Stealth Kid Goes to Cotton-elka – Part 05
The next morning, they had breakfast of packed food, then set out for Cotton-elka.
“These packed foods don’t really fill the stomach,” Pia grumbled.
“We should be in Cotton-elka in the evening. We would’ve arrived way earlier if we had horses.”
“Our food is pretty much the same as packed food anyway. It’s still a while before we get the proceeds for the tomatoes.”
“Yeah… They should be harvesting them right now. Next step is to dry them, then sell to the peddlers, and then we profit.”
Put it another way, this was the time when Cotton-elka was struggling financially. Talking with Pia brought back memories of the village to Paula. No matter how hungry they were, they weren’t allowed to eat the tomatoes. Priscilla’s father, a hunter, would sometimes secretly give her bird he had caught in the forest, and it was unbelievably delicious. Last year and the year before, Cotton-elka flourished thanks to the abundant harvest of tomatoes. The girls were well-fed, which in turn gave them energy. They would never escape poverty if they just stayed in the village. They wanted to live life their own way, not reliant on the tomato harvest. So they left the village.
“Do you think they’re mad at us?”
“Wh-Where’d that come from?”
“We haven’t sent a single letter since we left.”
“Well, the plan was to send a letter together with the money.”
The three novice adventurers, who had their plates full just trying to survive, had never been able to send money back to their families.
“Ungrateful children,” Priscilla muttered.
Pia and Paula groaned. Not that Priscilla’s situation was any different.
“I kinda don’t wanna go back to the village now.”
The girls continued on dejectedly.
They reached the fork at noon as scheduled. Before them was the junction and the lumberjack’s hut, flanked by small hills. Behind the hut was a thick forest.
“Okay, let’s have lunch.”
“I’ll make some tea.”
It was just a dingy cabin, but it had a well and a kettle. Unfortunately it was empty, so they couldn’t talk to the lumberjack.
Pia and Paula entered the hut to put down their luggage, while Priscilla stopped at the entrance and whirled around.
“Hmm? What’s wrong, Priscilla?”
Priscilla dove inside the hut and pushed Paula down. A second later, an arrow hit the door.
“We’ve got company!” Priscilla exclaimed. “Humans, not monsters.”
Freya, receptionist at Pond’s Adventurers’ Guild, was worried about Hikaru, who had not shown up since this morning.
He didn’t go to Cotton-elka, did he? Why would he go there?
Gloria crept up to Freya. “Your mind seems to be somewhere else,” she said. “Is there an adventurer you fancy?”
Freya yelped. “Gloria?! Y-You scared me!” She tried to push her away, but Gloria just dodged with a smile.
Meanwhile, adventurers were watching them from afar.
“The gentle Freya, and the mature Gloria.”
“By the way,” Gloria said. “Sir Unken told me something earlier. Do you know what happened at the capital yesterday?”
“The capital? What happened?”
“Actually…” Gloria whispered in Freya’s ear.
Freya’s eyes widened in surprise. “R-Really?!”
“Yes. I think they’ll make a move. Now you don’t have to worry about your darling.”
“What?! I-I, uh… I have to go organize the library!”
Freya scurried away from Gloria.
“Hikaru! Up front!”
Hikaru and Lavia were on horseback galloping at high speed—both of them on one horse. Normally, they would have had to hire two riders, but since Hikaru and Lavia were both light, the rider agreed to take them both.
A dandy man was riding the horse. In fact, it was the same man whom Hikaru hired back when he went to grind for levels. He bumped into the man by chance.
The man was aware of what was happening in the Forest of Deception, and when Hikaru told him he was going to Cotton-elka, the man asked if he had a death wish, to which Hikaru replied that there had to be something he could do to help.
“In that case, I’ll give you a ride,” the man had said. “But payment will be upon your return. I’m broke, so make sure you pay me.”
An adventurer in the past, the man came at a station he rarely visited, hoping to help out in some way with the current problem.
In any case, the man’s horse was fast. They had passed the post town, the area where the girls had set up camp, and were now coming to the junction where the lumberjack hut was located.
“What the hell?! Is that a fire?!”
“A raid, I think.”
The man stopped his horse about a hundred meters away from the hut billowing black smoke. Hikaru spotted six people surrounding the hut.
“Lavia, let’s go!”
The two jumped off the horse.
“What are you two doing?!” the man exclaimed.
“You go hide,” Hikaru told him. “You can’t fight with that arm, can you?”
The man couldn’t move his left arm. It was most likely the reason why he quit being an adventurer.
“I think people I know are inside,” Hikaru added. “Get as far away as you can and come back in half an hour. We should be done by then.”
“You’re awfully confident.”
“I wouldn’t have considered coming to Cotton-elka if I wasn’t. I’ll see you later!”
Hikaru and Lavia sprinted away.
“Damn it!” the man cursed. “I guess all I can do is provide a ride.” He turned his horse around and sent it to a gallop.
Once they were out of sight, Hikaru and Lavia joined hands and activated Stealth. If they were to use it separately, they would not be able to hear each other, so Hikaru used Group Cloaking instead.
“First, I’ll charge straight into the hut,” Hikaru said. “Get ready to cast fire magic at any time.”
“How powerful do you want it?”
“Maximum power. But I want you to target the hut. We just need to scare them.”
Hikaru knew he was being soft, but he didn’t want Lavia killing people.
“When I give the signal, you shoot. Got it?”
“…Got it.” Lavia, knowing they didn’t have much time, reluctantly agreed.
Hikaru and Lavia parted ways. Lavia climbed up the hill and looked for bushes to hide in, while Hikaru sprinted down the road.
“They’re not coming out.”
“Do they want to burn to death?”
“W-We’re not going to kill them, are we? They’re our acquaintances.”
“Huh? Shut the fuck up. It’s too late to think of them as friends. We can’t go back to town because of them.”
As Hikaru drew closer, he heard the men’s conversation. He assumed they were adventurers-turned-bandits.
It’s those guys…
It was the veteran adventurers who tossed Paula into the horde of Goblins. And the two boys from the neighboring village, who were in the same party as Paula and her friends, were with them.
Hikaru could easily imagine what they were doing here. They didn’t return to Pond, expecting Paula’s party to report them to the guild, and they had nowhere to go. The boys probably suggested they stayed in their village. It was almost certain that Paula and her friends were the one inside the hut.
Hikaru pictured his Soul Board.
Age: 15 | Rank: 17 | 1
Helping Lavia gain Soul Ranks increased his own rank by one. Unfortunately, his stats were not suited to dealing with a bunch of hostiles at once.
The roof was rapidly collapsing. They were running out of time.
Paula and her friends were huddled together in the middle of the hut.
“Ugh… I can’t last… much longer,” Paula mumbled.
“They actually set the place on fire,” Pia growled. “How low can they go?! Let’s go, Priscilla! We’ll take down as many as we can!”
“Not yet,” Priscilla said.
“Whether we leave now or wait until the last second, the result will be the same. Then it’s better to wait.”
“What are we waiting for exactly?!”
“We’ll attack the moment the roof collapses.”
Priscilla gave a thought-out plan. Her strategy involved striking the moment the enemy dropped their guard. But the hut was filling with black smoke, and they could no longer keep their eyes open.
“You make a good point, but…” Pia coughed. “But we won’t last…”
“…Fine. Let’s attack them head-on.”
“I have a better idea. You go out the window facing the east. There’s no one there.”
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