"Are you that confident for the upcoming duel?"
Even though Kurdak said he had already broken through to the ninth stratum, Vera couldn't help but worry. His opponent was a psycho like Orwen, after all. That was why she confronted him about the matter yet again back at the inn.
"I won't say I am absolutely certain, but at the very least, my chances of winning are 50 percent," confessed Kurdak as he stretched out all his fingers on his huge, rough palm.
"Heck, does that mean there's half a chance he'll kill you?" asked Vera anxiously.
"Hey, don't get so worked up, okay? Isn't there half a chance I can get rid of him as well?" countered Kurdak nonchalantly.
"What would you rather I do? Sit quietly and watch you commit suicide in three days? We lost Cyranos just a few days ago, and here I thought Leguna and I could count on you. I didn't think you'd bet your life this rashly. No one knows what'll happen in three days What would we do if something really happened to you?! How could you do something so irresponsible?!"
Seeing Kurdak's carefree expression only made her anger grow. She had only wanted to advise him a little at first, but she found herself acting more emotionally as she went on until tears welled up in her eyes. Kurdak didn't think she would react so emotionally either. After a short pause, he brought her, on the edge of crying, into his embrace.
"Girl, don't you understand me? I wouldn't place my bets on something I wasn't reasonably confident in winning. Don't worry, I have no plans to ditch the two of you," consoled he gently.
After spending so much time with Vera, he'd come to understand that when the gung-ho and brash woman opened her heart and shared her thoughts, it was a sign she'd been shocked quite severely.
"Sniff... Kurdak, I'm scared... I'm really scared! My family left me all of a sudden, and now even Cyranos is gone... I'm scared one day you'll leave me as well! What if I end up all alone? I've always thought of myself as a useless wench for running away to save myself, abandoning my brother, and letting Cyranos die for my sake... And you almost died to save me as well! Everyone I know dies for my sake. And I can't do anything about it! I'm so useless!" cried Vera in his arms.
Her tears soaked his chest.
Kurdak patted her shoulders lightly.
"Now don't spout crap. You're not useless at all. If not for you, Cyranos and I would've died several times over. Look, your family's deaths didn't have anything to do with you, neither did Cyranos's. It's all the orcs' fault. Stop blaming yourself. This isn't like the dragon I know."
Thanks to his efforts, Vera gradually regained her calm. After she snapped out of it, she realized she'd been in Kurdak's embrace for quite a while. Her face flushed and she tried to wriggle free. When Kurdak saw her struggle and noticed the red blush on her cheeks, the urge to tease her burst into his head. His arms tensed and he tightened his grip.
"What's wrong? You leap into my arms, cry like a little kitten, and think you can just leave after doing your business? In your dreams!"
Kurdak had a mischievous smile on his not-so-handsome face.
Vera felt the heat burn her cheeks and struggled even harder.
"You! Hmph, you hugged me first! I didn't leap into your arms! Let me go, now!"
"Nope. You'll have to get out by yourself."
"Let me go! I'll bite you, you hear?!"
Vera's razor-sharp canines were already visible.
"Go ahead! I have werewolf's blood in me now... Maybe drinking my blood will make a missy wolf out of you. Yep, it'll suit you much better. Come on, bite me!" teased Kurdak as he brought his muscled, hairy arms to Vera's mouth.
When she heard mention of werewolves, her expression darkened even more but she stopped struggling. Kurdak cursed himself for opening Pandora's Box of his own accord.
"Hey hey, there's nothing to worry about. I won't die that easily. The potion's side effect is troublesome but it's not all bad. It's a great boon for the duel," said he hurriedly.
"You don't need to try and console me," Vera sighed, "I know, don't worry. I'll do my best to help you escape the curse. I owe you this much... You both."
"... You won't mind if I claim part of the debt now, hmm?"
Kurdak lowered his head slowly as he asked. Vera hesitated when she saw his face come closer, but, in the end, she gave in and closed her eyes.
Her nerves shot with electric bolts as their lips touched. It felt weird for her tender skin to brush against the stubs of Kurdak's shaven beard and mustache. The sensations overwhelmed her. Her heart beat a mile a minute. Kurdak was no expert either. He cast away what little reservations he had crudely and mashed his head against Vera's ever harder. He fought clumsily to taste as much of her as he could.
Three knocks fell on the door at the least opportune moment. Kurdak's brow furrowed at the disruption.
"What?" barked he.
If it was one of the inn staff, he wouldn't hesitate to ream the bastard properly.
"Boss, I'm back!' chirped Leguna's voice through the door.
Vera yelped softly. Her face burst crimson. Leguna was the last person she expected in this moment. How could he be back so soon?!
Kurdak's face was just as pissed as before even with his disturber being Leguna. In fact, he wanted to trample his face even more. The door opened a scooch. Leguna's face, as inviting as ever, peeked in. His eyes saucered for a moment when he saw both Kurdak, with his sour expression, and Vera, still tear-streaked, inside. When he noticed her crimson face and Kurdak's flooded chest, he slid into an understanding smile.
Leguna snickered mischievously as he gave Kurdak an admiring glance.
"You're quite the lady-killer, Boss!"
The words did nothing for Vera's countenance, nor did it give Kurdak cause for pause. He knocked Leguna's head thoroughly.
"And you dared to say it out loud... You ruined my moment, brat!"
"Oh, I'm sorry! You should've told me earlier!" countered Leguna as he rubbed the bulge on his head.
His face was a picture of penitence.
"Hmph, I'll settle the debt with you later. Come in and tell us how you got out so quickly. Did the Association really release you?" asked Kurdak as he waved magnanimously, forgiving Leguna for his sin.
"I don't have a clue. I had tea for a while, then someone came and undid my cuffs and said I could go," explained Leguna.
Kurdak looked at him confusedly. This was unheard of.
"Did he say anything else?" asked he, suspicious.
"Nope," Leguna said, shaking his head, before it came back to him, "Oh, he told me he didn't know anything."
"Didn't know? What doesn't he know?"
"Yeah, I want to know what he doesn't know."
"I know he doesn't know. What I want to know is what he doesn't know."
"I already said I don't know."
"Stop repeating that you don't know! What doesn't he know?!"
"Boss, I know what you want to know, but you don't know what I'm trying to get at. I don't know what he doesn't know."
"Ugh... I think I'm getting the idea... What is this about?"
"I don't know."
Kurdak organized his thoughts in silence.
"You just drank tea all afternoon?"
"If I'm not forgetting anything major, yes."
Leguna even began to suspect his memory might have been tampered with to make him forget any painful experiences.
"Your luck is really something else," said Kurdak.
His mind was working harder than it had in a long while. Moonshadow must have had something to do with it. While he wasn't sure who Arikos really was, he knew enough about the man's behavior to guess his strength. It went without saying that he was a high-order assassin. Even though Lance's people were considerably stronger than Chino's on average, anyone of any job who had interactions with high-order individuals undoubtedly stood at the top of the pyramid of power.
And for Leguna to garner the attention of a high-order fighter that had to go through the trouble of dealing with Leguna's matters... It was obvious he was someone of importance to Moonshadow. Moonshadow must have had a hand in getting Leguna released so soon.
"Why are you overthinking this? All that matters is Ley is fine," interjected Vera, much relieved to see him return unharmed.
"Yup," agreed Kurdak.
He didn't reveal his conjecture.
The door rumbled again. Kurdak looked at the other two confused. Who would knock on their door at this hour?
"I'll go look," said Leguna, who was closest to the door.
When he opened it, the face so beautiful it stupefied him met his eyes once again.
"Good day," said Annelotte expressionlessly.
"Good day..." muttered Leguna, dazed.
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