Jax the Forsaken Archer waited in the forest right outside of Windrip. He sat in a meditative pose, his legs crossed, and his hands on his knees as his pointed ears twitched. He could hear the chirping birds— the rustling of the leaves; everything from the soft buzzing of insects to even the clicking muffled footfalls of the nearby fauna. He listened, and he heard everything.
He sat there amongst nature, and became one with the world. It was something he learned back in Drazyl— one of the few things he kept with him from Azryea. Even if he had betrayed his own kin, he couldn’t change who he was. After all, he was an elf. It was in his nature to flourish amongst the wilderness.
“...and you want me to just fight him?” a distant voice said as Jax raised his head.
The elf heard them coming, even though they were still a mile away. That was as far as he could hear when he was in this calm state, tapping into his own racial traits. Otherwise, he normally just had an improved sense of hearing compared to humans.
“Well, he’s the one who wants you to fight him,” a second voice said. “He says he wants to test how strong you are.”
Jax recognized the second voice— it was Noele. The Noble Spellsword. The woman he had bested in combat just yesterday. She had promised she would bring her mentor to challenge him today. After all, he was looking for the one who killed Glutaz the Goblin Lord, and the blonde girl claimed it was her mentor who had done so.
But no matter how hard the elf tried, he couldn’t see it. He heard their footfalls draw closer even from a distance. He listened in on their mundane conversation, but he didn’t care for what they said.
“I mean, I still don’t see the point…”
“Master, please, do it for me—”
“I said don’t call me master. It’s weird. Also, where’s my payment?”
Instead, the Forsaken Archer took in every subtle movement they made just from his hearing alone. Of the pair, it was Noele who carried herself like a true adventurer. A fighter who always knew to keep her guard up.
She walked lithely, her footsteps soft on the grass, nearly indiscernible to the elf. Even if she seemed excitable, apart from her voice, there was really nothing about her that he perceived as ignoble.
Noele truly did befit her Title as the Noble Spellsword.
Meanwhile, her mentor walked without a care in the world. Amelia. The street vendor. The plain-looking, oddly-dressed, brown-haired woman. She practically stomped over the dirt ground, trampling the grass in her path towards the clearing of trees.
Even the way Amelia waved a hand off dismissively wasted a lot of movements. It was loud and noisy, like a blaring alarm to the elf’s pointed ears as her shaking hand messily pushed the air rather than cleanly cut through it.
Jax was almost certain he had wasted his time… again. He got to his feet as the two women approached him. They spoke casually, even in the face of the S-ranked adventurer.
“—I had to learn that on my own!” Noele protested. She shifted uncomfortably as she averted her gaze. “So, uh, that’s why I haven’t paid you yet.”
“Maybe I haven’t taught you anything because you haven’t paid me,” Amelia snorted.
“So, you are Noele the Noble Spellsword’s master,” Jax said as he cut off their conversation. He glanced callously at the brown-haired human, reaching for his bow. “I must tell you, my patience is running thin—”
“Just admit it: you’re broke aren’t you?” Crossing her arms, Amelia faced the blonde girl with a prying gaze. “If you can’t afford it, just say so. I can charge you less.”
“I’m not broke. My money is just… held up right now.” Noele spoke as her shoulders sagged.
“Which means you’re broke,” her mentor said flatly.
Jax snapped his brows together, watching as the two human women completely ignored him. His grip around his bow tightened. The enchanted eldersage wood of the bow bent under the force of his grip.
“Look, I don’t want to extort you, Noele.” Amelia rolled her eyes as she spoke to her apprentice. “I’m an unofficial adventurer now, so I can just—”
“That’s enough!” Jax yelled as he loosed a glinting green bolt forward. “[Blooming Deathhowl].”
The arrow rippled with a powerful aura, trailed by a whistling screech. It shot past Noele and Amelia like a falling star and exploded behind them. The brown-haired woman just glanced towards the elf casually as her apprentice backed up reaching for her sword’s hilt.
“How dare you humans disrespect me. How dare you humans waste my time. I am Jax the Forsaken Archer—” he started.
And Amelia appeared next to him, punching him in the face. It happened so far, the elf couldn’t even process it. All he knew was that when he blinked, he was lying face down on the dirt, groaning in pain.
“Alright, duel’s over,” Amelia said as she dusted her hands off.
What are you— Jax tried to speak, but his mouth refused to obey him. He couldn’t get up even if he wanted to. His entire body was numb, like he had been put to sleep but was still conscious of what was going on around him.
Noele stared at the elf, lying caked in dirt. “I… don’t think the duel started yet, Amelia. He didn’t look like he was ready.”
“Oh, I thought that arrow was like a starter’s pistol.” Amelia scratched the back of her head, then shrugged. “That’s my bad. Can we go back now?”
The blonde girl glanced hesitantly between Jax and her mentor. He was still alive. He could tell that she was checking if he’d survived.
Amelia called out as she walked off, “Are you coming, Noele?”
“R-right.” Noele nodded and hurried after her mentor. “I’m on my way!”
And Jax just lay there, body refusing to move. His face throbbing with an aching pain. He couldn’t speak, only let out a long groan as a single thought crossed his mind.
What in the Thrones just happened?
That was a boring waste of time. I wanted to try out a new recipe today— I was convinced that selling like… tacos or burritos would finally help me break through into the food market of Windrip. But Noele dragged me out of the city to deal with some elf, and when I returned, I realized it would be rejected for being too greasy just like the fried chicken.
“What about pizza, then?” I rubbed my chin in thought.
I didn’t think that cheese pizza was that unhealthy. And it wasn’t like the people of Windrip cared as much about the healthiness factor as they did the presentation. Because I wasn’t a [Chef] or a [Cook], they’d automatically assume my cooking was disgusting. And even if I tried to lie about my Class, they took one look at the way my food was prepared and rejected it.
Apparently, a lot of the Skills [Cooks] gained after they advanced from being an [Apprentice Cook] tended to be related to presentation rather than taste. And because my presentation was somewhat sloppy— since I was never a chef on Earth, and I hadn’t touched a kitchen in ten years or however long I spent in the Fractured Realm— the most generous assumption they’d have was that I was a low-leveled [Cook].
In which case, they’d usually refuse my cooking since it was quite expensive. It wasn’t like I wanted to charge twenty copper coins for a single burger. The problem was that the ingredients were expensive to get. So compared to a normal meal— which was about ten to fifteen copper— I was practically a scam in their eyes.
I stood before my stall, looking at the wooden stand up and down as I frowned. An idle thought crossed my mind.
“Maybe cooking just isn’t for me…” I mumbled to myself. Well, it wasn’t like I had to be a chef or whatever. This had just been an experiment because… I wanted to give it a try, I guess. But there were plenty of other things I could try out while I took on jobs from the Adventurer’s Guild for money. For example, maybe I could help people out with fast travel—
“Amelia,” a voice said, cutting off my thoughts.
I glanced back as Noele walked up to me. The blonde girl raised a brow, glancing between me and the food stall.
“Am I interrupting something?” she asked curiously.
I shook my head and faced her. “Nope. What’s up?”
“Oh, uh…” She reached for a bag slung over her shoulders. I blinked as she produced a little pouch in the palm of her hand. “I got this for you.”
I narrowed my eyes. “That’s—”
“Your, uh, payment,” Noele said as she shuffled her feet. “It’s only fifty gold for now. I promise I’ll get you the remaining fifty soon— I just need some time.”
“Oh, thanks.” I accepted the payment, looking into the pouch. I saw the glinting coins inside and did a quick eye-count. It looked like it was fifty coins. I shrugged and pocketed the money. “What’s the hold up anyways, Noele?”
“It’s… a personal matter, honestly. You shouldn’t bother with it, Amelia.” The blonde girl tried to wave the subject off, but I gave her a flat stare.
“Aren’t you my apprentice or something? I’m pretty sure that means I should care if you have a problem.”
“It’s not a problem— it really isn’t,” she tried to protest
“If it’s not a problem, then just say it,” I said dryly. “And if it is a problem, I want to help.”
Noele pursed her lips. She still seemed reluctant to talk about it, but she eventually acquiesced.
“It’s my family,” she sighed. “I spent most of my coin on my parents around the time the Goblin Lord attacked.”
I paused. I could’ve sworn I never saw her leave for her hometown anytime during the last few weeks. “When did you do that?”
“My parents left for the Frozar Mountains two weeks ago— from their farm just outside of Whiteridge. But the trek there is dangerous, and I can’t be there for them right now. It’s a dangerous area. Even more so than Briar Glen. So I spent pretty much everything I had to get them an escort from the Adventurer’s Guild.”
“Wait, you put in a request here in Windrip and it went through to Whiteride?” I blinked. “How does that work?”
“Every Adventurer’s Guild branch keeps a large sum of gold at hand to payout most requests. They simply sent a [Message] through the Mage’s Guild to post the job at Whiteridge, and paid out the request for me there while pocketing my gold here.”
“I see.” I didn’t realize that the Adventurer’s Guild was that pervasive of an institution. I raised my head and asked, “So why would your parents go to such a dangerous place?”
“Because of my sister,” Noele said, closing her eyes.
I saw the way her demeanor changed. She hadn’t told me much about herself even though we have known each other for about a month now. But I remembered tidbits of things she said or let slip out.
“Your sister is Nora, right? She, uh, was an adventurer…” I trailed off, and the blonde girl nodded.
“Nora the Noble Swordancer.” Noele raised her head as she looked towards the sky. “She was a C-rank adventurer— the reason why I became an adventurer in the first place. And she had gone to the Frozar Mountains just about ten years ago, the lowest-leveled in an expedition of mostly B-ranks. Together, they took on a dangerous B-ranked Dungeon at the heart of that cold mountain range.”
Noele reminisced as her white eyes welled up. Her lips quivered, and her voice shook. She took in a deep breath, steeling herself as she continued.
“The Dungeon was called the Fallen Wyvern’s Keep. It’s no longer classified as a Dungeon under the Adventurer’s Guild because the expedition cleared it out. But at the very depths of that ruined castle is where my sister’s greatest accomplishment as an adventurer lies.”
I tilted my head, and Noele looked down at the palm of her hand.
“An undead wyvern guarded the castle’s vaults. It was the strongest monster in the Dungeon— the only A-ranked monster in that entirety of the Fallen Wyvern’s Keep. And after a hard-fought battle where dozens of other B-ranks died, my sister was the one to deal the finishing blow to that beast.”
That actually took me by surprise. “She killed an A-ranked monster even though she was a C-rank?”
“Yes,” Noele said, smiling almost proudly. “Nora always said it was luck. That the undead wyvern was badly injured— that anyone else would’ve been able to kill the undead wyvern at that point. But still— even though she was the lowest-leveled of the expedition… even though she was a C-rank… she still returned to Whiteridge, celebrated as a hero.”
“I… see now.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. I considered giving her a comforting pat on the shoulder, but I felt like it would’ve been too awkward. Instead, I just asked more questions. “So why do your parents want to visit that Dungeon? Just to remember what your sister has done?”
“Because, to this day, the wyvern’s skull lies at the bottom of the former Dungeon, with Nora’s name inscribed on it. With her greatest accomplishment forever etched into stone.” The blonde girl gritted her teeth as she lowered her head. “Because, when the Miststorm Riders attacked the Astrad Kingdom ten years ago, and my sister sacrificed herself to save me, they… never found a body.”
That was rather grim. Now I felt bad for not giving Noele any comforting words. I just wasn’t sure what was an appropriate response. I stood there, pursing my lips as Noele silently stared at the ground, tearing up as she remembered her sister.
Finally, I couldn’t stand the silence. I opened my mouth, reaching a hand out.
“Noele, I—” I started.
And a shout interrupted me.
Noele blinked, breaking out of her stupor. I glanced back as a dirty figure stood at the end of the street. It was Jax the Forsaken Archer. His face was bruised, and a few of his teeth had been knocked out. He bled from his mouth as he drank from a vial.
“Is that… an elf?”
“Wait, I recognize him. Isn’t he an S-rank adventurer—”
His shouting had attracted the attention of the nearby passersby. Heads turned to face the elf as he panted, tossing aside the potion. They stared in shock, backing away from the scene. I watched as the bruise on his face slowly vanished, and his broken teeth grew back. He smiled savagely at me as he raised his bow.
“Did you think you won with one lucky punch?” he cackled as he nocked an arrow onto his bow. “You merely caught me off-guard! But this duel isn’t ov—”
“You talk too much,” I cut him off, punching him in the face again.
He crashed into a nearby construction site, and I winced as a handful of wooden beams came crashing down. The dust settled as the onlookers exchanged a confused glance. I bit my lower lip as I stared at the collapsed building.
“I hope I don’t have to pay for that.”
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