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Jennifer sat quietly, listening to the others discuss amongst themselves. She'd told them the full story of the invasion and the dungeon break, the details of the [Sand-Mage], the demons and the strange monster-humanoids, only skipping over the mark and the trial with Irwys.

“The sand tribes haven’t moved so far from the desert in decades, much less this far north. They clash frequently with the merfolks further south and the Lizardmen. But the tribes fight amongst themselves too often to put up a combined front. And that's discounting when they're scattered by the vicious monsters who wander the sands,” Viel said, rubbing his chin in thought.

Nathaniel tapped his hilt while watching Jennifer. “The mark may play a role in unifying the tribes. Although I can’t think of a reason for invading Lienmonth. The High Falls should also physically provide a challenge to travel unnoticed. I still don’t understand how they managed to approach the demons and not get slaughtered on sight. It sounds...absurd.”

“Are you sure about these events? That it wasn’t something else you saw? The Ostiri deserts are not kind and humans who have fallen to resorting to the flesh of monsters have been known to become twisted amalgamations. The Lost Ones, they are called. Hunted even by the Ostiri to let them rest at peace.” Viel added, glancing over at Nathaniel once as he did.

“I’ve got a truth spell to verify what the lass says. She believes her words, not much to doubt there,” her master added, patting her shoulder.

“This is concerning,” Irwys said leaning ahead as he rested his arms on his sword. “The timing of the invasion, the dungeon break and the first delve. It coincides far too well. If this is true then someone's providing the sand tribes with information. I’ll need to talk to his highness.”

“The guild heads need to be informed as well,” Viel added, “If Jennifer's right, then something is deeply wrong. The demons haven't moved from the western front in years. It may very well be the emergence of the trial,” Viel said, furrowing his brows before he turned towards Jennifer.

“Before we move on though. Jennifer, you need to learn how to retract your mark’s presence,” Viel said, his mark lighting up as he spoke. “I’ll guide you with my own presence and you can follow along. If that’s alright with you?”

Jennifer gulped at his words, worried about his aura inducing another panic attack. But she closed her eyes and gave back a tense nod.

His mark’s presence flooded her mind, pushing at her. Her own mark lit up in response, fighting against it. Viel’s mark pressed down onto her own, pushing from all sides. But this wasn't the crushing weight she'd felt last time. It still rattled her to have her own presence so easily squashed.

Jennifer clenched her teeth in defiance.

I’m not so weak as to shatter from his mere presence. I refuse.

She gathered her presence, a vague sense, detached from her body all around her. It covered her like a bubble, pushing back against Viel’s presence.

“Good, good. Now pull your presence inwards. Focus on your center and imagine your presence shrinking. Growing smaller and smaller. Use any image you like.”

Jennifer felt the eyes on her as those present stared at her. She ignored them, struggling to maintain her grasp on the intangible presence. She pictured a pool of water, in a spherical bowl. She pictured her presence as the water trapped inside. Then, at its center, she imagined a drain, sucking the water in as it drained the bowl.

She felt the presence of the mark shift, slowly moving towards her. She concentrated harder, focusing on the magic she felt flowing from her hands. With a pop, the presence faded, receding into her body as it formed a periphery just above her skin. Veil’s presence surrounded her. Yet it bounced off the far denser border of her own mark’s presence.

She opened her eyes, sweat dripping down her forehead and she let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. “I think I did it.”

Viel smiled in response, “Yes, you most certainly did. Other marks will still be able to feel you if they're in your immediate surroundings. But at least now you won’t be a beacon broadcasting your presence. And so long as you stay near me, then you’ll be near invisible due to my own presence and aura.”

Clapping his hands, Nathanial gave Jenn a wink as he said, “I think all of us have quite a bit to discuss, and poor Jennifer has been held up for quite some while. So, why don't we let her go? Not that you're completely free of us. We’ll be seeing you in a few days, Jennifer. You’ll need quite a few lessons before you’re ready for the delve. Including your magic.”

“The things we've discussed in this room should stay in this room. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of that,” Viel said, looking around the room once and Jennifer nodded back.

“I’ll be taking my leave then,” Irwys said, getting up from his seat, he stopped near Jenn's seat, his eyes resting on her. His eyes bore into her for several long seconds before he walked out.

Jennifer let out a quiet sigh as Irwys passed out of sight. She rose from her seat, turning towards Haireth and Rumina. Her master gave her a reassuring nod, her friend on the other hand had a thoughtful expression on her face.

“Let’s get ye home lass. I had a message sent to yer parents that yer with me, so ye’ll be fine on that front,” he said and Jennifer smiled thankfully.

The three of them walked out of the room, anxiety and relief mixed together in Jennifer’s gut as she turned towards her friend. Rumina stood silently, her face scrunched up, as it often was when she was thinking over something difficult.

“Both of ye should head out, I'd planned to come to the guild for work today anyways. Might as well do that now that I’m here,” her master said, patting her shoulder once before walking off.

“Let’s go then,” Jenn said walking ahead, as Rumina followed behind silently. Jennifer glanced back at Rumina, occasionally finding the girl looking back at her. They walked for a while, reaching the entrance to the guild. There were low-ranking adventurers milling about. It was still far from calm, but the tense panic in the wake of the tremor had passed.

Jennifer covered her eyes from the blazing sun ahead. She'd lost track of time with everything that had happened today and now the evening sun blanketed the city in its waning light.

I don’t know what to say to her.

Jennifer stopped outside the guild’s entrance, turning towards Rumina. She balled her hands, tightly, before relaxing them a few times. On her fourth repetition, she spoke. “I understand you’re probably confused. I am too. This was all so very abrupt. I’ll also understand if you want some time alone to think. I just- I just wanted to say, I’m sorry for not telling you earlier.”

Jennifer was staring at her feet by the time she finished, unable to meet Rumina's eyes.

I hate this. This is why I didn't want to tell anyone. Now she will be involved in whatever's happening. What if that sand mage tries to go for her? To threaten me for my mark? Didn’t Viel say that they were trying to combine the marks or something? Devour them.

“You silly puff-ball," Rumina said, using a nickname she hadn't used in years. "It’s so obvious. You still want to do everything by yourself. You never change, do you?”

Jenn heard the plopping of Rumina's shoes as she approached her, placing her hands on Jenn's shoulders.

“I was happy,” Rumina said in a low voice. “I’m happy you told me. And included me. Very confused, troubled, I can’t quite believe all of this is real. But I’m happy you’re not rushing ahead all by yourself.”

The redhead shook her head, her sapphire eyes glossing over.

“We’ll get through whatever this is, Jenn. Together. I'd be an awful friend if I left you alone. I don’t know how I can do anything. I mean you're getting personal training from a Elphion-blasted ranked adventurer. And talking with guild heads and a prince and just- it’s such a different world. And-” Rumina stopped, glancing around.

“Not here, let’s go somewhere else. I still want to talk to you alone,” Rumina said and Jennifer nodded before she turned towards her friend.

“Still wanna celebrate? We could celebrate that... I’m an adventurer now,” Jennifer said with a weak smile. But her smile grew when Rumina flashed her a much more cheerful one.

❖❖❖

A closed door awaited them as they stood outside the shop. Jennifer checked the sign once more. Scampy tails, the name read, in a strange design, a fish tail curving around the name.

“I guess it’s closed, maybe because of the dunge- the earthquake. Not much we can do about it,” Jennifer said, shrugging.

Rumina sighed, running her hand through her hair once, “Maybe we should try knocking? There might be someone in there.”

Jennifer was about to refuse when the door clicked, swinging open.

A scaled face poked out, yellow reptilian eyes turning to look at them. “Shop’s closed girlsss, quite a lot of stuff broke in that earthquake and it’s a messs. You should come back some other daysss.”

“I’d take you in, but my cooling enchantment got busted and it’ll cost me a fair bit to get that fixed. I might have to close shop for a few days,” the lizardfolk - as Jenn could tell after a closer look - said opening the door a bit further as they walked out.

Jennifer saw Rumina turn to look at her, her friend’s eyes shining and Jennifer smiled slightly. “Umm, I happen to be an enchanter. I can’t cast a high-tier cooling enchantment, but if you want I can have a look for you. Maybe fix it, if you have the reagents I need.”

The Lizardfolk’s eyes swiveled to her, and she jumped a bit, as the frills at the base of their neck rose up. “Is this true? Yes, I have the reagents. I always keep a stock. I’d be truly grateful if you could fix the enchantment, even temporarily.”

Jennifer nodded and both of them walked inside the shop. Rumina snickered as they did and Jennifer hit the red-head with her elbow. The place was nothing too fancy. A simple tavern, although the scattered decorations were from an impressive assortment of kingdoms and cultures. She even spotted a tapestry only woven by the Eastern-Elven tribes who lived in the Simhai mountains.

Sera take me, is that an adamantite hammer?

Jennifer stared at the hammer casually hanging on the wall before she began following behind the lizardfolk again.

“It’sss in here, the whole room iss covered with a [Preserve Perishable] field,” the lizardfolk said, walking inside what looked to be the kitchen area. They opened one of the cabinets, cold mist wafting out of it.

“Thisss iss the cold chamber, the only thing that’ss working. I’d normally have an enchantment on this whole section of this side to keep stuff cool. But it’s busted, as you can see.”

Jennifer went to the area, touching it as she activated her [Enhanced Mana Sense] to have a closer look. The enchantment had been frayed in a few locations. Cracks in the spell matrix were causing it to leak mana into the surroundings before reaching the functional part of the enchantment, cutting the spell off.

“[Lesser Arcane Analysis]” she intoned, and felt the skill break the complex grid into simpler units.

She reached out with her mana, grabbing the leaking spot with her will as she guided it back into the circuit.

“[Lesser Restoration]” she said, as the mana began to weave itself back together. With a sputter, a cool breeze started to flow through the area again.

“You fixed it already? That was very quick,” the lizardfolk said, flicking their tongue out.

“No, I’ve just sealed the leak for now. Do you have three, no four, mana stones? And two lengths of mana saturated wood? Ash if you have it, but anything will do,” Jennifer asked, as she continued to repair the circuit.

“Yesss, I think I do. Let me grab it,” they said, as they shuffled around the room, coming back with a pile of stuff in their arms.

Jennifer took the mana stones, setting them into the cabinet. She then covered the area with some of the wooden planks, holding them in place as she concentrated.

“[Quick Repair]” she used her skill, the enchantment snapping into place, buzzing with mana again. Jennifer let out a breath as she turned towards the now visibly excited lizardfolk.

“That was wonderful! I never got your name, I thinksss. I’m Kariss Blueclaw, a [Sweet Chef] and a [Gourmet]” they said, offering a clawed hand to Jennifer.

“I’m Jennifer, just [Enchanter].” she replied.

“Oh, anything but jussst an [Enchanter]. That was a wonderful display of skill for one so young! And I know just the way to repay you, young ladies. Please, wait in the central hall as I make something special for the two of you. You’ve saved me days of hassle! Days!” Kariss said, sharp teeth showing as they smiled and Jennifer stopped herself from taking a step back.

“Thank you,” she nodded as politely as she could before returning to the front room.

Rumina sat on a nearby seat, and Jennifer took a seat near her friend. Kariss arrived a second later, setting a pair of tall glasses on their table before hustling away.

“Feels like we rented the place for a date, doesn't it?” Rumina asked with a smirk.

Jennifer just rolled her eyes, not dignifying her friend's attempt at humour with a response.

“I guess we can talk a bit more freely now. When did all this happen Jennifer? The glass magic, the mark, everything. I still don’t know how all this happened in a few days without me noticing any of it.”

Jennifer leaned on her chair, feeling exhausted. She felt Rumina’s skill muffling their voices as she spoke. “I was lying. Back there with the others. It wasn’t a dream, Rumina. I was there, living through all of it.”

Rumina stared at her with wide eyes. “Time magic? You actually- I just. Is that why you wanted to send that message? And the attack? I can’t believe my guild wouldn’t notice something like that. There’s no way so many high-level people missed a goddamn...”

Rumina trailed off, her face scrunching up.

“What if they didn't? The topic would’ve never been spoken of out of warded rooms regardless. We shouldn’t discuss this here anyways,” Jennifer said, taking a drink from the glass of water.

“What about your parents Jenn? Have you told them?”

Jennifer winced in reply, coughing as she swallowed some of the water wrong.

“I guess that’s enough of an answer for me,” Rumina said, levelling an accusing glare at Jenn.

“I’ll tell them Rumina. Soon. I just need some time to prepare,” she said and the girl nodded.

“Here it is girls, one of my newest creations. One for each of you!” Kariss said cheerfully, their tail dragging across the floor behind them.

A glass bowl was put in front of each of them, cold mist rising from it. Small balls of brown with various kinds of fruits and nuts poured atop them sat in front of her. And a sweet scent touched Jenn's nose, mixed pleasantly with the tingle of mana rising from it.

“What is this?” Rumina asked, her brow raised in curiosity as she glanced at Kariss.

They smiled, waving at the bowls with a grand flourish, their frills spreading out, around their neck. “It’s a dish made by the Heilan Empire, in the south west. It’s called gelato, quite popular among the noblesss there. Although I added my own twist to it. This here, my dear is my own version of chocolate Gelato!”

Jennifer eyed the sweet in front of her. She could tell it was expensive by the slight hints of mana wafting from it. She picked up her spoon, about to take a bite from it when something wet and soft pressed against her feet.

“Ack!” Jennifer jumped, pulling back and found an otter climbing on the table as it tried to take a bite from the gelato in her bowl.

“No, Frillsss! I’ll give you some. No stealing!” Kariss shouted at the otter as the small animal deflated. Jennifer almost jumped once more when the small mammal vanished, appearing on Kariss’ shoulder as they scratched its head.

“Sorry about her, she likes to steal food. Now, please, dig in! I’ll leave you two to it and thank you for your help. Feel free to drop by anytime, I’ll give you a discount,” they said, in what Jennifer couldn’t decide was a creepy eye blink or a friendly wink.

A bit confused yet amused at the same time, she took her seat, glancing at Rumina who seemed to just be holding her spoon in her mouth with a blissful look on her face.

Really that good?

Jennifer took a small bite, the gelato easy to cut into. A cool sensation spread through her mouth before a sharp sweet taste took over. Jennifer savoured the bite, letting out a contented sigh.

Her eyes met Rumina’s and both of them laughed out loud. A serene feeling washing over her, as she cherished the rare moment of calm and peace, her mind drifting peacefully.

This? This was exactly what Jenn needed. A break. For just a little while, her problems could wait.

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If you are enjoying the story then consider leaving a rating or a review. It would also help me get more feedback on how to improve the story. Voting for a story also helps it grow.

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About the author

KrazeKode

  • Far away from humans
  • Floofer

Bio: I decided to take up the keyboard.

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