"They'll be fine, right?" asked Leguna as the chilling cold brushed against his spine.
Even with impetus, he still felt petrified by the cold to the point that his teeth chattered when he spoke. Annelotte turned around. She seemed completely unmoved even in the temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius. The cotton robe she wore was white as snow as usual. Seeing Leguna, whose fingertips and lips were already going purple, she couldn't help but stare befuddled. His body wasn't like hers. While she wouldn't feel much of a difference even when the temperature was minus 40, it wasn't the same for Leguna, who was clad in only leather armor and kept warm by his impetus. The air was bone chilling for him.
It was already their third day hiking on Icepeak Mountain. As they wandered deeper and higher, the temperature dropped in kind. Fortunately, they were well stocked with supplies, so their journey was mostly without trouble.
However, the incident that set them apart occurred two hours ago. They'd arrived at a point marked on the map as one of the spots where millennium snowlotus could be found. It was a gigantic and seemingly endless cavern. Perhaps due to the unique properties of the minerals within the stone of the mountain, the cave's walls glowed with a soft blue light. Even though there wasn't any sunlight, it was as bright as day inside.
As it was far too deep and not detailed by the map, Kurdak decided to survey near the entrance and leave if they didn't manage to find anything. After all, it was very easy to get lost in such a complicated cavern. But when the four were about to roast some meat as they rested, a three-meter-tall giant snowfiend charged at them out of nowhere.
Had it been like before, Kurdak wouldn't have been confident that his party could take it. But as he had a mid-order magus on his team, they were strong enough to face it. In fact, the truth wasn't much different from his prediction. While giant snowfiends were powerful and hardy, they didn't have good resistance against magic. While he held the beast off with his shield, Annelotte launched successive attacks from the rear. Given her adept handling of water-aspect spells, it wouldn't have taken long to take it down. All went well until a second giant snowfiend showed up.
When the second one appeared, Kurdak chose to retreat without hesitation, mainly because there was no way he could hold two back. The next half an hour was spent running for their lives. In the end, Leguna and Annelotte managed to lose the two roaring brutes, but they realized too late they had become separated from the other two.
Currently, the two had already been walking in the cave for a little over an hour. They hadn't spoken a word to one another until Leguna broke the ice. While Annelotte was still hung up on his 'peeping', she knew it wasn't the time to mess around.
"I don't know. While great snowfiends are terrifying, they're not incredibly agile. It shouldn't be hard for Kurdak to find a way to lose them."
"Ah, thank goodness," exhaled Leguna as he rubbed his numbing hands.
Annelotte looked at the shivering youth. She hesitated for a moment before speaking.
"Are you... feeling really cold?"
Leguna stared at her in a daze before for a moment.
"Oh, it's no big deal! I got used to the cold in my childhood!" he answered hurriedly.
He tried to make a relaxed smile to prove he was fine, but his eyes darted around as he did. He had never been able to maintain eye contact while he lied. White covered his eyes, Annelotte had removed her cotton robe before he'd realized what was happening. Beneath it, she only wore a light, blue magus robe that accentuated her curves.
"Wear this," ordered she.
"I'm really fine!" countered Leguna, patting his chest as he spoke.
"Wear it. You'll be a burden if you get frostbite. Put it on if you don't want to drag me down," insisted she, slightly annoyed at his stubbornness.
The sudden change in her tone surprised him quite a bit.
"Aren't you cold?" asked he carefully as he carefully stretched out his hand.
"I don't need it," replied she as she creased her brow.
She was clearly getting annoyed at his indecisiveness.
He stopped protesting in fear of her leaving him for dead out of anger. He put on the soft robe, which still had a trace of his companion's body heat. It shot him all the way to cloud nine in an instant. His sense of smell was unfortunately inhibited by the cold, if only he could smell her gentle odor, he was certain the feedback loop it'd great in his mind would be incredible.
Annelotte gleamed something from the desire that flashed across his face. She glared at him, slightly embarrassed, humphed softly, and walked ahead. Leguna cleared his throat before following awkwardly.
"Are you really not cold?"
"Why? Aren't magi supposed to have weak bodies?"
"Mine is special."
"Nothing to do with you."
"Oh come on, we're comrades now, right? Tell me."
"Don't feel like it."
"We don't have anything else to do… I'm all ears."
"Make another sound and I'll take my robe back!" exclaimed Annelotte angrily with both her eyebrows raised.
She finally realized the guy was more troublesome than Arikos. At least Arikos left crestfallen when she talked back to him coldly; Leguna was either completely oblivious or completely impervious to this approach. His skin's thickness could rival that of Starfall's walls. Leguna cracked a smile when he saw her annoyed expression.
"What'd you say?"
Annelotte looked at him like he was a madman.
"You look better now. I haven't seen an expression on your face, not once since we first met. You speak politely and pleasantly, but your voice sends chills down my spine. You look much better now you're showing emotion. That's how a girl should be... right..."
Leguna's voice faded when he saw Annelotte's eyebrows return to their neutral position. He didn't know whether he'd cheered her up or angered her. It was best he stopped immediately. Annelotte looked at him coldly for a moment. She left without another word.
Leguna didn't say anything either. He just tagged along with a heavy heart. He didn't see the slight smile on Annelotte's face.
"Oh?... Aren't you the two from the inn?" sounded a familiar voice ahead of them in the cave.
Daver! thought Annelotte as the smile on her face vanished.
Kurdak and Vera's had it far worse than the previous two. They were chased into another cavern altogether by the two snowfiends. There had just started to think they'd found an exit when they ran into a cliff. Behind them two snowfiends, in front of them a cliff of unknown height. Either they are torn apart and eaten… or they take a leap of faith...
They grit their teeth and jumped.
They watched the snow float around them. They imagined they could dance amongst the snow. Unfortunately, reality was cruel, it pulled them back to reality and plonked them into a pile of snow. The two passed out as the world around them turned white.
"Kurdak, brother, wake up."
A familiar voice echoed out of the endless void's depths.
"Who... Who's speaking?"
"It's me. Did you forget me already? I only left recently. You have to wake up now."
"Wake up? Why? I'm very comfortable as I am."
"No, you can't fall asleep like this. Vera's in danger. She needs you."
"Who are you? What's going on with Vera?"
"She's in danger. She needs your help. You have to save her. You promised me. I asked you to save her from the orcs, and you did, but I also asked you to take care of her. She in danger! She'll die if you don't wake up! Are you going to break your promise?! This isn't like you at all!"
Kurdak finally remembered his name, but he wasn't so talkative, was he?
That's right, I promised him I would take good care of Vera. But where am I? How's he talking to me here? Don't tell me he's still alive? Why doesn't he save Vera? Doesn't he know how tired I am?
Kurdak had been greatly burdened ever since he'd left. He didn't have an appetite and couldn't sleep. He was very worried he wasn't strong enough to protect Vera. He was worried he would be ostracized thanks to his werewolf blood. He was worried Vera and Leguna would be left to fend for themselves after his death. He'd worked so hard in the couple of days before the duel. Neither of his companions knew how hard he'd worked to memorize everything Annelotte had given him about Orwen. He hadn't even slept. Nor did they know that he'd saved the earnings from the duel, a few thousand gold, in a bank account under their names. They also didn't know about the idea the werewolf blood gave him. He continued to smile and laugh in front of them, but he wasn't happy, not at all.
It used to be so much better. I had someone to talk to whenever there was trouble... I had someone with whom to share the burden... But now? I'm all that's left. I'm on a mission to find a way... To find out how I to endure the pain of being half werewolf.
Kurdak was incredibly worn out. He could kill for some sleep. Even the shortest nap would do. But he couldn't. He didn't dare. He still had to care for the kid that called him 'boss' unconditionally… and the woman who'd relied on him for seven years now. He couldn't imagine how the two would spend the rest of their lives if he slept now. He just had to wake up. He had to fight. He had to struggle!
"Wake up, old friend. I know you won't disappoint me."
"Where are you?! Come back! Cyranos!"
"Cyranos!" cried Kurdak as he sat up all of a sudden.
The snow covering his face stimulated his nerves non-stop. The numbness in his limbs waned. His right hand still held tightly onto Vera's left one but when he turned to look, his face paled instantly.
Everything in front of him was crimson. The white around it just made it look fresher. He suddenly remembered that Vera had been slashed in the back by the closest snowfiend while they were still running. They had been fleeing for their lives, so they hadn't bothered with the injury. While he wasn't badly injured, the long run and shock of the fall had possibly torn her wound open fatally.
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