Destination, The Wild Flatlands
"Alright, I understand," said Leguna after a long moment.
He realized he already had responsibilities weighing on his back. He had to carry his three companions, so he had to get strong quickly. Strong enough to protect them all.
Is this what it means to be responsible?
In the past, he was only able to experience some form of responsibility towards Eirinn. But after she'd vanished, what little responsibility he had disappeared as well. But now, he finally got to feel what it was like to be responsible for others. Many people would collapse under this kind of responsibility, but Leguna wasn't one. He now felt he wasn't something insignificant the world could lose without noticing. He now had people who needed him. He was no longer a purposeless zombie trying to pass the time. It went without saying that this feeling was rather new in his ten-odd years, fresh and pleasing.
His blood boiled.
Kurdak didn't know anything about the resolution Leguna now had, however. He suddenly stood up and bowed to Annelotte deeply. His actions didn't surprise just his two companions, even the ever-expressionless Annelotte flashed a look of astonishment.
"I apologize for my behavior, MIss Annelotte. I was too anxious. I shouldn't have doubted you or Moonshadow. I shouldn't have taken my anger out on you. I've said horrible things to you, Leguna's savior. This all happened because I couldn't make the proper judgment. I hope you can forgive me. Once again, I am sorry."
Kurdak's tone was sincere and had a tinge of regret. He'd never imagined Annelotte would pay such a huge price to save Leguna. If it were him, even though he would make the same choice, if someone else doubted his intentions, he would definitely argue or even fight with them.
That was why when Leguna explained how he was detoxified, Kurdak understood how troubled Annelotte must've been. He also believed he had to sincerely apologize to her.
As Leguna didn't know what had happened between the two, he had wanted to butt in and say something. But Vera stopped him, shaking her head lightly. As a witness to what had happened, she believed an apology was due. Apart from the fact that Kurdak was obviously in the wrong, Annelotte was the sole magus their party had. If the party leader himself didn't apologize for a misunderstanding, not only would it displease the party's members, it would also cause internal strife that would eventually tear it apart.
So, she stopped Leguna. The youth trusted her judgment and kept his silence.
Annelotte shook her head, not bothering to stand up.
The rest thought it meant she wasn't willing to forgive Kurdak. They didn't expect what she said a moment later.
"I never took that seriously. I knew you were worried about Leguna and it's all too normal for you to lose control. Since I didn't lose much, there's no need to apologize."
Annelotte sounded rather stiff when saying those words, causing the rest to be unsure whether she meant what she said or she was just venting her anger. With Kurdak not knowing whether he should stop bowing or not, the situation turned incredibly awkward.
Thankfully, Leguna understood Annelotte a little better. He knew the girl could put up a good front and articulate herself well during socialization. But when she had to face a person seriously, she would turn into an ill-spoken introvert. Her words were unquestionably sincere.
"Well, Boss, since Annie's spoken, there's no need to keep it up. Think about it. Given Annie's personality, there's no way she would say something she doesn't mean," said Leguna as he looked at Annelotte and seemed to gesture to her.
She was a little surprised at first, but soon realized her bad choice of words.
"Mister Kurdak, I really don't blame you. We're incredibly fortunate to have a party leader that cares so much for his members. I only hope you will act more rationally from now on. After all, you're the core of the party and your rashness might endanger it."
"Alright, I'll accept your suggestion," replied Kurdak seriously.
After that, the four discussed their upcoming adventure to orcish territory before having a meal together. The next few days saw Kurdak and the rest preparing for their next adventure.
Even though Leguna had already become Wayerliss's disciple, only a small number of people were informed in consideration of Leguna's safety. So, he was still considered a member of the odd-job division and worked a few jobs at Soram's during the days they were preparing.
Since Annelotte's identity was already made known to Kurdak's party, there was no longer a need to keep anything secret. So, she told them her address and stayed cooped up at home. Nobody knew what she was up to.
Another half a month passed and Leguna had finally finished the assignments Soram had given him. Kurdak and Vera also made lots of preparations in the meantime. With everything in place, they notified Annelotte of their decision to depart for their next quest in two days.
Thanks to years of isolation from each other, most of the humans didn't know the orcs' situation. With the recent large-scale human invasion, however, the orcs' mysteries were being unraveled.
Their territory was simply known as the wild flatlands. It was an incredibly impoverished and chaotic area because of the various orcish tribes there. Most were autonomous and competed fiercely with each other for dominance and resource.
Usually, this degree of conflict would easily draw external threats. But given their strong reproductive capabilities and incredible hardiness, humans were unwilling to go through the trouble of conquering such infertile land. In fact, there had been instances of orc tribes going moving south to cause trouble in human territory, which resulted in a number of orc invasions.
However, the chaos in orcish society all ceased with the appearance of one orc.
His name was Oljharok. Oljharok Earthshaking Hammer. Originally a young shaman of the Earthshaking Hammer clan, he showed astounding courage and wisdom during the clan's campaigns. As his contributions increased, Oljharok soon developed an impressive reputation in his clan. When the previous clan chief passed on, Oljharok succeeded him without the slightest hesitation or contestation.
At first, many suspected Oljharok's abilities to lead the clan because of his youth. But the things that happened later made these sentiments evaporate completely. When he took on the mantle of clan leader, Oljharok demonstrated impressive leadership capabilities. He used his wisdom and foresight to expand the Earthshaking Hammer clan. He led the clan on conquests all over and in four short years, he'd swept the whole of the wild flatlands and united the chaotic society of orcs into a great and cohesive empire. He became great chief of all the orcs of the empire.
After years of internal strife, the new empire was rather weak. So, Oljharok tightened his grip on his subordinates and prohibited them from doing anything that would provoke the humans. But due to Balor's schemes, war broke out between the two species regardless.
With the humans suddenly invading, the orcs couldn't be more welcoming of a good fight. As opposed to the ragtag bunches of adventurers that came, the unified orc army was far more effective on the battlefield. In the first few days alone, large numbers of small adventurer parties were wiped out and they profited greatly from their spoils for a while.
The humans, who'd learned their lesson, quickly came up with a countermeasure. Instead of traveling in small hunting parties, they formed huge mercenary bands up to a thousand strong. While these bands weren't as disciplined as a proper army, their impressive strength and numbers allowed them to put up a good fight.
While Oljharok was furious over the invasion, he didn't dare use all the empire's might to clear them out. He knew doing so would only serve to anger the humans even further. If he did, the four factions might go all out and send their best forces. The orc empire would be wiped out if that happened. Compared to the Federation of the Nine Cities, the new orc empire was weak, very weak.
Oljharok had no choice but to give up on a small portion of his territory and send some orc warriors to stop the invaders. It displeased the great chief greatly. It was like his empire was merely being used as training fodder.
Though most of the humans chose to join large mercenary bands during their invasion, there were a good number of experts who went about in small parties.
Kurdak's party was one of these. Their members averaged the seventh stratum, two of whom were freakishly gifted to boot. With Annelotte's participation, the overall might of Kurdak's party almost doubled. While they weren't willing to cause trouble for hundred-man orc patrol units, they were could deal with smaller orc squads five to six times their size easily.
In that fashion, Kurdak led his three comrades carefully through the wild flatlands, harvesting the lives of orcs nonstop. From time to time, they returned to Starfall to exchange their spoils for money, take half a month of rest, before returning to the wild flatlands.
Fight, rest, rest, fight. The days repeated routinely, but the Eye of Arcana's orc bounty didn't halt even once. In a flash, two years passed. Given that the magi were able to continue paying the bounty off for that long a time, not only were the humans shocked at the depth of the magi's pockets, they also resolved themselves to make more money while they could.
Over the last two years, Leguna had also gotten used to a life of adventure and fighting. Even a super miser like him managed to amass quite a bit of wealth. But most importantly, alongside the non-stop battles he found himself in, the hidden potential of a shadow dancer gradually awakened. With the passing of time, the lanky youth grew at an astonishing rate.
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