Chapter 23: Approaching Winter
Looking down on a sheet of paper, Nisha was currently going over a recipe for a dish she had created, having written it down after a long study pertaining the different symbols Eldrin was calling letters.
To make her enjoy the lessons, Eldrin had carved some of his own wooden figurines with the first letter of the sculpted item, a collection of items the dragon girl deemed far more precious than anything else in her [Soul Space].
The elf had of course thought of creating a wooden set of letters to teach her, even before Lydia had had her flash of ingenuity, however carving different words or even texts would have been too much even for the passionate crafter he was, and he had to give up on the ordeal for the time being.
The current method for Nisha to write down things was the direct result of Lydia’s idea refined further to create something that both the dragon girl and her family could read.
To notice that I’m able to see things that contain mana or aura …
By channeling her mana into a vial of ink mixed with fine metal powder, the smart oldest sister was able to create a type of ink that retained mana charge yet kept its usual colour and writing usefulness.
Using this [Mana Ink], Nisha’s lessons on letters and languages smoothly proceeded during the past half moon, from her first shaky attempts to form straight lines with the quill to an elegant handwriting not inferior to that of the manuscripts the old elf possessed about mana theory.
Fluent in the dragon’s tongue and monster language, proficient in the elvish and common human tongue, the dragon girl already spoke more languages than Annabelle and Lydia, who tried to complete their mastery of the elvish language during their stay in the cottage.
Satisfied with the recipe for the mixed salad with dried deer stripes, she named it [Salad Belle], in honor of Anna who greatly enjoyed this dish and had even added the page into her own cookbook, a prized possession the little girl guarded closely from her sisters, lest they find out how she had arranged her latest culinary inventions.
I think it’s time for Eldrin to teach me enchantments. I can read and write, that were his requirements.
Putting the cap on the open inkpot and leaving the cookbook open on top of the shelf to hide it until it dried, the blind girl headed downstairs from the study in her bedroom to find the elf, who she found sitting in the lobby, studying the map on the wall.
“I’m done with today’s lesson grandpa! What are you doing?”
Sitting down right besides him on the long bench at the table, she mimicked her friend’s actions.
Unlike the first time she had seen the picture, she was no longer perceiving a blinding spot of light composed of different elemental colours, but a finely detailed map. Though she was unable to distinguish specific small dots of light, larger circles moving around had interested her greatly.
Memorizing their location had allowed her to later seek them out throughout the hunting ground by herself, and every time she had found the den of a stronger monster or beast.
He has been quieter lately. I wonder what he is thinking, he won’t share his thoughts with me at all.
“Did anything interesting happen? What are you looking at?”
The old elf turned around quickly, looking badly startled as if he had not heard her calling out earlier, although he calmed down after seeing Nisha.
“Ah, no … I’m not looking at anything in particular right now, just checking if anything changed. But it doesn’t seem like a new circle appeared … at least I think so.
What is it, dear?”
Did grandpa forget? We just talked about this during lunch though.
The slightly confused tone in Eldrin’s voice made him appear like he really was lost and didn’t know what they were talking about, which in turn caused Nisha to feel that something was wrong, but she couldn’t point out what exactly.
“You wanted to teach me how to enchant items. I’m all done with my assignment, my cookbook is almost done, do you want to see it?”
An indulgent smile replaced the strained look on the wrinkled face of the elf and he shook his head.
“I know you’re really eager to finally learn enchanting, so be a darling and get my tools from the chest next to the bed, will you?”
Patting her head to convey his affection, he quietly sat there for a moment, waiting for his granddaughter to rush back after getting the utensils required to enchant different materials, since she had desired to learn how to use them for some time now, ever since her mastery in sewing had increased.
As soon as Eldrin made sure that no one was around anymore, a sad sigh escaped his lips and he continued to shake his head, this time out of disappointment in himself.
When Nisha had mentioned their promise he had remembered it, however forgetting it in the first place weighed on his mind, he was unwilling to deceive the ones he held dear.
By the time the dragon returned with the leather bag decorated with mystical symbols and worn out from frequent use, he had managed to put his best grandfatherly face on.
“You found them, that’s good. Let’s see …
We will start with some theory, so you understand what an enchantment is.
The difference between magicians and warriors lies in the way they use their power.
A warrior refines his body and creates aura channels inside his physique, reinforcing the bones, the marrow and the blood in the process. A warrior of the first rank is already able to lift a big stone, while someone at the fifth aura rank can barely haul a small boulder.
I knew a knight at the seventh rank once, he was able to smash iron with his bare hands, so don’t ever underestimate anyone based on looks alone.
Magicians on the other hand delve into the mysteries of the soul and contemplate the secrets of the elements, nurturing their soul and mind.
By accumulating and distilling elemental mana, the soul gets purified and advances through the ranks.
Although everyone gets called practitioner, the effect of aura techniques and magical spells is quite different.
Aura practitioners retain their youthful appearance because their energy keeps their body powerful, the aura remaining inside them refining their bodies over and over again.”
A small cough interrupted the lesson, and the old elf had to ask his student to get him a decanter of his favourite wine as well as a crystal glass from the shelf.
Nisha had been allowed to try the wine once during a warm summer night, however she had disliked the bitter taste and the buzzing feeling resulting from the consumption of alcohol, evidently she was still a child.
I don’t know why grandpa likes this stuff … but he has been drinking a lot more of it recently.
“Thank you. Now let’s resume.
Magicians on the other hand control their power with their minds, which stay sharp even in old age. Unlike aura practitioners, the bodies of mages age at natural pace, but their life spans are roughly the same as the one of a warrior of the same rank.
There are other similarities, but for now the important thing is that a warrior’s inscription is something that invokes what we call an external effect, while the enchantment of a mage adds an internal effect or spell.
Let’s take a look at the dress you have here … that’s a good fabric, made from [Water Cotton], isn’t it? Raised like regular cotton, but feels like the touch of a flowing river on the skin.”
The old elf carefully ran his creased hands through the garb, recognizing it as one of the attires Nisha liked to wear frequently, she had sewed it from the supplies of the last quarter-turnly delivery, and it was one of her best works.
Putting an enchantment on an item the dragon girl favoured was not an easy task, since the old elf wanted to give her the best of everything, like any doting grandfather would.
“The fabric is of the second rank, there are two options for placing an enchantment on it that I can teach you; sadly I’m not very well versed in the arts of inscribing aura patterns.
You can either create a permanent enchantment up to the second rank to be placed on this dress, and as long as you supply it with mana, you will be able to activate it over and over again.
The second option is putting a higher-ranked spell on it. However the dress will be destroyed once you activate the enchantment, since the material can’t handle the amount of energy that will flow through it.”
The concept confused Nisha, she didn’t understand how a spell could be harmful to the item it was coming from, the [Water Rings] Eldrin had used on his robe before didn’t seem to come from the garment itself, but rather materialize in the air.
After explaining her doubts to the elf, he answered with another example.
“Do you remember the day of your transformation? I activated a very powerful light spell of the ninth circle that used to be stored inside the gem on top of my staff.
To activate it, I had to channel all of my remaining mana inside the jewel first, completing the array and only after that was the spell casted against the intruders. All enchantments work similarly, the spell is already casted or etched into an item, and to activate it one has to supply the necessary mana.
Even without physically interacting, the power is funneled through the medium and that’s why if the material can’t withstand the pressure it will break down once the spell activates.”
While Nisha was contemplating the matter, another coughing fit took hold of the elf.
Filling his glass once again with the crimson liquid, he tried to quell his unease with more alcohol, but the pain in his throat refused to die down.
“Let’s continue with the lesson after lunch, I’m a bit tired. You can think already of what kind of enchantment you want to put on your dress and I’ll try to help you set it in the afternoon. Now go out and play.”
Happy to have learned more about the nature of the power, Nisha left the garment to Eldrin and headed outside, she could play in the nearby woods as it was still about a candle before lunch time.
Eldrin didn’t need to hold himself back anymore after her departure and slowly made his way up the stairs, carefully climbing each step with his old bones and painful joints, before arriving in the bedroom of his own chamber where he weakly threw out vermillion liquid into the toilet bowl.
Wiping his lips, the old man sat down on the floor, his back resting on the cold tiles of the wall.
He wasn’t asking for help from either the former maids or – gods forbid – Nisha, because he knew the cause of his ailment and did not wish to burden either of the women with worries about his health.
Ever since the trade with the two goddesses, the elf had known that he was living on borrowed time and was thus thankful for every day spent with those he loved, although he missed his son and thought of his wife more and more often.
When Nisha entered the cottage after having chased around some first-ranked monsters for fun, enticed to return by the delicious smell slightly permeating the air from the kitchen where the maids were preparing the meals for the day, she saw Eldrin again. He was already at the table in the lobby and had regained enough of his composure to offer her a smile.
“Eat first and then we can talk about enchantments, I can see it in your grin, if you start talking about it now, you won’t eat a single bit of lunch.”
How mean. I know how to moderate myself.
Cutting down her attempt to learn more about enchanting and her ponderings on whether the effect she wanted on her dress was possible or not, Eldrin proved that he knew well the little dragon and her desire to learn about things she deemed interesting or fun.
Usually a lively atmosphere accompanied the meals, all of the residents of the mansion coming together for a feast, and today was not different, although recently there had been a somewhat delicate air, yet no one seemed to be able to name directly what was changing.
The dragon girl wolfed down her food quickly, throwing obvious glances at the elf’s plate where the various meats and potato dishes did not seem to reduce by any large amounts, even without actually being able to see with her eyes.
Unable to ignore the badly disguised stares at his serving and her inability to sit still, he decided to tease her for her bad table manners and suddenly raised his voice.
“I think there’s still a second serving inside the kitchen, so you can go and get some more if you are still hungry. I’m pretty sure that you are though, why else would you eye my bowl so intently if not?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not hungry anymore. I will carry the dirty dishes and start washing them already.”
Admitting her fault, Nisha volunteered to take over the day’s chores to convey all of her impatience into a useful exercise.
Sneaking through the door after cleaning the dishes and empty plates, the blind girl returned to the lobby, studying her dress closely while thinking of an enchantment to put on the fabric.
She had several things in mind, but they did not fit her dress at all or were impractical at best.
I think grandpa’s water wall effect would be nice to have on some clothing, so Anna and Lydia could join me on an adventure in the forest …
Absorbed in the consideration of the different possibilities, she didn’t notice the elf and her two older adopted sisters joining her at the table.
“It seems like you haven’t decided yet. Do you want me to give you a suggestion?”
After lunch, the three remaining inhabitants were most often working together to clean up the remaining dirty plates and then wandered in the lobby.
“Usually there are two common practices for permanent enchanted items that would be used in everyday situations.
A material of high class can get enchanted with a spell of a lower rank. This way you can charge the weapon or armor with your mana once and activate the enchantment several times.
The second choice is what separates the great enchanters from the common masses. The things involved in the process of creating an enchantment or inscription are largely intent, creativity and insight in the chosen element.
Imagine two items, one I have sewn and enchanted with my own [Water Wall] spell and another one that you, for instance, enchanted with a regular [Water Wall].
With my insights, gained over a long life and in tune with the element, the enchantment I would make will have the illusory properties of a variant spell, while the other will not have any.
As for your dress, it should be able to handle a second rank enchantment, and you will be able to activate it once before needing to supply more mana to recharge.
A rank one spell could probably be used three or four times.”
Grandpa sure loves talking about magic. But what enchantment should I use in the end?
“It’s about time, isn’t it?”
Stirring from his resting place, the large body of a beast rose from a stone plateau deep beneath the earth, seamed with intricately carved crystal pillars, servants discreetly hiding between them.
The ageless voice of the colossus reached the ears of the woman standing in front of him, neither loud nor oppressive, yet filling the whole room with a majestic feeling.
“So you figured it out already. I thought you might have not followed us with your [Third Eye]’s awareness; but why didn’t you say anything or went to get her since her discovery?”
While the lady standing in front of the giant beast did not lower her head or treat him with utmost respect, she also did not dare to be rude in front of someone who was able to smash her soul into pieces with a casual hand wave.
“Do you think she would follow me or even trust me when I have never been there for her? If I had abducted her and her family, she would have only resented and hated me.
Especially after you went ahead and promised her that no one would take her family away.
Don’t misunderstand, I don’t deplore the trade Bael and you proposed, although I will have a talk with your sister about the things she deems tolerable for an agreement between mortals and gods.”
The firm and powerful voice somewhat entranced Gabriel, the firm and powerful timbre never rising to threaten her, although the implications of the prospective intensive chat with her sister was frightening on its own.
“However you should also have known that she is the one I asked you to find and assist, not to take her sight away.
Inviting her to my cave is useless now, she will never agree. She will soon make a decision, to return to her den or further explore the world relying on the inheritance she will soon be left with.”
Falling silent to contemplate the options she was left with, Gabriel silently remained in front of the innermost Sanctum of the Dragon God Shrine.
Having met her in person and at the memory of the power she had felt from the young dragon – exhibited during a moment of despair – Gabriel did not regret at all giving her a choice.
Living with people she cherished, far away from all the dangers of this country and its ruler, had its own merit as her egg had already been stolen and disposed off once.
The goddess had not expected the dragon god to take the course of events as well as he did, and had assumed he would order her to bring back Nisha to him.
“What do you want me to do now? I know you asked me to do this as a favor, but the girl is really interesting. I’d hate to do something that inhibits her development, even if you order me to do it.”
“Don’t worry about that, I have something else in mind.
Do those two under you still live in Thurgau? Originally I would have taken over after you found her, but I will be indebted to you one more time if you were to continue to lend me a hand in watching over her. No need to interfere, she is a strong one from what I have observed, and growing up either in the forest, or most likely in a human city will be of great assistance to her, she is currently the same as them if I recall your report correctly.”
Everything regarding the small dragon girl mystified Gabriel.
She was able to transform partially long before forming a monster core or reaching the second realm of cultivation, her abilities and strength also surpassed the average being of the same mana or aura rank, and her comprehension and speech were not something to be expected from a juvenile beast growing up in the Wilderness, adding at that the unique power she had demonstrated upon transforming that made even a goddess feel dread.
The most surprising thing however was the readiness of the Dragon God to invest resources and care into her future development.
As an aloof figure of absolute power, the ancient dragon took no part in governing the dragon dynasty and never interfered with its matters, leaving all of the decisions to the current dragon king Raezar.
Yet he had been extremely enraged, more than he had never been in front of Gabriel, when the egg containing Nisha had been stolen from his shrine while he was in one of his long sleep and cultivation periods. He had called in various gods that guarded the different lands to ask them for assistance, to search for the egg or the dragon that would hatch from it.
The Dragon God himself was famous for never granting audiences and only seldomly receiving important visitors, and even then he was always the one that was asked to bestow some kind of help upon others.
To rouse his interest one would have to offer something of greater or equal value to trade with him, which would make him delegate the request to one of his powerful servants. But Nisha’s fate seemed to involve him so much that he acted personally, going as far as to grant favors to others.
“You said that you don’t want us to intervene, but what do you ask of us then? Just keeping her in your field of awareness should not be too much for you and you can appear at her side at any time, so why ask us to do it?
You’re notorious for not owing anyone a debt, so explain it to me.”
Feeling like there was something else that he was not telling her, the green haired woman inquired for more details.
“As you said, normally taking care of her would pose me no problem at all, yet Yf-Nera had to show up and interfere.
She inquired about my recent activities as I was travelling around; therefore, expressing interest in a particular mortal or even particular kingdom is not wise for me at the moment, I don’t want her to get discovered by that witch.
I am asking you to watch over – she chose the name Nisha, right? – because Yf-Nera would never imagine that I’d ask for help regarding something, I think she suspects me to have discovered a particular ore or material to forge a new weapon.
If I don’t move around to much and show no signs of activity, she won’t suspect much and stop meddling with my affairs after a thousand years, when the next rarity emerges.
So please, do it for Nisha if not for me.”
The last bit of his speech suddenly moved things in perspective and Gabriel understood why Rasenth was asking this of her instead of doing it himself.
“You’re not doing a favor to anyone here, are you? This is not a trade or a deal, looking after Nisha is your own personal wish, isn’t it?”
Shimmering in all the colours of the rainbow, the scaled dragon god jerked up his head at the mention of a personal connection and stared at the tiny humanoid frame facing him, a violent glint accompanying the sudden motion.
Gabriel was unable to move from the sheer pressure the killing intent carried, only feeling that she was about to meet her end.
Seconds passed and neither of them moved, until the titanic dragon started to shine in a bright light, rapidly shrinking into a smaller physique.
When the light faded, a man of indeterminable age stood before her, his long and straight prismatic hair flowing over his shoulders towards his back, letting the being stand with a dignity acquired by living through ages.
Appearing in his human form before the goddess ought to be a first time, he had never before bothered with transforming to speak with her.
Without the savage glint, his grey eyes appeared appealing. His figure was hidden beneath a loose grey robe, and time had robbed it of whatever shade it could have been.
“Indeed, your guess is absolutely correct.”
Speaking slowly, as if considering an outcome he had not put into his eyes sooner, Rasenth glanced in her direction, his eyes staring at scenes of battles long concluded, episodes of his past.
Focusing back on the present, he did something that almost killed Gabriel out of shock: the proud and aloof ruler of all humanoid races bowed his head to her.
“I am not pursuing a deal or acting on someone’s behalf this time.
Nisha has been entrusted into my care long ago, and I’ve failed her already once as her egg was stolen.
Help me protect her, I can’t do it on my own and I would owe you a great debt if you were to keep an eye on her. You do not need to step in directly, just a small assessment of her current situation once in awhile, as well as ensuring that no one endangers her life, that is all that I dare to ask of you.”
As far as the fair goddess knew, the dragon god had never lowered his head before, or done so in the presence of anyone that knew of his existence.
Forcing him to do so in those circumstances revealed how important he regarded the matter.
“Your lordship, no need to bow before me! I already told you, but I’ve met her and will absolutely make sure that no harm befalls her, no need to consider this a favor.
Even before my ascension to my current form and our meeting, her egg was with you, I’m sure she would never blame you for a moment of carelessness, that is not in her character.
But I will comply with your wish and talk it over with Bael, we will keep track of her, whether she moves towards Thurgau or returns to her den, please rest assured.
I will take my leave now and arrange everything.”
With a flicker, the astounded goddess disappeared, still unable to hide the numb expression on her face.
Once his visitor was gone, Rasenth heaved a deep sigh and returned to his dragon form, it felt more natural to him and he rarely changed to his humanoid shape, only on the rare occasions he had to go out personally.
“What kind of lord am I …
The two of you saved my life without even knowing me and entrusted me with your daughter’s egg as you were unable to protect her anymore.
And I’ve failed you, you rescued me in vain.”
The servants had been unable to hear the words, silently guarding their god with complete reverence, but turned around when his voice once more sounded throughout the room, it had been many centuries since the last time he had spoken aloud to them.
“Niruth, come to me. I’ve got a task for you.”