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Chapter 5

The Gem Giants and the Gem Beast

When morning arrived, Tisse and Godwin started back down while we continued up the mountain. There weren’t even animal trails left to follow as we hiked across bare rock and through the underbrush.

Five days had passed since we left Zoltan. When we looked up, the snowy summit was visible. The snowcap sparkled beautifully in the sunlight. The urge to continue to the summit started welling up inside me, but that wasn’t our plan, and we hadn’t prepared to do it, either.

“Appearing out of nowhere and demanding to join our group. This is why no one likes elves. Buncha blackguards the lot of you,” grumbled Mogrim.

“Pardon me? I’ve been Red’s companion since long before you met him, so wouldn’t that make you the one who joined after?” Yarandrala shot back.

“That’s not what I’m talkin’ about! We planned this trip for the four of us! Mistorm at least came ready to hike up in the mountains, but you don’t even have the proper clothes for cold weather.”

“There was nothing to be done about that, since I was in a hurry. And besides, Red was prepared with spare gear, so it isn’t a problem.”

“This is the issue with you elves!”

“Plans should be properly arranged, but one mustn’t merely be bound by a plan. That’s the elven way.”

Mogrim and Yarandrala had been at it like that the whole time. I had heard dwarves and high elves didn’t get along well, but I wouldn’t have anticipated it to be so stereotypically bad.

“I heard you last night, too! Yer tryin’ to take Red and them away with you to Kiramin, aren’t you?”

“That’s on hold for the moment, contingent on what their life is like in Zoltan.”

“That! That arrogance! It’s a bad habit all your kind share. Out here in Zoltan is way better than living surrounded by swarms of snooty elves.”

“The biased attitude of this dwarf reflects poorly on Zoltan.”

When Yarandrala had first found us yesterday, she and Mogrim had kept a tense distance, but once each understood there wasn’t a deep-seated animosity, they started bickering.

“My mental image of Yarandrala has definitely changed,” Rit commented with a wry smile.

“Despite how it might seem, she actually has a pretty playful personality,” I replied.

It was difficult to sum up Yarandrala in just a few words. At times, she set the group’s mood and raised everyone’s spirits, but she could also be the reliable, wise one who supported her more reckless companions. Yet there were occasions when she conducted herself like a capricious cat, free and selfish. She was perfectly able to remain indifferent when showered with abuse, but turn that negativity on her companions, and she would get passionately, violently enraged. As the current situation demonstrated, she was also prone to childish arguments.

“But don’t let that fool you. Yarandrala’s a good person, and totally dependable. She’s a true friend,” I assured Rit.

She nodded. “Yeah, I trust her.”

“Right, after the battle with the demon lord’s army, you were on pretty good terms with her, weren’t you? With her personality, she doesn’t really let too many people get that close.”

“Heh-heh. That’s because we share a common interest we could talk about.”

“Oh? You and Yarandrala? I wonder what that is.”

Rit fixed her gaze on me as I pondered.

“I expect I’ll have a nice, loooong talk with her about it when we get back.”


I tilted my head, puzzled. Rit seemed to have a bounce in her step.

The gem giant village was near the entrance to the jewel mine they had created. All giants absorbed energy from their environment to maintain themselves in place of relying solely on the food they consumed. Upper-tier species of giants rivaled dragons in strength and possessed more developed societies than they. What limited their sphere of influence was that they grew weaker when they left the environment they had been born in.

In the gem giants’ case, they gained nourishment by cutting and processing jewels. To them, mining and cutting gems was a necessity for survival.

“We didn’t come to fight. We’ve come to see about negotiating a deal.”

I raised my hands, showing I wasn’t holding a weapon to express that I bore no ill will.

When our group approached the entrance of the mine, three gem giants surrounded us. Each was about three and a half meters tall. Their bodies were boulder-like masses of muscle with bands of coloration, and they had thick, bushy eyebrows and smooth, round jaws. Structurally, they vaguely resembled humans, though with some significant differences. Mole-like claws sprouted from their hands, which the gem giants used to burrow through bedrock and cut jewels. Each had eyes of a single solid color, not unlike gems themselves. Growing from their shoulders were small, winglike crystals. That was apparently where gem giants stored their energy. Those crystals could be processed like precious stones, so many adventurers hunted gem giants.

However, the creatures were mid-tier giants and not to be underestimated. Most everyone knew stories of them destroying towns after adventurers evoked their wrath.

“Turn back. We have no business with you,” one of the gem giants commanded, brandishing its claws at us in a warning.

Looks like they are on guard.

“As you can see, we’ve come with glass prepared. Could you not accept us into your village as guests?” I requested.

The giants exchanged whispers as I held out the marbles. They were clearly excited. Glass was certainly valuable to gem giants, but I hadn’t ever received such an excited reaction before. Maybe that was just because manufactured items hardly ever made it out to such a remote location.

“…Come…,” one of the giants entreated.

“Hey, doesn’t this feel a little off?” Yarandrala whispered.

“Indeed. It seems almost like they’ve been driven into a corner by something,” Mogrim responded quietly.

The two weren’t wrong. The way the gem giants were looking at us wasn’t normal.

They led us into the gem mine they had dug out with their bare hands. Right when I glanced back to ask Mistorm for a light spell, I sensed an intense menace from behind. I reflexively dodged out of the way, and the next instant, a gem giant’s foot stomped down right where I had been standing. I moved in and knocked the creature’s legs out from under it, breaking its balance and sending it crashing to the floor. The other two swiped at me with their claws.


A small burst of flame scorched their bodies, and they were forced to pat it out frantically.

“M-magic?! But they didn’t form any seals?!”

The giants panicked because they couldn’t understand what had happened. And by the time they regained their senses, Rit and Ruti had their swords pressed against the creatures’ necks.

“Reserve magic?” I remarked.

It was Mistorm who’d cast the spell. Reserve magic was a technique that those with higher-tier mage blessings could use. By maintaining a powerful spell right on the verge of activation, you could use surplus energy to fire off simple attack spells. In exchange for not requiring a seal, this method couldn’t conjure anything beyond simple energy bolts, and until you actually used the powerful magic you were holding in your mind, performing other complex spells was impossible. Still, it was excellent for quick situations.

“Without tricks like that, my magic power wouldn’t be much help,” Mistorm answered with a chuckle.

Reserve magic wasn’t an actual skill; it was born of practice. Learning to use it required talent and long years of diligent study. This was the first time I had ever seen it employed. The old frontier Archmage who had protected Zoltan for decades possessed abilities worthy of a hero.

“Stop, you fools!” sounded an irate shout.

A brawny gem giant considerably larger than the other three emerged from the dark.

I drew my sword, believing it was yelling at us, but its jewellike eyes were focused on its kin. The trio that had attacked us looked ashamed and laid their arms out on the ground as they prostrated themselves before this new giant.

“May I take that to mean you don’t intend to fight?”

At my question, the mighty-looking gem giant sat cross-legged on the ground, placed its fists on the surface of the tunnel, and lowered its head until its brow touched the ground.

“Hail, humans, high elf, and dwarf. We have committed a grievous offense, and I humbly beg your pardon.”

The enormous creature that easily stood three times taller than us was bowing its head in apology. Rit and I glanced at each other in shock. Neither of us had seen anything like it before.

A mix of merit and seniority decided status among giants. Their system was to count the number of battles that one had participated in and survived. Dishonorable giants that fled to survive were punished and put into indentured servitude, but those that stayed and fought to the end with their comrades had their battles tallied regardless of how many enemies they’d defeated personally.

With that method, leadership would tend to fall to a more prudent, experienced giant rather than a young, hot-blooded one who just happened to be particularly strong. And if the leader’s strength failed and it reached a point where it would avoid combat, a new giant would take its place.

“I’m ashamed to say we can’t offer anything to make you welcome, but please make yourselves comfortable.”

The sturdy gem giant that had apologized to us was one with many fights under its belt and the leader of this tribe. We were sitting across from the chief on owlbear pelts that had been laid on the bedrock for us. Stone cups filled with clear water were given to us all.

“You have our thanks for your kind consideration,” I said before draining my cup. Its contents were quite cool, water from an underground spring, maybe?

“Red,” Rit whispered concernedly.

I was sure she was wary of swallowing anything provided by a group that had been hostile moments ago.

“It’s fine,” I assured her.

The gem giants had been holding back, never intending to kill us. Had they been serious, the first one to strike at me would have used his claws, not his foot.

The more time we spent here, the more evident it became that something unusual was occurring. Every gem giant I saw looked exhausted, and they were all just standing there without moving much. There were bones littered all around the floor, proof that they had been eating a lot. But just consuming was not enough for their kind to maintain their enormous forms. That was why most species of giants associated eating with pleasure or thought of it as a pastime. Excluding particularly slothful varieties like hill giants, traces of past meals lying around was a rare sight in a giant enclave.

“We came to trade this glass for some of your gems,” I explained.

The chief looked remorseful. “I’m sorry, but…”

“Please, take the glass first. You can keep it, even if we don’t get anything in exchange,” I urged.

The listless gem giants around us stirred at that.

“P-please wait,” the chief said to its kin before addressing us. “Gems have been scarce of late, and we cannot in good faith accept your offering without trading something of equal value in return.”

One of those types with a rigid sense of duty, huh?

“At this rate, won’t your people starve? What’s keeping you from mining?” I asked.

“So you’ve already deduced our problem,” the chief stated.

“Only the trouble with digging. That much was apparent from looking around. I can’t guess the cause.”

I took out every marble from the bag and lined them up in front of us.

“If you’re unable to pay a fair price, then please just accept these as a gift.”


“People are starving before our eyes. The adventurer’s way is to help those in need.”

“…Very well. You have my tribe’s gratitude both for your magnanimous tolerance of our indecorous treatment and for bestowing upon us such a blessing in this desperate time. O, human, high elf, and dwarf friends, I swear our tribe shall hold you in the highest friendship for as long as we remain.”

Swearing such a heavy oath over this felt a tad extreme.

Given the situation, the glass was as precious to the gem giants as water in a desert, but one bag only cost two quarter payrils. You could buy ten bags with the money it would take to purchase a single cheap obsidian accessory. Swearing all of the tribe’s future generations to friendly relations over marbles was a bit much. But proud as the giants were, they likely wouldn’t have accepted the glass without that.

“I look forward to a long and fruitful friendship.”

I held out my hand, and the giant chief knelt on both knees and reverently took it in both of its own.

Altogether there were thirty gem giants in this village. Fortunately, that meant there were enough marbles for each of them, and they wasted no time dexterously cutting the glass with their claws.

“Why?” Ruti asked softly.

“Why what?” I inquired back.

“Why did Demis give them this sort of nature?”

“You mean deriving energy by cutting gems?”

“Yeah. The other giants, too. Iron giants and copper giants refine high-quality metal. Flame giants gain nourishment by destroying civilizations with fire. And yet there are frost giants and sea giants that can subsist purely by existing in an environment suited to them.”

The gem giants were processing the glass happily, ravenously…probably like a human would eat a big, juicy steak when they were starving. From a nongiant point of view, it was an odd, illogical scene.

“God created this world. Every living being was crafted with a purpose, just like blessings. Giants are no different in that regard. Thus Demis must have had some reason for granting them this nature, right?” said Ruti.

“I imagine so,” I replied.

“…What do you think that purpose was, Big Brother?”

“Presumably the same thing you’re thinking—to give other species a reason to fight gem giants.”

Why had God created monsters that attacked humans? According to the church’s teachings, it gave humans an enemy to combat, that their blessings might develop further. If that really was the case, then the gem giants’ nature was undoubtedly derived from the same intent. Besting such a mighty opponent netted you a trove of jewels.

“Mom! Look at what I made!” a young giant shouted.

A female giant looked down at the child’s hands and then laughed out loud as it rubbed its kid’s head playfully.

Seeing that, Ruti smiled. “Monsters and humans have different values. Negotiations went well this time, but it’s more common for them to fail. Fighting may be unavoidable at times, but I would like to believe that monsters exist to be more than just fodder for blessings.”

“Me too,” I added.

If a religious official heard the Hero say as much, it would cause an uproar. However, if something like the church could stop Ruti, the demon lord’s forces wouldn’t have fallen before her at every turn. The only thing that had ever fettered my sister was the Divine Blessing of the Hero, and that was no longer an issue.

I was pleased that she had found her freedom as I nodded in agreement with her sentiment.

Two hours later, the gem giant chief returned to where we were waiting.

“My apologies for the delay.”

The chief’s skin was smoother and tauter than before. Its body was overflowing with vitality.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to cut our fill. You have my heartfelt gratitude.”

“I’m glad it suited your palate,” I replied.

“Indeed. Glass has a bit of an odd flavor, so it can be tiresome in large amounts, but on an empty stomach, glass is as good as diamond.”

“I, uh, I see.”

I had no idea what sorts of flavors the energy of gemstones could have. Seeing me struggling to respond, Yarandrala started giggling.

“It seems you’ve recovered enough to be able to joke,” she remarked, stepping forward.

Huh? A joke?

The chieftain broke out in a laugh. “Sorry, sorry. It really has been a long time since I’ve felt like this.”

“You seem much improved,” I said.


I guess the chieftain usually kept a decent sense of humor. It was nothing but smiles now.

“So what could have happened for a gem giant village to run out of jewels? Did you exhaust the vein here?” I questioned.

“No, it isn’t that. A fell beast that consumes gems has settled into the mine.”

A creature that consumed precious stones? And a fell beast, not a monster or a demon. The term evoked a terrifying, dangerous being whose true nature was unknown.

“It eats jewels? And so many that gem giants like yourselves can’t even mine any? How many are there?” I questioned.

“Just the one.”

“A single beast devouring everything in the mountains?”

“Not only that, it’s so powerful that even if all gem giants and other monsters on the peak joined forces, we would still be slaughtered.”

“Even an alliance of all the monsters out here isn’t enough?”

“I was born and raised on this mountain, so I can’t speak for other places…but for us, it would be that one-sided. All of our tribe’s warriors have already fallen.”


I had intended this to be a sort of easygoing adventure. Yet a mysterious troublemaker had been lying in wait for us.

Rit and I were out front, Yarandrala, Mogrim, and Mistorm stood in the center, and Ruti acted as the rear guard as we proceeded down into the mine that the gem giants had excavated.

“A monster that can transform nearby gemstones and ore into lead just by its mere presence, huh?” Rit muttered.

The giants had explained as much to us before we left to seek the source of their recent troubles.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

“An unknown monster…”

Of course, there were still many undocumented creatures, particularly in less explored regions like the Wall at the End of the World.

“Still, we can’t just leave it be,” Mistorm declared. “If we don’t deal with it now, it will become a poison to Zoltan.”

According to Yarandrala, the presence of this fell beast was what had been weakening the zoogs’ forest. Its ability to change ore into lead was contaminating the groundwater and weakening trees.

“The landslide was triggered by the earth growing weaker from that transformation, too,” explained the high elf.

Mogrim nodded. “And the rock trolls using lead clubs was due to the lack of iron.”

“Perhaps that’s why the horses we rode grew so frightened,” Mistorm speculated aloud.

This thing had caused practically all the problems we had encountered on this trip.

“We need to defeat it before the lead poisoning spreads to settlements east of Zoltan or to Zoltan’s river,” I said.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Mistorm asked. “I’m the former mayor. Even if I’m retired now, I still bear some responsibility to protect Zoltan. My taking responsibility is why I can get away with a bit of throwing my weight around here and there. But you’re different, right? You can’t get your gems anymore, and the enemy is a complete mystery that we have no idea how to handle. There’s no reason for you to risk your life.”

“Even so, I don’t think that’s reason enough to make you go alone,” I responded. “Mages can best wield their strength when working in a party. That’s one of the first things you learn as an adventurer, right?”

Mistorm’s brow furrowed. “Still, we’re walking in blindly. There’s no guaranteeing your safety.”

“This whole world is filled with fighting,” Rit said with a grin. “There wasn’t ever any guarantee of safety to begin with. And while I may have retired from adventuring, I don’t see a reason not to protect Zoltan.”

Ruti nodded. “I’m a B-rank adventurer here in Zoltan. I’m used to fighting for someone else’s sake…and I’ve finally gotten to where I can accept doing it once in a while.”

Yarandrala checked the seeds that she used for generating plants. “I need to determine whether Zoltan truly is a satisfactory place for my friends to live. Monsters disturbing the peace keeps me from making a fair judgment.”

Mogrim glowered at Yarandrala. “This is the problem with high elves. The companions you’re traveling with need help, and you require some bigger reason than that?!”

“Unlike dwarves, high elves don’t need to enumerate such obvious reasons,” Yarandrala fired back peevishly.

“Who’s gonna know if you don’t say it? This is why people don’t trust your kind.”

I did my best to calm things down and turned back to Mistorm.

“Anyway, you don’t need to worry about us. We’re joining this fight because we want to.”

“…Sheesh, what a brash and reckless bunch. Thank you.”

Zoltan was our home, after all.

There was nothing alive in the mines: no bats, insects, or even moss.

“Red, I can’t hear the voices of spirits in here… I won’t be able to use my magic,” Rit said gravely. Her Spirit Scout blessing drew strength from spirits to enable her to cast spells. In a place absent of them, her magic was inert.

Yarandrala placed her hand on the wall and shook her head. “I can’t sense plants, either.”

“Does that mean your spells won’t work, either?” I asked.

“I can produce vegetation, but not any of my other magic.”

“No summoning great spirits, then,” I remarked. “We’ll have to rely on you for healing, Ruti.”

“Leave it to me. There are no issues with my magic or my sword.”

“In the end, steel’s the great decider, not some elven witchery.”

Ruti and Mogrim both looked a little smug.

“What about you, Mistorm…?” I inquired.

“I won’t have any problems using my magic. But inside a mine, I can’t employ anything too flashy,” she explained.

“Looks like we’ll have to finish it off at close range, then,” I replied.

However, we were up against an opponent that gem giants—which specialized in close-quarters fighting—couldn’t beat. It must have some powerful defenses.

“Still, our attack strength has to be higher than theirs, right?” Mistorm questioned.

“Well, yeah,” I answered.

Ruti was the strongest person in the world, and Rit and I were two of the greatest sword fighters. Even without her spirit magic, Yarandrala was strong enough to fight a dragon, and Mistorm was an Archmage and an adventurer with decades of experience. And while Mogrim’s power was lesser, he could battle on the same level as a gem giant. A party as strong as ours was a rare sight indeed.

“Don’t worry, no matter what enemy we face, I’ll never lose as long as you’re with me, Big Brother,” Ruti stated with a glance in my direction.

Smiling, I answered, “Yeah, that’s right.”

I couldn’t shake a vague sense of unease in the back of my mind, however. It almost felt like we were heading to combat an enemy on the level of one of the four heavenly kings of the demon lord’s army.

We continued through the caverns, the lantern I held illuminating a path devoid of all life.

And then the fell beast came into view.

A tunnel dug by giants was wide enough for humans to walk through comfortably. However, the size of this cave was on an entirely different level. It was spacious enough to house Loggervia’s castle. The glow of my lantern didn’t reach the ceiling. Darkness encircled us as we advanced.

“It’s so big…,” I muttered.

In the gloom was an enormous shadow, massive enough to make this castle-size chamber feel cramped. The thing’s gleaming eyes were as large as I was, and the head they adorned could probably swallow a giant whole. It was almost like a dragon…but there were no wings on its back.

“A turtle?” Ruti tilted her head quizzically.

The beast was titanic, and its shell was studded with countless jewels. Ruti was right, though; it did resemble a turtle.

“I’ve never seen a monster like this,” Ruti admitted.

“Me neither. I fought many creatures in Loggervia, but this is the first I’ve laid eyes on a turtle so large,” Rit responded.

“In all my years, this is an entirely new sight to me,” Yarandrala added.

“It’s safe to assume this is the thing that’s eating the gems, right?” asked Rit.

“Probably,” answered Yarandrala with a glance.

“Still, it’s a bit disappointing that the fell beast turned out to be a turtle,” Mogrim said with a huff.

Mistorm narrowed her eyes. “It should have noticed us by now, but there’s still no indication of it attacking.”


“It feels like it’s just not sure whether to ignore the little bugs flying around it or swat them down,” I stated.

“Bugs? What are you talking about?” questioned Mogrim.

“As far as it’s concerned, humans, high elves, dwarves—we’re all just insects. That thing doesn’t have an official name, but some refer to it as a gem beast, because of its appearance.”

Rit turned to me. “You know what it is, Red?”

“Only from written accounts. Every record of it is ancient, so I had assumed the story had been embellished. I never suspected a monster like this genuinely existed.”

My data on the gem beast hailed from the era of the wood elves. A record of one such creature had been left behind by the warrior who had led a clan called the Irukwa, who had fought alongside the wood elves.

According to that account, the gem beast was responsible for the destruction of the wood elves’ forest. In order to save their home, they had gathered human mercenaries and high elves in order to slay the gem beast.

The Irukwa had been among those who’d joined the wood elves, and if their warrior’s description was to be believed, the army ran into the horizon.

Mogrim whistled. “So then how’d those warriors defeat a monster like this?”

“They didn’t,” I answered.


“All of the wood elves in the battle died, and only a handful of Irukwa managed to escape. That’s all I know about the gem beast.”

“No one has ever defeated that thing?”


Even demon lords had fallen to the Hero, but nothing in history suggested someone had slain a gem beast. However, a gem beast had never fought the Hero before.


The great turtle looked stout, but its cry was clear. When it opened its huge mouth, a horrid stench filled the air and an intense chill went down my spine.

“Something’s coming!” I shouted.

The next instant, a bright, white ray erupted from its maw.

“It’s okay. Sacred Magic Shield.” Ruti stepped in front of us and formed a seal with her left hand. The gleaming barrier of light deflected the gem beast’s attack.

“That’s—?!” I exclaimed. The wall the beam had struck was covered in sparkling diamonds. “A diamond ray? No, it actually turned the wall’s surface into diamonds?!”

An attack that transformed whatever it hit into precious stones. Undoubtedly living things were not excluded from that power.

“…This isn’t good…” Ruti arched her eyebrows, looking a little concerned. Cracks were forming in her spell. “It’s breaking.”

“Wait, your Sacred Magic Shield is shattering?!” I cried in disbelief.

Magic that had withstood even Ares’s spells was crumbling before my very eyes. Just as I was about to grab everyone and dash away…

“Thorn Bind!”

…Yarandrala created dozens of thorny vines that constricted the gem beast.

With its mouth bound shut, the force of the attack exploded inside the massive creature’s throat and blood started flowing from its ears and eyes.

“Oooh! Not bad for an elf!” Mogrim was genuinely impressed that she had dealt real damage to such an enormous monster.


However, Yarandrala looked pained and dropped to a knee without responding. The briars she had created turned brown and withered. The gem beast raised its right foreleg to stomp on Yarandrala in retaliation.

“Rit!” I cried.

“Got it!”

Rit leaped out, her shotels slicing into the beast’s raised limb. It reflexively drew back from the pain. Its big eyes fell to Rit as it loosed a screeching howl.


Ruti brought an attack down on the gem beast’s left foreleg while it was distracted. As it had been supporting itself with that limb, it crashed to the ground.

“I can’t put as much power into it as Ruti, but…” I readied my sword beneath where the gem beast’s head was falling, staring up at the giant target overhead. Timing my swing against the creature’s fall, I combined my own strength with the force of its descent. My blade penetrated its tough skin, ripping through and severing a blood vessel in its neck.

Every monster had a few vulnerable points on its body. That was just the nature of living things. A tiny razor could prove fatal to a human if it cut open an artery in the neck.

There was a jangle as something exploded out of the gem beast’s wound.

“J-jewels?” I said with incredulity.

Vibrant gems of all colors were spilling from the gash. I suddenly wasn’t so sure that it really was a living creature.


I dashed away from beneath the gem beast’s head with my Lightning Speed before it could crush me.

“That’s my Red!” Rit praised me.

“It was only because of all of your support! It felt like I landed a clean hit.”

Mogrim pointed at the gem beast. “H-hey! It’s recovering!”

The wounds Ruti and I had inflicted were mending before our eyes.

“Ah, ghh…!” Yarandrala collapsed with a muffled cry.

“Mrgh.” Ruti seemed similarly weakened, her face pained.

Was that why Ruti’s and Yarandrala’s spells were broken? Had the creature absorbed the magic power they were composed of? I’d never heard of stealing energy from the casters themselves.

“Are you okay, Yarandrala?!” I called.

“I—I think so.”

She had run dry on magic power and was undoubtedly suffering extreme fatigue. Her face looked deathly pale.

I looked to my sister. “Ruti?!”

“Enduring things is a specialty of mine.”

She had to be feeling the same weakness that Yarandrala was, but she only looked a little annoyed as she readied her sword.

“Red! The jewels!” Rit shouted.

I glanced around and saw that all the diamonds created by the gem beast’s attacks were dimming and transforming into lead.

“It’s eating the gems it made? That’s awfully convenient!” I exclaimed. The diamonds were fueling its recovery. In no time at all, the creature looked good as new. “Now I understand! I had wondered why there weren’t any corpses from the gem giants and other monsters who fought it!”

It didn’t just consume the ore and gems in the earth; it also used that ray to transform living creatures into jewels and eat them, transforming the diamond into lead.

“The standard tactic for huge things like this is to draw blood from vital points to weaken it. However, magic doesn’t work and it can recover with the gems made from its own attack. A typical strategy won’t work!” Rit cried as she readied her sword.

She was right. This was a more dangerous enemy than any I had fought before.


The gem beast’s body shuddered as it moved toward where Yarandrala had collapsed, the ground quaking with each step. Its mere steps alone seemed heavy enough to trample the hardiest warrior.

“Stop it!”


Rit and I charged the monster again. It glanced over at us. Its huge black eyes gleamed red.


Vines sprung up around us.

“Yarandrala’s Thorn Bind!”

The spell caught us off guard. We weren’t able to dodge it and got entangled.

Ruti leaped over our heads with her sword raised. “I’ll—”


There was a loud crash. Ruti’s attack was stopped in midair.

“My Sacred Magic Shield…!”

A barrier of light had caught my sister’s blow. The strongest human’s protection magic had blocked her own strike.

“Not good!”

All three of our attacks had been stymied, and the gem beast was not stopping.

“R-run away!” Yarandrala struggled to shout, urging Mistorm and Mogrim to escape. She tried to stand up but couldn’t muster the strength and was moving too slowly.

She’s not going to make it in time!

“Rrrr?!” the gem beast suddenly howled in agony. An arrow of ice was blooming from its right eye.

“So if I use reserve magic, only the higher-tier magic being held back gets absorbed. I guess that makes sense since I’m not providing the magic power directly… A couple ice arrows for a single high-tier spell is hardly a fair exchange, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs!”

“This gem beast isn’t so different from a drake! Smashing an ax into something’ll generally solve the problem!”

Mistorm was holding up her walking stick while Mogrim stood before her, the vanguard to her rearguard caster. An elderly mage and dwarf didn’t look too formidable when facing off against a beast the size of a castle, however.

The damage Mistorm had caused was swiftly undone, and the gem beast continued its march, but the two of them did not run.

“Who the hell’d run from such a sweet setup?” said Mogrim.

“A powerful foe before and a fallen comrade behind. When would an adventurer ever show their stuff if not now?” remarked Mistorm before unleashing several ice arrows to curb the gem beast’s advance. Stopping such a large monster with a few projectiles was going to be difficult, however. “Eyes, nose, ears, mouth…none of them are enough, huh?”

Even against this overwhelming foe, Mistorm responded like a consummate veteran, accurately hitting every weak spot she could with her low-powered magic. Yet while the gem beast flinched from the blows, every injury quickly mended itself.

“Dorrrryaaaa!” Mogrim roared as he hurled his ax with both hands. There was a whistling sound as it cut through the air and slammed between the gem beast’s eyes.


The weapon bounced off. The gem beast tilted its head slightly but showed no sign of having been hurt by the impact.

“Hrm. That woulda been enough for something like a rock troll,” Mogrim muttered in disappointment as he reached for the spear at his back.

“Please…you have no hope of winning, so just run,” pleaded Yarandrala.

“Hmph. You’ve been too strong for too long, high elf,” Mogrim remarked with a sniff.

“What are you saying…?”

“Ordinary people have their own way of fighting, too!”

As the dwarf made his declaration, Rit and I sprinted up the gem beast’s legs.

“Thanks, Mogrim!” I said. His ax had rebounded and torn through the vines binding us. “It shouldn’t be able to summon Thorn Bind against something so close to it!”

Rit sliced into the back of the massive creature’s head with her shotels. “Tough…but I can keep going!” She tenaciously slashed the same place over and over, and before long, the gem beast couldn’t take it, pausing its advance to try shaking Rit off.

“There!” I swung my sword down against the gem beast’s neck. “Without martial arts or magic, I had to develop several tricks for dealing with monsters like this one where common skills couldn’t cut it.”

My using the gem beast’s weight to cut its neck before had been one such example, and this was another—an attack that sent a shock wave through armor and skin into the opponent’s innards.

The beast let out a screech like something shattering, finally stopping. I could feel blood vessels inside its skin rupturing.

Its regenerative abilities far outstripped my attack power. No matter what I did, I wouldn’t be able to defeat it with my strength. Yet if its nervous system was damaged, it would pass out like any other living creature. Even if that damage was healed, it would still take time for the gem beast to regain consciousness. It might only be for a short moment, but the creature came to a halt and dropped to the ground.

“Big Brother, can I use all of my power?”

And just like I’d hoped, the Sacred Magic Shield blocking Ruti vanished when the monster lost consciousness.

“Yeah, even if they see you, I’m sure it will be fine. Go wild.”


Ruti was always holding back for fear of being revealed as the Hero and having her slow life come to an end. Not that she wasn’t already superhuman even when restraining herself, but that was her attempt to keep herself within the realm of a regular adventurer.

There was no sword in her hand. She just clenched her fist as she leaped over the gem beast’s head.

“Sacred Magic Shield.”

She summoned a barrier of light above her in the air, not for protection but to kick off. And when she did, Ruti rocketed toward the gem beast as surely as any arrow.


Her fist slammed into the creature’s head, sending out a thundering shock wave.

The gem beast’s corpse collapsed to the ground as a river of gems flowed from the gaping wound where its head had been. A tremor shook the earth, and a crater formed as the bedrock shattered from the force of Ruti landing.

“That’s… Heh, nothing to do but be amazed, I guess. What do they make adventurers of nowadays?” Mistorm commented.

A small girl had punched a giant, castle-size monster into the ground.

The gem beast was limp in the crater, its neck sticking out over the side. A small mountain of gems was quickly building behind Ruti.

“Did we do it?!” Mogrim approached cautiously, his spear still in hand.

Meanwhile, Rit and I climbed down from atop the gem beast with our swords still drawn.

“What do you think?” Rit asked.

“I don’t know. Hydras can recover after the loss of a head, but there’s not enough information about gem beasts to say,” I replied.

The massive thing certainly appeared slain.

“It’s dead, isn’t it? Ooooh!” Mogrim finally reached Ruti’s side, his eyes drawn to the river of jewels. “Look at this, Red! Mistorm! It’s earth crystal! I’ve never seen one this big!” The dwarf looked like he might start dancing for joy as he held up a dusky yellow gem the size of a fist. With that much, he could make a knife and have plenty of earth crystal left over.

“Is this one of those all’s-well-that-ends-well sort of things?” Rit questioned as she watched him.

“I guess so. And with that many precious stones, we can probably find the blue sapphire I’m looking for, too. And that’s probably enough for the gem giant village to live off for the next ten years.”

“A happy ending for all,” Rit said as we grinned at each other.

“Wait,” Yarandrala called out weakly.

“It’s okay, Yarandrala. You and Mistorm should pull back for a bit. The gem beast consumed your magic power, so it will take some time for you to recover.”


“Huh? What is it?”

There was a thud, then a whoosh of something slipping past us and rushing toward the gem beast.

“Aaaaah!” Mogrim screamed. The earth crystal he had been holding lost its gleam and transformed into dull, gray lead.

“It’s still alive?!” I exclaimed.

I started to attack the gem beast again, but…


A violent tremor shook the ground.

Looking all around, I shouted, “What is it now?!”

“Above us!” Yarandrala cried.

Looking up, I spotted several slivers of light running through the high ceiling.

“What’s that?” I wondered aloud. A crashing sound rang out as light tore through the darkness. “That’s impossible! Meteo?!”

It was Ares’s specialty, an enormous spell that brought a meteor crashing down. Sunlight was pouring in from the gaping hole torn by the meteor. This wasn’t an attack to be used in an enclosed space, yet it had barreled through the mountain itself to crash down on us.

“The ceiling’s collapsing!” I warned.

With Ruti’s or Yarandrala’s magic we could defend against it, but the odds were hardly in our favor. At this rate, I was going to have to use my last resort. But before I could take action, Mistorm raised her staff overhead and directed it at the meteorite.

“Guess I’ll play the ace up my sleeve!” Magic power surged around the old woman. It was so intense it surpassed the power of a top-tier spell. Whatever she was attempting demanded every ounce of her energy. “Blackened blood, words of annihilation, pierce paradise overlord’s spear! The time of destruction has come! Demon’s Flare!”

A dark inferno burst forth from Mistorm’s staff. The flames slammed into the meteorite, engulfing it in swirling shadow. It and the falling rocks were quickly consumed.

Even Rit couldn’t hide her astonishment. “Amazing…”

This was a massive spell the likes of which even an adventurer of Rit’s caliber had never seen before. I had only seen it once before myself.

Why can she use that magic? No, save it for later. With that much power, it should be able to counter Meteo.


“Kh. You can even absorb magic power not directed at you…?” Mistorm muttered in disgust.

The ebon blaze swallowing the meteorite was being drawn toward the gem beast. About half of the meteor had been seared away, but it was still powerful enough to destroy this mine. Even knowing it was pointless, Mogrim stood in front of Mistorm with his spear to protect her.

“Is this how it ends?” The despair was starting to show on the dwarf’s face.

Ruti could smash the falling rock, but the fragments would still annihilate everything around us. We needed magic for everyone to get out of this intact.

“…I guess there really isn’t any other choice…,” I muttered.

“Is there something you can do, Red?!” Rit asked frantically.

“Yeah… I don’t know what will come of it, but we hardly have a choice now.” I steeled my resolve. “Rit, um, sorry.”


I dashed over to Yarandrala with my Lightning Speed. She was gritting her teeth, mortified at her helplessness.



I scooped her up in my arms and pressed my lips against hers.


I created a mental image of my own body’s warmth and her body’s merging just like I had been taught long ago. And then I imagined a flame lighting inside me. The heat of it poured into Yarandrala.

If my body starts feeling colder, that means it’s working… There!


A powerful wave of exhaustion hit me as I pulled away from Yarandrala to keep from getting in her way. However, her arms firmly drew me in.

“The spirits have come in through the hole in the ceiling. This will work!” the high elf declared, her eyes shimmering. “Source of mana, ruler of all things! Great spirit of the mighty tree!”

Countless briars burst from the ground, twining together and forming a giant entity.

As if responding to her mental state, the spirit roared as white petals filled the air.

“Y-Yarandrala! I don’t have that much magic power! You don’t have to use something so big! Just enough to protect everyone from the meteorite!”

“It’s not a problem! This is the strength you gave me!”

The great spirit wrapped countless tendrils around the meteorite.


Back when we had been adventuring together, Yarandrala had summoned this spirit before, but this was the first time I had ever heard it roar. Mistorm smiled when she saw what was happening.

“I’ve about reached my limit… I’ll leave the rest to you.”

Her spell, which had been holding the meteor at bay, vanished. As the mass of fiery rock resumed its descent, the spirit tugged at the tendrils wrapped around it, changing the meteor’s course so that it fell on the gem beast instead of us.


The monster withdrew its head into its jewel-encrusted shell. The meteor collided with it, and another shock wave shook the mine. A deafening crash erupted while dirt filled the air, making it impossible to see.

There was a thud as rubble scattered, and I saw something shining down from above.

The squarish golem holding us set us down on the ground.

We’re outside the mines?

Looking around, I saw that we seemed to be above a cliff formed by the mountain’s ridge. The clearing was wide enough, but there wasn’t a path down, and it was a dizzyingly long drop.

“Thank you,” Rit said, patting the golem.

The thing was just a figure sculpted from dirt, so it couldn’t have any expression, yet it appeared pleased.

Just like Yarandrala had been able to summon the great spirit once the meteor had punched a hole in the cavern ceiling, Rit had conjured a golem to carry us to safety. Yarandrala’s eyes were still closed as she continued to focus on maintaining the tree spirit. Both it and the gem beast were still buried inside the mine.

What’s going on down there?

Mogrim placed an ear to the ground. “They’re coming!” he shouted.

Two giant figures burst from the opening Meteo had carved, pushing their way through the rubble as they continued their fight. The gem beast’s shell had been shattered by the meteor.

Several of the great spirit’s tendrils jabbed into the gem beast’s body, sapping its vitality, but the monster was absorbing magic power from the spirit in kind. Several of the spirit’s vines dried out, limply drifting to the ground. Despite that, the gem beast’s miraculous regeneration ability didn’t seem to be taking effect. The great spirit evidently had the upper hand.

“Yarandrala, are you okay?” I asked.

“…I-I’m fine…”

Her summoned construct was leeching energy from the gem beast, so Yarandrala’s magic depletion wasn’t critical yet, but her power was gradually being absorbed because of her link to the spirit. Yarandrala would run out at this rate before the gem beast was defeated, and her conjured warrior would disappear.

“We’ve got to do something about that draining,” I muttered weakly, struggling to deal with the enervation of magic deficiency, which I had never experienced before.

“Big Brother,” Ruti called as she looked at her hands. “The gem beast’s blessing should be sealed.”

“Hmm? You mean with the power of your New Truth?” I asked.

“Yeah. But its movements only got a little slower.”

“That—that shouldn’t be possible.”

Even if the gem beast’s ability to sap magic and heal was innate, that it could be so effective without the enhancement of a Divine Blessing was unheard of. What’s more, it had cast Meteo after Ruti had punched it and sealed its blessing. It was impossible to use spells without a blessing.

“I think…” Ruti turned her gaze to the gem beast. Its head had fully regenerated, and it was gradually starting to overwhelm the spirit. “I think it has multiple blessings.”

My gut reaction was to denounce that as impossible. One life, one Divine Blessing was the fundamental principle of this world that Demis had created. Or at least, it was supposed to be.

However, an exception was already standing right in front of me. Ruti was proof of a being with two blessings. I couldn’t declare her claim impossible, so I nodded.

“So then it became that powerful by enhancing a single body with countless blessings?” I wondered.

Blessings like Magic-Sealing Swordsman and Spell Thief were known to exist. While they couldn’t steal magic power from a person, if the gem beast was activating multiple magic-absorbing blessings at once, then that could explain it.

Considering this, I reasoned, “The best move might be to lower its blessing level with the wild elf medicine.”

I pulled a vial of the substance I had given Ademi to lower his blessing’s skill level out of the pouch at my waist. Its intended use was for suppressing the impulses of blessings, so it couldn’t lower a blessing level by a substantial amount. Still, if the gem beast achieved its draining effect by activating several skills all at once, the medicine could have an outsize effect. The only issue was…

“How do we get it to take the medicine?”

The gem beast was in the middle of an intense fight with the great spirit, and someone needed to weave through that battle and throw the medicine into the gem beast’s mouth.

“I’ll do it,” Ruti declared as she clenched her fist.

“No, I want you to be able to attack once you’ve confirmed this idea works. It could be dangerous if it uses poison-neutralizing spells,” I replied.

“Understood. But then who will make it swallow?”

“I’ll do it. At least, I’d like to, but I’m still a little sluggish from giving Yarandrala my magic power.”

Rit’s hand shot straight up.

“I can handle it!” She was holding a shotel in her left hand as she held out her right to me. “I’m ambidextrous since my natural style is dual-wielding, so I won’t have trouble throwing it while fighting.”

“Yeah, you’re probably the best choice for this,” I agreed.

“Leave it to me!”

“Hey, what are you mumbling about over here?” Mogrim demanded as he clomped back over after having checked on Mistorm. “I dunno what’s going on, but if tossing stuff’s what you need, then I’m the dwarf for the job, since I’ve mastered the Throwing skill.”

That gave me pause. “Hmm.”

When it came to the actual act of throwing, Mogrim was the best of all of us. Rit had taken a skill to use throwing knives and had trained it, but the ability was merely a way of dealing with attacks from long range, where she had fewer options.

“…You take care of Mistorm since she can’t move. We’ll go with a formation centered around Rit with Yarandrala and me as support,” I said to Mogrim. It was clear as day that the dwarf wasn’t pleased about this decision, though.

His aim would be truer, and he could probably use his Ricochet Toss to land the medicine in the gem beast’s mouth. But Rit and I had teamwork that was not to be underestimated.

I placed the medicine in Rit’s hand.

“Your ability to throw is better, Mogrim, but Rit and I share a bond, and that’s more reliable than any skill.”

“Ugh, I’m amazed you can say something like that with a straight face,” Mogrim remarked.

“It’s because it’s the truth.”

The dwarf burst into laughter and then started nodding. “Even at a time like this… Fine, fine, I got it. Just leave the rear to me.”

I stood next to Rit and took a deep breath, getting myself ready.

“Okay, I think I can manage. It’s not like I’m totally out of magic power, so I can still move.”

“I never knew there was a method for sharing magic power without using spells or skills,” Rit said.

“Er, yeah, it’s a technique passed down by elves.”

“I’ll be expecting a detailed explanation later.”

Rit’s smile was terrifying, but I had to focus on the gem beast! I definitely wasn’t trying to avoid anything. Not at all.

“Let’s go!”


Rit and I both started running. I stepped out in front first.

“Yarandrala!” I shouted.

A single tendril from the great spirit approached us. I dashed up the thick vine and leaped into the air. While the gem beast and great spirit were locked in an epic struggle, I landed on another tendril that was wrapped around the gem beast’s neck.

Noticing me, the turtle-like creature opened its mouth to swallow me whole. I dashed to evade and slashed with my sword.

There was an unpleasant sound of a joint breaking as the gem beast’s maw hung limply open. The great spirit’s vines pushed into the gem beast’s mouth, forcing it wide. The jaw joint was regenerating, but the tendrils were keeping it open.


Rit had been ready to throw even before I said anything. Unfortunately…


A bright ray exploded from the gem beast’s mouth.


The ray struck her and the great spirit dead-on. The spirit shuddered as diamonds scattered around it. Rit’s coat, now a mass of diamonds, went tumbling to the ground. She had used it as a shield. With her free arm, she hurled the wild elf medicine. Rit’s trajectory had changed after she blocked the gem beast’s beam, though, and the angle of her throw was off. The medicine was still going to land in the beast’s mouth, but it would just hit its upper palate and spread across its tongue.

That was where I came in.

“That’s my Rit!!!” I cried, and I immediately jumped up to bat the airborne vial with the flat of my sword, sending it to the back of the gem beast’s throat. There was an audible swallowing sound, and the creature appeared stunned for a moment before collapsing like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Its abrupt drop caused a tremor.

“It can’t even stand on its own without a blessing?” I observed with incredulity.

Can such an illogical creature really exist?

The gem beast awkwardly struggled as it clung to the ground.

“You aren’t one of God’s creations, are you?” Ruti said as she leaped atop its shell. “The symbols engraved on your shell are ancient elf script. They made you.” My sister closed her eyes for a brief moment. “They are the ones in the wrong, but I’m sorry, we can’t coexist with you.”

Opening her eyes, Ruti drove her fist straight down into the monstrous turtle.

“I battle to protect the place where the people I love reside. The world I can reach with my own two hands. I’m not some hero of justice anymore. This is my life now. I fight because I want to and not because I’m bound by some sense of duty imposed by the Hero.”

There was an explosion as the gem beast’s enormous body shattered. Its limp body made no further attempts to restore itself. We had finally dealt a lethal blow.



Even Ruti was dumbfounded by what came next.

Driven by what had to be an obsession, the gem beast’s shredded neck twisted and aimed its head at the high elf who resembled its creators. With the creature’s final breath, it loosed a ray at her. It lacked the strength to transform Yarandrala into gems, but the ray was more than enough to send the exhausted woman flying.

Yarandrala’s body went soaring through the air toward the cliff. The gem beast’s head slammed to the ground and ceased moving, its tongue lolling out of its mouth.

“Grab my hand!”

I sprinted using Lightning Speed and jumped off the cliff. I grabbed Yarandrala’s outstretched hand and pulled her close, so we fell together.

“Are you okay?” Yarandrala asked while glancing anxiously at my ankle.

“Yeah, just twisted my foot a bit is all,” I responded with a reassuring smile before looking down. “Still, though, that gave me goose bumps.”

The wind whistled past us, and the grasslands far, far below us quivered in the breeze.

Yarandrala and I were sitting in a little hollow in the middle of the sheer cliff face. I had used my Slow Fall skill to kick the natural rock wall and slow our descent. Miraculously, we’d managed to land in this alcove.

“It would’ve all been over if I fell from here, high blessing level or not.”

There were another two hundred meters at least to the bottom of the cliff. It was a dizzying height.

“Are you okay, Red?!” Rit shouted from above.

“Yeah! We’re safe! We’re in a little cave in the cliff face! The wind is strong, so be careful coming down!” I yelled back.

“Got it!”

The gem beast was finally dead. There wasn’t any danger left. Ruti, Yarandrala, and Mistorm had used up their magic power, but Rit would be able to reach us with her Levitate.

“All that’s left is to relax and wait,” I said cheerfully.

Yarandrala was staring out at the view.

“It’s lovely.”

“Yeah, it sure is.”

Clear blue skies and the vibrant green landscape of Zoltan extended into the distance. Far away, white clouds were floating above the sea, gradually drifting toward the river Zoltan was built around, where a herd of wild horses was bathing. Wyverns glided over the plains.

“Zoltan isn’t such a bad place,” Yarandrala admitted with a smile.

“You finally understand?” I asked.

“I’ll give up on taking you back with me to Kiramin for now.”

“Ah, so you still haven’t totally accepted it.”

“High elves are at least as stubborn as dwarves.”

“True. For having such opposite personalities, you’re pretty similar in some weird ways.”

“Hee-hee, but you know, both high elves and dwarves will gladly accept it if you can convince them you are right…and I’ve started to think you, Rit, and Ruti can find happiness here.”

The cave we were sitting in was narrow, enough that our shoulders were touching as we gazed at the beautiful landscape.

“Gideon, are you happy now?” Yarandrala inquired while still looking out.


Rit was gradually floating down toward us using her magic. I waved up at her and could see her beaming.

“Yeah, I’m very happy.”

Rit held on to Yarandrala and me as we returned to the top of the cliff.

No sooner did we land than Ruti ran over and smothered me in a hug.

“Are you all right, Big Brother?”

She had probably wanted to come get us herself, but with her magic power drained, she had yielded that responsibility to Rit.

“Thanks for worrying about me. I’m fine. As you can see, it’s nothing too bad…I just twisted my ankle a bit.”


Ruti looked at my leg and then back at her own hands before slumping her shoulders, disappointed that she didn’t have the power left to heal me.

I gently patted her head.

“I appreciate the thought.”

Looking at the corpse of the gem beast, I saw that the monster had become a dull hunk of lead. The diamonds created by its attacks during the fight and all the other gems stored up inside its body had become lead as well.

“Is there no earth crystal?!”

Mogrim scoured the lead for any remaining gems. I would have liked to help, but I had to rest for a bit.

“Haaah, that was a bother. At this age, my body really can’t keep up,” Mistorm complained as she lay stretched out on the ground. “Still, had I gone alone, I wouldn’t have had any hope of winning. I owe you.”

Archmage was a blessing that specialized in mystic art spells, so the gem beast’s ability to leech magic had made it the worst possible enemy for Mistorm. And the gem beast had rivaled the strength of Desmond of the Earth, one of the demon lord’s four heavenly kings, whom I had fought back during my time in the Hero’s party. Who knew what would have happened if Ruti hadn’t been here?



“Thank you for coming with me.”

“Was I helpful?”

“Yeah, I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“Yay!” My sister smiled happily.

“I’d love for you to come with me on future trips, too, so long as you aren’t busy. Having you around is great.”

“Mhm! I’ll absolutely come with you!”

Ruti happily embraced me.

What an adorable little sister.

I thought I heard my hip pop. That Ruti was so happy that she didn’t control her strength entirely was proof of how adorable she was.

I really do have an amazing sibling.

All of a sudden, a loud clatter broke our peaceful moment together. Looking back, I saw Mogrim had fallen backward.

“Are you okay?!” I exclaimed.

“R-Red! C’mere!”

I gently pulled away from Ruti and hurried over.

“What is it?”

“T-take a look at this.”

“This is…”

There was a gem about the size of a thumb in Mogrim’s hand. It looked red at first, but the shine changed colors as I examined it, turning blue, yellow, and purple, too.

“So there was a gemstone that survived. It doesn’t seem like an earth crystal… This is… Wait, is that…”

“Yeah! It’s an iridescent ruby! Every smith’s dream!”

Mogrim was trembling in excitement, not even bothering to stand back up.

Iridescent rubies were legendary. They were said to have the properties of every material. It was rumored they could be used to make weapons and armor harder than diamond, more durable than steel, capable of cutting through anything and enduring any impact.

The Holy Demon Slayer Ruti had wielded was a sword forged from iridescent ruby by Demis, if the myths were to be believed. It was a stone rare enough to have legends about it, and just like Mogrim said, it was something every smith dreamed of.

“Are you sure?” I questioned.

“How should I know?! It’s not like I’ve ever seen a real iridescent ruby before. Other than the fabled dwarf kings, no dwarf has. All I know is this is a gem I’ve never seen before, and it looks the same as iridescent rubies are described!” Mogrim leaped to his feet. “There might be more!”

And with that, he started tearing through the heaps of lead.

“…But I want something that suits Rit a little better…,” I muttered, glancing at all the piles of lead.

No matter where I searched in the heaps of dull gray, I couldn’t find anything with a sky-blue gleam to match Rit’s.

Our group took an hour’s break to recover somewhat from magic exhaustion.

After that, we would either go back to the gem giants’ village to report or else walk and rest a bit more. Either way, we would be sleeping early tonight. It had been that exhausting a battle for everyone. However, Mogrim was still tirelessly searching through the lead piles. His was a tenacity and mental fortitude befitting a dwarf.

As for the rest of us, Ruti watched the clouds wafting through the sky, Yarandrala was holding a branch of holly with her eyes closed, and Mistorm was sitting cross-legged on a mat. All three of them were concentrating to recover their magic power.

Rit’s eyes were locked on me. Her expression was different than usual. “Red.”

“Wh-what is it?”

“I would like an explanation for the action you executed to transfer power to Yarandrala,” she stated, looking displeased.

“It is a technique passed down among high elves. It doesn’t require spells or skills, only physical contact. However, when performed where there is a thinner layer of skin, for example, with both parties connecting across mucous membranes, the efficacy of the transfer increases significantly. Likely the theory behind it is something similar to the draining abilities employed by succubus demons or vampires. From a pure transfer-efficacy perspective, optimal results would be had if both parties opened a cut and maintained contact via the wounds, but that would hurt, be unsanitary, and generally just cause more problems all around. Thus, linking through the lips is the most practical method available, and given the situation, I judged it to be a necessary action,” I explained, nervously watching Rit’s reaction.

“I understand you had a good reason…ugh…but!” She thumped my chest lightly. “I want to know more of what you know. I want to know everything about you. Compared to Yarandrala, I’ve been with you for such a short time…”

“Okay, I understand, Rit.”

“What? Eh?!”

I kissed her, and just like before, I transferred my magic. Rit’s eyes went wide in shock, but she quickly untensed and gazed into my eyes with a drowsy, almost intoxicated stare. When I pulled away, Rit sighed.

“…Now you understand that part of me, too,” I declared.

“It’s like a warm strength poured into me. It still feels like it’s flowing around inside of me,” Rit remarked as she squeezed herself. “This… This is a wonderful thing! I could get addicted to this sensation!”

“Ah-ha-ha. I’m glad you liked it… Ghk.”

My vision blurred.

“Red?!” Rit frantically shifted to support my wobbling body.

“Passing magic power to someone else is fine and all, but I don’t have precise control of the technique. I gave you all of my magic power just now.”


“Ahhh, so this is why Yarandrala and Mistorm can’t move. My body isn’t responding at all.”

Had Rit not been there, my face would have collided with the ground.

Ruti was really fighting while feeling like this? That’s amazing.

Rit’s face paled. “Red! Are you okay?!”

“It’s not life-threatening or anything, but my muscles aren’t responding. You can just set me down somewhere.”

“On the ground…?”

Rit hugged me close. Maybe my body temperature had fallen from magic exhaustion, but Rit’s warmth was comfortable and inviting. Before I realized it, I was growing drowsy.

“Still, this is a bit of a problem. I don’t know how to recover magic power like Ruti or the others… I might not be able to move for a while…,” I confessed.

“Then just lean on me.”

Rit shifted me to a position that wouldn’t be uncomfortable and sat down. Now she was hugging me from behind.

“Aren’t I heavy?” I asked.

She shook her head. “It’s a pleasant weight.”


My eyelids were heavy now, and my mind was begging for rest. I was trying to endure, but even my soul was crying out for a break. There was no way to hold on, and I could feel my consciousness slipping away.

“It’s fine. You can fall asleep. I’ll stay by your side.”

“…I… If you…say so… Thanks…”

I don’t know how I even managed to reply. I touched Rit’s hand, making sure she was there. Reassured, I stopped fighting it.

“You really fell asleep.”

Red had passed out with a peaceful look on his face while resting against Rit. The young woman squeezed him, adjusting the unconscious man slightly to be in a more comfortable position.


Rit giggled and then blushed as she looked around.

Mistorm’s eyes were closed, but it was clear she was holding back a chuckle, and Ruti was staring straight at Red.

Ruti is always using the excuse of being siblings to cling to him! Is it wrong for me to do it, too? thought Rit.

If Mogrim had been able to hear her thoughts, he would have shot back, “What do you mean? You do that just as much as she does!” But he was absorbed in his search for gems, so even if he’d possessed a mind-reading skill, he would’ve kept quiet.

And so Rit’s mental resolution to be more aggressive about flirting with Red went unnoticed.

She alternately gazed out at the winter sky and peered down at Red’s face.

He was sleeping defenselessly in her arms, which made Rit indescribably happy. The breeze was frigid on the mountain, and because she’d thrown away her coat during the fight, her skin was cold, but that just emphasized the contrast with the warmth in her arms. It felt like the love welling up inside her was going to burst.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Rit was absorbed in her feelings, so she twitched in shock at the sudden voice. Yarandrala was smiling as she beheld Rit.

“Don’t scare me like that.”

“Ah-ha-ha, but I wasn’t even particularly trying to sneak up on you.”

Rit blushed. They were still out on a dangerous mountain, and she had gotten so absorbed in her moment with Red that all else had faded away.

“I’d like to chat with you a bit if you don’t mind,” requested Yarandrala.

Rit nodded, and the high elf took a seat next to her.

“How was the magic transfer?”

“‘How’ as in…?”

“It was a rapturous feeling, right?”


“At the purest level, it’s accepting a part of someone you love and making it a part of you. I’m sure the first elf who discovered this technique was a passionate person,” Yarandrala remarked.

Rit looked at Red and smiled happily. “Yeah, I agree. I don’t think it was developed for combat. It must have originated from something more beautiful than that.”

Yarandrala peered over at Red’s sleeping face. “He’s changed.”

“Changed?” Rit asked.

“In a good way. The old him would never have allowed himself to be so defenseless while out on a dangerous mountain. Not only that, he transferred magic to you outside of necessity. The Red I knew would never have done that,” Yarandrala said as she gently patted his head. “The first time we met, he was still a knight in training, only nine years old. He was so cute walking around in a child-size knight outfit.”

“What? I wish I could have seen that.”

“I secretly sketched a portrait back then. I can show you later.” Yarandrala’s eyes were fixed upon Red’s face. “Small as he was, Red was more active than any of the other pages and squires in the capital. He took dangerous mission after dangerous mission, and the days he was off duty, he worked as an adventurer…all to become just a little bit stronger for the day his little sister would eventually set off on her journey.”

“He’s mentioned it before, but…”

“Of course, it’s thanks to that effort that he can act this way now. Still, I always wanted him to find happiness as just Red rather than having to continue fighting as a hero.”

“Yarandrala…,” Rit muttered.

A lovely smile crossed the high elf’s face, like a flower blooming.

“When he was driven out of the party, I thought he must have been suffering. He was always battling, all to be able to help Ruti in her quest, and I couldn’t help thinking just how hopeless he must have felt to have that stolen. But I was wrong! You were there for my precious friend!”

“Only because you supported me,” Rit added.

Yarandrala raised a questioning eyebrow. “That time in the bewitching woods?”

“Yeah. I had this image of him as perfect, a hero even greater than Ruti. But it was just like you said. There were things he didn’t know and things he didn’t notice. And that just made me love him even more.”

“I’m glad you’re the person he fell for.”

Overcome with emotion, Yarandrala suddenly kissed Rit. Rit’s eyes went wide from shock, and she was a little confused, but then she remembered that high elves expressed deep affection physically.

Even though Yarandrala was used to human society, her nature showed through in charged moments.

After thinking for a little bit, Rit decided, “Yeah, I definitely can’t go to Kiramin.”

“Really? Kiramin’s a nice place, too,” Yarandrala replied.

“I’m sure.” Rit squeezed the man in her arms tightly before whispering softly, “But Red’s lips are mine.”

When I opened my eyes, the sun was already starting to get low in the sky.

I had only meant to rest for an hour, but evidently, I’d taken far more time. I shot up upon realizing the time, yet everyone smiled and assured me there was no need to rush since the view was so lovely.

While I was out, Rit’s golems had been working to clear a passage back into the mines. It was a small opening, but it was enough for people to pass through, and while we got our knees a little dirty crawling, we managed to make it safely back to the gem giants’ tunnels.

When we made it back to the village and reported that we had slain the gem beast, the giants were stunned. They were even more awestruck by the iridescent ruby Mogrim showed them as proof of the monster’s death.

That night, we enjoyed our second feast of the trip.

“For as long as I’ve been called Rit the hero, I’ve never experienced something like this before. Guest at another feast thrown by monsters. A trip like this feels odd after settling into a slow life,” Rit said.

“Since we’re not in a rush to get somewhere or accomplish a goal, we have the opportunity to experience new and different things, I guess,” I answered.

Even to us humans, the portions of food laid out were definitely on the small side.

Gem giants didn’t have any knowledge of farming and hadn’t developed any techniques for it. Furthermore, there weren’t many animals you could hunt up at this altitude. Today’s meal was baked wild fowl and vegetables with a sauce made from ground nuts. The food itself was nothing special, but the dishes it was served on were quite remarkable. The giants had apparently made them by processing the glass I had brought. They glittered as surely as any true precious stones.

The food was presented in a precise geometric arrangement on the dishes, creating a presentation worthy of a feast for otherwise average food. Such a display felt appropriate for the dexterous gem giants.


Ruti seemed to enjoy sampling giant cooking for the first time ever.

Mogrim wore a long face, and his eyes were cast down while everyone else ate.

Curious, I asked, “What is it, Mogrim?”

“Hmm? Nothing…”

“What, not feeling well?” Mistorm questioned.

“Were you injured?” Yarandrala added.

Mogrim glanced up with a dejected look.

“It’s just, we defeated the gem beast, but it had already consumed all the jewels around here, right? I was just wondering what will happen to the gem giants now.”

In the end, we had only recovered the one iridescent ruby from the gem beast. Even if we gave it to the giants, that wouldn’t be enough to fulfill their energy needs.

“That’s nothing a guest needs to be fret over,” the gem giant chief responded cheerily. “We can ration the glass you gave us and survive awhile longer. If we can find another vein while that lasts, then there won’t be a problem, and if we can’t, then that’s it. We’ve been quite blessed as it is. If we aren’t able to endure, then that is just fate.”

“But”—Mogrim eyed the gem giant family smiling cheerfully behind him and then turned his head down—“I still want to do something…”

Mistorm crossed her arms in thought. I examined a glass bowl filled with food and was suddenly struck by an idea.

“Hey, Rit, Mistorm, Mogrim. How much do you think this glass dish would sell for in Zoltan?”

“Hmm, for something like this, even on the low end, you could get about ten payrils, at least.”

“I agree, it is valuable, but are there any traveling merchants who would come all the way out here to buy it? And gem giants coming down to a human village to trade would cause a big fuss, so that’s out.”

“And if you put in a quest for adventurers, it’d be too expensive to be worth it.”

Each reply was fairly sensible.

“What about if it was the zoog village?” I proposed.

“The zoog village? Ahhh…that we could probably manage.” Mistorm nodded.

“What are you thinking, Red?” Rit pressed.

Zoogs claimed they couldn’t understand commerce, even though they needed meat, because they could not comprehend weighing the values of different things against one another. They struggled to deal with merchants because they didn’t know a fair price from an exploitative one.

“If a merchant gives glass to the zoogs, the gem giants can hunt to get meat to trade the zoogs for the glass, and then the gem giants can cut the glass to replenish their energy and leave the cut glass with the zoogs to keep the cycle going,” I outlined.

In this way, the dangerous leg of the route between the zoog village and the Wall at the End of the World could be entrusted to the gem giants. The zoogs could obtain meat without fretting over negotiations, too. This method would keep the gem giants in a steady supply of glass and help them avoid starvation.

“Should the gem giants ever discover a new vein of jewels, the stones can be added to the deal. If the zoogs’ business comprehension grows, they should become comfortable enough to trade their liquor and mushrooms. With a profitable trade route for merchants along Zoltan’s eastern road, the Merchants Guild will invest some money in dealing with the goblins and other monsters, making things safer for the villages along the way.”

Mistorm nodded. “Hmm, if I ask a trader I know who could get some work for Godwin, too…I think this just might work.”

“That would be great! It would take care of everything!” Mogrim clapped. He was as happy as if it had been his own problem solved. The dwarf gleefully detailed the plan to the gem giants, who grasped the concept and stomped the ground in joy.

The chief proclaimed, “Little friend, blessings’ guide, may your journey be always graced with light!”

That feast was when I learned that gem giants had a habit of singing to express their joy.

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