It’s the start of the second half of the series! Whoaaaaa we’re halfway there…
In order to move things along I’m sort of injecting pieces of other subplots so I don’t have to write dedicated chapters. Lazy? Possibly. But it reduces some of the anxiety I feel about not touching upon other characters.
Also, I’m now including explainers! What are explainers? They… explain things. You’ll know them when you see them. Just imagine you’re hearing the voice of the Yu Yu Hakusho narrator when you hit them.
Quest 26 – Slave Bridge
The mountains dividing Harl and Croadin were once thought to be impassible. Cutting through the range was a boundary formed by the Cataclysm of Earth, consisting entirely of razor-sharp peaks. However, time has a way of changing even cataclysms. Weathering and earthquakes eventually dulled the earthen blades. However, nature alone could not have created a path.
The first real effort in making a mountain path was started by merchants sponsored by Croadi nobles. While a faster path to open up trade between Harl and Croadin was appealing, support for the project was never strong. Not until Croadi nobles interested in slave trade heard of it. Croadi nobles, in constant conflict with each other over territory and wealth, saw slave trade as an easy source of income to bolster their treasuries.
Many of the new Croadi people descended from Harlian deserters. To the people of Harl, deserters have lost all pride and are not considered Harlians anymore. Yet, they still carry the Harlian “potential” within them. That was how Croadi slave trade got started. Those descended from the deserters are weaker than pure Harlians, but they and their children have a natural potential to become stronger than people of other regions. Many of those enslaved weren’t even aware of how important their lineage was. They were bought and sold because of how “capable” they were, how “compatible” they were, or because they were considered “exotic.” It was also due to the demand for Croadi slaves in Harl that the Harlian army did not destroy the path. Rather, they took control of the project to make certain it could not be used to attack Harl. There was no such guarantee for Croadin, but they had no other choice but to accept the situation.
Of course, the Croadi weren’t the sole targets of slaveholders. The tradition of slavery merely turned Croadin into a convenient hub. Clients and slaveholders of all backgrounds arose. Or rather, they were always there, but never had the chance to be catered to on a significant scale.
As for the path itself, it was built both from Harl and from Croadin. Since there was no coordination between the two teams, the paths missed each other, joining each other at two separate points. The easternmost junction is a checkpoint called Blue Gate. The westernmost junction is the checkpoint White Gate. The northern path built by Harlians has less monsters but more turbulent weather. Halfway through the path is a checkpoint called Empty Gate because people rarely stay long there even though it’s the only shelter available in that terrain. The southern path has more monsters, but the road is well-suited for caravans. It has two checkpoints: Red Gate and Black Gate.
Although it doesn’t matter to our heroes, the Harlians carved a third path striaght down the middle for use exclusively by the Harlian army.
The trek from Croadin to Blue Gate is simple and straightforward, The greatest danger on the path is from slipping on fresh ice and snow.
Avery: Hm, there’s really not much to this, is there? We made it to the first checkpoint easily enough.
Brier: Yeah, yeah. But this is where the trek really begins. You have to choose between north path or south path.
Avery: I’ve already decided. It seems not a lot of people are going to the north path.
Brier: Ah, good choice. The south path will be-
Avery: Since we don’t want to be put under a lot of scrutiny, we should take the north path.
Coleen: Well… not like I mind.
Brier: Well, since there’s only three of us…
Brier: Right, four. We won’t be slowed down by the traffic or the extra checkpoint. Still…
Gaudy Woman: Oh, so you’re taking the northern path as well?
Sleazy Man: Hey, hey, what’s with that train of yours? Only two? Never seen you around. You new?
Avery: Ah… yes. I’ve been working with a holder named Shelby, and he agreed to branch off on my own. This is my first client.
Sleazy Man: Ah, how nostalgic. But you’ve got guts taking north path on your first run. Stick with me, and I’ll let you in on a few tips.
Gaudy Woman: Ah, that’s not fair. He’s got such a cute face. I’d hate to see him turn into one of you.
Sleazy Man: Like you’re one to talk, Teach.
Brier: Gh… those two are…
One notorious slaveholder was a woman known by the nickname “Teach.” Of course, this was only used by other holders that didn’t like her. She addresses herself as Madame Rowena. Always dressed in a fur coat and covered with excessive jewelry, she dealt exclusively with young boys and had them educated before selling them. Her boys were completely loyal to her.
Madame Rowena’s polar opposite was Woll “the Weed.” His slaves are always presented beaten, broken-in, and outright depressed. However, he receives a higher pay because despite appearances, his slaves are always of the best quality. Once their bruises heal and they find themselves in the service of a new master, they appear to transform like a dried up flower on the verge of death nourished by water.
Woll: I’m sure you’ve heard how virgins are worth more. Well, that may be true, but it’s not worth the profit. Have you ever had to deal with a client that claimed one of your slaves wasn’t a virgin? Too much of a hassle to try to explain yourself. In the end it’s just your word against theirs. Clients are dirt, you hear me? If they want a quality product, they have to put some effort into it. That’s why I break mine in personally. My clients know what they’re paying for.
Rowena: Hmph. All you offer is a gimmick. So classless. So, Avery… all this effort for two slaves? You should have paid a small fee and tagged along with one of the southern caravans.
Avery: Ah, well, these particular slaves are stronger than they look. They can handle this path.
Rowena: Is that so? In that case, how about I buy these slaves off you right now?
Rowena: You don’t need to trouble yourself. You can even work for me if you like.
Avery: Thanks for the offer, but my client… has very specific needs… and…
Rowena: I see, I see… You can’t afford to get on his bad side? Tell me who your client is. I know all the clans by heart. Maybe I can work something out.
Brier: (This could be bad…)
Coleen: (Did we have a cover story?)
Rowena: Hm? Are you okay? Headaches aren’t uncommon. I can get some medicine.
Avery: It… passed.
Brier: (That bastard…)
Coleen: (Hm? Something’s changed…)
Avery: Well, my client is Arod of the Warg Clan.
Rowena: Hmm? Warg Clan? Ah… now I remember. The son of a great warrior, if I recall.
Avery: For a Harlian, he’s quite useless and lives off his inheritance. Still, what does it matter as long as I get a foothold?
Rowena: Quite right. Someone like that shouldn’t even be part of his own clan, and yet… Ah, it’s probably a relative that sit this up. Interesting. If I had known it was like that, I would have liked to get to him first.
Avery: Sorry, but business is business after all.
Rowena: There will be other opportunities. For me and for you.
Avery: I’ll see to that.
Woll: Hmph. Take my advice and keep your distance from that woman before it’s too late.
Avery: I see… Well, you two seem to be well-versed in the business. Why are you taking the northern path?
Rowena: Regarding that matter, I would say we’re in the same boat, so to speak. We have schedules to keep with our clients.
Woll: Aye. We were supposed to leave Croadin two days ago, but then that sudden ice storm hit. Real freaky how that came about… Never seen an ice storm just start up out of nowhere like that.
Rowena: It’s not natural, I say.
Brier: They got that right.
Woll: Well, at least after an ice storm like that, monster activity is down. The worst we’ll have to deal with are snow leopards and rams.
Rowena: Aren’t you forgetting a certain gigantic winged predator?
Woll: Don’t scare the boy. The Croadi Ice Raptor is nothing more than a legend.
Avery: Croadi Ice Raptor?
Rowena: It’s an enormous, four-winged avian monster that absorbs the moisture around it in its feathers so they freeze and can be used as weapons. It also shoots the icicles like arrows at its prey. It has a wingspan of 10 meters and a beak strong enough to crush bone.
Avery: Have you ever encountered one?
Rowena: Can’t say I have.
Woll: See? She’s just pulling your leg, kid.
Rowena: More than that if you let me.
In order to reach the Empty Gate, travelers have to scale rock walls. It isn’t a particularly dangerous endeavor as each individual rock wall isn’t very steep or tall, but there are many of them.
Coleen: Gh… This would be no problem if I could just use Pocket Blast.
Brier: Why couldn’t the idiots who built this path just carve some stairs in?
Woll: Your slaves are getting uppity. You should discipline them more. HEY! GIRLS! PICK UP THE PACE! The sooner we get to Empty Gate, the sooner you can rest! I’m not delivering a bunch of beautiful corpses! I don’t deal with clients like that!
Rowena: Give it your all, boys!
Woll’s train of 12 slave girls were dressed with the bare minimum clothing necessary to keep them alive in the climate – not much more than thick cloaks tightly tied around wrists and ankles – which certainly didn’t help them maintain any reserve strength for climbing. Few of them had any upper body strength to speak of in the first place. The tallest of them managed to reach the top and helped pull the others.
Rowena’s 8 slave boys were dressed in layers as well as in heavy ornaments. They were educated about rock climbing, and although they had no practical experience before today, they were easily up to the task.
Even with their limiters on, Coleen and Brier, both experienced adventurers, easily made the climb. Avery was less successful and relied on Arco to help lift him up.
All three groups managed to scale all the walls and arrive at Empty Gate. True to its name, no one else was there except four Harlian guards, two stationed at the entrance and two stationed at the exit. While some parties rest a full day at either Red or Blue Gate, those resting at Empty Gate usually only stay half a night and depart early in the morning. Aside from the fact that there are limited natural sources of food nearby, it is a popular target for bandits and deserters. One might think the Harlian guards would be enough to prevent these attacks, but depending on the shift and the type of attack, it was anyone’s guess as to what the outcome would be. A successful defense requires the guards to be dutiful, strong, and smart – or at least strong and smart enough to match the attackers. Many tend to fall for the same tactics. On some occasions, a large group of bandits could overwhelm the guards. Sometimes, the guards themselves are in cahoots with the attacking force. The only thing adventurers agree on is that it is best not to stay at the Empty Gate long enough to find out what kind of guards they drew.
* * *
Braddock: Ugh, this is just wrong… if they’re going to keep us trapped in this city, at least give us money! Even prisoners get fed!
Svennia: Prisoners don’t get to drink nearly as much as you do.
Kent: But it’s true that we’re running low on funds.
Fabian: I wonder whose fault that is? As I thought, our adventurer jobs are too limited in scope to make a proper living off of.
Svennia: I barely make enough to pay for food from blacksmithing.
Sarisa: Sakar isn’t exactly a land of opportunity. Most people come here to study to become Clerics and support their families that way. Unfortunately, I’m uh… disqualified from that.
Svennia: Guess I’ve got no choice. Kent, we’re going with Plan A.
Kent: That again? I thought you were done with it.
Svennia: This is an emergency.
Fabian: Plan A?
Svennia: I get sold into slavery, then I break free and escape.
Fabian: And you do this often?
Braddock: Hey, if you wanna grift anytime soon, there’s a slaveholder I met at the bar on his way out the city. I can show him to you.
Svennia: That doesn’t give us much time…
Kent: We’ll wing it.
Slaveholder Drebin: Braddock! Come to see me off?
Braddock: Nothing so sentimental. I’ve got a pal here in a bit of a bind, and I was wondering if you can help him out.
Kent: Sir, as shameful as it is to admit, I can no longer support my family. In exchange for gold to last me through the year and an opportunity for my sister to live a better life, I humbly offer her into your charge as a… er… slave.
Drebin: That girl… she’s Harlian, is she not? And she’s your sister?
Kent: Well.. half-sister.
Drebin: I see. Well, I tell you what… I’ve been conned before, but I’m willing to do you a favor just because I’m in a good mood. The girl looks healthy and strong enough, and Harlian blood is worth quite a bit. I can offer 25,000 gold up front, but only after she agrees to let me put this collar on her.
Svennia: Of course. Whatever it takes.
The slaveholder snapped the collar around Svennia’s neck.
Drebin: With that on, I won’t have anything to worry about. I’ll get you that gold then.
The slaveholder placed 25,000 gold from a chest into five cloth bags and handed them to Kent.
Drebin: You check out. A smarter person would have haggled for more. Someone of her quality could easily sell for twice this amount.
Svennia was linked to the rest of Drebin’s train in the back of his wagon. As the wagon passed through the gates of Sakar, Svennia was forcefully slid off the wagon by an invisible force. The rest of her train was yanked off along with her, forcing the driver to stop.
Drebin: Well, what’s this now?
Svennia: Is this a barrier?
Drebin: So that’s how it is. Thought you could make me an accomplice, huh? Unfortunately for you, there’s no breaking this barrier.
Svennia: How is it affecting just me?
Sakar Gate Guard: This is a special barrier that requires seven Barrier Maidens to keep up. It allows most people to pass through and only keeps specific targets out. Or in. We have more than 200 Barrier Maidens on hand to keep the barrier up and for use as backup in case the city needs stronger protection.
Drebin: No one makes a fool out of me. How are you going to compensate?
Svennia: I suppose we could give you back the money. Or…
Svennia punched Drebin in the face, knocking him back. He managed to pull himself up and grinned while nursing his cheek.
Svennia: What the…
Drebin: Strong… If it weren’t for that limiter, I’d be dead.
Kent: Oh, this can’t be good.
Drebin: I have to thank troublemakers like you for making this invention necessary. I think this was your plan all along, yes? In that case, just getting my money back won’t be enough. That collar limits your powers, and I’m the only one who can take it off. I would much rather sell you off, but since I can’t take you outside the city, I’ll settle for direct payment. 50,000 gold.
Kent: That’s double what you paid us.
Drebin: It’s only fair, I think. You can keep that money I gave you for now, but I expect the full payment by the time I return from my trip. I don’t think you’ll be going anywhere, and I even have witnesses. You can make payments at the Adventurers’ Guild if you like. There will, of course, be an interest fee if you take too long to pay me off. Ha ha ha…
Svennia: I wanna punch him again… C’mon, pay him the 25,000 we got earlier so we don’t get killed by interest.
Kent: It’s actually down to 20,000 now. We had to pay off Braddock’s tab.
Svennia: If I can’t crush his skull, I can at least strangle him…
* * *
Woll: Well, well… this was entirely predictable, wasn’t it?
Rowena: In the middle of the night, no less. Avery, I have to thank your familiar for waking us up.
Avery: Even so, isn’t this a bit much?
The Empty gate had been surrounded by bandits. There were roughly 30 of them altogether, which is normally an excessive amount.
Woll: This is a bit more than I’m used to.
Avery: We can’t handle all of them on our own. Brier can support us with Bard Magic. If it gets ugly, I might have to release Coleen’s collar.
Rowena: Have you no pride?
Woll: This is all part of the business. If we have to rely on our slaves to protect ourselves, we have no right to call ourselves their masters. Show them who’s superior, boy!
Avery: I’m not nearly that young, but… very well.
Quest: Repel the bandit attackers!
Recommended Level: 52
Woll [Brute] lv. 60
Rowena [Master] lv. 50
Avery [Alchemist] lv. 51
Title: Blood Brother
Familiar (on loan): Arco [Young Wyvern] lv. 30
The slaves were all gathered together in one spot in the first floor lobby with the three slaveholders spread out in a triangle formation around them. A group of about ten bandits had them surrounded while the rest roamed about the Empty Gate.
Avery: They’re not using their full numbers against us. Could it be they’re not after us?
Rowena: It’s possible. But it doesn’t matter. If this lot wants us dead, we have to defend ourselves. And once we take out a few of them, the rest will join the fight in a hurry.
Avery: Then we have to take out the first wave as soon as possible.
Woll: Then what are we waiting for? WILD TEAR!
Wild Tear: A Brute melee technique in which the user’s bare hands are hardened and become capable of clawing through all but the strongest of armors. It is so powerful that it puts all other skills on a 10-second cooldown.
With a single motion, Woll’s right arm violently swept in front of him, slicing through three bandits at once. The momentum of the attack turned him to his left. Woll immediately pounced before unleashing his left arm, tearing apart another two bandits.
Avery: One! Two! Three!
Avery’s fired the three bolts in his Tri-Loader, striking three bandits directly between the eyes.
Rowena: That’s an interesting invention you have there. Looks like you only left two for me to take care of.
One bandit advanced and swung his axe at Rowena, who calmly swatted the attacking wrist away with her left palm and followed up with a spinning heel kick to the head with her right leg. The attack stunned the bandit, but didn’t knock him out. Rowena kept her foot hovering in the air as the bandit’s head lowered.
Chi Charge: Masters are statistically weaker than Brutes, but by delaying their attacks and focusing their Chi in one spot, the damage they can deal can multiply to lethal levels. True Masters use their vast array of techniques at base power to set up the perfect opening to deliver a fully charged deathblow.
Rowena finished off her opponent with a charged axe kick. Following the momentum of her attack, Rowena leapt atop the final bandit, placing his head between her thighs. With a single twist of her entire body, she snapped the bandit’s neck, then vaulted backwards to her original position.
Avery: Looks like we angered them. Here they come!
Rowena: Some of them are still searching around. Maybe we should keep one alive and find out what the big fuss is all about.
Woll: They’re attacking in higher numbers, but they seem pretty shaken.
Rowena: Then let’s shake them up a bit more… RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!
Kiai: A morale-attacking yell that uses stored Chi. Has a chance to make attacking enemies hesitate. Enemies with a low-enough morale will outright stop in their tracks momentarily.
Rowena’s Kiai stopped the attacking force of 15, giving Woll the opportunity to rampage through them.
Avery: This one’s still experimental, but with this many targets… Get down!
Elemental Bombs: Constructs made of pure crystalized magic, capable of being used by non-magic-users. They are relatively unstable and have a limited amount of power.
Avery’s Earth Bomb exploded in the middle of the bandit mob, shooting out shrapnel. Two bandits were killed while seven more were injured.
Avery: They’re bleeding bad, but not dead yet. Arco!
Poison Mist: A venomous cone attack used by the Shadow Dragon. Under normal circumstances it merely stings and may cause rashes to develop. However, the toxin sprayed is extremely deadly should it enter open wounds. Arco did not have access to this attack until he evolved into a wyvern form.
The affected bandits screamed out in agony before falling to the floor.
Rowena: That’s four left. I’ll take three out. Incapacitate the fourth.
Avery: Not a problem.
Avery fired his Tri-Loader bolts at one bandit’s ankles and a kneecap. Rowena used diving leg sweeps to trip three bandits, and Woll used his Megaton Fist to break their ribs.
Rowena: Give me some time with this one. The last few bandits seem to be preoccupied. Kill or chase them away. They won’t have the heart to fight after losing this many allies.
As expected, three bandits fled the scene. However, two bandits wearing armor stayed behind to fight.
Armored Bandit 1: If this is the real deal, it was worth their lives. Let’s test it out.
Armored Bandit 2: Only three fighters. Avoid the scrawny one’s arrows and we should be good.
Woll: Hey, hey… they’re getting kinda uppity.
Rowena: Do your thing.
Woll: Feh. I don’t have to wait for your order. Wild Tear!
Woll’s Wild Tear knocked one of the bandits aside, but he wasn’t critically hurt.
Armored Bandit 1: Is that the best you can do?
Armored Bandit 2: I’ll cut you down!
The bandit armed with two axes attacked Woll, who instinctively tried to guard. His Tough Skin couldn’t activate due to using Wild Tear, leaving him vulnerable. The bandit successfully injured Woll’s arms and legs, forcing him to his knees, defenseless.
Rowena: Chi Flurry of Soft Strikes!
Chi Flurry of Soft Strikes: A Master technique that attacks the opponent with rapid Chi-based attacks, which ignore armor.
Rowena’s attacks barely did any damage to the bandit, but they didn’t offer him any opportunities to counter. The other bandit tried to attack Rowena from behind, but Arco pounced at its face and attacked him with his claws.
Armored Bandit 1: GAAAAH! Get off!
Avery: Good job, Arco. Now, if he can just settle down so I can get a clear shot…
Woll: 1000 Fists of Mountain Weathering!
1000 Fists of Mountain Weathering: A Brawler technique modeled after Chi Flurry of Soft Strikes. Although this is considered a less refined version of that technique, it has more raw power and is capable of breaking armor.
Woll’s attack failed to scratch the bandit’s armor, but he managed to push his foe backward.
Woll: How do you like that? Even if your armor doesn’t break, you must have felt that impact.
Armored Bandit 1: Urgh… You’ll have to do better than…
Thwip! Thwip! Thwip! Avery’s Tri-Loader fired three bolts, each hitting an opening in the bandit’s armor – one in the wrist, one in the elbow, and one in the armpit. His attacking arm was made completely useless.
Woll: Well… I guess all you can do now is defend. Let’s see how long you can keep it up.
Armored Bandit 1: Heeeeeeeeeeee!!
Avery: Arco, Paralysis Bite!
Arco went after the remaining Armored Bandit and bit him in an exposed area, paralyzing him.
Rowena: Thanks for the assist. How would you like to see what a fully charged Chi strike can do? Expulsion!
Expulsion: A risky technique in which a Master’s Chi reserves are released all at once to unleash a devastating attack almost guaranteed to defeat the opponent. Requires that the user charge Chi to its maximum level. After release, the user will be unable to charge Chi for five minutes.
Rowena’s Expulsion attack finished off the bandit, leaving one crippled bandit left alive. It didn’t take long before he admitted the reason they attacked Empty Gate was because of a certain rumor – one which apparently was true. The Chief of Harl, Arbel, had paid off Rieve Elan mercenaries to retrieve armor from fallen Astorian soldiers. A small cache of the armor was kept at Empty Gate.
Woll: This stolen armor is made out of Astorian Iron, the strongest metal in Rym.
Rowena: Actually, that’s a popular misconception. Adamantine is stronger than Astorian Iron. However, Adamantine is also heavy and rare and requires special tools to mine, making it an inefficient choice for making armor.
Woll: Well, it’s easily in the top 3. What could that old man be plotting with this much Astorian Iron? Well.. his loss.
Avery: How do you mean?
Woll: I mean we’re taking it. As much as we can sneak across.
Rowena: We can only accomplish that much by having our slaves wear them under their cloaks.
Woll: Exactly. What are you waiting for, girls? Take those off and put the armor on. Besides, we’ll likely be attacked by those bandits that got away.
Rowena: Avery, what about you?
Avery: It sounds like a good opportunity. Brier? Coleen?
Brier: Sure, don’t see any reason not to.
Coleen: As long as we can get away with it.
After getting equipped, the party immediately left for White Gate. The pace was sluggish due to a combination of factors: everyone woke early, didn’t have time for a meal, and was now carrying Astorian Iron armor.
Rowena: How are your provisions? I know we left early, but if we stayed long enough for the next shift to arrive, we would have been detained.
Avery: We’re fine. Marching on without food is something these two are quite used to. If you like, I can have Brier play a song that should alleviate our pains.
Woll: No, best not draw attention to ourselves. Loud noises like that can draw bandits or beasts.
The bandits that had previously fled the Empty Gate were found freshly killed by a large winged beast. It boasted a massive wingspan, with four wings that seemed to glisten even in the twilight sky.
Woll: H-hey… those wings… covered in icicles… and…
Avery: That vicious-looking beak… It’s not…
Rowena: Ha ha… so it does exist after all…
“The Croadi Ice Raptor!”
The Ice Raptor shot hundreds of icicles at the group. Had they not been equipped with Astorian Iron armor, they most certainly would have died. Still, some of the icicles managed to strike a few in unarmored parts of their bodies, driving them down.
Woll: Damn… Just focus on defending yourselves!
Rowena: It’s absorbing more moisture from the air!
Woll: What?! We can’t respond to another volley just like that!
Avery: This is an emergency. Brier! Coleen!
Avery removed the collars from his “slaves.” Brier immediately started playing a song to disorient the Ice Raptor’s senses.
Coleen: Flame Cutter!
Coleen’s Flame Cutter was canceled out by the volley of icicles from the Raptor’s wings. The Raptor immediately started absorbing moisture from the air again.
Avery: It’s just going to keep absorbing water! We have to put a stop to it.
Coleen: Maybe if I attack it before it can ready another attack… Spirits of flame, I stir thy rage. From calmness, erupt with power! Prominence!
Prominence: An intermediate-level fire spell in which a mass of fire is shot out of the caster’s body and travels in an arc. Slow-moving and predictable, but easily capable of incinerating most foes instantly.
Coleen’s Prominence enveloped the Ice Raptor, melting all of the icicles it had stored on its wings.
Coleen: That wasn’t enough?
Brier: One more. This time, target the melted water all over its wings.
Avery: I’ll keep it busy.
Avery fired his Tri-Loader bolts and threw fire bombs to keep the ice on the Ice Raptor’s wings melted while Coleen began chanting. Unexpectedly, the Ice Raptor had an additional attack outside of its icicle volleys: an ice breath shot. Brier repelled the shot, but the force of the attack still knocked him back and into Avery. This was enough to provide Coleen the time she needed, however.
Coleen: …by the fury of the heavens! SKY HAMMER!
Sky Hammer: A high-level lightning spell capable of striking a large area, but if it misses the intended target, the caster is struck by shockwaves.
Coleen’s Sky Hammer struck its target, dealing significant damage and paralyzing its entire body.
Coleen: Haah… did that do it?
Avery: No. It’s still alive.
Coleen: Ugh… I’m too tired…
Woll: Got you covered. Girls! Time to earn your keep!
Rowena: You too, boys! Don’t let them show you up!
The remaining slaves pounced on the downed Ice Raptor, preventing it from moving its limbs and blocking its ability to absorb moisture. Woll and Rowena used their fists to continuously pummel at the Ice Raptor’s beak until it cracked.
Rowena: How is it still alive?
Woll: This one should finish it! MEGATON FIST!
Woll slammed his fist into the Ice Raptor’s skull, burying his entire arm inside it.
Woll: Heh heh heh… No way it’s getting up from that one. Think it’s edible?
Rowena: Honestly? I have no idea.
Woll: Hmm… Well, it’s not like it’s a venomous beast. I’ll see what I can find.
Rowena: Knock yourself out. Oh, Avery? A word?
Avery: What is it?
Avery returned the collars to Coleen and Brier’s necks and stood aside to speak with Rowena.
Rowena: So, who are you, really? Those two aren’t really your slaves. Master and slave don’t have that kind of relationship.
Avery: I’m afraid I don’t follow your reasoning or understand what you’re accusing me of. After all, your boys are quite devoted to you, are they not?
Rowena: Their devotion is trained. What you three have is something else It’s like… an unspoken bond of trust that could only have been fostered over a long time. The kind of relationship a master and slave has must, by necessity, be one that can cleanly be broken. As much as my boys depend on me, they have been prepared to redirect that devotion to their new masters, and I will feel nothing no matter what fate befalls them.
Avery: I see. And?
Avery: Me and those two… we are the same way. I would not hesitate to sever our bonds and betray them. I expect no less than the same from them as well. And should we turn against each other, we will bear no grudges. That is the true nature of this “trust” you speak of. Is it really so different?
Rowena: Hm… It seems I have been mistaken. It’s rare for me to misjudge someone. Avery… you really are quite scary, aren’t you?
Avery: Me? How interesting… I don’t think I’ve been called that before. It’s both refreshing and unsettling. Perhaps I can’t change my nature after all…
In the next chapter of Bardass! The party arrives at Harl in time to hear about the start of the Dragon Hunt, an event that takes place only once every 25 years! Linked to the Dragon Hunt is the origin of magic-repelling Obsidian and the opening of the Dragon Forge. The Dragon Hunt must be successful if Avery is to achieve his goals, but what other intentions are lurking behind the scenes? The new event begins in Quest 27 – Prelude to the Hunt!