25. Dialogue and Preparation
Daniel and I stood to the side, watching Edithe as she handed the bag she was carrying to the woman standing across the counter of the Adventurers Guild. The woman— a receptionist, apparently— nodded as Edithe showed her the bloodied badges she held on her hand.
The two continued conversing for a moment as a deathly silence hung over the hall of the guild; there were hushed whispers happening throughout, but nothing more than that. I stared enviously at the receptionist as she was allowed through the contents of the bag when I had not, but shortly after found myself gaping when she pulled out a long sword from the tiny bag.
What? Huh?! How did that even fit in there?! How does that work?!
I turned to Daniel to question him, but he spoke before I could.
“You know, Salvos, you took my Ring of Lesser Protection from me, right?”
I paused, registering what he said and forgetting my own queries. I slowly nodded.
“I did… why?”
I eyed him suspiciously. The last time he brought it up, he tried to take it back from me— but I wanted it! I would not give it back!
“Oh, I was just wondering why you didn’t use it during the battle against the bandits.”
I cocked my head. I raised my hand, revealing the ring hanging loosely off the edge of one of my sharp claws.
“I’m using it right now, see? It fell off during the fight, but I found it and put it back on.”
He trailed off, scratching at his chin. He sighed.
“That’s not how you use it.”
I raised a brow.
“What do you mean? I have it on exactly as you did.”
“Look, you’ve got to put it on your fingers. You can’t just have it wedged into your nails… claws… whatever they are. The artifact’s enchantments won’t take effect and it will not protect you. So you just end up taking hits like you did and get hurt.”
I stared at the Human man as he took the ring from my hand and shoved it down his finger. A brief flicker of light ran over his body before disappearing.
I took this in slowly, trying to register what just happened and what I did wrong. So that’s why I was still badly injured after fighting those bandits! I immediately put out a hand.
“Give it to me! I want to try!”
“Don’t be so loud— here!”
He handed the Ring of Lesser Protection back to me. I quickly took it and copied what the Human man did earlier. I pushed the ring through my claws— it almost didn’t fit through the base of it— but once it touched skin, I managed to squeeze it through. Instantly, I felt a wave of mana wash over me; invisible strands of mana wrapped around me without actually touching me. My eyes widened as I held my finger up, admiring the ring in it. I made a sound.
“Pretty cool, right? When I put it on for the first time, I didn’t expect to feel anything different. But now, you should be able to take any hits— physical, magical, or whatever kind of attacks there are— a good few times before you’re actually harmed. But don’t think you’re invincible just because you have it on. You can still be thrown and knocked around. It just won’t hurt you.”
“It’s amazing! Where did you get this? I want more!”
I turned excitedly to Daniel. He hesitated, shifting uncomfortably on his feet as he scratched the back of his head.
“Uh… I stole it—”
Edithe spoke softly as she walked over to us. Her face was shadowed over and her hands were balled into a fist. She took a deep breath, relaxing her body as she looked up at us.
“What were you two talking about?”
I glanced over at Daniel, at first annoyed that he had cut me off. Then I paused, thinking for a moment, before realizing that he did not want me to mention what we had just been discussing. So I nodded.
“Yes, we were talking about nothing at all! We were just silently standing here next to each other.”
The Human man sighed as Edithe suppressed a grin.
“Alright then. Let’s go back, shall we?”
We headed out of the Adventurers Guild as the quiet conversations slowly grew louder and louder; by the time we exited the building, I could hear panicked voices and loud groans coming from adventurers discussing the news.
It was big news, apparently; a Gold Ranked team was not supposed to go down that easily— that was what Daniel told me. Everyone had expected the Demon attacking and destroying the villages to be slain by Edithe and her companions, but now they were expecting a lot more destruction to happen before the Demon was finally put down.
I did not understand their shock. I had known Lucerna was strong— he had killed all those [Cultists] even after Haec and I fought him together. From what I was told, an adventurer qualified for Gold Rank at around Level 40, so I could easily see how the [Djinn] was able to take out four of them by himself.
We started in the direction of Edithe’s inn, walking through the empty, night streets. It seemed so different from what it looked like during the day— I stared around curiously, taking in the dirt road and side houses for the first time. Without seeing Humans everywhere I turned, I could actually take in the details of the city.
We passed by a building that was brimming with light from the inside. There was a piece of wood that hung over the door with words written on it. I narrowed my eyes and pointed at it.
“‘Come inside for a night of fun and pleasure’. What does that mean?”
Daniel and Edithe exchanged a glance. The Human man started.
“Uh, it means… how old were you again, Salvos?”
“How old am I?”
I frowned, considering the question. Individually, each word made sense to me— but when it was strung together into the sentence he had asked, I… I don’t get it.
Edithe saw me struggling with coming up with an answer, so she spoke up, trying to elaborate on what Daniel had said.
“Your age. He’s asking how long you have been…. alive?”
“How long have I been alive?”
I looked up at the sable dome overhead, being reminded of the darkness that was my very world before I had been born. I thought back to how much time had passed between then and now, before realizing that I never really thought about it before.
“I don’t know?”
Daniel raised an eyebrow, but Edithe simply nodded.
“I thought so.”
“You knew that she wouldn’t be able to tell us her age?”
“I expected it. All the Spirits I have had only ever measured their age when they were in the Mortal Realm. There isn’t any way to keep track of time in the Spirit Plane— no day and no night. So I assumed the Netherworld was the same.”
She turned to me and I eagerly bobbed my head up and down.
“The sky doesn’t ever change color, and there’s no sun or moon too! None of those twinkling lights— those stars— either! Just the crimson, glowing sky above.”
The Human man stared at me, shocked.
“And you’re completely fine with this? How do you not go insane if you can’t keep track of time? How do you even plan or schedule anything there?”
I gave him a blank look. He opened and closed his mouth, trying to come up with something to say, but nothing came out. I shrugged.
“If I wanted to do something, I would always just do it. My companion was always with me, so there was no need to plan anything. And I never cared about my age, so I didn’t think about it. But if you must know…”
I tried remembering all the times I saw the sky changed colors since I first woke up after escaping Lucerna.
“I’ve been in the Mortal Realm for 34 days.”
“Over a month, huh? Fairdale was found burnt to the ground around a month ago. If what you say was true and you did get summoned along with the [Djinn], then that sounds about right.”
Daniel mused, rubbing a hand on his chin.
“How does that compare to the amount of time you’ve spent in the Netherworld?”
I thought about it for a moment.
“Not long— maybe 20 times shorter?”
Edithe halted in her step as Daniel’s gaze snapped in my direction. The two stared at me, and I scratched the back of my head as Daniel often did when he was unsure.
“You mean you’re only two years old?”
“Maybe? I don’t know. It might only be 10 times shorter? When I had first been born, I felt like I spent a lot of time by myself before I met the others. And after they died, I was by myself again for a really long while. But maybe it wasn’t as long as I thought?”
“So you’re only one years old?”
For some reason, I felt like that didn’t ameliorate anything for them.
The Human man shook his head as we continued down the road. The two remained silent as we turned a corner, finally arriving back at Edithe’s inn. I turned back to them.
“We’re here— now hurry up and sleep! We need to find Lucerna before he gets too far away!”
Daniel looked at the Human woman.
“We’ll be heading back to our inn. Do you want to meet back here tomorrow?”
She jolted, glancing up as her eyes darted between us.
“Huh? What? Oh… uh, yeah. Meet back here tomorrow.”
He looked at her with a furrowed brow. She chewed her lower lip, slowly mustering up a reply.
“...are we really going to do this?”
I cocked my head.
“What do you mean?”
Edithe hesitated, glancing between the two of us.
“Are we really going to face this Lucerna together? I don’t mean to doubt either of your abilities, but do you really think you’ll really be able to defeat Lucerna? Salvos, you’re only Level 25 and one or two years old. Sure, I’ve seen what you could do— you could maybe beat some Gold Ranked adventurers in a fight. But this [Djinn] we’re going after is twice your level and probably has a hundred times the combat experience you have. And as for you, Daniel…”
She paused, frowning as her eyes flickered.
“I don’t know what your real level is, although I can tell that you’re strong. But Paul is… had been… stronger than you. I don’t mean to belittle you, I’m just trying to say that he was a great [Warrior]— a Level 53 [Warrior]— and still, he was killed by the [Djinn].”
Daniel glanced over at me, then back at the Human woman.
“I… don’t actually want to do this either.”
She eyed him dubiously.
“Then why are you doing this?”
“Because I promised Salvos I would help her get back to her home because of reasons. I— how about you, Edithe? If you think we can’t beat this Lucerna, how did you think you were going to be able to beat him alone?”
Edithe stared at him, steadfast.
“Because I have to. Why else did I live when my friends did not? And if I can’t? Then I would die trying.”
“Then that’s settled then, right?”
I piped up casually.
“Daniel promised he would help me. You want to kill Lucerna. I want to get back to the Netherworld. What else is there to it?”
The two blinked, turning to face me.
“We knew all these things already, didn’t we?”
“We did. But I guess I was just trying to confirm if we really were going to do this.”
“So do you really want to find Lucerna to get your revenge?”
Edithe replied instantly.
I looked at Daniel.
“And do you really want to help me get back to the Netherworld for whatever reason you had and aren’t lying to me at this moment for whatever reason?”
He took a moment longer to respond, slowly registering what I said.
“Uh, no? Wait, I mean yes.”
I folded my arms, satisfied.
“Good. Then let’s get you two Humans your needed sleep, go to the temple and get Edithe her Spirits, then we go find Lucerna. Simple as that.”
The two slowly nodded as I glanced between them. Then I sighed, shaking my head as I muttered under my breath.
“You Humans are weird.”