Daniel groused as he slowly drew himself from the bedroll, rubbing at his back and scrunching his face. It was morning, the birds were singing, the wind gently whistled past the trees. And I stood over him with my hands on my hips. I took a deep breath.
“I said, wake up!”
“Alright, alright! I heard you the first time!”
He got to his feet and scowled.
“Can’t an injured man sleep in peace?”
“You were already healed by potions. And both Cless and Sophia have been awake for over an hour. It’s time for us to go!”
“I hear you— stop yelling!”
“You stop first!”
“No… why am I even doing this?”
“Don’t ask me. You’re supposed to be the reasonable one!”
“Yeah, I guess. Wait—“
The Human man widened his eyes, staring me with a dumb look. I grinned and turned around.
“Stop being so surprised and let’s go already.”
“…I just want to sleep man.” (Author’s Note: I may or may not have been projecting through Daniel here. I had been suffering from major jet lag when I wrote this a month ago.)
He muttered under his breath. With that said, we were ready to leave a few minutes after. The other two non-lazy Humans had already packed up most of the camp— they were just as ready to get going as I was.
They wanted to find Gabriel as soon as possible because they felt like they had something to prove. And also because their former company leader was in a life or death battle against a deadly poison. I wanted to fight Gabriel quick too!
But for different reasons.
That is, I wanted to get to the Brilsum Ruins already.
We traversed through the tumulous and undulating landscape of the Motharis Mountain Range. The initially dense foliage slowly lightened as we made our way higher up as a thick blanket of snow took over instead. The trees here were sparse or dead— only the rocks on the ground existed in multitudes. And both jutted out of the ground like broken teeth in the sand, visible only if you squinted and looked hard for it.
This was not one of the boreal regions of even the Human lands; it was only cold here because we were high up. Daniel told me there existed places in the Eastern Kingdoms that got to even cooler temperatures than here. I, personally, already found it very cold. So, I was walking around with [Ignition] activated, even if it drained on my mana.
While my Human companion pointed out how inefficient I was being at first, I couldn’t help but notice how much closer he was walking beside me now. The same went for Sophia and Cless, both of whom had been walking ahead to do their tracking duties, were now patiently waiting for us to meet their pace.
Another day passed, and after an encounter with a group of angry bird-like monsters that couldn’t fly, Cless decided it was time for him to use his Skill.
Defeated [Pengrasa – Lvl. 51]!
Experience is awarded for defeating an enemy!
Defeated [Pengrasa – Lvl. 54]!
Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!
I frowned and faced Daniel.
“You took my experience! I had him— I mean, it!”
“You were burning them all by yourself, I assumed you needed some help.”
They had been very weak to fire, which I did not expect. My first [Scorching Wave] sent them running back, but the moment I stopped, they came charging at us again. They didn’t seem mindless or wild however, just very angry at us.
“I wonder why they were mad.”
“Perhaps they have a Lair nearby and were getting defensive?”
“Possibly. But even the [Rancor Mites] stopped attacking us once we left.”
Daniel shrugged, uncaring.
“We took care of them, that’s all that matters. They were a danger to any other travellers or adventurers that might pass through.”
“I didn’t even get a level…”
I complained, hunching my back and folding my arms across my chest. The Human man ignored me, instead glancing over at the two other Humans with us. Cless had begun casting his spell, however, it needed some time to take effect.
Sophia stood by his side, nothing but a dagger in her hand. Her bow had been damaged by my Refined Blazing Bolt— so she was trying not to break it. Apparently, it was a good bow.
“But you leveled twice from the [Prima Saeve]. I only leveled once. And even the Silvers didn’t level much either.”
“That’s because I defeated it!”
“Where did you even learn to create that, anyway? I know you’ve been practicing your fire creation Skill a bit, but I didn’t expect you to create something that… strong.”
I grinned and raised my chin haughtily. I opened my mouth— and he cut me off.
“Please answer the question seriously. I heard about how you confused Sophia the other day with big words, trying to sound smart.”
Sighing, he brought a hand up to his temples and began circling his fingers over it.
“Just because you read a few books…”
I replied honestly, but unhappily.
“If you must know, I’ve been practicing. I noticed how Ignavare was able to create a Medium Grade Weapon temporarily— it wouldn’t last like the Spear of Flames did, but it was just as powerful.”
“Right, I was there for that. And you’ve been practicing it?”
“It was what Saffron told me to do. Refine my magic. So, I did.”
“…you make it sound like it’s that simple.”
“And it is!”
I exclaimed and began strumming my fingers through the air. I tugged at the mana threads weaving its way through the world, a smile fixed on my face as I explained.
“Magic is quite simple, actually. It’s something you’ve just got to practicing over and over until you get it right. Remember that Fireball spell I used to burn down the [Cultists] hideout? I did that from practice. If I had a Skill, I’d be able to repeat it perfectly each time. But that defeats the whole purpose of practicing.”
“So, what, you haven’t been using your [Advanced Mana Manipulation] at all?”
I admitted and shied back a little bit. I brought my fingers close together as a slightly nervous expression came across my face.
“Just a little bit.”
He stared at me, judging. I protested.
“I just use it to tell me what I am supposed to do. And get the feel of what it’s supposed to be like when I do it! Then, I repeat the process over and over again until I can get what I want without the General Skill. That’s what Saffron meant when she said my mana control was unrefined. My magic wasn’t as good without [Advanced Mana Manipulation]!”
“So, what about this helped you create that Refined Blazing Bolt?”
“I simply condensed even more magic into the spell in a way that made it strong without making it unstable. If I hadn’t learned the intricacies of mana manipulation, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. It’s tiresome though. Drains a lot of mana from me and requires a lot of concentration—which was why I needed to borrow Sophia’s bow to do it.”
“And I assume you’ve been doing this as we’ve been sleeping, huh?”
I nodded eagerly.
“Well, it’s good that you have. And don’t call me lazy for not being able to defy my bodily needs of sleep.”
I scowled, however Daniel placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Thank you though. If not for that, I probably would have died to that giant ape.”
Nodding, I gave him a thumbs up.
“I wouldn’t want you to die either! You’re my companion!”
“Right… by the way, do you know how long it’s going to Cless to finish casting his Skill?”
Daniel glanced off to the side— Cless had his face twisted into a grimace as he focused, gathering a large amount of ambient mana ahead of him with his wand while Sophia stood on guard nearby him. Watching this for a moment, I decided not to interrupt by asking how long it would take. So, I just lifted my shoulders up lightly.
The Human [Mage] finished casting his Skill, and a strange magical aura wrapped around him for the next day. If I focused, I could see almost a fuchsia glow coming from his eyes as he studied the landscape.
He pointed at a direction— a valley between two hills. One protruded up into a steep incline before plateauing into flat ground, while the other was shorter and with a rockier surface that almost curved into a hook.
We followed him as I nervously looked about. It almost reminded me of the valley of death in the Netherworld where the Demon with crooked horns executed so many other Demons— both wild Demons and sapient Demons alike. If Lucerna was to be believed, that was likely an Archdemon.
Will I become an Archdemon when I next evolve? That… doesn’t seem right.
I mulled over the thought until I made an odd observation about the topography. While most of the ground had been layered in white— a few rocks jutting out of the ground was only lightly coated in the snow. I frowned and sent a [Scorching Wave] at it.
“What are you doing—”
Daniel paused as the ground shook. I took a step back, conjuring fire hammers on both hands, preparing for what was to come. Cless and Sophia took defensive positions behind us, the latter shouting a warning.
“A monster! What is it?”
My eyes grew wide as I realized what it was.
“Aw. [Golems]? And they’re only Level 30.”
The stone monsters gathered themselves and turned to us. They stared at us with eyeless faces. Some failed to get up, having been destroyed by my initial flame attack. I gave them a pitiful gaze.
“Weak. You two can take care of them, right?”
I looked over at the two Silvers. Or— rather, the one Gold and the other who was a level away from being Gold. They exchanged a glance.
“You want us to take care of them?”
I spoke simply.
“They’re close to your level. Sure, there’s a dozen of them and only two of you. But… you can handle it, right?”
Raising a brow at them, I waited for their response. Meanwhile, Daniel was standing off to the side, puzzled. Until a [Stone Golem] swung at him. He stumbled back and shook an arm back at Sophia and Cless.
“Make your decision quick or I’ll kill them all myself!”
He glared back at the monsters. That was enough to break them from their stupor. Daniel and I took a step back as they rushed at the group of [Stone Golems]. The rock creatures took the charge head on. They stood their ground and fought back as Cless blasted them apart with spells.
Sophia was a little more ineffective, using only a dagger to fight them off. But she had at least one Skill with the short ranged weapon, inflicting a hard strike at the chest of a [Stone Golem], causing it to collapse entirely. I called out to her and pointed at my shoulder.
“Aim for their joints!”
The young woman spoke through gritted teeth. Cless fought using spells below his level while Sophia struggled in close quarters combat. Looking at their performance, one would think they were weak. However, that was far from the truth.
The fact that they, who did not specialize in combat, were dealing with a dozen monsters close to their level, even when impeded, spoke of their capabilities. Sophia couldn’t use her bow and Cless was distracted by his scrying Skill. And yet, even if they were panting and exhausted by the end of it, they won.
I beamed at them. Cless stared at the palm of his hand, speaking disbelievingly.
“I-I leveled up…”
Sophia jolted and turned to him, probably identifying him.
“You’re Level 40…”
He still had a shock expression locked onto his face. The two were speechless, until I wrapped my arms around both of their shoulders, grinning.
“And that means you two are Gold Ranks now. You can speak to Hadrian and tell him to promote you! And if he doesn’t, you can quit! There’s nothing stopping you, and you’ve proven yourself enough.”
Sophia hesitated, murmuring to her companion.
“I don’t know if we should do that.”
Cless blinked and turned to her. He opened his mouth— but nodded.
“You’re right. We’re part of the Valiant Dreamers Company. Even if they don’t promote us, we’ll stay with them. Until they do.”
“Do what you will. But just know that what I see here are two Gold Ranks and not Silvers.”
I smiled reassuringly at them. The two averted their gazes slightly and muttered.
I drew myself away from them, letting them rest for a moment longer. Daniel commented as I walked up to him.
“You’re being awfully nice, aren’t you?”
I scoffed and spoke in a regal voice.
I sighed, shoulders sagging.
“You’re no fun.”
He ignored that remark, instead eyeing the two Gold Ranks.
“Do you really think they’re both worthy of being promoted? Don’t you think Hadrian would have kept them from being Gold for a reason?”
I nodded confidently.
“I would know. The first adventurer rank I got was Gold. So I have a keen eye on this.”
Daniel gave me a snide look, thinking I was fooling around. He blinked when he realized I wasn’t. Slowly, he looked back at them.
“I guess you have a point.”