Chapter 12:

Chapter 11. Struggles and Triumph

Zero to Hero

Pat pat pat.

“Time for lunch Ken.”

“Morning Bailee,” I replied with a yawn, feeling sore all over from yesterday’s total exhaustion.

“It’s lunch time!”

"Where's Yami?" I inquired, noticing the absence of my wolf companion.

"She didn’t want to leave your side but Tina kidnapped her for the raid," Bailee shared.

With a disapproving shake of my head, I slowly rose and joined Bailee and her mother for lunch. After a satisfying meal, I headed to elder Theodore's house, aiming to learn healing magic from the elderly man. Bailee trailed me initially, but her interest waned quickly, prompting her departure for something more engaging.

"Everyone's back!" Bailee exclaimed, rushing back into the elder’s house to announce the party's return. After expressing gratitude to the elder for the day's lessons, the eager young girl seized my hand and whisked me to the village center, where the returning raid members had gathered.

"How did it go, Candace? Tina?" Bailee inquired, eager to hear about their expedition.

"Terrible! My group ran into a single group and freaking Yami got them all before I could even do anything!" Tina complained, disregarding the irony that it was the direct result of her actions.

"My team didn’t spot a single goblin! Couldn't even showcase my fire prowess," Candace added, voicing her own frustrations.

"You've done something incredible. I've personally checked each hideout; it's like the goblins never existed," Thane acknowledged, the weight of years of worry lifted from his shoulders.

"I’m certain a few stragglers still linger, but regular scouting should prevent another outbreak," I suggested, feeling like this is the best outcome for the situation even with my hands stained with blood.

"Thank you, Ken. I’ve been consumed ever since losing my family. I never thought one person could be powerful enough to achieve what you have," Thane expressed, his gratitude palpable.

"Hmph! He's average at best! Both my father and brother are way stronger than him," Tina chimed in, refusing to let praise linger without her dismissal.

"The world's too vast and beyond my comprehension with how powerful individuals like you could exist. What’s your plan now? Continuing your journey tomorrow?" Thane inquired.

“NO! Don’t go!” Bailee shouted in protest, fearing our sudden departure.

"We’re staying a few more days," I revealed with a smile.

"A few days? Not enough! Why don’t you just move here?" Bailee pleaded, reluctant to part ways with us .

"We got to go save Candace's village, remember? Once I save her village, we can visit often. I just need to get my hands on a teleport artifact and I will be able to move around the world freely." I explained.

With the goblin problem resolved, the entire village was in a cheery mood and a feast was planned for the day after where I volunteered to go hunt for some meat. Of course, Tina decided she would also go and make it a competition.

"Ready to lose?" Tina taunted as we prepared for the hunt the following morning. Feeling much better with most of the soreness gone, I was determined to demonstrate to the wolf girl just who she was up against.

"Yami, let's go."

"Yami is coming with me! It’s not a fair competition otherwise," Tina complained, forcefully grabbing my pet wolf and refusing to release her. Realizing I couldn't win the argument, I let the girl take the lead with my pet wolf.

"Ken, can you do me one last favor?" Thane interjected before I could depart.

"Sure thing Thane, what do you need?" I inquired.

"Since you're a holy-level magic user, could you seal off the entrances of those caves? It would hinder the goblins' ability to hide if the caves were blocked," Thane requested.

"Sounds reasonable! I'll ensure those caves are no longer accessible," I affirmed.

Bidding farewell to Thane, Bailee and Candace, I set out to fill in those cave hideouts first to make my hunting competition with Tina more of a challenge.

One by one, I revisited each hideout, sealing each entrances to prevent any remaining goblins from using them. Once done, I turned my focus to hunting large game for the evening feast.

Upon my return to the village in the early afternoon, I brought back two massive sheep, eliciting excitement from Bailee and Candace while Tina was still nowhere to be found.

"Hey Thane, besides the goblins, are there any other dangers in these mountains?" I inquired, concerned about the prolonged absence of the girl and my wolf as the day grew late.

"Nothing too intelligent, but there are bears and other predators, and some have become more perilous in the last five years. But as long as you don't provoke them, they shouldn't pose too much danger," Thane explained.

Concerned about Tina's impulsiveness, I decided to venture back out to search for her and my wolf, just in case either of them had ventured into trouble.

Teleporting out of the village, I dashed through the trees, confirming my suspicion after an hour-long search, finally finding the pair in a fierce battle.

"What are you doing, you idiot!" I exclaimed.

"What does it look like? I'm trying to take down this corrupted bear thing!" Tina retorted.

"Doesn't seem like you're doing any damage to it. All you seem to do is piss it off," I pointed out.

"Shut up! Stop distracting me," the stubborn girl replied, rushing at the giant beast.

Despite her speed and agility, her sword swings couldn’t pierce the creature's thick fur at all. The corrupted beast, twice the size of the bear I had managed to take down a few days ago, seemed impervious to her attacks.

"How long have you been fighting this thing? Can't you see you're literally doing nothing to it?" I questioned.

"SHUT UP!" Tina snapped, persisting in her assault, doing no damage but refusing to yield.

"Aim for the eyes if you want to hurt it. You're obviously too weak to penetrate its hide," I suggested, realizing she wouldn't stop until the creature was defeated, and my intervention will only hinder more than help.

Fortunately, the unyielding girl heeded my advice, focusing on the beast's eye. Using her speed advantage, she eventually managed to thrust through the creature's eye and brain, ending the prolonged battle.

"YES! I WON!" Tina cheered, elated at taking down the formidable creature.

"If I hadn't shown up, you would have been exhausted and probably ended up dead because you're too stubborn to retreat," I warned.

"Don't be salty just because I beat you in the competition," she replied happily, standing proudly over her kill.

"And how were you planning to bring this back to the village?" I inquired.

"I would've sent Yami to get you to do the lifting. I'm not stupid," she retorted.

"Let's get going. It's getting late, and we still need to clean this thing and prepare it for cooking."

Returning to the village with the giant bear monster, Tina proudly proclaimed her victory in the competition, narrating her battle against the creature with excitement, conveniently omitting the part where my advice aided her in overcoming the challenge.

As the village embraced a festive mood, Tina busied herself with cooking, while Candace and I helped set everything up for the gathering.

"Finally, I get to show off my fire magic!" Candace exclaimed with enthusiasm as she volunteered to enchant all the light artifacts, wanting to showcase her magical abilities.

"Ken! Can you do this too? Every time our light artifact runs out of magic, it takes my dad forever to fill it up," Bailee inquired, captivated by Candace's abilities. As Candace's hair ignited brightly, the artifacts started glowing intensely.

"Don't overdo it, Candace. You don't want to break the artifacts by overfilling them," I cautioned. Considering the isolated nature of the village in the mountains, replacing broken artifacts might prove challenging.

"What do you mean by overfilling?" Bailee asked, intrigued by the unfamiliar information.

"Depending on an artifact's craftsmanship, it can hold a certain amount of magic. If you exceed that capacity, the artifact will break," I explained, offering the basics without overwhelming the child with too much detail.

The air was rich with the delightful aromas as more dishes graced the table, marking the start of the lively party. It echoed the communal warmth I experienced back in Tina’s village—an atmosphere I deeply missed during my solitary times, away from human interaction.

The night was a flurry of laughter, conversation, indulging in food, and dancing, reminiscent of the joyous celebrations I'd encountered before. As the hours passed, the merriment continued, extending late into the night.

“Goodnight, elder, Thane,” I bid them farewell as the festivities wound down and everyone retired to their homes for the night.

“Why are you still up? Depressed because I won?” Tina's condescending voice interrupted my solitary moment as I sat alone outside, gazing at the stars, too full to easily fall asleep.

“Yeah, right. Are you awake because no guy talked to you today while they were all lining up to confess to Candace?” I retorted, turning the conversation back at the wolf girl who had shown up uninvited.

"I was just heading to the bathroom and noticed you were missing! Like I’m interested in any of those losers," she retorted sharply, her presence somehow unsettling the night’s tranquility.

“You know, what you did today was absolutely stupid. How would I face Lovetta or your parents if you ended up seriously hurt? If that thing had just hit you once, things would've turned out terribly.”

“It didn’t, so stop lamenting about the what-ifs. I hate what you have become! So negative!”

“You know, I hate what I've become as well. But that doesn’t make your behavior any less reckless. If you keep this up, I’ll leave you behind in this village.”

“UGH… Fine… So what’s our plan going forward?”

“We’ll stay here for a few more days to rest up. I’m hoping I can use some simple healing magic before we leave. With the horses, we should reach Ostrium city within 2 weeks.

“I’ll apologize to Lovetta, hope for her forgiveness, talk to Zeev, and get a teleport artifact. Then everything will be much easier.

“I’ll then send you home, help out Candace’s village, and apologize to everyone else I hurt because of my selfish decision.”

“Why do I have to go home? I want to keep traveling and exploring the world!”

“That’s up to your family to decide. I’ll send you home, and you can talk it over with your mom and the chieftain.”

“Ugh… Fine. Better put in some good words for me,” the naive wolf girl asked, like I was about to say anything positive after her crazy outbursts.

After our chat, the rude girl left without saying goodnight, and I sat in the cold night alone for a bit longer, gazing at the bright stars, hoping things would work out as planned before heading back and calling it a night.