THIRTY-NINE

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"This is so stupid," Lance said through heavy breathing

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"This is so stupid," Lance said through heavy breathing. Though the vicomte was generally fit, the months at sea had not helped. It had been hours since they started their trek, and he was more or less dragging himself along now.

"I second that," Laptus said, perfectly fine if you ignored her bored expression.

Morita herself was mentally exhausted, her skin almost sticky with the heat despite not sweating, but was fine. She turned to give them a look but stumbled on the loose ground. She stabilized herself and said, "Look, none of us know exactly where the Forbiddens are so we might as well take a shot in the dark."

"Ah yes, because finding these deities inside a Godsdamn mountain sounds reasonable," Lance muttered.

Morita sighed and peered up. They still had quite a bit of the Echo of Gods to hike. She had hoped that there was a path, but of course, that would be sacrilegious. So, they had no choice but to stomp through the thick rain forest.

The mountain was steep and thick with vegetation. Giant green plants covered the ground and hanging trees blocked out the sky. Finding the Forbiddens was hard enough as a deity, it would be nearly impossible as a human.

Even Lance, armed with his fancy sword from the Melband palace and a tall, fit body, was struggling to keep up with the two deities. As Morita watched him fight the mountain, it was difficult to imagine him as a vicomte. The Vicomte Favreau, the noble famous for fighting every expectation he had. It explained why Lance was pressured to get married, even though he was a man.

A life with freedom, passion, and adventure but sacrificed power, instant wealth, and recognition. He had a foot in two lives, like her. Once. She knew he loved what he did, but she also saw that he didn't belong in either life. He demanded comfort while embarking on a dangerous journey. He wore fancy garb and a flashy sword while climbing a mountain. He was neither an adventurous journalist nor a palace son.

The two deities stopped and Laptus took a few steps down to help Lance. As she did, something darted on the forest ground not too far from them. Morita's head snapped over to the sound. A few seconds later, a wild cat with white-yellow fur and dark stripes showed itself on the thick roots of a tree. It seemed to notice her intense stare at it because it disappeared with a quick push of its legs.

She turned her attention back to her companions when Lance let out a shout of alarm. "What is it?" she shouted.

Laptus moved away from Lance to Morita and said, "It's a snake."

Intrigued, she found her way over to Lance and tried to find what he was staring at. Finally, she spotted the green beast wrapped around a branch slightly above them. The white marks down its back gave it away. She reached out but a hand grabbed her arm. She blinked at Lance. "What?"

He let go of her. "We don't have many serpents in Djinhelm, but you must know that snakes kill, Morita."

"I'm well aware of that," she said dryly. "But it can't kill me."

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