Throughout the rest of the shopping trip, I was in a daze as my thoughts lingered on the transforming alleyway.
Was I already becoming senile?
“Mom… Aunt Tabitha… Do streets in Xyrus… er… move on their own?” The statement sounded as crazy as I thought, even though it came from my own lips.
“Huh? Moving streets?” I could almost see the manifestation of question marks on top of their heads as they gazed quizzically at me.
“Ahaha…. Never mind.” I let out a sigh as I looked back at the street where Xyrus Elixirs now stood.
“Did something happen at the elixir store, Arthur?” Tabitha asked.
“You didn’t cause trouble in there, did you?!” my mother followed.
“Do you assume I cause trouble every time I’m away, Mother?”
“Of course,” both my mother and sister responded in unison.
I clutch my chest over heart as I put on a hurt expression, getting a laugh out of everyone.
The rest of the shopping trip went by without any other occurrences that broke the laws of matter or physics. My new DC uniform had to be ordered from school since it was different from the rest of the school’s outfits so I didn’t have anything else I needed to buy.
My mother and sister, along with Tabitha, once again tried to use me as a human mannequin. This time, even the teenage store clerks joined in while occasionally taking peeks through the changing room curtains with stares comparable to starving animals looking at fresh meat.
Was it weird that I feared for my life more so on these occasions than when I fought in dungeons?
After hours of shopping, the staggering amount of clothes that filled the numerous bags were probably enough to open up a small store. Fortunately, the driver came by every hour or so to relieve us of the bulk of our purchases.
Out of that pile, the only clothes that belonged to me were a set of sleepwear that I found to be too comfortable not to buy. Supposedly it was made from the wool of a particular type of mana beast.
The sun began its further descent from the edge of the city, reminding me that Xyrus was indeed a floating plot of land.
As we reached the carriage waiting for us on the other end of the shopping district, I noticed that there was a separate wagon attached to the back, holding all the clothes and accessories we (they) bought.
“Mom, I’m going to stop by Xyrus before heading back home,” I said after placing the last of the bags I was holding onto the carriage.
“Why? Is something wrong?” A jolt of panic flashed in my mother’s eyes.
“Haha, no. I just thought it wouldn’t be good to keep everyone wondering if I was dead or alive,” I chuckled.
“Ahh, it was just that. Go on then, of course you should tell everyone that you’re back safe and sound. Just don’t make any other detours on the way back,” my mother responded, pinching my nose as she gave me a stern look.
“Gotcha!” My voice came out nasally as I replied.
Sylvie and I watched as everyone climbed into the carriage and left. Waving back to my sister who was yelling that I had to be back in time for dinner, I turned and headed towards Xyrus Academy.
Xyrus Academy wasn’t too far from the shopping district but it was still a bit of a distance to travel on foot. The sun was beginning to set as we made our way to Director Goodsky’s office, which was on the top floor of the second highest building in the school, losing only to the bell tower that served as a useful lookout post for the Disciplinary Committee.
As the academy towers got closer, I willed mana into my body and jumped up to the roof of a nearby building. Skirting from one building to the next, the view around me became an indistinct blur, the only thing clearly visible being Sylvie, who was racing alongside me, enjoying the breeze.
Making our way to school in silence, my mind began wandering.
It was when my mind wandered that I thought of things that I would rather not think of.
The scene of Alea’s last moments flashed through my mind. How she, in all of her glory and mightiness, had still been afraid of dying… dying alone. What if the one that I held in my arms hadn’t been Alea but Tess?
My body shivered at the thought.
How was she doing? Was she well? Did her assimilation go through all right? What if something went wrong…
No. You can’t think like that, Arthur. Positive thoughts…
Gritting my teeth, I willed more mana through my body and sped up.
Without the seal inhibiting me, I felt the deep influence of mana surrounding everything. I ran faster, as fast as I could possibly go, as if running away from my own thoughts.
The wind bent to my will, pushing me forward as the earthen surfaces of the buildings almost seem to resonate and keep me in balance by its own will. The moisture in the atmosphere kept me cool and even the small flames from the lamps burnt brighter as I passed them by.
I’d noticed before but the more my mana core evolved, the more sensitive I became to mana; I could even go as far as to say I was becoming more integrated with the mana around me.
I thought back to when I first met Virion. I wasn’t nearly as sensitive to mana back then, but even I could tell that, around him, the mana would fluctuate and move to accommodate his presence. Even though both Virion and Director Goodsky were wind attribute mages, the way they influenced the mana around them were vastly different.
For Director Goodsky, the mana formed light breezes of wind that danced around her; for Virion, it was the opposite. The mana affected the air around Gramps by completely expelling any wind in his vicinity. It wasn’t as apparent normally, but when he switched into fighting mode, it felt like even the air was afraid to move near him.
If that sort of phenomenon occurred naturally from just a silver core mage, what would it be like if they broke through to the white stage?
I felt a twinge of regret when I realized that Alea was the only white core mage I’d seen in person so far. Yet, because her mana core was completely shattered by the black spike that pierced through her, even the mana disregarded her, as if she was no longer loved by nature.
“Kyu!” ‘We’re almost here!’
Sylvie’s chirpy voice snapped me out of my thoughts as I focused my gaze onto the light coming out of the window of Director Goodsky’s office.
Sylvie, come over here.
My bond jumped into my arms as I prepared to take off. The academy ground had a barrier that repelled anything with a mana core or beast core that wasn’t permitted to enter. It wasn’t all that powerful since its main function was to notify if there was anyone passing through unauthorized. I had my DC uniform in my dimension ring, along with the knife that was used for authorization, so I wouldn’t set off the alarm; Sylvie, on the other hand, might, if she wasn’t attached to me.
Concentrating the mana from my core and willing it to take the form of wind underneath the soles of my feet, I leaped off the edge of the building’s roof I was on with as much strength as I could muster.
I felt the building almost giving out as a whirlwind sprung up and propelled me higher. I must’ve been about 100 meters in the air when I realized that by the trajectory and speed I was traveling, I probably wasn’t going to make it all the way to the building.
“HOLD ON, SYLV!”
As the anxiety faded, excitement boiled in me as I yelled over the gushing wind that attempted to drown out my voice. Feeling Sylvie’s paws clinging to my shirt, I held her tighter as well.
Biting my lip with concentration, I drove all of my unwanted thoughts away.
Shifting my body weight so that my feet were right underneath me, I turned in midair, and released a roundhouse kick.
I activated the skill I’d used against Theo that allowed me to accelerate or change direction by using an opposing force of wind to push against my feet. Of course, this time, it consumed a lot more mana as I was basically changing direction mid-air and at a much greater speed, but I got the outcome I hoped for.
With the speed boost I got from Draft Step, I was once again on a collision course straight towards the rooftop of the building Director Goodsky’s office was in.
Whether it was due to being drunk from the adrenaline rush, or just me trying to forcefully get rid of the depressing memories that were always haunting me in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but let out a soul-cleansing roar. The sensation of flying through the air like this was different from when I rode on Sylvie.
Just as I realized that I hadn’t quite planned my landing, my body already shot through the air and noisily crashed against several unidentified objects. Despite destroying some of the roof, I somehow managed to land on my feet. As expected of me.
“KYU!!!” ‘THAT WAS FUN! LET’S DO THAT AGAIN!’
Sylvie hopped in circles around me as she continued chirping for a second round.
Patting the dust off of my clothes, I looked up.
From the edge of the building, I was able to see a sight I was never able to experience even in my past life.
Xyrus was a floating city; I seemed to constantly forget this fact. I was able to see the edge of the city where isolated clouds floated nearby. I continued to be mesmerized as the rays from the setting sun hit the clouds at an angle that made them appear fiery red. Contrasting against the sun-kissed sky below was a curtain of serene purple—the atmosphere.
“Kyu…” Sylvie propped her head up on the ledge as she gazed silently as well.
The word breathtaking wasn’t just an expression in this case. It was as if Xyrus City was floating on an endless sea of soft marigold that blended harmoniously with the starry night above. That sort of view, that only seemed to be present in fairy-tales, was only made possible due to the city’s high elevation.
I took out a metal necklace from my dimension ring and began mindlessly fiddling with it.
For the time that I stood there leaning against the ledge of the building, I was almost able to forget about what happened back in the dungeon; for that brief period of time, the world seemed perfect.
“Quite the view, isn’t it?” a familiar aged voice echoed from behind.
“It is…” I replied without turning back.
“It’s my most treasured spot, you know… I come here often when I want to rest my mind,” she breathed.
“I see you made quite the landing. I’ll have to have Tricia come clean all this up.”
“I apologize for that, I’ll help as well.”
“I heard your battle cry. I suspect the whole school will be wondering what happened.”
“Haha…” I let out a stifled laugh.
I expected Goodsky to come join us, but instead, she stayed where she was.
“You’re not going to ask me how I’m still alive?” I asked as my eyes stayed glued to the view of the horizon.
“It seemed like it wasn’t a good time to ask. I am just glad that you are alive and well.” Goodsky’s voice was quiet, almost feeble.
“I’m well?” I asked myself under my breath.
“Am I well?” I repeated, loud enough for her to hear, a tinge of sadness evident in my tone.
I looked down at the necklace I was fiddling with. It was a small bloodstained slate of metal attached to a crude chain. Engraved on that slate was a picture of six lances forming a circle; underneath that insignia were the initials:
Tracing the letters with my thumb, I scoffed at how much it looked like a dog tag—the same as those worn by soldiers during ancient times in my old world to identify them, just in case their corpses were mangled past the point of recognition.
“…What exactly happened down there, Arthur?” Director Goodsky’s voice was hesitant as she asked this.
Turning to face her with the best half-smile I could muster, I threw the tag over.
“This was what happened,” I replied as Goodsky let out a soft gasp with one hand covering her mouth, while the other held the necklace.