Grimgal Of Ashes And Illusion / Grimgal of Ashes and Illusion Vol 1 Chapter 21

LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening

Chapter 21: The Fine Line Between Innocence

Things were always easier said than done, though.

Haruhiro gulped reflexively. He had worked up the resolve and set off to scout that place, only to find himself in for a surprise.

“No way…” he whispered to himself. He had never even imagined the possibility of something like this happening. “There’s more of them…”

On the balconied second story of the two-storied stone building, the plate-armored goblin lounged, looking self-important. On the ground floor was the large hobgoblin, still outfitted with full chainmail and helm. Haruhiro had expected those two to be there, but loitering around the outskirts of the building were two more. They both wore helms and chainmail as well, with shields in one hand, spears in the other, and even short swords at their waists.

They were sentries, for sure.

The armored goblin on the second floor wasn’t just sitting on the ground, either. He was in a proper chair, one leg bent and the other stretched out in front of him. Where had he gotten that chair? It sure wasn’t there before.

Could the armored goblin possibly be planning to gather underlings and expand its power? There was no way to know without actually asking the goblin himself, not that communicating with it was even possible, but either way, this was not a good sign.

Haruhiro returned to his companions and reported his findings.

“So… it’s not two like we thought, it’s four. And it’s just a guess, but I think their numbers will keep increasing.”

“Four goblins.” Mary closed her eyes, eyebrows knit tightly in thought.

“Hmm…” Yume puffed her cheeks out round, while Shihoru dropped her gaze with a sigh.

Mogzo tapped his barbute helm.

“What’s the matter with you guys?” Ranta scoffed. “Don’t be frickin’ scared. There’s nothing we can do about their numbers. Quit acting so pathetic, retainers of Lord Ranta!”

“Since when did we become your—” Haruhiro began, then thought better of it. “Whatever, never mind.”

“Don’t stop halfway,” Ranta baited. “C’mon! Where’s the straight-man comeback? We can’t be rivals like this! There’s no way a peon like you can take away Lord Ranta’s reason for living!”

Haruhiro ignored him and instead looked at Mogzo, Yume, Shihoru, and Mary in turn. “If we assume my guess that we’ll have even more of them later, we need to make a decision now. It doesn’t have to be at this very moment—we can wait a little longer—but should we go for it, or give up? I don’t think I want to give up. We could definitely take four, as we are now.

Mary looked steadily at him, her eyes trapping his gaze. “Your basis for that?”

“Mogzo has much better defense now, and now that he doesn’t have to worry about protecting himself all the time, he’s got more offensive potential too. Shihoru can always take one goblin completely out of the fight, and Yume’s bow arm has gotten way more reliable. With [SWAT], even I can take one on directly. And we’ve got you now too, Mary.”

“Hey! What about me?” Ranta protested. “Why wasn’t I in there, huh? HUH?!”

“You shouldn’t…” Mary turned her face and looked at the ground. “You shouldn’t depend on me. I’m… I’m a Priest who let her teammates die.”

“And we’re a team that let our Priest die. I don’t think we want that to ever happen again. Never. It’s the same for you, right? I believe in you, Mary.”

Mary didn’t reply. She bit her lip, as if trying to keep… something under control. Yume and Shihoru placed their hands on her shoulders.

“I’m gonna say it right here and now,” Ranta said, shoving his thumb at his chest. “I ain’t gonna die even if I’m killed. I’m a man unknown to death, so don’t do worthless shit like worry about me.”

When Mary looked up again, her eyes narrowed the tiniest bit, and the corners of her mouth quivered ever so slightly. Was that… could it really be… a smile?

Haruhiro couldn’t say for sure, it was so modest, but he wanted to believe that it was. It vanished as quickly as it came, and Haruhiro regretted not holding her gaze.

“I understand,” said Mary with a nod. “I won’t let any of my companions die again. I’ll protect everyone, so rest assured.”

“Alright then.” When Haruhiro stretched out his right hand, so did everyone else; they stacked their hands on top of his for their ‘Fight! All or nothing!’ prefight ritual.

Right after, Mary, tilting her head remarked, “I always thought it rather strange. Why do you guys say ‘Fight. All or nothing’?”

The others returned her gaze with smiles, and they began steeling themselves for the upcoming fight as they went over their strategy once again. This was it. Yes, today was the day they had been planning for, preparing for.

Since the number of enemies had increased, they had had to make a few adjustments, but there was no need to make a new plan from scratch. Their first priority was to break through the sentries and get to the plate-armored goblin and the hobgoblin. In terms of strength, the sentries were small fry.

To whatever possible extent, they would engage and finish the two sentries quickly, and then move to the real targets. All of them had long discussed how they would defeat the plate-armored goblin and hobgoblin, and this was the culmination of all their meetings, all their planning.

They could do it. They would definitely win.

As usual Haruhiro led the way, with Yume and Shihoru close behind, while Mogzo, Ranta, and Mary followed at a distance. The first obstacle was to get within range for Shihoru to use her [PHANTOM SLEEP] spell; a minimum of sixty-five feet. Up to about one hundred and twenty feet there was a wall that would conceal their presence, but after that there was nothing but open ground up until the building itself.

However, after numerous simulations around the building and its wider surroundings, they had found that if they took a certain path all the way around to the other side, they could approach within thirty feet of the building without being seen. It was there that the three of them came to a stop, behind a large pile of debris.

Here. It was here they would commence the attack.

When Haruhiro gave the signal, Yume readied her bow and activated [SHARP SIGHT] while Shihoru refreshed her grip on her staff and took a deep breath.

At last. The plate armored goblin and the hobgoblin would meet their end today. They were the ones who killed Manato. Haruhiro and the others did their best to not treat it as retaliation or revenge, because hatred would interfere with clear thinking. Those two weren’t their hated adversaries; merely enemies. Strong enemies. A barrier that they had no choice but to overcome.

Haruhiro stuck his head out from behind the debris, and—

His breath caught in his throat. Panicking, he quickly withdrew. The plate armored goblin had been looking straight at him.

“We’ve been spotted…” he whispered.

But how? Had the plate armored goblin somehow sensed their presence? Maybe they had been spotted just out of coincidence; maybe the plate armored goblin just happened to be looking in their direction when Haruhiro had poked his head out.

He didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. He risked another quick glance and withdrew again just as quickly, this time gasping, short and harsh. The plate-armored goblin had a crossbow in its hands now, and it was aiming it straight at them.

“…What do we do now?” Yume said, lowering her bow.

Shihoru’s face had gone pale; she had shrunk even further behind cover.

Did Ranta and the others, holding position a little further away, realize their situation? Probably not. They were concealed in the shadows on the building’s perimeter wall, and most likely couldn’t see from where they were.

What do we do? What should we do?

Fall back? No, they couldn’t. The plate-armored goblin had shouted something. An order. It must have been to the hobgoblin and the sentries. In another few moments, they would be attacked. Retreat was no longer an option. They had to engage, but the problem was the crossbow. If one of them got hit with a crossbow bolt, it could be fatal.

“Leave it to Yume,” Yume suddenly said.

“What?!” Before Haruhiro could stop her, she had already set her bow down and jumped out from behind the debris. The plate armored goblin shot a bolt at her, but she curled and rolled forward with tremendous speed.

Pit rats. Back in the forest, those pit rats—and the skill the pit rats had used, moving and protecting themselves all at once. Did Yume mimic that movement to deflect the crossbow bolt? It sure seemed like it.

Haruhiro rapped Shihoru on the shoulder. “Use your magic!”

“R-right!” Shihoru emerged from behind the debris, chanting the spell as she sketched the elemental glyph with her staff. “Oom rel eckt krom dash!”

The frizzy black shadow elemental soared towards the plate armored goblin. The hobgoblin downstairs had picked up its club, but still hadn’t moved; the two sentry goblins, however, were making their way towards Haruhiro and the others. It didn’t matter. If they could just put the plate armored goblin to sleep, they could still…

“Whoa!” Haruhiro exclaimed.

The plate armored goblin had jumped from the second floor down to the first. The shadow elemental flew through thin air at the spot the goblin had occupied just moments before, its frizzy form fading, then disappearing altogether.

They had messed up. Messed up badly. It was no good. They had failed. No! We can still do this. They could recover, regain the initiative. Don’t panic! Haruhiro drew his dagger.

“Attack!” he shouted. “Shihoru, fall back to Mary’s position!”

“Alright!”

Ranta and Mogzo had come from behind the perimeter wall, and Yume used that pit rat-like movement again to avoid an incoming sentry’s spear. The other sentry goblin was coming straight towards Haruhiro.

What about the plate armored goblin and the hobgoblin? Damn it. He didn’t have time to confirm their positions. Spear! The sentry goblin’s spear was coming right at him; Haruhiro struck it with his dagger.

The [SWAT] skill from the Thieves’ fighting techniques wasn’t a hard-hitting attack. Rather, it made opponents lose their balance and fall to the ground, and it inflicted critical injuries. However, the sentry goblin was fairly strong and no matter how many times Haruhiro landed the skill on the sentry goblin’s spear, it kept coming at him. It was not a run-of-the-mill, average goblin.

“I’ll take both of them!” Mogzo yelled.

Mogzo was intending to take on the plate armored goblin and the hobgoblin at the same time? No way. Not possible. But plate armored goblin or hobgoblin, the only one who could directly take on either one of them was Mogzo. That’s why their plan had been to incapacitate the plate armored goblin right at the start. That was the point on which their entire plan hinged.

—A plan that had fallen apart right at the start. Wasn’t it better to have retreated right away? But it was too late and there was no use for regret now.

“That’s—!” Haruhiro used [SWAT] as he fell back. And fell back. And fell back again.

It seemed that Ranta and Yume were taking on the other sentry goblin. Shihoru had cast [PHANTOM SLEEP] again, but this time aimed it at the hobgoblin rather than the plate armored. The spell hit the hobgoblin squarely and it began to doze, but before it was completely asleep the plate armored goblin smacked the hobgoblin on the rear with the flat of its sword, waking it up.

It knows about our spells, Haruhiro thought. It was like the plate armored goblin could see all the cards in their hand.

“Yume!” Ranta shouted angrily. “We’re never gonna kill it if you keep running around it! Quit that and hit it already, idiot!”

“Shut up!” she shouted back. “Yume doesn’t want to hear that from you!”

Yume tried to dodge using the pit rat roll again, but this time she was a bit slow. Or maybe the sentry goblin had gotten used to seeing her do it. Yume gasped as the sentry’s spear connected with her shoulder. Not just connecting—but gouging.

“Fuck! Yume what the fuck!” Ranta jumped in, attacking the goblin with a diagonal slash of his longsword.”[HATRED’S CUT]!”

The sentry goblin blocked using its buckler, grunting in exertion. It shifted its grip on the spear, choking farther up, and counter-attacked with a thrust. Thrust, sweep, thrust. Ranta, after barely deflecting the stream of attacks, braced his legs and shot away.

“[PROPEL LEAP]! Get over here!” Ranta taunted, but paused. “What?! Why isn’t it coming after me?!”

“Because it sees right through your tricks!” Haruhiro spat, [SWAT]-ing, [SWAT]-ing, [SWAT]-ing again.

Meanwhile, Mary was chanting an invocation. “O light, under the divine grace of Lord Luminous… [HEAL]!”

Yume was rapidly enveloped in a warm light. Unlike [CURE], [HEAL] didn’t require the Priest to hold their hand close over the injury. It could be used to heal a wounded person from a distance, and it was effective for injuries anywhere on the body. [HEAL] was a spell that Manato hadn’t possessed.

Yume was right-handed and the injury to her shoulder must have been serious, so Mary probably decided to heal her right away. With that, Yume could probably rejoin the fight in another moment or two. But now Mogzo was the one in trouble.

He had somehow avoided the swings of the hobgoblin’s club, but he was taking hit after hit from the plate armored one’s sword. Even if it was just one sentry, they had to dispatch them fast to go help him. Was there no way? Some means, some method?

Haruhiro couldn’t just sit back and think, of course. He was forced into [SWAT]-ing again and again to deflect the sentry goblin’s attacks. His breathing was becoming ragged and his hand was going numb. If he messed up now, it was over. He felt as if he was teetering on the edge of panic.

Don’t give in. Hang in there. Gotta hang in there… But even if he told himself that, what were they going to do?

“Haru!” Someone had called his name. Not his proper name, but his nickname. Someone who had never used it before. Mary. The voice belonged to Mary.

He didn’t have the luxury of sparing a glance in her direction, but she had called his name. He guessed that she probably wanted him to reach her. So, still [SWAT]-ing, he gradually made his way to Mary and Shihoru, drawing the sentry goblin in with him.

When he thought he was close enough he stopped.

When Mary yelled “Switch with me!”, Haruhiro jumped to the side just as Mary stepped in. She stopped the sentry goblin’s spear with her staff—but no, she didn’t just stop it. “[COUNTER STRIKE]!”

For a split second, it looked as if their weapons had merely bounced off each other, but then Mary, carrying all the momentum of the rebound, jammed her staff directly into the sentry goblin’s chest. It wheezed sharply and backed off.

Now! It was that or never. Guessing Haruhiro’s intention, Mary continued to press the attack on the sentry. The sentry had now switched to a defensive stance, leaving no way for Mary to break through, but she had done enough: Haruhiro was now in position at the sentry goblin’s back.

C’mon, c’mon! Appear! He wished with all his will for that guiding line of colorless light to appear. But it didn’t. There was nothing. But even though it didn’t show, things weren’t necessarily hopeless.

Haruhiro slammed the dagger into the sentry’s back with the full force of his body weight, but because of the goblin’s armor, the dagger didn’t penetrate very deep. The goblin howled, but Haruhiro immediately snaked his other arm in a chokehold around the sentry goblin’s neck, as he pulled his dagger out—but only halfway. He then thrust the blade back in. Again and again, over and over, he stabbed the goblin just so as it shrieked and flailed wildly in his embrace.

He kept going until he felt the goblin’s full weight collapsed upon him.

“Thanks, Mary!” Haruhiro heaved, dumping the finally lifeless and unmoving body of the sentry goblin to the ground.

He glanced around and saw that Yume and Ranta were still struggling to take the remaining sentry down. Mogzo grunted with exertion as he blocked the hobgoblin’s club with his bastard sword, staggering.

“Mogzo!” Haruhiro rushed towards him, but he didn’t make it in time.

The plate armored goblin leapt in, and rather than slash at Mozgo, it smashed him in the head with its blade. Sparks flew where edge of sword hit barbute helm. No matter how good a helm was, no one could be fine after taking a blow like that. Mozgo reeled, but he swung his sword wildly as he did, forcing both the two goblins to back off.

Mogzo’s breath came in ragged gasps. He didn’t seem to be bleeding anywhere, but Haruhiro was sure that if were he to remove his armor, his body would be covered in bruises. Haruhiro had no doubt that Mogzo was having the hardest time of all. But even so, he kept swinging his bastard sword at the goblins.

“I’m fine!” he shouted between swings, tone uncharacteristically ablaze. “This is—this is nothing!”

Something seemed to have changed in him.

This was still bad. No matter what Mogzo claimed, there was no way he could keep holding out alone. Should Haruhiro help? He was armed only with a dagger. It wasn’t going to be easy, was impossible even, to pierce that plate armor, to fatally hurt that large hobgoblin body.

“Ranta, go back up Mozgo!” Haruhiro bellowed. “I’ll take your place!”

“Ha! The lead actor’s finally arrived!” Ranta quipped, closing the distance between him and the plate armored  goblin in three quick hops. “[ANGER THRUST]!”

The plate armored goblin parried Ranta’s attack with ease, but at the very least, Ranta had managed to take its attention off Mogzo.

“Hey! What the—!” It showered Ranta with a flurry of attacks, and suddenly he was thrown onto the defensive, unable to attack back.

Hang in there, Ranta. And don’t die… With Ranta’s help, some of the pressure had been taken off Mozgo, but that didn’t change that if they didn’t take down the remaining sentry soon, things were going to go downhill fast.

The sentry goblin still had a firm hold on its small shield, and all its vital points were protected by armor. Yume wasn’t a tank, so there was no easy way for Haruhiro to get in position at its rear. But as Haruhiro considered his options, the sentry goblin turned towards him and raised its spear to throw.

It’s aiming for me?! No way!

Haruhiro twisted to avoid it, but not fast enough. The spear grazed him in the side of his ribs and then slammed point first into the ground. A groan of pain escaped his lips, and it made him want to curl up on the ground. When he put a hand the wound, it came away wet with blood. It hurt like hell—but it wasn’t a serious injury.

“Haru!” Mary called his name, worried.

He knew it was silly to think so, but her concern made him a little happy.

“I’m fine!” he called back. “We’ve gotta take that sentry out!”

“I’ll go!” Shihoru said, making a dash for the sentry goblin.

Wait, what does she think she’s doing?! Haruhiro thought.

Apparently, Mary thought the same thing. “What’re you—!” she yelled, before breaking off and running after her.

The sentry goblin, sword drawn from the sheath at its waist, noticed Shihoru’s approach just as she finished her elemental glyph.

“Oom rel eckt vel dash!” she cried.

Voash! The frizzy black sphere shot out from the tip of the staff. But at that moment, Haruhiro realized something: although the [SHADOW ECHO] elemental wasn’t as slow moving as [PHANTOM SLEEP]’s, it wasn’t so fast as to be unavoidable. So with that fixed, avoidable velocity in mind, a caster could still make it harder for enemies to dodge by moving closer.

In other words, Shihoru took the risk of closing the distance between herself and the sentry to make sure her spell hit. And her gamble seemed to have paid off. The sentry goblin made a choking sound as the shadow struck it in the face, and its entire body started to tremble uncontrollably.

Yume stepped forward, kukri already flashing. “[CROSS CUT]!”

[CROSS CUT]’s half slashing, half smashing attack stripped the buckler entirely off of the sentry goblin’s left arm and left a deep wound on its right. Even after the sentry goblin recovered from [SHADOW ECHO], it would no longer handle its sword properly.

Yume did what they needed most right now; she pressed the attack. Without stopping to catch her breath, she kept advancing on the sentry. This made it easy for Haruhiro to get into position at its back. The light line didn’t appear, so he did the same as before.

The sentry goblin wailed as Haruhiro slammed and pulled and twisted his dagger into its back. Haruhiro wrapped his other arm around under its chin like before, and he kept going.

When the first sentry had finally stopped struggling, Haruhiro hadn’t really felt anything in particular. But this time, sick started to rise from his stomach. Killing like this was cruel. Brutal. Though despite his nausea, he did not stop.

If we were switched, maybe you would kill me like this too. Sorry, but it goes both ways.

When the second sentry goblin had become still, Haruhiro felt terribly exhausted, and his wound hurt. But now wasn’t the time to complain about things like that. Finally. The time had finally come. He gathered up his strength in the pit of his belly and threw it behind his voice.

“Just a little more!” he yelled, with all the strength he had. “I’ll prove to you that we haven’t come this far for nothing!”

But despite having said it, Haruhiro didn’t know exactly what he meant to say. Prove themselves to who? Manato was no longer with them, after all. “Come this far?” But had they really come far at all, or did he just want to believe that?

He wished he could have said something cooler, more inspirational. He wanted to become someone who said cool and inspiring things. He didn’t want it all to end for them here. He didn’t necessarily want to do this whole Crimson Moon solider thing, either, but he wanted there to be a tomorrow for himself. He wanted to live.

He didn’t want to die. At the very least, he didn’t want to die.

Manato, wasn’t it the same for you? You weren’t completely satisfied with everything either. You too; you wished you could have been more, done more. Haruhiro and the others, they had been lucky to have survived this long.

We’re not going to die. We’re going to live, and keep moving forward. We’re going to seize tomorrow with our bare hands.

For the sake of that tomorrow, they had to win here. They had to kill those two goblins.

“Focus on the hobgoblin!” Haruhiro cried, as he ran behind it.

Yume was attacking from the side while Mogzo brought two savage blows in succession on it, grunting with the effort. The hobgoblin deflected the first attack with its club, but the second tore into its left shoulder. Although his sword wasn’t able to cut through its chainmail, the force of the blow still made the hobgoblin roar in pain. It had been wielding its club with both hands, but now, it was no longer able to.

“Keep attacking it!” Haruhiro said, but just as the words came out of his mouth, the plate armored goblin broke through Ranta and came at Mogzo.

It put one foot down, hard, and brought its sword down in a diagonal swing. No, way… Haruhiro thought. The movement was almost exactly like Mogzo’s [RAGE BLOW], except a goblin was doing it. Mogzo blocked it with his bastard sword, locking blades with it. The plate armored goblin made to continue its attack, but it was from this position that Mogzo did his job best.

He spun the plate armored goblin’s sword around with his own, and in the same motion attacked with [SPIRAL SLASH]. The plate armored goblin leapt backwards immediately and, throwing a look behind, went after Ranta instead.

Ranta, taken completely by surprise, took a crushing blow to his bucket helm that sent him staggering. Faster than a speeding arrow, the plate armored goblin thrust, slashed upwards, then slashed downwards again in three quick strokes of its sword.

Ranta yelped. He couldn’t do anything but back away. The flurry of attacks came so fast, he couldn’t even use [PROPEL LEAP]. This was bad. Ranta was going to be overwhelmed.

“Oom rel eckt vel dash!”

Shihoru was the one who saved him, using [SHADOW ECHO]; the frizzy black elemental hit the plate armored goblin in the shoulder. It took the plate armored goblin mere moments to get its quivering body under control again, but it was enough to allow Ranta to retreat and catch his breath.

“Damn it! No one asked you to help!” Ranta spat angrily.

“Our trump card!” Haruhiro pressed his hand to the wound on his side.

He was having a hard time ignoring the pain and the resulting panic was making it hard to think clearly. He glanced at Shihoru and saw how haggard she looked. She must have been exhausted. She used the massively energy draining [PHANTOM SLEEP] twice at the beginning of the fight, and now [SHADOW ECHO] twice, too. How many more could she cast?

[PHANTOM SLEEP] wasn’t a spell that was very effective on enemies who were vigilant and alert and [SHADOW ECHO] didn’t seem effective enough to be the deciding factor in this fight. That meant they only had one thing left. Their final ace-in-the-hole.

They had to finish things here and now with it. Before the fight could drag out any longer, they would finish off the hobgoblin.

Haruhiro screamed, “Mogzo, use it!”

Mogzo gave a grunt of acknowledgment, planted both feet firmly on the ground, and let out a long, ear-piercing howl that made all the hairs on Haruhiro’s skin stand on end. It was a Warrior’s [WAR CRY]. It unfailingly crushed the resolve of any enemy nearby that wasn’t expecting it; not really by surprising them, but by instilling fear in them.

And that’s exactly what happened to the hobgoblin. Its entire body went rigid, as if paralyzed by fear. It would regain its senses soon, but that one-second or even fractional-second opening was utterly invaluable to Haruhiro and the others.

Yume brought her kukri hard across the hobgoblin’s waist. “[SWEEPING SLASH]!”

Mogzo took a step back. “THANK…” he began, then stepped in again, but this time throwing all of his body weight behind a single, dreadful stroke. “…YOUUUUUUUU!”

With a sickening crunch, Mogzo’s bastard sword crushed deep into the hobgoblin’s shoulder, probably smashing through its collarbone. It made a half gurgle, half groaning noise, and went down on one knee momentarily. It immediately made to stand up again.

Haruhiro didn’t intend to get careless. As long as he was alive, he couldn’t afford carelessness.

“Take this!” he cried as he dropkicked it, foot connecting with the back of the hobgoblin’s head.

That put the hobgoblin in a daze once more, letting Mogzo rain blow after blow.

It wasn’t simple nor easy. When it did come, death came so readily, so lightly, and yet taking a life was neither simple nor easy. It was a slow, gruesome process, and indeed Haruhiro was one of the participants in that process. So he had no right to look away, even if it was brutal and gory.

When the hobgoblin finally stopped moving, Mogzo dropped down on all fours, his armored back rising and falling as he raggedly sucked in air. That was definitely not just exhaustion; probably he was bruised and hurting all over, as well.

“H-h-hurry!” Ranta cried. “Hurry up and h-help me!”

Haruhiro looked over in Ranta’s direction and saw that Ranta was having trouble keeping his feet under him, stumbling backwards trying to parry the plate armored goblin’s attacks. Ranta was at his limits. No, probably already past his limits.

“Well done, Ranta! You’re amazing!” Haruhiro called.

“Hell yeah I am!” Ranta agreed. “You figured that out just now!?”

Haruhiro and Yume took up positions at the plate armored goblin’s left and right, intending to attack in a pincer formation. The plate armored goblin, however, swung its blade at Ranta one last time, then started to make a run for it. It ran, it ran, it kept running. Did it intend to flee?

No, that wasn’t it. The direction it was heading in. It was running straight at Shihoru.

Shihoru let out a little gasp, eyes going wide as she brought her staff up in front of herself. There was no way… there was no way the easily-intimidated Shihoru could fight off an attack. But there was no need for her to.

“Get back!” Mary commanded, stepping out in front of her.

Her slanted back stance put her parallel to the diagonal at which she held her staff. It was a Priest’s defensive skill: [GUARD STANCE]. The plate armored goblin swung its sword at her, and Mary looked as if she was going to either parry or block.

But she didn’t have a chance to do either. The plate armored goblin’s swing arched low, so low it struck the ground, but with enough force that it sent flying hardened, compacted dirt flying. Mary shut her eyes to keep the dirt from getting in.

It was in that split-second.

In that split-second, the plate armored goblin leapt backwards and threw something using its other hand. A knife. It was a throwing knife.

Mary staggered, one hand pressed to her stomach. She had been hit. The throwing knife had lodged itself in deep.

“Mary!” Haruhiro cried.

No way… There was no way this could be happening. Manato. Mary was going to die like Manato did. No way. Without thinking, Haruhiro charged the plate armored goblin. He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know what he was doing. Before he realized what he had done, he had come close enough to almost be face-to-face with it.

Its sword was coming right at him from the top left. It had purposely swung in a diagonal line so that Haruhiro couldn’t dodge to either side. What was he going to do? Keep rushing it. Reach it faster than its sword could reach him.

Maybe I’ll die, he thought. But he didn’t. Haruhiro fully front-tackled the plate armored goblin. He wasn’t dead yet. His face slammed painfully into its helmed head, but Haruhiro didn’t care. He wrestled it to the ground. The plate armored goblin was saying something, but it wasn’t in a human language so Haruhiro didn’t understand.

Its sword. He had to focus on its weapon. Haruhiro desperately held down the plate armored goblin’s right arm with his left; it punched him in the jaw with its free hand, and not just once, but again and again. Haruhiro’s head spun and it felt like his consciousness was going to fly off and away.

Don’t fly! Don’t fly away! Don’t fly, you’re not a birdie! he kept telling himself.

Haruhiro reversed his grip on his dagger.

The plate armored goblin seemed to scream something that sounded like “Stop it! Stop it!”

Yeah, right… like I’m gonna stop. Like it’s even possible. Haruhiro thought.

The plate armored goblin’s helm covered nearly the entirety of its head, except for the eye slit. It was there that Haruhiro aimed now, intending to ram his blade into its eye, but the plate armored goblin grabbed Haruhiro’s dagger with its free hand, stopping it short of its target.

Both of their hands trembled on the dagger. A little bit more… Just a little more and his dagger would reach the slit. But that little bit was a great distance.

“Bastard! Damn it, damn it, damn it! Why the hell are you so strong?!” Haruhiro cursed it over and over.

“Haruhiro!” The voice belonged to Mogzo, and it was followed by the pounding of footsteps.

Mogzo was running towards him. Without looking to confirm, Haruhiro sprang off and away from the plate armored goblin. Mogzo let out a furious battle cry, and he lifted his bastard sword so high over his head, his body bent backwards. Then he brought his sword down sharply; as sharply as the release of a spring, coiled for far too long.

The resulting clashing sound was so heavy that reverberated down to the pit of Haruhiro’s stomach, and Haruhiro wondered once more at Mogzo’s strength. His bastard sword had sheared the plate armored goblin’s head clean off its shoulders. It was, of course, fully and completely dead.

“We… did it?” Ranta whispered weakly.

Yume plopped herself to the ground. “Looks… like it…”

“I can’t believe it,” Shihoru said.

Mogzo lifted his sword up again, shouting the victory wildly skywards but he, too, couldn’t really believe that they had done it either, so the shout was not nearly as ferocious as it could have been.

“…I’m sorry to interrupt,” Mary said, raising her hand, “but can I heal myself now? It kind of, uh, hurts.”

“Why’re you apologizing?” Haruhiro grinned, pressing a hand to his side and fighting hard not to groan.

Maybe it was better not to touch the wound, but even when he let his hand drop, it still throbbed painfully. It was getting hard to stay standing, so he finally allowed himself to crouch down.

“Mary…” he began. “It doesn’t have to be right now, but… It hurts like hell. Sorry, but can you heal me too?”

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