I splashed through the waves and fell onto the sandy beach, hugging the land as tightly as I could.
“Finally, I thought I’d never walk on the ground again. Ugh, damn sea, damn raft, damn Kai!” I rambled, sprawling on the beach and rolling in the sand.
“Hey, it wasn’t that bad, was it?” Kai chuckled, guiding the raft up the shore.
“Shut it.” I said, glaring at him.
“For once, I agree with the shady hero, shut it Kai.” said Runir, trudging out of the water.
Amy glared at him too but didn’t say anything as she got off the raft.
Kai sighed. “Hey, I taught you how to swim, didn’t I? Imagine how embarrassing it would be if people found out that the Hero couldn’t swim?” He smirked at me.
I felt heat rising up my cheeks so I turned my face away.
I heard Kai chuckle. “Right, let’s get rid of this raft.”
“Wait!” I shouted, stopping Kai from putting it into his Storage.
He looked at me quizzically, but I strode past him without meeting his gaze. I walked up to the raft, took out my Sacred Sword and cut that fucking wooden board into pieces.
I turned around, feeling satisfied, and ignored Kai’s upturned eyebrow as I walked away from the beach.
“No way.” I said.
“Never.” said Amy.
“Not a chance.” Runir.
“Too late, I already promised to train you and I’ve only managed to teach you how to swim so far. We still have to go over my special training course.” Kai said.
“I don’t like the sound of that.” I mumbled.
This was bad. If that week kicking water out on the sea counted as ‘learning how to swim,’ then I was sure that this ‘special training course’ would be even shittier.
“Don’t worry, I don’t think you’ll need my help getting stronger physically. No, I’m just going to help you guys toughen up mentally.” said Kai, picking his way through the forest. “But for now, we need to find- oh here it is.”
“What the hell?” said Runir, his eyes widening.
“How can this-” I said, dumbfounded.
In front of us was a road. Not a paved stone path or a gravelly mud track, but a real asphalt road like back on Earth. But why would something like this be in a fantasy world like Erath?
“Now we just have to follow this to the Second Anchor City and then we can make our way up to the- What is it? Why did you stop?” Kai said, realizing that only Amy had followed him onto the road.
“This is a fucking road!” I said.
“Really? I thought it was a bunch of dead birds. They keep dropping out of the sky when they hear something dumb.” said Kai, dryly.
“No, I mean this shouldn’t be here.” I scowled at Kai.
“Why not?” he said. Even Amy was looking at us with a confused expression now.
“The books did say that the Demon Lords and Heroes brought knowledge from their own world but it never said anything about roads. But if they have roads…” muttered Runir.
“But why didn’t we see any in the other Kingdoms?” I asked.
“Oh, is that why you’re confused. These roads are expensive so only the Air Kingdom builds them, since they’re the only ones who actually need them.” answered Kai.
“Needs them? You don’t mean-”
As if to answer my question, there was a rumbling sound as a car rushed into sight. It had four wheels and a design just like that of cars back on Earth except that it didn’t seem to have an engine. Instead, the front only had a glass windshield over a metal frame.
I stared, frozen, as the car whizzed by me and I caught a glimpse of an old man sitting in the driver’s seat and a younger kid sitting in the back. But before I could make out any details, the car was gone.
“…they have cars.” I said, lamely.
“No, that was a giant beetle. It ate those people. We better go save them.” said Kai, pretending to hurry after them.
“Shut it.” I said, following him down the road.
We saw several more cars as we got closer to the city, and just like in modern countries, smaller towns and buildings began popping up along the road. Soon, large factories with tall chimneys appeared.
Is this really the same world…how can there be such a large difference in technology? I thought, as we neared a factory.
“Why is there no smoke coming out of the chimneys?” I asked.
“Why would there be smoke coming out of an air chimney?” Surprisingly, it was Amy who replied to my question this time.
“Air chimney? What do they do?” I asked.
“They let out the air created by the air used inside the factories.” she answered.
“They use air?” I asked, blinking my eyes.
“What else would they use?” she said, furrowing her brows.
I didn’t know what to say so I looked up at the chimneys. Sure enough, I could tell that air was blasting out of the chimney.
“Hey, we’re almost at the checkpoint, hurry up.” shouted Kai, who’d gotten ahead of us.
“Checkpoint?” I asked. This place had really messed up my impression of this world and I found myself asking stupid questions all the time.
“The cities here don’t have walls because they ended up outgrowing them. Instead, they have checkpoints on the roads to make sure you have your ID cards.” answered Amy.
“ID cards? You have ID cards in this world?” I asked yet another stupid question.
“The other Kingdoms use different documents but the Air Kingdom issues every citizen an ID card. You can’t enter any of the cities without it. At least not legally.”
The checkpoint was simple enough. Spikes protruded from a barrier that ran across the road. A couple of uniformed guards stood to the side. Since no one was here right now, they were talking to each other while drinking something from the cups in their hands.
Even when they saw us, they kept talking and drinking, which was completely different from my experiences at the other cities. Why was everything so different here?
“…kicked out by a bunch of crazy fanatics.” said the brown haired guard, smiling at her colleague.
“What did you expect from a bunch of infidels like them. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other kingdoms in the Union didn’t start praying to a masked freak by the end of the year.” said the black haired man man, smirking.
So the Fire Kingdom really did fall. Why didn’t the Goddess do something? This was her country wasn’t it? I thought, as we reached the guards.
The brown haired woman faced us and held out her hand. Kai put a small gray card in her hand and smiled at the black haired man.
The woman blinked her eyes. “S-sir! Please, go right ahead! Ah, are these your guests? No need to bother with formalities, if we can’t trust you sir, then this country is doomed anyways!” she said, saluting Kai.
The black haired man hurriedly saluted as well, clearly surprised by his colleague’s actions.
Kai smiled and walked past the checkpoint and the rest of us followed silently.
Was it bad that we’d gotten used to Kai’s tricks so easily? Maybe…
The city was smaller than I expected. Judging by the technological level of the Air Kingdom, I’d assumed their cities would be larger than those of the other kingdoms but the city we were in wasn’t even have as big as Ashpoole.
Still, it was definitely better developed. Asphalt roads with street signs, congested traffic, and paths for pedestrians. A planned city with clearly defined blocks and city limits.
I thought back to something Kai had said on the way here. “Why is it called the second anchor city? Are there more of them?”
“There are ten of them. Although you can’t call them cities, to be honest. You’ll find out why it’s called an anchor city tomorrow, but for now we need to look for a hotel to stay the night.” replied Kai.
“Hotel? Not an inn?” I said, nearly giving up on trying to understand this place.
“Yes. They used to be called inns a long time ago, but when one of the Demon Lords was summoned here, they made everyone call them hotels. To be fair, they also remodeled them completely so…” answered Kai, casually.
“Summoned here? But this isn’t the Dark Kingdom.” I said, frowning.
“Oh, I guess you didn’t know,” said Runir, stepping in between us as he looked through a window into a shop for magical weapons. “The Demon Lord can be summoned in any of the Northern kingdoms and the Hero can be summoned in any of the Southern ones. It’s just a coincidence that they were summoned in the Light and Dark Kingdoms this time.”
“Hey, this looks useful.” said Kai, walking into the store.
Excited at the prospect of getting another gift, we followed him inside.
It was a small shop with a few unlit candles fixed on the walls next to rows of weird weapons and trinkets. A short middle aged woman behind the counter, smiling warmly at us as we entered.
“Welcome to Mettie’s air tech shop, how can I help you?” she asked, standing up.
“Hi, could we get four of those please?” he said, pointing at something next to the window.
“Certainly.” She walked inside another room and returned with four boxes.
“Ma! Can I go out to play?” said a voice from inside the other room.
“Sure, sweetie. Just be back by dinner time.” said the woman as she put the boxes down on the counter.
“Yay! Thanks ma!” said a little brown haired boy as he rushed out of the room. He glanced at us for a bit before running out of the store and joining his friends outside.
Kai smiled. “Your son is very energetic.”
“A little too energetic, to be honest,” she said, shaking her head. “Will this be all then?”
“Yes, how much?” Kai asked.
“300 Tel,” she said, packing the boxes in a bag.
I was about to ‘pay’ her but Kai stopped me with his hand. I frowned, this was how we usually paid, why was he having second thoughts now?
“Here you go, ma’am.” he said, dropping a pouch full of coins on the counter and collecting the boxes in his storage.
The woman stared at the pouch for a while, before checking inside. Kai walked out of the store and we followed, somewhat confused.
“Wait! Little boy, this is too much!” she exclaimed.
“The Academy’s an expensive place, old lady.” he said, smirking as he left the store.
I looked back at the shocked store owner who was tightly holding onto the bag of coins. Her lips were quivering slightly as she watched us leave, and they parted just a little as she whispered something…
We bought four rooms at the most expensive looking hotel we could find, and this time Kai didn’t stop me from ‘paying’ like usual. We walked into Kai’s room where he laid down the boxes on his bed.
He opened them up and we stared.
“Guns?” said Runir, confused.
“Air guns. They funnel level one breeze spells and compress them before firing them. Just pour some mana into it and it’ll do the rest. Should be useful in a pinch, especially because I tweaked them a little.” said Kai, lifting one of the gray pistols.
That had me interested. “What did you do?”
“Nothing much, really. Just don’t lend them to someone else, it might get a little dangerous,” he said, smiling. “Right, grab the one with your name on it and let’s get going.”
“Where are we going?” asked Amy, picking up an air gun.
“Well, I think we’ve all earned a break. So, let’s go to the amusement park!” he flashed a childish grin before walking out of the room.
An amusement park? I thought, following him. Why do I feel like I was summoned to another world again?
“No way! I am not getting on that!”
“It’s too high!”
“I-I think I’ll look after the popcorn…”
“Stop whining, it’ll be fun.” said Kai, pointing up to the roller-coaster stretching into the sky.
“No!” I wailed as I was dragged onto the front seat. Amy and Runir tried to resist too, but Kai forced them to get on too.
Soon, we were crawling up to the clouds. I felt my heart beating wildly and threatening to jump out of my throat as we reached the top.
And then we fell and I screamed. In my defense, everyone screamed. This thing was just too fucking high.
We fell and climbed, twisted and turned, ran through fog and crashed through water. I held onto my seat as tightly as I could, closing my eyes at some of the crazier moments.
After what felt like forever, we finally stopped. I wobbled out of my seat and collapsed on the ground. I saw Kai walk out with a smile on his face and felt like punching him. But for some reason, Amy and Runir didn’t seem that shaken either. In fact, Runir was looking at me with a mocking smile.
If I could’ve moved my body, I would’ve kicked him already.
“Let’s go on the Ferris wheel now!” said Kai, pointing at the other ride that went up into the clouds.
Fuck no. I am not-Wait, Runir what are you-?
He lifted me up with a grin and carried me over. It could only fit two people per carriage, so I ended up sitting with him.
Damn it Runir! I’ll get you for this! I thought, as we slowly moved up.
It wasn’t as bad as the roller-coaster. In fact, I ended up enjoying it. I saw open plains and forests, and a couple of rivers too from up high. There were some cities and a lot of factories all over the place, with tiny dots rushing on the roads.
Runir saw that I wasn’t afraid of the ride and made a disappointed face. But then he shrugged and started admiring the scenery like I was.
“Hey, what’s that?” he asked, pointing behind me.
I turned around and saw a large transparent tube running out of the city. It went in a steep incline into the sky, vanishing from view.
“Don’t know. We should ask Kai.” I replied.
As the wheel brought us down again, I noticed a small figure darting around the tents below. I stared at it for a while before I realized what it was.
“Hey, do you see that Runir?” I asked, pointing towards the figure.
“Hmm? Probably just an escaped slave.” he said.
“Slave? I thought slavery was illegal on Erath?” I said, my eyes still following the ragged figures below.
“Oh, they’re not called slaves of course. Just bonded laborers. They’re made to sign a contract and stuff but they’re basically slaves.” he said.
“So what happens when they run away?” I asked.
“Nothing. They have tracking mechanisms on their collars so they can’t really run away. But if they’re caught, most of their contracts allow for severe abuse and even death as a punishment.” he answered, frowning as he noticed the people following behind the slave.
“Damn it.” I cursed, jumping off the Ferris wheel and landing on the ground. I ran as fast as I could towards the running figure as they darted into a tent. Several burly figures followed inside.
I’d caught a glimpse of the slaves face. She looked young, thin, and sickly but her eyes shined with a crazy glint. She really reminded me of someone.
I ran inside the tent and saw the girl being beaten up by burly figures wearing expensive looking suits. The girl was huddled into a ball, whimpering as she received the beating.
I grit my teeth. “Stop it, you fucking assholes!”
They stopped and looked at me, their fists and legs still raised.
“Oh, little miss don’t worry, it’s just a contract breaker. No need to get involved, we’re just enforcing the contract.” said a bald man who smiled at me with his perfect teeth.
I knocked a few of those out.
And then I cleaned up the rest of the trash. They weren’t strong, after all. The kind that would chase after a little girl and beat her usually weren’t.
Did it feel satisfying punching bastards like this? Did it remind me of all the times I’d been like that little girl, cowering under the fists of people bigger than me and trying to make myself as small a target as possible? Did it remind me of all the times I’d wanted to do what I was doing right now-punch them in the face?
Yeah, maybe it did.
“Stop it Lily!” shouted Runir as he appeared behind me and caught my hand.
That shook me from my frenzy. I looked around to see the well dressed thugs lying bloody and bruised on the ground, several of them with obviously broken limbs.
I might have gone a little too far…
“Grab the kid and let’s get out of here.” he said.
“Right.” I made my way over to the slave girl who had fallen unconscious and picked her up. Then I ran out of the tent, leaving behind a pile of broken bullies.