15-1. To the Weasel Empire
Satou's here. In my primary school days, I remember asking my parents and teachers what kind of plant is [wayside grass] from the catchwords [do not eat wayside grass]. I remember their troubled faces, but I don't have any memory of their answers.
<TLN: It's an expression that means 'don't loiter on the way'.>
Sera's mid level light magic shot through the swarm of Soldier Ogre Ants and got repelled by the barrier of General Ogre Ant on the back.
We're currently inside a huge nest of the master of a monster dominion located between Makiwa Kingdom and Weasel Empire, the Huge Queen Ant.
We found the dominion was saturated to the point of verging into a stampede when we on the way to the Weasel Empire, so we went here to prune it while also leveling up my companions.
Currently the late-start troupe is fighting on the front, while the regular members are watching on the back.
It should be about time for the [Weasel Merchant] to fulfill his promise, but the merchant hasn't come to the promised Dejima Island even now.
Thus we were going to tour the remote regions of the Weasel Empire until the merchant went to Dejima Island, but due to the reason earlier, we ended up loitering in this underground nest.
"....■■■■ Air Hammer."
Zena-san's magic pushed back the giant ants that were approaching them.
"As expected, mid class magic are resisted by higher ranked enemies aren't they. ■...."
"That seems to be the case--"
"....■■■ <<Wind Protection>>"
Zena finished her second spell while Sera began her next spell.
Invoking magic at such speed, even though they're lower class spells, is not normal, it's thanks to the [Chant Shortening] skill Zena-san learned from Sera-san recently.
The wind wall repelled the crystal arrows shot by the enemies' rear guard, Zena-san shot down the fireballs fired by the Magic Ogre Ant with the Anti Magic Rifle installed on the other end of her long wand.
In the meantime, Zena-san already started to chant her third spell.
It seems Zena-san has established her specific position by relying on the lower magic [Magic Shield].
Its guard is paper thin compared to Nana's standard [Physical Shield] and Ninja Tama's [Evasion Shield], so looking at her makes me feel anxious.
"....■ Photon Laser"
Sera's advanced light magic mows down the Soldier Ogre Ant swamps, and tears the General Ogre Ant's barrier that was giving orders on the back.
The glittering spectrum on the wall of the barrier inside the dark tunnel is quite beautiful.
"Now's our chance desuwa!"
『Karina-dono, it's still too early!』
Lady Karina activated Flickering Movement, rushing toward the ant swarm.
Raka the [<<Intelligent Item>>] tried to stop her in a hurry, but Lady Karina had already jumped before the enemies.
Two Knight Armored Ogre Ants that are protecting the General Ogre Ant push their shields toward Lady Karina.
"How impudent, desuwa!"
She kicks the upper part of the shield with her beautiful leg, and then she makes a lovely jump by using the enemy that has broken their posture as a stool.
Arisa who was acting as the peanut gallery shouted, "She used the ant as a stoooool!" out loud, but nobody reacted since Arisa raising odd voice was just the usual.
She looked a bit lonely, I'll care for her a bit later on.
".... ■■■■ Air Hammer"
Zena-san's wind magic blew away the Claymore Ogre Ant that was going to attack Lady Karina as she landed.
Unfortunately, the Heavy Soldier Ogre Ant that was on the opposite side resisted the storm created by Zena-san.
A whirlpool of spiral light appears on Lady Karina's hand with the magic tool Raka controlling it.
While shouting out loud, Lady Karina's fist clad with light infringes upon the Heavy Soldier Ogre Ant.
The Magic Ogre Ants and Archer Ogre Ants at the deepest part took attacking positions while making screeching noises.
Lady Karina rotates once while leaving a spinning top-like afterimage clad in light.
The dance of her ringlet hair clad in light is quite beautiful to look at.
Shot with the centrifugal force, the spiral bullet pierced through the Heavy Soldier Ogre Ant and crushed the Magic Ogre Ant with a flash.
"Karina, it's dangewrous~?"
"You'll get surrounded nodesu!"
Tama and Pochi who are being carried under Liza's arms are flailing around trying to go help Lady Karina.
"It's alright you two."
The two look up at Liza with blank expressions as Liza guides their line of sight toward the group who has appeared behind the enemy line.
"Everyone, I'm sorry for being late. Golem Shield Unit, forward!"
Responding to Princess Shistina's order, the golems equipped with great shields close their distance with the ants.
Hikaru and Nana who were with the princess are standing behind her.
The ants that were trying to encircle Lady Karina went into disarray with the appearance of the new opponents.
『Now's the time! Karina-dono.』
Lady Karina kicked one Heavy Soldier Ogre Ant with a roundhouse kick and jumped back here with hassou tobi knack.
<TLN: From Minamoto Yoshitsune's legend. Literally means "Eight boat jump".>
"Karina-sama, your assault was too early. Even if you have solid Raka's protection, it's by no mean perfect. What would you do if you got seriously injured and left with scars?"
Sera scolded Lady Karina's recklessness.
『Sera-dono, I apologize on behalf of my master.』
"Since Raka-dono is Karina-sama's supervisor, you have to restrain her well or else--"
"Sera-sama, please leave the scolding after the battle. Her highness is on her wit's end."
Zena-san who was diverting the ants with lower class wind magic told Sera-san and started her next magic chant.
"I'm sorry Zena. You're not injured anywhere right Karina-sama?"
"As long as you're not injured, please don't worry. It'll be bad if you're scarred before you can become Satou-san's bride right."
Lady Karina's face reddened to hear Sera.
I don't have any such plan right now.
Mia who's beside me rubs her head on me.
Seeing that, Arisa tried to rub her head too, but since she was aiming at a delicate place, I lightly guarded her and continued looking at the battle.
"What's wrong, Satou."
"Ah, there's a bit--"
Just when the mid-boss battle ended to an extent, I found some luminous points with strange movements.
I ask Hikaru to take care of Lady Karina and the others as I check the details of the luminous points.
The luminous points are the spy group from Makiwa Kingdom that I had found earlier before we came here.
Apparently they tried to infiltrate into the Weasel Empire and failed.
I invoke space magic [Clairvoyance] to look at the spy group's state.
It's truly as the saying goes, "A beast never miss a corpse."
It seems Makiwa spy group and the guard unit of Weasel Empire match each other, bodies from both parties are lying on the national border.
Looks like the last two of them are facing off right now.
The Weasel Empire's black panther rider seems to have the slight upper hand.
Even though I said black panther, it's not a normal animal, it's a monster called Shadow Ripping Panther which has screw like magic tool installed on its head, it's moving very shrewdly.
I cancel [Clairvoyance] since I'm not into watching people fight to death.
I'm not going to interfere spies killing each other.
"Tama, what's wrong nodesu?"
Tama and Pochi who were giving some drinking supplement and towel to Lady Karina during the umpteenth break time were conversing as such.
"W-wait, is some greater demon going to appear?"
Tama shakes her head to deny Arisa's question which somehow coaxed with anticipation.
"Feel that someone is calling me~"
It appears Tama doesn't really understand it herself, she tilts her head and her whole body while thinking hard.
I tried to listen carefully, but I couldn't hear anything even with the reinforcement from [Attentive Ear] skill.
"Then, why don't we go see it. Hikaru, please take care of things here."
"Un, leave it to me."
I entrusted everything here to Hikaru and teleported away to the entrance of the nesting hole.
"Do you know what it is?"
Tama who's riding on my shoulder folds her arms and frowns.
It shouldn't have been the ant's scream.
We wait for a while as is.
Tama whose ears twitched suddenly jumped, pointed at somewhere and ran.
She's changed her clothing to ninja costume before I knew it.
Since she's moving like a ninja by jumping from branch to branch, I carry Pochi on my shoulder and follow her with Sky Drive.
Unlike Liza who has learned Sky Drive recently, it seems Pochi who has just been able to do Sky Steps can't keep up with Tama when she's serious.
"Something was there just now nodesu."
Pochi mutters so and looks behind.
I felt sensing-type barrier when we passed through the Weasel Empire's border.
The Makiwa spy group from earlier was probably caught in this barrier and got intercepted.
I use [All Map Exploration] while following Tama.
This place seems to be a territory called [Weasel Empire, Sixth Parish]. There's one city and two mine towns, among the numerous highways that connect them to the city, there's a main one that link the north and south of the territory, there are only a few villages that are situated along the road to those towns.
No matter how you look at it, there's too few farm villages needed to supply food to the urban areas.
Next, I look at the other group of luminous points on the map.
It seems a group riding demonic wolves has departed from the nearby fort.
They're quite fast--some additional Elder Parakeet Riders have also departed to act as scouts.
I take out a small blimp for decoy from my storage and make it fly toward the territory's capital. Since it's used as a decoy and disturbance, I've filled it with hydrogen instead of helium.
Tama is heading toward one of the relay villages along the road that I found earlier.
The movement of the luminous point on the map look strange--.
"Master, there's smell of blood at the front nodesu."
When Pochi is still talking, I teleport ahead of Tama to the destination.
There's a black panther from earlier in the center of the village enveloped with bloody smell.
It seems the one who was riding it had died together with Makiwa Kingdom's spy, there's no one that fits the rider around on the map.
I quickly use magic for disguising, transforming myself into blond haired Makiwa Kingdom man and Pochi to tigerkin girl.
"Pochi, you can use magic potions. Save the injured people."
I stitch the black panther, whose claws are painted red, in the air with the space magic [Binding Entangle].
"To the village elder! Gather the injured at the center of the village!"
I shout out loud using weasel language with the help of [Loud Voice] skill.
I use healing magic while walking, prioritizing the ones who are badly injured.
There are a lot of villagers who are so injured they can't walk, but since the attacks were aiming at their legs, there's no casualty. It seems the black panther has received combat training to incapacitate its enemies.
30% of the population are weaselkin, the other 30% are lizardkin, the rest are all various beastkin.
I heal the frightened villagers while thinking so.
Tama approaches while carrying a catkin child on her back.
The child's clothes are dirty with blood, her back is badly torn. It seems her injury has been healed with the magic potion Tama gave her.
"This child was crying."
"I see, you did great Tama."
I pat Tama's head as she puts the child on the ground.
She shouldn't have been able to hear it judging from the distance--Or so I thought, when I checked Tama's skills, her Gift column had been added with [Insect Notification].
Obtaining congenital skill (Gift), just how....
Well, guess it's fine since it seems useful.
A catkin aunty rushed out of the villagers, hugged the child and thanked us while bowing her head.
Then an elderly weaselkin carrying a wand appeared from behind them and urged them to go back to the villagers.
"We wish to express our gratitude for saving our village from predicament."
The elderly weaselkin said it haughtily, or rather, with full of suspicion.
"You are not someone from the fort. Just who are you people."
"I'm just a meddlesome retired crêpe merchant from Echigo."
<TLN: Reference to Mito Komon.>
It'd be problematic if I revealed our identities since we were illegal trespassers, so I spoofed some random ones.
"Crêpe merchant? Never heard of such products... Don't tell me you're not from the central, are you foreigners?"
The elderly weaselkin makes a sour face when I nod.
"Don't you know that this country has been closed off? You'd be massacred by the people of the fort if they found you even with children along. If you need anything, no, we can't offer you everything, but for our benefactors we can at least prepare something you require."
"Then, tell me about this country."
I asked for information instead since asking goods from a poor village would be too much.
"I cannot answer something so vague. This place is the 17th relay village of the sixth parish of Weasel Empire, do you seek that kind of information?"
I assent the weaselkin elder who asked for confirmation.
"The nine parishes on the outer edge of the Weasel Empire, including this, are territories that have been discarded by the emperor. To the emperor who has abandoned his faith, we who cannot abandon ours must be useless."
I can't swallow his story whole, but I'll add it on the memo pad for Weasel Empire.
"Are you prohibited from going outside the territory?"
"No, we are not. It is simply impossible in practice."
"Impossible? Can't you just go on the highway while avoiding monster dominions to escape to other territory?"
"The highways are only connected to other 『Parish』, the same as here. We the castoffs have talked and come to a consent, but there is no highway that leads to any territory besides the 『Parish』. And if you fly in the sky--"
Explosion sound reverberated from the northwest direction of the village in the middle of the elderly weaselkin's talk.
The surprised villagers crouch down and look at the direction of the sound.
The blimp I released earlier probably exploded.
"It seems there were some people who have infiltrated. There are several small forts inside and on the border of the parish. The imperial army from these forts have screw-tamed flying monsters and cannon trees, they shoot down anyone flying like such."
I see, this [Parish] is like a country inside a country, or rather it's treated like a penal colony huh.
I asked the elderly weaselkin the way to enter the [Parish] city and its custom without him getting suspicious.
And then a panicked catkin man rushed in.
"Elder--It's the imperial army from the fort."
My radar also shows the imperial army soldiers coming here.
"You heard him benefactor-dono. You should escape while we buy you time."
"There's no need of that. And also, I do not mind if you talk about us to the soldiers. Tell them that a man in black clothes followed by a black panther came, snatched your food and water, and then he ran away."
I raised my hand to signal Tama and Pochi, and then they went to the black panther and threw it, "eiya~" toward the village's entrance.
I canceled the binding magic when it was still in the air, then it landed like a cat and ran toward the soldiers.
It was not because of my [Coercion] skill, it must be scared of Tama and Pochi who were muttering, "Steak~?" and "Hamburg is better nodesu!" full of appetite.
Leaving the surprised voices of the villagers and the black panther that started attacking the soldiers behind, we teleported back into the ant nest were our companions were waiting.
The soldiers will probably get hurt, but looking at their levels, there should be no one dying.
"Satou! I've finally reached level 50!"
When we came back, Lady Karina jumped while shouting so.
She's smiling with her whole face, which is rare for her.
I was going to evade reflexively, but I receive her lightly and put her down.
There was plenty of distance between us, yet the wonderful soft sensation still reached my chest.
Demonic breasts are frightening--.
Once the chorus of the congratulations song from the girls ended, I talked about the things at the village.
"Parish is it.... It's worrying."
"Then since we have some ample time, let's go investigate it."
Thus, I, Sera and a guard are going to the parish city for reconnaissance.
The guard was Liza, selected with the fair [Ladder Lottery] method.
However, I have to prune the monsters here a bit more before that.