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The Frozar Mountains.

It was a vast and expansive mountain range located at the very north of the Astrad Kingdom. Beyond it was the very tip of the continent of Laxo itself— where the dwarven enclave of Shorheim was located. Or an exclave, from the perspective of the Ashoreim Republic.

There weren’t very many dwarven territories here in Laxo, and those that were here tended to belong to one of the larger dwarven republics or federations in Alius. Of course, Saros wasn’t a dwarf. In fact, he hated dwarves because of how those bastards subjugated and enslaved his people in the Third Great War of Alius a thousand years ago.

His great great great great great great… great grandfather had fled Alius and settled down here in Laxo in the— then— small nation of Northera. Unfortunately, even though they had escaped slavery, it wasn’t like humans back then treated gnomes that much better.

In fact, considering that dwarves no longer owned slaves— they had collectively give that up about five hundred years ago— it could be argued that returning to Alius in this day and age was probably better for Saros since he could mingle among other gnomes rather than being an extreme minority in a human-dominated continent.

But he never left for Alius. Even when most of his extended family had decided to collectively move out of Laxo a decade ago. It sounded like a foolish decision— it probably was, but he stuck by it. And it was because of one reason and one reason only…

There was no Adventurer’s Guild in Alius.

Or, more specifically, they held very little presence in Alius. The Adventurer’s Guild mostly extended to the borders of Laxo because it was ultimately a human institution and human conception. Beyond that, they had no authority. They had tried to set up a few branches in Drazyl, but it completely failed because the elves saw no point in having such an institution in place.

And in Alius, they were a little more successful in establishing a handful of Adventurer’s Guild branches. A few dozen across the entire continent— which was not a lot, compared to the guild’s pervasive presence in Laxo. But since most dwarven countries already had state-wide institutions in place to deal with the subjugation of monsters, their jobs were sparse and hard to come by. They also had a single branch located in the middle of the largest naga tribe, but that was it, really.

The only continent the Adventurer’s Guild hadn’t tried to branch out to was the sunken continent of Mare. And that was because it was underwater, and merfolks tended to be aggressive towards land dwellers— and that was an understatement considering they had been locked in war with the elves in Drazyl for the last two-hundred years.

Although… Saros heard that the conflict was more severe than ever, and that it might come to an end soon. He just wasn’t sure which side was winning.

In any case, it would be utterly asinine for Saros to leave for Alius without an Adventurer’s Guild there. He didn’t spend the last three decades of his life leveling to become an A-rank adventurer to throw it all away just because his family wanted to leave this damn continent!

If they wanted to go, then fine. May the Thrones guide their souls to a prosperous life there. But Saros was going to stay here and live a lavish life as an A-rank. He didn’t care that these racist humans still discriminated against him for being a gnome even though he was a Level 56 [Magitech Tinkerer]. They quite literally called him the Gnome Inventor— as if he needed to have ‘gnome’ in his damn adventurer Title.

He also wasn’t so much of an inventor as he took discarded artifacts and appropriated them for other purposes. For example, he carried two bags at his side at the moment. One was an ordinary Bag of Holding— a normal artifact used by most adventurers who were at least D-rank. As an A-rank adventurer, his Bag of Holding was superior to theirs, of course. It could hold pretty much everything he’d need to survive with no resources in the Frozar Mountain for a full year.

But the second Bag of Holding wasn’t a Bag of Holding at all. Perhaps it had been a Bag of Holding once. Now though, after he unraveled the space magic enchantments weaving the insides of the linen, he had altered it to hold… well—

“Burn you damn skeleton!”

He opened the bag, and a blast of dark flames shot out, engulfing the charging undead. It was an ethereal skeleton, partially merged with a horse. A draugr. One that could only be raised by a high-leveled [Necromancer].

Saros watched as the undead reeled back for a moment, before finally dropping dead. Panting, the gnome quickly closed his Bag of Black Fire and tightened it.

“There shouldn’t be any draugrs in the Frozar Mountains,” he murmured as he stepped around the burning bones of the undead. “So the reports are right. It seems a [Necromancer] really has taken up a hideout all the way up here.”

He shook his head as he continued trudging through the snowy landscape. He knew it was going to be dangerous— but he was an adventurer. He accepted the job, and he would do it. It didn’t matter what foul creature resided up here. If absolutely necessary, Saros would just sneak his way through the traps and past the undead without alerting anyone.

He had done that before— no one ever noticed a foot and a half tall gnome lurking around their lair. And it wasn’t like this job was to exterminate anyone or anything. He was just supposed to find out what happened to the A-rank duo Skye the Silver Shade and Deon the Virtuous Guard— and the civilians they had been escorting— and either bring them back or report that they were dead.

“I could just pretend that I found them dead, but I’m not a damn fraud. No one else is going to go looking for them, and I didn’t get to A-rank by fleecing my jobs,” Saros mumbled to himself, his wispy cold breath visible in this snowy weather. “I should be getting close— need to be careful…”

The gnome reached into his Bag of Holding as he continued walking towards the base of a nearby mountain. But right as he crested a small hill, he came to a halt. He stared at the bottom of the hill, eyeing a pile of skeleton bones jutting out of the carpet of snow.

“What in an angel’s ass—” he started.

And Saros blinked as he swept his gaze over the landscape. His eyes widened at the realization that it wasn’t just a single pile of bones. An entire horde of draugr had been torn apart here. There had to have been enough bones for at least a hundred dead draugr. The gnome backed up as he stared at this sight.

“Who could have done this?” he asked, only to come to a halt as his back touched a fuzzy cool surface. He spun around and looked up, eyes bulging at what he saw. “A yeti…?”

A wall of white fur towered over the gnome. A twenty foot tall beast that leaned forward with its two long arms resting on the snowy ground. It huffed as its chest rose, and its crimson gaze bore into the gnome.

“N-no…” Saros stumbled back and dropped to his knees.

He wasn’t even going to try to fight it. It was an S-rank threat— a terrible creature that was native to the upper regions of Mount Arkais. But a long time ago, when an expedition of adventurers faced the Elder Dragon residing there in battle, a lot of the local monsters fled the scene, and now there was the extremely yeti sighting all the way over here in the Frozar Mountains.

And it was just the gnome’s luck that he had the fortune of having this extremely rare sighting up close.

“I-I… good yeti?” he said as he offered it a weak smile.

It roared and raised its large arms to crush him. There was no point in trying to run. Saros might as well just curl up into a ball and hope that it upped and walked away. It was just about to bring its fists down to turn the gnome into paste when it suddenly paused.

The yeti raised its head and turned around. Saros blinked, looking up.

What? He watched as the S-ranked beast’s attention was drawn back by something in the distance. It almost sounded like… voices.

“I am pretty sure it’s this way—”

“That’s what you said before we got lost for over an hour.”

“I didn’t have a map, alright! Give me a break, I’ve never been to the Frozar Mountains before...”

In the distance, a pair of young women emerged from the white canvas. They spoke casually, chatting with each other even as they traversed through the cold weather. They were dressed in light clothing— at least, for the Frozar Mountains— and didn’t seem to notice the yeti glaring at them.

Saros, however, did. The gnome watched as the two women unknowingly draw closer, before finally scrambling to his feet.

“What are you doing?” Saros called out as he scrambled to his feet. He reached for his Bag of Holding as the yeti spun back to face him. “Run!” he screamed, producing a glinting dagger.

But the two figures continued walking towards the S-rank monster, almost uncaring. The gnome bit his lower lip— they were insane! Or maybe they were blind. It didn’t matter. They were just going to get themselves killed. He raised the glinting dagger and pointed at the yeti as it let out a howl and barreled towards the pair.

“And you should’ve told me you’ve never been to the Frozar Mountains before. Have you seriously never visited your sister’s grave?”

“It’s not her grave— it’s a memorial. And I’ve always wanted to visit the Fallen Wyvern’s Keep. But I always stopped myself. I said I’d only come when I was finally an S-rank adventurer. But… now I have to.”

One of the two figures— a blonde girl— at least looked like she was a B-rank adventurer. But she was too busy mulling over something with her head lowered to react to the yeti. Meanwhile, the second figure— a brown-haired woman, probably a D-rank by the way she was dressed— just stared at the beast.

“C’mon— [Force Activate Artifact]! Why aren’t you working?” Saros cursed. Of all the times for his artifacts to malfunction. It even refused to respond to his Skill, which meant it was a complete failure in the magical framework.

The yeti beat drew closer and let out a final shriek. An ear-piercing screech that echoed in the Frozar Mountains, sending avalanches tumbling down in the distance. The giant ape-like beast reached the brown-haired woman and huffed, looming over her.

It beat its chest, panting as its enraged gaze bore into her bored face. She just stared back flatly. It was going to crush her— she was going to be turned to be nothing but ground meat in the snow. And there was nothing Saros could do about it.

He slowly lowered his dagger as a single thought crossed his mind. Maybe I should take this chance to run—

The yeti swung down at her as the Gnome Inventor winced. He closed his eyes as the attack came at the brown-haired human at incredible speeds. He closed his eyes, hearing the thudding blow echo across the Frozar Mountains.

A shockwave rippled over the white landscape. A powerful gust of wind swept up the snow in the ground, clearing a good hundred feet around the brown-haired woman. Slowly, Saros opened his eyes. He expected to see the yeti standing triumphantly over a pair of corpses. But his jaw dropped as he saw the brown-haired woman still standing, a hand raised, holding the yeti’s fist back with ease.

“W-what?” His eyes bulged out of their sockets.

The yeti growled, trying to pull back its arm, but she held on for a moment. Then she let got and flicked out a finger.

“Shoo,” she said as the giant S-rank beast went flying.

It yelped as it zipped past Saros. He watched, wide-eyed as the yeti crashed against a nearby hill. It raised its head, staring at the brown-haired woman.

She made a waving motion with her hand. “Get out of here.”

And the yeti screamed, scrambling away from her. It leapt into the air, crossing a hundred feet in an instant as it fled the scene. Saros just gaped as an S-rank monster was chased off like it was nothing but a stray dog.

When it was gone, the brown-haired woman turned to her companion and crossed her arms.

“So, are you sure we’re heading in the right direction?”

“Yes, Amelia, I’m sure,” the blonde girl sighed.

 

—--

 

I looked on as the yeti vanished into the distance, before turning back to Noele. I gave her a nod. “It’s gone. Let’s continue.”

“Right, we should be arriving soon,” she said as she started forward.

It had been an hour since we left Windrip, after hearing the news about her parents. We should have gotten here a long time ago, but we… got lost. So we had to find our way to Northon first— the closest city bordering the Frozar Mountains— and ask for directions before we could set out once again.

With no more distractions or obstacles in our path, we pressed on, following the map given to us. But right as we reached the edge of the hill, a small voice called out.

“Oh no you don’t!”

I blinked, looking around. But I didn’t see anything. Noele paused as I narrowed my eyes.

“This is my job— I’m not letting some S-rank adventurer steal my damn job!”

“Where’s that buzzing sound coming from?” I asked, turning to Noele.

She pursed her lips and pointed down. I raised a brow and blinked. Right at my feet was a little man— one that stood about as tall as my knee. He had a long white beard— even if he didn’t quite look that old— and he wore a thick set of winter clothing. He carried a sack at his back, and a second smaller bag hung off his belt.

He raised an angry fist at me as he cursed. “Why don’t you do a quest your own level, you damn leech!”

“You’re…?” I tilted my head at him.

“He’s a gnome, Amelia,” Noele explained. “And I think I recognize him— he’s Saros the Gnome Inventor.”

“Don’t you dare call me that, woman!” he shouted, pointing angrily at the blonde girl. “I am not an inventor, and I am not just a gnome. I have had enough of these accursed stereotypes. Call me Saros, simple as that.” He crossed his arms.

Noele scratched her cheek. “Oh, uh, sorry.”

He just harrumphed and glared at me. “I got to the Fallen Wyvern’s Keep first— this job is mine. So begone.”

I glanced around the snowy landscape. When I saw nothing but snow and bones, I turned back to him.

“No you didn’t,” I said flatly. “We aren’t even there yet.”

“That’s…” He opened his mouth, then paused. He gritted his teeth, realizing I was right. “You—” he started, but Noele quickly spoke up.

“Sorry, Mr Saros—”

“I don’t care for your damn formalities.”

“Right, Saros,” she said with a nod. “But you’re here for the search quest, right? And that’s why you’re heading to the Fallen Wyvern’s Keep too.”

“I am, yes.” The gnome shook his head and gave me a sidelong glance. “I trekked all the way up here even though I have to trudge through all this damn snow and now…” he grumbled to himself.

Noele spoke placatingly. “We are here for the same reason as you. Just not… for the rewards. I think it would be better for us if we work together rather than work against each other. You can even keep all the gold at the end of it—”

My brows snapped together. “I didn’t agree to that.”

“I’ll make it up to you, Amelia,” she said as she gave me a pleading look. “Please.”

I saw the look in her eyes— the worried expression she had for her parents. I just waved a hand dismissively. “I’m kidding, Noele. I don’t actually care about money that much.” I wasn’t, really.

“Thank you.” She smiled at me gratefully.

Saros just blinked at us. He furrowed his bushy brows and ran a hand through his beard. “Wait, are you saying that I can tag along with an S-rank adventurer and get paid at the end? That’s…”

I almost wanted to correct him— tell him that I wasn’t an S-rank adventurer— but decided against it. Explaining myself would take too much time. I just nodded and started down the hill.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said simply. “You can even help us find this Dungeon since Noele doesn’t know where we’re going.”

“But I do—” she protested.

I glanced back at the gnome as he hurried down the hill, pushing through a layer of snow that went up to his neck.

I continued, “Just don’t slow us down.”

He nodded eagerly. “Of course, I won’t—”

And he flopped over, face-flat on the tall snow. I paused and stared at him flatly. Noele just blinked. He jumped back to his feet, cursing.

“It’s not my fault, alright? I’m a gnome— this snow is too damn tall! Try putting yourself in my shoes! What do you want me to do?”

I just sighed, “I didn’t say anything.”

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