Styx: 004

Xavier was shaken awake the next morning by Yukio, the cat boy. The sky had just barely started to lighten, but already the animal people were striking camp. He couldn't see much of what they were doing in the dim light, but it appeared that they were traveling extremely light. Aside from the blankets they had wrapped around themselves the night before and their weapons, they each had a backpack that seemed to be devoted almost wholly to food and water. After a brief but heated discussion, one of the goat people gave him a hard-peeled fruit he couldn't identify and a small slab of something like a really thick biscuit. Fortunately, every single animal person was carrying a surprising amount of water skins, and Xavier was able to wash what little of the hard tack or whatever it was down. Despite having nothing to eat and relatively little to drink the previous day, he found he didn't have much appetite. While the animal people finished eating and packing up their belongings, Xavier crouched and shivered in his bed sheets. Without the thick blanket he'd had the night before, the temperature was bitterly cold.

Finally, Yukio led him away from the group, and after a series of awkward charades that culminated in a practical demonstration, convinced him to try to go to the bathroom. That somewhat mortifying experience over, the group set out.

While he still felt terrible, having easy access to water and a group of people to rely on who obviously knew what they were doing finally gave Xavier some space to think about his situation.

It had been a close thing, but he'd successfully found his manga coincidence yesterday, and now he had to wonder: what next? From the animal people's behavior, it seemed obvious that humans were unusual in this desert, but thankfully he hadn't noticed any overtly aggressive behavior. After—whatever it was—happened with the bird girl they'd certainly been hostile, but she'd seemed frightened and angry, so he didn't think they were biased against humans so much as worried that he personally was a threat. That was a huge relief. It was distressingly common in isekai manga to have animal people relegated to second-class citizenship, or worse, straight-up slavery. While Xavier had appreciated reading about noble-hearted protagonists who treated animal people equally (usually adding a cat girl or two to their harem along the way), he didn't think the reality of being thrown in with a group of people who had been systematically exploited by humans for who-knew-how-long would have been at all pleasant.

His memory was hazy, but he thought he remembered some sort of magical light last night, as well. That coupled with the weird sensations he'd felt whenever he touched a living thing indicated he had some sort of special ability. He just had no idea what it might be or how he might use it. Definitely something to explore when he had a chance, though, if only to avoid getting kicked in the chest again. His ribs were still sore.

No, he didn't have the leisure available to worry about this world's magic or technology or whatever it might be. He had more pressing concerns.

«…and so I said, 'To hell with this,' and left for good. I'd heard about the folks at Henka before, and figured if everyone I knew swore it was such a terrible place it had to be a better fit for me than any of the nearby clans—not that they'd let a neko stay in the first place.»

Xavier was pretty sure Yukio was saying something about cats, but he might have misheard that bit. «Cat? Um. Is cat?»

«Right, cat, yes!» said Yukio with great enthusiasm. «See, I told you he understood me! Pay up, Shibou-san!»

«Bullshit,» said the goat man who had been walking near them. «He can't even string two words together.»

Xavier was feeling a very urgent need to learn Japanese, but Yukio's out-of-context ramblings were helping precisely not at all.

He tuned out the developing cat-fight—or maybe goat-fight?—that was developing between the goat man and Yukio, and went back to observing the group he had fallen in with. Unlike the previous day, when many of the group were extremely animalistic, most of them were very human-looking today. The bird girl still had talons for feet, but he was pretty sure that she had fewer feathers than the day before, and her face looked softer and rounder somehow. The wolf people—he was fairly certain they were wolves, just based on their utter lack of friendly dog behavior—were almost the same as before, except maybe less hairy?

The biggest difference was the bear man, who yesterday had looked basically like a bear wearing clothing but today was just a very shaggy older guy with weirdly-cute rounded bear ears peeking out of the hair near the upper sides of his head. Maybe they were all shape-shifters to some extent? Xavier really wished he could ask—

«…no, I'm telling you, the pits north of Tenshin are the only way to go! Sure you're over near Sunda, but even if they treat you like crap out of the ring I hear they'll shower you with krona if you make a good showing inside…»

—but Yukio was babbling on about who-knew-what to the increasingly-annoyed looking goat person and Xavier had no clue how to communicate what he wanted to anyway. Regardless if they were some sort of were-person or what, though, they were all clearly fighters. Or hunters? He wasn't quite sure what their function was. They'd been fighting that monster spider-thing so seriously, but once it was dead they just left it to rot. The fact that they appeared only equipped to travel or fight and had to travel for several hours to reach their camp the previous evening indicated they'd probably gone looking for the monster rather than getting ambushed or something in transit. Maybe they were adventurers or mercenaries of some sort? That would certainly fit with the isekai theme, although outside of worlds that were clearly ripping off role playing games, Xavier wasn't sure if "adventurer" as an occupation was something that was sustainable in reality.

As the day wore on, Xavier's questions only multiplied, but the endless walking once again eventually forced him into a barely-conscious fugue state and the next thing he knew the animal people were laboriously filling their water skins from a trickle of water that was running down a rock-face and soaking into the ground in a small enclosed grotto.

Although Xavier hoped they would simply camp near the water source, the group ended up walking for a good hour more after filling up their water supplies and resting a bit.

At last, when Xavier was starting to stumble with exhaustion and the goat man was eyeing him with annoyance, the group finally stopped and made camp. Once more Xavier barely managed to swallow his small portion of trail rations and fall into a blanket provided by the goat man before he was asleep.

The next day followed the exact same routine, and as the sun was setting and Xavier was beginning to wonder if he was cursed to wander the desert with this odd group of animal people forever, they arrived at a village.

«At last!» exclaimed Yukio as they drew near the outer buildings, and Xavier looked groggily up. The endless walking had finally shut even the irrepressible Yukio up the latter half of the day. «We've made it back! Welcome to Henka, Zabi-kun!»