Chapter 169: A Dwarven Night
The entirety of the first day was spent on Sylvie’s back. Without a word muttered to either of the two dwarven lances, we traveled until night fell when my legs could no longer take the strain of riding on bare scale even with the protection of thick cloth and mana. Not just that, but the hours of gripping tightly onto the base of my bond’s neck was taxing on my legs.
Because of me, we stopped for the night and made camp near the base of the Grand Mountains just a few miles up north of Valden City.
“Please, help yourself.” I held out a skewer of grilled fish toward General Mica and Olfred.
The childlike dwarven lance happily accepted the charred freshwater fish, crunching through the bones as if they didn’t exist, but the old lance merely shook his head.
“If you have the energy to cook, perhaps we should leave soon,” he said, ignoring my courtesy as his eyes remained planted on a book he had brought.
“Don’t mind him,” Mica said, her mouth still full of fish. “The old man doesn’t eat food given by anybody he doesn’t fully trust.”
I nodded, throwing the fish I had grilled for General Olfred to Sylvie. With a snap of her neck, the blackened fish disappeared inside her maw. My bond remained in her original draconic form, curled up at the edge of our small camp. Because of her black scales, Sylvie seemed to almost disappear despite her large frame—the only part of her visible being her two sharp topaz eyes that seemed to hover in the dark.
‘These small morsels do little more than get stuck between my teeth,’ Sylvie grumbled in my head.
I know, but you’ll have to make do with these for now. Besides, you can easily go for weeks without eating, I replied, helping myself to a skewered fish. The fish’s charred skin was filled with a smoky sweetness from the fire, filling my mouth with flavor despite it being unseasoned.
‘Yes, but I eat for the flavor rather than the nutrients,’ she retorted.
Maybe you can find some mana beasts further north. We’re still too close to Valden.
The rest of the meal was rather quiet except for the soft gurgle of the nearby stream where I had caught the fish and the occasional snap of a twig in the fire.
Olfred didn’t say a word after rejecting my fish, remaining still—almost like a statue—as he leaned back against the earthen backrest he had erected while reading his leatherbound book. The only time he actually looked away from the book was when General Mica began humming as she combed through her short curly hair.
With a look of sheer distaste at the off-tune melody, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. Fortunately, General Mica was fairly quiet throughout the night, giving me time to refine my mana core.
Despite being at the mid silver-core stage, I felt lacking being surrounded by lances and my bond that happened to be an asura. With Dawn’s Ballad damaged and my legs debilitated, I felt like I had taken a step back even after the training at Ephetous. One thing I was certain of was that I could no longer afford to use Burst Step again if I wanted to keep my ability to walk.
After an hour of gathering mana from the atmosphere, refining it in my core and repeating the process, I felt someone’s gaze.
I pried an eye open only to see Mica just a few inches away from me, staring intently, while even Olfred had closed his book to observe.
“This is Mica’s first time feeling something like this,” Mica whispered.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, shifting glances between the two lances.
“Your refinement process,” Olfred answered, his eyes narrowed in thought. “Usually it’s not very apparent when someone refines their core—”
“But when you do it, it feels like Mica’s body is getting pulled toward you!” Mica cut in excitedly.
“I’ve never had that pointed out,” I replied. “Is it maybe because I’m a quadra elemental?”
Mica let out a gasp. “Quadra?”
“So that’s how you were able to become a lance despite your age. I’ve heard this being discussed once by the Council, but to think it was actually the case,” Olfred whispered as if talking to himself.
“What’s it like being able to utilize so many elements?” Mica asked as she leaned in closer, her large eyes practically sparkling.
‘Careful what you reveal,’ Sylvie advised from behind, her body still appearing as if she were asleep.
I know, I thought back. “There are still some elements that I still have a hard time grasping, like gravity, but for the most part, it’s practicing and always self-reflecting on what spell and element to use under specific situations.”
“Right, right.” Mica nodded fervently. “Knowing so many spells is useless if you don’t know when to use them.”
“There must be elements you’re more comfortable using,” Olfred said.
I nodded. “There are.”
“Hey, shall Mica teach you how to manipulate gravity?”
I scooted back, smelling the grilled fish in Mica’s breath. “I think it’s more of a practical issue than anything. There are times when I can use it, but it’s just not something I’m confident in.”
“It’s really easy, you know,” Mica insisted, holding out a palm. “You just have to imagine the world going up or down. Then you grab it in your hand and release!”
Unable to understand Mica’s incomprehensible explanation, I looked back to Olfred.
The old dwarf rolled his eyes. “You’d have an easier time learning from a pebble. Miss Earthborn comes from a long line of famous dwarven conjurers, but even amongst them, she’s considered a genius. Learning magic through intuition, she doesn’t even know the rudimentary concepts of mana manipulation.”
“Earthborn?” I repeated. “Where have I heard that name before?”
“Her ancestors founded Earthborn Institute,” he answered simply, going back to his book.
I stared at the childlike lance in a daze. I knew that all of the lances had distinct strengths but it never occurred to me that this seemingly ditzy mage would be from such an influential family. Not much of dwarven history was taught or even written in Sapin, but Earthborn Institute still stood out as one of the main reasons dwarves were able to stay on par with the kingdom of Sapin despite their smaller population and territory. Even after Xyrus Academy had begun accepting different races, much of the dwarven nobles still chose to send their children to Earthborn for their more specific disciplines and areas of study suited for dwarves.
“Mica’s amazing on top of being beautiful, right?” The small dwarf puffed out her chest.
General Olfred let out a scoff, his face hidden behind his book. “That again? I applaud your confidence but If you’re so beautiful, why is it that you have no experience in relationships when you’re nearing fif—”
He couldn’t finish his sentence as he had to defend himself from a massive war axe that seemingly appeared out of thin air. The ground beneath the old general split from the sheer force exerted by General Mica.
With an innocent smile that seemed to contain a ferocious demon inside, Mica swung down her weapon once more. “My, grumpy old Olfred is getting ahead of himself. You should know best that the reason why I have yet to invest in a man is that my tastes don’t suit the standard dwarves.”
I scooted back closer to Sylvie, not wanting to be a part of this dispute.
‘I think I liked her more when she referred to herself in the third person,’ Sylvie admitted.
I wholeheartedly agree.
Olfred, who had instantly erected a shield of solidified earth above him to guard against his companion’s weapon, let out another scoff. “Please, the only reason you weren’t blatantly ostracized is because of your background. Perhaps you’ll find a human with a rather unique taste for little girls to sweep you off your feet.”
The force of gravity increased around us, and it had become hard to breathe without the help of mana to strengthen my body. The fire had gone out, the wood that had once been burning reduced to rubble.
I stared at the two of them, dumbfounded at the sight of two lances—pinnacles of power in all of Dicathen—bantering like children. <span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>
“We’ll”—I let out a sigh, collecting myself—“We’ll attract attention if the both of you keep this up.”
Ignoring me, General Mica swung her giant axe once more, but rather than cleave the stone golem that General Olfred had conjured, her axe obliterated the golem into pebbles. “I don’t see you with a lover in your arms, Oldfred!”
“The fact that you were able to become a lance with your childish antics never ceases to amaze me,” Olfred grunted as he erected another golem, this time much larger.
Letting out a sigh, I gathered water particles from the nearby trees and hosed the both of them until they were both dripping wet.
The both of them whipped their head, eyes glaring. “Are you guys done or do you want to level a mountain while you’re at it?”
Mica clicked her tongue. “It’s Oldfred’s fault, bringing up a lady’s age.”
“Those born sipping milk from a silver goblet need to be educated of their ignorance,” Olfred muttered.
Fighting the urge to roll my eyes, I watched as the two of them retreated to their own corners of the camp. General Mica, with a single stomp of her tiny foot, erected a cottage from the ground. Large enough to almost fit Sylvie inside, the stone house even had textured walls and came equipped with a chimney that soon began puffing smoke.
General Olfred, on the other hand, chose to build his lair underneath within the side of the cliff just a few feet away from our camp. The earthen cliffside in front of him glowed a deep red and began melting to form a pool of molten rock. A large area almost immediately hollowed out and I was able to catch a glimpse of the detailed stone furniture inside before the lance closed the gaping entrance he had made without even glancing back.
“Very covert,” I muttered helplessly before turning back and crawling underneath one of Sylvie’s black wings as a makeshift tent.
‘You might be more comfortable conjuring a tent as well,’ Sylvie suggested.
I’ll feel safer here in case they decide to do something in my sleep, I replied sluggishly.
I drifted in and out of consciousness as scenes from my past life flashed in between the peaceful lulls of slumber. Memories I wanted to forget resurfaced like worms on a rainy day.
After the night Headmaster Wilbeck was murdered, my goals had changed. Despite both Nico and Cecilia trying to convince me to go to school, I had no intention of trying to be a normal boy like the headmaster wanted me to be. I hated myself for being unable to protect her, the woman who raised me like a mother when every other adult had regarded me as a pest or burden. She took me in, wanting nothing in return except for my own happiness and for a time, I thought I had found it.
During that short period in my life with Nico and Cecilia by my side in the orphanage with Headmaster Wilbeck to watch out for us and scold us, I was happy like any normal child. She had no sins—she did nothing wrong. The headmaster was the type of person to give up her own lunch to a homeless man she had just passed by, yet life repaid her kindness with a horrible and bloody death.
The orphanage was left in charge by another headmaster and after a few months, the kids laughed like nothing ever happened.
Not me, though. I had become obsessed with finding out who had sent those killers after me and Nico and Cecilia as well as Headmaster Wilbeck.
Nico’s words rang clearly. “What are you even going to do once you find them? You’re going to take them out all on your own? With your ability?”
That was when I realized I had to get stronger. Withdrawing my application to the school, I enrolled in one of the military institutes where they trained candidates for the army.
Both Nico and Cecilia tried to talk me out of it. They urged me to give the school a chance to break me free of my obsession. Looking back now, I wish I had listened to them then. My life would’ve been much less painful and lonely if I had.
Perhaps the thing I regretted more than refusing to listen to them was allowing the two of them to follow me into the training institute. I know I had advised them against it at the time, but if only I had tried harder—pushed them farther away from me—then at least my life would’ve been the only one affected.
‘Arthur. We should depart before the sun rises.’ My bond’s voice rang gently but I still woke up with a gasp.
‘You were having nightmares of your past life again,’ she stated rather than asked.
You know about these? I asked, sitting up.
‘Yes, although they come in flashes, I’m able to make them out. You seem to be getting these more frequently,’ she answered, concerned.
I’m sure it’s nothing, I replied, getting out from underneath Sylvie’s wing.
‘I certainly hope that’s the case,’ she said dubiously.
I responded with a smile, drawing our mental conversation to an end.
“We’ll shoot for reaching the northern coast by the end of today,” Olfred announced as he destroyed the stone tents he and Mica had conjured, while Mica was covering our camp in case adventurers or hunters strayed too close.
My suspicions of the two lances’ involvement in the betrayal of Dicathen had lessened after their behavior last night, but I remained cautious. Conjuring a small gust of wind, I helped the two cover our tracks and we were back on our way.