A maid with a scarlet braid crown hair, swept the pathway to a garden. Now done with her work, she let out a soft ‘phew’ as she smiled in satisfaction.
As she admired the now flawless pathway, she turned and glanced behind her, having heard the sounds of boots, clacking against the cold hard cobblestone.
She saw a man in farmer’s clothing wearing a brown worn down hood. With deep crimson ruffled hair and yellow eyes, the man’s calm yet cold expression made her feel a bit uncomfortable.
“Him again...” She softly muttered. As the poor looking man passed by her, she bowed to greet him and the man in turn, returned a simple nod.
Early in the morning where the breeze still had a chilling touch and the sun was still yet to dye Valeria of its warm light. On that exact same time they always passed by one another, exchanging the same greetings each day for the entire week.
The man continued walking until he arrived in front of a large warehouse made from wood. After a few minutes, he’d come out, lifting two crates on both his shoulder.
Leila herself began to take an interest in him. He looked poor but he’d afford several wagons full of raw materials. An amount that would even make nobles go broke.
“-Just who is this man?-” Thought Leila to herself. If he’d have enough money to afford those materialis, she wondered why wouldn’t he buy decent clothes for himself? It puzzled her to a degree.
“-That maid is really hardworking, don’t you think so?” Thought Lazarus as he passed by Leila.
-= I fail to see how this topic is relevant. =- Replied FS.
“-Nothing really. I just wanted to have a chat.-”
If FS had a face, his brows would’ve raised by the sudden invite. Not that he was against it, it was simply baffling as it came from the anti-social Lazarus.
“-Well, it doesn’t matter now. After all. I have all the steel I need..-” Thought Lazarus. Though, his own thoughts made him grin like an idiot, feeling as if he’d accomplished a big step.
Carrying the crates was a simple front as he originally planned on storing them in his D-storage. The crates themselves were perfect cover so he could de-materialize the raw materials inside without anyone noticing.
After walking pass the maid yet again, he continued walking for nearly half a mile until arrived back to his inn and by this time, the crate had already been empty.
“-That should be the last of it right?-”
-= Affirmative =-
Lazarus smiled. A budding flowery feeling in his heart welled-up that he somehow couldn’t suppress. Although this was barely the start, but with this, he was a step closer to seeing his father, his sole family.
“Heh-..” Lazarus let out a soft huff before opening the door to his room. The window beamed a soft glow from the early morning sun, it somehow made for a spectacular view despite his room being empty other than having a wooden bed.
At the view of this empty room, he felt nostalgic. Although he had no reason to feel this way, he still felt it. This room had been his for over months now, the thought of leaving it somehow gave him a strange lonely feeling.
Gazing once again at this inn room for the last time, Lazarus took a deep breath, inhaling the wooden scent for the last time and letting it out slowly with a smile.
Shaking his head, Lazarus called out. “Rufus. It’s time to go.”
At his words, a soft *squeek* followed after from his little inivisible friend.
Having affirmed that the little rodent was ready as well, Lazarus nodded and headed downstairs. He headed for the counter where, a girl with double brown braids greeted him with a smile. It was the inn lady.
Lazarus hid his hands in his pocket, materializing the key to his room and handed it to the girl, who upon seeing the keys, smiled faintly.
“Sir Rex, I take it that you will be leaving?” She gazed up at Lazarus
“Yeah...” Said Lazarus, dropping a few gold coins in the counter.
“Thank you for being with us. Please do come again!” Said the girl with a bow and a cheerful smile.
Lazarus in turn nodded before heading outside, feeling the gentle cool morning breeze once again on his cheeks made for a refreshing early morning.
-= Where are you headed to master? =- Asked FS to which Lazarus answered. “-Home-”
The forest of eternal peace. His place of exile, yet it was a place he could call his home. Indeed, it was ironic.
He needed the equipment on the ship to begin the creation of mining drones. And with that in mind, he had no intention of coming back to Kratos, the land of the adventurers.
He had experienced so much here, from meeting Eris and ending up in a duel with her, to almost getting his head blown off by crazed elven people. Although it wasn’t that long ago, to him, it did feel a bit longer than it should.
Maybe it was because he was leaving. Lazarus smiled at the thought that he somehow accomplished something with his own two hands that wasn’t meant to harness magic. The very hands that was meant to rot in the forest he was exiled.
Clenching his hands, Lazarus smiled.
With these manaless hands, he had cured the unhealable Sage, took down a group of bandits and in the future, he would do more. All this, without harnessing magic, without mana. Through the power of science given to him.
The sense of accomplishment bubbled in his chest, coupled by the deep sense of gratitude. A gratitude that belonged to the man who had gave him with the knowledge of science.
“Thanks...dad-.... ” Said Lazarus in a soft whisper as he opened his clenched fist, staring at his palms as if gazing at a very precious gift, he whispered again. “Dad... I really am grateful to you…. Just wait for me-.... I’ll build the tower in no time!”
Having getting himself pumped up, Lazarus nodded to himself before walking away. It was time to head back.
But before that. Lazarus thought that he should at least say his goodbyes to Eris and Gallios. After all, the moment he goes back to the forest in Assail, he’d have no reason to comeback to Kratos. He’d probably never see them again.
With this in mind, Lazarus knelt down and said. “Could you find Eris for me?” gazing at the dirt road. If someone saw him, he’d be called a lunatic for talking to air. But, in his thermal vision, dyed in red, he was the only one who could see Rufus’ rat like figure.
The little rodent nodded before scooting off. Making soft pattering sounds as he ran.
With that said and done, Lazarus headed for the smith’s shop, where he was expecting to see the large bald headed man Gallios.
It didn’t take long for him to reach his destination, but upon seeing the ‘Closed’ sign hanging outside of the door, Lazarus raised a brow.
He was relatively sure that around this time, the shop should’ve been open. To make sure, he knocked a few times. But after waiting for several minutes, only the silence answered him.
Maybe the smith was on a vacation or probably even sick, thought Lazarus. He didn’t think much about it as it wasn’t unusual to take a day off of smithing.
With that thought in mind, he glanced at the screen on the corner of his vision. And upon seeing a small red dot pinging a sort of chiming sound, he began heading towards its location.
With rigorous training and a few electric shocks, Rufus had learned to use the collar to give a signal to Lazarus. And because it was pinging, that meant that the little rodent must’ve found the silver haired knight already.
As Lazarus continued walking towards its direction, the dot itself began to move towards him. When Lazarus turned a corner, he immediately saw the silver haired knight, wearing her usual one piece white dress adorned in armor.
She was lead by Rufus, who kept glancing back, making squeeking noises, urging her to follow. The silver haired knight didn’t think much and kept on tailing the rodent with her usual, calm and expressionless face.
Although the rodent was usually cautious, but because it was still early in the morning with practically no one around he was casually showing himself.
Eris still hadn’t spotted Lazarus since her attention was focused on Rufus, and as the two continued to grow closer, Eris naturally noticed the sounds of Lazarus’ footsteps and looked towards him.
“Rex…?” She softly muttered with her cherry lips. She had a questioning expression before she glanced towards Rufus then back to Lazarus. She pondered for a moment, before her expression changed, piecing the puzzle together. “Did you-...”
“Yeah.” Said Lazarus. ”I asked Rufus to find you.”
“Why?” Asked Eris, her voice still as soft and monotonic as ever. Although, this too was also starting to feel nostalgic even though he was yet to leave.
“I wanted to tell you I’ll be leaving.” Said Lazarus.
The moment Lazarus spoke those words, Eris lowered her gaze and muttered. “I see.” She was silent for a moment but it looked like she had something she wanted to say.
Lazarus waited for her abit. And in just a short while, Eris met his gaze once again. ”Eve wanted to bid you farewell before she left. But you weren’t around.”
“Yeah, I was busy with something.” Said Lazarus. “Anyway. Could you do me a favor and tell Gallios I said bye?”
Hearing his words, Eris let out an ‘eh?’ a little bit surprised. “You mean Gallios the smith?”
And at her strange reaction, Lazarus raised a brow. “Yeah.. there’s no other Gallios I know off. Is there something wrong?”
Eris nodded. “Gallios went missing a few days ago. Together with his daughter….”
Lazarus eyes’ widened. “A few days ago?”
Eris nodded and continued. “His wife already sent out a request to the guild. It will be published today for adventurers to take.”
Lazarus’ mood turned sour. He was expecting a peaceful goodbye, but this only made his head throb in anger.
“Why now..?” Muttered Lazarus scratching his head as his brows formed creased on his forehead.
Seeing him openly displaying his irritation, Eris naturally spoke out what she thought Lazarus would do.
“Will you take the quest?”
Lazarus was silent for a moment, closing his eyes in deep thought. Should he try and find Gallios? Or should he quietly go back to Assail? Maybe Gallios was out drunk somewhere.
Lazarus shook his head, it was an obvious excuse he was trying to tell himself. No way would Gallios get drunk while with his daughter. And he wouldn’t disappear just like that considering he was a workaholic sort of smith.
“Rex..?” Called out Eris softly, she was starting to worry since Lazarus had gone silent.
Snapping back to Reality, Lazarus let out a sigh. “I’m not sure. But maybe I’ll look into it for a bit.” He needed to know even just a little bit of the cause of the smith’s disappearance so he could put his mind to ease.
For a moment, Eris opened her mouth but no words came out. She wanted to say something, but hesitated. Her emotionless beautiful facade showed no indications of hesitation. And the words that came out of her mouth was.
“I see.” Said Eris nonchalantly, a tone suggesting that she wasn’t bothered by the Smith’s disappearance. This made Lazarus furrow his brows, even though he knew she wasn’t required to help.
But this was the smith who forged weapons for adventurers, why wouldn’t she care? It somehow bothered Lazarus more than it should have.
Didn’t Eris offered a helping hand to Sonia when that half-elf was fatigued from looking for him? She risked her life to save Sonia from the bandits. She faced Sylphi in a melee to stop her from attacking Lazarus.
At the very least he thought that Eris was the type to silently lend a helping hand to those in need. But maybe he was wrong. He felt a bit disappointed in her.
Though thinking about it even more wouldn’t get him anywhere.
With this in mind, Lazarus let another sigh escape, trying to calm himself as he recollected his thoughts. And now that he had already said what he wanted, he simply turned, walking away. “That’s all I wanted to say. I’ll be leaving now.”
The moment he spoke those words and continued on his way, Eris’ hand was reaching out to him. Although she wanted to say more, she had something she needed to do.
Putting down the hands that were extended towards Lazarus’ back but never reaching, the silver haired knight simply looked down on the ground, and said. “Bye.” before turning and walking away, opposite to where Lazarus was headed to.
“What could’ve happened here?” Asked Lazarus to no one but himself. He looked around Gallios’ shop, but the only thing he saw were the usual display of weapons hanging on the wooden wall. Nothing out of the ordinary.
It was unlikely a robbery considering that nothing was stolen, so Lazarus was left with two possibilities. One could be that Gallios was kidnapped, the other was that he must’ve went somewhere and could’ve ended up in trouble.
Lazarus sighed. The latter was unlikely, considering that Gallios was together with his daughter so there was no way he would put his daughter at risk.
“Which only leaves one possibility...” Muttered Lazarus as he gazed around, trying to find clues while cloaked. But he’d already been searching inside for over an hour and he hasn’t found anything of note.
Why was Gallios and his daughter abducted? Ransom maybe? Lazarus shook his head, if they wanted Ransom, they would’ve targeted nobles. Maybe it was his skills as a smith. And maybe that’s why they took his daughter also, so he’d be forced to do their bidding.
It was the most likely scenario.
With this in mind, Lazarus exited the shop and turned a corner to decloak. For now he only has an idea of the motivation behind the kidnapping. But other than that, he had nothing.
Furrowing his brow, Lazarus continued to walk along the streets while in deep thought. Passing by adventurers and townspeople alike without a care.
He felt mild shock as his body was pushed back a bit. Glancing at the source, he noticed he’d already bumped into someone.
“Sorry-.. I wasn’t paying attention.” Said Lazarus but the hooded man he bumped into, nodded and pointed at the ground, revealing his blue skinned hands. “It’s alright, but I think you dropped something.”
The moment Lazarus looked towards the direction, he noticed a piece of folded paper. And on reflex he opened the paper and went through its contents, at that moment, his eyes widened.
Seeing his reaction ,the blue skinned hooded man grinned, revealing sharp, razor blade like teeths.
“Follow me. Let’s talk somewhere else.” Said the man, as he dusted himself and walked ahead.
-= Master, I highly advise against following this man =- Said FS, with his robotic voice, echoing in Lazarus’ mind.
But Lazarus just stood still like a tree in the middle of the street, frozen in place as his heart began to throb like a drum, then veins on his neck, reaching to the back of his head.
The realization for the motive behind Gallios abduction hit him almost like a train.
“Hey, is something wrong?” Said the man casually, as if he was speaking to a friend. Lazarus shot him a livid glare. Seeing his reaction, the man snickered, seemingly amused by his irritation. “Let’s go.”
“Fine.” Said Lazarus as he followed after the man. He wasn’t intending on following him all the way as it was obviously a trap, but he needed to know more so he forced his limbs to move, following behind the large blue skinned hooded man, hoping to get something out of him as they walked.
At this point he was already contemplating against it. His mind was screaming for him not to go, but logically, he knew he could just cloak at any given time if things went bad.
But maybe he was thinking too optimistically. Lazarus’ steps gradually became slower, the moment he remembered his fight with Ana. They had sealed him in a room before, so who’s to say that they wouldn’t do it again?
Shaking his head, Lazarus exhaled deeply, trying to clear his thoughts and think things through more carefully. He glanced at his screen, and it showed that he still had 75% cloak energy remaining.
It was relatively better situation compared to the time with Ana where he only had 5% cloak energy remaining. But still, what if they brought beastmen with them to snuff him out like Silica did?
No… in the first place, the most logical thing to do was to not follow the man. It was obviously trap. But-.... Lazarus couldn’t help but feel a nagging sensation in his heart, a fire of guilt gradually burning brighter and brighter from deep within his chest.
That’s right…… From what he’d read, he had long realized that Gallios and his daughter’s disappearance was not for some stupid ransom like he initially thought. It was because they associated themselves with him.
He had no one else to blame other than himself. As Lazarus was locked in self loath, a hoarse feminine voice caused him to look.
“Please someone find my husband and my daughter! Please I beg of you!”
The voice belonged to woman in her thirties, her hair was colored like an almond chestnut, tied in a wavy ponytail, she wore a simple white shirt and a long chestnut colored skirt that complemented her hair.
She held out flyers, with a hand drawn sketch of Gallios and his daughter plastered at the center. Seeing this, Lazarus immediately knew who she was.
The dark shade of bags underneath her eyes and her unkempt hair told Lazarus all he needed to know as to how desperately this woman had been trying to send out request for someone to find her family.
“Leira, my daughter is only ten so please!” She begged and thrusted the flyer to a fully armored adventurer who seemed to raise both of hands, trying to calm her down.
Adventurers were crowding over her and Lazarus was only passing them by, still following after the hooded man.
Some adventurers urged her to come down and some were talking to their parties, contemplating whether the reward was good enough for the quest itself.
And the cause of all of this, silently passed through, unwavering and unconcerned, the hooded man continued on walking with a smirk beneath the cloak.
On the other hand, Lazarus was feeling a mountain of guilt weighing down on him, almost as if gravity was wanting to crush him.
What did they want from him? Who is this man? What could he do to save Gallios? Lazarus was simply swimming in a mountain of questions as he continued to follow the man. The questions continued to pile, more and more but all, without an answer.
It didn’t take long before the two reached the city gates. Seeing as Lazarus needed answers, he stopped and called out. “Hey.”
The tall hooded man looked towards him and spoke. “Is something wrong?” and snickered.
“Other than you mentioning that you had Gallios and his daughter, what proof do I have that you’re actually telling the truth?”
Hearing Lazarus’ calm yet demanding tone, the hooded man realized he wouldn’t budge. So he simply shook his head, seemingly disappointed as if all of this was a joke to him.
“You know, before asking all of these questions, shouldn’t we at least get to know each other first?” Said the man teasingly trying to rouse Lazarus’ anger. But to his disappointment, Lazarus calmly retorted.
“Then shouldn’t you introduce yourself first? You’re the one who suggested this after all.”
“Heh-...” Said the man with a huff. “I’m Glade and you?”
“Rex.” Said Lazarus. “Now that that’s done, I want to know what you want from me.”
Glade stared at Lazarus, studying his expression. And as if almost figuring him out, he held out his clenched fist to Lazarus, who stared at his fist questioningly for a moment, before opening his palm.
“That’s the map to the forest. Come alone-.... Or not at all. It’s your choice whether they live or tortured till they die.” Said Glade with an excited and twisted grin. “You know what? This IS a trap, so don’t go. And I’ll get to hear the beautifully screams of that ten year old girl hahahahah!”
Seeing the childish grin on Glade, Lazarus could tell that this man was trying to rouse him so he kept his unchanging expression. But despite looking calm, Lazarus felt every fiber of his muscle seethe in fury as if his whole body was heating up.
“Heh-... That’s no fun.” Said Glade with a shake of his head. And seeing as his attempt failed, he felt a surge of childish excitement, challenged to break Lazarus’ facade.
“You may act like that for as long as you like. But-.... I know that the smith means something to you. Just like-.. that fox girl called Eve”
The moment Lazarus heard the name of someone who he considered a friend, his heart squeezed, sending a cold numbing sensation throughout his body.
“And next-..maybe... that female knight?” Said Glade teasingly, trying to break Lazarus even more.
“-He can act tough all he wants but he’s still just an 18 year old kid.-” Thought Glade as he grinned and took a step closer to Lazarus, trying to pressure him. And if he stepped back now, it would’ve meant he was backing down like a coward.
But Lazarus hardly gave him any reaction, unconcerned of all the threats that was given.
The reason for this was the years of training in the VR as a soldier, where dealing with terrorist was never allowed for the sole reason that they would demand more, if given what they initially demanded.
Contrary to the demon’s assessment, although Lazarus was truly just an 18 year old boy, in truth he had already lived several more years in the VR.
As Glade continued to blabber these threats, in Lazarus’ mind, he was already thinking of what he had gotten so far.
Given what Glade had presented him with. Lazarus thought at a rapid pace, breaking down the details of this seemingly pointless chatter.
Glade was confident enough to use Eris and Eve against him, which could mean that he had been observing who he interacted with, which also meant that he had been followed all this time.
Knowing this, it was impossible to deny that he doesn’t care about the two.
At that moment, Lazarus’ brows furrowed.
“-Wait-... if they knew that, then why didn’t they just kidnap Eve and Eris instead?-”
It was the logical train of thought since the two were closer to him than Gallios ever was.
Thinking closely, Eve was together with the pendragons so she was heavily guarded putting her out of their options. Which meant that only Eris could’ve been the most likely target. She frequently roams around alone, so why didn’t they kidnap her? She was the perfect target.
Unless-... they couldn’t. Was what Lazarus thought. Maybe it was time to put it to the test, just to see if Eris really was safe.
Staring back at the grinning Glade, Lazarus sighed. “Go ahead and kidnap those two. If you can...-that is.”
The arc on Glade’s lips, slowly curved to a flat. The cheerful teasing air around him disappeared as if it had never existed.Then, Lazarus’ brows curved to a frown the moment Glade stepped closer, exerting his presence over him as he stared down at Lazarus’ who was a head shorted than him.
“There’s no point in threatening you anymore so I’ll cut to the chase. Don’t go, and we’ll skin that 10-year old girl infront of her father alive. Go-.. and we’ll give you a chance to save the two. You have until sunrise.” After saying those words, Glade turned his back on Lazarus and walked away.
Seeing that reaction confirmed Lazarus’ suspicion that there was a reason that they couldn’t touch Eris. But that still didn’t change the fact that they still had hostages.
As the demon’s silhouette grew further and further away from the city, Lazarus simply stared at the fleeting back of the cloaked individual.
Cold sweat dripped from every corner of his body as his heart pounded with nervousness.
What was he going to do?