“Okay, the test is simple. I’ll hide some traps around the area, and you’ll have to find and disarm them.”
“So…” Kayden’s voice was laced with disappointment. “We aren’t fighting?”
Ezekiel shook his head.
“Sigh. What’s with you Galians and fighting? No, our party can already fight pretty well, what we need is utility.”
“Utility? I have plenty of that! I can use illusion magic! Very useful for escaping out of hairy situations.”
“And also for stealing…” Ezekiel frowned, “If you pass this test and join our party, I’ll be keeping all the loot and we’ll split it after the dungeon raid.”
‘He’s very sharp…’
“Pshhh... What? I have never stolen from my party!” A single bead of sweat rolled down Kayden’s forehead. It was a half-truth. He had obviously tried, but he had learned pretty quickly that adventurers could report missing items and suspicious activity. And obviously, the guy with the invisibility powers would be the most suspicious and gets the blame. Eventually, he was forced to return it.
“Alright. Turn around. I’ll fill this area with traps. Give me ten minutes.”
Kayden nodded, turned around, and plopped onto the ground. Now, all he had to do was wait before he could show the ranger his true ability! As a thief, lock picking, trap detecting, and disarming were the essentials, but he had taken it a step further and mastered every infiltration skill known to man!
Okay, that was an exaggeration, but he was still pretty good!
Still, spending ten minutes doing nothing but waiting in silence was boring, so he called on his System for a chat.
“Um… Is there anything you wish to talk about?”
Kayden instinctively noticed something was wrong. The system was normally very chatty, almost to the point of being annoying, and there were times he wished the System never spoke at all. But this time, the System sounded much colder and distant. It was as if the owner of the previous voice had been replaced entirely, even though they still sounded the same.
To confirm his suspicions, he asked a few questions.
“Hey System. Do you remember the first words that you spoke to me?”
“[Affirmative. It was ‘Adjusting language’.]
“Okay… How about my first words?”
“[Whoa, some strange symbols just appeared.]”
His suspicions were immediately proven wrong, however, he refused to believe that nothing was up.
“Have you… changed, somehow?”
“[Nothing about me has changed.]”
“Are you sure—”
“[Nothing about me has changed.]”
Kayden was cut off by the cold, robotic voice of the System. Since the System was so insistent, he figured he would let the matter rest for now. Maybe there would be some explanation for this later?
Now that his conversation partner no longer wished to chat, he turned to other ways to stave off his boredom.
“Ezkrill!” he yelled. “How much longer ‘til you’re done?”
“Be patient! Just keep talking to yourself like before!” Ezekiel yelled back. “Also, it’s Ezekiel!”
“I’m not talking to myself!”
Grumbling, Kayden was left with no other choice but to wait. He had completely forgotten that whenever he spoke to the System, other people could hear him as well, though they could not hear the voice he was talking to. Eventually, Ezekiel finished whatever traps that he had set up and called out to Kayden.
“I’m done. Just try your best. I’ll be a fair judge.”
Kayden stood up and cracked his knuckles. “Aren’t you worried that I might have cheated? I could have snuck a peek, you know?”
Ezekiel stared at Kayden with unworried eyes, his expression the same as always. “My blessings grant me the power of clairvoyance which was how I was able to hear and see you talking to yourself.”
“Ah… About that, I really wasn’t—”
Kayden was shushed by a clap on his back as Ezekiel stoically walked past him. “Good luck. Your time starts now.”
Kayden looked over at the empty plains where the supposed traps were set. The place looked completely untouched when compared to how it looked before, but Kayden knew better.
There were two kinds of traps. The physical kind, and the magical kind, and both of them had their own advantages and disadvantages. Physical traps were your basic pitfalls, bear, or net traps, while magical traps have all kinds of weird effects.
As a physical trap typically required a lengthy amount of time to set up, Kayden could safely rule them out. While physical traps required experience and a keen eye to spot, magical traps were easier to find with the expert use of mana. Thus, Kayden spread his senses out, trying to get a whiff of any mana in the wide area.
[Detecting several traps ahead.]
[Spell successfully appraised.]
Temporarily enchants an object or small area to explode when triggered by conditions set by the user.
The notification was followed by a blue circular screen popping up. It had a white arrow in the middle and surrounding it was a large number of blinking red dots. It was a mini-map, and it gave away all the locations of the traps, not that Kayden knew that.
“What’s this? Looks confusing… Well, thanks for appraising the type of trap I guess.”
Now that Kayden knew exactly what kind of trap it was, he could get to disarming it. Unfortunately, he did not have the means to do so. To disable this kind of trap, he would have to either destroy the enchanted object completely without triggering it or use a spell that could wipe out the enchantment.
A spell orb containing that kind of magic would do the trick, but Kayden didn’t think to bring any. In most situations, it was usually better to avoid a trap rather than attempt to disable it.
Kayden turned around to tell the ranger of his predicament, only to see Ezekiel standing a very long distance away.
“…Why are you so far away!”
“Don’t worry about it! I’m just scouting for any goblins that may ruin the test!”
‘What a straight-faced lie! He doesn’t even have his bow out! He’s expecting me to just blow up and die while he stays safe all the way over there!’
“I already figured out what and where the traps are! I just want to say that there is no way for me to disable them! Not with the equipment I have now!” Kayden shouted across the grassy plains, to which Ezekiel replied,
“In that case, trigger all of them without getting hurt! You’ll pass the test that way!”
Hearing his response, Kayden had a confident grin and yelled back, “That’s more like it!” He then shut his eyes and concentrated, leaking his mana into the surroundings.
Thin black tendrils flowed out of his body and explored the space around him, some even burrowing into the ground. As the tendrils of mana drifted further away from him, they grew thinner and thinner, eventually shrinking into thin wires that were nearly invisible to the naked eye. Additionally, some tendrils had directly burrowed into the ground.
[User is using skill: Detect Mana]
This was a skill that anybody could use regardless of their blessings, as long as they learned how to do it. By spreading your mana to the surroundings and sensing them, you can detect any foreign mana that you could touch.
There were different ways that people could use this skill. If one had large amounts of mana, they could simply flood their surroundings with it, and this required little to no skill to accomplish. For people like Kayden with not much mana to spare, one had to spread their mana out thinly to achieve the highest efficiency. It was comparatively harder to do, but Kayden could manage.
“[User may use the provided mini-map—”
“Shush! I’m in a state of total concentration!”
“[… As you wish.]”
Less than three minutes later, Kayden opened his eyes and exhaled his held breath. His eyes glowed a dark blue that shone through his fringe before it dimmed down and was snuffed out.
‘There, there, there and there. Ten traps in total spread out in about a 50-meter radius.’
He then detached some knives from his belt and planned to trigger the traps from afar. But as he raised his arms to throw them, a loud voice calling out from Ezekiel’s direction interrupted him.
Kayden turned around to see a large blade glowing a luminescent blue speeding towards him from the clear blue skies. It closed the distance at a speed that didn’t give Kayden any time to react, but he still did his best to jump out of harm’s way.
By bending his knees and leaning his body backward, his legs exploded with kinetic force, leaving deep impacts on the ground, and kicking up some dust.
Kayden looked up in the air mid-jump and saw an arrow whistling through the air to intercept the glowing blade. The arrow’s tip collided with the blade, before exploding into vibrant hues of orange and blue, followed by a bunch of black smoke.
The force of the explosion threw Kayden off course, and he landed painfully on the ground, failing to stick a proper landing. As he lay stiff on the ground, he could hear an unceasing ringing in his ears.
Thankfully, it only took a few seconds for the ringing to subside, and he could hear the sounds of footsteps grow louder and louder. He raised his head and looked up; Ezekiel was making his way over to him.
“Y-yeah. Did you see who sent that blade?”
Ezekiel offered his hand which Kayden gladly accepted, before telling him of what he saw.
“Saw him, and I recognize him too. Brace yourself, he’s not alone.”
Kayden did his best to ignore his aching back and stood up, his knees buckling a bit. He glared in the direction of the now clearing smoke, and spotted two figures in the distance, presumably the ones Ezekiel mentioned.
‘You have to be kidding me…'
It was Short-guy, and there was a taller man beside him that he didn’t recognize. How could Kayden forget the man who tried to rob him of his precious gold and caused so much trouble for him?
‘That’s weird, I thought Master dealt with him, he still dared to come after me?’
Regardless of Kayden’s confusion on the matter, the man had come here to confront him either way. Since Short-guy wanted an early death, Kayden was more than happy enough to provide that.
There was a problem, however. It was difficult for two ranked C adventurers to defeat a B ranked. It wasn’t impossible, of course, Kayden just needed to spare a huge amount of effort.
“Well then, let’s get to know each other better… Appraise.”
“Uh, I’ll try again… Appraise.”
But the System remained silent.
“… Why’d you have to be quiet now? I thought you loved showing me blue screens!”
“[User had told me to stay quiet when I tried to help.]
“[The System will assume that the user no longer needs the System’s help.]”
‘You’re giving me attitude? You have to be kidding— No, now’s not the time for banter, I need to get my head in the game.’
Kayden turned to look at Ezekiel, who had his bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. “You said before that you recognized them? Any information you have would be really helpful!”
“Right, the man in front is Brandon the Barbarian, and I only knew of him from the latest gossip. The other man is probably a lackey of his.”
“Gossip?” asked Kayden.
“Right, he was kicked out of his party, and then the local A-ranked adventurer came to beat him up. They say he has a huge grudge against the person who caused both incidents to happen,” Ezekiel frowned, “I wonder why he’s here attacking us here all of a sudden?”
“Ah, that person is me.”
“What do you mean?”
“The person that guy has a grudge against. Yeah, that’s me.”
Ezekiel pulled his bowstring taut and aimed at the figure in front. “We’ll need to talk after this.”
“Sigh.” Kayden drew two fresh knives from his belt and held one in each hand. The previous ones that he had been holding scattered all across the plains when he was struck by the impact of the explosion. Facing forward, he got into a fighting stance. “Please don’t kick me out of the party.”