I’ve lost track of how many hours we’d walked since then.
Marching on high alert consumed quite a lot more energy than I’d anticipated.
Although I’ve grown accustomed to being on the road, this unfamiliar approach exhausted me all the same.
My body feels heavy. And we’re not even halfway there yet…
I never thought it would be this much tiresome to deal with human enemies instead of monsters.
Legs stiffening, vision waning, old food coming back out… I really need to exercise more.
Or maybe I’d been lucky up till now.
“Master, are you all right?”
“O-oh… Still got it… ’nuff energy to dance the waltz while vomiting in the bathroom… Gah…”
“Ohh, I never knew you could dance the waltz!”
Way to miss the point, you little…
“Well, let’s put the jokes aside for now … Excuse me! My Master seems to be at his limit!”
Right, same ol’ Pochi to the rescue.
“Oh? Ah, sorry! We ended up speeding to our usual pace!”
“Right, we did… There are trees over there. Let’s take a break then.”
“Are you alright? Need a shoulder to lean on, at least?”
Betty smiled and extended her hand. I did want to accept her offer of assistance, but I just toughened out instead, not quite able to fully swallow my pride.
Behind me, seeming to have read me like a book, Pochi laughed… or maybe just holding back her laughter. I couldn’t quite tell with my focus, but it surely meant that I had one of my weaknesses exposed to her to laugh at.
I’ll get back at her one of these days… Yes, but not today.
I don’t have the time nor energy for that now.
Pochi had originally been a wild beast, and I had been living in isolation for so long… That’s a big difference.
“Here ya go, man.”
Bruce stooped down and offered me his canteen.
I had one of my own as well, of course, but weighing my options, I decided to accept his kind offer.
He probably estimated that my water supply wouldn’t last me all the way to our destination. That’s another thing I’d miscalculated on this trip.
One’s life could be snuffed out if left to burn for only an instant. This journey may be the one to put my life on the line, fundamentally unlike the ones I had undertaken before.
As I had feared, the closer my pursuit takes me to the Capital, the more dangerous it gets.
“Well, there’s no need to push yourself too hard. The way up ahead will be a bit easier, anyway.”
“Huh, it does?”
“We’ll be on an easy path soon — you know, the one that leads to the Capital. We’ll have to break off it again, but until then, I guess it’s pretty routine? We have to only watch our front and back, so it’s a lot easier.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that it’s dangerous, through. Anyway, Bruce, it’s your turn to keep watch.”
Blazer came to switch with Bruce, sitting down on Bruce’s old spot.
“Asley, can that Light Source spell illuminate a little farther away?”
“Its effect range is fixed, so that’ll be difficult, but… I might manage with two of them — Ah,”
Right, I should’ve done that from the start.
For me in particular, preserving stamina should have been the priority over saving up arcane energy.
“In that case, you can focus on maintaining the Light Source from here onward. Leave the enemy watch to us.”
“Another blunder, eh, Master?”
“Ahh, you can say that…”
“Hu hu hu, just take it one step at a time. I used to be like that, too.”
Betty spoke up while massaging her own legs.
Even if slightly, it does seem to help with recovery. For something so obvious, I think I might feel the difference it makes now.
Learning from her example, I proceeded to massage my own legs as well.
Blazer checked the time on his pocket watch and muttered to himself.
“We’ll depart in five minutes, so get ready.”
True to his words, we resumed our march to the labyrinth exactly five minutes later.
And as Bruce had said, we turned up at a beaten path with tall cliffs on either side.
I kept my guard up for a while in anticipation of attacks from above, but eventually I judged that it was safe enough, aside from the occasional small airborne monsters.
And then, rather quickly and uneventfully, we successfully arrived at the Labyrinth of No Return.
As we’d planned from the start, we took turns to rest by the labyrinth’s entrance.
“Is it true that Familiars don’t need to sleep?”
“Sleep doesn’t affect our physical strength, yes. There is still mental satiation to consider, of course, but I certainly can go without it for now.”
“That’ll be a great help. But if you want to sleep, just say so. We originally planned around the assumption that everyone would sleep, anyway.”
“Ahaha, I’m glad to hear that.”
Seems like Blazer and Pochi are getting along quite well.
Pochi generally approaches things with a serious attitude, so she might consider Blazer as the same kind.
“Say, what are you doing there, Asley?”
“Eh — oh, it’s my take on one of the University’s research topics.”
“This is… a Spell Circle? Or no — it looks a little different?”
“Well, it’s something similar. I feel like I’m really close to completing it, too…”
While I drew a Craft Circle on the ground, I pieced together one big composite spell in my head.
If I were to make that spell a reality, I would surely be one step closer to being a Philosopher.
That was its name.
The possibility of achieving it had inspired as many pursuers as it had disappointed.
From the old days to now, that hasn’t changed.
As I’d seen from Irene’s office, she had been spending these past few years focusing on implementing that magic form.
The other day, when I had gone to check it out, it seemed that she had been making good progress in the conceptual stage. I hadn’t been able to get her to show it in detail, of course, but that had been enough for me to tell.
The act of magic comprised of the Four Core Elements.
Magecraft, on the other hand, was the practice of summoning something that was not originally there.
It was impossible to implement Teleportation magic without one or the other.
Still, the only practical method of using it would be via the landmine model. It wouldn’t be as usable as the common, cast-and-go magic spells. Irene understood that, too.
In theory, one would need to break their body down to the Four Core Elements of magic, be summoned via a Craft Circle, then be reconstructed.
One example was to “cheat” one’s sense of existence by turning into fire with Glamor magic, then activate a Craft Circle set in another location.
Simply put, this theory was based on using Glamor magic to trick the magecraft system itself. But a powerful formula would be needed for that.
An ordinary Little Fire might be the first thing that comes out of the Craft Circle, but with an Abnormal Status Recovery Spell Circle on top of the pathway Craft Circle, one’s original form could be restored from what originally came out.
With that said, it was very recently when I had come to this possible solution.
I had all the spells needed, but I hadn’t had the chance to carry out the final step.
“The first one’s gotta be you, Pochi…”
“Yeah, of course you won’t~~”
“Heh heh heh heh, you two are an amusing pair.”
With that and other random banter, we passed the night.
And then, after switching with Bruce and Betty, I slept easily despite the terrain and lack of a bed.
By the time I woke, it was already bright outside.
Bruce and Betty were already making preparations in front of the labyrinth’s entrance.
Pochi was still keeping a vigilant watch on the surroundings and Blazer was not on his bed too.
Looks like I was the only one who slept the longest.
“Finally awake, Asley?”
“Hey, looking a lot healthier already, man. Blazer’s gone in to scout ahead a bit — Oh, speak of the devil. He’s back.”
As Bruce was talking, the rustling of Blazer’s armor could be heard. I turned to where Bruce was looking at, and sure enough, I could see Blazer, still in perfect condition, appear from the entrance.
“Hmm, I see you’re awake. We’ll be going in soon.”
“Yes, I’ve rested well. Thank you very much.”
“C’mon now, we’ll be working you to the bone today! Get hyped, man!”
“You have to work too, Bruce, so save that hype for yourself.”
“Aye-yup, I got ya!”
Bruce’s positive tone had an equally positive effect on the rest of the group. Sure enough, he was planning and acting in his own way.
A party’s integrity could not be kept by caution alone. The first step was, perhaps, for one to also understand and accept how others act in consideration of the party members.
Right as everyone completed their preparations, I invoked a Light Source spell and sent it to the front row, where Blazer waited. Then sent another Light Source spell behind me, where Pochi covered the end of the formation.
“I live with death close by my side!”
“”I live with death close by my side!””
Blazer announced commencement, and Bruce and Betty promptly repeated after him.
Pochi and I turned to look at each other, then we nodded.
“”I live with death close by my side!””
Those words were uttered ritualistically by adventurers before going into labyrinths or heading into situations where they were prepared to die.
A declaration to take death along and tame it, and in turn, cling on to life. That was what it meant.
It was a saying so famous that every adventurer knew very well about.
Blazer took the first step forward, and Bruce and Betty promptly followed.
My feet felt heavy, even though they should be as light as they could be now that I had rested.
This step forward was another step toward my goal. A step my past self hadn’t been able to take. I had to go forward. There was no turning back.
Because one step behind me, my little friend grew more restless.
“Get a move on — Sir!”
And she tackled me, initiating my step forward.
“C’mon, Master, let’s go!”
Another step forward for the Fool and his Familiar.
I suppose that was an apt description of our progression.