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77 Hot Springs  - Headed by a Snake

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"You... You can't be serious. You really want to do... that?" Tycon pointed.

A lengthy obstacle course had been constructed in a field, comprised of several spinning wooden contraptions, various checks of agility, and a somewhat familiar warped wall.

"Can we, Leader? ...Unless you don't want to. Then it's okay, we can do something else." Korr gazed downward, tapping the points of her forefingers together.

One of her fingernails was missing. It was likely a result of the battle from the previous sun, where she held off a hundred men by herself to buy time for Guild Invictus.

Tycon took a deep breath. It was becoming more difficult to politely convince the woman against running the course together. Or maybe he could just let her do as she pleased? Tss. But she kept saying the word "we" so she probably intended for this activity to be a coupled event.

A small cluster of whelplings approached while Tycon was deep in thought. Kimura Taree had gathered a collection of snot-nosed children around her and Pale's age.

"Hello, Warrior Tycon! Are you and Warrior Korr going to run the obstacle course too?"

Tycon glared at the group of preteens and young teenagers... along with an excited Pale.

"Ohh, that's Warrior Tycon!" "Oh, the savior of our sect!" "Wow, he looks really strong!"

Korr stepped forward, "We won't lose to you."

Tycon's heart sunk. It appeared again, the "we" that he dreaded. With Korr's words, he could no longer escape.

...

« Activate Great Leap. »

[Warning: User's Completion Rating is too low for Skill activation. Concentration will be greatly taxed. Force Activate? Y/N?]

« Activate Nimble Climb. »

[Warning: User's Completion Rating is too low for Skill activation. Concentration will be greatly taxed. Force Activate? Y/N?]

« Activate... Parkour? »

[Skill not found.]

« Activate Will to Live. »

[Skill not found.]

Tycon wasn't sure how he did it, but he managed to survive the obstacle course without begging Korr or Pale for assistance. He was, however, bereft of mana. And his Skill usage had taxed his concentration and stamina to the point that his head pounded reminiscent to an entire squad stomping on a wizard.

"Wow! The Outsiders are so cool!" "Yeah! The way the green-haired grown-up climbed like he could stick to walls!" Yeah, amazing!"

He glared at the departing children. They weren't even breathing hard. Tycon was cursing himself for pushing himself past his limits. He had gone to great lengths to impress a group of children that wouldn't even remember him in half-a-bell, whose greatest achievements were learning not to soil themselves.

He mentally reminded himself to add that particular course to Barza Keith's training regimen.


Pale smiled apologetically and departed with Taree.

Korr was still excited, "Leader! Let's do it again!"

How she still had the energy, Tycon had no idea. "G-go ahead, I have to... uh... Practice my breathing techniques."

Korr nodded and jogged away with her arms trailing behind her. Tycon collapsed back onto the floor. He did not look forward to the rest of his plans.

...

A short time afterward, Guild Invictus, the Kimura siblings, and Elder Kakui had began to hike northeast. Kagehisa Yumiko had suggested he bring Korr to local hot springs and Elder Kakui knew the way.

Girls liked hot springs.

The Kimura parents were invited, but Yumiko was intent on taking care of the patriarch, who had apparently been shot by an arrow in a freak accident. Tycon highly doubted that a skilled archer like Yumiko would make such a rookie mistake, but he decided not to delve.

The trip was relaxing, Barza was relieved to have a sun off of training and was trying to communicate to Horse and Jeremy, 'Chosen One practice,' he called it. Dragan and Maximus were "hydrating" with a jug of Yumiko's booze. Elder Kakui was recounting sect ghost stories to an enamored Wroe, while Taree and Pale listened on the side.

Why were those two walking so close to each other?

Korr told Tycon a few stories-- they all seemed to interconnect but the whole of it was incredibly difficult to follow. He tried his best.

It was shortly after lunch that the atmosphere turned from cold and chilly to warm and humid, with clouds of mist from the nearby springs pervading the area.

"So... you don't really need to get an extra bag." Korr was explaining to Barza, "Just put stuff in your bra."

Dragan examined Barza's figure, "Hey, Loooone! What kinda bra d'you think fits you, man?"

Barza gave a troubled smile, "I wouldn't wear one, though. Do you know how hot wearing a bra is?"

The traveling group stopped for a moment to stare at Mister Barza. The group erupted in laughter, with the exception of Tycon and a politely smiling Elder Kakui. Both Maximus and Dragan had laughed so hard, they were wiping tears from their eyes.

"I had thought brassieres were only socially acceptable for females to wear?" Tycon asked.

"They are!" Barza replied with a reddened face.

Tycon narrowed his eyes, "Then why would you admit to having worn one?"
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The laughter was interrupted by Pale, who emerged from the greenery.

"Boss," Pale approached apprehensively. "You'd better come see this."

Tycon excused himself to follow the boy. He wasn't keen on whatever surprise Pale had found. He was already annoyed about the issues he'd suffered in the morning and the incessant headache from overexerting his concentration wasn't going away anytime soon.

"I trust you won't be wasting my time on frivolities, young man. I am in no mood for jokes."

Pale stopped and pointed at a heated pond.

Tycon's eyes widened. His heart began to race. He gnashed his teeth so hard that Pale shrank his form from worry.

"Armor! Armor and weapons!" He yelled, "Get everyone over here!! WHY AREN'T YOU MOVING FAST ENOUGH?!?!"

...

Guild Invictus and company gathered in front of a large east-facing cave mouth.

Elder Kakui was thoroughly confused, "Young Mistress Taree... What's going on?"

Tycondrius had ordered everyone to be armed and armored. He was stomping around, wary and... furious?

Taree seemed to know what was going on, but she was anxious and visibly trembling. She looked up to Kakui with pitiful tears pooled at the corner of her eyes.

Kakui shut his mouth, refusing to ask more of her. She was frightened. And he was trying to remain calm and rational, as an elder of the sect. He summoned two sabers from his spatial ring, their familiar weight comforting. Whatever crisis were to come, as a Kimura family elder, he would protect the children and his sect benefactors even at the cost of his life.

"Get the HELL OUT HERE!!" Tycon screamed into the cave.

Then he began to roar, different tones and pitches, with an intermixed series of guttural clicks-- sounds Kakui wasn't sure a human should be able to make.

Slow and measured pounding of stone emanated from deep within the cave. Something heavy. Something with steps that echoed as it walked. Something huge.

The smell of sulfur became more pronounced, an acrid stench that made Kakui's eyes water. Whatever was coming, he had no knowledge of it. A great beast? A demon?

Kakui looked to Tycon with confusion. What could such a young man have identified that required such vigilance?

It reared its head out of the darkness of the cave, a great red, serpentine neck with red horns curved back towards its wings. Its head alone was as large an ox and the rest of its red, winged body, stood taller and sturdier than a two-story fortress. It reared back its head and roared. The earth shook, the stones erupted in steam, and waters rumbled and splashed.

"(WHOMST HAS AWAKENED THE ANCIENT ONE?!!)"

Its words were foreign, deep and unsettling. The magic was ancient and the depths of his human soul could understand it on primitive instinct. The creature before him was an ancient beast... knowing the magics of an ancient, sorcerous language...

"Seven bloody hells, you ugly bastard, WHAT took you so long?" Tycon yelled, defiance in his eyes.

Elder Kakui knelt to the ground, speechless. Who was this youth to so brazenly taunt an Ancient Red Dragon?

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