Translator: Silver Editor: Namorax
「The Power of the Spring, the Power of the Curse」
We ascended the moss covered steps with sunlight shining through the trees.
Although they were carved into a gentle slope, the steps were already breaking away due to prolonged neglect.
Since there weren’t any signs of people living in the area, the forest animals used this path. I could see animal tracks embedded into the soil that had accumulated on top of the steps.
The chirping of birds, carried along the wind, helped complete the calm atmosphere.
Without the large monsters that inhabited Great Canada Forest and the nearby mountains, I felt as if I were on a weekend hike.
The only thing out of place was the large tree that the Dragon King used as his resting place.
There were few monsters that would try to settle down near such an overwhelming predator, while the weaker creatures sought shelter here.
A pair of squirrels sitting on a tree branch looked at us as strange intruders as we passed them by.
When it reached the point where Ponta had to sit on my helmet and we had to start cutting our way through the undergrowth to clear the path, birds and other animals would occasionally jump out at us.
The scenery only opened up once we managed to pass through the torii near the top of the hill.
There were still a few trees located here, but there wasn’t much undergrowth or a lot of boulders in the area.
Instead, we got a clear view of the wall-like trunk of the Dragon King’s tree and the innumerable amount of branches that covered the area in the tree’s shadow.
My gaze unintentionally traveled up the tree as far as I could and then went down the mountain range behind it.
“This is an unbelievably large tree.”
The trees in Great Canada Forest were certainly large, but this was on an entirely different level.This tree reminded me of a certain tree that held up a heavenly castle.
My comment caused both Ariane and Chiome to simultaneously look up at the huge tree.
“The Dragon King’s Tree seems like a mountain on top of another mountain.”
Chiome was in slight awe of the view before us.
“I’ve seen it in picture books when I was little, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in person.”
Ariane gulped down some water from the canteen she had brought, wiping the sweat off of her brow after she stopped talking.
“Come on, we’re almost there.”
She resumed her trek after urging us to continue.
Eventually, the stone steps came to an end and a smaller version of the torii that stood at the base of the hill came into view.
The landscape between us and the torii was completely desolate with sunlight shining down on it, but beyond the torii, the density of the trees increased.
“We appear to have reached our destination.”
When we finally passed through the torii, I took a look around.
This place seemed to have originally been a small basin. Because the place had been neglected for such a long time, the path was uneven and covered in grass, but I could make out steps descending into the basin.
At the end of the stairway stood a single decaying building.
The wooden roof had already collapsed in on itself, but the stone walls covered in moss had remained mostly intact.
The shape of the building was also familiar to me.
“It looks like a shrine……”
Ariane spoke her opinion of the building right beside me.
And she wasn’t wrong either.
The building’s structure and torii gates were reminiscent of a Shinto shrine.
The main shrine stood in front of the building and window frames were evenly spaced on both wings of the building.
However, unlike a regular shine, there was no offering box or bell anywhere in sight and there was only one entrance to the left.
“This is the residence that Lord Hanzo once occupied. It is similar to the chief’s house in the village.”
When Chiome saw the decaying shrine-like building she was convinced that it was the first clan head’s hideout.
It was as if simply seeing this building left no room for doubt in her mind.
The thin layer of mist and the sacred Dragon King’s Tree in the background certainly gave the tranquil scenery a tinge of mystery.
Chiome had begun scouting the area but all of a sudden her cat ears stood up and her nose twitched as she calmly opened her mouth.
“The scent of the water has changed……”
Ponta cried out in agreement with her statement from atop my helmet.
While I lacked the enhanced sense of smell the two of them had, when I strained my ears I could pick up the sound of running water nearby.
“It must be the rumored spring……”
“The sound…… is originating from behind the shrine.”
The others nodded at my comment before Chiome took the lead and began to walk towards the shrine.
She stepped off the stone path and took a detour around the back of the shine, with Ariane and I silently following.
There was something completely unexpected behind the shrine.
A steam of hot water was endlessly flowing into the area from a slightly elevated rock formation. The water was flowing into a hollowed out groove, and to prevent the water from overflowing there was a cliff at the groove that allowed excess water to be drained off.
By all accounts, this was an artificially created hot spring……
“Is that hot water flowing out!?”
Ariane uttered a shout as her pointed ears began to move up and down.
Seems like this was the first time she saw a hot spring.
Chiome was also surprised, but apparently she already knew about hot springs and was smiling as if she has found something really good.
“It’s a hot spring…… a quite large one at that.”
Chiome was right, seeing how this hot spring’s two main pools were about twenty-five meters wide.
This outdoor hot spring was like one of those you’d find at a large hotel, yet the moss covered rocks made it seem like an undiscovered natural spring.
“Certainly, this is an impressive hot spring, but is it the one we seek?”
“Looks like it.”
Seeing my doubts, Ariane bent down in front of the hot spring and soaked her hand into it before standing back up.
Ponta showed some interest in the spring as well, since she jumped from my helmet and proceeded to dip her forepaw, nose and tongue into it.
I never thought that the spring we sought would be a hot spring, but it was a nice surprise, to say the least.
I took off one of my gauntlets and dipped my hand into the water.
The water’s heat was gradually transmitted to my hand. After a few seconds of this, I pulled my hand out of the water to find a hand with a similar shade of brown as my forearm was when I used 【Anti-Curse】on it.
However, I didn’t feel any discomfort like when I used 【Anti-Curse】.
“Ahh!? The effects appear to be genuine.”
Both Ariane and Chiome were utterly shocked when I showed them the flesh and blood hand that had been skeletal just a moment ago.
“There really was a body after all……”
Ariane muttered something in a disbelieving tone.
That reminds me, I never showed anyone that I could momentarily remove the curse with the 【Anti-Curse】 spell.
After all, the end result had been quite hard to look at.
After a few minutes, my hand returned to its skeletal form. The temporary effect of the cure was still the same.
Not even this hot spring could permanently cure me…… maybe the effect will last if I completely submerge myself.
There’s no point worrying about it anymore.
“I’m going to see what soaking in the hot spring does.”
I set down my baggage on a nearby rock before taking my helmet off and placing it next to it.
However, that was only a secondary concern. Mostly, I just wanted to take a breather in the hot spring while enjoying the fantasy-like scenery.
I’m only bones, though……
It was a little chilly when I removed the upper section of my armor and shivered on reflex.
The joke would be me saying “I didn’t feel cold, though.”
“Wait! Don’t just start undressing in front of us.”
Ariane suddenly uttered a protest from behind me. When I looked back I saw that Ariane’s ears had turned red.
“Huh? Ariane-dono, did you get excited seeing my bo──”
Before I could finish speaking Ariane had silently punched my rib cage.
…… That stung a bit.
“We’ll check out the shrine while Arc soaks in the in the spring. Let’s go, Chiome-chan.”
Ariane told Chiome to follow her as she took large strides back towards the shrine.
“We will investigate the residence then, Arc-dono. See you in a bit.”
Chiome bowed before chasing after Ariane.
As I rubbed my rib and faced the hot spring again, I saw Ponta happily wagging her tail.
“Oh, you want to get in together, Ponta?”
Ponta wagged her tail faster as I bent down to pat her head.
I removed the last piece of my armor and stood in front of the hot spring.
It was custom to clean one’s body before entering a spring, but there was no means of doing that here……… but I suppose no one else would be using this spring anytime soon.
All alone in an open-air bath, there was only one thing to do……
With a spirited shout, I took a large leap into the hot spring. After poking my head above the water I shook my head to clear away the water on my face.
Ponta, who had jumped in with me, was doing the doggy paddle.
“Pwah! I never imaged I’d bathe in a mountain hot spring.”
I looked down at my arm as I spoke.
I saw a muscular, brown skinned arm instead of a skeletal one. Seeing the highly developed abs on my stomach when I looked down confused me, since my original body shouldn’t have been that muscular.
It hadn’t been that long since I came to this world…… Besides, there wasn’t any reason for me to develop muscles while I was a skeleton.
I decided to take a look at my face reflected in the water.
As the rippling water calmed down I could finally see my face reflected on the surface.
However, the face I saw wasn’t the one I had in my old world.
The person I saw appeared to be in his mid-thirties, had raven-black curly hair, Arabian brown skin, stubble and a masculine face. The man’s dark red eyes and long ears were features that differed greatly from those of humans.
I was stunned at the unfamiliar face, but then I remembered where I’ve seen it before……
At the same time I realized the origin of this face and my mind and heart were overcome with dark emotions.
A severe pain raged through my head like a storm, and its source seemed to be the depths of my very being.
The rage I felt at the men that attempted to rape the first women I’d met, the disgust I felt towards how the slaves were treated, the fear I felt while fighting monsters, the regret of taking someone’s life…… the longing I felt to return home.
All I’ve experienced in this world flashed through my mind like a revolving lantern, with everything I’ve done being dyed black in negative connotations.
I continued to roar and shout as if I were trying to deny it all, but it wasn’t working.
Despite standing in a hot spring my body was chilled to the core as the fury and pain rampaged through my heart. In a desperate attempt to alleviate the pain, I smashed my head against a rock at the edge of the hot spring, but the rock crumbled upon impact.
Still extremely unbalanced by the pain and anger I fell down and swallowed some of the water as I crawled out of the spring.
Ponta was surprised at my sudden, violent outburst and leaped out of the water, running after me.
I saw Ponta’s small frame coming towards me before my gaze traveled down my own body.
As my vision began to fade, the trite thought of the thing between my legs being 1.5 times larger that my original one flashed through my head.
I heard footsteps of someone approaching and a familiar voice.
“What happened!? Who are you!!?”
Ariane call out to me in the distance.
The feeling of something desperately licking my cheek was the only thing my numbed body could feel.
And then the darkness consumed what remained of my consciousness……