"Why should Lord Sorkoza have to bother with such a menial task? The Lord is not your personal chauffeur. You should be grateful Lord Sorkoza allowed the use of the Night Scowler Beast." Valga said as she glared at Ranazera.
Duke Sorkoza's territory was quite vast. Reaching its borders in the direction that Izroth wanted to go would take more than a day on foot. And that was if they kept a good pace the entire time without any hiccups along the way.
In addition, as the group traveled through Duke Sorkoza's territory, Izroth noticed that most areas they passed through were barren. As for the areas where there were signs of plant life or other lifeforms, it was unhospitable with an unforgiving terrain and harsh environment.
In order to make their journey easier, Duke Sorkoza allowed them to use a creature known as the Night Scowler Beast.
The Night Scowler Beast was a large four-legged beast with black scales that looked more like fur. It was unique to the kingdom of Malentansium and often used as a mount by those high-ranking skounae.
At first glance, the creature did not seem to have any way of seeing where it was going since it lacked eyes; however, its "eyes" were located under its body.
But, even though they looked like eyes, they were actually highly sensitive sensors that helped to see where it was going. Using these sensors, it relied on detecting vibrates and feeling the flow of mana to guide its path.
At the moment, Izroth, Ranazera, and Valga were riding on the back of this Night Scowler Beast toward the border of the Duke's territory at high speed.
In terms of mobility, while swift, the Night Scowler Beast was far from the fastest mount. However, what it lacked in speed, it more than made up for with its durability, endurance, and ability to traverse even the most challenging of terrains.
"I obviously didn't mean it that way..." Ranazera muttered under her breath.
The sixth princess did not hide her annoyance with Valga's aggressive response to a simple question. However, since Valga acted as their escort through the Duke's lands, Ranazera held back from revealing too much displeasure.
After the response to Ranazera's previous question, the atmosphere on the back of the Night Howler Beast was filled with an awkward silence.
This awkward silence lasted for a couple of minutes before, surprisingly, Valga was the one to break it.
"...You humans know nothing of Malentansium or the skounae. If you did, then you would have never asked such a ridiculous question." Valga stated.
"You-" Ranazera was about to retort; however, she was quickly cut off by Valga.
"That is why I could not understand why Lord Sorkoza asked that I broaden your horizons. What good will it do for humans, who do not even care for their own kind, to understand something they cannot aid in changing."
Ranazera wanted to say that not all humans were like that; however, for some reason, she could not say those words.
In truth, she knew that Valga was not wrong. Humans were greedy and selfish creatures who typically only cared for themselves or those closest to them. Sure, there were exceptions to this standard as kind-hearted humans existed; however, those truly kind-hearted individuals were few and far between. It was impossible for them to make up for the thoughtless desires of the entire human race.
Still, despite knowing all of this, Ranazera felt troubled by Valga's words. It struck a chord deep in her heart that she had been ignoring for as long as she could remember.
"You're right... Humans can be uncaring for one another. Not just that, but we are capable of unleashing horrors upon each other that should never be spoken of. But your outlook and approach are wrong." Ranazera said firmly.
Valga narrowed her eyes and replied, "Wrong..? If my memory serves me correct, is it not you humans who started this great war between the kingdoms? Is it not you humans who are constantly tampering with powers beyond your control and understanding?"
"But, even then, is it not also humans who are the ones fighting against it? Was it not a human kingdom that was the first to speak out and confront an injustice it witnessed? Countless humans risk their lives daily to protect those who cannot fight for themselves. They struggle with right and wrong, good and evil. Yet, they work to overcome it. Will you say that those people do not care for others?"
"So what if a few humans are different, that does not mean-!"
"You say that humans do not understand anything about Malentansium or the skounae! But... you, too, do not understand anything about humans!"
Izroth silently observed the interaction between Ranazera and Valga.
In the beginning, it seemed as though the sixth princess had no way of refuting Valga's statement. However, she gathered herself and responded with an air of confidence, despite having her own self-doubts to confront.
'Perhaps, Tempest's future is not entirely bleak. Of course, knowing the answer and solving it are two different things. In the future, depending on what she decides to do, then...'
Approximately ten minutes later...
After Ranazera confronted Valga, the awkward atmosphere from before increased severalfold.
Even though Valga did not behave improperly, it was clear that she held her anger and frustration inside.
Understand humans? Why did she have to do something so troublesome? No, more importantly, since when did it become about her understanding of things? Were they not talking about the ignorance humans had toward Malentansium and skounae?
At that moment, Valga thought back to her conversation with Duke Sorkoza just before their departure from the palace.
Earlier, right as Izroth, Ranazera, and Valga were about to leave through the Void Curtains...
Duke Sorkoza pulled Valga aside. So that their conversation would not be heard by those outside, the Duke set up a soundproof magic barrier.
When Valga saw the Duke's actions, she swiftly kneeled down and thought the Duke had other plans for their two "guests". Could it be that the Duke wanted her to secretly eliminate them along their journey?
"Valga, what do you think of that human?" Sorkoza asked while looking into the distance.
"That human...?" Valga's gaze followed Sorkoza's before it landed on Izroth, who stood next to the Void Curtains along with Ranazera.
She then answered, "My apologies, Lord Sorkoza. I do not see anything that separates that human from others of his kind. If I had to say one thing, it would be that he is less unruly than those we have come across in the past."
After she gave her answer, Valga heard the sound of a light chuckle, which caused her eyes to widen in shock. Initially, she thought that she was merely hearing things; however, when she glanced up at the Duke, a stunning view came into her sight.
That Duke, although it was faint and barely discernable, she was certain—just now, he smiled!
However, it was so fleeting that by the time Valga blinked, she cleared her head and empty her thoughts.
"What am I thinking? Yes, I must have been seeing things." Valga thought to herself.
"Less unruly, is it..? I see." Sorkoza said calmly.
He then continued, "Valga, along your journey, I want you to broaden the horizons of our two guests in regards to Malentansium and the skounae."
"My Lord, as you know, I am more than happy to follow your instructions, but... I must ask why such a thing is necessary when humans do not even care for their own kind?"
"Hm... Someone once told me that I may be the type of person who enjoys being right more than I like to correct what's wrong."
"Wha- Such an arrogant person!"
"But, that person was not wrong, Valga."
Valga was taken aback. How could the Duke say such a thing? That person could not have been further from the truth! After all, if it were not for the Duke, the Vretis under his protection would have long since become servants of other skounae.
"I found that I have become complacent as of late. This city I worked so hard to build, all of you I aim to protect from those with ill intentions—I found that as a result, I have neglected something important."
"My Lord, you have the weight of all the Vretis on your shoulders. It is a burden anyone would be crushed carrying. You have done your all to ensure our survival. How can you say that you've become complacent?"