This is as far as I go, sir.
Zeke tore his gaze from the majestic mountain range and looked at the person who had come up beside him. Despite not even being ten years old, the guide looked like an old man with gray hair and fur.
Is this already the spot?
The boy nodded. The Danger Zone is right ahead.
Zeke studied their surroundings. During the last few hours, the desert had given way to a dry savannah bordering a mountain range. But no matter how hard he looked, he couldnt find a single sign indicating they were about to enter the Danger Zone.
How can you tell?
The boy pointed at the stack of scribbles he held in his hand. Its the maps, sir.
Zeke nodded. He had long since inspected the documents the boy carried but couldnt make sense of them. They were either in code, or the boy had some hidden talents. Zeke thought the second possibility was far more likely. After all, they had reached this point without encountering a single monster.
Very well, Zeke said. Then lets do it as weve discussed. Also, if we arent back in two weeks, you can leave without us.
The boy nodded jerkily. However, Zeke didnt miss the slight smile that had appeared on his face. Apparently, it wasnt uncommon for clients to go back on their word when the time came. Zeke had heard countless stories during the past week where such people forced the boy into danger.
Zeke had gotten to know the boy a little during their journey. He had been very interested in learning more about the different regions and Danger Zones, so they never ran out of topics to discuss. From their talks, Zeke had also gotten a glimpse into what it was like to be a guide. The occasional hints and anecdotes in the boys stories didnt paint a pretty picture.
Zeke looked at the two people who were riding up ahead. You two, stop.
Gravitas and Vulcanos turned in their saddle, waiting for further commands.
It is late. We will make camp for the night and continue at daybreak.
Yes, Master, Vulcanos said energetically while Gravitas merely nodded. Neither of them questioned his orders, even though the night was still far away.
His two guards kept watch in shifts, and Zeke was grateful for it. Even though Akasha could warn him, she would only notice an intruder once they were far too close. After all, her senses were restricted to the range of his [Perfect Spacial Awareness].
Its time to get up, Host.
As usual, Zeke was awoken by Akashas voice. He had asked her to do so just before sunrise. As his eyes opened, he saw the first signs of the day through the flap of his tent. The darkness was slowly giving way to a mesmerizing red light.
Stepping out of the tent, he saw Vulcanos sitting by a fireplace or at least, that was what he thought. Upon closer inspection, he noticed that the warm glow didnt stem from a fire but a clump of melting rock the Chimeroi was juggling in his hands to pass the time.
Zeke watched in silence, mesmerized by the display. The ease with which Vulcanos handled the molten rock was something else. It seemed his charcoal skin was utterly immune to the heat. He was truly gifted in that regard. Even Maximilian hadnt been this skilled in his control of Lava.
Despite remaining still, Vulcanos noticed Zekes presence. His head snapped toward Zeke in an instant. However, his alert expression softened when he recognized who it was. Good morning, Master.
Good morning, Zeke replied, shaking the trance from his mind. Its time we break camp and be on our way.
As you command, Vulcanos replied vigorously, already on his way to wake Gravitas.
Do you have any idea what we are dealing with here?
I have several theories, but I cant be sure yet, the Dragon said. I will know when we meet the enemy.
Zeke nodded and focused on Gravitas and Vulcanos. The two of them were curiously looking at the Dragon, who was sizing them up in turn. They couldnt hear its voice, as it was talking to him through the connection in their souls.
Lets move, he instructed the two mentally.
Can you go ahead and scout? he asked the Dragon simultaneously. The Dragon didn't reply verbally but sped up its flight and soon disappeared around a corner.
Zeke and his group moved quickly.
In the tight quarters of this mountain dwelling, he was confident that his spatial perception would be able to give them enough time to react to any attack. For a while, they wandered aimlessly, not encountering anything out of the ordinary. However, they eventually came across something of interest.
Zekes eyes shone as he saw the delicate metal construction before them. It was a well-preserved map of the entire facility, neatly placed inside a wall at the crossroad.
Construction of 3D Model in progress. Combining data from the map and spatial input. One moment 10% 35% 57% 89% Model complete. Where would Host like to go?
Zeke smirked. Take me to where the fountain is. Also, I want you to provide the map to the Dragon as well.
Understood. Please take the leftmost corridor for 57 steps and then use the stairwell to the right
Zeke and his group followed Akashas instruction and soon found themselves in front of a heavy iron gate. Vulcanos tried to open it, but even his immense physical strength was useless. After a quick inspection, Zeke found that the mechanism to open the door was destroyed, and even the bolt holding it in place had been mangled beyond recognition.
This was clearly the work of a Metal Mage who hadnt wanted this place to be entered. Zeke wondered if this might have been the patriarchs own doing. After all, he had ordered the fountain to be left behind, believing it cursed.
The question was, what now? Zeke could [Teleport] past the gate without a problem, but he still couldnt take others with him. Maybe Vulcanos could melt it? Just as Zeke was considering this, Gravitas spoke in his mind.
Master, let me.
Zeke glanced at her and nodded. It wouldnt hurt to let her try.
Gravitas motioned for them to step aside before pointing at the heavy iron gate with a single finger. Zeke wondered what she was up to, but his eyes nearly popped out the next moment. With a slight crook of her finger, the massive iron gate was ripped from its sockets and slammed into the opposing wall with a thud that could have woken the dead.
Zekes stared at the scene, slack-jawed. His eyes went from the gate that was now embedded in the other wall to Gravitas and then back to the gate. What kind of power was this? It was only now that he realized she could have easily killed the Firebrand trio back then. The fact that she had merely forced them to their knees had been an act of mercy instead of the limit of her abilities.
Well done, he said, and Gravitas nodded in response. She appeared as reticent and quiet as usual. However, Zeke noticed the small smile beneath her veil. He couldnt help but smirk as well. She had clearly done this on purpose. What a showoff.
It was only now that Zeke realized that Vulcanos had been awfully quiet. He turned to him and found the chimeroi standing motionless before the now open pathway. Zeke stepped up from behind and also froze on the spot.
There, he saw it the fountain.