Chapter 20:

Chapter 19. New Encounters

Zero to Hero

“Do you really have to go?”

“Please don’t go!”

“Stay!” The kids shouted as we prepared for our new journey, their pleas tugging at my heartstrings.

“Everyone, settle down. Ken has to help Candace and take care of some other things. But once he's done, he'll be back,” Emma scolded gently, trying to pacify the excited children.

“I’m glad we’re finally leaving! If I had to watch him snuggle with Emma any longer, I might start feeling bad for trying to get in between them.”

“Liar! You have no remorse! You homewrecker!” While the bickering continues between the two children I’m forced to bring along, doing little to assist me in packing. Regardless, I knew the journey ahead wouldn’t be uneventful, for better or worse.

“Take care of Emma for me, alright? If any guy tries to make a move on her, be sure to give him a kick in the nuts.”

“KEN! Don’t teach them anything stupid,” Emma scolded me, slightly exasperated.

“Ryo, thanks for handling everything. Take good care of Julia. I'll inform your people in Vespera that you’re doing well.” Saying our goodbyes wasn’t easy.

Unlike our journey so far, leaving Emma behind and having the fall out with Rena after our recent reunion left me anxious about what lies ahead without the support of my beloved ones.

“You’re sure you won’t be coming?” I asked Emma one final time, hoping for a change of heart. Her slight smile indicated my wishful thinking was in vain.

With provisions in tow, aware that my determination might waver if we lingered, I kissed Emma quickly, mounted my horse, and rode off, everyone gradually fading from view.

True to my word, we stopped by old man John’s shop, gathering a few more supplies and bidding farewell to Kate.

“So, what’s the plan, Ken?” Kate inquired as we loaded the additional goods onto the horses.

“Head for Yelwraek. Check out that teleport circle. If it doesn’t lead us where I need, we’ll find passage on a merchant ship or something like that,” I replied.

“Not the most detailed plan, is it?” Kate challenged, echoed by the agreement of the two girls.

“What do you expect? Information’s scarce without teleportation. I’m essentially a blind guiding the blind. The world’s changed a lot since the teleport ban,” I retorted.

“Stay safe out there. Even in our small village, we’ve seen some scary things. Can’t imagine what’s out there,” Kate cautioned as we resumed our journey.

“Bye, Kate! Hopefully, next time we meet, you’ll have found yourself a handsome fellow or two,” I said, riding out of the village with a smile.

Two months had passed since my departure from the Chelmswell forest. As we journeyed southward, time and the arrival of spring made our ride more comfortable compared to the biting cold at the outset.

“How many times did you and Emma…?” Candace eagerly inquired the moment we left the village, our horses picking up speed.

“With the kids around and your persistent questioning, when did we have privacy? Besides, I made a choice when she decided not to come. Couldn’t imagine coping without her if we had.” I explained, reluctant to entertain the thought.

“But you have me, right? No need to be shy!” Candace persisted.

“Didn’t you see what happens to those who fall for me? Rena’s family is gone, she’s in an unwanted marriage for money. Lovetta's alone, Emma shoulders a household, and I dread to think of the rest,” I responded, unwilling to lead anyone on.

“Poor Rena. I thought my sister had it bad,” Tina added, momentarily dropping her usual rudeness.

“I want what I want! I’ll get you to change your mind eventually!” Candace stubbornly insisted.

Trying to shift the focus, I noticed Yami, sensing a change in the wolf.

“Does Yami look bigger to anyone else?” I pondered aloud, eyeing my wolf trotting effortlessly alongside the horses.

“Nah, seems the same to me,” Tina replied.

“Of course she’s bigger! It’s been 2 months! Soon, she’ll match the size of the horses. Once fully grown, she might even be two or three times bigger!” Candace, the self-proclaimed magical wolf expert, chimed in.

“I still can’t wrap my head around how she managed to teleport the two of you halfway across the world,” I mused as our journey continued.

“Who cares? How far till Yelwraek?” the wolf girl snapped, reverting to her usual brashness.

“To the kingdom, probably less than a month. Maybe another month after entering the kingdom to reach the capital,” I replied.

“Ugh! Two months? I hope we come across some interesting places,” Tina grumbled.

“You’re welcome to head back to the village if you don’t want to come along. I’m not sure why you tagged along in the first place,” I retorted.

“You’ve got the map. Just make sure we go through some exciting places!” the wolf girl demanded.

“We’re not on a sightseeing trip. I’m choosing the quickest route, not the most ‘fun’ one,” I explained to the unreasonable girl.

“I wouldn’t mind taking a bit longer. My village isn’t in immediate danger, and my elder knew this journey wouldn’t be quick when she sent me out,” Candace added.

“Well, there’s a fairly large city called Aenwyn just inside the Yelwraek border if you two want to visit. It might add a few extra days to our travels. I haven’t been there myself, so not sure what we can expect,” I suggested, consulting my map.

“Aenwyn it is! Hope we encounter some bandits and thieves along the way. I want to do something heroic, like saving a village or rescuing a damsel in distress!” Tina exclaimed gleefully, wildly brandishing her sword as her horse neighed loudly.

“Don’t be reckless. Why would you want to seek trouble? You’re not even that strong; you’re asking for trouble or worse. There are some dangerous people out there,” I cautioned.

While I hadn’t experienced it firsthand, I’d heard enough about the underworld and its nefarious dealings, even before the world became this isolated mess. One can only imagine how things have changed since.

“I’m strong! You just have freak friends!” Tina exclaimed.

“Don’t be dumb. What if one of those ‘freaks’ is among some bandits, and you charge in recklessly? I won’t be able to rescue you if someone as formidable as Fernard is part of their group.”

“Stop calling me dumb!” the wolf girl yelled, attempting to kick me while her horse neighed loudly, distressed by her erratic behavior.

Deciding to ignore her, I focused on our journey, ensuring we stayed on the main road. Day after day, we passed through small towns and villages, resting in inns along the way. Candace's persistent desire to share a room at every stop made my nights even lonelier as I had to willing myself to turn her down at each stop.

After three weeks of travel through populated areas, we arrived at a ragged town on the forest's edge as the sun began to set. “Let’s rest here tonight. The forest is pretty vast, probably will take at least a week to get through,” I suggested, looking for an inn.

“What a dumpy looking place. Maybe we should just camp in the forest.” Tina commented, as we found the only inn in town, a rather run-down place.

“Let’s check it out first. If it’s as bad inside, maybe you’ve made an actual decent suggestion for once.”


“What do you mean, for once?”

“Stop flirting with her! You should only flirt with me…” Candace protested as we entered the shabby inn.

“Candace, I think you’re misunderstanding what flirting means,” I replied.

Before we could continue our daily banter, we were greeted by a dog beastman girl working at the inn.

“Hello! How can I help you all?”

“We need two rooms for the night,” I replied politely.

“Sure! Let me show you guys the rooms. Where are you guys heading?” The girl asked as we went up the creaky stairs that were in need of some serious repair.

“We’re heading for Yelwraek city. Planning to go through the forest tomorrow,” I explained.

“I’d advise against that. The forest is controlled by bandits, especially dangerous for pretty girls like you two,” she warned.

“Time to take down some evil doers!” Tina cheered dumbly, while I tried to gather more information.

“They raid villages, kidnap people for slavery, and more,” the innkeeper explained.

“Let’s bring peace to the area!” The wolf girl cheered again.

“Do you have more details? I’m more than happy to pay for any information,” I declared, offering payment for information.

With no other customer in sight, the girl decided to join us in the building next door where a lively restaurant and bar was fully packed compared to the ghost town that’s everywhere else.

Over drinks and food, we learned Abigail is the innkeeper’s name and I learned more about the bandits and their menace in the region.

With endless gold at my disposal, I treated everyone in the restaurant, fostering a lively atmosphere as we gathered vital details from Abigail and the locals.

“You’re quite generous, buying rounds for everyone,” Abigail remarked as we walked back to the inn in the dead of night.

“It’s nothing. Happy to see everyone enjoying themselves,” I replied.

“Don’t worry about money. He’s loaded!” Tina blurted out, her face flushed from excess drinking.

“Your pet wolf looks magnificent too. Must’ve cost a fortune!”

“Thousands of gold coins at least! This winged wolf is more special than her appearance!” Candace chimed in, holding my arm tightly, either too drunk or too devious to walk on her own.

“Good night, Abigail. We might be sleeping in and starting late tomorrow,” I said, signaling our departure.

“You can stay another day if you want! It’s nice to have fun guests,” Abigail offered.

“We’re leaving tomorrow! You’re not going to seduce my man with your puppy eyes!” Candace retorted, half-drunk.

Heading upstairs with the two inebriated companions, I wished them a good night and settled them into their beds.

“Good night, you two. Try to get some sleep,” I murmured before heading to the next room with Yami. Preparing for rest as I fell asleep almost immediately.

“Wake up, you two,” I whispered, gently patting each girl’s head.

“Did you finally decide to sleep with me?” Candace mumbled weakly, still drowsy. “Wake up, dumbo,” I said, trying to rouse them.

“Who are you calling dumb?” Tina snapped back, waking from her slumber.

“It’s still dark. What’s the rush?”

“Are you that eager to chase those bandits?”

“Do the two of you really think there is nothing wrong with this town? A girl like Abigail just working nonchalantly in the inn that’s supposedly near a group of vicious bandits? She’s obviously lying about the bandits or she’s a part of them,” I explained, finally getting their attention.