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136. Growth

I stared down at the Runic Scroll of Starfall, trying to decipher the intricate workings of the mana that weaved its spell. I now understood how it worked— or at least, its effects. It would summon… a hail of stars? Balls of blazing fire. Ones that would come down with a fury that would ravage the land.

Something that was truly befitting a High Grade artifact.

Placing the parchment down on the ground, I straightened and raised a claw up. I was still in my Kobold form— the hand was more Human-like than my regular hand. It was scaly, up until my palms where it grew softer. I focused on the spell, on trying to replicate it. I knew I couldn’t cast the same magic just yet— it was beyond my level, and beyond my understanding of magical theory.

Edithe had been teaching me. But even if she was truly a master of magic— some kind of [Archmagus]— that didn’t mean I could learn it all at once. It was not long ago that I didn't even know what rocks were!

Wisps of flame blinked themselves into existence over the palm of my hand. They danced in a circle, chasing after each other, lighting a blue halo in the darkness of night. I slowly lowered my hand, letting the spell carry itself up, floating higher and higher.

It hovered nearly a head above me, combining into a single ball of fire. It was shaped almost like a flower petal— about the size of my hand. I pointed forward, releasing the magic.

And it dissipated.

“Aw.”

I stared at the bits of cinder flaking down to the floor. The magic within it was mostly gone. I scowled.

“I don’t think it’s powerful enough to launch out like small stars.”

I had to ask Edithe about it when she woke up. I looked over towards the horizon— I couldn’t see the orange ball poking its edges out. But I had a feeling it would be rising soon.

“No need to rush to wake them up. They’ll get up on their own soon enough.”

They didn’t like it whenever I did that. So, I let them sleep some more.

—--

“That’s the thing about these scrolls, Salvos. They’re designed for a very specific purpose and outcome. You can break it down, try to learn from it. But you can’t just copy its magic— not even when you’re transcribing another scroll.”

Edithe spoke as she hefted her Bag of Holding over her shoulder. It had been a few days since I returned from Unarith, and now she was fully recovered, ready to tackle the Plaguelands once more. I nodded slowly, back to normal, no longer a Kobold.

“Huh. That makes a lot of sense.”

“It’s a similar thing with enchantments— although they can be copied. But not with scrolls. Those can have their effects replicated, but not if you use the same runes and magical weaving as the original scroll does.”

I conjured the same wisps of flame.

“So… this can’t launch out like mini Fireballs?”

“Not in the same way the Runic Scroll intended.”

My shoulders slumped over. That sucked. I glowered as I followed after my companions. However, Edithe must have noticed my disappointment. She smiled as she gave me a reassuring look.

“Well, I think it’s impressive that you managed to even create this. Who knows? You may find a different use for this spell.”

“...thanks.”

I couldn’t lie and say that didn’t lift my spirits just a little bit. Daniel held up a compass, pointing northeast.

“Are you sure this is the way, Salvos?”

“Yep! I made sure to pay attention to where the sun was!”

I tilted my head up, seeing its current location in the sky. It certainly looked like we were heading in the right direction. I gave him a thumbs-up.

“Yep! We just have to keep going until we enter the Plaguelands. There’ll be a town that’s half-eaten by a blight flower field, a valley we have to cross, and a few other things we’ll spot to know if we’re going the right way.”

We returned back to the Plaguelands, greeted by the green-ish mist that covered the sky, and an arrow to the ground before us. A group of [Skeleton Archers] caught sight of us as we walked in, attacking us immediately before we could even react.

They were not the most dangerous undead, however it was still odd to see them so close to the peripheries of the Plaguelands. Was it because we came in from a different side? It was possible.

I charged the Skeletons, supported my companions from behind. Edithe blasted them with her [Storm of Ice and Fire], while Daniel engaged them with his [Aura of the Sentinel].

I had to leap quickly, closing the distance between us, using [Flame Burst] to snap away from the arrows that curved after me. Some of them even exploded or set the ground on fire. They blurred all around me— some even nicked my skin. But I eventually reached them.

I took them apart quickly. The dangerous part had been avoiding their volley of arrows. Each one not so effective at close range combat. I kept mostly to my [Barrage of Cinders], striking for the Skeletons’ limbs. Their joints were brittle— it was like fighting Golems.

And I could beat Golems relatively easily.

Defeated [Skeleton Archer - Lvl. 100]!

More experience is awarded for defeating an enemy at least 10 levels above you!

Defeated [Skeleton Archer - Lvl. 101]!

More experience is awarded for defeating an enemy at least 10 levels above you!

Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!

“No Ghouls were leading them, huh?”

The ivory bones crunched under my feet as I returned to Edithe, walking alongside Daniel. The red-haired woman shrugged.

“It’s better this way. We’re back here to find the Herald’s Brush and the Totem of Incense. And, um, destroy one of them?”

“The Totem of Incense. But they’ll destroy it themselves. We can keep the Herald’s Brush for ourselves.”

“It’s a good thing too—”

Daniel sighed, rubbing at his shoulders as if they were sore.

“I’m getting tired of this blight.”

Reaching into my sack, I produced a single cleansing flower for my companions to see.

“The blight isn’t going to be too much of a problem for now. Especially since Xidra even gave me this. To avoid… situations like last time.”

Edithe shook her head, speaking in a determined voice.

“It’s fine, Salvos. There’s no need to worry about me. I feel better than ever.”

I eyed the red-haired woman. Usually, I would be dubious of her words whenever she said something like that. But now, I could see that meeting with Xidra had changed something in her. It wasn’t a drastic change— however, it was enough to reassure me.

“Then let’s continue.”

—--

“Huh.”

“Don’t copy me! That’s my line!”

I folded two of my arms, and pointed accusingly at Daniel with one of my free hands. He blinked a few times, before ignoring my comment.

“You really were telling the truth.”

His gaze was fixed on the town. It wasn’t even really much of a town anymore. There were a few decrepit buildings scattered about. It made it quite clear that it was never really a massive population living here— perhaps it was some kind of farming town like Ghostlight had been.

Either way, there was a large wall of green gas cutting halfway through the town. It was like a curtain had been pulled over, abruptly blocking half the stage from view. The blight blanketed over whatever other remains of the town there was, with blight flowers clearly growing on the rotten wood of collapsed houses.

I narrowed my eyes, picking out a few figures lurking within.

“I’m never going back in there.”

Edithe spoke defiantly. I glanced back at her and nodded in agreement.

“Me neither.”

We tried to give the blight flower field a wide berth, warily keeping away from its perimeter so that nothing inside could just launch out and attack us. Unfortunately, that meant we didn’t pay attention to the dead forest to our back.

A Ghoul, leading a group of Skeletons, charged out and attacked us from between the spindly trees. I caught sight of the undead— the thudding footsteps of the bounding Ghoul, as well as the clacking of the Skeletons— before calling out a warning.

“Daniel, Edithe!”

I looked back at the both of them. They were readying their weapons— but behind them, I once again saw the shadows lurking in the blight. I remembered what happened the last time around. It was a bad series of events that led us into the blight flower field. We had been flanked from multiple sides.

It was the Plaguelands. A place that was above our level. Anything could happen. Even if we could have won this fight— it was only a single Ghoul— we might get attacked by something else. So, there was only one smart option to do here.

“Run for it!”

My companions were caught off-guard by what I said. They stopped to exchange a glance, only for me to exasperatedly gesture past them.

“Hello? Are you listening? Run!”

They made a dash away from the charging undead. I spun around, facing the Ghoul down. It moved fast— it had to be at least Level 105. If I used my Greaves of the Wanderer, I could have been able to outrun it. But my companions wouldn’t. So, I just had to distract it for a bit.

Raising a finger, I pointed at the Ghoul as I let out a growl.

[Title Skill: Zealous Call].

I focused only on the Ghoul. Not on the Skeletons or the [Zombies] hiding within the blight. I was not going to call down a horde on me. No— I knew better than that. I just had to draw the Ghoul’s attention. Its Skeletons would bumble after it, and it would leave the other undead in the area out of this.

Activating [Self Haste], I just barely dodged a savage swing from the Ghoul. I circled around it, backing up as its Skeletons came to its side. Then I released a [Flaming Breath], engulfing them in the cone of blue fire.

The Skeletons faltered, but the Ghoul charged right through. It tore through the flames. But I was no longer there. It spun around, seeing me getting further and further away from it with each [Flame Burst]. The Ghoul let out a terrifying shriek— a ring of gray energy shot out towards me, slowing my pace.

I scowled, realizing that the Ghoul would catch up to me at this rate. I grabbed for the strings of mana in the air around me, immediately weaving it into interlinking chains. A scythe’s edge ran down one side of the chains— the Sickle Grenade was far easier to form now that I was used to creating it.

It was just as I had expected. Sure, [Passive - Refined Casting] was useful for the short-term. But in the long-run, I would be able to cast magic at the same level of efficacy as it with time, practice, and experience. Swinging the Sickle Grenade above my head, I tossed it straight at the Ghoul leading the charge. [Title Skill: Zealous Call] was no longer afflicting it, but I was the only visible enemy within its surroundings.

The first blast only sent it stumbling forward, killing a few of its mindless minions. But the second knocked it off the ground— I had quickly created another Sickle Grenade, and threw it at the off-balanced Ghoul. More Skeleton bones went flying through the air as the Ghoul was knocked back.

I felt the curse leaving my body. The Ghoul was slightly hurt— maybe I could finish it off if I continued fighting it for a little longer. However, I didn’t intend on staying separate from my companions for too long. I took the chance I had and made a break for it. After all, I did level up from that encounter.

Defeated [Skeleton Warrior - Lvl. 102]!

More experience is awarded for defeating an enemy at least 10 levels above you!

Defeated [Unarmed Skeleton - Lvl. 96]!

Experience is awarded for defeating an enemy!

Subspecies [Asura Changeling] Level Up!

[Asura Changeling – Lvl. 89] -> [Asura Changeling – Lvl. 90]

Gained 5 Stat Points and 3 Skill Points!

—--

I returned to my companions not long after. They were glad to see that I was safe, and our journey continued with not many other interruptions. The Plaguelands were dangerous, yes, but it was also vast, and we knew how to avoid unnecessary fights, especially when they hindered our goal.

It was night by the time we found the valley I had seen. I recognized it immediately— since it was where I rested with Xidra before confronting Gexli. With the blight’s effects weaker here, we thought it was a good place to set up camp.

They ate their Human foods and exchanged light conversations. Then Edithe retired to bed, while Daniel wrote for a little bit in his diary. I was studying the Runic Scroll of Starfall, messing with the flame I could conjure, and trying to figure out a practical use for it when the Human man snapped his book shut.

“I’m going to head to bed, Salvos. Please don’t wake us up in the middle of the night with some kind of explosion.”

“Of course I won’t.”

I snorted, letting the dancing fire— now more like a twinkling star than burning wisps making a halo— dissipate.

“You Humans need your sleep, and that’s fine. But if something attacks us, I’ll shout and scream until you’re awake even if you don’t want to.”

He smiled.

“You’ve grown quite a lot, haven’t you? Not only have all your directions been right so far, but you didn’t get lost when you went to draw that Ghouls attention.”

I beamed and raised my chin up.

“I have!”

I eagerly agreed with him. Then I paused. I stared at the Human man, remembering recent events. He raised a brow as I addressed him.

“And you should too, Daniel.”

“Uh, what?”

The Human man was puzzled— or was he only pretending? It was hard to tell. But I turned my gaze towards Edithe, who was sleeping soundly in her bed roll over at the corner of the alcove. I shook my head.

There was nothing I could tell him that would change his mind. I had already made my opinion on the matter clear. So, I just spoke the truth.

“I can understand your apprehension, Daniel. It’d be like if I were to reveal my nature as a Demon to someone like Saffron or Hadrian. I don’t know what will happen.”

He opened his mouth, but I cut him off.

“However— Edithe is your companion as much as she is mine. The both of you have fought alongside each other against a Greater Demon 20 levels above you, and have survived the Plaguelands alone together. It is not like she is someone you can’t trust.”

Hesitating, Daniel shifted on his feet. He chewed his lower lip, speaking softly.

“...I know that, Salvos.”

He sighed, glazing over at the sleeping woman with a sad look. Then he averted his gaze.

“The problem isn’t her, but me. I’m just… afraid.”

Getting to my feet, I placed a hand on his shoulder. A shadow was cast over his face, his gaze now resting on the palm of his hand.

“I know you are.”

I remembered what he told me about his past. About his world. It really was not fair for someone like him to be thrust into this situation. Unfortunately, that didn’t matter.

“However, if you keep hesitating— especially in the most dire of moments— eventually, you will make a fatal mistake. Someone might die. You might die. Do you really want that to happen?”

He was still uncertain— I could see it in his face, in the way he moved back away from me. But at least, this time, he didn’t just avoid the issue.

“I’ll talk to her about it. Not right now. But I promise, I will do it.”

 

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