The Beginning After The End - Chapter 272
Chapter 272: Your Name
I woke up to see a domed ceiling dimly lit by a flickering orange light. That was all I was able to take in before my body so kindly reminded me why I had fallen unconscious in the first place. My body felt like it was being entirely twisted and wrung; rippling pain and objections to moving pushed the air completely out of my lungs.
My vision spun and it took me several minutes to even realize that there were other people talking.
“—anything we can do?”
“Princess will be fine. He just needs some space.”
“Talking Wolf is right, Lady Caera. Since elixirs don’t work on Effeminate One, all we can do is wait.”
“What I don’t understand is how all of you can be so calmly accepting of the fact that we’re conversing with a wolf made of shadows and purple fire!”
“You were screaming at me to save you just fine back in the convergence zone, Miss Booty Shorts. I don’t see why you’re so baffled by it now.”
“B-Booty shorts? What are you even—”
“It was fairly obvious that Effeminate One was always cautious. It comes to no surprise that he’s been hiding some of his abilities.”
With the room stable and my wounds only disturbingly painful now, I managed to prop myself up on my elbows. “I thought I told you to stop calling me Effeminate One.”
“Ah, it seems you’re fully conscious now,” Arian replied a few feet away where he, Taegen, Daria, Caera, and Regis were situated around a simmering pot held over a fire. “You’ve had a few seizures like this before so we assumed you’d fall back to sleep again.”
“Where am I?” I asked, Regis helping me up by pushing my back with his head.
“You can relax,” Caera answered, her expression a conflicted mix of wariness and sympathy. “We’re in a sanctuary room.”
My eyes locked with hers, resurfacing the memories of the black flames she had conjured.
Swallowing the emotions I had come to associate with them—pain, loss, regret, and anger—I spoke. “So that giant beast guarding the tower…”
Arian shot me a smile. “It seems like your plan to let the beast’s breath attack explode in its mouth worked.”
“Effeminate One’s plan would’ve failed if I hadn’t assisted,” Taegen added, snorting. “Although I didn’t think it would actually work.”
So they didn’t find out. The shockwave from the beast’s breath attack must’ve been strong enough to knock Taegen and Arian unconscious while I utilized the runes of destruction that Regis stored in his body.
Since the carallians in the convergence zone disintegrated upon dying, they must’ve assumed the same thing had happened to that colossal beast.
Judging by everyone’s expressions, they seemed to have a lot of suspicions, but I was just relieved that they hadn’t witnessed my use of destruction aether.
“We all have questions for you, but I think it’s best to get your strength up.” Daria said softly as she handed me a bowl filled with steaming stew. “I heard you’re from the South, but you’ve tasted it yourself. The Lehndert blood is famous for delicious and augmenting recipes.”
“This particular member of the Lehndert blood seems to be particularly stingy, however,” Taegen muttered. “Restricting everyone to only two servings per person…”
Daria hissed at Taegen, shooting him a glare. “That’s because you started eating straight out of the pot using the ladle as a spoon!”
“We still have our own rations, Taegen,” Lady Caera said as she calmly withdrew what looked like a moist brown brick with chunks of dried fruit sprinkled in it.
“…Thank you, Lady Caera.” The towering mass of red hair and muscles actually let out a sigh before he bit down into the ration bar.
Despite the fact that my body technically didn’t need to eat, my hands automatically reached for it. I let the warmth spread from the bowl and into my palms before taking a sip.
A rich hearty broth slid down my throat, coating my mouth in its deep meaty flavor. My expression must’ve given my thoughts away because I looked up to see Daria with a smirk, Caera looking at me with intrigue, and Taegen staring longingly at the bowl in my hands.
“The power of the Linhndert cuisine triumphs again,” Daria snickered. “I didn’t think it was possible for you to have any expression aside from annoyed and deadpan.”
Regis curled up beside me, his purple flames seemingly cool to the touch. “He’s a softie once you get to know him.”
After finishing my second bowl of stew, I finally spoke again. “While your actions were unnecessary, thank you for taking care of me while I was unconscious.”
I patted Regis, who was still lying down. “Let’s go.”
“Wait, you’re just going to leave now that you had some rest and a meal?” Daria asked.
I regarded the brown-haired ascender. “Is there a reason why we should continue travelling together?”
“You’re powerful—freakishly so—and it’s obvious that you haven’t revealed all of your abilities,” Daria answered. “But there are only one or two zones left until the next exit portal comes up. Let’s work together and get back home safely. I’ve already agreed to team up with Lady Caera’s team.”
Despite not meaning to, Daria had just revealed two incredibly important facts. First, that there were multiple exits, and second, that they had already passed an exit portal—or several—before this. This meant that I must’ve landed somewhere in the middle of the Relictombs.
Standing up, I felt for all of my belongings. Noticing that the dagger was still strapped to me, I unbuckled it from my waist and handed it to Caera. “I had to borrow it for the last battle. Here.”
She accepted the dagger without a word, her expression almost impossible to make out. It was only when I turned to walk away that she spoke.
“Stop,” she said with a weight in her voice that she hadn’t used before.
I looked back over my shoulder in time to catch the dagger she threw back at me. “You’ll need these once you get out of the Relictombs.”
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I glanced down at the dagger in my hand, noticing that there was a golden coin tied to the strap that wasn’t there before. The design of feathered wings spread from a wreathed shield was etched delicately onto the face of the medallion.
“Lady Caera!” Taegen started before the navy-haired ascender raised a hand.
“What makes you say that?” I asked, my gaze on Caera who was pouring a steaming liquid into her metal cup.
“It’ll be the easiest way to prove yourself without having to reveal your identity in front of all of the kingdom officials waiting for ascenders that come out of the Relictombs.” Caera took a sip before looking at me with a serious gaze. “Just say you’re a nomadic ascender contracted under the Denoir Blood.”
I hadn’t thought about the possibility of people waiting outside of the Relictombs. I forgot that this wasn’t just a dungeon that adventurers could go in and out as they pleased. One of the fundamental purposes for these Relictombs was to retrieve lost artifacts from the ancient mages so of course there would be officials making sure that was regulated.
“Then what about the dagger? I thought this was your brother’s?” I asked as I loosened the medallion tied to the dagger strap.
“It is. Which is why I expect you to return it eventually along with the medallion,” Caera replied. “The Denoir estate will be easy to find once you get to the capital domain in central Alacrya.”
“Central domain?” My brows furrowed. “I have no plans on—”
“Then do you wish for me to take back the dagger and medallion?”
I clutched the golden coin in my hand as I decided. “What makes you think I’ll return it once I’m out of the Relictombs?”
“The Denoir Debonair blood has always had a great eye for people,” she stated simply. “You know a secret of mine and I know one of yours. I won’t try to force you to come with us, but I do hope that we can meet again and share a conversation under better circumstances.”
“Wait, you’re just going to let him leave?” Daria stood up. “I still have a simulet that you can hold onto. Once we’re all out of here, Blood Lihndert can definitely provide you with anything you want. I said this before, but we really are always looking for powerful strikers.”
“And you also called him handsome,” Regis added.
Daria flushed and shot a glare at him. “Yes, I did. And usually, throwing in a few compliments and exposing some skin works.”
“Thank you for the offer, but I’ll have to refuse,” I said to Daria. “As for the medallion and dagger. I’ll return them.”
I exchanged glances with Taegen and Arian. While both seemed a bit reluctant, they gave me a nod.
I made my way toward the end of the sanctuary where a closed door awaited. Opening it showed a shimmering portal that I knew would take me to a different place from the rest.
“Your name,” she said over the crackling flames.
Turning back, I could see Caera was standing up as well. “I don’t need to know what blood you’re from, but at least a name…”
It was a simple question that I found myself having a hard time answering. Despite the changes in my appearance, going with Arthur wouldn’t be smart—too many Alacryans had heard of the lance with that name during the war.
At the same time, I didn’t want the name that I would go by now as a mere moniker to stay hidden. My motive wasn’t to stay in hiding.
I needed some time under the radar while I got stronger, but this wouldn’t be the same as calling myself Note during the time I was posing as the masked adventurer.
No. I wanted my name to be a statement that no one else but my relatives and Agrona and the asuras would know of. And my goal would be, by the time Agrona hears of this name and connects it to who I actually am, that I’d be a foe powerful enough to stand up against him.
“My name is Grey,” I answered, walking through the portal.
Both Regis and I were on full alert once we stepped through, expecting another aether-fueled beast. I half hoped for the door to remain like it had in the first sanctuary. Last time, I had been able to unlock it with my limited knowledge of aetheric runes in order to rest and challenge the level multiple times.
However, what we were met with was dead silence and a corridor about two shoulder-widths wide, brightly lit by panels of light running down the top of the walls. I turned back to see that the portal we had come through was gone, leaving me with only one path.
“Well, this is eerie,” Regis noted, tails of black and purple flames swaying from his wolven form as he walked beside me.
“Yeah.” My eyes darted left and right, never staying in one place as adrenaline rushed through me. It was quiet and calm, but with the white light and the immaculately smooth white walls, I couldn’t help but feel on edge.
As we walked, however, I must’ve triggered something because runes suddenly lit up on the wall on either side of me and the corridor lights suddenly turned purple.
I didn’t have much time to react after that because an indescribable force suddenly pulled us forward, putting both Regis and I in front of a massive entrance made of what looked like black crystal that was definitely not anywhere near the path we had been walking on.
Air suddenly returned to my lungs, which made me realize I had been holding my breath. On the solid gates of shimmering black were etches of indigo that, only upon closer inspection, seemed to be runes.
‘Welcome, Being of Aether and Flesh. Please enter,’ a voice suddenly spoke in my head. Having shared telepathic communications with both Sylvie and Regis, I was accustomed to voices in my head. However, this was different. It didn’t feel like someone or something was speaking. It felt like I was the one that had suddenly thought that to myself.
“Did you hear that voice too?” I asked Regis.
He tilted his head. “I heard something, but the voice was too muffled for me to make out anything.”
“Get inside me, just in case.”
As the shadowy form of my companion disappeared as he entered through my back, I looked around one more time. There was no corridor behind me now, only three white walls, one white ceiling and floor and a single solid crystalline gate that gave off a purple glow. I stepped in front of it, cautiously reaching for the door.
When the tips of my fingers grazed the surface, however, a warm and almost familiar touch enveloped me and my hand sunk through the seemingly-solid crystal.
I hesitated to walk further in but I couldn’t help but be drawn to whatever was on the other side, stepping forward once more through yet another entrance that held the unknown.
The crystalline gate clicked and whirred like millions of solid tiny moving pieces making way for me to slip through. Until, finally, my entire body had become fully immersed.