Arriving at the cafeteria for breakfast, Adam could already hear Alfred and the others in some sort of heated discussion. Nearby, Helen was ladling some porridge into a bowl. Adam gave a slightly awkward wave: “H-hey Helen.”
Adam still wasn’t entirely sure what that kiss on his cheek last night meant. Based on how Helen also gave him a similarly awkward wave before sitting down with some other girls, Adam thought that she wasn’t sure what it meant either! Her Aura also seemed a little disturbed, but that could mean anything considering what had happened the previous night. He was also very bad when it came to reading a girl’s emotions.
‘Well, it’s better than saying it was just a thank you. I’ll take my small wins where I can!’
With the events of the previous night flashing through his mind, Adam thought of the man he killed. He quickly shook his heads to cast those thoughts aside. Dwelling on it wouldn’t do him any good. Instead, Adam joined Alfred and the others for breakfast.
As he sat down, Alfred accosted him: “You and Helen went missing last night! You didn’t steal a march on me, did you!?”
Adam decided to give Alfred a smug look as he said: “Maybe a little.”
Alfred was aghast: “What!? After I worked so hard on that stuffed wolf, you came out winning? Totally unfair!”
Adam couldn’t help laughing. Alfred continued with: “Don’t think this means I’ll be relenting! Sure I’ll be leaving next month when I turn sixteen, but that distance will create a sense of mystery that Helen will have to explore! That is when I’ll steal her heart!”
Kadara couldn’t help a vehement laugh: “Sure, keep daydreaming there.”
Alfred gave her an indignant look before turning back to Adam: “So, what happened last night?”
With a sigh, Adam recounted the previous nights’ events. By the end of it, Alfred was speechless. Putting aside the lovely moments the two of them shared, Helen had been in danger! Actual danger where she could have disappeared forever! It could happen again at any time!
Seeming to have made up his mind about something, Alfred stood up and walked over to Helen. Interrupting her conversation with her friends, he grabbed her shoulders and turned her toward him saying: “Helen, marry me!”
Out of reflex from him suddenly getting so close, Helen responded with a slap! After everyone was momentarily startled by the suddenness of everything, Helen continued with a glare: “What’s with you, Alfred?”
“Ah, well, I heard what happened last night. I kinda… felt like I had to say it before it was too late and uh…. yeah, I guess not.”
As he was talking, Alfred shrunk under everyone’s scrutinizing gaze. He only now realized how stupid and foolish it was to expect Helen to react positively to his sudden confession. With embarrassment etched all over his face, Alfred fled from the cafeteria.
Kadara was giggling with delight: “Best breakfast entertainment ever!”
Adam was surprised when he was summoned to Madame Janette’s office later in the day. As he approached, Adam could see Isley was also in the office with his Spirit Sight.
‘Something with the Silver Saviors?’ Adam thought.
Adam gave a quick knock before entering the office. Isley stood up and was the first to greet him: “Good to see you, Adam. Sorry to call on you like this.”
“Good to see you too, Isley. What’s going on?”
“As I was telling Janette, we’ve received a request to track down a possible Ghul up in the Hayden Mountains to the east. We need every tracker we can get to comb through those mountains, so Boss was hoping to recruit you and Silber for the mission.”
Janette interrupted: “And as I was asking Isley, isn’t it a little dangerous to send you after a Ghul? I don’t mean to sound abrasive Isley but the last time your band went against a Ghul you lost a few of your own.”
Isley nodded: “When that happened, we were only equipped for hunting boars, not fighting a Ghul Bear. Not only will we be prepared this time, Boss will be coming along. If you don’t know what a Spirit Martial Artist is, I can try to explain it to you. Suffice it to say, Boss is strong enough to tank a Ghul on his own! Even a handful wouldn’t be a match for him! That aside, we don’t even know for sure that we’re going up against a Ghul. All we’ve got are rumors of one.”
Janette cast a questioning gaze over to Adam. Adam nodded to her unspoken question. He also added: “I know it’s hard to believe, but Heinrich can launch multiple logs tens of meters with a single swing of his ax! If he’s coming along to be the front line fighter, I have little to worry about.”
Janette sighed: “Well, Vivi has been letting you make your own decisions. Just make sure to talk to her about this before the day is out!”
Adam nodded with a smile: “Of course!”
Isley spoke: “Good. I’ll be your partner during the mission.”
Isley nodded: “Each tracker will have a partner equipped for combat with them. That being said, if Alfred or the others ask, they aren’t allowed to participate in the mission! They’re good, but we have plenty of members with more experience in combat.”
A few days later, Adam prepared to leave with the Silver Saviors with Silber. His friends gathered to see them off.
Alfred spoke first: “I’m the one that’s going to be joining them as a full-fledged member soon, so why are you the one that gets to go on this mission!?”
Adam could only helplessly shrug. Alfred had been constantly bringing this up the last few days and nothing anybody said could pacify him. After what happened during the Festival night, Alfred seemed determined to not let Adam outdo him in anything else. Adam had learned to just shrug and let Alfred do what he wanted. It was easier that way.
To a far lesser degree, the others were also taken aback that only Adam was going on this mission. Derek spoke next: “Just cuz you’re leaving us in the dust on this one doesn’t mean that you’re better than the rest of us! I’ll show you when you return!”
With that, Derek ran off without waiting for a reply. Kadara shook her head: “I’ll be more straightforward than these idiots; comeback safe and tell us all the details of your mission!”
Bruno, Clyde, and Franklin shared Kadara’s sentiments. Vivienne gave Adam a big hug goodbye, making him a little embarrassed as she gushed over him in front of the others. Then finally, it was Helen. They stood awkwardly for a moment before Helen started fixing a fold on his collar that stuck out from his leather armor.
“You always get into trouble. Make sure you stay safe, okay?”
Adam nodded: “I’ll be back before too long.”
“Good, I’ll see you when you get back.”
Next, she knelt down to Silber and gave him a big hug before ruffling his fur: “Take care of Adam, kay?”
Silber responded with a happy bark. Helen chuckled at this before considering something for a moment. Suddenly, she gave Adam a quick peck on the cheek before scurrying away with a flushed face! A few of the Silver Saviors who saw this started whooping for Adam who stood with a shocked expression. Similarly, Alfred stood stock still. After a moment, he shouted at Adam: “You may be winning now, but it won’t be forever!”
Alfred then ran off on his own. Isley took this moment to bring Adam out of his stupor. Putting an arm around his shoulder, Isley leaned in and said: “You can’t lock up every time a girl kisses you. You won’t get anywhere in life like that!”
“Y-yeah.” Was all that Adam managed to respond with. Slowly, a grin began to creep across his face as the implications of the two pecks Helen had given him started to become clear. Kadara took this chance to say one final farewell before leaving: “Well, that’s a creepy smile. C’ya around Adam! Later Silber!”
Bruno, Clyde, and Franklin left with Kadara. Slapping his cheeks, Adam tried to get his mind back on task. There was a long road ahead of him and distractions could be deadly!
Ambling along the road, Adam spoke to Isley: “I never got the chance to ask, but what are the rumors we are following?”
“Oh, I guess I didn’t fully explain. Well, loud roars are being heard in the Hayden Mountains. Roars on their own would arouse suspicion, but these roars can be heard by a stretch of villages and towns spanning fifty kilometers around the mountains!”
Adam’s eyes widened: “Are we dealing with a horde!?”
Isley shook his head: “The roars happen at regular intervals. Based on that it seems they are all hearing the same creature!”
Adam shook his head: “That doesn’t sound like a regular Ghul.”
Isley nodded: “The other strange thing is that no one has gone missing during this time! Besides the wildlife being obviously agitated by the roars, nothing else has happened. No predators have gotten territorial and no mysterious disappearances from any of the villages or towns. At least, none that we know of. Nothing that would normally happen if there was a Ghul incursion have been noticed… Frankly, we don’t know what it is!”
A few possibilities crept into Adam’s mind. The creature could be a dragon, which was unlikely. Not only were dragons incredibly rare, someone would have seen it flying in the skies. Another possibility was a Guardian. Guardians are similar to Ghuls yet their complete opposite! Where Ghuls were vengeful and unstable, Guardians were calm protectors. However, Guardian’s were rare. Not as rare as a dragon, but still…
Putting those thoughts aside, Adam spoke: “Dare I ask why we are investigating and not the army?”
Isley sighed: “Same old thing. It’s hard to get through the Hayden Mountains so they act as a natural border defense. Very few soldiers are posted along it. Heider won’t redirect anyone out there just based on these odd rumors.”
“But there’s something out there! Regardless of what it is, there’s definitely something!” Adam responded.
Isley shrugged: “I agree, but it doesn’t seem to be something malevolent. Since that’s the case, Heider won’t spend much effort on it.”
Adam was truly exasperated. “I can’t believe our kingdom is like this!”
Isley laughed: “Heider is hardly unique, Adam. Some kingdoms might be better or worse, but Heider is pretty average in the way it handles disputes within its borders. In fact, Luxom handles things the exact same way!”
The more Isley spoke about the subject, the more frustrated Adam got! Isley even compared Heider to Luxom! They were hardly the same! Adam grumbled: “Let’s stop talking about this.”
Isley shrugged: “Okay.”
Adam sighed. ‘Let’s not bring that up again. This trip is long enough without talking about something so frustrating! I can’t believe Isley even compared us to Luxom! They’re just a bunch of cruel despots!’
Silber gave Adam a worried nudge. With a small smile beginning to form, Adam scratched behind Silber’s ears.
“I’ll be fine.”
Adam put his mind back to the task at hand. Now that he had been training with them for a few years, the Silver Saviors wouldn’t be so forgiving as when he traveled with them on the bandit subjugation mission. He wouldn’t be able to rest on the wagon. He was going to have to march the whole way with everyone else.
That alone would be tiring. After they finally reached their destination, though, the real work would begin! Adam couldn’t afford to let his mind drift or let himself get frustrated at something he had no control over. He could only march forward and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best!