Chapter 10: Road Ahead
The trip through the dimensional rift was a strange sensation. It felt like I was in the middle of a movie set in fast forward. The background around me was moving in an indistinct blur of colors while I was kneeled down, still sobbing.
I landed on gra.s.s, still on my knees, my head buried in my arms in a bowing manner.
She was gone.
I’ll never see her again.
Those two thoughts triggered another wave of emotions and I started weeping again.
I recalled the little over 3 months we spent together. How caring she was, treating me like her own blood. I didn’t care that she prolonged sending me home so that I would stay with her. Through the short time I was with Sylvia, she had taught me so much, given me something that I would never be able to find by myself.
Lost in grief, I roll to my side in a fetal position, my brows furrowed and eyes shut.
Suddenly, a burning sensation comes from my mana core and a voice echoes in my head.
“Ahem! Testing, testing… Ah good! h.e.l.lo Art~ this is Sylvia.”
My heart fluttering, I instantly respond to the voice. “Sylvia! I’m here! Can you hear…”
“If you’re listening to this right now, it means I have shown you what I actually am…”
Ah. It’s some kind of recording that she infused into me when she gouged that small hole into my mana core.
“… You’re nowhere near ready right now to know the whole truth. Knowing you, if I tell you whom that figure in the sky was, you will just brashly try and charge through. Art…You are barely pa.s.sed the age of 4. Upon looking at your mana core, you have a rare talent seeing that your mana core is already dark red in color. What I will tell you is this. I have infused with you my unique will. This is something that no one else but I can do. Your future progress as a Mage depends on how well you will be able to use my will that is embedded into your mana core…”
That’s why the purple in her eyes and golden patterns disappeared!
“The moment your mana core reaches a level past the white stage is when you will hear my voice again. At that time, I will explain everything and what you do from there is your choice.”
There was a stage past white?
“Lastly, Art… I know you may be in grief as of now, but remember, you have your family to look out for and the stone I entrusted you with. My only wish is for you to embrace the joys and innocence of childhood, train hard, and make your parents and I proud. Do not go chasing after a shadow out of rage. Killing the ones that are responsible for my death will neither bring me back to life nor make you feel better. There was a reason for everything and I do not regret what has happened. With this, I bid you farewell for now. Remember, protect your family and the stone, study what I have left you, and enjoy this life King Grey.”
That name and t.i.tle was from my old world. She knew the entire time! Did she discover something in my mana core? Was she able to look into my memories? So many questions but the only one who can answer them is gone.
I don’t move for a while, staying in the fetal position, my eyes glazed over, deep in thought.
Sylvia was right. She said all of this knowing what my life back in my old world was like. I won’t make the same mistake of living for the sake of training. I will be strong, but I’ll also live my life without regret. I want to live a life that Sylvia would be proud of. I don’t think she’ll be happy even if I reach whatever stage was after white while living a life of only training. No. I need to hurry up and reach my family. But before that, where am I?
Looking around, I’m surrounded by trees that tower over my head. There’s a thick fog that covers anything a couple centimeters off the ground
Trees and an unnaturally thick fog…
I sank back on my knees, crestfallen at what this could only mean.
I was in the Forest of Elshire
Picking myself up, I prepared my mind. Looks like I won’t be meeting my family anytime soon. It’s been around 3-4 months since I fell off of the cliff. My family has most likely either gone back to Ashber or decided to stay in Xyrus.
I don’t have anything on me except the clothes on my back and the strange stone that was wrapped in Sylvia’s feather. This d.a.m.n fog limited my vision to about a couple meters around me. Reinforcing my eyes with mana helped quite a bit but that didn’t solve the problem of which direction I needed to go to get out of this place. I reinforced my body, enabling mana rotation that seems to have become second nature to me now. Right now, I can only absorb about 20% of what I can do while just meditating, but I’m not complaining.
The only downside to mana rotation is that it’s not a replacement for strengthening your mana core. In order for me to purify my mana core and get it to the next stages, I need to solely focus on gathering the mana, from both my body and the surrounding area, and use that to get rid of the impurities little by little. One notable thing I felt rather was that after getting my mana core to dark red, the amount of mana I could store inside increased significantly. While the size doesn’t increase, I’m guessing the purity allows more mana to be gathered.
I climb a couple meters up the first tree I find and I sat situated on a branch. This time, I concentrated the mana into only my eyes, increasing my vision even further. What I’m looking for isn’t a way out but more so for any signs of humans. Sylvia said that I would be teleported near humans so I’m hoping that there may be adventurers travelling through here that knows a way out.
A couple seconds of searching, I find what I’m looking for. Looks like I was right; there are humans here.
I hop from tree branch to tree branch, going towards them. Stopping a couple meters away, I hid myself behind the trunk on a branch facing away from them.
I hide myself completely behind the branch and will mana into my ears.
“NOOO!!! HELP! SOMEONE PLEASE HELP! MOMMY! DADDY! NOOO I’M SCARED!!!”
“Someone shut her up! She’s going to attract attention!”
“Quick. Put her in the back of the carriage. We’re only a couple days away from the mountain range. We’ll be safer then. Don’t relax and let’s keep moving.”
“Hey boss! How much do ya think she’ll sell for? Elf girls go for a lot don’t they? Hehe, she’s a child too so a virgin at that! I bet she’ll fetch us a lot of money huh!”
I carefully look around to see a small sized carriage, enough to tightly cram in about 5 adults. I turn around just in time to see a middle aged man carrying a little girl into the back of the carriage. She looked to be around 6-7 with silver blond hair with the trademark pointed ears that elves are known for.
What should I do? How do they do know where to go in the first place? The Elshire Forest’s magical fog messes with the senses even while using mana.
What I see next answers my second question.
Attached to leashes are mana beasts that look like a mix between a deer and a dog, with antlers that look branch out, looking like a complicated satellite. I remember reading about those mana beasts in the encyclopedia I carried around. Apparently, these forest hounds are native to the Forest of Elshire and can navigate even better than the elves can.
How those brutes acquired those rare mana beasts, I have no idea but I needed to think of a plan.
Option one: Steal one of the forest hounds and have it lead me out of the forest.
Option two: Kidnap the kidnapped elf girl to have her help me out.
Option three: Kill all of the slave traders and set the elf girl free while I take the forest hounds and go back home.
Pondering for a couple of minutes, I’m faced with a dilemma. Option one sees to be the easiest, but it didn’t sit right with me to leave the elf girl to her doom.
Who knows, maybe she’ll get bought by a kind old man who will treat her well and let her visit her home every couple of months!
Option two had the obvious flaw that, once I save the elf kid, she won’t lead me out of the forest and will just want to go back home and the slave traders probably won’t take it too kindly. Option three had the best outcome but was the hardest, considering that there were 4 of them and only one of me. Because of the fog, I couldn’t sense if any of them were mages but I a.s.sume at least one is. Being able to capture an elf in the forest meant that they weren’t amateurs.
F*ck! Option three it is.
I waited until nightfall to make my move. Those slave traders sure were vigilant. They didn’t build a fire and always had two people on guard.
I use the chance when one of the two out on guard went around to the other side of the carriage to quiet the forest hounds that I woke up with a carefully thrown rock.
One was sitting on a fallen log, fiddling something in his hands while the two that were sleeping were inside the tent pitched next to him. Carefully jumping to a branch directly above the carriage, I prepared my attack.
I was going for the one that went to quiet the forest hounds first.
I dropped down with a quiet thud behind one of the slave traders. This man had a very lanky build. While muscles were visible, he didn’t seem too strong and was only armed with a knife.
Hearing the soft thud, lanky turns around probably only expecting a curious weasel or rat. His face turned into a mixture of surprise and amus.e.m.e.nt when he sees me, a 4-year-old child in torn clothes.
Before he has the chance to say anything, I lunge upward towards his neck. I infuse mana into the blade of my hand, turning it into a sharp edge. This was called the swordless style in my old world but here it would be more accurate to call it a wind attribute technique.
He flinches back reflexively, his hands trying to reach where his face is, to guard against the boy shooting towards him.
It’s too late. I take a quick swipe at the jugular, taking his vocal chord out along with the major vein. His neck immediately spurts blood out profusely and I land behind him, supporting his lifeless body and gently placing him down to avoid making noise. Just as expected, the forest hounds that were calmed down by the Mr. Lanky jolted awake at the smell of blood and started barking up a storm.
“Ey Pinky! Can’t even calm the hounds…What the?!”
I had already picked up…Pinky’s? knife after disposing his body and was waiting for him at the corner of the carriage.
While the other guard’s attention was directed at the corpse of Pinky that was being eaten by the forest hounds, I came out from behind and stabbed the side of his neck with the knife.
The hounds quieted down while devouring the two corpses. I was heading towards the tent to kill the two left in their sleep but then something I didn’t calculate ruined my plans.
“h.e.l.lLLP! MOMMY! SOMEONE! ANYONE! PLEASEE!!”
Jesus Christ child! Why now of all times!
On cue, I hear the rustle of the tent as the two slave traders that were left came out. Half grumbling, I hear a “Pinky! Deuce! The kid is awake! What the h.e.l.l are you guys…”
Really? Pinky? Deuce? You guys have comrades with the names pinky and p.o.o.p?
He didn’t finish his sentence as he realized something was wrong.
I quickly hide behind the tree next to the carriage and infuse mana into Pinky’s knife.
The two remaining slave traders came around to the other side of the carriage where their eyes bulged upon witnessing their two former companions being eaten by the forest hounds.
Using this chance, I attack the nearest one when his gaze shoots towards me and I’m met by his blade swung directly at my face.
Quickly ducking, I drop low and accelerate myself faster, getting in the range of my knife. I swing, reinforcing more mana into the knife and slice through his right Achilles’ heel.
With his good leg, the guy who swung at me leaps out of my range before I can further damage.
“Danton, be careful! I think this brat is a mage.” Cries the fighter whose tendon I just ripped.
I see Danton pulling out his sword from its sheath and get in a defensive stance.
“You see all sorts of crazy things these days! Looks like a huge sack of gold just showed itself in front of us huh George! I bet he’ll get us almost as much as the elf girl. It’s a pity he’s not a girl.”
These b.a.s.t.a.r.ds don’t even care that I just killed their party members.
Danton reinforces his body with mana and walks towards me, a confident grin etched onto his scarred face.
George is going to be out of the fight with that disabled leg, but this Augmenter is going to be trouble.
The Augmenter named Danton suddenly disappears from my sight and blinks above me, preparing to throw a punch. He seems to not want to use his sword directly at me so I won’t get scarred and be worth less money. That makes it easier for me.
I jump back in time to avoid the blow that left a small hole in the ground and I throw my knife. I use the same trick as I did with the conjurer I dragged down with me off the cliff but this mage is a little more experienced. He disrupts the mana string with his sword and grabs the knife with his free hand.
I’m in a pretty bad position right now. Danton doesn’t seem to be too tall for his age but his reach is still a good amount longer than mine. He also has a sword, which further increases his range.
Danton dashes toward me at this time and throws the knife that I just launched at him. I dodge, but not in time to realize that it was a diversion and he gets a hold of my ankle and flips me upside down.
This is my chance! I reach for the hand that’s holding unto me while concentrating mana. I use a fire attribute technique, releasing all of my concentrated mana located in my fist and aim for his wrist.
His now broken wrist lets go of my ankle and land on my back. Quickly jumping up to my feet, I pick up Pinky’s knife and dash towards the wounded Danton. While he was still preoccupied by the pain from his wrist, he angrily shouts, “You’re DEAD now you piece of s.h.i.t! I don’t care if I can’t sell you anymore!”
His left wrist is wounded, leaving a gap in his defense. I will more mana into my feet and arrive in range to land a hit to his side, when I see him swinging his sword down.
He fell for it!
I quickly pivot with my left foot in place, spinning to my right. Dodging the swing by a hair’s breadth, I enter into my knife’s range to his right side, open because of that last desperate swing.
He immediately tries to jump back but I place my right foot behind his legs so he loses balance. In one quick thrust, I stab my knife right below his armpit, through the gap between his ribs and into his lungs.
He was easy to finish off after his breath was gone from the wound.
I was now left with an immobile George.
I couldn’t use Danton’s sword because it was too big for my body so I made use of Pinky’s knife one last time and swiped George’s jugular. The poor fighter couldn’t really contest or run away with his useless leg and died with a look of disbelief. Much like his two comrades, fed to the hounds.
I think the elf girl knew that there was fighting going on because it was eerily quiet now.
I climbed up unto the back of the carriage where she was and I spotted her shivering in the corner with only rags minimally covering her. She looks up at me in doubt, her eyes almost saying, “He’s the one who saved me?”
I untie her while she remains silent, her turquoise eyes never leaving my face.
Tired and feeling gross, I help her up and simply say, “You should go back home now.”
She probably didn’t know whether I was an enemy or friend until now because once I said that, a look of relief washed over her tense face and she broke down.
“Hic! I was so scared! They were going to sell me! Hic! I thought I was never going to see my family again! Hic! WAAAAAA”