With both Jasmine and Elijah supporting my powerless body, we had managed to make our way back to the surface of the cavern where we fought the elderwood guardian. The once serene field of grass was in ruins as toppled trees and fallen stalactites lay scattered and splintered amongst fissured grounds.
“Do you think anyone else survived?” I asked, carefully scanning the mess around us.
“Well, Reginald and Brald were both frozen together with the mana beast from the last attack you used. I wasn’t close enough to save Samantha either, after she got knocked off of you and landed near the elderwood guardian. I conjured a metal shelter to keep her safe from the debris but I’m not sure if she was able to survive,” Elijah reported.
Between the after effects from using the second phase and worrying about Jasmine, I was a bit ashamed to say that I hadn’t really thought about the rest of the party. I guess when I didn’t see anyone else in the shelter with us, I immediately assumed they didn’t make it.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to help Samantha in time, even if she is alive by the time we find her under all of this mess,” I sighed. “We still need to find the elderwood guardian’s beast core.”
“I think I’ll be able to help with the first problem.” Elijah knelt down, placing a palm on the ground. “Give me a few minutes.”
“Scan,” the bespectacled boy muttered as a thin wave of mana spread out of his hand.
The spell that Elijah had just invoked, as far as I knew, was usually made to scan the ground for signs of approaching enemies. Usually, the caster would be able to hear footsteps and, if he was that skilled, perhaps distinguish the number of footsteps. However, to encompass not only the surface of the floor, but the ground beneath it, I couldn’t help but become more and more intrigued by this boy.
After a few, tense minutes, Elijah’s furrowed brows lifted into an expression of surprise. “I know where Samantha is and her heart’s still beating!”
A sleek, metallic tent rose from the ground at Elijah’s invocation and opened up in front of us to reveal Samantha.
By the state the conjurer was in, she was just barely hanging in there. Both her legs had been broken clean in multiple locations from where the elderwood’s tendrils had grasped her. Splinters of white jutted out from the bloody mess that were her legs as a milky, yellow pus indicated that her wounds had already become infected.
The good news, if we could even call it that, was that only her legs had incurred serious damage. The rest of her body had cuts and bruises but was otherwise unharmed.
Elijah’s face contorted in horror at the sight as he immediately turned around and lurched forward to vomit.
Jasmine rushed towards her and knelt, not knowing what she had to do to help her.
Limping toward Samantha, I checked her neck for her pulse and placed a hand on her forehead. “Well, she doesn’t have a fever yet and her pulse is steady enough where I don’t think her life will be in danger anytime soon. The silver lining is that she’s unconscious.”
“Some silver lining,” Elijah coughed as he convulsed into another dry heave.
As Jasmine carefully cradled the unconscious Samantha in her arms, I thought back to when the peppy conjurer had made attempts at striking up a conversation with her. With the two of them being the only girls, Samantha was relentless in her pursuit at befriending the brusque Jasmine. Eventually, Jasmine had started to respond, even smiling at times.
I thought about our next course of action. If we wanted to get Samantha to safety, I would need to give up on looking for the beast core for now. However, with Samantha in her state and my body being barely capable of standing on its own, the best thing to do was for Elijah and Jasmine to take Samantha to a medic before coming back down for me.
“Elijah,” I called out to my friend, who was now gasping for air.
Just as I was about to give my instructions, a thundering roar rumbled throughout the cavern, shaking a few stalactites loose from the ceiling.
“What now?!” Elijah groaned, more in resignation than in fear.
‘Papa! I’m here!’ Sylv cried out in my mind.
“It’s okay, Elijah,” I coaxed, as Jasmine lowered the dagger she had already unsheathed.
Despite the childlike voice that rang in my head, the dragon that stood before me was far from anything akin to a child.
I let out a whistle. “Wow, Sylv. You gained weight… and height, and width.”
Sylvie, the small cat-like dragon that had always sat on top of my head was now almost the spitting image of the dragon I named her after.
Her body wasn’t as large as Sylvia’s, but it was still over eight meters long. I could now say with full confidence that Sylvie was indeed a dragon. Her scales had an obsidian-black sheen, reflecting the light from the dungeon in an almost divine way. The two horns that sprouted out of her head were sharper and even more menacing than the titan’s horns I had seen years ago. With wings similar to Sylvia’s—except with pitch-black feathers—and blood-red spikes that protruded along the ridge of her spine, she exuded a menacing, if not baleful, aura around her. The once adorable face and muzzle of hers was now elegant and sharp, her black sclera and yellow irises reminding me of a particularly bright topaz shining in the dead of night.
Sylv’s powerful limbs—armored with jagged spikes at the elbows and knees—lifted as she approached me with a graceful poise, despite her large size. She lowered her head that was as large as my torso, bringing her snout close to mine.
Suddenly, her snake-like tongue shot out as she licked my face with the force to lift me from the ground.
“My God, your breath is foul, Sylv,” I sputtered, barely able to keep myself upright.
‘Hehe!’ Sylv’s childish giggle rang in my head.
“I-Is that a wyvern? But it has four limbs. I-It can’t be, right? Is that a d-d-d—”
“I’m pretty sure she’s a dragon,” I finished for the dumbfounded Elijah.
He stared up at the sight of the fearsome beast, his face filled with more horror than when he had seen the elderwood guardian.
Jasmine, who had already known about my bond, was still trembling at the sight of my juvenile dragon as she clutched Samantha close to her chest.
“Elijah, this is my bond, Sylvie.” I stretched my hand out to rub my dragon’s snout, causing her hind leg to thump the ground in pleasure.
I couldn’t help but chortle at how little Sylvie had changed on the inside despite her dramatic transformation.
Turning to face Elijah, I put on a grim face. “Jasmine already knew about this, but I want you to promise to keep this a secret as well. Dragons have been thought to have been extinct for centuries now, so if anyone were to suddenly see Sylvie… well, you know what greed can do to someone.”
Elijah nodded frantically in response, his glasses hanging loose on his crooked nose.
“We need to hurry, though. It worked out well that Sylvie came when she did. Let’s move Samantha on Sylvie’s back.” I was barely able to stand up on my own now, but walking more than a few steps was out of the question.
I watched as Elijah and Jasmine carefully loaded the unconscious conjurer onto Sylv’s back before they helped me up as well.
It was decided that only Samantha and I would ride Sylv to the first cavern of the dungeon while Jasmine and Elijah would follow close behind.
The journey back up only took a few hours compared to the full day we needed when we had travelled down.
‘Sylv, can you still transform?’ I asked as we ascended up toward the entrance of the dungeon. My mind was spinning, trying to come up with a way to protect her from greedy nobles in case she couldn’t, but thankfully, she said that she could still change into a miniature form.
‘What did you do during this time, anyway? How did you grow so quickly?’ I sent Sylv while lying down against her long neck.
‘I hunted a lot of monsters and ate their mana cores! I missed you a lot. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you while you were here.’ Another gust of wind formed beneath us as she flapped her wings down, accelerating towards our destination.
It seemed like her body wasn’t able to grow without consuming mana cores, which reminded me of the beast core the elderwood guardian had dropped. At this point, I could only hope that it would stay hidden from adventurers until I went back down.
When we arrived at the first cavern—where the batrunners had been—I preparing myself to fight a couple of them in this crippled state. However, to my surprise, as soon as the batrunners saw Sylvie, they became so terrified, they simply buried their heads in the ground off in the opposite corner of the cave.
Jasmine and Elijah arrived a little less than an hour later, both heaving for breath. Sylv’s body illuminated as she shrank back down into the size of a kitten at my mention, but I noticed the change in her appearance even in this form. Her red spikes had disappeared and she was pitch black—apart from her sharp yellow irises. All-in-all, she resembled a demonic, but harmless, black cat.
Sputtering out a series of pained coughs, Samantha stirred awake. As soon as she had become conscious enough to feel the pain in her legs, her eyes widened as she gasped from the agony. She had her arms wrapped around herself as she trembled.
“Y-You guys all made it,” she croaked, her body trembling, and her face contorted from the pain. Her face was pale and I could tell she was beginning to burn up by the cold sweat that rolled down her forehead. Her lips were white and cracked as deep bags weighed down beneath her once bright eyes.
“Stop talking,” I ordered. “You need to save your energy. Don’t worry, we’ll get you help soon.”
Ignoring me, she carefully reached into her robe, pulling out my mask and something else. “Look what I f-found.”
“That’s—” Elijah careened close to Samantha’s hand.
“The elderwood’s beast core,” I finished, gently taking it from Samantha. “Nice work. I’ll hold onto this until I get the chance to sell it. I think splitting it amongst us would be the best way.”
“Are you kidding me?” Elijah shook his head. “I don’t want it.”
“Me neither. You deserve it, Arthur,” Jasmine agreed.
“What? You guys don’t want—”
“I’m just happy to be alive. I think it’s fair that the one who killed it gets to reap the rewards,” Samantha whispered, her consciousness wavering.
I studied the dull green stone, webbed with intricate lines of gray. “Thanks everyone.”
Samantha’s lips curled up into a faint smile before she fell asleep again in Jasmine’s arms.
I put the mask on my face and turned my gaze to my guardian. “Jasmine, can you and Elijah go first to the Guild Hall and get help back down here? I’ll stay here with Samantha.”
With a nod from the two of them, they headed out back up to the surface. Since it would take them at least four hours to send the message and arrive back, I planned on absorbing the elderwood’s beast core. With the aid from the powerful core—and with my body that had been assimilated with Sylvia’s will—I predicted that I should be able to make a full recovery by the time they came back.
Before I began my meditation with the the beast core, I took out the parchment I had received from the Twin Horns and recorded a message, telling my parents that I’ll be coming home soon.
Forcing my unresponsive body into a cross-legged position. I took a deep breath with the elderwood guardian’s beast core in my hands, all the while thinking of what I should do with Lucas.
It wasn’t enough for me to just settle for petty revenge. I wanted to do something more. He was from a very powerful family of notorious mages and his blood gave him a certain amount of protection from the elves. Of course, with my connections with the royal family, I didn’t think it would matter much, but the Wykes family that he was a part of could make things more complicated than I wanted them to be.
I didn’t have much time to dwell on my options as I was stirred out of my meditation by the sound of footsteps approaching.
Judging from the uniforms, it was easy to assume that the people that filed in were the medics Jasmine and Elijah had sent. Within the group of medics was Kaspian, the lanky head of a Guild Hall branch. He was snapping orders at the medics and the few guards that he had brought along to protect the medics, just in case.
Hiding the mana core I couldn’t finish absorbing, I watched as the medics worked on Samantha. They used a mixture of herbs to anesthetize her and pushed back the bones into the right place. The field of medicine wasn’t that advanced in this world so I wasn’t sure that they would be able to fully heal Samantha’s legs, but I realized my worries were unnecessary when I saw an emitter begin working on her.
Kaspian walked towards me as I stood up. “Good evening, Mr. Note. I didn’t expect for us to be meeting like this. Ms. Flamesworth has told me the situation and I know how you must feel.”
“Oh, do you now? Then would you kindly inform me the current location of Lucas so that I may properly respond to his actions against our party?” I replied through gritted teeth. Despite Kaspian’s mild tone, I knew that he had personally come here to stop me from going after Lucas.
“I must advise you, Mr. Note, to refrain from taking actions against Mr. Wykes… right now.” He shook his head, confirming my assumption.
“And why not ‘right now’? My identity is a secret and I have the capability to easily erase that bug’s existence. Do you think you have the power to protect him from me?” My gaze was unrelenting as I took a step toward the thin man.
“Of course, I know I don’t possess the power to fight against you when you’re at your full strength, but I assure you that I can pose a threat to you right now,” he calmly replied, straightening his glasses. “But even if I could, I wouldn’t need to. Mr. Note, I am warning you because—believe it or not—I carry the obligation to care for you since you are affiliated with Ms. Flamesworth, even if she is the estranged daughter of the house. The Wykes are the type of people that will carry out revenge in the most extreme and brutal manner. Assuming that you do kill their precious son, Lucas, I know right now, you do not possess the power to kill the whole Wykes House. Even if they don’t know your identity, that won’t stop them from killing anyone that has had anything to do with you. This includes Ms. Flamesworth and the people she’s affiliated with, the Twin Horns. Going further than that, I believe the Wykes will further their revenge against you by going against all of the people close to the Twin Horns party, which includes Reynolds Leywin and his family.”
I could feel the blood running down my fists as my nails dug deeper into my palms.
He had me.
“Like I said, Mr. Note, I wish to be on your side. What I said about the Wykes Family is all from previous events in the past so I can assure you that they will stop at nothing from wiping out anyone that had to do with you, even if it they weren’t directly related. Until the day you hold the power and authority to protect the people you care for from them, I must advise you from acting against them for now. With that, I’ll take my leave. The Adventurer, Samantha, must be taken back to a facility to be properly cared for.” Giving me a curt bow, he walk away towards Samantha, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
I could only laugh at the pitiful state I was in. He was right. Until I could wipe away the whole Wykes House, it would be dangerous for my family and friends if I acted against them. No matter how much of an asshole he was, it wasn’t worth risking my loved ones.
Through clenched fists, I swore to myself that Lucas would regret this day.
Elijah and Jasmine appeared soon after with solemn expressions, obviously overhearing the conversation I had with the Guild Hall leader.
Each placing a consoling hand on my shoulders, Elijah and Jasmine followed me out of the Dire Tombs with Sylv trailing close behind.
We arrived at the Guild Hall located on the outskirts of the Beast Glades about two hours later. Samantha was resting in the recovery facility as Jasmine, Elijah and I were sprawled on the couches in a private room. Kaspian had temporarily moved from his office in Xyrus to this branch and was seated behind the desk in the room when the door suddenly flew open.
“You guys managed to make it out alive!” Behind a group of barrel-chested adventures posing as guards was Lucas.
Kaspian, seated a few feet away from us, leaned his head on his hand—vexed at the boy’s impertinence—as he locked gazes with me to remind me of our discussion.
Both Elijah and Jasmine sprang up from their seats, weapons ablaze as I remained in my seat. It took an amount of self control that I never knew I had to stop myself from lunging forward and skewering the brat to the door he dared come in through.
At this point, I couldn’t tell whether he was that confident or just plain stupid for not just betraying us, but mocking us immediately after.
I guess he wasn’t completely dumb, since he had the sense to at least bring some backup.
Lucas took a step forward, slapping the guard in front of him to move out of the way. “I wonder how you managed to escape from that terror of a beast. Did you have to sacrifice someone else to save yourselves? That whore, Samantha, is a cripple now, but she’s alive so I don’t think it was her. I don’t see Brald, though… don’t tell me you sacrificed hi—”
Before he had the time to finish his sentence, my fingers had already let go of the shortsword I had hidden behind me.
The next moment, Lucas let out a shrill scream as he clutched his right ear, blood leaking through the spaces between his fingers.
My backup sword that I had picked out from the Helstea Auction House had impaled itself deep into the wall behind Lucas, barely missing the head of the guard that stood behind him.
At the sounds of the hollow thud and scream, the guards whipped around to make sure their boss was okay before turning back to me with weapons held ready.
I stood up from my seat and walked steadily towards the pale Lucas, the entire room deathly silent.
“W-What do you think I’m paying you for?! Get him!” Lucas hissed, pointing at me with a trembling finger as his other hand still gripped his bleeding ear.
The guard closest to me lifted his axe in position to split me in two when I quickly used the scabbard of the shortsword I had just flung at Lucas to respond.
A sharp snap rang as the end of my scabbard met with the guard’s fingers. With a pained howl, he let go of his axe as he instinctively nursed his broken fingers.
Before the rest of the guards could react, I lunged myself towards the frightened Lucas. I could hear Kaspian gasp behind me in fear that I would cross the line, but my hand merely went to my sword impaled into the wall right behind the boy.
The blonde noble’s eyes nearly bulged outside of their sockets as his face was just inches away from mine.
“My apologies. I merely dropped my sword and wanted it back,” I whispered, my voice coming out deeper and more threatening, thanks to my mask.
I pried the blade out of the wall and sheathed it back into the cover I had used to break the guard’s fingers. Turning around, I sat back on the couch, nonchalantly motioning at Kaspian.
On cue, the guild leader hastily responded. “Now, now! Mr. Lucas, your ear is bleeding heavily. Let me escort you to the medical room to get that fixed up.”
Gently herding the noble brat and his guards out of the room, he turned back to me with an exasperated expression.
“You did well,” Jasmine broke the silence, taking a seat as well. “But I’m afraid you’ve made enemies with one of the strongest houses in the Kingdom of Sapin.”
“That’s fine. He won’t take action from what happened today. Despite that conceited attitude, Lucas is cautious. He knows that right now, if he doesn’t go against me, I won’t do anything more.”
Leaning forward, I gripped tightly at the black sword I had refused to unsheathe until the end. I vowed silently that this wouldn’t be the end.