After they entered the large room, the air shimmered, and the wall appeared a moment later. But from this side, the bricks were translucent enough, allowing Ari to see the small cellar behind. He frowned, trying to understand how it was possible. While he sensed the essence imbued into the bricks, he couldn’t wrap his head around the intricate pattern visible on some of them.
The sound of footsteps broke his concentration, and he turned his attention back to the weird room. The barkeeper got up from his armchair and approached them, limping slightly. He wore the same clothing as always, black trousers and a white apron on top of a sleeveless tunic. When he was a few steps away, he folded his thickly muscled arms on his big chest and looked at both of them with cold, intense eyes. “Whose idea was it to enter the lion’s den?”
Ari barely stopped himself from gulping and stared back at the man. He didn’t even know what a lion was, not to mention its den, but for sure, it didn’t mean anything good. “Lisa said, you know where our clothes are,” he asked instead, trying to sound confident.
“Did she now,” the barkeeper said, his pale purple eyes locked on Ari.
There was something inside of them and when he tried to break the eye contact, the room around him vanished. His glance darted around, but in every direction, there was nothing, just pure darkness. When he tried to move his legs, he couldn’t even lift them. No no, not this again. Suddenly, a pressure appeared, and he felt like he was drowning. He pushed back with his essence, trying to catch his breath, but it only got worse. Worse than it ever felt. He gritted his teeth, pushing all his essence outward and a bright white flame illuminated the darkness.
Ari fell to his knees, panting hard, but thankfully he was back in the basement room. He used all his reserves, but that was the only way he knew to break out of an essence cage.
Someone put a hand on his back. “What happened? Are you alright?” Elijah asked in a shaky voice.
“I’m fine,” Ari whispered, so only Elijah could hear him. “Please help me stand up.”
Once he was back on his feet, he stared defiantly at the barkeeper.
“You’ve got guts,” the barkeeper said. The corners of his mouth turned up, and a broad smile appeared on his face. “And a bit of skill. Who taught you that?”
Ari just kept his eyes on him without saying a word.
“Men and their posturing,” Lisa said. She crashed on a leather couch placed behind the table and picked up the book the barkeeper was reading before.
The barkeeper looked at her and said, “Bring their clothes here instead of complaining.”
“You do it, I’m busy,” she said without looking at him. The stout man sighed, and when his head turned back, she stuck her tongue out at him, which brought out a chuckle from Elijah.
“Name’s Brendan,” he said and held his hand out.
Ari shook it in a firm grasp. He frowned when he noticed there were no brands on the man’s wrists. “Ari and this is Elijah—”
“The Wanderer,” Brendan interrupted him, nodding his head and he shook the other man’s hand. Even if Ari suspected the pair knew more than they let on, he was still surprised when he heard the word out loud.
“How did you know?” Ari asked with curiosity.
“Let’s see.” Brendan put his hand to the chin in an exaggerated manner. “A pair of young men arriving on the night of a rainbow storm. Check. Both of them gawking at everything as if they were born yesterday. Check. Talking so loud about another world that even a deaf person would hear them.” A hint of anger appeared in his voice when he said the last sentence and glared at them.
“If not for the silencing wards I’ve placed around your room and table, the Hunters wouldn’t just be merely suspecting you, but they would already take you,” he continued.
Both Ari and Elijah gulped at that.
“W… We didn’t know—” Elijah stammered.
Brendan waved his hand, interrupting them again. “I’m not finished. To make things even worse, you two idjits decided to go to the evaluation. At least it didn’t end in another disaster, seeing that both of you received your necklaces.” He paused, stroking his leg and a grimace appeared on his face. “ Let’s sit, we have a lot of things to discuss, and I’m too old to stand for the whole day.”
Ari raised his brow hearing that — the barkeeper didn’t look that old, being at most in his late thirties. Still, he too felt tired from emptying all his reserves, so he nodded and followed the man. To his surprise, he could already sense that his essence was slowly restoring. Maybe it’s the necklace.
He and Elijah sat on another leather couch, placed on the opposite side of the table, while Brendan collapsed on his armchair with a sigh of relief. “Do you still have anything from your world? And don’t try to lie,” he said, looking at Elijah.
“Uhm… Just this,” Elijah said and fished a small gray box with black glass on one side out from his pocket. He held the item in his hand and Ari wondered what it was. “But it has sentimental value and I would like to keep it.”
Brendan shook his head. “You can’t. The only reason you’re still breathing is that the Hunters don’t have enough evidence. You’re one of several people who arrived here after the storm, but they must have narrowed the list down if they searched your room. Thankfully Lisa found the clothes before they did.”
“Great hiding spot, by the way,” she said without raising her eyes from the book.
“How do you know so much about them?” Ari asked.
“I just do,” Brendan replied. “Listen, lad. I can hide your things here and you can retrieve them when you’re stronger. But as you are right now, you’re risking not only your life but also the life of your friend.”
Elijah looked at Ari with his eyes wide and he reluctantly placed the weird item on the table.
“Is there anything else? Think lad; even the smallest thing can be used against you,” Brendan asked.
Elijah’s face turned red as a tomato and he whispered, ”My underwear.”
“What? Speak up, lad,” Brendan asked.
Elijah cleared his throat and said, “My underwear.”
“You will have to get rid of it, the sooner the better,” Brendan said, unfazed by Elijah's embarrassment. “There’s a storage room behind, and you can change there. But don’t touch anything inside, trust me, I will know if you did.”
Elijah nodded and scampered away, trying to hide his red face. When the door closed behind him, Brendan turned his attention towards Ari. “Do you know what you’re getting into?” he asked, his tone suddenly serious.
“I don’t. But I have to help him because he saved my life. My par…” Ari paused. While the barkeeper helped them, he still didn’t trust him fully, so he decided against telling him anything about his parents. “He doesn’t have anyone else and he just wants to get back to his world. Is it even possible?”
“I only heard stories about Wanderers who grew so powerful they could travel between worlds” — Brendan let out a deep breath and twiddled his mustache — “but I never met anyone who saw it with his own eyes.”
Ari nodded. He knew it wouldn’t be an easy task, but he had to try at least. There was still one more thing he needed to know. He asked this question several times, but his Mother always changed the topic when he did. “Why are the Hunters even after them?”
“You don’t know?” Lisa sat up and threw the book on the table. Ari glanced at the weathered cover and gasped when he noticed the title — Advanced Uses of Essence. Wrinkles appeared on the woman’s forehead as she said, “Not only do they change the balance in this world, but also they go against everything the Order stands for.”
“But how? Aren’t they normal people like us?” Ari gave the woman a questioning look.
“They’re far stronger than—”
Elijah’s voice interrupted her. “Uhm, what do I do with them?”
A look of disgust appeared on Lisa’s face. “Don’t bring them here, that’s for sure,” she shouted back. She glared at the barkeeper and said, “You’re cleaning this.” The man just sighed with resignation in response.
“What was I saying? Oh, right. They grow in power faster than others, and their brands allow them to do things we can’t,” Lisa continued.
Ari wanted to ask about the brands, but the door opened and Elijah joined them on the couch. He looked at Ari’s thoughtful face and asked, “What did I miss?”
Ari ignored his question and asked instead, “What can we do about the Hunters?”. While he would like to learn more about Wanderers, he wasn’t sure if Elijah should be present during the conversation. What Lisa told him already worried him.
“Nothing,” Brendan responded. He stood up and limped towards one of the bookcases and picked two identical books from the bottom shelf. When he sat back down he threw them on the table. “You can try to keep your heads down and pray they leave you alone.”
“Can’t you help us with them?” Elijah asked in a hopeful voice.
“No,” Brendan grumbled. His tone suggested they shouldn’t ask why, but when he noticed their gloom faces, he sighed. ”Listen, lads. I already did more than I should. Meddling with Hunter's affairs is dangerous and judging by your reaction, you don’t know how scary they can be. I can offer you a safe place in my inn, but nothing more.”
He paused for a moment and then continued. “Since you already joined the Order, you should focus on getting stronger. You can learn the silencing ward and other things from the books, and those will help you survive.”
“Won’t they teach us this stuff?” Ari asked.
Brendan chuckled. “The Order isn’t what you think it is.”
Ari’s brows creased and he waited for the man to explain what he meant and when didn’t, he asked, “What do you mean?”
“I’ll let you discover it by yourself since you were so eager to join them.” He placed a small key on one of the books. “I’ve readied another room for you. It’s on the first floor and Lisa already warded it, so you can safely talk inside. We already spent too much time here and it will look suspicious if you vanish in the kitchen for so long.”
Ari took the books and the key before both of them stood up. When they neared the translucent wall, he turned and said, “Thank you for helping us.”
“No problem, lads,” the barkeeper said with a smile. “Good luck tomorrow. And trust me, you will need it.”
They passed the wall like it wasn’t there, but when Ari looked at it from the other side it turned back to what it was before. Also when he touched one of the bricks, he felt the cold stone beneath his fingers.
"Now a wise mentor appeared," Elijah grumbled
“What was that?” Ari asked.
"Nothing, just thinking out loud."
Ari stared at the chubby man but hadn't said anything. They left the cellar, both lost in thoughts. While the barkeeper helped them tremendously, Ari was sure that he was hiding something.
Their new room was twice as large as the one before. The beds were not only bigger, but the mattresses were much softer — something Elijah found out right after they entered. The man would either eat or sleep, but Ari still smiled at his reaction. In a side room, they found a toilet with a bathtub, and Ari let a deep breath of relief. He saw a few public bathhouses during the time they spent in the town, and he wanted to visit one tomorrow before the inauguration, but now they had no such need.
They even had a liquor cabinet, filled with colorful bottles, and they picked one at random, but the taste was awful and they decided to stick to drinking ale. While Ari was worried about the rent they would have to pay for this room, he dismissed it as a problem for another day.
Elijah wanted to talk about what they learned, but Ari suggested testing the silencing ward first. While Elijah waited outside, Ari first spoke in a normal voice and later shouted as loud as he could, but no sound escaped the room. Satisfied, they talked more about their evaluations and the conversation with the barkeeper, but Ari left out the part about Wanderers. While Elijah wanted to train his magic, it wasn't possible inside the room because he couldn't control his spell yet, and he was worried he would start a fire. Ari doubted the barkeeper would be happy with them destroying another of his rooms.
After supper, Elijah fell asleep right away, his loud snoring filled the room and Ari wished he knew how the silencing ward worked so that he could place it around his friend’s bed. Since he wasn’t sleepy, he started reading the book he received. It was filled with the theory about the essence and its uses, but Ari couldn’t concentrate on the words so he put it down.
Instead, he closed his eyes and looked at his essence sheet, as he started calling it. He wondered what the three attributes — body, mind, spirit — meant, but when he focused on them, no extra explanation appeared. Thankfully, he had more luck with his skills.
|Summon Lesser Water Elemental - level 4
|You summon a lesser elemental, which fights alongside you and obeys your commands until it is destroyed or dismissed.|
|Summoner’s Bond - level 4|
|Allows you to summon and control creatures from other planes. They receive a bonus to their stats based on your spirit.|
|Mend - level 2|
|Heals light wounds. Constant contact is required for this spell to work.|
|Control Water - level 1|
|You can control up to 5 liters of water in your near vicinity and affect it in various ways.|
|Fast Recovery - level 2|
|Increases your essence recovery.|
Only the passive skill called Osmosis didn’t have a description, and he wondered why. But similar to the attributes, no matter how hard he focused on it nothing happened.
After, he picked a mug and filled it with water. For over an hour, he trained with the fluid, but all he could do was move it from one place to another. The description mentioned changing the water, but he couldn’t do it no matter what he tried. Still, just before he wanted to call it for the day, something inside of him stirred and he closed his eyes to check his essence sheet. A smile appeared on his face when he noticed that the level of Control Water increased to level 2 and now he could control one more liter of it. So that’s how it works.
Pleased with the results of his training, he spent the next half an hour moving the water from one corner of the room to another, but after his focus wavered and he lost control, spilling it on his bed, he decided it was time to rest. He fell asleep worrying about tomorrow — both about their placement in the ranking and the team they will be assigned to.