I was so surprised that I unintentionally blurted that out. Stem-san became thoughtful for a moment before answering.
“I don’t know if the people we’re thinking of are the same, but those two were definitely there. An old couple of a dwarf and a human that would show up from time to time in one of the bases in the Great Forest. They never did give a name, and right after meeting them, some kind of spell would be at work, and I would be unable to remember their voice or face clearly, so I don’t even know much about their identity, really.” [Stem]
“That’s definitely them. My grandfather is a dwarf, while my grandmother is a human. They have some circumstances of their own. In fact, they’ve never really spoken much to me about their past.” [Ryouma]
“I see, well… Having a story ain’t so strange around these parts. They were quite bold for someone in hiding, though, and the woman had a gentle demeanor, so I doubt they were bad people. No one, including me, tried to dig into their background.
They were really scary when you messed with them wrong or just pissed them off. Those two would often come from the forest depths as though they were just out on a walk or something, exchange a staggering amount of materials and supplies, then disappear back into the depths. When you’re that strong, you’re bound to be famous, but… I see… So they died, huh.” [Stem]
Stem-san spoke as though he were reminiscing. He said those last words casually, then he got back up.
“Can you drink?” [Stem]
“I see, in that case, wait for a bit.” [Stem]
As he said that, he walked to the counter.
“From the way the conversation is going, I’m guessing he’s going to treat me to some liquor?” [Ryouma]
“Probably. I guess he means to treat you to a drink in place of a burial.” [Soldier 2]
According to the soldier, it wasn’t rare for people here to die. It was normal for the person you were talking to yesterday to disappear the following day. And dying outside the base meant becoming food for some beasts, so it was hard to recover the body.
As such, people who have gotten used to the Great Forest have already grown indifferent to death. Just like Stem-san.
However that didn’t mean that they didn’t have any concept of burial. For such people, instead of a burial, they would instead drink while thinking of the person that has departed. Though usually they would just drink a cup in remembrance of the deceased, then the next cups would be drank while thinking of their next hunt or their future plans.
That might seem cold, but here in the Great Forest, over thinking the death of one’s comrade could result in one’s own death, so the people here adapted that sort of mindset.
While we were talking like that, Stem-san came back with 6 mugs.
“Oh! You’re treating me too?” [Soldier 2]
“I wouldn’t mind if you paid.” [Stem]
“What are you saying? It’s considered good manners to gratefully accept when someone is treating.” [Soldier 2]
Stem-san placed the mugs on the table quite heartily, so the contents swayed about. However, nothing spilled. I’m not sure if it’s beer or not, but the frothy foam at the top could serve as a lid.
“You have a drink too. Cheers.” [Stem]
“Thank you.” [Ryouma]
The medicine slime in my bag didn’t react, so I know for sure that the mug didn’t contain anything medicinal or poisonous. I gratefully took one of the mugs, prayed for the souls of my grandparents, then clinked my mug with the other two’s for a toast.
As I took in the pleasant sound produced by the thick wood, I poured the contents down my throat, and a unique aroma wafted through my nostrils. It had a sweet fragrance with a hint of a unique and spicy aroma. It was complex and hard to describe, but it tasted great.
There was a lot of foam at the top, so I thought it would be more carbonated, but that wasn’t the case at all. It wasn’t lukewarm by any means, but it wasn’t cold either. As a result, I could drink it all up without pause. It didn’t even take me 10 seconds to finish my drink.
“You drink pretty well, I see.” [Stem]
“Thank you very much. This liquor is easy to drink and is quite delicious.” [Ryouma]
“This is a flavor unique to liquor stored in barrels made out of wood from Heat Emitting Trees. They’re a bit stronger, but there are also distilled spirits that have been aged for some years. They’re strong and expensive, but your gramps used to gulp them down like they were water.” [Stem]
Stem-san reminisced about the old times as he finished the remaining half of his drink, then he reached out for his second.
“I might be poking my nose where it doesn’t belong, but make sure you retreat when you have too. Don’t be overcome by feelings. Abandon your comrades if you have to. People who can’t do that die right away.
Of course, it’s your problem whether you die or not, but I don’t like it, so if you realize you can’t make it to the village, just come back. As long as you’re alive, you can try again. Also, you should unload your money and materials here before going.” [Stem]
After warning me like that, he finished his second serving, then as though he’s said everything, he stood up, retrieved his mugs, then went back to work.
“Huh, so he can say stuff like that too. You see some strange things once in a while.” [Soldier 2]
“Yeah, as I’ve told you, he’s probably the one who’s been here the longest. I’m sure he wasn’t lying when he said he doesn’t like seeing people die, but I’m also sure he’s used to it. I don’t know if it’s just a whim of his, or because your grandpa and grandma helped him out or something, but it’s rare to hear him give advice like that. He’s a really unsociable guy, after all, though he’s dependable when it comes to work… Well, he won’t talk about it himself, though, so I wouldn’t bother asking.
Now then, he’s gone back as well, so I guess we can conclude our little interview here.” [Soldier 2]
As the soldier said that, he reached out for his second serving, and we continued to casually chat by ourselves. In the end, I decided to spend the night in this base.
I was originally planning to just keep going until I made it to the next city, but I’d ended up drinking because of the flow of the conversation. The liquor wasn’t strong enough to get me tipsy after just 2 drinks, but just to be safe. Fortunately, this base wasn’t as desolate as I’d heard, and the preventive measures on my curse seem to be working well too.
Like that, my first day in the Great Forest ended rather peacefully for how dangerous this place was supposed to be.
The next day.
I looked around the place yesterday and found that this base was actually a donut-shaped tunnel-like structure.
The interior was subdivided into various shops and facilities necessary for daily life and for exploring the forest.
There were very few windows to prevent the intrusion of magical beasts, so they had to rely on magical devices for the lighting. As for the air, it was circulated through ventilation ports.
It felt kind of like the shops in a subway station, so it was actually kind of nostalgic.
I don’t know if the other bases are built similarly, but once I’m done with my errands, it might not be a bad idea to come here regularly.
While I was thinking that, I arrived at the exit in the exact opposite direction that I’d arrived in. This place was also a tavern, and a good number of adventurers could be seen eating and drinking.
All eyes gathered on me as soon as I entered. No one came up to talk to me, but it was probably rare to see a child walking around here in the Great Forest. It’s also a small community, so rumor got around quickly. Everyone here likely already knew that I’m from the forest depths, and that I’m planning to go to the front lines.
I could see them speaking among themselves quietly, but they didn’t seem to be filled with hostility or ill-will, instead, it seemed as though they were trying to asses me. I heard some of them starting a bet too. Either way, there weren’t any problems. The people here are probably just business-minded in general.
They risk their and their comrades’ lives in hopes of making it big, so they don’t allow themselves to be swayed by emotion and just focus on abilities instead. Should they acknowledge your skills, they’ll accept you readily, but if they don’t, then they won’t even bother themselves with you. Considering what kind of place this is, it’s no wonder that they’d develop such a strict set of values.
After realizing that, although suspicious eyes would fall on me from time to time, I don’t worry about it anymore. In the first place, people who doubt my abilities won’t involve themselves with me to avoid getting caught up in my mess
…Had I come to this place before meeting with the duke’s family, I would have probably settled down here.
That’s just how relaxing this place is to me.
“Oh? Going already?” [Ashton]
“Ashton-san, good morning.” [Ryouma]
The soldier from yesterday was there by the exit. Apparently, he was the gatekeeper here today.
“Alright, I’ll open it now.” [Ashton]
As the seemingly heavy latch was released, the door opened. Just like yesterday, the door was opened only as much as necessary.
“Be careful out there. Let’s go for a drink again when you come back.” [Ashton]
“Yes, I’m going!” [Ryouma]
Upon saying that, he laughed and closed the door. I heard the latch closing, then I continued along my journey and went deeper into the Great Forest.