Four moons and countless stars were shining in the night sky.
The only other lighting in the area was the red, flickering light of a bonfire at a spot with good visibility on the side of a highway running alongside a dense forest.
At the time, several young men and women were pleasantly conversing around the bonfire.
“This time’s labyrinth exploration sure was a success though.”
A young man clad in heavy metal armor said happily, while pouring liquor from in a water bag down his throat.
“That’s true. We managed to find a lot of jewels, ornaments, and even something that seems to have some kind of magic imbued into it. Can you figure out what kind of magic is in that dagger?”
A girl wearing a robe who had her staff leaning against a nearby tree asked the girl sitting next to her who was carefully looking at an old dagger as she held it up towards the light of the bonfire.
“Hmm…. I’m certain that there’s some kind of magic imbued in it but…as far as what kind it is, I’m a little…. We’ll probably have to get an appraisal somewhere when we return to town.”
When the girl said so apologetically, her long, pointed ears twitched as if moving along with her words.
“That so~. If an elf doesn’t know, it can’t be helped.”
“Hey now, rather than elves who are users of spirit magic, isn’t the appraisal of magic tools the field of magicians that use ancient magic like you?”
“Eeh? But I’m not well suited to that kind of delicate work.”
“That’s true. You’re specialized in firepower after all.”
At the words of the young man wearing leather armor, everyone present began laughing.
There are people called thus.
They will do anything asked of them if they accept a request and at times they are excavators that enter places such as labyrinths where they defeat monsters and dig up the treasures hidden within.
The ones currently surrounding the bonfire alongside the highway were also adventurers. They had heard about a labyrinth being discovered two days on foot from the town that they were based in and were currently on their way back from challenging that labyrinth.
As expected, it was not possible to reach the depths of the dungeon in one trip, but even so, they were able to make quite the find within around half a day of searching. They were even able to find a dagger imbued with magic. This was considerable luck even for mid-ranked adventurers like them.
That’s right. They were mid-ranked adventurers.
They met and formed a party two years ago. Since then, they steadily accumulated achievements and had recently gained a bit of fame in the town they were based in.
First, they began from simple, yet steady jobs such as gathering medicinal plants at the outskirts of town requested by the doctor and hunting wild animals for meat requested by the butcher. Then not too long ago, they began to undertake jobs that involve fighting such as escorting a peddler and the extermination of demonic beasts that were laying waste to the fields.
It was then that the news of a labyrinth being discovered arrived. Furthermore, it was not that far from the town.
Having heard that news, they promptly took on the labyrinth to try out their luck and skill, and were able to obtain some success.
It was their first time exploring a labyrinth and it was successful. As such, all the party members were in joy.
Because of that, their vigilance had faded. Even though they were outside of town where it was definitely not safe, not to mention that it was nighttime. The success of the adventure caused them to end up harboring self-conceit along with their elation. —————-
And then, it came suddenly.
The first to notice was the elven girl. Her long ears caught wind of something zooming by.
Followed by the dull sound of something being pierced.
The elven girl turned around reflexively towards the sound, and swallowed her breath as she let out a soundless shriek.
Before her eyes was the young man wearing leather armor who had something sprouting from his brow which wasn’t there before.
No, it wasn’t sprouting from it. It was piercing through it.
Several moments passed before the girl’s brain could register what had happened.
The body of the leather armored young man shook violently before falling over face up.
As if that sound was the signal, arrows rained down in the surroundings of the girl and her companions.
“Wh, what!? What’s going on!?”
Tightly grasping her staff against her chest, the magician girl surveyed the surroundings.
”God dammit!! Is this an attack by bandits or something!? Ho, how dare you kill-!”
The metal armored young man stood up and braced his shield and sword. But the next moment, something heavier than the earlier arrows came flying and slammed into the young man’s face.
It was a hatchet. Receiving the thrown hatchet to the face, the young man scattered blood, bones, and grey matter in his surroundings before falling.
The elven girl let out a second short shriek before the magician girl forcefully pulled her hand, forcing her on her feet.
“What are you doing!? We’re running!!”
“Those two can’t be saved anymore!! They are already dead!! If we stay here, we’ll also-!”
After saying so with a bitter expression, the magician girl began running while pulling the hand of the elven girl.
Into the forest ruled by the darkness of night. —————–
She suddenly realized that she was alone.
The magician girl was initially pulling her hand as they ran, but after escaping into the forest, she was the one that ran ahead of the other.
Inside the forest was a place familiar to the elves. Furthermore, elves had the ability to see in the dark, so the forest at night was barely any different from the forest during the daytime.
That’s why she ran inside the forest while guiding the magician girl.
But as she ran desperately in fear of pursuers from behind, when she suddenly turned around, the girl who should have been following her was nowhere in sight.
Did she get separated somewhere? Or was she running too fast for her? For humans unable to see well in the dark, it was impossible for them to keep up with the speed of an elf in the forest at night without even carrying a light.
Having two of her companions killed in the blink of an eye in a sudden attack and the fear of those evil hands reaching herself hadn’t left her any room to think about that.
“Wh… What to do…? If I don’t search her…”
Coming to a stop, she looked around her surroundings as she muttered.
Just as she was about to go back the way she came to look for the magician girl, a nearby bush began moving around rustling.
Following, the magician girl came out of that bush. The elven girl was overcome with relief upon confirming her appearance.
But that was immediately replaced with horror.
The magician girl stumbled out of the bushes. Then after walking a few steps, murmured something to the elven girl in a low voice.
“Run…away… E, even just…you… Ru…way…”
The magician girl then fell forward and collapsed.
The elven girl’s eyes which could see well in the dark clearly caught sight of the dagger which was piercing the back of the collapsed magician girl.
“Eh? Wh, what…? H, hey…?”
The sudden situation caused her brain to stop registering what she saw.
As she was flustered unable to do anything, three men appeared from past the bushes the magician girl had appeared from with torches in hand.
“Oh! Here you are. We finally caught up with ya.”
“Oh? So the last one was an elf? This’ll be great.”
“Yeah. We’ll be able to get some good money selling her as a slave.”
The men sported a vulgar smile upon confirming the elven girl’s appearance.
“Y… You all are…”
The elven girl recognized the men.
It was during the daytime today while they were in the labyrinth. Rumors of the labyrinth had already spread, so there were naturally adventurers challenging it other than her own party.
The men currently before the girl were among them. They had passed by each other inside the labyrinth, and although few, also exchanged some words.
Indeed. They were not bandits or thieves. They were adventures like the elven girl and her companions. —————
“Now then… The treasure you found in the labyrinth… Mind handing it over?”
One of the men presumptuously held out his hand towards the elf girl.
“Y, you all… Your goal was the treasure we found in the dungeon…”
“That’s the way it is. We weren’t able to find anything nice in the labyrinth ya see. We’re also running out of money. So we figured you guys who were lucky enough to find some treasure would share some with the pitiful us.”
The elven girl then recalled how when they passed by each other in the labyrinth, the metal armored young man had boasted about finding some treasure.
They probably secretly followed after them in order to steal the treasure she and her companions had obtained since they were unable to find anything decent in the labyrinth.
While the elf girl was thinking about them, one of the men began to search the body of the collapsed magician girl.
They tore off the robe she was wearing and also the clothes she was wearing under it. After taking away all of her belongings, the men even put their hands inside her underwear, to make sure there was nothing else.
“Well what do ya know. These gems and ornaments look like they’ll go for a nice price. A bit of a waste though. This girl’s got a nice body for a kid. I overdid it and ended up killing her, but it would’ve been nice to have some fun with her first.”
“We could’ve also sold her along with this elven girl.”
The laughter of the men resounded within the forest engulfed in darkness.
The elven girl tightly grasped the dagger in her hands while biting her lips.
It was then that she finally noticed. She had been tightly grasping the dagger that she was examining earlier this entire time.
As she looked at the dagger in her hand, one of the men noticed and called out to her.
“Hey! Little lady. That dagger, hand it over here.”
“You… You can’t!! Th…This is…”
It was the dagger she and her companions had obtained in their first labyrinth exploration. Now that all of her companions had been killed, even if this was an ordinary dagger without any magic, it had become an important memento that connected her to her companions.
Not allowing that dagger to be handed over to the men, the elven girl hid it behind herself.
“Oh? If that’s so important then it must be quite valuable. Hey.”
One of the men exchanged looks with one of his companions. That companion seemed to be a magician as he followed his instructions and began chanting a spell in a low voice.
“…That dagger is imbued with magic. There’s also…those earrings that are attached to that elf’s ears. I also sense magic from them.”
It seemed the magician had cast a spell to detect magic.
As the man said, the girl’s earrings were a magic tool. Translation magic was imbued into them and she had received them from her parents as a farewell gift when she left the elven settlement to become an adventurer.
Since she didn’t understand human language when she first went out into the world, those earrings were a great help to her.
“That’s great. Hand over the dagger, earrings, and also all your money. We’ll let ya live if you do so? Though you’ll still be sold off as a slave ya know?”
Elves were sold for a higher price than human slaves because of their appearance.
Their thin, slender, tall statured physique, and shapely appearance. And most of all, their characteristic long, pointed ears. As pets, to look at and appreciate, or for sexual usage, both men and women were sold for a high price.
Having an elven slave was even a form of status among rich human nobility.
The elven girl had heard about such things through hearsay.
Being captured and sold as a slave. Having that future of hers which was practically already decided thrust before her, she began trembling before she even noticed it.
“C’mon now, what’s wrong? If you want, we could tear all your clothes off for ya?”
While grinning with an indecent smile, one of the men approached the girl.
“N, no! Don’t come closer!!”
The girl promptly used magic.
The water spirit contracted with the girl complied with her wish and leapt out from the water sack hanging from her waist. The water spirit turned the water inside the water sack into a bullet of water and struck the man that was approaching.
Suddenly receiving a water bullet to the stomach, the man spun in the air before falling. However, the girl’s magic didn’t have enough power to take down the man in one strike, and he stood back up with a hand on his stomach.
“You… Taking advantage of me coming close…”
The man’s whose face was flushed in anger fiercely attacked the girl.
The man grabbed the girl’s arm in an instant and reached his hand out steal the dagger she was holding.
“You… You can’t!!”
Although she tried to escape from the man’s hand, her wrist was being held tightly by the man, so she couldn’t escape.
She struggled to at least protect the dagger, but the man’s hand finally reached it.
“Dammit!! Hurry up and hand it over!!”
Becoming irritated at the girl who wouldn’t stop struggling, the man forcefully pulled the dagger toward himself.
Then it happened.
The force caused the dagger to slip out of the scabbard, and in that moment, it ever so slightly cut the elven girl’s fingertip.
A small, sharp pain run through her fingertip. While bearing that pain, the girl who had the dagger snatched away from her reflexively bit the man’s wrist.
“Aaargh!!The fuck you doing!?”
With his wrist bitten suddenly, the man unintentionally dropped the dagger.
Seeing the dropping dagger in the corner of her vision, the girl moved away from the man and reached her hand out to it. But before her hand could reach it, the dagger stabbed into the ground.
And then, it happened.
Centered around the dagger stabbed into the ground, a shining magic formation suddenly appeared.
The light emitted by the magic formation gradually grew stronger.
“The fuck is happening!?”
Being distracted by the dazzling light, the men were in a fluster as their vision was stolen.
The light originating from the magic formation grew even stronger, lighting up the forest as if it were daytime.
And then after shining especially brightly, the light suddenly vanished.
The influence of darkness returned to the forest. Only the light of the torches held by the men dyed the surroundings a faint red color.
“…Wh, what was that, just now…?”
The men who regained their vision, slowly looked around them.
And then they noticed.
The magic formation that appeared suddenly. The dagger stuck into the ground. And the elven girl.
All of that had suddenly vanished from the nighttime forest.