Haru and Ayumu left the unconscious Daichi to his pergola and Kumiko to the wood and made way to the south, down the lower mountain region which swiftly flattened and let out into a hilly expanse where the forest grew more thickly and mist was heavy in the air. Insects swarmed thick and loud and Haru grew increasingly vexed by their continual incursions.
“We shouldn’t have let that bastard be,” Haru snapped after some five miles in silence.
“Too much trouble. We’ve places to be.”
Ayumu turned from his companion and examined the land before them. The southern trail widened and swerved off to the right. Ayumu swiftly stepped from the path and cut into the forest.
“Where are you going?”
“We should stay off the road. There could be other slavers.”
“You think Daichi and Kumiko have confederates?”
“Possibly. Even if they don’t, they certainly have clients.”
Ayumu furrowed his brows and folded his arms as a startling thought occurred to him. He withdrew the map he had purchased from the town on the other side of Sōzō-ryoku from his inner coat pocket and unfurled it, running his right bandaged finger across the intricately drawn mountain ridge from north to south until his digit rested upon the base of the southern-most tumulus, proximal to where they currently stood.
“The only major listed settlement hereabout is Uchū Castle and the hamlets surrounding it.”
Haru turned to his companion, his visage dark with concern.
“Fools we are—we’re headed to a slaver camp.”
Ayumu folded the map and returned it to his inner coat pocket.
“If Lord Tenchi did indeed send those two rogues to intercept travelers upon the road, then surely, proceeding to the castle is foolish. If, however, they were merely denizens of the keep, servants perhaps, seeking to transcend their status, or interlopers with no roots in the region, a reward might well await us.”
“That’s sensible. Still, I don’t like it. None of it.”
“You are too fretful, Haru.”
“Perhaps it is that you are not fretful enough.”