitely made by the carbuncle then right?”
While keeping an eye on our surroundings, Unicorn slowly approached the mine shaft’s entrance.
“At first it was hypothesized that an undead was making the noise, but considering the only monsters encountered in the forest were ents, the odds of it coming from the spirit controlling them is very high.”
And so everyone entered the ruins not knowing that what was actually making the moaning was a carbuncle spirit from the time of the Primordial World.
(Everyone is just inside…….)
I want to help everyone as soon as possible, but I need to bury those feelings and proceed carefully.
“……I see. Well sure, it’s probably in there. The carbuncle. And I can tell from here just how powerful and dreadful it is. His stink is wafting out from the ruin’s entrance.”
Lapris suddenly put on a fed up face.
“But, you’re making assumptions Iris, and it looks like you’re inference missed the mark.”
And so seeing her look like that, I turned my head once again.
“Apparently the undead hate it here too.”
Lapris pointed towards the mine’s entrance just like how she did before. But this time there was a shadow that had not been there before.
And my ears picked up a noise immediately afterwards. It was the sound of multiple hoarse, grating moans.