VIRION ERALITH’S POV:
What in the name just happened? What was that bizarre aura around Tessia? What did the boy do anyway?
I was just barely able to see that orb shoot out and get sucked into my granddaughter’s body. It seemed sort of like an elixir, but I wasn’t really able to tell…
Anyway, I was just glad that she was safe now.
I almost felt bad for the boy; he had just crawled back up to the surface after falling into an underground dungeon—gods know how deep—and now he had to deal with all this.
Was I doing the right thing revealing all this information to Arthur?
There was a bitter taste left on my tongue after I finished explaining everything to the boy; I sometimes forgot that he was actually younger than Tessia.
It was odd, though. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but more and more, my instincts told me that despite his monstrous ability in mana manipulation and latent potential as a mage, his cognitive acuteness, his mental capacity that didn’t belong to a prepubescent child that would make this brat so scary in the future, currently, his level of power had not caught up to his intellect.
“Mmmm… what’s going on? Why am I sleeping on the ground?”
My ears perked up immediately at the sound of my granddaughter’s feeble voice.
“G-Grandpa? Where am… ART!!!!”
My arms were already stretched out wide, ready to embrace my one and only beloved granddaughter, but oddly enough, instead of coming into her grandfather’s arms, her body bolted away from me and towards the boy.
My granddaughter… you’re going the wrong way.
“ARTHUR!!!! You’re alive!!” Tessia almost knocked the boy back down onto the ground from how fast she flew into his arms.
Meanwhile, my arms stayed outstretched.
Maybe the passing breeze would accept my embrace…
ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
As Tess’ faint voice reached my ears and her teary eyes locked onto mine, she bit her lower lip to keep herself from breaking down, and I stood there at a loss. A wave of different emotions, half of which I didn’t even know I could feel, washed over me.
“ARTHUR!! You’re alive!” Her face was already buried in my chest as she finished her sentence.
“Yeah…”— I gently petted her hair—”I’m alive.”
I turned to Virion, and I swore I could almost see his petrified body crumbling to bits, his lonely arms stretched out.
His head turned like a badly oiled robot, revealing his gaze, which was anything but automatonic by the image he projected.
Grandpa should still come first.
You’re dead to me, brat.
These were the thoughts that might as well have been tattooed across his forehead by how blatantly his foul mood was leaking out.
Giving Grandpa Virion a sympathetic smile, I looked back down at Tess, who was still in my arms. Only when my old robe that had been wrapped around her body slipped slightly off her bare shoulder did I remember she was completely naked underneath.
Sylvie was bouncing up and down, trying to get Tess’ attention as the latter clung onto me like glue, but to no avail.
“The last thing I remember was you handing me over to someone. I can only recall bits and pieces of what happened after because I was in too much pain then. B-But I heard broken pieces of conversations about how you didn’t make it out,” she said as her arms still clung onto me like an infant koala. The way she looked up at me with those tear-filled eyes made me almost lose myself.
“I’ll fill you in on what happened, but for now”—I peeled her off of me, wrapping her tighter with the only piece of clothing covering her—”let’s get you decent, Princess.”
“What are you talking…” was all she managed to say before looking down, her eyes widening in horror.
Tess let out a horrified scream that shook the room, and without even the chance to react, Grandpa Virion, Sylvie, and I were knocked back by a surge of mana that seemed to have come out of nowhere.
I managed to recover in time, landing on my feet. As I looked to my side, I saw that Virion and Sylvie were both uninjured. Surprised, but uninjured.
Not even caring about the throbbing pain in my chest, I stared, slack-jawed at the sight before us.
Tess was at the epicenter of a storm of translucent emerald green vines, dozens of meters in length, all snapping and whipping around chaotically. What was even more strange was that it looked more like an extension of the bright green aura surrounding Tess, who was now curled up in the fetal position.
“Th-This… mana formation of this magnitude… shouldn’t be possible for her!” Grandpa Virion’s stood there, gaping.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I mumbled to myself.
Cupping my hands, I yelled out, “Tess! You need to calm down!”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up! Go away! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me I was n-naked!” she screamed, her eyes still shut tightly in embarrassment. Something told me that those semi-transparent tendrils responded to her emotions because they were swaying even more fiercely right now.
“Didn’t you learn that telling a screaming girl to calm down never actually calms her down?” Grandpa Virion said, shaking his head in mock disappointment.
Of course… I’m the ignorant one I guess.
What good was having been a king? Psh… only the strongest in my country? What good does all of that do, Arthur, if you can’t even quell the anger of a thirteen-year-old girl?
“Tess! It’s your grandfather! Open your eyes!” Virion shouted this time.
As Tess peeked out from one eye, she finally realized what was happening.
“What’s going on? What is all of this?” The flustered Tess looked to us for help.
“Try controlling your emotions, it’s making your mana flow go out of control,” I tried to explain in a more reasonable tone.
Tess looked to Virion, who was nodding in agreement with me.
As realization dawned on her, Tess closed her eyes and began meditating, and the translucent emerald vines slowly dissipated, fading out of sight.
The three of us rushed to where Tess was curled up as soon as the vines, that seemed to be made up of pure mana, disappeared.
“Quick, Gramps, check her mana core.”
I was going off a hunch, kind of scared to hear the truth.
“That’s just what I was about to do, brat.” Virion rolled up his sleeves and imbued some mana into his palms.
“Wait! Art, turn around!” Tess was obviously out of breath but she was also aware that something was different with her body.
“Sigh… I already saw everyth—”
“Psh…former king? More like whipped dog,” I mumbled to myself as I turned my back to them.
“I-It can’t be… Ha ha ha… W-What in the world?” I heard Virion’s trembling voice.
“What? What is it? What stage is her core at, Gramps? Dark yellow? Don’t tell me… she’s at solid yellow like me?” I was itching to turn around.
“Half a step away from Initial Silver. She almost broke through into the initial silver stage.”
“What?” I whipped my head back, causing Tess to wrap the robe covering her even more tightly.
Ignoring Tess’ glare and protests, I put my hand on her abdomen… over the robe.
He was right… Even when sensing directly, I couldn’t recognize the extent of her mana core, which meant she was at a higher level than I was.
Both Gramps and I fell straight to our bums in utter disbelief.
She broke through out of Light Orange and into the Dark Yellow stage not too long ago. That meant she skipped through all of Yellow and straight into Initial Silver?
This gravity-defying news was hard for me to swallow. I took my body’s composition for granted; because I was a quadra-elemental mage, it was a lot easier for me to break through, but it had become distinctively harder to get past bottlenecks once I reached the Dark Yellow stage. Not to mention the fact that I broke through at age 3—much earlier than everyone else.
The “gifted” students in this academy have ten years to pass the final exam in order to graduate. There was no set stage that a student’s core had to reach in this time but on average, alumni tended to be around Light Orange stage by the time they graduated. After reaching that stage, they would be given a seat among the upper echelons of practically anywhere they went.
For even the most talented dual-elemental mages, it should take exponentially longer for them to make breakthroughs if at all, but Tess had just been able to break that common sense and skip straight past the threshold just before breaking into the Initial Silver stage. That was potentially a couple decades of cultivation condensed into a mere fortnight…
The absurdity of it all…
“What the hell did you give her, brat?” Virion asked. “I’ve never heard of a beast will tempering a mana core. Or did it perhaps have anything to do with that orb you threw at her?”
“Grandpa, what did you mean by ‘half a step away’? What orb?” Tess echoed, puzzled by our conversation.
“I-I thought it was just some kind of elixir…” I was at a loss for words.
What the hell was that vanishing elixir shop?
“Arthur, if there ever was such an elixir that could do what that orb did just now, wars would break loose in hopes to win it,” Grandpa Virion shook his head, still in shock as he imagined everything he’d just told me. “How did you get your hands on whatever orb that was anyway?”
Oh, you know, I got it from a homeless-looking fellow that owned a disappearing Elixir shop…
“Ha ha ha haha… I got it for a silver coin, Gramps.”
Virion gawked at me incredulously. By his expression, I bet he would’ve been less surprised if I told him I stole if from a god.
“I don’t exactly know myself. I kinda got that orb from a peddler but that’s as much as I know…” I let out another small laugh in helplessness.
“Can you tell me what’s going on? You guys weren’t actually being serious right?” Tess immediately began focusing on her mana core. “No way… m-my mana core is light yellow now… and it already has so many cracks on it,” she said as her voice trembled.
“H-Honey… you’re actually a peak light yellow core mage now,” Grandpa Virion mumbled, almost whispering.
Tess’ eyes rolled back as she fainted, her body slumped against Sylvie’s back as my bond moved just in time to catch her.
“This girl just can’t stay awake…” I grumbled as I positioned her more comfortably on the grass floor.
“She’s sure to be exhausted after having gone through all of this; her body was under constant stress, and breaking through more than three stages at once took a toll on her mind as well. I guess the realization was the tipping point.” Virion let out a chuckle as he picked her up.
“I’m going to take her back to Elenoir through the gate. She needs some rest, and I’m sure my son and daughter-in-law are still worried. Kukuku, I’m kind of looking forward to how they’ll react to this. Sigh~ Imagine… Princess Tessia, a silver core mage at the age of 13,” he boasted with a wide grin on his face. “Do you want to come with me?”
“I’ll pass on that. I know Tess is safe, and she knows I’m safe as well; that’ll have to do for now. We’ll catch up when she returns to school,” I replied.
“Mm. I have a meeting with The Council that I’ve been avoiding ’til now, so I won’t get to see you for a while. Get some rest, boy.” Grandpa Virion threw me wink and walked out of the training room with Tess in tow.
She was at a higher level than me now…
My mind kept going back to the homeless man and his elixir shop. Was the orb he gave me really the reason she was able to break through like that? There wasn’t any other explanation otherwise.
“Kyuu~” ‘Papa, I’m hungry!’ Sylvie hopped back onto the top of my head and kept thumping my forehead in complaint.
“Haha, me too, Sylv. But before we go back, let’s visit your Uncle Elijah,” I replied, rubbing my bond’s ears.
“Kuu…” ‘…But, food.’
“Arthur!” Elijah roared as he nearly head-butted me.
I had an eerie sense of déjà vu, but this scene wasn’t nearly as heartwarming.
“There there. Yes, I’m still alive. You can’t get rid of me that easily,” I said in consolation, patting my best friend’s head.
“I know…” he sniffled. “You’re like a cockroach.”
I peeled him off of me; again, very similarly to how I’d done just thirty minutes ago, but the person in front of me this time had a string of mucus hanging out his right nostril, the other end of the slippery secretion attaching itself to my shirt.
A friend… my best friend. Elijah was an entity I had now in this life that I had so wanted in my previous one. A person I could let loose and be a child with again, no matter how old or grand I was before.
“Haha! It’s good to see your disgusting face again, pal,” I grinned at him, patting him on the shoulder.