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Chapter 49 – Substitute Gift
As soon as the sound of the engine echoed, the soldiers jumped out. They responded faster than I imagined. I thought they were more incompetent because they didn’t notice the attack.
Perhaps they immediately sensed the situation when they saw the corpses of their comrades scattered around, and I heard the sound of an arrow hitting the back of the microbus that had left the encampment.
“Be quiet! Get down on the floor with your head down! If you do that, you’ll be fine!”
If they break the window, you never know. I hit the gas and started driving in the dark.
“What are you doing Yoshua, speed up!”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
With more than thirty people on board, the battered bus was moving slowly. The narrow farm road was rough with dirt and gravel, and there were no borders or hardened corners, as they hadn’t even thought about a wagon running on it. Off the road is soft farmland. If we get stuck, that’s the end of our escapade.
“Hmm, that’s where the shootout is!”
“Would you stop reading my thoughts, please?”
“Well, there’s nothing to worry about, is there? We’re only going to make it to the forest anyway. The only thing you have to worry about is how well you’re prepared to take them on by then. Now, hurry up!”
It was only about 200 meters in a straight line, and it would take less than a minute to drive through the farm roads. We went around the forest, entered the blind spot from the imperial military, and stopped beside a huge fallen tree. I put the car in a position to shield it from the bow.
“Everyone, stay down in the car. Don’t move. You come with me and call out to the children.”
I get off the bus with the beastman lady from earlier and put the Humvee in a position to guard the entrance door.
“Minya, get on the gun! We’re going into the woods. Anyone coming down the road is the enemy; you can shoot on sight!”
“Copy that. The bow.”
“First, the gun. Depending on the situation, you may not be able to retrieve the arrows. Use your ammunition sparingly!”
I thought I heard some kind of lively voice, but I ignored it. Yadar, who was holding a machete, was attached to the woman’s bodyguard, while Myrril and I went ahead as the vanguard.
Seeing me with my MAC10, Myrril waved her UZI happily.
That’s right. We are like the forty-five siblings. No, a pair. It doesn’t matter anyway.
I unhooked the MAC10’s safety and switched to a single shot. I can’t control full automatic fire, and I’ll probably end up wasting a lot of ammo.
“It might hit the kids. Don’t fire until you’re sure you see them.”
“Roger that. Needless to say.”
The beastman lady called out the children’s names. After a while, there was a voice in the distance.
“Be careful, Yoshua; there is a small sign of a monster.”
As I ran, I kept an eye on my surroundings, but I couldn’t see anything in the darkness of the forest.
I heard the sound of the sky being cut with a snap, and something warm poured down. It soaked my clothes and smelled fishy.
“You’re really unreliable at times like this.”
Yadar’s exasperated voice made me look at my feet, and I saw a silhouette that looked like a child who had been decapitated.
It seemed to be a humanoid monster, not a beast, although the blood drained away for a moment. The skin is blue-black, the face is ugly and distorted, and there is a pile of teeth peeking out from the mouth.
“What is this?”
“Why, Yoshua, don’t you even know what a goblin is?”
I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve seen a monster other than a dragon. I’ve always had the impression that goblins were small fry in novels, movies, and video games, but the real thing is quite tough, scary, and just plain creepy.
There was no time to stop. As I started to run, I heard Myrril’s voice in my ear.
“Yoshua, there you are! Over here!”
I followed the silhouette of Myrril waving at me from about 10 meters away as I approached. I could see the figures of children hiding behind the fallen trees.
“We’re here to help. Where are the other children?”
“We got separated at the entrance to the forest. We thought we’d look for them in the morning, so we stayed here.”
Five out of eight. An older girl named Meifa cried out in frustration as she answered.
She was older than the rest of the children but still around elementary school age. I wondered how nervous she had been leading the children. How anxious she must have been on her own.
“Good job, Meifa! Your decision to stay where you are and protect the four of them is a great one!”
“Don’t worry; we’ll find the missing three. Just tell me their names.”
“Rukuru, Pawn, and Myra. They are all beastman boys. I taught them that if they get lost, they should hide and wait for the morning.”
“Good job, Meifa. You’re a great leader. Well done, be confident!”
Meifa, who had been holding on through clenched teeth, began to cry raggedly as if relieved.
I patted her crumpled head and handed her a large bag of candy that I had taken out of storage. It’s probably nougat or candy, individually wrapped in brightly colored cellophane.
“A treat. You can share it with the other children when you meet up with them.”
“Yadar, I need you to escort them to the bus. Stay behind and protect the others.”
“Just a reminder. Make sure you stay off the road because you’ll be in the M60’s firing range.”
“I know. I’ll take care of it. …Oh, Yoshua.”
I was about to run out, but Yadar stopped me.
“Thanks, I’ll be right back!”
Myrril sensed the presence of the remaining children and started running through the forest without hesitation. I’m desperately chasing after her, but if I’m not careful, I’m going to be left behind.
What’s up with this little dwarf? She’s so fast!
“There they are!”
I’m worried that she’s keeping her voice down. There seems to be something in the back of it. Is it a monster or a soldier of the imperial army?
Eeehh… Isn’t that the starting point of the otherworld transference episode, where you confront and learn the extent of your strength or realize how good you are?
I think I’m a mid-level section chief in the cross-world transfer industry right now, and now there are Orcs?
And there are a lot of them.
“Two, three… four of them. It must have smelled the children. Orcs are sensitive to the scent of fear in living creatures, and they follow that scent and chase you no matter how hard you run.”
“No, don’t lecture me; I need your help.”
“What? I thought I’d show you something.”
Myrril-san raised her voice a notch and deliberately stepped through the undergrowth with high footsteps. The Orcs turned around and swung their clubs in their hands, bracing their huge bodies.
“Do the Orcs know what true fear is?”
As soon as she said that, a .45 caliber bullet was fired, piercing the Orc’s eyeball and exiting the back of its head. She continued to swing the barrel of the gun and fired three shots in a row. The other three Orcs were also hit in the eyes and collapsed, screaming and rolling around.
In the meantime, the UZI, which is held single-handedly by the slender arms of the noja loli-neesan, does not move an inch.
…Wait, that’s like 4kg or something. You’ve never used a foldable metal barrel before. If it’s wasting weight, just remove it.
“Rukuru, Pawn, Myra! Meifa sent us to help you! If you come with us, we’ll take you to a nice place! We’ve got some good sweets too!”
“Myrril, that’s totally a kidnapper’s line… I mean, aren’t those things dead yet?”
The Orcs are struggling to get back on their feet, even though their brains have been shot out through their eyes.
“Orcs have a vicious streak. Even with their heads cracked open and half their contents spilling out, they can still move.”
“No, no, no, kill it now!”
“But, Orcs, once they feel fear, the smell they emit is much stronger than that of other monsters. And that smell will lure stronger monsters to you.”
Three puppy-like beastman children came rushing out of a cavern-like place at the base of a tree. When we waved at them, they looked relieved and swooped down on Myrril.
“Dwarf-neechan, where’s Meifa-neechan?”
“She’s fine. Everyone is waiting for you up ahead. We have to run. Can you keep up?”
They were speaking like Mitsuwo, but I guess the point was that they wouldn’t lose if they ran. I’m probably, or almost certainly, the slowest of them all.
[T/n: Mitsuo Aida, a famous Japanese poet, and calligrapher.]
One of the kids looks at me suspiciously, but I quickly regain my composure and start running. It seems that there was a mixed-race of beastman in their village, so maybe they don’t care much about appearances.
“What are you doing, Yoshua? If you don’t hurry, the big one will come.”
I hurriedly followed Myrril and the others. Wait a minute, what is this “big one”?
As I ran as fast as I could, I glanced back and saw several torch lights in the direction of the village. The sound of metal clanging and shouting. They must be soldiers of the Imperial Army trying to enter the forest.
Myrril may well have been upset with the imperial army and the people of the village after that. I could see that there was a huge presence approaching that I could recognize.
“Yadar! Minya! We’re back now; get on the bus!”
Minya, who had just gotten off the Humvee, was unhappy that she hadn’t been able to get a shot off, but that wasn’t the point right now. I don’t have a chance to shoot the MAC 10 at all, either.
I stowed the Humvee, jumped into the microbus, and drove off without fastening my seatbelt. There was a roar that drowned out the cheers of reunion behind me.
“…Myrril, what’s that?”
“I don’t know what it is, and I’m not interested in it, but it’s a monster that recognizes Orcs as bait. It will probably stay in that forest for a while, gobbling up all the meat it can get its hands on. In a way, it’s a natural disaster.”
One of the most important things to remember is that there are no subhumans left in the village, according to Ricola, a spy who was among the people rescued. All of them had been sold by the villagers to the imperial army, which fortunately or unfortunately solved the problem at once.
“Then it’s none of our business what happens to them now, is it?”
I smiled and nodded at Yadar’s words. Now that we’ve pulled ourselves together, we’re on our way to Casemaian.