16. Avian Trial
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The sun was rising and the morning fog was still present when a loud thud resounded that made several birds fly away.

 

“Eh?! What?! Where am I?! Who am I?!” Allan screamed as he was jolted awake. He blinked at his surroundings and saw Flavia rubbing her eyes while holding Rakna’s scarf in her hand.

 

“What was that sound…? Rakna?” She uttered and walked out of the cave. Allan groaned and laid down again while complaining about ‘those damn early risers’.

 

When Flavia was out, she yawned a bit then spotted Rakna lying down on the ground and staring at the sky with an expressionless expression. His clothes were messy and Pronos looked like he had just been through a traumatic experience.

 

“…what happened? What was that sound?”

 

“…it was a… a boar.”

 

“A boar?”

 

“Yes, a boar. Positively. A boar. Ran into the tree and then left. Very… quickly,” he replied coolly and Pronos stared at him incredulously. He stared back. ‘Little guy, even I have my pride. I will never admit that I just fell from a tree while sleeping.’

 

Pronos deadpanned and Rakna responded in kind until Flavia crouched next to him. He sighed and sat up as the little snake coiled around his neck.

 

Flavia smiled and handed him Sonata. “Thank you for this.”

 

“You’re welcome,” he said and wore his scarf again, much to the pleasure of Pronos who had gotten used to it being his little home. “Is Allan still asleep?”

 

“I think. That noise woke him up but he probably fell asleep again.”

 

“Well, no wonder he has low-level fatigue resistance,” he commented.

 

“Really? How low?”

 

“Level 3. To clarify, mine is level 7 and yours is level 6.”

 

“I see… does that mean the resistances are something that everyone has?”

 

“Most likely. Pain, Fear, and Fatigue Resistance… These three passive skills might be the only ones available to normal humans,” he said and looked at the sky again. “That aside, while I was… resting on the grass just before, I saw something interesting.”

 

“What do you mean?” Flavia asked as she followed his line of sight. She couldn’t see much because of the fog but her attention was caught by the outlines of the mountain tops. Her eyes slowly widened as she noticed the countless small silhouettes standing on them. “Are those…?

 

“Eagles,” Rakna finished for her. “I can use Appraisal from here. For now, the highest level I saw was two. But there are hundreds if not thousands of them up there. And I can feel them staring at us. Or more specifically, everyone down here.”

 

“Do you think that they’re targeting us?”

 

“I can’t say… but if this entire forest is surrounded by a chain of mountains and that every single one of them has thousands of eagles perching on their peak, I don’t even want to imagine the kind of trap it would be if all of them attacked at once. Level one they may be but their number is nothing less than terrifying,” Rakna affirmed calmly and Flavia inevitably turned nervous.

 

After a few moments of silence, a yawn was heard. “What’s going on?” Allan groggily asked as he came out of the cave.

 

Rakna stood up and dusted his clothes. “We were talking about the possibility of a downpour of birds,” he replied and Allan blinked.

 

“…a what?”

 

“There,” Flavia just pointed at the sky instead of explaining. The fog was starting to disperse and Allan easily spotted the eagles this time.

 

“Okay…? But what do we do with that information? I don’t have an umbrella for that, you know.”

 

Rakna snorted and cracked his neck. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it before walking away. “Isn’t it obvious? We’re going up.”

 

“Wait, what?” Allan froze. “Are you saying that you want to not only climb a mountain that is quite obviously very steep but also go and see hundreds of massive birds that may or may not attack at sight?”

 

“Very nicely summarized,” Rakna uttered as he continued to get farther away from them. “We’re going to follow this mountain wall until there’s a viable path upward. Let’s get moving.”

 

Allan opened his mouth wide as his friend disappeared behind the trees. ‘The guy didn’t even stop a second to wait for us!’ He shouted internally.

 

Flavia sighed along with him. “Well, we were the ones who decided to put our lives in his hands. There’s nothing we can complain about,” she said. “Just take a look behind you,” she added before leaving to follow Rakna.

 

“Behind?” Allan muttered and turned around. His eyes immediately widened. There were at least a dozen of spiked weapons on the ground that noticeably belonged to goblins.

 

Rakna had kept watch even in his sleep. Even with his eyes closed, or his senses shut down, he still could somehow sense threats approaching, and all of them had been chased away like the first two. He also had leveled up his Intimidation skill again during the night.

 

 Allan scratched his head and ran off to catch up.

 

* * *

 

Meanwhile, the group of students led by the blond-haired teen from the day before came up with the same idea as Rakna and were searching for a path. After spending the night near a river, they also had spotted the eagles on top of the mountain.

 

“Hey, bro, are you sure it’s a good idea?” A young girl spoke to the leader. She possessed the same features as him and one would easily guess they were siblings if not twins. And, just like the people around her and her apparent brother, she had a tattoo of a white phoenix next to her collarbone.

 

“Yes, I’m sure, Leia,” her brother replied as if it was obvious.

 

Leia scowled. “Could you at least explain why? We’ve been going in this blind since yesterday. I don’t want to die today.”

 

“I agree with her on this, Leis,” an impressively buff guy for a high schooler added as he walked to them. “I’ll still follow you no matter what happens, and I’m sure it’s the same for the gang but I think it’s best to give us an explanation.”

 

Leis sighed. “Alright… Guys! Let’s take a break. At this point, you all better listen up. I don’t wanna repeat myself if any of you has a question too.”

 

“Yes, boss!” Everyone shouted in response and regrouped from their formation. They stood in a circle around their leader, in case a monster would appear while he was talking.

 

Leis leaned against a tree and crossed his arms. “Just think about the situation. This shitty mission we got doesn’t explain how to find the exit. At first, I thought it was simply hidden somewhere but I doubt it now.”

 

“Why?” Leia asked.

 

“Because this place is small,” Leis answered and pointed at the chain of mountains. “This entire forest is surrounded by that and the area within isn’t actually that big. I don’t believe that there’s anything worthwhile beyond the mountains so we should be able to find the exit in a few days at most, and that’s still being pessimistic. Well, that would be true if ‘finding’ it was really all that mattered.”

 

“For me, it sounds too easy. There must be a condition, a prerequisite, or something, to update this mission we have right now. Like, for example, defeat a certain boss to open the exit, or resolve some puzzle, I really don’t know. What I know though is that those eagles up there aren’t normal and their appearance overnight only makes it even more suspicious. That’s why we’re going there, it’s our only hint so we better follow it while we can.”

 

“That makes sense… I guess,” Leia muttered.

 

Leis shrugged and signaled everyone to move again. They all nodded and formed a new formation again. Anyone would have been able to tell that their movements were very disciplined, almost as if it was an actual military march.

 

“In any case, we’re probably not the only ones going there. Xiorra is most likely going too for one.”

 

“Xiorra? Who’s that?”

 

Leis was about to answer when he saw someone emerge from behind the trees. He furrowed his eyebrows when he could discern their appearance. Long, almost wavy, black hair, crimson eyes, and a figure that couldn’t pass unnoticed.

 

The two of them made eye contact the moment they noticed each other. Leis slowly reached for the katana at his belt without losing sight of her. “Who are you?” He inquired gravely.

 

“What’s wrong, boss? She’s just the same as us, no?” One of the gang’s members exclaimed.

 

“No,” the buff guy instantly refuted. He also was on guard. “I’m familiar with pretty much everyone in our school. I’ve never seen her and she hasn’t the appearance of someone easily forgettable.”

 

Everyone gradually realized the situation as none of them even had the smallest recollection about someone as pretty as her.

 

The girl in question clicked her tongue and a swirl of darkness manifested itself around her hand. “I have no reason to fight you. So kindly forget about me.”

 

Leis looked at one of his members. He was a pretty average looking teen with short black hair but he had a few unique features such as his height and his uncanny dead-fish eyes concealed under a pair of glasses. “How is it, Dan?”

 

Dan pushed his glasses up and scrutinized the woman. “No data. Either she has a way of countering my skill or she’s too high level. What I can say though…” He squinted and he couldn’t help but feel nervous despite himself. “Her race isn’t displayed as ‘human’.”

 

The person in question raised an eyebrow.

 

“Then what is she?” Leis urged him.

 

“She’s a-!”

 

His answer was interrupted by a sudden earthquake followed by a booming sound. Leis raised his head and saw something surface on the horizon. It was right in the center of the circular area delimited by the mountains and appeared to be coming out of the earth.

A short moment later, the earthquake stopped and everyone was shocked. Something had indeed emerged from underground and it stood tall, taller than the mountains.

 

“The heck is that…” Someone muttered and every Host scattered around the Plateau Zero showed similar reactions.

 

The unknown structure was in fact a statue. A giant statue of an eagle with its wings spread out and on top of its head, there was another eagle. But this one was clearly alive. It wasn’t as big as the statue but it was easily bigger than a literal house.

 

“|| The trial has been initiated. ||”

 

The System’s voice echoed and the tutorial mission was updated.

 

❮ ◈ ❯

Tutorial Mission: Hunt & Escape

Description: The Avian Trial. A hunt ceremony has been initiated. The Statue of the Eagle God is the exit and can only be opened with the souls of its descendants.

Objective: Eagles will fly down and attack at sight. Once killed, they will drop a Crystallized Soul. Fifty per head are needed to open the exit.

Time Limit: 12 Hours.

Note: When time runs out, Hosts with less than 50 Souls will be disposed of. Stealing from fellow Hosts is permitted.

Additional information: The three first contestants to go through the exit will be granted the title ‘Crowned Seedling’ and the one with the most Souls will be granted the title ‘Soul Hunter’.

 Default Rewards: Access to the 1st Plateau, 20 Talys Per Soul.

❮ ◈ ❯

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