The Two’s Standing
Using the magic circle as a spring, the flame twisted, then leaped forward. The circle shattered to pieces like glass, casting flashes of light everywhere. Trees grazed by the flames were charred black on the spot. The serpent flame climbed before charging straight to the center of the settlement.
In an instant, the force of the blast ripped through the air like a powerful wave. In a thirty-meter radius, glaring light and near-white flames flared and danced together, spinning around in different directions like a tornado.
Overwhelmed by the strong gust, Hikaru embraced Lavia. He couldn’t keep his eyes open. Lavia held onto him as well, though there was not much power in her clutch. She was growing weaker.
「Hang in there, Lavia!」
「I didn’t expect it to consume this much mana…」
They took cover behind a tree. In the meantime, the flames, having done their job, died out abruptly. The heat, the smoke, and the smell of something burning was overwhelming. Slowly, Hikaru came out of hiding.
On the ground was a perfect, jet-black circle. Smoke rose from the scorched trees. Here and there were traces of soil being perturbed. Needless to say, the Goblins that were supposed to be there were completely annihilated. A Goblin that was just on the edge of the circle had lost its right arm and right leg. No blood came out as its limbs were charred to the bones.
The shack that stood just barely outside the circle started to burn from the heat carried by the wind. The few Goblins that managed to escape the hellfire unscathed quickly dispersed into the woods, scurrying like spiderlings.
All of a sudden, Hikaru shivered from the strange sensation welling up deep inside his body. He wanted to scream.
His soul rank had gone up.
Age: 15 Rank: 19
Age: 14 Rank: 11
Hikaru’s soul rank went up by two and Lavia by four.
「Lavia… are you okay?」
Lavia, who was breathing wildly in his arms, looked at him.
「I-I’m fine. I didn’t expect to be this exhausted. It might be because I set my job class to Flame Magus. I haven’t actually used it before.」
「The Flame Magus class only appeared in my card after I started killing monsters at home… Until then I’ve only used Magic Principle Creation God: Challenger of Magic Principles5. Then I realized… that I was only being used. My spells weren’t as powerful back then… and the mana consumption wasn’t as demanding as it was just now.」
Hikaru was convinced Lavia hid the Flame Magus class from the Count. He was glad that she told him about it. Does the Magic Principle Skill on her Soul Board have something to do with mana consumption, then?
There was one thing he realized as well. At first he thought they didn’t have much synergy, but his opinion had changed after seeing Lavia’s power. With his Stealth, she was basically a walking cannon with cloaking capabilities – a force to reckon with.
They could wipe out groups of monsters. They could launch surprise attacks in a war. Hikaru was overcome with both excitement and fear.
「Hikaru, you won’t leave me behind, will you?」
Those words made Hikaru feel like ice-cold water was poured onto him. Lavia’s powerful fire magic was a delicate matter for her. Because of it, she was used by the Count, locked inside the house, and after her father’s death, almost taken advantage of by the kingdom as well. And he made her use that magic.
Lavia could’ve refused, but she didn’t want to displease him. It was all an experiment for their future dungeon exploration, he said. However, he didn’t consider that his words could also be construed as “show that you can be useful”. And so she used her spell. They might’ve been monsters, but it was still slaughter.
How could I let her do that? I didn’t even consider how she feels.
「I’m bringing you with me, of course. When I first thought I couldn’t abandon you, it was because I realized you loved adventures.」
「Really? That’s nice to hear.」
She flashed a weak smile as I took a towel to wipe her sweat.
It would’ve been easy to just say sorry. Lavia would surely accept his apology.
But I can’t do that. I might hurt her feelings because of my thoughtlessness again. Because ours isn’t a fifty-fifty relationship. She tells me everything, while I keep several things from her. So I’ll only come off as insensitive if I apologized.
There was only one way to fix that: stand on equal ground with her.
「You might one day leave me when the time comes that you wish for a different kind of life.」
「But before that happens, I want us to be on equal standing. So I…」
…will tell you my secrets.
「No.」Lavia said, pressing her slender forefinger against his lips.「Don’t say any more. What you did for me is not something I can repay by simply using my magic. So there’s no need for us to be on equal standing.」
Slowly, she got up on her feet, wobbling a little.
「Our adventure has only just started. We can’t let something as trivial as this cause a setback.」
I have no words. I didn’t expect her to say no. She’s way stronger than I am.
「I get it. Let’s go.」Hikaru said.
He held out his hand, and Lavia grasped it gently. Nothing had changed. Their relationship was still not equal. But the warmth from her hands made Hikaru feel like they had gotten closer than before.
After catching a ride on a horse by the lake, they both returned to Pond. First they entered town while using Group Obfuscation to hide Lavia. Although he found the whole process annoying, Hikaru went back out again before returning, this time actually showing the gatekeeper his guild card.
「So how was the capital?」the gatekeeper asked cheerfully.
「It was big.」
「That’s it? Well, of course it’s big. Anything else, though? Like the women were pretty, or hot, or they had huge boobs or something?」
「You only care about the women, huh?」his colleagues chimed in, laughing.
They really are nice people. I’m glad I started out in this town.
「The place is too big for my taste.」
「That so? A lot of adventurers leave Pond to go make a name for themselves. You went there so you could get promoted, right?」
「I did. But I can rank up from F to E here in Pond.」
「I see. Good luck, then.」
The gatekeeper seemed delighted. Like what he and the receptionist said, there were way more requests and bigger cases in the capital. It was understandable that countless adventurers would head there. But sometimes adventurers in the royal capital could be called for war like what was going on at the moment.
There’s probably people who see the war as a chance to make a name for themselves, though.
Hikaru liked small towns like Pond, where everything was within walking distance. That is not to say he hadn’t considered the possibility of leaving the place. Once promoted to rank E, they might say their goodbyes to go dungeon exploring. If things got worse with regards to Lavia’s identity, they might even flee the kingdom.
「What’s wrong, Hikaru?」
「You look happy.」
「…I do? Maybe I am happy.」
Storing the conversation he had with the gatekeeper in a corner of his mind, Hikaru walked the twilight streets of Pond with Lavia. They made their way to the Adventurers Guild to deliver today’s loot.