202. Interlude - Daniel's Demand
Ever since Daniel Song had come to this world, he had been betrayed, traumatized, and hunted. He had been naive and foolish. He had been preyed on by the various factions that wanted to use him or wanted him dead. But now he wasn’t just going to roll over and let them trample over all that he had gained.
Perhaps, if he felt as empty as he did when he first arrived, he’d simply surrender in the face of adversity. However, he hadn’t been idle over the past three years. He didn’t spend all his time moping, even though he felt like he did. Daniel had done something— even if it didn't seem like much, it was everything that mattered to him. He had made friends. He had found a purpose. A reason to live.
And if the Harrowed Vindicators were threatening everything he had built, he was going to tear their organization to the ground. He wasn’t going to be a [Hero] because some princess from another world asked him to. He was going to be a [Hero] for the sake of himself. Now, all he had to do was find where these assassins were located, and he’d end them once and for all.
Unfortunately, it’d require a little bit of cooperation.
“—and I’m telling you, you’re not getting anything out of me.”
Amanda, the Silent Serpent, the assassin that tried to seduce and kill Daniel, lay in front of him. Her arms were tied up in enchanted bindings, an artifact she couldn’t escape from even at her level. After all, the young man was rather wealthy now. Money was of no object to him— he could buy anything he ever needed when he needed it.
“Don’t you value your life, assassin?”
He narrowed his gaze. Raising his sword, he pressed its tip right against her neck. There was a light sizzling— a property of the Primordial Longsword he had been given by Salvos. Amanda flinched from the pain, but still managed a sneer.
“Oh my. Are you threatening to torture me? How very [Hero]-like of you.”
Daniel clicked his tongue, drawing his blade back. He stepped away from her and sheathed his longsword. They were in a cave just a few miles away from Elutra, at the very fringe of Inoria’s borders. It was raining, and dark clouds shrouded the moon’s place in the sky, keeping the world in the shadows even as dawn soon approached.
“I’m not a [Hero]. I never even wanted to be a [Hero].”
“That won’t excuse whatever you intend to do with me.”
He glanced back at Amanda who was smirking. He glared.
“I won’t torture you. I said I’ll kill you. And considering that you tried to murder me just earlier? I don’t see how that’s a problem.”
“Again, a truly noble mindset befitting a [Hero] like you. Come on, then. Do your worst.”
Daniel gritted his teeth. Holding her gaze, he loomed over as he spoke in an angry whisper.
“Do my worst? This is not my worst, assassin.”
He spat as he said the word.
“You’ve heard of the [Heroes] of old, just as I have. The stories they tell of Melissa, the Oracle of Light. How she lay waste to entire cities, all on her own. How the Quisling, Zacharius, made a fool out of dozens of kingdoms, repelling their greatest armies alongside his lover, Lilian. And you know of Alexander. The Immortal King. He single handedly united all of the Human lands for the first time in this world’s history. He took on the might of the Kobolds and the Elves, and he won. That’s what [Heroes] are capable of. That’s what I am capable of.”
Amanda opened her mouth. Then she paused. Daniel grabbed her by the shoulders, not seeing the misty red light wisping off his body.
“If you won’t tell me where your headquarters is located, then fine. I’ll find it myself, make you watch as I burn it to the ground, then kill you.”
Her face paled as he let go of her, letting her drop back to the ground. She didn’t speak. Even as he stormed away from her. The young man wondered, for a brief moment, why he’d been so overcome with rage. But his rationale reasoned away those thoughts.
Daniel didn’t want to die. Maybe he did in the past. However, now, he was going to live. And he was going to return home.
If not? Well… he thought of Salvos and Edithe. Or Rachel, Sophia, Cless, and everyone else he’d met since he fled Elutra. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for him. It was something worth living for.
If Daniel wanted to find the Harrowed Vindicators, he’d have to start searching the right places. He entered the city of Roguehollow. It was one of Inoria’s largest cities, located right at the edge of a valley between two small mountains. It also had a reputation for… disreputable things.
He paid the entry fee, bringing Amanda with him. It was fortunate that he was in the Inoria Empire. No one questioned why he brought a woman, bound and beaten, into the city. It was, unfortunately, not too uncommon of a sight here. All he had to do was pay an import tax on goods and services, and that was that.
“Pretending that I’m your slave. Truly, are you even a [H—”
Amanda was cut off as he glared at her.
The assassin pursed her lips before shrugging. Her fear from a week before had mostly dissipated, but she still mouthed off on him a few times. Honestly, Daniel considered buying a muzzle to just silence her entirely. But he didn’t want to waste time— he just had to glance at her once in a while, and she’d know when she went too far.
He stayed in Roguehollow for a few days, digging for information, asking around for any group or organization that was related to the Harrowed Vindicators. Amanda mocked his attempts.
“Just give it up. Do you really think we’d be so easy to track? Don’t be ridiculous.”
Daniel tried to ignore her. But her taunting continued.
“I’m going to die of boredom before you even get the chance to kill me. What happened to all your determination from before?”
“If you have nothing useful to add, please just be quiet.”
“Why don’t you just kill me and end my suffering already?”
He paused. Amanda smirked.
“Come on, don’t you want me to shut up? You have nothing to prove to anyone. Just finish me, and this little nuisance on your shoulder will disappear for good. Unless…”
She tilted her head back. Then she leaned forward, a twisted smile on her face.
“You wish to have your way with me?”
Daniel scowled and turned away from her.
“What’s wrong? Don’t tell me that I was right—”
He slammed the door shut, leaving her behind in the inn. She was wrapped in bindings, unable to escape. And he was tired of being around her for days on end. It wasn’t like dealing with Salvos, who ultimately tried not to cross a line when teasing him. Amanda was trying to get him to kill her, or admit defeat. He wasn’t going to back down so easily.
The young man headed down to the bar of his inn. He just needed a drink. A good, strong drink. That was all he needed to get back in good spirits. Of course the Harrowed Vindicators would be elusive. It’d be hard for him to find them.
“Here you go, young man.”
The [Bartender] placed the drink before him. Daniel gratefully accepted the mug, downing it in an instant much to the [Bartender]’s surprise.
“Seems like you have a lot on your plate, don’t you?”
“I do, I do. It’s just…”
It was just a pain. How could he find a group that was built around stealth? It’d be impossible. He downed another mug of ale, and the [Bartender] chuckled.
“It seems like you’ve got quite the story to tell, huh? This old fellow doesn’t mind giving you an ear, if you’re in need of advice.”
“I’m fine. I just need another glass.”
Daniel shook his head. It was a practically an impossible task, finding the Harrowed Vindicators. He wouldn’t be able to track them down. Not at this rate. Not unless he brought the group to him.
His eyes widened as the [Bartender] shrugged, turning around.
He raised a hand out. The [Bartender] blinked, and Daniel cleared his throat.
“S-sorry. That was rude of me. Let me introduce myself. I am Daniel Song, an adventurer. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Daniel Song? Oh, so you’re a noble—”
Was it stupid? Was it an unnecessary risk? All Daniel had to do was spread a rumor. But it was one that could cascade wildly out of his control. He could attract a dozen assassins, or a thousand of them. However, he would attract them. That was fully his intention.
They came under the blanket of night. It was a typical assassin maneuver. It would’ve worked too, if not for the fact that Daniel was a [Hero]. He had plenty of Skills. What kind of a [Hero] died in their sleep to an assassin?
[Passive: Danger Sense].
He woke up, right as they entered through the window. Daniel Song drew his longsword, parrying a sickle aimed for his neck. There was a loud clang, followed by a soft hiss. The sickle flew back to a man, standing by the window, its edge slightly singed.
The assassin was masked. He did not introduce himself, instead facing Daniel with only the intent to kill. There was a cackle from the side. Amanda grinned as she lay bound.
“Look who finally decided to show up. Edward the Shadower. You’re about two weeks too late. I got to him first—”
Her eyes widened as the sickle flew through the air, slicing at her. She ducked under the attack, cursing.
“What the fuck are you doing, you bastard?!”
“Tying up loose ends.”
Edward’s voice was muffled under his mask. His sickle was connected to a chain, almost like a kusarigama. Except, unlike a kusarigama, it was connected to another sickle at the other end. Daniel raised a brow at Amanda’s slew of swear words.
“You’re a damn asshole, Edward. You mother—”
The assassin moved, and Daniel readied himself. It was a small space. A room in a regular inn. The [Hero] should have an advantage, since Edward wouldn’t be able to move around so much.
But when Edward threw his chains next, it was more than just the glinting metal that moved. The shadows peeled off the walls, forming their own sickles, striking at Daniel from all around him. It tore apart the room.
“[Aura of the Sentinel].”
Daniel formed a golden shield around himself, repelling the onslaught of shadowed attacks. They halted, and Daniel widened his stance. He saw Edward through his barrier, readying what looked like a different Skill. It gathered the darkness of the room around the assassin, creating a pitch black dome of energy that looked ready to burst.
The [Hero] narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t a [Mage], but even he could sense the buildup of mana from that. It would cause heavy damage to the inn— maybe even cause civilian casualties. He had to end this now, before that happened.
“[A Hero’s Rage]!”
Was it a waste of a [Hero]’s Skill? Possibly. But it would let him strike Edward before the shadow attack could be used.
A glowing plate armor engulfed Daniel as his blade grew in length, longer than ever before. It sheared through the darkness around the assassin. Edward tried to leap out of the way, but was nicked on the leg. He screamed in pain as he finally unleashed his Skill.
The [Hero] stared as the attack came. He was too late— he braced himself and... his armor… absorbed the shadow blast. The assassin’s Skill didn’t level the entire inn as Daniel thought it would. It just seeped into Daniel’s plate armor, before he felt an energy build up at the tip of his sword.
He aimed it at Edward, whose eyes widened. A streak of shadow magic shot out, the exact same Skill that had just been absorbed, unleashed upwards, out the window, straight at the assassin.
Defeated [Shadower of Chains - Lvl. 120]!
More experience is awarded for defeating an enemy at least 10 levels above you!
General Skill [Hero Skill: A Hero’s Rage] has leveled up!
[Hero Skill: A Hero’s Rage - Lvl. 1] -> [Hero Skill: A Hero’s Rage - Lvl 2]!
Experience is awarded for the leveling of a General Skill!
It was fortunate, but thankfully, the shadow beam didn’t attract any attention from the streets below. It was just a line of darkness, making no sound, no indication that it was even there, and the assassin silently killed alongside it.
Daniel sank to his feet, panting as he let his glowing armor vanish. The coat around his longsword slowly disappeared, and he took in the following notifications that came after. He leveled to 104 as a [Hero] from that. Taking in a deep breath, he paused when he heard a sound.
It was a woman’s voice. That of Amanda. But it no longer held the mocking tone it once did. Instead, the assassin was covered in cuts throughout her body, bleeding as she crawled on the floor. She must’ve been sliced up by Edward’s shadow sickles. And badly, too.
Daniel stared at her as she let out a gasp.
Daniel raised his sword, wanting to end her suffering for her. That was until he realized she was pointing for a healing potion.
“I-I’ll help you hunt down the Harrowed… just p-please…”
Should he trust her? Or rather could he trust her? Daniel didn’t think his emotions would allow him to offer her even a semblance of trust until now. But he realized that his anger towards Amanda… dissipated? He felt exhausted now, more than anything, after the battle with Edward.
In fact, he didn’t even think he held as much animosity against Edward as before, despite nearly being killed by the assassin just moments before. Was this a side effect of his Skill? Did it use up his anger? Or rather, did it cause his anger to pent up unnaturally?
Daniel wasn't entirely sure. He just knew that he was tired, and he really wanted to find the Harrowed Vindicators without getting into any more night brawls. So, he unlatched the healing potion from his belt.
He uncorked it, before kneeling down to meet Amanda’s gaze.
“I’ll give this to you.”
She gratefully reached for it, but he pulled his hand back. He placed a hand on her head, pushing her back slightly. She groaned in pain just from the touch.
Daniel wagged a finger.
“But I will not give it to you until you tell me everything you know about the Harrowed Vindicators— where they’re located, why they’re working with the Inoria Empire, and what levels are your greatest assassins.”
Amanda paused. She worked her jaw slowly.
“H-how will I know if you’ll keep your promise?”
He replied simply. She hesitated, even as blood pooled out of her stomach. Daniel raised a brow.
“Well? You’re going to bleed out. And you better not waste anymore words. I don’t think you’ll have the strength left to speak soon.”
Amanda bit her lower lip. She tried to say something, but caught herself. She sighed. It was suffice to say, she spilled everything she knew.