“Ah, before Loren asks his question, may I borrow that for a moment?”
Lapis held out her hand to the spirit, and the spirit, seemingly not understanding what doubt meant, placed the colorless, transparent gem in Lapis’ palm.
While Lapis was examining the gem, Loren decided to ask the spirit for information that he thought might be essential.
“When did that brown water start flowing into the lake?”
“A while ago.”
“How many dark goblins are there?”
Watching the lake spirit’s face, Loren knew that she was honest. But her answers did not match with that honesty. Even he, who was not familiar with spirits and such, knew that there was a difference in the perception of time and numbers between humans and spirits, but this was no way to get any useful information.
“Is it no good?”
Lapis handed the gem she was examining back to the spirit and asked. Happy that the gem was not taken away but was properly returned to the her, the spirit wrapped the jewel to her chest with care.
“No good. How about that one?”
“It seems to be an eye. I’d like to get this one.”
It was natural for Lapis to say so. If one did not try to forcibly take the gem from the spirit, the only way to obtain it was to carry out her commission and receive it as a reward. And since the other party was a spirit, there was no guarantee that they would be able to meet her on another occasion if they did not manage to get the gem right now.
“Then, first of all, can you explain to Klaus and the others that we will accept the commission?”
“Yes. The reward is a single gemstone, so let’s talk to them about getting a cash reward from us in exchange for us taking the gem.”
The amount of cash that the spirit had looted from the belongings of the adventurers came before them was not very large, and could be considered nothing compared to the value of the gem. Therefore, in order to obtain the gem, Loren’s party would have to pay cash to Klaus’ party, and Lapis would have to provide that cash.
Watching Lapis walk toward Klaus, who was still tied up with ropes, to negotiate, Loren spoke to the spirit by his side, who looked puzzled.
“We’ll accept your commission. Do you know where exactly this brown water is coming from?”
“Of course. From the hole at the bottom of the lake.”
The spirit’s answer was, once again, not what Loren had expected.
Certainly, as a spirit living in a lake, all she knew was the lake. It was no surprise that she did not know much about the surrounding areas. But even if she told them that the water was coming from the bottom of the lake, they had to way to investigate a water outlet spewing hot, skin-melting water.
“If it’s about breathing, then…”
“<<Water Breathing>>? I can’t use it because it’s an intermediate or higher level magic”
Ange overheard Loren’s mutterings and said.
Loren remembered that Lapis had used it before, so he thought they could use it this time as well. But then he remembered that it was not good to let Lapis, a priest, cast a spell that should be done by Ange, and held his tongue.
“If you need protection from water or the hot water, I can handle that.”
The spirit told Loren in a slightly proud tone. Since she was originally a water spirit, and was currently ruling this lake, such magic should be her forte.
“We’ll take this under Lapis’ terms. Including Klaus, of course.”
“Well, it’s quite an expense, but it can’t be helped.”
Loren was somewhat curious as to how much cash Lapis had promised to pay Klaus’ party for the job, but he did not ask. There was nothing he could do about it, even if he had been told a tremendous amount of money.
“It seems like she doesn’t even know where the black goblins come from.”
“What about asking the spirit of a lake about the shore?”
“Have you seen a Dark Elf or a black swordsman?”
The only person that came to mind when he heard of big black goblins was a man named Magna, the black swordsman that he had encountered at the Ancient Dragon’s dwelling before.
“If it’s a black swordsman…”
“You saw him?!”
“Right in front of my eyes.”
As the spirit pointed at him, Loren’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. It was true that Loren wore a lot of black clothing, and with black hair and eyes, he had to accept that he could be called a black swordsman.
“There’s nothing useful at all…”
“It can’t be helped. It was wrong to think of getting information from a spirit in the first place. Spirits don’t pay much attention to their surroundings.”
Lapis explained to Loren, who lamented that it was a disappointment.
“She is simply reacting this way because there is something wrong with the lake where she lives. She will probably forget about us as soon as we are done talking to her.”
“I’m not like that. I will thank you properly.”
Offended, the lake spirit objected to Lapis, but it was hard to know how much of what she said could be believed.
“The reward must be paid in advance. It’s better than to be told after the job is done that you forgot about it.”
“I understand. But I’ll curse you if you run away.”
Thinking that being cursed was a frightening thing, Loren held out his palm toward the spirit. Surprisingly, the spirit honestly placed the jewel she had just received from Lapis on it.
“We’ll leave tomorrow. The sun is setting and I don’t want to make a move.”
“Alright. Then I will guard this place for the night.”
Loren felt a touch of uneasiness when the spirit said ‘Leave it to me’, but she did not seem to notice. She turned to Lapis and said.
“It looked like you were halfway through the bath. Why don’t you go back in?”
“…No, thank you. What about you, Loren?”
“I’m good. A wet cloth to wipe myself down is enough for me.”
He was a tiny bit interested in bathing in a natural open-air bath, but he didn’t think he could enjoy it when he didn’t know what was coming up from the bottom of the lake.
“What about you, Gula?”
As he watched the girls begin to reorganize the camp after the talk had come to a conclusion and the spirit keeping watch for them near the shore of the lake, Loren secretly called out to Gula. He had been concerned about the somewhat-disapproving look that she sometimes showed.
Scratching her cheek, Gula looked troubled as she approached Loren, who beckoned to her from a spot only a short distance away from the other members.
“What do you mean? Isn’t ‘what about you’ too vague?”
“Just that you don’t seem too keen on the commission.”
Gula answered and looked towards the lake. The sun had set and it was completely dark, and the water surface glistened in the light of the fire that was burning in their camp.
“I can’t say for sure, but there’s something familiar and uncomfortable about this area.”
“We asked you to accompany us, not forcing. You can wait in Karlovy if you want?”
Having a party member return to Karlovy alone was not something normally done, but Gula should at least be able to return by herself, so Loren offered her that choice.
“Isn’t it harsh that I’m the only one left out?”
“But it won’t be good to force you to come along while you don’t want.”
“It’s for your sake as well as ours.”
Loren believed that you couldn’t take someone who didn’t want to go to a place where you didn’t know what was waiting for them. If this was only Gula’s matter, he could leave it to her personal judgment. But they were working as a party, and Gula’s acting by herself could put everyone in danger. That was why he had to make sure.
Gula gave a weak smile in response to Loren’s concern.
“Don’t be stupid. Of all the people in this group, I am the only one who can match or exceed Lapis-chan’ power, aren’t I? I ain’t just a mere human. There’s no need to worry for me that much.”
“Is that true?”
“You’re a pain in the ass, Loren. Worrying too much makes you bald. Instead of worrying about us, shouldn’t you be worrying about your own hair?”
Loren couldn’t help but put his hand on his head as she told him so. Of course, Loren’s hair was far from the state Gula described, but he still didn’t know what would happen in the future, and he wondered if he would end up like Gula said if he kept worrying too much about everything.
Gula laughed at Loren’s reaction and poked him with her index finger.
“It’s all right, don’t worry. It’s true that I’m a little uncomfortable, work is work. I’ll do it properly.”
“In that case, well, it’s fine…”
Loren was concerned because Gula, who could be described as laid-back, was showing an unusually clear expression of displeasure. But in reconsideration, she seemed fine.
“Then get some rest and be ready for tomorrow. That’s all I have to say.”
“Roger. Loren, don’t worry about silly things and get some sleep, okay? After all, the spirit said she will guard the camp.”
“How reliable is that?”
Loren pointed to the spirit watching over their encampment from the edge of the lake beyond the trees, and Gula thought for a moment before replied.
“At least, in the worst case, we can trust her to wake us up if something happens.”
“I don’t know if we can trust that.”
It was a delicate point, but the spirits did not need to sleep, and as Gula had said, she should be able to wake everyone up if something came, so they all went to bed together, leaving the guarding to her.
And the next day, their group crawled out of the tents to find several dead dark goblins that had been shot in the chest or head by something.