202 Merchants and bets

 We decided to go to the gods, and we just kept going.

 Two more people lost their lives. I had hoped that we would all make it to the shrine in one piece, but reality was not so kind.
 One of the merchants who followed me was killed. A young merchant who had decided to follow me with hope and dreams of the future. The rest of the dead were beasts.

 We're talking less than at first.

 I suppose that's to be expected. We set out into the dangerous woods with the goal of getting to the child. We are moving forward with the faint hope that tomorrow we will be able to meet her. However, I can't find any clue that I can meet the divine child.

 ...... Will I really be able to meet him? Is this really the right choice? Will we all die in the end while holding onto our hopes?
 Objectively speaking, the fact that only three people have died is a good thing. There was a good chance that they would all be dead by the time we got here. Considering that, it's not such a bad march. That's what I've been telling the others.

 --But we're still in a situation where we could collapse from within at any moment.

 I'm sure my mind is starting to lean in the wrong direction too.
 I am afraid that I will die. I'm afraid that things will go wrong. Isn't it a waste to have come all this way? Shouldn't I turn back? These thoughts occupy a large part of my mind when I'm not paying attention.

 I want to see Ran. That's the only reason I've come all this way, but I'm not sure I'll be able to see her. That's what I think. But I have to see Ran. I'm going to meet Ran no matter what. With this thought in my mind, I went on my way.

 I was going to meet Ran and the beasts were going to meet the child.
 With this in mind, we walked forward without looking back.

 As we continued on our way, we saw something strange.

 It was translucent and had no discernible shape. In addition to that, it seemed to be invisible to other things. At first I thought I was hallucinating because I was tired. I was so tired that I even felt despair that I might be at my limit.

 But the further I went, the more the hallucination began to appear in my eyes.

 I wondered if this was my hallucination. Such a strange thing that no one else can see. Is that all I'm capable of? That's what I felt, but then - as I realized the gradual shift in its presence - I had the opposite thought.
 Could it be that this strange sight is a sign of the approaching presence of the Divine Child? I don't know why anyone else wouldn't, but let's say that I'm not hallucinating--that this mysterious, translucent being really exists right in front of me.

 The one being who could create such a strange situation would be a godson. Or, even if not a divine child, there may be a being who can break through the current state of despair.

 I had such a hope.

 Maybe I'm really hallucinating and the hope I'm holding is just a misunderstanding. But it is definitely better to have a little hope than none at all. That's what I'm driven to do.

 That's why I keep going.

 I know that people are worried about me. I know they're worried that I've lost my mind because I've seen things that others haven't. I'm not crazy. I'll be able to prove it when I get to the godson.
 That's why I just kept moving forward with my feet.

 More and more mysterious beings are appearing. I took the initiative to go in the direction they were heading. I hoped they would take me to the gods. It's a gamble. I'm hoping they'll take me to the godson, but there's always the chance that the destination will be a demon's lair or some other despairing place.

 ...... If all that awaits me is despair, I'll risk my life to get them to follow me.
 I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that I'm not the only one.

Saddha! Why are you here?

 It was Ran's voice. I looked over and saw the man I'd been looking for, Landon Stoffer.
 Then I saw the cat beasts that had been beside Ran running toward me and hugging the cat beasts that had followed me.

 Seeing that, I thought, oh, I've won the bet.

 I had been right to follow that translucent being as a hope. If I follow Ran, I'm sure I'll meet the Divine Child.
 As soon as I realized this, I relaxed from relief. And then I found myself unconscious.

 ---The Merchant and Hope
 (A translucent being that only the merchant could see. He chased after it with hope. Chasing it with hope, he won the bet.