"Because the monster isn't dead."
These ominous words hung in the silence. Three pairs of eyes widened, staring right at Sunny.
"Why do you say that?"
After thinking about it, Sunny came to the conclusion that the tyrant was, indeed, still alive. His reasoning was pretty straightforward: he did not hear the Spell congratulating him on slaying the creature after it fell off the cliff. Which meant that it was not slain.
But he couldn't explain that to his companions.
He pointed up.
"The monster jumped from an incredible height to land on this platform. Yet it wasn't harmed at all. Why would it be killed by falling off the platform?"
Neither Hero nor the slaves could find a flaw in his argument.
"Which means that it's still alive, somewhere down the mountain. So by going back, we will be delivering ourselves into its maw."
Shifty cursed loudly and crawled closer to the bonfire, staring into the darkness with terror in his eyes. Scholar rubbed his temples, mumbling:
"Of course. Why didn't I realize myself?"
Hero was the most stoic of the three. After thinking it over, he nodded.
"Then we go up and over the mountain pass. But that's not all…"
He glanced in the direction where the tyrant had fallen.
"If the monster is still alive, there is a high possibility that it will return here, and then pursue us. Which means that time is of the essence. We will need to move as soon as the sun rises."
He gestured to the torn bodies littering the platform.
"We can't allow ourselves to rest the whole night anymore. We need to gather supplies now. If there was a chance, I would have liked to give these people at least a humble burial after gathering all that we can from then, but alas, fate has decided otherwise."
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Hero rose to his feet and brandished a sharp knife. Shifty tensed up and watched the blade carefully, but then relaxed, seeing that the young soldier showed no sign of aggression.
"Food, water, warm clothes, firewood. That is what we need to find. Let us split up and accomplish one task each."
Then he pointed at himself with the tip of the knife.
"I will carve the oxen carcasses to get us some meat."
Scholar looked around the stone platform — most of it drowning in deep shadows — and grimaced.
"I'll look for firewood."
Shifty also glanced left and right, with a strange gleam in his eyes.
"Then I'll go find us something warm to wear."
Sunny was the last one left. Hero gave him a long look.
"Most of our water was stored on the wagon. But each of my fallen brothers was carrying a flagon. Gather as many as you can find."
Sometime later, far enough from the bonfire to be hidden in the shadows, Sunny was looking for dead soldiers with half a dozen flagons already weighing him down. Shivering in the cold, he finally stumbled on the last broken body clad in leather armor.
The old veteran — the one who had whipped him for trying to accept Hero's flask — was badly injured and dying, but, miraculously, still clinging to life. Horrible wounds were covering his chest and stomach, and he was clearly in a lot of pain.
His time was running out.
Sunny knelt beside the dying soldier and looked him over, searching for the man's flagon.
'What irony,' he thought.
The older man tried to focus his eyes on Sunny and weakly moved his hand, reaching for something. Sunny looked down and noticed a shattered sword lying on the ground not far from them. Curious, he picked it up.
"Are you looking for this? Why? Are you guys like Vikings, longing to die with a weapon in your hands?"
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The dying soldier didn't answer, watching the young slave with some unknown, intense emotion in his eyes.
"Well, it might as well do. After all, I promised to watch you die."
With that, he leaned forward and slit the old man's throat with the sharp edge of his broken blade, then threw it away. The soldier twitched, drowning in his own blood. The expression in his eyes changed — was it gratitude? Or hatred? Sunny did not know.
Illusion or not, it was his first time killing a human. Sunny expected to feel guilt or fear, but actually, there was nothing at all. It seemed that, for better or worse, his cruel upbringing in the real world had prepared him for this moment well.
He sat quietly near the old man, keeping him company on this last journey.
After a while, the Spell's voice came whispering into his ear:
[You have slain a dormant human, name unknown.]
'Oh, right. Killing people is also an achievement, as far as the Spell is concerned. They don't usually show this in webtoons and dramas.'
He registered that fact and put it away. But, as it turned out, the Spell wasn't done speaking.
[You have received a Memory…]
Sunny froze, opening his eyes wide.
'Yes! Come on, give me something good!'
Memories could be anything, from weapons to enchanted items. One received from a dormant-rank enemy wouldn't be too powerful, but it was still a boon: weightless and undetectable, able to be summoned from nothingness with a simple thought, a Memory was incredibly useful. What's more, unlike corporeal things, he would be able to bring it back with him to the real world. The advantage of having something like that back in the outskirts was hard to overestimate.
'A weapon! Give me a sword!'
[... received a Memory: Silver Bell.]
Sunny sighed, disappointed.
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'Well, with my luck, what was I expecting?'
Still, this thing was worth investigating. Maybe it had a powerful enchantment, like being able to send out destructive sonic waves or repelling incoming projectiles.
Sunny summoned the runes and concentrated on the words "Silver Bell". Immediately, an image of a small bell appeared in front of his eyes, with a short string of text below.
[Silver Bell: a small memento of a long-lost home, which once brought its owner comfort and joy. Its clear ringing can be heard from miles away.]
'What a piece of crap,' Sunny thought, dejected.
His first Memory turned out to be pretty much useless… like everything else he possessed. He was almost starting to see a theme in how the Spell was treating him.
Sunny dismissed the runes and then got busy removing the dead man's fur cloak and warm, sturdy leather boots. As an officer, the quality of these clothes was a notch above those of the simple soldiers. After putting them on, the young slave finally felt warm for the first time since the Nightmare began — not considering the short time he had spent near the bonfire.
'Perfect,' he thought.
The cloak was a bit bloodied, but then again, so was Sunny.
He looked around, easily piercing the veil of darkness with his tenebrous eyes. Hero and Scholar were still in the middle of their tasks. Shifty was supposed to be looking for winter clothes, but was greedily pulling rings off the dead men's fingers instead. Unseen to them, Sunny hesitated, considering if he had really thought things through well.
His companions were unreliable. The future was too uncertain. Even the requirements of passing the Nightmare remained a mystery. Any decision he could make would have been a gamble, at best.
Still, he had to make some if he wanted to survive.
Not wasting any more time thinking, Sunny picked up the flagons and sighed.
They spent the rest of the night seating with their backs against the bonfire, staring fearfully into the night. Despite the exhaustion, no one could sleep. The possibility of the tyrant coming back to finish the four survivors off was too frightening.
Only Hero seemed to be fine, calmly sharpening his sword in the bright light of the dancing flames.
The sound of the whetstone scraping against the blade was somehow comforting.
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At the break of dawn, when the sun had lazily begun to warm up the air, they loaded themselves with all the supplies they'd managed to gather and set out into the cold.
Sunny looked back, taking in the sight of the stone platform for the last time. He had managed to get past the place where the slave caravan was supposed to perish. What was going to happen next? No one could tell.