「Well this sucks……」
Looking at the road to Elza temple, Hiroshi exclaimed with a grimace. It appeared to be a normal road, but was in a terrible condition for anyone who looked at it. If you stepped forward any further you would be devoured in less than ten seconds.
「How could they do this to the forest……」
Artiem let out a frustrated voice. At first glance this was a normal forest, but with miasma this far in, who knew if it would ever return to normal.
「Artiem-sama, let’s solve the situation quickly. We might still have a chance.」
Chided by Aearis, Artiem recomposed herself. Aearis looked rather calm, but it wasn’t like she wasn’t angry about this sight. She knew from past experience that these situations required outward composure, regardless of feelings.
「So can you deal with the cleansing？」
「Please leave it to me, Hiroshi-sama」
「The forest is crying. There is no reason why I, Aranwen’s priestess of the forest should not try to help!」
Aearis spoke placidly, while Artiem spoke with full fury. While they appeared to be polar opposites, both girls had the same level of urgency in their tone. Watching the two of them, Hiroshi felt reassured that they would not fail at purification.
「Now then, Artiem-sama」
Aearis called Artiem, charging her purification power. She did a small dance, and the area around her was purified a bit with each motion. Once a certain radius had been cleansed, she left the area to Artiem.
Once her turn had come around, Artiem pulled the mythril bow she had asked Hiroshi to make (with no arrows attached). She pulled, then let go; pulled, then let go; continuing this process as she assembled the few remaining ancestral spirit fragments and charged purification power just like Aearis did.
「O slumbering ancestors of Stiren Forest! Please lend us your power to drive away the twisted sadness and rage that dwell here！」
Responding to Artiem’s petition, several masses of power untainted by the miasma moved into her bow. Once Aearis had confirmed this, she followed suit with calling for power.
「O heroic spirits that doth slumber in Stiren’s history, Aearis, princess priestess of Alfemina asks that ye lend us feeble humans power to drive away the evil fiends in this land and to clear the regrets of your descendants.」
The heroes, famous and unnamed, who gave their lives for Forre’s sake. Their souls, which had by this point become one with the earth, wind, and world, answered Aearis’s plea and rushed to devour the twisted environment of the forest. Once a tear appeared in the fabric, Artiem shot through it with the ancestors’ help.
With the overpowered purification, the maddened forest was momentarily stripped of its miasma, reverting to the previous clean state. However, most unfortunately, the greenery in the contaminated area did not return to normal, practically writhing in pain as they withered mercilessly.
「As I thought……」
「Sorry, Artiem-sama…I cannot do anything about miasma this prevalent……」
「No. You are not the one to blame, Elle-sama. The real one to blame is the fool who desecrated this area！」
Dropping her shoulders dejectedly, Aearis apologized, to which Artiem responded as she glared at the tunnel connecting to Elza Temple. Despite cleansing it with such power, the tunnel just didn’t seem to be any closer to escaping its isolation. It didn’t appear to be fully set in, but there was clearly a location from which the miasma was flowing in.
「You can be depressed later. Elle and Artiem, hurry up and get back to Stiren Temple or our workshop. Rainy, you’re there too, right？」
Reacting to Tatsuya’s words, Rainy appeared from an area of the forest not yet infected.
「……You knew I was here？」
「Yeah, cause you clearly feel a rather peculiar amount of responsibility. It would be far more surprising not to find you in this situation.」
Rainy cocked her head, wondering why Tatsuya gave her such praise. From her viewpoint, she was only taking on the job assigned to her. Professionals always did this.
「Well, it’s fine if you don’t get what I mean. From here on is our job, and a danger zone at that. You also need to regroup with Doul-san and guard Elle and Artiem on their way back to the safe zone.」
Nodding at Tatsuya’s instructions, Rainy looked at Aearis and Artiem. She had only come here as a precaution to if something happened to Douga and they needed more people.
Also, Douga wasn’t here because the temple people seemed to resist the idea of too many individuals approaching the area. He was instead keeping watch near the forest entrance alongside the affiliated people. It was meaningless if someone intruded from outside the road like Rainy did, but it was still better than doing nothing.
「I contact people～」
「Octopus pot～、octopus pot～」
「Take it with you～、take it with you～」
The octogals, who had behaved themselves thus far, held out the small pot they had been using for makeshift teleportation.
「……Okay, but we don’t know what will happen from here on out, so try to stay well-behaved.」
After thinking over it a bit, Makoto took the pot. Octogals didn’t have a shred of battle prowess, and yet they were oddly long-living specimens when it came to survival. They also had many convenient abilities and knew when to use them, so this shouldn’t be an issue.
「Wait, I’m the one who took this, but I’m going to be in front, so wouldn’t it be better for Haruna or Mio or Tatsuya to carry it？」
「That is true…if we’re bombed, I’d be the most screwed, so maybe I should hold onto it……」
Tatsuya agreed with Makoto’s comment as he sighed, accepting the pot. Hanging it from his neck, this was quite the bizarre sight.
「Mm…this really doesn’t fit me……」
A handsome guy with a pot (not even fashionable at that) dangling from his neck was, all jokes aside, not a good combination. It even clashed with his new behemoth armor, further serving to clear away the tension in the air.
「……Deary and the others seem to be taking this pretty well」
「No point getting all serious in a situation like this」
Mio responded indifferently to Rainy’s observation. She was right that getting too nervous wouldn’t tip the scales in their favor. The current mood was maybe a bit too loose, but nervousness or fear at its max would destroy them.
「So I take it we’re good to go？」
「Yup. It ain’t like we can make any other arrangements by this point anyway」
Hiroshi figured that idle chitchat would prevent further progress, so he expressed agreement with Haruna as she steered the conversation back to their objective.
「Kay then, we gonna head on now, so grab yer things ‘n giddyup」
「Okay. Take care, everyone.」
Listening to Hiroshi, Aearis left despite some painful reluctance. Artiem also followed, despite her own regrets. Aearis had no battle prowess, and Artiem had the kind of body that attracted all sorts of unwanted attention. Stepping a single foot into this danger zone would spell disaster in more ways than one.
「Kay, here we go y’all」
Once he saw that the two priestesses had gone back to town, Hiroshi declared departure. Given the situation, he by default stood at the forefront alongside Mio.
「Mm？ Whazzup, Haruna-san?」
「Nothing important, just thinking I maybe should have asked them something.」
「What are ya thinking of？」
「This probably has nothing to do with what we’re about to do, but I was just wondering why Elle-chan and Artiem-san borrow power from different things. Also, maybe ask them the definition of ancestral spirits vs heroic spirits」
「True, that does seem a bit outta the blue mate……」
Hiroshi felt a bit exasperated at Haruna suddenly caring about these things, but they continued their pace.
The tunnel was a maze.
「But basically as I expected」
Hiroshi spat out, irritated at the 90 degree path turning right ten meters ahead of the entrance. Based on the outside appearance, this should in fact go straight or maybe paint a light curve to the destination. Now that there was a dead-end in that spot going right instead, this was a maze.
「Sensei, shall we use Fleming’s right-hand rule？」
「Seems like there will be a lotta infinite loops ‘n shifts in structure, so I doubt that method’ll really be of help」
Hiroshi dismissed Mio’s proposal, recalling Ortem Dungeon. The only time Fleming’s rule would apply would be in pure dungeons with no teleporters, infinite loops, regular walls and no functions that changed the layout from outside.