Ash was walking behind the party of three. Although, they seemed to be friendly towards him, he didn't trust them. At least not the humans. The elven girl had to be different. He could trust her, since they shared the same burden. Hate. His whole life, Ash had hated the humans for treating him like shit, but she seemed to have adapted. She kept up her friendly appearance towards humans, quite well. It couldn't be real friendship. Elves and humans couldn't be together. They were put in the same world to fight.
"Aaah, I can already smell the reward!" The magician, Lin, said.
Come to think of it, Ash didn't even know why they were deep inside the forest, in the first place. He decided to ask.
"What are you being rewarded for, if I may ask?"
Although Ash was smiling, he felt disgusted to his very core, having to feign friendliness towards the humans, he had despised, ever since he was old enough to comprehend pain. But the elven girl, the first of his own kind, he had ever seen, was enough to make him come along. Currently, they were also his only means of getting to Elcrada, seeing as he had been forced to sacrifice Evitagen's grotesque minion.
The plan at the time, had been to quickly take care of his pursuers, who Ash had thought were the church's guards. As soon as he had learned, his pursuers weren't a threat to him, he chose to sacrifice the skeleton, both for the levels, and the chance to get close to the elven girl, whose name he still hadn't caught.
"Excuse me, miss, could I-" Ash began, but was cut off by the man with the greasy, black hair, who pointed his spear towards Ash, shaking his head.
He was surprisingly strong, for being the party's trapper. While Ash didn't know much about adventurers, he had a rough idea of what they were. He had heard about them, from merchants and such, who had come to the church, throughout his time there.
"I was just asking about the miss' fucking na-"
The spear, pointed at his throat, was now centimeters from Ash's left eye. Some sort of green liquid, was dripping from the tip of the spear. Probably a toxin of some kind. The threatened elf, grabbed a hold of the spear, moving it slightly to the side, so it didn't point at his face. He let go, and walked past the bulky trapper.
"How about we just keep moving, huh, big guy?" Ash said, giving the trapper's shoulder a clap.
'Fucking maniac. He almost killed me twice. Twice!' He thought, while walking towards the next party member. The magician. Would she prove to be a dangerous individual too?
"Hi Ash!" She said, as soon as Ash was within hearing distance.
Lin had stopped walking. She turned around, and looked at Ash. His face. He was used to being judged for his race, and his scars, but that didn't make it any less annoying to be reminded of one's differences, compared to everyone else.
The scarred elf made a mental note, to get himself a cape of some kind. Preferably with a hood of some kind.
"Hi. Lin, was it? I would love to stay and chat, but I'd like to talk to the girl I saved".
"I'm afraid that isn't gonna be possible. No offense, but you look rather suspicious. Like a criminal".
"What, because I'm a fucking elf?!"
It wasn't his intention to snap like he did, but frankly, he was tired of being hated. He, himself, hated the feeling of not being able to connect with people, no matter how hard he tried. The only example of a human, who accepted him was Angela, and Ash had betrayed her. She probably hated him now.
The little mage in front of him, was looking at him with big, scared eyes. She was eyeing the woman at the front of the party, who didn't seem to have heard anything.
"No- It's just.. Your scars" Lin said.
Suddenly, Ash calmed down. Although, he knew she didn't trust him, it didn't have anything to do with his elven lineage, but rather his appearance? As messed up as that was, it made him at least a little bit happy. He would have to work on his light magic, so he could remove the scars.
"Oh these? I didn't get these in battle, you don't have to worry" Ash said. As true as that was, he could think of various reasons not to trust him, besides his suspicious looks.
"You don't understand! It doesn't matter whether or not, I trust you. Fang and I, are contracted to protect her, so we can't just let anyone get close to her. Her father would be... Displeased"
At this point, Lin was looking down. She really did seem sorry, so Ash let it go for now. While he didn't care for humans, he did care about his image. At least when it came to others of his kind. But who was this father of hers, who could make the free-spirited adventurers bend to his will?
"Fine, let's just get to Elcrada".
They walked for a few hours, with the summer sun warming their backs, before reaching a manned checkpoint.
Word had probably gotten out about him murdering Wilfred. Ash couldn't afford to be recognized. While he could probably escape, he would probably have a hard time meeting the elven girl again, if she knew about his situation.
"Lin, do you have a spare cape lying around? I don't really like to show my scars" Ash lied. In reality, he couldn't care less about his appearance. People only noticed that his race anyway.
The magician, who was walking beside the elven girl, turned around, and answered him.
"Yes, we do! Fang has some spare equipment in his bag!"
She was shouting, since Ash had been ordered to walk at least 20 meters behind them. If he really wanted to harm them, he could use ⌈ Negative Surge ⌋ on them, so it was a needless precaution to take.
He headed in the direction of the trapper, Fang.
"I'd like to borrow one of your spare capes, Lin said I could borrow one" Ash said, unsure how to talk to the man, who was threatening him with a poisoned spear, a few hours ago.
Fang simply nodded. He appeared to be a simple man, that didn't hold grudges. Ash wasn't exactly the same, so he made sure to be very sloppy when closing the bag, after pulling out the black cape. Hopefully, Fang would have some trouble with that later.
Ash put on the cape, pulled up the hood, and headed to the middle of their little formation.
They arrived at the checkpoint. Two guards, dressed in rusty plate armor came out to greet them. Seeing as their weapons and armor were poorly maintained, Ash figured they probably never saw any action.
One of the two, stepped forward. He had multiple medals attached to his breastplate. He was most likely the only one at the checkpoint, who had been in battle.
"Pleasure seeing you, lady De la Pole" The veteran said, with his gaze directed at the swordsman.
'De la Pole... Were they joking?'
The De la Pole family, was one of the most influential noble families in Kanburrough. Ash knew this. He also knew that they were pro-elves. They were one of the few noble families that didn't support the discriminatory relationship between humans, and the other races.
"Your father will be pleased to see you back" The guard continued, while checking her ⌈ Adventurer's Plate ⌋, which hung around her neck.
The plate was a sort of registration card, which showed every stat and skill, an adventurer had ever learned. First and last names were also printed onto the plate.
"You're free to go through. Not that I could stop you anyway" he said, giving pack the plate.
The guards removed themselves from the road, letting the party of four through. They were eyeing Ash, who, in this moment, was grateful to be in the presence of a noble. He hated himself for that.
They walked for a few more hours, until they could a great cobblestone wall came into view. It seemed to be around ten meters tall and reinforced with iron.
"Welcome home, team!" The party leader said, gesturing towards the wall, and the town behind it.
"It's nice to be back in your father's territory, you can almost feel how nice it is from here" Lin said.
Ash remained unimpressed. To him, the town looked like a giant cage. What the hell did Evitagen want him to do inside the walled prison?
"Ah for fuck's sake, can I have your god damn name already, ms. leader?" Ash asked, fed up with the party's rudeness towards the man who had saved their precious leader.
"Oh, you haven't been informed? My name is Robinia De la Pole. I am first in line to inherit the city of Elcrada. Pleased to make your acquaintance".
The scarred elf, forced a smile. They weren't the same at all. He took her hand, and kissed it, knowing it was proper etiquette to do so, when in the presence of a noble.
"I was not aware of your lineage. Pardon my insolence" Ash said. His silky smooth tongue felt like a misplaced piece of flesh, trying its hardest to make him puke.
The elf, Robinia, seemed surprised at his sudden change of behavior. She was flustered.
'So she is different, huh? She has emotions, unlike the rest of the filthy, disgusting noble-kind".
"Now, let's get to The Nest!" Lin said, breaking the silence that had come creeping.
They ran over the plains, which surrounded the town. As they were closing in on the town, Ash noticed people of all kinds of professions moving to and from Elcrada. It seemed to be a prosperous town. In truth, it was the first time Ash had seen so many people in one place.
Ash found himself before the massive, wooden gate. It had images carved into the side, resembling various kinds of people, fighting terrifying monsters. Scenes like that covered the entirety of the majestic gateway that led to the world of adventurers.
It opened almost as soon as Robinia, who had been strolling all the way to the door unlike her party, reached the door.
"The lady and her party has arrived. Open the gates!" A guard, standing in one of the many watchtowers around the gate said.
'Rude' Ash thought, showing a troubled expression as they walked through the now open gates.
As soon as he stepped inside the town, his oppinion of it changed vastly. Beautiful fountains, artificial lakes and vast fields filled the area around the nice-looking town, which was located around one kilometer from the walls. It was like paradise.
While the rest of the party were making their way to the town, which mostly consisted of oakwood houses, Ash was standing still, taking in the scenery.
"Amazing..." He whispered.
The elf came to his senses, and started following the party of three, stopping to look at everything on the way. There were flowers in all kinds of colors, cottages with straw roofs, and the most amazing thing. There weren't any slaves, as far as Ash could see. In any other town he had been to, when dragging various items to the capital, from his old church, there had been slaves all over the place. But here there was nothing of the sort.
Ash kept walking, until they made it to the village, where Lin, Fang and Robinia were waiting.
"Sorry to keep you waiting" Ash said, smiling.
The most surprising thing about the whole situation, was the fact that Ash's hatred towards humanity had lessened a little bit. He felt happy for the first time in years.
"Now, let's get to the tavern and eat something! I'm starving" Robinia said. And as they walked, Ash's body felt lighter and lighter, for each step he took.