It had been about two years since Ardis and the others started living in the village. In that time, the village that only had about a hundred people at first expanded quickly, and now the population is over five hundred people ranging from different ages.
Normally, a sudden spike in population would call for discord between the villagers. However, surprisingly, the people brought over by Sera were able to get together without any many problems.
It’s unknown what method she employed but, perhaps she had chosen people based on some criteria. Seeing the village with many twins, and several tribes from the western countries, or children that are of mixed races, despite the occasional surprised look, there were no discrimination.
That’s why, for Riana, there’s no need to be scared and put on a fake self in this village, it’s a place where she can be herself.
Riana who was called out stopped walking and turned around. It was a wolf-like creature that came nearer. However, his size was many folds larger than a wolf.
The enormous body even larger than an entire carriage, covered with black fur, it looks exactly like a fierce demonic being or beast.
Although other people might shrink in fear from the gigantic black creature, or get into a fighting stance, Riana did neither but replied casually.
「What’s the matter, Rupus? 」
The black beast’s name is Rupus. Two years ago, it was the beast that can understand human language that Ardis and Rona brought to the village.
In the beginning, Riana was afraid too but, she had gotten used to it now and can converse with him without any problems.
Rupus continued to approach. However, his every step was accompanied by children’s laughter noises. There were several children hanging down and swaying while grabbing onto his black fur.
Despite wearing a tired expression because of the children that wouldn’t get off, Rupus still moved carefully to not shake them off. After looking at the children having fun with Rupus, Riana asked purely out of curiosity.
「Is it not painful? 」
「Uuu……, it’s a little painful. But they won’t leave me no matter what I say. 」
Rupus with an expression almost crying grumbled.
「Well, I think it’s better to be liked than afraid of right? 」
「It’s a little different from that though, I think……」
Even Rupus himself who was timid at first had completely become one of the villagers by now. However, he soon became a popular figure for the children as the people came to understand his gentle nature, or his weak personality if not saying it nicely.
After they found out Rupus isn’t scary, the children only saw Rupus as a playing mate that’s comfortable to touch. Because of that as well, Rupus is now always a playing partner for the children.
While they were chatting, a boy about three years old approached, hugging onto Rupus’s leg and started climbing him.
It was indeed a peaceful scenery. If it’s Rupus who has strength equalling Ardis or Rona, then he wouldn’t be tired out even after playing with the children.
However, it’s apparent to the eyes that he’s terribly tragic. Not injuring the children and enduring the discomfort and pain from his fur being pulled, there were no longer anyone in the village that saw Rupus as a dangerous beast.
「So, what’s the matter? 」
Riana asked, then Rupus sighed a little, before starting to talk with his fierce looking jaws.
「Did Ardis-san went somewhere? 」
「Ardis? ……I think he went to Reiten with Rona together today. 」
Recently, whenever Ardis and Rona leaves the village for an occasion, either Riana or Fillia would be accompanying. And so, today’s rotation is Fillia being a company and Riana staying behind.
「I see. They went out huh……. Will they be back within today? 」
「Probably, I think they will be back before night. 」
「Then can you tell him that the village chief called for him when he’s back? 」
It’s rare to see the village chief call for Ardis. Riana looked gloomy as she thought that something bad happened.
「I can do that but……. I’m going to patrol now, so I probably won’t be around for a while? If it’s a message, I think it’s better for you to find Nere, she’s staying in the house. 」
Already considered as an adult, Riana has her role within the village.
「Uuu……, that person is a little scary……」
「……Is that so? 」
Riana who had been together with Nere for a long time didn’t understand Rupus. Certainly, Nere’s expressionless face doesn’t give people a good first impression.
However, Nere is akin to a family member after spending half her life together with. Even if she hasn’t changed one bit in appearance since the day she met her, Riana wasn’t afraid.
「She’s a kind person, I don’t think you have to be nervous. 」
「U…nn. ……………I will try. 」
Rupus with depressed shoulders left the area. Despite his inexplicable sad atmosphere, the children were playing with Rupus like he’s a slide, it was a strange scene.
「Sorry for making you wait. 」
「Nope, it wasn’t that long actually. 」
It was her year-long friend, Karina who was waiting at the entrance of the village. It’s a rule to have villagers form a group of two whenever they’re patrolling within the barrier.
As the partner is not set in stone, Riana will be patrolling the east side together with Karina today.
「I was a little late too, thanks to Deen taking more time before we left. 」
「Deen is at the north today, right? 」
「Yep. He’s with Nakka today, so he’s in high spirits. He even put up a nice hairstyle despite patrolling is our work. What a stupid person, right? 」
Without knowing what is best to reply, Riana could only vaguely laugh. Although twins too, Karina and Deen are unlike Riana with Fillia who have exceptional good relationship.
It might be because of their difference in gender but, they always like to talk bad about the other person disregarding whether the other person is around or not.
After confirming their own equipment, the two entered the forest after leaving the village. The forests near the village are safe, as not even preys could be found.
Since there’s still some distance to the area they need to start being careful, the two were chattering while walking towards the outskirts of the barrier.
「But is it really okay? 」
「Eh? About what? 」
「About Deen. That guy, even though he was so stuck up with Riana half a year ago, he easily changed over to Nakka as soon as she arrived in the village……」
Nakka is another girl at fifteen that had joined the village half a year ago. A child of a minority tribe in the western countries known as the Reto tribe, she’s an adorable girl with large brownish eyes even in Riana’s eyes.
Since she’s an archer, she is tasked with patrolling within the barrier and hunting just like Riana.
「Not really, I’m not really bothered. And……, I don’t really understand those things. 」
Currently, Deen seems to be interested in Nakka, and he’s proactively trying to be involved. So for him, today’s work with Nakka as a partner is probably half date.
Of course, Riana didn’t hate Deen either. However, that’s only to the extent of a friend, about the same level as her friendliness to Karina.
It was not the 『Special kind of like』 that they talked about before. That’s why, Riana didn’t really felt disappointed when Deen stopped his approach. Rather, she even felt like some of her troubles were lifted.
「Seriously. Are faces the only thing that men see? 」
「W-Who knows……? 」
Not even able to respond badly, Riana simply tried to redirect the topic.
「What about Karina, is there anyone you’re interested in? 」
It seems like she didn’t expect to be asked, as Karina pointed at herself in surprise.
「Leaving aside two years ago, there’re now quite a lot more boys of similar age right? 」
When Riana came to the village two years ago, there were only about a hundred people in the village. For Deen or Karina, there were not many people of the opposite gender with similar age to be particular about.
That’s probably why Deen had interest in Riana who was similar in age. However, the village now has more than five hundred people. For Deen and Karina, they would have more people to look from.
「I suppose. Nn――, maybe someone like Ardis-san is good. 」
「Eh……, Ardis? 」
「Unn. Ardis-san always has this strange reassurance around him even when he’s not moving, and the fact that he offers help in kindness also scores a high point. And his face is not half bad too, and above all, that strength! Even if demonic beings attacked, he will definitely protect us right? 」
Riana who was taken by surprise struggled with words while she agreed. She was half happy knowing someone else understood Ardis, but she also felt half pain in her chest without knowing the reason.
「In fact, Ardis-san is quite popular in the village, you know. Especially with the hunting tribes like the Reto, according to their tribe’s standards, Ardis who always bring back tremendous amount of preys is very well-received. 」
As Karina continued to praise about Ardis, Riana’s fuzzy feeling became stronger. While wondering what is it really that she was feeling, Riana continued to vaguely reply.
It was at that time. Riana’s mana detection suddenly caught several responses. About ten human-sized responses, and they were heading straight towards themselves.
「Karina, there’re people ahead. About ten. 」
Hearing that, Karina’s warm and loose expression immediately became tense.
「People? There’s no mistake? 」
「With that many, and on top of that, they’re walking in formation, there aren’t any other creatures inside the forest that can do that right? 」
「That’s true too. ……Riana, let’s hide in the trees. 」
Without waiting for Riana, Karina quickly climbed a nearby tree. Riana as well panickily followed and climbed up another tree and hid herself.
Eventually, the mana signatures drew closer, and it’s about the distance they can make visual contact. The front leader is a man carrying a bastard sword.
Then a slightly shorter man with a bow. And then two more mercenary-like people, and another shorter person behind them as if hiding.
As the distance closed and as their faces became identifiable, Riana and Karina both sighed in relief and lowered their guard.
It was because the group had people of familiar faces within them. The two landed back on the ground so that the other party could see them easily, before starting to wave their hands.