Aran grimaced as he downed the purple liquid in his flask. He sat with the other members of the Red Blade Adventurers in a tavern. They sat around a circular stone table with a steaming crab in front of them on a metal plate.
“I’m sick of crab,” Zeke muttered as he hacked off a leg off with his dagger. “What did we have for breakfast? Crab. What did we have for lunch? Crab. Wh-“
“We get it, Zeke,” Sophie said as she drank the purple liquid in her glass. “We’re all sick of it.”
“I’m never eating seafood again once we go back,” Claire said as she sighed. Her brown bangs covered her eyes as she lowered her head.
“If we ever get back,” Zeke said as he stabbed the crab leg and peeled the shell off. “Two years. We’ve been here for almost two years now and we only finished two missions. And that was with the demons’ help.” Bits and pieces of crab shell flew across the table as Zeke wielded his dagger.
“Calm down,” Ross said. His hair had turned grey and his black vest was tattered. Burn scars decorated his arms and fingers. He grabbed the steaming crab with his bare hands and snapped two legs off. “We’ve grown a lot despite the low number of missions.”
Zul nodded. His blue robe was frayed at the edges and the color had faded into a light blue. “Aran’s upgraded his armor and Ross got a new shield. Claire’s proficiency in white magic nearly doubled and we’ve all gained much more levels than we would’ve if we stayed in Zuerst. The longer we stay here, the stronger we’ll get.”
“He’s just bitter the demons showed him up,” Sophie said.
“Showed all of us up,” Zeke said and rolled his eyes. “You weren’t exactly that great compared to them either.”
Aran nodded. “We shouldn’t need to rely on them as much now that I have better equipment. I’ve also heard rumors that they’re getting recalled to Zuerst. Both Tina and Chad’s parties. Something seems to have come up.”
Sophie asked and raised her eyebrow. “Something that the adventurers over there can’t handle? What? Did the dragons invade?”
Zul shook his head. “If that happened, then we would’ve been called back too.”
“Lucky dogs,” Zeke grumbled.
“It gives us a chance to pass them,” Aran said as he refilled his flask. “You want to surpass them, right?”
“I still feel cheated,” Zeke said. “The adventurer’s guild made Fuselage seem like a paradise. What part of this is paradise?”
“I mean,” Sophie said, “if you liked crab…”
“Well, I don’t,” Zeke said and made a face.
“Cheer up,” Claire said. “Three more years and we can go back. I can’t wait to see my family again.” She sighed. “I wonder how they’re doing.”
“I’m sure they’re doing fine,” Zul said and pat her shoulder. “Our families get special treatment even if we die here.”
Claire frowned. “Don’t say that. I’m rather addicted to living,” she said and poked her crab leg with a fork, “although, these things will probably be the death of me.”
Mina and Tafel stood outside Dustin’s room.
“What’s going on, Mina?” Dustin asked as he rubbed his eyes. He sat up in bed and looked towards the hallway. Mina clasped her hands as she stood next to Tafel. Vur was still passed out and the fairies were watching over him. “You assaulted Zollstock in Konigreich and then you appear naked in my house a month later.”
“It’s Zollstock. He’s dangerous,” Mina said and bit her lip.
Dustin nodded. “Of course. He’s the demon lord,” he said.
Mina shook her head. “You don’t understand,” she said. “He’s dangerous to us.”
Dustin’s forehead wrinkled. “Elaborate.”
Mina took in a deep breath. “I think he killed the previous demon lord.”
Tafel stared at her mother with wide eyes. Dustin frowned.
Mina continued. “He seemed normal when we first met him that day. He even seemed normal after we had been married for a year. He was nice to me, gave me gifts, said sweet things to me, and supported my family with wealth. He tried to make me like him.”
“Are you going somewhere with this?” Dustin asked. He stared into Mina’s eyes with his hands clenching his blanket.
Mina bit her lip. “He changed after we had kids and he became the demon lord. He stopped paying attention to me and spent more time alone. He would disappear for hours at a time, leaving me to watch over the children. I looked through his room one day while he was gone,” she said and hesitated. “And I found a golden horn. A demon horn.”
Tafel’s face paled.
Dustin’s eyes widened. “Are you sure? It was a demon’s horn?”
“You didn’t tell anyone?” Dustin asked.
Mina shook her head. “Would you? Who could I have told?”
Dustin turned his head towards the trembling Tafel. “Should she be here for this?”
“She deserves to hear it,” Mina said and sighed. Tafel yanked her hand out of Mina’s grip and hugged her elbows while looking down.
“Tafel…” Mina said and moved her hands towards her daughter.
“Stop it,” Tafel said, her voice shaking. “Why..?” She looked up at Mina with glistening eyes.
The house shook and Dustin fell out of bed. Mina and Tafel dropped to their knees. Dust sprinkled from the ceiling and a low rumble echoed through the building. The house continued to shake.
Ten seconds passed and the trembling stopped. Dustin and Mina glanced at each other. Dustin rifled through his closet and pulled out three staves, two of which he gave to Mina and Tafel. Tafel stared at the staff in her hands, but remained sitting on the floor.
“C’mon,” Dustin said and held out his hand towards Tafel.
Tafel reached for his outstretched hand, but her hand stopped midway and fell to her lap. She shook her head and tears dripped down her face. Mina frowned.
“Watch over her,” Mina said and proceeded to walk towards the stairs. Her horns were glowing red and the staff pulsed with a blue light. Dustin stood next to Tafel and ruffled her hair as Mina stepped down the stairs. Tafel’s hands were white from gripping the staff.
Mina reappeared a few seconds later. Her face was pale. “Vur’s gone.”
Lindyss was meditating on her bed, surrounded by a ring of blue mana crystals. A breeze whipped her hair behind her ears and she opened her eyes. A man with a pointed blue conical hat and pink robes stood in the middle of her room.
“Charon,” Lindyss said and nodded her head. “I don’t have any water from the fountain of youth with me, if you’re wondering.”
The man smiled, revealing yellow and black teeth. “I didn’t come here for that,” he said. “Can’t a lonely old man drop by just to say hi to his favorite elf?”
“No,” Lindyss said as she swept the mana crystals up into a box. “What are you here for?”
“I thought I’d come here to give you a warning,” he said and tapped his chin, “since one of my descendants has taken a liking to this place.”
“You two are similar,” Lindyss said and tied her hair up into a bun.
Charon smiled. “It’s good to hear that my greatness runs through the family.”
Lindyss chuckled. “So, what’s the warning?”
Charon stopped smiling. “The demon lord recalled the two strongest demon parties from Fuselage.”
Lindyss’ forehead wrinkled as her brow creased together.
“This was shortly after he returned from your kingdom,” Charon continued. “I’m not sure what he’s planning on doing with them, but it’s definitely not to attack the humans. The sacred spirits won’t allow it. Your kingdom, however…” Charon stopped speaking.
“Thank you,” Lindyss said and lowered her head.
Charon nodded. “Take care of yourself.”
Lindyss raised her head. The room was empty.