The Beginning After The End - Chapter 182
Chapter 182: Elders’ Assessment
As soon as the words left my tongue, the elders wasted no time in their attack. Hester moved first, forming a globe of fire in her palm. With a snap of her wrist, the burning sphere shot toward me, growing larger as it approached.
I turned to counter when the ground beneath me shifted abruptly, throwing me off balance. With hardly any time to react now, I spun while withdrawing Dawn’s Ballad from my ring. In one fluid movement, I launched a shockwave of frost from my blade, exploding the flaming globe prematurely before falling back.
“Tripping over your own feet, Young General?” Buhnd snickered, his hands glowing in an aura of yellow.
“For someone with so many muscles, you sure use some cheap parlor tricks,” I jeered, pushing myself up from the ground.
The dwarf shrugged. “I’m not the one that just fell on my arse.”
I responded to his snide comment with a smirk, keeping an eye out for the other two to make a move. I didn’t have to wait long.
Camus casually hurled a blade of wind in my direction. The crescent approached viciously, carving a path in the ground where it had travelled.
I swung Dawn’s Ballad into Camus’ attack when the crescent suddenly distorted before exploding.
“Lesson one of fighting as a conjurer. Be unpredictable,” Camus muttered.
A blast of wind nearly threw me back onto the ground. This time, however, I was able to react fast enough. I stabbed my sword into the ground, putting more force than I normally would to embed the broken tip of my sword into the dirt floor to brace myself against the blast.
I looked back up to see dozens of jagged icicles, each as long as my arm, flying toward me.
Siphoning mana out of my core, I swung my free arm, releasing a wave of fire.
The large shards of ice evaporated with a hiss from my flames but before I could continue my attack, three triangular panels of stone shot up from the ground around me and collapsed on each other.
Trapped within the pyramid of earth, my vision darkened.
This is getting annoying, I thought.
Fighting against conjurers was fundamentally different than going up against augmenters. For one, they kept their distance and attacked from afar.
With a snap of my finger, I ignited a flame to study my surroundings. Just three walls coming together at a point about twenty feet above me.
“I might as well try and fight like a conjurer as well,” I muttered to myself, putting Dawn’s Ballad back into my ring.
I sent out a current of earth mana into the ground, and within a second I was able to make out the rough positions of all four of them as well as the two figures afar—which I assumed were Emily and Alanis.
Buhnder must’ve sensed what I did because almost immediately after, spikes of stone began jutting out of the walls.
Crafty dwarf, I smiled.
The spikes elongated, closing in. It was now or never.
After growing the flame I had used for light, I conjured a wave of frost with my other hand. I clasped the two opposing elements together, creating a blast of steam, spreading it until it filled the entire enclosure.
“Steam’s leaking out. Careful for a surprise attack,” Hester warned. “Princess, take advantage of the moisture from the steam.”
I beckoned lightning to surge around my body, charging and containing it when I felt the temperature of the cloudy air around me plummet. I could see floating shards of ice forming but my spell was finished.
“Burst!” I hissed, discharging the currents of lightning coiling around my body. Tendrils of electricity surged out, shattering the ground and walls effortlessly until the the stone pyramid Buhnder had conjured collapsed.
A large cloud of dust, debris and steam covered much of the view, but Camus had somehow found me because the old elf was just a few feet away—swirling gales coiling around his arms.
Wordlessly, the wind conjurer pushed, sending me hurdling backward with the full blast of his wind.
Straight into Hester.
The elder was waiting for me on the other side with a fully formed globe of blue flames ready to fire.
With barely enough time to twist my body in the air to defend against the attack, I faced the full brunt of the sapphire flames.
Hester Flamesworth had been serving the Glayder family for over two decades, and while I’d always respected her magical prowess, it was because of her talents that she had the tendency to be a bit prideful. So when I saw Arthur’s form being consumed by the very blue flames that had set her apart from all the other fire-attribute conjurers of Sapin, I knew that she saw Arthur as a person she had to beat at all costs.
My hand unconsciously reached toward Arthur. No more than a few seconds could’ve passed when the blue flames began swirling. At first I thought it was Hester’s doing but when the cone of fire split with Arthur intact—aside from the few burnt ends of his long hair—I knew that he had had somehow dispersed the flames on his own.
Arthur let out a cough before speaking. “That was a close one.”
My guardian’s eyes widened just a little before feigning composure. “Impressive, General Arthur, but it seems like you’re taking us a little too lightly.”
Elder Buhndemog raised a bulbous arm. “I second that. If this is all you can do, I’m afraid we’re going to need a lot more than two months to train you.”
“It’s hard getting motivated if you so obviously hold back like that,” Elder Camus added before letting out a loud yawn and sitting down.
I frowned. I was told that Elder Camus was once a distinguished member of the elven army, but to think he was such an ill-mannered individual…
Perhaps if I was Arthur, I might have gotten offended by his conduct, but to my surprise, he started laughing.
“Sorry. I often find myself trying to match my opponents’ level to gauge. Bad habit of mine,” he said, calmly dusting himself off.
Suddenly, a wave of mana flooded out of Arthur as if a dam had just collapsed. My body instinctively reeled back from the force and when I looked back up, I could see that Camus was back on his feet—all signs of his lethargy gone—while both Hester and Elder Buhndemog had already thickened their aura for protection.
In the center of us all was Arthur, except his form had changed. His long hair now shimmered like liquid pearl and golden symbols ran down the lengths of his arms. If Arthur’s presence was strong before, it was outright oppressive now.
“I won’t use this form for the remainder of our training, but since today’s sparring serves to get ourselves acquainted with one another, I’ll graciously let loose,” he said to everyone, his back facing me.
The crude leather armor that Emily had clad him in now seemed almost majestic underneath the vivid nimbus of mana enveloping Arthur. He turned around and I was able to fully take in his amethyst eyes. I was having a hard time trying to find the right word to describe them.
Ethereal? Illustrious? Sovereign? Even those words didn’t seem to properly portray how those eyes seemed to shake my very core.
I had seen this form once before at Xyrus Academy when he battled against Lucas, but it was my first time seeing it this closely.
“Now that’s more like it!” Elder Buhndemog exclaimed, althought the slight tremor in his voice exposed his unease.
“Spread out!” Hester’s voice rang with authority as she leaped backward and prepared her spell. She knew—everyone knew—that the tables had turned. The second round had yet to start but already I felt the advantage we had in numbers was now gone.
As Arthur’s presence thickened like a shroud, the usual voice inside my head creeped up, saying that all was futile.
No! You always do this, Kathyln. Stop doubting yourself.
I bit down on my lip, berating myself for my pessimism. Ever since my awakening, I’d been constantly told how talented I was as a mage, yet I always found some way to tell myself I was lacking. Perhaps that’s why Arthur’s impression of me back when we had first met during the auction had remained so clear… even after all of these years. As a child and even now, he was smart, talented, sociable, knew what he wanted and had a smile that could light up the world.
Regaining my composure, I found myself eye-to-eye with Arthur once again. By his gaze, I knew he had been waiting for me, somehow sensing that my mind was elsewhere.
Doing all I could to keep my embarrassment from reaching my face, I quickly nodded and took up a stance.
His lips cracked up to form a faint smile and he gave me a nod in return. In that same instant, Arthur vanished, leaving behind only a footprint in the hardened ground and a few tendrils of electricity. By the time my eyes caught on to where he had appeared, Elder Camus had been knocked a few dozen feet in the air until the earth below him molded and cushioned his impact.
Black lightning coiled around Arthur as his eyes searched for his next target. Just before he could move again, the ground rose around his feet, anchoring him in place.
Stop gawking and help, I told myself.
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Using the water from the nearby pond as a catalyst, I shaped it into a giant frozen spear. As soon as I launched it, I felt Elder Camus push my ten-foot spear of ice with his wind magic, accelerating it to a speed that I couldn’t have achieved on my own.
Our cooperative attack tore through the air, spiraling viciously toward Arthur. Except, the man in question was still in place, staring straight at the giant spear of ice with only a hand up in defense.
Is he not going to try and dodge?
I thought about dispersing the spell, but Commander Virion had stressed how we needed to be serious about this in order to help Arthur.
To my surprise, just when the spell was inches away, my spell dispersed. Arthur was still pushed back from the gale surrounding my attack, but the ice spear that I had conjured had shattered.
Camus shot me a look as if asking whether I had been the one or not. I quickly shook my head, my brows knit in confusion.
I’m sure it wasn’t me.
Arthur got back to his feet, unaffected—rather with a hint of satisfaction on his face.
The elders and I all exchanged glances, no one completely sure exactly what had transpired.
“Bah!” Elder Buhndemog stamped his foot, raising a giant boulder from the ground beside him. “Show me more! Unless changing the color of your hair and eyes is the only thing you can do.”
Arthur smiled wickedly. “Gladly.”
My friend and now opponent became a blur. This time, I was able to follow his faint form, just barely.
He sent a shockwave of mana at Elder Buhndemog, but the dwarf expected that. He sculpted the boulder by his side to become a giant shield of stone.
A crater formed where the shockwave hit the shield, but it had been no more than a diversion. By the time time the shield had blocked his spell, Arthur had already targeted Hester with a lance of black lightning in his hand.
He’s not attacking you because he’s afraid to hurt you, Kathyln, the voice whispered tauntingly.
Letting out a sharp breath, I focused on a spell that General Varay had taught me. It was a spell I never liked using since it meant that I had to get close to my opponent, but Arthur’s concern in this situation was worse. I didn’t like to be pitied.
“Seraph of Snow.”
Layers of frost spread over my body, covering me in its icy grip. My clothing hardened into armor while a layer of white completely covered my body and the bottom half of my face.
With my body further empowered, I dashed straight to Arthur who was being attacked by everyone else.
Elder Camus was darting around sending blades of wind and cushioning Elder Buhndemog and Hester whenever they were knocked away by Arthur.
Arthur launched a spear of lightning at Camus, but it exploded mid air thanks to Hester’s intervention.
Everyone felt the presence of my spell, but Arthur was too preoccupied to notice.
The frost covering my arm changed form at my thought, extending and sharpening into a blade of ice.
I swung the same way General Varay had drilled into me for over a year.
My blade cut across his back, drawing blood that already froze. Arthur’s head snapped back to me, his gaze more of surprise than of pain. He spun around and launched a blade of wind at me but the layer of frost covering me mitigated the spell.
Without the need to physically block, I continued my attack. Drawing back my other hand, I pushed out, launching a shockwave of frost at Arthur.
My opponent quickly blocked my attack, but he was still pushed back—straight into Elder Buhndemog.
Arthur’s instincts were inhuman though, as he already twisted his body and prepared to defend when a gale of wind spun him uncontrollably.
The elderly dwarf saw him coming and an excited smile stretched across his white beard. He loaded his fist in position to punch while the earth around him trembled.
Pieces of the ground flew, combining together around his fist to form a giant gauntlet of stone. Hester empowered his attack by imbuing a blue flame around the earthen fist.
A painful crash resounded as Elder Buhndemog’s flaming rock fist connected straight into Arthur.
“Oh! That felt so good!” the dwarven elder beamed, shaking out the fire around his fist.
I dispersed my spell too, relishing the warmth that soon followed.
Arthur sat up from the crater his body—now back to normal—managed to create in the ground. Stretching his neck, he let out a groan. “You got me good there.”
Elder Buhndemog let out a hearty laugh in agreement. “The princess sure saved the day! The three of us were basically in a stalemate and I suspect the young general wasn’t even going all-out.”
“I’m not able to keep up that form indefinitely and I was already running out of steam.” Arthur shook his head. “But yeah, I wasn’t expecting you to come at me like some sort of ice ninja, Kathyln.”
I tilted my head, confused. “Ice… ninja?”
“Uh, nothing.” Arthur let out a wry chuckle, scratching the back of his head. “I shouldn’t have taken you lightly, that’s all.”
Thankfully, Elder Camus seized his attention, extending a hand and pulling Arthur up to his feet.
“Interesting boy,” the quiet elder said with the faintest trace of a smile.
“It seems we’ll have much to discuss,” Hester added. “I figure this will be a learning experience for all of us.”
We all agreed on that.
The five of us regrouped back near the entrance of the training room with Emily Watsken and Miss Emeria.
“Before I go over the analysis of today’s little assessment, I just wanted to hear some feedback,” Emily addressed. “Of course, our beautiful Miss Alanis Emeria has planned out a rigorous training schedule for General Arthur, but overall if there are any concerns, please let me know.”
Miss Emeria nodded, her expression deadpan. “Feedback is crucial.”
“I think it’s safe to say for everyone, especially General Arthur, that the biggest issue is concern for safety,” Hester noted.
“Ah, yes!” I’m actually in the works for something to help solve that problem, but it still needs some tinkering,” Emily responded.
“Can I ask what it is, exactly? I’m pretty curious,” Arthur asked.
“It’s a device that basically reads how much mana the wearer is being hit with, triggering a last-minute defense mechanism to prevent a lethal blow,” the artificer answered almost mechanically.
“If an artifact like that could be built, couldn’t it be given to all the soldiers in battle?” Elder Buhndemog mused.
Emily hesitated. “It could, but—”
“It would be astronomically expensive,” Miss Emeria finished. “Also, the defensive mechanism would only work for that single triggering attack. In a training environment, the opponent would stop but out on the battlefield, another attack would be all the enemy would need to finish the job.”
Elder Buhndemog stroked his beard. “True. Good point.”
“Yes, the artifacts are extremely expensive to make, not just for its cost but for the rarity of the material. Phoenix wyrm scales are needed to make the artifact and the Glayder family has so graciously bestowed us with a few for the sake of my new training devices,” Emily informed, looking at me with an appreciative gaze.
I wasn’t aware that Father and Mother still had some left.
“Speaking of training devices, what exactly is this getup for anyway?” Arthur asked, poking the gem on his leather chestplate. “I’m assuming this, and those plates all over the wall aren’t for decoration.”
At that, Emily smiled brightly. Even Miss Emeria had a trace of excitement shining in her eyes. “Everything, my friend, from the unappealing armor to the weird plates all across this room, is for the sake of recording and measuring everything that has to do with how you magic the hell out of people!