Cotton-elka Line of Defense – Part 01

“Oh, that’s our village, Cotton-elka!”

It was still two hours before dusk. Paula’s group and the Four Eastern Stars arrived at Cotton-elka with plenty of time to spare.

Pia rode Selyse’s horse with her. Paula and Priscilla were each riding on another member’s horse. The veteran adventurers and two young men who attacked the girls were transported to Pond by the reinforcement called for by the horseman, the reinforcement being guards who regularly patrolled the roads, so they were trustworthy. Since this was a matter between adventurers, they were handed over to the guild.

The horse carrying Hikaru did not return to the forest cabin. Paula wanted to wait for him, but Pia said, “We can’t let Lady Selyse wait here!” so she reluctantly agreed to leave for Cotton-elka. She was sure that Hikaru would come later.

Cotton-elka was a small village with only 120 residents. The fences surrounding the village had holes in places, making them inadequate for keeping monsters out. Mountains rose to the north and east, and a large forest with a dungeon called the Forest of Deception was located to the west. Most of the houses had shingle roofs with stones to prevent them from being blown away by the wind. Straw and special clay filled the gaps between the stone walls.

“Adventurers! Adventurers are here!” a villager shouted, running into the village.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Pia said. “It’s just, this is the sticks.”

“It’s a natural reaction,” Selyse said. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“Lady Selyse…”

Pia’s eyes lit up even brighter.

Paula sighed inwardly. Lord Hikaru was the one who saved us. He was also the one who brought the horseman, who then told the Four Eastern Stars about the situation. Yet she only cares about Selyse… She’s practically all over her. She dismounted from the horse.

“Please cheer up,” the woman riding the horse said. “We are here to help the village. Hold your head up high.”

Her rich gray hair was tied to the left, cascading down her equally rich chest. Paula couldn’t help but compare it to hers. She might as well be called the Saint of Benevolence.

Her name was Sophie Bloomfield, a devout follower of the Church and a member of the Four Eastern Stars who used Healing Magic. Paula knew the name Sophie, not as an adventurer, but from the hearsays and anecdotes that reached the church she grew up in.

Accordingly, there was an extremely talented Healer named Sophie in the Church. She was all but promised a high position in the Church, but she chose to stay away because she wanted to use her power in places where it was needed. Or that His Eminence the Pope had given her an important mission.

There were all sorts of anecdotes about the Church too, and the Church officials who visited Paula’s father from time to time shared them with him. She had no idea that Sophie had become an adventurer, though.

The person who gave Priscilla a ride was a Rogue-type adventurer by the name of Sara. She was a slender woman, about the same age as Paula or slightly older, with wavy, purple hair cut quite short. At a quick glance, you would think she was a man. There was a hint of childlike innocence in her mischievous smile. Paula concluded her to be a Rogue-type because she carried only a small knapsack and a bow on her back, and her only other notable belongings were the two daggers on her waist. Her clothes were short-sleeved, and she was wearing a pair of leggings.

Riding on Sara’s horse instead might’ve been less mentally exhausting…

It would have been way more relaxing to ride with the boyish, easy-going Sara than with Sophie, a Healer just like her, but with a much higher position in the Church. Their names sounded similar too. Paula, Sara.

Not one of them had spoken to the last member of the Four Eastern Stars, a robed Mage wearing a hood low over her eyes. Paula couldn’t tell her age or gender. Since they were supposed to be an all-female party, she assumed she was a woman too.

“Dear God! Lady Sophie Bloomfield?! Your reputation precedes you,” said Paula’s father, the pastor. He turned to Paula. “We have a lot to talk about, but for now, please show Lady Sophie around.”

Paula expected to be reprimanded for leaving the village and becoming adventurers without telling anyone, but Sophie’s presence had left the matter unsettled for now. She was grateful for that, at least.

Hikaru and Lavia were camped about a kilometer from Cotton-elka. The dungeon was already full of monsters, and there was a danger of encountering them, but Hikaru was able to keep his Stealth on while sleeping. As long as they were snuggled close, his Group Cloaking would keep them safe.

A new Blessing had actually appeared on Lavia’s Soul Card. Imperceptibility God: Fading Remnant4, which was probably the result of putting three points on her Imperceptibility stat. With this, she was even less likely to be seen by monsters and human alike.

“What’s the Four Eastern Stars like?” Lavia asked after Hikaru explained the situation. “Will they be a problem?”

He couldn’t talk about it while they were on horseback. Incidentally, the horseman told them to take care before he left.

“I don’t know,” Hikaru replied. “It feels like we need to be wary around them, though. I didn’t know Rank B adventurers had that kind of vibe. Definitely levels above the common adventurer.”


“They have this aura about them. They talk succinctly and move gracefully.”


“I think we should be really careful around them. Wait, what’s wrong?”

Lavia was frowning. “It’s nothing.”

“I need you to talk to me. We’re about to do something pretty dangerous. If you notice something, whatever it is might help us.”

“I-It’s not like that.”

“It’s okay. Just tell me anyway.”

“Uh…” Lavia lowered her head, her face red, though it wasn’t immediately apparent in the light of the bonfire. “It’s just… this is the first time I’ve heard you give such high praise to a woman. I feel weird, like I can’t breathe.”

“So you’re jealous.”

“I-I am! Ah, I can’t believe it. I don’t want to be like this.”

Hikaru couldn’t help but laugh.

“I-It’s not funny! I didn’t want to tell you, but you forced me to.”

“My bad. Then I’ll come clean too. The reason I avoided entering the village was partly to avoid the Four Eastern Stars, but also to spend time alone with you and not worry about anyone seeing us.”

“You’re not disappointed in me for being jealous?”

“Not at all. In fact, I’m happy. I’ve never had someone feel that way for me before. I’m even happier that it’s you.”

“Thank goodness. I’m so glad that it was you who rescued me.”h

The twigs in the bonfire cracked. Lavia gently leaned in close, and Hikaru embraced her. The night wore on.

The next morning, Hikaru and Lavia made their move. They wanted to find out more about the Four Eastern Stars and also check out the village. Furthermore, adventurers commissioned by the Adventurers’ Guild in Pond would be arriving by the end of the day.

It didn’t take long for them to find the Four Eastern Stars. Villagers were gathered in Cotton-elka’s square, where the village chief’s house, the Church, and the village’s one and only store stood facing each other.

“Everybody, calm down!” Pia shouted.

The three girls were standing guard outside the village chief’s house.

“How can we calm down? They’re powerful adventurers aren’t they? And right now they’re discussing their raid on the dungeon, right? We want to listen too.”

“The Four Eastern Stars are extraordinary adventurers, that’s for sure,” Pia said. “But they want to talk to the chief in private, so we can’t let you through.”

“You’ve changed. You used to be so well-behaved.”

“What does that have—I mean, what’s that gotta do with anything?!” Pia was struggling to maintain her character.

With their Stealth active, Hikaru and Lavia made their way to the back of the village chief’s house, a two-story structure that was just a little more solidly-built than the rest of the ramshackle houses. They quickly found the back door and entered the house, slipping past some older women engaged in idle chatter.

Voices were coming from one particular room.

“I thought you were sent by the Adventurers’ Guild to clear out the dungeon.”

“That’s a big ask. There’s only four of us. The Forest of Deception, on the other hand, creates hundreds and thousands of monsters. Furthermore, there’s no map of the deeper parts of the dungeon. There are too many variables. It makes a raid difficult.”

Selyse and the village chief were having a conversation. Hikaru and Lavia put their ears to the door.

“So you’re here for a different reason.”

“We’re here to make sure there are no casualties. We can buy you time, so please evacuate to a nearby town with the adventurers arriving later.”

“That’s easy for you to say, but it’s tomato harvesting season. What about our fields? It’s all we have.”

“Your lives are more important.”

“So you’re ignoring the dungeon. I’m not leaving.”

“We will assemble a team of high-ranked adventurers as soon as possible to deal with the monsters. On top of that, the Dungeon Master—Is there something wrong, Sara?”

“Someone’s eavesdropping.”

Hikaru heard the voice coming directly from the other side of the door. A second later, it opened.

“Hmm? I don’t see anyone.”

“It’s not often your intuition is off the mark. What about the other room?”

“The door’s closed, so I don’t think they escaped. Must’ve been my imagination.” Sara cackled.

Hikaru and Lavia managed to move to the room across the hallway in the nick of time. Just before eavesdropping, they left the door ajar so they could hide just in case.

As soon as Hikaru realized that Sara was approaching, they moved quickly, closing the door at the same time as the door to the chief’s room opened. Stealth erased the faint sound that the door produced from closing.

That was close.

There was a possibility of Hikaru’s Stealth still working even if they stayed in the hallway, but he didn’t want to risk it.

Hikaru checked Sara’s Soul Board.

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