Zich opened his eyes. The bonfire that had watched them all night was letting out white smoke, barely managing to hold on. Zich rubbed his eyes and stretched his arms out.
“Have you woken up?”
Zich heard a low voice. It was a low, strong voice that sounded like it would belong to a gigantic body, but there was a clear sense of gentleness mixed in it.
“Yes, sir,” Zich replied and stared at the owner of the voice.
A huge man sat on a large log and looked over the bonfire. “Since you are up, can you wake the others up?”
“Sir, you can wake them up by yourself.”
The huge figure flinched. “That is a bit…”
“Are you still having a hard time dealing with them? They are our team members. There’s no need to feel uncomfortable around them.”
“Yes, that’s right.” Even though he said this, the huge man merely made a bitter smile and didn’t move. Zich shook his head. Even though the huge man had the face and body of a gangster boss, he had a difficult time dealing with his teammates. But this didn’t mean that the man lacked skill. On the other hand, the huge man was able to cut down small, medium-sized, large, and extremely large monsters with one swing of his ax.
‘Should I prepare a special event or something to make them closer?’
While thinking of a plan to make his team members closer, Zich shook the woman close to him. “Wake up, Aine.”
“Hmm….” The woman named Aine opened her eyes. She moved out of her blanket, yawned loudly, and stretched out her arms. “Did you sleep well, Zich?”
“Yeah. Did you also sleep well, Aine?”
“Yes. I feel energized. Even this is a blessing from Karuna.”
“That’s great. Then can you wake her up? I’ll go wake our other teammates up.”
“All right. I will immediately wake them up after morning prayer.”
Aine bent her knees on top of the blanket. Then she clasped her hands, bowed her head, and closed her eyes. Zich moved past her and walked up towards one of his other team members who was fast asleep. In this group full of distinct personalities, Aine was on the calmer side; Zich needed to prepare himself a bit to wake up this next team member.
“It’s morning. Sir, wake up.” Zich shook his team member. The man slowly opened his eyes. His sunken eyes indicated that he was very tired.
“Is it already morning?”
“Yes, look. The sun is already up.”
The man looked towards the direction that Zich pointed to. It was quite bright across the ridge, but it was hard to say the sun was up when there was none of its fierce brightness shining into his eyes.
“It isn’t up yet. Tell me when the sun is fully up. Then I will wake up.”
“No! You always say that but then you keep sleeping! Also, today is the day we have to wake up early and start moving!”
They argued like this for a bit; and while they argued, the mountain across them began to get brighter and brighter.
“Fine, fine. I will get up.” He finally got up after losing to Zich. He was an old man with a long, white beard that reached all the way to his stomach; his appearance gave off an impression of wisdom and elegance. But his recent fight with Zich pointed towards the contrary, and there was a certain kind of playfulness in the man’s eyes.
“Did you just wake up? Act your age.”
Another voice came out from the other side. Zich raised his head and looked towards the direction of the voice. A woman with pointy ears was sitting on top of a blanket and looking at the old man. She was an elf that usually didn’t appear where humans were.
“If you get old like me, you become like this. My recovery is completely different from youngsters. If I was able to rest well, I would have been the very first one to get up since old men like me don’t sleep much!”
“Yeah, yeah. Even though you are much younger than me, magician.”
“This is why I don’t like elves—! You, say something too!”
Their fight sparked towards the huge man who was prepping the bonfire for breakfast.
“Yes? No, I…”
“You don’t have to say much! Just tell that impudent elf to respect her elders!”
“I’m telling you— you are younger than me!”
“How can you think like that when our life spans are different! You have to obviously factor in our different life spans according to our respective species and compare us!”
“That’s what you think!”
An argument between an ill-tempered old magician and a feisty elf started their mornings as usual. The huge person sitting in front of the bonfire was long gone from the old magician and elf’s minds.
“I will help.”
“Ah, thank you.”
Aine, who woke up the elf, moved towards the huge person; he was staring blankly in front of him after being swept into the elf and old wizard’s fight and then got ignored in the next moment. Zich walked towards the two who were still arguing.
Then he clapped loudly to catch their attention. “Hey, since both of you seem wide awake, let’s eat breakfast and get ready to move.”
They were both growling at each other, but they obediently followed Zich’s words and went off to do their individual tasks.
“You go through a lot every day. Thank you for all your work this morning as well.” Aine held up the ingredients for breakfast and moved towards Zich.
“Since I’m used to it, it’s nothing to me now. I didn’t want to get used to something like this though.”
Aine laughed silently. “But cheer up. You are definitely doing a good job leading this diverse party. I’ll guarantee that.”
“A guarantee from the great, Karuwiman Saint—I think I’m about to gain the confidence I never knew existed in me.”
“If my support makes you confident, I will say it as much as I can, Sir Hero,” Aine said with a bright smile.
* * *
Zich woke up from his dream. He looked in front of him as if he was not fully awake. Then he quickly turned his head around and looked at his surroundings.
“Sir, have you woken up?” Hans, the last person to stand watch, delivered his greeting after discovering that Zich was awake. Zich stared intensely at Hans.
“…Sir, why are you staring at me like that?” Hans tried to think of instances where he might have crossed Zich’s mood.
But Zich couldn’t leisurely think of Hans’ concerns. He carefully looked around his surroundings. They were camping on a certain mountain. The bonfire that was barely holding on and the sunlight that was slowly seeping out from behind the mountains looked the same as his dream. However, there was Hans, who was walking on eggshells around Zich, Snoc who was tightly holding Nowem, and Lyla who had her blanket pulled to the top of her head—they were all different from his dream.
His companions didn’t include a huge man who had a rough appearance but a soft personality, the picky elf, the ill-tempered old man, or the Saint.
While thinking of Lubella saying that to him, Zich’s whole body shuddered.
‘What kind of dogshit dream is this…’
It was all because Lyla told him about Brave and things like that. That was what Zich thought.
‘Damn it, my whole back is wet.’
His dream was so awful that his back was covered in sweat. Zich thought he should first change his clothes. While complaining, Zich stood up. His sword quietly watched him and stared at his back.
* * *
A loud explosion shook the whole forest. Winged beasts that were comfortably resting on a tree branch all flew away, and large trees that had existed for centuries were swept by flames and became one with the earth.
“How can you use flame magic in a forest?” Watching from behind, Zich rebuked Lyla. But Lyla just smirked and cast another spell.
The burning forest was frozen solid in an instant. Lyla turned around with a confident look on her face. Zich shrugged.
She used another explosive magic spell, and then there was another large hole in the forest. Then the size of the hole got bigger. Only then did Lyla let her hands down. “Is this enough?”
“Not yet.” Zich walked in front of Lyla. He widely swung the sword that looked like a tree branch in the air.
The trees that were still burning from Lyla’s attack were sliced apart. As a result, the surrounding trees and the remaining fire nearby were also wiped out. The already large space became even wider. Zich was pleased with the clearing he made and nodded in satisfaction.
“You seem to really like that sword.”
“You said you named it ‘Windur,’ right?”
Zich couldn’t keep calling it the sword that looked like a tree branch. So, he just gave it a suitable name. Windur—according to legends, it was the name of the tree that supported an empire from the past.
“Hmm, the name fits the sword really well.”
“Of course! I was the one who named it.”
“Really, your self-confidence knows no limit.” Lyla laughed at Zich’s reply. Then she moved towards the clearing they made. A part of it had been devastated by fires and a part of it was frozen. There were fallen, thick trees all over the place. It was not a difficult task for them to clear the forest as they both possessed powers beyond ordinary humans. However, as they continued to work, Lyla started to get annoyed.
“Couldn’t we have just followed a set path?”
“I will tell you one thing, Lyla.” Zich puffed his chest and declared, “Ever since I first left my family with Hans, I have never used a set path.”
“Do you think that’s something to brag about!” Lyla threw a fireball at him. There was no way a low-level magic attack would be able to harm Zich. He lazily swung his fist at the fireball, and it burst.
“You must have forgotten this, Zich. I’m accompanying you because you asked me to. Do you realize that?”
“It’s not a loss for you either. You can’t talk as if you are doing me a favor when we both thought it would be favorable for both of us to move together.”
“Yeah, that was the case when I didn’t know that we would only be moving through mountains!”
“When you make a contract, you’re not supposed to reveal things that are unfavorable to you.”
Another attack came flying towards him. This time, it was a combination attack that used fire and wind. Even Zich was shocked by Lyla’s enormous ability to launch a combination attack with a silent incantation, but even that attack was unable to make a dent in Zich’s defense.
“Tch, come here!” Lyla walked towards the center of the clearing and began casting a spell. She extended her hands on both sides and a clear magic circle emerged between them.
A huge wind blew on the clearing. The fallen trees in the space all flew to the sides. In an instant, the clearing was empty except for tree stumps. Zich stood in the clearing while facing Lyla. He wielded his sword and Lyla had her hands out.
“Is your body slowly getting used to the magic?”
Zich and Lyla had made a deal. One of the conditions that Zich suggested was for him to help improve Lyla’s abilities. Since she only knew magic by knowledge, there was a huge gap between her knowledge, experience, and physical body. Of course, even in her current state, she was extremely proficient in battle. But to further improve her magic abilities, Zich offered his expertise to help Lyla combine her knowledge with experience and physical skills. Since she was being chased, Zich’s offer was tempting to her. In the end, Lyla accepted Zich’s offer, and now they trained like this once a day.
“Honestly, you are getting stronger at an extremely fast rate. Right now, there’s hardly any delay between your thoughts and actions.”
“…I can’t believe you’re complimenting me. Are you scheming something?”
“I’m the type of person who doesn’t hold back compliments when someone is actually doing well.”
This was true. Contrary to the rough way he treated Hans and Snoc, Zich easily complimented them when he saw their skills improve.
For Lyla, it was a very surprising side to him. “Yeah. You were like that. Sorry that I misunderstood, and thanks for complimenting me.”
“But it’s true, I am scheming something.”
He really had a bad personality.
“I’m joking. It’s not even a scheme. Since your skills have improved, why don’t we improve your fighting skills?”
“…Improve my fighting skills?” What does that mean? Lyla felt a shiver pass down her whole body.
“You know about the methods I use to train Hans and Snoc, right?”
Of course, she knew. How could she not know when his training was basically the same as torture? She thought it was amazing that Hans and Snoc stayed with Zich and didn’t run away. It was already telling that today, they looked super happy at being told to clean out all the monsters in the nearby areas because they didn’t have to undergo Zich’s gruesome training.
“We’ve been focusing on minimizing the gap between your knowledge, experience, and reactions, but since you seem to have mastered that, we have to change our training methods. Don’t you want to increase your fighting abilities and not just your magic abilities? You have already increased your magic abilities enough.”
“…Perhaps.” She moved back by instinct.
“You have a tendency to become too fearful when you’re faced with pain or injury. I will help you overcome that from now on. Don’t worry. This is all included in our deal. I also won’t use this as an excuse to get more things from you. So, there’s no need to refuse my offer.”
Lyla thought Zich’s smile made him look like a demon.Previous Chapter Next Chapter