-A Demon’s Hoard-
“Did you find anything good, Clover?” Karim asked as Clover materialized into the realm.
“Uhh…Not really? I mean…I may have…” Clover said as he looked around curiously. He wasn’t the last person to teleport to this new realm. Other Seekers materialized and popped into view within seconds of one another. Soon, the entire area was filled with hundreds of Seekers.
To his surprise, Clover noticed that all of his wounds had been healed. Even his broken leg that should have taken a month to fix was fine! The only telling signs that he had been involved in a battle was the damage inflicted to his jacket.
“Me neither!” Karim sighed. “The damn Chowder! He sent me to a lava island that was filled with crabs made of fire and brimstone! I was so preoccupied staying alive that I didn’t have any time to explore!” Although there wasn’t a wound on him. Karim’s clothing was filled with tears and burns as well as being covered in black ash. He also smelled slightly sulfurous. “So, where did you go?”
“It’s hard to say! It was like something I’ve never seen before!” Clover filled in Karim with the details of his escapade. From the horde of ghouls to the gigantic black palace. He told him about the giant forest that was once a garden and the jade pendant he found that now contained Big Gray.
The only thing he refrained to mention was the graves and the stone tablet as Clover decided that it was probably something that he should keep to himself. Although he considered Karim a friend. He had only known him for a day! After all, even Karim had secrets of his own! It would only make sense that Clover would have his own. Besides, Clover felt a strange feeling in his stomach when he gazed upon the strange tablet. It would most likely be for the best if he turned it into the Guild without anyone else finding out about it.
“Wow! That’s amazing!” Karim exclaimed. “Agh! That makes me hate that purple-cat spirit even more! Why couldn’t he give me a cool place to explore!” Karim continued to berate Chowder until he looked over Clover’s shoulder with a glare.
“Ho? You two look worse for wear!” Damion chortled. “Were you two badly hurt? You both look ragged!” He said while looking at Clover’s torn clothing and Karim’s burnt jacket. “You didn’t cry in there, right Clover? After all, a ‘brave’ Seeker like yourself would never do something as disgraceful as that!”
Clover only grit his teeth and curled his fist into a ball, but did not speak. He would not fall for Damion’s taunts. Karim, on the other hand, was not so calm.
“Ha?! You sure talk a lot for a little doggy!” Karim sneered. “Does your mother know where you are? If not, I’ll make sure to tell her tonight when I fill her dish!”
“You little bastard…” Damion snarled with a red face and a twitch of his wolf-like ears. “You better hope that we don’t have to fight one another…”
“Haha! You are just afraid that you will lose again!” Karim devilishly smiled.
Damion’s eyes filled with malice as he glared at the half-elf. His fists curled into balls and one could tell that he was considering attacking. He opened his mouth a couple of times as if to rebuke him. But after a few moments of silence, he quietly shuffled away.
“Again? Have you fought him before?” Clover curiously asked.
“Yep! And he lost!” Karim chuckled. “But that was around a year ago! Wait, I’m not supposed to mention that! Hehe…Oops!” Karim rubbed the back of his neck but was otherwise unbothered by his revelation.
“When was this?! And how did you do it?! My friend who is a Gold-rank Seeker said that he was strong! How could you have beaten him?!”
“Well, I can’t tell you too much…Since it is part of the reason why I had to flee Deiran.” Karim muttered. “But I trust you, Clover!”
Clover felt a warm feeling rise up his chest as Karim told him this. And it sort of made him feel bad that he kept the stone table a secret.
“Although Damion seems strong, it’s only because he takes powerful drugs before battle! These drugs increase his strength, agility, and Arcana capacity!” Karim chuckled before adding. “In fact, he is more like a puppy that a wolf!”
“Really?” Clover gasped. Drugs? What kinds of drugs would make someone so powerful? There is no way something like that would not have any negative side effects!
“Yep! And since Spirit Realms tend to eliminate outside sources of strength like Arcana crystals and elixirs I’m sure that he will be unable to use his drugs here! He is practically neutered in this place!”
“Hello and congratulations!” Chowder exclaimed as he poofed into existence. “Now that there are three hundred of you we can now begin the trials!”
Every Seeker became silent at the mention of trials. Their past enthusiasm and joy of being in a Spirit Realm had long since evaporated after their experience within the elimination round.
“Come on everyone! You are supposed to be having a fun time!” Chowder giggled. “Fine! Fine! For this next round, you all can team up with three other people! Aren’t I such a kind Spirit?!”
“Where are we going to find two other people? I don’t know anyone else here!” Karim grumbled. Others had the same idea as they looked around for teammates.
Seekers tended to be secretive in nature and would only team up with people they knew. Because of this, joining a team of Seekers was difficult and involved going through a long and arduous process of building trust.
For those who did not already come with a group of Seekers they trusted or were left without their partners due to them failing the elimination round, this posed a serious problem! After all, every Seeker here was competing with one another! Who’s to say that the strangers you partnered up with are planning your downfall with every step!
“Clover! Karim!” A girl’s voice echoed through the air, bringing the two half-elves attention to her. The voice belonged to Daphne and Francis, the two Adlan Seekers they rode with on the carriage ride over to Cyrelle.
“Since we have met before I was hoping we could join up!” She said with a wide grin.
“Of course!” Clover grinned. Yes! At the very least I’m sure that they will not stab us in the back!
“No way! Especially not within ‘m’lord’ over there!” Karim snorted as he glared at Francis.
“Ha! I agree! I would never team up with someone as barbaric as him!” Francis snapped. “See Daphne? We shouldn’t have asked them in the first place! This was a bad idea!”
“Wait!” Clover and Daphne exclaimed at the same time. After a breath of silence, Clover invited Daphne to speak first.
“Come on, darling…We need to have two other people on our team to proceed! Besides, I’m sure that the son of the honorable Guildmaster of Vanden is honest and would not betray or backstab us! Right?” She said with a glance to Clover.
“Of course! I would never deceive another Seeker!” Clover assured before turning to Karim. “And you. Don’t you also agree that we can trust these two? I know that you have some disagreements with Francis. But at the very least you can trust Daphne!”
“Hmmmm….” Karim and Francis hummed as they glared at one another. Although they didn’t like it. The two of them knew that their partners were right. And that teaming up with one another was much safer than with strangers.
“Fine…” The two of them reluctantly agreed.
“Just make sure he stays away from me!” Karim snorted.
“Likewise!” Francis scoffed.
Clover and Daphne smiled at one another. “We look forward to working with the two of you,” Clover said.
“As do we!” Daphne beamed.
“Alright! Since it looks like everyone is teamed up and good to go I will commence the first stage of the trial!” Chowder declared as he swept his small amethyst eyes across the field. “From time to time, Seekers must work together to complete a mission that would otherwise be impossible to finish by oneself!” With a clap of his paws, Chowder summoned dozens of scrolls. Each one of them hovered in the air for a moment before flying towards the competitors.
“A Demon’s Hoard…” Clover muttered as he read the scroll that flew into his hands. The scroll itself did not look special. It was fairly simple and similar to the ones Clover had seen in the Guild’s offices. The only notable feature on the scrolls was a purple stamp in the shape of a cat’s head.
The contents of the scrolls were simple enough. The party must defeat a demon that had stolen a vast sum of gold from Denari and retrieve the demon’s heart!
“Ooh! An elimination contract! That sounds easy enough!” Karim grinned as Francis and Daphne nodded in agreement.
“There are seventy-five parties from a total of three-hundred! But by the end of this trial, only forty competitors will remain!” Chowder boomed.
A stunned silence filled the air as every Seeker in the realm stared at the purple Spirit in shock!
Forty?! That’s over seventy-five percent of the competitors! Clover gasped in shock.
“Hehe…This will make things interesting!” Karim chuckled.
“Hmph. No matter, this will only prove which parties are the strongest.” Francis muttered.
“Once the first ten parties complete their missions, I will teleport you all to the next phase of the tournament! But those that failed will be kicked out of the Spirit Realm!” Chowder loudly declared. “Now then…Let’s begin!” And with another clap of his purple paws, each party was teleported to separate realms.
In the blink of an eye, Clover’s party poofed into a peaceful forest. The only word that came to mind as he looked around was, ‘tranquil’.
Compared to the dead and desolate landscape he had previously been teleported to, this one was a breath of fresh air. Birds sang their various melodies while the chirping of cicadas provided a placid ambiance. Unlike the perpetual sunset that filled every other realm he had visited, this one was luminous as the sun shined high in the sky.
“This place is beautiful…Right, Francis?” Daphne cooed. But to her annoyance, Francis was not paying attention to her. Instead, his eyes were trained on a bundle of fur a few meters away.
“A puppy!” She shouted while running over to the cute furball.
“Wait! Daphne!” Francis shouted as he chased after her with Clover and Karim in pursuit.
“What are you guys so worried about? It’s just a puppy!” She said as she picked it up in her arms. She was right. It was just a cute little puppy. It was small with black and tan fur. Its face was scrunched up from its loose skin and it had long ears that were longer than the rest of its body. “Geez…You all were worried about nothing!” She said as she cuddled with the pup.
“I like dogs…But recently they have become a bit of a nuisance…” Karim grumbled before petting the cute creature.
“Woof!” The pup squeaked as soon as Karim touched its head. “Woof! Woof! Woof!”
“Eh? I guess it doesn’t like me…” Karim mumbled as the pup rebelled against his touch.
“Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!”
“Uhmm? Doesn’t he seem a little mad?” Clover whispered.
“Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” The pup continued to squeak. Soon, its squeaks became barks. And its barks became howls! In an instant, the small pup enlarged, forcing Daphne to drop it! Its black-and-tan coat tuned red with its eyes following suit! In a matter of seconds, the pup towered over the party and cast a dark shadow over them!
Its loud howls shook the earth and threatened to tear apart trees from their foundations! Its jaws drooled a putrid liquid that made one’s stomach turn over in disgust!
“I agree with Clover…It does seem a little mad!” Karim chuckled. “Hey, puppy! Do you want a treat? I have one here!” As he said this, Karim pulled a meat skewer from his pack.
The beast lowered its large head and sniffed the skewer. Its eyes opened with delight while its mouth continued to produce copious amounts of vile foam!
“Bark!” With a single bite, the beast consume the meat skewer!
“Haha! You are a good doggy!” Karim grinned.
With another bite, Karim disappeared into the beast’s mouth! His entire torso had entered its maw while his legs flailed around helplessly!
“Karim!” Clover shouted in surprise! “Let go of him you stupid mutt!”
The beast did not pay attention to him, but instead fled into the forest! Its long strides easily distancing itself from the party!