༺ Hassan — The Swamp Local (3) ༻
Despite it being very early in the morning, there was quite a bustle near the front gate of Sodomora.
Most of the adventurers gathered there were basically the members of the same guild, their wooden tags indicated so, and they were all preparing to go on an expedition to the Acheron swamps. Even at a single glance, you could see that there were at least 10 to 20 people.
Except for me, Luna, and Marco — the bard that somehow ended up with us, in the end, for some reason — everyone else was at least a bronze-rank adventurer. I was unable to describe it properly, but something vague, akin to determination or spirit, was exhibited from their solemn facial expressions.
My heart was beating faster and faster by the moment, as I faced the cold wind of dawn while encountering this tense sight of the serious-looking full-fledged adventurers.
Well, I did have some experience in this kind of large expedition while following Elfriede.
The only difference was that I was now a participant instead of just being an insignificant porter or a handyman of a slave.
I feel like my dream of becoming a full-fledged adventurer and living a good life with my blessings was getting closer and closer. Today shall be my glorious first step towards the fulfillment of that dream!
“Oh my, It’s sir Destroyer. To think Lord Destroyer is taking part in this expedition as well. Oh, my my!”
Luna kept checking out the famous adventurers that were surrounding us while shouting out their identities while annoyingly tapping on my arm.
As I turned my head, I sighted a perverted bastard wearing nothing but suspenders above his muscular pectorals.
“Who is that?”
“Lord Destroyer. He’s the holder of the epic-grade artifact Dallos’ Hammer! He’s also a very famous silver-tier adventurer in the Sodomora region!”
I couldn’t help but look back at the pervert again when I heard the words ‘Silver-tiered-adventurer’. There really was a silver plaque shining atop his bushy chest hair, it looked especially small when compared to his thick iron-esque pectoral muscles.
“Lord Destroyer is believed to be very close to the Gold-tier — the realm of the heroes.”
“His overall statistics surpass 40!”
Is she talking about his level? Damn, I was only level 9. How powerful would a level 40 person be?
Hmm, this middle-aged uncle seems to be an amazing person.
He still looks like a bona fide pervert from every angle though.
Damn it, I made eye contact with him. Shit!!!
I felt my butt aching for some reason, so, I hurriedly turned my head away from looking at the creepy adventurer. At the same time, a woman appeared, with a long red cape flapping behind her, from among the people and stood up on the podium.
“This cult subjugation mission in the Acheron swamps will be led by the young Hippolyte, a silver-tier adventurer from the Mars Guild.”
The hall that was previously bustling with chatter, suddenly became quiet, as though someone had tapped the mute button on the scene. It was due to Hippolyte’s appearance.
“As always, just follow my instructions and things will go smoothly.”
You could see just how great and exalted this warrior woman was by how quickly all these seasoned adventurers paid attention to her every word.
“Sigh, even Hippolyte is here, Hassan. This mission is definitely not normal. Are we going to catch the Cerberus or something?”
Two silver-ranked adventurers were part of the subjugation team. Even a clueless country bumpkin with little to no knowledge of the world would notice that something was weird with this whole situation. A terribly ominous feeling slowly crept up my spine, making me tremble with uncertainty and fear of the future ahead.
It meant nothing good for a newbie like me. Manpower wasn’t recklessly wasted in this world where capital and resources were extremely precious.
Damn, why is that Hippolyte here too?
I didn’t want to share the same space as the scary girl that said she would watch over me just the day before. It was creepy and disturbing. I had no clue how to deal with this kind of girl.
Seemingly unaware of my internal turmoil, Hippolyte continued with her inspiring speech.
“We have two objectives. Finding and Exterminating. Let’s exterminate these damned cultists without leaving a single trace of their existence behind!”
Then Hippolyte let out a weird “Arararararagh!” roar. Soon after that, the Sword Maidens followed her and screamed their lungs out, it didn’t take too long for the rest of the remaining adventurers to roar out too.
I was thrown into confusion by this weird fanatical-ish dialect.
That’s how her speech ended. The 20 present people were divided into groups of 10, each under a leader, Hippolyte and Lord Homo Destroyer.
“Samaritan, it’s a shame that you’re in a different group.”
A man that looked to be the very personification of a bandit talked to me.
The hairs on my body stood on end as I was shocked by the sudden appearance of the man. How can someone with such a big frame approach me without me noticing?
“You’re, Uhm, Lord Destroyer, right? You know of me?”
“We know each other now, don’t we? Hehe. That’s good enough. We’ll get to see each other a lot from now on. Let’s explore each other’s personalities as we interact.”
The fuck you’re talking about? Damn, I was so lucky to be in another group than this lecherous bastard. This guy is probably… Well, I’d rather not say it. He was just very scary… Plain and simple…
“I’ll see you later then. Group 2, follow me into the cart! Sit next to me Marco cutie!”
Just as I was looking at Lord Destroyer’s slowly receding back getting further and further away, Luna began tugging on my sleeves.
“Lo-Look! Hippolyte’s coming this way.”
Luna seemed to be warning me of the approaching danger in the form of the silver-ranked warrioress.
It was too late sadly. The frightening female warrior was facing me before I knew it, making my plan of fleeing the scene, on the pretext of going to the bathroom, absolutely invalid.
“Hassan of Samaria. We’re in the same group, it seems. We’ll be seeing each other a lot in the next few days. I hope we get along well.”
“H-Hippolyte… ma’am! I-I hope we get along too!”
“I’m looking forward to witnessing your rumored imposing wild style. I have high expectations of you Samaritan.”
Fucking damn, I wanna go home already. I miss my mommy…
Entering a cart, with soft tires attached to the wheels, in this world, that had unmaintained and rocky roads, was just torture. It was bouncing so much that my head was moving in all directions from the bumps while my butt was getting bruised and scratched from the repeated impact.
When it comes to traveling, there was no comparison between a fancy carriage and a simple cart. There was simply no way of describing how uncomfortable riding a cart was. I wish I had a straw mat or a fluffy blanket to lay on with me right now.
How are the other guys holding up despite all this?
I gently moved my eyes toward Hippolyte. The way this cart was built was very reminiscent of that of a subway train, meaning Hippolyte was actually facing me, so I could see everything about her in detail.
Hippolyte’s arms were folded in front of her chest while her eyes were seemingly closed. She didn’t seem to be moving much despite the turbulence.
Is she sleeping? Perhaps, only a veteran silver-tiered adventurer could sleep with all the chaotic shaking of this cart. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of awe at that fact.
“When will we arrive, Hassan? My butt hurts so much.”
Luna, who was seemingly struggling as much as I was, was tossing and turning next to me, trying to find a comfortable position to sit in.
However, it looked like she couldn’t settle in a comfortable position no matter how much she tried, so, she just randomly laid down as if giving up on her rather impossible endeavor.
“We’ll be there by tomorrow morning.”
Damn it, she scared the living shit out of me. Wasn’t she asleep?
Hippolyte suddenly uttered a reply to her question, surprising the babbling Luna so much that she immediately shut up. The tanned warrioress then slightly opened one of her eyes and looked at us.
“Just bear with the pain. If it’s really too hard, wanna walk instead? Hmm? I don’t think you would want that though. Unless you want this journey to become more than twice longer than it already is.”
She then closed her eye again and went back to her previous immobile state. Luna and I were so scared that she would scold us again that we chose to not talk anymore.
On the other side, Lord Destroyer’s cart, which had departed first, was very noisy while ours remained eerily silent like the soundless state of mourning in the middle of a funeral.
All I could hear was the terrifying sound of sharpening blades.
“Hehe… I’m gonna slash the bellies of those bastard infidels with my trusty sword.”
The Sword Maidens were polishing their swords while muttering creepy and terrifying lines to themselves. Frightening lines that would rob you of your sleep at night. I creased my brows at the realization that I was locked in here with literal psychopaths.
Is anyone in this cart even remotely normal?
My eyes were then directed to the woman next to Luna.
She was wearing a long black dress that didn’t expose much of her skin, a fishnet cloth was masking her face from being seen, and something akin to an eyepatch was covering both of her eyes.
Wasn’t she feeling hot? And that eye cover, is this a solo bondage play or something? Maybe she’s actually blind.
That being said, this black-dressed woman seemed to be the only normal one in this cart. She sat there silently and just swayed with the bumping of the cart along the road throughout the whole trip.
Of course, I have no clue what kind of atrocity may come out of her mouth if she ever begins to speak, so I’m gonna put my judgment on hold for now.
Feeling some motion sickness creep in, after the constant rattling of the cart, I stopped looking at the woman and looked back outside instead, to freshen up my mind a bit.
After getting accustomed to the vast, ripe yellow fields of grains under the bright sun, we finally entered a bare wasteland with dry trees surrounding us.
Vultures could be seen flying around the rotten and dry bodies of beasts.
A four legged-beast, similar to a hyena, or maybe a jackal looked at me with its red eyes from behind the dead trees. I looked away immediately. I’ve had enough of the scenery anyways.
“So, Hassan of Samaria. How many people have you killed?”
What the hell was wrong with her? Staying silent for so long then asking something dreadful like this out of the blue?
I couldn’t find a way to answer her question as I was very confused by this sudden scenario. Hippolyte, however, didn’t wait for me anyway and opened her lips again, uttering out more unsettling words.
“I heard you got banned from the wilderness for killing too many people. Banished even from Samaria that’s widely known for its barbarism. How many did you kill exactly? Fifty?”
“More than that!? That’s a lot more than what I expected for someone as young as you. This is getting more and more interesting.”
I didn’t think the situation could get any worse.
It looked like Hippolyte changed her mental image of me after asking me a question and deciding on an answer herself without even letting me clear her misconception.
I hesitated briefly since I didn’t even know where to start explaining the situation anymore. I was agonizing over what I could tell her, how I would say it, and whether I should even say it or not. I was so overwhelmed that my head started hurting from overthinking this matter.
The cart in front suddenly stopped and we were obliged to follow suit.
“The wheels are completely stuck in the mud. The swamp has advanced a lot more than the last time. This can’t even be considered a road anymore.”
The coachman who was pulling Lord Detroyer’s cart clicked his tongue after seeing the wheels get half submerged in the mud. One of the wheels of our cart was in a similar state too.
“Guests, get off please!”
My feet were soon soaked in the muddy ground as I stepped out of the wagon. It was a very uncomfortable sensation, one I definitely wouldn’t want to feel ever again.
“Did it rain recently? Why is the ground so muddy around here?”
Luna frowned her eyebrows while muttering to herself, as she was looking at the gooey mud seeping in between her sandals and toes.
The woman with the eyepatch that I was observing earlier suddenly replied to her question.
“It’s the curse of Ceres, the goddess of seasons. Acheron is the region where Lady Ceres used to be worshipped, her influence here is very strong.”
“Ah, I see. That aside, who are you?”
“I’m Cassandra, a priestess from Delphi.”
“You’re from Delphi… Does that mean you worship the God of Light and the Sun?”
“First of all…”
“I’m from Ideope, a voodoo shaman from Ideope, to be exact. I serve Knox, mother of the night and superstitions. Can I be considered a priest too?”
Cassandra, the woman with the eyepatch, didn’t answer and fell into a deep silence again. Maybe she was meditating since she was a priest?
Luna who had been ignored after her self-introduction, tilted her head while observing the muddy ground and the cart slowly sinking into it. She opted to not talk anymore.
While everyone had perplexed and frowning expressions adorning their faces, I secretly approached Luna and quietly asked her my question.
“Luna, what’s the Curse of Ceres?”
“Ah, I think it was probably 30 years before I was born. A harsh winter assaulted the lands, it lasted two years, I think. Many places became completely frozen. After the winter ceased, all of those places turned into swamps after the ice melted.”
A winter that lasted two years? I could feel my bones shivering and creaking just thinking about it.
How fortunate it is for me not to be transported into this world then. It was the worst time to be homeless and a slave on top of that.
As I was imagining what it would be like to live in such a world, the coachman started speaking with a grim voice.
“This is going to need some strength, we’ll have to dump the carts otherwise. Why don’t we try pushing it from behind?”
“That’s not a job for Lord Mars’ warriors.”
“We’ll take care of it, Hippolyte. Rest Well. Come here, guys.”
Thus, those who had some strength in their arms all gathered behind the cart and gave their all to pull out the wheel that was stuck in the mud.
It was very hard for us to move the sunken wheel as we couldn’t properly step on the muddy ground too, resulting in us being able to exhibit far less strength than what we were capable of.
“What’s wrong noble Amazoness? Try harder. Weren’t you supposed to be strong warriors, only second to the Spartans in strength and might?”
“We’re doing our best here! It’s this Samaritan bastard that’s slacking off! He’s just pretending to be tough!”
“Uh-huh, what do you mean? Don’t slander me.”
Damn it, how did she know I was faking it? Is this bastard an esper or something? Is reading one’s mind required to be promoted to the bronze tier or something?
Chuckling inwardly at those nonsensical thoughts, I couldn’t help but leak a sigh. I had no choice but to actually take this seriously, it seems.
“I-I-It’s moving! It’s getting out! Give it your all guys!”
Then, the deeply submerged wheel suddenly began moving with the same sound as a thrashing horse.
“Almost, Almost there! Just a little bit more… Kaek-“
The voice of the coachman that was encouraging us to give it our all suddenly got cut off with the sound akin to a person’s that was choking on food.
The coachman made a weird “Kaek, Kaekaek!” and then fell down on the muddy and wet floor.
“The-The coachman was hit by an arrow!”
Luna screamed as her white skin turned noticeably paler at the sight. An arrow penetrated the coachman’s chest and could even be seen from the other side. His body was spewing a lot of blood. It was definitely a fatal wound.
The adventurers suddenly and in simultaneous motion raised their heads and looked around at what they had first thought to be normal swamps.
“It’s swamp goblins, damn it!”
The sound of screams and unsheathing weapons spread out here and there. I could still hear Hippolyte quietly murmur for some reason.
“It’s finally time to work.”
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