Before the girls made their way to the bath, as they were prone to do after morning training, Vahn explained his intentions while politely declining the participation of others. Since it was a mission outside of the City, it likely wouldn’t be that difficult and Vahn could easily return with Fafnir if things became troublesome. He also wanted to give Fenrir the opportunity to vent while also doing a good deed for the people in The Plains region. There were dozens of small villages located about the region with thousands of farmers belonging to the Demeter, and a few other agricultural Familias, in the area. As the region was of paramount importance to the livelihood of the City, the Guild had posted the mission to every major Familia, including the Hestia Familia as a result of its relationship with the Alliance.
After returning Shirohime to Haruhime, Terra transformed into her dragon form and Vahn climbed up on her somewhat narrow back. He noticed it was much more comfortable than sitting on Fafnir and there was also a very pleasant aroma rising from her body that was very calming. However, since it would potentially demoralize Fafnir if he showed any preference for Terra, Vahn simply smiled as he held onto Fenrir and said, “Okay, let’s go ‘play’ for a bit…” As Fafnir didn’t like flying too slowly, it ended up temporarily returning to the shadows for the time being and attached itself to Vahn’s shadow before taking a nap.
Terra’s wings spread after hearing Vahn’s words and she said, “This is very exciting~.” before taking off into the sky. Vahn immediately noticed that Terra couldn’t easily regulate the flow of air around her body so the wind battered against his face and hair as Fenrir’s somewhat wild hair chaotically fluttered. Strangely, even though her hair was always unkempt, it managed to hold its shape in clumps instead of flying around in individual strands. Vahn thought was pretty interesting and wondered what kind of mechanic or law made it act in such a manner.
The Plains were located nearly 1,700km to the west of the City so it would take them nearly two hours even if Terra flew at her maximum speed. As they weren’t in a particular hurry, she flew through the sky around 650km/h and it was a pleasant and refreshing experience for both Vahn and Fenrir. Terra couldn’t reshape her scales to make a hold, so Fenrir got to be embraced by Vahn throughout the journey and enjoyed the feeling of the wind passing through her hair and ears. As for Vahn, he looked out over the horizon and saw the signs of spring beginning to appear in the surrounding regions as the world slowly came to life after the passing of winter.
Terra had felt like it would be ‘fulfilling’ to have Vahn riding on her back and, after managing to convince Fafnir to give her the opportunity, she was able to confirm this was indeed the case. She didn’t know exactly why, but a part of her felt the need to try and please him and there was a strange ‘link’ that she could sense binding them. Just like Fafnir and Fenrir, she was very aware that she would continue to exist indefinitely, unless she died as a result of battle, so she was interested to see what kind of things she would get to experience at his side. After her first death, she had longed for the surface once again and wanted to see and experience many things she had been unable to previously. Vahn was a kind boy that was very considerate of others, so she felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet him.
As he hadn’t done so previously, Vahn placed his palm against Terra’s back and began replenishing her energy as a gentle laughter cut through the wind. He could tell that Terra was enjoying this experience and it made him happy to see her in high spirits. She couldn’t really speak during flight since she didn’t have the ‘telekinetic’ abilities of Fafnir, but her laughter would occasionally reach his ears. Vahn had been worried that she would have been the type to never leave the Manor, but it seemed like this was an unnecessary concern and she appeared to be very curious and fond of traveling.
After topping off Terra’s energy, Vahn was feeling especially tired and decided it would be a good opportunity to take a nap since it would take them around three hours to reach their destination. Though her back wasn’t that wide, only around 3m, her overall length reached 14m and there was a nice and plush area between her wings that made for a comfortable bed. He might fall off if she performed any aerial maneuvers, but it wouldn’t be a problem to rest during casual flight. Vahn stroked Terra’s back and said, “I’m going to take a nap…I’ll leave it to you, Terra.” Though she couldn’t hear him either, Terra was able to understand Vahn’s words through their connection so she tilted her head to the side. Vahn could see an understanding contained in her sky-blue eyes as well as a glimmer he didn’t quite understand before she turned back to the front.
Vahn laid back in the ‘grass-like’ feathers on Terra’s back and snuggled up with Fenrir who used his body as her own bedding. She seemed to enjoy the feeling of the air through her fur, so Vahn had laid with his head toward Terra’s so that he wouldn’t get air running up his nose unexpectedly. To make things easier for Fenrir, since she was holding him somewhat awkwardly, Vahn transformed into a Vanargandr. As she had done so many times in the past, Fenrir seemed to get very happy in an instant as she began rubbing her head and face against him in an affectionate manner while digging her claws into his sides. As he had grown accustomed to ‘small’ pains, Vahn didn’t mind it too much and quickly relaxed his mind to enjoy a nice rest. The fragrance from Terra’s body helped him calm down a great deal and it wasn’t long before he had drifted off into unconsciousness.
By the time Vahn had awoken, it had been around three hours and twenty minutes, slightly longer than he expected by not really a cause for concern. HIs body felt incredibly refreshed and there was a warm and numb sensation in his body that made him want to stretch out and continue sleeping. Resisting the urge, Vahn sat up and stirred Fenrir who had surprisingly continued sleeping even though she didn’t actually require rest. There was a massive wet stain on his tunic and Vahn was very grateful that her saliva was inert when it was outside of her mouth. If it had the same ‘dissolving’ effect as it did after passing the barrier of her teeth, Vahn would have had a hole in his chest the size of a large crystal ball.
Fenrir opened her sleepy eyes and released a long yawn that caused her mouth to stretch a little too far compared to normal. Vahn always felt a little ‘nervous’ seeing how her jaw could ‘magically’ contort like that since it defied logic quite a bit. Looking around, he could see that Terra had flown into the center of a small village and there were a few farmers with pitchforks and spears surrounding them as the majority of the other residents had hidden within their homes. Terra didn’t seem too concerned and simply laughed as she said, “It seems like I’m not very welcome here, Master~.” Vahn chuckled and stroked Terra’s back as he said, “People have an instinctual fear of things they don’t understand, so don’t let it bother you.”
Vahn could tell that the strongest person within his domain was only Level 2 and he was nothing more than a middle-aged human that seemed to be entering his twilight years relatively soon. This was the main reason Terra wasn’t concerned since there was no way anyone in this area would be able to damage her at all, unless they managed to get lucky and hit her eyes, and Vahn himself would surely protect her. Her trust in him was already quite high and she was curious to see how he would deal with the hatred between the people on the surface and the monsters that roamed the world. After all, not every monster was a mindless creature and there was a number, like her past self, that simply wished to live in peace.
So that things didn’t escalate too far, Vahn jumped off Terra’s back and had her return to her human form while also equipping her robe at the same time. Since she always produced a radiant light during her transformation, she was able to change her clothing at the same time without exposing herself. Seeing the sudden appearance of a beautiful girl confused the relatively simple farmers, but her wings undoubtedly showed that she was still a ‘monster’. The only thing that had been preventing them from trying to fight her off was the ‘aura’ she had as a True Dragon and the calming aroma that had strangely permeated through the air making them somewhat absentminded.
Vahn looked toward the middle-aged man with a receding hairline, thick eyebrows, and a greying beard and said, “My name is Vahn Mason, Sage Aldrnari and Captain of the Hestia Familia. I have come at the request of the Guild to investigate the monster attacks in this region. Are you the Village Chief of this village?” As he had spoken in a loud and firm tone, many people calmed down greatly including the middle-aged man who released a sigh of relief. Even in the countryside, many people had heard of the famous Sage Aldrnari and seeing how youthful Vahn was affirmed the rumors many people had heard. It was well known that he had tamed a dragon, but many people thought it was a giant black dragon and not a green one that was able to turn into a beautiful woman. The Village Chief wanted to make a comment about this but decided against it since it was much better to see a beauty than it was to be suppressed by a giant black dragon.
Stepping forward, the man nodded his head and said, “Names Graft Reisfeld, Village Chief of Luka Village. Your reputation precedes you, Sage Aldrnari, and its a great relief knowing that someone of such fame has come to our aide during these trying times…” Vahn smiled politely and said, “Please, just call me Vahn. Though I have no aversion toward being called Sage Aldrnari, it’s a bit of a mouthful…ahahaha.” Because he was a young boy who wielded great power and authority, it was surprising to many how amiable Vahn acted. He seemed more like a normal boy than someone that was rumored to be one of the strongest up-and-coming Adventurers in the entire continent.
After introductions were carried out, Vahn was invited by Graft into his residence where he was briefed more about the situation in the surrounding areas. There had been several incidents of livestock disappearing recently while many small children had gone missing. Thus far, there haven’t been any signs of actual monster attacks and they had already dispatched search parties into the forest with skilled hunters in search of the missing children. The earliest incident was eight days ago while the most recent had taken place just a single day prior. There was still hope that the children would still be alive, but it wasn’t that likely.
When Vahn learned that children had been going missing, a cold sensation passed through his mind and he had an urge to begin his search immediately. Unfortunately, even after several people had gone to investigate, there had been no signs of monster nests in the area and even skilled trackers had failed to find tracks. It was almost like the animals and children were simply disappearing spontaneously and without reason. However, there ‘had’ to be a reason behind the disappearances and they needed to discover what was going on before things got even more out of hand. The official commission was just to investigate, but there were extra rewards arranged if a solution could be found. Though unlikely, there would be additional rewards for the safe return of the missing children as well.
Vahn listened to all the details before asking in a plain tone, “The most recent child, where were they last seen? If I can inspect the area, I may be able to discover something…” Graft nodded his head and said, “It was Martha and Jakob’s kid, Benny. Poor lass already lost ‘er eldest to pox and now ‘er little one has gone missing…I’ll show you the area, Vahn, so please find that kid ‘n bring ‘im back home.” After seeing how amicable Vahn was, Graft had dropped his polite pretense and had opened up a bit after ‘venting’ his frustrations by explaining the situation. He was actually a member of the Demeter Familia, so he had a lot of expectations that Vahn would be able to find a solution. It was rumored he had been able to track down two women that got kidnapped in a very short period of time, so his hope had been rekindled a fair amount.
Graft showed Vahn to a large apple tree that had small leaves and tiny buds beginning to grow, a sure sign that spring was approaching. When they reached the area, Graft palmed against the tree and said, “Martha said Benny was playin’ around this tree before ‘e suddenly up ‘n vanished. We sent Barnes, the village huntsman, to try ‘n track ’em but even his old dog wasn’ able to pick up the trail.” Vahn nodded his head and began to inspect the area with his [Eyes of Truth], paying attention to small marks and any signs of struggle and violence. It was very obvious that this area was played in very often since the ground had been scuffed about and displaced over a long period of time. However, other than some fresh initials carved into the tree that seemed to be a few days old, Vahn couldn’t see anything that pointed toward how Benny had disappeared.
Fortunately, Vahn had a reliable little tracker with him as Fenrir scrunched up her nose and said, “Fenrir can smell blood…” Vahn felt like sighing, since blood wasn’t a good sign, but kept his calm as he asked, “Can you track it?” Graft had been very surprised by the small ‘werewolf’ girl’s claim but he was even more surprised when she said, “Fenrir can track it…but it isn’t normal? All over the place, mixed with other scents…” Fenrir tilted her head up and sniffed the air several times before pointing toward the sky. Though Graft seemed to be confused, Vahn immediately understood what Fenrir was trying to convey and several missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place. He really did release a sigh this time before saying, “The other smell…is it like a bird?”
Graft seemed to understand Vahn’s implication and a serious and solemn expression appeared on his face as he looked toward one of the nearby huts. When he saw Fenrir nod, any hope he had for Benny’s survival vanished entirely as feelings of indignation welled up inside of him. Vahn was also angered by the situation but remained focused as he turned to Graft and asked, “The animals that went missing, what was the largest?” Graft released a sigh and said, “Other than a few goats, the largest was a small calf that’d been born about a month ago…” A calf could weigh between 35-50kg after about a month which meant that whatever was snatching them up should be a medium-sized predator since it only targetted small livestock and children. The fact that incidents had been happening in multiple areas, without any sign of the attacks, showed that it had a wide flight path and was potentially just a singular creature…
Vahn pulled out a series of feathers from his inventory after consulting the compendium and purchasing materials from the shop. Fenrir didn’t even go through all of them before she reached out to a light brown feather with dark speckles and white stripes. A small amount of hope rose up in Vahn’s body, though not much, as he held up the feather and said, “Fenrir picked up the scent of a Griffin. Considering the size and weight of the victims, it’s probably around two years old, likely still a juvenile. I imagine it migrated here from the mountains to escape the chill of winter and recently started hunting in the area…” Graft rubbed his temples in frustration because even a young Griffin was at the very least a Level 2 monster. Unlike the monsters in the Dungeon, there were a few creatures on the surface that reproduced normally, Griffins included, and they were well known in the northern regions.
Seeing the frustration on Graff’s face, Vahn rolled the feather between his fingers before a sense of urgency welled up inside of him as he said, “Griffins don’t always hunt just when they are hungry. They like to capture prey and take it back to their nest, so there is a chance that we’ll be able to at least save the recent victims. I should be able to track it back to its nest and…at the very least, bring back its head for a bit of closure.” Graft nodded his head with a firm expression as he said, “Aye, I’ll trust it to you, Vahn. String that bastard up fer us…” As a natural born monster, hatched from an egg, Griffins wouldn’t vanish after being killed and they didn’t even have a ‘normal’ magic core in their body. They were closer to ‘animals’ than actual monsters, so Vahn could even bring back the entire body and turn it over to the village if he chose.
Vahn somewhat regretted his leisurely pace flying out to the village but he didn’t have time to think about things like that as he called Fafnir. Graft fell onto his butt when Fafnir’s head peeked up out of the ground before emerging completely from the shadows. He realized that the rumors of Vahn having a giant black dragon weren’t exaggerated at all and he could tell it was much stronger than the ‘elegant’ green dragon that had turned into a beautiful woman. Graft couldn’t rationalize how a young boy was able to have so many powerful creatures at his command when most people, at least amongst the rare few that had the [Tamer] Development Ability, were fortunate to have just one.
Terra showed a small smile on her face before climbing onto the back of Fafnir with Vahn and Fenrir. She would have liked to have Vahn ride her, but understood now wasn’t the time to harbor selfish intentions as speed was important. At least she had the opportunity to experience something new as she took the opportunity to sit next to Vahn since Fenrir was always close to him. She rationalized that it was fine for her to do so as well since she was also one of Vahn’s subordinates. Vahn had given her a curious look at first but shook his head slightly moments later before saying, “Fafnir, we need to find the nest of a Griffin in the area. Look for any large rocky outcrops or flat plateaus in the region. It shouldn’t be more than 500km away, and it’s likely within the forests…”
Fafnir spread its somewhat small wing, at least proportional to its body, as it shot up into the air with a terrifying momentum that caused Graft to roll back several meters. Even so, he didn’t offer up any sound of a complaint as he watched Fafnir disappear toward the horizon and become a small dot mere seconds after departing. He then stood up on his feet and dusted himself off before looking back toward the hut from earlier with a solemn expression and shaking his head. He could tell Vahn was being truthful, but he also noticed that the boy himself didn’t seem to truly believe his words. Even if Benny had survived being captured, the fact there were traces of blood in the air showed that he had sustained injuries. It had been more than twenty hours since they disappeared, so the boy would have likely bled out long ago…