Chapter 34 - The Wyvern Pass
Mark himself, even when he was a Four Stars Warrior, wouldn't be qualified to know the man if he wasn't the strongest warrior in the Valdian Kingdom. It had been the One-Who-Serves that had ordered Mark to hide his strength from the family, for unknown reasons. At first, Mark hadn't been keen on doing that, but after he understood who exactly the One-Who-Serves was, all his hesitations left him.
Seeing the man, Mark's heart was in disarray.
What if the One-Who-Serves went into odds with the Herald of Change? What if one of them ordered him to attack the other?
He would obey any order from any of them, as long as it wasn't aimed at hurting the other! But if he refused any such order, it would be the same as picking a side and falling out with the other party.
He only hoped this day never came.
The Wyvern Pass was a narrow passage on the rocky Death's Shadow Mountains. It went up and down a few mountains until it reached the top of the tallest peak around, then it went directly downwards.
Going over the peak was a gamble. A mighty Ascender beast lived there, but it sometimes let people pass. No one knew why, as there had been no survivors, but people speculated that it was due to its irregular hibernation periods that it didn't kill just everyone who went through there.
It said a lot about the Death's Shadow Mountains where a place where certain death might come depending on the erratic sleep patterns of an unknown beast was part of a relatively safe path.
"I'll go first," Aaron said when they reached the narrow path. "Mark comes after me, then Sara, and finally, Helina."
That was the best arrangement possible. Mark, the weakest one, would be the one with the best protection, followed by Sara. Helina, whom Aaron considered kind of a part of the group, but not entirely, was the strongest of them and would obviously be responsible for protecting their back.
He didn't consider the Crusader's position because he couldn't boss her around and she would just do whatever she wanted. As for Lo, Aaron didn't trust the man, who wasn't his guest anyway. As long as the two of them didn't try to get between Aaron's own group, or backstabbed him, he wouldn't care about them.
They started going up the first mountain at around midday. It was a steep path that usually required them to actually climb, always with stone walls to both sides that provided protection from the beasts in the mountain.
It was a hard climb, and about five hours later, Mark was panting, barely able to continue forward.
"Let's eat," Aaron ordered as soon as they reached a flat area where two people could sit side by side.
Sara took out cooking utensils, but Helina intervened. "Cooking will attract beasts," she said.
"No problem," Aaron said. "I can protect Mark, and you two need the practice if you want to be any use to me."
Helina's face twisted. "I'm not your underlying."
"But you want to protect me, don't you?" Aaron said. "After everything you saw me do, can you honestly say I need your protection?"
Her face got even angrier, but she said nothing. Aaron smiled and turned to Sara. "I want something tasty."
"Yes, young master," she replied submissively.
He then turned to Mark and sighed. "I wanted to take a few days in the city for you to become a One-Star Warrior. I'm sorry we couldn't."
Although frustrated, Aaron didn't blame Shadow One for doing her best to isolate him. After all, they were bound to enmity, and she was doing what her position required of her. He wouldn't blame the lion for eating the gazelle, or the gazelle for trying to avoid her fate. To him, the Crusader was nothing more than a gazelle whose future had already been decided for her, and she was simply struggling as best as she could.
"Young master, it is no issue at all!" Mark said quickly. "It's my honor to be able to serve you even if I'm as weak as an inept. I'm sorry for slowing you all down though."
Aaron waved the butler's concern away with his hand. "Nonsense. As much as I say you should become stronger to better serve me, it's also a master's obligation to care about his subordinates. You're doing your best, and that's all that matters."
His words won him looks of admiration from Mark and Sara, and of deep thought from Helina. Only Shadow One and Lo, who were walking behind the group, seemed to not care about it.
"Young master, may I ask a question?" Mark asked a few moments later.
"Sure," Aaron replied.
"Why are we going through the Wyvern Pass? With the power of all mages in the group, you could surely create a much safer underground tunnel."
Aaron nodded. "Good thinking, but the true danger in the Death's Shadow Mountains lays in the underground. Long ago, a dwarven city was located down there. The dwarves abandoned it for an unknown reason, and they were in such a hurry that they left many natural resources behind, the kind that can attract even Ascending beasts for their strengthening properties. For yet another unknown reason, the city was occupied by beasts before we humans were even aware of the dwarves emigration. After many failed expeditions, mages understood that only Overlords have any hope from returning alive from down there."
Mark paled at that. "I... I...."
Aaron smiled. The butler had just suggested his master do something that would undoubtedly lead to his master's death, and right after his master showed care, too. Something like that would be considered treason and be punishable by death even when dealing with the kindest employer.
"You're ignorant," Aaron said. "Not because you want it, but because you were made like this by the mages who ruled over you. I won't punish you for being it, especially considering you intended well with your suggestion. On the other hand, I do expect you to do some research on the potential dangers of any place you suggest me to travel in the future."
As innocent as that mistake was, it could have proven fatal. Aaron was one to forgive unintentional mistakes the first time they happened, teaching better ways as he did it. But if Mark didn't learn better, it showed he either didn't care about it, was incompetent, or had bad intentions. Therefore, from the second time onwards, punishments would have to be delivered.
"Thank you, young master," Mark said, filled with gratitude.
They ate without any issue, and no beast appeared for the remaining of the day. Even as they stopped for the night, Helina hadn't detected any beasts nearing their positions.
"Young master," Sara said after they also ate at night. "I have a few questions about the elements."
"Ask away," Aaron said.
"I've been thinking... Of the five elements I know, fire is the one I'm most comfortable with," she said. "But the more I think about it, the more confident I get that I wouldn't be able to create a fire hot enough to molten such a large amount of rock as your Meteor spell did. Why is that?"
The boy nodded. "Good! Very good indeed! I'm very satisfied with this question, Sara. Why did you think of it?"
She blushed. "You told me to focus on one element at a time, and because I hope to be able to use the Meteor spell one day, I've been focusing on earth. As I understood it better, I became aware of how powerful your flames were at that time."
"My answer to your question has two parts. The first is that there are different levels of understanding of the elements. It might sound obvious, but when most mages know enough about an element to convert pure mana into elemental mana, and thus the element is added to the list of known elements in their Full Statuses, they cease trying to improve their understanding on it. This, of course, leads to them hitting a bottleneck when they become Eminences, preventing them from Ascending. That's when they find out how shallow their understanding was."
Now that Aaron was aware of Firestar's ploy, he could easily identify which of the books he had read had come from his knowledge, and which had already been in there. In the old books, he had read no mention about mages trying to deepen their understanding of the elements, which was proof enough that at least most of the family was ignorant of it.
"As for the second part, it's related to the first, but also to something new. The world works in two ways: naturally, and spiritually. By naturally, I mean a world without the influence of mana, and by spiritually, I mean when mana is involved. Without mana, the world follows certain rules of physics that makes it so that a rock is a rock, nothing less, nothing more. It has set properties that cannot change beyond the rules of physics.
"But when dealing with mana, the more a mage understand about earth, the more he can influence it in ways that should be naturally impossible. One of such ways is to lower the temperature required for a rock to melt or increase the temperature of a flame beyond what should be naturally possible. Using either of these two ways or a little of both, I can easily create the meteors you saw."
She looked lost at his explanation, and he didn't blame her. Separating the natural and the spiritual for him was easy, but for someone who had never experienced a world without mana, it was a difficult task indeed.
Sara breathed deeply before her next question. "This 'natural world' is connected to that 'atomic theory' you tried to explain to me before, isn't it?"
She swallowed. "Can you... Explain it again? Please?"
"Of course," Aaron said. "The natural world is a world without the influence of mana. Think of it like this..." He proceeded to explain to her basically how everything on Earth worked.
It was a lengthy explanation, and although he kept it simple for the most part, he also brushed on the subject of transforming motion energy into electric energy so she could understand how the elements were much more natural than spiritual in nature, and how wonderful magic really was.
By the end of his explanation, everyone had stopped to listen, even the Crusader. He then proceeded to explain the differences between natural energy and mana.
"Natural energy is what matter is made from, and by dividing the tiniest bits of matter, called atoms, you can generate such a big amount of natural energy that you can level entire cities with it. Following such knowledge, it should be easy for a mage to do this by using magic, but that's where the Natural-Spiritual Collision comes into play."
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I'm Ed, a writer of GameLit. So far I have released only two books, but I'm working on increasing this number by tens! No, by hundreds! Maybe thousands! xP
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