Oh boy, been excited to get this one started. This story was adopted from dude932, so you can expect that the first two chapters will be a rewrite of his work, and then from there it'll be me. Big thanks to dude932 both for letting me take over and letting me bounce ideas off of him, and a big thank you to my beta Zaru for the hard work.
Let's get to it!
When Manato had just barely survived the Goblin ambush at Damroww, Haruhiro had been elated. When he discovered that things would never be the same again for their little band of volunteer soldiers, elation became a quiet, dull frustration.
He didn't understand. He couldn't understand why the process of 'getting back to normal' had left him behind. For the others, it had been a short rocky period where everyone had been a bit... twitchy, then it had been like nothing had happened.
For Haruhiro, he couldn't shake that maddening feeling that something terrible had happened, and somehow, he'd been the only one present.
Eventually, that feeling of being out of sync with everyone around him was too much.
Fed up, Haruhiro had left the party.
Manato and Yume had pleaded for him to stay, Ranta had waved him away with a derisive laugh, and Moguzo and Shihoru had held their silence. Perhaps he had been the odd one out for too long and was just tired of it all.
Couldn't really say for sure, even now.
His master at the Thieves Guild, Barbara, had told him that a Thief could survive just fine on their own. Provided they were willing to break the law, or had skills Haruhiro neither had, nor could afford to learn.
Of course, he'd tried joining another party to see if he fit in better, he had even considered going to Renji of all people. But Renji had Sassa, and Haruhiro didn't have the time or the will to ask questions he knew the answer to.
Besides, Renji had already passed him over with barely a glance, once before, when they and ten others had entered this world through the Forbidden Tower.
Other parties had no need of a rookie Thief still learning the basics of his trade, and hadn't exactly been shy about it either.
So Haruhiro had spent the past several weeks more or less alone, with the Goblins of the forest his only consistent company. That had been a fun (read; terrifying and stressful) experience, but he'd adapted and pushed past the fear.
Fear seemed better than starvation, and he was skinny enough as it was.
Damroww was out of the question, not only were the Goblins better equipped and more experienced, but they traveled in larger groups. Haruhiro could handle one, maybe two Goblins if the conditions were right, but that was the extent of his skill for now. The forest hunting ground seemed well-suited to his hit and run tactics, anyways, and on days when he was lucky, he could end fights before they'd even started.
It had yet to occur to Haruhiro that he alone was making kills that had once been a struggle for his whole party.
It helped that the glimmering green line, the supposedly rare and unreliable skill unique to Thieves, was appearing in his vision more and more. Barbara had warned him against relying on it, but Haruhiro wasn't inclined to ignore what was essentially a free kill, provided something sharp was handy.
Who was he kidding? Barbara had trained him. He always had something sharp handy.
It still didn't appear all the time and he had no idea what triggered it, but it had gotten to the point where he was mildly surprised not to see it at least every few days.
The frequency of which being yet another thing he had no intention of sharing with Barbara. He hadn't decided if her irritation or curiosity was more frightening, thus, he decided to just avoid both.
More importantly, his old party was hunting Damroww, so the forest were their days as reservists had began was enticing in more ways than one. Hunting alone had taught him things he perhaps never would have learned with the safety net comrades provided. So while they weren't as rich as their abandoned city counterparts, the Goblins of the forest provided just enough wealth for Haruhiro to scrape by.
A small pile of copper and a handful of silver wasn't anything to brag about, but Haruhiro didn't need all that much to begin with.
Currently, he was sitting around a small campfire, tonight was his third night out here. Hiking to and from Altana every day with his meager earnings was more hassle than it was worth, and he'd begun staying outside the walls for days at a time. Not willing to risk camping within the forest, Haruhiro had instead made his camp a short distance from the treeline, out in the open.
Haruhiro wasn't a heavy sleeper to begin with, so he found he'd naturally wake up several time a night to unfamiliar sounds. Every time he did, he'd rise from his tiny shelter and make a few rounds, quickly falling into the habit of ensuring his safety before going to sleep. Despite being awake several times a night, he always woke up feeling refreshed and alert in the morning.
This was better than waking up dead, so Haruhiro found himself rather attached to his new habit.
Unfortunately though, he was almost out of rations, so he'd need to make the return trip to Altana after he was finished today. Back to a whole city of people who considered him worthless, how fun.
Maybe he could call it a day early and get back out here before nightfall?
He wouldn't have to pay to spend the night at the volunteer lodgings that way.
Deciding that that was the best way to combat the unpleasant feelings already welling within over the visit, Haruhiro finished his breakfast, leaving just enough for a snack if he got hungry later. The fire was stomped out, and he began gathering his gear.
Leather armor over a black short sleeve shirt, with a sheath for his small knife over his chest. A quick check revealed the edge to be in good shape, so next came the thin black gloves that covered his arm up to mid bicep. Thicker leather gloves that kept his fingers partially exposed slipped over those. His scarf was the wrapped loosely around his neck, he didn't need it for the cold on a day like today, but it was comforting nonetheless.
The dagger belted around his waist was pulled out and examined with a small frown. This was his original dagger that he'd been given upon completing his Thief training.
He'd briefly owned an impressive (to him) black dagger, single edged where this one was doubled, and brand-new as opposed to the worn hand-me-down in his hands. It had been lost in the ambush, and every time he looked at his old dagger, he was reminded of his failures.
Shaking away his gloomy train of thought, Haruhiro nodded quietly to himself and sheathed his dagger.
His campsite wasn't much to look at, because tents and proper bedding were expensive, but he'd made do. A small tarp propped up by two sticks served as his shelter, with a third to keep it from drooping. The other end was pegged into the dirt, and his bedding was nothing more than a tattered blanket he'd bought for a few coppers. The red jacket he'd woken up in Grimgar wearing was often used for extra warmth on cold nights.
Said jacket was soon wrapped around the meager possessions he didn't need to take with him, stashed beneath a well hidden log a short distance into the treeline. His camp certainly looked lived in, but unless someone wanted a tattered old blanket, he doubted anyone would be willing to take the time to pick it over.
Making sure he had everything with him, he padded off silently into the forest, following familiar trails, that he himself had made through the trees.
He'd have to check the traps on the way back into Altana. While he was no great hunter by anyone's standards, he'd picked up the knowledge of a few basic snares from watching Goblins. For the most part, he'd sell the small game he caught within town, it wasn't something he could rely on but every little bit helped.
After all, Haruhiro liked to think of himself as just a teensy bit more resourceful than the average goblin.
More resourceful, and at least a little bit better looking.
The day wore on uneventfully, Haruhiro keeping one eye on the rising sun to gauge time. The trip there and back from Altana would take some time so sooner was better than later, but he didn't want to leave without accomplishing anything. Deep tracks on the trail ahead of him caught his attention, and he crouched to examine them with a soft frown.
Goblin footprints, still warm in the mud, so obviously fresh, seemed they'd been chasing something themselves. There were hoof-prints mixed in the mud with the Goblin tracks, quite obviously heading in the same direction. Haruhiro didn't know enough to tell if they were deer or horse, but horse seemed like the safer bet. Haruhiro had never ridden a horse that he was aware of, given his missing memories before Grimgar.
Nonetheless, he felt confident in the idea that he'd have no idea what to do with a wild horse.
Biting his lip, Haruhiro pulled up his scarf to cover the bottom half of his face, a nervous habit that was actually his primary reason for wearing it in the first place. There were four sets of Goblin prints, and some of them were obviously larger than others. Twice as many as he had ever fought alone.
Still, no harm in just looking into the situation, right? Even if the situation was too dangerous, he could be gone before anyone was the wiser. And while he couldn't ride the horse, if he managed to catch it he could at least sell it for a few silvers?
A horse didn't seem like a cheap thing, and Haruhiro was essentially making his living off of cheap things. As he mused to himself, his boots were already tracing the path before him, instinctively avoiding the worst of the mud to allow near complete silence.
It didn't take long for Goblin voices to reach his ears and wood-smoke to reach his nose, so Haruhiro slid off the trail and into the bush. He couldn't make out any sounds that might belong to a distraught animal, so perhaps they hadn't caught the horse?
Hard to tell over all the Goblin shouting.
Slinking closer, his scarf once more covering his lower face as if it would somehow help. Hidden behind a tree, Haruhiro peeked out to see what was happening.
Just as expected, there were four Goblins. Two were the short Goblins he was used to handling alone, one with a short sword and shield, the other with a crossbow, which was rare, at least to Haruhiro. They were focused on the other two, much larger Goblins, their enjoyment drawing his attention next.
One of the Goblins was massive, easily the largest creature he'd seen since coming to Grimgar. The club in its hands was almost as long as Haruhiro was tall, and he wasn't willing to bet on which was heavier. The other was tall and lean, with blue skin as opposed to the green of the other three, with plate armor and a spear.
Recalling the tracks, these four must have come from Damroww, explaining their equipment to a degree.
The creature they were surrounding was clearly the object of their pursuit from Damroww, and Haruhiro said 'creature' because it was neither horse nor human, but a mixture of both, and he had never seen something quite like it before.
Or rather, he had never quite seen something like her before.
She was obviously female, because the upper half of her body was that of a fair-skinned woman with sky-blue eyes wide with fear, streaming tears down towards the crude rag used to gag her. She had long, golden hair in a high ponytail, bangs framing her face and a single lock of hair falling between her eyes, her horse-like ears long and brown.
Her arms were bound in front of her with rope. The next thing he noticed was that even with the metal armor she wore could tell her chest was quite large, easily topping even Shihoru, which was impressive in fact, it made Shihoru almost look puny in comparison, like comparing grapefruit to giant, ripe-.
Haruhiro bit back an embarrassed groan.
Really, really not the time for teenage hormones.
Perhaps more noticeably (just by a little), was that the bottom half of her body, covered by a long black skirt, was that of a well-built, but slender, brown-haired horse. He supposed that made her a Centaur, though Haruhiro wasn't precisely sure where he knew that word from.
How she'd been caught was obvious, against the dark fabric in her skirt, piercing one of the front shoulders of her horse half, were a pair of crossbow bolts. All four of her legs were bound by thick rope, so there was no chance she'd escape on her own, and no chance he'd be able to free her without dealing with the Goblins in some way.
He had to do something, he couldn't just leave her. Who knew what they'd do to her? But odds weren't exactly in their favor. If he went in without a plan, then they were both as good as dead. If they were lucky, and Haruhiro didn't place a great deal of confidence in his luck.
Or anything else of his, really.
He had to- the blue Goblin laughed as it hiked up her skirt, and the woman screamed frantically through the gag. The massive Goblin circled around behind her with an unsettling grin.
The big brute was reaching towards its belt when Haruhiro's caution ran out.
By the time he'd gathered his thoughts, his blades were in his hands and his body was out from cover and dashing into the open. His throwing knife found its way through the air and into a Goblin throat, and its crude laughter turned to choking gurgles.
The Thief didn't spare it another glance.
The other small Goblin had whipped towards its comrade in shock, which did little to help it when a leaping Thief slammed into its upper back and rode it face-first into the campfire. It burned and screamed, and Haruhiro, ignoring that his hands burned with it, lifted his dagger high and finished the job.
Haruhiro gagged from the awful stench of cooking flesh, and then gagged for an entirely different reason as a meaty hand engulfed his throat and lifted him airborne. His hands clawed wildly at the ground as the huge Goblin lifted him upwards, and his hand caught a grip of something wooden as he was hoisted skywards.
Haruhiro found himself eye to eye with a grinning Goblin, and that Goblin found itself eye to eye with the loaded crossbow Haruhiro had managed to scoop up during his ascent. The blue Goblin cried out a warning, too late to do any good.
The big one was still grinning when the bolt punched through its eye to peek out the back of its skull.
It toppled over and Haruhiro rolled off of it, staggering to his feet and breathing heavily. Empty crossbow in one hand, dagger in the other as the armored Goblin eyed him warily. It was understandably shocked when Haruhiro grinned fiercely, adrenaline making his blood sing.
He charged, it charged, and crossbow met the spear halfway as Haruhiro twisted it into the path of the strike, twisting his body out of the way. The spear slipped into the joint of the crossbow, and Haruhiro spun with it, ripping the spear from the Goblin's grasp.
Haruhiro turned back, just in time to be tackled into the mud.
The weaponless Goblin reared over him, pinning Haruhiro with its legs while it rose a fist to slam down on the smaller Thief. Haruhiro didn't panic, however, because Barbara had all but beaten the panic out of him, training him in exactly the methods to deal with this scenario.
No chance he'd put her training to shame dealing with an amateur.
As soon as the Goblin switched from trying to pummel him with its dominant hand to using both, Haruhiro acted. Bucking his hips, Haruhiro drove a knee into the small of its back, pushing it forward and off balance. Haruhiro twisted his body and slammed a fist into the side of its neck, rolling with it to reverse their positions.
Rather than try to pin it, Haruhiro flowed to his feet and stomped hard on the dazed Goblin's throat. Something gave way, and kept giving way from the second stomp, the third, and the-
His boots weren't exactly waterproof, but the liquid soaking through them wasn't water anyways.
He grabbed his dagger, just to be extra sure, and thrust it up underneath the twitching creatures chin.
The twitching stopped.
Haruhiro stilled as he realized that the silence of the clearing was broken only by his own heavy breathing, and the crackling of wood
Putting aside how the hell he'd managed to win, Haruhiro gave a nervous swallow and decided with a cringe that he should probably deal with the wide-eyed Centaur, tightly bound and nervously staring.
"I-I'm not going to hurt you." Speaking as calmly as he could, glad that her skirt had somehow fallen back into place. Seeing his dagger in the mud nearby, he picked it up as he approached, her eyes narrowing with wariness. Slowly, gently, he removed the gag from her mouth as he crouched down in front of her.
"I'm going to cut you free, alright?" Speaking slowly and softly, keeping his voice as level as he could, which, from the blood pounding in his ears, probably wasn't all that level.
"V-very well." She responded with a shaky nod.
He would have been really embarrassed if it turned out they couldn't speak the same language.
The ropes were thick, but not enough to foil his daggers edge. Immediately, the Centaur began rubbing her wrists, rotating them to get the blood flowing as Haruhiro moved onto the ropes binding her legs. However, when she was free she remained lying on the ground.
Haruhiro raised an eyebrow, but she spoke before he could.
"The bolts. They need to be removed or I risk damaging the muscle further." She explained, pain lending a tremble to her voice. "I… I don't think I have the will to do it myself."
Haruhiro froze in place after he realized what she was asking of him.
"Alright then... bite down on this." As he spoke, Haruhiro freed the sheath of his knife and held it out to her. She grasped it with shaking hands, placing it between her teeth. Haruhiro took a long deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment.
When his brown eyes met her blue, both gazes were steady.
"On three, ready?" Receiving a nod of confirmation, Haruhiro firmly grasped the first bolt. "Three." -And immediately pulled it out. His heart lurched at her muffled wail, but Haruhiro steeled himself and pulled the second bolt out quickly while she was distracted. The sheath fell from her lips as she screamed and collapsed onto her side, panting raggedly.
Haruhiro frowned as he examined the wound, already he could see the blood drenching the fabric around her shoulder.
"You need a Priest, I can't fix this myself."
"N-neither can I." The woman gasped in response. She pushed herself upright until her human half was straightened, her legs still splayed out to one side. The wound wasn't serious, but it wasn't something they could ignore either. Hopefully Manato wouldn't be hard to find, Haruhiro didn't know another Priest.
"I can try to get help… but I can't leave you behind, there will be other Goblins… do you think you can walk?" Haruhiro watched her carefully, judging the wounded mare's response. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and began to rise off the ground. Her back legs came up, and she supported her right front leg with both hands, the left one tucked up slightly, the injury not allowing her to put any weight on it.
Haruhiro pushed up against her, trying his best not to put pressure on the wound, and looped an arm around her waist, just above the equine half of her body. Her arm was draped over his shoulder, leaning into Haruhiro slightly. Slowly they attempted to walk, and while slow, at least it seemed manageable for now.
"Oh! My belongings." The Centaur turned her head with a frown, right as they reached the edge of the clearing. Haruhiro turned his head towards the campfire, and the still burning goblin, catching sight of a large pack, with a massive, sheathed sword and bow leaning up against it.
"I'll come back for them. We need you healed first, and we won't be able to carry all that at the same time." The woman conceded his point with a reluctant nod.
They set off down the trail that had led Haruhiro to her in the first place.
The return trip to Haruhiro's campsite was a slow one, and they were fortunate not to run into anything on the way there. More than once, the Centaur's wound and Haruhiro's exhaustion forced them to pause and rest, with each new start requiring Haruhiro to bear a little more of the woman's weight.
More than once, Haruhiro had to stop to 'catch his breath', when in fact he found his vision starting to swim, having slowly come aware of a dull throbbing near the base of his skull. He'd surreptitiously reached a hand back there during one of their rest breaks, and the hand had come away wet and dark. He must have hit something when the armored Goblin tackled him into the mud, but he honestly couldn't remember.
That... might not be a good sign.
Nevertheless, they made it to Haruhiro's modest campsite in one piece, and he led the Centaur to a spot where she could sit down, and offered his water-skin for her to drink from. "I'll find a Priest and be back as soon as I can." Haruhiro had just turned, already debating with himself as to where Manato might be, when a hand caught his wrist, stopping him in mid-stride with surprising strength.
Surprised that she would stop him, Haruhiro turned to find the woman smiling gently at him.
"Before you go, might I hear your name?" She requested, and while Haruhiro thought the timing odd, his whole day had been odd so he simply ran with it.
"Haruhiro." A quiet introduction.
"My name is Centorea Shianus, thank you for saving me, Haruhiro." Smiling softly, she was met with silence as Haruhiro merely nodded in return, unsure of how to reply and trying- and failing- not to be awkward about it.
He was spared by her releasing his arm, and soon he was off, headed towards Altana. He did his best to run the forty minute walk, more than a little alarmed to find himself occasionally moving in a less than straight line as his head pounded.
His throat was starting to burn from where the big Goblin had grasped it, and his fingers were blackened and cracked at the edges from forcing the small goblin into the fire.
He made it to the city and headed straight through the gate, the guards stationed there recognizing a familiar sight and not bothering to stop him. Or, they didn't want to deal with the muddy and injured.
Stopping in the square just past the gate and breathing heavily, Haruhiro scanned the mostly empty streets. In the early afternoon, most people were out hunting or recovering from said hunts, and he was just about to dash off towards the chapel when a voice called his name.
"Haruhiro?" Spinning towards the voice, he found a worried Manato with the rest of his party in tow. An unfamiliar girl with blue hair, in a ponytail, was with them, dressed in the garments of a Priest. It seemed he'd already been replaced. Manato was halfway through a healing chant when Haruhiro held out his hand to stop him. "What happened to you?"
"Not me, Manato, I need you to heal someone else. Please." Haruhiro breathed out, fatigue starting hit him more and more.
"Sure… lead the way." Manato still felt like he should have done more to convince Haruhiro to stay, so no chance he'd allow himself to fail his friend here. Haruhiro waited off to one side, feeling self-conscious from the realization that beyond Manato, he hadn't even seen the rest of his former party since he had left.
Manato had to work a little to convince the others to let him go alone, Yume being especially insistent, but soon enough the two were heading off back towards Centorea. Moguzo and Shihoru kept their silence but shot him a few glances, and Ranta was either ignoring him or didn't care. Either was fine for the brown-haired Thief, because he couldn't bring himself to care what Ranta thought either way.
Manato made a few more attempts to convince Haruhiro that he really should let him heal his wounds, but Haruhiro was too focused on his goal to entertain the thought. He wanted Manato to have as much magic necessary to heal Centorea, by the time he had gotten her to his campsite it was clear that she could hardly walk at all unaided.
Despite his focus, Haruhiro was running out of steam, so the return trip took longer than he would have liked.
"She's just over there." Haruhiro slowed to a walk as they reached the edge of his campsite, Manato matching his pace as they passed his small shelter. Manato frowned, this was where Haruhiro had been staying since he left the party? His thoughts were cut short as he spotted the woman he was supposed to heal.
Just like Haruhiro, he was aware that other, near-human races lived in Grimgar, but just like Haruhiro had never seen anyone quite like Centorea. His eyes settled on her injuries, and less important thoughts were thrust to the side.
Centorea for her part was a little nervous of the new arrival, but was more concerned with how Haruhiro swayed in place slightly as he stood back. "This is Centorea, Manato, she was attacked by Goblins." Manato smiled gently at the woman as he approached.
"Let's get you patched up, then." As the blonde Centaur gave a nod, she lifted her skirt to bare the two holes in her leg, and Manato began his spell, one hand on his forehead while the other traced symbols in the air. "O'light, return to Lumaris' divine protection. Cure." Placing his hand on the wound as it glowed softly, Centorea gave a small wince before relaxing with a relieved sigh, as the wounds began to shrink and the pain receded. She lowered her skirt, and Manato told her; "You were lucky, the wounds weren't deep."
"Your turn, Haruhiro." When Haru blinked blearily at him from the log he was sitting on, Manato rushed over to heal him, and held up a finger in front of his eyes to see how if he could focus on it. Luckily, the [Cure] spell seemed to do the trick, and Haruhiro's eyes seemed to refocus after he blinked a few times and slapped himself on the cheeks.
"So now how did you get those wounds, Haruhiro?" Manato questioned.
"He saved my life." Centorea spoke up in her clear voice, causing both teens to turn. "My careless attempt to pass through that abandoned city drew the attention of the many Goblins within."
"Damroww, I'm guessing?" Haruhiro nodded in response to Manato's questioning, recalling the tracks he'd found.
"Indeed, I escaped the horde of the little brutes seeking my capture, and the moment I thought I'd found safety within the forest was the moment I was shot. I can only assume the second bolt was insurance." A frown as she acknowledged the brutal logic. " I fear for what might have happened had Haruhiro not intervened."
The frown gave way to a proud smile and gleaming eyes as the tale continued. "He slew my captors and brought me here, hardly stopping to catch his breath before he set off in search of aid."
"Well, I'm impressed." Manato clapped a hand on Haruhiro's shoulder with a smile. "Good work Haruhiro." Haruhiro looked away, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head.
Centorea caught the motion and her eyes narrowed slightly, but when Manato caught her expression, his smile only widened.
"Centorea, you should rest for a bit. The injury might be gone, but my spell won't do anything to help with the fatigue from your experience." Centorea nodded at Manato's explanation, and Haruhiro rose to his feet. "Haruhiro?"
"We left Centorea's belongings behind at the goblin camp, I promised I'd go back for them. I also didn't take the time to check over the Goblins." Or retrieve my weapons, Haruhiro thought to himself, which was kind of important too.
Not like he could afford new ones.
"Allow me to accompany you." Centorea made to rise, but Manato held out his hand and stopped her.
"You should rest still, I'll go with Haruhiro." Manato was smiling again, more than a little pleased at the concern she was showing for his friend. "We'll be back soon." Haruhiro offered him a grateful nod and off they went.
Centorea was left to pace the campsite for a few restless minutes before settling down by the remains of the fire, taking her time to survey the small camp. The shelter seemed somewhat crude and flimsy, but possessed a homey, comforting sort of feel to it.
Deciding to let herself breathe a bit more freely, Centorea removed her armor, starting with the clasps at the shoulders and then moving onto the sides. Placing it down beside her pack, she began to rub her shoulders where the straps had sat and stretch her upper body out. She was still feeling a bit stiff, if not from the armor then from the rough treatment she'd experienced earlier.
Alone, and without the pain to distract her, Centorea allowed her thoughts to wander through the days events. She had been a bit shocked when the human came charging out of the treeline with all the fury and silence of a vengeful spirit, and admittedly, the savagery he'd displayed against his final foe had rattled her a little bit.
Yet, when the last foe had fallen before, his immediate concern had been solely for her well-being, her wariness quickly proven unnecessary.
... It didn't take her long to reach a conclusion, after that.
"Mother, I've found him." Face tilted towards the heavens, the serene smile on her face offered sharp contrast to the heart pounding rapidly in her chest. "I've found my own and only Master."
The path Haruhiro and Manato followed was more of a game trail than anything else, it was clear that Centorea was the largest of any who had walked it in recent weeks. Manato was intently observing Haruhiro as they traveled, taking note of how he seemed to instinctively travel several paces ahead, and seemed to be observing everywhere at once, hardly needing to check the tracks to insure his direction.
He seemed to have adapted quickly to not having anyone else to rely on, but Manato found himself saddened that Haruhiro had been forced to adapt at all. He deeply regretted not working harder to make Haruhiro stay in the party, and constantly found himself wondering if he himself was the cause of it. "How are you doing, Haruhiro?" The brunette turned his head back towards him with a raised eyebrow.
"No complaints, spell did its work. Thanks."
"Not what I meant, but you're welcome." Manato gave an easy chuckle. "Yume misses you, you know. Scouting with Ranta probably doesn't help matters, but she liked having you around."
Haruhiro chuckled at the mention of Ranta and Manato followed suit, but watched his friend closely as he broached the next topic.
"You might have noticed we have a new party member."
A noncommittal grunt.
"Mary is another Priest, Kikkawa recommended her." Manato was focused on his footing now, the mud having gotten thicker. "Things were tough at the beginning, she wasn't the easiest to get along with."
"She's a girl though, so that's at least Ranta's vote in her favor."
"You're not wrong, Yume and Shihoru shot him down pretty fast." He was silent for a moment as the teens wove their way through trees, formulating his thoughts. "Now that we've got our rhythm and are earning at a good pace, it's been decided that I'll change my class to Paladin and Mary will continue as our sole Priest."
Seeing Haruhiro's surprise, he decided to elaborate. "Mary was on my case for using my healing magic whenever someone was injured in anyway, and even after Damroww I still struggle with that." Haruhiro turned his head back to the front, a soft frown on his face as he recalled the event.
When they'd been ambushed and Manato had been shot, the dregs of magic he'd had left had barely allowed Manato to stop the bleeding long enough to be dragged home and healed by his mentor at the chapel.
"Maybe Paladin will suit you better, you do like being close to the action." Haruhiro pondered out loud.
"I'll be upfront with Moguzo while Ranta takes the back-line with Yume, so plenty of chances to find out." As he finished speaking, they stepped into the clearing and Manato froze in place from what he saw. A pair of Goblins face down in the mud, one with its head and shoulder obscured by the still burning campfire. Past that was a gigantic Goblin, a Hobgoblin he supposed, the crossbow bolt buried in its eye a clear sign of how it had fallen.
Just a short distance away, a tall, gangly blue Goblin in rudimentary plate mail lay face up, its tongue lolling and its neck-
Well, suddenly the dark stains on Haruhiro's boots made a lot more sense. "You did all this, Haruhiro?" The Thief in question was busy retrieving his dagger and its scabbard.
"Yeah, I had the element of surprise and got lucky." Lucky? If he hadn't fixed the wounds from the fight, Manato would have almost doubted that a fight actually occurred.
No, he couldn't think like that. Haruhiro had left the party because he'd felt separate from them. Manato refused to make that worse.
Manato waited over by the pack and weapons that he assumed belong to Centorea, taking in the details of them while Haruhiro picked over the dead Goblins. Haruhiro came over to him with a small pouch he'd taken off the blue Goblin.
"It's not much, I imagine, but its all I can give you for helping Centorea and I." Manato didn't even need to think about it, he closed Haruhiro's hand with his own and shook his head.
"We're friends, I didn't do it for any sort of reward."
Haruhiro's eyes widened. "You sure, Manato?"
"Yeah, we're doing well for ourselves, so put it to good use alright?" Haruhiro gave a nod and smiled slightly, before going over to the burning goblin and dragging it from the flames. As he did, something on its belt caught both their attentions at the same time.
"Huh, this is my dagger." As if it had nothing to do with him.
Manato suddenly regarded the other Goblins with new eyes. For the first time, he realized the significance of what he was seeing. "It was them. These are the Goblins from…"
"Damroww." Haruhiro's voice was grim, examining the black, single edged dagger in his grasp.
He'd left it behind when they'd been forced to flee the ambush that had nearly claimed Manato.
"We'd actually been working our way up to hunting them down once we were settled in with Mary as our Priest and me as the Paladin." Manato smiled at him speaking with a respectful tone. "Looks like you've already dealt with it for us, though, so I'll tell the others when I get back to Altana."
"I had no idea it was them." Haruhiro admitted softly as he gazed into the fire. "They were… I couldn't let them do what they wanted with Centorea." Truthfully, Haruhiro's memories of the fight weren't all that clear.
Manato frowned at the implications. Goblins were known to be cruel, lustful little beasts who would freely target females of other species if the mood took them, so Haruhiro's reasons for acting weren't hard to guess. Manato had enough women in his party that he wasn't entirely comfortable being near Goblins in the first place.
The impressiveness of the deed aside, it was Haruhiro's reason for acting that brought a smile to the Priests lips.
"Come on then, let's grab Centorea's gear and get moving. I'm sure she's beginning to worry."
"Yeah." Heading over to her gear, and finding that the pack seemed designed to go over the Centaur's lower half, Haruhiro slung it over one shoulder and scooped up the bow, while Manato hefted her huge sword over one shoulder.
That had been the plan, but in the end Manato carried both of Centorea's weapons, and Haruhiro took her pack and the Goblin crossbow and quiver, which was nicked but largely undamaged from the Goblin's spear. Haruhiro had resisted the idea, but Manato was adamant that a weapon that strong that even a Goblin could figure out would surely come in handy.
They had just made it to the clearing when not for the first time that day, Haruhiro nearly fell flat on his face. Manato had turned his head back to Haruhiro with a sly grin, and teasingly requested that Haruhiro avoid pointing the weapon at any other Priests.
On the other hand, he'd never heard Haruhiro laugh so loudly.
He'd take the win.
"So, what does Centorea plan to do after this? Has she told you anything?" They were winding their way back to Haruhiro's campsite, the Thief examining the crossbow as he walked. For a Goblin weapon, it seemed rather well-maintained.
"We haven't really spoken about it." Haruhiro admitted. " I'm a little surprised she accepted our help so readily, not sure how many humans she's met." Manato pondered that as they walked. "Think she was heading to Altana?"
"Maybe, I don't remember the specifics but I think we're allied with a few other races? Not sure how much of a stir she'd cause if she showed up at the gates, or if she'd even be allowed in."
"Hard to say, we haven't really had the time to worry about that sort of thing."
"True enough." Manato conceded the point with a nod. It was late afternoon when they made it to the treeline. They spied Centorea laying down to rest with her body facing towards them, and upon seeing them and what they were carrying, her face immediately brightened and she rose to meet them.
He eyes widened a little bit at seeing the weapon Haruhiro carried, and Haruhiro slapped a hand to his face with a groan, glaring slightly at the suddenly sheepish Priest by his side.
"S-Sorry, I can get rid of it."
Centorea shook her head furiously, waving her hands in front of her. "N-No, please, pay me no mind. Rather, I should thank you for returning my belongings." Centorea bowed her head towards the two.
"Don't mention it, and sorry about the, you know." Manato gave a rueful laugh. "I should head back to Altana before it gets dark." He turned to Haruhiro, suddenly remembering something he'd wanted to share earlier. "Say, rumor has it another batch of people will be entering from the Tower soon."
"People like us?" Haruhiro responded while Centorea tilted her head in confusion.
"Yeah, apparently it's a normal thing. Should be in a week or two if the information checks out." Manato slyly glanced at the blonde-haired woman who was suddenly paying very close attention to his friend. "Maybe you could find a new party to adventure with?"
"Yeah, maybe, thanks again Manato." Haruhiro nodded, wondering if maybe that was to be the chance he needed.
Funny, because Centorea was thinking of her chances as well.
"Well, I'll see you later Haru, don't be a stranger alright?" Haruhiro nodded with a small smile. "All the best to you as well, Centorea." Manato turned on his heel and left as he spoke.
"And you as well, Manato, thank you once again." The response she received was a casual, over-the-shoulder wave.
Now sitting across the fire from Centorea, Haruhiro watched her in silence for a bit as she tested the string of her bow. Freed from her armor, Haruhiro realized her chest was even bigger than he'd first believed, and blushed slightly as the motions she made caused her chest to sway and bounce with each movement.
He was trying to focus on something other than all… that… jiggle, he really was.
"Er…." He wasn't really sure where he was supposed to go with this. While the company was nice, he hadn't really thought that he might still have it at this point. He was equally surprised when his voice made her head perk up and her ears twitch.
She turned her head to face him, and set the bow in her lap, giving Haruhiro her full attention.
"Were you… on your way to Altana?" Centorea shook her head, still regarding him intently.
"No, I had no particular destination, I was merely told that I could find humans in this direction."
"Humans?" Centorea set her bow to one side and rose to her full height, walking around to his side of the fire. Should he stand as well? She seemed rather serious about… she was kneeling?
"Indeed. I actually was travelling in search of someone." As she began, Centorea slowly reached out to grasp his right hand with both of hers, and Haruhiro froze. " Pray tell, are you at all familiar with the traditions of my people?" Haruhiro straightened up in his seat, slowly picking up that something very important was happening, and that her hand was very, very warm.
"N-no… not at all. I… you're the first centaur I've met. I mean, I've heard of you but… " Long ponytail swaying gently, the woman gave a nod and smiled indulgently at him.
"We are a very proud race, but there are some among my tribe who follow a very particular tradition. We journey in search of someone." Her confession seemed to only confuse Haruhiro, so she continued on. "This someone often isn't someone we know, or are told about. It's someone we find for ourselves. Someone, the only one, worthy to be our Master."
Haruhiro blinked as her sky blue orbs fixed intently on his. Those had to be the most radiant and beautiful sapphire eyes he had ever laid eyes on. He hoped that he looked like he was taking this seriously, Ranta always said he looked bored and he really was interested and her hand was really warm and why was she-?
"Centorea, I don't know why you're telling me this but-"
"Cerea?" Taken aback, Haruhiro could only parrot her words. Apparently that was a good thing, because her eyes lit up and her smile widened.
"Those close to me call me Cerea." She ducked her head shyly as she spoke, her hair covering her eyes but not her inflamed cheeks. "Please, Cerea, not Centorea."
"Cerea then, I'm not sure… I'm not the person you're looking for, I don't think I'm-"
"But I do!" Centorea's head snapped up, eyes aflame, and her hands shoved Haruhiro's straight into her chest, meaning they were both blushing up a storm."Feel how my heart pounds through my bosom, never before has it beat so strongly!" He could definitely feel her heartbeat, but the pillowy softness he was feeling likely had nothing to do with it. "It is you, there will never be another! Never before have I seen such courage, never before has someone leapt to my rescue so selflessly! I believe it is fate that we were to meet this way, Haruhiro."
... Her voice had dropped in volume, but somehow the words were harder to ignore. Her face was very, very close, and very, very red. The death grip on his hand was trembling, just a bit.
"I, Centorea Shianus, pledge to serve you in all things, as your servant. Will you… will you accept my loyalty, Master?" Her voice was barely more than a whisper, and their chests were touching, so Haruhiro could almost feel their heartbeats pounding in sync.
He had never been this close to a woman in this way (Barbara's 'training' would never count), and he was suddenly aware of how nervous she looked, and how hot it was in the clearing.
Face inches away from her own, Haruhiro gave a nervous swallow and closed his eyes. When he opened them, the last of his nerves were used to give a firm nod.
"Y-yeah... I do."
Hehehe, Zaru really nailed it with the idea to add those last lines, not like there's relationship tags or anything. Next chapter will be a rewrite as well so shouldn't take me too long, so look forward to it.
I really enjoyed this story and never would have thought of a crossover like that, so when it was put up for adoption the thought process was 'I want to keep reading it even if I have to write it myself'.
And now here we are. Thanks again to dude932 and Zaru, you know what you did.