Riley, who had his eyes closed, perked up his ears because of the sound. To detect the ones responsible for the roar, Riley widened his senses.
The sound was coming from the left side of the group. Fortunately, it didn’t look like there were many of them.
The roar could be heard again.
“This… This sound is… It can’t be?”
Sera had been preparing the stew after getting the vegetables prepared. Having heard the beastly roar coming from the bushes on the left, Sera flinched her shoulders.
“Could they be… wolves?”
It seemed Nainiae also noticed the sounds. She mumbled in low voice and steadily gazed toward the bush.
“N… Nainiae. I think there must be wolves? This smell is definitely…”
It seemed she was right. After a few crackling sounds coming from beyond the bush, they noticed sharp eyes unique to the wolves.
Sera turned pale after finding the wolves’ eyes. Riley, who was pretending to be asleep with his eyes closed, narrowly opened them and got up from Nainiae’s lap.
“Do wolves here not have any sense of fear?”
Riley’s eyes, which were drenched in exhaustion, started to glare at the wolves beyond the bushes.
‘I need to kill them.’
The wolves growled toward them again. Facing the wolves, Riley also started to grind his teeth.
He got annoyed about the fact that his rest was interrupted. Also, he thought an incident like this will repeat again later if he didn’t kill them.
‘If I kill them…’
Riley had memories of a time when sparing the lives of things snarling with bare fangs lead to bloodshed. To not repeat the mistake he made in his past life, he was about to move his hand toward his waist. However, his wrist was tightly grabbed by someone.
The hand was a horrid looking hand that was missing two fingers.
It was Nainiae’s hand.
Although it looked horrible, the hand holding his wrist felt warm. Perhaps that was the reason?
Riley’s eyes shook for a moment.
“There is no need to kill them.”
Nainiae stared at Riley and said that. Riley fiddled with the fingers that were headed to his waist.
“If I don’t kill them, these bastards will come again…”
Nainiae called Riley again.
“These children are not humans.”
Unlike Riley, who thought the wolves growling at them from beyond the bushes should be killed, Nainiae was saying… he should let them live.
“If I tell them in words, they will definitely understand.”
She said to talk to them in words.
Finding it to be ridiculous, Riley opened his mouth.
Riley wondered if she knew humans and wolves backwards. It was such an absurd response.
“You seem to be…”
As if he was trying to tell Nainiae to cut the nonsense, he shook off Nainiae’s hand and tried to draw his sword. Nainiae got up from her seat.
She called Riley again.
“Drawing sword every time incidents like this happens and causing bloodshed… That is… That’s not what you want, right?”
Having heard Nainiae, Riley’s eyes shook big again.
It was because he couldn’t find an answer for that question right away.
To avoid annoying businesses, the kind he experienced in his past, to pre-emptively extinguish things that could lead to problems later, Riley had been swinging his sword without hesitation. This was a path that was clearly different from his past.
“Please sit and rest.”
Nainiae raised her right hand on Riley’s shoulder and pressed down lightly to get Riley to sit down. She then walked toward the bush where the growling sounds could be heard.
Sera turned pale because of unexpected appearance of wolves. She held the ladle, which was on the pot, on her hand like a sword in tears.
“H… Hurry! Chase them away!”
Having heard Sera’s frightened voice, Nainiae turned her head to glance at Sera. Nainiae smiled awkwardly and said,
It seemed she was feeling uncomfortable having Riley and Sera’s gazes being aimed at her back. Nainiae broke cold sweat. She walked to right in front of the bushes and got on her knees.
‘Is there just two?’
Nainiae sat on the ground and leveled her eyes with two wolves. As if she felt something was up, she furrowed her brows.
She found something she couldn’t see when the wolves were hiding in the bushes.
There were black stains on their fur.
Weary of Nainiae, the wolves completely crumpled their mouths and were growling at her. They had a lot of black stains on their fur.
“Quiet. I am not trying to hurt you.”
Nainiae brought her index finger to her lips and said to the wolves. As if they were actually communicating, the wolves relaxed their faces a little and started to reduce growling sounds.
‘They are talking… to each other?’
Riley, who was watching this from the back, narrowed his eyes as if he was unable to comprehend the situation.
“Why don’t you come over here.”
Nainiae extended her hand. Two wolves, who were steadily looking at her eyes, very carefully walked to the front and started to rub their mouths on the top of her hand.
“How did you do that?”
Riley asked. Nainiae, who was gently brushing the wolves, turned toward Riley and said,
“My teacher’s cave is full of spirit animals who protect the place. I learned how to talk to animals from them.”
Riley thought Nainiae simply overwhelmed the wolves with her power or intensity. Having heard her answer, Riley realized he made the wrong guess. He clicked his tongue.
“Young Master… For a bit…”
As if she was trying to tell Riley to come over, Nainiae made hand gestures with a serious look on her face. Riley tilted his head to the side and walked over to her.
“… This is?”
Riley looked at the wolves while standing behind Nainiae, and he also furrowed his brows just like Nainiae had earlier.
It was because of the black stains.
The stains were tangled up on their fur like mud. The pitch-black stains were twitching irregularly as if they were alive.
“This stain… It is the same as the phenomenon I observed at the desert area near by the Solia Castle.”
“Young Master, by any chance… have you seen it before?”
During the successorship competition, Riley saw traces of stains similar to this at a cave near the Alieve village.
It was highly acidic, made boiling sound, and smelled so horrible that even Riley had to snap close his nose… The stench was at epidemic level.
Riley brought his nose close to the stains on the wolves and checked the smells.
It reeked. It was puke inducingly horrible.
The stench was definitely the same as the one he smelled at the cave near the Alieve village.
“That’s right. I’ve seen this before.”
It seemed it had been a long time since the stain got on the wolves. Compared to what Riley saw before, the stains were weakened. However, the stench was most certainly the same one.
“This stain… If it is what I think it is… It must be left by the two people that my teacher and Lady Isilteru are pursuing.”
“People they are pursuing?”
“They are people who are similar to Rebethra or dark mages who can raise the dead.”
Using the wind magic, Nainiae carefully cut away the dark stains clumped on the wolves’ fur. She cringed as she dropped the stains to the ground.
The black stains were getting absorbed into the ground while exuding horrible stench. This was why.
“The mercenary named Kabal, the one who took away our Count’s arm, is suspected to had been at that desert.”
Nainiae brought up the name as she watched the ground and grass dying.
She carefully eliminated the stain on the other wolf. Having heard Riley’s question, she described the scenery she saw at the desert.
“Yes. That’s why I said they are similar kind of people.”
She described that the sands on the desert were all soaked in black stains, the oasis had gone dry, and there are several craters as if several tens of explosion magic spells were cast there. On top of that, she also said the locations of the hills were changed in disarray.
“As you suspected, they are people who can use special abilities other than magic, and they are doing it without mana.”
Riley thought about the dark mage who raised the dead. His thoughts naturally got to Rebethra and the voice that came from beyond the dimensional portal. Riley started to grind his teeth.
“A… anyway… These two children… it will be all right if I took them in, right?”
Nainiae realized Riley’s face was starting to crumple. To change the subject, she proposed taking in the wolves. Riley relaxed his face and started to scratch his head.
“Won’t it be fine to just let them go?”
Having heard Riley’s question, Nainiae shook her head and said,
“Young Master, I didn’t make this choice just to save them.”
Nainiae stopped Riley when he was trying to draw his sword. She then walked toward the wolves that were snarling and extended her hand toward them. She did it all, but it wasn’t exactly because she valued the wolves’ lives.
“It’s for you, Young Master.”
Nainiae answered as she brushed the wolves. Riley tilted his head to the side.
“I read on a book while I was at the Rainfield. It said wolves are pretty useful on snowfield.”
“So, I thought they might be helpful to your travel. Instead of killing them… doing this is far better, right?”
Having heard Nainiae’s answer, Riley rubbed his face with his right hand and sighed.
It was because he realized that he was mentally exhausted. He realized it with certainty at this very moment.
‘If it was me from before…’
Riley felt that the choice that Nainiae recommended was more like him than the idea of just killing the wolves without thinking.
Riley used to be able to come up with such ideas with ease before. Now, he was not able to lately, and this was the reason why Riley sighed just now.
“Do as you wish.”
Riley answered as if he was muttering. Nainiae slowly nodded.
“E… excuse me…”
Riley and Nainiae turned their heads toward the direction of the cautious voice.
There was Sera hiding herself behind the pot and holding the ladle tightly. With her face full of tears, she was looking at the two.
“Can we just send them away?”
* * *
It was nightfall in the forest.
They took care of dinner with the stew. Of the people next to the bonfire, there were just two who were awake.
“Come on, Nainiae. You said you will give Young Master the lap pillow so he could sleep soundly. How could you fall asleep instead?”
The ones awake were Sera and Riley.
In particular, Sera was looking frustrated as she watched Nainiae sleeping while leaning on Riley’s shoulder.
“You are not angry about the wolves, right?”
“I am not, you know?”
Near Nainiae’s lap, two wolves rolled themselves up and were sleeping. Sera was watching them, and the wolves’ tails rose up all of sudden. Sera flinched her shoulders.
“I… I really am not, you see?”
‘Sera’s sense of smell is like wolves… No, her sense of smell might be better than wolves, yet she is the one who is afraid of wolves?’
Riley learned something fun. He peeked a smile. Meanwhile, Sera pouted and started to complain.
“Yes, that’s right. Actually, I am a little afraid of dogs.”
Sera hugged her knees and brought it up. Riley jokingly mumbled,
“These are not dogs, you know?”
“A… anyway, they look similar!”
Sera shouted all of sudden. One of the wolves got up and blinked its eyes, and Sera stopped acting up. Instead, she started to hold her breath.
The awakened wolf stared at Sera and then rolled its body back up. It went back to sleep.
Sera coughed out the breath that she was holding. In tears, she continued what she mentioned earlier.
“When I was young, I was bitten by a dog. The memory is still there as a trauma, so…”
Riley thought about how Sera was shaking while holding a ladle. Riley nodded as if he understood.
“I think I can understand that.”
“Young Master, do you not have any?”
“Things like trauma.”
In light of Sera’s question, Riley vacantly stared at the bonfire.
He merely tuned in to the sound of the woods burning. In the end, Riley didn’t answer her question.