The fox child was sleeping inside the sleeping bag inside the tent. It wasn’t until the lunch time that the kid finally woke up.
I was changing the wet towel on top of his forehead at the moment, and the kid opened his eyes. We stared at each other.
The rascal screamed and then burrowed into the sleeping bag to hide.
I opened the side opening of the sleeping bag to look inside. I could see that he curled up his body and was shaking.
It hurts to see this.
There’s no need for you to be so scared of me?
His face was buried to the other side of the side opening. He had his hands gathered up to cover his eyes.
What are you doing?
Just because you cannot see me does not mean I cannot see you.
I waited for a while, and the kid mumbled something quietly.
“Going to be angry at me…”
… Why would I be mad at you?
“Might beat me…”
Um, that really hurts to hear it.
Like that, the fox child muttered on for a long while inside the sleeping bag.
As I listened to the kid for a few minutes, my impression of his words changed. Now, I felt uneasy instead of being disappointed.
What he was muttering about was not directed at me.
He was reminding himself.
He was saying that he must not trust others because that’s dangerous.
I watched him for a long time yesterday. He was a gentle scaredy-cat.
He was fundamentally kind and generous.
Considering his personality and the numerous scars on his body, it seems he was abused by someone in the past.
Above the sleeping bag, I placed my hand on top of the kid.
“Do not worry. I won’t hit you. I won’t hurt you either.”
After a moment of silence, another mutter could be heard.
“I am not lying.”
I wish I could say something to allow him to trust me, but that was impossible with my abilities when it came to conversations.
I felt awkward. So, I went outside the tent. I waited there.
I should just cover the soup up so it will be warm.
Maybe he will relax a little once he smells the food.
After about 30 minutes, I could see the kid peek his head out of the tent.
He was still shivering, but he didn’t look like he was choking on fear now.
He was sniffing and drooling.
When he was starving this badly…
I said to the kid,
“Hey. I left some clothes for you. They are brand new and also warmer. So, get changed before coming out.”
He changed to the clothes I left for him. The shirt and the pants were all too big for him, but it could not be helped.
“Come over here.”
The kid hesitated for a moment, and then slowly, very slooooowly, the kid approached me.
He was afraid as always, but he listened pretty well.
I told him that the food was ready so he should sit down and eat.
However, the kid still didn’t completely lower his guard.
“I must not eat it. It might be poisoned…”
“There isn’t any poison in it, you rascal.”
I flinched inside, so I raised my voice a little.
That did piss me off.
Does he have any idea how hard I worked to make these?
Probably because of the frustration expressed in my voice, the little one panicked.
His large eyes were starting to fill with tears.
This…. Did I do wrong? Am I the one who did wrong?
Damn it all.
I picked up the dish that had the soup and ate a big spoonful’s worth.
“Here, see? There is no poison. Come here. You should eat some.”
I picked up another spoon full and brought it toward the kid’s mouth.
The kid shook his head and stepped back.
What was that for?
I extended my hand out, grabbed the back of the kid’s clothes and had him sit in front of me.
He was struggling, but I had him sit there and picked up the soup again.
Like that, I brought the spoon toward him. Still, the rascal didn’t open his mouth.
“Come on. Say, ah….”
He soon said ah… and opened his mouth.
Once he ate one spoon worth of soup, he started to eat well.
It seemed that the kid who refused to eat the soup had left the scene without a trace. Now, he was even saying that it was delicious as I spoon-fed the soup to him.
The change in his attitude was quicker than I expected.
This reminds me of feeding my nephew when he was little.
I fed him soup. As for snacks afterwards, I cut the fruits, handed them to him and asked,
“Would you like to eat more?”
The kid shook his head left and right.
Fortunately, he didn’t look like he was afraid of me anymore.
The look on his face was a lot more relaxed now.
I checked his forehead. He still had some traces of a fever.
“Go back to the tent and get some more sleep. I’ll go clean these.”
I collected the kitchenware and started to wash dishes.
The rascal didn’t go back inside the tent like I asked.
It was not that he was trying to run. He just sat there and quietly watched me.
I thought about forcing him to go sleep, but I decided to let him be.
As he sat and watched, he started to doze off.
I carried him in my arms and laid him down in the sleeping bag.
I wiped off the sweat from his face again and got out of the tent.
I noticed the scars on his body again. They bothered me again.
Starting with his arms and legs, there were scars on his neck as well, and they seemed to be going across his body.
They were not from claws of animals.
Wounds from knives or whips… Burns from hot metals…
The child appeared to be five to eight years old in terms of human age. What could have happened to the kid that led to such scars?
He was very distrusting of me in the beginning. Just now, he was eating soups that I spoon-fed him. Last night, he came to clean up the leaves on my face and cleaned the area around the bonfire. All these behaviors were bizarre.
If an innocent child who used to be trusting of others was lied to and was tortured by someone, then that would lead to defense mechanism like this, right?
My inside was in commotion in various ways.
I finished the dishes and sat in front of the bonfire.
The goal of the 19th Floor was leading this child outside of the forest safely.
He seemed to be still a little afraid of me, but he wasn’t trying to run from me.
When I placed him on the sleeping bag, he slept. When I fed him, he ate the food.
I don’t think it would be so hard to have him tag along.
Still, I think it would be best to have him fully rest for the day.
It should be fine if we headed out tomorrow.
The problem was if the kid knew a way out of this forest.
If he didn’t know, then all I could do was walk in one direction until the forest ended.
I tossed in more tree branches at the bonfire and thought about things. However, I could feel the presence of many around me.
There were things that appeared while making those sounds. They were some sort of spirits.
To explain it more easily, they were ghosts.
There were three of them.
It had been a while since I saw spirits appearing as my enemies.
I think I saw them once at around 10th Floor. I was able to deal damage to them using swords wrapped in mana, so they were not a big threat.
The 10th Floor stage was the kind that tried to stimulate fear in the challenger in various ways. However, the stage was not all that scary.
These ghosts were not all that scary either.
The ghosts looked white and translucent in human forms. They had blood and intestines here and there. Their eyes were white; they had no iris.
Their hands were twisted in a gruesome manner. Their mouths were wide open with red tongues and pitch-black darkness to the beyond.
They were quite a sight to watch, but they were weak.
I formed a long spear with the Transmutable Thousand Arms and poked at the spirits to attack them.
The spirits screamed as if they were on their dying breaths. They scattered.
Although they were not dangerous, it took a while to get rid of them.
I poured in a bit more mana into the spear and formed Aura Blade at the tip.
I tried stabbing the spirit with it.
The spirit didn’t moan this time. It screamed loudly and disappeared.
Um… I’m being reminded again, but Aura Blade is quite a cheat.
It allowed me to pour in my will to the mana and focus the mana into wrap it on weapons or body.
It was a simple technique, but its effect was as different as the sky and the ground in contrast to simply pouring in a large amount of mana.
The Knight who taught me the skill at the 16th Floor was surprised about the Aura Blade, and he had a good reason for his reaction.
Anyway, with this, I was able to quickly destroy a spirit.
There were two more left, but I didn’t feel they were a threat.
While at it, I decided to test a new skill.
[There wasn’t any soul you collect.]
Oh? What’s this?
I tried the skill, and a message came up.
Although I failed to use the skill, a message could be seen as well.
This is good. This will make it easier for me to get used to the skill.
This time, I pierced a spirit with the spear wrapped in Aura Blade at its tip and used the Soul Collect at the same time.
[There wasn’t any soul you could collect.]
This doesn’t work either.
It would be nice if the message also explained why things didn’t work.
I swung my spear toward the last spirit.
This time, after the sprit was struck by the Aura Blade, I used the Soul Collect at the moment when the spirit was becoming faint.
[You collected the soul.]
[Collected soul count: 1]
I succeeded this time.
It looks like I’ll have to use the skill right after I kill it.
Since then, the spirits came by in groups every few hours.
Their numbers grew each time, but it made no difference.
The combat against the spirits were not fun, but collecting the souls were fun.
Occasionally, I tried out controlling the spirits I gathered.
However, I could not figure out how to control the souls.
The skill’s description really did say that I could use them as my servants.
Kiri Kiri’s memo said so as well.
I should keep trying whenever I have the time. If it does not work, then I should ask for advice from Kiri Kiri again.
* * *
[Collected soul count: 17]
Like that, I defeated the spirits and collected the souls. I had been pondering about how to control the souls I collected. Before I realized, it was night already.
I thought about going into the tent, but I decided to sit in front of the bonfire and spend some time there.
The spirits came to attack in irregular intervals, so it would be best to stay outside.
It looks like I won’t be able to sleep from now on.
Well, I don’t sleep well outside the stage anyway, but…
I tossed a few more branches into the fire and closed my eyes.
Although I was not going to sleep, it was still a good idea to rest my eyes by closing them.
A scaredy-cat kid was sleeping near me, so it was not like I could stink up the place with the smell of blood by harming myself for training. So, I just closed my eyes and rested.
I was resting like that, and I detected small movements inside the tent.
The fox child peeked his head out of the tent and stared at me. He then came out of the tent.
He walked away somewhere.
Is he running away?
Using detection and tracking skills, I could find him quickly even if he went very far. Still, it was not going to be a good idea to wonder off like that.
I opened my eyes and tried to get up. However, I saw that the kid was standing nearby. So, I closed my eyes again.
It looked like he needed to relieve himself.
He crunched down nearby and spent about ten minutes like that.
He is just a little kid, but he already has constipation problems?
It looked like he was done with the business. He got up and walked toward me.
He was walking in short, fast steps, which was unique to him.
I felt that he came all the way in front of me. I could not help but to feel nervous.
… Hey, after you pooped, did you wash your hands?
I seriously thought about if I should open my eyes or if I should keep my eyes closed and pretend to be asleep.
The kid fiddled with his hands for a few seconds. He then placed something on top of my head and went back to the tent.
I confirmed that he crawled into the sleeping bag and then opened my eyes.
I carefully picked up the thing above my head and checked what it was.
It was a ring made of white wild flowers weaved together.
Seriously…My heart was touched.
He didn’t come out to relieve himself in the morning. He wanted to make me a gift.
I smiled and tried putting the ring on my finger.
It was a fragile ring. It could be squashed easily. However, it warmed my heart.
* * *
The next morning, I became closer to the fox child.
Perhaps it was because of the food I made for him and the flower ring on my finger. The rascal was no longer weary of me. He stood around me when I prepared the meal.
“See, there was no poison this time either, right?”
I asked him after finishing the breakfast.
The kid nodded.
It was a joke, but he didn’t even smile.
“Did it taste good?”
“It was delicious…”
He still blurred the end of his sentences like that.
Could it be that he still feels anxious?
“Can I ask you one thing?”
That was out of the blue.
“Of course. It’s all right. What are you curious about?”
“C… Can I say thank you…”
I could not understand right away.
Oh my… Is he asking me if he could thank me? That’s ridiculous.
“You are welcome.”
I stroke the back of his head and responded.
Now that I think about it, I didn’t hear his name yet.
I asked what his name was.
“Myong Myong is my name…”
That’s a surprising naming sense.
Is it a type that’s similar to Kiri Kiri”s name?
He is a beastman like her, so perhaps that’s why.
It seems that beastman have the tradition of coming up with unique names.
“That’s an adorable name.”
I could not think of any other praise.
It seemed Myong Myong didn’t like that. Perhaps he read the look on my face. He pouted and said,
“My name means Salvation…”
I merely thought his name was unique. However, he said his name contained the meaning of ‘Salvation.’ I fell to silence for a moment.
Are you serious?
This means… Maybe Kiri Kiri’s name has a brilliant or magnificent meaning behind how it sounds.
I should ask her later.
“My name is Ho-jae. Lee Ho-jae.”
Why do beastmen pronounce my name this way?
“Yes, Lee Ho-jae.”
“… T… That’s a good name. Puhup… A good… Huup. Name….”
For the first time, I saw smile on Myong Myong’s face.
Also, there were tears.
He covered his mouth with his two hands and tried very hard to stop himself from laughing. However, the laugher kept on leaking through his mouth.
Later on, to stop himself from laughing at all cost, he pinched his leg. He was in tears. I could not believe this.
Is it that funny? My name is that funny?
Damn it all.