Having caught a glimpse of the girl’s knife, Rio twisted his body at once.
However, the girl’s arm suddenly coiled like a snake. Aiming at the small gap between Rio’s armour, her knife pierced the side of his abdomen.
*Gusari* Feeling the blade enter his body, Rio instinctively grimaced.
When he pushed the girl away from him, the knife lodged in his side came free and blood splurted onto her green clothes.
Confirming that he had separated from the girl, Rio took a step back to take some distance from her.
The girl’s stance faltered after being pushed away and the hood concealing her face came off.
Rio was taken aback to see fox ears growing from the girl’s head.
While surprised to see a beastman for the first time, aside from the pain, a lethargic feeling could be felt from his wound.
（Is this… poison?）
Rio immediately realised that the girl’s knife was coated in poison.
It seemed to be a quick acting poison.
Rio quickly put a hand over his wound and began to treat it using Spirit Arts before the poison could spread any further.
The girl who was waiting for the poison to take effect on Rio became surprised when his complexion grew better and immediately dashed towards him.
The girl’s speed astonished Rio.
She was faster than anybody he had encountered before.
She even put knights using『Body Strengthening Magic』to shame.
The place where Rio was stabbed still ached but he did not have the luxury to wait for it to completely heal.
He released his magical power to brush off the girl’s killing intent while reinforcing his physical strength and body. Quickly dodging to his right, he managed to evade the girl’s incoming strike.
The girl also changed the direction of her charge in response to his evasion.
Rio aimed at the girl’s leg and threw a knife.
The girl jumped up to avoid the knife and caught onto an overhanging tree branch. She performed a somersault and nimbly landed on top of the tree branch she was holding onto.
This time, it was Rio’s turn to take the initiative and he leapt towards the girl.
Like a sudden gust of wind, he dashed towards her at full speed.
The girl reached into her robe and threw three knives at Rio in a panic
Rio drew his sword from his sheath and deflected all the incoming knives before sheathing it again.
The girl hastily dropped down from the tree to avoid directly confronting Rio on the tree branch with bad footing.
Rio used the tree branch the girl was standing on just a moment ago to kill his momentum.
The landing force broke the branch and Rio continued to fall downwards.
The moment Rio touched the ground, the girl approached and thrusted her knife at him.
Even a slight graze from the knife would be lethal.
Parrying the girl’s thrust, Rio countered with an open palm strike to the bottom of her chin.
However, it was avoided by a shift of her head.
（Impressive. Her physical abilities surpass most humans despite still being a child.）
Rio admired the girl’s strength despite being locked in a life or death struggle with her.
He did not think he would lose but the girl’s physical prowess rivaled Rio physical strengthening.
（Still, her movements are sloppy.）
From that fact, Rio was convinced he coud not lose.
（No, I shouldn’t be too self-conceited…）
There were no absolutes in battle.
Rio vaguely thought it would be difficult for him to make a serious blunder as long as he incorporated Spirit Arts with the ancient martial arts he studied in his previous life.
In fact, being able to wield Spirit Arts was a huge advantage.
However, that belief made him careless and he was stabbed as a result.
Even if he possessed that power, it was meaningless in the face of a surprise attack.
To make sure he would emerge victorious, Rio carefully studied the girl’s every single move. When she once again thrusted her knife at him, Rio was ready.
He dodged all of her attacks launched a counter attack.
The girl slowly began to become overwhelmed.
The difference between their abilities finally became evident.
Rio tried his best to make sure none of his attacks would accidentally kill her.
The battle would have concluded long ago if he used Spirit Arts.
Impatience gradually crept onto the girl’s face.
The girl seemed to understand that she was no match for Rio.
Impatience finally took over and she lunged at Rio, aiming for his heart.
However, Rio dodged it by slightly rotating his body and drove his open palm into her stomach.
A dull shriek emitted from the girl’s mouth. With her balance and concentration broken, Rio shoved the girl’s head towards the ground.
The girl’s body strongly hit the ground.
Disarming the knife in her hand, Rio lay her on her back and restrained her.
The girl violently attempted to struggle free of her restraints before realising that she could not move much of her body at all.
「That’s enough. Do you understand my words?」
Rio spoke while applying pressure to the girl’s body and hands.
「Hii, hii, hi— Uuuu— Higuuuu—」
The girl’s body trembled as her face distorted in fear, almost as if she was going mad. Soon afterwards, she burst into tears.
As if reliving a trauma, the girl emitted a voice that could not even be called a scream. Rather, she was crying.
「Oi. Calm down.」
Rio frantically tried to calm her down.
「Uuu— Le— Let go! St— Stop!」
Rio clicked his tongue. It seemed like the girl had trouble speaking.
He lay the girl on her stomach and struck the back of her neck with his hand. She lost consciousness at once.
「…Just what kind of environment was she raised in?」
Rio looked at the fainted girl with a dubious expression.
Her puppet-like and single-minded attitude to murder made it difficult to believe that her emotions were stable.
She became abnormally frightened the moment she was pinned down.
Rio noticed a collar around the girl’s neck.
「A Collar of Obedience… Is she… a slave?」
The Collar of Obedience was a magic tool put on slaves.
Once put on, it was nearly impossible for a slave to go against their master’s orders.
When given an order, a desire to carry out said order would arise making it difficult to disobey. As a precaution against disobedience, the slave would experience intense pain if their master recites an incantation.
Although the『Dispel』spell could release the slave collar, it was difficult to learn and was punishable by death if used without the slave owner’s permission.
In addition, a person wearing the collar could not use『Dispel』on themself.
It was that kind of magic tool.
The way the girl started crying was strange.
Rio thought it was perhaps she held a severe trauma against being held down.
However, if untied, she would likely continue to carry out her orders and try to kill him again.
Rio expelled a deep sigh and removed a rope from his backpack to bound the girl’s hands and feet.
He drew his knife and pointed it at the girl before lightly shaking her to wake her up.
*Bikuri* The girl noticed Rio and tried to move.
However, when she noticed that she could not move, she frantically tried to remove her binds.
Rio brandished his knife before her eyes and matched her gaze.
It finally seemed like he could have a proper conversation with her.
Her eyes were still hollow with no light in them but she did not lose her mind like earlier.
「Are you awake? Answer me if you don’t want to die. Nod if the answer is “yes”, remain silent if it’s “no”.」
Telling her that in an indifferent tone, he grabbed her neck and observed her expression.
From the start, Rio did not believe the girl would tell the truth.
His rough approach was precisely because of that.
Realising that she was seen through, the girl stared at Rio in fear.
「You’re a slave, right?」
「Is your master a Bertram Kingdom noble?」
「You were ordered to kill me, right?」
The girl kept silent throughout his questioning.
However, Rio already knew that the answers to all the questions so far were “yes”.
Finally, Rio heard everything he wanted to hear. The girl was not of any use anymore.
Now was the question of what to do with her.
「…Do you want to be released from slavery?」
After releasing a sigh, Rio posed such a question.
It was only for an instant, but light returned to the girl’s eyes. Rio did not miss that.
The girl kept staring at Rio as if in a trance.
She was trying to determine Rio’s true motive.
「If I free you, will you still try to kill me?」
After a brief silence, the girl slowly shook her head.
Her pulse, line of sight, breath, sweat, all of her reactions were astutely observed by Rio.
「I see… But after I release you, won’t you be treated as a runaway slave? …Are you okay with that?」
The girl became perplexed and looked around restlessly. However, when she saw Rio’s sincere expression, she finally gave a small nod.
Having received the girl’s answer, Rio held up his right hand to her neck.
A pale light emitted from his hand and the collar fell off her neck and onto the ground.
The fallen collar was reflected in the girl’s eyes.
Stunned, she continued staring without moving.
A moment later, the girl began to rotate her head to ascertain the collar around her neck was gone.
「Eh… fue— fue, hic, hic, UEEEEN.」
Having understood that the collar enslaving her for so long had become undone, the girl suddenly bursted into tears.
Rio let out a small breath when he saw her state and sheathed his knife.
After ten or so minutes, her crying finally started to die down.
「Are you okay now?」
Rio called out to the girl.
*Bikuri* Startled by his voice, the girl resumed staring at him.
「I’ve wiped off the poison from your knife so you can have it back. You’ll want to escape now.」
Rio treated the place where he struck the girl and cut the ropes binding her.
He also handed back her knife.
The girl let out a confused voice at Rio’s words.
「Like I said, you should escape quickly. It’ll be difficult for you to live in human territory so you should seek shelter in demi-human territory.」
Rio gave the girl advice on what she should do.
「You will find the Demi-human territory east of here. I’m also heading east but unfortunately my clothes are ripped so I’ll have to return to the city to buy new ones. This is where we part.」
The girl remained in a daze after hearing Rio’s words.
If she was still under the influence of the slave collar, she would without a doubt continue to try and kill Rio.
If that was the case, Rio would have no choice but to take her life.
However, it was another story now that she did not have the collar.
She would no longer try to kill him since there was no longer a need to.
Rio had freed her under that assumption.
He did not intend on looking after her after freeing her.
Rio had heard that the beastman tribe were very welcoming towards their brethren.
That was why he thought it would be best for the girl to join them.
After telling the freed girl such, Rio turned back to the city of Almond.
He could not feel any hostility or killing intent from the girl any longer.
She simply stood there in a daze watching him leave.
Rio resumed his journey immediately after purchasing a new set of clothes.
He veered off the highway and entered the forest like last time.
Making sure nobody was nearby, Rio began to increase his speed.
When he approached a group of trees, he suddenly stopped.
Rio turned around to face his pursuer and called out in a tired voice.
There, stood the fox girl from before.
She seemed surprised to have been noticed but showed herself nonetheless.
「Why are you still following me?」
Rio asked why she was still following him.
「Uh— Uhm, east, go, together…」
Rio was taken aback by her request for an instant.
Although she had difficulty talking, Rio was able to understand her request.
However, he did not understand why.
Why did she ask something like that?
Did she, by some chance, mistaken him for a good-natured person?
Rio considered such a thing.
「Listen here, I didn’t help you out of pure goodwill. I also don’t intend on taking you along.」
Rio spoke to correct the girl’s misunderstanding.
He only helped her because he was reluctant to commit murder.
He did not want to bear a sense of guilt.
For such a selfish reason, he freed her.
It was solely for his own satisfaction.
「…want to go-desu.」
The girl spoke in an almost inaudible voice.
Rio let out a small sigh hearing her repeat her request.
「You know, I’m human. We’re selfish existences. Am I not like the ones who enslaved you?」
Hearing Rio’s words, the girl shook her head.
「Bad feeling… not there-desu. Weird smell, too, not there.」
The girl pointed at Rio when she said that.
Rio waas a little doubtful when he heard her say “weird smell”, but it seemed like she used it as a basis for judging people’s trustworthiness.
「Most importantly, I can’t enter beastmen territory.」
Although his voice was firm, Rio was slightly puzzled at the girl’s firm resolve.
It was definitely not one of desperation.
Many of the beastman tribe resented humans because of how they enslaved their brethren.
If Rio brought a beastman girl there, there was a highly likelihood he would be regarded as an enemy.
「Then, up to there, together… want to go… desu.」
The girl’s voice carried a firm resolve in it.
She had lived her life as a slave up until now.
During that time, she had always longed for freedom.
However, she had constantly lived under somebody else’s orders.
Now that she was free, she did not know what to do.
After Rio returned to the city, the girl walked around the forest aimlessly. When Rio left the city again, she caught a whiff of his scent and for one reason or another, decided to follow him.
Scratching his head with his left hand, Rio let out a sigh and spoke in a resignation.
「…Fine, do as you like. But, once we reach beastman territory, we’ll go our separate ways. Understood?」
Rather than having her follow him from behind, it would be better to travel together. Making up a half-hearted reason, Rio accepted her proposal to travel together.
The girl nodded while still slightly confused.
Rio looked over her appearance once more.
A green robe covered her from head to toe and there seemed to be various tools hidden underneath.
「Do you have food and water? What about a blanket?」
Rio was checking if she had the minimum necessities.
「Food, have, little. Water, river, drink. Blanket, use this-desu.」
The girl spoke while fluttering her robe.
Rio sighed as a result of what he saw.
With only what she had, it was nowhere near enough for the journey.
「I see. I’ll take care of food and water for you. It’d be best if I returned to the city one more time…」
Although Rio found it annoying to have to repeatedly go back to the city, he had to see to the girl’s needs now that he allowed her to accompany him.
「Wait here for a bit. I’m going back to the city to buy you some necessities. Let’s see, I’ll be back in an hour. Understood?」
He instructed the girl to stay where she was.
After the girl gave a timid nod, Rio turned back to Almond again.
「Oh yeah, what’s your name?」
Suddenly recalling that he had forgotten to ask something, Rio stopped in his tracks and turned around to ask the girl for her name.
「I see. I’m Rio. Nice to meet you, Latifa.」