The Un el Portan joint subjugation team composed of adventurers from three different countries had already withdrawn from their initial base of operations. As of the moment, they set up their headquarters in Forestia’s Borderzard, the closest town to the forest.
「We already lost twenty percent of our men and forty percent are wounded.」
In one room of the town’s Adventurers Guild — which was being used as temporary headquarters — the chief, who was once a rank B adventurer, groaned. Borderzard’s guildmaster and the staff working with the chief all wore the same gloomy expression.
The situation was gradually turning grave.
The first one to quickly dispatch its army was the Quinbland Empire. Their forces had dwindled from the war with Ponsonia, but they still had the troops of the Margrave stationed at the border near Un el Portan who were starting to get deployed in a nearby town. They were able to respond quickly partly because the chief himself was from the Empire.
「Any news from Ponsonia?」
「They haven’t contacted us yet.」
「What about Forestia’s army?」
「They’re moving slow. Actually it feels like they’re not moving at all. Maybe the report from the guild hasn’t reached the government yet.」a staff said.
The chief glared at Borderzard’s guildmaster, but the latter held his ground.
「You said to just send the same number of people like every other year, and so we did. Now after scrambling to take refuge here, you want us to send more?」the guildmaster said.
「You better watch your mouth!」the chief exclaimed.
「Is that how you talk to the one who saved your life?」
A staff intervened. Ultimately, the Adventurers Guild wasn’t a monolithic organization. Borderzard’s guildmaster was worried that the subjugation team’s escape towards the town would draw the monsters here.
The higher-ups in Forestia had their eyes on the fast-approaching Foundation Anniversary where the leaders of the seven nations would convene in one place. Security was tight. Kirihal and Ludancia, in particular, always bickered every year.
The government wasn’t really interested in monster hunts that adventurers go to just to line their pockets. In fact, the staff who informed them of the current situation was told that the Adventurers Guild should solve the problem themselves.
If Borderzard turned into a sea of flames, the government would surely forget about the upcoming event, but the guildmaster wouldn’t wish for that to happen.
「We’re calling for adventurers all over Forestia! We’ve even prepared food for emergencies! Please don’t blame us for your failure on the front lines.」
「Bastard! That’s the last straw!!」
Ink splattered as the inkwell that the chief threw hit the guildmaster on the head.
「H-How dare you! I will not tolerate such behavior. You’re not getting any food until you prostrate and apologize!」
「Bullshit! The Adventurers Guild is a supranational organization and we’re in the middle of a case right now! What can a worthless guildmaster like you do?!」
「Please just stop this!」
The meeting was put on hold until the staff could calm the two down.
「While they’re busy squabbling, the monsters are getting closer… 」one of the staff muttered in disappointment.
Borderzard was located near the great forest of Un el Portan, close enough for the naked eye to see the edge of the forest. Mud walls, fences, and a dry moat surrounded the town.
The place looked like a fortress in the middle of a battlefield, yet it was actually quite big. It covered an area of one square kilometer, with a population of four thousand. There were small farms inside and most people lived in housing complexes.
Despite this, people continued to live here for two reasons: the bounties of the forest, and its proximity to Quinbland and Ponsonia.
「Is it true there are too many monsters this time?」
「Who knows? Maybe they’re just exaggerating so they won’t be held responsible for their failure.」
「But I heard rank C adventurers from Forestia were severely wounded.」
Adventurers were charged with patrolling. The top of the surrounding wall was wide enough for four people to walk abreast. Only a few soldiers were stationed in Borderzard so as not to provoke the neighboring countries. There were plenty of adventurers around, however — most, if not all of them, had their eyes set on the great forest.
「Man, I wish I was high-ranked. I’d be rich by now.」
「Big words. You’re only rank F, you moron.」
「But from what I heard, Ponsonia didn’t impose any restrictions with regards to rank, and Quinbland required adventurers to be at least rank F.」
「Really? Maybe that’s why the subjugation team failed? It’s probably composed of weaklings.」
The men talked as they walked on top of the wall.
「Look at the forest. Do you see something?」
A wide plain spread out in the direction the man was pointing. Beyond it lay a green line — the edge of the forest. And clouds of dust were rising to the air.
Then out of nowhere, they heard the roar of a beast.
「They’re coming…」one man muttered hoarsely.
「Monsters are coming!」
「Send word right away!」
「To the guild! Where else?! Hurry up, you idiot!」
The most dangerous day in the history of Borderzard was about to begin.
「No! Nooo! Why?!」
「Stay away from me! The poison will spread!」
「I can’t live without him!」
People’s cries rang out. The stench of blood, vomit, and antiseptics filled the air. Wounded adventurers who couldn’t be admitted to the already-full hospital were laid down on the floors of the town hall. Closed off and isolated to prevent disease and poison from spreading, the place was dark even though it was the middle of the day.
Paula held the hand of her best friend lying down before her. There were two of them: Pia who, despite having a confident air to her, cried herself to sleep at night, and Priscilla — with her ample bosoms that drew the eyes of men — who always seemed to wear a blank expression, yet her skill with the bow would put grown-ups to shame. Priscilla still had not woken up, only Pia.
「Paula… Where am I?」
「We’re in Borderzard in Forestia. We managed to escape all the way here.」
Pia’s vision was blurry. She couldn’t even see Paula’s face clearly.
「It’s going to be alright! I’ll heal you with my healing magic!」
Pia laughed weakly.
「Thanks. I know your magic is effective.」
「You got it!」
Paula lied. She had been using healing magic for hours, but all it did was prolong their lives, not heal them. Pia’s left flank had been ripped open after a log thrown by a Forest Barbarian hit her, trying to protect Paula.
I’ll protect you, Paula! She uttered those words cheerfully all the time.
Tears rolled down Paula’s cheeks. Idiot. You didn’t have to protect me with your life, you crybaby! Dummy!
Paula coughed and blood dripped from her mouth. She ran out of mana some time ago, but she kept her magic running with sheer willpower.
「It’s okay, Pia! I’ll heal you!」
Quickly wiping the blood off with her cuff, Paula resumed her chant. She glanced at Priscilla who still hadn’t opened her eyes. Her other friend got inflicted with some sort of poison that her magic couldn’t neutralize. All she could do was prolong Priscilla’s life, who almost looked dead, color drained from her face. The only proof that she was alive was the faint rising and falling of her chest.
Pia’s forelocks stuck to her sweat-drenched forehead. Paula was soaking from cold sweat. She had a feeling that the moment she stopped using her magic, her friends would die.
She got blessed with healing abilities after praying every single day back in her village.
God, please… I don’t care about my own life. Just please let my friends live.
Desperately, she prayed to the heavens, all the while continuing her chant. She felt her body freezing down to the core. Her bones creaked, screaming in pain. Her head ached, as though needles were being thrust into her skull.
「You can stop… You don’t… have to die too…」Pia muttered in a low whisper.
Her slightly-opened eyes closed. She had fallen asleep. She might not wake up ever again. The thought crossed Paula’s mind and an indescribable fear gripped her heart.
「No! I won’t let you die, no matter what! I’ll do anything, everything!」
Paula pleaded to the gods.
Please! I beg of you! I offer you my everything. So please… Please give me a miracle!
「I was just passing by and I thought I heard a familiar voice.」
Groggily, she turned her head.
「What happened to them? They’re seriously injured.」
In Paula’s eyes, he was like a miracle sent from heaven.
Paula clung to Hikaru all of a sudden and he almost fell backwards, but he somehow managed to stay on his feet. Paula looked ragged, her clothes dirty, her hair and face a mess.
「…Do you want to save them?」
The question brought her back to her senses and she let go.
Her eyes were serious. Genuine.
「Are you prepared to give up everything except your life?」
She answered with not even the slightest hesitation.
「You’ll never see these two ever again. Or rather, you’ll never be with them. You will devote the rest of your life to me, and only me. Are you okay with that?」
「Yes. If you can save them, then I don’t mind.」
Hikaru closed his eyes, as though steeling himself, and opened them again, holding Paula’s gaze.
「From now on, you will be one of this world’s most powerful healers. Your mana capacity will increase as well. People will want you. So much, in fact, that many will die. So I suggest that you keep a low profile as much as possible.」
Paula gulped. Strangely enough, she didn’t doubt his words one bit.
「Close your eyes. The moment you open them again, your life will change.」
Paula closed her eyes shut. In that moment, her life was starting to head into a completely different direction.