Chapter 6:

Chapter 6: Journey

Zero to Hero

With the dawn came Yami's soft whines, nudging me awake. I reluctantly rose from my slumber, not ready to start the day's journey.

After exchanging morning greetings with the family and Candace, I savored some leftover feast food for breakfast before preparing our essentials for the road ahead.

"Thank you, Chieftain, Mrs. Wulric. Your kindness means the world to me," I expressed gratitude as we walked towards the village's exit.

"Stay safe, Ken. Remember, you're always welcome here," Mrs. Wulric said, handing me a package of well-preserved food for our travels.

"Remember my boy. No matter what life throws at you, don’t give up before you give it your all." the chieftain added, enveloping me in a tight embrace.

We bid farewell to the villagers who gathered to see us off, and I assured Ruth and Keev that I'd convey their messages to Zeev. I promised Mrs. Wulric and the chieftain that I'd make amends with Lovetta and ensure her safety.

"Is that Tina not coming to see us off? How typical!" Candace grumbled, noticing Tina's absence among the well-wishers.

"Take care, everyone. It might take a month or two to reach Ostrium. We'll be back once I get that teleport artifact," I informed, offering goodbye hugs to Mrs. Wulric and enduring the chieftain's powerful pats on my back.

With a wave to our gracious hosts, I teleported Candace, Yami, and myself back into the snowy world beneath the concealed village, back into the dense forest.

"Ugh! When will we get somewhere warmer?" Candace complained to the sudden cold.

"We're as far north as it gets. I doubt we will be out of the forest for weeks even if I teleport us as far as my stamina allows. We really need to figure out where we could get a map," I explained.

“I knew an idiot like you won’t be prepared at all!”

"How did you get here, Tina? We teleported 5 miles away from the village," I questioned, surprised by Tina's presence.

"Candace mentioned your ability, so I guessed you'd go directly south," Tina replied proudly, handing me a piece of parchment.

"You had this world map all along and didn't mention it earlier?" I inquired, puzzled by Tina's decision to withhold the information.

"Firstly, you never asked. Secondly, count yourself lucky I'm sharing it now," Tina retorted.

"Thanks for the map, you should have just given it to me back in the village," I replied.

"Ken, can't you see she's packed and ready? She wants to tag along," Candace observed.

Finally seeing the large rucksack behind Tina, half-covered by snow, I hesitated. "Sorry, but I’m not taking you with us."

"Why not? I'm stronger than Candace! If you're lugging around a handicap like her, you should be glad I want to join," Tina protested angrily.

"Who are you calling a handicap? I could set this forest ablaze if I was given enough time," Candace retorted, flames flickering in her hair.

"Both of you, enough!" I interjected, trying to diffuse the tension. "Tina, why do you even want to come along?"

"If I had other options, you think I'd tag along with you? I've heard countless tales from Lovetta about the outside world. I want to see it for myself! Despite my disagreements with my dad, he's right that I've never ventured beyond the village and it’s scary. At least with you, my parents won't worry much," Tina explained happily.

"But I've got my hands full already. I don't need another one to babysit," I hesitated, realizing my mistake as tension surged between the three of us.

Not only did Tina start going off on me, Candace did not appreciate the implication of my comment either and decided to team up with the wolf girl.

Failing at pleading with the wolf girl to return home, reluctantly, I agreed to let Tina accompany us until we reached Ostrium and resolved the situation with Lovetta and Zeev.

"With one more person to teleport, our travel time will definitely increase. Hopefully, we'll find a village soon with mounts to buy soon," I remarked, addressing the challenge.

"You have a map now. Figure it out!" Tina exclaimed naively.

Like a general map of the world with a few major cities marked is going to be of any use for us other than provide some general directions.

"How did you even get this map?" I asked Tina, curious about its origins.

"Sis gave it to me before she left. Not that I know how to use it," Tina admitted, highlighting her inexperience.

"Ha! You can't even read a map and call me a handicap," Candace teased.

"I thought I didn't have to babysit?" I intervened before a verbal duel could erupt between the two.

As we trekked through the snowy landscape, the monotony of the wintry forest seemed to drain our energy faster than it should. Hours passed, and the unchanging scenery started to wear on the two girls.

"Let's call it a day and set up camp here," I suggested, anticipating their fatigue and complaints.

"Can we be out of this forest by tomorrow?" Tina moaned, throwing her rucksack down and flopping face-first into the snow.

"We'll be lucky to exit in 10 days. You should know that," I reminded, expecting her frustration.

"How would I? I've never ventured far from the village!" Tina retorted, making a snow angel.

"How do you still have so much energy to roll around?" Candace inquired, exhausted after catching up.

"Obviously, cuz I'm not a handicap," Tina quipped.

"Come, Yami. Let's hunt for dinner," I told my wolf, heading off as the truce between the girls was about to dissolve.

After an hour of hunting, I returned to camp with a bountiful catch, hoping their dispute had simmered down.

"Where were you? How could you leave me with this brat?" Candace complained the moment I arrived.

"At least I'm not a homewrecking tramp!" Tina retaliated.

"Stop it, both of you! If you can't behave, I'm returning you both to the village tomorrow and going solo until I secure that teleport artifact," I warned, fed up with their bickering.

Realizing my seriousness, they whispered to each other as I cleaned the game and added it to the cooking pot.

"This is gross! Is this what you've eaten for the past 5 years?" Tina grimaced at my cooking.

"If you expect me to cook, this is it. Take over if you think you're better," I challenged, growing weary of the constant insults.

"You better pay me! I might not cook like Mom, but it's definitely better than this garbage," Tina retorted.

"I might not be a chef, but ease up on the insults. Even a gentle guy like me might retaliate," I warned.

"Ha! Gentle guy who abandoned all the girls who loved him," Tina remarked, hitting where it hurt.

Unable to argue, I chose silence, allowing Tina to take charge rather than attempting to change her behavior.

With our bland meal finished, I secured the camp perimeter with a simple protection spell, offering them some peace of mind.

"Will this spell actually protect us from anything?" Tina asked, eyeing my simple enchantment with suspicion.

"Nope, but it will give me more than enough time to react. I might not possess the strength of your father or brother, but you can at least sleep soundly without having to worry," I reassured.

"Let's snuggle for warmth tonight!" Candace suggested, beckoning me seductively toward her sleeping bag.

"Not happening! And I won't stay silent if you try anything before you apologize to my sister!" Tina interjected fiercely.

"You've hardly stayed quiet this whole time!" Candace retorted, echoing the thoughts I couldn't express.

"Sorry, Candace. I don't think I'm going to be intimate with anyone else," I replied, settling into my warm sleeping bag, striving to keep my thoughts clear of temptation.

Fatigued from the day's travel, and even more so from navigating the complexities between the two girls, I pondered how I managed multiple relationships in the past as I gradually drifted into sleep.