Grimgal Of Ashes And Illusion / Grimgal of Ashes and Illusion Vol 2 Chapter 1

LEVEL 2: Everything is Precious, Nothing is Replaceable

Chapter 1: A Different Level

It happened as Haruhiro and the others loitered, having finished selling their day’s loot and divided their earnings, perfunctorily discussing what they should do next.

A loud, frantic clanging echoed through Altana’s marketplace.

“Is that…” Haruhiro’s eyebrows narrowed. “The six o’clock bell? But it sounded seven times, and all crazy, too…”

“What?! What?! What’s going on?!” Ranta’s messy hair flopped back and forth as he snapped his head around.

“Mm?” Yume blinked rapidly, tugging on her twin-tail braided hair. “What’s happening?”

Shihoru edged closer to Yume. “Sounds like… an emergency?”

Mogzo rubbed the back of his helm, fidgeting, expression anxious.

“It can’t be…” Mary leaned forward slightly, her eyes narrowing to slits. “An enemy attack?”

“Huh?” Haruhiro tilted his head. He had understood the definitions of the words, but had no idea what she meant. “Enemy attack?”

A shout pierced through the air from somewhere. It sounded distant.

Ranta’s nostrils flared. “Oy! Oy! Oy!” he shouted. “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!”

Why was he acting so intensely? Because he was an idiot?

“Mary, what do you mean by ‘enemy’?” Haruhiro asked.

The reply was terse. “Probably orcs.”

Orcs? he wondered, unfamiliar with the word.

“Run!” someone cried.

“Orcs!” another shouted.

“It’s orcs!”

“Orcs are here!”

“We’ve been invaded!”

“Oh?” Yume placed an index finger on her chin. “I didn’t know okras could invade.”

Straight-man Haruhiro shot back, “No, not okras, ORCS!”

All the people scattered about the marketplace suddenly converged into a solid stream of bodies, and it swallowed up Haruhiro and the others in an instant. The tide of panicked shoppers swept him away, and he found it impossible to move against the tremendous force shoving at his back.

“What the—!” Ranta was attempting to fight against the crowd, but he too found resistance impossible. “What the hell!”

“Whoa!” Mogzo’s eyes seemed to spin crazily in their sockets. As large as he was, Mogzo had a rough time with the assaulting flurry of elbows and knees.

“M-my hat!” Shihoru cried, as her mage’s hat flew off her head.

Haruhiro snapped his hand out and caught hold of it rather neatly. Then everything went downhill after that. Shoved along by the people behind him, he was quickly separated from everyone else.

“Haru!” Yume called.

“HARU!!” Mary’s voice.

The top of Mogzo’s head was the only thing he could see now, and that only barely. But making his way back over there was impossible.

“G-guys!” Haruhiro waved his hand frantically, but it was no good. He had lost sight of even Mogzo. “Watch yourselves, everyone!”

But though he told them that, Haruhiro realized that he had to be the most careful of everyone. If he tried to carelessly force his way against the stampeding crowd, he would be trampled. He could even die. To die like that… no, just no. So for now, he had no choice but to submit to being rushed along.

An attack… or so Mary had said. Enemy attack? Orcs. What were orcs? Haruhiro felt like he had heard the word somewhere before.

Whatever orcs were, this was definitely not a normal occurrence in Altana. Invasion. So they were being attacked? Altana was being attacked by orcs or whatever? And everyone was just running away? But to where?

This was a town; everyone had their homes here. And Altana was encircled by a high, thick defensive wall, which meant that nowhere around was as safe. Probably. Most likely. Or so Haruhiro thought. The supposedly safest place around, under attack. Did that mean… could it possibly be…

…that this was really bad?

The merchant tables that lined the streets were overturned, their goods scattered about and lost beneath the tide of feet. What a waste, Haruhiro thought. Some of the vendor stalls had had their frames broken apart, and others were completely flattened. Their owners must be so pissed off…

Wait, now wasn’t the time to be thinking about things like that!

A wailing cry rose from the direction everyone was heading. “They’re here! The enemy’s here! Run! RUN! The other way! Run!”

Suddenly, the tide of people began to surge in the opposite direction. But an abrupt reverse was impossible; the people at the front made an about-face, while those behind them kept going straight ahead. And Haruhiro was unfortunate enough to be caught right at the center of the switch. He found himself smashed in, unable to move at all.

“Can’t—can’t breathe! Quit pushing!” he gasped.

He was going to be crushed to death. To die like this… you’ve gotta be kidding! Somehow, Haruhiro shoved and dodged his way through the mass of people, until he reached a still erect merchant stall. He ducked through the black curtain that served as the entrance.

“Ugh, gross…” His nose rebelled at the stench.

And it wasn’t just the smell that was weird; the objects that lined the counter and shelves were odd as well, filled with mounted animals, animal remains, bones, fangs, feathers, and even accessories made from the aforementioned.

“Over here…”

The suddenness of the voice made Haruhiro jump, yelping. When he looked, a crinkled old woman dressed in black was beckoning to him from behind a counter. It was evident to Haruhiro that she was totally shady.

“Come here!” the old woman commanded reprovingly when Haruhiro failed to answer straight away.

Timidly, Haruhiro sauntered over. “Err, this your store, ma’am?”

“How rude! I ain’t no old ma’am! Call me young miss!”

“Um… miss…” Haruhiro started to correct himself as the old woman smiled.

“Go on…”

“But you’re not a… I mean, you don’t look…”

“Hey, if you’re going to play the straight-man, then don’t half-ass it!”

That’s because the funny-man—woman—is damn shady in the first place, Haruhiro thought, but didn’t say.

The old woman shrugged her shoulders. “I’m Madam Baaba.”

“Ma’am is short for madam!” Haruhiro shot back.

The old woman harrumphed. “That’s more like it, straight-man.”

“…Thanks. I guess.”

“Don’t you start getting sarcastic with me, boy!” She stopped. “Never mind. Let’s start over. My name is Madam Baaba, a spellcrafter and, as you can see, owner of this magical goods shop. Are you a member of the reserve force?”

“Yeah, what about it?” Haruhiro replied, trying his best to steal glances outside and not breathe through his nose.

The door curtain prevented any view of what was going on. However, Haruhiro could still hear a significant clamor coming from out there. The attack was still ongoing, or so it seemed.

“An invasion? Really?” he whispered to himself.

“Orcs? Oh well. It happens once in a while,” Madam Baaba remarked off-handedly. “You wouldn’t happen to be a rookie, would you?”

“I guess,” Haruhiro said. “I haven’t been working for Crimson Moon that long.”

“I thought as much. Are you a virgin?”

“A what?!”

“Silly boy. I’m not talking about whether or not you’ve done it with a girl before! Reserve force soldiers are considered virgins ’til they’ve killed an orc. Don’t tell me… you’re a double-virgin?!”

“Single, double, triple, WHO CARES?!”

“Not an ounce of ambition!” Madam Baaba pointed an accusing finger at him. “You’re a man, aren’t you? A young man, right? You want to kill orcs and sleep with girls, don’t you? What are you going to do without the drive?!”

“So what? What’s the big deal?!”

“Idiot boy!” Madam Baaba yelled, spittle flying.

She looked as if she was going to rip into him more, but the door curtain suddenly flew open. Haruhiro blinked in surprise as someone entered. It wasn’t someone though, it was something. No human being, after all, had green skin.

It was huge, too. Not in height so much as girth. It was barrel-chested, with a nose that looked like it had been smashed in; pointed ears, boar-like tusks sticking out from the corners of its broad mouth, and blood red hair. It was armored and wielded a single-edged sword.

Just as Haruhiro was wondering what the hell it was, Madam Baaba shouted, “ORRRRRC!” She was holding something like a walking stick in her hands. “It’s in my shop! Soldier Boy, now’s your chance to lose your virginity! Get to it!”

“M-me?!” Haruhiro stammered as he tried to unsheathe his dagger; he couldn’t quite get a grip on it. “N-no way! I’m alone, and my class is Thief!”

“So what?! I’m an old granny! Grow a backbone, Thief!” Madam Baaba scolded as she gave Haruhiro a rough shove in the back.

“W-whoa!” He almost fell flat on his face. She was pretty strong for an old granny.

The orc had been drawing closer all the while and Haruhiro found himself in deep trouble. It lunged and swung and stabbed at him with its sword, shouting in a language that he couldn’t understand.

“What the—! No way!” He deflected and dodged the attacks but soon found his back pressed against the counter.

“What’re you doing?!” Madam Baaba screeched at him.

“You’re asking me?!” Haruhiro flipped himself over the top of the counter and tried to make a run for it.

“OSHUU BAGDA!!!” the orc cried, leaping up and over in pursuit.

There was no way. Haruhiro was going to die. He was going to be killed. He shouted wildly, grabbing any and all objects in reach to throw at the orc. But even if it got hit, the orc acted as if he didn’t even feel it.

No way! No way, no way, NO WAY! Words failed to express how bad things were. Haruhiro dove through the door curtain and was outside the shop once more.

“It’s… not following?” he whispered to himself. No sooner were the words out of his mouth that Madam Baaba’s came from within. “Soldier Boy! How could you just leave an old granny to die?! Oh, the inhumanity!”

“And what exactly do you expect me to do…?” Haruhiro muttered.

He could see the outlines of other orcs in the distance. After all, he reasoned, this was an invasion, so of course there would be more than one. Tons more. This was bad. Really bad. Horribly bad. He had to run. Hide somewhere, maybe, until people who could deal with the orcs came. It wasn’t like Madam Baaba was a friend or anything. She was a total stranger. He had no obligation to help her. And it wasn’t like he could help even if he wanted to.

“I don’t have a choice…”

He took a single, deep breath—and yanked the shop’s door curtain open again. Damn it! What am I doing?! Hadn’t he been about to run? He still wanted to. His desire to run away was almost overwhelming. But if he left her, even if it had been a total stranger, he knew that he would never sleep well again.

So he didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t just because it would haunt him forever if he didn’t—it was because this was the only thing a decent human being could possibly do.

The orc swung its sword down at Madam Baaba. She blocked it with her walking stick, grunting as the force brought her almost to her knees, her face turning bright red with the effort of staying afoot. It was a good thing the walking stick was sturdy, but though she had stopped the orc’s attack, it was a close call. This was no time to be impressed, though; things were about as desperate as it got.

Haruhiro drew his dagger and set his sights on the orc’s back. “[BACKSTAB]!”

The blade, however, slipped off and was turned aside by the orc’s armor. It turned towards Haruhiro and bellowed, “GASHUU HA!”

“Soldier Boy!” Madam Baaba’s eyes were visibly sparkly. “I think I’m falling in love!”

“Seriously, don’t!” Haruhiro snapped, turning his back to the orc. “Come over here! Or… never mind!”

Unfortunately, the attention of the orc had now shifted from Madam Baaba to Haruhiro. Should have stopped myself… Haruhiro thought. Should have run while I had the chance… But it was too late for regrets now.

“HASHUU HASHUU HASHUU!” The orc chanted as he chased Haruhiro out of the shop.

Haruhiro ran until his breathing became heavy and ragged. His armor was light and he was running for all he was worth, and yet the orc, despite wearing heavy armor, kept up easily. He couldn’t put any distance between them at all.

“Scary…” he muttered, turning into a small street. Trying to give the orc the slip, he wedged himself between the narrow rows of stalls, forcing his way through.

But the orc was right behind him, armor clanking, following Haruhiro every step of the way. Haruhiro wanted to give up. He wanted to say to the orc, Excuse me, but can we cross the finish line now? Would that be okay with you?

He decided to call the next turn that finish line. Haruhiro would stick it out until then, and after that… it was probably not possible to keep going. He was at his limits, both mentally and physically. Sorry, but it was time to retire.

Haruhiro turned the corner, half-stumbling around the bend, when a low, husky voice commanded, “Get down!”

He obeyed reflexively and felt something sweep across the top of his head. That something was a sword. Around the corner, someone had been waiting. The owner of the husky voice. He had swung his sword in a horizontal slicing motion, missing Haruhiro’s head by mere inches, and connected with the orc.

The orc made a surprised gurgling noise and Haruhiro turned just in time to see the orc’s head fly off its shoulders. The silver-haired man who had killed it had his back turned to Haruhiro.


Renji had joined Crimson Moon the same day as Haruhiro, but it sure didn’t look that way. Over his stylish armor was a fur-lined cloak and in his hand was an impressive looking blade. Haruhiro knew Renji was a different sort the moment he laid eyes on him, but even so, it was hard to believe the difference was this big.

One hit, after all. Renji had killed that orc in one blow. The difference was too great.

“You okay?” Renji asked, to which Haruhiro could only nod mechanically.

Not cool. Not cool at all. Why am I so pathetic? Intensely embarrassed, Haruhiro hurriedly got back up to his feet thinking that he at least had to say thanks, but not able to find his voice.

“Renji, you’ve pissed them off again!” The new voice had belonged to a splendidly armored man with short cropped hair. He was pointing to the other side of the street.

It was Ron. When Haruhiro looked to where he was pointing, he saw three orcs coming directly at them.

“Jeeru mea gram fel kanon!” chanted Adachi, the Mage with the black-rimmed glasses, as he etched an elemental glyph with the tip of his staff.

Haruhiro had no idea what type of magic that was. A bluish elemental flew towards one of the orcs and twined itself around its legs. The orc didn’t trip or fall over, but it could no longer walk properly. The other two orcs didn’t even blink at their disabled companion. They kept coming.

Suddenly, a long leg shot out from the alleyway to connect to an orc’s knee. The orc could not possibly have dodged, the kick was timed so impeccably. Haruhiro couldn’t be sure, but it looked like the Thief’s fighting technique, [KNEESHATTER]. The orc fell forward with a heavy grunt. The person who took it down was scantily dressed in bright, flashy colors.

Sassa, huh…

“Nice!” said Ron, as he advanced forward to engage the last.

Ron wasn’t short by any measure; however, he still looked it compared to the orc. But despite his smaller build, Ron’s string of attacks steadily pushed it back. Meanwhile, the orc that Sassa had disabled was starting to get back to its feet to rejoin its companions, though it looked to be in a lot of pain. Sassa did not intend to let it. She stood before it to block its way, and at less than five feet tall, she became dwarfed by its hulking form.

A girl dressed in Priest’s clothes and carrying a short staff was there in the thick of things, too, but she came across to Haruhiro like a small child doing her best to play adult. What was Chibi trying to do?

Chibi muttered something and stuck her staff straight out at the orc. The orc roared at her and made to sweep her staff aside with its sword.

“Wha—!” Haruhiro’s voice caught in his throat.

The orc’s swing missed as Chibi brought not just the tip of the staff, but the entire shaft around in an arc.

“Yah!” she squeaked. Utilizing the momentum of the swing, she brought it back around to smack into the orc’s lower back.

It didn’t bring the orc down, but it did get its attention. The orc stopped in its tracks, and Chibi hopped back to where Renji waited.

He patted her head with a large hand and said, “Well done, Chibi.”

Chibi made a cooing noise, her face turning beet red.

The next moment, Renji buried the edge of his heavy sword in the orc’s shoulder. It hardly mattered that the orc wore sturdy-looking armor—this was Renji, after all. He yanked his sword out, and at the same time kicked the orc square in the chest with enough force to send it flying. This flailing orc, trying to keep from falling over, was nothing to Renji. He killed it easily by thrusting his sword into the base of its throat, twisting it as it cut through.

A howl erupted from the orc that Ron was fighting; it had been forced back onto its knees by Ron’s relentless attacks, and he would have no trouble finishing it now. Punctuating them with shouts, Ron rained blows to the top of its head in blazingly fast succession, and he didn’t stop until its skull was wide open.

Strong… and loud, too, noted Haruhiro.

In the time Haruhiro had spent watching Ron in awe, Renji had meanwhile been moving. Right now, he was closing in on the orc that Adachi had magically disabled earlier, and the way that Renji maneuvered—it reminded Haruhiro of Master Barbara from his Thieves Guild. His motions were almost her motions, stealthy and silent.

Haruhiro found himself captivated despite himself.

Not to mention the way Renji handled his sword. It looked pretty heavy, and yet Renji swung and spun it as if it were simply an extension of his own arm. He had sliced through the first orc’s neck, bone and all, like it was nothing more than tissue paper. Haruhiro thought that to be the most fascinating. How could Renji slice through something as hard as bone as if it were nothing?

“That’s the last of them,” Ron said, tapping himself on the shoulder with his sword.

Haruhiro didn’t move, he was so astounded—and maybe his awe was why he noticed, when no one else did. Maybe it was because his eyes needed to be in more than one place, so that even though he wasn’t trying to pay attention to absolutely everything, his view of the scene was still broader than theirs.

Something had moved. From the top of a building. The roof.

“Renji, above you!” Haruhiro shouted.

Renji jumped backwards immediately. A split second slower and he would have been cut down, there and then.

Something had descended upon Renji from the top of the building. It was an orc by all appearances; however, its hair was white, with some silvery sheen to it. Oddly enough, Renji’s hair was silver too.

It’s some kind of law of the universe, Haruhiro thought. Silver hair equals damn cray.

Just like Renji, that orc was damn cray, damn straight. It wasn’t just its size. It was outfitted in ebony black armor, and the cloak draped over his shoulders was striped like a tiger’s pelt—or perhaps it really was a tiger’s pelt. It was so flashy that you couldn’t call it anything but frickin’ insanely damn cray.

Every inch of its face was covered in tattoos. Frickin’ raw and damn cray. Its gaze. Damn cray. Yellow colored eyes. Ferocious and damn cray. Its expression was supremely composed and calm, so it was probably fairly smart. Damn cray.

Finally, the sword it held in its hands. This purple tinted, single-edged sword, thick and long, its edge razor sharp, its tip serrated—cray-cray to the max, goddamn.

On top of all that, as the cray orc turned to face Renji, about ten more orcs appeared on the rooftops of the buildings around them. This was so beyond damn cray that it was probably one of those fucked-up-beyond-all-repair situations.

The orcs moved to descend from the rooftops, but they stopped when the tiger pelt clad, boss-like orc raised its left hand. It opened its mouth and began to speak.

“I am…”

What? Haruhiro was confused. Did it just say, “I am”?

“…Ishh Dogrann. You, what?”

It talked. Sure, its speech was a little broken, but it spoke in the human language. The corners of Renji’s mouth curved slightly upwards. He was smiling. He did always seem to be smiling, but wasn’t it just a little weird to be smiling at a time like this?

“The name’s Renji. You gonna fight me, Ishh Dogrann?”

“ONN GASHUU RADDO!” The other orcs lowered their weapons as one at their boss, Ishh Dogrann’s, command.

Does that mean it wants to fight in single combat?

“No one interfere,” Renji ordered the others in his party, his voice low.

Was he really going to do it? Fight one-on-one? Was Renji actually serious? It seemed like it.

They clashed. Haruhiro didn’t see who made the first move. Each blade met the other in a series of loud clangs; sparks flew, and their crossguards locked as both leaned in to try to overpower each other. But they weren’t just pressing in there—they were also subtly shifting their body weight so they could use their knees, too.

If Haruhiro had been kneed with the knees those two were dishing out, he would have been knocked head over heels with the first blow. They each wanted to break the other’s balance, but they both remained on their feet. They separated in a flash.

Ishh Dogrann targeted Renji’s leg, but Renji jumped to avoid getting swept out and answered with a swing at Ishh Dogrann’s head. The orc boss blocked it with a gauntleted forearm, ducked sharply, and—and its tiger cloak. It had lobbed its cloak at Renji.

Haruhiro was taken completely by surprise at the move, but Renji wasn’t. He didn’t panic, didn’t make any noise, he merely snatched the cloak out of the air and thrust his sword at the orc. Ishh Dogrann had probably intended to surprise Renji with it and make an exploitable opening.

When the ploy failed, the orc withdrew a little and crouched in a low ready stance.

“Good. Human. You’re good. Warrior.”

“Sure,” Renji replied curtly, closing the distance between them.

Their blades met again. This time, though, it was Renji who was on the offensive. Haruhiro’s hands had curled themselves into tight fists.

Renji can do this. He can win. Kill it! Take it down!

Or so Haruhiro believed. Or so it had seemed. Renji was dominating, keeping an obvious upper hand. Evidently, apparently—yet in the blink of an eye, Ishh Dogrann’s sword slashed deep into Renji’s left arm.

What? Haruhiro had no idea how it happened.

Renji separated from the orc, flexing his arm. The blood flowing from the horrible gash near his elbow was incredible in its profusion. The others on Team Renji gasped and shouted their concern while cheers went up from the orcs surrounding them.

Renji lowered his left arm, keeping his grip on his sword with his right. It seemed he intended to continue one handed—not that the wound on his left gave him any other choice. That arm was probably useless now. But Renji’s sword was large and heavy. He was at a clear disadvantage.

He took a deep breath… and smiled. Despite all that, he was still smiling.

“Not bad,” he told the orc boss.

The smile was different from the one he wore before. It wasn’t just the corners of his mouth this time; his smile now stretched across his entire face. It made Haruhiro shudder.

Scary… that Renji’s downright terrifying, he thought, and not for the first time. Renji had been so since the beginning.

Renji went on the offensive again. Ishh Dogrann, still wielding his blade with both arms, parried Renji’s one-armed attacks with ease. Renji’s blows were lighter than before, and if they were to clash directly now, he might fail to match the orc boss’ strength.

Indeed, it seemed as if the orc was close to stripping Renji’s sword out of his hand entirely—Renji was only barely able to keep his grip on it. It left his upper body, from chest to head, completely open to attack.

Chibi let out a high-pitched yelp as Ishh Dogrann slammed the back of his armored fist into Renji’s face. The gauntlet he wore was mostly metal and the plates extended all the way to his knuckles. The blow broke Renji’s nose; smashed it in so hard, he was covered in blood in mere seconds.

Renji, still smiling, attacked again.

His attacks were blocked or deflected at every turn even as the orc boss rained counterattacks down on him. Before long, Renji was covered in wounds. He had armor on, but it wasn’t the type that completely enclosed its wearer from head to toe. Ishh Dogrann aimed his attacks at the open areas with surgical precision. Even worse, the orc boss’ dreadful sword was able to rip off smaller pieces of armor entirely.

“OSHUU! OSHUU! OSHUU!” The orc underlings chanted excitedly, their feet stamping a tattoo into the ground.

Renji kept on attacking, but Haruhiro could barely stand to watch. Pure willpower was the only thing that could be keeping Renji going now. Either that, or perhaps Renji knew that if he switched to defense, he would be overpowered in an instant. He had no choice but to stay on the offensive.

“Ron!” Haruhiro couldn’t bear remaining silent any longer. “You aren’t going to help him?! You’re just going to stand there?! Adachi! Chibi! Sassa! Renji’s gonna die!”

“If we do that…” said Sassa, face pale and sweaty—she forced herself to smile sardonically. “Renji will kill us afterwards.”

Chibi said something as well, her expression as fierce as if she wanted to write her feelings on her face. Haruhiro didn’t really think this was her hinting at something, but he couldn’t be sure.

Renji attacked yet again, and yet again Ishh Dogrann deflected it with ease. The scene had not changed. The orc looking as if it was going to strip Renji’s sword out of his hand, Renji barely managing to keep a hold on it, leaving his upper body completely exposed to attack. This was bad. Nothing was changing. Renji was going to lose.

Ishh Dogrann made to punch Renji in the face once more—only this time, Renji did not let him.

Renji gripped his sword with both hands and raised it high. The orc boss quickly veered backwards to dodge the incoming blow.

But that was impossible. This couldn’t happen. Renji’s left arm was supposed to have been rendered completely useless… but right before Haruhiro’s eyes, there he stood, handling his sword with a firm two-handed grip.

Renji let out a savage, bloodcurdling cry. Haruhiro didn’t think that Ishh Dogrann would back off just for that—but for a split second, the orc did freeze in his tracks. Renji brought down his sword in a diagonal slash, his blade cutting deep into the orc boss’ shoulder.

He then completely let go of his blade and knocked Ishh Dogrann down with a single punch. Relentlessly, Renji continued to pummel the orc boss, but his rage was not wild and aimless. It was a methodical fury. With discipline and meticulous precision.

Ishh Dogrann was no longer moving. Silence fell upon the entire area, with the only noise echoing through the streets being that of a dull thudding, of Renji’s systematic strikes. All was absolutely still except for Renji. He clasped both hands together, raised them high over his head, then smashed what little remained of the orc boss’ face in.

Renji heaved a deep sigh and flexed his neck left and right. “Not bad. Not bad at all, Ishh Dogrann. I’ll be sure to remember your name.”

Ron snorted. “You’re a mess, Renji.”

Light glinted off Adachi’s glasses as he glared at the orcs on the rooftop above. Sassa still looked unsteady on her feet. Chibi scurried hurriedly over to Renji, but he merely waved her off, and picked up Ishh Dogrann’s sword instead. He pointed it at the orcs loitering above.

“What? You want to give me a try? Then come down here! I’ll take all of you on.”

Isn’t he being a bit over the top? Haruhiro thought. But of course Haruhiro couldn’t help but think that. If he wasn’t still half-numb, he might have realized that it was a good idea to talk big in a situation like this.

One of the orcs made a waving motion with his hand. Several of the others made grunting noises that sounded like a protest, but fell silent when the gaze of the first orc fell upon them. They then withdrew as a unit.

“I’ve…” Haruhiro barely managed to get a grip on himself and keep from sinking down to the ground. “I’ve been rescued.”

It had all happened right before his eyes, yet he still couldn’t believe it. He gazed at Renji, looked away, then looked at him again. Renji was ridiculously strong and beyond incredible. Comparing his group to Renji, words like “inadequate” or “envious” just didn’t seem to cut it anymore.

Renji was strong. Just too strong.

Haruhiro sighed and looked down at his hands. They were empty. He glanced around the immediate area, but it wasn’t there. Shihoru’s hat. When had he lost hold of it? It wasn’t a huge deal, but he still couldn’t remember. It was gone.

“…What have I been doing?” he whispered to himself.

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