Chapter 5: Conflicting Conclusions
With that, Valtan and I miraculously scaled down the sheer cliff face unscathed despite our horrible luck with cliff faces in the past and started making our way back to the encampment.
It probably wasn’t even 5 minutes of walking before we heard the iconic rowdy laughter and sounds of iron being struck that radiated from the encampment itself.
The sounds grew louder as we approached closer to the Harbinger’s camp. Upon arriving at the entrance of the encampment, one of Valtan’s comrades who was clinging on to one of the dilapidated roofs managed to spot us coming in. He immediately called out enthusiastically at the sight of his great leader returning home, flashing him a wide smile.
“Valtan! …And fresh meat!”
His face then twisted into a puzzled expression as his words faltered. It was almost as if he was struggling to find the words to call me.
Oi! What’s with that expression and nickname?
But before I could retort at him loudly, a sudden voice called out from deep in the encampment, before various other voices chimed in from all directions.
“Hey, guys, Valtan’s back!”
“What? Valtan’s back?”
It was a cacophony of crude voices as almost everyone in the encampment joined in on the racket. Frankly, I thought I would never have to hear anything more terrifying or obnoxious than the screams from the Empire’s attack on Varich that night, but here I was, cupping my ears with my hands as I braced my eardrums for the ensuing onslaught.
Oh Gods above, make it stop! I’d much rather hear the much-loathed birds than this bunch of buffoons screaming incoherently. More than that, why the hell would someone like Valtan be this popular too?
“Alright alright! Settle down guys, it’s not like I’d perish from a simple mission like this… Despite the unforeseen circumstances we faced…”
Valtan patted the air in front of him, signalling for them to calm down before attempting to take a glance at me and Asclepius.
“Eh?! Where’s Asclepius?”
He stared wide-eyed at me.
“Where’s Ascl – ”
I scanned the surroundings frantically.
That’s right. The man on the rooftop didn’t acknowledge Asclepius when we first arrived either.
Confused looks appeared on the faces of Valtan’s fellow companions, while Valtan himself and I searched desperately for Asclepius, but to no avail.
Oh crap! We lead Asclepius straight into our camp. If he betrays is now, everyone here will be in danger!
“Wait, what’s this rumbling sound?”
Valtan inquired openly to his companions with a perplexed expression, simultaneously warning and hoping that one of them would possibly notice.
Someone from behind bellowed back to Valtan just as the ground started trembling.
Just like the tiny pebbles strewn across the dusty surfaces that bounced up and down, the legs of men wobbled uncontrollably with the shaking ground.
Suddenly, a perfectly cut, not-so-tiny slab of earth beside one of the men flew vertically upwards, narrowly missing him, leaving a behind a clenched blue fist in the centre of the gaping hole.
At the appearance of the blue fist, shock and confusion diffused throughout the encampment, while Valtan and I could only smile weakly.
Don’t tell me we have to fight that monster again!
Emerging behind the blue fist were 2 sets of thick and fat blue fingers as they gripped onto the edge of the hole, while the same blue fist simultaneously disappeared back into the hole. Lifting himself up, the gruesome face of Asclepius had finally made an appearance.
Fear and bewilderment erupted among Valtan’s comrades as they caught a glimpse of this unworldly being.
Drawing my sword, I quickly glanced at Valtan as he hesitantly gripped and released his hold on the backup hunting knife that he carried along since Marcy was broken. Biting his lower lip, he kept his gaze trained on Asclepius.
What are you doing? Draw the knife already! You can beat him, can’t you?
I cheered silently for Valtan in my heart, afraid that my voice would break the tense atmosphere. But as if coming to a decision, Valtan released his hold on the hunting dagger for the last time and walked forward to meet Asclepius, who had already crawled out of the hole he made.
Standing tall with the sun on his back, Asclepius crossed his upper arms, while his lower arm could only dangle awkwardly as it had lost its pair during the fight with Valtan.
“Thank you for trusting me and not striking me down.”
“Sure… And with such a flashy entrance, may I ask where the hell you disappeared to?”
Confronting Asclepius, Valtan stared daggers into Asclepius’ eyes. He looked neither afraid nor worried of this terrible could-be foe, concerning himself instead with the possible outcome of a fight breaking out here in the middle of the camp and the true loyalties of Asclepius.
“I was drawn to the large amounts of Manatite that lie just below your base, which is perfect considering I was running out of it back in the cave.”
“Manatite?… That can’t be true, can it? It’s a very rare mineral, why would there be large amounts of it lying just below us?”
To Asclepius’ calm response, Valtan’s face cracked in amusement and disbelief. Sceptical looks unfurled among the people and I, too, was no exception.
Wait, What? That can’t be true can it? Even back at Varich, a heavily mercantile town, Manatite was a rare item that only the rich adventurers and nobles could probably afford, so there was no way your average citizen could. Famously known for being filled to the brim with magical energy, it’s a core ingredient for those Empire Vitality potions and also a good reserve energy supply for magic casters alike.
Thinking back on it now, the surprised looks of the surrounding people were completely justified by an equally absurd claim from Asclepius.
Meanwhile, seeing that the disbelief that was rapidly spreading, Asclepius walked to the hole he emerged from not too long ago and bent forward, reaching in to and pulling out what seemed to be large glowing sapphire-like crystals, pulsating softly on his palm.
“Who da hell is he?! No, what da hell is he?!”
A man demanded as he stepped out from the crowd.
Wait, Isn’t that Lennair?
“How da heck is he able to detect the presence of Manatite?!”
Pointing his sword outwards, he scowled at Valtan, suspicious of his leader’s intentions.
The noisy atmosphere immediately plunged into pindrop silence as Lennair openly challenged Valtan.
However, Valtan reacted cooly and turned to face address Lennair and everyone else.
“This is Asclepius. He’s a cyclops who was living in the mountains and handled the bear which was stealing our supplies. He’s now my… personal retainer so can I ask that everyone treat him like your fellow comrade.”
Valtan raised his hands in surrender and waved them as he tried to calm the residents of the camp. But with a mischievous smirk, he continued.
“Though if you have things to settle with him, you may fight it out with him outside the camp.”
Asclepius then walked in front of Valtan and bowed courteously with a hand clutching his abdomen and another behind his back.
“Nice to meet everyone. I hope we can all get along together.”
His red eyes glinted excitedly as he said that, sending shivers down everyone’s spines.
Well everyone except one, because…
“Oh yeah, guys! Since Valtan’s back, why don’t we celebrate it with a Festae later?!”
Suggested someone from amidst the crowd to Valtan, causing cheers and roars to erupt from everyone, completely eliminating the tense atmosphere of before.
With a wry smile, Valtan could not say no to the overwhelming response of the crowd.
“Sure… but try not to get too drunk since the Empire is still hot on our heels and we won’t be able to fight them off if we’re drunk.”
Another round of cheers reverberated among the crowd to Valtan’s positive answer.
What’s a Festae?
But before I could ask Valtan, he continued with a serious expression as he gave out instructions.
“With that, Lennair, can I ask you to set up accommodation and equipment for Asclepius, as well as the necessary preparations for the Festae later?”
Sheathing his sword, Lennair obeyed as he made a sour and dubious expression, before walking off towards his home, beckoning Asclepius to follow.
Seeing the figures of Asclepius and Lennair disappear into the distance, Valtan then came to my side and murmured into my ear.
“Could you follow me to my room later so that I can check on your wounds.”
From Valtan’s tone, there’s probably some ulterior motive but there isn’t really a reason for me to decline…
“Sure I guess.”
Patting my shoulder, Valtan walked off deeper into the encampment, while the crowd slowly dispersed and went back to what they were doing.
Written by: Emelia-Tan
Edited by: Schwarz13 and Mega14343
Proofread by: Yakult