Swiftly, within 2 days, the group has made it outside of Elqium’s zone of influence. The group let out a big breath of air as they had come to a few close calls, barely escaping the patrols. They have also learned that Lorcan has placed a bounty on Amber’s capture one day after he returned from the Guild Summit. The bounty is a whooping 1 million gold coins, more money than anyone in his group could dream off.
“Maybe we should turn you in for the rewards. We’ll be living comfortably after that.” - Leo jokes.
“How about you turn yourself in, you dunderhead?!”- Amber replies.
“I’m with him, plus we can always bust you out no problem. Right, Leo?”- Claudius joins in, grinning.
“Yeah see, Claudius understands what’s going on.”- Leo follows up.
“Bonk,” a sound is heard as Sophia hits Leo on the head.
“Yeah, I also think you should turn yourself in too. That way I can get Amber and Natalie to myself.”- She adds.
“Enough joking guys, we should stay on track to the capital.”- Natalie sternly said.
“Fine...”- The other four answered in a defeated tone.
“But a bounty, really? This guy is really desperate. Did he read too much One Piece?”- Leo thought to himself as he looked back.
The group kept following the small trail, crossing multiple forests. They suddenly stopped when Natalie, who was in the front, said:
“This is so strange, why is there a village here when the map doesn't show it?!”
Everyone looks up in confusion as Natalie points slightly to her left, further down the trail. It was true, many small houses can be seen from a distance. They ponder for a little bit on whether or not they should risk checking out the village or take a detour and stay hidden in the forest.
“We are quite a way out from Elqium’s area, I think it should be fine if we check the village out.''- Claudius suggests.
After some discussion, they agreed to check it out but on the condition that Claudius has to disguise himself and Amber has to make sure her hair stays hidden. With a spell cast, Claudius once again turns into a handsome looking guy, the same look he had when he entered Abania.
“Out of any looks you could have chosen, an average guy like me would still be fine, you know. Are you afraid that I will take all the girls away from you?”- Leo says with jealousy.
“Haha, I’m just comfortable with this look, that's all.”- Claudius replies, smiling in a weird way.
Amber on the other hand tied her hair up in a bun and hid it under her hood that she pulled over her head. With the preparations done, the group follows the trail and heads into the village. To their surprise, the village was super tiny. There were only around 15-20 houses, along with the one essential government building. The market was just a vegetable stand run by an old woman outside her house. Looks like Leo’s worries were for nothing as the village looks like an isolated community, disconnected from the outside world.
“Wait, really?”- Sophia asks as she points down the small street.
The group looked in the direction, spotting the Adventurer Guild building… Well, it wasn’t really a building, but also just a table with a wooden board next to it, all sitting on the side of the road. There’s even a receptionist, another old woman, who is just sitting there reading her book. Out of curiosity, they check out the quest board. There were only 3 quests on it, with two harvesting quests and one about finding a missing person.
“Are you really with the Adventurer Guild? In the middle of this unknown town?”- Sophia excitedly asks.
“Shhh! That’s a rude question to ask.”- Natalie scolds her.
“It’s fine young’un. She isn’t wrong about no one coming to this town. Hahaha. And yes! I am the receptionist for this Adventurer’s branch.”- The elderly woman explains.
“Not to be rude, but why even have one here when no one visits this area.”- Leo hesitantly asks.
“Truth be told, there shouldn’t even be a branch here in the first place. But there was this one old geezer who was an adventurer back in his day. He loved it so much that he requested special permission before his retirement for an Adventurer Guild branch to be placed here.”- She answers.
“That’s actually amazing, I would love to meet him one day!”- Leo said.
“Well… about that. You see that missing person quest up there, that’s for him.”- The elderly woman said, pointing over to her right.
“WHAT?”- Leo shouts .
“He is a stubborn one for his age, many of us have told him to stop going on adventures. You know at this age, it would be too risky to go alone. But he never listened to us. Last week, he left in the early morning to a nearby mountain and still hasn't returned. We are all hoping that he is alive. But deep down inside… everyone knows that he isn’t coming back.”- She said in a heartbroken tone.
“You don’t know that! What if he is still out there?”- Claudius contests.
“You might be right, but as you can see, there is no one here in this village that isn’t old and weak, except for his grandson. That’s why we posted this quest, even if he is dead, we hope that someone could at least bring his body back.”- The elderly woman said.
“We’ll take the quest.”- Leo said without any hesitation, with everyone nodding in agreement.
“Just so you know, the rewards money isn’t high at all as we old folks don’t have much to offer.”
“It’s fine, we aren’t doing this for the money.”- Natalie explains.
“But how are we gonna pay for…”- Leo said as he got kicked to the ground by Sophia. The other 3 help her beat him up by repeatedly kicking him.
“Ahahahah! I haven’t got a good laugh in such a while! We all really, really appreciate that you guys are doing this.”- The elderly woman laughs, with some tears in her eyes.
“Everyone-would-do-the-same-thing.”- Leo said while in pain on the ground.
The group obtained some details from the elderly woman, getting ready to head out to the mountain. Leo suddenly wanted a detour to the old man’s house. Leo was curious and wanted to talk to the grandson. The group was initially confused, but followed along. Walking further down the street, they reach a wooden cabin.
“And the apple tree on the right… Yeah this gotta be his house.”-Leo said, recalling the direction given by the elderly woman.
The group walks up to the door, with Leo taking the lead. He knocks on it three times. After a short wait, they hear some shuffling in the house and then the door creaks open. Inside the house is a very short and wimpy looking kid, probably in his teens. His eyes red from crying and his nose is still stuffy.
“Are you the grandchild of the old man who went missing?”- Leo asks.
“Yyyyy...eeee...yes”- The kid answers hesitantly.
“Don’t scare the kid.”- Natalie said, taking over the talking.
“I just asked him a question!”- Leo objects, moving out of the way for Natalie.
“Would you mind explaining to us what happened?”- She nicely asks.
“Well… Gramps was a great adventurer or something back then. So ever since I was born, Gramps wanted me to be an adventurer too. He kept forcing me to go with him on dangerous journeys, saying that it would help me become a great adventurer. It’s just...I’m too scared to do it, I can’t do it…””- The kid said, crying.
“So you’re just a coward.”- Leo said.
Natalie put up her first, threatening to punch Leo so he turned away and hid behind Claudius.
“It’s fine, I know adventuring can be quite difficult and scary too. Would you mind letting me know what happened to your grandpa?”- Natalie kindly asks.
“Last week… Gramps wanted me to see this thing with him on the mountain, but being so scared I told him that I can’t be an adventurer like him. I think that made him sad and he left alone, saying that he’ll come back the next day.”- The kid explains.
“It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t said no, he would still be here”- He cries..
“It’s not your fault, it's not your grandfather’s fault. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just an unfortunate thing that happened. We’ll find your grandfather, I’m sure he’s still alive out there.”- Natalie reassures the kid.
After their talk, the group discusses their plan outside the yard as they are about to head out to the mountains. Prepared, they head off, only to be stopped by the kid opening the door. He steps out hesitantly, holding a small wand in his hand. He runs up to them and requested:
“I’m...I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I’m sure my healing magic can be helpful to you guys.”
Leo doesn't like how cowardly the kid is, but accepts because the kid finally displayed some courage in wanting to help find his grandpa. As the sun is slowly setting, the group now head into the mountains. They traveled through the quiet forest with caution, but there seemed to be no threat around them. They all questioned what’s going on with the lack of monsters, but pressed on regardless. The group traveled with the formation of Leo and Sophia being the front line, the kid and Natalie in the middle, and Claudius next to Amber to round out the back. After walking for a few minutes, they arrive at a cave, the entrance to the mountain.