Chapter 66: Eremus Gate (2)
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“Kristina Steitz…”

The blonde youth with hair a few shades lighter than the ground clicked his tongue at the girl in front of him.

“Leone Hendrickson…“ Kristina answered back. 

In the ever-stretching wastelands with the only sign of life being the dead trees, the two of them had run into each other by pure chance. 

'Should I walk away?' Was the thought that ran into both of their minds. 'But… wouldn't it be too rude?!' And that was the second thought that followed right after. Quiet as they were in class and in general, the two students were what one could call the epitome of awkwardness in Agriche Academy.

They were the kind of people to slow down on the stairs when a group of loudmouths walked ahead at a snail's pace, chattering on and on about one of their crushes.

The sharp, sand-filled gusts paced up and scathed their skins to release the awkwardness, but even the powers of the dungeon fell short against it.

''Wait wait wait, am I staring too much?''

Their strength turned on them. After a very awkward staring bout that would have made any onlookers' fingers curl up, the two of them settled on calling each other's names.

They nodded and turned toward the front at once. 

Words weren't needed.

Even if they wanted to, they couldn't part ways anymore.

''That would just be too rude!!''

The strange duo started walking past the raised dunes and the dead barks as they moved around in search of any monster or hint toward clearing the dungeon. At all times, they maintained a distance of ten steps from each other.

After many minutes passed with them mindlessly walking around, Leone Hendrickson turned to Kristina.

“Your team…” he said.

Kristina glanced at her wristband, then at his wristband. In the end, she sighed and shook her head from side to side. Leone understood her intentions and showed her a faint smile.

A tacit agreement to not reveal each other's teams was reached between the two of them.

***

“What the actual fuck? Telepathy? Are they using telepathy?“ Professor Artie's foul tongue revealed itself as he grabbed the monitor displaying Kristina and Leone walking through the wastelands. 

“Hey!“ he said, turning to one of the operators sitting under the white tent a bit closer to the entrance of the gate. “Can you check where the closest monster is to these two? Can we lure it there?“

“We can try…” the operator said, turning back to the machine in front of him that looked more like an ancient magical tome than a drone's control system. He flipped some switches and twisted some knobs on the stony gray slab. His palm finally ran over the small screen and the drone started moving with his instructions. “My map…” 

In the meantime, the professors, who had reached 5 in number, looked at the few other screens. 

In one of them, a bespectacled bruno was running away from a vulture with Anna and Reina following close by. Anna guided the other two in the right direction while Odis cried and summoned whatever little speck of guts remained in his stomach to make sure his companions were ahead of him.

Bored, the professors looked at the next screen. Ardreth Vallen's two cronies were atop a dead tree while watching a death worm retreat into the ground. On another screen, Ardreth Vallen himself was engaging in combat with a monster that resembled a rhinoceros, except, with 17 horns on its head.

Their eyes stopped at the screen with the current Rank One of the grade. Many had placed their bets on this one.

Zachary Ainsworth's wings spread open with his back facing the drone. The sword in his hands fluttered with flames of red as his eyes remained fixed on the vulture in front of him. To the professors' surprise, engaging a rhinoceros with 21 horns in battle to make way for Zachary to attack were two of Seraphina Exise's friends; Leslie Fenrir, the wolfkin, and Soliana Neriren, the elf.

The professors watched three screens with their hands on their chins. Luke Reese's battle with the Worm, Seraphina Exise's battle with Vulture, and Zachary's battle with the Rhinocerous.

“Professor, we lured a monster in…”

“Oh! Which one did you send?“

“The Sandsnake.“

***

Kristina and Leone continued their silent travels, not speaking at all during their walk. The heat of the wastelands and the constant scathing of the sandy wind would have started taking a toll on them, but in the little time they had been in Agriche, their stamina and endurance had gone up by leaps and bounds thanks to Claudio Alo's hellish training.

They walked up another dune and prepared to descend when a loud rumbling spread in the air.

At once, the two of them turned to the bag hanging from their side. Kristina internally thanked Ralph and pulled out a nutrition bar before handing it to Leone. Leone too was pointing a nutrition bar of the same brand and same flavor toward her.

The two of them thought. They were sure that the sound was from the other's hunger.

What was it…

The rumbling spread again, this time, it didn't stop. Growing louder and louder, the sound that came from their front approached them at breakneck speed.

The very air around the two of them seemed to have changed as they turned toward the sound with hardened looks on their faces. 

From beyond the veil of sands, the silhouette of an enormous viper appeared.

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