57. Breaking In
I wasn’t really sure where northeast was. According to Daniel, if you walked to the sun as it rose and broke off to the left, you would be heading southeast. He even showed me a magic compass that pointed north.
“Apparently, compasses can only work by magic. And it doesn’t matter how far south you go— the method of following the sun always works. Because the world is… flat?”
I nodded as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“But it can’t be flat.”
The Human man spoke flatly. I cocked my head.
“Because then how would physics work? How would you be standing here, and be planted onto the ground? How would the sun revolve around the sky? What are the stars then?”
“I don’t know.”
I shrugged. He wagged a finger as the two of us continued trudging down the dirt road.
“Exactly. So the world isn’t flat.”
“I just told you— look, do you see that? The sky is blue. Do you know why? Because the light from the sun is scattered through the world, but blue light bounces off air best. So it becomes blue.”
I paused, tilting my head up.
“Then why is the sky in the Netherworld red?”
He paused, furrowing his brows. Daniel frowned, bringing his hand to his chin.
“You’re right. Why is the Netherworld red and always glowing?”
“I don’t know.”
The Human man contemplated this for a moment. Then he threw his hands up in the air.
“That doesn’t matter! It’s magic or something, alright? Look, the world just isn’t flat.”
“Huh. I just realized I don’t actually care.”
Daniel pressed his fingers onto his temples, massaging it slowly. The two of us continued walking in silence; it was only when we encountered more Human travellers did one of us speak.
I waved a hand in the air, shouting over him. Daniel grimaced and covered his ear.
“You don’t have to yell.”
“You don’t have to be so annoying.”
“Uh, that’s… unwarranted?”
I stuck my tongue out at him before running ahead. My Human companion stared after me, confused for a moment, then he hurried after me as I reached the [Traders].
“Have any of you Humans heard anything about [Cultists] around here lately?”
An elderly looking Human man turned to face me. He wrinkled a brow and stroked his bushy beard.
“I don’t believe I have. How about you, Smith?”
“I concur, John. I have not heard anything about [Cultists] around these parts.”
I deflated. Daniel caught up to me, speaking in an exasperated voice.
“What’s with that, Salvos? Don’t you remember what Edithe said about being childish? You’re not—”
Smith snapped a finger.
“Actually, I do remember hearing about such a thing.”
I perked up and Daniel blinked. The elderly [Trader] continued.
“Yes, why I do remember such a thing. It was… about a Demon, was it not?”
“That’s right, Smith! Young lady, you best be careful if you’re heading to Falisfield. I heard about a Demon summoned by [Cultists] rampagining there. Although… wasn’t the Demon slain just a month ago?”
“Hrm, I do believe that’s the case, John. It seems like our age is finally getting to us, huh old fellow?”
“Wait, so have you heard anything else— anything about [Cultists] here?”
I stared at them. They shook their heads.
“Apologies, young Miss. You can ask around in Stanlow. It’s just down this road.”
I sighed and dejectedly walked past them, heading to the town. Daniel quickly thanked the two and ran after me. He followed me for a little bit before speaking up.
“Is something wrong, Salvos?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’ve been acting weird all day. Are you… upset that Helen, Saffron, and Jaakko left?”
“What about Zack?”
I raised an eyebrow.
“What about him?”
“I don’t know. They left— and sure that’s annoying that everyone keeps leaving. But, well… what do they even think about me?”
Daniel paused midstep. He stared as me and I turned around, flustered.
“You’re starting to grow up.”
“You’re actually caring what others think about you! You’re no longer the selfish, bratty, only-cares-about-herself Demon I met a few months ago. You’ve changed.”
I shrunk back defensively.
“That’s not what I meant!”
The Human man shook his head and chuckled while I tried to explain myself.
“It’s… Humans like you and Edithe. You two are my companions for a reason. You recognize me. And Mistshard and Druma too— Sakura’s nice. But Helen, Zack, Jaakko, and Saffron. It wasn’t the same.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Salvos. Don’t worry too much about it. You’re still young—”
“I’m a Greater Demon.”
I corrected him with a cross look. He waved a hand dismissively.
“Anyways, next time don’t run off by yourself. It’s dangerous.”
“They were [Traders].”
“Yes, but some people have Second Classes. Or they might be using a Necklace of Obfuscation like me. You never know what level someone actually is— so it’s better for us to stay safe and stick together. They might have been the [Cultists] responsible for the disappearances, after all.”
Daniel and I continued on to Stanlow together. He was convinced that I was growing up or maturing or whatever weird evolving process Humans went through without leveling. But I knew that wasn’t right.
Something made me upset, and I was not sure how to express it— or even make sense of it. However, I had been uneasy. I knew what made me uneasy. It was what Daniel told me earlier.
You’ve been a lot more… Human.
Stanlow was not a large town by any means; it was about the size of Maplewell, if I had to guess. Even though Maplewell had been burnt to the ground when I got there, I could still see the rough outline of it.
Daniel took the lead in asking questions this time— he said I was a bit too upfront about it. Even though we were supposed to be here as Gold Rank adventurers, we had to be subtle.
“We don’t know who these [Cultists] are. If the townspeople here are the ones responsible for all the disappearances— who knows what they might try to do to us in our sleeps.”
“But I don’t sleep.”
“...good point. Still, just follow my lead.”
I nodded as Daniel brought me to an inn in the center of town. It wasn’t very crowded. Even the Adventurers Guild back in Silvergrove— as sparsely occupied as it had been, since many had died to Lucerna— had more Humans in it than the inn.
The [Innkeeper] greeted us with a smile. He uncrossed his burly arms and heartily slammed a mug of ale onto the bar counter.
“Welcome! My name is Eren, and welcome to the Traveller’s Inn!”
“What a cliche name.”
Daniel murmured. He quickly steeled himself and walked up to the man, gladly accepting the drink and offering his own coins. The [Innkeeper], Eren, just chuckled.
“Don’t worry, it’s on the house.”
He picked up another mug and began wiping it down with a piece of cloth. He glanced between both Daniel and I.
“So, what brings you two Gold Rank adventurers to our small town? Let me guess: you’re here about the kidnappings?”
Daniel spat out his drink and I turned to face him. I gave him a judging look.
“So much for subtlety.”
“I forgot people can do that, alright?”
He sighed, pulling up a high stool. I sat down next to him as he spoke with resignation.
“Yes, we’re Gold Ranks here on that job. Why, have others been showing up?”
“Nope! You’re the first ones I’ve seen. But some guards from Warrington dropped by just the other week, asking us questions about the mysterious disappearances. I couldn’t help them, but they didn’t seem like they even wanted to do the job. I assumed they would just delegate it to adventurers after that, and seems like I was right.”
“Lazy government workers… things are the same everywhere, huh?”
Daniel shook his head and leaned on the counter. The [Innkeeper] glanced over at me, raising his mug.
“Want a drink to, young lady?”
Eren sat the mug down and wiped his hand down with a wet towel. He placed his hands on the counter and leaned over.
“So, what can I do for you?”
“Uh… do you know anything about these rumors then?”
He beamed happily at Daniel. My companion stared at him, then at my expectant look.
“...this is like dealing with another Salvos. Alright, if you want to say something so bad, go ahead.”
I grinned and turned to the [Innkeeper]. Eren gave me a curious look as I spread my arms on the counter, outside of his.
“Don’t know anything.”
“Heard some things, but don’t know anything about it.”
Eren paused. He folded his arms, ruminating over my statement for a moment.
“Well, if that’s what you’re looking for, I know that Mr Joseph living at the edge of town has been having money problems since his wife left him for some Gold Rank adventurer a few years back. Last I heard, he’s gotten into trouble with debt collectors since he hasn’t been able to support himself or his daughter.”
“Think they might be responsible for the disappearance?”
I raised a brow and he nodded.
“Possibly. I think it’s worth checking out.”
“Alright. Thanks! Come on, Daniel.”
I got up and nodded back at the [Innkeeper]. He smiled, waving at us as we left the inn. We turned a street from the Traveller’s Inn and Daniel stopped. He stared at me.
“...how the fuck did that work?”
After asking for directions, we found ourselves outside of a ramshackle hut right at the edge of town. Apparently, this Joseph Human had grown reclusive and more and more agitated ever since he borrowed gold from some shady individuals.
I was not sure how people who gave shade from the sunlight were involved in this, and Daniel just sighed when I asked him.
The Human man instead just knocked on the creaky wooden door and called out.
“Hello? Is this a Mr Joseph’s house?”
Silence. There was no response. I frowned.
“Didn’t the people we asked say that he doesn’t usually leave his home?”
“Yeah, but he could be out in the nearby forest or something. Doesn’t mean they have to be lying. Let’s just knock again.”
“I didn’t say they were.”
Daniel rapped on the door once more, calling out with the same words as before; there was nothing. I tapped a foot impatiently on the ground and shouted.
“We’re Gold Ranks! We hear you’ve been having trouble with shades or something! Can you open up?”
“You didn’t have to yell.”
I shook my head, ignoring him as he rubbed at an ear. Suddenly, I heard the sounds of muffled footsteps. It was slow and steady— as if someone had just gotten up from their chair and was coming over now. The wooden boards underneath their feet croaked softly as Daniel and I waited for the door to open.
The piece of wood barring out paths swung open fractionally. A head poked out, staring at us with suspicious eyes.
“W-what do you two want?”
A Human man— Joseph— gave us a wary look. Daniel gave him a disarming smile.
“There’s no need to be afraid. As my friend here said, we’re Gold Ranks. We’re just here to investigate the mysterious disappearances that have been reported around the area.”
“Disappearances? I don’t know anything about those.”
“Of course. We’re not blaming you for anything, Mr Joseph. But we’ve heard that you’ve run into some… unruly folks? People who are trying to extort you.”
I narrowed my eyes as I watched Joseph bite his lower lip. Humans do that when they’re nervous, I noted. I glanced at Daniel and he seemed to notice it too. Joseph spat at us.
“What kind of accusations is this? Me? Mixed up with debt collectors? Hah, give me a break!”
He slammed the door shut— but I caught it and pushed it open.
“Listen here, you’re obviously lying and we’re not stupid. If these people are bad for you, why not just tell us?”
“Tell you? Are you mad? It’s because—”
There was a loud crash from behind the house. I blinked and looked over at the source of the noise. A figure had jumped out of the second floor of the house, carrying a smaller figure over their arms. Daniel’s eyes widened and he reached for his sword.
“Salvos— that’s… his daughter? A kidnapping!”
I cocked my head.
“You think that’s a [Cultist]?”
For a moment, the running figure was close enough for my [Identification] to work on them. They were a [Rogue], I was fairly certain of it. But Daniel just dashed forward.
“It doesn’t matter—”
A hand grabbed him from behind. Joseph tried to pull him back.
“Let them take Rachel! If you bring her back— they’ll come back for more! Let them go!”
Daniel stared for a moment. He was caught off guard, and he had a shocked look come over his face. Then slowly, his brows arched darkly above his eyes. He clenched a fist— and punched the other Human man. Joseph fell to the ground, limp. He was unconscious.
My companion turned to me.
“Salvos. We need to go after that person. But don’t stop them or kill them— just follow them, alright? Can you do that?”
I turned my gaze to the disappearing figure in the distance. They were fast, and they had a big lead on me. They were only getting further and further away with each passing moment.
I nodded, shooting him a grin.