The Beginning After The End - Chapter 276
Chapter 276: The Town Chief
The brief moment of peace I had while waiting for the town chief didn’t last very long as rapid footsteps approached, growing louder until the door swung open.
I opened my eyes, a bit startled to see a bear of a man with bulging lumps of muscles for arms and a long white beard that flowed down to his wide chest.
Panic crossed his aged but energetic face as he immediately fell to his knees with a thud. “This one deserves to die for putting esteemed ascender through such inconveniences! Sembian and Chumorith are ignorant of the ways outside of this measly town and did not mean to offend esteemed ascender. Please forgive them as I am the one to blame for their lack of wisdom.”
The large elder whipped his head back. “Sembian! Chumorith! Get down on your—”
“It’s fine,” I cut in. “There is no reason for you to ask for forgiveness.”
Locking eyes with the two guards, I allowed a small smile. “Chumo and Sembi’s antics were…entertaining, especially after getting out of the Relictombs.”
I could literally see the elder’s body deflate in relief as he remained on his knees. “Thank you for your benevolence, esteemed ascender.”
“Please, get up,” I said, gesturing to the couch in front of me. “Chief Mason, right?”
“Yes!” he exclaimed.
While taking a seat, I noticed the dirt on his hands.
“Ah! My apologies for my unkempt state, I was helping out with the renovation of our coliseum. We’re a little behind for the upcoming events,” the chief explained, looking down at his hands.
“Your two guards told me about the bestowment and exhibition coming up in the next few days,” I replied.
“Yes! It’s our town’s turn to host the exhibition. If esteemed ascender wishes to attend, we can definitely set up an announcement and—”
“There’s no need. I plan to leave soon,” I interjected respectfully. “I would’ve left immediately but there was something I needed anyway.”
“Yes! I will be happy to help in any way I can.” The town chief paused and gave me an embarrassed look. “But, I do need to verify esteemed ascender’s license and belongings. It’s not that I don’t believe that you are an ascender, but as the chief in charge of overseeing this town’s Descension Chamber, I’m required to verify any ascender that exits the portal.”
I hesitated for a moment. While the fake markings I had received should pass, I didn’t have a license. Meanwhile, the town chief hurried to his desk where he retrieved what looked like an obsidian pocket watch.
Turning around, I lifted the teal cloak that I wore over my otherwise black outfit to show the elder the markings engraved over my spine.
I could hear the elder inhale sharply. “Amazing. I recognize some of it but I’ve never seen such complicated markings, esteemed ascender. Three distinct imprints and judging by the complexity of the top marking, it has to be an emblem.”
“Please, stop referring to me as ‘esteemed ascender.’” Lowering my clothes, I sat back down. “As for my license, unfortunately, I lost my dimension ring carrying all my belongings in one of the floors. But I do have this.”
I took out the white dagger, in its embroidered sheath.
“This…” The town chief’s eyes bulged as he carefully reached for the dagger as if it were a newborn. “If I’m not mistaken, this is Highblood Denoir’s insignia. Is estee—are you an ascender under their blood?”
“Yes,” I lied as I watched him inspect the dagger.
“This is more than enough verification of your status, esteemed ascender,” the town chief said, handing the weapon back to me with both hands. “It’s an honor to be in your presence.”
“I may not be here for much longer, but please keep this information to yourself.”
“Yes, of course!” The elder nodded furiously. “My inquirer shows that you have no relics on you, so you are clear in all sense!”
“Wait. So that artifact can sense relics?” I asked, leaning forward to get a closer look.
“It has a very limited range, but yes,” the town chief said with a furrowed brow. “Have you never been checked by an inquirer after your ascents?”
I cleared my throat, feigning embarrassment. “To be honest. This was my first ascent. I made a blunder and lost the simulet that was in my ring, separating me from my team, fairly early on.”
“Oh no,” the elder gasped, clearly interested. “That’s horrible. Thankfully, you came out alive.”
“Yes. I got lucky to be close to a portal in the next zone,” I said.
I explained my situation using as much Alacryan vocabulary as possible to not sound as ignorant as I actually was about the whole system, and it seemed to work. Quickly changing the subject, I leaned forward. “But anyway. I know we’re in a town called Maerin, but I’m not exactly sure where that is in Alacrya. Is there a map that you can part with so I can be on my way?”
“Maps are pretty rare around these parts but a travelling merchant came by with copied maps several weeks ago so I actually do have some,” the town chief said, going back to his desk. “Might I ask your destination?”
His innocent question left me stumped. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind aside from my obligation to return the dagger to Caera in the capital of the central domain.
“Aha! Here it is.” The town chief came back and unrolled a large parchment that spilled over the oval tea table. On it was a piece of land that oddly resembled the side-view of a horned skull with its mouth open and a large curved bump protruding from the northern end. Alacrya was segmented into five parts with a thick line separating the north, east, west, south, and center.
“How far is the journey to the central domain?” I asked.
“Well, seeing as we’re at the southern tip of the eastern domain,” he answered, pointing to a small dot on the map. “It would take around five months on foot or about sixty or so days in a carriage.”
My eyes widened as I stared at the map. “That long?”
“This is the normal way, of course,” the town chief replied. “There are teleportation gates available in the major cities. The price is hefty but if you show them your dagger, you should be able to travel for free.”
I didn’t want to show off the dagger too frequently in case I attracted unwanted attention, but it was nice to have this as a backup alternative.
Studying the map, I pointed to the city marked closest to the town we were in. “How far is Aramoor City from here then?”
“It’s just short of two weeks by carriage if conditions permit,” Chief Mason answered with a weary chuckle.
I let out a sigh. “We’re…really on the outskirts, aren’t we?”
“Aye. Truth be told, settlements with Descension Chambers that have a very low operation rate don’t get dimension gates built for fast travel.”
Piecing together what Loreni said and what the chief confirmed, this portal that I had stepped through only seemed to be able to allow ascenders to leave the Relictombs, not enter.
Leading off with that train of thought, I asked the town chief, “So does Aramoor City have an Ascension Chamber?”
“Of course!” The bear-of-a-man huffed. “Aramoor may be a small city in the outskirts of the Eastern Domain, but even we have an Ascension Chamber!”
“I see…” I muttered, taken aback. “My apologies. I rarely leave the Central Domain.”
The chief’s eyes bulged. “Oh n-no offense taken, esteemed ascender. Please don’t apologize! It is rare indeed for Highbloods of the Central Domain to travel this far out!”
With a polite smile, I went back to studying the map.
Travelling to the Central Domain right now wasn’t necessary but going into the next Relictombs was. It didn’t seem like the specific Ascension Chamber used to enter the Relictombs determined where you ended up once inside, so my first stop would be Aramoor City.
Travelling on foot was probably faster than getting a horse but it would still take over a week to get there since I didn’t know the land very well.
As I was thinking over my options, Loreni entered. “Excuse my intrusion. I’ve brought some tea and snacks.”
“Perfect timing, Loreni,” the chief said. “Our esteemed ascender’s destination seems to be to Aramoor City. Make some arrangements to prepare a horse and a guide for him.”
“Of course!” Loreni placed the tray carefully onto the table and turned to leave when she abruptly stopped. “Ah!”
Both the chief and I raised our heads.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you both,” Loreni whispered. “But perhaps the fastest and most comfortable way for esteemed ascender to get to Aramoor might be to just wait?”
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The chief raised a brow. “What do you mean?”
“I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors, Chief Mason, but I just got a confirmation letter today confirming that a representative from Stormcove Academy is actually visiting Maerin to spectate and maybe even recruit one of our student mages,” Loreni explained.
“Ah!” The town chief snapped his finger in realization. “Stormcove Academy has a tempus warp!”
Just as I was about to ask Regis for some clarification on what a tempus warp was, the town chief turned to me excitedly.
“This is great news! If esteemed ascender stays until the representative from Stormcove Academy arrives, I’m sure they will be more than happy to take you back with them. This way, you can just go through the temporary gate and arrive in Aramoor City immediately.”
I nodded calmly, while internally, I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea of a school official in a small city having access to such powerful technology.
‘It’s probably not as powerful as the one that the Alacryan who invaded Xyrus Academy used in order to enter and escape with Elijah…or is it Nico now?’ Regis clarified.
It was still hard to swallow, but it made sense that Agrona’s people had access to this technology since he had been dabbling in aether since long ago. And as astonishing as it was that a mere representative of a school had access to such technology, it gave me hope.
The person from Stormcove Academy might not have a tempus warp powerful enough for intercontinental teleportation, but someone higher might. If I could acquire one, travelling between Alacrya and Dicathen might not take as long as I had originally thought.
‘Don’t get your hopes up. If Uto’s memories are any indication, Agrona is probably the only one that has one and it’s not like he’ll just let anyone use it.’
Yeah. My life has never been that easy, I responded internally.
Standing up, I regarded both Loreni and Chief Mason. “Thank you both for your help. It seems like I’ll need to rely on your hospitality for a few more days then.”
The town chief bolted up to his feet, excitement radiating from his wrinkled face. “That’s great! There are a few homes left vacant for important visitors! They’re most likely shabby cottages compared to esteemed ascender’s estate in the Central Domain but please feel free to use one!”
“I’ll be in your care then,” I said with a faint smile. “And my name is Grey.”
“Ascender Grey of Blood Denoir,” the town chief muttered as both he and Loreni bowed before me. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
After handing me the map, the town chief had Loreni escort me to the villa that I would be staying in for the next few days.
Unsurprisingly, Chumo and Sembi had remained next to the doors, keeping guard. When the two tried to follow along to protect us, Loreni shot them down with a glare as she whispered, “Protect who? Esteemed ascender’s left pinky toe is enough to beat you two.”
Leaving the two withering guards to console each other, the two of us left the administration building.
“You keep staring at me,” I mentioned, making Loreni stiffen.
“A-Ah I, uh…my apologies, esteemed ascender,” she stammered.
“I know I’m an ascender but do I look that different from the people you usually see?”
Loreni lowered her gaze. “It’s actually my first time seeing an ascender in person. And a man as…pretty as you.”
Regis let out a chortle.
“You didn’t mistake me for a woman, right?” I asked, still conscious of my new appearance for some reason.
She blushed, eyes wide. “Oh no! Not at all. It’s just that your eyes are so golden and features so sharp that it’s…very different from the boorish men that hunt mana beasts for a living.”
The mention of my eye colors put a knot in my chest that I quickly swallowed. Loreni must’ve noticed my change in expression though.
“I hope you weren’t offended by any of our behavior, Ascender Grey. Our town chief is probably the only one that has come across an ascender before, and while I had been taught the proper etiquette of talking to an ascender, Chumo and Sembi have not.”
“Based on how you all behave around me, it seems like ascenders tend to be pretty vain,” I noted, ignoring the gazes of everyone around us.
“O-Oh no, I mean…our town is a very remote and insignificant part of the Eastern Domain, much less all of Alacrya. It’s understandable that we don’t amount to much in the eyes of the great ascenders,” she explained with a wary chuckle.
‘Elite mages being asses to the less-inclined? Not very hard to believe,’ Regis chimed in.
We walked in relative silence throughout most of the short walk to the villa that was on a gated path just off the edge of town proper. The dirt road led up to a seclusion in a ring of trees where three single-story houses faced each other, each with a grass lot divided by a tall white fence.
“This will be where you’ll stay for the next six days until the exhibition ends. The town chief will notify the representative from Stormcove Academy of your presence and request them to take you along when they take the tempus warp back to Aramoor City,” Loreni informed as she opened the fence leading to the rear house on the left. “There will be a guard stationed at the gate to the path leading up here and an attendant will be sent your way to help you with anything you need.”
“Thank you,” I said with a smile.
“Of course,” she replied while handing me the keys. “Were there any questions you had for me before I leave you to rest?”
“Just one.” I turned, looking past the high brick walls that surrounded the town. I could see several hills filled with trees. Based on the map, past those hills was the southeastern coast of Alacrya. “You mentioned mages hunting mana beasts for a living earlier. Is anyone allowed to hunt here?”
“Yes! This area is known for the high population of rocavids indegenous to this part of the country. Their hides are very popular to make leather and their hooves are often used to make tools,” she answered as if reading out of a manual. “Why do you ask?”
I rubbed my neck. “I lost most of my belongings during my last ascent so I need some money.”
Loreni’s eyes widened, “The town chief can provide you with gold, esteemed ascender! There’s no need for you to work!”
“It’s okay,” I chuckled. “I also want to stretch my limbs from time to time.”
“Ah, as expected of an ascender. There are more powerful mana beasts the more north you travel into the woods, but please take caution. Much of this area hasn’t been explored yet.”
I nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Now if you’ll excuse me, I should wash up and get some rest.”
Stepping into the villa, while modest and decorated minimally, it was clean. From an integrated water system to even plumbing that I hadn’t expected in such a remote place, it had everything I needed to rest somewhat comfortably.
“Finally, some fresh air,” Regis said as he leaped out of me and cat-stretched. He trotted around the one bedroom villa, sniffing the gray leather couch and looking through the metal container inside the kitchen.
“I know you look like a dog, but is it necessary for you to act like one?” I teased, taking off my clothes.
“Wolf,” Regis corrected. “And no. For some reason, with my transformation, my nose is the most sensitive to aether, which is basically food for me.”
“Good to know.” I stepped into the shower, pumping the lever until cold water began pouring down the dispenser.
After washing myself and my clothes, I picked out a pair of tan trousers and one of the few shirts that didn’t have a gaping hole down the back. It was also the first time I had gotten the chance to look at myself clearly for the first time. The metal sheet that served as a mirror showed a man that looked to be in his early twenties, thin yet toned with broad shoulders. Aside from the rune running down my back and on the underside of my right forearm, I didn’t have a scar or blemish on my athletic body.
The face that stared back at me in the mirror was one I still wasn’t used to seeing. I still had traces of Arthur in me minus the small scars that I had accumulated through the years. My eyes were still large, but seemed colder and the auburn head of hair that I had grown used to were now stripped of color. My wheat colored hair seemed almost gray and it fell just above my shoulder in locks still dripping water.
With where I was now, it was actually great that I had a new appearance—that way I didn’t have to worry about someone recognizing me as the Lance that killed thousands if not more of their people. But what I worried over was how everyone I knew would take it. How would my mother and sister treat me when they saw me like this? How would Tess?
“Still not used to it?” Regis asked, walking up to me.
I put on the black shirt and walked away, combing my hair back with my hands. “No.”
“You’re still you, Princess,” he tried to comfort, following me as I sunk down on the couch facing the window overlooking the fenced yard.
“I know that.” I let out a sigh. “I just hope that everyone else does too.”
Anxious and impatient to progress in whatever way I could, I withdrew the relic out of the extradimensional storage rune.
The ancient mage had said this wasn’t an edict or an artifact of any sort but more of a guide that would help me unlock a specific edict of aether.
“He could’ve at least told me what branch it was,” I muttered, studying the surface of the stone cube.
Clearly seeing nothing significant on the surface of the stone, I imbued aether into it.
As soon as my aether touched the cube, a foreign aetheric substance from the cube reached back out to me, filling my vision with a blanket of glowing purple.