LEVEL 2: Everything is Precious, Nothing is Replaceable
Hot… that was the first thing that came to mind after descending a sink well from the fourth to fifth stratum. While the fourth stratum was comfortably cool, the fifth stratum was completely not. The temperature was much higher and the reason was immediately apparent. Forges, both large and small, lined the tunnel paths.
The fifth stratum was a refinery, where excavated ore was brought to be smelted. Not all the forges were in use, but the lit ones were occupied by busy-looking kobolds. Other worker kobolds lounged around spaces apparently used for breaks. Some areas were crammed full of kobolds while others were fairly quiet. Once in a while, an elder and its underlings would appear.
There were also spots that made for good hunting grounds for reserve force soldiers, one of which Mary guided them to. It was a cul-de-sac at one end of the stratum, but the path made a large, round-about loop, so it wasn’t actually a dead end.
The spot was a good distance from any of the forges, but not too far from the worker kobolds’ break areas or the lookout posts where the elders supervised everyone. It was an area kobolds might enter if they went for a walk between shifts and once in a while, kobolds could be seen drawing near.
This was where Haruhiro and the others laid in wait… except no kobolds came. Ranta, growing impatient, growled in exasperation.
Yume sighed in annoyance. “If you can’t be patient, then why not try taking a nap?”
“If I fall asleep,” Ranta countered, “you guys will decide it’s boring here and leave me behind.”
“Darnit. Foiled again.”
“Damn right, Ms. Washboard. I know what you’re thinking before you even think it. I see right through you!”
“Don’t call Yume that!” Yume said.
“I’ll call you whatever I want, stupid! Flat flat flat flat flat flat flat flat flat!”
Yume’s expression turned stormy.
“Y-Yume…” Shihoru said, gently patting Yume on the back, “I don’t think your boobs are small.”
“Shihoru’s got big boobs, so that doesn’t make Yume feel better!”
“Oh… I… sorry… but I’m just fat… I’m sorry…”
“Yume too,” Yume said apologetically. “Don’t mind what Yume said. It ain’t your fault you have big boobs and it ain’t like Yume made her boobs small on purpose. And Yume uses a bow now ‘n then ’cause Yume’s a Hunter so she sometimes thinks havin’ big boobs would just get in the way…”
“Um… that might be true,” Shihoru agreed hesitantly.
“Yume’s prob’ly a natural born Hunter,” Yume said.
“What kind of weird reasoning is that?” Ranta challenged.
Haruhiro found himself agreeing just a tiny bit with Ranta this time, but it was definitely better not to involve himself in the conversation. This was one of those let it go moments. Let it go… Just let it go… He had a feeling that gaining experience with thislet it go skill with the intention of leveling up got him closer to achieving some goal.
The fifth stratum was a clangorous place, but this hunting spot they occupied now was relatively quiet. Noise also echoed easily, since it was a mining tunnel. They could hear footsteps approaching. Most likely kobolds.
Haruhiro lifted his hand and pointed a finger in that direction. He then gave a thumbs up, and turned it down immediately. It was the hand sign for “enemies approaching, get ready” they had all decided upon after they had starting coming to the mines.
Yume readied her bow and nocked an arrow, closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. Shihoru and Mary readied their staves. Mogzo unsheathed his bastard sword, Ranta did the same with his longsword, and Haruhiro followed suit with his dagger.
The kobold came into view. An elder. Yume opened her eyes; they moved with that particular motion indicating that she had activated [SHARP SIGHT], a skill that allowed her to track movement with a higher amount of precision. She shot. The elder cried out as her arrow hit it in the face.
The elder went down writhing in agony but behind it came another. That one was an elder too. Two of them, Elder A was wounded while the other was unharmed.
“Mogzo, to the unwounded one!” Haruhiro ordered and Mogzo ran to obey.
“DIEEEEEE!” Ranta was already charging at Elder A.
Yume had dropped her bow and unsheathed her kukri. Shihoru chanted, “Oom rel eckt vel dash!” the [SHADOW ECHO] spell. The black seaweed-like shadow elemental burst from the tip of her staff.
Elder B was fending off Mogzo’s attacks with a broad-bladed sword but in that moment, the shadow elemental hit it right in the stomach. It started quivering uncontrollably. Mogzo pressed Elder B’s sword down with a shout then lifted his own bastard up and brought it down on the elder’s head. The elder kobold twisted its body away at the last second, and Mogzo’s sword only grazed the side of its head instead of splitting its skull.
In the meantime, Ranta while shouting his fury, had driven his longsword through Elder A’s chest. Just as Haruhiro and Yume made to help Mogzo, Elder B made an about-face.
“Don’t let it get away!” Mary shouted.
Yume switched her kukri to her left hand and with her right, pulled out a throwing knife and hurled it at the elder. Her [STAR PIERCE] skill hit Elder B right below its shoulder but rather than go down, it kept running. Mogzo was right behind it, heavy armor clanking with ever step, sword raised but out of range.
“I’ll get him!” Haruhiro quickened his pace, pushed Yume aside and passed ahead of Mogzo. Elder B’s back was to him and since it was so preoccupied with running away, it wasn’t taking any precautions to protect itself. It was also wounded and unsteady on its feet. At this rate, Haruhiro could catch up.
“[WIDOW MAKER]!” Haruhiro jumped onto it back, slit its throat in the same motion, and leapt away again.
The elder staggered for a bit, then crashed to the ground.
Haruhiro let out a sigh of relief, “I did it…”
“Got my Vice!” Ranta cried in a savage tone.
So it seemed that Kobold A was now dead too.
“For some reason…” Haruhiro found himself loose-lipped and couldn’t help it.
It wasn’t the cleanest fight ever, but it didn’t go too badly either. They didn’t put any unnecessary burden on their Priest, Mary, everyone contributed their combat specialties, and they were able to finish it quickly. It was almost like actual teamwork.
“For some reason, I think that went really well,” Haruhiro continued. “Don’t you guys think so too?”
“A-agreed,” Mogzo said, his barbute helm moving up and down in a nodding motion. “I think so too.”
“Yeah,” Yume said, nostrils flaring as she used her left hand to pat herself on the right shoulder. “Yume’s arrow and throwin’ knife were amazin’. Yume kinda feels sorry for the eldie but feels pretty good about herself.”
Shihoru smiled, “It was like we had a good rhythm going. Like we naturally knew who was going to do what next and that’s exactly how it worked out.”
“Yes,” Mary flashed them a slight smile. “I think it was well done.”
“AND IT’S ALL BECAUSE OF ME!!!” Ranta proclaimed. “ALL BECAUSE OF ME AND ALL IS MINE!”
Haruhiro guessed it was too much to expect Ranta to act any differently. Well, all he had to do was let it go… but he couldn’t.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Haruhiro challenged. “Is that supposed to be some sort of cool line?”
“No, wait a sec… I meant THE WORLD! Not all! I meant the world is mine!”
“Oh. Good for you then.”
“You don’t think it’s good at all! You’re just saying that!” Ranta accused.
“Nope. I think it’s good,” said Haruhiro. “It’s great. Congrats.”
“Thanks!” Ranta kicked at the ground. “And why do I have to thank you of all people anyway?!”
If it was the same pattern as usual, Haruhiro would be pissed off at this point, but he actually found it kind of funny and laughed despite of himself. Everyone was in good spirits while they collected the loot. Suddenly, Haruhiro felt something strange… something wrong. He quickly glanced around.
“What’s wro—” Mary started to say, but before she could finish, she saw the same thing as Haruhiro… A head poking out from just beyond where the tunnel path curved out of sight. A kobold. It had to be.
When the kobold realized that Haruhiro and Mary had noticed it, it ducked back out of view.
“Hey… pretty nice,” Ranta said as he relieved Elder A’s corpse of its talisman. “Looks like this’ll fetch a really good price…”
“Wait,” Haruhiro said, raising a hand to shut Ranta up. “Mary, thoughts?”
“What?” Ranta craned his neck for a look. “What’s going on?”
“What’s wrong?” Yume, on one knee by the body of Elder B, asked. Shihoru, crouched next to Yume turned to Haruhiro, blinking in confusion. “Hm? What—”
Mogzo grunted and bent down low.
Mary placed a finger on her chin, “Thoughts, you say…”
A long, ear piercing howl resembling a dog’s split the air. But the howler was certainly no dog. A kobold. A worker or an elder, Haruhiro couldn’t tell, but it had to be that kobold that had spotted them just now.
“O-oy…” Ranta gulped hard and put a hand over his mouth. “What the… that doesn’t sound good…”
Mary’s eyes were wide, the panic in them obvious. “This is bad. That’s a…”
Another loud howl, answered in return by several others of the same kind. The howling had now become one continuous stream. That first kobold had started it, then another had answered, then another, and another, and another in succession.
“R-run!” Haruhiro’s decision came immediately.
Yume grabbed Shihoru by the arm and dragged her to her feet, “C’mon Shihoru, get up!”
Run. They had to run. Run like hell. But where to? For a split second, Haruhiro had no idea. Calm down! Then he remembered, it didn’t matter. This tunnel path at the end of the cul-de-sac was circular. It was the same no matter which direction they went. But after this then where to next?
The fifth stratum was a like a twisted maze of passages. Could they get back to the sink well that led to the fourth stratum without getting lost? He didn’t have a terrible sense of direction, but he wasn’t great with them either. It’ll be okay… For some reason, he had the feeling that they would be okay, but he wasn’t entirely confident. It was very much like him to waver back and forth like this.
“Follow me!” Mary said, springing into a run.
Oh. Right. Mary had been down here once before. All they had to do was follow her.
“E-everyone, let’s go!” Haruhiro said, even though no one had to be told.
He trailed close behind Mary, turning to look back as he ran to make sure everyone was still with him and acutely aware of how much of a loser he was. Though he was the leader, he had been the first to turn tail. In that moment, he had forgotten all about his companions. Completely pathetic. Beyond embarrassing. Yume and Shihoru were completely panicked. He had to calm them down.
Calm down?! At a time like this? How?!
“It’s fine! So just—” Haruhiro immediately felt like swallowing his words. Just how is it fine? the straight man in him wisecracked. He was not fine. If he wasn’t so preoccupied, he would have laughed at how not fine he was. He was going mad, surely.
He couldn’t run very well with his head turned backwards, so he shifted his gaze forwards again. Everything was shaking. His field of vision was swaying. Things were shaking and swaying so hard he wanted to ask why in the world everything was shaking this hard. His heartbeat drummed loudly in his ear. Oh. Maybe that was why. It felt like his heart was going to jump up and leap out of his mouth.
They exited the cul-de-sac and a little further down, ran past a lookout post then a break area. Both were empty when they had passed by earlier, but not anymore. The break area was full of worker kobolds who immediately rushed towards them.
“Shit! Shit shit shit!” The expletives unwittingly rolled off his tongue. Shit! and What do we do?! alternately rampaged through his mind.
Mary’s pace slowed so Haruhiro followed suit. Oh. So that’s why. A pack of kobolds were directly in their path; they would run straight into them if they kept going. But it was a dead end if they turned back. The only option was to force their way through. Not with Mary in front though.
“M-Mogzo!” Haruhiro turned and yelled. “F-front! Get up here! Use [WAR CRY]!”
“R-right!” Mogzo replied, a hint of desperation in his tone, as his armored form clattered its way past Mary and Haruhiro to the front.
Fourteen kobolds, maybe more, met Mogzo with flaming brands, intent on killing him. Mogzo suddenly halted as he was pelted with a number of those flaming sticks. Without so much as flinching, Mogzo planted both feet firmly down and roared into the air; a Warrior’s [WAR CRY] skill.
Through a special way of pitching his voice, the deafening [WAR CRY] shout intimidated enemies. Being unprepared for [WAR CRY] would stop human, monster, or any other living being in its tracks. It made some of the kobolds in front of them jump into the air while incapacitating others with fright. Some even backed away, head in their hands.
“NOW!” Mogzo yelled, tone gruff and masculine.
Haruhiro ran as if his life depended on it, shouting, “Everyone at once!”
Ranta shouted as he charged. Mary was right beside Haruhiro. What about Yume? Shihoru? Haruhiro glanced behind him. Both were present.
“R-run! Go! Go go go!” He cried.
Was that the only thing he could think to say? Pathetic. Haruhiro and Mary quickly caught up with Mogzo. Mogzo wasn’t a fast runner by nature and his armor slowed him down even more. The clanking of his plate mail echoed through the tunnel. Should I pass him and run up ahead? Haruhiro wondered. No, not a good idea. More kobolds had appeared in their path. Lots more. How many? He had no idea.
“I can’t use it again! Not so soon!” Mogzo said raggedly, running for all he was worth.
So [WAR CRY] wasn’t a skill that could be used in succession. What were they going to do?
“W-we’ll have to charge through them!” Haruhiro said.
A small voice inside of him asked, Charge? Bum rush? Really? But there wasn’t a better option, was there? What he really wanted was to take all the frustration at the indecisiveness he was feeling now out on someone, but this wasn’t the time or place.
“ARGH!” Mogzo cried out.
Kobolds were ramming themselves into him, shrieking their own battle cries. Three of them, then a fourth threw themselves at him, piling themselves on top. Mogzo fell to the ground, rolling over repeatedly, but the momentum of the roll also somehow brought him back to his feet. Mogzo too, looked bewildered as if he had no idea what just happened.
“Keep going, Mogzo!” Haruhiro yelled.
Mogzo recovered immediately and continued running with a series of shouts. Haruhiro had no idea what he was shouting, but whatever.
“Turn right!” Mary said.
Ranta suddenly shouted, accompanied by Shihoru’s shrieks. Haruhiro turned around and saw that a kobold had latched itself onto the hem of Shihoru’s mage robes. Yume chopped at the kobold’s hand with her kukri, lopped it off, and prevented Shihoru from being dragged to the ground.
In the meantime, Mogzo was swinging his sword in broad strokes as he ran, forcing the kobolds directly in their path to scatter. Mary too, struck any kobold that got within range of her staff. And I’m not doing anything… Haruhiro thought. Just running. Not that there was much he could do but run.
How did this happen? How did things turn out like this? Everything was going well. Really well. Everyone was feeling good, the mood was light, and morale was sky high. Was it perhaps… they got overconfident because everything was going so smoothly? No, things hadn’t gotten to that point. They were on the verge of it though. One step away from crossing that line.
Had they been careless then? Inattentive?
Haruhiro couldn’t deny it. They hadn’t noticed that whistleblower kobold until it was too late. Too late? Really? Wasn’t there something Haruhiro could have done then, but failed to do? He couldn’t say with certainly that there was absolutely nothing he could have done to prevent this.
They had gotten too lighthearted.
Nothing good ever came of getting caught up in the moment. They had lost Manato too, when they all thought that they had everything handled. And now here they were again, repeating the same mistake. Haruhiro had failed to learn the lesson Manato had paid for with his life.
“What am I doing…”
He was pathetic. Worse than worthless and irredeemably so. But blaming himself for the mistake wasn’t going to make their situation any better. But he also didn’t think there was anything he could do turn things back in their favor.
Not possible. They wouldn’t be able to get away. It was over. Finished.
The kobolds were too numerous. There were just too many. If they went straight ahead, kobolds. Turned around, kobolds. To the right, kobolds. To the left, kobolds. The tunnels were full of kobolds. Where were they? Haruhiro had no idea. He was just following Mary.
Mogzo had slowed down considerably, but if Haruhiro went past him, he would be in the lead. He couldn’t. He couldn’t be in the front. There was no way he could be at the front lines.
Mogzo’s breathing came in ragged gasps. He must have been exhausted but he never stopped swinging his sword as he ran. No, he was forcing himself as if it was a matter of life or death. Mogzo was doing his best for them.
I’m sorry, Haruhiro apologized silently, wanting to cry. “Mogzo… I’m so sorry. I’m a useless good-for-nothing…”
But even if he was, he still had to do something. Even if it was just a moment, he had to let Mogzo rest or he would never make it. And without Mogzo the rest of them would never make it out of here either.
“Mogzo, fall back! I’ll take your place!” Haruhiro shouted.
He was afraid. So scared that he wanted to cry. But whatever happened, happened. With a furious cry, Haruhiro charged ahead, out in front of Mogzo and was immediately assaulted by kobolds charging in at him.
Kobolds, kobolds, what the hell, kobolds, Mogzo, what the hell, ridiculous crazy scary, shit shit shit, NO WAY, shit I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die…
It hurt, so he had probably been hit and cut all over the place, but he had no idea where he’d been injured. He also had no idea how he was forcing the kobolds back enough so they could keep running ahead. He was operating on pure… instinct? Or something resembling that. Wait. Am I even moving? No idea.
At that moment, all he knew was one thing and one thing only: An elder kobold was standing right in front of him, sword raised and ready to split Haruhiro’s head open. To Haruhiro, everything seemed to have suddenly stopped and silence fell over the entire scene.
He couldn’t hear a single sound… A strange silence.
Haruhiro saw himself sitting in a chair, in a room somewhere that was familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. What am I doing there, in that place? Then he was in a different place, surrounded by people who looked familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. He was laughing. Now he was in some sort of vehicle, going somewhere it seemed. There were others riding in the same vehicle. Who? They seemed familiar, but he didn’t recognize them. Who were they?
He was crouched in front of a large, box-like thing glowing with bright but indistinct lighting. Standing next to him was a girl with a bob-cut style hair.
That’s what Haruhiro called Bob-Cut Girl. Choco. Who was she? He didn’t know. But Choco… for some reason, he got the feeling that he knew her.
Who was she?
Where had they met? Had they met somewhere? He saw it now, that place. Where was it?
Choco. Hey, Choco… Who are you? Do you know me? Where was it? When was it? When and… there at that place, I knew you…
But Haruhiro didn’t know. He couldn’t remember—no, it was as if the knowledge would disappear the moment he was about to recall it. Choco’s face… her physique… he couldn’t recall what they looked like. Choco. But her name he did remember. That was the only thing that didn’t disappear; it remained with him.
Not that it mattered because he was about to die. The kobolds’ movements seemed slower than usual, but they were no longer completely still like they were moments before. Things were moving now but Haruhiro couldn’t move. He couldn’t dodge the elder’s sword and he wasn’t wearing a protective helm like Mogzo either. There would be no saving him if he took a blow from a sword like that to the head.
He was probably going to die. Oh, what’s this? Something like his life flashing before his eyes? So he was going to die after all.
Choco, I’m going to die. I wish I could meet you. I don’t know anything but your name, but I wish we could have met…
It wasn’t possible now.
Nevertheless he wanted to at least go down trying. Dodge! Do something! Anything! But Haruhiro didn’t think he had even the slightest chance of actually avoiding the blow. The kobold blade’s approach was accelerating. Down it came. Haruhiro raised his arm. He had to do something to block it. His arm wasn’t going to make it in time.
Haruhiro, his arm half-raised, thought that if Ranta hadn’t leapt in and thrust his sword into the base of the kobold’s throat, Haruhiro’s head would have been split in half.
“Haha! Make way for Lord Ranta!” he proclaimed.
Haruhiro had no idea how Ranta could move like that, spinning his body around and around as he swung out with his longsword, and then suddenly reversing the spin direction.
“What the—!” Haruhiro was rendered speechless.
It was an ass attack. He had used [PROPEL LEAP] to launch himself backwards, zooming directly into the kobold standing behind him; but rather than ramming into it with his body, Ranta had sent it flying with his butt.
“YES! I’m frickin’ awesome!” Ranta said with relish.
“THANK YOU!” Mogzo’s [RAGE CLEAVE] came less than a heartbeat behind, taking down its target kobold. Mary sent another flying another with [SMASH]. Yume drove a kobold back with her kukri while Shihoru’s staff landed a blow as it retreated.
“Haruhiro!” Ranta shouted as he, using his helmet, withstood a kobold’s red-hot brand and then drove his sword through its stomach. “You’re weak as balls, so be more careful! We’ll be in trouble if you die!”
“I know!” Haruhiro yelled back.
He didn’t need to be told. Not by Ranta… the only person Haruhiro didn’t want to hear it from. But he deserved it. Haruhiro completely gave up. He was near desperation. He was useless like this. A leader, huh? He was too incompetent. He was weak, just like Ranta said. It was impossible for him to make decisions so calmly.
But even so, he was going to do it. He couldn’t afford to become mentally defeated. The enemy wasn’t kobolds. Hardly. The true enemy here was his own weak self.
“Mary! How much further to the sink well?!” Haruhiro called.
“Just a little more!” came her reply.
“Alright! Hang in there everyone, we’re almost there!” Haruhiro cried. “Get closer to the walls! Put your backs to it if things get too bad! Better to be surrounded in just three directions instead of all four! Ranta, to the front! We’re counting on you! Mogzo, protect our rear! Yume and Mary stay at the sides! Shihoru, don’t do anything rash! We’re going to get out of here, one step at a time, forward!”
No one was unhurt. Everyone bore injuries all over, but no one had lost hope either. Haruhiro had been close to despairing, but he was fine again. Now that he had taken a good look, the kobolds surrounding them weren’t stacked that deeply. It wasn’t so bad as ten or twenty layers of kobolds. There were a lot of them, yes, but no one was commanding them.
Their movements were disorganized, scattered, and they backed away quickly at any counterattack made by Haruhiro’s group. Maybe it was because they had the overwhelming advantage in numbers, but they weren’t fighting very seriously. Of course, it wasn’t like they were playing around, but rather than surrounding, pressing in, and finishing them, the kobolds were chasing them around; toying with them.
On the other hand, Haruhiro and the others fought gravely and desperately, killing any kobold in their way without hesitation. To the kobolds, dying wasn’t the preferred outcome, so they were quick to back away. So Haruhiro and the others were only looselysurrounded. They were still able to continue moving, to continue running.
There was no avoiding fear with truly terrifying things, but there was no need to be more afraid than necessary. Overestimating a threat and falling into panic resulted in inability to do the things you usually could.
“That’s the sink well!” Haruhiro called out. “Shihoru, you’re first. Mary’s next! Then Yume, me, Ranta, and Mogzo!”
With Ranta leading the way, Yume, Mary, and Haruhiro cut a path the rest of the way to the sink well. This particular well was small, with only one rope ladder attached to its lip. Shihoru climbed on but stopped, hesitant. Yelling at her to hurry wasn’t good, Haruhiro knew. It would just fluster her more.
“It’s okay!” he said instead. “Take it slow! You don’t have to rush!”
The moment the words came out of his mouth, the hazy
of light appeared, connecting to a kobold that just happened to have its back turned towards him. Haruhiro’s body moved, smooth as butter, and his dagger slid easily into its back.
Mary was now making her way up the ladder, followed by Yume.
“Go, Haruhiro!” Ranta stripped off his bucket helm, took aim, and hurled it at his target kobold with a yell. “[PROPEL LEAP]! [HATRED’S CUT]!”
With [PROPEL LEAP] he sent himself flying backwards; he hit the kobold behind him with another ass attack and the follow-up [HATRED’S CUT] hit the kobold directly in front. It was another pretty convincing façade of bravery.
A loud cry echoed through the air. Mogzo’s [WAR CRY] had cowed the kobolds around the sink well. It was now or never. Haruhiro started to climb nimbly up the rope ladder; he was actually pretty good at stuff like this.
“Ranta, you’re next! C’mon!” Haruhiro called down.
“No! Mogzo, you first!” Ranta said, slapping Mogzo on the back with the flat of his sword. “You’re slower so get moving!”
Mogzo did as he was told. Probably not because he was convinced by the argument as much as he was taken by surprise. Mogzo was coming, so Haruhiro couldn’t stop. He had no choice but to continue climbing too.
“Ranta! Hurry up!” Haruhiro said again.
Haruhiro heard the reply, but Ranta never came. Instead of Ranta, kobolds began scrambling up the rope ladder. Mogzo kicked them back down, but others clambered up in their place.
“Mogzo, get yourself up here first!” Haruhiro ordered as he reached the fourth stratum and tried to help pull Mogzo the rest of the way up too. But… heavy. He was way too heavy. “ARGH!”
“We’re coming!” Mary, Yume, and Shihoru grabbed Mogzo and between the four of them, they somehow got Mogzo up out of the well.
Mogzo was alright, but Ranta… What about Ranta? Ranta was…
Ranta was not coming up the ladder. It was kobold after kobold after kobold. And they kept coming and coming.
“RANTA!” Haruhiro cried. No response, but then through the furious howling of the kobolds, he thought he heard Ranta’s muffled voice, “Get going! I’ll be right behind!”
“Right behind—” Haruhiro repeated incredulous. “Mogzo! Take care of the ones coming up!”
Mogzo yelled, bashing any kobold that arrived at the top of the ladder with his bastard sword. He crushed one kobold’s face in with a swing, making it fall into those beneath it. They all fell down the well in a big jumble, causing the kobolds below to bark and yelp. The prospect of meeting the same fate seemed to be making them hesitant to climb themselves.
“…the ladder!” Shihoru grabbed the rope ladder.
Right. If they pulled the ladder up…
“Alright!” Haruhiro hurried to help Shihoru and together they began reeling in the rope. It was about halfway up when he stopped and said, “B-but…”
Yume placed her hands on the edge of the well and leaned over for a look. “Ranta!” she called.
“Just for now…” Shihoru said.
Haruhiro nodded and pulled the ladder the rest of the way up. Shihoru was right. Once the kobolds down there had given up, they could descend again. As things stood now, even Ranta wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near this particular sink well.
Ranta… Had he been able to get away? Make a run for it somehow? To be perfectly honest, Haruhiro doubted it. Ranta always seemed to have the devil’s luck with him, but this time even that wouldn’t help.
“Stupid!” Haruhiro pounded at the ground. “Ranta, what the hell! ‘You go first’… trying to act cool! It’s not like you! You’re not supposed to be cool…”
No one said a word. The kobolds were still in an uproar at the bottom of the sink well. Damn it… What to do now? What were they going to do?
Haruhiro and the others were fine. No one was uninjured, but no one was hurt badly enough that they were incapacitated. Not counting Ranta. If it weren’t for Ranta, there would be no question about hastily making their way out of the mines right away. IfRanta were still with them.
But even without Ranta, they would probably be able to make it out of here. Leave Ranta behind… Should they go after him? Descend down a different sink well and search? Of course it would be dangerous. They didn’t even know if he was still alive. Maybe he was already dead. If he was already dead, then any effort they made to search would be a futile effort.
What am I thinking? Why am I assuming Ranta’s dead? But the reality was, it was a possibility. Haruhiro didn’t think that one person being chased by that many kobolds could get away for long. If it were Haruhiro down there, he knew that he wouldn’t have been able to. He would have just given up.
What about Ranta? Maybe Ranta wouldn’t give up…
“Haru…” Mary had called his name, pulling him out of his preoccupation.
Damn. He really had fallen deep into thought.
“Err… Yes?” he replied.
“Kobolds!” she yelled.
But it was true. Haruhiro looked in the direction Mary was pointing and saw that kobolds were running straight at them; elders in the lead, their workers close behind.
“There’s a ton of them!” Yume cried, looking as if she was really about to cry.
Mogzo stuttered something incomprehensible. Shihoru shook her head back and forth as if saying, no, no, no. Then she said, “W-we have to r-run!”
Haruhiro’s mind went blank for a fraction of a second. But only a fraction. There was no more time for hesitation. He sprung to his feet. “Everyone, run!”