"...And now I'm home," Reivyn finished explaining his tale of adventure. The mana sword and envelope containing the letter of recommendation were sitting on the small table in the living room. Refix had inspected the sword and said it was of passable workmanship.
Ameliyn wasn't lying when she said he would tell them everything, as she often interrupted him to get clarifying information.
It was an interesting experience to be interrogated by his parents because each one focused on completely different aspects of his story. Ameliyn would often make him stop and expand on his relationship with his squad mates and others, and she would focus her questions on how they treated him and his state of mind.
Refix was much more analytical. When Reivyn was explaining the hazing situation that had gone wrong, he asked questions about the techniques Ren used and what Reivyn had done to try and counter them.
When Reivyn got to the part of the story about engaging the Orc Tribe at the foot of the mountain range, Ameliyn asked him about the environment and how he fit in with the troops. Refix asked about the techniques used in combat and his impression of the bloodlust-filled Orcs.
Together, focusing on different aspects, they made Reivyn think about his experiences in new ways, and even he had some revelations of certain aspects he hadn't considered before. They truly went over every fine detail.
His mother almost had a conniption fit when he got to the fight with the Demon and Revenants.
"How in the world could nobody Sense what was going on beneath the ground?" She asked. "And how is it that they attacked right when you had pointed out the possibility to them?"
"Knight-Captain Reifold surreptitiously informed me and the Adjutant that there might be someone or something monitoring them. He said we might never know exactly what was going on. It seems to me that there's a secret underground that somebody doesn't want to be exposed, but what that could be, I have no idea."
"Well, I'm second-guessing your plans to return there and delve that Dungeon again," Ameliyn said as she crossed her arms. Refix placed a hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
"It's not as dire as it might seem, honey," he consoled. "From what he's said about what happened afterward, the two officers went down into the depths and didn't find any more hostile surprises." He turned his attention back to Reivyn as he continued. "That being said, it's always prudent to be prepared and to pay attention to your surroundings. You never want to get so caught up in your goals that you forget to keep track of what's happening around you.
"I support your idea of going back to the Dungeon to gain Experience and life experience to work towards your goal, but you have to make me a promise. You have to promise me that you will pay attention to what's going on outside of the Dungeon as well as what could possibly be below the first floor.
"Dungeons are strange existences, and they often take a reflection of the outside world and twist it in strange ways. For instance, you mentioned it appeared the Ogre in the boss room turned on the orcs that had it chained up as a consistent theme instead of a freak occurrence that saved your squad by happenstance.
"The things reflected in the lower floors might be carbon copies of what you could have found in the outside world if the entrance hadn't been caved in and a team had gone exploring, or it might be something that's only similar. You might go beyond the boss room to find that the second floor is filled with lower-level undead or weak demons, or there might even be more floors beyond the second. We don't know.
"So you need to be cautious whenever you enter a new area of the Dungeon, but you also have to always keep in the back of your head, 'what is the significance of this as it relates to the real world?' If anything out of the ordinary happens, anything that doesn't seem quite right, you must promise me that you will abandon your goals at that Dungeon and return to either Magron or Haluville."
This was the most serious that Reivyn had ever seen his father be. Refix was usually a happy-go-lucky kind of guy in his everyday interactions. That wasn't to say that he couldn't be strict or an effective disciplinarian. He was just typically jovial. Seeing such a stern expression with such a topic made Reivyn realize just how serious his father was about the situation.
"Of course, I promise," Reivyn said. "That being said, exactly how attached are we to our home here in Haluville?"
"What do you mean?" Ameliyn asked.
"Well, you told me that you're from a Tier 4 Region, and so Haluville isn't our hometown," Reivyn said. "Well, I guess it's technically mine, but that's beside the point. I was just thinking - and dad mentioned it just now - why don't we move to Magron? The standard of living there is greater, it's closer to the Dungeon, and it's safer. Other than dad's work, I can't really see a reason we have to stay here."
Ameliyn and Refix shared a look before returning their attention back to their son.
"That's not a bad idea," Ameliyn said. "We only settled down in this city, in the beginning, because you had just been born. While it's a nice, quiet place, we don't particularly have any attachments here. What do you think?" She directed that last question to Refix.
"Actually, the man I work for isn't based primarily out of Haluville. My immediate superior, sure, but he's just the branch manager. My actual boss lives in Magron," Refix chuckled. "I've mentioned Mr. Einrin a few times, and he's actually the big boss from Magron. He's been quite generous with his contract for me and has allowed me to stay here in Haluville despite wanting me to work for him directly.
"The only reason we've remained here, originally, was because of you kids being so young, and then we just got accustomed to our living and working arrangements and never brought it up again because it didn't seem to be a priority.
"Now that you want to go out and delve the Dungeon, and the girls are older, it makes perfect sense to move. I'll have to bring it up to the local branch manager and pass the message up the chain, but we should be able to move within the year."
"Hmmm, that should be enough time to work something out with Teilon," Reivyn mused. "He's been really enamored with that new girlfriend of his recently, so she'll be a factor in it as well, but I think I'll choose to move to Magron over staying here even if Teilon or his girl doesn't want to move. It's not like we can't team up at the Dungeon anyway if they don't move with us.
"Now, it's time for the two of you to explain some things."
"Whatever do you mean?" Ameliyn asked with an innocent expression.
"Don't think I forgot about you saying you would explain growing up in a Tier 4 Region when dad got home," it was Reivyn's turn to level a stern gaze at his mother. It didn't seem to have the same effect, as she just smiled his attempt off.
"Of course, dear," Ameliyn said. "Where should I start?" She tapped her chin in contemplation.
"Well, you can start with dad being an Imperial Prince or something," Reivyn said.
"Imperial Prince? Me?" Refix looked confused. "I think you're making some assumptions there, Buddy." Reivyn looked at his parents in confusion. His mother had already told him he had the blood of an imperial family line running through his veins, so he had assumed his parents were part of the direct line.
"Your father isn't an imperial prince, dear," Ameliyn said with a smug smile. "I'm an imperial princess. I'm the firstborn daughter of the Emperor of the Vynndin Empire.
"The Vynndin Empire was located in a Tier 4 Region, and it spanned a huge territory. It had countless other kingdoms under its control all the way from Tier 3 to Tier 1 Regions," Ameliyn continued with a hint of pride in her voice. "That being said, nobody around here is likely to have ever heard of it. The continent we live on is vast. It is much larger than you could possibly imagine.
"Your father and I, to this day, aren't entirely sure on exactly what happened. Oh, we know what happened, just not how nor all of the intricacies involved. We strongly suspect there were traitors involved, but the empire collapsed due to one, singular event: A Dungeon Break.
"As a Tier 4 Region, we had access to innumerable Dungeons; from low Tier 1 all the way to high Tier 4, like the Region level implies. The capital of the empire was located in a region that had several Tier 4 Dungeons located in close proximity. The reason we believe a traitor was involved, is because all of the Tier 4 Dungeons experienced a break at the same time.
"We were completely caught off guard and unprepared. A Dungeon Break isn't when the inhabitants of a Dungeon come storming out of the Dungeon on their own, though that is a very small possibility from time to time. A Dungeon Break is when there's a fundamental breakdown of the realities within the Dungeon, and many, many individual instances combine together.
"One of the reasons we only suspect a traitor was involved, though, is because nobody knows of any way to artificially induce such an event. It's never been heard of before, at least that we're aware of."
Reivyn was entranced by the information his mother was revealing, and he noticed her demeanor had slowly changed from one of happiness and pride to one of loss and sadness. She took a moment to gather herself from the memories of what must have been a terrifying event. Reivyn could only imagine what it would have been like for countless high Tier monsters and beasts to suddenly come pouring out of the Dungeons that were most likely viewed as the lifeblood of the capital.
"I was a bodyguard for your mother," Refix picked up the story. "It's more complicated than a simple bodyguard position implies. I am one of the nobility, and the position was designed to introduce potential suitors among other things. It wasn't a master-servant relationship. Anyway, we can get into the more intricate details of court life some other time, but when the Dungeons broke, other imperial guards sacrificed themselves to give us a chance to escape.
"One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I could only save your mother. She wasn't an only child.
"Your mother and I spent the next several years traveling to the different vassal states seeking to rally support from those who had sworn fealty to the imperial family." Refix looked at his son with a grim expression. "We learned a lot of hard lessons in those early years. I had sworn an oath, and I took it seriously - still do, in fact. I assumed others had the same honor as I did, but after being strung along over and over, and people attempting to use your mother for their own political benefit with no consideration for their own oaths, we decided to leave it all behind.
"The homeland of the empire was in ruins, and the kingdoms that had been held together by the might of the empire had descended into squabbling children fighting over the remnants. They saw the downfall of the imperial family not as a sorrowful event that they needed to avenge and support the last living member, but as an opportunity for them to supplant.
"Through the trials and tribulations we experienced, our relationship eventually blossomed into what it is today. We spent years traveling between kingdoms, and we used several teleportation circles to gain further distance from the strife and anyone who would know of your mother's background. We eventually made it out to here, and you know everything else."
The three of them sat in silence as each thought about the story that had just been shared. Ameliyn hadn't shared specifics about her family and the life she had lived like a princess, but from the look on her face, which was slowly returning to normal as she composed herself, he reckoned it was still hard for her to broach such topics out loud. He couldn't imagine what it would be like if he had to leave his family behind and not know what happened to them but with the knowledge that they had most likely perished.
"One of the reasons our family was able to establish a powerful empire was our bloodline," Ameliyn continued after wiping at her eyes and resuming a smiling face. "I know your father explained the Mana Circulation pathways to you before he left on his trip, and that is integral to unlocking the benefits provided by it. Your bloodline should activate when you turn 10, the time you would normally get your Tier 1 Class, and slowly over time it will unlock with diligent practice of your Mana Circulation."
"Oh, my bloodline is already activated," Reivyn said. Ameliyn's eyebrows rose in surprise.
"Oh? That would make your unusual Stat growth before reaching Tier 1 make more sense," she said. "One of the benefits to our bloodline, aside from the initial boost of 1 Stat point in Physical and Mental Stats, is accelerated growth in the early years. It also comes with - what is it?" Ameliyn frowned as she saw Reivyn fidgeting in his seat.
"I didn't get a bonus of 1 point to Physical and Mental Stats," Reivyn said. "I got a bonus of 3 points to all Stats, Charisma and Luck included."
Ameliyn was taken aback once more. She looked over at her husband to see if he had any answers.
"Don't look at me," Refix said ruefully. "My family elders mentioned we used to have a bloodline, as well, but it's been generations since anyone had unlocked it."
"Hmmm," Ameliyn thought for a moment. "Well, you've always been stronger than all of your peers, so you may be infinitely close to having unlocked your family bloodline. Maybe they interacted with each other for Reivyn." She shrugged her shoulder helplessly. "Yeah, that's what we'll go with." She returned her attention to Reivyn. "Did you notice any differences with your meridians as compared to what your father told you?"
"A little, yeah," Reivyn nodded. "The main pathways were the same, but there were several side branches and many more intricate smaller paths. I just assumed it was personalized for myself, and that everyone had slight deviations."
"Is there anything else you can think of?"
Reivyn thought for a moment before remembering one final point. "It's labeled as 'Unknown Bloodline' by the System."
"Well, that settles it, then," Ameliyn said. "Your bloodline is slightly different. There could be many reasons for it, and it's not unheard of, but none of that is really important. The main thing is that bloodlines all work in a similar way, so our experience will still help you.
"Anyway, to bring all of this back around to the original point, I can agree with you going back to the Dungeon with the stipulations put in place by your father, but you also need to put some serious focus on your Mana Circulation to reap the benefits of your bloodline. There are thresholds that will provide additional benefits as you unlock them." Ameliyn gave Reivyn a very serious look.
"Your father and I are also going to step up your Skills training. I won't feel comfortable sending you into such a dangerous place unless I am absolutely sure that your Skills can make up for your low Stats at this point in your life. Being slightly more Skilled than your cohorts in the military unit isn't going to cut it."
Reivyn felt sweat trickle down the side of his face as Refix leveled a grin at him.
The loud sound of the wooden weapons clashing resounded throughout the backyard. Reivyn once again lost his stance as the force of the blow knocked him back.
"Keep your stance," Refix calmly instructed as he continued his assault.
The way his father sparred with him had changed on a fundamental level. Gone were the bouts where he would slowly push Reivyn and end with a moderate strike at an exposed location so as to simultaneously train Pain Resistance. Gone was the matching of Skill levels.
Refix came at him in a furious tempest of slashing and stabbing attacks. He wouldn't press Reivyn until he created an opening and then back off for him to gain his footing and focus any longer. Instead, he would press his son as hard and fast as he could, and when Reivyn lost his balance, instead of capitalizing on the moment to land a strike, he would only lessen the pressure.
The sparring matches had turned into one long slog of Reivyn constantly fending off a superior foe until he was near exhaustion.
Reivyn felt the wind blow past him as Refix dashed in to close quarters and jostled his body to interrupt him regaining his stance before he leaped back to stab forth with a lunge all in one smooth motion. Reivyn had known that his father was a skilled combatant, but, noticing that even with the increased, sustained tempo his father still wasn't sweating or out of breath, he finally realized that he was considerably more skilled than he had ever imagined.
Refix continued to keep Reivyn on the back foot as they danced up and down the backyard. Refix came at him in unexpected ways, and he incorporated many new maneuvers that Reivyn was slowly beginning to identify. As soon as Reivyn would learn to cope with one set of maneuvers, though, his father would switch it up once more. He apparently had an endless number of ways to launch an assault.
The duo continued their bout until Reivyn could no longer keep up. Refix lowered his practice weapon and gave Reivyn an appraising look. There was a hint of pride on his face.
"What's your Skill Level for Weapons Master now?" He asked.
Reivyn brought up his Skills page and located the Skill in question. "It's at 37."
They had been working at their increased intensity for a couple of weeks, and the tough sparring matches had not gone without their benefit. He had spent several years working on several different weapon Skills to initially unlock the Mythic Skill, and then he had spent considerable time expanding on the foundations. He had seen explosive growth in life or death fights during his time with the Lord's Retinue, but, considering the increased difficulty of raising the Skill as the level grew higher, his father was somehow able to pinpoint exactly what Reivyn needed to continue his progress at a blazing speed.
"Your mastery level of weapons is reaching close to the Master designation," Refix said with a nod. "I think it's safe to say that reaching Level 50 in your Skill is the minimum that your mother will accept in sending you back to the Dungeon."
"Are you kidding me?" Reivyn complained. "I feel like I'm just flailing around. I can hardly put up any kind of resistance in front of you, and you say that that is almost the Master level?"
Refix threw his head back and laughed. "You can't compare yourself to me. I have years of training, and many levels on you. But think about it for a minute. I've come at you with many different styles, and you've slowly gained enough understanding and skill to ward them off, relatively speaking, with just the one style you know. Being able to utilize your combat style to deal with anything coming your way is vastly superior to learning many different styles."
"Then why do you use so many?" Reivyn asked as he wiped himself down with a towel.
"Well, I haven't finished yet," Refix said with a roll of his eyes. "We're still building your foundation. Sure, your Skill level and Mastery level are close to Master, but that's just an artificial designation that people have given. True masters are above Skill Level 100, and before you ask, no, I'm not above level 100 in any of my combat Skills.
"That being said, I'm still in the prime of my life and growing just like you. These training sessions don't just benefit you. Despite my abilities being much higher than yours, having to control myself in our sparring matches has actually greatly benefited me.
"Now, back on topic, reaching the Master designation will mean that you've reached the limit of polishing your foundations. Once we've reached that point, it will be time for you to branch out into other styles of swordsmanship, and, because of your Skill, you'll also need to learn other styles for your corresponding weapons to further progress the Skill. I can continue to help you with several of them, but if you ever plan on becoming a true Master with a Skill Level above 100, you'll have to seek out further guidance from others in those weapons.
"Not much is known about the Weapons Master Skill, other than what I've already shared with you, but I'm pretty sure there has to be more to it than a simple consolidation and increased Mastery level as compared to what your numbers indicate. This is a journey that we'll have to slowly discover, and I'll be there with you as long as you need me.
"Now, go get cleaned up. You know your mother will throw a fit if you try and go into the house covered in sweat like you are," Refix smiled as he dismissed his son.
While Refix had devised a way to increase the intensity of his training even further than Reivyn had thought possible, his mother had devised ways to strain his mental capacity and eke out just as much benefit for his mana Skills.
Despite the physical and mental exhaustion that had become almost a part of his existence lately, Reivyn was still in high spirits and excited about the future.