Chapter 4-41 : Looking For An Exit Ⅴ (part 2)
「Talking about our parents, Kate, I don’t think we should tell our parents about this. They won’t scold us if they don’t know, right?」(Iris)
Iris talked with a bright expression as if it was a good idea, but Kate shook her head.
「I’m not sure about that. Look, I believe that Store Owner-san has spent a lot of money to help us. She gave us expensive medicines, hundreds of portable rations, and those awesome bottle artifacts. Moreover, she said that she asked her master for help. Do you think that alone didn’t cost anything?」(Kate)
「You may be right… Normally, asking a master-class alchemist to do something for you costs a ridiculous amount of money…」(Iris)
「Right? I know that Store Owner-san is a talented person but it hasn’t been long since she became an alchemist. No matter how good she is at alchemy, I don’t think she knows how to make a tool that has the same effect as an artifact from scrap.」(Kate)
「The exit detector-like tool that Kurumi uses, huh?」(Iris)
「Yeah. Her master must have helped her with that. We owe her a lot of money again, but no matter how much it is, we must pay back the money she spent to help us, right?」(Kate)
「Of course. The Lotze Family always pays back their debts!」(Iris)
Even if Sarasa told Iris that she didn’t need to pay her back, Iris’ pride would make her pay her debt no matter what.
Of course, as a member of the Starven Family who has served the Lotze Family for decades, Kate couldn’t ignore the debt either.
「Right. Now that our debt to Store Owner-san has increased, there’s something we need to do first after we successfully get out of this cave.」(Kate)
「…We need to tell our parents, huh…?」(Iris)
「Yup. So, we have to prepare ourselves to receive all the scolding from our parents as soon as we get out of here.」(Kate)
「Ugh… Say, Kate, don’t you think that we keep losing money since we started working as Collectors?」(Iris)
「I had been trying not to think about it… Well, we might have been losing money but because we became Collectors, we got to know Store Owner-san, and because of that, I was able to save your life and you were able to save your family from a big debt.」(Kate)
「You’re right… We’re lucky to know her…」(Iris)
While Iris and Kate were remembering the moment they first met Sarasa, Nord’s voice was heard from afar.
「Guys, are you done yetー? I want to take a bath tooー!」(Nord)
「Aa! O, Okay, we’re almost doneー! Kate, we’ll talk about our parents later after we get home! Let’s quickly wipe our bodies and get dressed before he sees us naked!」(Iris)
Iris stood up and quickly got out of the hot spring.
「Calm down. No matter how weird he is, he’s still a person who knows common courtesy… Probably…」(Kate)
Kate lightly replied to Iris. She then sighed and joined Iris in getting dressed.
After enjoying bathing in the underground hot spring for the entire day, Iris, Kate, and Nord continued exploring the cave the next day.
◇ ◇ ◇
It’s been ten days since they left the underground hot spring, meaning that they have been trapped in the cave for thirty days.
They had walked a fair amount of distance but the scenery hadn’t changed at all.
Moreover, they didn’t have many magic stones left because they kept using them to maintain the magical power in Kurumi’s body.
「Uhh… There’s another branched path. Should we use the tool again?」(Iris)
「There are three paths that seem easy to walk on and there’s one narrow path. Hmm…」(Kate)
Recently they decided to reduce the use of the exit detector tool to save magic stones. Depending on the situation, they might use it or might not use it.
When they found a branched path which split into two, they would check it one by one. If the one they checked was a dead end, then they would use the other path.
However, if the path was split into three or four and each of them was hard to walk on, they would use the tool because it would be too much of a pain to check them one by one.
「I wonder how many magic stones we have left.」(Iris)
「Not many for sure. I think we have used more than half of them.」(Kate)
「This is bad… If we ran out of magic stones and we lost Kurumi, I would never be able to face Store Owner-dono…」(Iris)
「Yeah… We would make Lorea-chan cry too…」(Kate)
Kurumi needs magical power to use the exit detector tool, but she also needs it to maintain her existence.
Now that her creator, Sarasa, wasn’t with her, the only thing that can replenish her magical power is magic stones.
If they ran out of magic stones, Kurumi wouldn’t be able to keep existing and would eventually die.
For most alchemists, Homunculi were just alchemical creatures. Their death means nothing to them.
However, it was different for Iris and Kate. They didn’t want to lose Kurumi. They would feel sorry for Sarasa and Lorea if Kurumi died for them.
「Shall we check these paths one by one as well this time?」(Iris)
「Yeah. We should save the magic stones we have. Nord-san, are you okay with that?」(Kate)
「Of course. I don’t want to lose our little bear either.」(Nord)
Checking the paths one by one would be very troublesome but they decided to do that for Kurumi.
However, when Iris and the others were about to walk toward the branched path, Kurumi suddenly jumped off Iris’ backpack and landed on the ground.
Iris and Kate were bewildered by Kurumi’s sudden behavior. She rarely got off Iris’ backpack except during break time.
She glanced at Iris for a second and then started running toward one of the paths.
「Where is she going!?」(Kate)
「Guys, we better hurry up and follow her before we lose her.」(Nord)
「Y, You’re right!」(Iris)
Iris, Kate, and Nord immediately started chasing after Kurumi, but Kurumi’s athletic ability was surprisingly far superior to the three of them.
She could pass through narrow spaces without difficulties and could easily climb up steep rock walls with her sharp claws.
In addition, she ran quite fast on flat ground despite her short legs.
If Kurumi intended to leave the three of them behind, she could have done that anytime, but she adjusted her speed so that Iris and the others could keep up with her.
After running for about an hour, Kurumi stopped and turned around.
「Hahh… Hahh… I don’t know where you want to take us but… Hahh… Are we there yet?」(Iris)
「Hahh… I’m tired… Hahh…」(Kate)
「Hahh… Hahh… It would be great if she didn’t run all of a sudden again… Hahh…」(Nord)
Iris and Kate put their hands on their knees and tried to catch their breath while Nord sat down on the ground and breathed heavily. He was the most tired because he had the heaviest luggage among the three.
「Does she want to take us here?」(Iris)
「Probably, but… there’s nothing here…」(Kate)
At first glance, the place where Kurumi stopped looked just like an ordinary passage but they thought that there might be something there.