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Author: EnroItzal Original Source: Scribble Hub

The morning of the morrow greeted Lyra and her band of misfits with a bleak atmosphere. The chilling breeze and musty road did not help in enlivening the mood. Everyone had a woeful look on their face. They all knew what was coming. Or rather, they were informed of the likely circumstances through an unwonted and unintentional manner.

Celia had mumbled in her sleep. She even shouted at one point, waking the whole group, before falling back into her sea of dream, or rather, sea of nightmares. Most of her mumbles were incoherent but from the few words that they could gather, they understood just how terrible the situation of the village actually was, even more than they had expected. It ached their hearts to listen to the girl’s cries and sobs as she waddled through her nightmare in her sleep.

Their formation on the road remained one and the same. Lyra at the front with a horse of her own and Aedan with the reins of the wagon. Erin sat on the front passenger seat just beside Aedan. The rest were on the back of the wagon. Celia, who was still unconscious, was currently in the hands of Cal instead of Lyra for reasons which were plainly obvious. The responsibility was pushed to Selene at first but being the only child she didn’t have any experience in caring for a child. Cal on the other hand was the eldest son of his family. Caring for children was practically his profession before he left his household and became an adventurer.

By the late of the morning, they had descended from the hills and emerged from the small valley safely without any complications. No bandits nor monsters attacked them. Nothing even prowled close to their wagon. Despite that, the bleak mood of the party since the dawn of their departure was still persisting. To Erin, it didn’t feel like it would dissipate anytime soon. Though she felt a degree of guilt with the current mood, her clandestine act with Aedan on the prior night had nothing to do with their current circumstances. The heavy air was merely a product of their expectation and anticipation for the village’s fate and the threats they would encounter.

Erin’s worst fear, Lyra, became the least of her worries. When she and Aedan had returned to the camp, Lyra had retired to bed early after giving into her exhaustion of taking care of Celia. For the others, it was like Aedan had said. The notion of her and Aedan shacking up didn’t even register as one of their many assumptions. They assumed the two had only talked about their quest or they were having a bout of their wits. In a way, they were having a bout of their wits, just not with words.

“The truth was actually even more bizarre than us shacking up in the dark of the wilderness,” Erin lamented. Still, Erin couldn’t get rid of the guilt. It was only a minor hunch but Erin had the inkling Lyra knew what had transpired between her and Aedan but merely in a misunderstood light. She had a brief glance of Lyra’s solemn expression shortly before they departed for their journey this morning. Perhaps for the sake of the girl or the quest, Lyra remained prudent and kept her notions to herself.

Of course, Erin wanted to clear things up but to do that, she would need to be out of the other three’s earshot but she hadn’t had the chance so far.

To still her nerves, Erin tried to meditate but the mild tremor for the wagon traversing on the unpaved road made it impossible. She called it meditation but it was just a matter of devoting one’s focus into a certain aspect. In her case, she focused it all on her breathing but the shaking of the wagon was simply denying her attempts.

“Your fidgeting will only make the rest nervous,” Aedan told her in a low voice without straying his eyes away from the road. “Loosen up, would you?”

“Can you blame me?” Erin retorted quietly. “Are you even aware of the air around us? Even a funeral had seen brighter days.”

“Can’t be helped.” Aedan shrugged. “Anyone would feel nervous after hearing that. We’re most likely plunging ourselves into the site of a massacre after all.”

“Their trepidation is going to cost us,” Erin mused. “Maybe I should just set them straight. Give a speech of death and glory.”

Aedan raised an eyebrow. “Careful now, Erin. Your prick is showing.”

“I no longer have a prick to show. Instead, all I have in return is a c̲u̲n̲t̲ and this pair of milk sacks that are too big for my own good. They only made me a bigger target. Also, my abilities and skills are not even a quarter of what they were. My muscles begin to burn when I haven’t even swung my sword for an hour.”

“And you’re telling me all of this because?”

“Because nothing,” Erin huffed and leaned back. “I just need to let it out. I’m not used to this.”

“Riding a wagon?”

“No, you dunce. Us, I mean. I’m not used to working with others. At most, I have only led a charge and tell them to cut down anyone in their sight. But this is different. They could just barely hold their own out here. If anything happens to them, it will be on me.”

“Either you’re too hard on yourself or you’re just being vain.”

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“Maybe no one have said anything but I can see it in their eyes, they see me as the leader of this group.”

Aedan chuckled lightly. “Aye, they may see you as a leader but officially speaking, you’re not. You won’t be blamed by anyone, especially the guild, if anything happened.”

“It has nothing to do with blame. It’s about my own principles and conscience. We’re a team now and they seem as their leader. Like it or not, we’re responsible for each other.”

“Say that to Lyra and she’ll be above the clouds,” Aedan remarked.

Erin narrowed her glare.

“Still, that’s an interesting perspective. Admirable but I say you’re just overthinking it. You care too much.”

Erin glared at him oddly. “And you seem to care too little. So what’s your story? You’re just… so indifferent to almost everything.”

“And life has never been better.”

Erin rolled her eyes.

“If I die tomorrow, the only people that would shed a tear would be my father and Sven. Anyone else would just offer their condolences and move on with their memories of me gone on the morrow.”

“Is cynicism part of the long-lived package?”

“It is.” Aedan nodded. “You begin to question the meaning of all your actions. You’re bound to see and experience things that really make you lose faith.”

“Lose faith in what?”

Aedan stared into the horizon. “Everything,” he answered.

Erin frowned, noticing the gaze Aedan had. His eyes were filled with anguish and sorrow. She didn’t doubt his experience. In her relatively short forty years of life as Argon Raze, she had been through so much. She couldn’t even begin to imagine just how much Aedan had been through.

“I have met people who were drunk with their power and knowledge. Broken people, everyone of them but… you don’t seem like one of them. I say you’re doing well, minus your arse of a nature of course.”

Aedan turned his forlorn gaze at Erin. “You have only known me for a few days. You wouldn’t say the same if you knew what I have done.”

“These things that you have done, does your family know?”

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“I tried to tell them but… they said I don’t have to if I don’t want to. So no, they do not know.”

Just as Erin was about to give him some words of comfort, she retracted her intent when Lyra came rushing back to the wagon in gallops. The wagon came to a stop. The three in the back were about to raise their questions but Erin silenced them with a hand.

“Trouble?” Aedan was the first to ask.

“I see the village,” Lyra revealed. “About three quarters of a mile just ahead.”

“And how’s the village…?” Erin followed up hesitatingly. She knew she wouldn’t like what she was about to hear. She tried to catch the scent but the winds were blowing against her favor.

Lyra shook her head. “I can’t see everything but just from what I can see, I don’t think we’ll find any survivors.”

Everyone fell silent. Aedan let out a sigh as he rubbed his forehead. Erin plunged herself into deep thought with a pensive gaze.

The silence lasted for about a minute before Freed opened his mouth. “What are we still sitting around here for?”

“Are you implying that we should just charge in without a plan?” Selene asked back with a frown.

“We’re up against monsters not bandits. Why bother with a plan?”

“You shouldn’t underestimate monsters.”

“And you shouldn’t overestimate monsters.”

With a vein bulging on her forehead, Erin turned back and shouted at the two. “Both of you should shut the hell up!”

Cal was quick to cover Celia’s ears.

The current look on Erin’s face stupefied everyone. Even Aedan was slightly bewildered that Erin was capable with such an expression but upon remembering her past identity, he came to accept as such.

“What do we do now?” Lyra asked.

“We’ll stop here and make the rest of the way on foot,” Erin relayed her plan.

“All of us?” Lyra questioned but her eyes were fixed on Celia.

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“Of course not,” Erin replied. She then glanced towards Cal and Selene. ”The two of you will stay here with Celia.”

“E-eh?” Cal blurted out. “B-but—”

“This is not a discussion and we don’t have time for one.” She turned to Aedan. “And you’re staying here with them.”

Lyra was about to chime in her dissent but upon realizing Erin’s intentions, she reined in her voice.

Aedan nodded dryly. “Fine, not much I can do.”

Lyra couldn’t help but be impressed by Aedan’s facade. After knowing Aedan’s real identity, Lyra had been slightly on edge whenever they interacted. From what she had heard about Dragons, they were definitely a bunch she didn’t want to be on bad terms with. She definitely had the senses to at least try not to get on Aedan’s bad side but she feared her pride would take precedence sometimes. Be that as it may, bringing Aedan along would surely put them at a huge advantage but assigning Aedan with Celia was probably the safest option and Lyra understood that. Which was why she kept her lips shut.

“S-so… Freed’s going with Ms Erin and Ms. Lyra?” Cal had a trembling voice as he asked.

“Are you trying to suggest something about me with your tone, you brat?”Freed got up to Cal’s face all imposingly.

Erin groaned. “For the love of— Can all of you just stop this petty squabble? Now’s not the time for this.”

Freed clicked his tongue and sat back down.

Erin sighed. “This is going to be difficult”

Sensing the stale air, Lyra took the initiative to break the glum mood. “Will that be all? I will say I agree with Selene. I don’t believe we should go in without a plan.”

“We don’t even know what we will be facing,” Erin pointed it out.

“It is Goblins, no?” Selene asked.

“Even if it’s just Goblins, it will be equally worrisome.”

“A Fae worry about Goblins?” Freed leaned forward from his seat. “I’m surprised.”

Everyone ignored his remark.

“What do you mean by “if it’s just Goblins”?” Selene caught on.

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Erin exchanged glances with Lyra and Aedan in which Lyra nodded and Aedan shrugged. Erin turned back to the three. “There was a quest from this village before this. Marcus and another adventurer… what’s his name?”

“William,” Aedan muttered.

“Ah yes, William. Marcus and William were here before us.”

Freed had a slight frown. “This is the first time I’m hearing about this.”

“The Guild has its reasons,” Aedan responded dryly without sparing a glance. “But the reasons are debatable,” he muttered his last lines in murmurs.

Ignoring the imprudence, Erin continued. “No letters or any kinds of messages arrived from Marcus or his partner.”

“S-so… Marcus is dead…?” Selene asked worriedly.

“We don’t know,” Erin answered. “Someone of his abilities wouldn’t have any problems with just Goblins but evidently, he did. Which means, either the Goblins’ numbers are in tens of dozens or there are other monsters besides Goblins. Whichever is it, it’s not looking good.”

Freed clicked his tongue again. “No wonder the rewards are in gold.”

“What’s this? You’re regretting taking the commission now?” Lyra taunted.

“Regret?” Freed scoffed. “If anything, I’m grateful. The gold will have my belly filled for at least a week or two. And what’s more, imagine what they will say when we complete a quest that Marcus couldn’t.”

His eyes were practically glittering at the prospects but Selene and Cal had a difficult expression, Seeing the two, Erin felt a stung in her heart.

“So, we’ll be marching in without preparations?” Lyra asked as she got off her horse. She slung her bow and arrow quiver around her shoulders. She also had a horn in the shape of a tusk slung just by her waist. The horn was commonly used in battles as a sign of retreat or a sign of enemy attack. In their case, it was used as a warning for any imminent plights.

“We’ll have preparations alright, just no plan, at least not until we know what we’re up against.”

Freed gave a heave of groan as he descended from the wagon. “That’s enough of a plan for me.”

“What do we do in the meantime?” Selene asked.

“For one, get the wagon off the highway but find a spot where you could depart immediately. And of course, don’t let your guard down. Who knows what’s going to creep up behind you.”

Selene nodded fervently whereas Cal nodded hesitantly. It was obvious he wished to go with Erin but knowing his own limits, he was better off looking after Celia.

“Aedan, what do you know about the village?”

He shrugged. “Not much. Last I was here was decades ago. Wooden stakes for borders. One gateway. A population of around thirty. The cows give good milk.”

“What about the residents?”

“I know a girl. I used to be sweet with her but I think she left with another man for the big city years ago.”

Erin sighed with her eyes rolled. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Um… the residents are friendly?”

“I’m asking if they are known to be daring.”

“Why would the people of a small village be daring?” Lyra questioned. “That’s no different from making an appointment with death.”

Erin offered Lyra a sidelong glance. “You’ll be surprised.”

“Last I was here, they all have a good head on their shoulders and that’s in hindsight,” Aedan added.

“Let’s hope they still have,” Erin said to herself. She too got off the wagon and began her own preparations.

“Are you suggesting that the village might have done something to provoke Goblins into attacking them?” Freed scoffed as he neared Erin. “Lass, they’re monsters. They don’t need a reason to attack.”

“I disagree, Freed.” The expression on Erin changed. Gone was her usual amicable manner. “I have seen how foolish people can be. I knew a village. It was close to a forest, infested by monsters. Day after day, they kept foolishly provoking the monsters. Not for their skin, hide, or fangs— no, they did it for sports. They thought the monsters couldn’t possibly do anything in return. They thought the monsters wouldn’t leave their home, the forest. And they were wrong. One night, the monsters have somehow united into a single horde. They mowed down the village in a single night.”

“That’s absurd.”

Erin took a step forward. “Is it? Monsters are not animals. They’re creatures of magic. From what I have read, some of the monsters weren’t commonly known twenty years ago and here they are. If you think they will forever remain the naive foolish beasts they are, then perhaps you are the naive fool here.”

Freed found no words for a retort. He wanted to grimace but doing so that would only paint him in a light worse than the one he was currently in.

“Listen here, mister. We’re a team now and this is obviously different from your usual excursion. I don’t fancy myself a leader but I aim to bring everyone back alive. And I can only do that if you stop being prejudicial with your thoughts. And when we are in the village, you do as I say. Are we on the same page?” Without waiting for a response, Erin turned away.

Aedan whistled lowly in admiration but Lyra sighed plainly in veneration.

“Now,” Erin stretched her neck and cracked her knuckles. “Let’s do this.”

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