Chapter 181: Gadgets and Magic
I didn’t know what to expect of my sparring partners. My request had been fairly last-minute so somewhere in the back of my head I was just imagining the soldiers inside the castle to be present.
There were quite a few conjurers and augmenters here that were assigned as a precaution to keep the residents inside safe. I noticed quite early on that many of them were quite capable so asking for some training partners out of any one of them seemed reasonable.
What I didn’t expect was the heavy presence of three, obviously powerful, elders inside the training grounds alongside Kathyln and a smug-looking Virion.
“Ah, you’re here!” Virion bolted up to his feet, taking the box from my hands and setting it on the ground before guiding me toward the group. “I want you to meet everyone.”
I looked back over my shoulder to see Emily waving me goodbye like a mother sending her son off to a battlefield.
“I know the two of you are already acquainted,” Virion said, motioning to Kathyln. “But for formality’s sake, this is Princess Kathyln of the royal Glayder House and her guardian, Hester Flamesworth.”
The elderly woman with gray hair pulled tightly back into a bun dipped her head in a formal greeting.
“Flamesworth?” I blurted, surprised.
“Ah, so you’re familiar with my family,” the woman said, a hint of pride in her voice.
“Yes. Fairly familiar, actually,” I replied. The surname had caught my attention, but I dismissed any questions stirring in my mind and focused on the princess.
“A pleasant surprise to see you, Kathyln, but what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Princess Kathyln is an accomplished ice-affinity conjurer now in the dark-yellow core stage,” Hester answered. “I had been asked by Commander Virion to help you, General Arthur, with your training, but my primary job is to keep the princess safe at all times. By being here together, we are essentially achieving two goals at once.”
I glanced back at Kathyln, who nodded shyly in agreement. “Nothing much else to do besides my occasional training with Master Varay, so I’m here to help.”
“The princess and a knight. Classic pair,” the gruff dwarf sitting on a raised stone pillar smirked. He scratched at his large bulbous nose that led to a thick bush of white covering the lower half of his face. He was tall in comparison to most dwarves I’d seen, but that might’ve been from the illusion caused by his elevated seat. One thing for sure, though, was that his body looked to be composed completely of muscle. With thick, striated bulbs of hardened flesh covering his arms and body, I winced when he gripped my hand with his large calloused one.
“Pleasure to meet you, Young General. My name is Buhndemog Lonuid, but most call me Buhnd,” he said, his grip unrelenting.
Whether it was to gauge me or to assert his dominance over a young—possibly arrogant—lance, I didn’t know, but I reciprocated his greeting with a firm grip of my own.
The assimilation I had gone through as a child after inheriting Sylvia’s Dragon Will meant my body was stronger than it appeared. That, with the fact that I had practically lived this whole life with a sword in my hand meant that I could hold my own even against this bearded ball of muscle.
The tiniest smirk cracked the corner of his lip and he let go. “Not bad. Not bad.”
“Careful, Buhnd. The kid didn’t become a lance with just a pretty face,” Virion teased. “Arthur, this musclehead has been a close friend of mine for quite a few years. He may look like this but he’s a genius when it comes to earth-affinity magic. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot.”
“What’s wrong with my looks?” Buhnd snapped. “I’ll have you know that I’m still quite the ladies’ man back home.”
“No one said anything was wrong with them,” Virion dismissed. “Now, stop being sensitive.”
I studied the two bickering, holding my tongue from all the questions I had.
Just by the thick silver aura he emitted, which was almost visible to the naked eye, he was definitely a powerful individual. If he was so close to Virion, I didn’t understand why he hadn’t been chosen to be the dwarven representative rather than Rahdeas.
Because of the recent events, it was obvious that Virion had introduced Buhnd as a friend to alleviate my initial suspicions of him, but just the fact that he was a dwarf I had never seen before put me on edge.
<i>I guess that makes me racist</i>. I suppressed a chuckle.
Race in this world was much less subtle than back in my old world, but I never considered myself one to discriminate based on outer appearances or locations of birth. However, witnessing a fairly large faction of dwarves cooperating with our enemies as well as being personally betrayed by a powerful dwarf did harden me of my previous fair-mindedness.
My attention abruptly turned to the only person I had yet been introduced to by a loud, surly yawn.
As if the yawn had been his cue to be introduced, Virion spoke. “Arthur, this is Camus Selaridon. He’s a—”
“The boy doesn’t need to know any more than my name. I’m here to spar with him. Any information beyond that is irrelevant,” Camus cut him off.
I was shocked to see Virion being told off. He was the leader of this continent’s entire military, after all. Again, I held my tongue after seeing Virion’s unperturbed expression, but made a mental note to ask the commander who exactly Camus was in secret.
Assuming the mysterious elder wouldn’t be fond of an excessive greeting, I simply dipped my head and introduced myself before taking a closer look at him. Long silvery-blonde hair fell down to his shoulders in disheveled locks, covering his forehead and eyes. Long pointed ears poked out from the sides of his head, indicating he was of elven descent. Unlike most elves I had met though, he took no care of his outward appearance and, by the stench emanating from his clothes and body, hygiene.
“Well!” Virion broke the silence. “I’m sure all of you are going to be well acquainted these next several weeks so, while I’d love to stay and watch, I get the pleasure of spending my time looking over mountains of paperwork!”
With a tired sigh, our commander left the training room, his shoulders just a bit more slumped over than before.
Virion’s departure left us a moment of silence, which I used to survey the training room.
The place wasn’t anything extravagant, just a large dirt field a little less than fifty yards long and no more than thirty yards wide enclosed by walls and a ceiling of mana-reinforced metal. There was a small pond off to the far left corner of the room, but other than the door on the opposite wall, it was just a large space to train.
The sight of Emily enthusiastically waving her arm at us got my attention.
“I finished setting up for the most part! There’s a bunch I want to go over before you start your training,” she said, wiping the sweat off her forehead.
Looking down at the equipment that had spawned from the giant wooden box I had carried inside, I was surprised at how familiar it looked. It was a metal panel about the length of my arm span littered with gauges and knobs. It resembled some sort of ancient control center on a ship from my previous world with the exception of the crystals on either side of it. One was large and clear while the other smaller crystal had a blue tint to it.
The panel had a cluster of wires leading to the wall of the training room—more specifically a large disk attached to the wall. I hadn’t paid much attention when I looked before but the metal disks didn’t seem to be a part of the design. They looked to be embedded into the wall and were spaced out evenly.
The panel that Emily gingerly stroked looked like an archaic form of the technology from my previous world.
“Ah! One more thing!” Emily exclaimed, practically diving head first into the box. She pulled out what looked like pieces of a leather armor but with the same wires connecting the different parts together. Embedded in the bottom center of what appeared to be the breastplate of the set was the same blue crystal that was on the right end of the metal panel.
Emily heaved the leather armor in her arms and walked to me. “Miss Emeria, if you wouldn’t mind helping me put this on General Arthur.”
“Of course.” Alanis nodded, and I found myself being dressed in a rather ridiculous-looking getup.
The ‘armor,’ seemed more like a sensory receiver rather than protective clothing. I would be forced to wear the gloves, breastplate, arm and leg bands, and shoes throughout the training.
“Perfect. You look great!” Emily said approvingly, adjusting my breastplate so that the blue crystal embedded on there would be directly over my sternum, the area where my mana core was located.
“Thanks,” I replied sheepishly, completely unconvinced. The armor looked bulky but it was soft and flexible enough where I wasn’t too worried about it hindering my movements.
Kathyln and the three elders watched silently, enraptured by the sight of this unusual equipment, until Buhnd finally spoke up. “So exactly what is the point of all of these toys?”
Emily shifted her glasses and spoke. “I don’t want to spoil anything, but I guess a bit of a heads up is fair. General Arthur is an anomaly in our continent—being the only known quadra-elemental mage and all—so, while he’s been excelling in most aspects of mana manipulation, it’s come to my attention that he’s begun to plateau in utilization of elemental magic.”
“What about his training with the asuras?” Kathyln asked.
“That was mainly technical training for augmented close combat,” I answered. “While I did pick up a few techniques, Emily is right in that I’ve been relying heavily on ice and lightning magic these days. I’m hoping that by training with all of you, I’ll eventually be able to better utilize all of the elements that I’m capable of controlling.”
“I see, I see.” Buhnd idly stroked his beard before shivering. “Yeah, even thinking about using <i>one</i> other element gives me a headache. To be a quadra-elemental on top of being able to use ice and lightning… ugh.”
“General Arthur’s mental capacity isn’t as restricted as yours is, so I’m sure he’ll learn,” Hester chimed, a smirk etched onto her wrinkled face.
Buhnd whipped his head. “What’d you say, Grandma? My mental capacity is <i>fully</i> unrestricted!”
The fire mage shook her head, letting out a sigh.
“Now now,” Emily carried the metal panel and gently set it on the ground near us. “Instead of arguing, I’d appreciate it if all four of you place your hands herel and enfuse some of your mana into the clear crystal to power up the device.” She pointed to the left end of the metal panel.
Hester, and Buhnd looked at one another, mentally trying to decide which one of them would go first, when Camus stepped up and placed his palm over the clear crystal.
“Like this, right?” Suddenly a vast whirlwind ripped out of his body and swirled around him protectively.
Emily let out a startled shriek before tumbling to her back from the sudden force. The rest of us were able to brace ourselves and watch as the fierce gale condensed into the hand on top of the crystal. The once clear gem lit up in a shade of gray just before the entire panel whirred to life. The gauges swayed erratically before settling into place.
“Show off,” Buhnd grumbled.
I had been so focused on the panel that when the room suddenly buzzed from all directions, I instinctively raised a layer of mana around my body.
“It’s just the apparatus powering on.” Emily quickly consoled. From the way the other mages present all got into a defensive stance, it seemed they were just as surprised as I was.
“I shall go next,” Hester said, stepping forward calmly.
After placing her hand on the crystal, she muttered a single word. “Burn.”
A blazing inferno erupted from her body, making her red robe appear to be completely made of fire. The ground around her became scorched but what amazed me was that when one of the tendrils of flame lashed at me, there was no heat. What seemed like a brazen display of strength turned out to be a demonstration of her control over her element.
The metal panel whirred once more, this time a little less so. Also, it might’ve just been my imagination, but I swore I heard Hester clicking her tongue.
“My turn!” Buhnd declared, flexing his fingers before placing it carefully over the crystal that had returned to its transparent state.
There was a beat of silence before the ground beneath us began trembling. Loose pebbles and rocks began hovering off the ground as an aura of brilliant topaz surrounded the bearded dwarf.
“Uh, Elders. I love the enthusiasm and all… but this wasn’t meant to be a contest,” Emily muttered weakly, her voice unsteady from the shaking ground.
“To a real man, everything’s a contest,” Buhnd grinned wickedly before letting out a sharp breath. Immediately, the earth cracked, spreading from his feet while the yellow aura gathered into his hand.
The panel trembled and made its familiar noise before the crystal sucked up and transferred the mana that Buhnd had supplied.
The muscular dwarf let out a satisfied grunt and stepped away. Emily immediately inspected her apparatus to see if any of the elders had damaged it.
“Princess Kathyln,” she called. “If you would please. I think just a little bit more will be enough.”
The princess nodded, tucking a strand of black hair behind her ear before sending out a wave of mana as well. Just by the tense expression on Kathyln’s face, I knew all too well that she had no intention of backing down from the unsaid challenge between the elders.
The temperature dropped to a noticeable degree as a haze of frost swirled around the princess. Some of the rocks near her already began freezing when the frost began taking form into what looked like translucent serpents. The frost serpents slithered in the air around her before coiling down her arm and disappearing into the crystal she had her palm on top of.
Emily’s apparatus buzzed with fervor while the clear crystal began swirling in a motley of colors.
The artificer began to turn a few knobs and flip a few switches before rotating the now-colorful crystal until a loud <i>click</i> occured.
“I’ll turn it on now,” Emily announced, her eagerness unconcealed.
She pushed down on the crystal until it was fully inside the panel and I could almost see the mana travelling from the device through the thick wires and into the rods on the wall. Everyone watched as strands of multicolored mana began shooting from one rod to another, spreading exponentially until the strands connected the metal rods to one another in a honeycombed pattern.
“What in the world…” Buhnd breathed, his neck stretched out as he gazed at the walls and ceiling of the room.
“The floor has the same sensors buried,” Emily added proudly. “Now, before I go over what all of this is, General Arthur, I believe Miss Emeria has something she needs to do.”
I turned to my training attendant. “Alanis?”
She walked to me after putting down the clipboard she had been holding. “It won’t take long, General Arthur. Please give me your hand.”
Curious, I took off the glove, letting it dangle by the wire it was attached to. Alanis gently wrapped both her hands around my mine and began chanting with her eyes shut.
Once she finished, Alanis’ eyes snapped open. Her eyes had surely been pink and blue, yet when she gazed at me once more, her eyes had turned a shimmering silver. A faint emerald aura pulsed around her and began spreading onto me as well.
“Please, stand still for a moment, General Arthur,” she said, her voice seeming to echo. Alanis’ silver eyes darted left and right, up and down, studying me indepthly until her green aura faded and her silver eyes reverted to their normal colors.
“Scans are complete,” Alanis announced before walking back and scribbling furiously.
“What was that?” I asked. The hand that the elf had held tingled.
Alanis looked up from her clipboard and opened her mouth to speak when Emily quickly covered her mouth. “Hehe, we’ll tell you everything later. For now, why don’t we start with the training?”
“The lady has spoken!” Buhnd agreed, swinging his arms. “My limbs were beginning to calcify from staying still for so long.”
Hester rolled her eyes. “I hardly think that’s possible, but I agree with the dwarf. Princess Kathyln had told me much about you, General Arthur, and I’m quite curious to see if you live up to her exceedingly high standards.”
“It’s not like that,” Kathyln quickly amended, pushing her guardian away.
Smiling, I followed her and the three elders to the center of the room. We distanced ourselves roughly thirty feet from each other and I was surrounded on all sides. The princess positioned herself close to the pond in the rear corner with Buhnd to her left and the silent Camus to her right. My mind raced as I tried deciding which one I should start with my back to. Adrenaline coursed through my body, coalescing with the mana streaming through my limbs. The familiar feeling of my dry mouth and cold sweat rolling down my cheek told me all I needed to about the situation I was in.
The pressure that the four of them gave off sent chills down my spine, but my smile only grew wider. I licked my lips and lowered myself into a defensive stance. “Let’s begin.”