‘Wraith? Gods?’ Zax struggled to wrap his head around the two terms. ‘Wraith like a ghost… like in a horror movie?’
The manner in which Xinia recited how God Demirva used remnants of the souls and dark attribute to create such creature was inventive. Seems to be impossible to the current Zax, but still a mind opener to the, maybe, reachable heights a proficient soul cultivator can attain.
‘But what sort of existence do they talk about in Ercas Mir when they mention Gods?!’
His only hope of knowing without having someone to tell him at the risk of exposing himself due to ignorance was, at the moment, to try and find clues in Demirva Ridge.
“The damnable wraiths in Demirva Ridge are merciless monsters, capable of threatening even third level Martial Mortals, when they converged. What worse is that only soul attacks work against them, yet no necessarily enough to kill them. Anyway, this is the origin of Demirva Ridge and the basis you should know before heading there”. Xinia finished.
Zax opened the limousine’s door. He got the answer for the Linder Seeds’ need without Xinia being explicit about it.
“Thank you for letting me know and for the seeds”. He got out of the vehicle.
“Mr. Walaow, the Linder Seeds I gave you are eighty percent more potent than those in the market, so I will advise you to be a little frugal with them and still purchase the common ones”.
Zax nodded. “In our next meeting you’ll be obligated to show me what is a Geared ranked mercenary band”.
After collecting his things from his hostel room, Zax actually found the common type of Linder Seeds in a regular pharmacy. As it so happen, apart from being remedy for the soul, Linder Seeds were also treated as a not cheap painkillers for the privileged. Thus, they were not typically recommended by pharmacist, but if someone will ask then there definitely was a supply.
“Fengar, Vouvik”. Zax called the two when he arrived to the city’s frontal entrance.
On his way he saw a bunch of experts, which he guessed were participants, running around, completing their final errands before setting out.
“Good. You didn’t dilly dally, Greenhorn Zax”. Fengar was pleased. “See, Vouvik, your daughter is the only one who doesn’t seem to be wholeheartedly ready for the assignment”.
“Stop speaking nonsense”. Vouvik growled. “She is on her way”.
Smiling, Fengar quieted and Zax joined the pair in their silence.
Couple of minutes after Zax arrival, Shouva showed up.
“Everything is done?”
“Then we are leaving Glorious Ground”. Vouvik declared, apparently as the leader of the party, which the other three accepted.
“Hey, you, stop!” A frisky voice shouted toward the direction of the four the moment they left the city.
A boy, twelve or thirteen years old, came running.
“You, sirs and lady, are participants in the High Rankers’ trials; you chose the assignment, right?” The boy inquired enthusiastically.
“Beat it, kid”. Fengar scowled.
Though they were about the same height, the boy knew better than irritating an expert. He turned around disappointment, but soon enough started running in his previous cheerful manner toward another party of participants.
“What’s that about?” Zax stared at Fengar of the answer, since it was he scared the boy away.
“Just a little scoundrel”. Fengar said. “News about the assignments and its details were already spread in the city and now certain people will try anything to make money out of it. Look over there”. He pointed on a large, bus looking vehicle that hovered near the city’s entrance. “They even offer rides to checkpoints, most likely, up to several hundred meters from Demirva Ridge”.
“Don’t let anyone fool you with promise for important information and such things”. Shouva interrupted. “My father and Fengar are seasoned mercenaries and this isn’t their first trial. They know on whom you can rely and from whom you’ll better stay away”.
“Converse on the way. There is nothing for us here”. Vouvik said.
It seemed that most parties had their own preferable routes to the ridge. Vouvik’s route led back to the Titan Kapok Trees forest, eastward from Glorious Ground.
Early on, Vouvik explained to Zax and Shouva that they have nothing to hurry for. The designated time for the assignment was calculated to be sufficient for completion in a non cultivator’s traveling speed, on foot.
As such, when night came the four made camp and stopped for the day.
“Father, I trust your and Fengar’s judgment on people… But are we going to travel like this throughout the assignment?” Shouva was not persuaded of the practicality of actually maintaining the speed of a non cultivator.
Zax had the same question in mind. He said nothing only because of his patience and the fact they had more than enough time.
“Of course, not”. Fengar said as he turned above the fire the meaty body of the Deformed Being he hunted earlier.
Next to him was a kit, specifically made to hold spices. Also, much like Vouvik, Fengar also had a spatial storage space bronze’s color ring.
“Shouva, there are many experts heading to the same place. Some will not waist time and get there fast, others will drag every second they have. Entering the ridge before knowing exactly who is waiting at the front and who is staring at our back will put us at risk. Tomorrow we will make a quick stop at Sifon tribe. There is a Lavish Tail there who gathers information about participants in every High Rankers’ trials. We will rush to Demirva Ridge after seeing if we can purchase some information from that Lavish Tail”.
“Enough talks. Food is ready!” Fengar used the same axe he split the Deformed Being in two, to cut and serve.
Just like villages were a stepped down from cities in Ercas Mir, tribes and clans were the same. Nevertheless, in comparison to Virgil’s Pasture, Sifon tribe was akin to a town, the in between among the four types of settlements.
The tribe was located on a vast cliff that after its edge lain a field of Titan Kapok Trees’ treetops. From an outsider point of view, it was large enough to accommodate close to twenty thousand souls. It had not wall or fence, of any sort, around it and inside was a mass of wooden structures and electrical lines. Like an old west kind of style that only started integrated technological advancements.
About the tribe’s occupants… Zax refrained from asking questions. He gauged the social conventions from what he saw and basic knowledge. Most occupants appeared as human, but were actually beasts in their humanoid forms. There was also a high number of humanoid beasts, generally flying type, members of the tribe. As for beasts in their animalistic form, there were barely any in the vicinity and those seen were tots and guarded heavily. Supposedly, only selected members of the tribe were allowed to roam freely with their immature offspring. The rest were allocated to a closed location until being able to distinguish the wild and transform to humanoid form.
“We are not the only party that came”. Zax noticed other participants’ parties. And, of course, they noticed his group.
“You thought it would only be us, Greenhorn Zax?” Fengar snorted. “Information is the most important commodity a mercenary can hope to obtain, regardless of the job. There are many old timers who will delay themselves for useful information to be available before proceeding with a job”.
“Let’s follow suit, then”. Vouvik said.
“Doing what, father?”
“Fengar is right. The trials just began. Any information gathered is still in its infancy. Besides, if we leave just after our arrival, some parties would rather steal our info than pay for it. Since staying a few days is unavoidable, we might as well allow my Lavish Tail contact to properly do her job”.
‘A few days in a tribe… this would be a good educational opportunity’. Zax made up his mind to get familiar with the livelihood of beasts in Ercas Mir.
Someplace else in the Sifon tribe. A short, shady spot at the commerce area.
“No! Please, sir! I’ll erase everything… I’ll- I’ll- I won’t say a thing and- and- and if you must, scrap it from my soul, but please don’t-”
A greenish, feathery, bird head fell on the ground, cut at the neck from the rest of its former poisoned wings, stork’s physique.
“He dared to put up a fight”. A voice came out from beneath a gray cloak that hid a humanoid figure.
“His body will start to discharge poisonous fumes soon. I got the list. We should leave”. Another figure, standing at the wreckage of a once homely living room, said in a deep and detached voice.
“Ending number one or number two?”
“Sorry, kids, daddy stuck his beak where he should not. Now give mommy a hug and close your eyes”.
“Sir, please, they are fledglings. They don’t understand and won’t remember-”
“You didn’t need to let fear sink in before you killed them”. Said the detached voice.
“I know, but why they always mistake me for a man just because I cover my face? It’s annoying. Anyway, I did give them a quick death”.
“Forget I ask. You, earth dwellers have weird customs”.
“Speak for yourself, fish breath. Martial path aside, Kingdom Earth is far more fun than this place… I wonder when we’ll find a decent game for my ‘Bright Rays Of New Hope’ ending…?” The girl under the gray cloak reminisced.
“Doubtfully in this joint assignment”.
“Sigh… then its ‘Bloodcurdling Nights’ all the way…”
As the two figures turned into blurs and vanished, silhouettes of two different symbols flickered for an instant under their cloak.
A golden, cinderblock badge and an azure necklace with emerald pendent.
“Zax, wake up”. A voice whispered from beyond the door to Zax’s inn room.
A near full moon lit up the night sky.
Zax was perfectly awake the whole night, sitting on his bed, until the voice forced him to move.
Opening the door, Shouva waited for him. “Come on, we are leaving. A string of murders occurred and father’s contact is one of the victims. We must go now. Members of the Violet Scaled Troops have been dispatched to investigate and they’re rounding up suspects, including all outsiders”.
‘Murders… so that what the entire ruckus is about.’ Zax mused as he followed Shouva to the inn’s ground floor and back exist.
From the opened window in his room, while trying to perceive the last bottleneck of insight, Zax sensed the unrest through odd movements outside the building and voices congregating, despite the late hour and the peaceful street the inn was located at.
Vouvik and Fengar were already waiting outside, concealed by a mantle Vouvik raised with a signature only his daughter could recognize. Until he saw the two, Zax was truly oblivious to their whereabouts.
“Someone is killing the Sifon tribe’s information brokers who were involved in the trials’ assignment”. Fengar said right as the two appeared. “Vouvik, we must leave the tribe, search for parties who already got the info and see what it is before entering Demirva Ridge. What’s happening is unconventional and I hate being left out of the loop!”
“I concur”. Zax sided with Fengar. “I keep hearing how this time’s assignment is more dangerous than usual and now things getting even more troublesome. I’m starting to think that we are in for something bigger”.
“…Nevertheless, nothings matter unless we escape”.
“’Escape’, father?” Shouva gawked.
“Yes, this is no longer a departure. I receive a transmission. Beast or human, all information dealers of the High Rankers’ trials in Selivereb are dead!”
“What the hell?! How come I didn’t receive anything?!” Fengar furiously wanted to know. He, too, shared the same communication device as Vouvik.
“Don’t shout”. Shouva blocked Fengar’s mouth with her paws.
“Mmim muuing he am emvise am amea ode” *I’m using the same device and same area code.
Fengar’s muffled voice was barely understood by his longtime partner, though Vouvik still answered. “Beasts were the first to release the news and done so on a frequency only other beasts could interpret the message”.
“Father, this level of operation can only be executed by-”
“That five powers”. Zax finished and his countenance was bleak.
It was inconclusive whether he was right or wrong. But who else will dare interfere in such a big and renowned event as the High Rankers’ trials.
‘If I’ll be discovered by the abominable marks for participating in the trials… a Kingdom Earth cultivator who has no affiliation to any of them… What should I do?’