Perhaps she had been famished because all of the food on the table was gone in no time.
I even brought out some more meat so Daniela could have some too. And that was also finished in the blink of an eye.
“Thanks for the food…!”
“I’m glad you liked it… Now, do you mind if we ask you a few questions?”
Mishka tilted her head to the side in puzzlement.
“Why is a small child like you wandering in the depths of the sea of trees? I get that it’s the icesnow phase and all. But there are other dangers besides monsters, you know?”
Hidden pits. The subzero temperature. Snow that suddenly falls from above. Getting lost. You might even enter a monster’s nest without realizing it. Also, there were bad people out there.
So, what was so important out here that such dangers had to be braved?
And then she told us about herself.
She was from a settlement not too far from where we were. And in this settlement, there was not quite a lot…but a decent number of beastkin living there.
“And they are like you? Uh…cats?”
“Most of them are cats?”
“Yes. It is a settlement comprised of cat beastkin.”
Mishka had lived there with her mother, father, and younger sister.
Life had been comfortable enough at first, but one day, her mother became gravely ill. It was an illness that was rare within the settlement, but it had a high fatality rate. The chief of the settlement advised that drinking a tea made of a certain flower that only grew in the forest during the icesnow phase would heal her.
However, the sea of trees was a dangerous place. And it wasn’t like there were no monsters at all. And yet Mishka urged her father to let her go. Unsurprisingly, he allowed no such thing. And so Mishka was forced to stay and take care of her mother.
“…My father goes out to the forest every day in search of it. However, he has been unsuccessful so far… That’s why I came out here… I wanted to find it for my parents…”
“And then you got lost.”
Her father would go out to the dangerous woods every day while her mother was threatened by an illness. It must have filled her with dread. And so she had wanted to help them. It was very moving. A family that loved each other.
She answered, but then smiled as if nothing more needed to be said. Still, I opened my mouth.
“Let’s find this flower.”
Mishka’s ears pointed up as she looked at us with surprise.
“I thought you would say that.”
“Do you mind?”
“I was going to say it if you did not.”
We were in a hurry. There was no time to get sidetracked. But we couldn’t just ignore a troubled person who was right in front of us.
It was self-satisfaction, to be sure. We couldn’t save everyone, anyway. However, I wanted to do what I could.
“So, it’s settled. We will help you find this flower… Unless you’d rather we don’t?”
“Th-thank you…! Thank you so much!”
Mishka’s eyes filled with tears as she bowed. Daniela petted her soft hair and ears. I was going to do it too, but Daniela glared at me. Sometimes a gentleman must keep a distance.
□ □ □ □
As it was already quite late, we decided to start our search in the morning. And so we sent Mishka off to go rest in the tent.
“You can rest too, Daniela.”
“Really? Thank you.”
Daniela was the only one who could send magic into the engine to power the wind ore. While she did rest as much as possible, it was still tiring work, and so I wanted to do my part at night.
And so I added some firewood to keep the bonfire burning and used Eyes of the God Wolf to scan the area. I wondered if I couldn’t find this flower she was searching for.
“I believe she said it was called…an Ijilis.”
It was a red flower, which should make it stand out in all of this snow. Even though it was night time and I had nothing but moonlight.
I occasionally deactivated the skill and returned to tending the fire and using Presence Detection to secure the area while searching with Eyes of the God Wolf.
“…Hmm. Maybe on the other side of the river.”
I was going deeper into the forest but decided to check the opposite side for a change.
“Hmmm…the forest is exactly the same over here.”
The trees were just as dense. And as there were no monsters and animals to be seen, there was something mystical about it. The snow looked blue under the light of the moon. It was hard to not just admire the view, but I kept moving.
On the way, I started to think about the time after my fight with the Queens Knight Goblin. I hadn’t been able to see too far back then.
But what about now?
“I don’t feel…too much of a burden.
I guess I was fully recovered now. Back then, I couldn’t go farther than a kilometer and could only use it for a short amount of time. But I had been avoiding using it ever since. It looked like that rest paid off.
And so I continued to look deeper. However, I could not find this Ijilis flower anywhere. Perhaps this was also the wrong direction.
“I could go deeper…but first…”
I had been looking for too long. I needed to check on the fire and scan the surrounding area again. That was important as well.
And so I deactivated the skill and raised my head.
A man was standing there with a raised hatchet.
It was all so sudden that I could barely think. But as soon as I heard his voice, I grabbed Light Blade off of the ground and used Legs of the Forest Wolf to jump back. The chair I had been sitting on was smashed to pieces.
He was mad with rage as if he had some personal score to settle. I quietly unsheathed the sword and observed the intruder.
He had a large hatchet in his hand. His body was big and muscular. But there was smoke rising from him as if he was singed. Did he force his way through the barrier? Maybe the sounds of the bonfire and the river had erased it…that was careless of me.
And then I looked up at his face. I didn’t recognize him. It was handsome, but very bearded and exuded a wildness.
“Hmm…are you a beastkin?”
Yes, his ears were on top of his head. And they looked like cat ears, just like Mishka. …Could that mean…?
“Are you a friend of Mishka?”
“…I can smell her from here. And you know who she is. So, you were the one who captured her after all!!”
“No, you’re making a mistake. If anything, we…”
“I’ve heard enough!!”
The man jumped forward with all of the agility of a cat. I blocked the hatchet with White Blade, but the man’s limbs were like a lion’s and the force they exerted was not easy to resist.
“If you don’t tell me where she is, maybe losing an arm will make you more compliant…”
“But she’s right over…”
Okay, he was not being very consistent, much less rational. There wasn’t much you could do with people like this.
If he would only listen…
Just then, a voice rang through the night air like the song of an angel. It was Mishka. Apparently, our fight had woken them up.
When I turned to look, I saw that Daniela was standing there with her bow.
“Father! Stop this! He didn’t do anything!”
His eyes widened as if he were staring at a ghost. I didn’t miss the opening and swung White Blade. The hatchet was torn from his hands and went flying into the air. Daniela then unleashed an arrow that pushed it away even further into the trees.
He glared at me. It was as if he was struggling between believing his daughter and a long-held hatred towards humans. I suppose it would be better for me to bend.
“Well, I suppose we should talk first?”
And so I sheathed White Blade and offered my hand to him.