It should be noted that Kurdak never would've expected to see Leguna's sneaky-looking face wear such an ecstatic expression. He looked to be in pure bliss.
Even with Daver leading the way and the contact crystal marking their location, they had spent a whole day before they could finally find Kurdak's hideout. Over the course of that day, Vera's wound had reopened and Kurdak had been in a very weak state. Their mobility had taken a huge blow. Even though their lives weren't in any danger in the short term, there was no way they could make it out of Icepeak Mountain on their own.
That was why, when Kurdak saw the little rascal, he acted like a wolf that'd just caught sight of a beauty and leaped straightforward to give the youth a big bear-hug.
"Boss... Did you... miss me... that much?"
Though Leguna struggled to breath, he didn't resist. Actually, he was also rather moved to see the big lunk. Over the last couple of days, he and Annelotte had had to face off against fiends and Daver -- at first. Given that he didn't have much experience adventuring, and the fact that he had to pay attention to Daver's group -- lest they change their minds about the truce -- he'd felt a lot of pressure. Now that he had finally found Kurdak, he felt like he'd gotten his bearings again. That was why the man's face looked all the more welcome to him.
But, after paying his attention to the two's living conditions, he started to question his 'boss'' reliability. Even though Kurdak had confidently expressed that 'as long as I have something to eat, you will have a share of it', the problem now was that Kurdak himself only had leftover scraps. Leguna wouldn't get anything even if he licked the plate clean.
"Well, one way or another, you're still my subordinate. I was really worried about you as your boss, you know. I was terrified you'd turn into fiend-food sooner or later," said Kurdak with a leave-it-to-me-now-I'll-come-save-you-no-matter-how-far-you-are-next-time expression.
"But... You've had it quite rough yourself, Boss," countered Leguna, attempting to remind Kurdak who the rescuer was.
"You're still bringing this up? If not for the fact that we left most of our belongings with Annelotte, would we have fallen to such straits?" Kurdak barked, "Miss Annelotte, I wonder how much one of those dimensional pockets costs. I'll need one in the future too. The feeling of having nothing to eat or use is very frustrating."
"Four thousand gold," said Annelotte with a hint of surprise.
Vera had just given her a big hug, disorienting a girl who usually didn't experience so much skinship. Fortunately, the one who'd hugged her was Vera. Had it been the grimy-faced Leguna or the sweaty Kurdak, she would have flung a fireball at them already.
"Our first mission is complete."
Seeing that the five were busy with their reunion and ignoring him thoroughly, he had no choice but to interrupt.
Kurdak finally noticed Daver's presence and looked at him carefully. The last interaction he'd had with the man had been rather distasteful.
"Oh, I should reintroduce them. This here is Mister Daver, twelfth-stratum magus. We managed to get here so quickly thanks to him guiding us. Mister Daver, this here is our party's leader, Kurdak the 'Ironblood Greatbear'. He's a ninth-stratum warrior."
Leguna tried his best to soften the tense atmosphere. He'd come to realize Daver was a pretty decent person over the last couple of days. Apart from his strong lust and arrogance, there wasn't much to hate about him. However, every time he saw Daver orbit Annelotte like an annoying fly, he felt the urge to sink his dagger into his back. To make his boss seem more impressive, Leguna even picked a domineering-sounding nickname for him of his own accord. He nodded, satisfied, as if his initiative was worthy of praise.
You're the stupid bear! Your whole family are bears! thought Kurdak as his veins popped.
He wanted to give Leguna a stomp, but, given the others present, he had no choice but to go with his introduction. He stretched out his hand.
The two shook hands. After seeing how scary Leguna and Annelotte were, Daver had decided he couldn't afford to offend these people, so his attitude was far warmer than before.
"I'm Daver. Mister Kurdak, I've also heard of your reputation, 'Ironblood Greatbear'. Seeing you in person just reaffirms the things I heard about you."
"Hahaha, I don't really have that kind of reputation."
While Kurdak sounded cheery, he decided solemnly that he'd give Leguna's cheeks both a stomp.
The group spent most of their time over the next several days looking for millennium snowlotus. With Daver was leading the way, their search went much faster than expected, especially with the help of the map.
"Come to think of it, why are you looking for millennium snowlotus?" asked Daver.
Though he didn't stop his bad habit of annoying the two beautiful dames, his advances toned down considerably given Leguna and Kurdak's occasional displeased glares. They managed to get to know each other better and was at the point of chatting and laughing together as they traveled.
"One of my good friends got an odd disease and requires millennium snowlotus to survive," offered Kurdak simply.
He didn't dare reveal the truth about the werewolf in him.
"I see," nodded Daver.
They wouldn't go out of their way and expose themselves to this kind of risk if it's just about selling these for money.
After checking the direction, he directed, "According to your map, the next area to look at is not far ahead."
"Daver, why are you so familiar with Icepeak Mountain?" asked Vera.
"The frost all over the mountain is incredibly helpful to my training in frost-aspect magic. I come here often to strengthen myself. I've gotten to know the mountain better than most over the years."
"You don't look like the hard-working type," doubted Vera.
In her eyes, young masters were mostly spoiled brats just like Bjord, the son of Starfall's mayor. She didn't think Daver would be so different.
"For the family and for myself, working hard is necessary," smiled Daver.
Vera simply nodded. Though Daver had offended her in the past, given his looks were passable and he'd kept his word to help them look for millennium snowlotus, she decided to let the old matter slide.
As they chatted and walked, they soon arrived at the spot marked by the map.
"Let's split up here and search independently. Make sure to notify the rest if you find anything."
Daver might have joined their party temporarily, but Kurdak was still the one in charge. The others nodded and went their own way. Icepeak Mountain looked like nothing but fields of white, Finding millennium snowlotus, which was also snow white, was quite troublesome.
Leguna searched with all his attention as Kurdak's life depended on this. He'd always felt very guilty since the incident in the forest. He kept thinking that if he had been brave enough to look for Vera along with him, he wouldn't have ended up as he had. He'd been doing his best to find ways to make it up to him.
Focusing all his attention on his search, he didn't miss any detail. But it was precisely this deep level of concentration that made him neglect the odd movements of a patch of snow behind him. The flower in front of him radiated beautifully. Its emerald-green leaves surrounded the faint white lotus petals that carried with them a hint of green. The petals layered onto each other and curled tightly towards the center. Though it had been sitting on the ground's surface, weathering the elements, it still looked pure and untainted.
Leguna jumped excitedly and called out, "I found it!"
The moment he lowered his guard, the white figure in the snow leaped forward and approached him at a speed to which normal people couldn't react. Leguna trembled all of a sudden, feeling the cold killing intent coming from behind him. It almost felt like there was a snickering death god licking his back with its long, thin tongue.
A feeling of impending doom suddenly clouded his mind. He cried out loudly under the intense pressure and subconsciously drew his dagger to block the blow. A lightless dagger easily changed its trajectory to avoid Flameblade and pierced into his chest almost effortlessly, before it was drawn back just as quickly. Fresh blood spurted out as the dagger left his body. It dropped to the bleach-white snow, creating a crimson lightless void as it melted the snow it touched and soaked further in.
Everything happened far too quickly. Leguna didn't even get a glance at his attacker. He just heard a faint, playful whisper.
"I got sick of trailing you, so I came to say hi. Don't die on me just yet though."
He finally noticed the wound on his chest. He tried to open his mouth but collapsed before he could say anything.
"You found the snowlotus? Where is it?"
Vera was the first to make it to the scene after hearing him call out. But when she saw the collapsed youth, he hurriedly called out for the rest. A moment later, everyone gathered.
"I still have a bottle of strong healing potion. Use it, quick!"
Daver generously handed out a bottle of strong healing potion, easily worth 100 gold coins.
"It's pointless. He's poisoned," interjected Annelotte after she felt the heat coming from Leguna's body.
She pushed the panicking Vera away and began to inspect his injury. A moment later, she shuddered.
"It was Balor..." muttered she, shocked.
"Who?!" yelled Vera.
Annelotte didn't bother to respond to Vera.
"I am going to use the transference spell to bring him back for detoxification. I'll leave the rest to you. See you back at the inn in Snowrock," said she to Kurdak.
Kurdak knew time was of the essence and nodded obediently.
"Alright, we're counting on you."
Annelotte nodded, slung Leguna over her shoulder, and dictated the transference spell. Moments later, the two's silhouettes appeared somewhere on Icepeak Mountain. The transference spell could only work for a limited distance. Though Annelotte had already used it to its maximum capability, it was still far from enough. She had no choice but to repeat the process. The swift consumption of magical power made her feel dizzy. But she didn't dally and forcefully steeled herself to continue.
This is the mission the president gave me. I have to keep him safe, thought she.
Deep down, in the dark corners of her mind, another, weak, faint, quiet voice screeched unbeknownst to her.
Don't die! Weren't you going to be my friend? Don't die! I don't have anyone else...
"I knew I'd been stabbed when I saw the damn knife sticking out of my chest!" ~ Leguna
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