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Chapter 18: A way out

The atmosphere was beyond tense during our walk back, but I felt so light and refreshed that I really didn’t care about the weird looks Jair was giving me or the blatant disgust from Veronica’s face. Things are gonna change in town. I smiled as we entered the plaza.

“You guys are back!” A girl came running at us while waving her hand with a big smile. The girl. “What happened?” Her speed slowed down as she sensed the weird air surrounding us. “Are you guys okay?” Her brows frowned in worry.

“We’re fine.” Jair forced a smile.

Brian nodded as well.

“Yeah, but more importantly.” Veronica approached the girl. “You’re fine, right? Didn’t have any trouble while waiting?”

“Not at all.” The girl, Luciana, shook her head. “I spent most of the time with people from Mr. Alan’s group. Unlike my classmates, they don’t care I ran away from the fight.” She smiled wryly. “They’re really nice.”

“That’s fine, but remember to be careful.” Veronica put on a stern expression.

I didn’t really care to listen to them blabbering, so I just began walking towards the fountain, to the place our classmates usually gathered.

“They might be adults, but they’re even more dangerous. You never know what kind of things they might be-” Veronica stopped talking when I walked by and turned her gaze my way for a second.

I didn’t know if she was glaring or if it was just a meaningless glance and didn’t really care.

“Anyway, it’s good you’re fine.” Veronica continued as I walked away.

I could still hear their voices for a while, the four of them having a nice chat.

It was regrettable that I wouldn’t be able to make friends with a cute girl for the first time, but that was a bridge that I’d already burnt off.

I found an open space next to the fountain and laid down, nibbling at a chocolate bar.

I took a deep breath and stared at the sky.

What a day. I rubbed my face. I’d be a lie if I said the events of the day did not affect me. The viciousness of the adults beating us up was a new.

Monsters attacked to kill and naturally, I did the same to them, but those guys… They just wanted to hurt us. And I had not been able to do anything about that. I was powerless. I am powerless.

I also felt like a lost something—the bond I’d begun forming with my companions the past few days. It was broken.

Even then, I felt free now that I dared to stand up for myself. Though irrational and foolish, screwing with Lisandro had been worth all the possible repercussions.

And I got an evolution point too! Which I naturally put right into agility.

Despite all that happened that day, my biggest concern was how to complete the black goldhorn hunt. The reward was simply too good to pass on.

The problem was its difficulty. I could argue Lisandro was a piece of shit but his skill’s power was the real deal. His group was definitely at the top of the chain and if they were beaten so badly by a single goldhorn, then it was better for me to give up already. My only hope was that his group fought against many of them and the last one had escaped.

Which didn’t seem plausible with how mad he’d gotten when he saw we killed it.

All that said, the only certain thing was that I needed to get stronger.

The only two ways I knew were either going outside to hunt monsters or breaking my back with weight training.

I’d already had enough of the ruined city for the day, so I went around searching for something suitable to train with.

It was my third day of doing that, and people began to get curious, asking me what was I doing and why since the load I could lift had visibly increased. All I had to do was tell them it was related to my skill and most would give up asking.

My afternoon went by really quick while answering a few vain questions, ignoring Lisandro’s death glare when he came back, mindlessly exercising myself and seeing how my companions avoided eye contact with me—lovely stuff. But just as I suspected, my strength did not increase after all that hard work.

The sun was already on its way down when I heard a commotion.

“A healer! We need a healer here!” They began shouting.

I put down the slab of concrete and began moving to check out why they needed me.

Wait. I stopped. Why should I waste my mana going to heal some stranger when I could make a better use of it by training? There was no need for me to ‘be a good samaritan’ and always ‘treat others with kindness’ like that hypocrite for a mother I had loved to say. They weren’t paying me anything and there were other healers around anyway.

I picked up the weights and continued my training.

A few minutes later I was happy about not going to help because among the people that came injured were those adults that beat us up. Well, three of them—the woman, the leader, and another guy. The other injured people were six other adults, some young and some a little older.

Looking around the plaza, I could say that more than half of all the adults were missing, and those nine that returned were just half of that number.

They had been utterly fucked up by something.

So much that I dropped the weights again and approached to see what had happened to them from behind the crowd.

When I saw their torn and bloodied clothes an immeasurable amount of joy filled my chest. But then my gaze landed on the stumps some of them had where a leg or arm should have been. I had mixed feelings about that. On one hand, the leader of the group that beat us up deserved to be beaten up until he ended up pissing blood for months but seeing his sunken expression and the way his left hand rested on the place where his leg should’ve been...

It was so pitiful, even if the bastard deserved it.

A knot formed in my throat. Some day I could be the one to crawl back to the plaza, missing a limb and on the verge of death after being beaten by one among the myriad of things stronger than me out there.

“Thanks.” The leader returned a water bottle to a nearby person.

After some more ‘are you okay now?’ bullshit, someone finally asked the question that mattered. “What did you guys encounter out there to end up like that?” The person said.

“It’s- I think we found where the lord of the trial is.” The leader said, his stare fixed to the ground. “W-we-” He stopped and took a deep breath. “We went exploring-” he paused again for a second. “And Alan separated from our group and didn’t come back even after ten minutes. He’s done that before, but this time we were a little too far from where we usually go since we set out this noon to try and reach the end of the barrier...”

That was not exactly what I remembered. But again, I did not really know what they were doing out there.

“…then came across a certain scene.” He exchanged glances with the other injured adults and continued. “There were a bunch of monsters gathered in one place, fighting each other and overlooking all the chaos from the roof of a building was a creature. It had the form of a human, but its eyes were pitch black and its features monstrous. With weird bulges on its face, scales on its arms and long spines for hair. Standing next to him was none other than Alan.”

People gasped.

Mr. Torres was a vain person, always wanting attention, but from that to being the lackey of a monster lord?

“I know it’s unbelievable, I’m still shocked by it, but Alan was right there next to that creature, watching as the horde monsters turned towards us and attacked us. We held for as long as we could, but soon our companions began to fall one by one. All we could do in the end was run away and live to fight another day.” The guy’s fist began to tremble. “Clearly that’s not possible anymore.” He smiled wryly.

“That means we can finally get out of this damned place,” Lisandro said in his usual rude tone, not caring the slightest about others. “We just need to gather more capable people and go kick that lord’s butt.”

“Are your eyes in your ass?” Ronel snapped at him from the other side of the crowd. “Do you not see what happened to a group of twenty adults?”

“What of it?” Lisandro tilted his head. “That just means they were careless because their leader betrayed them. We just need to not fuck up.”

The guy on the ground touched the stump of his leg and glanced at Lisandro. “Shut your mouth, kid. You’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Anyway,” Lisandro shrugged. “When you stop pissing your pants and decide you’ve had enough of this place, call me.” Then he turned around and left.

Ronel let out an exasperated sigh and shook his head.

“That smartass is kinda right, though.” The guy on the ground said. “We-” He stopped and gritted his teeth. “You need to gather a group of people and go hunt that monster. We need to get out of here as soon as possible if we don’t want to be whittled down one at a time and lose our chance. You just have to go the right way about it and not make mistakes.”

The lord of the trial. That was 4 evolution points.

The godhorn hunt was 5 more points and if all the goldhorns dropped those marbles, I potentially had 5 more points right there.

I had 14 evolution points within sight and the only real obstacle was my own weakness.

That had to change

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A note from kleimore

Sorry if I haven't been responding to comments. I read them but haven't had the time to properly respond due to some IRL stuff.

Anyway, here's the chapter, so thanks for reading!


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kleimore

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