Should I postpone the first phase? Delaying the first phase till after we receive the Fire Goddess’ blessing shouldn’t be a problem, but what if the status quo doesn’t change? What if I can’t get closer to Lily in time? It would throw my entire strategy out the window.
I have no choice. I need options. I need more variables to play with, to manipulate things in my favor. And the biggest variable is…
I climbed up yet another mountain, ignoring the grunts and heavy breathing coming from behind me. I also ignored the accusatory gaze boring into the back of my head.
But what I couldn’t ignore was the bemused smile I saw in the corner of my eye.
I took a deep breath.
Time to take the plunge.
I turned around as soon as I reached the top of the mountain and cast my gaze down to the people below. But I was only really looking at one person.
“Strange isn’t it, how we haven’t been attacked by monsters on our entire journey? In fact, other than the time Lily ran off on her own, we haven’t faced any significant difficulties.” I said, as if I was only thinking out loud.
“Yep, quite strange indeed.” replied Kai, with a smile on his face.
“It’s weird sure, but I sure as hell ain’t complaining. The only things I am complaining about are your weird, unannounced detours and the fact that you still haven’t told us about that thing you dug up.” Lily replied, panting for breath while managing to chastise me at the same time.
My face twitched. Lily was as annoying as ever.
“Ah yes, the Lava Sphere.” I said, taking a pale red orb out of my Inventory. “It isn’t all that amazing though. You see, the Fire Goddess’ shrine is built on a pool of lava that’s hot enough to fry dragons. But as long as we have this, we should be able to walk right through it.”
Lily’s eyes widened and Amy furrowed her brows. Kai didn’t react at all.
I frowned inwardly at Kai’s lack of surprise. Did he already know? Had he Appraised the sphere back when he fixed up that hole without anyone noticing? I still couldn’t see through him and the thought made me uneasy but at the same time, it made me feel a little elated.
“As I was saying. It’s strange that we haven’t been attacked at all, even though we’ve been merrily skipping around one of the most dangerous places on Erath.” I continued, taking a deep breath once again.
“In fact, even though we’ve passed through the confirmed territories of thirty Maglons, ten Fire Drakes and three Flame Wyverns, as well as the well documented breeding grounds of the Orange-eyed Toads and the Forclaws, we still haven’t seen a single monster, let alone gotten attacked by one.”
“W-wait! You’ve been leading us around all day so we could walk into monster dens?” Lily said, incredulously.
“I apologize for the deceit but it was necessary to isolate the cause of this strange situation. After all, I didn’t know who or what was causing this.”
“You did not know. Are you implying that you do know now?” Amy said.
“Of course! Although I’m sure you’ve guessed it already, since it was awfully obvious. Lily was attacked by a Light Ogre and I’ve fought several monsters too, thus removing us from the list of suspects. As such, I could only hypothesize that this situation or lack of situations arose due to either Amy or Kai or from something that one of you possessed. It may also have been caused by both of you or by a combination of all of our abilities or something of that sort. However, after what happened in that disgusting old elf’s shack, I found it safe to assume that Kai was the one responsible for keeping the monsters off our back.”
I looked at Kai who was still smiling pleasantly, unperturbed by what I’d just revealed.
“So what? Even if I’ve been scaring away a few monsters, why should that be a problem? Don’t tell me you find Maglons and Orange-eyed Toads threatening enough to feel awed by my power” he said.
“No, I don’t find your ability to keep away Maglions concerning, but…” I opened my arms and gestured. “Congratulations! Our names will be written down in history books and taught to children in schools all over Erath because we are the first humans to reach the peak of Vandrake Mountain!”
As the words ‘Vandrake Mountain’ left my mouth, Lily’s eyes opened wide just as Amy froze. She then rushed past me and looked over the edge of the mountain, her face glowing with a red light as she stared into the pool of flowing lava on the other side of the mountain.
But Kai didn’t react at all.
“Are you sure? I learned about Vandrake Mountain in my History of Erath lessons and I guess this could be it but shouldn’t there be a-” Lily asked.
“Dragon? Yes, Red Dragon Vandrake, a being said to be as ancient as Erath itself. It’s an incredibly powerful monster that roosts on the peak of Vandrake Mountain. It is rumored that Vandrake kills anyone that approaches the vicinity of the mountain, let alone climbs it. Yet here we are, standing on its peak.” I said, letting the implications of what I’d said wash over them.
It was one thing to keep away toads and snakes but a Dragon was a completely different matter altogether. Vandrake in particular was famous for his pride and power. He was also one of the many Secret Bosses that you could fight in the game after defeating the main storyline and was arguably one of the most difficult to defeat.
I turned towards Kai and met his gaze.
“And since you’ve admitted that you were the one keeping the monsters at bay, I believe it is safe to assume that you are responsible for this historic achievement. Would you like me to raise a flag in your honor? Or maybe rename this place Kai’s Mountain?” I smiled, but I didn’t feel happy or satisfied the way I usually did. The implications of being able to drive back Vandrake were unfathomable since he was a monster that had existed for nearly a thousand years and provoking the person who was responsible for keeping a monster like that at bay was a huge gamble.
If I assumed that Vandrake was at the same level that he had been at in the game, then Kai’s Ability wouldn’t be as surprising. But if he’d had a thousand years to get stronger and gain levels then he would be a nearly unparalleled existence on Erath.
With emphasis on the nearly.
Kai sighed and closed his eyes.
“What would you have done if you were wrong? We did just walk into a Dragon’s nest you know.”
“It was a difficult decision to make, since I wasn’t sure what the limits of your Ability would be. However, when a blazing torrent of flames didn’t come crashing down at us from the sky when we approached Vandrake Mountain, I was forced to accept the absurdity of your Ability.”
“I see. But there’s just one problem with your hypothesis.” He still didn’t open his eyes.
“Oh? And what might that be?”
The earth around us trembled, stones flew off the ground and boulders began crumbling. A wall of flame shot up from the lava behind me just as I turned to look.
A giant, gaping mouth stretched out from below, uttering a cry so loud that the lava began rippling and surging around like waves in the sea. A long, scaled neck followed, winding up to the sky while lifting up a massive body glistening with drops of lava that oozed from within the gaps between is blood red scales. The monster’s wings stretched out from behind it, sending molten rocks hurtling through the air and ripping up winds that nearly made me fall off the mountain. I glimpsed its vicious, black talons just as it flapped its wings one more time to rise up into the air, casting a huge shadow on the ground as it flew up in front of the sun.
It roared once more and slammed into the ground behind us, blocking our escape. Its cold, yellow eyes stared at us unblinkingly, while its slit pupils narrowed even further. It went down on its forelegs and puffed out acrid smoke from its nostrils, sending a wave of heat surging over us.
My mind went blank as soon as I saw it but I snapped out of it as soon as the smoke reached my lungs and caused me to cough and gasp for breath. I immediately changed my Ability’s sub goal from ‘Find out Kai’s identity’ to ‘Survive’ and quickly began formulating a plan.
Which ultimately shattered to pieces as I used appraisal to check its Status and managed to see it. It was a monster after all, so it probably hadn’t learned the Obscure skill, but I wasn’t thankful for that at all. In fact, I wished I hadn’t checked its Status in the first place.
Red Dragon Vandrake…Title Ruler of Lava…Level…999…what sort of bullshit is this?
I heard Amy gasp in surprise and saw Lily trembling in the corner of my eye. But I couldn’t blame them, I nearly fell on my knees too.
The dragon stared at us, its lips curling upwards in a snarl that revealed sharp white teeth the size of my arm.
“Humans…you dare sully my abode with your presence? Leave now before I burn your puny bodies and scatter your ashes to the winds.” said the Dragon in a raspy voice that seemed to come from its mouth despite the fact that its lips had never moved.
I felt hope rise within me as I heard what it said but I furrowed my brows when I noticed that we couldn’t leave because it was blocking our escape. My ability was going full throttle as I fell to my knees.
“Mighty Vandrake! Lord of the skies, King of the molten wastes, emperor of fire and wrath. Forgive us for our transgression upon your holy land! We humbly beg for your forgiveness and dare not stay to offend you with our pitiful forms. However…” I quickly said, while bowing my head slightly. “Your awe-inspiring figure is majestic and grand and we do not have the audacity to sully it by nearing you whilst excusing ourselves from your presence. Hence, we must humbly request your blessing for safe passage down your magnificent home.”
The dragon snorted.
“Human…I apologize but it seems I cannot bring myself to let you leave. Pity, it has been so long since I’ve met an intelligent being, I would have appreciated some company. Die in the comfort that your words were appreciated by me, even if I must regrettably incinerate you now.” Vandrake said.
My power instantly changed gears, showing me how my current plan was doomed to fail.
Of course, the blazing torrent of flames that came crashing towards us made that pretty fucking obvious too.
I stepped into my shadow, not caring about being seen because everyone was staring at the inferno rushing towards us.
I reappeared a few feet away and saw Amy standing in front of Lily while holding back the flames with her sword.
Her feet had carved through the sizzling rock beneath her feet as the force of the Dragon’s Breath pushed her back. She grunted as her red hair began swirling around her, nearly as bright as the flames licking the edges of her sword.
I hesitated for a moment, considering the possibility of escaping while it was distracted by the others but I shunned that thought immediately.
They were important pieces for my strategy…or at least that’s what I told myself as I jumped behind Amy and grabbed Lily, pulling her to safety.
Amy noticed that Lily was out of harms way and swiftly jumped aside, letting the flames wash over the peak of the mountain.
The rocks on the peak began melting and soon oozed down the mountain. The dragon noticed that we had avoided its attack and closed its mouth but Amy used that opportunity to jump towards it while Lily and I readied a Water spell.
The flames died out as the dragon’s jaws closed. Amy swung her sword with an angry grunt, slashing viciously at the monster’s eyes.
“Aqua Burst!” shouted Lily and I, as we released a jet of high pressure water towards the dragon’s glowing chest, hoping to cool its flames before they were even formed.
The water evaporated into steam moments upon contact and the dragon didn’t even flinch.
But that may have been because it was so focused on Amy’s attack.
Her sword had met a red glow that seemed to emanate from the dragon’s eyes. She struggled for a little while before her sword managed to slowly push the red glow back, getting closer to its eye.
Amy let go of her sword and disappeared. Before I could begin to process her actions, she reappeared and grabbed the flashing blur that had come startlingly close to striking us.
She grunted in pain as the dragon’s tail crashed into her body but she managed to hold on to it. She flung the tail to the side and grabbed her sword as it fell from above. Gripping the sword tightly, she leaped towards the dragon and dove headfirst into the torrent of flames that the dragon had just breathed out. But even as she was engulfed by the flames, a translucent red armor emerged on her body.
The flames were cut in half, exposing a blazing red figure that seemed hotter than the flames around it.
Unfortunately, her blade was once again met by a red force-field although cracks had emerged on this one, indicating that it would shatter with another strike.
But the dragon roared once again and flapped its wings, pushing Amy away just as I lost my footing and had to be supported by Lily, who had wisely held onto a boulder.
“You vile, pathetic humans! How could puny mortals like you possibly…” Its eyes narrowed. “I see, you must be the Hero…no, I do not sense that from your aura.”
It continued to stare at Amy.
“You…seem familiar somehow? Could it be…” It began mumbling something that I couldn’t catch.
Amy’s eyes narrowed. A bright red glow started accumulating around her sword as she readied her stance.
The dragon snorted and sparks and embers fell out of its mouth.
I glanced at Lily, wondering if I had the time to grab her and flee with Void step. She was important for my plans but…was she more important than my life? Staying in the middle of a battle as crazy as this one was suicidal and my Ability was telling me to leave if I wanted to ‘Survive.’
But I couldn’t.
I grit my teeth and jumped towards Lily, who was preparing another Aqua Burst with a determined look on her face.
I heard the sizzling sound of flames being released and the bang of a powerful explosion. I saw Lily’s eyes widen just as they were dyed red by the reflection of what she must have been looking at.
Then I heard a whisper so soft that it was carried off by the scorching winds before I could understand it.
Although what happened next was even harder to understand.
“That’s enough for now, I believe.”
The heat vanished. The angry red glow of flames died out around me. All sounds stopped.
Lily’s face was frozen in shock and disbelief. The sweat on her forehead trickled down her cheeks and dripped off her chin but she didn’t react at all.
My skill shut down, something that only happened when I fulfilled my goal or objective. Which in this case meant that I had survived.
I turned around, fairly certain of what had happened but wanting to check anyways.
Even though I wasn’t surprised to see a purple robed boy standing between a girl in illusory red armor and a dragon with a mouthful of blazing flames, it was still an amazing sight to behold.
I calmed my breathing and let go of Lily, who snapped out of her daze and stared at the scene in front of us with gritted teeth.
“Time to leave.” said Kai but he wasn’t directing the words at us.
Red Dragon Vandrake, a level 999 Dragon that could potentially rival the Goddesses, walked to the side of the mountain sending shockwaves through the ground with each step.
Then it jumped off the mountain and fell into the lava below, slowly submerging beneath the molten rocks until it couldn’t be seen anymore.
Kai sighed and walked down the mountain.
The rest of us followed.