The weather has only grown heavier. I can no longer see my branch in the distance, and yet I do not turn back. I can’t turn back. I can’t bear to look at him or hear his words, not without the crushing guilt and weakness that follow.
It was impossible for me from the beginning. How could I show my face before my entire family? They’re as far out of my reach as the stars in the sky. I’m not a born leader like Michio, a talented fighter like Chiyoko or a master craftsman like Takumi. There is nothing but spite and self-loathing within my heart. Worse, if I did attend he will be sitting right beside me, the second coming of my long deceased brother…
Why Enbos? Why must you say the same things as Hayate? Why must fate continue to torment me with his memory!?
I’m trash, incompetent, a stain on the Nomura name. I don’t deserve your trust! The only thing I deserve is to die alone and miserable on this frozen plain!
So please, Enbos… don’t look for me. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to kill my brother ever again…
With each step, the cold only sinks deeper into my flesh. The oncoming night and the heavy snow has robbed me of my sight. I don’t have the strength to return to my tent. After a while, I feel a little warmth creep across my face. At first I think the cold has finally overcome my senses, but then I realise the blurry vision accompanying the burning sensation in my eyes.
My knees give way and I can no longer hold back my tears nor my pathetic whimpers. Even when embracing death, I don’t have a shred of dignity.
But the most tragic thing of all… my family still loves me. The only reason I haven’t cast aside my kimono and let myself freeze is because I don’t want to spread anymore sorrow.
“E-even now… I’m hesitating. Why… can’t I do anything right?”
As I stare blankly into the white haze, I suddenly realise a dark silhouette standing before me.
No, it’s not him. They’re far too broad and tall for Enbos’ slim frame. In fact, there are two others of similar stature standing right-
… Huh, what happened? It’s pitch black. There was a sharp pain, but now I can scarcely feel anything.
Am I even upright? No, I’m not. Something is dragging… me… by the feet…
I feel… faint… I can barely… stay… conscious…. I think… this… is…
I’m… sorry… father… I’m sorry… sister…
Forgi-… me… En-…
“LET GO OF HACHIROU!!!”
With the last vestiges of my mind, I hear his voice manifest like a blinding light, before fading into darkness once more.
Damn it Hachirou, where did you go? Your whole family is searching the village, and yet we can’t find a single trace!
After interrupting Takashi’s speech, I immediately made my way to Hachirou’s designated room. As I feared, he was nowhere to be seen. Still, I took the chance to take my equipment just in case he left the village.
The increasing snowfall is burying any footprints. Worse still, night is approaching and the only people who can work in the dark under freezing conditions number only a few. This is especially bad as the others have ascertained by Hachirou’s scent that he is no longer in the village; he has likely left to return to our branch.
“Please Hachirou, tell me you got back safely. Tell me I was wrong to worry…”
As I run across the snow with a tailwind blowing from behind, I make my way in the general direction of our branch. Chiyoko and the others are also doing the same, but most of them do not possess greater rank <Night Vision>, nor a body impervious to the cold.
However, even with <Night Vision> my sight is limited to a few dozen metres or so thanks to this curtain of white around me. But among all this colourless scenery, one thing catches my eye.
“Red snow? No, this is-!”
It’s blood, and the remnants of spiritual energy suggest it’s still close by. No, I won’t accept it’s Hachirou’s just yet…
As I follow the trail and focus my perception… I see him. He’s bloodied and motionless, and he’s being dragged away by something bulky hiding in the snow.
“LET GO OF HACHIROU!!!”
Surprised, the humanoid creature turns around and I get a full show of what I’m facing. It looks like a white gorilla, except it has a gaping mouth with tusks on the lower jaw, a tough body designed for an upright posture and claws on its trunk-like arms. Seeing me, it lets out a bone shattering roar, but I use this chance to seal its escape.
“<Shadow Stake>! <Great Throw>!”
I combo my skills and plant the nail right in its shadow, out of reach of its arms. On such a dark and wintery night, it won’t be leaving anytime soon!
As I charge at it with Bloodletter in my hand, I suddenly detect two more presences with <Spectral Sense>. I quickly jump back just as two hulking figures comes pouncing out of the snow. I quickly put some distance between me and my new adversaries.
Oh great, there are three of these things. They must have used <Sneak> in order to evade my <Hunter> title. The good news is the first one is still pinned as it tries to pull at its legs.
“Leave now or die!”
I try using <Intimidate>, but unfortunately it has the opposite effect. Both creatures give a roar before charging towards my position. Well, it was worth a shot. Now, no more mercy.
I spawn a blue wall directly in their faces, but much to my horror, they easily smash it into oblivion! Their combined blunt force was enough to overcome the force mitigation threshold, and I’ve even been strengthening it lately! Luckily, it does leave them momentarily stunned.
I throw another <Shadow Stake> at one of their shadows, but it lands too close to the target. My <Great Throw> is still on its 30 second cooldown so I had no other choice. On the bright side, the captive still hasn’t realised it can dispel the skill by destroying the stake. I direct my attention to the last recovering target.
It suddenly leaps towards my position, so I use <Shadow Step> to evade the impact and move into its blind spot. While it looks about in confusion, I perform <Heavy Strike> on its right side. It gives a yell of pain, but immediately counterattacks by swinging its arm. I duck under the right elbow, but notice the oncoming fist from its left.
I can’t dodge it. <Shadow Step> has a 1 minute cooldown, so instead I cast another <Kinetic Barrier> at point blank. All of a sudden, the beast’s fist accelerates as I realise it just activated a skill. Once again, it smashes through my barrier, but with most of the force diverted into the ground, I’m able to guard against its attack with my sword.
Still, the impact sends me flying several metres away and I sustain some damage. It immediately gives chase but its movements become sluggish as large amounts of blood spills from its wound.
Species: Winter Troll
Species: Winter Troll
So it’s called a Winter Troll, huh. I see Bloodletter is already having an effect. This sword I bought from Sepesh Balaur is not only sturdy (seeing how it withstood that blow), but it also has a powerful blood thinning enchantment, hence its name.
I throw another one at its shadow, this time away from its reach, and leave it alone to bleed out and die.
As I make my way to Hachirou’s captor, the other winter troll finally crushes the stake. Ah damn it, I have to deal with this one quickly before the first <Shadow Stake> expires.
I hastily launch a <Fireball> and it connects with its face. While the creature covers its eyes in agony…
… I magically drop a barrel of pseudo water over its head.
I’m not planning to freeze an animal that lives in the snow. In fact, I’ve adjusted the “water” to have a higher freezing point.
I walk up to the puddle at its feet and I dip the tip of my sword.
The troll screams in torment as the electricity destroys its body from within. The advantage of this is I don’t have to aim and it won’t produce a flash to free the last Winter Troll.
Species: Winter Troll
“Still not dead? <Lightning>… <Lightning>…”
With two more surges of electricity, I reduce its HP to zero. Afterwards, I quickly check my own status:
“… I went a little overboard. No matter. <Soul Eater>. <Analyse Soul>.”
Species: Winter Troll
Skills: Sneak (Basic) | Heavy Strike (Greater) | Pounce (Basic) | Enhanced Strength (Basic) | Intimidate (Basic) | Regeneration (Basic)
“Now, I have to quickly… Oh no!”
After watching its companion destroy the <Shadow Stake>, it tries to do the same. However, since it’s out of arm’s reach, the troll raises Hachirou over its shoulder… and is about to use him like a club!
Hachirou’s body comes swinging down towards the stake. Luckily, I make it in time and all the force is diverted into the ground. However, the resulting shockwave is enough to dispel my magic. Not that it matters anymore, because….
“HOW DARE YOU DO THAT TO MY FRIEND! <EQUIP SOUL>!”
I use <Pounce> to throw myself at the Winter Troll, and use <Heavy Strike> to sever the arm holding Hachirou. While it hollers in pain, I punch its jaw with <Enhanced Strength> along with all my fury.
“<FIREBALL>! <FIREBALL>! <FIREBALL>! <FIREBALL>! <FIREBALL>…!”
I continue casting the same spell in my blind rage, driving the doomed animal back. I run out of MP and mentally click my tongue as the troll still breathes and is attempting to flee.
“Unforgivable! I won’t let you live! <Great Throw>!”
I pitch my cursed blade through the air and it impales the fleeing troll through the chest. I walk over to its dying husk, pull out my sword and literally take its life.
Intimidate (Basic) has evolved to Intimidate (Greater)!>
I don’t care. Now it is over… I have to get Hachirou back to the village ASAP!
“I’m… still alive?”
“Hachirou! Are you okay? Look, it won’t be long before we return!”
Looking up at the snowy night sky, I can barely make out Enbos’ form. However, the sight is short lived as I immediately close my eyes.
“Hachirou? Hachirou! Please stay with me!”
“I’m… still here… I just want… to rest my eyes.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll save you. Just keep talking to me!”
Enbos proceeds to pick me up and carry me on his back. I feel heat beat against my eyelids as I realise he has conjured a light in his palm.
“… sorry… I left the… feast. I always… cause everybody… trouble…”
“You don’t have to apologise to me! Just stay… don’t…”
This isn’t good. I can barely hear Enbos’ words, and soon I’m sure I won’t hear my own.
“Please don’t… on me Hach-… Say something… -ready!”
“It’s… too… late… I can’t feel… anything… anymore…”
“Don’t… orry. Even if… die, I’ll just brin-… back! I’ll keep trying… save you!”
Bring me back if I die? What is Enbos saying?
But if I must die…
“Thank you… Enbos… I’m glad I… helped you. Because of you… I found meaning… I can die…”
“Please don-… that! I will save… Believe in me!”
Hearing those words, I find myself holding my breath. My body stiffens and my consciousness briefly returns to full.
Opening my eyes, I find Hayate staring back at me in surprise. No, it’s Enbos, but at this point I can no longer tell the difference.
… I see now. So this is the meaning behind our meeting. It was never meant to be my punishment… It was supposed to be a second chance. After all those years of wallowing in my sorrow, reflecting… on that moment, I now… know… what I must… say…
“There you guys are! Thank goodness you found Hachirou… Oh no, he’s bleeding!”
“Here! Quickly bring him inside and start using magic, medicine, everything!”
“I know Enbos! Here Hachirou, wear this!”
… I guess I’ll tell him… once I have recovered. Don’t worry… everyone. There is… something I must do… before I die.