Ian, Gaelan, and Bianca continued toward the gate where they found Sarah leaning against the stone wall. She was toting a leather sack that likely had supplies in it. However, in contrast to the civilian clothes that Ian, Gaelan, and Bianca were wearing, Sarah was wearing an impressive light armor set. Although not decorative, it’s bluish-white sheen was very eye-catching. It was a similar color to the sky on a sunny day but was slightly less blue. Unfortunately, it appeared to have been scratched and chipped in battle many times and also had remnants of bloodstains on it here and there.
“Hoh~ it seems your friend has a set of mithril armor. She must have fought some tough opponents for it to get damaged, though,” Gaelan said, obviously impressed with the armor.
“So that’s mithril,” Ian said quietly while admiring the splendor of the armor Sarah was wearing. The dings, scratches, and inconspicuous bloodstains caught his attention, making him recall what Sarah had said about having it rough. It was a grim reminder that this world was much more dangerous than the comfortable land called Earth.
When she saw the trio approaching, Sarah waved and moved to meet them halfway. Upon reaching them, she greeted them with a “Good morning.”
“Mornin’,” Ian replied nonchalantly.
“Good morning, young lady,” Gaelan said.
Bianca gave Sarah a nearly unnoticeable nod before saying, “Good morning, Miss Sarah.”
“So, are we leaving right away?” Sarah asked. Her face looked somewhat anxious.
“Yeah, you alright with that?” Ian asked in return.
Just as the four were about to exit the city, a voice called out from behind them. “Oh?! I see some familiar faces!”
The four turned to see a hooded man garbed fully in black leather gear. At his waist was a short sword that had been forged by Gaelan and on his torso there were several holsters for daggers and throwing knives.
“Nightstalker?” Sarah asked pensively.
“Oh, it’s Ed,” Ian groaned as he recalled all the torturous physical training from the past month.
In a moment, Edmund caught up to them and bowed politely. “It is good to see all of you this fine morning.”
“Good to see you too, Edmund,” Gaelan said, grinning.
Rising from his bow, Edmund looked at Ian and asked, “I was under the impression that you were going home two days ago. Did you delay your departure?”
“Actually, I got into a scuffle with a hobgoblin and got injured,” Ian explained.
“Oh?” Edmund’s face lit up. “Did my training come in handy at all?”
“Yeah, it did. Thanks,” Ian answered.
Leaning toward Ian, Sarah cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered in his ear, “Do you know Nightstalker?”
“Huh? Nightstalker?” Ian asked aloud, slightly confused.
“Ah, that’s a nickname I somehow picked up while adventuring in my spare time,” Edmund clarified.
“But you know him?” Sarah whispered in his ear again.
“Hmm… to think you know the Ice Queen,” Edmund said, calming down a bit. Beneath his hood, his curious blue eyes examined Sarah.
“Uh… what? Got a problem?” Sarah asked apprehensively.
“No, it’s just interesting,” Edmund answered, drawing a frustrated ‘kek’ from Sarah. Continuing on, Edmund looked back to Ian and said, “You really get around.”
“We were originally from the same place.” Ian pointed out. Hearing this, Edmund’s eyes lit up.
Meanwhile, Bianca looked at the others who were talking but had no idea how to join the conversation, or even if she should try to participate in the first place. Both Edmund’s and Sarah’s minds felt like whirlwinds of suffering. As a result, she began fidgeting due to the uncomfortable images.
“Well, it was good to see you, Edmund,” Gaelan said, “but we should probably get going since it is a decently long journey.”
“Oh, I see,” Edmund said, his eyes turned downcast. “In that case, have a good trip.”
“See ya, Ed,” Ian said.
Sarah gave ‘Nightstalker’ a hesitant nod while Bianca gave him a barely noticeable wave.
With that, the group of four began to walk away, leaving Edmund alone. However, a thought popped into his head that made him perk up. “Hey, do mind if I go with you?” He asked excitedly. Although it meant delaying the missions he just obtained from the Adventurer’s guild, going with Ian’s group seemed like a good opportunity to distract himself from the annoyances back home.
Once more, Ian, Gaelan, Bianca, and Sarah turned to face the young man. Then, they all looked at each other.
Facing Ian, Gaelan said, “It’s up to you, kid. It’s your home, after all.”
“Hmm…” Ian thought for a moment. “I guess it’s not a problem as long as he doesn’t make a scene over there.”
“Thank you!” Edmund exclaimed in celebration, bowing slightly.
“Not causing trouble? Good luck with that,” Gaelan said, grinning.
“Hahahaha! Good one!” Edmund replied. At least he knew how to laugh at himself.
“I wonder if the group will grow any more…” Sarah muttered with brows furrowed. With the addition of Nightstalker, whom she had just now discovered was named Edmund, she was already beginning to feel uncomfortable.
Now a five-person group, they exited Conncinnanta and headed south into the forest. After joining, Edmund made the trip far more lively. He pointed out places where he had gotten into scuffles with jealous adventurers and strong monsters. He also pointed out to Ian some herbs and edible berries that he could use in an emergency.
Around midday, Sarah realized where they were heading and asked, “Uh, you know we are going straight toward Mount Sacris, right?”
“Hmm? Yeah, that’s where the portal is,” Ian answered.
“What?! Are you serious?” Sarah was evidently startled. “You mean you can go up there?”
“You can cross the barrier?” Edmund inquired.
“I guess. I didn’t even know there was one until Gaelan mentioned it before,” Ian answered with a shrug.
“Oh, I see…” Edmund trailed off. For the first time during the trip, he fell silent. Based on his expression, Ian figured he was pondering something.
After that short exchange, the group quietly ventured toward the mountain. Upon reaching the initial slope at the bottom, Edmund said, “This is about the farthest anyone has been able to go until now.”
“Yeah,” Sarah chimed in, “I’ve tried coming here before, but couldn’t go up at all. It was like there was an invisible wall.”
“Edmund,” Gaelan spoke seriously, “don’t be too surprised about Ian’s home later.”
Looking at Gaelan with a confused expression, Edmund said, “Well, I did think it was weird that we were going to Mount Sacris… and that Ian and the Ice Queen wer-“
“Sarah,” Sarah corrected.
“Uh… yes.” Edmund resumed his sentence. “-The fact that Ian and Sarah were from the same place, yet she seemed unsure of the direction while Ian was aware of it.”
“I guess that was strange, huh?” Ian asked.
“Very,” Edmund replied with a nod. “However, it doesn’t bother me if you don’t explain it. I’ll just find out the reason for the inconsistencies later.”
“Inconsistencies,” Gaelan muttered. “I hadn’t thought of that. You might want a good cover story, Ian.”
“Yeah, but it is something I can come up with later,” Ian replied. “Let’s go.”
Once again, the group of five moved onward. Ian followed the path he had marked a month ago, leading the group up the mountainside. Along the way, both Sarah and Edmund were looking around curiously. Although the surroundings might not have been any different, they both felt strange walking on the previously untrodden ground. On the other hand, Gaelan and Bianca both followed directly behind Ian without any qualms.
While crossing over a small downhill stream that Ian had barely taken note of before, he saw Bianca trip in his peripheral vision. Even with heavy travel sacks strapped to his back, he quickly turned to catch her. During the action, a brief thought of glamorously catching her like a hero flashed through his mind, but reality was never kind. When he tried to catch her, he slipped on a damp rock and fell sideways. Well, he did break Bianca’s fall, but he ended up falling into the stream. Although Bianca was not heavy, his personal backpack had lots of hard objects in it which were painful to lie on top of. Luckily, the stream was only a few centimeters deep and less than a meter wide, so only his backpack and some of his shirt were wet.
“Uuu~ sorry Mister Ian,” Bianca apologized while still lying on top of him. Nearby, Ian could hear Edmund laughing.
“Are you okay?” Gaelan asked, stepping over to them. Ian noticed that the question was directed more at Bianca than himself.
“Yes, dad. Thank you, Mister Ian,” Bianca replied to her father and thanked Ian at the same time.
“No problem.” Ian groaned. On the inside, he thought, Are you going to get off me now? This is rather uncomfortable for me. Then, he found himself looking into Bianca’s eyes that were the same purple as the sky when the sun is about to sink behind the horizon. Normally, he did not pay much attention to it, but her eyes were dreamy. Not only that, they looked mature, like the eyes of one who has seen and experienced many things.
“Let me help you up,” Gaelan said while extending a hand toward his daughter. Removing her gaze from Ian, Bianca grabbed her father’s outstretched hand. A moment later, she was standing next to her father and looking down at Ian who was still lying with his upper body in the shallow stream and his legs on the grass. During that short moment when their eyes had been within a few centimeters of each other, she had tried to peek into Ian’s mind but was once again unable to see anything. For some reason, it was much like her mother’s mind. Deep down, she decided to one day see deep within both of their hearts. She had always wanted to see her mother’s in order to have a closer relationship with her and now wanted to see Ian’s because, well, she was curious as to why she could not see within his mind.
Down on the ground, Ian sighed. “Nobody wants to help me up?”
“Nope,” Gaelan answered.
“Do it yourself,” Sarah said.
“Haha! I’ll help you, Ian,” Edmund said, stepping over. Just like Gaelan had done for Bianca, Edmund helped Ian up.
“Thanks, bro,” Ian said.
“Bro?” Edmund was confused by the strange title. “We aren’t brothers, though.”
“Don’t have to be,” Ian replied. He had forgotten that the people of Regnoras did not always use the same terminology. “Where I’m from, we say ‘brother from another mother’ or something. Basically, you don’t have to be brothers to act like one.”
“Oh. That’s interesting. It’s like being sworn blood brothers,” Edmund said. He crossed his arms, put one hand on his chin, and nodded like he just comprehended something profound. “We don’t have to be brothers to treat each other like brothers. I like that.”
This guy… taking it as the greatest philosophical idea of the century… Ian thought.
“So are we going or what?” Sarah asked, crossing her arms.
“Haaah… yeah,” Ian said.
With the short delay out of the way, Ian resumed leading the group toward the cave under the afternoon sun. Upon reaching it, Sarah shivered and asked, “Do we have to go in there?”
“What? Are you claustrophobic?” Ian asked in return.
“Uh… no?” Sarah answered while averting her gaze.
Yep. She’s claustrophobic, Ian concluded.
When Ian turned on his flashlight, Bianca and Edmund both looked at it with wide eyes.
“What is that?” Edmund asked.
“It’s like a torch, but better,” Ian explained. He had learned from his experience with Gaelan to give explanations that did not leave them with more questions.
With that, Ian led the way through the tunnel. He entered first, followed by Bianca, then Sarah, then Edmund, then Gaelan. A few minutes later, Ian arrived at the crawlspace which Gaelan previously widened and stopped. Turning to the others, he said, “I will go through first, so make sure to follow behind me.”
In response, the others nodded.
“Did you explore this whole cave?” Edmund inquired.
“Not yet, but I would like to after I get established as a blacksmith,” Ian answered.
“Oh, I see. Let me know when you do. It seems like it would be fun,” Edmund said, grinning with childish excitement.
“You guys are crazy…” Sarah muttered.
“Alright, follow closely,” Ian said, ignoring Sarah’s remark.
With that, Ian ducked slightly and began walking through the tunnel. The others quietly followed, though Sarah grimaced along the way. The tunnel caused her to feel uncomfortable. When they reached the other end, Ian waited until the other four made it to the cave with the portal in it. Once Gaelan appeared, Ian walked over to the portal and asked Gaelan, “Do you want to demonstrate?”
With a shrug, Gaelan said, “Sure, why not?” Without hesitation, he jumped through the portal, startling the other three.
“Holy sh*t! Is that really a portal?!” Sarah exclaimed. Her cursing drew the attention of both Bianca and Edmund, but they were currently more focused on the fact that Gaelan had just disappeared.
“Who is next?” Ian asked, smiling at the reactions of the three.
“Oh, I’ll go,” Sarah volunteered, sticking a hand into the air. She completely forgot about her claustrophobia at this moment due to how startled she was by the existence of a portal besides the one which brought her to Regnoras in the first place.
“Go for it, then,” Ian said.
Sarah trotted up to the portal and stuck her hand through. “Oh my god. It’s real.” Then, she stepped all the way through.
Ian looked at Edmund and Bianca. As he suspected, Edmund stepped forward.
“Guess I’ll go next,” Edmund said, shrugging. He too stepped through the portal, although not without playing with it a bit first. His eyes glowed with avid curiosity under the light of Ian’s flashlight.
“So, Bianca? Do you need me to hold your hand?” Ian asked with a joking grin.
“Um… n- …um… yes?”
“What? Are you serious?” Ian asked. He was a bit taken aback.
In response, Bianca looked at him and nodded. Although Ian was confused, Bianca was actually thinking that holding his hand might allow her to get a better glimpse into his mind. It was not because she simply wanted to try holding a man’s hand or anything.
“Haaah… okay. Hopefully Gaelan won’t get mad…” Ian muttered to himself. Then, he held out his empty hand for the girl in front of him which she grabbed with slight hesitation. Once their hands were locked together, Ian led her through the portal. As he had suspected, Gaelan glared at them as soon as they arrived in the apartment bedroom. As a result, he immediately let go of Bianca’s hand. Meanwhile, Edmund was looking at all of the furniture in awe while Sarah simply stared at it blankly.
“So, I was thinking Sarah and Bianca could sleep in here while Gaelan, Edmund, and I sleep in the living room. Sound good?” Ian suggested. Everyone else agreed.
Since it was evening, Ian got everything ready for several people to sleep. First, he got some blankets and pillows for Gaelan, Edmund, and himself. It was certainly good that he had bought extra during the last Earth-bound trip with the thought that something like this might happen. Then, while Sarah was showing Bianca how to use the shower, Ian brought fresh bedding into his bedroom for them to use. After finishing, he looked toward the portal while thinking about how much his life had been moving forward since it appeared.
“…” Ian was silent for a moment. His eyes weren’t playing tricks on him, were they? As worry rose within his heart, he rubbed his eyes and looked again. Unfortunately, his eyes were not playing tricks. The portal was gone.