I glanced over at Daniel as he stared at me. He scratched at his chin as I walked ahead of him next to Adan. The Cyclops man and I were similar of similar height; together, we towered over the two measly Humans accompanying us.
Perhaps that was why the [Hero] wore such an uncomfortable look on his face.
“Didn’t you say that you were, uh, tired of pretending?”
“That’s right! It’s exhausting pretending to be someone I’m not all the time!”
I crossed my large arms. They were bulky, and they covered half my chest with their size alone. Daniel exchanged a look with Edithe, then he raised an uncertain hand.
“So, why are you pretending to be a Cyclops?”
Blinking my single eye, I looked down at myself.
I mimicked what Adan would say, before a smile spread across my face. I twirled around, the traditional dull gray Cyclops robes I had been lent being brushed by the wind as I came to a stop.
“I thought it would be fun! I’ve never tried to be any other Mortal before, and Adan thought it would be a good idea for when we’re near roads like right now!”
The Human man pinched the bridge of his nose, letting out a strained sigh.
“After you made such a big deal about it too…”
“Come on Daniel—”
Edithe jabbed him lightly with her elbow, a slight giggle escaping her lips.
“Just admit that you’re upset you can’t see her as a Human.”
“Wait, what?! No— that’s not it at all!”
His face turned beet red as she continued to tease him; I focused my attention forward, marching next to Adan as we approached a bridge that cut over a rushing river. I narrowed my single eye as I saw a group of armed figures making their way through.
They were not dressed in the same armor or clothing as the soldiers of the Vaun Qieur Empire. However, they were wearing uniforms, each marked with some kind of emblem that showed a vertical cut running through a claw.
“Hey, who are those guys?”
I interrupted my companions bickering as I pointed out those Humans who were making their way to us. Edithe paused mid laughter and turned to them while Daniel shrugged.
“Uh, I don’t know?”
The Human man was seemingly just as clueless as me. But the Cyclops man and my other companion spoke up at the same time.
“They’re the Forsaken Company. Ah, one of the Three Honorable Companies.”
“That’s right, they’re the ones responsible for protecting the Human lands during a Kobold invasion. They’ve even repelled four of them since their company was formed, more than both the other Honorable Companies have despite being newer.”
“And what is an Honorable Company?”
I had heard that title tossed around quite often, however I never once bothered to ask about it. It was just a name. I did not think too much about names. Especially since they were only mentioned in passing. Now, however, I identified one of the few adventurers ahead of me as they got within range of my General Skill.
[Warrior - Lvl. 103]
Strong, I thought as I examined the man with the broadsword. He was swinging it around at one of his companions, playfully swiping at them like a child playing a game.
“It’s kind of arbitrary, but… the Honorable Companies are said to be the biggest and most influential companies out of all adventuring companies out there. And they have been tasked with the duty to defend us from any outside forces that attack our lands.”
The group of Diamond Rank and Platinum Rank adventurers passed by us, heading down the road we came from as they laughed and yelled at eaech other. Adan kept his head facing forward. It was as if he did not want them to take notice of him. Edithe seemed slightly nervous as well, for whatever reason. Only Daniel and I were not unnerved by their passing at all.
Then one of the adventurers— the Human man with the broadsword— stopped. He spun around and eyed our group.
“Hey, you there!”
I paused and turned back.
“Yeah, you Platinums. Where are you guys going? I don’t recall there being a Platinum Ranked Dungeon anywhere around these parts.”
“Oh, we’re not going to a Platinum Rank Dungeon.”
I replied honestly. He narrowed his eyes then took a step forward.
“Oi, if you’re trying to hide a Dungeon from us— you know the Forsaken Company doesn’t like that. Especially not in our territory.”
“Seth, what are you doing?”
One of his companions pulled him back and whispered into his ear. He harrumphed and folded his arms.
“I’m making sure we aren’t being swindled by a group of stray adventurers right now. There’s no reason for Platinums to be heading in that direction on their own. The only thing that awaits them there is the Plaguelands.”
“Actually, that’s where we’re—”
I raised a hand but was cut off suddenly by Edithe.
“Actually, we were just helping escort our friend here to Ghostlight. He’s her brother, you see? And a [Trader]. He was worried about getting harassed or attacked if he traveled on his own, so he hired us.”
The Human man with the broadsword frowned. He seemed to consider this for a moment, bringing a hand to his chin and rubbing it slowly. Finally, he seemed to come to a conclusion and shrugged.
“Sounds about right. Honestly, if you told me you were going to the Plaguelands, I would have laughed at your faces. If you three thought you would have been able to slay the Lich when we couldn’t even get to it…”
There was a chuckle coming from more than one member of the group. I felt my single brow rise as I considered what he said. A Lich? Their group continued on as we reached the bridge and began crossing over the rushing rapids.
Something poked me from behind and I almost yelped. I spun around to see Daniel glaring at me with his arms crossed.
“Don’t even think about it.”
“Wha— how did you know?!”
Edithe piped up from the side.
“Anyone who knows you would know what you’re thinking.”
“Aw, but please? Think of how much experience a Lich would give!”
After spending two days in my Mortal Form as a Cyclops, I got bored of it and returned to being myself. We were no longer near any settlements or roads. The only thing that awaited us was the Plaguelands.
The land around us started to grow sparse with trees; there was not as much vegetation filling the ground with life. The coarse, brown dirt of the earth almost seemed blackened by somee kind of magic. Even the plentiful roads of Human civilization mostly vanished. Only a single path remained, and it was not one we were headed in.
Adan halted on the gravel ground, his feet burying themselves into the gray road as he turned to face us. He took off his large pack and settled it down before leaning against it. I faced him, offering him a smile.
He was not taken aback by my looks, nor was he afraid of my appearance. He returned the gesture like I was just another person he met. And considering that he was a Cyclops who had traveled across the Human lands to get to the land of the Kobolds, it was possible that was what I was to him.
“It seems this is where our path splits.”
He spoke simply, his deep voice coming out soft and gentle. My shoulders sagged but I still tried to convince him.
“Are you sure you can’t follow us?”
“Ah, I apologize. While my [Trader] Class does grant me benefits in hiding from monsters, they would not do much for me in the Plaguelands. It is a dangerous place. Even if you are a Demon.”
I bared my teeth his way.
“You think so?”
“I wouldn’t want to antagonize a big and scary Demon like you, so I rescind my statements.”
The Cyclops man grinned and shot me with a wink— with his one eye. I was not sure how that worked. But it did. I laughed and he did too. Then he turned his attention to both Daniel and Edithe, addressing all of us.
“My time with you three was short, however I am grateful for the help you have given me. The Plaguelands is a dangerous place and not to be underestimated. I know this won’t be much, but I have prepared a gift for each of you.”
I blinked and Daniel held up his hands almost defensively.
“We appreciate the offer, Adan, but we’ve caused you some trouble too and it is fine—”
“We’ll take it.”
Edithe cut him off and stepped forward. He eyed her with a frown before his brows snapped together in understanding.
“I need it.”
She was Level 59 now. She had leveled twice since we left Viechester. But only twice. I was certain she was close to another level up soon though, which made me excited for finally reaching the Plaguelands.
Adan produced three rings. Each of them looked no different from the other. They were made of metal, nothing too shiny, but the runes inscripted on them radiated power. A kind of magic I did not recognize.
“This is to ward off curses.”
He said as he handed one to each of us individually.
“It does not protect you against the blight there, however I do not doubt you wouldn’t be wise enough to avoid such magic. But curses. Those are the hallmark of the undead. Be wary of it.”
I gratefully accepted my gift and slipped it into one of my clawed fingers. It almost did not fit, until it somehow expanded and perfectly acclimated itself to my size. I beamed as I held up my hand against the sun.
Edithe bowed her head at the Cyclops man.
“We appreciate what you’ve done for us. Especially in regards to herding Salvos around. She’s a little difficult to handle sometimes.”
“Ah, I should be saying that to you. Thank you, kind adventurers. Perhaps we might meet again, but in the land of the Kobolds. Unarith is not too far off from the Plaguelands, after all. Although I may only be able to speak to one of you then.”
He looked over at me before hefting his bag over his shoulder. I waved all four of my arms at him as he wandered off, until he was heading down the road into the horizon. Daniel, Edithe, and I start away from the path. Our road took us down a different direction, past decaying trees into a barren landscape oozing with a thick miasma.
Insects buzzed and circled around strange rocks jutting out of the ground. I paused and took a second look, realizing that those were not rocks. Although they did look kind of similar to the white rocks of the Netherworld.
I sighed and shook my head as Daniel coughed, covering his nose. The Human man was still trying to get used to the stench, although Edithe was unbothered.
“How are you guys fine with this smell?”
He gagged and spoke through a cloth. Edithe looked over at me.
“Well, I’m pretty sure Salvos is fine with it because she’s… Salvos. But I grew up in less than kind conditions. I don’t mind this very much.”
Daniel stared at her, as if he had found some newfound respect. However, it caused him to get a big whiff of air, forcing the contents out of his stomach.
“Sucks, doesn’t it?”
I made the idle comment as I walked past him.
“Leave me alone, will you?”
I giggled before coming to a stop. What lay before me was the edge of a cliff. A steep decline led down about a hundred feet, before expanding into a vast, sprawling field. Much to me and my companions’ surprise, this was not an empty field covered with corpses as we had expected.
That was what I had read about the Plaguelands; it was covered with the undead, like it was a sea. Yet, here was a field of flowers. They were strangely colored however— I had never seen these colors before. Their stalks were the color of the void. A blackness that seemed to suck in the light from its surroundings. Their flowers were throned too, and the petals were a pure white like the ivory of bones.
And the miasma— the brown gas which seemed so transparent earlier— filled the air like a liquid, exuding from these plants. This was the blight. The dangerous magic which would hamper the Stats of anyone who fell into it. That would supposedly halve your health, mana, and stamina. The telltale sign that you had finally entered the Plaguelands.
Daniel puked again.