Chapter 169 : Doubt And Speculation
While Silvi and the others were leaving the inn, Rio took Flora towards the Southeastern highway. Both routes they could go through were surrounded by a forest of densely packed trees. When they arrived, Rio and Flora were met with an eerie silence.
A fugitive, huh? They did block the southwestern highway, but…
Whilst pondering about what those female knights had let slip, Rio suddenly looked at the treeline to his right.
Usually, small towns such as this post town wouldn’t be able to afford so many regular soldiers. Therefore, the local lord would usually dispatch some of his soldiers who in turn would need to work with the adventurers and the native people to maintain public order.
And, if the usual strategy turned out to be insufficient, the towns would then be provided with an army. Of course, such a thing would depend on the scale of the threat and the scale of the territory.
I have a bad feeling about this.
Rio thought, feeling uneasy about the situation they were in, as he glanced at Flora beside him. He didn’t want to leave the highway just yet as they were still close to the road junction.
「Let’s go with our usual speed. I don’t sense any people in our immediate vicinity so it will be alright for us to advance a bit faster. We’ll go at our usual speed before we cross the forest to enter the southwestern highway.」
After looking around, he confirmed that there was no one around them. As such, he freely told Flora his plan. Letting her know that the ‘usual speed’ meant that Rio would run whilst carrying Flora in a princess carry.
The fact that those female knights were there meant that there was definitely some sort of trouble for them to deal with. That’s why, taking into account the fact that he was currently protecting Flora, he chose to leave this town as soon as possible. Even though he wouldn’t normally want to run using his enhanced physical ability on the highway, he felt this was his best choice right now. His instincts had never failed him before, thus he chose to trust it.
「……？ Yes! 」
As for Flora. Despite feeling that something was amiss, since they had never exposed themselves so openly in the middle of a highway before, she still chose to trust Rio’s judgement.
「Well, excuse my rudeness then.」
「Yes. P-please take care of me.」
Rio approached Flora to lift her up, and despite her slight embarrassment, Flora consented. Although she had been carried that way so many times before, she was still not used to it. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to it either.
On the other hand, Rio, having gained a lot of experience by now, easily carried Flora with practiced movements. Once Flora was in position, she held onto Rio’s clothes and entrusted her tense body to him. [ED: if you know what I mean ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)] [TL : RIajuu explode!!! ED: You explode too(I agree)]
「A-Am I heavy? 」
「Nope, you’re not」 [TL : Without magic, this is bullshit!!! ED: Muscle training]
This kind of exchange had happened so many times that he had lost count. At this point, Rio could only wryly smile at Flora, whose face was becoming redder and redder. Suddenly, a woman’s scream resounded from the forest to his right, calling out.
◇ ◇ ◇
In the meantime, Silvi and her companions left the inn to chase after Arein and Ven. As they tailed after the pair, Silvi listened to her knights’ report and frowned when they finished it. Her gloomy expression was obvious to anyone looking as she spoke.
「I see. The man called Lucci entered the forest huh.」
「So, while your subordinates did meet with the fugitives, it didn’t look like they saw him make any transactions with those guys.」
Renji said, looking at Silvi with a raised eyebrow.
Silvi nodded after a brief pause, mind whirling, thinking that it was too…convenient.
This…isn’t this actually too good to be true?
The thought came suddenly and several things became clear in her mind. Like the fact that they didn’t really know where Estelle actually was even after coming so far. Thinking about it she remembered that their agreement had something written for cases of desertion. In addition something unexpected must have happened on Reis and co’s end for them to have loosened their observation over her.
With multiple pieces of important information falling into her hands, she felt that this was a once in a lifetime chance. However, she couldn’t ignore the doubt creeping up within her as things were moving too smoothly in their favour.
Nevertheless, something did happen that forced them to make their move. I mustn’t be dragged around anymore than this. If we miss this chance to save Estelle, then Estelle’s life will be completely at their mercy. However, if we succeed to rescue her, then we will be able to completely cut off our ties with them..
Yes, if I miss this once in a lifetime chance, we may not get another one..
She made her decision almost instantly after she filtered all the available information she had. Suddenly, Renji opened his mouth to speak to her.
「Silvi, I want to confirm something.」
「Should I assume that the safety of your little sister takes the maximum priority? While the ideal situation will let us secure her first, that might not necessarily come to pass. Combat might be inevitable before we could secure her. So, in that situation, what will your orders be?」
Renji’s question was delivered in an indifferent tone, and when Silvi heard it, she couldn’t immediately answer.
When Renji saw her hesitation, he decided to tell her his analysis and thoughts.
「Their combat abilities are unknown. To be honest, I think killing would be easier than capturing them. Especially that man they called their leader. He’s a dangerous man. And I doubt we can win against him even if all of us ganged up on him.」
Renji’s idea was to directly kill them off. Though it could be considered a drastic measure, he reminded himself again and again not to make the same mistake he did before suffering the bitter defeat in his fight against Lucius. True enough, if their goal was to save Estelle, then another goal was to kill all of their enemies for sure while they were unprepared.
「…….. I do want to capture them alive for the sake of interrogation, but I guess it’s highly improbabile to catch them alive and make sure Estelle comes out unscathed. Alright then. There’s no need to add any unnecessary risk factors. Nevertheless, I want you to try to capture Reis alive.」
Silvi finally spoke, a worried look on her face.
「Understood. In that case, what are we going to do about the other party of this transaction? According to those guys, the other party of the transaction seems to be after your little sister too.」
Renji continued his questioning. This time his concern was regarding the other party of the deal [Rio and Flora] which he considered as the most uncertain factor.
「……….. Let’s assume them as hostile party if they try to endanger Estelle. And it’s just as you say, securing Estelle is our top priority.」
While she did look slightly troubled, Silvi still replied with a firm tone. And though she wanted to dig deeper, that would only be possible after they secured Estelle, the hostage. Besides, seeing the obscure relationship between the other party of the transaction and Reis’ party, she simply couldn’t wait anymore. She couldn’t let this chance slip. And since she was the one taking the initiative, she had to prepare herself to lose something else in return.
「Understood. So everyone save for us are the enemy. That simplifies matters.」
Hearing her words, Renji let out a belligerent smile, as he hastened to comply. However, Silvi continued on speaking with caution in her words.
「But, in case we secure Estelle before the other party, let’s move with the intention of ambushing them. At that time, I want you to act as I say.」
「In that case, we have to secure her first no matter what.」
Renji’s expression turned serious when he heard what she said.
「Those guys increased their movement speed! 」
Silvi’s complexion paled when she heard that. Ven and Arein who were ahead of them suddenly accelerated and as soon as they exited the gate, they disappeared from Silvi’s group sight, right into the forest.
「What should we do, Silvi? 」
Renji’s tone was tense as he asked Silvi for their next move.
「………. Let’s go after them. Renji, you come with me. The rest of you, report the current situation to the other knights on the highway. After that, join us to look for Estelle.」
After she said that, Silvi took out the handle of the demon sword that she brought along from the inn. She activated the physical strengthening, and broke into a run. Renji following close behind her.
「≪Hyper Physical Ability≫」
The two female knights also activated their physical strengthening with magic and ran towards their colleagues who were waiting for them at the junction of the highway.
Renji and Silvi, having enhanced their speed with magic, managed to slowly close the distance between Arein and themselves. ――,
「I think they were heading towards the place they called “transaction place” before. Tell me if you find anything no matter how trivial it is after we enter the forest.」
Silvi said to Renji who was running beside her.
Renji nodded with a serious look on his face. Suddenly, a thunderous roar resounded from the direction of the Southeastern highway.
「!!!!! ? 」
Silvi and Renji’s eyes opened wide as they looked in the direction the sound came from. There, they saw darkness as black as the night sky right before them.
「…………. OVER THERE! LET’S GO！ HURRY！ 」
Silvi’s eyes were glued at that scene for a few seconds before she ran at full speed as she imagined that the worst possible situation might be happening at this moment.
◇ ◇ ◇
Some time before Silvi and Renji saw that unusual phenomenon, Rio and Flora were moving through the forest.
「Uhm, was that voice that came out just now…a girl’s voice?」
It seemed that Flora heard that girl’s scream too, looking at the forest to his right with a slightly frightened face.
「……Yeah, I heard that too. Follow me.」
Rio nodded and quickly put Flora down on the ground. Looking at the forest to his right, he stepped forward as if to protect Flora, gaze scanning the forest around them for any threat.
「SOMEONE, SAVE ME! PLEASE SAVE ME! 」
The voice of the girl, asking to be saved, became clearer as time passed. The rustling sound of her feet stepping on the vegetation clear. And that clear sound was heading towards Rio and Flora.
「Uhm, could she have been attacked by the said fugitive? 」
Flora timidly asked Rio, unable to think of another possibility after what that female knight had told them. And that was only natural, with her nature being what it was.
「It could be, but…………….」
Rio grimaced as he hinted that he hadn’t fully accepted what they had been told. He couldn’t explain it in words but he felt that the situation was a little bit strange. What was even stranger was the fact that there was a girl who had appeared out of nowhere calling for help. However, he wasn’t given any more time to do anything further since the presumed woman, who was calling for help, had almost reached their location.
It was a teenage girl who appeared before them. She looked to be around their age, though it was evident that she was a proper noble lady, when they saw the high quality attire that was worn on her body.
「………. Ah, S-Save. PLEASE SAVE ME! 」
When the girl realized that she was already outside the forest, she momentarily looked spooked before looking around for help. She soon saw Rio and Flora nearby and rushed to them, her expression showing her extreme fright and anxiety.
Rio squinted his eyes. He didn’t understand how and why a noble girl would be in that forest, but he thought that she might be related to the reason why those female knights took such a drastic measure like blocking the highway.
It seems like I accidentally bumped into another troublesome matter again.
When he thought that, he started to wonder whether he was actually haunted by some sort of jinx. If not, how else did he bumped into so many troublesome matters? And right now, he really had an urge to just grab Flora and leave the place. Immediately. But…that might be too heartless of him…
Whilst he was pondering, he noticed that Flora was looking at the girl’s face with a dumbfounded expression.
The girl, while extremely frightened, tilted her head in puzzlement when she sensed Flora’s astonishment. She couldn’t see through Flora’s disguise, after all Flora’s hair color was different. Furthermore, she also had her hood up, making it hard for people to distinguish her features even for someone who knew her personally.
Had she met her somewhere before?
Rio took that possibility into account before he decided how to interact with that girl.
「U-Uhm, I am! 」
The girl turned her attention from Flora to Rio, and went to embrace him.
Rio didn’t let his guard down and pushed the girl away from him. When he did that, the girl’s face distorted in fear. She looked as if she had been forced to a corner and was at her wits end with no recourse left.
「I-I’m going to die! I was forced to swallow a strange magic tool that looked like a crystal and they said that I’m going to die from it. But, they said that you might be able to save me.」
Her explanation didn’t make sense at all.
If it’s me, then I can save this girl? Me?
Rio was torn in puzzlement and doubt over this girl’s attempt in explaining. However, before he could formulate a response, for some reason, that girl suddenly moved her hands frantically and tore her own cloth, revealing her breasts to the world.
Rio was taken aback with surprise at the girl’s bold and ambiguous action, but he immediately averted his gaze away.
With a flushed red face, Flora unintentionally gripped his clothes on reflex, pulling pulling him back as if to say 「Don’t Look!」.
However, she was too weak, as such she was unable to move Rio who was still standing firmly in his original position. On the contrary, Rio suddenly embraced the girl in front of him as soon as he noticed something.
「KYA！ ? 」
The girl raised a small scream as she buried her face to Rio’s chest with her upper-half still bare when he did that.
Flora let out a frustrated voice at his action, but Rio didn’t pay any attention to her. Instead, he was looking at the forest on the west with a serious expression. Then, he reached out toward the sword that was strapped to his waist. And, right after that――
A violent stream of dark light suddenly came out from the forest to their right. Seeing this, Flora’s eyes opened wide in shock, body stiffening. That dark light wave was swallowing everything that stood in its path and was going straight towards Rio and co like an avalanche, followed by a loud thundering noise a moment later.
The girl’s panicked screams were swallowed by the thunderous noise that followed right after the wave. But, when nothing happened even after a few seconds had passed, they opened their eyes timidly. Only to see that Rio was standing in front of them with his sword in hand, erecting a wind barrier to protect them from the torrent of dark waves.
This attack is… that man…
Rio stared at the torrent of dark waves while protecting himself and the two girls with wind magic. He knew this dark wave. He knew the person who loved to use this move using his demon sword. After all, just recently, Rio had fought against a person who had done similar attacks. Lucius. The man who was killed by Rio himself.
Don’t tell me……… He’s still alive?!
Rio’s doubted in his mind. He was not sure whether the identity of the person who released the attack was him or――,
「Ha-Hahaha! This sword is amazing! This is our leader’s power! 」
Lucius’s subordinate, Lucci. The guy whose laughter resounded in the forest as he kept swinging the sword which was owned by Lucius once upon a time, sending torrents of dark waves one after another.
Kuh, it’s hard to see the culprit huh…
Rio strained his eyes to look at the source of this attack. But he couldn’t discern that it was Lucci since he was always obscured either by the dark waves or the thunderous noise.
Several seconds later, the torrent of dark waves which had hidden Lucci stopped coming as he stopped swinging his sword to fire dark waves at Rio. It’s just that the rapid firing of those dark waves basically wiped out the plants and vegetation between Rio and Lucci, forming a clearing in a straight line between them along with clouds of dust.
Rio invoked his spirit arts using the sword in his hand and released an omnidirectional wind to clean the cloud of dust, thus clearing up his field of vision. He had to see who was attacking them. At last, he finally he confirmed Lucci’s figure before them. Nevertheless, the current Lucci wore a dark robe and hood to hide his figure and face to prevent Rio from recognizing him.
「Tsk, f$cking monster………..」
When he saw Rio standing there, looking as if nothing had happened, Lucci smacked his lips together, vexed. He couldn’t stand seeing the sight of Rio standing in his original position nonchalantly and unscathed. Lucci had attacked rapidly in the hope that one of his attack would kill him. At first he intended to avenge Lucius, though in the end he just wanted this guy to die. But, the result went just like what Reis predicted.
I have no other choice then. Time to retreat.
Lucci, who made sure that his face was still hidden, immediately retreated into the forest.
However, Rio didn’t stay still. He reacted immediately by injecting his odo into his sword, and slashed Lucci using the sharp wind blade that was strengthened even further by the odo before it was fired toward Lucci’s direction.
「Hah, if it’s only at this distance, I certainly can cope with that attack easily! 」
The distance between them were quite long, so it was possibly to dodge that attack as long as one used strengthening magic on their body. And while usually Rio could fire a faster and more powerful attack in a matter of seconds if it was just around this distance, right now he couldn’t do so right now, unfortunately. The current situation was too delicate for him to be 100% sure.
Shall I give a chase? No….
Rio’s judgement clouded for a moment even though Flora was behind him. Nevertheless, before he could act recklessly, he was stopped.
「KYa-………….. A-Are you alright! ? 」
Flora’s scream from behind him stopped him. The girl who was asking for his help a while ago had suddenly collapsed without any warning. In panic, Flora only propped up her body, not knowing what else she should do in this situation.
「…Let me take a look at her condition.」
Rio discarded his hesitation as he gave up the idea of chasing after their attacker, turning around to check over the situation. After all, it’s not like he could just abandon Flora in this place.
「P-Please. Ah! 」
Flora agreed immediately. But, when she noticed the bare chest of that girl, she hurriedly tried to cover the girl chest.
「Please wait a moment.」
Rio stopped immediately and sized Flora’s hand to stop her movement.
Flora’s body jolted due to surprise, but Rio ignored it. His eyes fixed on the chest of that girl, but there’s no trace of guilty conscience in his expression. And then――,
He saw a magic formula as big as a child palm carved on that girl’s chest.
「…………… AH! 」
Flora’s tense form immediately loosen as soon as she saw something that resembled magic formula on that girl’s chest, relieved.
A spell? Dead already?…It seems to not be the case. She still have pulse… And she’s still breathing as well.
Rio checked the girl’s condition with uninterested face, only heaving a sigh once he confirmed that she was alive and only unconscious.
Is this also caused by that guy before? Or is the cause different? What about that sword that guy had? Where did it come from? It was so similar to the one that was owned by Lucius….
Rio grimaced as he pondered about the man who attacked them a while ago.
I had made sure that man is dead. I had killed that man for sure. But, just why did that ambusher have his sword? Or did he survive from my last attack? If that’s the truth…then…is he aiming for me?
When Rio was trying to comprehend the situation, Flora’s concerned question floated into his ear.
「U-Uhm, Haruto-sama. This person is…………? 」
「…Don’t worry, she’s still alive for now.」
Rio heaved a sigh as he shook his head, answering Flora’s unspoken question.
「T-Thanks goodness………. Eh, but then, uh, that is…we should…」
Hearing his assurance, Flora also heaved a sigh of relief, but then she realized another important fact. She couldn’t let that girl’s chest to be exposed forever, so she tried to tell that fact to Rio with slightly flushed red face, wanting to properly cover the exposed part.
「…………. Flora-sama, this person i–!!!? ? 」
Rio was about to ask something to Flora, but he suddenly turned around, alarmed. He looked at the western forest’s direction, only to see countless of compressed mana being fired at him.
Rio thought as he mowed down those attack by encasing the wind around the sword in his hand, and swung it to the attack. He then looked at the direction of the incoming attack, and saw the figure of the female knight, Elena, rushing out from inside of the forest whose ground was gouged up by the previous dark waves attack.
「YOU SAVAGE, GET AWAY FROM Estelle-SAMA! 」
Elena rushed toward Rio and then slashed at him. Her eyes were looking at Estelle whose chest bared right in front of Rio. Maybe she mistook Rio for a hoodlum.
Yet another trouble.
Heaving a sigh, Rio stopped Elena attack with his sword, and then tripped her feet when she lost her balance due to launching an all-out attack.
「!!!!! ? 」
Elena balance easily crumbled. Though she managed to catch herself and readjust her stance by stabbing her sword to the ground, there’s no way Rio was going to miss such opening.
「Calm yourself a bit.」
Saying that, Rio sword was already pointed at Elena throat.
Elena frowned in frustration. Though she lost a little bit of her composure in her rage, she had never expected that her attack would be countered so perfectly with such surprise attack. And, just from their short exchange just now, she had managed to grasp Rio’s combat skill. And, it was not something she was able to match up with.
Damn is, even though Estelle-sama is so close…………!
Despite her extreme frustration, she still kept her guard up against Rio. While Rio took this chance to explain the situation, yet when he was about to do so――,
「Listen to me, the thing i-!!!!! 」
A sharp light was aimed at Rio’s armpit. Noticing this, Rio moved his sword with minimum movement and mowed down at the incoming attack with extreme precision.
Renji appeared as he swung the Divine Raiment in his hands, 『Cocytus』 in it’s Halberd form. Rio instantly intercepted Renji attack with his sword and then――、
They keep coming one after another.
He retreated immediately in order not to be affected by the residual power of Renji all-out swing. Thus, despite being blown to quite a distance away, he still managed to land lightly on the ground.
Maybe because he judged that there’s no need for a chit chat along with a wish to finish the battle decisively with the previous attack, Renji immediately attack Rio. He was taken aback when he didn’t receive the easy win he expected with the attack. What he got was Rio splendidly parrying his attack, making him wary. Thus, he raised his vigilance at once. He glanced at Estelle, whose bare chest was exposed, and had to grimace in displeasure.
A while later, Silvi made her entrance, and as soon as she saw Estelle’s unconscious figure, she released her killing intent.
… Renji? A japanese?
When he heard Renji’s name, Rio unintentionally focused on him.
On the other hand, Flora, who was unable to follow the situation that changed too rapidly, were looking at both sides with confusion. Nevertheless, she still understood that she’d become a hindrance for Haruto if she suddenly stood and made her presence known in this situation.
Meanwhile Renji slashed with his cocytus from quite a distance away from Rio. Thereupon, vast range of cold air that was loaded with large amount of mana spread out, aimed at Rio’s feet. To restrict Rio’s movement.
What a rough way to arrest me. Didn’t he know that I’m gonna suffer from frostbite at this extremely cold temperature?
Though he was slightly confused by Renji’s attack just now, he felt like that Renji wasn’t holding back at all. Nevertheless, there’s no way he’s going to be obediently stayed still and caught by them either. Rio side-stepped to leave Renji’s area of attack. In the blink of an eye, the ground was frozen under the influence of Renji’s attack.
Can’t be helped.
When Rio looked at Flora who was left behind Renji and Elena, he abandoned all notion of peaceful negotiation.
If this attack had something to do with Lucius, then he feared that these people were going to mistook him as Lucius’s accomplice trying to hurt defenceless Flora. At any rate, these chains of event smell like a trap for some reason.
Seeing that he had not perfectly grasped the current situation, he’d take Flora’s safety as his top priority for the time being. For this reason, the fact that Flora was positioned behind Renji had become his greatest source of trouble.
He had to guarantee Flora’s safety first before he thought over whether to settle this in a peaceful manner or not. After deciding his goal in this situation, RIo kneaded vast amount of odo in his body to strengthen his body even further as he set his stance.
「This is bad, Elena, you take Estelle first! 」
When Silvi confirmed that Rio had chosen to fight them, she ordered Elena to protect Estelle while she backed Renji up as his rear guard. Though Silvi felt some sort of deja vu the moment she saw Rio’s appearance, it vanished immediately as soon as the situation changed again. Thus, the 2 vs 1 combat began. [ED: …you guys didn’t even let him a chance to explain…why won’t he attack you in this case? His priority is different than yours after all… :facepalm:][TL : Nownow Xie, it’s natural to attack first, from their perspective, Rio look like he’s going to rape Estelle afterall.]
Meanwhile, deep in the forest――,
I never thought that the plan was going to be this smooth. Here you go, it seems I won’t get my turn, now I can only trust the strength of his abilities.
Reis let out a chuckle as he saw the situation deteriorated according to his plan. Around him was the trio of Lucci, Arein and Ven――、
「Well then, prepare yourself, your turn is about to come.」
Reis told the three of them.