The Beginning After The End - Chapter 275
Chapter 275: Maerin
I stepped through the portal, not really knowing what to expect on the other side.
What didn’t even cross my mind—out of everything that had happened so far, with my experience with the Alacryans both in Dicathen as well as in the Relictombs—was seeing the two guards standing on either side of me to literally jump in surprise, letting out rather terrified screams.
Regis let out a chortle in amusement while I really didn’t know what to make of the situation.
The guard on my right, a rather plump man wearing plated armor that obviously couldn’t contain his wide girth, managed to muster up what little training he had in order to at least point his trembling spear at me. It only took his skinnier—although not by much—companion a second later to follow suit.
“W-Who goes there?” quavered the skinnier guard.
I thought for a second how I should answer when the rounder guard spoke.
“Did you—are, a-are you coming from the R-Relictombs?” he sputtered, his head shifting left and right.
‘Don’t bother answering these stooges. Just kill them,’ Regis groaned.
Ignoring the voice in my head urging me to kill, I looked at the rounder guard who flinched under my gaze and answered, “Yes.”
The thinner stooge to my left let out an audible gasp. It was becoming more and more challenging not to roll my eyes.
“E-Esteemed ascender,” the rounder stooge began, bowing as much as his potbelly would allow before raising his head. “Allow this one to guide you to Maerin Town’s chief.”
The rounder stooge gestured to me to follow after him and the thinner one trailed close behind. Pushing aside the idle thought that maybe one of them should’ve stayed behind to guard the portal, I took in the sight around me for the first time.
Contrary to the…competency and grace shown by the two guards, the hall I had arrived in was anything but magnificent. While not large—no bigger than the size of a modest house in Ashber except with higher ceilings—it had features that obviously displayed the importance of such a structure. A line of pillars towered over us on both sides, holding sconces of actual fire on each one. Upon closer inspection, I could see intricate carvings of what was obviously a basilisk in its humanoid form being revered by genuflected men and women. Each pillar told a brief story, all leading to the same message of worship toward the basilisks that made my stomach curdle.
Discounting the rounder stooge peeking back at me every few seconds, the three of us walked through the smooth marbled floors in peace until we reached the ironbark doors. Light seeped in between and around the two doors, and I was suddenly reminded of my longing to see the sun.
The doors opened with a screech and groan until I was bathed in the rays of sunlight. A knot formed in my stomach and I found myself struggling to hold back tears that I didn’t even know I had. The warm touch of the sun enveloped me like a mother’s embrace.
“Shhh! He must be cultivating or gaining insight!”
I closed my eyes for just a moment and gathered myself before stepping through the blanket of light that spilled over me like warmed honey.
As my eyes adjusted, I was able to take in the sight around me, and it was…unimpressive.
Single-story houses of brick and mortar lined neatly and uniformly on either side of a cobblestone road about three carriages wide. Civilians could be seen doing their day-to-day tasks, from hanging laundry on a clothesline, tending to their gardens while children ran around swinging wooden swords wrapped in cloth. There was even a child drawing random scribbles on the back of his friend using coal.
My eyes continued to wander, taking in the sights until I noticed the stench reminiscent of a back alley outhouse emanating from behind us.
“Please bear with the odor until we reach the town proper, esteemed ascender,” the thinner stooge said, noticing my change in expression. “We’re still at the edge of the town so the smell from the town outskirts still seeps through past the walls.”
I turned around to see a wall over twenty feet high just behind the edifice housing the portal that we had just walked out of.
“What’s on the other side?” I asked out of simple curiosity.
“The vagrants and parasites that were either evicted from the town of Maerin for not paying their taxes or committing a crime are all congregated there. Our benevolent chief allowed them to stay in that area and even take jobs from residents within the town if the need arises,” the rounder stooge explained.“That also includes nightly jobs as well, if esteemed—ow! Sembi!”
“Stop being an idiot, Chumo! Do you think an ascender has so few options that he would resort to bedding those foul wenches?”
The two digressed into a heated argument, elbowing each other and whispering insults as if they didn’t think I would notice.
‘I wonder if this skit was something they rehearsed,’ Regis pondered, obviously amused.
It was interesting to see that, unlike the ascenders that I had met in the Relictombs, the two stooges didn’t have gaps in their armor that revealed the marks or crests lining their spines.
Perhaps flaunting the markings was something only higher-tier mages did to show their status? Lost in thought, I didn’t notice that many of the civilians we passed were staring at me. Some had the decency to pretend like they were doing something while others just blatantly stopped and gawked.
Some of the men sized me up, instinctually puffing up their chests even while their heads lowered in respect.
A group of town girls who couldn’t have been much older than my sister blushed after making eye contact before giggling amongst themselves. I also caught sight of some older women adjusting their blouses to accentuate their chests, smiling sweetly with an inviting gaze when our eyes locked.
“See, Chumo! Look at everyone just drooling over our esteemed ascender. He has the pick of the lot,” the thinner stooge named Sembi bragged.
“How far is the town chief’s office?” I asked, casting a cold glare at the both of them.
“J-Just a few blocks at the heart of the town proper!” Chumo answered while both visibly shrunk under my gaze.
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Houses soon gave way to storefronts as we got closer to the heart of the town. I couldn’t help but reminisce about my time living in Ashber Town. Although it was much larger and more developed here, it had a more peaceful ambience compared to the cities of Dicathen that I had grown so used to.
However, as we continued walking, the cobblestone road suddenly branched off into four separate roads—one main, and three smaller paths that each led to a multi-leveled structure of varying sizes with plenty of land around them.
“What are these buildings for?” I asked. These three buildings were the only ones that weren’t single-storied so I assumed they carried some importance.
“Ah! These three schools are the pride of Maerin Town!” Chumo puffed. “The one to our left is where our children who have received their first mark as a shield attend, while the larger building is for casters, and the black-roofed one is for our future strikers!”
“Our instructors are all very capable, with crests themselves,” Sembi chimed in. “And the head instructor from our striker school has two crests herself and had once taught in an actual city!”
“Speaking of, you actually came at a great time, esteemed ascender,” Chumo. “Not only is a bestowment day tomorrow, but in a few days, students from our neighboring towns will gather here for our annual exhibition!”
While the ‘bestowment day’ sounded interesting, I didn’t want to waste too much time in this town. My priority would be getting a map of where we were after speaking with the town chief.
“I wonder if any of our strikers have a shot at winning the tournament,” Chumo muttered to Sembi.
“Town Chief’s kid, Draster, probably has the best shot, right? I heard he just tested into the third stage of base-tier,” Sembi replied.
“Yeah, but there’s that little monster from Cromer Town that just tested into the fourth stage of base-tier at the age of fifteen.”
“Damn it. And I heard an elder from one of Aramoor City’s academies is actually going to spectate this time to see if there are any potentials to take back as candidates.”
The two continued their gossip, completely carefree as we neared what looked like the town square. The number of people quickly inflated as not only storefronts and restaurants surrounded the smoothly-paved center of the town, but vendors pulled around their wooden carts. Some were filled with food while others carried leather goods or simple clothing.
Ignoring the passing glances of the civilians, I took in the sight of the colosseum that dwarfed the single-storied establishments around it. Just by the number of soldiers—actual, able-bodied guards that exuded some semblance of strength—guarding the large bowl-shared structure, I could guess the level of importance it carried.
Civilians pulling up in carriages and carts pulled by horses and mana beasts lined up in front of the main entrance, waiting to get inside. From the goods they carried, it seemed like they were there to prepare for this upcoming exhibition.
‘It seems like this esteemed ascender is interested in the upcoming events,’ Regis noted.
Maybe a little, I admitted. I had never gone to an exhibition or any sort of tournament in Dicathen while I was growing up there. Even though with my unfair advantages, it probably wouldn’t have been much fun, the very air in the town square as civilians prepared for these events seemed vibrant.
I turned to see Sembi and Chumo waiting for me.
“It’s this way, esteemed ascender,” Sembi said, gesturing me toward a domed building with a long portico supported by columns similar in design to the ones in the edifice that housed the portal leading to the main entrance.
Once inside, I was guided to the front counter in an otherwise empty building where an obviously bored young woman was fiddling with her brown hair tied back tightly in a bun.
Chumo leaned his elbow on the front counter. “Hey, Loreni.”
“Skipping work again for a snack, Chumo?” Loreni asked, not bothering to look up. “Be careful. It’s how you and Sembi got stuck guarding the Descension Chamber. Honest to Vritra, I don’t know why the old man bothers placing guards there when there hasn’t been an ascender come out from that portal in years. If it were me—”
“Uhh, Loreni?” Sembi chimed in, nervously glancing between me and the girl who had now moved onto getting dirt from underneath her nails.
Loreni finally looked up with an annoyed gaze. “Wha—Oh!”
Her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed as Loreni stood up and smoothed out her blouse. “W-Who is… this?”
“He’s an ascender,” Chumo whispered, leaning in closer.
I didn’t think the girl’s eyes could open any wider, but they did. “Oh my! My apologies for the rude behavior, esteemed ascender. W-We don’t get many ascenders here so I had no reason to assume that there’d be…oh my, I should stop talking now. Are you here to meet the town chief? Of course you are, that was a silly question. Right this way!”
Loreni guided me through a corridor, often peeking back before nervously turning away while Sembi and Chumo snickered behind me. We arrived in the town chief’s office, modestly decorated with a desk and two leather couches facing each other separated by an oval tea table.
“Chief Mason, our town’s leader, will be here shortly. Please make yourself comfortable while I get you something to drink!” Loreni exclaimed as she bowed.
After taking another long ‘peek’ at me, she dipped her head once more and practically scurried out of the room while Chumo and Sembi stood guard outside the door.
I found myself staring at the door. Hearing Loreni whisper out some profanity at the two guards through the door, I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh.
‘It’s been a while since you laughed,’ Regis mused.
It’s been a while since I’d been around so many idiots, I quipped, leaning back into the couch as Regis mentally nodded in agreement.
Taking a moment to open the window behind me, I took in the gentle breeze that flowed through, carrying along the chatter and sounds from the town square. Laughter, both young and old, chimed like melodic bells that nearly lulled me to sleep.
I took it all in while my mind replayed all I had gone through. Fighting not only to live but to grow stronger from the moment I had woken up. I had lost Sylvie and was separated from my loved ones with no way of knowing how they were doing.
But in this brief moment, I was at peace as it finally dawned upon me…
I had made it out of those hellish Relictombs.