Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 05 – Chapter 04

Author: John Nest
Proofreader: Overus

Note:  For easy character reference please refer to: 
Characters
Races and Religions

 

The Sequestered Seminary of Sawtorn

“So, this document won’t allow me to participate in the Magi Gagnant Tournament?” questioned Smoke again.

“I’m sorry, Faux, no matter how many times you ask me, the answer will be the same,” replied Avilo.

“But, Lord Avilo, surely you could do something for Faux?” begged Jack.

Daniel also came rushing to Smoke’s support. “If it was not for him, who knows what would have happened to us under Cynar?”

Smoke was doubtful that Cynar would actually hurt them, but keeping them hostage and working as thieves was still wrong of him to do.

“Lord Avilo, I have already insulted this most trustworthy man before,” added Geisel. “Please help him, my Lord.”

Shortly after, all the rescued nobles chimed in with pleas for Smoke to participate in the tournament.

Avilo turned to Smoke. “You truly are something else, Faux. To have earned all of their trust.”

“Surely, as ninth in line to the throne, you have some sway in this matter,” said Jack, playing on Avilo’s hubris.

“Jack, you should know that I do not abuse my rank,” answered Avilo. “However, there was an unfortunate tragedy that happened just recently.”

“What happened? And how is that related to Faux being in the tournament?” asked Daniel.

Smoke remained silent as he only observed the conversation between the nobles. He decided to do so, as it was going favorably well for him.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Ork tribes have greatly increased in power,” began Avilo. “Due to this, the King ordered for the strongest Magicians, Wizards, and all other variants to attack them.”

“How many of them were assembled?” asked Jack.

“The Kingdom gathered fifty-thousand Wizard variants and twenty-thousand Warrior variants,” answered Avilo.

“Wow, that’s a lot!” said Jack. “You don’t usually see that many. I bet it must have been quite a sight!”

“It certainly was,” replied a smiling Avilo.

‘I guess fifty-thousand Wizards is sort of amazing,’ silent agreed Smoke to himself.

“Can you imagine? Twenty-thousand Warriors!” Jack said to Daniel.

“I know! They must have sent all of the Warriors the other cities could spare,” said Daniel.

“Wait, wait. Is it really that uncommon to see twenty-thousand Warriors?” asked Smoke.

“Definitely!” answered Avilo. “A city in Vitzytl usually only employs about five to eight-thousand Warriors,” he furthered explained. “So, seeing that many assembled Warriors in one place is not an everyday thing.”

It was only after hearing this that Smoke remembered how Vitzytl Kingdom was famous for its Wizards and not its Warriors.

“The life of a Warrior in our Kingdom is difficult,” added Jack. “I used to want to be a Warrior, but finding any decent masters is next to impossible.”

“Exactly, right. I remember that I used to be like that as well, but then I gave it all up and decided to follow in the footsteps of Prime Wizard Ouragan,” said Avilo.

“Wait, you’re going off topic already, Avilo,” said Smoke. “What was the tragedy?”

“Well, the assembled Ork-Annihilation-Force did eliminate a total of fifty tribes of UrukHai,” said Avilo. “And those are the strongest of Orks, but they did bumble up a bit.”

Avilo let out a deep sigh. “One of the Warrior divisions failed to defend the main magical attack force against the charging Orks, and as a result, three of the participants in the Magi Gagnant Tournament were killed.”

“And you can enter me as one of their replacements?” asked Smoke.

“Well, that all depends on you, Faux,” replied Avilo. “I can get you to participate in another qualifying test, but you are going to have to win it yourself.”

“Is it an elimination tournament like in Vona City?” asked Smoke.

Avilo shrugged. “I’m not really sure. I do not know the exact details, but you can overcome that as well, right?”

Smoke nodded, thinking about all the possible scenarios for the qualifiers.

“When is this?” asked Smoke.

“Two days from now,” said Avilo. “For now, you and your mount should get some rest and I’ll take care of reuniting all the rescued children.”

“I think I’ll do that,” said Smoke. “I’ll be sure to be back by then.”

Smoke then got back up on his rickety cart and grasped Freifahrt’s reins.

“Faux, wait,” called out Jack, Daniel, and Geisel in unison.

Smoke got back down, and turned to face them.

“Thank you so much, Faux,” said Geisel and gave him a hug.

“You may have bound me up in ropes, but I’ve never been more thankful in my life,” said Daniel and hugged Smoke as well.

Then, the Dickinson siblings gave way to Jack.

“Hey, sorry about your gems, again,” said Jack.

Smoke ruffled Jack’s hair. “I told you to forget about it, but if you do mention it again, I’m going to ask you for 40,000 zecs.”

Jack grinned. “Fine, fine. But seriously, Faux, thank you. We all owe our freedom, no, our lives to you.”

Suddenly, a notification window popped up.


+ Completed Quest: Return of the Aristocrats

You have safely return all of the kidnapped nobles back to Votl City.

Rewards:
* Intimacy with all of the rescued nobles has increased to 90
* Intimacy with Geisel Dickinson has increased to most ‘Trusted Friend’
* Intimacy with Daniel Dickinson has increased to most ‘Trusted Friend’
* Intimacy with Jacques Dawkins has increased to most ‘Trusted Friend’
* 600,000 experience points


The rest of the young aristocrats lined up behind Jack, Daniel, and Geisel.

With his back turned to Avilo and Mouche, and only facing the children, Smoke removed his mask. He smiled at all of them, and gave them a respectful bow.

“Take care of yourselves and learn from this experience,” said Smoke, putting back his mask on. He then got back on his ride again.

“Faux, wait. I have something to give you as well,” called out Avilo. He then signaled his High Wizard steward to come over.

“Mouche, can you give Faux a permit allowing him entry to our estate,” Avilo said to the old HighElf.

“At once, my Lord,” replied Mouche, bowing down before taking his leave.

“That indicates that you are a guest in my estate. It should also serve as your identification papers,” explained Avilo further. “You do not want to have a repeat of the encounter with the Guards.”

“Thank you again,” replied Smoke and left to explore the city.

* * * * * *

The three tallest spires in Votl city, equally towered over the rest of the structures and were well separated from each other. Like all of the structures inside the city, they were all colored in purple. Only the streets gave out a contrast, which were lined with gray and black stones.

After Smoke left his dirus wolf in one of the stables, he decided to explore the city while waiting for the qualifying event to take place.

“Move it!” suddenly yelled a Sonstwelter Mage at him. He was surrounded by four OrkElves hired as personal Mercenaries.

Keeping a low profile, Smoke hurriedly stepped aside and accidentally bumped into somebody else.

“Hey, watch it, you ignorant hick!” shouted a Zectian HighElf. The middle aged man pushed Smoke a side, and scrutinized his appearance.

“Oh, sorry,” said Smoke, as he tried to get a stable footing.

Smoke had been looking up, as he used his Telefax Vision to examine the spires. Unaware, that he was already blocking the road.

“How in the world did a hillbilly get in here?” asked the HighElf, blocking Smoke’s path.

From his appearance, Smoke guessed that he had a variation of the Wizard Job and belonged to the aristocrats.

Smoke reached for Avilo’s permit and showed it to him.

“Oh, you are Lord Avilo’s guest,” said the HighElf. “I am terribly sorry. I didn’t know you were friends with him.”

“That’s alright,” replied Smoke. “Who could guess from my appearance, right? But maybe you can help me?”

“Certainly, it is the least I can do as recompense for my rude behavior earlier,” answered the HighElf.

“I was looking for the library, but all of the vendors I asked kept giving me different directions,” said Smoke.

“Ah! Maybe they were confused as to which library you were looking for?” asked the HighElf. “Sir?”

“Faux. My name is Faux,” answered Smoke.

“Good to meet you, Sir Faux. My name is Snobisme,” said the HighElf.

“You see there are nine libraries in the city. We have the most libraries in the entire Sawtorn continent,” said Snobisme.

“Oh! That is many,” said Smoke.

“Which library did you plan to go to?” asked Snobisme.

“I had no specific library in mind, but perhaps the one with the most books about the Magietrois and also has Ability Tomes,” said Smoke.

Snobisme shook his head. “You can’t access any of those books from the libraries here. You would need a special permission from a Prime Wizard or someone of the same caliber to do to that.”

“Really?” asked Smoke, dismayed.

“But perhaps you might find a few ability tomes in one of the Bookstores in the city?” suggested Snobisme.

“Alright, where’s that?” asked Smoke.

“There is one only a few blocks away,” said Snobisme.  “It is called Livres Ami. Head two blocks that way, and then take a left.”

“Thank you,” said Smoke, and headed for the bookstore.

Along the way to the bookstore, Smoke spotted a few Wizard Shops. He thought about giving them a visit as soon as he was done with the books.

TING TIDDING

A bell attached to the door sounded when Smoke opened it.

A middle-aged WoodElf greeted Smoke as soon as he stepped into the shop. She wore black clothes with long sleeves and straight-cut skirt which partially covered her shoes.

“Welcome, to Livres Ami. My name is Livres. How can I—” she started with a friendly tone, but it quickly turned to that of a stern headmistress when she saw his appearance.

“Get out! Get out, now!” yelled Livres.

Smoke let out a sigh. He started reaching for Avilo’s permit, but was not given the oppurtunity to present it. With her thin arms, she forcibly pushed Smoke out the door.

“Hey! I can pay for your books,” said Smoke, but Livres did not hear any of it. Instead, she placed another sign at the door.

Notice: We have the right to refuse customers!


‘Looks like it’s not only the HighElves that are haughty,’ thought Smoke.

Rejected by the bookstore, Smoke decided to head back to the wizard shops he spotted along the way. He found a familiar name among the shops. It was called Perdant Wares.

This time, Smoke got out Avilo’s permit in advance. He had learned his lesson from the previous store.

“Welcome, welcome, Master Elementalist,” said a plump old man sitting on the counter. His wrinkled face and gray hairs looked familiar to Smoke.

“What can Perdant do for you today?” asked the plump man.

“Wait, you’re Perdant? Perdant Marchand, right?” asked Smoke.

“Yes, yes I am! How did you know my name, Master Elementalist?” asked Perdant. “Did you use some sort of ability on me?”

“No, you were just recommended to me by someone,” answered Smoke. He remembered how Sot, the chief of Banal Village, introduced them.

“Really? That’s odd. I’ve only been here for three months and don’t have any regular customers,” said Perdant. “In fact, I’ve even thought about returning to Wysteria, since business hasn’t been that good, and I’d like to see how the rest of survivors of Banal Village are doing.”

“Huh? What do you mean? What happened to Banal Village?” asked Smoke.

“Why do you know about my home Village?” asked Perdant.

Smoke could not think of a response. “Never mind that, just tell me what happened to it?”

“Well, we were under attack by one of the terrible, terrifying Witches of Wysteria. She had an army of goblins. However, she was stopped by a great noble warrior named Master Smoke,” began Perdant. “After he saved us, he asked us to migrate to their village. But since most of my fellow residents decided to stay, I foolishly followed them as well.”

“And then what happened?” eagerly asked Smoke.

“Well, we were safe for a time. Master Smoke’s well created walls defended us from most monster attacks, but then another Witch came to attack us. This time, she used an army of Therianthropes. Our small village stood no chance against her.”

Smoke’s heart felt like it was being squeezed from inside his chest. “How did you escape? Were there any more survivors? What about Sot? Did he make it out alive?”

Slowly, Perdant shook his head. “Sot remained with the few who decided to buy us some time to escape.”

“Thankfully, Master Smoke created an emergency tunnel for us. I guess about thirty of us escaped together,” said Perdant. “Most of us scattered to other villages, while there were some who searched for Smoke’s village, but I don’t know what happened to them.”

“Smoke shouldn’t have left you alone like that, undefended in your village,” somberly said Smoke. “He knew there was still one Witch left. But don’t worry. Your village has already been avenged. I heard from a reliable source, that Horrabelle is dead. Smoke killed her. Unfortunately, it was after she destroyed your village.”

Suddenly, Smoke stood straight and lowered his head in front of Perdant. “I apologize in Smoke’s behalf. He should have done better for you and your people.”

“No, no, don’t do that,” hurriedly said Perdant. “Master Smoke was our savior. Even until now, he is still my savior. In fact, he’s the reason I managed to survive all this time and even reached here.”

“Yeah, how exactly did you reach Sawtorn?” asked Smoke.

“Well, Master Smoke paid me a ridiculous amount of money for some books and other junks I had leftover,” said Perdant. “Before we were separated, I gave a few zecs to the other surviving villagers. As for the rest, I used it to buy goods and wares which I traded as I traveled.”

Perdant paused. He looked out the window of his shop, as if reminiscing.

“Slowly, I built up a small fortune from Master Smoke’s funds. In my travels, I reached a village named Havre. By the way, in case you were wondering, all of these places are in Wysteria.”

Smoke nodded politely at Perdant. “Yes, I’ve heard of Havre Village.”

“There, I saw a Miner who had a small pouch full of gems. He was headed into the village to sell them off. I immediately used all of my zecs to buy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that he overcharged me,” explained Perdant. “I went to all of the establishments in the village, and none of them would buy my gems for 80,000 zecs. This was already a lost at this point as I bought them for 70,000 zecs each.”

“Wait, wait. Why are you losing when you bought them at a cheaper price than what you were asking for?” asked Smoke.

“Tsk tsk tsk. I say this with respect, but if you have to ask, then you clearly don’t have a mind for good business,” answered Perdant. “Anyway, I would not allow my small fortune to be squandered like that. Especially, since it was given to me by Master Smoke.”

Although wearing his full-faced mask, Smoke still smiled and shook his head, amused at Perdant’s logic.

“Then, I heard from one of the Sailors that Sawtorn has a bigger asking price for gems,” said Perdant. “So, here I am.”

“I see, and you’ve clearly done well for yourself,” said Smoke, as he looked around the shop. “You don’t mind me looking around do you?”

“Why would I mind?” asked Perdant.

“What with my clothes and all,” said Smoke.

“Clothes do not make the man, but rather through his actions and words,” replied Perdant. “Who am I to judge your appearance?”

Smoke nodded gratefully at Perdant and continued browsing his store.

“Um, Master Elementalist, you have obliged me to tell my story for so long, but I still don’t know your name or how you came to know of mine,” said Perdant, as he closely followed Smoke from at least a meter behind.

‘He says he doesn’t mind me looking, but his watchful that I don’t steal anything,’ surmised Smoke.

“As I’ve said earlier, someone recommended you to me,” said Smoke. “As for my name, I’d like to keep it to myself for now.”

“If you insist. But perhaps I could give you a bigger discount if I knew who you were, or who recommended you,” said the stout old man.

Smoke did not answer and kept on looking around the store. Perdant’s shop was filled with various Mage items. From wands, robes to even hats. He also had a small collection of books, but Smoke had already read all of them.

Then, he noticed a rare ear accessory and a Wizard’s belt. He picked up the smaller piece first and inspected it.

Auraltrival (Ear Accessory)

An earpiece crafted from sapphire and titanium by the HighElf Forgeron. The materials used are said to increase MP recovery.

  Durability: (1,000/1,000)
+ 20 Intelligence

  Restrictions:
– Can only be used by Mage variations
– Level 100
– Dexterity: 100
– Intelligence: 350

  Equipment Ability:
*Gahum Retrieval (Active)
> Triples your current MP recovery
> Consumes 100 MP/use
> Once you’ve used this ability, you cannot use it again for another two minutes


Meguerre (Belt)

A brown belt fashioned by the WoodElf Sastren from an earth-wyrm hide. It was designed for the warring times during the first Ork Tyranny.

Durability: (3,000/3,000)
+ 10 Intelligence
+ 10 Vitality
+ 50 Defense

  Restrictions:
– Can only be used by Mage variations
– Level 110
– Strength: 150
– Intelligence: 380

  Equipment Ability:
*MP to HP (Active)
> Increases your HP by taking from your MP
> Consumes 5 MP/use


Pantalon (Pants)

Sturdy brown trousers fashioned by the WoodElf Sastren from an earth-wyrm hide. It was designed for the warring times during the first Ork Tyranny.

  Durability: (15,000/15,000)
+ 10 Intelligence
+ 30 Vitality
+ 100 Defense

  Restrictions:
– Can only be used by Mage variations
– Level 110
– Strength: 200
– Intelligence: 400

  Equipment Ability:
*Earth Wyrm Pantalon (Passive)
> Increases Lightning Resistance by 10%
> Increases Earth Affinity by 10%


“How much for all of these?” asked Smoke, picking out the earpiece, belt, and pants.

“The earpiece is 4,000,000, the pants is 3,000,000, and the belt is 1,000,000 zecs.” said Perdant. “But I’ll give all of them for 8,000,000 zecs.”

“Wait, where’s the discount?” asked Smoke.

“Discount? Why would I give you one? I don’t know even know your name,” replied Perdant.

“Ah. I see,” said Smoke. “What about if I’m the one who sells you something?”

The stout man’s gray eyebrows raised. “Sell me what?”

“This,” said Smoke, taking out one of his gems from his bag.

“Can I have a look at it?” asked Perdant.

“Sure, go ahead,” said Smoke, handing him the gem.

“This looks like the same gem I had when I was in Wysteria,” said Perdant.

“How much?” asked Smoke.

“I’ll give you 90,000 zecs for this gem,” said Perdant.

“That’s too low. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” said Smoke. “How about if I told you who I am?”

“Well, that depends. The price might go higher or lower,” said Perdant.

Smoke removed his full-faced mask, and revealed himself to the old Merchant.

Perdant gasped. “Master Smoke? Is that really you?”

“Yeah,” said Smoke. “But you can’t tell anyone I’m here in Sawtorn. I’m currently preparing for a war in Wysteria, and people need to think that I’m still there.”

“Of course, of course. Your secret is safe with me,” said Perdant.

“Well, Perdant? How much are these items, now?” repeated Smoke.

“If it’s for you, Master Smoke, I’ll give them to you…” said Perdant, “for only 4,000,000 zecs.”

“Really?” asked Smoke.

Perdant nodded with all seriousness.

“Still that expensive, huh?” repeated Smoke.

“That’s already an insane discount,” said Perdant. “I’m practically giving it to you.”

“Alright, I’ll take all of them,” said Smoke. “And what about my gem? How much would they fetch for?”

“Oh, that. I can easily give you 200,000 zecs for each one of those,” said Perdant.

Smoke could not stop himself from grinning. “More than double, huh? Here, take all of it,” he said, and handed over his bag of gems.

“But, Master Smoke, why do you need this much money?” asked Perdant.

“I need it to raise funds for the upcoming war,” said Smoke. “Also, to free a lot of enslaved Mercenaries.”

“You can count on me, Master Smoke!” said Perdant. “If I may be so bold, please allow me to be your liaison in all your dealings here in Sawtorn.”

“Certainly!” exclaimed Smoke. “Now, about books. Do you know where I can get some about the Magietrois?”

* * * * * *

Two days passed like a gust of wind. Smoke spent all this time working with Perdant on finding books about the Magietrois. Yet, they only found the same generic story about how they stood up against the Reptilian Race. Smoke also tried entering the library, but even with Avilo’s permit, he was still not allowed to enter the restricted section.

The only real progress he made was finding Perdant. Trusting the stout old man, Smoke invested 50,000,000 zecs for him to use as capital. In the span of two days, Perdant gained 500,000 zecs in profit.

Due to this good news, Smoke entered Votl City’s Pulper Arena with a positive thought and a good feeling.

It was three times larger than the arena in Vona City. Smoke estimated that it could probably seat at least to three-hundred-thousand if they wanted to.

“Faux, over here,” called out Avilo from inside. Next to him was Mouche, his loyal steward.

“Listen, there’s been a slight change,” Avilo said to Smoke.

“What’s that?” asked Smoke.

“Instead of you fighting against the other qualifiers, you’ll be up against a previous champion instead… My hero,” said Avilo.

Smoke’s eyes grew wide. “Me against Ouragan?”

“Well, not really,” replied Avilo. “It will be you and all the other qualifiers at once against Ouragan.”

“Then, he won’t stand a chance against us,” said Smoke.

“Technically, you won’t be allowed to hit him,” further explained Avilo. “Anyone who does, is automatically disqualified.”

As the news was still sinking in, Smoke stared blankly at Avilo.

“Of course, this was done in order not to risk injuring Ouragan,” said Avilo. “The participants will just stand in the ring and take his attacks, until they’ll be out of the ring. The last three contestants left will be allowed into the tournament.”

Smoke’s eyes lit up when he heard the rest of the conditions.

“So, just stay in the ring?” asked Smoke. “What about flying?”

“Well, I’m not sure,” said Avilo. “Let me go ask.”

Avilo ran to someone who looked like an arbiter of the tournament.

With just Smoke and Mouche standing there, he decided to talk to the old man.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

The old HighElf gave him a curious look. “What do you mean, Sir Faux?”

“I mean how are you,” explained Smoke.

“I’m very well, Sir, thank you for asking,” said Mouche promptly, and their silence resumed.

“I was wondering, why is the stadium named Pulper?” Smoke asked Mouche. “Was the plaque just misspelled from Purple?”

Mouche laughed. “Yes, many tourists have asked the same thing. From what I know, it is named Pulper after supposedly extracting the power of all Magietrois when they had a tournament amongst themselves here. Yes, like an orange being pulped.”

“Really? That’s why it’s called Pulper?” asked Smoke, amused.

Then, Avilo came running towards them.

“Flying is accepted!” said a panting Avilo. “As long as you don’t touch the ground. Although, I haven’t seen anyone else beside the Prime Wizards do that.”

“Do you know how to fly, Faux?” Avilo eagerly asked him.

Smoke hurriedly shook his head. “No, but in case someone did, I would want to know if it was allowed.”

The three of them then entered the arena proper.

“Don’t be intimidated by the other qualifiers,” Avilo said to Smoke. “You don’t need to beat all of them. You just have to be in the top three.”

“That’s the plan,” said Smoke.

When they entered, their eyes immediately fell on a female Zectian levitating from the ground. She was engulfed in flames, which made her hair look like it was on fire. Her feet was at least half a meter above the ground. Her beauty eerily reminded Smoke of Crucibelle, if she was an Elf.

“With a flying ability like that, she’ll probably be a top contender for one of those three spots,” Avilo said to Smoke.

“She is called Xantana,” interrupted Mouche. “They say that her victory in Vlahui City would have been assured, if only she participated. Unfortunately, she was out on an important quest during that time.”

“Xantana, huh?” said Avilo. “Isn’t she the one with the life-size portrait in your room?”

“Lord Avilo, please. I do not know what you’re talking about,” said the old HighElf, slightly giving out a perverted smile.

Before Smoke could reply, they heard someone’s voice from above.

“Hey, there! I didn’t know there was another Sonstwelter allowed to take this special qualifying round,” said a flying man, dressed in long green robes. His long white hair flowed with the wind.

The stranger’s only headgear was a pair of goggles, revealing his purple skin much like Smoke’s. He slowly lowered himself near them, but he kept hovering above ground.

Smoke could feel the gust of wind emanating from this stranger.

“The name’s Chrysopelea!” said the Sonstwelter. “But you can all call me Chrys.” He then gave Smoke, Avilo, and Mouche an exaggerated salute.

“My name is Mouche,” said the old HighElf. “And this is Lord Avilo, and Sir Faux.”

“Let me guess, you’re a Terra Mage, right?” Chrys said to Smoke.

“I’m an Earth Elementalist,” said Smoke.

“Really?” said Chrys, and then gave Smoke a smug smile.

“I overheard you guys talking about that Pyro Magi’s levitation ability,” said Chrys. “Well, let me tell you right now, that is nothing to be impressed about.”

Chrys then flew straight up at blinding speed and circled around the entire Pulper arena in a matter of seconds.

‘Ledur is still faster,’ thought Smoke to himself.

“That was good, but Prime Wizard Ouragan is still faster than that,” Avilo said to Chrys.

“That’s great!” said Chrys. “It would have been such a let down if he wasn’t.”

Chrys then flew away and zoomed to the other side of the arena.

“I hate to admit it, but it looks like he could be a great candidate to withstand Prime Wizard Ouragan’s magic,” said Avilo.

“Don’t sell me short, Avilo. I may look like some ragged Elementalist, but I do have some tricks up my sleeve,” said Smoke.

“Faux, you do know about the Elemental Weaknesses, right?” asked Avilo.

“Of course,” replied Smoke.

“I’m not sure you understand what I am saying,” said Avilo. “Earth grounds Lightning. Lightning electrifies Water. Water extinguishes Fire. Fire surpasses Wind. Wind erodes Earth.”

With his full-faced mask only exposing his eyes, they were highlighted when they grew wide as soon as Smoke realized his predicament.

“Right, Prime Wizard Ouragan’s mastery is Wind,” reminded Avilo.

“Don’t fret, Lord Avilo, I’m sure Sir Faux will be able to do something,” interjected Mouche. “You said it yourself. He does not need to beat Ouragan, he just needs to survive him.”

* * * * * *

Smoke, Chrys, Xantana, and five other participants gathered outside the large circular ring. Upon closer inspection, Smoke realized that Xantana’s hair was white and not blond, which made him conclude that she was actually a LightElf.

The other mages were from various specialties, but there were some, who appeared to be from the same school.

Two female WoodElves appeared they were versed in the element of Water. Whereas, two young HighElves in black robes with with lightning strikes were overflowing with lightning sparks. And one tiger Lioumerean in red robes, who looked like he possessed the mastery of Fire.

While Smoke and everyone else were waiting for the qualifiers to start, a young HighElf girl with straight, red hair approached them. She pulled a small cart with several bouquets of flowers in it. Their sweet fragrance carried a mysterious scent. As she got closer, she began handing them out to the participants and said something to each one of them.

“Why are you here?” she suddenly asked Smoke when she got in front of him.

“Excuse me?” asked Smoke.

“I thought that Guard would have had enough common sense not to let in such mendicants,” said the girl.

“Have we met? asked Smoke, confused. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“What a numbskull,” said the girl. “I met you near the gate just a few days ago, remember?”

“Ah! That was you?” said Smoke. “I didn’t remember you to be this spunky. Although, now that you mention it, you did get into a fight with Geisel.”

“Anyway, here’s your flower,” said the girl, handing Smoke his bouquet. “May the blessing of Tlaltezin be showered upon the strong.”

“Thanks,” said Smoke, and he forcibly returned the flowers to her. “But I don’t like flowers. Why don’t you keep it instead?”

The young flower girl’s eyebrows instantly raised. “You do understand that these flowers symbolizes the  power of the great god Tlaltezin, right? Are you sure you want the blessings of a great god to be given to me instead?” asked the girl.

Smoke’s eyes wandered, fixated on the other participants and how he would fare against them. “Yeah, sure. Go ahead and take them.”

“Alright, but don’t go blaming me when you lose,” said the girl, taking back Smoke’s bouquet.

Suddenly, a loud booming Announcer’s voice echoed throughout the arena. “Participants, welcome to your final ticket to the big leagues!”

The Announcer’s face displayed on the jumbovision screen. He looked like a generic WoodElf, with brown hair and pale-white skin.

After seeing the Announcer, the young flower girl promptly left the area of the ring. The flowers that she had given them, suddenly went up in flames. Before it wilted and disintegrated, it bestowed enchantments of increased life, increased mana, and increased regeneration to its bearers.

Smoke slapped the upper part of his full-faced mask with his palm, tracing it downward. ‘I thought those were just for show,’ bitterly thought Smoke.

“This maybe a private event, but please stick to the rules,” said the Announcer. “After all, there are only two!”

“You’re free to block Prime Wizard Ouragan’s attacks, as long as you do not touch any surface outside the ring.” The Announcer paused, and checked if all of the participants were listening.

“Next, you are not to attack Prime Wizard Ouragan in any form or manner,” said the Announcer. “Failure to comply, means expulsion from the tournament and all other succeeding tournaments and will be tagged as a dangerous criminal in all the cities of Vitzytl.”

Smoke and all of the other participants amiably nodded.

“Now, that everything’s cleared up, please help me welcome, Prime Wizard Ouragan!” said the Announcer.

Then, an old HighElf, much older than Mouche, walked up next to the Announcer. Ouragan was using a cane to help him get closer.

Ouragan was then given the chance to address the participants. This would be Smoke’s first time hearing him talk.

“My pet horned rabbit died a few hours ago,” said Ouragan. “I know this doesn’t concern any of you, but I thought I’d just share it with all of you anyway. Oh! And good luck to all of you Schmucks who think they can take on and old man!”

Suddenly, Ouragan disappeared from the jumbovision screen, and appeared right next to the other participants on top of the ring.

Then, the jumbovision focused on all the individuals, heated to fight. The Announcer’s voice then echoed over them.

“Participants, ready?” the Announcer asked Smoke and the other contenders. “Prime Wizard Ouragan, ready?”

A heavy stillness overcame the arena, as they waited for the sound of battle!

GONG

“Begin!” exclaimed the Announcer.

At once, Ouragan flew above them. He created four powerful hurricanes outside the ring, pulling the aspiring contestants towards it.

Chrys let out a loud chuckle. “I guessed as much!” He then flew out of the ring, far from the range of Ouragan’s cyclone attack.

On the other hand, Xantana, the Pyro Magi, ran to the center of the ring. There, she engulfed her entire body in flames.

Then, a sturdy igloo began forming near one of the cyclones. The two female WoodElves were making a shelter from the wind. However, two lightning bolts hit them squarely on their backs, and knocked them off the ring.

As the two black-robed HighElves congratulated each other with a high five, the tiger Lioumerean used a flaming claw attack, and knocked one of them off the ring. The other HighElf, who was about to throw a lightning bolt at the Lioumerean, was struck by a fireball from Xantana. The two of them fell down next to their victims, their black robes left with scorch marks.

‘I knew it, the rules only said that we can’t attack Ouragan. It didn’t state we can’t attack each other,’ surmised Smoke.

Just then, he was hit by a fireball from behind, attacked by Xantana. Thankfully, his Wings of Cologus could withstand even Crucibelle’s attack and was only slightly charred. He was, however, damaged for 3,000 points.

Smoke reflexively created an earth-wall to defend himself against Xantana, but his Cunning of the Dire Fox also sensed the tiger Lioumerean’s claws aimed right at him. He dodged the flamin claw attack, but Ouragan’s four cyclones easily eroded his earth-wall.

As soon as his wall vanished, Xantana let out several fireballs at him. All Smoke could do was dodge to the opposite side with his Hyper Jump ability.

Hovering from above, Ouragan aimed for the tiger Lioumerean with a wind blast. However, the tiger Lioumerean casually countered it with a double flaming claw strike.

Smoke manipulated the ring to strike out several earth spikes at Xantana, but only two of them grazed her. Her life bar displayed (497,000/500,000 HP)

“You’re stronger than you look,” Xantana said to Smoke.

“Chouchou, focus on the Earth Elementalist,” said Xantana to the tiger Lioumerean.

‘They’re partners?’ thought a surprised Smoke.

“You got it, Honey,” replied Chouchou.

With his hands pointed at the charging Lioumerean, Smoke let out several earth-spikes to skewer his body. However, Ouragan’s cyclones disrupted his earth attacks from keeping their shape.

As Chouchou was getting ready to use his fire claw attack, Chrys suddenly swooped down and struck the Lioumerean with a green-colored wind slash.

Chouchou instantly fell outside the ring.

TOOOOOT

Blowed the arena’s horns loudly. The Announcer’s face displayed on the jumbovision once more.

“Lady and Gentlemen, you three are now part of the Magi Gagnant Tournament! Congratulations!” exclaimed the Announcer.

Xantana hurriedly got off the ring and ran towards the grounded Lioumerean. “Chouchou, are you hurt? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” replied Chouchou.

A fireball then came straight towards Chrys’ face, but was blocked by an earth-wall.

“Chrysopelea! I’ll get you for this!” threatened Xantana as she helped her man out of the arena.

“Thank you, Faux,” Chrys said to Smoke. “But I could’ve handled her attack.”

“Just thought I’d return the favor,” said Smoke.

“Don’t mention it. After all, we DarkElf Sonstwelters need to stick together,” said Chrys.

Before Smoke could reply, Chrys promptly headed for the exit.

“But I won’t be so kind if we meet in the tournament, Faux!” yelled out Chrys as he left.

Shortly after, Avilo and Mouche walked over towards Smoke.

“Congratulations! I thought you would be eliminated for sure!” said an ecstatic Avilo. “Who would have guessed that you’d survive?”

“Thanks,” sarcastically said Smoke.

“Looks like we had a wrong impression of Chrysopelea,” said Avilo to Mouche.

“Indeed, my Lord,” replied Mouche. “And he even has such an interesting sounding name.”

“Really? It is too long if you ask me,” said Avilo. “Anyway, Faux, you’re part of the tournament now. It will be in six weeks time. I hope you will have improved by then.”

“I know,” said Smoke. “Avilo, can you recommend someone who could help me improve my abilities? I really need to withstand against Ouragan’s power.”

“Ha! I may have helped you get into the tournament, but I am not a miracle worker,” said Avilo. “There is no way you can defeat him, even if you have ten years!”

“Lord Avilo, please do not be so blunt,” said Mouche. “I am sorry, Sir Smoke, but when it comes to Prime Wizard Ouragan, Lord Avilo is extremely biased.”

“Faux, I am sorry if I offended you, but there is simply no way you can defeat him,” said Avilo. “You are still free to visit my estate, but I have other matters to attend to. In fact, I have to leave right now.”

“I understand, thank you for all your help,” said Smoke, lowering his head before Avilo.

“I will tell you this, if you’re not up against Ouragan, I will cheer for you,” said Avilo and left with Mouche.

Overwhelmed by his upcoming battles, Smoke slumped down next to the ring. He knew that he stood no chance of winning the tournament. Not as Faux that is. He remembered how he cheated in the Swordsman to Knight competition, and that he used his Earth Manipulation to win. Ironically, now it was the reverse, as he was limited to using that one ability and had little hope of winning.

“Hey, Faux, was it?” suddenly said the young flower girl.

“Yeah?” said Smoke, looking up.

“You really did good out there,” said the young girl.

“Listen, I know I sucked, but you don’t have to rub it in my face,” said Smoke.

“I’m not. Honest!” said the girl.

“You do remember that all of the other participants received Tlaltezin’s blessing, right?” asked the girl.

Smoke stared at her. If he was not wearing his mask, she would have seen his confused face.

“I estimate Xantana’s life would have been probably at 250,000 HP at best, if she wasn’t blessed,” said the girl.

“Yeah, but it wasn’t a battle to the death,” said Smoke. “It was just to knock someone out of the ring.”

“You would have done pretty well, if Ouragan had not made the conditions of the ring into Xantana’s favor,” said the girl.

“Huh? What do you mean?” asked Smoke.

The flower girl sighed. “How Gahum illiterate can you be?”

“Anyway, I overheard that you were looking for a teacher, right?” said the girl.

“Yeah, do you know of someone?” eagerly asked Smoke.

The flower girl nodded. “But she lives way up in the boondocks. I haven’t been there in a long time, but she might still be there.”

“Who?” asked Smoke.

“Your future teacher,” replied the girl. “And she’ll be able to teach you exactly what you need to beat Ouragan.”

“The name is Flora,” she said to Smoke, offering her small hands to him.

“Smo— Faux,” said Smoke, shaking Flora’s hands.

“Give me ten minutes, and then we’ll go,” said Flora.

“Go where?” asked Smoke.

“To the boondocks, of course,” replied Flora.

* * * * * *

“It’s almost night fall, Flora,” said Smoke, tightly holding on to the reins of his dirus wolf. “You know, I would have reached there faster, if you just provided me with coordinates on the map.”

The two of them were riding on Smoke’s rickety cart being pulled by Freifahrt. After a day’s travel, they had circumnavigated the red mountain. They were now on the other side, opposite of Votl City.

“Cheer up, Faux. The tournament isn’t until six weeks. Well, five weeks and three days, if you want to be anal about it,” said the girl, sitting comfortably in the cart.

“How much farther is this place?” asked Smoke.

“Just that cave over there,” said Flora, pointing over to a solid wall on the side of mountain.

“What cave?” asked Smoke. “Is it up the mountain?” He strained his neck looking up.

Flora got down from the cart, and walked towards the mountain.

“Come on, Numbskull, it’s this way,” said Flora. She walked straight into the solid wall and vanished.

“Don’t be afraid, Freifahrt,” said Smoke. “I’m sure this is perfectly normal in Vitzytl, right?”

The dirus wolf would not move towards the wall. Smoke got down, and pulled his mount into the solid wall.

When they got through, they entered into a huge cavern illuminated with glowing red ember stones.

“Glad you could finally make it,” said Flora. She stood on top of a teleportation circle.

“That will take us to wherever it is we’re going?” asked Smoke, pointing to the circle on the cavern floor.

“Yes. This will take us to the seminary,” said Flora. “Come on, and let your dirus wolf join in as well.”

Smoke dragged Freifahrt into the teleportation circle.

“Now, you just need to say those words,” said Flora, pointing to the runes on the circle. “And hold them while you say it.”

“Doesn’t it just teleport us to the target destination?” asked Smoke. “Like those teleportation circles in the city?”

“Those things are powered by energy crystals and other energy sources,” said Flora. “And I’m afraid this thing isn’t like that.”

Smoke knelt down and read “Nos ad Florissant Poisse.”

+ Teleporting to Florissant’s Seminary [3,500 kilometers away]
– Consumed 300,000 MP


A total blackout overcame his vision.

“Flora? Flora?” said Smoke. He tried calling out to her, but he could not even hear his own voice.

Suddenly, a bright flash of light filled his sight, and a loud ringing in his ear.

“Ah!” he shouted loudly and found himself sprawled onto the teleportation circle.

“Relax, Faux,” said Flora.

Smoke squinted his eyes and searched for Freifahrt. Instead, he found the red-haired HighElf standing next to him.

“You’re overreacting,” said Flora. “Just look at your dirus wolf, he seems fine.” She said, pointing to Freifahrt.

He found his furry mount unconscious next to him. Careful not to let Flora see him, he peeked inside his chest to check on Igniz. He let out a deep sigh when he saw his symbiote give him a wink, engulfed in his energetic purple flames.

Slowly, Smoke got up and searched his surroundings. Perturbed by the fact that he barely had any mana left, as a result from their instantaneous trip.

After looking around, he spotted a large building fit enough to be called a small castle, situated on top of a hill. It had one spire, and was surrounded by several dried up trees and large boulders.

“Is that the seminary?” Smoke asked Flora.

“Yes, it is,” answered Flora. She then patted Freifahrt’s fur and said. “On second thought, we better let your dirus wolf rest here for a while.”

“Is it safe here?” asked Smoke. “Aren’t there any dangerous monsters nearby?”

“It is,” said Flora. “Well, unless there are flying monsters that I haven’t heard of, but I highly doubt that. This place is hidden inside a large crater of a dormant volcano.”

“I’ll just take him along, best to be on the safe side,” said Smoke, and carried the one-hundred-kilogram dirus wolf on his back. Freifahrt’s massive hind legs dragged behind them.

It took them another fifteen minutes to reach the intimidating wooden doors of the seminary. Flora kept insinuating that it would have been quicker if Smoke had just left his dirus wolf behind, but Smoke would not have it any other way. The seminary doors were dark brown and had two thick iron-rings, which served as its handles.

Flora stood on her toes to reach the iron-rings. She then used them to knock on the door, hard.

TOG TOG TOG

“Be warned, this may take a while,” said Flora. “You see, this seminary has at least four-hundred rooms, four mess halls, four infirmaries, and two gardens. At worst, it could probably take us a good hour.”

“Really? How many students do you think are staying here now?” asked Smoke, as he gently dropped down the still sleeping Freifahrt next to the door.

“To my knowledge, Only Eleve is left,” said Flora.

Before Smoke could respond, the tall wooden doors opened. Two Iron Knights stepped outside with their claymores at the ready.

“Oh, and these guys,” said Flora. “If I recall correctly, there are about four-thousand of them, give or take a few hundred.”

Smoke stood straight and lowered his head at the two Iron Knights.

“Excuse me, but I think we’re here to see someone named Eleve,” said Smoke.

“What are you doing?” asked Flora.

“What does it look like?” said Smoke. “I’m talking to the guards.”

“Sorry about that,” Smoke said to one of the Iron Knights. “Flora, here says she knows this place well. But now, I’m afraid if she was just pulling my leg.”

The Iron Knights then stood on the opposite sides of the door and saluted them, giving way for both of them to enter.

“They can’t talk,” said Flora. “They’re Automaton Iron Knights made to protect this seminary. That’s why I asked what you were doing,” she said, and stepped into the seminary.

“Oh, why didn’t you say so,” said Smoke, he lifted Freifahrt up and dragged his dirus wolf inside.

Once inside, Smoke saw hundreds of Automaton Iron Knights lined up in a great hall, leading to several hallways. However, the numerous Iron Knights blocked any of the paths farther inside the seminary.

“It would be best if we wait here,” said Flora.

Suddenly, a female’s high-pitched voice boomed from one of the entrances. “Did you let someone in? I am not expecting any visitors, you bunch of Numbskulls! If Mistress Florissant could see you now, I’m sure she’d be—”

An elderly HighElf, with the same straight, red hair as Flora, appeared from behind the Iron Knights. She was dressed in long ruby robes, and stopped talking as soon as she saw Smoke and Flora.

“That was quick, Eleve,” said Flora to the old HighElf.

“You’re here! You’re back! You’re really here!” Eleve said to Flora.

Eleve ran to Flora and hugged her tightly. Smoke was impressed to see such an old HighElf be as nimble as her.

“When did you get back?” asked Eleve.

“I got here about thirty-minutes ago,” said Flora. “Oh, and I brought someone along,” she said pointing to Smoke.

“Huh? That’s not a girl,” said Eleve. “Guards! Take him outside, now!” she ordered the Automaton Iron Knights.

At once, all of the Knights in the great hall grabbed Smoke and his dirus wolf, and dragged them towards the door.

Mercilessly, they threw both of them out. Smoke and Freifahrt tumbled on the ground and collided with the large boulders outside.

TUDUG

Smoke heard the large wooden doors hurriedly shut tight.

“Faux, don’t worry. I’ll be right there!” shouted Flora from behind the door.

Smoke checked on mount, and sighed out a relief as he was uninjured. He then walked back to the door. There, he heard Flora and Eleve having an argument, but could not comprehend as it was almost inaudible.

Shortly after, both doors opened. Both Flora and Eleve stepped outside.

“Sorry about that, Faux,” said Flora. “Eleve can get a bit cranky.”

“Well, why do you think I’m like that?” asked Eleve.

“Anyway, she wants to see your Gahum, before she decides whether to take you in as her disciple,” said Flora.

“My Gahum?” asked Smoke.

“I mean your powers,” explained Flora.

“What? He doesn’t even know what Gahum is?” Eleve asked Flora. “Why are you even bothering with this guy?”

“Eleve, he gave me the blessings of Tlaltezin’s flowers before he faced for the qualifiers in the Magi Gagnant Tournament,” said Flora. “In the whole history of the tournament, have you ever heard of anyone do that?”

“I bet it was because he didn’t know what those flowers were for,” said Eleve.

“No! I asked him point blank, whether he wants to give the blessings to me instead of receiving it himself,” said Flora.

“Still, that doesn’t really mean anything,” said Eleve.

“Not only that, but he also activated the teleportation circle to get here, all by himself,” said Flora.

The old HighElf scuffed at the young flower girl.

“Come on, Eleve, do it for me? Please?” begged Flora.

“Fine, but may I remind you? Who was the one who told me to be strict with taking in disciples, anyway?” Eleve asked Flora.

“Faux, was it?” Eleve said to Smoke. “You may proceed and show me your Gahum.”

Smoke bowed down before Eleve. He took out his Digger’s Wand.

“Hey, Numbskull, I said your Gahum, not your equipment,” reprimanded Eleve.

Smoke’s initial plan was to create a circular trench and build a large sculpture at its center, but that quickly went down the drain.

“Alright, thank you for clarifying that,” said Smoke.

He opened both his palms and used his Earth Manipulation ability, only to see the nastiest notification windows pop up.

– Cannot control this Earth with your current level of Earth Manipulation.
– Cannot control this Earth with your current level of Earth Affinity.


“Well, Faux? I’m not getting any younger,” said Eleve.

“What are you doing? Do it already,” Flora said to Smoke. “Eleve isn’t known for her patience.”

“Um. After using the teleportation circle, I don’t seem to have enough mana to show all of my powers,” said Smoke. “Can I rest for a while?”

“That’s fine,” said Eleve. “Take all the time you need. In fact, you can help me out, and not come back at all.”

The elderly HighElf went back inside the seminary and shut the large wooden doors behind her.

Flora walked over to Smoke. “You can’t manipulate the ground here, can you?”

Smoke shamefully shook his head.

“Alright, I’ll try talking to Eleve again,” said Flora. “Come back when you’ve increased your ability. I could probably make her wait for another three days.”

“But how am I supposed to improve my Earth Manipulation?” asked Smoke. “That’s why I came here in the first place.”

“Well, there might be some earth you can manipulate about two-hundred kilometers south of here,” said Flora. “If you have some hidden abilities that could get you there faster, It’s best if you use them, now.”

Smoke was apprehensive, and did not want to glide away in front of her.

“I don’t mean now,” said Flora, as if reading Smoke’s mind. “Do it where no one else will see you.”

Smoke kept silent, and continued to study the young flower girl.

“Do whatever you think is best,” said Flora and shrugged. “But if you do decide to try and train with Eleve, I suggest that you get back here in three days time.”

Flora abruptly left and headed back to the seminary. “Oh, and don’t worry about your dirus wolf. I’ll take good care of him.”

Smoke could not get a fix on Flora. He felt like he could trust her, but that she was keeping something from him as well.

“Well, Igniz? What do you think?” Smoke whispered to the metal orb on his chest.

Igniz let out a bright purple light, and Smoke took that as a sign to fly southward.

* * * * * *

After checking his map, Smoke found four of the OrkElf settlements marked by Colere and Esper in the general area. Thinking that if he needed to improve his Earth Manipulation, he might as well help some of the deprived OrkElves in the process. Smoke and his symbiote were gliding towards one of them now.

One hour and twenty minutes later, Smoke arrived in the supposed settlement. The pomegranate forest was the same as the one he encountered in Souer. When he ventured inside, however, he found nothing but rotten pomegranates stockpiled near the spring.

“Where do you think they could be?” Smoke asked Igniz. “Do you think they moved on, and joined with another settlement?”

The dark ember sprite hurriedly zoomed around the forest and found no sign of the OrkElves. Not even Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox sensed anything.

He knelt down next to the spring, and investigated the tracks. There, he realized what had happened.

“Blaise took them,” said Smoke out loud. “There are no signs of struggle, but only an orderly march towards that direction,” said Smoke, pointing to one of the many exits in this pomegranate forest patch.

Leaping directly from where he stood, Smoke and his symbiote headed to the next settlement. Yet, in the next one, it was the same. Only rotten leftovers of pomegranate fruits were left beside the spring in the center of the forest patch.

“Blaise has been really busy,” said Smoke. “I wonder how many OrkElves Cynar and Blaise have now?”

Igniz’s purple flames grew dim, as if saying he had no idea.

“Alright, Bud, just one more time,” said Smoke. “If the next one is still empty, we’ll just start training by ourselves.”

Despite traveling at 150 kilometers per hour, it still took them twenty-minutes to arrive at the third supposed OrkElf settlement.

He had traveled farther than he wanted to from the seminary, but his curiosity of the abandoned settlements overcame him.

Softly landing in the outskirts of another pomegranate forest, Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox instantly picked up several OrkElves gathered at the center of the forest.

“Finally!” said Smoke out loud. “I knew Blaise couldn’t get all of the settlements.”

Quickly putting back his full-faced mask on, Smoke entered the forest patch with Igniz hidden inside his metal compartment.

As soon as he walked farther in, Smoke spotted several differences from Colere and Esper’s settlement.

Here, he could see wooden fences joined together by vines.

‘I don’t think even the sand cheetahs could easily break through this fence,’ surmised Smoke, as he knelt next to one and touched it.

“Who’s there? State your business here!”

Looking up, he saw a middle-aged OrkElf, pointing his rake at him. He calmly raised both his arms and said “I mean you no harm. I got the location of this place from Colere and Esper, maybe you know them?”

“Colere and Esper, huh?” asked the burly OrkElf. “Yeah, I do. They had someone send over a couple of their used sand cheetah furs here. Saying, they don’t need it as they recently had a great home put up in their settlement.”

The OrkElf slightly lowered his rake and studied Smoke closely.

“You’re not the DarkElf who helped them, are you?” asked the OrkElf.

“Yeah, that’s me,” said Smoke.

“Well, you can turn around and leave,” said the OrkElf. “They might have needed your help, but we don’t.”

Smoke was about to reason with him, when he spotted a familiar silver Flame Knight appear from behind the middle-aged OrkElf.

“Relax, Paysan, I know this DarkElf,” said Blaise. “Faux, what are you doing here?”

Smoke was glad his face was covered by his mask. Otherwise, Blaise would have seen his surprised and disappointed face.

“Well, I was going to check whether they needed help with their home,” said Smoke. “But I think they have it handled.”

“So, it really was you, who built the Souer Settlement!” said Blaise.

“Cynar guessed it might have been you. Thanks to their new home they refused my offer to join me,” pleasantly added Blaise. He paused and patted the middle aged Farmer’s shoulder.

“Paysan, relax. Why don’t we invite him for dinner instead?” asked Blaise. “Faux makes a mean rejuvenison soup. It’s made with the juciest venison.”

“Blaise, how many times do I have to tell you, we’re vegetarians,” said Paysan.

“Oh, I can make a vegetarian dish!” exclaimed Smoke. He wanted to enter their settlement, interested to see their way of life.

“Really? What kind?” asked Paysan.

“Um. I can make you some medicinal carrot soup,” said Smoke.

“Uck, I’ve had my fill of carrot soup, even if its medicinal. That’s all we ever eat. That and mashed potato,” said Paysan

“Wait? You don’t eat pomegranates here?” asked Smoke.

“We still do, but only on occasion,” said Paysan.

“Maybe, Faux could get a better idea of another vegetarian dish, if he sees your crops?” suggested Blaise.

“That’s right,” hurriedly added Smoke. “And even if I can’t cook you anything new, what’s one more mouth to feed?”

“That’s already one mouth to many,” said Paysan. “On the other hand, I’m sure that everyone would welcome the idea of tasting a new dish.”

Paysan held his rake with his right hand, while scratching his head with the other.

“Alright, you can come, but the minute you do something inappropriate I’m having you thrown to the sand cheetahs!” said Paysan.

The moment Smoke stepped inside the tightly bounded wooden fence, a notification window popped up.

+ Entered Lagraine Settlement

This OrkElf Settlement had been founded eight years ago. It is composed of mostly middle-aged OrkElves and boasts of having the most OrkElf children born from both OrkElf parents.


Smoke only paid half of his attention to the window, as he was astonished at the sight of cultivated lands in the settlement. Using the spring at the center of the forest patch, they had built a crude irrigation system to water their crops.

Suddenly, he was pulled away by Blaise. “Hey, what exactly are you doing here? And where’s that dirus wolf we gave you?”

“Freifahrt’s with a friend,” said Smoke. “I needed to improve on my Earth Manipulation ability for the Magi Gagnant Tournament, and I thought that I could help some OrkElves while I’m at it.”

Blaise studied Smoke’s body language. “Really? You’re really that kind of guy, huh? Well, I guess you are. After you helped out those people in Souer, what else could you be?”

Smoke shrugged and resumed walking after Paysan.

“Hey, Faux, did you know that Diebe Den was attacked by Orks?” asked Blaise, catching up with Smoke and Paysan’s stride.

“When did that happen?” asked Smoke.

“About the same time when you, Cynar, and I went after Wertlosvati,” said Blaise.

“How’s everyone in the den? I hope no one got hurt,” said Smoke.

“Yeah, it was really weird,” said Blaise. “Only Cynar’s gathered loot and the aristocrats were taken by Orks, but they left all of the OrkElves alone. Of course, the ones who were there said the Orks used a cloud of smoke to initiate their attack.”

Blaise paused and stared at Smoke.

“None of them even had a chance to fight the Orks,” said Blaise.

“Listen, Blaise, there’s something that I’ve been meaning to tell you,” said Smoke.

However, the OrkElf Flame Knight did not give him the chance to speak up.

“Yeah, I really hate those nobles!” exclaimed Blaise. “I even had a fight with Cynar about how well he’s been treating that kid… what was his name again?”

“Jack?” asked Smoke.

“Yeah, that one,” said Blaise. “It’s like Cynar’s gone soft on him. I guess it was good of the Orks to take those wretched aristocrats with them, but if I ever catch the one who did this—”

Blaise suddenly unsheathed his enchanted flaming sword, and sliced it menacingly through the air.

“Hey, what’s going on back there?” Paysan asked them both.

“Nothing. Faux was just looking for something,” said Blaise. He then picked up a random rock from the ground. “Oh, here it is,” he said, handing it over to Smoke.

Paysan shrugged and continued to lead the way to their homes.

“Blaise, I’m really sorry to hear about losing your loot and the captured aristocrats,” said Smoke. “But at least none of the OrkElves were injured.”

Blaise scrutinized Smoke once more.

“Say, Faux, you’re not here to recruit these OrkElves, are you?” asked Blaise. “You’re not trying to build your own private army?”

Smoke strongly shook his head. “Of course not. If you’ve been to Souer then you should know that I genuinely just want to help them.”

Desperate to change the subject, Smoke called out Paysan. “Say, what kind of crops do you have here?”

“Well, we have carrots, potatoes, radish, and bread root planted in our fields,” said Paysan.

After hearing this, Smoke briskly searched inside his backpack and found that he still had a few sweet potatoes in there.

“What about, sweet potatoes?” he asked Paysan, breaking the root crop in two, for the OrkElf Farmer to see. “Do you have any of this here?”

“No,” Paysan eagerly shook his head. “Why is it purple on the outside and orange in the inside? Does it really taste sweet?”

“Absolutely! Even if it’s just poached it still tastes great,” said Smoke.

“Why don’t you cook some for us then?” asked Paysan.

“Certainly,” said Smoke, and immediately went to work. He was led to a pot filled with water.

Blaise then knelt down next to Smoke. “Same as before? Cooking without fire,” said the silver Flame Knight and chuckled. He drew out his Salamander Tongue, and slashed it across the firewood, setting it ablaze.

“Thanks,” said Smoke. He washed the sweet potatoes, and then dumped all of them straight into the pot. He also added in some medicinal wheat grass, in order to enhance the effects of the sweet potatoes.

While waiting for his dish to finish, Smoke observed that the OrkElves in this settlement had already formed family units. They didn’t look like refugees forced to be together.

Two children walked over to Paysan, as the middle aged OrkElf was cutting open a pomegranate. He then submerged it in a large clay bowl filled with spring water.

As Smoke had never seen this, he decided to watch what Paysan was doing.

“Oh, that caught your attention, huh?” Blaise asked Smoke. “Look closer, Faux, you may want to add this in your cooking repertoire.”

“Hurry up, Pap, I’m thirsty!” said the little OrkElf girl, tugging on Paysan’s sleeve.

“Pap, you said I get to drink first,” said the older looking OrkElf boy, tugging on the other side of their father.

“Now, you two, you better behave. If you want to drink the pompom,” Paysan said to the children. “Also, if you’re good, I’ll even let you taste what that nice DarkElf is cooking,” he said pointing to Smoke.

A smile came across Smoke’s face, but his mask prevented anyone from seeing this.

Next, the bowl were Paysan had placed the sliced pomegranates, were now filled with floating yellowish white membranes of the fruit. The OrkElf scooped these out, and placed them in a different container. He then began crushing the seeds which had sunk down to the bottom of the bowl. The spring water inside quickly turned a tarty purple texture. Paysan added more water to it and resumed mixing the seeds with the water. After two minutes, he served it to the children.

“Mm, that was yummy, Pap,” said the boy.

“Pap, can I finish this bowl?” asked the girl.

“Hm. I was planning on giving it to Faux,” said Paysan. “He’s been staring at us for quite some time now.”

“Oh, alright,” said the little girl. She carefully brought the clay bowl over to Smoke and handed it to him.

“Here you go,” said the girl. “Pap’s pompom is the best in all of Zectas.”

“Thanks,” said Smoke, he raised the bowl to Paysan and drank all of it. He found it syrupy with a hint of piney taste, but strangely satisfying.

Then, a notification window popped up.

+ 100 MP Restored

‘No way! Concentrated pomegranates restore mana!’ surmised Smoke.

After he finished his share, Smoke handed the clay bowl to Blaise. In one gulp, the OrkElf in silver armor drank all of what was left.

“That was tasty,” Smoke said to Paysan, “and I think Blaise likes it too.”

“Yeah, pompoms are great alright,” said the OrkElf Farmer.

Paysan’s kids then ran off to play with other OrkElf children.

“You know, we learned how to farm for them,” suddenly said Paysan.

“We made all of this for them,” said Paysan, pointing to everything around.

“Many of us of here, started most of the OrkElf settlements,” said Paysan. “When we were younger, we wandered through the cities until we were driven out by their prejudice and maltreatment.”

Paysan pointed around the pomegranate trees. “It was here that we found peace, and it was here that we found hope. As we paired up, it was also here that we found love.”

“However, we were well aware of our situation,” said Paysan. “We knew that if we had children then, they would only come to hate the life they’re living, and would only know suffering. The same way as we did.”

“None of us wanted our next generation to experience the travesties of life we’ve experienced,” explained Paysan. “Wanting a brighter future for them, all of us submitted ourselves to be Farmers in various cities,” he said, and paused for a moment. “We envisioned our families and their descendants to have simple lives, but free from discrimination, suffering, and war.”

“Yet, despite our best efforts, Blaise here arrived,” said Paysan. “He told us that Sawtorn wasn’t getting any better, but if we were to join their cause, then maybe the life that we envisioned for our small settlement could be experienced by all of the OrkElves.”

Paysan smiled. “I would love to see that. A world where all OrkElves are free to live wherever they want,” he said turning to Blaise.

‘Looks like this settlement is joining in with Blaise too,’ surmised Smoke.

“But I’m afraid I must decline,” said Paysan. “We have worked so hard to get to where we are.”

Paysan kept smiling at Blaise. “And we did all of that without using violence. If we were to use our strength, and force all of Sawtorn to recognize us, do you really think that will help their image of us?”

Blaise smiled back, and nodded at Paysan. “Thank you for your honesty, and I respect your decision. But I also believe that what Cynar and I are doing is the right way. I’m not saying yours is wrong, but I just feel that mine is better.”

Blaise stood up and offered his hand to Paysan.

“Now, why don’t you try these sweet potatoes,” said Smoke, thinking on his feet to lighten up the mood.

Smoke used his Earth Manipulation, and created a modified strainer. He fished them out from the boiling water and ran them through the cold spring.

“Here, try some,” said Smoke, handing them to Paysan and another to Blaise as well

“Mm. They are sweet!” said Paysan. “Do you have some more that we could plant?”

“Yeah, I have some,” said Smoke. “I’ll give them to you, if you’ll allow me to do what I came here for.”

“I can’t agree until you tell me what it is exactly,” said Paysan.

“I want to improve your settlement,” said Smoke. “I don’t want anything in return. I just want to contribute to your vision. As it has already become a reality today, I just want to help preserve it for your future generation.”

* * * * * *

The next day, the orange rays of the breaking dawn glistened over the pomegranate leaves in Lagraine Settlement. It was a day like any other, but not for the OrkElves here.

“It was good seeing you, Faux,” Blaise said to Smoke. “I’ll tell Cynar of what you’re doing.”

“No, you don’t need to tell him that I’m helping out OrkElves,” said Smoke.

“Of course not. I was going to tell him that you’re the reason my recruitment isn’t up to schedule,” said Blaise. “But I’m sure Cynar won’t mind. You take care of yourself.”

Blaise mounted his dirus wolf and exited the forest patch.

“Now, where to start?” said Smoke out loud.

He thought about improving their walls, but decided not to. It served its purpose of defending them against the sand cheetahs. He also felt that it could just trigger the curiosity of the Orks if they saw their improved walls.

Due to this, he concentrated on improving their homes instead. Realizing that there were several families here, Smoke thought that it would be better to make all of them individual houses. Unlike what he did for the OrkElves in Souer Settlement.

He counted a total of thirty families, and immediately started working on all of their homes. He made medium-sized clay houses, two stories high. Each house had four rooms with a large living room.

It took him almost twelve hours to finish. As the Zectas sun was about to set, Smoke made his main attraction for the children. He created a large spiral slide for the bigger kids, and a short straight slide for the toddlers.

As soon as he finished, he received what he was hoping, for a notification window.

+ Ability Advanced: Earth Manipulation
(Active)
Level: Master Level 1
Experience: (0/100,000,000)

You’ve reached the Master zone of this ability.

Effect: Allows you to manipulate all of the earth in Zectas, except for the land of Gods.

  + Learned: Earth Manipulation II – Animate
(Active)
Effect: Allows the caster to encode instructions for motions, behaviors, and conditions on the caster’s creations.
Notes:
> Consumes 10,000 MP per use
> Caster needs to add additional MP for duration
> Costs 500 MP/second of duration
> It takes 600 seconds for ability to cooldown
> Ability is canceled when the earth object is destroyed
> Maximum range from caster to object must be at most 20 meters
> Animated objects remain animated as long as the embedded MP lasts


‘Finally, I did it,’ thought Smoke.

Then, an unexpected window popped up.

+ Intimacy with Paysan and the other Settlers of Lagraine have risen to ‘Trusted Friend’


Paysan then led the OrkElves towards Smoke.

“Thank you so much, Faux,” said Paysan. “I’ve heard of the home you built for Esper and Colere, but this is so much better than what I imagined.”

“Mister Faux, can we play in that thing, now?” asked Paysan’s daughter, pointing to his special creation specifically for them.

“Sure, and it’s called a slide,” said Smoke, gently patting her tiny head.

“That slide thing of yours is really great,” said Paysan. “Seeing the children smiling, really makes me proud of all the hard work I’ve put into this place.”

“That you did,” said Smoke to Paysan. “Anyway, I have to go.”

“Wait, why don’t you stay for one more night?” asked Paysan. “We’ll cook you some of our best dishes.”

“That sounds really tempting, but I’ll have to pass,” said Smoke. “Maybe, next time? I’ll be sure to come by here again.”

With that, Smoke ran towards the outskirts of the pomegranate forest. There, he used his Cunning of the Dire Fox to check if there was anyone near him. Sensing no one, Smoke leapt to the sky and glided to Souer Settlement.

“I need to tell Colere and Esper what to do with all their pomegranates, and I now have a plan on what to make for my video,” Smoke said to Igniz, who was still hiding inside his orb compartment.

* * * * * *

Smoke sat in front of the large wooden doors in the secluded seminary up in the boondocks. It was the third morning after Flora brought him here.

EEEEKK TUDUG

Smoke heard the creaking sound of the large doors opening.

“Faux, you’re here!” exclaimed Flora. “I thought you couldn’t make it in time.”

“Gee, thanks for believing in me,” said Smoke.

“Oh, he’s really here,” said Eleve, who appeared behind the little red-haired HighElf.

Looking at the two of them, Smoke thought they looked like a lovely picture of a granddaughter and her grandmother, excluding their blunt mouths and hot tempers of course.

‘I wonder if they really are related?’ thought Smoke to himself.

“What are you staring at?” suddenly asked Eleve. “Get on with it.”

Smoke bowed down before her, and went over to where there were plenty of earth.

“Listen, even if it’s you asking, this will be his last chance,” Eleve said to Flora. “I’m a firm believer of what I was taught, and that is not to teach those without talent.”

“You really are disrespectful,” said Flora. “Did you know that?”

Eleve guffed.

“Hey, boy, what in the world are you waiting for?” asked Eleve. “The great gods would return from their place of hiding, just to knock you on the head for making us wait.”

Smoke took in a deep breath and used his Master Level Earth Manipulation. He molded a clay golem, after the image of his metallic golems. However, these ones were stouter.

“Well, at least he could do something now,” said Eleve, unimpressed.

Then, Smoke used his Animate ability on the clay golem. He gave it a simple command to patrol twenty meters forward, and back again to its original position. The difficult part was setting in the instructions. When he practiced in Souer Settlement, he destroyed a large portion of Esper’s wall. Of course, he fixed it before leaving for the seminary.

“Now, that’s something you don’t see everyday,” said Eleve. “A walking soulless doll. Oh, wait a minute. They do seem vaguely familiar.”

The elderly HighElf clapped her hands, and more than fifty Automaton Iron Knights stepped outside the seminary.

“Oh, come on, Eleve!” said Flora. “Imagine what he did in that short amount of time? He’s now capable of making an Automaton.”

“No, I find it unsatisfactory,” said Eleve. “Faux, why don’t you create a ring for me. About the same size as the one you saw in Votl City.”

Unaware of Eleve’s intention, Smoke obediently followed the elder HighElf’s order. He created a circular ring in front of the seminary.

“It lacks décor and finesse, but this will do,” said Eleve. “Now, if that clay golem of yours can defeat one of my Automatons, then I shall allow you to be a student of the Florissant Seminary.”

“Thank you for this opportunity,” said Smoke. “But can I have a bit of time to prepare my creation?”

“Certainly,” said Eleve. “Normally, I would tell you to take all the time you need. But I’m afraid that you would actually use the entire day. So, you have ten minutes.”

“That is very generous of you,” said Smoke.

After roughly gauging the strength of the Iron Knights, Smoke concentrated on encoding all of the possible conditions he could add into his golem. He gave his clay creation an additional 240,000 of his MP, allowing it to fight for at most eight minutes.

“The rules will be the same as the Gagnant Tournament, right?” asked Smoke.

“Yes, yes. Now, get on with it,” said Eleve.

With his battle strategy ingrained into his clay golem, Smoke raised it up with his Earth Manipulation and carefully placed it on top of the ring.

Eleve signaled one of the Iron Knights to step onto the ring as well.

Two Automatons stood on the ring, emotionless and blankly staring at each other.

“Begin!” yelled out Eleve.

At once, her Iron Knight unsheathed its sword, revealing it to be a claymore. It cleanly sliced its blade across Smoke’s clay golem.

However, the blade only entered halfway through and got stuck in the middle of the golem’s chest.

Smoke’s clay golem then grabbed the Iron Knight’s shoulders. Its hands melted and fused with each other, locking the Iron Knight inside it.

The clay golem then lifted the Iron Knight off the ground, and slowly walked over to the edge of the ring.

The Iron Knight struggled to free its claymore from the clay golem’s chest, but its effort were futile. There was no stopping the clay golem from completing its programming.

Emotionless, the clay golem detached its hands and dropped the Iron Knight off the ring. Upon doing so, it completed its objective and crumbled from existence.

A blue light then flew out from the golem’s rubble, and went directly to Smoke, returning all of the unused MP to him.

CLAP CLAP CLAP

“That was unexpected,” said Eleve, as she continued to do a slow clap.

“So, how was it? Am I in?” asked Smoke.

“I am HighElf of my word. From now on, you will be a student of the Florissant Academy,” said Eleve.

“Thanks,” said Smoke, lowering his head before Eleve. “I am honored to be under your tutelage, and be trained in the ways of the Earth.”

“Eh? What are you talking about? I’m not an Earth Magi,” said Eleve. “I have studied under Magietrois Florissant, and have mastered her secrets of the Flames.”

 

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