Bastard Swordsman Chapter 31

The Holder of the Compass
 
The Barowa Forest had yet to be blanketed by snow. However, the bone-chilling cold was already seeping into the ground, making a sound like crushing gravel underfoot as we tread on the forest floor, almost like walking on frosted ground.
 
Despite the fact that I can’t boast about it loudly, my shoes are custom-made. While they might appear no different from the ones you’d find around, their design conceals a modern-day boot-like quality on the inside. They remain unaffected by the frost, neither turning cold nor letting moisture seep in. Utter comfort.
 
Yet, among us who ventured into this forest, there was one individual equipped quite differently from such comfort…
 
“Stay vigilant of your surroundings and move while checking for any monsters.”
 
“Understood.”
 
In the end, Bridget continued to wear her armor even after entering the forest. Despite the fact that greaves wouldn’t be particularly easy to walk in, she and Gorilliana continued ahead with a stride that didn’t betray any discomfort.
 
Right behind them were Sheena and her group of mid-range companions. Sheena held an arrow in her hand, walking while remaining alert to her surroundings. …From what I could gather, there didn’t seem to be anything in particular lurking about.
 
“Oh, this is that…?”
 
“Yeah… looks like it.”
 
Raina and Ulrika exchanged nods, seemingly having understood something. I wanted to playfully ask, “What’s going on?” as I usually did, but today I decided to keep to the shadows. Blending in was key.
 
Silent walking. Walking intently.
 
The sounds of eight pairs of feet crunching on frost and, occasionally, the clinking of gear brushing against branches were the only noises echoing emptily in the quiet forest.
 
This went on for about two hours. The pace was slow, and there were no breaks. Clearly, it was an inefficient march.
 
…Boring. There had been various mundane tasks, but this one seemed tasteless, like chewing on flavorless gum.
 
However, Bridget was probably enduring something even tougher. Wrapped entirely in armor, she seemed to be succumbing to the cold already, as shivers became more noticeable. On top of that, Sheena was constantly keeping watch as they moved, leaving no room for rest.
 
…Someone should just tell her to take off that armor already.
 
I’m not particularly fond of nobility and wouldn’t usually interfere, but it’s starting to look painfully cold, and I can’t stand to watch…
 
“Let’s take this path.”
 
Sheena indicated the direction with an arrow, prompting a change in our route. Even in the winter forest, we could only see small Flag Birds (inedible) and Mud Rats (inedible) here and there.
 
“…Hey, Mongrel-senpai, this. Footprints here.”
 
“Huh?”
 
Raina whispered to me, pointing out faint… visible? footprints on the ground.
 
It made sense that they would be somewhat discernible thanks to the frost… maybe? But honestly, it’s hard to tell.
 
“Looks like some big Charge Deers. Probably went in the direction before Sheena changed our course.”
 
“…Did Sheena spot this and steer us clear of danger?”
 
“Yes, we can’t tell how old these footprints are, but most likely. Sheena’s really skilled at reconnaissance.”
 
…Impressive. She’s looking at the footprints and deliberately steering us away from where monsters are likely to be.
 
Or, wait, that arrow…?
 
It’s almost like she’s holding it up, tracing where the arrowhead is pointing.
 
…Could it be a skill or a gift of some sort?
 
In any case, she’s being thorough. In a forest where we hardly encounter monsters, being subjected to this, it’s almost certain I’d end up as cannon fodder. Even Bridget is struggling…
 
“What’s wrong, Bridget? You don’t seem well.”
 
“…N-No, I’m fine.”
 
Ah, Sheena finally broached the topic. It was evident from the start that Bridget wasn’t feeling well, but now she looks like taking even a single step forward is a daunting task.
 
“Be honest. Collapsing here would inconvenience everyone.”
 
“…It’s… really tough.”
 
Sheena halted the march, exhaling deeply. The air feels heavy.
 
“Take off that armor.”
 
“That…?”
 
“I’ve brought spare clothes. Take off the armor and put them on over your clothes. Your body’s likely freezing because of the full-body armor.”
 
“…I apologize.”
 
Bridget began to struggle with the armor, looking visibly distressed. With Jonas’s help, they started removing the armor, while Sheena helped her put on the spare clothes from above. And as for the discarded armor…
 
“Hey. Can you tie that armor to your belongings with a rope? It’s heavy, so it might not stay in place, but do your best not to drop it.”
 
It seemed I was tasked with that. …I mean, come on, it’s full-body armor. This thing’s pretty heavy. And besides, though it might not seem like it when you’re wearing it, carrying bulky things so they don’t feel heavy is actually quite tiring.
 
Nevertheless, it seemed like I had to do it. It felt orchestrated, almost.
 
Bridget’s full-body armor seems to be of high quality; its weight appears lighter than its appearance suggests. Perhaps the material is different or something else is at play. Probably, but it seems like the metal used isn’t from the world we originally come from.
 
“I’m sorry… for causing all this trouble…”
 
“…It’s fine.”
 
Bridget apologizes with embarrassment, but maybe I responded a bit brusquely due to not wanting to continue the conversation much. What should I do? Damn it, I can’t bear seeing this kid so pitiful.
 
“As one of the close-range fighters has taken on extra baggage, let’s proceed even more attentively.”
 
…A boring mission. A laborious march despite being self-destructive. The burden others bear because of me… Is this really your first mission, kid? Is this hell? I’d probably end up traumatized if it were me. Artemis’s members aren’t even bothering to overly cheer Bridget up, they’re genuinely trying to crush her motivation…

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“After walking a bit more, we’ll rest and then head back. That’ll conclude today’s investigation.”
 
“…Understood.”
 
When we started walking, Bridget was initially alert to monsters, her hand resting on her longsword’s hilt. But now, she’s struggling just to walk, and it seems she can’t even imagine the presence of monsters around anymore.
 
The white breath escaping her lips was louder than anyone else’s here.
 
Gathering firewood randomly in the forest, we light a fire and huddle around it. Sheena seems to have brought rather unappetizing dried meat specifically for this day. There’s no lively conversation during the meal; a somber atmosphere hangs in the air.
 
Comfort? Terrible. But this is our duty.
 
“To prevent Bridget from pursuing the path of a Guildman…” In terms of perfection, it’s safe to say that’s what we achieved.
 
“…In spring…”
 
Staring into the fire, Bridget begins to speak in a vacant tone.
 
“Traveled to the capital… and take up a job. But I despise that job, so I tried to become a Guildman, aspiring to be a swordsman…”
 
She reveals the truth, and it’s a grim situation.
 
“I don’t know. What should I do…?”
 
Oh, she’s on the verge of tears. Stop it, stop it. I’m weak to that kind of thing. This is really troubling.
 
“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to work.”
 
“…Strengths and weaknesses?”
 
“Just because something is your passion doesn’t mean it’s the right job for you. Bridget, if you find today’s task difficult, it might be a good idea to reconsider being a Guildman.”
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
I’m reminded of those prayer emails. My heart’s getting heavy. This… Bridget, we don’t even know if Guildman is right for her or not. Or rather, we’re snuffing out that potential. Thinking about it like that… I’m overwhelmed by guilt… My heart feels like it’s dying…
 
“Well then, break time’s over. Let’s head back to Legol.”
 
The journey back has become somewhat drawn-out in formation.
 
Up ahead, Sheena and Bridget seem to be having a conversation of some sort, distancing themselves from the rest of us. Well, I suppose we have plenty of things we wouldn’t want Bridget to hear, so we’re muttering quietly toward the back.
 
“Damn awful mission.”
 
“…Bad taste, I guess?”
 
“Well… you know, it’s a request from the Baron’s family, so we’ll just have to suck it up, I suppose.”
 
Skillfully extinguishing dreams of becoming a Guildman in one fell swoop. Artemis seems to have a knack for delicate matters like this.
 
Honestly… I can’t help but think, impressive. No sarcasm intended.
 
Even now, Sheena deftly guides the arrow to a safe direction with one hand, continuing to create a peaceful mission devoid of any incidents. Burdened by the cold and fatigue, Bridget seems to have no choice but to swallow our words and nod.
 
“Even if it’s a lightweight magical alloy, carrying such baggage is impressive. Just as I expected, Mongrel.”
 
“…Nastasha, did you invite me here just for this?”
 
Turning around, I find Nastasha grinning slyly.
 
“Well, true, I had concerns that with just Gorilliana as the vanguard in case of an emergency, having Bridget as our protection might be somewhat unsettling.”
 
“So, Sheena’s scouting ability isn’t flawless after all?”
 
“Hmm… you’ve noticed that. I don’t dislike intelligent men.”
 
“To be honest, it’s not exactly a sure thing. But she’s definitely doing something.”
 
If there is indeed a power that makes the arrow point toward an enemy’s direction… it might explain Sheena’s nickname “Keiya,” or “Arrow’s End” or “Arrow Guide.” It’s just a hypothesis.
 
Nastasha’s smile deepens further.
 
“…Sheena possesses extraordinary skill in avoiding crises; she’s an excellent archer in that regard. I possess an equivalent power.”
 
“That’s…?”
 
“A ‘Gift.’… There’s no need to hide it. You have it too, Mongrel, don’t you?”
 
…!
 
My Gift got exposed…?
 
Where? Where was it seen? No, maybe it was a bluff. I don’t remember showing it, and I haven’t used it in a place where someone could see it.
 
Don’t show it on your face. If they realize, it’s definitely going to be a hassle.
 
“I know, Mongrel.”
 
What’s that supposed to mean? Stop it. Wait, seriously, it wasn’t seen, right? Actually, if they saw it, I wouldn’t react like this, right?
 
“Your enhanced magical power… that’s probably your Gift.”
 

 
Phew… close call! They misunderstood!
 
Ah… I see, it’s about that! It’s the bodily enhancement, right?
 
Oh, um, well, if that’s the case, then okay!
 
Ahem… no, not okay. I have to act like I’ve been hiding it all along. Alright, then. Let’s just play it cool. That should be the least acting-like response.
 
“…What are you talking about?”
 
“Mongrel, if you join us, Artemis, we can help you unleash the full potential of that power. We can handle difficult requests from troublesome nobles and evade dangerous monsters. Sheena is hoping for you to join. The benefits are pretty good.”
 
They’re trying to recruit me… Well, I do appreciate the thought of a bath. It’s kind of tempting, I must admit.
 
Nastasha’s the one holding the valve to that bath. She doesn’t want to let me have control over my reins.
 
“If you become our comrade, we can protect the secret of your Gift…”
 
“Nastasha-san, that’s not going to work.”
 
“…Raina?”
 
Interrupting the persuasion, it’s Raina.
 
“Using someone’s weakness to persuade them… that’s a bit underhanded. It’s like you’re holding them hostage. Personally… I kinda dislike that approach.”
 
“…Is that so? Perhaps my methods were… wrong?”
 
“Yes. Not going to work.”
 
“…I see.”
 
With Raina’s words, Nastasha seems flustered, her composure shattered. It’s not like Raina dominates in our party conversations, but in this instance, I couldn’t help but see Nastasha as a child scolded embarrassed adult.
 
“You should probably try a more straightforward approach. And… rushing things might not be the best, Senpai.”
 
Yeah, well, that makes sense.
 
Joining the party, huh? Well, having a bath at the Clan House would be nice. But the freedom to move around on my own is much more important than the luxury of a bath.
 
Well, I managed to make do with just washing myself with a little bit of water scooped in a bucket for years. Endurance…
 
“That aside, I’m still going to take a bath today.”
 
“Hahaha, so you’re going to use this opportunity to come to our bath.”
 
“Of course. It’s fair compensation.”
 
“Hmm. I see. Well, anytime is fine. Just let me know when you’ve made up your mind.”
 
“Yeah. I’ll consider it positively.”
 
“…That sounds like an indifferent response.”
 
“Oh, Raina, you’re getting a hang of understanding me.”
 
“No, I mean, it’s not like I’m happy about that. “
 
As the sun begins to set and the sky gradually darkens, the city of Legol finally comes into view.
 
Ultimately, it was a dull mission, carrying luggage back and forth without a single fight… Yet, even in such tasks, the skills of a professional come in handy, I realized with an odd sense of admiration on this day.


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