Man-Eating Birds are a Cinch
A flock of strange stag-headed birds soar through the sky on bronze wings, the shadows they cast on the ground below causing the deer and the birds below them to cry out in terror.
This world obeys the laws of the jungle. Whether human or monster, the laws have been the same since ancient times, the weak will become the sustenance of the strong.
In such a world, the creature known as the peryton is unique. Whether in predation or in a struggle for territory, there are usually good reasons to attack another living creature, but this monstrous and mysterious murderous bird is different.
Although research is still slow due to the extreme danger involved, the Peryton is known to attack people completely without reason… It’s perhaps better to call them man-eaters than murderous, in any case, they’re an extremely troublesome species.
Despite it being confirmed that the peryton does actually hunt other monsters and animals for food, it gives a strange priority to humans, even going so far as to attack a human adventurer over an injured rabbit, then flying away not even eating its kill.
It’s so needlessly barbarous because the peryton is an intelligent monster, despite its illogical killings. Targeting people on instinct rather than reasoning, the Peryton is an exceptionally brutal monster for humans to deal with.
And above all, the most terrifying thing about the peryton is its characteristic magic. As if it was always intended to be a natural enemy of mankind, the power to stop people in their tracks once they enter its shadow has been the downfall of many adventurers and knights.
That’s just for one bird, the danger of an entire flock should be obvious. To kill a group like this, an A-Rank adventurer isn’t enough, you’d at least need to be S-Rank… And even then, it would be limited to those who could perform wide-ranging saturation spells that would keep them from entering the peryton’s shadow.
Ignoring such a common-sense strategy, Shirley dances between the necks of the birds in mid-air slaying as she goes, the white hair that’s the origin of her nickname flowing in the wind.
As if ignoring that these monsters should be the natural enemy of a mere swordsman, she fights in a place that should be completely out of reach for her, decapitating the perytons one after another using swords drawn from her imagination alchemy.
As soon as they realize they’re faced with a human, the monsters attack fiercely with both claws and antlers, but they’re cut down from the sky with magnificent swordplay.
The corpses of the perytons display clean cuts as if there had been no struggle at all, their blood falling like a gentle rain as they fall to the earth.
Still, that flock of strange murderous birds won’t retreat. The monsters whose urge to kill overpowers their instinct to survive swarm from all directions to kill the swordswoman with snow-white hair.
(This monster… They really are quite easy to kill considering the price, right?)
However, that murderous instinct that is thought of like a plague by other adventurers is convenient for Shirley, like bringing lambs to the slaughter.
Swords flash and flesh flies, as if waltzing through thin air her blades dance through the surviving Perytons.
Any beast that tries to challenge her head on is cut down by the blade, whilst any that tries to circle around to avoid it is dispatched by daggers and swords thrown with impeccable precision.
It is a bloody spectacle that plays out in the sky. Shirley didn’t relax until the head of the final peryton landed on the earth below with barely an audible thud.
“Fuu… That should do it. If there are no surprises in store, I should get back home.”
Right now, her daughters Sophie and Tio are being threatened by some malicious magic.
If you are wondering why at such a time Shirley is fighting a flock of stag-headed monsters far away from the frontier town, then the story that played out this morning is key.
“Deficit House? That’s a somewhat ominous name, isn’t it?”
In order to best prevent more magical interference and investigate its source, it was decided that it would be best for Grania to move into the same inn that the family lives in, though she had a bit of a blank stare when she heard the name.
“That was thought up by that grandfather… I mean, the founder named it, but I haven’t heard the origin of the name myself.”
“Ah! I know it!”
Although she hadn’t really thought about it until now, she was a little concerned when asked about it herself. Unexpectedly, Sophie had the answer to these women’s questions.
“Miss Martha said it’s because it’s meant to be a place where adventurers who are nearly out of energy and out of cash can fall down!”
“Hmmm, is that right?”
She nodded at those words. For an adventurer, running out of stamina and collapsing in the middle of a quest would mean death. Even if they’ve set up a camp, since they’re out in the middle of the wilderness it’s difficult to simply sleep as they have to retain some sort of vigilance at all times.
The name makes sense when you think of desperate adventures almost in the red energy-wise needing a place to collapse into sleep.
“Yeah. Apparently, that was what he always wanted. He said that if he ever went bankrupt, it would just be funny.”
That last part may be pushing it a little far. Even dark jokes should have a limit.
During their talk, the family had arrived in front of the inn. When they opened the door and entered, Grania curiously looked around the interior.
“Oh my… It’s quite simple, but it’s nonetheless bright and tidy. In fact, I think I like it.”
“Oho, so you think so as well?”
Did she sense a customer’s presence or was it just coincidence? Either way, a middle aged woman with brown hair emerged from the dining room… It was Martha, one of the married couple that run the Deficit House.
“Miss Martha, we’ve returned!”
“Yes, welcome home. So, is this adventurer lady a guest?”
She smiled as she looked at the gold tag that hung from Grania’s neck, proof that she was an S-Rank adventurer.
Her usual experience as a landlady is dealing with fatigued and penniless adventurers, not with the talents that reside at the apex of the guild.
“Yes, I’ll be in your care for a little while. Are there any spare rooms?”
“I’ve already heard the story from Shirley. You came to save these girls from some pervert magician, right?”
Martha is known for being a little rough, but she gently rested her hands on the twins’ heads. Almost like she was a grandmother watching over her granddaughters.
“Jeez, it’s utterly disgusting that someone would try to harm these nice young girls.”
“Fufu… You two sure are beloved, hmm?”
“Of course they are. I’ve known these three for ten years, they’re almost like my actual daughters and granddaughters, y’know?”
“Uu… I’m happy to hear that.”
“Mm… It’s embarrassing though.”
“Oh my, I think you’re still much too young to be called a grandmother?”
“Ahahahaha! You’re not too bad at flattery yourself, miss!”
Martha and Grania seemed to be fast friends straight away. It caused her to remember just how rude and threatening she had been when she first arrived.
When she was twenty years old, Shirley had come to the Deficit House acting like a wounded beast whose only concern was protecting her daughters. Seeing betrayal everywhere and suspecting that people were only out to harm her children, she batted away the hands that had reached out to help her in good conscience again and again.
Although she kept up that guard, it was only the couple that ran the Deficit House that never withdrew their caring hands.
Shirley eventually gave into such persistent people, trusting them to care for her daughters when she was away.
(Now that I think about it, I must have seemed like their rebellious daughter at the time?)
It might be because of Martha’s influence that she’s actually able to connect with others again.
If a child is strongly influenced by their parents, then Shirley really must be like a daughter to Martha.
(Speaking of parents… Those people are…)
Back then, there were many people who wondered if Shirley really was a true child of those two, considering the way she was constantly tormented and left in rags.
But, that’s all in the past. Just as her real parents had abandoned Shirley, Shirley had abandoned thoughts of them from her mind.
(Such an unimportant thing to suddenly remember.)
Shirley closed her eyes for a moment, letting those memories of the past ebb away, then opened them once more.
“Also, I’ll be paying for Miss Grania’s rent, I’ll give it to you now.”
“Oh, don’t worry about such a thing. It’s not like you can afford it right now.”
“No, actually I’m fine.”
Because of the rewards handed out as a result of the Dragon War, the pockets of many of the adventurers in this remote town are bulging.
…Of course, there are many adventurers who have already spent it all, some of them in a single night, but Shirley is diligently saving for her daughters’ future.
The funds she’s saved up are being put to good use currently. If it’s for her daughters’ sake, she won’t be stingy when spending it, just like how she used that money to hire the best magician money can buy in Grania.
“I don’t mind the expenses. If you need any extra materials or money, just say the word. Just please do everything in your power to help my daughters and keep them safe, you’re the only one I can rely on.”
“I… I understand. So, can you let me go for just a moment? It’s a bit painful, you know.”
Shirley had her hands on Grania’s shoulders and was gripping with a bit more strength than she intended as she said that, the S-Ranked ‘Illusionary Butterfly’ was struggling a bit under her power.
“Well it may seem sudden, but I should apply the counter-interference magic straight away, so can you guide me to your room?”
“Ah, this way.”
After that, Grania finished the preparations a little after lunch.
“Well then, can I start?”
“If something bad happens, don’t worry, I’ll put a stop to it.”
Shirley gripped a short sword as she stood nearby. She’s ready to end the ritual at a moment’s notice if she senses danger by cutting through the flow of magic that powers it.
“Fufu… One in a billion… No, perhaps entirely unique.”
As she lightly tapped the floor with the base of her staff, the magic square on the floor begins to glow faintly and the wind kicked up by the magical energy causes the twins’ hair to shake and stir.
The ritual is completed after only five seconds and when it was over Sophie and Tio stared at their palms, clenching their little fists.
“Is it already over?”
“Yes. Now all you need do is sleep… When that magic interferes again simply let it act without interfering, my own magic shall allow us to see the history of its caster.”
“The hint of sorcery… In many forms of magic, the will of the caster lingers in its residue power. I specialize in detecting types of magic, the purpose of its use, as well as prevention.”
Shirley’s quite impressed with her words. To read the true motivations in an opponent’s magic after it has been cast, she hasn’t heard of any famous mages able to do that, living or dead.
Grania is a rare breed of mage, innovative and driven, she has a reputation for a pioneering brand of magical research and these are the results. The adventurer recommended by Asterios was truly powerful, the perfect person for this request.
“However, there are some materials that may be necessary to find out more about the caster…”
“Tell me what you need.”
一Since countermeasures were taken, she should be relieved, but Shirley still can’t sleep in a situation like this.
Sitting in the same room as her daughters as they slept, she’s staying up all night, anxious that the moment she closes her eyes the curse will appear.
And in the dead of the night, the opportunity arrived. It crept in through a gap in the window like black smoke and sought to envelop her daughters in its smog, but it was stopped by a clear barrier of light.
She can only see this countering magic because of her eyes as well. The black haze grew smaller and smaller every time it smashed into the barrier.
Just like Grania had said, the black mist that tried to attach itself to Sophie and Tio had completely dissolved by the time dawn broke.
“So? Was it prevented properly?”
“Yes, I didn’t see any problems… Wait, what are you doing?”
As Grania stepped into Shirley’s room wearing a thin negligee, Shirley thrust a coat at her covering up her chest and exposed legs.
“Please wear this. I’ve been thinking this from the beginning, but your clothing really is far too bold. What would I do if my daughters started copying you?”
“Ah~n. You’re so rough…”
Shirley cuts off Grania’s lewd murmurings by cupping a hand over her mouth. These two really are complete opposites.
“Well, fine~. More importantly, I need to check the ‘history’.”
Placing her index fingers on the foreheads of the two twins who still slept so peacefully it was hard to believe they had been attacked by magic during the night, the barrier must have done a fantastic job.
“Fuu~n… Apparently, since they’ve failed three times already, the other side is quite cautious.”
“That makes sense. This is the first time it’s come so late at night.”
“Moreover, they did their best not to leave any traces of magecraft… But they sure made a mess of it, hmm? They’re just going by the book, not even a lick of imagination, how utterly boring.”
Many well-known magics have similarly well-known countermeasures. As Grania said, since the barrier worked so well, the caster must be sticking quite close to the book.
“Well now, since I have the history in hand we should be able to lay our dear caster bare after another ritual. Everything after that, I leave to you.”
There had been something bestial clawing at her this whole time. A mother’s instinct to find whoever was doing this and make sure that they would never have the ability to interfere with her children ever again.
“The caster used a typical remote ceremonial magic… This kind of magic requires something like the hair or blood of the target, but that should not be an especially hard thing for them to obtain, no?”
Although Shirley and her family essentially use the Deficit House as an apartment, there are in truth many visitors who stay for only a single night. If they knew in advance that Sophie or Tio were staying here, it wouldn’t be too difficult for them to find a single strand of hair if they were disguised as one of these guests.
“I’m not even sure I want to know what you’ll do… Well, anyways. The important thing is to find out who this caster really is.”
“Do you have all the materials you need?”
“Let’s see… I’ve got most of everything, but what I’d really like is the antler of a peryton to get the most accurate results.”
It was at that moment, the fate of that flock of murderous birds was decided.
I hadn’t actually heard of perytons until now, guess I’m just fantasy illiterate.