(Author’s Note: Heya! PlasticSaint, aka the best editor in the world and your new best friend, wanted to do a double release today so he edited all of chapter 4 today! What a great guy. Or an evil one, depends on your reactions to getting a taste of what a few of you want haha. Anyway, enjoy! And come to ask me questions on discord <3. I promise all of you can slap, or kiss, plastic for the chapter. With or without his consent.)
“Wake up, Adventurer.” Rox heard as someone flipped the mattress underneath him, forcing him out of bed. As soon as the mattress started to move, however, his body reacted immediately. Pushing himself off forcefully, he landed on his feet on the opposite side of the bed from the rude person, before the mattress had even left the frame. Sheeron looked at him, surprised, as the mattress flew into the air. Since there was nobody lying on the bed, the force of his action wound up more than he had intended. It hit the ceiling with a dull thud, then fell back onto the frame nearly in the same spot. Rox casually pushed it back into place before rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Is there a reason you tried to throw me onto the ground first thing in the morning?” He said, yawning as if nothing unusual had happened.
Sheeron looked at him for a few moments before responding, “It’s time to wake up. Prepare your belongings, it’s time to go.”
Rox looked outside the window, it was still dark, just before dawn. “That’s one hell of a way to say good morning, maybe you should be a bit gentler next time?” He said as he slowly walked to the trunk at the bed to retrieve the items he had put into it last night.
“A weak bronze-level has no right to complain.” Sheeron said threateningly, waiting by the door.
“I’m shaking in my boots.” Rox responded flatly, not appreciating the unfounded hostility. Worse still, he now had to travel with this oaf for several months.
The other man looked angrily at him, then sighed and could be seen forcefully calming himself down. “We’ll see how that attitude holds up during the trip, Bronzie. Now come on, Kara and the rest should be waiting outside by the time we get there.” He commanded gruffly, leaving the room with a brisk pace.
Rox rolled his eyes before following, already having what he needed to leave. This is the first time he had ever actually interacted with the man, aside from the time that Sheeron had barged into the room and introduced his apprentice. The poor boy, Toley, did not even get a word in edgewise.
He began to get the feeling that he wouldn’t enjoy the company of some of his party. Feera, at least, seemed to be somewhat interesting even if she was more cunning than she let on. However, it was nothing he couldn’t handle. As for Kara, he had a slightly different opinion of her after last night. At first, he had just thought of her as an arrogant brat who had never known hardship, however he now saw her as more of an arrogant brat who had never been put in her place. If she had a level three intellect already, then she had to have experienced difficulties in her life. One does not learn previously unknown pieces of knowledge simply by being rich, after all.
While he was thinking, they had arrived at the front door of the mansion. Upon opening the door, they were greeted with the sight of Feera and Kara talking to one another, Toley standing off to the side looking quite awkward. Rox noticed that he kept stealing glances at Kara and had to resist giving a sly smirk, the poor boy had no idea what he was in for if he tried to walk that path.
“Finally!” Said Feera at their arrival, “It feels like I’ve been waiting here for ages!”
“It has only been two minutes since we got out here, Feera.” Said Kara, seemingly back to her arrogant self. However, she averted her eyes when Rox looked at her, this time he could not help smirking.
Seeing an interesting opportunity, he decided to have some fun. “Thank you for your late-night visit, Kara. I had a great time slamming you against the wall.” He spoke with a teasing tone, then waited for hell to break loose.
It did not take long, as Kara immediately turned red as a beet. He was not sure whether she turned red because of the phrasing, or from the memory of being overpowered by someone she had suspected could not even fight.
“Wait, so you’re getting paid for that kind of private tutoring?” Feera said incredulously, “With someone of the Aqua family, no less? Rox, you sly devil!” She slapped him on the back as if congratulating a friend at the tavern.
Toley became even more awkward and nervous than he had been before. He tried to sputter out some words, but they were too quiet to be heard. Even if someone were able to hear him, the young boy had probably only recently become an adult. He did not seem to be able to process any of what was said without becoming even more embarrassed than Kara was.
Sheeron, however, also turned red. Not in embarrassment, of course, but out of pure anger. The large man looked like a tomato with a face as he grabbed Rox by his collar and lifted him, one-handed, nearly six centimeters off of the ground to look him in the eyes.
Rox smiled, “Got something to say, oh great and powerful bodyguard?” He said condescendingly, egging him on. It was probably a bad idea, but he could not help but try to get some minor revenge for the way he woke him.
“I never liked you from the moment she took your rating out of the pile.” The other man said, almost spitting in his face. “What are you, two hundred years old and you do not even have a single ability you can use in battle? What useless garbage. You could not even beat Toley in a fight, I’d bet my rank on it.”
Suddenly a wall of water rose up between them with enough force that Rox was dropped to his feet, when he landed he took a few steps back from the water. After a moment, the wall fell back to the ground as if it had never been there, the only trace of its existence being Sheeron’s soaked arm. Kara stepped between them and spoke sternly.
“Enough, you two.” She turned to Rox, “Please do not phrase things in a way that might lead people to make embarrassing assumptions.” She then turned to Sheeron, “You. Do not antagonize my student, and especially do not try to get rough with him. I do not care what he says, or does. If it is harmless, do not ever let me catch you doing such a thing again, your behavior is a reflection of me as your client.” While speaking, she was giving Sheeron a look like he was something disgusting. She paused to let her words sink in before continuing, “Rox is plenty capable for this team. Possibly more so than you. So quit it.”
Sheeron stood for a few moments looking at her like she had just told him that the gods were fake, then stepped to the side so that he had a clear path to Rox. He then spat on the ground before looking back at Kara, “Your father, the head of the Aqua family, is my Employer. Not a brat like you. Since he is so powerful, you do not need me, right? I’ll meet you all in Fira so that I do not need to see this useless filth you call an adventurer. Training Toley seems like a much better use of my time right now. Feel free to not pay me for the time I’m gone, Princess.” He said, clearly holding his anger back, and began walking towards the northern courtyard exit. He signaled Toley to follow, who bowed to everyone apologetically before running to catch up with Sheeron. Kara let them go without comment.
Rox watched them go with a smile on his face, feeling fantastic about getting back at the bodyguard. Kara punched his arm. “What were you thinking, you fool? Why did you do such a thing?” She asked, sounding quite exasperated with the whole situation.
“I was getting back at him.” He said triumphantly, “More importantly, I noticed you said please to me, but commanded him?” His triumphant smile turned to one of mischievousness.
Before Kara could react, however, Feera jumped onto Rox, wrapping her thighs around his neck and riding on his shoulders. She playfully grabbed onto his head with her arms, covering his eyes as he moved around, trying to remove her. “No no no, the more important thing is, what did you mean by ‘slamming you against the wall.’?” She said playfully.
Rox moved his arms upwards, getting them between her thighs and his neck. He then pushed them outwards, making her lose her anchor point and fall to the ground. He expected to hear a thud as she hit the ground, however, she did a handspring backward onto her feet. She immediately began to walk towards the eastern exit of the courtyard. As she waited by the exit, they could hear her giggling at them like an academy student teasing her friends about having a crush on each other.
Rox and Kara sighed in unison as they followed her, he regretted getting his revenge now. Just a little. When they reached the courtyard exit, the two ladies put on cloaks similar to his and pulled their hoods up to hide their faces as they left town. They did this to reduce the chances of people knowing where they went after they left. Yes, Kara had made a spectacle out of her quest recruiting, however she did not want to be followed.
The town was quiet, unlike yesterday. Only a few sections on the opposite end of the city would be active right now, but here in the noble’s area, everyone would be sleeping. They moved quickly along the cobblestone paths, taking backstreets when they could, doing their best to avoid any main streets. Luckily, they managed to avoid being seen by anyone until they reached the city gates, however, they were stopped by the guards. Kara seemed prepared though, because she pulled out a letter with the Aqua family emblem on the wax seal and handed it to the guard. They still had their faces hidden by the cowls of their cloaks as he opened the letter, read for a few moments, then signaled the other guard to open the gate.
With this, their journey had begun.
– – – –
A few days later, they had managed to travel a decent distance, despite being on foot, as most of the area surrounding Nil was flatland. It was a shame they could not ride on horses, but apparently Feera had a fear of them. Travelling on foot was actually preferable though; if they needed to escape somewhere quickly then Kara could use her water magic to created a fog while Feera used shadow or camouflage magic to help them get away, which would not be possible while using horses due to how loud their hoof beats would be. However, they had been lucky so far as they had not come across any other travellers yet, much less any bandits. All things considered, it was not that surprising seeing as it was rare for people to go toward or away from Fira. The area immediately around the forest was quite dangerous, so people did not like to stray from the safety of the city’s protective barrier if it could be avoided. People also did not visit Fira very often, there was not much for tourists to see since it was primarily a place for higher ranked adventurers and mercenaries due to the Forest of Giants being only fifty kilometers away.
Around nightfall that day, they spotted a forest not far in the distance and decided to make it there before making camp so that they could have some cover while sleeping. Better to be surrounded by trees and underbrush that can make noise when threats approach, rather than sleep out in the open. It did not take them very long to reach their campsite, and they quickly decided on roles. They were far enough from the City now that they could light a fire, so Rox went to gather firewood as well as kindling, Feera cleared the campsite, and Kara would handle the cooking. They all quickly went about their business, and by the time it was too dark to search, Rox had returned. Feera had made an area for a campfire, so he started one using flint and iron that he pulled from his utility cloak. Kara used the campfire to start dinner, tossing some of their dried meat into a pot, along with a mix of different herbs and spices to make stew.
Once dinner was ready, they put the fire out and used wooden utensils that Kara had produced from her pack. They ate quickly, like their other nights, and set up the single large tent that Kara used defensive water magic on to keep them safe while they slept. While the spell was being cast, Feera set up a tripwire alarm around them using twine and pieces of wood that she had picked up while clearing the camp. Once everything was ready, it was decided that Rox would take first watch. Once his time was up he’d wake up one of the girls and switch.
After wishing them a good night, he sat down on a nearby fallen tree trunk and began his watch. Since he did not want to fall asleep, he picked up a small chunk of wood from the ground, removed a whittling knife from his cloak, and began to whittle the wood to pass the time.
Around an hour later, he had finished whittling a very lifelike model of his partner, Feera. The previous night, he had made one of Kara. He considered starting another model, however he heard a twig snap to his left. He silently jumped into a tree above where he had heard the sound, landing gracefully without a single sound. Looking down, he saw that three human men were looking at each other, two of them looking at the one in the center who had snapped the twig. They whispered quietly to each other.
“Damn it, you need to watch where you step. If they hear you, we won’t be able to capture them without trouble. What if we accidentally kill one of the girls? The boss would kill us.” Said the one on the left. He was a twig of a man, did not look much like the bandit type, however, he had two daggers on his belt and many throwing knives on his thighs and arms. He had an unkempt beard as if he shaved his beard with his weapons, and had a nasally voice when he spoke.
“Shut up. There’re twigs everywhere, we were lucky it took us this long following them for it to happen, besides they didn’t hear it, right?” The middle one stated defensively. Being small for a human, but still quite hefty and had a grizzled beard. His voice was gruff and sounded like he used to have some kind of accent that he grew out of. More than likely, he was a half-dwarf.
“Wait, you idiots, look.” He said, shutting them up as they looked at the now-empty space where Rox had been. He was completely hidden by a brown cloak, but sounded like the youngest of the group. He looked back towards the camp. “He’s gone, do you think he went to get the next watch?”
Rox took this chance to have a bit of fun, silently dropping behind the three men. He joined them and spoke up, mimicking their tones to blend in. “No, he’s only been on watch for an hour. Where could he have gone?”
The left one responded without thinking twice, “You’re right, we should wait here until he gets back so that we aren’t discovered trying to capture the women as slaves.”
His mood immediately soured. Rox had heard enough, it was no longer amusing. “That’s a shame, I think he already has.” He said menacingly, using his normal voice.
All three of the men stiffened, then slowly turned on their heels to face him. Looking him up and down, he was taller than the three of them. He stood with his hands on his hips, his cloak opened up and pushed over his shoulder so that it looked like a cape and he had access to his swords in case of a fight. He did not immediately begin the fight, he wanted to see their response. Their last chance.
For a few moments the men were stiff with fear, however the one in the middle eventually spoke up after recovering. “Wait, he’s just one man. Kill him and take the women, boys.” He said as if discovering something obvious, sealing their fates. They all immediately jumped into action, casting their different magics and drawing their weapons. Two of them shot ice shards at Rox while charging him with axes made from hardened, very sharp, ice. The man who had the twin daggers jumped back, acting as a rear guard and began to throw knives at him between his associates, it was impressive precision, all things considered.
Rox sighed, he gave them a chance, really, he did. They chose this for themselves.