Drake continue to talk to the trio, occasionally getting small snippets of information from them that he didn’t know before. However, in the end they were still only slighter better than the average demons, so they only knew very little. Still, given his self-imposed exile, how this city was founded and how the Sin of Envy worked for this demon still made for intriguing bits of information.
He had so little knowledge with how the world worked after everything changed, that such information gave him all he wanted. He was really quite happy with himself.
“So that’s really all you wanted to know? I probably could have figured that out if you really wanted me to.” Yami muttered as they began to walk out onto the more crowded streets, more out of boredom than any real sense of annoyance.
Although Yami herself was rarely far away from Drake’s side, her true purpose as a race was to serve as a sort of spy. Their abilities to sense emotions aside, Yami was confident in being able to drop in on the thoughts of the more important ones in this city with relative ease, something which the more experienced of her race struggled with. She was even showing signs of being able to manipulate Drake’s own mana in a more competent manner as well, although it was really her own abilities that were beginning to come into their own.
“No, it’s better that I figured it out this way. Besides,” Drake held up his hands. “if I had just let you figure it out for me, I wouldn’t know how to really use the mana gem I formed. That’s far more important.” He looked knowingly at Yami, who only responded with a short yawn.
“Whatever you say, Drake.”
Drake merely returned a small smile as he left the influence of the Envy demon. He had connected a newly made crystal to all three of them, effectively binding them to it. Without finding Drake and destroying the crystal, or gaining enough power to sever the connection themselves, they would be bound to it, allowing him to track their every move. Not that he felt any real need to, but it was never bad to have insurance against certain problems.
“Look like the sun is finally starting to go down.” Drake said as he glanced at the sky. The only reason he even stumbled across the demons was due to his own boredom. Thankfully he didn’t have to stay much longer, or else he was sure to find himself even more trouble.
“So, you’re sure you want to go through with this? It’s unnecessary if we are just looking for Therion’s target.” Yami was firmly hidden in Drake’s hood again, quite relaxed as she whispered into his ear.
“Haa… To be honest, I probably should just let you scout for him. But these ruins are another matter entirely, one that I need to investigate. Do you know of anything that should enhance magic that’s cast by humans?” Drake said as he quietly asked Yami. Given that humanoids drew in their magic from the environment, she had much more knowledge given her wealth of inborn knowledge.
“Hm. Something that’s drawing mana towards one space could do it. Specific creatures, maybe a rare item, even special locations, but it doesn’t make sense that it would be so out in the open. Those sorts of things are especially well hidden to prevent exactly this kind of expedition.”
“So, it wants to be found?” Drake said in a confused manner.
“Or it simply wants to draw others toward it.”
Both Drake and Yami sunk into silence as they pondered over the topic. Whatever the case, Drake couldn’t help but feel excited. Adventure. The word always held a special meaning back when he was human, and now he was actually going to go on one. It was nothing but a crazy fantasy back then. He had always imagined it as the ultimate pursuit of the unknown, although he never imagined that due to some special circumstances that he would be on the sword end of that dream for others if not for his humanoid form.
“So, what should we do once we get out of the city? Staying all cooped up like this is not my idea of a pleasant evening.” The tone in her voice was clear. She had no intentions of hiding herself around this group once they left.
[Oh, that? Don’t worry, I’ll let you out as soon as I can.] Drake responded telepathically. He had started to notice more than a few strange looks as others noticed him talking to himself.
“So Taylor, are you wanting to go back to the room soon? It’s starting to get pretty late.” A somewhat gruff voice called out, catching Drake’s attention immediately.
Taylor… Drake’s head instantly turned to the source, only to meet an overly buff dwarf, and another considerably small woman beside him, who continued to walk lazily back towards the more residential area of the city.
The thoughts of the girl he left behind on the day of the alien’s arrival came streaming in, only for him to shake his head sadly at the thought of it. Given her… unique set of choices, she wanted to choose an elf, and the girl that passed by him was even shorter than the dwarf. It couldn’t have been her.
“Heh, stupid… the chances of her even making through everything that’s happened is small. Let alone her being in the same city.” Drake remarked to himself with a grimace.
With everything that had happened, he had basically abandoned all the ties back to his old life. He didn’t have that many close friends to begin with, so the few he did had always made an impact on him. Even with his own family, he often just holed himself up in his room, slowly wasting away in boredom. There was nothing to really search for in his old life, so he didn’t.
[Drake, you alright?] A concerned voice made herself known in his head, leaving him with a bittersweet feeling.
[Yeah… just, reminiscing. Heh, it’s easy to get a bit emotional in places like this. You forget how much you miss.] Drake said in a melancholy voice.
[Don’t worry. I’m over it. Truthfully, having someone like you was always something I wished for back then, anyway.] Drake snickered to himself, as he rubbed his head against her small body.
[Hmph. Well, good.] She responded shyly.
He quickly made his way back to Guild Hall, before pushing open the door to the guild once more. As he entered, he expectantly looked around for the secretary called Cassandra he talked to before. He spotted her within a moment, and waved his hand as he walked over.
It seemed as if a team was just returning so there was a small group in front of him, talking among themselves while occasionally looking to Cassandra with an expectant gaze. They seemed to be waiting for someone.
Drake stepped to the side as the secretary finally recognized him. “Oh, thank goodness, I was thinking you had forgotten, here, this is the group that is going to be going on the expedition with you.”
“Oh?” Drake looked to his side at the three others. It looked to be a fairly balanced, small group of adventurers, at least from appearances.
One was a large man with darker hair and blue eyes who definitely seemed to be the warrior type. He had the typical look of those who had chosen the various animal type races, a bulkier appearance, and the distinctive, panther-like ears of his respective race. He was wearing banded mail, a sort of armor that was made up of layers of chain mail and leather. That, coupled along with a large axe and shield made him look the part of the reliable ‘tank’.
Sword and Board, huh? Well… Axe and Board in this case. Drake looked over his outfit with a shrew smile. He had to admit, seeing such an outfit in person definitely made him look trustworthy. With such a set, it was undeniable that he could stand up to most standard forms of attack.
The others, one who looked to be more of a swordsman, had a significantly lighter armor. He chose instead to use a shortsword and a sort of buckler, a smaller shield made to block lighter attacks, and outright parry most others forms of attacks instead. He was another animal race as well, and if he had to guess, it would likely be a wolf, or a very similar type. The ears alone told him that much. He had similarly dark hair, and brown eyes, although in terms of appearance, he definitely was more of the pretty boy type. The transformation no doubt had some influence on that.
Lastly, was undeniably some sort of magic user. The way that the mana in the air was slowly being drawn to his body was solid proof of that. Among most others, it merely flowed past, giving no real indication of being drawn to the individual. Magic users however, and even Gwyn to some extent, was evidence of the very particular type of magic that humanoids used most. A drawing in of mana, to augment their own abilities before releasing it in lethal attacks.
Although, in a way I’m similar to that style myself. The Sin of Greed that the aliens gave me works in an almost identical manner, as long as I can convert the surrounding mana first. Although the amount of control I have over it is certainly more representative of how monster’s control magic. Drake mused to himself.
He was undoubtedly the youngest of the trio. He had blue eyes and brown hair, and a youthful look that appeared entirely too young to be an adult. Compared to the other members, he also had much paler skin, and no real indicators of what race he might be. He might also be considered the most attractive of the bunch. It wasn’t really so much a masculine beauty, instead being much more androgynous. And, from what little conversation Drake overheard from the trio, his voice was undeniably higher pitched than the others as well.
“This is your group that is set to join you, Drake Kaiser. Meet Peter, Luke, and Morgan. Peter is more of a Fighter, while Luke is the same, although they specialize in different avenues. Morgan is what is known as a Transmuter, although you might better know him as a Wizard. Transmuter is his specialization.” Cassandra explained the information of the three in a very orderly manner, naming them off one by one as if from a book.
“Oh.” The secretary clapped her hands together. “That reminds me, what do you specialize in, Drake? You never informed me before you left.” As she finished speaking, the three adventurers turned to him expectantly with a look of curiosity.
Well, at least I have a plan for something like this. Drake thought shrewdly.
Drake held his hand out, as a crystal gauntlet suddenly materialized around his hand. Much like the previous experimental gauntlet, the tips were pointed dangerously, while the gauntlet came all the way up to his forearm. The only real changes were cosmetic, as Drake had gained considerable experience with attempting to create a suitable cloak and clothing for himself compared to the raggedy excuse for clothing that he had created before.
“I like to focus on physical combat, with a bit of conjuration magic to conjure weapons. I can make a lot of different things, but I like these gauntlets the best.” Drake said confidently.
Although that’s mainly because it’s the same method of attack as my Draconian form. Learning to use a sword at this point compared to these two would just make me look silly. Drake knew that much. Acting like he used a real weapon would give him away quicker than anything else.
I’d like to keep my magic a secret from these three as well. Humans… well, Humanoids, aren’t able to sense demonic energy. They might get a bit of a creepy feeling if it’s surrounding them, but they shouldn’t be able to know that this is Pride mana at all just from seeing it.
Drake had several questions regarding this topic as he questioned the demons earlier. According to them, they were never detected because of how demonic magic worked. While the envious nature of their mana certainly helped with their stealthy operation, they were the only ones in the city able to see and detect it reliably, discounting some fringe cases of healing magic being used on those whom they had control over. They weren’t discovered, but the humanoids in question were able to tell that they had exorcised some form of ‘poison’ from their bodies.
“Woah, nice.” The swordsman of the group examined the gauntlets Drake had summoned up with an intense, almost possessive look. “Hey, is that magic special or can anyone learn it.” Just from the question alone, it was obvious that such a technique appealed to the man.
“Sorry, it’s a technique I learned that is exclusive to me.” Drake apologized as best he could as the gauntlets quickly shifted back into mist and flowed into Drake.
“Seriously?” Luke shook his head with a depressed look on his face. “Damn, thanks anyway.”
“Anyway man, nice to meet ya. Like Cassandra said, Peter here is the meat shield, while me and Morgan do our best to kill whatever comes at us before it kills him.” A crude laugh and look was pointed at Peter, before he quickly got a punch in the arm.
“I said don’t call me a meat shield, dammit.” Peter said. “Played entirely too many games back before the world went to shit for that term to have a good meaning to it.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry man.” A mischievous smile was clear on his face as Luke apologized. Clearly this wasn’t the first or last time.
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Drake. It’s nice to have another person to join us. With just the three of us, it can get a little bit shaky sometimes.” Morgan gave him a brief handshake, as he attempted to peer further inside Drake’s hood. Clearly, his outfit always caused a bit of curiosity.
“Thanks.” Drake said as looked to Cassandra. At the very least, he was relieved that no one seemed to notice Yami yet.
“So just where are we headed to anyway? You never told me beforehand.” Drake asked the secretary. A set of ruins that somehow increases the magic abilities of those who are nearby. No doubt they wanted to keep it a secret until it was time.
“Of course.” Cassandra gave a small bow as she began to explain. “Out of the south gate, you need to travel for roughly half a day on our transport to arrive there. We will provide such transport, of course, but it will require a small payment.” The woman opened one eye expectantly at the four adventurers as a low groan escaped their mouths in unison.
“Here. Take it.” Peter shoved a mana core that was the size of a small orange towards her, with Luke and Morgan reluctantly conceding one to her as well. “Just better be worth it is all I’m saying.”
A medium mana core is the payment, huh? He could see that it was necessary, but it still irritated Drake at how easily she was managing to take one of the cores he received. “Fine. Here.” He tossed one into the small pile as well, which was quickly received and boxed up by Cassandra in a small pile of similarly sized cores.
“So, what are we riding anyway?” Luke was the first to ask the question. At such a price, of course they would be curious.
“Just follow me.” The woman promptly moved out from behind her desk as she walked to the back of the guild hall. As for the small group, they merely looked to one another before following after her in a small line.
As they continued forward, a very distinct smell hit Drake’s nose. It was familiar, almost excessively so. The smell of feces along with the faint scent of something else. Wait…
“Here we go. Fresh from the outside and trained as best we can manage. At least to the point where they won’t attack ya.” Cassandra gave a sly wink as she spoke.
“You’re kidding me.” The other three of the group cried with various smiles of joy as they all looked to each other happily.
In front of them were at least a dozen Ground Dragons, very similar to the duo that the caravan had brought in just that morning. As for the Ground Dragons themselves, the ones Guild Hall had stabled were of all various sizes and body shapes. There were a few types that Drake could see. Most of the ones that were offered were the bipedal type that Drake had come into town with and that excelled in quick travel and overall movement. The other, that Cassandra intentionally steered them away from, was a quadruped that seemed suited to pulling and working in town, and were focused much more on brute strength than any semblance of speed or bursts of movement.
“Dude, we actually get to ride one of these?!” Luke quickly ran up to one, only to have it snap in disgust at his hand. It was only due to his quick reaction time that he didn’t end up with a mangled hand.
“Be careful. They’re a lot smarter than they look.” Drake chuckled with a passive smile as he examined the various beasts. He had seen this exact type of monster earlier. Arguably, they were just as smart as himself, although he hadn’t taken the time to check. No doubt he would end up learning now.
“Oh, be careful of that one. For some reason, it doesn’t let others get close to it.” Cassandra snickered at the scene before giving a brief warning. “Choose one of the others, and you won’t have an issue.” She said.
“Pfft, damn bird monster.” Luke cursed at the black, raptor-like creature before promptly making his way over to another, who seemed considerably more open to his affection.
Drake looked to the trio as they slowly chose each individual monster they wanted to ride. The differences between the monsters seemed clear to him. There were undeniably second or even third tier in terms of speed and power here, even among the same type. While they would certainly do the job that was needed for their journey, Cassandra seemed to be taking advantage of their inexperience with such creatures. Otherwise, they would never be allowed to simply choose out of such a variety. He likely would have fell for it himself if he hadn’t seen them before.
Moreover, the weaker Ground Dragons would undoubtedly be the first ones to be attacked if something went wrong, it was a simple matter of survival. No, the one he wanted was clear.
“Hm? Hey Drake, what are you doing! I already warned you, that one still won’t listen!” Cassandra balked as Drake leisurely walked over to the black Ground Dragon who had ruthlessly snapped at Luke without a second thought.
Disregarding the warning, Drake slowly approached the beast, step by step, his eyes full of vague recognition.
I know you, don’t I? Drake shook his head as the gears in his mind were spinning faster and faster. The other three the others seemed to have chosen he didn’t recognize, but this one. It was one of the two that was brought in just this morning, now that he was closer he was sure of it. The black Ground Dragon that screeched at him as he passed its cage, warning him away from itself and its companion as he made his way to Aleria. Even then, he knew it wasn’t out of aggression, rather, it screeched as if it was warning off a creature it felt was dangerous.
“Hey!” Cassandra tried to stop him by grabbing his arm as Drake walked forward, only for the Ground Dragon to lunge and screech at the young secretary as she attempted to stop him. Luke briefly stepped forward to stop him as well, only to shrink back as Cassandra did.
Drake winced at the sudden sound, but as it looked back towards him, he could see a certain glimmer in the creature’s eyes, as if it wanted him to come even closer.
“That’s right. Don’t worry.” Drake muttered to the creature. Frozen in place, Cassandra only watched as Drake walked forward, and moved his hand slowly towards the creature, stopping just before its head. As he held his hand there, the creature stared at Drake, letting the moments pass by as the two only looked to each other. Then, as if he passed an invisible test, the black Ground Dragon slowly bowed and allowed Drake’s hand to gently rest on top of its head.
“You’re kidding. That thing was so prideful, it wouldn’t even let the Tamers near it.” Cassandra looked on with a feeling of surprise and awe, baffled at scene that just played out in front of her.
They had bought the creature after seeing its superior build and having Lamario identify the creature, but had put it here out of frustration once things had turned sour. They fully expected to be contesting the creature for another week at least, but this mysterious man simply walked in and had it accept him.
Seeing such a sight, she couldn’t help but shake her head with a reluctant smile, as she walked over and clapped Drake on the shoulder. “Well, I guess you can take that one. Might as well, no one else could even get close to it.”
“Right.” Drake quickly shook his head, still surprised by the creature’s reaction. Did it allow him to get that close because it remembered him, or something else…
“Well, let’s get going!” Morgan happily climbed atop one of the creatures he chose, and made himself comfortable before slowly getting used to the reins of the creature and leading it out of the back of the Guild Hall. The other two quickly joined in, to mixed success.
The black Ground Dragon seemed to smirk at him, before leaning down to allow him on. Drake climbed on without a second thought, much to its satisfaction.
Then, Cassandra took out a small sheet of parchment and handed it to Drake. It seemed to be a rough map of the area, with a detailed sketch of the area around the city and the route to the ruins, complete with the groves, forests, rivers, and other features as well. “Here. You’ll need this to get there reliably. The ruins are a bit out of the way, but this will help you find it easily.”
“Thanks.” Drake responded. “See you after we figure out what’s at the ruins!”
Drake rode out from the Guild Hall’s stable on his Ground Dragon, and quickly met up with the others as they were slowly trotting their way out of the city.
“Hm? Oh, Drake, what’s that?” Luke looked back to see Drake carrying a small piece of parchment in his hand.
“A map just to make sure we don’t get lost.” He showed off the map, before taking a better look at exactly where the route was. “It looks like our basic plan is to head south and search the area around here.” Drake murmured out loud. “The path led down through a forest in the south.”
“The south? Damn. It’s been better lately, but the goblins around there have been nasty lately. They’ll even attack an escort like us if they have the numbers.”
“Yeah, they’re weak, but monsters like them definitely have the power to overwhelm us if we aren’t careful.” Peter and Morgan looked back to Drake and explained.
Drake couldn’t help but wonder a bit about their attitude. The goblins he knew of were weak, almost pathetically so. Right before he met Yami, he had killed one with his bare hands. It wasn’t possible to lump a monster that was so weak together with monsters that could actually prove to be a threat.
Could it be that goblins are actually able to grow stronger like I am? The pathetic, mindless creature that I could kill with less than a thought can actually grow to be a threat to trained adventurers?
“There are strong goblins?” Drake was in disbelief that they were talking about the same creature.
“Unfortunately, yes, there are. But from what we know, they don’t hide out in the forests that the ruins are near. The strong goblins, the ones that can lead their tribes, are careful. They know how far our sphere of influence extends, which is why we regularly try to clear out the surrounding area around Fortress as much as possible.” Peter explained.
“Plus, thanks to Morgan who can use some large scale spells, we really don’t have to worry about them unless we are surrounded. We should be fine as long as we’re careful.” Luke tried to reassure Drake as best he could.
“I see. Well, thanks for telling me. I’m still somewhat new to this area. So, are we going to be camping out in the forest tonight?” The way to the ruins was far, which was why it required the Ground Dragons in the first place. It would take at least half a day to get there riding them, and it was going to be nightfall in a few hours at the most.
“No. The forest itself is quite dangerous. We could handle some of the monsters, but the hanging spiders that try to trap you from the trees and forest worms that try to swallow you whole make the entire place way too dangerous to stay overnight.”
Wait, seriously? Drake was shocked. I never came across anything like that. That’s some of the monsters that were in the forests I was in the entire time?!
“Agreed. That is too dangerous.” Drake really had no argument otherwise.
So, the plan would be to camp out on the plains near the forest itself. Stay near the road, so the group could keep a good distance in eyeshot so they weren’t surrounded and trapped. For the average group of adventurers, the perfect plan.
[Still, we aren’t exactly the average adventurer pair though, are we Yami?] Drake gave a smug laugh as he prodded at the imp inside his hood.
[Heh, you enjoy this sort of thing a bit too much Drake.] She knew perfectly well how Drake felt. He was enjoying the feeling of ‘acting’ human, while keeping in check just how much power he truly had.
[Well it’s nice. This is what I missed out on, being around other humans…] Drake said in a hushed, melancholic manner. In a way, despite how he didn’t regret what had happened at all, there was still a part of him that wished things had turned out differently. That he wasn’t shoe-horned into this fate.
[Drake…] His feelings came across to Yami almost immediately, which put her on guard. For her, Drake was truly the bedrock of her existence, something that she always wanted to be a part of. She had known that from the moment she was born. For him to be questioning that…
[Don’t worry, it was just me mulling over some things.] Drake cracked a smile as he nudged Yami again. [I’ve never regretted meeting you. Promise.]
[Hmph.] She huffed a bit before settling back down. For her, that was all she ever needed to hear.