74. Trial of Fire
I often wondered why Daniel constantly insisted on doing ‘the right thing’. The reason why he attacked me when I first met him was because he thought I was a rampaging Demon and stopping me was ‘the right thing’ to do. Then he chose to help me go back to the Netherworld because it was ‘the right thing’… although he has not really been too helpful so far.
And the whole situation with stopping [Cultists] and saving Rachel— while all helping us with furthering that goal— all played some part in getting some of ‘the right thing’ done.
When I found out he was a [Hero], I assumed it had something to do with his Class. Or maybe he felt like it was necessary to live up to his Class. But now I realized that neither of that was the case.
The reason why he wanted to do ‘the right thing’ every single time was simple: it felt good.
I swayed my head back and forth with alacrity as Daniel, Sophia, and Cless stared at me from across the campfire. I had help set it up for them with my magic, impressing the two Silvers with my fire creation Skill before they began to do the usual Human thing of eating.
No one had really said anything throughout the dinner. Sophia and Cless were still awed by the speech I had given them earlier and hadn’t said much all day. Meanwhile, Daniel tried to tease me into eating some food and I made sure to show my discontent with his joke by punching him.
Unfortunately, it seemed like a Human’s nether region was really their weak point, since he hadn’t been saying much since then.
Maybe I should apologize, I thought, tilting my head up to look at the stars above. Nope. He definitely deserved it, I decided not a moment after.
If getting hit down there was what a Human hated the most, then eating was what I hated the most. It physically made me sick. My body rejected it all.
Once the meal was finished, Daniel retired to bed with a whimper and Cless followed soon after. It left Sophia and I around the campfire, and the Human woman wanted me to go to sleep.
“I’ll keep watch. I promise. I’m a [Hunter]. I’m good at spotting things.”
“I can do it! Just sleep and get your [Rest] up! I’ll wake you all up in the morning when it’s time to leave!”
She hesitated, raising an eyebrow at me.
“Don’t you need to sleep too?”
I smiled, not replying to that comment.
I gently pushed her to her bedroll and patted her on the shoulder. I gave her a reassuring thumbs up and created a fire sickle.
“Or else you won’t be able to do your tracking thing-y well!”
Sophia grimaced and slowly went to lie down, tucking herself into her bedroll without another word of protest. I smiled, looking over all the peacefully sleeping Humans.
I shook my head, a sense of happiness surging through me. Not only could I practice refining my Skills as Saffron told me to, it…
It feels good doing the right thing.
Sophia spoke quietly, not even turning to face the two Gold Ranks standing to her side. Before them lay the vast, sprawling landscape of the Motharis Mountain Range. The undulating crests dug deeply into the ground yet built itself up to touch the clouds above.
It was a wondrous sight; one which Sophia would have usually taken a moment to absorb, if not for the eyes she felt were stabbing into her back. Ever since she and Cless had tried to lose Salvos and Daniel, they had begun watching them like hawks— eyeing their every move with needle-like precision.
It was almost scary. But what was even scarier than that was the casual threats the silver haired woman kept giving them. Especially on the first night after their failed escape attempt. Sophia had tried to get the two Gold Ranks to sleep while she did the night shift. She had been planning to wake Cless up and leave with him, but Salvos caught on to her plan.
And the threat she made…
The silver haired woman stood under the blue moonlight, curling her lips up into a dangerous smile. She ignored Sophia’s question, almost uncaring of what the Silver Rank thought of her.
Fire— blue fire— came to life on the palm of her hands, creating a small scythe that shone eerily in the night. Wisps of flame caught itself on the grass below, not setting it alight, but leaving behind a faint glow.
Salvos raised the weapon menacingly as Sophia felt a bead of sweat trickle down her forehead.
She spoke with finality in her voice. There was no argument to be made here, the [Centinel Hunter] knew it. If she tried to push back now, her head would roll on the ground—
Sophia obeyed, not even wanting to hear what would happen to her if she did not listen. And despite lying in bed for the next six hours, she was certain she did not catch a wink of sleep that night.
And now, Sophia was tired. She was exhausted and afraid. And while these feelings drew her attention away from the grand sight before her, the last emotion she felt running through her body was more than enough to distract her from everything else. That was—
She watched as Salvos and Daniel started ahead, beginning their ascent up the first hill of the Motharis Mountain Range. The silver haired woman craned her neck, turning back and looking down at Sophia who had not moved an inch.
“Are you coming?”
The [Centinel Hunter] hesitated. Does she think me that weak? That such threats will work on me?!
Sophia and Cless were both almost Gold Rank. What was more— they were experienced in adventuring and surviving. To think they would be herded around like foolish children.
She bit back and insult and followed after them, walking beside Cless as the [Mage] closed his eyes, beginning to cast his first tracking spell.
He was not using his Skill just yet. [Scry Direction] was powerful— especially so for someone at his level. And yet, it was not perfect. Once he activated it, it would only last a day. So if the Skill ended and they were not close enough for Sophia to pinpoint where Gabriel was… they would have to wait week before Cless could use the Skill again.
For now, simple tracking spells worked just fine. Plus, Sophia could help out too.
She observed. It might have sounded like such an obvious statement to make at first, but…
“Mixed between horse hooves and wagon tracks. Most people who pass through this road would either be hoping to cut through to or from the Helbir Plains. They would prioritize speed above all else. Only adventurers or madmen would travel on foot. And those three sets of footprints are about a month old, around the same time Gabriel Viechester.”
“Give me a moment, let me see if I can determine which one best fits Gabriel’s description.”
Cless began casting a spell as Salvos turned around and walked up to them. She cocked her head.
“What is he doing?”
“Using a simple spell to determine the age of the people who walked through here. He can’t do it for every single person that went through, which was why I picked out the three best candidates for him to use it on.”
“How do you know Gabriel went through here?”
“Besides this being the most common path to enter the Motharis Mountain Range from?”
Sophia raised an eyebrow to imply the answer. Salvos did not respond.
The silver haired woman showed no change of face. But Sophia could sense the judgement coming from her. The pretentiousness that exuded the unsaid words of ‘is this really all you can do, rely on chance?’ and that pissed her off even more.
She sighed, exasperated.
“Aren’t you a [Rogue], anyway? Can’t you at least try and help out rather than disturb his concentration?”
Salvos spoke simply, frustrating Sophia even more. Before the brown haired woman could get herself killed by snapping at the Gold Rank, Cless looked up.
He pointed in a direction that followed the path only briefly, before breaking off deep into a thicket of trees.
Salvos shrugged and started forward.
“Let’s go then.”
Following behind, Sophia found herself grumbling to Cless.
“Are you alright, Soph?”
“They’re looking down on us.”
“You think so?”
She almost wanted to scream at the man, but caught herself. She clenched her fist, staring at the silver haired woman walking ahead of them.
“Yes. And I’m going to prove her wrong.”
More days passed as the group continued making their way further into the Motharis Mountain Range. It had been relatively uneventful so far. Most of the monsters they had encountered were no higher than Level 40, being taken out with ease by the two Gold Ranks.
Every time Sophia thought to act— to prove herself— Salvos moved to intercept the monster. Whether it was a pit of Pharaoh Cobras coiling around on the ground harmlessly for the [Centinel Hunter] to kill, or a single lumbering [Earth Golem]. She did everything she could to prevent the Silver Ranked adventurer from doing anything.
“I’ve got this—“
Salvos sliced the [Vurat] in half. A fucking [Vurat]. The silver haired woman thought that Sophia needed help with a Level 12 monster!
The [Centinel Hunter] knew she was being mocked. That the two Gold Ranks were laughing at her behind her back. She slowly lowered her bow, feeling her grip on the wood tighten. Salvos wiped some nonexistent sweat off her brows and turned to her with a smile.
“That [Vurat] was angry. I’ve never seen one react like that before. They usually fly off after eating on some bodies. I wonder what made it mad.”
Sophia did not respond. Salvos walked past her, sighing.
“Anyway, are you sure we’re heading in the right direction? Don’t you think your friend should use his Skill thing now?”
“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea just yet. Maybe tomorrow. If Sophia starts picking up a stronger trail.”
Daniel nodded condescendingly.
“They were chosen specifically to track down Gabriel for us, Salvos. I’m sure they know what they’re doing. Stop being so impatient.”
What bullshit. Just because you’re alright looking doesn’t mean you can get away with that patronizing crap. In the first place, Hadrian is— she found her thoughts being interrupted by Cless.
“I apologize. We shouldn’t be taking this long to find Gabriel. He usually only goes to the Motharis Mountain Range to collect calloused leaves. But we’re already beyond the point where the trees that grow those would be at.”
Sophia blinked and almost sputtered. Aren’t you supposed to be on my side? What the fuck are you doing? She was seething now. One wrong word and she knew she would lose it. But just as the conversation seemed like it was over, Salvos dumbly piped up.
“Maybe he’s dead. Isn’t he just an [Alchemist]? Even if he’s high leveled, I don’t know if he can take on the monsters here.”
Finally, the [Centinel Hunter] snapped.
“Take on the monsters here— you’re really looking down at us, aren’t you?!”
Salvos blinked and cocked her head. That reaction only pissed Sophia off even more.
“Gabriel is one of the best fighters in our company. He has taken this trip many times on his own and has come back completely unscathed. What makes you think he’d die, just like that?”
The brown haired woman found herself breathing heavily, her entire body shaking as she took a deep breath and yelled at the silver haired woman once more.
“In the first place, the monsters here haven’t even been that dangerous! What, do you think a bunch of Level 20 monsters is enough to kill us? Let alone him?! Give me a break. I don’t care if you kill me right here and blame it on some monsters. I will say it.”
“Wait, that’s not—"
“Stop looking down at us!”
Salvos stared, unmoving as Sophia panted. She raised a trembling hand and looked down at it.
“I just want to prove myself, alright? I am… I deserve to be a Gold Rank adventurer. But I’m still Silver. Even though I’ve been working so hard ever since I joined the company— that idiot Hadrian refused to promote me and assigned me to a bunch of boring tasks in Viechester. I am not a child to be taken care of. I am an adventurer…”
Sophia trailed off, suddenly feeling very stupid. How did half of what she said even relate to the silver haired woman? They had just met— and she wasn’t even part of the Valiant Dreamers Company. But she still aired on her grievances anyway.
On someone that did not even have a part in any of it.
The brown haired woman looked around, feeling a heavy gaze fall upon her. She saw Cless staring at her, eyes wide. And Daniel was off to the side, decidedly not wanting to partake in whatever this was. She chewed her lower lip as she turned back to Salvos, who was just standing there, judging her.
Sophia opened her mouth.
Then Salvos’ eyes flickered. And she blurred forward. Sophia found herself reaching for her bow— but the [Rogue] was far too fast.
She felt the words leaving her mouth slowly. Her mind raced and finished the thought for her.
I don’t want to die.
Sophia snapped her eyes shut and—
The world spun. The ground shook as a thunderous crash echoed through the vast forest. Sophia found herself staring up at Salvos, then at the sky. She was being… carried?
She tried to process what had happened, but a loud roar drew her attention. Sophia turned to face the direction of the sound. At where she had been standing. And there she saw a crater. The ground was broken apart— trees were felled where they stood. A gargantuan monster stood before the destroyed earth, straightening its back and reaching above the canopy as it raised its arms.
Daniel had his sword drawn, but was picking himself up from being knocked to the ground. Cless was in slightly worse shape, still sprawled on the floor, red hair frazzled, and grasping at his wand, clearly unprepared for the attack. But Salvos?
She had a weapon— a flaming sickle— already on her hand. She spoke softly.
“A [Prima Saeve]. Level 72.”