Ari ran toward Roisin and grabbed her hand. Instantly, he used Healing Touch, spreading his essence through her body. Thankfully, the burns were minor, and it only took a second to heal them.
The whole time, her bright hazel eyes remained fastened on him. “Why does it look like you want to kill each other every time I see you?” she muttered under her breath.
When Ari heard a commotion behind him, he let go of her hand and glanced over his shoulder to see what it was about. The squirrel chittered at Tasia as if it was angry she dodged the spell, and another acorn appeared in its paws.
“Don’t!” he shouted.
The summon looked meekly at him, and its large horn-like ears flattened as the deadly projectile vanished. Then, it jumped off the table, skittered beside Ari's legs, and tugged at Roisin’s cloak.
The blonde-haired mentor smiled as she caressed the squirrel’s head. It climbed up her arm and sat on her shoulder, its burning tail wagging merrily. “Well, at least someone here is sorry about what happened,” she said, this time louder, and there was a hint of a threat in her voice.
“I don’t know why it attacked her,” Ari said, but then it struck him — when Tasia made fun of the summon, he thought about her shutting up. He closed his eyes and brought up his essence sheet to confirm something.
|Mental Link - level 1|
|Allows you to communicate with your summons telepathically. Limited range.|
Oh… The new spell sounded troublesome. When he checked it last night, he thought it would work differently. If the summons reacted now to his thoughts and emotions, he would need to find a way to control the spell without worrying about them doing something stupid.
Roisin snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Stop daydreaming.” The squirrel tried to repeat the motion, but it just waved its little pawn at him.
“It may have been my fault,” Ari stammered and explained what his new skill does. After, he turned toward Tasia. “Sorry.”
The raven-haired woman shook her head. “I shouldn’t have made fun of it” —she eyed the squirrel suspiciously— “but I hope it won’t do it again.”
Roisin approached the barrels in the corner of the room, and a piece of cloth appeared in her hands. While she cleaned herself, Ari commanded the rodent to stand away from anyone and dismissed it. A moment later, the creature exploded into a cloud of flames, and he doused them with water. He noticed that Killian seemed dejected as he stared with his shoulders hunched at the spot where it vanished.
Roisin finished wiping her hands and glanced at the recruits standing around the room. She pointed at the couch and said, “Sit.”
Nobody complained, and they did what she asked, even though there wasn’t enough space, and they were sitting elbow to elbow.
A hint of a smile appeared on Roisin’s face as she stood on the other side of the table. A small green apple appeared in her hand, and she bit into it, chewing slowly, undaunted by the expectant looks in the eyes of the recruits.
“The dungeon you entered was stronger than it should have been,” she said after swallowing the last mouthful of the fruit. When none of them reacted in any way, she rolled her eyes and threw the core over their heads. It hit the wall with a splat and dropped to the floor behind the couch. Ari barely stopped himself from checking how many leftovers lay there already.
“How much have you overheard?” Roisin asked.
“Till the moment you mentioned the monster with a red aura,” Tasia replied with a smug smile.
Roisin nodded and licked the juice from her fingers. “To understand what the creature was, you need to know something about dungeons. Each rift leads to a place in another world, where the concentration of essence is too high, forming some kind of connection between the two worlds,” she explained, gesturing with her hands while pacing back and forth.
“But this creates an issue because essence is seeping through the rift, corrupting the area around it. You saw how this looked like in the forest. And you already know that to close the rift; you need to kill the sources of the essence on the other side, which in most cases are monsters.”
Ari shuddered when he recalled the dead trees. “But who created them? Inside, we saw a weird archway with a tree and a pickaxe etched on it,” he asked.
“And a box appeared with items after the boss died,” Elijah interjected.
“I don’t know much about history, but there was someone else living in this world before us, and it’s their crest,” Roisin said. “They created a way for us to use the rifts to get stronger, and we fought alongside them in war a long time ago. But they disappeared right after it ended.”
“Against the Thalethians? What were they?” Ari asked, recalling the inauguration and the speech the headmistress gave.
Roisin sighed, “You will have to check in the library. I never liked books.”
Probably because they aren’t sweet and you can’t eat them, Ari thought.
“What about the monster Ari saw?” Tasia asked.
“Normally, to travel to another world, you need to use a rift.” Roisin stopped in her tracks and turned toward them, suddenly looking serious. “But, there are beings who can travel between worlds, invading them as they constantly search for something. We call them Wanderers.”
Ari felt as his friend tensed beside him. Tasia, who sat on his other side, hadn’t noticed it because her gaze was focused on their mentor. A moment later, she asked, “What are they looking for?”
“Sadly, nobody knows. But they never stay long in one place, so that’s what people assume,” Roisin replied with a shrug. “A few years ago, a lone ruby Wanderer appeared in the desert far north. The storm announcing her arrival destroyed a town the size of Bourfall, and it was visible in two neighboring countries. Before the Order managed to react, she razed a few more towns, slaughtering nearly fifty thousand people and disappeared without a trace.”
Except for the sound of soft breathing, a stunned silence filled the room. Fifty thousand? Ari couldn’t even imagine such a number.
“Ruby?” Elijah asked in a weak voice.
“It’s the name of the rank with a red aura, one of the strongest there is. Still, not every Wanderer is like that. I met one, you know? When I was a recruit.”
This got their attention again, and they waited eagerly for the woman to continue.
“During what was supposed to be a simple escort mission, we encountered an aberrant monster. My team stopped to camp near a cave, but something was already inside, and our fire drew it out.”
“Yeah, a glassie mistake.” She scratched the back of her head and sighed wearily. “Honestly, I don’t even remember what it looked like, but the pressure of its emerald aura will haunt me forever. We were paralyzed, and the creature emerged from the cave. It... devoured the merchant, who we were supposed to protect.”
“I thought it was the end of the line for us, but a weird bald kid, at most fifteen, wearing a robe and sandals appeared out of nowhere and stood in its way — and it was the middle of a fucking winter with knee-deep snow all over the ground. They stared at each other, and after a few seconds, the monster froze solid and broke into thousands of pieces.”
“A kid, killing an emerald ranked monster as if swatting a fly. And you know what the weirdest thing was? He was already an emerald himself.” She shook her head in disbelief. “After, he approached the body, picked up something and left, without even looking in our direction.”
It sounded unreal to Ari, and he glanced at Elijah, who clenched his right fist so hard, his knuckles turned white with the pressure. Ari kicked him in the ankle, and his friend shook himself out of it.
“How do you know he was a Wanderer?” Tasia asked.
“He didn’t have a necklace, and killing an aberrant monster of emerald rank requires a full team of emeralds. But sometimes even that’s not enough,” Roisin said and looked at Ari. “Anyway, I’ve already contacted the headquarters, and they will send someone here to talk to you.”
“Why me?” he asked.
“Because you saw the thing with your own eyes. It’s not a good sign a ruby Wanderer appeared in a world connected to ours.” She paused as if searching for the right words.
“Rest for another day. Tomorrow we will start your training,” Roisin said and approached the door. But she stopped before them and put her hand on the knob. “I’m sorry. I should have prepared you better, even if it meant going against the rules.”
Ari sensed the essence boiling around the woman, but before he could say anything, she left, and the door closed behind her.
Immediately after, Tasia got up from the couch and growled, “Fuck resting.”
Ari agreed with her. Doing nothing was the last thing on his mind, especially after what he learned. Now he understood what the barkeeper meant about the Order fearing people like Elijah — he was something they couldn’t control as Wanderers could grow in power without their help. We both may end up as Order’s enemies one day, Ari thought, recalling the mysterious letter he received a year ago.
Ari joined Tasia and stood beside her. “We need to understand our abilities better,” he said. “And I mean it as a team because we need to start working together.”
Elijah and Killian looked at him, nodding in approval. Tasia measured him with her blue eyes before tilting her head slightly.
Ari smiled and continued, “I will start. I can summon two things, and it seems the new one has at least one spell. Also, I can control water, but currently, it’s limited to moving it from one place to another. The scepter allows me to freeze it, but the enchantment can be used only every five minutes or so. Then there’s the healing spell, but you’re already familiar with it.”
They winced at the remark. Even if it was just a single dungeon, Ari healed each of them during the attempt. He could see how healers were invaluable in any team, and he couldn’t risk being the first to go down.
“I can create barriers, but they are weak by themselves,” Tasia said, breaking the silence. “I need to use my essence to strengthen them, but the bigger the barrier, the higher the cost.”
“There’s also a way for me to destroy a barrier, but the spell uses most of my reserve, and I can’t control it yet; I need to be very close to the monster, or else the shards will fly everywhere.”
“Now, I can create a stronger, dome-like barrier that blocks attacks from in and out. So it should be a good way for us to catch a breath during a battle,” she finished with a smile.
The archer cleared his throat and said in a calm, practiced voice, “My brands mostly enhance my archery. I can make an arrow fly faster or fuse lightning into it, but the spell puts too much strain on my body, so I use it sparingly. I can also track something by tasting its blood.” He narrowed his eyes at Elijah.
“As for the new spell, I can set up a trap on the ground. But I need to control the lightning that erupts after activation because it attacks everything in the near vicinity.”
They all stared at him, with their mouths hanging open. Just now, the withdrawn archer spoke more words than in the few previous days combined. Even his voice sounded different like he was used to speaking publicly. But, he simply ignored them and returned to cleaning his bow.
Elijah picked up his sword, unsheathed it, and walked to the other side of the room, where the three dummies stood. “Uhm, I mostly control fire, and it gets stronger the closer I am to the target,” he faltered and paused. He took a deep breath while looking at the ceiling. “I’ve gained two new spells after the last dungeon. One increases my speed, but the longer it’s active, the more essence it drains. I’m not sure what the other does, so please give me a moment.”
He turned toward one of the dummies and stretched out his left arm to the side. In his other, he held the sword pointing downward, the blade nearly touching the wooden floor.
Wisps of fire surrounded his outstretched arm, whirling in an ever-changing pattern. Slowly, they started moving toward his hand, and after a few seconds, essence flared in a bright flash forcing Ari to close his eyes.
When he opened them, he noticed there was a rope made out of living fire coiled around Elijah’s wrist. It unfurled to the ground, biting into the wood with a sizzling sound, but he still held something dark in his hand. It’s not a rope. Ari shuddered upon the realization.
Elijah flicked his wrist, and with a cruel swish, the flaming whip came down and wrapped around the dummy’s neck. He muttered something, and the thong flared and suddenly tightened. It burned through the stone with ease, and not even a second later, the head fell to the ground with a loud thud and rolled away.
His friend let go of the handle, and the whip vanished like sparks leaping from a bonfire. He turned toward his teammates with a wide smile plastered on his face. “What do you—” He stopped mid-sentence when he noticed their stunned expressions.
“You idiot, why did you destroy it?” Tasia shouted a moment later.
“What?” Elijah asked, dumbfounded.
“We can’t replace the dummies as they did during our evaluation. We will have to pay a fee to get a new one.”
“Uhm, really? I didn’t know. I’m sorry...” Elijah stammered.
“I will show you sorry!”
“Give him a break,” Ari said and threw her the pouch with the orbs they received for the first dungeon.
Tasia caught it in one hand, and there was a questioning look in her eyes.
“Pay for the dummy and keep the rest for now. From today you will be responsible for our team’s earnings.” Ari paused. “But first give everyone two orbs. You earned it,” he added with a grin.
“Why me?” she blurted after a few seconds.
“It seems you know more than us about how things work around here,” Ari replied and looked at his teammates. “Train with your new spells for now. Before we decide what to do next, let’s wait for Roisin and maybe she will finally start acting as a mentor should.”
Ari ignored the silence that followed, picked his scepter, and approached the barrels. Four invisible essence tendrils, his current limit, surrounded him and started gathering the water, forming it into little bubbles floating beneath the wooden ceiling.
A determined look settled on his face, and his eyes shone with resolution. It’s time to learn how to use the spell properly.