“What’s our next move” Uriel asked Apollonia, who led the group silently.
Their party, which included Tanya’s second brother, was nearly to the base of Mt.
Just like the old woman had said, Tanya’s brother was handsome and slender.
With hair tied back loosely and a vague, dreamlike expression, he could have been mistaken for a traveling poet.
He introduced himself as Tan, and his brothers as Ben and Lun.
Apollonia ignored Uriel’s question.
The closer they’d gotten to Mt.
Calt, the less talkative she’d become.
“We’re here.” Tan reared back his horse.
In front of them lay a huge mountain range.
It was a strange sight.
The mountings jutting from the flat terrain were dark and quiet.
Grotesque, deformed trees twisted off the slopes, but there were no signs of life.
The air was still and silent.
It seemed like a place where there’d never been life.
The mountains held a sense of lonely desolateness.
In the center of the range lay the highest peak.
“They say this was once a volcano, a long time ago.
If you look closely at the peak in the center, you can almost make out the crater at the top – it’s called ‘Calt’s Heart.’ It’s covered by a grove of strange trees.
The rest of the mountains in this range are all different in size and shape, and legend has it that God scattered this range across the continent just for fun.”
“The story of the burning mountains is different from the volcano, right”
The volcano is long-dead, and it’s not one of the Fire Mountains.
After the mountains burst into fire, even the living things inside it are killed.
Those trees are able to survive because they’re said to have magical power.
They’re protected from the fire.
Without those powers, they too would’ve been reduced to a pile of ashes by now.”
“What about the monsters”
“They stay away during the dry season, because there’s no way to tell when the fires will ignite.
They’ll be back in a few months to build their nests.
It’s strange, isn’t it Entering this place, where there’s no food or water anywhere to be found… I have a hunch that they might be attracted to something.”
“I didn’t see any of the monsters on our way here…”
“Keep a safe distance from the mountains, and you’ll be fine.
The monsters won’t attack anyone near the mountains.
But since the mountain can burst into flame with only a second’s warning, getting too close would be like signing your death warrant.” Tan shrugged.
Even though he was pretending like it didn’t bother him, Mt.
Calt was still an eerie place.
Something about it bothered him.
“There are countless stories about this place.
Even the weather here is weird.
When it rains over Calt’s Heart, the mountains surrounding it are sunny and dry…”
“Other than Uriel, I want everyone to go back,” she ordered.
Her tone was heavy and commanding, meaning she wouldn’t accept any resistance.
I’ll stay.” Sid knew what her tone meant, but he still decided to speak up.
Apollonia’s eyebrows creased.
“You can’t stay.
If you do, Uriel would have to go back, and Tanya’s family would be scared.
Worst-case scenario, we’ll run into a group of bandits – and Uriel can easily deal with that.” She mentioned Tanya’s family half-jokingly, but Tan flinched when he heard it, as if it were true.
“I’m just going to look around the mountain.
I need some time alone to think, so just go back to the house and wait for me.
I won’t be long.” Her voice had softened, but it was still powerful in a way that was difficult to disobey.
Sid had no other choice.
“Please promise to never touch the mountain.”
Sid was the only one who turned to leave.
Tan took something out of the leather bag strapped to his waist.
“This is an item my grandmother made last night.
She said it would keep us safe.
If you’re alright with it, you should put this on.
Your safety is important.”
He winked at her as he handed her the thin robe.
His flirtatiousness would sometimes show regardless of the situation.
Although the cloth was thin and cheap, Apollonia thought it must have been special somehow, if the old woman had made it.
She took the garment and pulled it over her coat.