4 days later.
After leaving the first base, four days passed in the blink of an eye, and I reached the front lines. Travel has been smooth. I avoided monster encounters as much as possible and just focused on making my way into the depths of the Great Forest. My goals haven’t changed, and neither has the scenery around me, still being a jungle everywhere.
If I had to give one thing that did change in the scenery, it would be the Heat Emitting Trees, which have been gradually getting thicker, resulting in bigger gaps between each tree.
However, it’s not really something you’d notice unless you focused on it, so it’s margin of error at best.
Other than that, there have been two significant changes. One, there are more monsters appearing now; more varied, and more powerful too.
Even the Raptors, which I encountered on my very first day, have gotten bigger, and by yesterday, it’s become common to encounter them in packs of 50. Fortunately, I wasn’t dumb enough to face them head-on.
The other notable change is the bases. Camping out in the wilds has gotten much more dangerous, so the distance between each base has gotten that much shorter, anywhere from taking a few hours on foot to a day.
The bases were so close to each other that I passed through six bases in these four days, but only the first base felt livable.
I could have stayed in the other bases too, of course, but only until the third base.
The bases after that suffered from supply shortage and were noticeably deteriorated. Above all, the residents were tense.
In other words, the bases after the third were all lawless.
In fact, the front-line base I’m in right now is in such a terrible state, it can’t even be called a village.
The dwellings were at best makeshift huts or poorly made tents.
Defense primarily relied on the residents with someone erecting a barrier and another standing guard.
There were wooden fences and barricades, but I doubt they’d prove effective.
… According to the guard, Ashton-san, there are hardly any adventurers who make the front-line base their base of operations.
While some people might venture deeper into the forest, they still usually operated in the vicinity of the first base.
So the only ones that lived primarily in the despondently harsh and life-threatening front lines were either the exceptionally strong or the hardcore hermits.
Alternatively, they might have some circumstance keeping them from living elsewhere.
…As for why I’m thinking that to myself right now, well—
“C Rank? Hah! None of that stuff matters here!” [Thug 1]
“This isn’t a place for brats like you!” [Thug 2]
“You brought some food with you, right? Hurry up and bring it out.” [Thug 3]
“This is our base. Who gave you permission to enter?” [Thug 1]
“It’s too dangerous to proceed alone. I won’t say anything bad, so be nice and come up with these uncles of yours—” [Old Man]
—That’s because I’m currently in the midst of being harassed.
At first, it was just three rough-looking men, clearly not respectable individuals. They blocked my way and started making baseless accusations.
Then upon hearing the commotion, an old man intervened to mediate and began a one-sided sermon.
Meanwhile, more and more people gathered until it eventually ended up like this.
Dealing with these sort of people directly is pointless. It’s just a waste of energy, so it’s better to just ignore them until they get it out of their system.
In my previous life, I was often looked down upon rather than envied, but the answer to both is the same, so it’s a minor difference.
“Wow, you sure see strange things now and then.” [Spectator 1]
“I don’t know how things ended up like this, but it’s over for that kid.” [Spectator 2]
“Of all things, he just had to be targeted by those three and that old man.” [Spectator 3]
“Wanna bet what happens to that kid? One raptor dried meat that he’ll be killed by those three.” [Spectator 1]
“In that case, I’ll bet two that he’ll be domesticated by that old man. He might just be a brat, but he should have some skills too. Just killing him would be a waste.” [Spectator 2]
“In that case, I’ll go for the long shot. Four dried raptor meat that the brat will run.” [Spectator 3]
“Hah! That’s impossible!” [Spectator 1]
Given the place, there were less than 30 people here all in all. Most of them didn’t say anything. I thought they were just observing from a distance, but from the laughter, it looks like they’ve actually started to gamble.
Their stares and insults were filled with envy, dissatisfaction, hostility, and malice. It was palpable on the skin.
For a moment, I wondered if it was because of the curse cast upon me, but it’s probably not. The people here are probably just unpleasant people regardless.
In hindsight, maybe it would have been better to have just taken a detour and moved ahead?
But even a place like this served as a valuable landmark for navigating within the forest. There are no end to the stories of hikers who casually deviated from the normal route, thinking that a small difference wouldn’t be a problem, only for them to meet with tragedy. And that’s in the relatively safe mountains of Japan.
That’s why I’ve periodically left some Stone Slimes along the way to ensure that I’ll be able to find my way back, as well as to help in case of emergency. In the worst case, I could just find my way back using dimensional magic.
Anyway, I figured there was no point in deliberately increasing the risk of getting lost, so I tried going through the official route, but as you can see.
“Hey!” [Thug 1]
“Brat! You listening!?” [Thug 2]
“I’ll kill you if you look down on us!” [Thug 3]
“You have to listen to your elders properly, you know. It appears that you’re in need of disciplining.” [Old Man]
While I patiently conserved my energy, they eventually ran out of patience and reached out for their weapons with a slimy smile.
As their feet pressed into the muddy ground, a squelching sound echoed. In that moment—
“Don’t just stand there, yapping! Get out of the way!”
—A loud voice resounded, drowning out all of the surrounding sounds.