I watched my back as I made my way out of Unarith. That sensation from before— the brief feeling that I was being spied on— did not return. I left the tunnel and found myself in a rather large house, surrounded by a small field. They gave me some directions— some robes to remain inconspicuous.
I gratefully accepted their help, and left the city without an issue. I hurriedly made my way through the rocky hills, until I saw the green forest canopy ahead. There was no one following me, I was almost certain of it. So, where did that feeling come from?
I met my companions as they were eating their meals. Edithe was having a stew made from some plants and mushrooms, while Daniel decided to eat some of the rations he had on him. And by rations, I meant a literal dish served in a restaurant.
“Where did you get that?!”
I pointed at the filleted fish, seasoned with a brown sauce. He gestured at the pen on his lap, and Edithe sighed.
“Apparently, he has a dozen fresh, expensive meals kept in his Dimensional Storage Unit. In case he ever craves some good food, he can just summon one and have it right away.”
“Huh. That is convenient.”
“It is. Yet he doesn’t want to share any with me.”
I shot him a questioning look as I sat on my knees, kneeling as Kobolds did. If I wanted to pretend to be a Kobold, I had to get used to acting like one.
“Don’t do this to me right now, Salvos. I don’t have much left, and I am starving, ok? Using my [Hero] Skills isn’t as simple as you think— it’s very draining. And the Plaguelands isn’t really the nicest place to be in. Everywhere I go, I smell rotting flesh. I just want a nice, decent meal to relax.”
“You could share some with her, at least.”
He drew his lips into a thin line. Glancing over at Edithe, he hesitated for a moment. The red-haired woman tried to avert her gaze, pretending to be apathetic to the food. Finally, his guilty conscience won out and he offered her a slice of the fish.
She gobbled it down without saying a word. I stared at her in disgust, and Daniel blinked. She lightly covered her mouth with a hand, letting out a soft cough.
“Um, thank you.”
“Right… you're welcome.”
With that settled, I explained the situation to my companions. They were surprised to hear that I still had the Totem of Incense on me. I showed them the Bag of Holding, nodding.
“Yep. She asked me to take care of it for now. While she sets up the ritual for Dragon flame.”
“Dragon flame, huh?”
Edithe rubbed her chin. Daniel and I exchanged a glance.
“I’ve only heard about Dragons in my world as a… mythical creature. As in, it doesn’t exist.”
“The first time I heard about them was in Unarith.”
I shrugged. We faced Edithe.
“Do you know anything about it?”
“I… do. And honestly, what I know about Dragons here isn’t too dissimilar from what Daniel said.”
“You mean this world doesn’t have Dragons?”
Daniel raised a brow. She chewed her lips uncertainly.
“That’s what I used to think— I mean, there are stories. Tales that came during the Kobold invasions of the past. But they were mostly heard from prisoners. Kobolds we had taken captive, who cursed Humans, claiming that their Old Gods would smite our Species for our sins, delivering divine retribution to all of Humankind.”
“And did that ever happen?”
I leaned forward, almost excited.
I deflated. Edithe rolled her eyes, ignoring my disappointment.
“We’ve never seen a Dragon before. We’ve only heard about their kind from Kobolds, and I’ve only read about it in history books. So, I never really thought much about it. However, if these Dragons really exist, then this Dragon flame has to be a powerful spell. Grand magic, even.”
“Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? Any magic that can destroy a Mythical Grade artifact has to be super powerful!”
“That’s not necessarily true.”
Edithe shook her head, and Daniel agreed. He held up his hand, summoning my blue jacket. I had given it to him to keep when I left for Unarith. I didn’t want to stand out, after all.
“This is a Unique Grade artifact, Salvos. And honestly, it isn’t really special.”
“Other than the fact that it repairs itself over time— without using any mana from me.”
I folded my arms, giving him a flat look. Edithe nodded.
“Daniel’s right. It really isn’t that special. Not for a Unique Grade artifact. The only thing that stands out about it is how it draws in mana from its surroundings. Otherwise, that’s a simple restoration spell. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
I scowled. I knew they weren’t insulting me, but I couldn’t help but feel offended on behalf of my blue jacket. It was mine, so it had to be special! Sure, it belonged to Daniel just a year ago. He did bring it from his world. However, it was mine now! And I was going to take good care of it.
Snatching the blue jacket from Daniel, I cradled it gently in my arms, protectively covering it like it was a Human baby.
I whispered. Edithe chuckled, pulling out the Totem of Incense. She placed it down on the ground, steadying it so that it was standing upright. It was white— whatever color it once had faded away with time. Patting it on the shoulder, she began to explain.
“This is an example of an artifact that befits its status. I’ve never heard of such magic that could not just destroy the blight, but repel it in its entirety. It’s Mythical Grade, yes, but it can even be considered a higher grade.”
She left the statue behind, walking to my sack. She produced a piece of parchment, gesturing at it.
“On the other hand, this Runic Scroll of Starfall— it’s something I know should be a higher grade than it is. Perhaps the reason why it’s considered High Grade and not Mythical is because it’s a one-time use item.”
I felt my jaw drop.
“Yes. At least, if I’m reading its enchantments right, I believe the destruction it would cause is superior to most High Grade artifacts out there.”
The red-haired woman pointed at the new pendant hanging around my neck.
“That Pendant of Greater Protection Xidra gave you is a better example of what a normal High Grade artifact is supposed to be like.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“You mean it isn’t special?”
“It certainly does what it says it does. You can even test it out, if you want.”
I glanced over at Daniel. The Human man was listening from the side— well, he was pretending to listen. In reality, he was extremely focused on finishing his meal peacefully.
He raised his head, mouth full of fish, and made a noise.
I tapped my chest, and he blinked. Daniel quickly chewed and swallowed whatever food was in his mouth, before rubbing his ears.
“Excuse me, could you repeat that?”
“I said: punch me. With all your strength. That means don’t hold back at all!”
“But why would I—”
I stepped up to him, pressing my face up to his.
“Just do it!”
He scratched his chin, a bit unsure.
“If you say so…”
Daniel raised a fist and struck my chest; the impact knocked me back— it sent me stumbling. However, I didn’t fly back like I expected myself to. And the punch didn’t even hurt that bad. It was like his blow was softened, blocked by something separating us.
There wasn’t even a flash… I walked back up to Daniel, crossing my arms.
“Are you sure—”
I glared at him, and he sighed.
This time, Daniel steeled himself. He took a step back, pulling his fist back before thrusting it forward. I could tell he put more strength into this. It wasn’t a half-hearted hit like before. The thudding blow sent me flying back to a tree. There was a flicker of white aura— the same shimmer I saw whenever my Ring of Lesser Protection was damaged.
And yet, I got back to my feet unharmed.
I dusted myself off, then grinned.
“You’re so weak, Daniel! You didn’t even leave a scratch!”
He didn’t hear the remark. He was too busy wincing, shaking his hand as if in pain.
“That… that felt like punching a brick wall. Except, I can probably smash past a brick wall without a problem. That… what was that?
I stuck my tongue out at him— a Kobold smile, but a Human insult.
“Maybe if you had been paying attention you would know!”
Edithe smiled as she approached me.
“Salvos isn’t wrong—”
He glowered, muttering to himself.
“...why are both of you against me now?”
The red-haired woman gestured at the Pendant of Greater Protection.
“The reason why you feel some pain from punching her is because of the Greater Protection enchantment. It reflects some of the damage she would otherwise receive back to the attacker. Most high leveled [Mages] learn the spell because of how useful it is in combat. Although, I’m sure they’d prefer a pendant that does the same thing. The spell itself is rather costly in terms of mana upkeep.”
I gasped, staring down at the little necklace with admiration, while Daniel rubbed his hand with a groan. Beaming, I looked up to Edithe.
“That’s what High Grade artifacts should do. It’s the kind of equipment those at Level 100 carry. Of course, as I said, the grade of an artifact doesn’t always relate to its usefulness. Your Unique Grade jacket is an example of that.”
I hugged the blue jacket defensively.
“What do you have against my jacket?!”
“Nothing. I’m just using it as an example.”
“Why can’t you use something else?”
I snuggled it back inside my sack, where it would be safe from her insults. Edithe cast her gaze around, before stopping at the Totem of Incense. She had a thoughtful look.
“If the Totem of Incense is an example of an artifact that is possibly above its grade, then I guess the Herald’s Brush is the opposite. It should be a High Grade artifact at most, honestly. There are known spells used by [Priests] that can clear the blight temporarily— and with what I’ve seen of the Herald’s Brush so far, I don’t think it’s very impressive.”
I tilted my head up towards the sky, picking at my scales with a clawed finger. An idea popped in my head.
“If the Totem of Incense is that amazing, why don’t we just keep it and run—”
Edithe retorted before I could even finish.
“Xidra has done a lot to help all of us, Salvos. There are many things I’d like to learn about Kobolds. I’ve… changed a lot of things since I met you. And I do not wish to betray her trust. That’d just be wrong.”
“I know, I know. I was joking…”
I pouted, plopping myself back down on the ground. Shaking her head, she stored the Totem of Incense back in the Bag of Holding and placed it next to her bedroll.
“It’s hard to tell with you, sometimes, you know?”
There wasn’t much for us to do once the discussion ended. Daniel and Edithe wanted to simply relax— the Human man in particular was strongly in favor of it. And it was not like we could just return to the Plaguelands.
Maybe Hoxle could track us down even if we were that far away from Unarith, but there were a few risks. Could he even survive the undead there? He was a [Diviner]. That meant he didn’t have a combat Class. Maybe he could fight. But not as effectively as someone with a combat Class would.
It wasn’t really a risk I wanted to take either, so I agreed with my companions’ decision to sit and wait for Xidra to call for us. They went about their usual activities— Edithe did some reading and taught me some new concepts about magic, while Daniel wrote in his diary and shared some stories from his world with us. I had almost forgotten about the events of the day when night fell, and they went to sleep.
However, the prickling sensation— the same one that always told me that I was being watched— returned. I stood up, narrowing my eyes. I thought the feeling would disappear after a moment, but it didn’t. This is…
I frowned, beginning to grow alert. I conjured my Star Forge and called out to my companions.
And a pair of ethereal, glowing chains shot out at me, wrapping itself around my arms and my jaw, cutting me off before I could finish.