"For an ambush, they were way too prepared."
Next to the pondering Shion-san, I borrowed Uncle's cloak and wrapped it around my waist as a makeshift pareo to compensate for the shortened skirt.
"Didn't some of the guys who departed last night just get themselves captured and questioned?" Uncle suggested, but Shion-san was not convinced. Or so said her face.
Still, don't say such scary things so easily, Uncle.
"Doesn't feel right, but... I'm just surprised that this run-off-the-mill bandit group had a Mage."
Shion-san looked at the bandit collapsed on the other side of the river.
She tried getting a reaction out of him, but he didn't even twitch.
It's probably too real to be playing dead.
When he fell, his face ended up under water to begin with.
That nailed it.
Shion-san turned toward the bandits she defeated.
There's... no way she used the back of her sword, is there.
The traces of blood are obvious to see.
It's just... I'm calmer than I thought I would be.
Although I don't want to see them up close.
Still, I wonder if my feelings are just numbed for the moment.
"At any rate, it's fishy. What do you think, Shion? Go back to the relay point and report? Or should we wait a bit and see?"
It's obvious how much Uncle trusts Shion-san.
Well, so do I.
The bandits' hideout is a cave in a little cliff a bit into the forest.
But the forest is dense, and as it's away from the road, it's no place you'd just get close to.
Being just outside the forest as we are, we have no idea of the situation of the assault parties.
If we wait here, the escaping bandits will come to us. Maybe.
Or they might not.
"Well, the operation should've just begun, so waiting and seeing is probably the correct decision, but..."
While thinking, Shion let her eyes cautiously roam over the forest and the opposite shore.
Earlier I happened to find the enemy first, but fundamentally Shion-san never let her guard down.
"...when things smell fishy——"
"Trust your gut. Man, I've raised such a tomboy."
Uncle smiled wolfishly.
"Yeah, yeah, I am your daughter, Pops."
As the two reached an agreement, their eyes gathered on me.
"We are now going to check out the hideout. Alice, you go home."
I'd thought they were going to say that.
"Don't you think it's more dangerous to return alone?"
"No, I don't think it's more dangerous than getting closer to the hideout."
"How about returning together once? Nicholl-san isn't at his best."
"You've got me there."
Uncle grinned embarrassed and scratched his cheek.
"But, Alice-chan. We can't miss this chance at the bandit group."
The town itself might go on decline.
You can't just ignore that.
This request isn't fun and games.
I felt like I'd been hit by cold water.
"Hehe, don't make those eyes, Alice. You've done more than enough already."
I know myself that my displeasure is showing on my face.
Or rather, I'm worried about the two.
"Please, Alice-chan. Reporting that the situation is fishy is a fine job, too, you know?"
It's no good.
No matter what tantrum I throw, I can't convince those two.
"Alright, just as you said, we've got no idea what might happen on your way back. You realize that letting you go alone in spite of that is because we trust you that much?"
"You're unfair, putting it like that..."
I laughed, and Shion petted my head.
"You two be really careful, okay?"
"Gotcha. Can't keep showing you just my uncool sides, can I, Alice-chan."
I never particularly thought of Uncle as uncool, though.
"See you later, then"
After seeing the two off, I once more looked towards the bandits' corpses.
Looking at them on my own, they are scarier than before after all.
I forced my feelings in a different direction, turned my back towards the forest and started walking.
When I arrived at the relay point, I thought bingo.
The relay point was a simplistic hut built for travelers on the road to rest in.
I call it a hut, but everything's completely visible from the outside. Four wooden pillars holding a roof over a group of logs for chairs, that's all.
It's kinda of reminiscent of the open pavilions you can find in some parks.
What was strange is that the guild employee who was supposed to be on standby there was absent.
Looking around, there was nobody nearby either.
For the set relay point to be vacant is extremely unnatural considering the importance of this plan.
I checked the map I'd been given again, but I probably was in the right place.
I properly followed the landmarks according to the map and came here.
Following the road from here, the town wouldn't be that far away.
Thinking wouldn't change anything, so I could only go on all the way there and report directly in the guild.
"——Oy, little girl."
For a second I thought my heart would stop.
Turning around, and I really have no idea when she came, there stood a girl even smaller than myself.
I reflexively readied my rod, but as if to show she wouldn't do anything, the girl showed me her empty hands.
"W-hat is it? How did you..."
"... thou better refrain from returning to that city now. Thou will die."
"Timing when your warriors left earlier, a group of ruffians made for the city in return."
"Wh——at, are you saying..."
I reflexively looked in the direction of the town.
I was still a distance away so I couldn't be sure.
But... that was...!
"There was that sagacious darkelf... although she is a disgrace."
At that moment, I noticed the girl's special features for the first time.
Blond hair gathered in two pigtails.
Peeking out from that, pointed ears.
And eyes blue as the clear sky, no, more like the deep, blue sea.
"You... no way, an elf!?"
"Slow, aren't thou. Although one has no memories when one appeared in human habitation the last time."
Contrary to the girl's lovely appearance, there was nothing childish about the way she spoke.
"But time presses. One has to deal with the village's shame."
"You're trying to save the town?"
"Make no mistake. One is acting upon one's own issues. The human habitation is of no concern. ...but it might be saved along the way."
"... are you strong?"
Strong enough to take on a bandit group on your own?
"Hehe, for a little girl like thee to ask, time must have passed."
Time? What are you saying, you look younger than me.
But still, as an elf...
"One is Tillbell Aynshaura. They used to call me the Witch of Ice and Snow, once upon a time."
Puffing out the chest she clearly had less of than me, the girl answered my question.
"Never heard of it."
"... this is why the young ones these days are."
Maybe I had hurt her feelings, but the girl suddenly started towards the city without minding me any longer.
"... what? One said time is of the——whaa!?"
I grabbed the elf girl's hand and started running.
"That's why it's not the time to be walking!"
"But thou were holding one up!"
"Don't mind the small stuff!"
"And thou are completely ignoring one's warning!"
"There are times when one can't listen!"
Shion-san and Uncle are out.
The guild members are headed for the hideout.
I have no idea where they passed each other, but at the moment, the town is defenseless.
There is a militia, but it isn't that big.
It's just some rural town after all.
Who would protect Auntie?
Who would protect Eleanor-san and the others?
"... hey, little girl. What is thy name?"
"... this mana..."
The girl was staring at me with her blue eyes.
"Interesting. Alice! I especially allow thee to accompany one. Call one Till."
For some reason, the girl was happily laughing.
"Well thank you. But you——Till, you're really strong, aren't you?"
If she is just a young girl of the age she looks like and acting old, I'm committing complicity in murder here.
"Well, strong enough to not futilely waste stamina like thee."
Speaking of which, I had thought the little girl was keeping up well considering I was dragging her along.
"You're running... on top of the air!?"
The girl's feet didn't touch the ground.
And every step of this girl running through the air was long, like she was jumping. She was easily keeping up with me.
No, rather it was on a level where she was matching her pace to me.
"One cannot fly through the sky, but if it's temporarily running..."
Whenever she landed in mid-air, there was something like a wave of cold.
They say colder air is heavier, so it falls.
So by smashing the cold air towards the ground, she created a repellant force to use.... is that the explanation?
Either way, she was clearly exceptional.
"... I'll not think about it too deeply. If you're strong, that's good enough for me!"
"Yes, hurry. Before it is too late for both on both ends."
While running, I reflexively looked in the direction of the bandit hideout.
I can only believe.
I only have one body after all.
I strongly gripped the girl's——Till's hand and ran even faster.