Author’s note: Woah, 4,8k. Took some time to edit, sorry guys. Around two chaps left till the arc is over.
Under the starry night sky, a blue window visible only to players illuminated the space above Vilen Town. First 100 places in the ranking were displayed far and wide, spreading those players’ glory, as well as making them potential targets.
“Hahaha, I won!” Tiana slapped Puyo’s back so hard he choked.
Puyo looked at the ranking list with dismay.
“Shit!” Puyo cursed inwardly.
Every single player had received the message with their own ranking. Puyo knew it was going to be close between him and Tiana, but he was surprised to find even Santi scored above him.
“Which one should we take?” Laris asked. As a healer, her contribution score was obviously lower than the rest, but her threshold for receiving the rewards was also lower. Thus, she received the same rewards her party did.
“Look at the bottom of the ranking. Take the silver ones.” Frett said.
Checking the bottom of the display, Laris noticed additional information glistening in bright golden font.
As the party chose the silver boxes, Santi stood in front of joyful Tiana and the very gloomy Puyo. Watching the two, he said, “You two, hand over the boxes. We paid for your weapons, it’s time for you to pay us back.”
“What?!” Tiana instantly woke up from her delight, screaming in outrage.
“Don’t grumble or I’ll cancel Puyo’s punishment. You’ve got your slave for the Saturday, and slaves need to eat. Once you signed a contract with the devil, you can’t just say no at the end.” Santi gently smiled, outstretching his hand.
Tiana glanced at Puyo who gifted his box away without much of a fight and reluctantly relinquished her own reward. Although she was disappointed, the corner of her mouth was curled into an insidious smile. “At least I have this free horse.” she muttered.
“A horse?” Puyo heard the insidious whisper and stared at Tiana.
“You’re right, a horse is too high of an evaluation. A mule would be better.” Tiana corrected herself.
“Y-You!” Puyo balled his fists.
“Do we open now?” Darkk asked.
“No, we’ll open the boxes tomorrow. Let’s get some more sleep today.” Santi happily pocketed the spoils. All of the party had barely slept, since they were roused by the news of the event. It was time to catch up on rest.
Meanwhile, in the garden in front of Vilen Town’s plaza, Vilenne chatted with Shurya, an instructor for the Warrior Guild. Shurya was expectantly waiting for her students’ performance, while Vilenne was quite sceptic. She had barely touched upon those chicks. How could they do as well as Warriors who were imparted the combat skills?
“How did you perform?” Shuyra asked her disciples.
“Top 1000 of the list.”
“Top 3000.” some newbie Warriors helplessly shook their heads. They simply didn’t play long enough. Since they were low level, their rewards weren’t that much worse than others’ though.
“And you guys?” Vilenne asked her scarce pupils.
“We were ranked in the top 8000.” Vilenne’s students said somewhat embarrassedly. Some of them decided to become a Water Mage just because of Vilenne’s looks. Now not only couldn’t they show off, they also brought her shame.
“It’s fine, you guys haven’t gone out of town much after all.” Vilenne didn’t mind. “Tell me about the front rows.” Vilenne smiled gently. She knew Cindy sent the little bastard to kill the lizardman prince. During their talk on the wall, Adian confirmed Vilenne’s suspicions – Icicle wasn’t a nobody. If the bastard wasn’t here, he must have been creating a chaos somewhere else.
“Most of the top 10 are the guys who hunted down the Rare variants of the lizardmen. There’s also a party who killed the green lizardman boss taking a few spots in the first 15 of the list. As for the number one, I don’t know what he or she did. That person has 3289 contribution points while the second place has only 1347 points.”
“And the name of that person is?” Vilenne asked with some anticipation.
“Icicle.” the student replied.
“Hahahaha!” Vilenne roared up with laughter, hands on her hips. “Cindy, you heard that? Looks like the little bastard did something big.”
“Hmph, of course he did.” Cindy cutely snorted. “How can someone who made you sweat so much fail to meet the expectations?” she yawned, comfortably laying on the grass beneath a tree.
“Kgh!” Vilenne’s laughter died down in her throat.
“Congratulations Vil, it seems that you have picked up a good seed.” Shurya smiled wryly. This was a total disgrace. Not only a first place but almost tripling the second place’s score? Doesn’t it mean that one adventurer that Vilenne picked up could do what 4 of her pupils barely accomplished? And he wasn’ even a combat class but a Water Mage!
Vilenne didn’t seem to hear the praise as she remembered the embarrassing moment from before, as well as being called a “little brat”, making her grind her teeth.
Cindy opened one of her eyes and snapped her fingers. “Grow up.”
The soil moved under Cindy’s will, enveloping Vilenne and transporting her to the Mage Guild like a mole digging a tunnel under the amazement of the gathered players.
They looked at Cindy with astonishment, only to find that she was nowhere to be found.
Only the wind was left, rustling the grass where she had previously laid on.
“Rank 1 in the event?” Icicle tapped his chin. “Guess killing those lizardmen before finding the correct path wasn’t a total waste.” Icicle looked at the item.
Icicle tapped the item in his inventory twice, making it disappear. Another window popped up.
“A protective ring that I won’t use anytime soon, huh? Well, it’s better than nothing. I will come in handy later in the game.” Icicle wasn’t too thrilled. By the time this ring becomes somewhat useful, he’ll already have a lot of other protection available. If not, that just means he didn’t play well enough.
“How much longer are we going to wait?” Jasik asked. Icicle and the other Hunters hid in the cave behind the waterfall for way too long.
“Have some patience, will you? Once those mercenaries exit, we’ll ambush them. Then we’ll head to the camp to finish off the rest.” Icicle said, not minding the grumbling of the Hunter. Those mercenaries wore some pretty good armors, so they couldn’t be weak. It’s just that in front of Rekk they were like ants trying to kill an elephant. Unless the elephant had a phobia or died from laughter, their chances were next to zero.
“They’re coming.” one of the Hunters said, pointing to the Green Lizardmen Cave.
Jasik ran out of the cave, signaling a team camping outside the Green Lizardmen Cave to prepare for a fight.
“Nothing here!” one of the Mercenaries screamed exiting the Green Lizardmen Cave. His whole armor was covered in red blood, giving it a scarlet sheen.
Unfortunately, the mercenaries didn’t find what they were looking for. The relic described to them wasn’t there. In fact, there were barely any lizardmen protecting the whole cave.
Noticing the eerily calm atmosphere, the front row mercenary knew something was off. He glanced around, his eyes widening in astonishment.
An arrow was loosened from a longbow, cutting through the air and bolting straight towards the mercenary’s throat. It lodged itself firmly, splattering blood all over the water covered ground. The front row mercenary was dead on the spot.
“We’re under attack!” the other Mercenaries screamed. Due to the constant screams of lizardmen, they didn’t know what was happening outside. They felt like the battle was over and the giant lizard was defeated. After all, they had received reports of the giant reptile being in a near death state.
Icicle didn’t waste time either. He ran out of the cave and cast [Water prison] on 3 of the mercenaries. His sword ignited, releasing a terrible wave of heat. Soon after, a fireball latched itself onto one of the bow using mercenaries, incinerating him.
The battle has ended. Corspes of the fallen mercenaries have littered the floor.
“Arghhhh!” a scream came out from the cave behind the waterfall.
“We don’t have time to entertain those mercenaries. Adventurers like me will get here soon. If we don’t strike fast, the other mercenaries might be alarmed by the guys who had escaped earlier.” Icicle said. He has handed out healing potions to the wounded Hunters. After casting [Healing drizzle] a few times, they were ready to go.
“You’re right. Bayley, how’s the interrogation going?” Jasik turned towards the waterfall cave and asked.
“I’ve confirmed what the young one said. Those people are indeed here for some kind of treasure, but their true purpose was to terrorize the cities of Minaeryth Kingdom, spreading chaos and unrest throughout the land. This seems like a carefully thought of excuse to cause a war.” Bayley responded. “Taking more out of them would take some time though.”
“Off them then. We’ll have plenty more to interrogate. Traitors deserve to die.” Jasik said mercilessly.
Under the starry sky, painful, desolate howls mixed with screams of agony resounded, as the human souls left the bodies of the silver cladded people.
“Alright, what’s the plan?” Jasik asked. The group has just crossed the narrow rockface passage. Now they had to think of a way to get rid of the rest of the mercenary group.
“I’ll cause enough commotion to be the center of attention. Meanwhile, you guys need to shoot the mercenaries on the palisade and enter the camp itself. As for what means you use, you’re on your own. I won’t be able to help you once I’m entangled with others.” Icicle declared.
“Hehehe, good enough. Don’t worry about us, we have plenty of ways to make the prey sleep, it won’t be hard to deal with a couple dozen humans.” Jasik flashed a cheeky grin.
“Alright, let’s move then.” Icicle nodded and carefully moved amongst the rolling hills, trying to avoid attention.
“Hey, you there! Stop!” a patrol of mercenaries came out of the shadow, spotting Icicle.
Icicle turned slowly. “Oh, it’s you guys!” he said, recognizing the silver armor of the mercenaries. “I came here to thank you for letting me rest earlier!”
The mercenaries glared at Icicle suspiciously. They knew their Captain went to find the relic and he hasn’t come back yet. Icicle came exactly from that direction.
“Are you looking for your team? They have already left…” Icicle muttered.
The mercenaries looked at Icicle as if he was lying, gracing him with a death stare. “I saw your friends dispersing after entering the two caves in the valley.” Icicle said with his brows furrowed, not understanding the gaze they shot him.
“Could you elaborate?” one of the patrolling mercenaries asked.
“There were three groups. Two smaller ones entered the caves, and a big one fought off a giant black dragon. Soon after that, one of the groups that entered the cave emerged with a pouch that they looked at as if it was made out of pure gold. I don’t know what was inside, it looked like a rock.” Icicle thought and said.
“Well then brother, we would like you to tell this to our officer. Would you be so kind to let us escort you to the camp?” the same mercenary said, smiling amiably.
“Really? You can escort me? That would be great! I was afraid some monster might jump me here, but I had to make sure to thank you guys before you left as well!” Icicle nodded a few times like a chicken pecking rice.
“Do we change the plan, Jasik? Young one was taken.” one of the Hunters asked.
“No, we’ll wait for him to make some ruckus inside. You’ve seen what he has done during the battle, that little chick can protect himself. If he doesn’t act within the next 20 minutes though, we’ll go in.” Jasik made a decision.
“Alright.” the others nodded, running behind shaded covers of trees and stones.
Vilenne heavily struck with her sword, destroying one of the earth golems Cindy created for her. She panted, taking deep breaths.
This activity has been going on for quite a while. The whole grounds of Vilen Town’s Mage guild shook time after time as a beautiful female vented her anger on the puppets made from soil.
Vilenne fell on her back, a beautiful smile emerging on her exquisite face. “Now I understand how my father must have felt. If that’s how I feel towards the little bastard, then I must have been one hell of an ungrateful brat.” Vilenne muttered, her blue eyes staring at the starry night sky.
“A royal princess acting like a child. What an unusual sight.” Cindy yawned.
“Don’t call me a royal. It’s just because of my aura that I was given that meaningless title.” Vilenne grumbled.
“Inheriting the noble blood of legendary Ice Mages isn’t something trivial, child. There has been like what, three of you in the last couple thousand years?” Cindy looked at Vilenne with amusement.
“It’s not like I have chosen to be this way. Besides being given a title, I can only execute a few tricks given to me by the royal family. What’s the point of having the legendary aura if you can’t draw its power?” Vilenne shrugged. “All the introductory and advanced ice magic manuals were lost or taken away from the royal family a long time ago.”
“You haven’t travelled the world yet, child.” Cindy smiled, looking at Vilenne with some pity. She shouldn’t waste her talent. “Once you get to the Master level, you should visit the boundless desert east of here. The Water Mages there are complete monsters. They can spout water from their hands like a hose. Their mana vibrates so fast that their cutting power is no different than [Wind Blades] used by Wind Mages. What’s more, their defensive measures against magic are terrifying.” Cindy reminisced.
“That’s not Ice magic though.” Vilenne bitterly smiled.
“I’ve seen Earth Mages that were indestructible within their defenses, Wind Mages that were so elusive that my every attack felt like I was hitting air and a Lightning Mage who has comprehended an earth mood, harnessing the power of gravity.”
“As for the Fire magic users… there are a few crazy ones taking baths in volcanos as if it were a sauna. However, Fire Mages usually tend to lean towards crafting side, creating very powerful weapons with their affinity for melting very tough materials. That’s why they’re respected by every strong personage who looks for a weapon. And trust me, everyone does. Even though I have lived for a long time, I’ve seen only one Fire Mage who was absurdly powerful.” Cindy helplessly shook her head.
Vilenne listened with rapt attention. This could help her look for ice magic manuals in the future. “How powerful was he?”
“Heheh, it was actually a woman.” Cindy flashed a cheeky grin. “Her magic was so strong that she seemed to turn into fire itself. Then she raised her hands and sent her magic to the sky, bringing down a meteorite… The city that dared to underestimate and use her was razed down to the ground. Not a single soul has survived her wrath.”
“Does that person still live?” Vilenne asked as she sat up. Someone who’s capable of wiping out a city by calling down a meteor must be a terrifying figure. It’s weird she hasn’t heard anything about the woman before. Such rumors should have spread.
“As far as I know, she does.” Cindy smiled gently. “That incident with the town… it was investigated later. There are many parts of this world where law doesn’t mean anything. Special treasures to protect yourself and your own power are the only things that you can rely on. I mean it. Even your identity is worthless if you meet someone ruthless enough.” Cindy shook her head. “That town was one such place.”
“That Fire Mage woman entered the town in search of rare materials for smelting. Like I said earlier, those people love showing off their craft. It’s like a badge of honor for them – “Look, I’ve crafted a better weapon than you” and bam, it’s on. If you can’t outdo the challenger in the next year or so, your ranking drops.”
“Anyways, she entered the town in search of the ingredients. One of the Alchemists tricked her somehow, feeding her a strong sedative drug. With her level of power, she couldn’t be checked by [Sense presence] so the dumb old man had actually mistaken her for a lost lass, trying to fulfill his wicked fantasies.” Cindy said bitterly.
“As it later turned out, that Alchemist wasn’t so dumb. He had actually mixed a powerful poison with the sedative, most likely wishing to sell the woman to the slavers after he had had his fun. But could a person who was so powerful not carry any antidotes? That woman temporarily suppressed the effects of the poison and ran out of the town.”
“A running woman, especially a beautiful one amongst a town of thieves and deception in every corner can be easily discerned. So it was no wonder that the infamous lecher Rimzo has targeted her. Finally having enough, that woman exploded in flames, using her protective treasure at the same time. Well, as they say, the best defense is a good offense. A giant meteor fell from the sky, embraced by the powerful flames let out by the Grandmaster rank woman.” Cindy narrated.
“And then there were no survivors? How do you know all of this?” Vilenne asked.
“Heheh, because there was one survivor. The lecher Rimzo was actually one of those elusive Wind Mages, focusing on developing his escape moves. He had survived, but was badly burnt. As the Grandmaster rank woman fell from exhaustion and the drug’s effect, he closed in on her. I was passing by that desert covered area and noticed what was happening. I used my magic by an instinct, causing a giant pointy rock to sprout from the ground, stabbing straight through the chest of Rimzo, killing him on the spot.” Cindy looked somewhat said. “I had a lot of problems because of it later.” she muttered.
“After that, I wasted a very precious herb to heal the poisoned woman, one that I was supposed to refine to further my Advanced level. The woman woke up two days later, introduced herself and told me what had happened. As a gift of gratitude, she had given me an ancient manual.” Cindy flipped her palm over and summoned a slowly rotating lump of soil.
The lump of soil started changing shapes, sometimes being a square, sometimes a rectangular and other times a circle. Finally, it had turned into a small golem, like the ones Vilenne vent her anger on.
“This…” Vilenne stared with wide open eyes. Such precise control! Even Grandmaster level people in the royal family couldn’t control their magic manifestation like Cindy did.
“Heheh, surprised?” Cindy laughed cheekily. “Well, watch this.” Cindy walked to one of the walls of the Mage Guild’s backyard and pressed her finger against a stone.
As the stone was pushed in and the rumbling ensued, a yellow colored barrier appeared around the whole backyard of the Mage Guild.
“Watch closely.” Cindy smiled at Vilenne’s astonishment.
Cindy struck the ground with her palm, making the earth split. Various ancient patterns emerged on the floor, blazing with golden light. Two large hands emerged from the hole.
A giant earth golem rose from the earth, as if called from the dead. It lifted itself up, shaking the ground with its weight once it stood up.
“C-Cindy y-you… you’re a Grandmaster level Earth Mage!” Vilenne was so astonished she forgot to breathe for a moment.
“Indeed, for quite some time now.” Cindy nodded as if she didn’t care.
“Why are you keeping your level at the peak of Master rank then?” Vilenne asked. This situation was too much for her. A random talk about ice magic had actually evolved into this power show.
“Remember the manual I mentioned? The one I was given by the Fire Mage woman? I’ve reached a Grandmaster stage long ago, but it’s so obscure that I can’t proceed any further.” Cindy said with a smile. She didn’t seem too bothered about her stagnated growth.
“You asked me about the ice magic, and what I’m saying now is directly connected to it. What you know now, are little tricks. But those tricks had to be developed by people. Think, how did the humans learn magic?”
Vilenne stood there and pondered while Cindy continued talking.
“My guess is quite simple. They learned it from the monsters. They at first mimicked them and then tried to adapt to the system on their own. Look at the little bastard you get so peeved about. He could have learned it like other adventurers did, yet he has chosen our system. He tried to adapt and succeeded. His road will be rocky, but he’ll be able to reach an unimaginable level if he meets the right people. After all, there are many Grandmaster ranked personages among this world. Well, if he has the opportunity to meet them, that is.”
While Vilenne was still stumped by the barrage of Cindy’s half-answers, Cindy continued talking. “Now take my magic for example. The manual I received was an ancient one, making you able to shape earth at will. Did you really think that every Earth Mage could create golems at will? Hell no. Even if they can, they have to control every single one of them, while I can teach my golems simple commands, for example fighting patterns give them lots of examples, so they develop a limited intelligence.”
“You still here?” Cindy asked.
“Y-Yes.” Vilenne shakily responded. That was a lot to take in.
“Well then, by the example I’ve given you before and your own knowledge, what does it take to advance in realms of magic?” Cindy asked as she glanced at the moon.
“Understanding a law, either consciously or subconsciously, certain affinity with the element, a lot of practice and research, often understanding certain moods and of course insight.” Vilenne replied. This much she was taught by the royal family.
“Heheh, that’s correct. And insight can be reflected upon or chanced upon. So you can say that luck is involved in the process. That’s why everyone should travel the world at least once. To see its wonders so they take a correct path.” Cindy smiled gently, like a loving parent.
“Taking into consideration everything you’ve said, what would be the next level of my Earth shaping magic?”
“I don’-” Vilenne stuttered, suddenly widening her eyes. “Wait, you don’t mean-
“Oh, you figured it out?” Cindy walked towards Vilenne and ruffled her black, long hair. “That’s right, it’s Creation. And that belongs…
“To the domain of the gods.” Vilenne ended for her.
“Correct.” Cindy nodded approvingly. She glanced at Vilenne softly.
“Why are you telling me all of this?” Vilenne asked.
“Have you ever wondered why Marcus Vilen became the lord? And his family before him? Why he was given so much authority that this region has been deemed independent by Minaeryth Kingdom?” Cindy asked instead.
Vilenne thought for a while. What Cindy has told her today has all been interconnected. “Wait… no. That can’t be!” she exclaimed. “The Fire Mage woman?”
“Have you ever seen Ivir’s mother?” Cindy responded with another question.
“You mean to tell me that…?” Vilenne stuttered.
“Heheh, no. She’s not the Fire Mage woman.” Cindy pinched Vilenne’s cheek. “Ivir’s mom is quite a famous Lightning Mage though. She should be at the Master level by now.”
“So the Fire Mage woman?” Vilenne continued. Although the news of Ivir having a powerful mom was a shocker, compared to a city destroyer that was a drop in the ocean.
“Oh, her. She’s an aunt of hers. Or a grand aunt. I don’t know, never meddled with that too much. They’re related though.” Cindy shrugged.
“What’s the Fire Mage woman called?” Vilenne gulped and asked. Does Ivir know any of this?
“They call her “Star”. A glaringly blazing star with quite a short temper. She mostly associates herself with women as the pesky, furtive gazes of men annoy her. That’s one of the disadvantages of being born a beauty.” Cindy laughed. “As for her real name, that’s not something you’re allowed to know. Maybe once you’ll reach the Grandmaster level, she’ll introduce herself to you.”
“Oh and whatever you do, don’t call her Red. She hates that.” Cindy suddenly added.
“Why do I have a feeling you did call her that?” Vilenne asked with a smile.
“Heheh, because I did, repeatedly. That’s why she hates that nickname. It’s not my fault though, really. She likes to wear those long red dresses with frills…” Cindy realized she said too much and stopped herself. “Anyways, like I said, a short temper.”
“How did you survive angering a short tempered woman who can destroy cities?” Vilenne giggled.
“Hit the golem with all you’ve got and you’ll know.” Cindy smiled teasingly. “Besides, you don’t kill your lifesaver.”
“Alright.” Vilenne focused on the giant 5m tall golem made of dense earth. Her sword glistened with blue hue and a giant blue dragon appeared behind her.
The pebbles laying around in the backyard of the Mage Guild were swept away by the powerful shockwave. Vilenne stepped in and slashed out with all of her mana, focusing on the giant’s right arm.
Vilenne’s sword shook from the impact, making her entire arm numb while the golem only glanced around indifferently, not budging an inch. “Do you know now?”
“Absolute magic defense.” Vilenne gaped. “This golem can’t be budged by anyone below the Grandmaster level.”
“That’s correct. Apart from a few monsters who comprehended some terrible magic, this golem is a complete stomper of Master level people. The earth its made of is quite a handy when a flame goddess attacks you.” Cindy smiled.
“Are you sure that the “star” hated the “Red” nickname and not you for teasing her?” Vilenne changed the subject.
“Who knows.” Cindy looked at Vilenne meaningfully. “Well then, let’s wrap it up. The young ones will worry about the barrier being up for too long.” Cindy unsummoned the golem, walking towards the stone with an inscription pattern on it to deactivate the barrier.
“Wait. Where should I look for ice magic then?” Vilenne asked. The information Cindy revealed was useful, but she had never mentioned ice magic users.
“I did see a few Ice Mages, but they were the wandering type, just like me. I can’t pinpoint you to an exact location, dear. I haven’t travelled through the southern continents though, so you might find your answers there. If not, there are always monsters you can try to mimic. If that doesn’t work, look for people who have an influence. It’s easier to accomplish many tasks once you help of those information brokers.” Cindy advised.
“Alright, thank you Cindy. I won’t forget your kindness.” Vilenne bowed.
“You want to ask me something else, don’t you?” Cindy could see right through Vilenne. “Fire away.”
“Aside from Star, are there any other strong people I should be wary of?”
“Star’s one of the top dogs in this realm. Once you break through the chains of Grandmaster level, you will enter the Deityhood. Then you’re taken to another realm, where you compete with other Deities. As for what’s there, I have no right to know.” Cindy shook her head.