(Author’s Note: Hiya everyone! I’m glad you all seem to be enjoying this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’m honestly looking very forward to when more action-y things happen, as well as bigger plot developments. I highly encourage you all to hop onto the RTD discord and acquire the S4K fan tag so you can be tagged with teasers, updates, and perhaps more?~ Plus you’ll get to ask me anything you’d like as long as it doesn’t spoil the plot, that’s a perk, right? QQ. Happy reading! PlasticSaint edited this bad boy too!)
Shortly after Kara left, two servants arrived to escort them to their rooms. Rox’s escort was the now-familiar butler, but his attempts at conversation were met with silence. Rox followed obediently until the silent butler opened a door for him, indicating this was his room for the night. Once inside he was pleasantly surprised to find a relatively normal room in this ostentatious mansion, although it seemed to be an illusion of some kind. The entire room seemed to have been enchanted with illusion-type magic to look like the room of an inn. The walls looked like simple wood, however, were obviously marble to the touch, as was the rest of the room. It did have a wonderful bay window, similar to the greeting room, however, it seemed to look out on a different section of the courtyard that was primarily dedicated to a man-made lake for swimming. The bed was large, had a comfortable blanket, and was quite soft. There was a chest at the foot of the bed, where he placed his sword belt and utility cloak. Since they would most likely be leaving very early in the morning, he decided it might be best to get some rest.
Unfortunately, anxious about the trip, he wasn’t able to fall asleep. Feeling a bit childish, he noticed a door that he had not seen before. It seemed to lead to a balcony overlooking the lake. Giving up on sleep for now, he opened the door and stepped out into the cool night air, leaving the balcony door open behind him. Walking to the balustrade, he leaned forward enjoying the view, seeing as this would probably be his last chance to enjoy something like this until his quest was over. Which may be never, seeing as he had been forcefully adopted as a student under Kara Aqua. Even with all the money that she had earned as an orichalcum adventurer, and the Aqua family fortune, he was amazed someone could be so arrogant.
He heard the door of his room open and reacted instinctively. While grabbing for the sword usually at his waist with his right hand, he turned to face the intruder, kicking hard off the ground; dashing faster than any creature should be able to do even with the assistance of magic. He put his left arm out in front of him grabbing them by the neck, slamming them hard into the wall. The marble behind the illusory wall cracked with the impact and the intruder yelped in pain, going limp in his grip. It was in that moment that Rox let go, backed away one step, and slashed diagonally downward with the sword that should have been in his right hand.
All of his actions had been on reflex, his body not even registering that his swords were not there. Normally a fatal mistake, however in this case, it was quite the opposite. At the end of his slash, he became very thankful that he had removed his sword belt earlier. Kara Aqua lay gasping for breath on the floor, barely maintaining her consciousness. He quickly dropped to his knees to check the severity of her injuries, Rox cursed himself under his breath for losing his composure over something as silly as the sound of a door. Apologizing, mentally, for doing so without permission, he felt her lower ribs and along her back to check for breaks, careful not to go too high in certain areas. He found a small break on her right side, not so surprisingly on her shoulder blade. He cursed himself once more as she finally managed to catch her breath and speak. To his surprise, she seemed more excited than angry.
“That was incredible!” She exclaimed, coughing again, the impact seemed to have some lasting effects. “How did you do that without a strength or speed of at least level four? Wait, first I need to heal.” She visibly calmed herself, closed her eyes, and placed a hand on her chest. Rox could tell she was concentrating magic, and a moment later she was enveloped by a green light. Ten seconds or so passed before the light faded and she opened her eyes. She sighed in relief and rolled her shoulder a few times to see if it was fully healed before speaking again. “You! Explain. Now. You owe me that much.” Her tone suddenly stern.
His relief at her recovery quickly turned to dread as he realized his situation, but he hid it and decided to answer her questions for now. At least she was not yelling at him, despite his deserving it. “First, I apologize for what happened. If I can do anything to make it up to you, I will gladly do so. As for explaining how I’m capable of doing that, I already have explained. I told you that I survived in the Forest of Giants by fighting the creatures there. This much was the bare minimum to survive. I was there for over two hundred years, Kara.”
Kara took a moment, recalling what he had said, before replying. “I see, I suppose you did. I’m sorry for not believing you. With this kind of power, you are certainly capable of fighting a hippogriff, or possibly even stronger creatures.” She paused for a moment, then her eyes lit up, like a merchant finding an especially good trade. “As for what you can do to make up for it, how about you act as our guide when we reach our second destination.” Her voice was sly, it made him anxious.
Having told her that he had only been to the city of Fira, he assumed that was where she was referring to. “Your guide? I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t be much good leading you around Fira. Once I found out that my family was gone, I didn’t spend more than a few days there.” He said, melancholy in his voice.
“No. I want you to be our guide in the Forest of Giants.” She said, her lime green eyes reflecting in his. “I won’t let you say no. You said you would do anything to make up for injuring your employer.”
Rox was cornered, unable to answer for several seconds while he processed her words. The serious tone of her voice and the look in her eyes made him realize that this was no mere joke. He shook his head, not as an answer, but in disbelief. “Why would you want to go to such a hellish place? Even adamantium adventurers avoid that place because of the high risk of meeting giants, or worse, dragonoids.”
The Forest of Giants was named after the large population, and variety, of different races of giants that called it their home. However, and perhaps worse, there was also a small tribe of dragonoids that lived as nomads in the forest. They kept to themselves most of the time, however, they had a habit of showing up anytime a large fight took place due to the fact that they were battle maniacs. They loved to fight powerful opponents. The reason they lived there was their belief that anyone who could put up a fight against a giant would be a worthy adversary. There lies the largest danger, their sentience. They were as intelligent, if not more so, than humans and elves.
Kara’s eyes did not deviate from his, he could not tell whether she was truly fearless, or simply did not know what real fear was.“There is a powerful seal located there that seems to be related to the Aetherous. I would be killing two birds with one stone if I went there to study it. No one has ever been able to do an in-depth study of it, so I might be able to glean some knowledge never discovered before if I were able to see it.” She leaned forward towards him as she began to speak more passionately, a few strands of her hair falling over her shoulder to hang in front of her. She was leaning on her hands, now placed on his knee, probably without realizing it.
“What makes you so sure of that? Even if we do manage to make it to the ruins, where the seal I believe you’re referring to is, what makes you so confident you’ll be able to figure anything out by studying it?” He ignored how close she was, seeing keeping her from getting them all killed as a bit more important.
“I have the intelligence ability, it happens to be level three now. If I use it to enhance myself to the maximum, I am sure I will be able to learn something. Even if I don’t learn much, I know I can do it.” She seemed confident, her voice unwavering. It would be insulting to reject her passion, as well as her determination, at this point.
Intelligence was a physical skill that enhanced one’s ability to process information while also boosting creativity. It was a highly difficult ability to level up, since it required discovering information that had never been known before to reach the next level; unlike most abilities which required increasingly advanced knowledge of the related ability, and a magic capacity that could handle it. Another key factor that separated it from other abilities, rather than being able to enhance more objects or people at the higher levels, it simply became more powerful. It was an extremely rare, and highly desired, ability to have. It is said that in the long history of Chalice, those with the intelligence ability were those who brought change.
“Fine,” he reluctantly said. “However, I will only do this on one condition. What you’re asking is too much.” He paused to give her a chance to agree.
“I agree.” She responded without any hesitation. Spoiled though she may be, he could not help but admire the recklessness of a scholar delving into the abyss to satisfy their own curiosity.
“Alright. I will be your guide in the forest, but only you. I will not take anyone else in with us, it is too dangerous and I’m not confident I will be capable of protecting anyone else. Hell, I’m not completely certain I can even protect you in there.”
“That is a risk I am willing to take, and I had planned to ask only those who wished to enter to go with us anyway. This simply saves me a step.” She said happily, standing up abruptly and jumping for joy like a child. “Great, now I know where to go after we stop in Fira. I can not wait!”
Rox slowly got to his feet, far less excited about the prospect of returning to the forest he had only just left. He dusted himself off and stood in front of her, only just now realizing that this was the first time they had actually stood next to each other. Every other time he had interacted with her, she had been sitting or quite a distance away. She really was quite small, only coming up to his chest.
He shook his head, realizing he was thinking about useless things. Her childlike glee seemed to have affected his mood, and he had lowered his guard too much. “So, did you come to my room in the middle of the night to ask me that?”
Kara stopped her celebrations and faced him once more. She put her hands behind her back and looked sheepishly at him, “Actually, I came to ask if you could really fight without abilities…” She trailed off, unable to complete her thought, too embarrassed.
The moonlight, shining faintly through the window, gave Rox a glimpse of her skin turning red.. “I suppose that was answered, then. Good night, Kara. I will see you tomorrow when we leave.” He stated curtly, not bothering to hide his annoyance for the first time since they met.
“Yeah.” She said shyly, quickly retreating to the door. She paused to look at the wall, where she had made contact, the illusion was flickering. Alternating between a wooden inn wall, and a brutally damaged slab of solid marble. Without any further delay, she left the room and closed the door behind her.
Rox made sure to lock the door this time, and fell into bed. He stared up at the ceiling for a while, thinking about what, exactly, he had gotten himself into. “That girl will be the death of me.” He said to the empty room. Shortly after, he finally fell asleep.