Back in the castle of woods, where several trees stood tall, a small whiff and your nose would be bombarded by the scent of spruce. Greenery stretched as far as the eyes can see.
Sonia and Eris were both calmly sitting down across each other, resting their backs against the trees.
Sonia curiously gazed around, thinking that Lazarus and Jim had left them, she glanced at Eris and spoke “Where did they go?”
Eris meet with her gaze, wearing her usual stoic expression. “I don’t know.”
“You didn’t ask?”
Eris shook her head and Sonia simply let out a sigh.
It was silent between the two for a while, Eris wasn’t exactly someone who was talkative and it was relatively hard to read her from how she behaves as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Always calm, her voice monotonous and her expression barely changing.
With a soft breeze passing by the two, the leaves rustled and danced to the tune.
Sonia’s gaze wandered around the greenery around them. It felt like a fresh morning, as if a storm had just passed. But the moment she had those thoughts, she recalled something she had pushed to the corner of her mind, the scenery from yesterday, a split second flash of a bright light, followed by a booming noise, then Leo’s body suddenly relaxed as the light in his eyes slowly left him.
Sonia felt a cold chill that crept up to her. No matter how she tried to shake it off, she couldn’t, the more she remembered the more she felt that Lazarus was someone truly dangerous.
Someone she shouldn’t have asked for help, although she had no other choice. Azalea flowers, healers and ability users alike have all ended up failing. And one thing they all had in common was that they relied on mana. Sonia’s last hope was the oracle who had foretold about the a certain manaless individual who could, perhaps heal her grandfather.
Sonia shook her head, wanting to forget what had happened. She couldn’t help but let out a sigh making Eris ask “What’s wrong..?”
Sonia hugged her knees, downcast her gaze and whispered. “What...do you think about Rex…?”
“Hmm…..” Eris gazed up at the trees, carefully thinking about Sonia’s words. But no matter how she thought about it, she didn’t know Lazarus all too well. Curious, she asked. ”What do you mean?”
“I mean… yesterday he saved us......” Sonia glanced at Eris who nodded in response. She inhaled deeply before continuing. “B-but… uhmm… when I went to help him…. the battle had already concluded….. and “ Sonia hesitated, her voice crumbling down to a whisper. “A-and… h-he killed Leo….”
Sonia glanced at Eris to see how she would react, but her brows turned to a frown when Eris replied with a simple “And?”
“What?? I mean. He KILLED a person just like that! He-!” - Sonia
Eris interrupted, her voice still as calm as a cat “Leo could’ve killed us….. ” Sonia frowned. “I know but... Leo was already at his mercy… he barely even managed to touch Rex so-”
“He barely even touched him...?” Eris, listening to Sonia felt that something was off. Though she knew that Lazarus was fairly skilled in physical combat, it still wasn’t enough to defeat someone who would rival a platinum ranked adventurer, even more so, without a scratch. This made Eris curious.
Sonia continued. “That’s not the point… the point is that he killed him without a second thought! Just like that!”
“Like that? How did he kill Leo..?” Eris curiously gazed at Sonia who was already fuming. “He got some strange artifact and it went boom! Or something like that. But that’s not the point. The point is, he already won. Why did he need to kill Leo???”
Eris, though quiet was fairly observant. She realized Sonia was sheltered. In a gentle tone, she glanced at Sonia and spoke. “Rex did it to save us.... So-”
Sonia interrupted with a frown, her voice raised. “Leo. WAS ALREADY BEATEN. He didn’t need to kill him! He was being stupid. What if Leo could’ve changed...?”
“People don’t change that easily.” [Eris]
“I know but….. ” Sonia lowered her gaze, obviously frustrated, her voice almost as soft as a whisper. “Killing someone….shouldn’t be something someone could do so easily...”
Eris recalled how she fought Lazarus and how they had that little conversation before, and from that, she felt that he wasn’t the type of person to do it in cold blood.
Eris felt that it was only right that he had killed Leo instead of putting them all in danger. But bluntly saying to Sonia who somehow thinks otherwise would obviously get the opposite effect.
Eris took a deep breath, and spoke. “Does that mean you’d hate me..?”
Sonia raised a brow. “W-what..? I never said that I’d hate you…. It’s just that Re-”
Eris interrupted. “I would’ve done the same.”
“Eh..? B-but…..Rex is...”
“Do you hate me?”
“......I-.....” Sonia frowned and averted her gaze like a little child. “N-not really…...”
“Rex did it because he had to.”
Heaving a sigh, Sonia crossed her arms, looked away and fell silent. She mumbled a few words but then Eris stood up, walked over towards her and leaned forward meeting her gaze. “I don’t think Rex is a bad person... ”
Eris careful words somehow made Sonia calm down a bit. She thought carefully about it, but she still wasn’t convinced that what Lazarus did was right. Although she felt that maybe getting to know Lazarus first would be better than simply being judgemental.
With a huff, Sonia reluctantly gazed back at Eris and said. “Maybe…..”
Satisfied, Eris nodded and sat back down beside Sonia.
Though it was silent for a moment, Sonia’s belly decided to break the silence by singing the song of its people. Her face reddened as she averted her gaze whilst Eris simply stood up, as if nothing happened and glanced around. “Our bags…. Were with the horses...”
“Oh yeah…..” [Sonia]
Eris continued to glance around, but then she began walking off to which Sonia asked. “Where are you going?”
“I need to find my sword.”
“Ah wait.” Sonia stood up and reached out behind the tree she was leaning at, took out Eris sword and handed it to her. “I forgot that Rex took it back with us yesterday. Why do you need it?”
“I’m going out to find something to eat. I might encounter a few ogres so...”
“Oh… if that’s the case then, should I come with you?”
Eris shook her head and spoke. “You need to stay here incase Rex and that guy comes back.”
“That guy? You mean Jim?” [Sonia]
Although Eris was quite strong and was only beaten by Leo because she only had a bit of mana left when they fought. She still hadn’t fully recovered. Worried, Sonia spoke. “But are you sure that you’re going alone? What if there are other bandits?”
“I won’t go far” [Eris]
Eris began walking off and Sonia simply let her be. It didn’t take long for Eris to find a few fruits and berries around the area. She was used to venturing out very often because of several quests so looking for edible food was a relatively easy task for her, especially in a forest.
The moment she came back. She and Sonia ate silently, and they set aside Lazarus’ and Jim’s share before resting their back against the tree once more to rest while waiting for the two.
But not long after, they heard peculiar noises. Subtle scratching noises. At first they ignored it thinking it wasn’t something important. But as the noise kept on continuing, Eris decided to look around.
She glanced back at the berries they set aside, her brows turned to a frown the moment she noticed a purple rat the size of a cat, casually munching on the fruits. It’s mouth was bulging slightly from all the berries it stuffed in its small mouth.
It was a relatively cute sight but Eris then recalled what had happened yesterday, she was so focused on Leo that she forgot that Rufus had appeared.
Sonia noticed that Eris was staring and glanced at where she was looking at. Sonia didn’t recognize the rat and simply shooed Rufus away, but then Eris called out. “Wait….”
Rufus squeeked and disappeared. He had been so engrossed in the food and was so hungry that he lost focus. Being tasked with watching the two with an empty stomach didn’t exactly help either.
Sonia was surprised that something could just disappear in a near instant, although Eris didn’t seem too surprised since she herself knew what Rufus could do. After all, Rufus stole her ring. What surprised her was what Rufus was doing here in the first place.
Eris fell silent and began piecing the puzzle together, it couldn’t be a coincidence that both Rex and Rufus appeared at the same time. The moment she thought about it, it also didn’t make any sense why Sonia could even have her ring in the first place.
Eris glanced back at Sonia and spoke. “How did you get my ring?”
“Hmm.. Well I-...” Sonia paused, as she remembered that Lazarus had told her not to say a word to Eris, if she did then Lazarus would cut the deal off.
At that moment Sonia averted her gaze as a drop of sweat formed on her forehead. “W-well…… I found it.”
Although Sonia thought she could pass it off, Eris easily saw through and said. “Really?”
Eris knew it was a blatant lie. And Sonia somehow felt the air around Eris changing despite still keeping her stoic expression. Eris walked over to her and leaned forward, her gaze felt as if it was peering into Sonia’s soul. Eris spoke. “Really?”
“I’m telling the truth!”
Sonia forced a smile and tried to meet with Eris’ gaze. “Yes… really...”
But Eris’ piercing gaze told Sonia that she didn’t believe a word of it. With no other choice left, Sonia quietly glanced around as she thought. “-It probably won’t be a problem if Rex doesn’t find out...-” Sonia let out a sigh and resigned herself. “A-alright…….I’ll tell you.”
Eris crossed her arms, still seemingly unconvinced.
Sonia had a worried look as she kept on glancing around before she spoke meekly. “B-but no matter what. Promise me you won’t tell Rex….”
“W-well….. Y-you see. Rex gave me the ring and told me that you’d come if I did. I don’t know where he got it from but if he finds out I told you… then he won’t help me….”
“Help you with what?”
“Errhmm…… I-I can’t tell you that….” Sonia knew how risky it was for anyone to know that if the great elven sage was weakened, a war could break out. She only told Lazarus about her grandfather but never actually told him he was the great sage. It was something that she vowed to keep to herself no matter what.
Eris was fairly observant and knew when Sonia wouldn’t budge, so she simply let it slide. But what made her curious was why Lazarus would even tell Sonia to hide it. It wasn’t something they needed to hide since they could’ve just asked her. This made Eris wonder.
Carefully thinking about Lazarus’ actions, somehow gave Eris a rough idea of his personality. But she still couldn’t understand why he needed to hide any of it.
“-Maybe he was a criminal? But then he wouldn’t have participated in the exam. Maybe he owned the rat? Or….. perhaps he just doesn’t want to get involved with people. How did he beat Leo? What artifact did he have?-”
Several thoughts lingered in Eris’ mind but only one person could answer her question. Just like a cat who suddenly saw a red dot from a laser, Eris became curious about Lazarus.
“I’m back.” A voice called out. Both Eris and Sonia quickly turned their heads and assumed a defensive position, but then they relaxed their guards upon seeing that it was Lazarus. Sonia who suddenly recalled what Lazarus did, immediately averted her gaze.
Eris glanced at Lazarus, upon realizing that Jim was nowhere to be seen, she asked. “Where’s Jim?”
“I let him go.” Lazarus replied, not wanting to complicate things with Sonia. He eyed both Sonia and Eris. Seeing that Eris clothes were partly covered in dirt and sweat. Lazarus began to rummage through the stuff in the worn out green backpack he wore. Both Eris and Sonia looked curiously towards him, and then Lazarus took out a couple of clothes to choose from and said. “Here.”
Sonia raised a brow “Where’d you find this? ”
“From Jim’s hideout. You didn’t think I’d let him go just like that now, did you?” Of course this was a lie but Lazarus thought it would lessen Sonia’s suspicion of him if he added some sort of condition that would benefit him.
“I see…..” Sonia muttered while averting her gaze, clearly unconvinced. Eris glanced at Sonia, then to Lazarus. It was quite obvious to her that there was some sort of tension between them.
Lazarus spoke. “Anyway, you two can change if you want. This bag contains a few potions and things you might need. I’ll be heading off.”
“Where?” Eris asked, as she glanced at Sonia with her face showing a bit of triumphant look since this time she made sure to ask. Sonia let out a sigh, although it was something she was going to ask herself and Eris simply saved her the trouble of talking to Lazarus.
Lazarus spoke. “Back to sniping and saving the elf some trouble.” Sonia frowned “Stop calling me that...” her voice hinting a bit of irritation, Sonia continued “In case you forgot it’s Sonia Fenesthia and I’m only half….”
It was quite clear to Lazarus that she still had a bone to pick with him, and he also didn’t like going with a naive little girl, it somehow reminded him of his young self, so it was better if he left. But before he could walk away, Eris tugged on his cloak, giving him a curious gaze. “What’s sna..ayyping?”
“It’s sniping.” Lazarus huffed, and pointed towards her hands, silently telling her to let go. But then Eris spoke. “Why won’t you go with us?”
“Someone doesn’t want me here” Lazarus casually took a quick glimpse at Soniia before he continued. “ and it’s better for me to snipe from afar.” Sonia noticed this as she always kept on staring at Lazarus but was careful not to meet his gaze.
“What’s snayyp?” [Eris]
Lazarus sighed, it didn’t seem like the conversation would get anywhere unless he answered her question first. “Snipe. It’s a term I use for shooting someone from a hiding place.”
“So…..” Eris paused for a moment, she had a quick thought before she gazed back at Lazarus. “Those boom sounds.. were you?”
Sonia raised a brow and thought. “-So it was him back then.. The bandits falling one by one….-” Sonia was somewhat hesitant to join in the conversation. She took a deep breath, gazed at Lazarus after mustering a bit of courage, and spoke. “Did you kill them?”
“-Not again…… not this stupid conversation again...-” Lazarus thought. Sonia, somewhat taken aback by Lazarus’ silence, continued. “Well?”
Eris was looking curiously towards Sonia. They already had a conversation of this before so she was somewhat surprised that she brought it up again.
Lazarus was already feeling annoyed, but decided maybe answering her would shut her up. “I did.”
“Because if I didn’t then they’d kept chasing you and it would’ve gotten worst. I’m not confident that I can take on that much people.” [Lazarus]
“I see… B-but if you had a choice…. W-would you have killed them..?” [Sonia]
“I wouldn’t. I never liked the idea of killing anyone. But if I have to. Then I will.” Lazarus spoke in a strict tone. What had happened on the ship was a mistake that had almost cost him his life. He wasn’t willing to make the same mistake again.
Eris’ expression lightened up a bit, though there was hardly in difference, somehow the air around her felt different. She knew what Sonia was on to and was taking her words to heart.
“So you were only doing it to help us….” Sonia muttered in a relatively soft tone. “I’m sorry… Rex...”
Lazarus furrowed his brows. He was somewhat confused why she would even apologize as he thought that she was trying to accuse him of murder again. “Sorry for what?”
Sonia downcast her gaze, her voice soft and seemingly about to break. “It was my fault you had to kill them… right? I’m sorry…. .”
Lazarus wasn’t sure what to do. He couldn’t exactly say it was ‘alright’ and neither could he just shrug it off. Though, he had never blamed Sonia since he was the person who decided to pull the trigger. No one forced him.
Lazarus gazed at Eris expecting some hints on what to do but Eris simply released her grip and seemed satisfied. She meet with Lazarus’ gaze and spoke. “Rex, why don’t you come with us?”
“I need to snipe from a safe distance….” Though there was a bit of truth in Lazarus words, the reason he had chosen to snipe was because he doubted Sonia and didn’t ignore the possibility of all this to be a trap. But after today he knew that it wasn’t, but somehow that decision wasn’t wrong since the bandits were all caught off guard.
Eris continued “Just for abit. I had something I wanted to ask you.”