The soft voice of Cless cut through the silence, drawing Daniel and I’s attention to the Humans at the front. We were currently even higher up than before— there were no longer any trees up here. It was all just rocks in this barren landscape.
Rocks. So many rocks! So much rocks! I hate… love… hate… love… rocks are weird! I decided finally. Then I turned to the [Mage] ahead.
“Does your Skill tell you that?”
“No. But these tracks— they’re fresh. And Sophia agrees too.”
We were currently cresting a mountain. We could have gone around it, but our trackers told us that it was faster this way. And I was partial to moving fast.
“It’s just over this hill, I think.”
The [Archer]— or was she some kind of [Hunter]?— spoke back towards us. I raised a hand, but Daniel shot me a look.
I glanced over at him, feigning hurt.
“Just reminding you not to yell. We don’t want to cause an avalanche.”
I waved him off dismissively.
“I got that. I just had a question.”
“And that is?”
I faced Cless who had a furrowed face, straining to keep up his [Scry Direction] Skill as it was soon coming to an end.
“Did you advance your Class yet, or are you going to wait for a better one before making a decision?”
The Human man blinked and turned to me. He exchanged a look with Sophia who was scanning the surrounding landscape— making sure that we were on track to find Gabriel soon. I cocked my head, waiting for an answer.
“I… uh, have not. But I will make a decision when I get back to Viechester.”
“Because we have a book— a list of quite a few Class advancements for my specialization. It isn’t every Class out there, but it’s quite lengthy, and it details the advantages each advancement give. I’ll take a look at that before I make my decision.”
Pausing, I considered this. I raised hand to my chin and stroked it slowly; I opened my mouth—
And Daniel nudged me, whispering.
“Don’t say what I think you’re going to say.”
I stared at him, aghast.
“I wasn’t going to! Oops, I mean: I wasn’t going to.”
Sputtering at first, I quickly corrected my tone to be much softer. My Human companion rubbed his temples.
“If you had caused an avalanche, the damage would already be done. So whispering after wouldn’t change a thing.”
I gave him a helpless shrug.
“Anyway, I’m not going to say anything that blatant. But I think it’s something worth looking into.”
Daniel stared at me dubiously, but commented nothing else as we scaled to the top of the mountain and circled around its peak. It got even colder up top, but [Ignition] kept me warm. Who knew it would be so useful?!
At the top off the mountain, I had a good view of the vast sprawling landscape down below. The topography was uneven— mountains and mounds of all shapes and sizes jutting out of the ground with thin foliage between them. A few meandering monsters were visible, even at this distance. Some of them were gigantic. Like the [Prima Saeve] had been.
Large behemoths walking on six legs, with a long hose-like nose protruding beside curved tusks reaching out of their faces. These brown monsters walked in small herds, about a dozen clustered together. The uplifted trees just by walking— they were even bigger than [Arachnes] had been!
Then there were these smaller two legged creatures covered in snow-like fur hiking up and down the undulating crests. They were hard to spot at first, but I saw one standing in front of a gray stone background and noted their presence. These were about the size of trees— perhaps as large as Lucerna had been.
A myriad of creatures filled the Motharis Mountain Range. Bird-like monsters the size of small houses that soared through the blue dome overhead, searching for prey to swoop down on and kill. Fleshy giant worms that dug holes through the ground, leaving large pits anyone could fall from. And even Golems— not like the [Stone Golems] from the day before, but powerful Golems with iron and other minerals sticking out of their bodies. They brought life to the desolate world of the Motharis Mountain Range.
Anytime I thought this place was anything like the Netherworld, I looked around and saw life. The Netherworld had been empty. Barren. I would wander for long, long periods of time without seeing another Demon. And even then, they would always be wild.
I sighed wistfully at the sight, my gaze finally resting upon our destination. The land that lay before the mountaintop— there sat a basin, surrounding all sides by hills just as tall as ours. And at the very bottom of it was a lake.
Its entire surface was frozen solid— it gave off light sheen that made the Humans beside me avert their eyes. But I stared at the frozen water. It reflected the sky above on its canvas, the beautiful picture of the Mortal Realm captured perfectly in that stasis.
Seeing this— and looking at one of my many Human companions with me, Daniel— made me realize how little I looked forward to returning to the Netherworld. If there was a way to bring Haec here without going back… I would do that. However, that was unlikely, and I was willing to scour that hellish landscape for years if that was what it took to find him.
“We found him.”
A voice broke me out from my thoughts. Cless pointed a finger at a figure down below. The Humans had to squint to see what it was, but even from up here, I could make up the blurry shape enough to know what it was.
A Human. The [Alchemist], Gabriel, waited at the base of the mountain, just by the lake’s edge. I nodded at the adventurers.
“Let’s go down
[??? - ???]
A rather lanky, older Human man stood just before the ice sheet stretching out for hundreds of feet. He wore azure blue robes that stood out in the plain landscape, however his thick, white beard matched the snow trickling lightly down from above.
Gabriel stayed crouched as he tilted his head up, but did not even bother to turn towards us as we approached. Our footfalls weren’t exactly silent, however the lumbering monsters nearby should have been enough to disguise it from him.
“What is it that you want?”
I looked over at Daniel, expecting him to speak up, however he was just as clueless as to what to say as me. We stayed silent and waited for the two other Gold Ranks to do their job. Sophia realized a moment later that they were the ones who had to talk here, and she quickly fumbled over her words to answer the question.
“We— uh, we’re from the Valiant Dreamers Company. S-sent here by Hadrian to… go back.”
“By the kid, huh?”
Standing up, the [Alchemist] slowly turned to us, a posy of pink lilies that seemed nearly luminescent under the sunlight held on one hand. He let go of the flowers— and they vanished, a slight magical aura left behind for mere moments before that, too, was gone.
I narrowed my eyes, realizing that the sensation felt familiar. Isn’t that like when Daniel pretends to put things in his fake Bag of Holding? Before I could ascertain it for sure, Gabriel spoke, turning to me.
“Interested in what those were, were you?”
I lied, not really sure what else to say. He was approving, however.
“Not many youngsters are interested in alchemy and its ingredients. And you seem to have a keen eye, I can tell.”
That was true, but not for the reasons I was pretty sure he had.
“Very well, I shall tell you: those were kzoth weeds. They may appear like flowers at first, but in reality, they are parasites. They drain the land around it of its fauna and natural vegetation. And they flourish up here in this part of the Motharis Mountain Range. You may have noticed how barren this place is, even this high up?”
“That’s because of these plants. They are terrible, terrible for any environment they inhabit.”
I nodded along, now interested in what he was saying.
“How haven’t they spread further then?”
“Because they may be bad for other plants, but they are nutritious for the monsters up in these parts. Did you see the Gatho Mammoths? The Scavenger Yetis? They are not aggressive monsters— no, because they do not feed on one another. Just a single bite from these kzoth weeds is enough to sustain them for a day.”
“Wouldn’t they still want to level though?”
“Not all monsters are the same.”
He spoke simply as I tapped a finger on my chin. That made sense. I totally agreed with that. However…
“I see… but if they’re so bad, what are you using them for then?”
Huh. I cocked my head, then frowned. What a tease! I wanted to know more about alchemy— first what Daniel told me about those zorth mushrooms, and now these kzoth weeds. Maybe I should borrow a book about it from Edithe when we get back.
With our brief interaction finished, Sophia finally thought it was time for her to speak up again. Cless was too exhausted to speak, slumped over a rock and panting as his Skill finally ended. She hesitated, glancing at me, but I nodded at her.
“M— Alchemist Gabriel. We were sent her by Hadrian, as I said. And it’s not for any casual reason. It’s urgent.”
“Then you should’ve told me at the start.”
The [Alchemist] looked at her with a scowl. She took a step back, but gathered her resolve and walked forward, telling him of the events that had happened in the Valiant Dreamers training grounds.
Gabriel listened slowly, his face shadowing over as she went on. He folded his arms and remained silent for a moment as she finished.
“—and none of the healers can cure Baris. Only you can, Gabriel. We need you back to create an antidote.”
He acknowledged her after a few passing moments then started forward. The [Alchemist] walked past her as she took startled step back.
“Uh, alchemist Gabriel?”
Sophia sounded confused. He stopped and glanced back at her with a single eye.
“What is it?”
“Where are you going?”
“Returning to Viechester, of course. Post haste. Hurry it up you four. You should have told me this sooner.”
He marched past her and stopped, waiting for us to follow after him. I exchanged a look with Daniel. Sophia raised a hand.
“They’re not going with us.”
Gabriel raised a brow.
“They’re not part of the Valiant Dreamers Company. They were just sent her to escort us to find you.”
“Escort you? Why would Hadrian have Gold Ranks escort other Gold Ranks? Damn kid.”
He scoffed, shaking his head. The Human woman’s eyes grew wide as she slowly processed his words. But he was already off.
“Bah, whatever. You’ve done your job. I’m sure you’ve already gotten your payment. We shall return now.”
He commanded Sophia and Cless and the two jumped to attention. They hurried after him as he made his way back in the direction we came from. Cless grumbled a complaint while Sophia hesitated for a moment, glancing back at us.
I smiled and nodded back at her.
“We’ll see you back in Viechester.”
She chewed her lower lip.
Quickly speaking, she ran off after the other two. Daniel and I watched them go. Their figures slowly growing distant as they scaled around the mountain. Then, blinking, I faced Daniel.
“Wait, was that it?”
My companion gave me a confused look.
“No other jobs we have to do?”
I jumped up in the air and pumped a fist.
I turned to him, excitedly bouncing on my feet.
“Let’s go to a Platinum Rank Dungeon now!”
Daniel was, for some reason, not as enthused as I.