The Beginning After The End - Chapter 284
Chapter 284: Blending In
“This is the fifth outfit already. Is all of this necessary?” I groaned, stepping out of my changing room and into the viewing area.
Waiting for me outside was a plethora of employees working at the high-end clothing boutique as well as customers.
“Kid, do you know how many named bloods seek me out only to be put on my waiting list? I’m only doing this because the old coot asked me for a favor,” the bespectacled old woman that Alaric had introduced as Odile snapped.
Her heels clacked on the tile floors as she strode behind me, tying my hair with a thin string.
“Although…” Odile turned her sharp gaze to the ‘audience’ watching us excitedly. “It seems like I’m not enough since my employees also found the need to offer their professional advice.”
The uniformed employees scattered within the crowd of about twenty or so began chuckling nervously before a blonde-haired clerk spoke up. “All the guests are here as well, Madam Odile. We’re just watching out for them.”
The woman leading me toward the set of mirrors snorted derisively but said nothing as she pushed me onto the platform.
‘A once quadra-elemental Lance, now with the physique and abilities of an asura, has become…a dress-up doll,’ Regis lamented mockingly. ‘Oh, how the mighty have fallen.’
Keep that up and I’ll get you a nice flower barrette that really highlights your purple mane.
Regis let out a cackle. ‘I’d rock it.’
“Your shoulders look narrower when you’re tense like that! We’re going for confidence!” Odile huffed as she combed her short white hair back with her fingers. “Great Vritra, I don’t see what you have to be ashamed about with your face and body.”
There was a disturbing chorus of agreement from the crowd, and while I hated drawing attention to myself, I had to agree that Odile had quite a sense of style that I wasn’t opposed to.
I looked at myself in the tri-fold mirror. In contrast to the tight-fitting armor I had picked up from the Relictombs, Odile had fitted me in a white dress shirt tucked into a pair of black slacks. Rather than wearing a tie or vest, she had me put on a black sweater underneath a dark blue coat. As the final touch, Odile put on what she called a collar bar that accented my suit to give that ‘classy noble look’ she kept going on about.
I liked it. It was a bit more…modern than I had expected—this outfit could easily be something I could see in my old world. But I wasn’t a walking rainbow goose like some of the other denizens here. Honestly, as long as it allowed me to blend in, there wasn’t really more I could ask for.
“He’s a rather whiny boy, but I knew you’d want to get your hands on him,” Alaric chimed. The old drunk had also washed up, trimmed his hair and beard and changed into a completely black suit. He was currently closing the curtains to block out the audience that had formed, much to their displeasure.
“I just wish you would’ve told me in advance so I could procure an image capture artifact,” Odile said with a sigh. She snapped out of her daze and stuck a finger at Alaric. “That doesn’t change the fact that I did you a favor, you old drunk! Don’t you dare try to change that.”
Alaric raised his hands—one of which was still holding onto a bottle of rum—placatingly. “I meant to do nothing of the sort, my beloved crone.”
“You’re still drinking?” I asked, exasperated. “How’re you going to handle the hangover after all of the alcohol you’ve drunk so far?”
“You can’t get a hangover if you’re always drunk,” he said sagely, tapping his temple with a finger.
I opened my mouth to say something while Alaric stared at me as if daring me to refute his point. My words just came out as an unintelligible grumble.
After gathering the literal pile of clothes that Odile had chosen for me and taking it to the front counter to pay, I was met with a confused clerk.
“Your clothes have already been paid for by Madam Odile,” she said while bagging my clothes.
“Oh.” I looked at the amount of outfits that were strewn across the counter. “This is a lot of clothes. I’d feel more comfortable paying.”
“Don’t take it the wrong way. It’s an investment on my part,” Odile’s husky voice rang from behind. I turned to see her walking beside Alaric, toward me. “It seems like the old coot found someone interesting and I wanted to be a part of it.”
“Let’s go, Grey. Before she tries to rip me off even more,” Alaric muttered grumpily.
Alaric and I were back out on the busy streets where the sun was beginning to set. A courier would be delivering our new clothes to the inn, which only left us with one last stop for the day.
“Listen up, my lovely nephew,” Alaric began, sauntering beside me as we made our way out of the shopping district. “If we’re going to get you an ascender’s badge as soon as possible without having you affiliated with any sort of institution, here’s what we have to do…”
The old drunk proceeded to explain his plan. Basically, Alaric would pose as my uncle who had been teaching me to hone my magic and survival skills ever since my bestowment since I had no intention of being a merchant like my father. Now that I was of age and had been thoroughly trained, he would be the one to vouch for me in order to take the assessment.
I raised a brow. “So anyone can just vouch for you in order to take the assessment?”
“Don’t be silly. It’s because your uncle is a retired ascender himself that he’s qualified to vouch for you,” Alaric said with a cheeky grin. “Unfortunately, passing the assessment won’t be enough.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll have to participate in—and survive—one ascent by tagging along with an experienced party,” he explained. “Only then will you get an ascender’s badge. Thankfully there’s an Ascension Chamber right here in Aramoor, which I assumed you were planning to visit since you’re here.”
I shook my head. “I had no intention of going to the Relictombs in this city.”
Sylvia’s message had given me memories of the four ruins within the Relictombs that I needed to get to. I had already visited one of them, and while I didn’t have an exact map of where the rest of these ruins were, I knew they weren’t in Aramoor City.
“As both your uncle and your partner in crime, may this one ask where it was you were planning on going?” he questioned, staring at me with that glassy gaze of his. While he still looked drunk, Alaric looked much more reliable now that he’d cleaned himself up.
“I’m looking for ruins within the Relictombs. They weren’t in the Relictombs here.”
“You really aren’t from around here, are you?” he sighed before leaning closer as we walked. “I’m sure you’ve noticed this by now from the last time you were inside, but the Relictombs don’t have a conventional structure that you can travel through. You’ve heard of simulets, right?”
“I have,” I replied, the memory of Daria offering one to me still fresh in my mind.
“Most of the deaths within the Relictombs happened before the development of the simulets. Before then, even if you crossed an entrance together at the same time holding hands, you would most likely be transported to different zones.” Alaric let out a sigh before continuing. “You say you’re looking for these ‘ruins’ within a specific zone, but the truth is, it doesn’t really matter where you enter the Relictombs, since you never know where you’ll end up.”
I had a feeling this was the case but I had hoped that entrances in different areas would lead to different parts of the Relictombs.
“So I just have to blindly wander around the Relictombs before I stumble across what I’m looking for by chance?”
Alaric took another sip of his rum, letting out a loud burp before answering. “Some say that the Relictombs has a will of its own, left behind by the ancient mages.”
Ancient mages, or ‘djinn’, as the entity that had left me with the keystone referred to himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Relictombs did have a mind of its own, but it still didn’t help me in my case. I hated how so much was still outside of my control.
I rubbed my temples. “Fine. It doesn’t seem like I have much of a choice.”
“Good.” Alaric patted my back. “I have no idea how strong you are, but remember that, while trained, you definitely should try and at least act like you’re having a hard time. Once you’ve gotten your ascender’s badge, it might not be a bad idea to accumulate experience with other parties if you really don’t want to draw attention to yourself.”
‘You should just ‘summon me’ and let me take the test,’ Regis chimed in.
“Are solo ascenders that rare?” I asked, ignoring my companion. Trider’s surprise when I mentioned it came to mind.
“Very,” Alaric answered as he weaved deftly through the crowded street filled with pedestrians. “The Relictombs are much too unpredictable even today, when we have so many records of different zones. It’s why experienced sentries are as important as—if not more than—battle mages.”
“What sort of mage were you then?” I questioned, looking at the old drunk. He looked about fifty at least, and although he sported a large beer belly, it couldn’t mask the warrior’s build that he once had.
Alaric turned to face me, cocking a brow. “I thought our deal here was that we don’t pry and ask questions that are unnecessary.”
*** You are reading on https://FreeWebNovelonline.com ***
I shrugged. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t curious about the old drunk, but it seemed like he had about as much reason to keep me at a distance as I did for him. It was probably why he never specifically confirmed whether I was from Dicathen, even though it was probably pretty obvious to him by now.
We continued our way through the streets of Aramoor in relative silence until we arrived at the gates of a large rhombus-shaped building that stood by itself, surrounded by a lush grass lawn. A single paved road, lined on both sides with statues of battle mages, led to the building.
“This is it, dearest nephew,” Alaric said casually while handing me a small metal card with ‘Grey’ written on it along with a series of numbers and a birth date signifying me as twenty-two. While I was a bit younger than that, physically, I didn’t say anything.
I stored the card safely in the inside pocket of my coat. “When did you have the time to get this?”
“During the time Odile was having fun dressing you up,” he replied, walking up toward the guard stationed inside the booth next to the front gate.
After Alaric gave the guard his identification card along with a piece of paper, the gate soon opened.
The old drunkard slid his hand over one of the statues. “Impressive, isn’t it?”
‘These look like toys compared to the statue hallway we first ended up in,’ Regis mused.
I agreed with a smile, reminiscing how many times I had almost died in that zone alone. Good times.
Despite how quiet it was outside, when we walked through the doors of the rather flat building, a cacophony of noises erupted from inside.
Alaric cackled in pleasure, noticing my surprise. “Busy, right? There are teleportation gates inside every ascender building restricted only to ascenders and a platform where they can use their own tempus warps.”
My eyes scanned the various groups of mages gathered in their own circles, busy either talking to clerks or amongst themselves. “So the gates are purely for candidates testing to become ascenders?”
“It’s actually really just for normal civilians to gaze upon the majesty of us ascenders,” Alaric said with a wink. “Come on. The testing area is this way.”
Walking through the marble-floored building reminded me of some of the nicer Adventurers Guild Halls back in Dicathen, except it was much larger and had a much wider array of accommodations. From weapon and armor polishing services, glass meeting rooms for strategizing, resting pods filled with high concentrations of mana for faster healing, to even large training rooms that teams could rent out. It was an all-inclusive facility that you could spend days in.
Alaric took his time going through the different sorts of facilities that every ascender building offered…for a fee, of course. This was, once again, a cold reminder of how much more developed Alacrya was compared to Dicathen.
“How are these training rooms able to take the strain of mages fighting inside?” I asked, watching a team of ascenders leaving one of the private training rooms dripping in sweat.
Alaric knocked on the solid metal wall of the training room. “The instillers that work on the ascender buildings are top class, and the metal making up these rooms are special alloys only found in the northern mountains of Truacia.”
‘Instillers are basically enchanters specializing in enhancing objects with their mana,’ Regis clarified after sensing my confusion.
Finally, we arrived in the area designated for helping ascender candidates. Unlike the other areas within the facility, the large circular waiting area was filled with mages.
Aside from a few nervous applicants that wore regular clothing, most of the mages present in this area looked around my age and were all wearing different militaristic uniforms. Strewn throughout were several older mages, garbed in more traditional robes that walked around, talking to some of the uniformed mages.
“Most applicants come from academies, hence the reason why they look like they have a stick up their ass,” Alaric whispered distastefully. “Unfortunately for you, most ascenders look down on the ‘unschooled,’ as they say. It might be hard for you to attract a party so do decently well—but not too well.”
I frowned. “What is ‘decently well’ supposed to be?”
“Just follow their instructions,” the drunkard dismissed, picking his ear. “They’ll tell you what you need to do to pass.”
The two of us took a seat near the far end of the circular waiting area after Alaric signed me up for a practical skill assessment.
“Damn, I really need a flask,” Alaric muttered beside me, struggling to drink alcohol while hiding it within his suit jacket.
“What you need is help,” I retorted with a scoff.
“Thank you for caring so much about your uncle’s health, dearest nephew,” Alaric said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
We continued waiting, and with nothing better to do, I closed my eyes and visualized the realm within the keystone. By now, I had accessed the relic so many times that I could imagine the kaleidoscopic space clearly enough to simulate previous attempts and try learning from them.
‘Check it out. Some of the girls are checking you out,’ Regis commented with a giggle.
Are you twelve? I shot back, not bothering to open my eyes.
‘Technically, I’m not even one,’ my companion argued. ‘But that’s not the point. Some of them are pretty cute.’
How do you even know what cute is? I asked.
‘I’m made from you, remember?’ Regis reminded me. ‘So technically, my interpretation of cute is actually your interpretation of cute.’
Curiosity getting the best of me, I cracked a peek to see a trio of girls a few rows in front of me quickly turn back while giggling amongst themselves. That’s when I also noticed a powerfully built student, whose uniform was having a hard time containing his muscles, glaring at me not far away.
“Are you trying to drill a hole with your gaze?” Alaric snapped. “Come on. You’re up next.”
I followed the old man down the aisle of seats until a thin male clerk guided us through a narrow hallway leading to a circular room.
“Your assessment will be through portal five,” he said, motioning us toward the shimmering gate. “Guardians will be led to the viewing room where they can watch from there. Any questions?”
Alaric went ahead through the portal marked with a ‘five’ without a word and I followed after him.
The jarring sensation of teleportation gates in Dicathen had been largely muted as I stepped through, leaving only a dull sense of vertigo that quickly faded. Studying my new surroundings, I took in the brightly lit tunnel we seemed to be in.
Runes flashed on the immaculate white walls, illuminating our way. Aside from the main path that stretched out in front of us, there was a set of stairs to our right, a metal sign indicating that it led to the viewing room.
“Break a leg.” Alaric smacked my back before heading up the stairs. “It’ll be interesting to see you fight.”
With a deep breath, I made my way through the marble pathway, this entire area reminding me of some sort of underground lab rather than any sort of testing area.
The room that I had entered was a small changing room with some kind of tight suit neatly folded on a bench as well as a locker for me to hang my current clothes.
“For your own safety, please wear the protective suit,” a prerecorded voice repeated every few minutes as I changed.
After putting on the foamy skin-tight suit covered in runes, I walked over to the entrance clearly labeled ‘assessment hall’. I had to admit that it was impressive when the runes on the suit flashed brightly as I neared the entrance and the doors slid open as if the suit itself was required to go through.
‘Wow…fancy,’ Regis commented.
Despite such differences in experience, my mind still expected to see an arena of some sort, but walking through the automatic sliding metal doors, I was greeted with the sight of a huge chamber.
The enormous room was a perfect cube that was around fifty yards in width, height, and length with rows of intricate runes pulsating throughout the walls. Both the floor and walls were divided into smaller square tiles but devoid of anything else aside from a glass pane near the ceiling which several shadowed figures stood behind.
“Candidate Grey, striker,” a voice boomed from high above. “Your first assessment will now begin.”
That was it. No guidance, no instructions of any sort. Instead, a row of lower square tiles receded from the wall and out crawled a trio of giant armored spiders…each of which were at least twice my height.
Regis let out a groan. ‘Again…how come all of the monsters we fight are so damn ugly?’