The fifth day of their journey.
It was a somewhat gloomy day. The rainstorm from a few days’ prior had come back and reared its ugly head again. Dark clouds swirled overhead. There was a certain layer of wetness that infected the air.
“What the hell is this guy doing here?” Ellis furrowed his brow and spoke aloud as his eyes stared at the man in front of him.
An athletic body reminiscent of a swimmer’s. Only a single loose-fitting loincloth stood between him and full-blown nudity. He was a golden tanned man with a traditionally handsome face. For some reason, he seemed somewhat haggard, at least compared to the last time Ellis had seen him.
Obviously, it was Nar-Wynn.
Scratches and battle injuries littered his skin. His hair was matted, while dark circles colored his eyelids.
“I’ve come to take the child back.” He spoke with a heavy voice. Nar-Wynn then turned his gaze over to Grisella. With what could only be described as a forced smile, he said, “Also, Miss Lorelei, please accept my marriage proposal.”
Suddenly, another marriage proposal.
“No thank you.” Grisella coolly responded.
“As shy as ever I see,” Like always, the young man did not seem at all fazed by her rejection. “Don’t worry, once you learn of the great lengths that I have gone through for you, you will surely change your attitude.”
Grisella’s expression soured. She did not bother to respond, instead merely opting to shake her head in frustration.
Nar-Wynn then turned back to their little guide. “You, come with me, we’re going back.”
Hal-Wrynn, for the most part, also shook his head. Taking a page from Grisella’s book, he responded with a simple, “No thank you.”
At this point, the squirrel warrior was not as calm as he was before. Recalling all the bitter hardships he had experienced in order to get to this point, all the monsters and all the mud and all the rain, a certain anger bubbled up within him. He forcibly stomped his feet on the ground. “Think of all the trouble you’re causing the village! You yourself might not be important, but someone else thinks differently. Because of you, that woman will-”
“I don’t care.” Hal coldly interrupted. “The village is for you guys to handle. I’ll do whatever I want. The things that other people do are things that I don’t care about.”
Nar-Wynn ground his teeth in frustration. His eyes blazed. He gave the child a look as if he wanted to strangle the very life out of him. Still, he restrained himself. Accidentally (or purposely) killing a fellow tribesman was a capital offense. Even if it was this boy… no, precisely because it was this boy, he did not dare to act rashly.
By this point, Ellis was acting like a forgotten bystander, not that he minded. He glanced back and forth between Nar-Wynn and Hal.
Their relationship did not seem ordinary. More specifically, Ellis felt that there was some tension between Hal and the village itself.
What in the hell is going on?
For now, he wanted to see how their interaction would play out. Nevertheless, no matter what happens in the next few minutes, Ellis definitely wasn’t going to let Hal-Wrynn walk away now. After all, he still needed a way to get to the other side of the river.
After a few seconds of silence, Nar-Wynn took a deep breath. He raised the spear in his hands and pointed the tip towards the boy. “So be it. If you won’t come willingly, I’ll make you go by force. Don’t worry, we have a bunch of medicine. Even if I rough you up a bit, nobody will care.”
Such villainous words leaked out from his pretty boy face.
Hal’s shoulders tensed.
At the same time, Nar-Wynn also turned to Grisella. “Miss Lorelei, do not be beguiled by this runt’s flowery words. I implore you once again. Please turn back now. It is dangerous out here in the forest, and it is even more so at the river.”
Grisella frowned. She had heard similar words many times during her stay in the village. Even then, they had yet to convince her.
“Don’t take my words for air.” Nar-Wynn hurriedly continued. “Even if it is someone as capable as you, I’m afraid you really won’t escape unscathed this time. Death… As much as it loathes me to say it, death is a very real possibility for you. Especially at the other side of the river.”
She furrowed her brow. “What do you—”
Suddenly, Hal stepped in. The young boy shouted loudly. “I won’t go back!”
Nar-Wynn frowned. “That is not for you to decide.” He paused for a moment. “Even without me, that woman will surely drag you back.”
A faint hint of a smile formed on his face. “Then let her come! I don’t care.” He then turned to Ellis. “Do something about this guy already.”
“What?” His role of unassuming bystander suddenly vanished. Hal’s imploring eyes stared fixedly at his own. “Me?” He dumbly pointed to himself.
“You still want to get to the other side of the river, don’t you? If you don’t do anything now, then our journey will have to end here.”
“Don’t but in, little apprentice.” Nar-Wynn coldly stated. “Even if you are Miss Lorelei’s retainer, if you get in my way, then I won’t hesitate. Breaking you will be as easy as breaking a stone to pieces.”
Ellis unconsciously furrowed his brow. What’s up with this guy? Isn’t he kind of a dick? Also, what kind of shitty analogy is that?
He did not really like his tone. Should I teach him a lesson?
Just as he was wondering what to do, Nar-Wynn took a sudden step forward. At the same time, he brandished his wooden spear and pointed it at him.
What the? Is he going to attack? He widened his eyes in surprise. Already?
Ellis did not realize this himself, but his own troubled expression ignited a surge of irritation within the young warrior’s heart. It was not the look of fear or subservience that he had wanted. What’s more, neither was it a look of rebellion or defiance. Instead, he had seen something else. Something he deemed much worse.
Naturally, he was incensed. The easily irritable young man decided to act with his heart and launch a preemptive attack.
In response, Ellis did not do anything. Instead, the creatures around him reacted. Ena, Wight and the rest of the wolves pounced forward.
For a moment, Nar-Wynn’s steps faltered. Fortunately, he quickly regained himself. With a look of steely determination, he continued onward.
Despite his apparent enthusiasm, the young warrior’s mind chaotically swirled. Hidden beneath his energetic eyes was a deep and clear fear. The moment he had pointed his spear towards Ellis, he had immediately felt the aura that these beasts exuded. Someone as young as Hal might not notice, but an experienced warrior like him certainly did.
They were dangerous. They were creatures whose depths he could not fathom. He had felt this pressure only once before. It had been during his first hunt as a warrior. Back then, his father had taken him to a hibernating bear’s cave. Nar-Wynn was not responsible for the giant mother bear that slumbered within its depths, instead, all he had to do was fight the newly born cub that liked to frolic around near the entrance.
In the end, the hunt was successful and Nar-Wynn became an official warrior at the young age of eleven. The mother bear was also subdued by his father. Nobody had gotten hurt and nothing terribly bad had happened. Still, the pressure that the cave emitted was something that he would never forget.
Right now, he experienced a familiar sensation. He felt like a child being toyed with by a group of adults.
The battle did not take all that long to finish. In fact, it lasted less than five seconds.
By the time the dust settled, Nar-Wynn was on the ground and unconscious. Eight fur covered bodies piled on top of him. Ena, in particular, stood triumphantly on top of his head. She puffed up her chest and looked to the sky, an expression of clear disdain morphed her fox face.
Grisella and Ellis did not really find this outcome all that surprising. Nar-Wynn was simply not in their league. Much less all eight, even if it was just one, the battle would have ended much in the same way. But not everyone had the same reaction. Hal-Wynn stood there in a daze.
To his inexperienced eyes, it appeared like a battle dominated by numbers, not power or skill.
Still, he was impressed.
So that’s how strong a beast tamer is… Such thoughts ran through his mind as he turned and gave Ellis an appreciative stare.
After a few seconds, he snapped out of it. The young boy glanced down worriedly at the fallen squirrel before him.
“Is he…” he could not finish his words.
Ellis shook his head. “Don’t worry, he’s not dead. They just knocked him out for a bit.”
“Oh… that’s too bad.” Hal-Wrynn breathed out an imperceptible sigh of relief.
After the brief excitement of the encounter had faded, the group awkwardly stared at his comatose body for a while.
“…So, do we just leave him here?” Hal-Wrynn eventually asked out loud.
“That’s… that doesn’t seem like a very good idea.” Ellis responded. “Won’t he die if left alone like that?” Plenty of monsters roamed this part of the forest. An unconscious squirrel warrior was synonymous to a free kid’s meal. Nobody ever turns down a free kid’s meal.
“Then, let’s do this,” Grisella suddenly approached the unguarded warrior. After a few minutes, she took a couple of steps back and admired her work.
“Will he really be okay like that?” Ellis furrowed his brow. No matter how he looked at it, this was definitely not a good plan.
“It’s unfortunate, but Nar-Wynn is going to die.” Such a succinct prediction came out from Hal’s lips.
“Don’t worry. I made the proper preparations.” Grisella reassured the others, but inwardly, she too was a bit unsure of herself.
They all looked up. A couple of feet above the ground and tied to the base of a tree was Nar-Wynn’s comatose body. He was held in place by strands of thin straw, courtesy of Grisella’s magic broomstick. His legs dangled limply in the air. Occasionally, he would twitch, but otherwise, the poor sod remained unresponsive.
To make sure that he wouldn’t get mauled by stray monsters, Grisella had sprinkled some monster repellent all over the surrounding area.
Still, she was fully aware that the effectiveness of monster repellent was running thin, especially this deep in the forest.
“…just to be sure though,” the solitary witch poured a few more pounds of monster repellent. She practically used up her whole supply. By the end of it, a noticeable red mist encircled the base of the tree.
Even after all this, the group was still a bit hesitant. Nar-Wynn just looked so… defenseless. It really did not bring any comfort to a person’s heart.
“Well, it’s not like we can take him with us,” Ellis spoke out loud, mostly to himself. “It’s his own fault for coming here.”
“Right. The idiot can only blame himself.” Hal-Wrynn nodded his head. “Let fate decide his… um, fate.”
With a unanimous agreement, everyone in the group decided to push the matter to the side as they continued their journey.
Before they left, Ellis briefly glanced over at Hal-Wrynn. His eyes slightly narrowed.
This kid has a secret. He thought to himself. Nar-Wynn knew who he was. No, it was even more than that…
Despite his growing suspicion, Ellis did not say anything. Even if he had a secret, Ellis did not really care. No, he made himself not care. As long as the kid did his job, as long as he brought them to the other side of the river, everything would work out.
Ellis was sure of it.