We rolled into town later in the afternoon than expected, due to our new companion. Having filled his belly, the kid opened himself up to us, more willing to tag along. In particular, he started to cling onto my sleeve in the carriage, never once letting go during the ride. I guess the first step to healing one’s heart was through his stomach.
Along the way, we managed to learn about his background up until now. He simply referred to himself as Luda, and he had been summoned less than a month ago. His master had been part of the army, but upon the news that an Electi had been summoned, they quickly gained a lot of unwanted attention.
As Luda was still trying to learn his way around the world, they were suddenly attacked by his master’s fellow soldiers. Pointing fingers at him, baseless accusations were shouted that his master had been improperly holding onto a valuable war piece. A fight ensued when they reached to take Luda into custody, in which his master urged him to escape. Not until he saw the one person he trusted being run through with a sword, that he mustered the will to run.
Not knowing where to go or what to do, Luda simply ran. Tripping over objects and running into walls before he could realize of their presence, the people and scenery blurred around him. Though still unused to his abnormal speed, he had no time to worry about it. The pain, the anguish of leaving someone behind, which felt somewhat familiar, drove him forward.
Before long, he found himself surrounded by trees, the surroundings quiet save for his own breathing. Though he knew not where he was, the stinging cold against his body had been the same as his home world. This was not a situation that he couldn’t handle.
Using his survival skills and his speed, Luda managed to survive in the wilderness for the next week. When he had the energy to do so, he would travel southwards, where he could feel the temperature gradually rise. It had just so happened that he ran into a group of travelers stopping for a snack.
“Sounds like he came from the northern country.” Eryn guessed, hearing this.
Nodding in confirmation, Saki joined in the discussion. “Reports have been made that Purnesia is gathering up their military forces recently. I wouldn’t doubt that they would’ve wanted to train an Electi to do their bidding.”
“But to kill his master? What scum!” I bit my finger in disgust.
It was no wonder the kid felt insecure around people. His only lifeline in this world had been ruthlessly murdered in front of him.
“This doesn’t sit well with me either. But for now, we have a mission to do. We can worry about these things later.” Saki reminded us of our duty.
The signs of civilization appeared outside our windows. Different from structures built elsewhere, the architecture appeared more simple and closer to nature. Rather than the smooth surfaces of walls created by Earth magic, these buildings were constructed mainly out of wood. Saki stared at the scenery with a slight glisten of moisture in her eyes. The scenery being akin to rural Japan had likely brought up feelings of homesickness.
Regardless, her expression returned to normal after we got off the carriage, and we began our official duties.
“Claude, why don’t you clean up Luda a bit while we talk to the people here?” Eryn handed me a few coins, no doubt to get some new clothing for our new companion.
Luda and I split off from them and went to what looked like a fabric store. The buildings had a fairly open layout that allowed me to peer into them from a distance.
I searched around for something suitable in size while Luda waited outside. In general, it looked like the people here wore a simple, loose robe that was tied up with a drawstring and some pants. Eyeing one that looked like it would fit, I purchased them from the seamstress that resided there. The seamstress had noticed how dirty Luda was and felt pity for him. Tossing me a towel, she directed us over to a bathroom where he could refresh himself and change.
I had planned to help him clean up, but he simply grabbed both the towel and clothes, promptly shutting the door in my face. Guess he didn’t trust me that much yet.
Minutes later, a much cleaner and refreshed Luda came out. Having removed the dirt covering his face, I could now see that he had a fair complexion. His piercing blue eyes contrasted the light skin, complementing the distinct appearance of one that came from Eastern Europe.
“Well, let’s get going. I’m not sure what the others have planned for you, but we were on the way to slay a dragon.”
I chuckled to myself, in which Luda looked at me oddly.
“No…I don’t think so. The other two are far better fighters than me. I’m just a chef.”
The two of us made our way back, easily finding the other two companions around a group of people.
Their eyebrows were furrowed as they examined the barrel of water in front of them.
“The smell of sulfur, huh. It’s so strong. No wonder your crops are bad,” Saki noted.
“This is how it’s been since that dragon came to live in the mountains. We have no choice but to use it,” a villager said with a dark expression.
The barrel of groundwater had a pungent odor of rotten eggs. If this was their drinking water, then I’d be depressed too. In addition, this bad water had hurt their harvest, so they were eager to solve this issue before their planting season began.
“What kind of crops do you harvest?” I asked, a bit curious.
“Potatoes, wheat, cabbage, rice-“
“Rice?” Both Saki and I chimed in at the same time.
Looking at each other, we saw a glint in each other’s eyes. Owing to the fact that we were both Asian, our interest suddenly perked up at the staple food of our past lives. I had completely forgotten about it, but there had been hardly any rice sold in the market for several months. Other than when I first arrived and made curry, I had been disappointed to find the availability plummet over time. So, this was the reason.
“Let’s get that dragon! We must save the rice!” I started the battle cry.
“Onward! For the rice!”
A strange bond had formed between us as we were motivated to slay the root of the problem.
As we both excitedly rushed towards the direction of the mountains, Eryn was left staring dumbly at our backs.
“I swear. People from another world make no sense to me.”
As Eryn had no other choice but to follow us, she turned to the villagers and asked them to look after Luda, before jogging to catch up.
However, Luda had other plans. As soon as they had looked away, he, too, dashed toward the mountains.
Scaling the mountainside, the scent of sulfur permeated the air as we got closer to the supposed nesting place of the dragon. The foliage along the mountain got more barren, a tell-tale sign of which direction to go.
With Eryn’s magic and Saki’s brute power, we hoped that a surprise attack could make quick work of it. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I could do. It’s not like I knew where to strike a dragon. It took quite a bit of trial and error to become accustomed to the weak points of each different species of monster.
Eryn had briefed me on its characteristics. Fire breath, hard scales, flight – basically all the bad things that would make the fight a tough one normally. The only positive point to note was that they usually fed in the morning and evenings, often being asleep at other times. We still had a few hours before it would wake up and go on the prowl.
As the trail of dead flora brought us to the front of a large entrance to a cavern, we could hear a low, rhythmic rumble coming from within. Quietly inching forward, we could make out noises of what sounded like snoring.
“It will not be easy to fight it in its den. No room to maneuver,” Saki whispered to us.
“Should we roast it with Eryn’s magic? Does barbeque dragon even taste good?” I commented, which earned me weird looks.
“It’s a ‘dragon’. You know, the fire-breathing kind? Why would fire magic do any good here?”
Oh right, I felt like an idiot. That left Eryn with only wind spells, which weren’t nearly as useful in an enclosed space. It seemed like she had to gather and compress the air around her for it to be more effective.
“Saki, can’t you just walk up to it and smash it with your hammer? You split the ground the last time we saw you.”
“And cause a cave-in? No, thank you.” Saki crossed her arms in rejection.
It looked like we had no choice but to wake it up and lure it out of the cave first. However, Eryn had another idea.
“Claude, you should go stab it.”
“I should WHAT?” My voice came out a little louder than I meant to.
“You’re the only one that can discreetly do any damage to it, so, of course, it’s our best option.”
Eryn’s explanation made sense. If I could cleave it with my knife, it would be possible to slay it in its sleep. But we were looking at ideal cases here. If something went wrong, I’d become a stain on the cavern wall.
Saki looked a bit skeptical too, but lacking any other ideas, she hesitated to voice any objections.
“Can you please give it a try?” Eryn looked at me with shimmering eyes as she grabbed my hands.
“Fine! But if it starts waking up, I’m getting the hell out of there.”
Seriously, I felt like there were times that Eryn knew exactly how to pull my strings. I unsheathed my knife and crept forward, making as little noise as possible.
Though there wasn’t anything illuminating the inside of the cave, the bit of light from the entrance was just enough after my eyes were given time to adjust.
I could see a huge form in the distance. Its body gently shifted from slow, rhythmic breathing. Approaching forward cautiously, I looked back several times to gauge the distance that I would have to traverse in case I had to make a quick escape. 2…no, 3 seconds at my current speed.
As the hind leg of the dragon came into striking distance, that distance grew to 5 seconds. Would 5 seconds be short enough, or would I breathe my last here? Eryn’s status check didn’t work on the dragon, due to its high level. The imposing number of 64 hovered over its large figure. In contrast, the three of us were hovering just below the level 50 mark.
Gripping my knife tightly, I traced the edge across the scaly surface of the dragon’s thigh. The only response was a dull scraping as my knife dragged along the uneven skin, signifying a lack of weak points. Moving on, I tested various locations while keeping an eye for any interruption in the loud snoring that echoed around the cave.
It seemed like the appendages had no obvious places that I could take advantage of, so I tried its stomach next. The dragon had been sleeping on its side, with its belly curled away from the cave’s entrance. It was a risky move as I would no longer have a direct path to the exit, but the scales covering its back were thick and hard, making it obvious that I didn’t need to check. Since I couldn’t cut off its mobility, executing a surprise attack that did not fatally injure it would drastically reduce the chances of my survival.
The underbelly of the huge monster was softer to the touch, confirming that this should be the place for me to target. Since I detected no change in its sleeping pattern up to this point, I used the next moments to feel around its body to understand its anatomy better. The gurgling of its stomach, the puffing of its lungs, the gentle beating of its heart – the sounds of its body guided me to the right location.
I would only have one chance to strike, so I had to make it count. Bringing my blade over the heart, I made very shallow incisions to verify a weak point in which my knife could enter. A slight trickle of blood caught my attention, marking the correct spot. Just when I was about to bring my knife down swiftly, I heard a loud snort. Its large body shifted, and my knife glided across its chest before sinking into a different spot than I was targeting. Instantly, the dragon jerked, knocking me backwards and into a bed of straw. Something cracked and gave way as my back collided into it.
I felt dampness seep into the seat of my pants, leaving an uncomfortable feeling. A strange odor permeated the air. All of these gave me a bad feeling. I quickly turned around and saw several eggs resting next to me.
“Oh shit…,” I whispered, having confirmed my suspicion.
I pounced to my feet and bolted for the entrance. At that same time, the dragon had woken up and sniffed the air. Realizing what I had done, it let out a loud roar as it eyed my figure racing towards the exit.
As the light hit my body, the dragon’s roar bowled me over, launching me into a roll down the mountain. I caught myself at one point and returned to my feet, continuing to dash away from the cavern.
However, the dragon would not allow me to escape, having smelled the evidence of my wrongdoing on my backside. It flapped its wings and soared over me before landing ahead to cut off my futile escape. Its landing shook the ground under me and caused me to stop in my tracks.
The dragon’s intimidating figure was enough to make a man fall to his knees crying. Having faced a demon before who had been just as terrifying, my fear stopped just short of that, yet I still couldn’t bring my legs to move. Eryn and Saki were still far away, racing to catch up. They wouldn’t be able to make it in time. I helplessly watched as the dragon raised its claw for the strike of death.
“Hey! Dragon egg…have!” A voice yelled out.
The dragon held back its swipe as the sight of someone else now reflected in its eyes. A young child, who shouldn’t have been here, carrying an armful of dragon eggs now became the focus of the dragon’s rage.