[23] Quaking Mountains, Part 1
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Claire held Alicia's hand as they descended from the sky, putting the dead cyclops behind them. The ice that surrounded the standing half of the town broke apart and reformed into water, swishing within the air before sprinkling down like rain upon the still burning part of the village.

"Does anybody need the demonic beasts littered here?" That was the first thing Claire asked once her feet touched the ground. Frost covered her, chilling any drops of water away. She decided she would let her companion's bloody figure become wet first before doing the same for her.

She could clear the area by sending all of the corpses into her <Elemental Realm>, saving them much needed manpower and trouble recovering their farmland. Yet, as wives raced to meet husbands, and children held their mother's hands with teary eyes—the sound of crying abounding—a man spoke up.

"No. Leave them," He said, "We can salvage their body parts and sell them. Some beasts are used for crafting and medical purposes. That Cylops's blood, for example, has healing and disease curing properties."

The man was dressed in leather and quite tall with a sword at his hip. She thought he was likely currently the leader of the ravaged town. He had a head of half-graying hair, and after placating his wife and young child, he continued with a skewered smile.

"They'll be helpful for recovering the village. . .thank you for your help, Ice Queen."

Claire tilted her head.

"Ice Queen?" She asked.

"It's a name we came up with, seeing you up there upon your throne of ice." He shrugged. Chuckled a bit. "I hope you don't mind? People in general have a tendency to give powerful figures nicknames."

Claire almost thought she could laugh. Yes, she supposed, her chair could be misrepresented into a throne. She shook her head at the man whose name was Callous Shepherd.

"It's fine," She said, "I don't mind it."

"That's good," He sighed.

She stared around at the destroyed landscape.

Boris Melt had already begun unloading the carriage and the supplies Aclair had sent. Boxes opening up to reveal clothing and fresh fruits and vegetables. There was even some salted meat.

Then there was the adventures and defenders of the town who looked exhausted. Some of which were injured. Claire's eyes drifted and she saw a woman with lavender hair seated, massaging her leg, while a man with brown hair stood beside her; his iron chest plate still as charred as the day she first met him.

"Drats, I don't have a health potion. . ." He stared at the cut that ran the length of his arm. He was bleeding.

Claire recognized the two. The man was Baron Cliff and the woman was Velsi Stash, the girl who had once tried to steal demonic cores from them and had called herself 'Vanisher Vesi.'

It would seem the two had found themselves at this town in bad timing. Based on their appearance. The blood that covered Velsi's leather armor, and Baron's iron armor, they had been at the forefront of defending the town from the ocean of creatures. Their faces were beyond exhausted, just like all the people around.

Then, they noticed her and almost jumped out of their boots.

"Hello to you both." She smiled at them.

"Huh-umm. . .hello. . ." The girl weakly waved back.

Baron coughed. "Yes. . .hello. . ."

Both of them, for some reason, refused to make eye contact with either girl, Alicia especially. Claire merely chuckled. Maybe they became frightened by the strength she displayed? Either way, she didn't mind.

"Go help them," She muttered to Alicia, "And the rest of the defenders? Heal them, would you?"

"Alright, mhmm," The vampire nodded and hopped off, steps light.

Velsi and Baron thought they could cry as the girl approached them, crimson eyes set on their figures.

Claire turned her head, white hair bellowing, to see Via headed for her with Asta in tow.

"I did it, miss! I defended the town!" Asta spoke up after the bunny, his icy figure shaking with pride.

Claire smiled. "Yes. Good job."

Via Goodwill rolled her eyes at the boy, a vein struggling to not pop out of her head. "Good job my ass. This guy wouldn't shut up."

"Hehehehehe," The elemental spirit laughed and scratched his head.

"Stop that. Don't laugh like that. That's creepy as heck."

". . .miss, do you. . .hate me?" Asta suddenly asked.

"Yes."

". . ." Asta and Claire were somewhat speechless.

"What?" Via looked between the two. "I'm joking, obviously, you know?"

It was a shocking thing to realize that Via could tell jokes, Claire thought.

Then the ground shook.

She looked past the bloodied land and stared at the mountain range ahead. They were quaking and shaking. Now, she could also hear bangs and the sound of a beast roaring.

At that moment, Callous came beside her, having returned from helping the village.

"Excuse me," He said, brows furrowed.

She turned to him. "Hmm?"

He took a breath and pointed at the mountains.

"I've spoken with the rest of the village and we believe someone awoke the dragon that resides there and is fighting it."

". . .dragon?" She raised a brow. She wasn't shocked but wasn't something like that supposed to come out deep within the plot of an isekai? This didn't seem like the place for a dragon.

He nodded, however. "This is the mountain range besides the outskirts of the kingdom of Tress. Supposedly, a dragon once settled within, never to be heard of again."

He folded his arms, eyes glued at the shaking range.

"We weren't certain when the two previous heroes came and so they left before we could make headway of the situation. Then this second wave of escaping beasts arrived and, now, we're sure someone must be fighting the creature."

Via chipped in, shaking her head with a scoff. "There's no way. An actual dragon would have flattened those mountains by now. Hell. This village wouldn't be standing right now at all. So that's either a different creature, currently weak, or the legends must have meant a lesser-dragon."

Callous shrugged.

"Stories are, in the end, shaky things," He said, "But I would like if my home wasn't. Could your group help us look into it and fix it if you can?"

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