Ethan ran after the hazy female figure like his life was depending on it. Yet, every time he got close to touching her, she was speeding up once more, his hand gently brushing the tip of her hair.
Again and again, his limits had been tested until the third time brought the unease in his stomach to new heights. Biting his lip, harsh enough to draw blood, he used an [Overcharge] and made a jump, damning the consequences. ‘’Mom!’’
A [Wind Slash] appeared between them and shot toward him without wasting any time. He bent his body to dodge, but another one came into sight. Then another and another. All of them were darting at him with whistles from every angle, but his desperate gaze was still fixed on the female figure who didn’t even turn to look at him.
As the [Wind Slash]es reached his body, the unease inside him turned into feral shrieks before he shot opened his eyes and sat up abruptly. Ethan looked around to understand what was going on as the sweat on his forehead flowed down through his brows and seeped into his wide-open eyes.
The familiar interior of his tent reminded him that his mana had been depleted from driving the ship for too long and they’d decided to camp for the last time. His gaze dropped to his hands that were grasping his daggers tightly and to his chest which was heaving between his rough breaths. A wry smile appeared on his face as he stored his daggers back and tried to even his breath.
‘’This is ridiculous,’’ he said to Beet, who was worriedly watching him from the corner of the bed. ‘’Do you know how many times I lost a limb in the VR?’’
Beet kept staring at him.
‘’Too. Many. Sure, the first few times were quite intense experiences, but once I realized that it was only temporary, I stopped bothering myself altogether,’’ he explained before removing the sheet and pointing at his disabled leg, ‘’This is also temporary. So, what the fuck is going on with me!?’’
The distressed way of Beet managed to calm him down somewhat. Ethan closed his eyes with a sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose, staying still for a time. ‘Ani, once we reach Miri, remind me to look for defensive skills, the best kinds of armor, artifacts, and elixirs. We also need to learn about those soul attacks and take precautions. And lastly, the detailed information about Veronica and the Mcgregors. No, I want all the information available, but I’m ready to pay handsomely for anything about these bastards.’
He opened his eyes back with resolve and offered a rueful smile to Beet. ‘’Sorry if I’d worried you, bud. I’m okay. I promise.’’ Beet hesitantly nodded, making Ethan chuckle. ‘’Alright, we’ll be in Marah in half a day. Let’s see if our funds are abundant as I expect.’’
From his ring, he picked up eight spatial pouches and one spatial ring. The spatial pouches belonged to the people he’d killed among Joey’s group, and they were also filled with half of the survivors' –22 people in total– wealth. The ring was one of the anti-mages and also contained his and Beet’s share from that fight. Ethan took out every small item inside of them and piled them on top of the bed before switching the big ones to the spatial ring’s space.
After half an hour of counting and organizing, the result turned out to be better than what he’d anticipated.
‘’230 mana stones! Adding my own 30 and the other coins together, we now have more than 270 mana stones,’’ he said and sent the pile of mana stones into his ring. Looking at Beet, who was strolling among the other piles curiously, he flashed a smile. ‘’That’s right! This is only the start. With hundreds of potions of every kind, we probably won’t need any more for a good while. Then, we have two spatial pouches full of miscellaneous items which I have no idea how much they are worth. Might be 10 or might be 100 mana stones. Just like the broken artifacts of Anpu’s era, we’ll have to find a good offer for them. This brings us to the good stuff; Five accessories that give a stat boost, though I think we should keep these to ourselves. The almost broken sword of Veronica, which I’m not sure if it survived from the inner side of the [Fabric Tear] or did I dismiss the skill before wrecking the weapon, the elixir of Aether Bloom, and a late tier-6 dragon skeleton with a severed head but bones tougher than anything I’ve seen. Oh, and we still have those couple of dozen tier-5 Wendigo heads.’’
After collecting back everything, he stretched his back while making rough calculations from his head and nodded. ‘’Yeah. We’re officially filthy rich.’’
The fact that he didn’t even count the stuff he pocketed for his own use, like the flying carpet, the extra spatial ring, the anti-mage’s armor, or the many other useful items, brightened his mood. No matter the setbacks on the road, their profit was clear as the day.
The duo made a light breakfast and packed up before making their way through the sky. Perhaps it was because they’d left the Dead Plains behind, but the scenery in Mirasatra kingdom seemed absolutely breathtaking. As they passed over some small settlements filled with busy crowds and exotic animals, Ethan was pretty sure that he was getting ancient Egypt vibes. Not the times the people were suffering, but the times that the Nile was vigorous, green was still the dominant color on the lands, and the people’s harvest was plenty.
These settlements had a few thousand people living in them and all of them were ruled by their barony, while the bigger ones reigned by viscounts and so on. The city they were heading to had one Marquess and two Counts, or at least that was what he heard in the caravan.
The famous mountain kingdom’s capital, Miri, was surrounded by three big cities; Marah in the south, Uvam in the northeast, and Elim in the northwest. Miri itself was located inside an enormous mountain and even in the free cities, everyone was talking about this gorgeous city’s unusual design. According to legend, all of these four big cities' buildings, roads, walls, and giant sculptures were made of that same mountain’s hollowed-out rocks. Other than the capital, all of these ancient cities still preserved their grandeur pretty well, and the capital… was even in a better condition.
After the kingdom had changed hands from dwarfs to humans, the new king treated Miri as his family's personal base and invested heavily in it. Once the extravagant renovations were finished, the city became one of the most popular places in Azora and the population skyrocketed, causing the royalty to keep investing even to this day.
Ethan was thinking about these talks when he witnessed Marah from afar. Just the screen inside his cabin wasn’t enough for him to savor the sight. He [Blink]ed to the deck and clutched the taffrail with his hands to support himself. Beet also followed shortly after and joined him excitedly.
A few miles away stood the city of Marah. Its size seemed to be matched with Ehrendil, but the walls that surrounded it were 50 yards high, and instead of a gate, there was an open area between two giant dwarf statues. They were even a bit taller than the walls. Both were armor-clad, one holding an ax, and another with a shield and a spear.
Some of the guards stayed between their feet and inspected the people traveling by land, while the rest were on the statue's shoulders where they checked the people with flying artifacts.
Ethan got his ship close to the others while admiring the massive sculptures. Thankfully, the line was short, and they didn’t wait long for their turn. The guards asked him to close the runes that block [Mana Sense] and even after that, they decided to check his cabin personally. That wasn’t the treatment for the ships before him, but he allowed them to do so since he didn’t want any trouble.
After a detailed inspection, a few questions, and charging a silver coin toll, they finally let them enter the city.
As he found the most crowded place, Ethan called Beet to his flying carpet and stored the ship before diving into the busy street from the sky.
This was quite a colorful city. The stone buildings were all the same sand color, but there were many kinds of vegetation blended with the landscape, and the natives seemed to prefer vibrant colors on their outfits. Adding the various items merchants displayed on the lively street, it was hard to take everything in at once.
The heavily aromatic food smells were urging Ethan to try these newfound goodies, but he held himself back. He would much prefer to indulge in city life on his feet. Though, his preference wasn’t really related to his physical condition. What he sought was more of a mental relief.
Hoping that they’d be informed about such things, he entered the biggest potion shop he came upon, and didn’t even wait for the staff to greet him. ‘’Hi. I’m looking for a high-tier healer. Do you know where can I find one?’’
‘’Ya wanna new leg?’’ an old man, who seemed to be a customer, cut in.
Ethan flinched a little. ‘’Yes.’’
The old man switched his bored gaze from him to Beet, his eyes widening slightly. ‘’I’ll be damned… Ain’t that a mantis?’’
‘’Uh-huh. And the healer?’’
‘’A tier-4 mantis. The world must be going nuts,’’ the old man murmured before lifting his head. ‘’Go to the Simpsons. That old couple is decent people and charge less than anyone else.’’
Ethan’s eyes lit up. ‘’Where can I find them?’’
‘’End of the main street. Next to Bob’s tavern.’’
‘’Alright, thanks!’’ Ethan replied and eagerly left the shop. His mood dipped a little when he learned that this wasn’t the main street, but it wasn’t that far off either. As he debated whether to use the ship again or not, his thought process was interrupted.
‘A biochip user has entered a mile range.’
With a faint frown, he checked his minimap and realized that the single earthling in the city was already heading toward him. Thinking that he might learn some information about his friends after so long, he shook his head. Whatever, I’ll make a slight detour before the Simpsons.
He followed the directions from his minimap and made his way along with Beet. Many eyes were on him as he floated away a few feet above the ground with his awkwardly shaped carpet, but even more on Beet. The kids especially seem to be enthusiastic about the little evil prince, pointing at him with a finger and calling their friends.
A short trip in the streets of Marah brought them to their target, who was also looking around to locate him. It was a slightly pudgy guy with large eyes, and he was in early tier-3. When he locked his eyes with Ethan, the curious look on his face fell and he even took a step back.
Ethan found the face familiar but he had no idea who the guy was. Though, he was already used to this reaction from his fellow earthlings. Without bothering himself, he got close to the man with a smile. ‘’Hey there. Not the one you’re expecting, I suppose?’’
‘’W-What? Oh, no, I mean, yes,’’ the man said, slowly getting his composure back. ‘’I thought they sent someone from Miri, but that’s not you, is it?’’
‘’No, I’m here by myself. Who are they?’’
The guy relaxed somewhat and wore his smile back. ‘’Well, our people, of course. I haven’t heard from them in months. Anyway, welcome to Marah, Ethan. I’m Todd by the way. Sorry for the late introduction.’’
Ethan shook Todd’s hand, lowering his carpet a bit to even their height. ‘’No problem. I just arrived in the city recently. Is there anywhere we can talk? I have much to ask you, Todd.’’
‘’Of course, of course,’’ Todd replied, nodding. ‘’Follow me. Are you hungry? I know the best places in the city.’’
‘’Sure. I’m starving, to be honest.’’
‘’Leave it to me. I’ll make an exception today and treat you to something expensive. It’s not every day I have visitors,’’ Todd said as he walked with Ethan following next to him. ‘’What happened to your leg, if you don’t mind me asking? I have some connection with the nobles and they always have the best healer. Maybe we can arrange something.’’
‘’Oh? Actually, I was on my way to fixing that. If you can offer something faster and cheaper, count me in. As for what happened, let’s say I sow the wind, reap the whirlwind,’’ he said, mocking himself. ‘’I’d advise you to be careful of the limbs you sever, but I doubt you need it. You should be working in the diplomatic corps before, right?’’
Todd laughed aloud. ‘’That’s right. How did you guess?’’
‘’You switched from frightened dude to welcoming host too fast.’’
‘’It’s good to know that I still have it in me,’’ Todd said happily. ‘’I trained for adapting the unexpected, you know?’’
They chatted about casual topics as they traveled. Todd also showed him some places he recommended and explained life in Marah without mentioning what he was up to so far.
When they entered an empty alley, Ethan patted Todd’s shoulder before stopping his carpet. ‘’This should be good enough.’’
Ethan rolled his eyes, still smiling. ‘’C’mon Todd. I thought you were a good host. Shouldn’t you introduce your friends to me already?’’
As if on cue, two people with cloaks showed up, both standing at different ends of the street.
Ethan lifted his head up. ‘’It’s okay, guys. Don’t be shy.’’
Another two jumped from the roofs and slowly descended next to them. One of them looked at Todd who was retreating steadily with a pale face. ‘’Quite an impressive one this time, eh?’’
‘’Y-You might want to call b-backup, Tyrell,’’ Todd said, gulping.
The man turned at Ethan and paused for a second before bursting out laughing. ‘’You gotta be fucking kidding me. Four tier-5s need backup to fight a tier-4 cripple? Maybe we should bring tier-6s as well?’’
All the cloaked men started laughing.
Ethan also joined them and let out a hearty laugh until everybody stopped and it was only him laughing. Shaking his head with a grin, he called Devi and rotated around his fingers before grabbing its hilt and stabbing it upward. The dagger passed a [Fabric Tear] and arrived at the corner of a roof where Ethan’s shadow crown was indicating that another living being was crouching down. A moment later, he pulled his now-bloody dagger back and looked at the man who was still processing.
‘’Hate to be the one to give the bad news, Tyrell. But,’’ he said with an amused expression and cold eyes, ‘’You won’t really have the chance.’’