5 The one I have been following
"Alright, looks like we are almost ready to go... What's wrong...?"
Marceus was packing his baggage to go through Ria's wind scar and start the mission with his usual upbeat attitude. He wasn't in the room when Lilith mentioned what the outcome of this journey would be so he was the only one not feeling the pressure in the atmosphere.
"Did you guys eat a rotten food or something? What's up with those faces...?"
He seemed confused so Daren tried to clear it up as vaguely as possible.
"The thing is... Lilith told us that this mission would be kinda important..."
"Really...? Is this baby dragon that big of a deal? Oh! Maybe this could mean our first step on establishing a friendship with the dragon race! Our goal to reach world peace might be finally starting to become a reality!!"
This guy really likes to dream on, is what Daren was thinking. If Lilith was right, this mission would be the one where Marceus would choose his definitive partner. Daren was both excited and afraid. If he was the chosen one he would probably have to spent the rest of his life helping this guy fulfill his child-like dream. Or so he thought but then he realized, isn't he already doing that? What exactly would change if he did got chosen?
"Hey Marceus... "
"No talk now! I wanna start this mission as soon as possible! I always wanted to become friends with a dragon!! Let's go!"
And so he entered the wind-scar leaving the room. The other candidates looked at Daren with tense expressions. Some looked with a little pity others with slight jealousy, but most were just curious about the outcome.
"Daren don't worry."
The "metal man" from before, Terry, one of Daren's closest friends among the candidates, came to talk to him.
"Even if someone gets chosen, i doubt much will change overall. We all will just keep helping this lunatic complete his goal and continue helping people that need our aid. It will be fine. Just do wht you usually do."
"... Yeah, thanks Terry."
Ria signed to Daren that it was time to go as her scar was starting to close and opening a second one required a ton of strength from her.
"See you guys later."
Daren, Ria, Gustav and Auren entered the scar and were teleported to the other side. Daren saw Marceus running towards the village close-by like a kid who just got called by his parents to eat dinner. The idea of befriending dragons really got him fired-up.
Daren was about to start moving in the same direction when he heard Gustav talking.
"Why are you here miss?"
Daren turned around and to his surprise Lilith had followed then through the scar.
"Lilith!? What are you doing?"
"I'm so sorry, i just couldn't help myself... I need to see if my prediction is true..."
Her prediction. Does she wanna see the chosen partner that badly...? She was the strongest candidate after all, maybe she wants to make sure someone reliable is fulfilling the role the she failed to do? As Daren was thinking about this he heard Marceus calling.
"Guys hurry up!! World peace! World peace!!"
As always, Marceus was a master in removing the tensity of a situation. Ria called out to Lilith.
"Lilith be sure not to put yourself in danger ok?"
"Yeah... I know."
As they started to move Daren came closer to Gustav and asked a question with a low voice.
"Hey, is this fine? Has she recovered from that time?"
"She said it should be fine as long as she doesn't see blood or anything like that. For just a recovery mission it should not be a major problem... I hope."
Daren was not a fan of this situation. Lilith was always nice to everyone around her during her time taking care of the mansion and the candidates. She was basically like a beloved sister to everyone. If something happened to her the mood of the mansion may never be the same. He let out a few words to express his frustration.
"let's just get this over with... "
As the group reached the village they were received by the leader and directed to one of the houses where they exchanged information.
"You are just like the rumors said. I didn't expect you to come so quickly!"
The leader of the village was a man named Balden. He looked to be above thirty-five with his blond beard and shaved head. He probably doesn't know about Ria's teleportation ability. Marceus told Ria to never open a scar directly into the destination place, he doesn't want possible enemies to find out about her and try to capture her ability while she goes on her "vacations".
"We have our ways! Now, let's revise the objective!"
And so the discussion started. It was just like Marceus said before. Apparently one of the villagers was dumb enough to try to steal a dragon egg and lucky enough to succeed. The dragons, smelling their kid's scent would often come here to attack looking for it but the defense of the village would always manage to scare them away. But as each day passes the defenses kept getting weaker and weaker. Daren asked a question in the middle of the explanation.
"What would someone gain from stealing a dragon egg?"
"It could be anything. Maybe someone hates this place and wants the dragons to destroy it. Or maybe they're trying to raise the child so that they can have a servant dragon when it grows up. Or it could be trying to sell it to the black market. Whatever the reason is, he is putting innocents in danger so he must be stopped."
Marceus said all that like he has been in this type of situation before. Daren keeps forgetting about Marceus's favorite line "I already heard all the stories!". More and more he started to believe that there might not be anything in this world that could surprise this guy.
"What time do the dragons usually attack?"
"They will be here at sunrise. The creatures use the night to recharge their fire-breath and then come to unleash it on the village without mercy. We tried to hire mages to cast a defensive barrier but we are starting to run out of money."
Daren and the rest of the group raised their eyebrows. They looked at each other as if saying "You guys don't think...?" to which Marceus gave a look saying "Maybe...".
"Can we have a few words with this mage?"
"He is not here right now. He only shows up to ask for his payment and then leaves us with a barrier to protect ourselves. At first the barriers would hold on for a whole week but it seems that casting so much power is draining him and now it only takes three days to make it break. We tried to hire other mages but we could not cover their prices."
"Marceus... Do you think..."
"We don't have enough information to assume anything... Let's just focus on the now. We will be leaving towards the lair of the dragons soon. Everyone get ready."
Balden was shocked when he heard that.
"The lair of the dragons!? Why would you do such a thing? Can't you just defeat the dragons right here?"
"The dragons are not in the wrong sir. I'm not gonna punish them for the mistakes a thief caused. Can the village's barrier hold for one more night?"
"... Yes... But no more... We don't have enough resources to ask for another barrier..."
"I see... Don't worry, our group will solve everything! There is nothing to fear."
Marceus turned around and immediately jumped in a scare when he saw Lilith was with then.
"Li... Lilith...!? What are you doing here...??"
"I've been here the whole time sir... You only now just noticed...?"
Balden saw Marceus brave and confident figure changing to a scared naive person and started to make a look on his face as if he was thinking "Is it really ok to rely on these people...?". Marceus started to think for a second and started to talk nonsense again.
"Ah i see... so Lilith wanted to see the dragons too... I get it, i get it, i sympathize with you."
Balden's expression started to get worse and worse. He seemed like a man who had just lost all sign of hope.
The group started to move towards the lair using Ria's wind scar. She started to look extremely tired and mentioned that only had energy to make one more scar for the rest of the day. Auren started to heal Ria and then suddenly started to rub his own head to pass off the heat. Daren had seen that moment many times before. It made Auren look like someone who was embarrassed for getting close to the one he loved. Daren asked if Auren had a thing for Ria but every time he would say "What! No! It's just a side-effect of my ability man... Just a side-effect...". As someone who had lost his loved one before, Daren wanted to motivate Auren to stop wasting his time and just admit his feelings already, after all you never know when fate might take that person away from you.
As they got closer to the lair they started to take sight of the dragon's and their nests. The lair was located deep inside the mountains and on top of each of them a dragon had built it's nest. Each one had a dragon sleeping deeply inside of them and underneath it was possible to see a couple of eggs of the size of a wine barrel.
The dragons themselves were a sight to behold. A lizard body with the size of a house. Numerous spikes covering their bodies. Two massive horns coming out of their heads. And wings under their arms like that of a bat. And on top of that, they could also release a mass of fire if angered. "Who was the lunatic that tried to pick a fight with these guys?" asked Daren to himself.
"How did someone managed to steal an egg from these creatures without dying?"
Marceus on the other hand had a different question. Lilith also engaged in the conversation.
"Maybe he had a... Defensive spell...?"
Everyone started to think the same thing. It was too obvious who the major suspect was. Gustav tried to spill it out loud what nobody wanted to admit.
"So the mage probably stole the egg to make the village pay for his protection right...?"
Marceus made a difficult expression. Daren tried to force him to admit it.
"It can't be that simple!! I've seen this kind of scenario before! There is always a surprise twist at the end! I don't want my first dragon mission to have such a bland explanation!!"
"Twist... What are you talking about...?"
"From the stories i read... That's how most of them go... The obvious villain always turns out to actually be someone else and the first suspect is just a misunderstood person."
"You read... Wait.. Are you saying... So all that talk about having already seen every single story... "
"Huh...? It's like i said... When i was living in my world i would spend all day reading all kinds of stories. That's why nothing ever surprises me anymore..."
"What the... I thought you were talking about adventures that you went on during your journeys. So they were all just fairy tales? You have acted as if every mission so far was some kind of fantasy?"
"Why are you so surprised...? It's not like it makes that much difference..."
"It makes all the difference! I was following you thinking you were someone with a ton of real-life experience, but you are just a kid acting like this is a game!! You all knew about that??"
Daren started to ask the rest of the group, but they all had difficult expressions. Daren then realized that he was the only one that didn't actually know about Marceus way of thinking.
"Sorry if i disappointed you Daren. I guess i should have tried being more open to you, but it's not like you ever made much effort to ask about my past so i just assumed you didn't care."
Daren was completely lost. This weird but wise figure that he had been following for the past five years was just a crazy man following the dreams from a fairy tale. Has Daren been wasting his time all these years? It's true that he helped save many lives along the way and managed to befriend with incredibly nice individuals, but was he actually making a difference or was he just playing hero up until now? Also, what did Marceus meant by "His world"?
"I found it!"
Gustave broke Daren's inner monologue and appointed to one of the nests.
"The villagers said that the pair of dragons that attacked them were one with blue-colored horns and red wings and the other with black-colored horns and white wings. I checked all the nests and that's the only one that fit that description. "
The group started to double-check all the nests quickly, and indeed, no other nest fit that description. Also that nest just happens to be one of the few without eggs.
"Daren... You ready to go...?"
Daren was still frozen. He didn't know what to think. Was he angry? Confused? Disappointed? Could it be that he had put more trust on Marceus than he imagined? Was the time he helped when they first met just an accident?
"Daren please! I know i don't sound very reliable... But i promise that you can trust me! I joke around to help alleviate the tension but i always take our missions and my goal completely serious!"
"Your goal towards world peace...?"
"I know it sounds silly and it probably won't happen in this lifetime... But i just want to try the best i can! Don't you wanna find out too? See if it is possible? Even if there is a slight chance that it can happen?"
"... Sorry... You're right... It's not like this is the first time i see you speaking nonsense... I just assumed that someone so confident had the background to back it up."
"So you're ready? The sun is finally gone."
"Yeah I'm good... Let's do this."
And so Daren assumed his beast form, a humanoid muscular creature three times his original size. Daren's hair started to change from brown to black and begun to cover his whole body. His hands turned into claws and his face started to look like a lion. His eyes turning blood-red. In the middle of the night only his eyes could be seen from a distance with his body being completely hidden in the darkness.
"That's my partner!"
Marceus begun to transform as well. His body started to glow with a silver light and started to merge with Daren. The monster lion was now covered in a silver armor on his arms and legs.
[Now let's go find that baby dragon!]
"I can never get used to you speaking inside my head..."
The two charged towards the nest leaving the rest of the party behind to observe.
Gustav broke the silence.
"Hey Lilith... Just now Marceus... Was that what you saw?"
Lilith stared at the two as they distanced themselves further before answering the question.
"It's like i said... By the time this mission ends... Marceus will have chosen his partner."