“Level fifty?” Emma asked with an incredulous voice. “Are you kidding me?”
“Yeah. The big one might’ve been a few levels over fifty, I don’t remember exactly. So, what do you think?”
The petite black haired girl crossed her arms and glared at Marcello. “I haven’t fought anything over level forty yet. The strongest monster I fought was a level 42 crocodile, and that was only because I could fire at it from a safe distance. What makes you so confident against a level fifty monster accompanied by even more monsters?”
Marcello shrugged. “Hey, you gotta risk it sometimes to get the best rewards.”
“Is that how you got so strong?” Emma continued, tilting her head quizzically as her eyes stared into Marcello’s as if she was looking through his soul.
The girl had a presence that reminded Marcello of some old hawks that he worked with back on earth at his job in financial services. Keen and observant on the smallest of details.
The fact that she chose to attack him at night, when he was most vulnerable, really raised a flag in Marcello’s head. It showed that she had the patience to stalk him without being detected for quite a while, and knew exactly when to strike. And most of all, she didn’t seem to be particularly afraid of traversing the woods in the middle of the pitch black. Even Marcello himself was a bit nervous about the darkness of night that could contain unknown monsters around every turn. He didn’t want to think of himself as a scaredy-cat, but it appeared that he was quite a bit of one when compared to Emma.
“Yeah. Big risks for big payoffs. That’s the reason why I went through the black door in the first place. What about you?”
Emma placed a hand on her chin and rested her other on her hip as she thought about it. “Weell… I just thought that it would be exciting, you know?”
Now it was time for Marcello to stare at Emma, trying to decipher whether she was kidding or being serious. At this point, he had no idea what the girl was thinking. It was too easy to write her off as being crazy. Based on how she had concealed her class before, her strategic thinking was hidden under a guise of insanity and feminine aloofness.
Marcello decided to confront her about it. He was planning to work with her as an ally for the time being, and although the allegiance was built upon the solid foundation of mutual interest, as the two of them would only benefit from working together to tackle this incredibly hard inner forest content, to put it in gaming terms, he still would much rather understand her full motivations rather than let her put up airs once again.
“Be honest,” Marcello said, walking up to the black haired girl who was quite a bit shorter than him. “We can drop the facade. I know you have an inheritance, and that you used it to put a rage spell on both Jason and me during the castle lord fight. And I know that you intentionally misdirected us about the whole clothing thing to hide your unique class. So what are your actual motivations?”
He continued while tapping his longsword. “And don’t even think about attacking me. I’m not a pushover anymore. You haven’t seen half of the things I can do. Believe me when I say that a mage is not a good matchup for me.”
He spoke those last few words while imbuing a bit of giant’s magic into his voice, just like he had seen the Old One do when he was talking to it through the bonfire. The effect was immediately apparent, as the magic orb of fire floating next to Emma’s face flickered for a moment under the influence of the silencing magic.
Emma looked surprised at the sudden flickering of her orb of fire. “Looks like you got a lot of new tricks up your sleeve, Marcy!” she said with a smile. “Emmm… to answer your question about my motivations, I’m trying to stay alive and live a meaningful life. You should do that too, Marcy.”
Marcello’s eyes narrowed, but he could not detect a hint of untruth in her words.
“Do you intend to deceive me or do any harm to me?” he asked slowly.
“Nope. I’ll try to keep you alive as much as I can, and you should do the same, okay doggie?”
Marcello had a pretty good sense of when someone was lying, and he felt that Emma was telling the truth. The most important thing was that she had no incentive to harm him in the first place, and his inheritance would overpower hers if she tried her rage inducing ability again.
“Wait…” Marcello said, thinking. Was there some kind of contract magic in this world?
He decided to try it out. Taking out a piece of wood from his inventory, he etched a very simple contract out.
Person A and Person B will sign below and agree to not attack each other intentionally for the next week.
The sentence was a bit long, so he ended up using a larger piece of scrap wood and scraped it in. He wondered if this kind of thing would create a ‘creation’ with a magical effect, just like the totems from earlier.
Emma looked on at him like he was insane. “What are you doing? You know that contracts are useless if they’re not enforced by anyone, right?”
“Yeah, just hold on.”
As he was etching the words into the wood, a notification popped up.
Contracts may only be formed using specific contract paper, through a magic bond, or from certain other situations. Your current method cannot create a binding contract.
The notification was rather information. “Hm…” Marcello said, relaying the information to Emma.
Emma looked at Marcello wide-eyed. “I thought you were just being stupid, but you actually made a system notification pop up by carving onto a piece of wood? And what’s with your unhealthy obsession with wood anyway? Are you some kind of wood pervert?”
“I’m a carpenter,” Marcello replied.
“A carpenter. Someone that works with wood to make things.”
“That’s what you did as your job before all this?”
“No…” Marcello replied, groaning. “I was an office worker before this. But the system gave me a carpenter profession after I cleared the castle lord.”
He decided to omit some information about the rusty hatchet that costed him tens of thousands of points, as well as any information about the impossible trial. Not because hiding that information would serve him any purpose, but just because he didn’t want to spend a long time explaining to Emma what exactly happened. He had already done once for the gnome, and that was fresh out of his adventures in the impossible trial. At this point, he had no desire to do that again.
He was a carpenter, not a bard.
Heh. Maybe if he repeated enough stories, the system would give him a bard profession.
Marcello decided not to test out that theory any time soon. It was interesting, but ultimately completely useless even if the hypothesis proved to be correct. A carpenter was already a questionable enough profession without adding another even more useless bard profession on top of that.
“Oh, I see,” Emma replied. “Interesting. I didn’t know that there were professions in this world. It sounds kind of like a video game, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Marcello answered. “Except in this game, we can actually die.”
Emma laughed. “Let’s try to be on the killing side. So what were you saying before about those goblins?”
“I’ll start with what I know so far.”
Marcello explained all the information he gathered up until that point about the ritual site and the grove, as well as the information he had about the blood moon and the old ones. He emphasized the point about the silver weapon as well, and had a sleepy Grute chime in on any subject goblin related, not allowing the goblin to doze off even though it tried to many times.
“Please, Grute is tired…” the goblin shaman said feebly.
Marcello twisted the goblin shaman’s ear, making it yelp in pain.
“Tell Emma what you know about the ritual site and hobgoblins at the grove.”
The goblin shaman spilled the beans on all that it knew about the grove, while both Marcello and Emma took mental notes.
Apparently, not all goblins within the forest were from the same faction. Grute’s faction was at odds with the faction that ruled the grove.
“Dashi tribe are heathens!” Grute shouted angrily, referring to the tribe controlling the grove. “Dashi tribe not pray to Old Ones!”
This also meant that Grute did not know too much about the layout of the grove itself, as the goblin shaman was also considered an outsider on the Dashi tribe’s lands.
Still, the goblin shaman gave some valuable insight on why there was an evolved hobgoblin.
“Dashi tribe leader is Tuktuk! Tuktuk is evolved hobgoblin! Very strong!”
“What exactly is an evolved hobgoblin?” Emma asked, her magic flaring as she spoke.
“Tribe leaders fed to be strong! Fed lots of meat! Turn into hobgoblin! Hobgoblin eat more meat, become evolved hobgoblin! Meat!”
“I see. Are there any weaknesses to an evolved hobgoblin?” Emma continued, taking on the reigns from Marcello as she explored every angle to the combat.
Planning before combat always made the combat easier. With Emma’s firepower at his disposal, taking down the evolved hobgoblin’s camp would become much more manageable.
“Evolved hobgoblin no weakness! Just strong!” Grute said passionately. When the conversation steered towards goblins or the old ones or dark magic, the goblin shaman was always particularly energetic. Marcello loosened the cuffs even more to allow the shaman to speak and gesture without too much inhibition.
“Do they sleep?” the black haired witch of the north asked. “At night?”
To that, the goblin shaman turned silent. “Yes. Hobgoblin sleep sound at night. Need lots of sleep to digest meat.”
Emma nudged Marcello with a wink. “Maybe it’s time we pay them a visit, before we turn in for the night ourselves. What do you think Marcy?”
Marcello frowned. “I can’t see shit at this time of night. How exactly do we even fight?”
Emma laughed. “Too bad, because my class gives me enhanced vision during the night. I guess you can just wait near me and act as a bodyguard if they come charging at me. You can even hold onto my waist if you can’t see me. Aren’t you so lucky?”
Marcello groaned. There was nothing wrong with her plan, logically. He was so used to going in solo as a knight that he had to bend his mind around the fact that Emma was a very capable ranged dps that he could simply just support. It made sense.
However, the way she put it made it seem kind of perverse.
“Fine, let’s do that then.”
“Well, let’s get going shall we? There’s only a few more hours until dawn.” Emma pointed at her bare wrist as if she had a watch there. “Let’s get going, chop chop!”
With that said, the party of three headed into the woods towards the grove.
“Hm. I just got the notification for that gnome quest you were talking about,” Emma said. “It seems like you telling me about it offered the quest to me too.”
Marcello nodded. “Good. This way I won’t have to fill you in every time it updates.”
“Oh? And I got the larger quest about the blood moon too. Looks like meeting you was the right idea!”
They continued to chat as the path forward was illuminated by Emma’s floating orb of fire. Marcello had offered to light a torch, but Emma declined, explaining that her orb was a lot easier to put out in case something showed up.
As they walked, Marcello kept an eye out for that rabbit hole that he uncovered earlier, but it was impossible to find now in the midst of the woods at night. He gave up as they were approaching the grove.
Before long, they reached the goblin grove. Emma put a finger to her lips, making a shushing sound.
“Watch the master in action,” she said, biting her bottom lip in anticipation of the bloodshed that was soon to come. “I’ll smoke them out first.”