Chapter 18: An Encounter and Training Results
Under the shade of a small forest patch, a decorated wagon was rumbling along a narrow path. The cart didn’t look extravagant or excessive, giving off a simple air of high-craftsmanship and high-quality materials.
Pulled by a large [Strider Deer], a large man with slightly pointed ears was resting on the coach seat. His high-grade clothing looked unsuitable for a driver, as the designs and ornaments on his coat were made of rare metals that would suffice to pay the wage of a driver for a year.
Uncaring about the obvious disparity, the man was skillfully handling the reins, driving the wagon through the woods in absence of a paved street.
He was in fact used to operate the large vehicle, albeit he had absolutely no use for the skill in his profession, the only reason he was so adept at carrying large amounts of goods was related to the person to whom the cargo was destined for.
Eldrin’s son, the half-elf called Luthais, had gotten plenty of experience in the transporting field during his visits to his father, every quarter of a turn. In fact, he enjoyed getting away from the capital, the army and its intrigues, for a while, and spending time in the hunting grounds had an appeal of its own, especially so considering his last living parent’s presence.
The freight of this wagon was holding enough spices, seasonings and other daily necessities, to last his father the few moons until his next visit.
Shielding his eyes from the red glow of the setting sun, he looked for a clearing to set the camp for the night; the route from the city was leading to the hunting grounds in several days.
On every trip he was making plans and building up arguments to convince his father to return to the city with him, but both of them knew that he will never succeed in swaying the resolution of the old elf.
Yet the two of them had a good relationship, Luthais had enjoyed a great childhood and always respected his parents for standing up to the discrimination in court and their attempts to fight for equality between the races; he himself was recognized in his function as a marshall of the kingdom’s army, though he was a half elf, only as a result of those efforts.
The death of his mother had shaken the whole family, and he could understand Eldrin’s decision to retire in the countryside after being left alone.
The night slowly closed its curtains on the sun, the wagon found a clearing alongside the small path it was crossing and Luthais prepared the camp, setting up a small tent and binding the [Strider Deer] to one of the trees; they would not reach the hunting grounds before a day’s worth of journey from their current position, even if they drove throughout the night.
The docile animal was content with eating the grass growing everywhere to replenish the strength it had used to pull the cart.
Larger than the average horse, the monster of the third rank wasn’t endangered by the regular inhabitants of the forest.
The half-elf was one of the rare seventh-rank powerhouses, and had no fear for any of the living beings inside this range of the Wilderness either. Unless he were to move deep in the lair of a monster king or disturb one of the hidden terrors, there was almost no one capable of subduing him residing here.
Even as the head of a House, he didn’t bring along any servants to drive the cart, establish the camp or cater to his selfish needs, as he had no troubles protecting a whole caravan by himself.
Wiping down the monster that had dragged his wagon, Luthais was appreciating the simple life of a lone traveler, relishing the peacefulness of the woods, filled with animals’ cries and small sounds, and nothing blocking the way between him and the stars.
“Hello traveller. Do you mind if I share the campfire with you?”
Just as the half-elf was about to retire for the night, a call from a robed figure that had appeared near the edge of the clearing took him by surprise.
No one should have been able to sneak up on him, especially in the forest where attacks of deadly predators were something he was wary of, although he had indeed been lost in thoughts. He circulated the aura in his body to reinforce his defenses before answering the inquiry of the unknown man.
“I don’t mind offering a spot near my fire to anyone, but I can’t trust someone with a hood on. Feel free to join me after you take it off.”
Turning his back on the wanderer, he placed a slab of meat from the provisions over the fire disregarding the sounds of clothes rustling and steps approaching, clearly confident in his ability to deal with the stranger, even if he were to try to attack his back.
The smell of the food intended for dinner started to spread in the air while the previously hooded man was sitting down besides Luthais, presenting him a hand for the warriors greeting.
After gripping his guest’s wrist and shaking it, the half-elf started the conversation.
“The meal is on me, I don’t mind sharing my food with you. The Wilderness can be dangerous, so having company for a while during a long journey is much appreciated.
Do you mind telling me your name?”
The handsome figure that had been hidden under the cowl coupled with the human’s friendly smile lowered the tension by a significant extent and Luthais decided to dispel the aura he had gathered for defensive purposes.
Good-looking to the point he would be called handsome in the capital, the amiable expression and relaxing atmosphere he was carrying would be enough to secure the newcomer the goodwill of countless ladies, and the ease he was displaying in all his movements revealed a certain amount of self-confidence.
After taking a flask out of his mantle, drinking a small sip and offering the presumably alcoholic content to his host, the stranger replied.
“Isn’t it considered common courtesy to introduce yourself first before asking someone’s name in the capital?” he chuckled and continued
“Anyway, the name’s Weiss, and I’m a peddler looking for rare plants and treasures while travelling near the edges of the forest. Thank you for letting me stay for the night.”
The friendly teasing didn’t bother the half-elf, he had indeed acted rudely by asking for another man’s name without revealing his own, but the answer also uncovered a bit more of the motives that had driven his guest to this fireplace.
If he was a peddler, he was supposed to present his guild card to ascertain his profession, yet he chose not to and only hand over his flask.
Taking a swig from the bottle, Luthais wondered if he had gotten poisoned by drinking something provided by a stranger that had appeared mysteriously on his route in such a remote area. The half-elf wasn’t quite sure how strong the human was, aura experts weren’t proficient in scouting because their aura tended to dissipate too fast when it wasn’t focused in an attack, and his mana was only at the second rank, insufficient to probe someone’s strength.
On the other hand, his intuition didn’t warn him regardless of how suspicious Weiss looked, and he trusted his keen instincts that had gotten him unharmed through plenty of battles, both on the battlefield and in the capital.
Yet there was only one thing that bothered Luthais.
“You are right, I’m indeed late with my introduction. I’m Raylas. But how did you know I was from Thurgau? I didn’t say anything…”
Luthais had to be careful in case Weiss was from the city, an assassin sent after him; however he felt at ease in his company, and was using a fake identity too; after all, concealing one’s identity when roaming in dangerous places was a commonplace practice for the cautious adventurers.
“Ah, it’s the accent that gave you away. I’m talking with a lot of different people in my line of work, and thus came to have an ear for languages. Judging from your carriage, you’re a driver from one of the larger trading houses, aren’t you? It’s very well crafted.”
A mention of the wagon without one about his refined clothes should have alerted the battle-hardened half-elf, but the fire seemed to blur and flicker, drawing his gaze into the flames and dulling his senses. If Weiss was part of a bandit group, Luthais needed to get ready at the moment to fend off an attack, yet he only took another sip of the flask and chatted some more.
“You have an eye for details, … I’ll give you that. Please forgive me, but I’m really tired and will retire. Feel free to eat the meat, it was meant for you … “
Unable to fight the sudden drowsiness, he got up and walked to his tent with the assistance of the human.
“Of course, you’re very drained after such a long journey, Luthais.
Just lie down and relax, and take your time on the way back, seeing your father had been very pleasant so you deserve a slow pace to enjoy the scenery.”
The half-elf guessed that something was wrong with the sentence that Weiss had just uttered, but as he was about to voice his questions, he realized that he was no longer able to keep his eyes open.
Waking up a little later than usual, Luthais rose from his blankets.
The burned-down remains of the fire barely concealed the traces of the charred meat he had tossed into the flames the last evening, he remembered feeling nauseated and only eating a little. Fortunately, he was healthy again, and very hungry, the kind of longing that one would feel after a harsh sickness, or following days of starvation.
In spite of that, the tall man felt fulfilled about having saved so much time on his way towards the hunting grounds, and even after staying about a week at his father’s place and telling him all about the newest rumours and intrigues in the royal court of Thurgau, he had still a lot of time left of his stay.
Packing up his tent and sleeping bag, throwing them onto the empty cargo space of the cart, he broke up the camp, scattered the ashes and fastened the harness on the [Strider Deer], who appeared to have feasted quite generously on the grass around the tree it was bound too, almost none of the plants remaining, getting ready to make the return trip towards the capital.
His goal already being taken care of, Luthais didn’t want to rush back to his work, although he wished to be home when his son would start attending the royal academy.
“Time to go home!”
Snapping the reins once, the half-elf signalled the monster to get going, and turned the cart around, orienting himself according to the position of the sun that peaked through the tips of the trees of the surrounding forest.
Whistling a little melody to express his joyful mood, Luthais savored the cold morning wind on his face as he began his slow journey.
The wet leaves were glistening after a short rain shower had drenched the clearing where Nisha was currently finishing her daily morning routine.
Together with the two maids, she ran fifteen laps along the edge of the forest. It was a part of the training program Eldrin had arranged for the three of them.
In the beginning, Lydia and Annabelle had to run on both sides of the blind girl and gently correct her path when she was about to run off into the woods, but during the two moons since her transformation had occurred, she had shown remarkable progress in adapting to her new situation, to the point where the younger maid had expressed doubts whether the blindness was true or faked, an excuse to hide her eyes.
Relying on her keen sense of smell, her hearing that had improved to compensate for the loss of her eyesight, and a phenomenal memory, Nisha’s growth allowed her to go from requiring either the old elf or the maids to lead her by the hand for every activity, to being able to move through the house with enough skill to fool any stranger into thinking she had better eyesight than the master of the house, whose vision was slightly deteriorating these days, though he refused to admit it.
Education in the afternoon included lectures about etiquette, history, mathematics, economics, and specially for the little charming girls that the two maids had came to treat like a younger sister, the elven language; after Nisha had complained about having to attend the elf’s lesson alone, the two sisters also joined in.
Of course she loved these occasions when she was spending time with Eldrin discussing interesting topics and quickly mastered the adventurer’s tongue to understand all of the conversations accurately and ask more precise questions.
To correct her rather unfeminine attitude, she also had to grasp a young lady’s way of acting under the unexpectedly strict guidance of Annabelle, who took it upon her to turn the charming tomboy into a perfect femme fatale.
On the rare moments when Nisha managed to sneak off from her stern teachers, the younger sister Lydia was taking great joy in playing with her, imparting the dances she knew to the little girl and frolicking with her.
After being caught one time too many with Nisha, the young maid had to promise to take up the role of a teacher too, and to impart her culinary knowledge to the cute little girl, however she never missed a chance to draw circles in the kitchen in a gracious dance as the meals were cooking, ready to torment the other inhabitants of the house.
Yet, thanks to the dragon-girl’s keen sense of smell and excellent taste, she soon improved her cooking skill to the point where everyone was looking forward to the day it was her turn to prepare the meal, and Lydia was demoted to the role of an assistant handing the best cook the ingredients she was asking for.
To keep up with the increased demand for edibles, Eldrin usually went out on his free mornings to gather plants and fruits, or hunt animals in the vicinity of the cottage.
Leaving the girl that had been placed his care had first caused a slight unease to gnaw at the back of his mind, but through testing the limits of the phrase ‘leaving Nisha’, he had discovered the fact that distance seemed to have no influence on the agreement, most likely the condition was mental.
Additionally, the dragon’s siblings were visiting around once every one or two weeks, bringing rare spices and foods to enhance the cottage’s menu, a small token of gratitude toward their big sister who had gifted them the carcass of the [Bloody World Hellhound] and the elf, whose gift managed to keep the peace around the [Dragon’s Den]. After consuming its meat and absorbing the latent aura inside the monster, they had managed to rise above the previous aura rank of Little Flame, forming their monster core and attaining the qualification of true monster kings along with the awakening of their innate abilities.
They refused to show it off in front of their sister until she was to catch up to their level of power, in order to compare her inherent skills with their own.
Nisha’s favourite lessons were in the evening, when the elf was telling her stories, and they were talking about topics of her choice. She learned more about the world and his friend’s past, during the laundry chore, or even upon enjoying nightfall in front of the fireplace when it was the sister’s turn to do the chores.
Once the sun had completely set, each of the three females were going to bed, however none was falling asleep immediately.
Shaping one’s mana and aura required meditation. To enhance their efficiency, Eldrin had told them to contemplate what they learned on the day in a seated position on top of their bed, and afterwards cultivate the energies they could sense quietly.
While Nisha was sitting on the bed, Eldrin was performing maintenance on his pocket watch, and sometimes carved a figure in the sparse light of an enchanted mana lamp or worked on another project.
After the elf had combed through the remaining store rooms, he had succeeded in digging out an impressive amount of high-class materials and items to reuse, handing especially precious or soft fabrics and woods to the blind girl so she could probe them with her hands. A rock called [Ivory Quartz] had particularly caught his attention, it was a mix of rock and crystal that naturally grew in the mountains and was as easy to carve as wood.
However, after completely filling the item he had fashioned out of it with mana, it became hard enough to be considered a material of the seventh tier.
Everyday without fail, Nisha would awaken hugging Eldrin close to her after having fell asleep while meditating, enjoying the secure feeling she got from being near to him.
The rigorous instruction had different results depending on the individuals .
Annabelle had a talent for mana cultivation and had already reached the second rank in this discipline, she now struggled to keep up with her aura practice.
Eldrin’s tutelage sharpened her mind and revealed her great talent for scheming as well as her gift in the mathematics field.
Contrarily, Lydia seemed to be her complete opposite, reaching the second rank with her aura when she couldn’t make progress regarding her mana and stagnated at the first rank she arrived with.
The forte of the younger sister laid in her social skills, mastering the court dances Eldrin had shown her when he was feeling up to it, usually after a drink, and upon strengthening his bones with his own aura, which later on were passed down to Nisha through more cooking sessions.
She also demonstrated an impressive ability in driving a conversation and luring information out of her interlocutor.
Lastly, Nisha had the strangest results out of all of them. On the one hand, she absorbed every piece of knowledge she was presented at a frightening speed. Once she understood something, she never forgot it, making her an excellent student for all three of her teachers, allowing her to catch up to a lady of noble birth of a similar age in record-breaking time.
On the other hand, her mana and aura cultivation just seemed unable to break into the first rank, although she was currently effortlessly keeping up with the two sisters running beside her, and who had long ago achieved their first and second rank in aura.
Based on her own estimations, she would be able to beat Anna in a contest of strength or stamina, while she would probably lose against Lydia.
Just barely, though.
After rummaging through his belongings, Eldrin had been able to find his guild ring, a tool that allowed all adventurers to roughly gauge the strength of their enemy as long as it wasn’t above their own, or superior to the legend rank.
Set into a circle, nine pairs of small stars growing bigger from the first to the last were decorating the fine ring that authenticated the elf’s standing as an individual of the seventh rank since it was forged out of rare metals of the seventh tier.
The old elf could still light up seven blue stars as well as four red stars when he had tested the function of the item he had forgotten in a shelf.
Each time the maids were able to make one more star shine, all of the mansion’s inhabitants had celebrated the event and taken a day off from training, however recently Nisha didn’t want to try to measure her ranks anymore since she was never able to light even a single star.
This didn’t particularly upset or sadden her, as the blind girl knew she was just as capable as Lydia or Anna, and just needed more time to grow. Her main goal wasn’t only to get stronger, but to reach the mana rank of the old elf, regardless of the time it might take her.
And training is fun in its own way too.
Just as the hardworking blind girl was two rounds short of finishing her morning training, the sound of someone nearing the clearing from the small path situated near the single crack breaking through the line of trees woke her up from the reminiscence of the events that had happened so far.
This would have posed no problem if it was Eldrin returning from a hunt, but the elf was currently milking the cows and collecting the eggs inside the stable, the two maids who were running behind her also heard the alarming noise.
Retreating towards the house, the alerted women called for Eldrin.
“Somethings happening! There’s someone coming here!”
Keeping an eye on the situation, both Annabelle and Lydia stayed, shielding their home from the invader, while Nisha was heading inside the stable to get the elf.
“It’s alright, nothing is going to happen. I’m here.”
Before she could fetch him, the old elf was already in front of the stable, catching Nisha.
“Let’s go and see what this is all about.”
Taking her by the hand, he lead her back towards the two sisters, who had kept an eye on the road leading to the hunting grounds.
“Sir Eldrin, there’s someone coming by horse on the path. We’ve heard a neigh and you can already hear the hoofs scratching on the ground .”
Taking his guild card out of the pockets of one of the formal grey robes he had grudgingly accepted to wear despite the coarse feeling of the stiff fabric that irritated his skin, the elf checked the date displayed by the enchantment.
“Oh, it’s already this time of the year, it slipped my mind. Sorry I made you worry, no need to be upset, I think I know the person who’s about to stop by.
Wait a second until he’s here, and I’ll introduce him. I think you will like him.”
Aura was not only used to reinforce a warrior’s body during battles and enable practitioners to fight with a strength beyond that of an average human, the energy also settled inside the bones and the flesh, strengthening the physique’s senses passively, which allowed Nisha and the maids to perceive the approaching wagon before it came into sight.
A large cart drawn by a brown horse of unknown breed approached at a brisk pace on the small road snaking out of the forest, a large and burly man sitting on the driver’s seat.
“What’s this, I thought he’d come to deliver the goods personally … “
The murmur had barely left Eldrin’s mouth when the stern-looking man spotted the group of four carefully watching from the entrance of the cottage, and raised his hand in greeting.
“A good day to you, sirs and ladies! My name is Hayze, and Sir Luthais has sent me here to deliver the supplies to you!”