Sylvie let out an excited chirp at the idea of exploring a dungeon but I remained silent, staring at the two swords strapped to the back of my waist.
Today’s battle with Kaspian confirmed a lot of things for me. I’d spent too much time adjusting to and learning this world’s magic system. Assimilating with Sylvia’s Beast Will, honing my Lightning and Ice Attribute techniques along with all of the other elements. I had been so engrossed in the fact that this world made it capable of actually producing physical manifestations of elements that I neglected my foundations, the very thing I was best at, which was physical combat.
In my past life, I had used the simplest techniques to utilize the most of my meager ki pool. With that and my sword, I had been able to rise to the top. Dicathen offered so many more possibilities but if I was to truly excel and become the best in this world, I was going to have to not only use my gifts in this life, but my experiences from my previous life.
In the midst of my thoughts, I felt someone bump past my shoulder. Looking up, I caught sight of the blond noble named Lucas strutting past me amongst his entourage of guards and servants.
“You’re not bad for an augmenter, but that’s all you are. Don’t get cocky because we happen to be in the same class. Even in the same ranks there are levels, and you would be at the bottom. Know your place, commoner!” Lucas spat venomously. The blond boy let out a smirk while intentionally leaning his head back so he could look down on me. The fact that his height was a fair bit shorter than mine just made him look silly.
What cliché behavior for an annoying side character.
Not bothering to argue with him, I just faced back to Jasmine. “Let’s go to the portal.”
Crossing through the teleportation gate, my senses jolted from the scenery. The City of Xyrus had the most teleportation gates among the cities since they were the only way one could enter it, it being a floating city and all. The one we crossed led us directly to the front entrance of the area known as the Beast Glades.
The chirps of birds, occasional cries and roars of beasts, and the constant sound of water flowing filling the background all created an enticing symphony of nature. The sight of tall trees and numerous hills covered in various plants and shrubs made it hard to believe that this beautiful landscape was filled with magical beasts capable of killing even the strongest mages. However, because of abundances of natural resources on the outskirts, it was mostly only the lower rank beasts that inhabited this area.The deeper an adventurer traversed, the more mysterious and treacherous the landscape turned, filled with the lairs of powerful beasts that have amassed their treasures and power in the solitudes of unexplored regions in the Beast Glades.
I took a sip of the crisp air as Jasmine arrived behind me through the teleportation gate when, suddenly, Sylvie hopped off my head and scurried off.
“Wait, Sylv! Where are you going?” I called after her, dumbfounded.
Sylvie transmitted a vague response; I could feel her emotions of excitement as she sent out thoughts about her plans to train as well.
The fact that my bond had never left my side ever since she had hatched until now filled me with unease, but after realizing that I was able to sense her whereabouts, I calmed down.
“She’ll be okay. Mana beasts have a natural instinct to grow stronger. She must’ve felt very suffocated being in a sheltered environment all of her life,” Jasmine explained, walking next to me.
Putting her hand on my shoulder, she signaled for us to start moving. “There’s a place I wish to visit first before going to a dungeon. We have to hurry though; it gets a little more dangerous at night.”
Willing mana into her body, Jasmine bolted off into the distance, her wind attribute mana propelling her even faster.
I followed after her, forming two gales of wind below my feet as I dashed after her. I made sure to keep tabs on Sylvie but it wasn’t much of a problem since both she and I were mentally linked. Even as the distance grew between us, the connection remained strong, and I was able to sense that Sylvie was catching small prey, her ecstatic mood affecting me as well.
The journey lasted a few hours and it began to grow dark. The only reason I had been able to keep up with Jasmine, even when she was at dark yellow stage, was thanks to the use of mana rotation throughout the way. This skill had become almost second nature to me now as I utilized it unconsciously whenever I exerted mana.
By late evening, we had cleared through a dense forest and arrived at a small clearing. Surrounded by trees, there was a small field of grass with a stream of clear water flowing through it.
“We’ll camp out here for a few days,” Jasmine announced as she set down her bag and took out a couple of items.
“Weren’t we going to a dungeon right away?” I set down my bag as well.
She simply shook her head, picking up a few branches of wood and gathering them together.
I went into the forest, finding some decent-sized branches to make a fire with. After a bit, we had a fire crackling and popping in the middle of our camp. Making myself comfortable, I removed my mask and sat silently by her, next to the fire.
Trying to break the silence, I asked Jasmine, “What made you want to become an adventurer?”
Her gaze never left the fire and after a few minutes of more awkward silence, I just stared back at the flame, assuming she didn’t want to answer.
“I wanted to get away from my family.” I almost missed what she said from how quietly she spoke amidst the wood of the fire snapping fiercely.
“I see… were you on bad terms with your family?” I responded, my eyes focused on the fire.
“The Flamesworth House was a major contributor to the war against the elves. Our house has provided many powerful mages, both conjurers and augmenters. Our lineage in the fire attribute element was second to none. We took great pride in this, because fire is considered to be the most powerful of the elements,” she stated monotonously.
Despite her short sentences, this had been the most Jasmine had talked in one sitting.
“But Jasmine, aren’t you a…” I looked up at her as she nodded in response.
“Since early on, when I had first awakened and started training, my family tried to test my mana for fire affinity. I went through various tests so they could see how my mana was exerted and how it flowed through my mana channels.” She took a pause and poked at the fire before continuing on. “When it was made clear that I had no aptitude for the fire attribute, my family regarded me as lesser.”
I didn’t know how to respond to her. For the first time, the always aloof and cold Jasmine seemed…vulnerable.
“I’m sorry for what happened…” was the only response I managed to utter.
Shaking her head, she gave me a faint smile. “The Twin Horns have treated me well and I don’t dislike what I am.”
I glanced at her palm as Jasmine formed a small swirl of wind, different emotions running through her face as she peered at her hand.
This world was a place of discrimination and classification. The hierarchical roots imbedded into this land would never truly disappear. Normal humans were considered second-rate people, while even amongst mages, augmenters were discriminated against by conjurers. It went further than that where, unless one was a deviant or a dual element specialist, some elements were considered “higher class” than others.
Being born from a family of powerful fire attribute mages, she was discarded as inferior because of the elemental attribute she had; something that most mages would kill to acquire. She was a dark yellow augmenter skilled in fighting and mana manipulation at the ripe age of 24. Many would consider her a genius but from the standards she grew up with, she considered herself lesser.
We placed more wood to last through the coldest parts of the night and laid out our sleeping bags a few feet away so we could still feel the heat.
Laying down, I pried into my mind to feel Sylvie’s presence. She was a good distance away but I could tell she was safe. She sent me a thought of confirmation, saying not to worry and that I should stay safe as well.
Eyes closed, I waited to drift off when I heard Jasmine mumble something.
“…It’s weird. When I talk to you, it doesn’t feel like I’m talking to a child.”
I didn’t respond. Pretending to be asleep, I hoped she wouldn’t push further for a reply.
“Good morning.” Jasmine was up and cooking something over the fire by the time I had gotten up and out of my sleeping bag.
My stomach rumbled to remind me that I hadn’t eaten since yesterday afternoon as I looked hungrily at the skewered fishes being grilled on the fire.
“Good morning! You should’ve woken me up, Jasmine. There’s no need for you to do all of the chores on your own.”
“…I tried waking you up… You wouldn’t budge.” Her half-closed eyes that give off an apathetic stare regarded me with concern. “If I didn’t hear you breathing, I would’ve mistaken you for a corpse.”
“Haha…” I let out an awkward chuckle. “I’m sorry, I really need to fix that.”
After devouring the grilled fish for breakfast, we put out the fire. Using the nearby stream to wash myself and my clothes, I put on my mask and swords, assuming we’d go hunting for some mana beasts around the area, when Jasmine stopped me.
“Your opponent for these few days will be me.”
“Huh?” I couldn’t help but be surprised at the turn of events. We came all the way here to spar?
“This area is close to the dungeon we will be exploring, but for these days, I want you to focus on fighting me. I noticed that your fighting style seems… awkward at times. Like, you know it in your head, but your body doesn’t listen to you… or something like that.”
Unsheathing her two daggers, she pointed one at me, continuing, “We won’t use any kind of mana for these next few days while sparring.”
I hadn’t expected Jasmine to catch on to what I had been worried about, but it was a good opportunity.
“Good idea,” I replied, unsheathing my shortsword.
“Use your other sword…” Jasmine’s eyes flickered toward Dawn’s Ballad.
“How did you know this was a sword?” I wasn’t planning on hiding my weapon from her but I was still caught off guard.
“Knowing you, that black stick should be something more than just a cane or a practice stick,” she shrugged, walking a few steps closer to me.
Giving her a confirming nod, I tossed the shortsword near the campfire.
As the sword soundlessly glided out from its scabbard, the translucent blade glowed a light teal as it reflected the sun’s strong rays.
Holding it out in front me, I positioned myself. “Ready when you are.”
“Y-Yeah,” Jasmine stuttered as her eyes remained glued to Dawn’s Ballad.
We dulled the edges of our weapons using mana before beginning. Without mana strengthening my body, I realized just how much I had been neglecting myself. After a few swings, my arms felt heavy and my legs trembled as they pushed feebly off the ground.
This was my mistake. I knew of the limits that my juvenile body had, but instead of trying to fix my shortcomings, I chose only to mask it using mana.
While magic in this world was capable of many things, it should be only used as a supplement to your abilities, not a replacement to cover them.
I lunged out with a sharp thrust aimed at Jasmine’s sternum. Even though our swords were coated to prevent fatal injuries, it would still leave bruises and even broken bones if taken lightly; this made the sparring experience much more intense and real.
Jasmine swung her two daggers down in an outward arc, parrying my lunge and knocking the blade of my sword into the ground.
I brought my rear foot forward to maintain balance as my teal blade sunk into the ground below her. However, by that time, Jasmine had already brought her daggers back into position to follow up with a quick, downward slash.
Prying out my sword, I immediately pivoted my body to the side to avoid the overhead slash. As her daggers grazed harmlessly past my loose shirt, I kicked her arm away and stepped away into a more comfortable distance.
My arms were burning from the quick, consecutive movements as I positioned my sword in a defensive stance.
“It’s my win,” Jasmine said, sheathing her two daggers deftly into their scabbards attached to her thighs.
“You’re right,” I laughed as I dropped Dawn’s Ballad on the ground. We had sparred for a little less than five minutes but my arms and legs screamed in protest from overuse. Massaging my forearms, I picked my blade back up and slid it back into its black sheath.
The duel had ended with me with the upper hand, but I didn’t have the strength to proceed. It was my loss.
“Hey Jasmine, I think I’m going to need more than a couple of days to work this out,” I confessed with a chuckle.
Her lips curled up slightly as she nodded in agreement.
I had three years before I’d attend Xyrus Academy. During my time at school, I would have plenty of chances to focus on studying mana.
I knew what my priorities were at this time.
Making a rough calculation in my head, I held up two fingers. “Two years, Jasmine. I’ll dedicate two years to getting my body truly adjusted to sword-fighting without relying on mana.”
“That’s it?” she said, surprised.
“Just watch,” I smirked.