༺ Clean-up (1) ༻
Luna cried out, looking like she was about to squeeze out every last bit of force that was inside of her body. While embracing Nemea, her arms exerted all the strength she had accumulated on the witch.
Thick drops of sweat trickled down between my brows as I was looking at that scene. What on earth was going to happen now?
I had some expectations for Luna as she had managed to overpower Hippolyte – who was considered to be a strong warrior in Sodomora – with a Suplex move before.
It seemed like Luna was trying to show her ultimate move to Nemea now for some reason.
“Heu~ You~ What are you doing~? Don’t press my stomach like that~ Something’s going to come out, hey~”
However, Nemea only laughed out loud; as if someone was merely tickling her sides.
For some reason, Luna’s attack, which allowed her to easily lift Hippolyte up and smack her down to the ground, seemed ineffective against Nemea.
“It’s tickling me~ Stop it~”
Nemea just lightly hit Luna on the back of her hand, but Luna got so startled that she bounced right off her.
Luna looked at me while rubbing the back of her swollen red hand; her round eyes shining brightly.
In that gaze, I could see that she was asking me a question, “Why did my attack not go through when it even worked on Hippolyte?”
Luna, who had leveled up many times over and even knocked down Hippolyte, was overflowing with confidence these days.
But facing another barrier in this situation, she probably felt confused and lost and wasn’t able to properly understand just what happened.
Of course, looking at me like that did not mean that I would suddenly be able to develop a sharp wit by some miracle and give Luna her desired answer.
Nemea tucked away the wrinkles of her crumpled dress with her palms. After smoothening it for some time, she smiled languidly once more, acting as if nothing happened at all.
“Anyways~ Nice to meet you, my friends~ I was just wondering if I could meet with you guys if I walked around the streets~ I didn’t foresee this at all~ We were finally able to meet today~”
“Well, perhaps do you have any business that you need us for—?”
To be honest, Nemea, the witch, made me feel a great deal of discomfort.
I was especially scared of people who were witches because of my experience with Elfriede. Moreover, Nemea and I were more than just acquaintances so that also added to my discomfort with her presence.
What kind of relationship could this woman and I have? I wasn’t exactly sure about that. Honestly, even now, that event only felt like a hazy dream to me.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but be wary of Nemea, the witch.
Although Luna didn’t seem to know what happened between this woman and me, if Nemea were to open her mouth, she could create a big rift between us if she wanted to.
Damn it, was this how everyone feels when they saw their ex-girlfriend while they were with their current girlfriend? I wasn’t sure about that because I had never experienced it before. Nonetheless, I felt horrible inside.
Regardless of the bafflement I was feeling right now, Nemea just spoke with a serene look on her face.
“Hmm~ My friend~ You don’t have to feel so scared~ I just wanted to see if my cute friends were doing well~ Actually, it’s not me who has something to do with you, my friends, but my colleague who lives underground~”
“Miss Nemea’s colleague?”
“Yes~ I’m sure you’ve met her already~ She is the piped piper who lives in the underground waterway~”
I immediately looked into my memories at the mention of the words “piped piper living in the underground waterway.” When I tried to remember if I had ever met such a person, Luna opened her mouth all of a sudden.
“The one who can control rats?”
“Yes~ That friend has many worries these days~ Well~ She’s living underground, so it’s natural that she has a lot of worries~ Anyways, here’s the advance payment that the friend paid for the request~”
Nemea, the witch, pulled out a small pouch from between her ample breasts; the pouch was small enough to easily fit into one’s pockets.
In a momentary daze, I received the pouch from the witch. As I looked inside, I could see that there were several pebble-like objects in the pouch.
I couldn’t help but feel disappointed because it wasn’t money.
“Maybe she is trying to hire us, but I don’t think this is enough for the payment.”
“Hassan, this is black agate, onyx! Oh, my gosh! She is giving you such a precious thing as an advance payment, but you—!?”
“Tell me what the request is.”
“I don’t know the details~ It would be quicker to hear it from her directly~ Just follow this guy here~”
Nemea suddenly plunged her hand into the gap between her clearly visible collarbones once more. Soon, a small rat with an impressively long tail and a ribbon tied to that tail popped out, caught in the confines of her hand.
Fuck, just how many things was she carrying in her cleavage? Was it like Doraemon’s pocket or something?
Then the rat squeaked softly.
To be honest, I didn’t really like rats, but I could handle this one since it had a small red ribbon at the end of its tail, and the fur looked clean and healthy. Was it a pet rat?
“Wow, it is so cute.”
Luna was delighted to receive the rat from the witch’s palm as if she had already forgotten her hostile actions against Nemea.
“What’s its name?”
“Of course, its name is ‘Rat’~ Actually, I’m also not really sure~ Anyways, the little guy will show you the way to my colleague~ I’ve told you everything, so I’ll leave you alone now~”
After putting the rat in Luna’s hand, Nemea turned away from us as if she was done with her business.
After several taking several steps and widening the gap between us—
Soon the sound of Nemea’s high heels stopped resounding, and she turned toward me.
“My friend~ I apologize for the last time~ It seems that there are things in this world, that need more meticulous attention, than just reading books~”
After saying that, she kept walking in the direction she was headed towards and disappeared from our sight.
While I was staring blankly at the flaming red hair shaking under the cone-shaped hat, Luna, standing next to me, put the little rat on her shoulder and spoke with a frown on her face.
“As expected, I still feel uncomfortable when I meet her. I don’t like her a bit. You, too, Hassan. Don’t trust her too much. I’m sure she’s the type to do horrible things to others. That’s what my shaman instincts are telling me.”
Thinking about it now, I realized that Luna’s intuition was quite accurate.
However, the problem was that her intuition might be a little too slow. Rather it might be super slow.
As Luna mentioned, I already had a lot of uncomfortable encounters with Nemea.
However, I felt a little caught off guard because I never thought she would apologize to me like this. Yet, still, I didn’t think that would be enough to improve my relationship with the witch.
“So what do we do now?”
It was great to get a job out of the blue like this. However, I also felt startled because it was a job I had not expected to receive like this.
“We were about to go home to relax, but then a request popped up so suddenly. Luna, what do you think about this?”
When I asked her, Luna just glanced at the black pebbles in the small pouch and her lips formed a bright smile.
“Wow, Holy shh! It’s really Onyx! This is a pretty hard material to get!”
“What’s that? Is it a jewel?”
“Yes, yes, it’s the jewel of the underworld! It is also called Knox’s Tears.”
I immediately imagined Luna’s mother, Knox, crying. How badly did she shed tears to create such a black pebble? Probably the state of her eyes was not very good.
“Is it precious?”
“It is also called rat’s jewel because it is usually found in rat’s nests. It’s also a gem used to make talismans or amulet masks! It’s really, really expensive!”
There wasn’t really anything about the talismans or amulet masks that took my interest so I just replied with an “I see.” but it seemed like Luna was very excited about this reward.
“Anyway, it’s a hard material to get. She must have a lot of faith in you, Hassan, to give you this as an advance payment!”
My shoulders twitched momentarily as I was bewildered by Luna’s words. However, soon, my rational mind calmed down my sudden excitement.
When someone gave something precious and expensive in advance, there was a big chance that it was because the request was quite likely to be very hard.
Luna talked to the rat placed on her shoulder.
“So, will you guide us to that place?”
The rat swiftly descended from Luna’s shoulder and started sprinting somewhere. Luna shook her body in surprise when she saw the rat doing that.
“Hassan, hurry up. Let’s follow that rat!”
Luna already seemed to be in the mood to fulfill this request.
I was still shocked and bewildered by the unexpected encounter but just decided to follow the rat with Luna.
By proceeding with the request, Luna could gain karma or something of the sort, and then she could make moai totems for me. Using those, I could also raise my abilities too.
My body had been itching to use the task points I had collected already.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Oh, you guys are the customers from back then, right?”
Ruth’s general store was located near the entrance to the underground waterway. The place’s owner, the Bronze-tier adventurer Ruth, seemed to have recognized Luna and me.
We had only been to this store once though.
I was not sure if it was because the veteran shop owner’s memory was good or because our appearance was too unusual, but he seemed to be able to recognize Luna and me at a glance.
“Both of you look much better now since the last time I saw you guys. I guess the earnings of an adventurer are good, right?”
“It’s all right. Well…”
“I know it well because when I, too, was on active duty, I was able to save some money and open this store. But more importantly, are the rumors true?”
“I heard there was Samaritan who knocked down the cult member who invaded Sodomora. I immediately wondered if that Samaritan was you.”
“Yes, you’re right. It is really Hassan!”
Luna answered cheerfully in my stead.
“Hassan knocked him down and put him in prison!”
It was kind of funny to see her proudly mention it as though it was her own achievement.
Embarrassed as I felt that I was somehow showing off myself, Ruth, the general store owner, stroked his rough beard and nodded, saying, “Indeed—”
“Indeed, so things worked out like that, huh… When I first saw you, I felt that you were unskilled and rough. But after just a few days, you are exuding quite a bit of the aura of a true warrior.”
“I-Is that so?”
“Whatever, anyway, enough with the chit-chat. Seeing that you are coming to my store means that you’ll go underground again. Should I just give you the same things as before?”
Thus, Luna and I bought the four silvers worth package that contained a brown cloak that could be used as raincoats, food, firewood for torches, and grass for pest control.
It was heartbreaking to spend money even before the quest officially began. But telling myself that it was an investment for reaping better rewards, I was able to bear the expense.
“Anyways, I know you guys have some skills. Still, you’d better be careful. These days, the underground waterways are a little different from before.”
“What do you mean?”
At Luna’s words, Ruth blinked his eyes and stared blankly as if lost in thought.
It took Ruth a while to open his mouth again after keeping silent for some time.
“I don’t know the situation well since I didn’t go in person, but I heard that the place was covered in grass now. I heard it’s better not to light a torch there if possible.”
“Hassan, there is grass underground?”
At the mention of the word grass, Luna and I only looked at each other with an unpredictable feeling. What kind of grass was able to grow in the underground waterway?
”Anyway, because of the overflowing grass, it is said that the vagrants are also fleeing the underground waterway these days. So, be careful. I don’t want to lose a famous customer.”
We went out of the store after giving a proper goodbye to the store owner.
Thus, we followed the rat with a ribbon tied around its tail into the underground waterways. And it was only then that I could understand why Ruth, the store owner, said that grass had grown inside the waterway.
“Damn it, what’s all of this?”
I already knew from the start that Sodomora’s underground waterways were dirty and messy.
Yet, the sight of all kinds of green colonies growing inside the waterways made even me, who was resistant to disgusting things, frown with revulsion.
It looked more like an ancient, horrible jungle than an underground waterway at this point. The situation became worse as there was no source of light inside, so I couldn’t even see anything properly.
Luna bent down to her knees on the ground and stroked the plants with her hands. Then she explained the situation to me in a rather serious voice.
“They’re all fire-prone plants. That was why he told us not to use the torch.”
It was obvious that this many plants would cause a terrible fire if burned.
Moreover, the underground waterway was full of all kinds of gas. If we were reckless with the use of a torch, a big explosion could happen at any moment and blow the entire underground tunnels away.
“Damn it, I have no other choice then.”
I gave up on lighting the torch and worked hard on invoking my blessing.
Then a small light source appeared on the palm of my hands.
“Hassan, that’s really such a convenient blessing! Then I’ll take them out, too.”
After admiring my palm, emitting dazzling light, Luna also took out a small glass bottle from something like a money pouch she was carrying around her waist.
I could hear the flapping of wings from inside.
As soon as she shook the glass bottle around like a bartender, the tiny light sources inside began to emit light. Was this the same firefly jar that Luna used to light up the tent before?
“Do you usually carry that jar around?”
“Well, you don’t really know when you may need it, so…”
Indeed, Luna usually carried around all kinds of things, for example, a particular pungent oil. Surprisingly, her thorough preparations helped a lot in these kinds of situations.
Anyway, now that we had a light source with us, we could venture inside. When I was about to follow the ribboned rat once again—
I could see red eyes starting to flash around us in the tunnel. Did those rats come out due to the light?
I was surprised when I stretched my palm and directed the light forwards.
As I expected, there were rats there.
“Hassan! The rats became so big!”
However, fucking damn it! They were so fucking big. They were half as big as Luna. Instead of rats, they now looked something like Pokemon. If I had to draw a comparison, they looked like Nutria that had grown abnormally large due to radiation or something like that.
Damn it! What did these rats eat to make themselves swell and become so big? Furthermore, even strange plants, such as grass or flowers, were hanging from their terrible faces.
Anyway, one of those freaking monster rats jumped at me.
Step— Step— Step— Step—
That was indeed a wild animal-like speed. It couldn’t be anything other than a ruthless ambush. Was this fucking monster aiming for my neck?
However, I was able to see its movements, which was different compared to Hippolyte or the great warrior from the Pluto cult, Schizo, whom I’d fought against before.
“Fuck, the time has come for my club to come out.”
I took the newly acquired 50cm long Fear Smasher out of my waistline. Then, I swung it down toward the head of the giant rat.
Due to the weight of the club, wind pressure was created along the trajectory of the weapon.
I smacked the rat’s head flat.
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