When Mon and I went down to approach the Tribe’s residence, several dome-shaped structures greeted my line of sight. They were like miniature hills that sprouted but failed to become full-fledged hills. Apparently, these hill-like structures were the homes of the Tribe.
“Are the homes of the Tribe usually made to look like these?” I asked.
[Mostly for us elves, yes, for the dwarfs, they build their own based on how they like it.]
“But wouldn’t that be inconsistent?”
[In the Tribe we respect the decisions of each other. Other than that, we elves like it simple enough that we could live inside.] He said. [Aside from that, the dwarfs need more space compared to us elves. They need to build a forge and enough space to work on their craft.]
“Ah, I see.”
[Do have any other questions before we continue?]
“Yes,” I said as I showed him the rapier hanging from my hip. “Do you perhaps know who made this sword? I have a few questions to ask regarding it.”
Now that I’m here I need to confirm the magic circle in the crystal.
[That rapier huh. You can go look for Garfin.]
Afterward, we approached the Tribe’s gates. The gate serves as one of the two entrances to the Tribe’s residence. Several elves were guarding the gate atop the wall beside it.
When we approached, the guards did not inquire anything and opened the gates for us to enter.
When we entered, mountain elves and dwarfs littered the area. A lot of them were casting curious glances. They seemed to be interested because I’m a human. A very rare sight for the Tribe.
The dwarfs were stumpy and bore long beards. Most of them have red, orange or brown colored hair.
The elves possessed slim bodies and skin similar to light-brown skin similar to Mon. Aside from that, their hair color is varied, they have green, blonde, and reddish-brown. They also had their long pointed ears.
There's still another race. This race is something that I have never seen or heard before. With heights similar to dwarfs and bodies similar to elves, they are but a peculiar race. At first, I thought they were elven children, but they do not possess the elves long pointed ears. Instead, they possessed slightly pointed but short ears.
“Mon, are they a different race from the dwarfs and the elves?” I said as we were walking.
[I guess you could say yes?]
“Why?” I said bothered.
[They’re a mix between an elf and a dwarf. We still don’t know how to classify them since they are still a few of them, but we call them as Elven Dwarfs or Enarfs]
“An elf and a dwarf?” I muttered as I tried thinking and elf and a dwarf together.
Wait… Is that even possible? It feels... Weird? Maybe awkward? I don’t think I can imagine a dwarf and an elf – wait, I have to stop this. Let’s just accept it. Yes. It’d be better to just accept it and not think too deeply about it.
While my thoughts were processing the possibility of an elf and a dwarf becoming one, Mon spoke.
[Here we are.]
We arrived in front of a large dome-shaped structure with trees surrounding it. It also had steps surrounding the building made out of stone. At the front, there’s a large double door made of wood. It was the Tribe’s council.
Mon took the lead and approached the two guards beside the door. Both of the guards were elves.
After he explained the situation to the guards, he called me to follow after him.
We were greeted by a curved hallway as we entered. At the ends, doors were plastered. At the sides of it were wooden stairs leading to the second floor. At the front is another large double door. Below, the floor was covered in marble.
“Is the main room at the center?”
“Then what about the sides?”
[They're waiting rooms for the chiefs of the dwarfs and elves. They stay in those rooms before the meeting.] He said. [The left is for the dwarfs, while the right is for the elves.]
“How many Chiefs are there?”
[Three for each.]
“Then, how many am I supposed to meet today?”
[Only two, one from the dwarfs and one from the elves. Garfin would probably be the one to meet you on the dwarf’s side.]
Then that would save me time looking for him.
“Then shall we?” I said.
He nodded then we entered the main room. After entering, Mon spoke before the two people inside.
[I, Mon, this time’s messenger, have properly escorted the human, Amelia, as recognized by the Tribe.] He said as brought his fist to his chest.
“I, Amelia Laurel, a human, heed the call of the Tribe,” I said as I gave a curtsy.
[Very good, you may now leave Mon.] The elven chief said.
[Yes.] Then he left.
[Now then.] The elven chief smiled. [It has been a long time hasn’t it Garfin?]
[Hmph.] Garfin said with his arms crossed.
[Sorry Amelia, but it’s fine, you can be casual this time. We’re meeting after a long time after all.] The elf said. [But Garfin here is still a little stubborn like always ahahaha.]
For a chief isn’t he too casual? And for Garfin, he doesn’t seem to like me?
“Then please excuse me,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I can no longer remember much of my childhood.”
[Oh, such pity. You hear that Garfin? She said she doesn’t remember that much so it’s fine.]
[Hrrm…] Garfin muttered as he tried to examine me.
“Umm. Could I ask the subject of what you are talking about? And also if possible could I ask for your name?”
[Ah, yes. Yes. My name’s – Ah before that, let me tell you something. You see, Garfin used to treat you as his own gran-]
[Sylvarrrr!] Garfin burst and tried to grab Sylvar.
[And there you – Woah! That was close.]
[Come here! I’ll rip out that mouth of yours!]
I did not expect that they were this close…
After some time had passed, the three of us were seated at the roundtable discussing the details of the proving.
What was required of me before the proving is the ritual. The ritual is also known as The Cleansing. The ritual required me to change into a ceremonial garb. During the process, I am to enter a spring called the Spring of Guidance while holding a wooden plaque with an empty jar on top. Once at the center, I am to let the wooden plaque stay afloat. Once afloat, the elves would assist me in removing the garb. After the removal, the elves would sing a hymn to call upon the spirit of the water. Afterward, another elf would pour the spring's water on me using the jar called Spirit's Pitcher for me to receive the blessing of the water spirit. Then to close the cleansing, a different garb would be wrapped around me before I leave the spring.
On the next step, I would need to enter a closed palanquin as the River’s Child. Once inside, the dwarves would carry the palanquin for the task called the March. The march is intended to deliver the Child to its Mother which is the river, the final site of the ritual where the Sending would commence.
[Do you have any other question regarding the proving?] Sylvar asked.
I waved my head in denial.
I’m a little reluctant to undress during the ritual though, but there’s no other choice, I’ll need to suppress my embarrassment for this one. But I guess having female elves undress me is fine. It’d be another case if it were my servants.
[Then, are there any questions unconcerned of the proving?]
“Yes.” I nodded. “I would like to speak with Garfin.”
Mon already told me that, honorifics are unneeded in the Tribe. So it is best to call them by their names.
[What is it?] Garfin asked with one eye closed with crossed arms.
Hmm… Maybe I should try that?
I removed the rapier from the belt, held with two hands and brought it close to my chest.
[What? not good enough?]
“No.” I shook my head in denial. “Garfin, No, Grandpa Garfin, Thank you so much for this gift.”
I said as I tightly embraced the rapier and leaned my cheeks on its guard to show my affection.
[G-grandpa?!] The surprised Garfin said.
“Although I think I’m not worthy enough, I will cherish this sword for the rest of my life,” I said as I directed a gentle smile with half-closed moist eyes towards Garfin.
Mother always told me that I could use my charm to my advantage, but most of the people I’ve met were Nobles who might get the wrong idea if I gave this kind of reaction so I rarely tried it.
[W-well you better be. I made it special. If you want it fixed just look for me anytime, after all, you’re my – cough cough – Randolf’s granddaughter.] He said in a hurry.
It worked! Now if it only works on Father too it would be better…
Sylvar, on the other hand, was holding his laughter at the side.
“Grandpa Fin, is it okay if call you Grandpa Fin instead?” In a slightly childish tone, I said.
[Of course!] He enthusiastically yelled.
“Then Grandpa Fin, Can you teach me more about this sword?”
[What about it? Ask away!]
“There’s a magic circle embedded in the crystal, but I can’t read it.”
[Oh, so you haven’t tried it?]
“Yes… I was traumatized by exploding shards so I was hesitant in using it… I’m sorry…” I said with a frown.
[Don’t worry I made that for specifically for your use! It would never explode! I even wrapped crystal threads on the handle and lined the handle guard with more! It’s my best piece!]
What?! So they really are crystal threads?!
Crystal Threads are threads made from mana crystals. One of the differences between a shard and a crystal is its capacity. Another difference is that a mana crystal can be used as mana storage if processed into threads, but they lose their ability to contain any form of magic circle.
Currently, the creation process is highly confidential and only produced by Academia. Due to this, Academia took this chance to monopolize its production, forcing the other kingdoms to import them at an extravagant price.
“Wow! I never knew! I’ve only heard them from Academia!” I enthusiastically said.
[Hahahaha! Wait, Academia? That kingdom you were studying at?] Garfin suddenly changed in mood.
“Yes, Academia, the place I’ve been studying at for the past five years. Is there anything wrong?” I asked as I tilted my head.
[Hrmm… I never knew humans could process crystal threads.]
[It’s one of us dwarf’s specialties, even the elves can’t make them so easily. For humans to make it, guess there are skilled ones out there.]
Eh? Dwarf’s specialty? Wait could it be that Academia has ties with dwarfs? But no news or even rumors were spreading regarding that.
“Grandpa Fin, are there other dwarfs other than the ones here in Alabaster?”
[Of course. We dwarfs don’t stay in one place, so many of us are scattered around the continent. Although not entirely the same, these elves here are different from the other elves from the forest they call Avalon.]
[Yes. It is true. Now that Garfin said it, Amelia, please avoid treating the Tribe’s elves as the same elves of Avalon.] Sylvar said in a serious tone.
“Is it okay for me to know why?”
[It’s a long story. You should hear about it after the proving instead.] Then he went back to his usual smile.
“Then why did the Tribe decided to stay here rather than the base?”
[For us dwarfs, Alabaster is teeming with different ores and mana crystals. Basically, it’s a paradise for us dwarfs.]
Mana shards and crystals are mineral resources mined like any other ores.
[It’s another long story. In any case, you will be briefed on the Tribe’s history after the proving, that is, if you are able to return.]
[Oi, Sylvar. That’s Randolf’s and my Granddaughter you’re talking about!]
So I am now officially his granddaughter.
[Yes, of course, I have high hopes for her.] Sylvar said. [And besides, she still needs to hear Randolf's wishes.]
“Huh? Wait, what about Grandfather?”
[Now, now, just like I said, that’s another thing after the proving.] Sylvar replied. [Well I guess that’s everything for now.]
When Sylvar stood.
[Oh, yes, there's another one. Prepare for an official council after the proving for the instatement, Chief Amelia.] He said as he waved goodbye exiting the room.
[Well, I’ll be going too. Come visit me anytime. For now, you should rest up for the proving. I’ll be waiting for your return!] Then Garfin followed.
Ah I forgot, they did tell me that the magic circle works, but they didn’t tell what it does!
I followed after them after they left. When I exited, Mon was waiting at the side. Then, he escorted me to the prepared lodging. The interior of the lodge is unique and relaxing despite being shaped like a dome. The lodge had two floors. The first floor contained the dining table, the restroom, a hearth, and storage room. The second floor was for the bedrooms.
Since it was already late in the afternoon, it didn’t take time for me to reach one of the bedrooms for me to take a rest after a meal.
Parading through the tunnel in a sandal weaved with vines, lit with luminescent plants glowing in a gentle shade of blue, was me clothed in a leaf-green open-shoulder gown made of silk, hair hanging loose, and surrounded by female elves wrapped in long leaf-green silk cloth along their chest and waist.
At the end of the tunnel was the spring of guidance; above was a cavity where light from the outside shone through. Despite being underground, the lights from the luminescent plants contrasted with the green leafy plants under the cavity.
Led to one end of the spring, I dipped my feet into the spring; it was neither warm nor cold. Before I proceed, another elf passed me the wooden plaque with the pitcher on top.
Steadily, I glided through the center of the spring till I reached the center where the light from the cavity shone. There, were elves in wait. Gently, they assisted me in removing the garb starting with the string once the wooden plaque was in place. Once removed, with closed eyes, I listened to the gentle hymn.
It was a hymn, a hymn to call upon the spirit of water to give birth to another child. A child blessed to be born in this world who longed for its mother’s embrace.
During the hymn, dusts of light emerged from the surface of the water. They irregularly hovered in the air, sometimes colliding with each other. It was truly an enchanting sight.
Afterward, warm and tranquil water poured over me from the pitcher.
After the cleansing, I was lead to the small and closed palanquin. While inside, I changed my clothing back into my leather armor and wore the necessary equipment that I brought including a short bow prepared yesterday.
A few hours later, the sound of flowing water resounded nearby. The sound got louder and louder. Soon, the palanquin tipped to the front and sounds of footsteps entering the water was heard. Then the palanquin was placed on top of some sort of unstable platform. Then the frame of the palanquin was pulled from two sides sliding at each other leaving only the base I sat on.
What greeted my sight was a wider platform below the one I sat on, a river, the dwarfs and the elves holding the ends of the platform, and a horizon of clouds to my left.
[This will deliver you the proving grounds, and here, this bracelet would serve as your identification as you return to the Tribe.] An elf said as she attached a wooden bracelet on my hand.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
I know that Mon told me that it is dangerous, but what is this?
[Your task is to be able to return to the residence of the Tribe by yourself. Through this task, you’d be able to prove yourself as one of us hunters of the Tribe. In the forest below, you will learn to hunt and fend for yourself]
Again I looked to my left and saw the clouds not too high from where I stand.
“Wait. Do you mean that this platform would deliver me there? D-does it float or something?”
I started to get flustered.
[No, the platform is the vessel, the river itself and the waterfall would.]
“W-waterfall?” I started to sweat.
[Yes, over there.] She pointed to my left. [Anyway, good luck and good hunt.]
Then the elves and the dwarfs let go of the platform, then it started to drift on top of the river.
“Wait! Wait!” I shouted. “Wouldn’t I die if I fall from this height?!”
As if they didn’t hear me, they started to leave the river.
“No! Wait!” I shouted again in an attempt to get their attention, but it was futile.
Are they trying to kill me?!
“Ah, I need to get out of here,” I said as I tried to stand. “W-what?!”
My legs were stiff, stiff due to the small space the palanquin provided.
I-I can’t stand! Was this really planned?!
Soon the edge of the river became visible. My sweat went cold, and my blood drained.
Then for the first time in my life, I let out a deafening scream.