INSIGNIFICANT ADVENTURER’S POV:
“Hey hey, did you hear about the rumor going on?” I asked as I put down my mug of beer.
A burly man sitting at the same table finished off his glass before slamming it on the table. “If you’re talking about that famous masked swordsman, I say bullshit!”
From his flushed cheeks to his glazed eyes, it didn’t take a genius to tell he was drunk.
“No, apparently it’s true! An acquaintance of mine supposedly once teamed with him. He’s traveling with Jasmine Flamesworth, so it’s hard to miss him.” A skinny lad with his hair tied in a bun came over to our table to join in on the gossip.
“So? What did your so called ‘acquaintance’ say about him?” The drunkard exclaimed, getting impatient.
“Well, they went together to explore a minor dungeon that had been cleared before. Apparently, he’s pretty short! I think the rumors are true in that he’s not a mage.” The thin lad just shook his head in wonder.
“Bah! I call bullshit! It’s either that masked swordsman is an augmenter, or the rumors are just exaggerated! Did you hear some of the stories going around about him? There was even one rumor that he solo-cleared a dungeon by himself! Is that even possible? B-class augmenters can’t do that, even if it’s a low-level dungeon, and you expect me to believe an ordinary swordsman can?” The drunkard waved his empty mug for a refill on his beer.
“Yeah man, I would take some of those rumors with a pinch of salt. That solo-clear rumor… didn’t the guy also say that Jasmine Flamesworth went in with him? She probably helped him inside, right?” I took another sip, feeling a little lightheaded.
“Right, right? I’m telling you dunderheads, that swordsman is probably not even that strong! Half those rumors are probably rumors of Jasmine Flamesworth! That half-wit warrior dares to call himself a swordsman? Bring him here! I’ll take him on any day!”
Things were getting loud as the burly drunk was getting more and more intoxicated. The hottest topic these days amongst adventurers were about the masked swordsman. Some stories had said that he was Jasmine Flamesworth’s apprentice, but that was a little far-fetched. It was made known that he took a rank exam to place into B rank, which was already rare enough. More shocking than that, though, was he was now at A class! Moving a full rank up in two years’ time?
I just shook my head as I pitied myself. Here I was, a borderline C-class adventurer. I had failed the exam to move up a class three times these past three years. Once you gathered enough merit points from going into dungeons and completing missions and quests, adventurers were allowed the chance to move up a class upon passing an exam.
The exam differed for each class, but supposedly, to go into the A rank, which was the first class considered ‘elite.’ the examinee had to fight two-on-one with two A-rank adventurers and last for ten minutes.
The weird thing was that when some of the rumors had reached the examinees that were there with the masked swordsman when he took his exam, they all said that he was an augmenter. The rumor got so big around him because everyone who had been on a dungeon exploration with him had said that he never used mana but was still a monster.
The burly man was sobering up a little now, and was just annoyed by the fact that a midget swordsman was supposedly better than him. He was a Veteran B-class augmenter after all; I could imagine that was a pretty big source of pride for him.
The squeaky door to the pub opened and I dropped the fork that was in my hand as I saw a figure entering.
“Well speak of the devil! The little midget swordsman everyone’s hyped up about is here! Where’s your little guardian?” The burly man got up from his seat with a snide grin on his face, cheeks still red.
The very same masked swordsman, the one responsible for all of the crazy rumors…he was here in the flesh!
I saw his blue eyes underneath the mask look up at the burly man with an unknown expression. He was wearing a simple black coat that came down to his mid-thigh, the hood on the coat covering up what the mask couldn’t. If I were just passing by, even with a mask and two swords, I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything particular about him, but when you looked carefully, he was an odd sight. The masked figure stood at about 1.6m, which wasn’t that tall. He had a very slim figure underneath his coat, which either suggested he was a normal person, or a conjurer. Strapped behind him was a normal short sword on top and a sleek black stick on the bottom. I couldn’t help wondering if he was actually a conjurer, and that was his staff.
After casting a glance at the drunkard that was calling him out, the masked man simply walked past him, uninterested, as if he wasn’t worth the time.
“Hey bastard! Are you ignoring me? Just because you’re a little famous for your bullshit rumors, you think you’re better than me?” The drunkard hit his last straw as he unsheathed the giantsword from his back and held it above his head to swing down.
“C-Calm down! You know you’re not allowed to kill someone in here!” I tried to quell the man, holding my arms up to stop his sword from swinging, but the masked man didn’t even turn back and just kept walking towards the front counter.
This pissed off the drunk even more as he augmented his body and sword, which both emitted a silvery glow, pushed me aside, and swung down at the masked swordsman.
A thundering explosion resounded, and I stared in horror, imagining the bloody corpse that was probably cleaved in two from the force of that blow. However, contrary to what I expected, the sword had created a small crater next to the masked man, missing him by just a hair’s breadth.
Whew… At least the drunk had enough sense to not kill the man; he probably just wanted to scare him.
I stood back up about to calm the burly man down from swinging again, but when I turned to him, I saw that his face was twisted into a shocked, seething expression.
“GRAAH!” He swung his sword again, lifting it out of the small depression he had made on the ground. The customers that were seated in the dining room of the inn were all staring now, some even cheering for gore.
With mana reinforcing the burly man’s body and his greatsword, no matter how drunk he was; his power and speed were no joke. He attacked with a flurry of swings that obliterated the wooden seats and tables in the way but no matter how much he had attacked, his sword always missed. The man’s sword was met with empty air as the masked swordsman dipped and swayed to avoid everything. The crazy part though was that he didn’t take a single step from his position.
After about a minute-long barrage of attacks by the burly man and his greatsword, he was sweating profusely as his face wrinkled his frustration, but he was more cautious now as he took a step back.
“Is dodging the only thing you can do? I guess your guardian did all of the hard work for you while all you did was run away!” The man gave him a menacing smile, still confident that he could win against the masked man. He put both hands on the grip of his sword and swung again, this time, much faster than his previous attacks.
With a sharp clang, the burly drunk’s greatsword that probably weighed more than the masked man himself was sent flying but I didn’t know how. The sound made it seem like the sword had been met with metal from another sword but I couldn’t see it. I didn’t even see the masked swordsman pull out his weapon.
“Are you done?” the masked man asked.
“A-Aah…” was the only sound I heard from the drunk before we all dropped to the ground.
Suddenly, I felt like I was deep underwater. I couldn’t breathe and the surrounding air seemed to want to crush me.
What was this?
I’d heard that some elite fighters were able to produce a killing intent that could scare mana beasts away, but what the hell was this? Was there such a thing as a killing intent that could actually kill people?
Slowly turning my head to face the masked man who was obviously the source of this bloodthirst, I felt the blood drain from my face as I stared at him.
I couldn’t tell what sort of expression he had under his mask but I didn’t need to. There seemed to be this dark, baleful aura bursting out of him. I could’ve sworn it felt like that dark aura around him was alive and raging. The killing intent wasn’t even focused on me but I had to will myself to keep from wetting my pants.
I witnessed, then, the sorry state that the drunk was in. His eyes were wide and his body stiff, as if he was petrified. He was muttering something and I could see tears streaming down his cheeks while the crotch area from his pants were a darker shade.
Suddenly, he retracted his bloodthirst and I could breathe again. I desperately took in deep gulps of air and ended up coughing. I could see the other adventurers and the workers of the inn doing the same, some in a worse state than I was.
The masked man turned back to the counter and faced the trembling waitress at the front desk as her face was a full three shades lighter than it was before.
“I believe there’s a sack of rations under the name ‘Note’ that a friend of mine ordered not too long ago,” the masked man spoke, his baritone voice clear and precise.
“Y-Yes! I’ll get that for you right away!”
He gave a slight nod to the waitress as she handed him a sack of food, and he left as the whole inn just watched him go off, not daring to make a sound.
ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
“What took so long?” Jasmine divided the food and put it into each of the pouches attached to the saddle of our horses.
“Ah, I had a little quarrel with one of the adventurers at the inn! Haha.” I scratched my head as I hopped on my brown mount.
I could feel Jasmine staring at me suspiciously, her half-closed eyes imagining what sort of mischief I had created.
“Don’t mind, don’t mind! I didn’t make a big deal out of it! I didn’t even hurt the guy!” I just waved my hand, trying to persuade Jasmine from going back to Dragonspine Inn.
Jasmine just shook her head and mounted her horse as well, snapping at the reigns to go.
“Haap!” I did the same as we headed towards our destination.
As we traveled, I thought back to the last two years. Jasmine wanted me to get to A class as soon as possible to explore the dungeon we were heading towards today. Along the journey to raise my class, she’d ranked up as well, becoming an AA-class Adventurer. There was still quite a bit of a level difference between her and Kaspian but she did improve a lot during these two years. When we weren’t on missions or exploring low-class dungeons, we were sparring. At night, I made sure to meditate for at least a few hours before I went to sleep. During these past two years, I broke through into the light orange stage, which I counted as a success considering how much time I had spent meditating.
No. The biggest improvement throughout this period was definitely my body. Not using mana made me take a step back and remember how to use my body and sword efficiently so I could be that much better when I augmented myself. I couldn’t say I was at 100% in terms of strength, since the physical reach of my limbs and my muscles are not as developed as they had been when I was an adult, but I no longer felt awkward or restrained when I fought now. I fine-tuned some of my sword techniques to better fit my current body, which I’d need to improve along the way.
It was far from an easy ride, and I had scars on my body to prove it, but I knew it was worth it. Coupled with my dragon will-assimilated body and the use of mana rotation, I could finally be at ease in knowing that I was on the right track for the future.
Jasmine had gotten stronger than ever before, too. While journeying with her, I had noticed that her biggest flaw was in her swordsmanship. Growing up, only learning fire attribute skills for a little while until she was deemed unfit, she had been on her own in learning how to best control her swords to fit her wind attribute skills.
I wasn’t the best at wind but that didn’t mean I couldn’t teach her a few tricks. She passed the AA class examination by utilizing the new skills I had taught her, along with her double-blade techniques that she had developed on her own. I wanted to take the AA class exam as well, but the merit point requirements made it so I would need to complete a lot more missions and clear many more dungeons before being eligible.
I sent out a mental transmission to Sylvie. She’d been acting strange ever since we had come to the Beast Glades. We would normally always keep in touch, but for some reason, she didn’t want to come meet me yet, even when I had gone back to Xyrus to visit my family. Every time I told her to come back, she responded by saying there was something she needed to finish before coming back. Despite all of that, however, I could definitely tell how much she’d matured over the course of the years. We were now able to hold conversations and her emotions had developed to become much complex than before, sometimes to a fault.
While I went home a few times during the first year, since last year, it’d taken too long to make the trip back to Xyrus and come back to the dungeons. Instead, we stuck to letters and meeting my parents every so often at Guild Hall, where the transportation gates were. My mother had been pretty dissatisfied by this fact but she understood to a certain extent. I could tell my father had been keeping up with his training because he had broken through into the solid orange stage now, which was impressive for someone his age. I could still recall the goofy grin he had plastered on his face as he made sure to point out who I had gotten my impressive talent in mana from.
They’d also told me a lot about what was happening at the Helstea House. My sister was still quite a bit away from forming her mana core, but I was surprised when I had learned that Lilia awakened a couple of weeks ago. Her awakening caused her bed to implode, which was about average for a mage. Her parents were ecstatic by this to say the least, and didn’t wait to enroll her into Xyrus Academy. After being tested, while her mana core had been measured to be about average, it turned out the efficiency of her mana veins were excellent. She had a high capacity to absorb mana from her surroundings, which was essential for all conjurers. The fact that Lilia would be my senior at school when I started going next year was amusing.
“We’re here,” Jasmine announced, snapping me out of my thoughts. At her signal, the two of us brought our horses to a slow trot into a small clearing in the woods.
The clearing that was surrounded by tall trees, and where the dungeon entrance was located, was littered with a group of adventurers clearing their camp, some checking their weapons as they got ready to go in.
“I guess we’re stuck with more augmenters,” an all-too-familiar voice rang as he clicked his tongue. Getting off of my mount, I made my way towards the group of adventurers when the blond fire conjurer from the examination site shot me a distasteful look. Jasmine followed behind me as an armored augmenter stepped forth and held out his hand in front of him, gesturing for a shake.
“Please don’t mind Lucas and let me introduce you to the party. My name is Reginald Brooks, and I’m an A-class augmenter. I am an earth attribute yellow stage core that specializes in using a hammer.” He pointed at the giant warhammer lying on the ground where the group stood.
Studying Reginald, the man had short, messy brown hair that matched his eyes. His square jaw that was covered in a thick beard, coupled with his near-two-meter height and broad shoulders made for a very intimidating man.
The augmenters in the group, excluding Jasmine and me, consisted of Reginald, Kriol, and Brald. Kriol was a very defensive, water attribute augmenter that only wielded a gigantic shield as his weapon. He was a head shorter than Reginald with a large belly that indicated the man loved his beer by the barrel. I could tell he was strong, though, by how firm his body was overall, despite his belly that squeezed out of his armor.
Brald was a very noble-looking man that stood just a bit shorter than Reginald. He wore a white, metal armor that covered his shoulders and chest only, with a luxurious mantle flowing behind him. With trimmed blond hair and sharp, hazel eyes, he seemed like a real lady-killer. To my surprise, he was a real gentleman and offered us handshakes and a rather innocent smile.
“I go by Brald and just became an AA-class, light yellow stage augmenter. I am a fire attribute augmenter that specializes in the broadsword and shield. I’ll be the one to lead us today.” He beamed, shying away after meeting eyes with Jasmine.
After the augmenters introduced themselves, the conjurers stepped up. Including Lucas, there were four other conjurers. One of them was a lanky man and the other, a girl, while the last one was the serious-looking, bespectacled black-haired boy that I had seen at the examination site.
What was his name again…?
“My name is Elijah Knight. A-class, dark orange stage conjurer… single specialization in Earth,” he said tersely.
I couldn’t help but eye him carefully. There had to be more than that. He wouldn’t be able to get by with skipping the exam and being placed into B rank by just being an earth conjurer, no matter how young he was.
The beady-eyed lanky man that looked well into his thirties came forth next. He had a smug look on his face despite his less than attractive appearance, with his crooked nose and greasy brown hair parted down the middle. “Ahem! I go by Oliver and I am an A-class, dark yellow stage conjurer. I am an emitter deviant, specializing in healing.” He stuck his jaw out smugly as he crossed his arms in content.
Despite his attitude, it was reassuring to have a healer in the party.
“Hi! My name is Samantha but you guys can just call me Sammy! Dark yellow stage, A-class conjurer with a single specialization in water at your service!” She threw in a wink in my direction. Samantha looked to be around her mid-twenties and was an attractive woman but by her attitude, I’m sure she was aware. She had wavy blond hair that flowed down her shoulders and light blue eyes that looked almost grey. Her eyes were big and round; making her look deceivingly innocent, and her petite height complimented that fact well. The girl constantly swayed her hips as she switched the leg she was putting her weight on, attracting sideway glances from the men nearby; Oliver was especially engrossed.
“Jasmine, light-yellow stage, AA-class augmenter. Wind attribute with dual swords,” my partner said without batting an eye.
“Note, light orange stage, A-class augmenter. Fire attribute with specialization in sword,” I added impatiently.
Brald smiled at us, “Welcome, you two! I’m certainly glad to have another AA class in the group!” The other two augmenters nodded in agreement while Oliver and Lucas’s apathetic faces showed they didn’t care. When asked for an introduction by Brald, Lucas practically spat out that he was a fire-specialized conjurer who was at dark yellow stage. Through all of this, Elijah kept his stone face while I was already beginning to grow annoyed by the constant glances Samantha shot at me, trying to look through the mask somehow.
“I can’t help but ask. Mr. Note, there have been various rumors about you saying that you are not an augmenter, yet you clearly just announced that you are,” Reginald queried, picking up his giant hammer and holding it up on his shoulder.
“I haven’t been using my magic for a while due to personal reasons. That must’ve been the reason why those rumors came up.” I just shrugged without breaking stride.
Noticing that I didn’t want to indulge their curiosity, he coughed uncomfortably and set up the formation for the party.
It would basically be Brald in the front, since his shield and sword style was the best fit for the front line. Beside him were Reginald and I, who both specialized in offense. Guarding the rear was Kriol with his gigantic shield to prevent us from getting flanked and Jasmine beside him, ready to kill anything that may get past him. We were all in charge of protecting the four conjurers with Oliver in the dead center, the most protected, since he was our healer.
“We should head out immediately,” Brald declared. He assumed the position as the leader since he was the front line and the only other AA class besides the quiet Jasmine.
This dungeon was deemed AA class, meaning parties with only A class and above were allowed to enter. Brald recently found out that there was a hidden tunnel that led to an unexplored portion of the dungeon, which we would be going into today; this meant that most of our dungeon-exploring would be through uncharted areas. Everyone unsheathed their weapons while even the conjurers wiped their smug expressions as we stepped into the dungeon named by the first explorers: “The Dire Tombs.”