Goblin Slayer, Vol. 15
“Fear not the chill of death, for you are only flesh, only a lump of meat!”
It was the immortal (well, so he called himself) sorcerer who took the initiative. His staff flashed with death-dealing lightning as he scattered the adventurers’ formation. It was the most basic of basics when it came to responding to a Fireball, but it made it hard to cover each other. They couldn’t be everywhere at once. Anyway, scattering was pointless in the face of a spell that hit the entire scene.
“What do we do about this?!” High Elf Archer asked, her ears twitching ever so slightly with the chill of death missing her by an inch. They’d already scrambled down the side of the hill anyway, so there were some obstacles between them and the sorcerer—but it was hardly safe ground. Her ears were sharp enough to pick up the sound of goblins working their way up the tobacco stone from below.
“No one invited you!” she said, kicking away (with high-elven grace) a goblin that tried snatching at her ankle. The creature went bouncing down the hill, his body twisting and breaking as he went—but he was only the first. More and more goblins would reach the summit soon.
So High Elf Archer didn’t begrudge her arrows, though she didn’t have that many left, as she fired downhill. “We don’t have a lot of time to play around with this guy!” she shouted. Whatever you called him. She cast a significant glance back up the hill, past the obstacles.
“What’s the matter, adventurer? I think you lack something in ferocity!”
The basic problem wasn’t the number of lives the sorcerer had—the faces squirming around as he gloated. No, it was the spell with which he had reached out toward Baturu.
No point in killing him if she dies, too!
High Elf Archer thought.
They could try running, but there were no guarantees they would get away before the curse had its deadly effect. Neither did the elf believe, however, that this meant they were cornered, out of options.
Orcbolg had said he had a plan. He would certainly do something. Besides…
“We’ll manage this…somehow!”
Her best friend, the one who’d been seriously poisoned by that weirdo, was there, too, calling out. Priestess could be seen supporting Silver Blaze, who was supporting Baturu, all of them among the shadows of more distant boulders.
She might yelp as the hideous miasma passed by her, but she wasn’t afraid. She looked closely at Baturu, who was drawing small, quick breaths, her skin pale. Her face was splattered with blood, and her breathing was ragged. Even at that moment, it was clear, her life was being siphoned away.
“Will you…will you be able to help her?” Silver Blaze looked pleadingly at Priestess, squeezing the centaur’s small hand. The look on her face was so sincere, so vulnerable, that the weight of it was almost painful. Priestess realized her throat was tight.
It would take such courage to say what she was about to say. It would have been wonderful if someone, anyone more capable than her was here in this place. But there was only her. She was the one they had.
So the only choice…is for me to do it!
“Please,” she began, “leave it to an adventurer…!”
Priestess’s voice rose as she went, until it became a shout, so that all the gods might hear her—so that
might hear her.
Then she looked firmly forward, her resolve set. “…I need some time!”
“All right,” Goblin Slayer responded immediately from his place several obstacles up. “I’ll leave the timing to you.”
All he needed to do, then, was deal with the goblins. That made things very simple for him.
Goblin Slayer kicked a stone out from under his foot and observed it tumbling down. No, it wasn’t exactly observation—more just making sure.
The pebble smacked into other stones as it went, until the rockslide caught up several goblins. Effectiveness confirmed.
He had already seen that there were no spell casters among the oncoming goblins; if that sorcerer had any sense, he wouldn’t want any other magic users serving him, least of all a goblin one.
If they could use magic, too, it would mean in the goblins’ minds that they were just as good as he was.
As far as it went, that made this sorcerer a better commander of the goblins than that dark elf (he thought it was; he didn’t remember) had been.
The goblins, scrambling along however they saw fit, were hardly powerful opponents, but they were the most dangerous thing there. If the party could deal with them, they could manage the rest somehow.
“Drop some stones on them, whatever you can find, to slow them down,” Goblin Slayer ordered.
“Ah, physical labor! The province of dwarves and lizardmen!” Lizard Priest said.
“And here I thought we were supposed to be spell casters,” answered Dwarf Shaman, but it didn’t stop him from swinging his arms with a “here we go, then!” and knocking a boulder loose with his ax. A boulder that Lizard Priest then grabbed and flung…
Goblins went tumbling everywhere, caught up by the stone, squashed flat by it, or else panicking even though they were in no particular danger from it. Those who were sharp-eyed enough to dive away from the oncoming boulder found themselves pierced by bud-tipped arrows that came flying from impossible directions.
It might not have accounted for too many goblins compared with the number encroaching upon them, but that was no problem, for it did indeed buy time—and time was what their party member Priestess had sought.
Meanwhile, the black-clad sorcerer watched the battling adventurers with leisure. “A little girl like you, undo a spell like mine? You’re all talk!”
What was Priestess—fifteen? A little older? The words of such a small, young girl would never be enough to counter the sorcerer’s pride.
Yet it’s a sign of my magnanimity that I don’t grow angry about it.
The cold touch of death once felt had cooled the passion of his thoughts and brought him a certain detachment. Even in the extraordinarily unlikely case that the girl did break his curse—well! That would be something to see!
He would regret if this little girl beloved of the Earth Mother should end up as nothing more than a walking womb for the goblins. Compared with the high elf, though, she could add only droplets to the ocean of his life.
The sorcerer chuckled.
If you can’t break the curse, then you’ll spend your last days entertaining my goblins.
She might live for a night, two at most. Those who were of no use deserved no more.
“Very well. I’d like to see you try. I won’t interfere with you,” the sorcerer said. Instead, he pointed his staff at the scruffy man who had emerged from behind one of the rocks. Yes, a scruffy man indeed, much like those who were said to have lurked in that most infamous of dungeons.
The eyes under that helmet, however, were hardly looking at the sorcerer. He might as well have been a stone on the roadside.
Curse them all!
the sorcerer thought. Everyone treated him that way, brushing him off like a silly child not worthy of their time. But now, now they would see. He was here, and he would grind them underfoot. Who was it who had placed their hand upon immortality? Not the wretched, ignorant masses but him!
Fly, O fiery arrow!” The sorcerer let his emotions flow over into words of truth, the energy flying from his staff.
As he ran, Goblin Slayer pulled a stone from his pouch and flung it.
“How many times do you think your little tricks are going to work on me?” the sorcerer demanded.
didn’t think they were. But the tear gas would block the sorcerer’s vision, and that would be enough.
Goblin Slayer’s projectile met the bolt of flame in midair, the gas bomb bursting in a cloud of red powder. Lightning dropped where Goblin Slayer had been an instant before, shattering a boulder, and the resultant cloud of dust only helped him. He hid behind it as he reached with his free hand and grabbed one particular weapon—his newly refurbished, wickedly bent throwing knife. Goblin Slayer didn’t exactly understand who this sorcerer was supposed to be, but it seemed like an opponent against whom he shouldn’t hold back.
In any case, it’s of a different value.
He threw underhanded, from the left, the knife describing a great arc as it flew.
Form, magical binding!”
The knife wasn’t enough to cut through the mystical protection of Force Field.
But it’s enough.
He’d forced his opponent to use up a spell. It was exactly what he’d expected, and the fact that the knife didn’t get through to the foe was no fault of the weapon’s. Goblin Slayer retrieved the throwing knife with the string he’d tied to it and started jogging again. He didn’t imagine himself as professional enough to strike a quick, decisive blow, even if he’d first made the enemy flinch back with a strike from a spiked chain.
“Ha! So it turns out all you know how to do is run away with you tail between your legs!”
The sorcerer was yammering about something, but Goblin Slayer wasn’t listening. There had never been any need to.
He’s a goblin shaman who speaks human language.
That, in Goblin Slayer’s mind, was all he was. And if so, then
Goblin Slayer could buy time against him just as well as against any goblin. And if he bought enough of it…
Then the more capable adventurers will be able to do something.
Priestess had likewise banished all extraneous thoughts from her mind. At that moment, for her, the four corners consisted entirely of the dawn light and her suffering friend.
Priestess’s small chest heaved up and down as she sucked the dawn air into her lungs and then gradually let it out again. She took into herself the sacred force that saturated the world, cycling it through her, collecting it.
Priestess gently brushed Baturu’s cheek, defiled as it was by dark blood, and closed her eyes.
I’m glad this isn’t my first time
, she thought. Or was she? Perhaps that first time, she’d been better able to completely clear her mind. Now she felt a twinge of anxiety. She couldn’t help wondering if she could do it. That didn’t represent any lack of faith in the gods—but a lack of faith in herself.
But that makes it a failure of faith in the blessed Earth Mother.
A shadow of doubt that she would always hear the voice of her faithful.
No, no. I have to stop this.
It was no good to let her mind run in circles.
Random thoughts would never disappear completely. Instead, when she noticed them, each time, she had to get back to the original path. Protect, heal, save. She repeated those three in time with her breathing, then repeated them again. When she saw something else arise, she went back. Again and again, she repeated the process.
As she did so, suddenly, there came a moment when her mind was clear. The time when her soul was at its utmost.
It’s all right.
The Earth Mother was a kind and gentle goddess. And
was fighting on her behalf.
And I am an adventurer.
“O Earth Mother, abounding in mercy, please, by your revered hand, cleanse us of our corruption!”
No god would fail to answer the prayer of a Pray-er Character. None of the players in heaven would betray the Pray-er Characters down below. So long as the characters engaged in adventures, their “players” would be with them.
One could never be certain of success, but one could know that the dice of Fate and Chance would always roll. Thus, Priestess had made mistakes before, she had been forgiven, and her prayer had brought salvation. The all-merciful Earth Mother responded to her pious disciple by causing the Purify miracle.
Baturu blinked several times at a pleasant damp feeling on her cheek. She brushed it with her fingers to discover it shimmering golden in the morning light.
It was water.
A clearer, purer water than she had ever seen in her life. The blood that had been suffused with the corruption of the evil curse no longer existed in this world. So naturally, the curse that had relied on that blood as a catalyst also disappeared.
I’m glad I got to her before the blood dried.
Then things might not have gone so well.
“This is incredible…,” Baturu marveled.
“The Earth Mother truly is amazing,” Priestess said, letting out a private sigh of relief. “Didn’t I tell you?” She smiled.
With that, Priestess had used up her miracles. If she wanted anything else to happen, she would have to do it herself. Thus she modestly, but nonetheless triumphantly, puffed out her chest and shouted:
“I can’t believe it…,” the sorcerer groaned at the strange sensation that suddenly assaulted his body. He didn’t know what the little girl had done, but was it possible she had actually broken his curse?
No, it couldn’t happen. Such a thing was impossible, or so he believed. For if he had imagined otherwise, the prideful thought that followed could never have arisen in his mind.
But do I care? Ha!
He thought of all the many lives he had buried within himself by the demon’s power. And how many lives did
have? One. Just one. He could capture that life.
He took a breath—but before he could begin chanting anything, Goblin Slayer was moving. His right hand flashed, and a sword he had pulled from the
sliced through the air.
It came from he knew not where; he had taken it from the hand of a goblin, but it was a weapon just the same. If the spell caster’s concentration had been broken and the protection of his magic had vanished, then it would be perfectly able to do its job.
The decaying, rusty blade lodged itself in the sorcerer’s chest, and he pitched backward dramatically. He did not die, of course. This wasn’t one of the blades forged by that ancient people to bury the black riders. Just because it stabbed him, it hardly dispelled the magic holding him together. Even as the flame of his life guttered and he hacked up bloody vomit, he rose once more to his feet.
“Fairies, fairies, never tarry—what you forgot, I give back fairly! I don’t need cash, but make me merry!”
Dwarf Shaman wasn’t about to let him get away with it. He flung his jar on the ground again, and the endless oil began flowing forth. The scented oil the fairies had forgotten, which was so valuable precisely because it meant nothing in terms of real-world worth, flowed like a sea over the hilltop.
“Hrn… Hgh! Grrr!”
Slip, slide, tumble—the sorcerer let out a humiliated shout as he floundered in the waves of oil.
“How could a mere child’s prank…?!”
He tried to pull the sword out of his chest, but his hands slipped off
it. His body slid so that he couldn’t stand up. It was all he could do to clutch his staff to himself so that he might not drop it.
But so what? What is any of this to me?
He could not lose his life. A little oil, a little tumbling, so what? Did they think—?
“O proud and strange brontosaurus, grant me the strength of ten thousand!”
The sorcerer’s upturned eyes were met with the sight of a terrifying naga, a lizardman dashing toward him, making the utmost of the strength he had borrowed from his forebears.
“Eeeeyaaahhh!” the lizardman cried, the claws of his feet punching through the film of oil to tear at the rock, carrying him forward without so much as a quiver.
When the sorcerer realized that this monster was making a beeline straight for him, he shouted something. Maybe it was a spell. Maybe a curse. Maybe a simple imprecation. Or maybe it had no meaning at all.
Whatever it was, the adventurers never heard it, for in the next instant, a tail, brought to bear with the lizard’s full strength and speed, vaporized the sorcerer’s jaw and sent him hurtling through the air.
Then the waves of oil carried him down the tobacco stone, bouncing him off every rock along the way. He couldn’t even cry out, and any attempt at resistance would be futile. If he could have gotten the sword out and jammed it into a rock, he might have been able to arrest his fall, but the oil covering him from head to foot wouldn’t let him.
Each time he smacked a stone, he felt a bone break or an internal organ burst, chipping away at his body.
The time until he finally struck the ground of the Four-Cornered World did indeed feel like an eternity.
“Hmm! I daresay he’s still alive.”
“He is unexpectedly tenacious.”
Lizard Priest and Goblin Slayer were looking down at where the
sorcerer had become a dark stain on the ground. With virtually every bone and muscle in his body shattered, even someone with immortality would have trouble rising again.
That ogre (is that what he was?) claimed to be immortal, too, but this is something different.
Goblin Slayer grunted quietly. There were indeed so many things he didn’t know in this world.
“Well, we never did undo his actual immortality,” Dwarf Shaman said as he flicked a coin through the air. “What did yeh expect?” The coin turned filthy the instant it dropped into the ocean of oil. The oil promptly vanished—almost like magic—leaving only the otherwise useless gold piece. “I think I should point out that we haven’t actually finished this one yet,” the dwarf added.
That much was true.
Now that nobody was dropping stones on them anymore, the goblins’ advance resumed unhindered. Sure, arrows occasionally took one of them out, but everybody else just assumed the victims were the especially stupid ones.
“Blast it all! How does it end up being goblins
?!” High Elf Archer howled, meanwhile firing off three arrows in the blink of an eye.
One couldn’t help but agree with her. The goblins looked like ants swarming a sweet treat on the ground. Then there was the sorcerer, who continued to squirm despite having been smashed against the earth.
Time was not the adventurers’ friend. Every moment, the end was coming nearer. Death grew closer even as they stood and thought.
But that means nothing.
It was just another way of saying they were still alive.
Priestess, who stood flanking Baturu with Silver Blaze, nodded. If they were still alive, then all they had to do was do everything they could do for as long as they could do it.
The sun had now shown itself fully over the edge of the board, shining upon all the four corners.
They were on an
. They were surrounded by a goblin horde. Rocks. The attack earlier. Using the terrain.
What would Goblin Slayer do?
Ah! Yes. She knew.
“Let’s break this place apart!”
Without hesitation, Goblin Slayer said, “My thoughts exactly.”
High Elf Archer looked up at the heavens—although it didn’t do much good, as the Earth Mother was hiding her face. “Arrrgh… How does this happen?”
“Oh, um, of course I understand that this is a very important and most precious
mound,” Priestess said quickly. “But this holy ground has been defiled, and I can’t purify it by myself…”
Not to mention that even if she could have, she had used up all her miracles. As a cleric, she simply didn’t yet have what it took. Perhaps Sword Maiden, one of the famous All Stars, would have been a different story, but it just wasn’t possible to ask her to come all the way out here to do a purification at this moment in time.
“But, uh, having said that, I hadn’t quite figured out how to actually bring it down…”
“Let me handle that.” Goblin Slayer did not hesitate. In fact, it looked like he probably already had something in mind.
The whole party knew full well what this man was likely to do.
“But do you suppose it would be…not such a good thing to destroy this mound?” Lizard Priest ventured.
“It’s true that a lot of us don’t know much about the centaur faith,” Dwarf Shaman said, not begrudging to wet his tongue with the last of his wine. This was when the real fun would begin: When they fell, it should be with no strength left, not even any wine. “Maybe we should ask our fair ladies.”
“Personally, I’d feel better rebuilding it from scratch.” Silver Blaze’s expression was too ambiguous to call a sad smile but too clear to imagine she wasn’t thinking about the matter. Then she brushed a
hand gently through the hair of the young centaur leaning against her side. “However…”
“Princess?” The girl who had only moments before regained her pallor looked at Silver Blaze in surprise.
“I’ve left this place behind. It’s you, who still lives out in the fields, who should decide.”
For a very, very long moment, Baturu didn’t answer. She bit her lip, her expression hard, and looked, not quite at the earth and not quite at the sky.
They could hear the jabbering of the encroaching goblins. Smell the faint remaining whiff of blood. And feel the wind that pressed all of it upon them.
The wind. The wind was blowing.
There beneath the dawn sky, the wind ran to the very farthest edges of the plain.
She saw now that the princess had no intention of coming home. That, to her, felt like an answer. It told her what she should choose.
“…Do it. Please. Bring it down.”
Her verdict was just that brief. Baturu was looking straight at Priestess—and Goblin Slayer. At the cheap helmet with the broken horns. She still didn’t know what expression the face beneath wore.
No, she didn’t know, but she knew the man accepted her and her request.
What made her think that?
“All right,” the helmet said, nodding up and down without missing a beat. “I will.”
Quickly, calmly, almost mechanically, he began to spell out for them the plan he’d concocted in his head. High Elf Archer’s ears drooped farther and farther as he spoke, while Priestess nodded and said, “I see.”
As for Silver Blaze and Baturu, they didn’t quite seem to understand the situation yet…
“Myself, I can still use a miracle. If you wish,” said the warrior monk of the lizardmen, his tail curling with eager anticipation of battle.
If he was that excited to fight, Dwarf Shaman could hardly not come up with some mischief of his own. “Guess I’d better step up, too. No real point knockin’ this thing down if we take ourselves with it.”
The saying goes that three heads together are as good as the God of Knowledge, but
three heads were like naughty children planning a prank.
They do say that three naughty brats together can even chase away a grim reaper
, High Elf Archer reflected. “It’s because
two never stopped him that this poor girl wound up contaminated by Orcbolg.”
“I d-don’t think I’m contaminated…!” Priestess protested, struggling weakly against the sympathetic hug High Elf Archer gave her.
The five of them might have been standing in the middle of a battle zone, but they practically looked like they were enjoying themselves. Maybe that was part of what it meant to be an adventurer. Or maybe that was what it meant that this was an adventure.
Baturu could only blink.
I see now…
This was indeed something one didn’t find on the plain.
“Are you sure this is…even possible?!” Baturu almost shouted. She was holding a rope wrapped around one of the boulders at the top of the hill.
Ah, rope: Never leave home without it! The grappling hook was secured firmly to the rock, while the party members held the other end.
“If you can win by doing the impossible or the ridiculous, then it’s no trouble at all…,” Priestess said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, while she tugged on the knot to make sure it was firm.
High Elf Archer jabbed Goblin Slayer in the side with her elbow.
“Hrm,” he grunted.
“Couldn’t you teach her anything more
?” she said. Then she added grudgingly, “Granted, it’s a little late now.”
Goblin Slayer grunted again. “That is helpful, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” High Elf Archer knew that. She sighed in
resignation, then chuckled (not without a note of fondness) and grabbed the rope. “Why not say something to her, too, then?”
There were Lizard Priest and Dwarf Shaman, prepared to the utmost. Across from them stood Silver Blaze, with Baturu beside her, looking anxious. The strangest thing was that Silver Blaze, the former prisoner, appeared to be the most vigorous of them all.
Goblin Slayer spent a moment in thought, then said, “I’ve heard deer can do this. Would it be difficult for centaurs?”
“…We’ll do this, all right!” Baturu exclaimed, freshly invigorated, practically baring her teeth. The message was clear:
Don’t mock me.
Naturally, he hadn’t had the slightest malice in mind; he had meant only and exactly what he said. Still, no one could expect a centaur to stand by quietly when their kind was compared with deerfolk.
For her part, Silver Blaze laughed—“Ha-ha-ha!”—as if she was genuinely enjoying herself and held tight to the rope. “We’ll have to run as fast as we can, then.”
“Huh? Wait! Princess…?!”
“I haven’t run in
! I need to get practicing again!” She sounded like a child excited about her first game, and it brought a breath of relief from Priestess.
The rope was secure. The party was all together. And the other two…
They look like they’re going to be just fine.
Once she had double-checked everything, Priestess turned to Goblin Slayer and nodded.
“All right.” Goblin Slayer grasped the rope where it was secured at his own hip and braced his feet. “Anytime!”
At that, Dwarf Shaman scrambled up onto the boulder with his stubby arms and legs. He might have wished for a rock big enough for all of them to ride on, but you couldn’t have everything. Even if Lizard Priest had managed to fit his great bulk atop the stone, getting two centaurs up there would have been awfully tricky.
Gotta work with what yeh have
, Dwarf Shaman thought. Then he slapped his palm down on the great rock and drank the very last drops of wine from his jug. “Ready to roll, Scaly!”
There at the figurative tail of the party, secured to the rope just like
the rest of them, was Lizard Priest, who howled:
“O my forbears who sleep under layers of rock, with all the time that has piled upon you, guide this object!”
The sound was like a landslide. Touched by Lizard Priest’s prayer, the great boulder that lay at the base of all these stones that had been piled up over countless ages buckled and crumbled under the vast weight of time. The
became like a huge pile of pudding collapsing under its own weight. The rocks that made the tobacco stone, built up over so long, scattered in every direction, raising a cloud of dust. One stone smacked into another, cracking it, smashing it, sending it rolling away in some other direction.
To someone watching from a distance, it probably wouldn’t have looked that fast—but that was an illusion created by the size of the stones. If you were right there in the middle of it, you knew exactly how fast it was happening.
The hail of stones was like a storm; they were like great war hammers and terrible blades. If you were sucked into the maelstrom, you would be torn apart, battered to pieces; your life would be forfeit. And it was all happening much too fast to run away from…
“Come out, you gnomes, and let it go! Here it comes, look out below! Turn those buckets upside-down—empty all upon the ground!”
However, the adventurers, and the great boulder they were tied to, flew at an impossible speed. Yes, flew. It didn’t roll but shot straight downward, sliding along.
“Eep! Yikes, yikes, yikes!”
Priestess suddenly found herself kicking her legs, trying to hurry along with the rock. Of course, the footing was falling out from under her as she went; it was like pushing off the hillside and jumping. For indeed: The adventurers tied to the boulder were, like the boulder itself, under the influence of Dwarf Shaman’s Falling Control spell.
Priestess clung to her cap lest it fly away, focusing only on not tumbling.
This is a lot like…!
When they had skied down the snowy mountain or when they had ridden on the back of the sand manta.
Are we going to die here?!
This felt dangerous enough to bring the thought to her mind—which
made it all the more striking when she heard the giggling of the unseen faeries.
Ah, but…I’m not so afraid.
Not so afraid as she had been when faced with the red dragon, or in the water town sewers, or on that very first adventure…
The thought somehow brought a smile to her face. Even if it was a smile strained with a certain amount of terror.
“Orcbolg…has to be the biggest idiot…!” High Elf Archer shouted back, which Priestess took to mean she was all right. Even with the tips of her long ears pressed firmly back against her head, the high elf still managed to look elegant as she slid along. Priestess couldn’t even picture her tumbling unceremoniously down the hill.
“Agh! Yipes! Argh!”
In contrast, the look on Baturu’s face could be summed up in one word:
. She was gritting her teeth—she was hardly used to climbing rocks, let alone sliding down them.
Then again, none of them was exactly used to this. How could they be? All the same, Baturu kept running—if she stopped, she would die. Anyhow, she had her friend, Silver Blaze, beside her. Baturu saw Priestess look at them, but she didn’t have the wherewithal to shout back. She settled for meeting the cleric’s eyes and nodding. That was enough for Priestess.
“Goblins…ahead!” Silver Blaze shouted at that moment. She saw the green shadows lurking along the path of the rolling stone. “Still plenty of them…!”
“It won’t be a problem!” Goblin Slayer called back.
The first enemy they made contact with was a goblin who had just happened to avoid slipping away in the earlier fighting. He had slid a short distance but—happily or unhappily—had managed to stop himself with his weapon. That, however, did not change the fate that awaited him.
As Goblin Slayer came hurtling down along with the boulder, he literally kicked the creature to his doom.
The monster slid down on a diagonal, breaking his bones, tearing his flesh, and shortly dying.
Nor was that goblin the unluckiest of them.
Several of the others became fodder for the hail of falling stones. Their death rattles didn’t even reach Goblin Slayer’s ears, for the great, ceaseless rumble drowned out their cries, the sounds of their flesh ripping and their bones shattering.
“Keep us going, dead ahead!” Goblin Slayer shouted. There went another one. It had tried to grab onto the rock in hopes of escaping. “If the rocks fall on us the moment we reach the bottom, this will all have been for nothing!” Gravel went pinging off the metal helmet. Elf or centaur ears could presumably pick up the individual clinks as the stones went flying around.
Priestess, likewise, felt rocks stinging her through her cap. She didn’t have the courage to look up.
“Just keep a close eye on how our rope’s doing!” Dwarf Shaman bellowed. “If it snaps, we’re done for!”
“Right…!” Priestess didn’t know whether he could hear her—she could barely hear herself or anyone else. They were all pushing as hard as they could. Trampling goblins, running along, thinking only of survival.
Priestess thought of her party members. She thought of them all going home together. She thought of her friends.
All those thoughts filled her head, so that she completely forgot about the sorcerer.
Speaking of the sorcerer: True to his claimed immortality, he was still going despite his entire body having been crushed. He lay there on the earth where he had been flattened, trying desperately to get his limbs in a functional state, suffering. If someone were to be crushed by
a giant, then hung by their neck, they might begin to grasp the intensity of his pain.
Ignorant, worthless bastards, utterly beneath comparison with him. Yet the likes of them had managed to interfere with his great self, had been able to trip him up. That was not to be countenanced. He
have his revenge.
He needed to repair his flesh and knit his bones as quickly as possible and get going again—he begrudged every minute, every second. When he had himself back together, those barbarians would be as nothing before him.
Even at this point, the sorcerer had learned nothing, saw no lessons in what he had experienced. Just as he had always blamed others for all the ridicule he had endured. He was, in one sense, perhaps not wrong to do so. Many are those who will point and laugh at someone simply for harboring grand ambitions.
But the sorcerer had completely forgotten about all the things he himself had done. He had no recollection of how many people’s hopes and dreams he had trampled upon to get where he was. He wasn’t even aware of them. He had simply assumed all was his right. It was pride—and it was his blind spot.
And then pride took the form of an immense, numbing weight and a cascade of gravel.
The sorcerer didn’t understand what had happened. He felt only a tremendous weight fall upon him, smashing the flesh and bones he had worked to repair. He had tried so hard to use the last glimmers of life in him to come back from the brink, only to be rebuffed by the stones.
The sorcerer found himself unable to move a finger, unable to draw a breath.
Why had it never occurred to him that to be immortal didn’t mean to be invincible, and immortality was not eternity?
Why had he been satisfied to make immortality his goal? Yes, there were ancient things in the Four-Cornered World, like the kings of the dead, who had braved death to live forever. Perhaps, had he sought
something more, the sorcerer would have had an opportunity to aim even higher.
But any opportunity for thought was snuffed out when a boulder landed on his head, crushing it and scattering his brains to the four corners, leaving behind only a lump of flesh that no longer knew what it was.
Almost before she knew what was happening, Priestess found herself standing in a billowing cloud of dust. Her feet were on solid ground. Her body was in one piece. The goblins were gone.
What about the others…?
“I don’t know if he was immortal or what, but if you bury him, he won’t be back.”
Ah, there they are.
Priestess breathed a sigh of relief to see the man standing calmly there. Goblin Slayer was safe. Covered in dust and dirt, yes—but he was always grimy anyway.
Everyone else was there, too.
“Because he’s unlike a goblin,” Goblin Slayer added. The sorcerer, he averred, was far easier to deal with.
Priestess assumed Goblin Slayer was already thinking about the goblins who had been crushed or perhaps how to take care of the ones who had gotten away with their wargs. Dwarf Shaman, sitting on top of the boulder and bemoaning the fact that his wine was all gone, growled, “Give it a century or two and he’ll come crawling back out, I suspect.”
“It won’t matter to me then.”
“Yeah, but it might matter to
,” High Elf Archer said, leaning back against the boulder and looking at the remains of the
with a sigh. Then she shrugged, smiling as if to say,
These things happen.
“I can’t believe we set out to rescue a centaur princess…and ended up fighting goblins!”
I predicted as much!
She groaned loudly, followed by another sigh.
“…You’d rather have been attacked by a dragon?” Silver Blaze asked seriously.
“I think I’ve had my fill of dragons, too.” High Elf Archer laughed.
I think I get it now
, Priestess thought. Princesses were like that: free, headstrong, like the wind. She shared a glance with Baturu. Priestess thought she understood now what it was between the warrior and Silver Blaze. Something much like what bound herself and High Elf Archer.
“…We’ll just have to start piling the rocks again,” Baturu said and smiled. A smile like the blowing wind, with none of the tension that had filled her face until that moment. A natural smile that showed that she could accept what the future held. “Plenty of centaurs and other travelers pass this way. I’m sure the
will rise again in time.”
“Do you think we should set up a stele or something?” Priestess asked jokingly and giggled. “You know, something that says,
Beware, for here an evil sorcerer lies sealed
“And then, a hundred years from now, the unwary, believing the warning to be mere superstition, will dig him up, and he’ll come back to life.” Lizard Priest bared his fangs merrily, though there was nothing merry about what he was saying.
He cheerfully began undoing the rope. “I’ll help,” High Elf Archer said, going over to him. Her delicate fingers were far more suited to this work than the long, sharp claws of a lizardman. “Humans do act like that, don’t they?” she said.
“And so the seeds of adventure never run out in the Four-Cornered World,” Dwarf Shaman added. What could a human like Priestess do but smile ruefully?
“It’s not worth worrying about,” Goblin Slayer said very softly—like a wish, like a prayer. Let it be a century; let it be two. Let it be a millennium. Whenever it happened, if it happened, then when that time came…
“Just leave it to an adventurer.”
The cheers at the water town arena brought the house down. The prize that day was a grand one, named after a baroness who had been paraded naked through the city, once upon a time, to punish her for
imposing crushing taxes. The contest took her name because, according to one story, she had been a centaur herself.
“Not that that’s particularly credible,” Female Merchant said with a twinkle in her eye. “But this is a festival, not a history book—and it’s a good excuse to make merry.”
They were in the stands of the racecourse, in the very best seats, where the nobles sat. The stand was shaded by a roof; you could see the entire course at once, and there were soft pillows to sit on—very much a place to relax and watch a race. Naturally, only Female Merchant’s most cherished friends were invited there.
Today, for the occasion, she offered them sweet treats prepared with cacao, the so-called “bean of the gods.”
“And to top it all off,” she said, “today is—”
“The day Silver Blaze makes her grand return!” High Elf Archer finished, adding a “thank you” as she grabbed one of the brown sweets and popped it in her mouth. She immediately discovered a sweetness that ran from her tongue straight up to the tips of her ears, accompanied by a faint undercurrent of bitterness. It was like no fruit she’d ever tasted in the forest. Sugar truly was something magical—perhaps even fiendish.
Shivering, the high elf let out a sigh. “Incredible…!”
“Hrm,” remarked Baturu, picking up one of the treats herself. “This little thing, you mean?”
“I meant that princess of yours,” High Elf Archer said. “But the candy, too.”
Still looking somewhat dubious, Baturu put the candy in her mouth—whereupon her ears stood straight up, the sweetness assailing her as it had High Elf Archer. The shock seemed to travel all the way to the tip of her tail before subsiding a few seconds later.
Baturu let out a breath like she might melt—and then she gazed into the distance. “Yes. The princess…is indeed incredible.”
She had cast her eyes down over the huge crowd that filled every seat in the spectator stands. Then she looked at the centaur racers, pelting along the track with utmost commitment.
The earsplitting shouting. The young women dashing like the wind, moving as fast as they could.
There would be winners, and there would be losers. It was a serious competition—that was necessary. But all the racers would be feted by the crowd, would be given their due.
Only the princess, however, the one they called Silver Blaze, could attract a crowd quite this size. Baturu felt sure that if she had tried her entire life, she could not have done the same.
“So what are you going to do after this?”
The unexpected question from High Elf Archer pulled Baturu out of her reverie. “A good question,” she said, but the answer had been settled long ago. “I suppose I’ll go back to the open plain. I need to report to my older sister, you see. Although she seems likely not to be very happy,” Baturu added with a wry smile.
High Elf Archer agreed wholeheartedly. “Older sisters never are!”
“Yes. One is grateful for them, but they can be a real headache!”
The two nodded at each other, shared a look, and then giggled like little girls.
, Female Merchant recalled belatedly. The elf was the younger sister of something like the empress of the elves. She hadn’t exactly forgotten that fact, but she’d simply been far more conscious of her as a friend. And too—if only once or twice and only on rather strange adventures…
A traveling companion.
Yes, perhaps she might be allowed to call her that as well.
Female Merchant put a hand to her chest, making her relief plain to cover for her embarrassment. “Everything has ended well. That’s what’s most important to me,” she said. And it was entirely true. Certainly, it was important for those involved in the entertainment business. There were no guarantees their own centaurs might not have gotten caught up in things. And if it had turned out to be a matter of match fixing or some kind of cheating ring…
Well, I’m just very glad it wasn’t.
Anything that put the pinch on entertainment would affect profits. And dwindling profits would lower the value of the racing centaurs. People would be less excited to watch them race. From olden times, there have been those who felt that the inability to generate profits demonstrated
that one was of no worth. Female Merchant understood that painfully well.
She’d heard that the detective who’d allegedly been brought in was satisfied with the outcome as well. When he’d learned about what had happened, he’d supposedly said something about justice being served.
If that sorcerer really was sealed away…
And with the servant who had killed the lanista apprehended, all was well that ended well.
“I guess that wraps everything up,” Female Merchant said as if to reassure herself, and she smiled.
The heat of the packed arena was leavened by a pleasant breeze that came flowing through. The lovely wind only stirred up the people’s excitement and joy even further.
“This town, these competitions, adventures… In the end, they don’t make much sense to me,” Baturu said quietly. “I don’t know what you’re so excited about, and I don’t know why my older sister and the princess left our homeland.” But although she didn’t fully understand… “I do see there’s something here that we don’t have on the plain.”
“Yes,” Female Merchant agreed.
“Yeah… I think you’re right.” High Elf Archer nodded.
They had tried their hands at adventuring because they’d wanted to find something that was lacking in their noble house or their forest home. They had lost some things and gained others. Things they would most assuredly never have gained had they simply stayed home.
But not everyone sought to pursue such things in their lives. For Baturu, this adventure was a strange and unusual occurrence. She was certainly not an adventurer, not someone who made her living adventuring.
“But,” Baturu said, “I have found some things we share.”
“The wind.” Baturu looked at her friend, then past her friend, beyond the spectator seats, where she could see the great spreading sky. A gust caressed her cheek, playing with her hair, dancing as it went by. “The wind blows here, as it does in my home. So all is good.”
Baturu smiled, the same relaxed smile she’d given them at the tobacco stone, open to the future. “Therefore, I will go back. And it’s not as if my older sister or the princess will never come home so long as they live, is it?”
And when they returned, Baturu would be there to welcome them on that open field with its heartening breeze.
The sky was the same sky in all the four corners; the wind was the same wind. And if there were things you couldn’t find at home—well, there were things you could find only at home, too.
“Everyone’s got their own path to walk,” said Dwarf Shaman, who had been listening silently until that moment, more focused on the race and his wine. He tucked a betting ticket into the folds of his robes, looking pleased about it in a way that suggested he’d picked a winner. Then he grinned, showing his white teeth. “So long as yeh stay on that path, you can walk with your head held high.”
It was Female Merchant who nodded at Dwarf Shaman’s words. She didn’t believe the path she had once walked was mistaken. She may have fallen and been hurt—but she was pulled to her feet and got up, and it had led her here. It was why she had this moment—and with this moment she was supremely satisfied.
“Hmm?” High Elf Archer said, glancing at Lizard Priest. “You haven’t tried it yet?” Her attention had already wandered from the conversation, fixing on the treats Female Merchant had brought.
“Our people use this as a stimulant…”
“It’s got cow’s milk in it, so it’s pretty much like cheese, isn’t it?”
“It has its similarities but also its differences—mm, but nectar this is. Nectar!”
Apparently he liked it.
Even with a massive lizardman sitting beside a centaur, there was plenty of space in the noble seating. High Elf Archer glanced around with much interest. She saw that even the weird-looking adventurer in their midst caused no real consternation.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said as he arrived.
It was totally understandable if the people in these prime seats did a bit of a double take. In fact, they probably deserved an award for
managing to keep it to a modest flinch of their expressions, given that someone who looked like Living Armor was working his way past them. Female Merchant was unable to suppress a bit of a smile as she offered an
gesture in their general direction.
“You’re late, Orcbolg!” High Elf Archer said.
“It hasn’t started yet, has it?”
“Well, no,” she admitted, but she puffed out her cheeks indignantly nonetheless.
Goblin Slayer took that for the end of the conversation and strode to a random seat.
“How’d it go?” Female Merchant asked, offering him a cup and politely pouring some wine for him. “Did she say you could have it?”
“When the race has been run, I’m told,” he said, his usual brief response.
was nothing special in and of itself—but they were dealing with Silver Blaze here.
There must be many who want it.
But if there was anyone here who could get it, surely it would be none other than these adventurers.
“I’ve heard something about it being a good luck charm… I don’t really understand.” He took a swig of wine as if it were water.
Where were his eyes looking behind that metal helmet? He seemed to be gazing off into the spectator seating, watching the crowd cheer themselves silly at the centaurs, as if hailing great heroes. He was watching them wait expectantly for Silver Blaze.
Finally, he grunted softly, nodded, and said, “I do understand that your princess is quite amazing.”
“Yeah.” Baturu also nodded. “I absolutely agree!”
Her princess was amazing. She spoke the words with utmost pride.
Then there was a tremendous cheer. Another race was finished, another winner made. The victor would be crowned with glory, while the losers would be congratulated on their fine effort, for there was none there, not one, who had failed to give their utmost.
“You’re alone?” Female Merchant asked, tucking her head. “What about the girl?”
Goblin Slayer nodded. “I said I would ask what I needed to for the quest report.”
As boisterous as the cheers from the crowd were, here, they felt dreadfully far away. Here being a tunnel leading to the field of battle, under the spectator seating. This was a place only those who were not yet winners—but were not yet losers, either—could go. It was isolated from the sunlight, illumination provided by just a few candles.
It almost looks like a dungeon
, Priestess thought and then chuckled to herself.
She herself had been in a dungeon proper only once or twice. Nonetheless, the sense of prebattle tension in this place was very much the same as what one felt in an underground labyrinth.
She stood there among the echoes of the shouts above, which came in like waves on the shore. A racer covered in honor, her svelte, beautiful body clothed in colorful garments. A single shooting star flew across her forehead: Silver Blaze.
She stood with her eyes closed, appearing distant, as she waited for her great race, but it certainly didn’t mean she wasn’t ready. She was like a bow before it was fitted with an arrow, taut as a string.
Thus Priestess, the only other one left there, hesitated greatly to speak to her but finally said, “I’m sorry… I wasn’t sure if before or after the race would be better. But I couldn’t help thinking… I really felt I ought to talk to you.”
“Yes… Of course.” Silver Blaze blinked several times, drawing her gaze away from the nothingness. “It’s fine. Probably better before I run. Yes, definitely better.”
Priestess thought she understood what Silver Blaze meant, more or less.
“I’ve been thinking about a lot of things,” Priestess said, cutting off the centaur, hoping she had understood correctly.
Silver Blaze didn’t respond but made a gesture that might have been one of amusement or her way of saying she wasn’t interested. Priestess didn’t mind either way. She hadn’t been looking for an answer anyway.
“In any case…”
He’d said the kidnapping by the coachman and Silver Blaze’s
disappearance had turned out to be unconnected, and she was sure it was true. If the coachman had tried to sell Silver Blaze with an eye to profit, the whole thing wouldn’t have blown up the way it had. Silver Blaze would have surely reappeared at some arena or another, her silver lock hidden with hair dye or something. There was also the possibility that the coachman could have killed Silver Blaze when the matter began to get out of hand.
“But since you’re standing here, he obviously didn’t.” Priestess tapped a thoughtful finger to her lips.
That, however, still left one question: Was it the immortal sorcerer who had killed the lanista? Or was it the doing of some passing goblins who had seen the pretty centaur girl and murdered her escort without a second thought?
If he was killed by goblins, though…
Then Priestess wouldn’t have expected the body to be left in an identifiable state. Because he was a man? Hardly. Priestess remembered the awful death of that warrior she knew so well. It was simply the way of goblins to enjoy tormenting their prey, hurting them.
Whether goblins or sorcerer, the corpse wouldn’t have been left as undisturbed as it was.
All right. All right. So if it wasn’t the sorcerer, and it wasn’t the goblins, and it wasn’t the coachman…
“There was only one other person there with that lanista,” Priestess said.
Silver Blaze didn’t respond right away but looked at her feet, checking them like an adventurer about to burst into a dungeon chamber. And then she let out a breath gently, something close to a sigh of resignation.
“One of my friends has bad hooves, but she never lets on,” she said. “She always runs with all her might. With a sound like lightning.”
“Ah,” Priestess said, remembering. The lovely centaur racer from the other day’s race, whom they’d met at the
When she saw Priestess’s expression, Silver Blaze nodded briefly. “She has tremendous power in her legs but also a large body. Her hooves can’t take the strain.”
“But it doesn’t stop her from running.”
There were many other racers, too. Those who ran flat out, vying for the win. Those who simply loved nothing more than running. Those who were totally committed with a consuming desire for victory. Silver Blaze spoke of them one by one, spoke of all those against whom she had raced. She looked the way Priestess did when she thought of friends past and present.
Thus it was, Silver Blaze told her—thus it was that…
“Thinking of them, I finally couldn’t stand the idea of letting a race go to nothing just for some bets.”
That’s probably the whole truth of that night.
Even Priestess, somewhat naive about the world, could understand, more or less. Someone desperate for money had sought to cut Silver Blaze’s legs in an attempt to manipulate the race’s outcome. You only had to observe the furor when she had gone missing, and the passion on display now, to understand: The legs of this beautiful centaur, forged into tools for the sole purpose of running, were worth their weight in gold.
Silver Blaze looked at Priestess and understood that all had been communicated. The smile she gave the young woman then was almost translucent—it was a fleeting wish and the knowledge that that wish would never come true.
“So… What are you going to do?” she asked.
“Me? Nothing, really,” Priestess answered without hesitation.
The centaur’s eyes widened. Her ears, which had been standing straight up, flicked, and her tail swished. The body language could not have been clearer: She didn’t understand what Priestess meant.
Priestess shook her head slowly and puffed out her modest chest proudly. “I’m an adventurer who came here to rescue a centaur princess and exterminate some goblins.”
All else was speculation, without proof. Whatever might have happened between Silver Blaze and some lanista with a debt to pay off, Priestess didn’t know. Perhaps that detective they’d supposedly summoned to the city wouldn’t have let the matter lie, but she saw no need to pursue it.
An interrogation in the name of the Supreme God using the Sense Lie miracle might have found criminal wrongdoing. But—ah, yes. Priestess felt it was wrong to have to carry that weight. To have something like that weighing you down as you tried to run.
“You’re Silver Blaze. That young woman’s princess and this arena’s…racer.” It was Priestess’s mission to protect, heal, and save. Including this beautiful woman who had been born to run. For
“Therefore, I believe you ought to run.”
Just as Priestess had chosen to walk the path of an adventurer, Silver Blaze had chosen to come here, had made it here, in order to run.
There was a very long silence from Silver Blaze, who took a deep breath in, filling her chest, and then let it out again. Then with her four feet, she stamped on the ground, a sound of resolution.
“Very well,” she said. “I’ll continue to run. Will that be good enough?”
, she thought,
that will be good.
Silver Blaze’s expression was no longer pellucid; now a fire burned in her eyes. She was going to wage the contest of a lifetime with her companions, those who ran with her. So Priestess prayed for Silver Blaze, prayed for her victory, the centaur who stood there facing away from Priestess, looking gallantly toward the racetrack.
Then she said, “Oh!” It sounded so silly.
Silver Blaze, caught by surprise, scuffed with her hooves again, then stopped. She turned, and there was confusion on her face. “Is there something else?”
“Oh, no… Um…” Priestess blushed furiously, and she tried desperately to think of what to say. Argh, this wasn’t getting her anywhere. But it would be pointless if she didn’t press on.
She was distinctly embarrassed, distinctly hesitant, but nonetheless she managed to look Silver Blaze in the eye and said, “D-do you suppose I could have one of your horseshoes…?”
Silver Blaze blinked her beautiful eyes, then smiled. “Yes, I think so. I’ll make sure to put my very best luck into it.” Then Silver Blaze began walking, like a fresh breeze, out into the sun-soaked arena.