Carve a Path to the Confederacy – Part 01
The Half Dragon girl asked herself the same question over and over, but she couldn’t quite figure it out.
Why would Silver Face help her? He was short, but judging by the ease with which he helped her escape, he must be highly skilled. She speculated that he was quite old. This misunderstanding stemmed from Hikaru lowering his voice when talking to Jillarte.
Why would he help me?
That was her biggest question.
There weren’t many motivations behind a human’s actions. Was it money? No, he likely knew she didn’t have much. Was it for the good of her race? But he knew very little about the Dragonfolk.
Was he after her body, then?
That’s the most unlikely reason.
Jillarte knew more than anyone that Half Dragons were hideous. Their cloudy eyes, dull scales, skin, and hair made them a shunned race in Einbiest. Even healthy Half Dragons often looked sick.
Silver Face always concealed his features with a hood and mask, leaving it unclear whether he had dark hair underneath. Neither he nor his two companions ever removed their masks either.
Wait. Do they have scars that they can’t show to people? Is that why he felt sorry for me? Or maybe he has some fetish where he doesn’t get turned on unless he hides his face.
Her thoughts were starting to get derailed.
But there was one thing she knew—the only one she could rely on at the moment was Silver Face.
I’ll have to pay this debt back someday.
She let out a sigh.
If only my appearance were more attractive to humans, I could pay him back in so many ways.
Unbeknownst to her, her thoughts were turning into feelings of fondness towards Silver Face.
“If you’re going to Einbiest anyway, you might as well go to the Adventurers’ Guild and take a delivery commission,” Kelbeck had suggested.
Completing commissions that spanned distant cities helped in raising adventurer rank. Hikaru’s current rank was G, the lowest. Raising it to F would give him some credibility.
Just before leaving Pond, Hikaru and Paula went to the Adventurers’ Guild to look for a delivery commission. They had planned to deliver Jillarte to the Dragonfolk in Leather-elka, but there were no commissions to the fortress city. It was possible, though, that the Adventurers’ Guild had simply refused to accept any of them at the moment because of the chaos.
So Hikaru decided to take a commission that would take them across the border to Einbiest. The client was Kelbeck, which was quite concerning.
“Are you going out of the kingdom?” Aurora, a receptionist, had asked with a dubious look on her face.
She was a beautiful woman with a mysterious air; it was hard to discern her thoughts. Freya was not around at this hour, so Hikaru talked to Aurora instead.
Regular commissions didn’t require going through a receptionist, but for delivery ones, the adventurer had to take custody of the item first.
“If I complete this commission, I can rank up, right?” Hikaru asked.
“Yes. But not the lady with you.”
Unlike Hikaru, who had been taking on commissions on his own, Paula had only completed a few so far, so she couldn’t get promoted just yet even if they completed this commission.
“Well, it shouldn’t take long before you get promoted. Let’s do our best.”
“Okay. Thank you, Lord Hikaru.”
Aurora looked more and more puzzled as she watched Hikaru being addressed with such reverence. Nevertheless, she brought the item—a small wooden box, securely locked, with a letter inside.
Hikaru was worried about what Freya would say if he told her that he was leaving the country, so he was relieved that Aurora was in charge. Gloria, another receptionist, was cunning and not to be trusted. It was a good thing he didn’t have to deal with her either.
Leaving Ponsonia was perfect for Hikaru. The king was still alive and plotting to capture Lavia, the suspected murderer of Count Morgstadt and the most powerful user of Fire Magic in the kingdom. It was best to keep a distance until the king abdicated, as per the Fire Drakon’s order, or until the heat had died down.
“How long will you be in Einbiest?” Aurora asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” Hikaru replied warily. “Why do you ask?
“Freya will miss you.”
“O-Oh. I don’t think we’ll be back anytime soon, but I’m not quite sure yet. But it won’t be that long, I hope.”
“Okay. I’ll tell her that.” Aurora gave a modest smile.
She’s pretty, all right, Hikaru thought. Still enigmatic, though.
“Do you have a thing for older beauties?” Paula, wearing a frown, asked after they left the guild.
Hikaru did not know what to say.
The journey by carriage was going smoothly. Paula had served as a driver many times in the village of Cotton-elka, so she mainly sat on the driver’s seat while teaching Hikaru how to handle a horse.
Five days had passed since they departed from Pond; they should be able to see Leather-elka tomorrow. There was little danger since they traveled on the highway, but there was a possibility of Jillarte’s pursuers coming after them. As a precaution, Paula secured the lodgings for the whole group.
To hide Jillarte, Hikaru used his Group Cloaking as they entered the inn, and slept until morning. Since they stayed in a twin room, two of them had to sleep on the floor with blankets.
Upon waking up, they used Group Cloaking to return to the carriage. The repetitive process was taking a toll on them. Lavia, in particular, looked exhausted.
“Ugh… I don’t feel so good,” Lavia said.
She was leaning against Hikaru, who was holding the reins, while enjoying the fresh air outside on the driver’s seat.
There were two roads leading to Leather-elka: the well-maintained new road with heavy traffic and the winding old road with less traffic. They had encountered a company of knights heading towards Leather-elka three times now. Each time they used Group Cloaking and let them go past, but it was still nerve-wracking.
Hikaru and his companions chose the old road to avoid meeting too many people. The area was desolate, with scattered forests in the distance and a mountain range in the direction they were heading.
“What is that?”
Huge rocks were sitting by the side of the road, providing a convenient camping spot for travelers. In fact, people seemed to have used it in the past.
The rocks were shaking. A long, slender rock fell over and clung to a rock next to it. Rocks trembled as they stuck together.
“This can’t be natural.”
Hikaru checked ahead and behind them, and saw no one. He surmised that they were under attack.
“We’ve got company! Flower Face, take the reins!”
Hikaru stopped the horse and dismounted from his seat. About ten rocks were already clinging to each other, rolling out onto the road.
It had legs, arms, and stood up. A humanoid rock.
“A Stone Golem!”
The ground rumbled as it lumbered toward them.
“What?! This is bad!” Jillarte appeared from inside the carriage. “Swords don’t work on that thing! Let’s get out of here, Silver Face!”
Fleeing was not an option for Hikaru.
“Lavia, can you move?” he asked.
Lavia, her face pale, brandished a short wand—a new weapon.
“Are you listening?! We should leave!” Jillarte shouted. “You can’t stop that thing unless you take down the Sorcerer!”
The Stone Golem was not a monster, but an artificial life form powered by sorcery. At its core was a fuel body that supplied energy, and it followed a pre-programmed set of actions. It was considered a dark kind of sorcery.
It was unclear whether it was programmed to attack anyone or target a specific individual.
Controlling the Stone Golem was not too difficult, but the fuel it required was expensive. Using it to attack random people was, therefore, not cost-effective.
Hikaru glanced behind him. He was certain that Jillarte was the target.
Who was controlling it, then?
“Show us a big one, then,” Hikaru said.
The earth groaned as the Stone Golem advanced. It started slow and cautious, then gradually took long strides, until it was sprinting at full speed.
“O’ Spirits, heed my call. A raging fire is what I desire. Fire to burn down all living things, all creation, the laws of the universe!”
“Did you not hear me?!” Jillarte tried to jump out.
“N-No, don’t!” But Paula managed to grab her in time.
Paula wouldn’t normally be able to hold Jillarte back, but Jillarte froze abruptly.
The ground beneath Lavia began to glow.
“Dance, Spirits! I offer you my mana, so sing, Spirits! Take back our once pure world and burn everything down to ashes.”
A huge magic circle appeared ten meters above her. A massive ball of flames emerged from it, illuminating Jillarte’s forehead and emitting intense heat.
The Stone Golem was an artificial life form. Therefore, it had no emotions—no fear or worry—and thus did not take evasive action. The fireball—a long, serpentine flame—hit the Stone Golem head-on and knocked it down.
The ground shook, and a cloud of dust rose. The flames flew away, oblivious to the impact, and gradually dissipated into the air.
“Wow,” was all Hikaru could utter.
Lavia exhaled. She used to break into a sweat after each shot, but now it just seemed as if she finished a light workout.
Jillarte alone appeared astonished.
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