Reiji was lying on bed, thinking about the events that had occurred this past week. After their encounter with a giant centipede, he and his friends began training to become capable of defending themselves. Kaito, who was a member of the Archery club back in his middle school days, chose to wield a bow once again in this unfamiliar world, while Mayu, who had always been fond of magical girls, decided to study spell-casting. As for Reiji, he limited himself to learning how to handle a dagger. Even when his friends were giving their all to adapt to this world, he kept being the same mediocre guy he was back at Japan. In fact, he somehow seemed even more listless. But that wasn't caused by homesickness.
"(Why does this surprise me? I always knew that if I ever got the chance to leave my boring life behind, I would still be me. That if I got rid of all my problems, new problems would appear sooner or later. After all, I'm still Hiiragi Reiji, the guy that even in a world of swords and magic, lacks any goal in life)."
Aside from the commodities offered by modern technology, he didn't really miss his world, because he grew bored of it long ago. And now that he was suddenly thrown into a new environment, he still struggled to find something he wanted to do.
"(Whatever, I should get some sleep. Tomorrow, we are finally leaving Valdreed.)"
Reiji closed his eye and, after a couple of minutes, he fell asleep.
- - -
"Yup, looks like we are set to go."
Kaito and Mayu were outside the Rubellite residence, carrying the bags they brought with them to this world.
"Yeah, but is it a good idea to carry these bags? Even with the clothes we bought, our bags don't really fit with this world's aesthetics, you know?"
Just as Mayu said, her modern-looking bag didn't mesh well with the white and purple outfit she was wearing. While her clothes made her look like one of the mages featured in games and manga, the sports bag looked out of place.
"Well, contrary to our expectations, the clothes we were wearing when we arrived here didn't cause us too much trouble. Besides, we already spent too much money as is," Kaito then pointed at his black hair, "I even had to give up on wearing a hat."
He had wanted a new hat to go with the clothes he bought, but the money he made from doing odd jobs was not enough, so he put his cap inside his bag, but not before taking the pin that was acting as some sort of translation charm and stuffing it in his pocket.
"But don't think we forgot to get you a birthday present, Raquel."
Next to Kaito and Mayu were two girls, one clad in red and golden clothes and the other in dark brown.
The former grabbed the present Kaito held out in front of her, and the latter crossed her arms and sighed.
"How long will they make us wait? Didn't you guys tell Reiji to use the bathroom before meeting up with us?"
As if in response to Arc Fancross' words, the residence's door opened, revealing a young blond man in silver and blue armor. Next to him was a brown haired boy wearing a beige linen shirt and brown pants. After making their way to where to others awaited, Kaito looked at everyone and noted something.
"Looking at us like this, something has become clear to me: Reiji and I should have picked different colors!. Two blue members and two brown ones, that doesn't make an appealing team!"
Feeling confused as to why that was an issue for him, the knight Leo Luxford simply ignored him and informed the group of the details of the journey.
"Our first stop will be the town of Clifton. They are holding a festival later today, and since today is Raquel's 18th birthday, we will use this chance to get some rest. After all, her training regime will probably get harsher from now."
The brown haired girl wearing a white blouse, a purple skirt and black tights reacted with surprise.
"'18th'? You look a couple years younger than us, but if you are turning 18 then we are only a couple of months older than you."
"Now that I think about it, we never told you our ages. But yeah, Raquel has always been on the shorter side."
"So, uh, how old are you, Arc?"
"20." She said without hesitation. This lady didn't have any problem disclosing her age. "Oh, and Leo is 21, in case you are wondering."
"Anyway, we should get going."
And so, they began their journey.
- - -
Everyone in the town of Clifton was currently preparing for the festival that would soon take place. The streets were filled by lots of people working in a hectic manner, putting the final touches on the decorations and making sure everything was ready for the festival.
A girl with platinum blonde hair walked through the hordes of people while carrying a leather bag.
"Nice of Master to let me stay the night in Clifton, it would have been a shame to miss this festival. Craid is going to be so jealous."
Her gaze turned to her left, and she spotted a woman cleaning a window.
"Oh, there she is."
The woman noticed the blonde girl and greeted her.
"Hello, Ms. Flamel, it's been a while!"
"Good morning, Mrs. Rocspart. I brought the items you requested."
The girl grabbed some flasks from her leather bag and handed them over.
"Thank you! Here's the payment."
"Thanks for your continued patronage."
"Will you stay for the festival?"
"Yes, Mast- *ahem* Mr. Gunfriss said it would be a waste not to, so I will stay until tomorrow."
"Good to hear that. Just be careful, there will probably be lots of guys hitting on you!" the woman said with a hearty laugh.
The girl's face got a bit red and her long, pointy ears wiggled.
"I know that elves are an unusual sight in this area, but I don't think that will be enough to catch everyone's attention..."
"Don't underestimate you looks, Ms. Flamel. Even now, some people are looking at you in awe."
"Who knows, maybe you will find a lover tonight."
The elf girl's face turned completely red.
"P-please don't tease me like that, Mrs. Rocspart. Besides, I'm not interested in such things, I would rather continue my alchemy studies."
"You look so cute when you make that face. OK then, I hope you have fun tonight. And I don't necessarily mean in that way. Just kidding."
After bidding farewell, the girl headed to the inn.
"(Geez, she sure loves teasing me. But I can't afford to dwell on that. After all, the reason I accepted to stay until tomorrow was to collect information on the mana distortion that occurred some days ago. Until the festival starts, I should focus on that."
- - -
"How far is Clifton, again?"
Kaito was walking with great difficulty. They had been walking for hours, and yet, their destination was nowhere in sight.
"Are you tired already? Maybe your training was lacking in intensity." Arc said with a devilish smirk on her face.
"No, no, it's fine, really. I was just wondering since just walking is kinda... I mean, that festival sounds so fun that I can't wait to get there."
"Then, how about we race there? The loser will pay all our expenses tonight."
"No, thank you."
"What, are you giving up without even trying?"
"It's called 'not being an idiot who wastes energy in something he has no chance to win'".
Reiji interrupted them to ask something.
"So, is anyone going to answer Kaito's question?"
Leo checked his map and made some calculations.
"We shouldn't be too far. Actually..."
He stopped talking. Soon after, Arc and Raquel grabbed their weapons.
"Hey, what's going on?"
"Get behind us, quick!"
Then, Kaito saw them. Four beasts were coming, but he couldn't quite see what they were, he just knew that their large size meant trouble.
"They kinda look like... Lightning pronghorns? But there shouldn't be any in this area."
"That means something made them come here, just like with that centipede."
Arc recalled their encounter with the giant centipede, a creature that can't normally be found near Valdreed.
"(Just like I thought, something has been attracting all kinds of monsters. Since those are native to Western Eridier, something must have happened east of Valdreed, but, what?)"
Reiji, who was standing behind everyone else, noticed another silhouette behind the horned beasts coming their way.
"What's that green thing? Is it a person?"
"Huh? Don't tell me...."
Leo focused on that green figure and felt a large amount of mana coming from that direction.
"...they are running from them?"
Just as the beasts' horns started glowing, the person clad in dark olive blurted something.
"I'm stupid, why didn't I think of this before? Did I let what she said get to my head or something? Anyway..."
With a finger snap, the ground below the pronghorns turned into a pool of mud, slowing them down and preventing them from attacking.
That person approached the Lightning pronghorns.
"(Geez, I just wanted to observe them, but then they had to get aggressive with me. Oh, someone is coming this way.)"
Raquel's group ran to the muddy area that caught the rampaging pronghorns, and there they found a girl with platinum blonde hair, and long, pointy ears.
Kaito, Mayu and Reiji stared at her in awe.
"She is so cute!"
Even though she was wearing glasses, her emerald colored eyes still managed to entrance Reiji.
"Psst, Reiji. You can't drool here."
His friend's words made him snap out of his trance.
"Hi there, sorry if they startled you." the elf said, glancing at the large beasts. "it seems they got scared when I defended myself from them. Oh, I almost forgot! My name is Mirialind Flamel, I study alchemy in Eridier City. Nice to meet you."
- - -
"We are finally here. This is Clifton."
"Where's is the inn?"
After walking for another hour, the gang arrived at the town of Clifton. There was still a bit of time until the festival started, so they wanted to get some rest. Mirialind, who accompanied them back to town, spoke.
"May I ask you something? You said you come from Valdreed, right? Have you guys noticed anything different this past week?"
Arc narrowed her eyes. "You felt it too, right? Something happened more than a week ago, and now monsters that can't be usually found in the area have been roaming around."
The elf girl smirked, as if she found what she just heard satisfying.
"Looks like coming here today was the right choice. I don't usually care much for the festivals and the like, but I figured, since people from the area are going to gather here, why not take this chance to ask around?"
She adjusted her glasses and began explaining to the girl with wolf ears. "What you felt was a mana distortion. I'm not sure, but I think it came from Ferria. This probably means he is going to make his move soon."
Kaito whispered something to Leo.
"What are they talking about?"
"Right, we didn't really explain that to you guys. Ferria is a country in the Demon territory, southeast of here. Recently, they started a rapid expansion, with the purpose of taking control of the 4 shrines where the Chaos Lord's power is sealed."
"So I guess their leader is the guy Raquel must defeat. If he did something that caused a 'mana distortion', whatever that is, that means..."
"We are running out of time. That must be why the Church called Raquel to Eridier City."
Mirialind suggested discussing this in the Inn, so they headed there. Since hearing that they may be short on time, Arc began having some doubts.
"(I wanted to use this festival to bring Raquel and Leo closer, but now I feel like we shouldn't waste time here. No, getting stressed over this won't be of any help. We should take this chance to unwind before shit gets real. Then, should I go ahead with the plan? Even if we take it easy today, won't things like romance get in the way of her training? But, since I told her that Leo liked her, she has been acting different, so maybe she started seeing him as a man, that means leaving this unresolved would be just as distracting for them... Ugh, what should I do?!)"
But then, she realized something. The couple behind her came to mind. They were suddenly thrown into an unfamiliar world, so they were bound to know something that could help her decide how to proceed in this tricky situation.
The matchmaker Arc Fancross' reaffirmed her intention to pair the Heroine and the knight, and the stage necessary for that was about to raise its curtains.