LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
Yume was crouched, concealed behind a thick tree trunk . Haruhiro approached Yume, quieting his footsteps so that they made no sound, and tapped her on the shoulder . Yume turned, stifling her own nearly escaped shout of surprise with a hand .
“What’ve you found?” Haruhiro asked in a low voice .
Yume nodded and made some sort of motion with her hands and fingers . Was that her way of signaling something? But the meaning was lost on Haruhiro, so instead he peeked out to take a look .
There it was .
It was just after noon, on their second day of work as Crimson Moon trainees . They had returned to the forest and had discovered a bubbling spring . That was where it was .
It was skinny and about the height of a human child . Its skin, tinged yellowish, was wrinkly and covered in mud . Patches of hair resembling seaweed grew on its head and its ears were pointed . Its back was turned to Haruhiro, so he couldn’t see its face . It wore no clothing but around its neck hung some sort of cord .
A mud goblin . It was on all fours and making strange slurping sounds as it drank from the spring .
Haruhiro took a deep breath, taking care to make sure that he wasn’t making any noise . He looked behind him . The other four, Manato, Ranta, Shihoru, and Mogzo were a little ways away, poking their heads out from where the rest of their bodies were concealed behind the trees . They all had their eyes on Haruhiro .
Haruhiro nodded . The others nodded back . They had finally found it . They were going to succeed . They had to succeed . There was no choice but to succeed . How would he signal them to go? They hadn’t really agreed on any sign beforehand . What would be a good signal? He raised his right hand, high as he could .
He was nervous . Way more nervous than he had been a second ago . This is bad . Stay calm . Let’s do this . Let’s get this done .
He let his hand fall and Ranta charged out first with a shout . Idiot! Haruhiro couldn’t help but think . Startled, the mud goblin turned to look in Haruhiro and Yume’s direction .
“I-it’s running away?!” Haruhiro said .
The mud goblin was running to the right . Yume shot an arrow at it . She missed, but the arrow hit the ground right in front of the goblin’s feet . It gave a shriek of surprise and faltered .
“Nice, Yume!” Haruhiro said as he drew his dagger from its sheath and ran after the goblin, even though he had called Ranta an idiot for doing the same thing just moments before . He had a feeling that this wasn’t really a very Thief-like thing to do, but oh well . They had to succeed . He couldn’t let the goblin get away .
Mud goblins . Called mudgobs for short . From birth, not once did they ever take a bath . Beady eyed and ugly, with blackened teeth, a purplish tongue, and a face like an old witch . It wore nothing except for that cord hanging off its neck . It was stark naked . And ‘it’ was dangling around .
The mudgob looked straight at Haruhiro and let out a shriek . He didn’t know exactly what was going on, but it was coming straight at him . Was it serious? Did it intend to fight? It was 6 versus 1 . Maybe it didn’t comprehend the odds .
Its hand . Aim for its wrist . Haruhiro slashed at the mudgob’s wrist with his dagger; [HIT] .
The mudgob squawked and jumped back diagonally, into the spring . Had he missed? No, blackish-red blood was running from a shallow cut on its left hand . Haruhiro’s knife had just grazed it . The mudgob leapt out of the water, away from the spring and straight towards Haruhiro .
It’s coming? It’s really coming? NO WAY . Why would the stupid thing be coming at me? Haruhiro thought, as it let out a low roar .
Haruhiro quickly dodged to the left and somehow avoided the mudgob’s charge .
“[HATRED’S CUT]!” Ranta jumped at the goblin, swinging his longsword aggressively but without any control . It was only natural that he missed, slipped, and fell on his behind .
The mudgob roared and started charging headlong at Ranta, attacking from above while Ranta was on the ground . Its attack missed by a hair as Manato struck it on the shoulder with this staff . The goblin shrieked again and hopped backwards .
“M-malik em—” Shihoru started to chant while drawing the elemental glyph with her staff, but Ranta cut her off . “YOU’VE GOT YOUR EYES SHUT AGAIN!” he yelled .
Shihoru shrunk back . “S-sorry!”
“Mogzo, directly in front of it!” Manato said brusquely, thrusting a finger out at the mudgob . “Everyone else, surround it! Don’t let it escape!”
Mogzu grunted in assent, and encumbered by armor, sluggishly ran towards it . Once in position, he pointed the tip of his bastard sword at it .
“G-guess there’s no choice!” Ranta muttered, getting up and moving to the right of the mudgob .
Manato stayed on the left while Haruhiro and Yume, with her kukri unsheathed, took up positions at the thing’s rear . Shihoru had her eyes open now and was pointing her staff directly at the goblin from a distance .
The mud goblin looked around frantically, trying to move but finding itself cut off in all directions . It let out an ear-piercing shriek, wanting to run but knowing that it had nowhere to go . It was exactly according to Manato’s plan .
“Mogzo! Threaten it more!” Ranta shoved his own longsword out at it . “Pressure it!”
Mogzo let out a battle cry and started swinging his bastard sword at it, once, twice, three times . The goblin nimbly dodged all of Mozgo’s blows, but as it was occupied with Mogzo, Ranta was also stabbing at it with his longsword . The goblin picked up a dead branch and threw it at Ranta .
“Wah!” Ranta stepped back and barely managed to deflect it using the base of his blade .
The net had been broken . The goblin tried to make a run for it through the hole in the spot Ranta had occupied, but Manato brandished his staff, not intending to let it go . Manato’s staff connected with the top of the mudgob’s shoulder and it let out a cry of pain .
Now it was charging at Manato, letting out a terrible shriek that sent chills down Haruhiro’s spine . Even Manato seemed to back away a bit . And why shouldn’t they be frightened? The mud goblin was desperate . It didn’t want to be killed . It wouldn’t just stand there and tolerate it . It would try to kill, and kill, and kill some more before it was killed itself . And at the very least, it seemed to have resolved to take a few of them down with it .
“All of you!” Ranta licked his lips several times . “Now’s not the time to get all scared! Kill or be killed! I’m going to kill it and get my Vice!”
“Don’t be careless!” Manato warned as he landed another blow on the goblin with his short staff . This time, it was on the goblin’s head . Without paying any heed to the blood spurting out, it glared at Manato and swung both its fists at him .
“The little guy is a tough one,” Yume whispered, voice trembling slightly .
Jeez, Haruhiro thought . Even though blood was running profusely down its head, it seemed to be perfectly fine .
Mogzo swung his bastard sword at it three times in succession . It backed up, but doing so of course brought it closer to Haruhiro and Yume .
“Here’s our chance, Haru!” And even as Yume said it, a part of Haruhiro wondered… when did she start calling him ‘Haru’? But she was right; it was now or never .
As Haruhiro approached it with his dagger, it turned towards him . Haruhiro somehow managed to suppress the urge to turn tail and instead slashed wildly with his dagger . One of the blows actually landed . He knew it because his dagger suddenly hit something hard . The mugob’s right arm, between the elbow and wrist . Surprised, he drew the dagger back .
Not counting training dummies, this was the first time he had actually cut into something so deeply with a weapon . The feeling actually made him a little ill .
Blood splattered as the mudgob flailed; it spun around and around threatening the humans in turn . It was 6 versus 1 . And they had it completely surrounded, so anyone could attack from any direction . But no one was moving . Everyone’s breathing was ragged . Even Mogzo— and though it was true he wielded a heavy bastard sword, he really hadn’t been moving that much .
What’s wrong with us? Haruhiro tried to calm his breathing . Why wasn’t this going smoothly? Was the mudgob a strong opponent? Or were they just too weak? Were they really capable of doing this? No, they weren’t .
Thinking about it rationally, of course it was impossible . Haruhiro wasn’t suited for fighting . No one else was either . This was all wrong . All of this was unimaginable . For what sake was he doing this ? Wouldn’t it be better just to stop?
What would they do if they stopped now? What would happen to them?
“No one said this was going to be easy!” Manato shouted . “This is a fight to the death! Us, the mud goblin, we’re all fighting for our lives! The outcome determines who lives and who dies! No one, no living creature wants to die!”
“Malik em Paluk!” A ball of light shot out from the tip of Shihoru’s staff, flew between Mogzo and Ranta and hit the mudgob right in its face .
“GARGGG!” it shrieked .
“Now!” Manato commanded, striking at the mudgob at the same time .
Ranta swung his longsword with a shout . The blade bit into the mudgob’s right arm . “Gah! I hit bone?!”
Mogzo raised his sword overhead and with all his might brought it down right on top of the mudgob’s head . The force of the blow smashed the goblin’s head in, crushed to somewhere between a half and a third of what it had been .
It was over .
“Yes!” Ranta pumped a fist in the air .
Haruhiro started to exhale in relief then inhaled sharply . The mud goblin had gotten to its feet and was moving incredibly quickly .
“No way~yan…” Yume said, dumbfounded .
There’s gotta be some mistake, Haruhiro thought . But there was no doubt about it . The mudgob was running away, probably intending to make an escape .
Manato too seemed stupefied for a moment, but then stuck out his short staff at the mudgob’s legs . Haruhiro was taken aback when the mudgob jumped nimbly to avoid it . And it was headed straight towards him . Did it intend to try to slip past him?
“As if I’ll let you!” Haruhiro stuck his foot out at the mudgob’s legs as it tried to pass and, this time, the goblin wasn’t able to dodge . It tripped and tumbled head over heels .
Mogzo moved in, getting ready to strike it with his sword but was cut off . “Mogzo, outta the way!” Ranta shouted . “I’ll finish it!”
Haruhiro inadvertently turned his gaze away . There was a sickening sound then Ranta’s laughter . “Behold me Lord Skulheill! Your Dread Knight has taken a life with his own hands and will offer up a portion of its body as Vice at the guild’s alter! Ears are kinda big… A claw would be perfect… Oy oy oy!”
Haruhiro looked in Ranta’s direction where the gobin lay, supposedly dead, and was shocked at what he saw .
Shihoru let out a little gasp and seemed as if she was about to cry .
“It’s not dead…” Yume said softly . She put her hands together and muttered something indistinct in prayer .
Haruhiro hesitated a little before entering into the role of the straight man . “But it’s not dead yet…”
“We need to finish it,” Manato said, lifting his staff above his head . “Otherwise we’re just prolonging it’s suffering . ”
Haruhiro didn’t want to look, but also had a feeling that he needed to see this out to the end . Manato dealt the mud goblin a final, ruthless blow, and then confirmed that its breathing had stopped . He made a gesture that resembled a hexagram, and looked as if he was considering offering a few last words as well . But he didn’t say anything . Perhaps it was because he didn’t want to make any excuses for doing something that was considered his job .
“M-Manato!” Ranta pointed a finger at him . “You bastard! You stole my kill! I told you I needed to collect Vices!”
Manato forced a smile then scratched his head . “Sorry . I wasn’t thinking . ”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it!”
“Even if it doesn’t cut it, I already apologized and said I didn’t mean to . ”
“Doesn’t matter! I want a redo! DO EVERYTHING OVER! How are we going to do that? WE CAN’T!!” Ranta moaned . “My celebratory first Vice… RUINED . ” He dropped down on all fours and beat on the ground with a fist . “Fine, whatever then . ”
Haruhiro blinked . “That’s it?”
“What’s done is done,” Ranta said, getting up and crouching down by the mudgob’s body . “Ew, pretty gross . This thing hanging off its neck’s our reward? What is it?”
Haruhiro crouched next to Ranta . He tried not to look at the actual body, but focused instead on the cord it had around its neck . “What thing?”
The thin cord looped through several small objects . One of them looked like some sort of animal’s fang with a hole drilled into it . Another object was quite dirty but… Indeed, it was some sort of coin .
“A silver?” Haruhiro guessed . “It’s got a hole in it though…”
“Nice!” Ranta reached out to pull the cord off, then quickly withdrew his hand again . “Haruhiro, you remove it . It’s too dirty for me to touch…”
“Fine . ” Haruhiro cut the cord with his dagger then pulled off the fang and coin . It was a silver after all; damaged, but a silver nonetheless . “I wonder if we can sell this… How did it manage to punch a hole in something this hard?”
“In any case,” Manato put a hand on Haruhiro’s shoulder . “This counts as our first victory . ”
“And it’s all thanks to me!” If Ranta puffed out his chest anymore, he would have definitely fallen over backwards .
“Right,” Yume said, tone chilly .
Ranta stuck his tongue out at her . “So you still have a grudge against me, just for calling you flat . Pigheaded brat . ”
“Being stubborn has nothing to do with the size of Yume’s breasts~yan!” Yume cried .
“That’s right! It has nothing to do with it so just forget about it! Water under the bridge! I’ll say it outright, pigheadedness leads to small-breastedness and it’s been that way since forever ago!”
“Boobs are cute big or small!”
“BOOBLESS BOOBLESS BOOBLESS BOOBLESS BOOBLESS! Welcome Ms . Boobless, goodbye Ms . Boobless ! BOOBLESS!”
Yume’s face turned a bright red and her cheeks made like a pufferfish . She nocked an arrow onto her bow and aimed it at Ranta . “Yume is going to shoot you, and she has a feeling she isn’t going to miss…”
“W-wait! You—Sorry! I’m sorry!” Ranta twisted his body around, spun several times, and prostrated himself on the ground while still spinning . “I’ll stop! I’ll stop it, so forgive me already!”
“I didn’t hear a ‘please’ . And what you should say is, ‘Please find it in the kindness of your heart to forgive me, Lady Yume’!”
“L-Lady Yume! Please I am sorry forgive me I’m begging I’ll do anything you ask! ”
“Nope, not convinced . ” Yume’s cheeks were still puffed out but, unexpectedly, she lowered her bow a bit . She gestured with her chin to the bubbling spring . “Jump in there then . ”
“The spring . Jump in there . Jump in and I’ll forgive you for what you said today . ”
“I-idio—you—that’s—who do you thi—”
Yume raised her bow again . “Fine . Yume will simply shoot you then . ”
“…I will be happy to jump in . ”
“Good luck . ” Haruhiro patted Ranta on the shoulder .
“Be careful,” Manato said to him with a grin .
“Like I don’t already know to be careful…” Ranta muttered .
Just as he prepared to jump into the pool of water, Shihoru whispered, “He had it coming . ”
Haruhiro didn’t miss what Shihoru had said, but Ranta was already leaping in midair, so he probably didn’t hear her at all .
“H-he’s definitely going to catch a cold,” Mogzo remarked .