Chapter 14 – That Boy
LEVEL 2: Everything is Precious, Nothing is Replaceable
Chapter 14: That Boy
“Looks like there’s some sort of commotion going on over there,” Haruhiro said, pointing into the distance. The others turned their heads.
“Hmm…” Yume placed both hands, shaped into binoculars, in front of her eyes. “I can’t see too well ’cause of the fences, but it looks somebody’s head is bobbin’ up and down over there…”
“You can also hear them howling,” Mary added, straining her ears. “They sound numerous.”
“Maybe…” Shihoru said, her grip tightening on her staff, “it’s because of…”
Mogzo nodded. “R-Ranta…?”
Haruhiro and the others were now on the agricultural fourth stratum, having descended from the third. They had been approaching a sink well to the fifth when Haruhiro noticed the unusual amount of activity.
“You mean he managed to somehow get back up here from the fifth stratum all alone?” Haruhiro wondered.
Too rare to die, Haruhiro thought, and though he didn’t really consider it the greatest achievement in the world, it was still pretty impressive. At the very least, Ranta’s ability to survive surpassed that of any normal person. It was perseverance of an intensity that Haruhiro and the others just didn’t possess.
They exchanged glances with one another. Haruhiro said, “Let’s go!”
Everyone headed towards the uproar of kobolds. They took care to advance cautiously, never rushing; there was no point in doing any of this if they got caught and chased around too. However, entering an area with so many kobolds in frenzy seemed nigh impossible.
Haruhiro made everyone fall back while he approached the end of a creature pen and poked his head slightly out for a look.
The kobolds were rampaging like a swarm of ants on fire, running around crazily; here, then there, then back again. Sometimes they would even hop the fences into one of the pens then jump back out, all while barking like rabid dogs. Haruhiro observed the kobolds for some time since luckily, none of them were looking in his direction.
He finally withdrew and said to the others, “…there’s no way we can even get close.”
No other conclusion was possible. If they went any further the kobolds would find them for sure. Of course, one option was to let themselves be discovered, and then try to lure the kobolds away from the area to give Ranta a chance to run or hide. But there was no guarantee that they would be able to draw all of the kobolds to them. Besides, it also occurred to Haruhiro that, compared to any of the five of them, Ranta might have an unexpectedly easier time running, hiding, and adapting to the circumstances in general.
And even if the five of them allowed themselves to be chased, there was no guarantee they would all be able to get away safely. In fact, maybe it was better to just assume the worst and rid himself of unwarranted optimism. No, it was better to remain undetected, but on the other hand, Haruhiro couldn’t think of any other way to help Ranta.
Priorities. What was the order of priorities here? What’s the most important thing I have to do now? What comes after? The first was… the well-being of the five of them. Rescuing Ranta came second. Getting the order of these two priorities reversed was not an option. It was simply unacceptable.
If it was Yume or Shihoru or Mogzo or even Mary in Ranta’s place, the order of priorities wouldn’t change. Haruhiro couldn’t allow himself that, even if it hadn’t been Ranta. That’s what being a leader meant.
“Let’s get out of here,” Haruhiro said with a firm nod. “No doubt Ranta’s nearby, but if the kobolds find us here too, they’re going to go even more insane and the situation’s just going to get worse. Kobolds don’t seem all that persistent to me; if we let things be, maybe they’ll give up and go away. They’ve got their own work to do too. I think eventually things will quiet down. We’ll keep searching for Ranta then.”
“But… what if Ranta…” Shihoru started hesitantly. “What if, before we come back… they find him and—I’m sorry… I—”
“If that happens…” Yume bit her lip hard, frowning. “If that happens, we’ll be searchin’ for his body… or what’s left of it…”
“Yume’s right,” Mary said, her face stark white.
Mogzo exhaled long and deep.
“I have to make these sorts of decisions.” Haruhiro clenched his fists tightly. “Whatever happens, the responsibility is on me alone.”
“Nuh uh!” Yume protested, shaking her head vigorously. “It’s not just yours, Haru… it’s everyone’s, and…”
“No,” Haruhiro said firmly, glad his voice did not emerge trembling.
He didn’t want to allow anyone to see his pathetic, weakling side, especially at a moment like this. Any other time was fine, but not at a time like this. Not now.
Haruhiro continued, “If everyone agrees to do what I say, then I’ll take all the responsibility. I don’t know if I’m saying this right, but… we can’t just keep depending on each other to keep ourselves propped up. I think every party needs something; someone like a backbone, like a central pillar to support it.” He shook his head. “No. I know it for sure. The problem is whether or not I have what it takes to be one… I don’t know, but I want to try. I’ll do my best. Please let me try.”
Yume suddenly slapped him on the back. “Now that’s bein’ a boy, Haru.”
“Err… but I’ve always been one. A boy.”
“Heck, Yume didn’t mean it that way,” Yume said. “Uhh… Yume meant… Yume meant… Yume doesn’t know what Yume meant, but it did feel like you were one.”
Haruhiro felt his chest tighten all of a sudden. “Err… Thanks? I think…”
His emotional well-being was threatened, being told that by a girl… what she said could definitely have other connotations. For now though, Haruhiro took it as Yume’s approval of his leadership.
“Haruhiro,” Shihoru had her head bowed for some reason. “Thanks… and thanks for everything later, too.”
“Thanks, Shihoru,” Haruhiro replied. “Wait, why are you thanking me?”
“It just felt right,” Shihoru said.
Mogzo too, flashed him a thumbs up and for a moment, Haruhiro was lost on how to respond. He finally returned it with a thumbs up of his own. Mary said nothing, but offered an open hand to him instead. Flustered, Haruhiro got his hand caught on his own cloak and it took him a moment before he could free it to shake Mary’s hand… which he found to be silky soft.
Wow. I’m riding this like a real idiot, Haruhiro thought.
Haruhiro looked again towards where Ranta probably was. There was no change in the kobold’s level of activity so charging in now would be like committing suicide.
“Let’s retreat as far as we can while still being able to keep an eye on this place,” Haruhiro said. He turned back towards the others and added, “Ranta’s fine. If this was all it took to kill him, then he would have been dead long before now.”
Of course it was all empty, obligatory reassurances. Everyone already knew that, but his companions all answered him with nods anyway, for which Haruhiro was very grateful.
It would be indeed shitty if you came back to haunt us as a ghost, Haruhiro thought.
As they left the area Haruhiro whispered in the back of his mind, So don’t die, Ranta.