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I never thought I’d be back here so soon.
I wished to explore it someday, the Endless Chasm, but it was not the time to do so. However, it got me a little excited when I saw the towering Dasbalites once again.
Speaking of which, I wonder what’s the progress of the Dasbalite research?
I recalled Mola’s preliminary investigation regarding the said mineral. However, since the nerves of the Rikea rooted inside the Dasbalite was not preserved, it was hard to make an assumption. Much less provide a theory on how it absorbs Mana.
“If only they were easy to bring back onto the surface and into the Duchy...” The best research material was a live Rikea. But difficulties applied, as well as the dwindling population of Rikeas, it was hard to capture one.
[You said something?] Dresbon handed me a bow after affixing its bowstring.
“Nothing. Just some random mutters of mine.”
[That so?] Dresbon took up another string-less bow and started affixing another string. [It’s fine to let your mind to wander about right now. But best avoid that for the following days. Things might be harder than we initially thought.]
I slung the bow and went to Arkand. [Have you used a bow before?] he asked.
“Yes.” I took a glance on the side and found a familiar elf. “I learned the basics from Mon over there.”
[Good enough.] Arkand chuckled and handed me a quiver filled with arrows. [We don’t have to be accurate this time anyway.]
In response, a dry laugh escaped my lips.
[That aside, how’s the armor?] Arkand grinned. [Looking good eh?]
“Well...” I struck my heels, moved about my arms, and turned my waist. “For a start, it’s not that heavy.”
In fact, it’s light… But I guess that’s just me. Really, growing my horn is scary.
[Good! Good!] Arkand struck his knees as he laughed. [I’ve taken into account your frame and your strength, so I made it as light as possible with mithril!]
“Figured.” Again, I expressed a dry laugh. Well, since I can’t openly use that dress, I guess this does more than needed.
[Later, after we’re done with the pests, let me know how the armor felt!]
[But you know,] Arkand whispered. [I could use a little of that… you know what, right?]
I scratched my cheeks. “Would an eight of what I have left be enough?”
Arkand’s expression brightened like day. [This Smith cannot ask for more!]
“Right, right.” I guess he wants to compete with Garfin but using armors? “I’ll prepare it—after we have a drink.”
[Oooh! So you finally gave in!] Arkand laughed heartily. [I’ll have three barrels prepared then!]
“Please don’t. I don’t think I could hold my own.” Not that I’ve tried drinking.
[Bah! You shouldn’t worry about it! We have all these Dwarfs to empty those barrels in a jiffy! Right?!]
[Ooooh!] Dwarfs cheered in unison. There were also some who shouted how much of a barrel they could take.
“Alright, but… do I really have to wear this all the way?” The armor was not bad at all. However, as our circumstance dictated, it would be best not to wear it during the travel period.
[It’s best that you have an insurance all the time. You’re not just a Chief. You are also our guest, and a Royal or whatever you call it. Besides, we can’t receive more alcohol from your kingdom if something bad happens to you. So take it as a token for the Dwarfs ever more cheerful nights!]
“… Then I guess I’ll take it.”
Soon, the preparations were done and the time to move came. Dwarfs headed by Garfin led the group. It was then followed by Dresbon’s group mixed with a few Elves. The rear was covered by the group led by Arkand.
“How have you been doing lately?” I started a conversation while walking beside Mon.
“Same as always.” I snickered. Mon was the same Mon back then. “Say, could you coach me a bit about archery again? I haven’t used it for quite some time, so I don’t think making a feel for it would be enough for later.”
It took some time before we arrived at a large hole in the ground. It was the same hole that the Devourer used to slaughter the helpless Rikeas back then.
[Check the stakes!] Garfin shouted at the front. [Then hammer two more supports!]
The Dwarfs moved as ordered and began a chorus of metallic clinking. While the forward group was adding more supports, the center group dispersed and made preparations for our meals. Meanwhile, the rear group began to form a circular barricade around the whole parade.
“I’ll join the rear group in the meantime.” I left those words to Mon and helped in securing the perimeter. At the same time, I took the chance to investigate the unique plants in the surroundings.
“Say.” I struck a conversation with a nearby Dwarf. “Have the first batch of Dwarfs cleaned up the corpses of the Rikeas?”
[Oh, that? We took those further down the chasm to attract the Gidra’s away.]
“What about the Dasbalites at their backs?”
[Gidra’s prey on those too. They are like supplements to further harden their scales.]
I knitted my brows. “But why? Isn’t that—feeding our potential enemy?”
[You’re right, but also wrong. There are a few beasts that could match up to Gidras further down the Chasm. And frankly, those beasts are harder to deal with than Gidras. So we’re maintaining the competition to avoid them coming up here. And besides, with the number of Gidras down, and also the Rikeas, Gidras would have a hard time to compete. So they’ll need those corpses to somewhat stabilize the ecology down there.]
But… a really sturdy Gidra would be born, right?
[Amelia,] Mon called from the side, [your meal is ready.]
“Ah, right.” I gave the Dwarf my thanks and followed Mon.
[About the bow,] Mon muttered. [Let’s train after the meal.]
I expressed a smile. “Thanks.”
[I’m relieved you decided to stay,] Ran muttered, standing beside Kanna while overseeing the preparations at the Tribe. [But I thought you’d refuse to leave Amelia’s side for this operation—even though we are facing a dragon head-on.]
[I did want to stay by Lia’s side.] Kanna pouted. [But I can’t be at my best underground. Best raise the chances of victory by doing what I’m best at—riding wyverns and leading the Enarfs to the sky.]
Ran expressed a wry smile in silence. [Say, Kanna, how come you’re so attached to that girl? What made you want to be with her so much?]
Kanna scratched her cheek. [It’s… kinda hard to explain. But one thing is for sure. I want Lia to be what she used to be back then. Just a simple girl. But I guess it’s too late for that now.]
[Oh, nothing.] Kanna waved her hand in dismissal. [Other than that, it feels like Lia’s going to up and vanish if left alone—maybe wither is the right word for it? But how to put this… She’s strong yet fragile at the same time. But well, the most important aspect is—Lia is cute! And I’d like to live the rest of my life with Lia!] Kanna declared proudly.
Ran chuckled. [You’re as childish as ever.]
[Words that came from someone caught acting childish by Ark, huh?]
Ran froze in response. [H-h-how did you know?] Her arms trembled while her face blushed in embarrassment.
[Just a guess.] Kanna grinned. [You were probably trying a new and flashy technique while shouting the name for it, right? Could you show it to me? It might be something that everyone else might admire, but in laughter.] Kanna covered her mouth and suppressed her urge to laugh.
[Aha, Ahahaha.] A dry laugh escaped Ran’s lips as she slowly walked away.
Kanna waved her hand. [Don’t worry! I won’t forget about it!]
As soon as Ran vanished from sight Kanna returned her sight to the clearing—where various bolts, arrows, shards, and specialized armors for wyverns were being prepared.
[Oooi!] Kanna ran up to an Enarf. [Can you gather up the Riders for me?]
“Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, A message arrived from Her Highness Amelia.” A knight explained the reason behind his sudden visit. “There’s also this trainer who arrived while bearing Her Highness’s seal.”
Auguste glanced at Lara before replying to the knight. “Lead the trainer to the guest room.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty.”
As soon as the knight left, Lara spoke. “See? I told you we’d receive a message from her around this time.”
Auguste grunted, “Hmph. She’s been doing whatever she pleases.”
Lara sighed. “Auguste, like I explained to you before, your daughter is an adult now. She could hold herself responsible for her own actions. I mean, the trials you gave her, she passed it, didn’t she? Have more trust in your daughter.”
“Call it intuition,” Auguste muttered while walking back and forth in front of the couch. “She’s been doing something that I have no idea of—it makes me uneasy.”
There are reasons why she couldn’t tell you, Auguste, was what Lara wanted to say.
“She’s a chief in the Tribe. Who knows? There might be some things that she needed to accomplish before returning.”
“Tch. That’s not it. Something definitely feels off.”
Again, Lara sighed. This is quite difficult to handle.
“Auguste, dear, haven’t you already confirmed what she has been doing lately from her Guards? Isn’t that enough evidence? And besides, where do you think she would escape to while under the eyes of her Guards?”
“No idea,” Auguste admitted with a bitter expression.
“See? You’re just overthinking this. Best be relaxed.” Lara stood and approached the door. “Besides, the trainer Amelia requested for you is waiting. It won’t leave a good impression if you’re that late.”
Auguste sighed and followed Lara.
Amelia, what are you hiding?
“Uhm… What are we doing here again?” Meiko asked, warily glancing at the surroundings latticed with metallic frames.
“We’re looking for parasites like Mimics,” Mola answered, trailing behind the anxious Meiko.
“B-but isn’t this weird? Why is something like this underneath Academia?” Meiko tightened her grasp on the rod she held. Her manner of walking was rather stiff. “This isn’t anything like a horror movie or a thriller, right? It isn’t, right?”
“What are you even referring to?” Liscia Looked back to Meiko. “Anyway, this is nothing but daily occurrence for the citizens of Academia. It’s a great place to collect some materials and relics of the past. It’s basically a treasure trove, right Halbert?”
“Man, I still can’t believe we suddenly lost our secondary vanguard,” Halbert, sporting a spiky brown hair, mumbled while leading the group through the hallway.
Liscia knitted her brows. “Are you that worried of Mia?”
“Well, you could say that, but our party won’t be as functional as before without her.” Halbert crossed his arms and contemplated their situation. “Not to mention that that Prince is also gone. We lost two and gained one. We have to change our strategy if we focus on hunting and recovery for the coming weekend.”
“Now that you mention it, we lost two pillars too suddenly.” Liscia sighed. “But it’s still a weird situation for that Prince to have the hots for Mia.”
“Eh? Prince and Mia?” Meiko’s attention was sucked towards Halbert and Liscia’s conversation.
“Well…” Liscia scratched her cheek, unsure of whether to tell her about the Prince’s identity. “Just think of him as a Pri—”
“It’s His Highness Maxwell from the kingdom of Brent,” Mola interrupted. “You probably have an idea since you were once in Brent, right?”
Meiko shook her head. “Not really.”
“And there goes the secret of our group,” Liscia muttered with a wry smile.
“I don’t think Max would mind as long as we keep it within our group,” Halbert added.
I didn’t have the time to relax so I barely knew anything about the places I went through, Meiko thought. But Liscia and Halbert didn’t know that Mia was Her Highness Amelia?
Out of curiosity, Meiko glanced at Mola for confirmation. And in return, Mola nodded.
“Anyway.” Liscia clapped twice. “Mola, what do you need the Mimic for?”
“Please tell me about it later.”
“Count me in,” Halbert chimed.
“You have to swear secrecy or loyalty to Her Highness before I could disclose any of it to you two. Or else, our heads will roll.”
Liscia shivered. “That’s quite a ground-breaking research huh?”
On the other hand, Meiko expressed a wry smile. Well, with the aim to replicate Academia’s unknown and infinite source of mana, Dasbalites would really be ground-breaking. That’s quite similar to the discovery of electricity, maybe?
“Everything could change if it comes to fruition. Maybe even enough to change the tides of war if it was a huge success.” Mola smirked. “Say, why don’t you come under Her Highness’s wing sooner? There are a ton of benefits available.”
“Well...” Liscia scratched her cheek.
“We would soon, but not now,” Halbert continued. “Liscia and I want to test how far up in Academia we could achieve without direct help from any Noble or Royalty.”
“Both of you...” Mola sighed. “You’re being too hard on yourselves.”
“Not really.” Liscia shook her head. “And besides, I want to know how it feels to be under pressure.”
“Are you both a masochist?” Mola jokingly replied. “And aren’t both of you almost always under pressure? I mean the bills you needed to pay are piling up by the second.”
““...”” Both Liscia and Halbert could not reply against the undeniable truth.
“Stop being too prided of your own achievements. Everyone needs a support or two. And besides, with the current condition of our party, that dream marriage of yours would be nothing but a mere dream.”
“Ha, ha, ha.” Liscia forced a laugh. “Halbert can do it, right? Right?” Liscia poked Halbert’s back.
“… We’re currently in the red,” Halbert replied with a dejected face. “We have to reduce our food consumption again.”
“AAAAAAAHHH!” Liscia pulled on her hair. “And here I thought we could eat a somewhat luxurious meat this time!”
“… M-maybe we should return to the village and do farm work instead.” Halbert sighed.
“NO! Don’t you remember?! We’re not good at doing farm work! And we ran away without notice! We can’t just go back and say ‘we’re sorry’, right?!”
Liscia grabbed Halbert’s shoulder and rocked him.
“And besides, take some responsibility! I was too carried away by your ‘let’s live somewhere else and lead a better life’ line that I ran away from the village with you! Being too dreamy was a mistake! Oh, the regrets of childhood!”
“O-oi! We’re almost in the danger zone so stop rocking me!”
“No! We need to discuss this now or we won’t live through the winter!”
While Liscia and Halbert were exchanging words, Meiko muttered, “A couple’s distress.”
“You’ll get used to those two soon,” Mola said. “Well, they aren’t that hard to get along with as long as you can treat them to a lunch or two. It would be a saving grace for them.”
“But I think all of their problems would be solved if they swore loyalty, right?”
Mola sighed. “True, but they have the kind of thinking that they don’t need a huge backing for them to succeed. It probably sourced from the situation of their village.”
“Maybe.” Meiko expressed a smile as she watched the two recounted the words they promised each other.
“But feeling well now?” Mola approached Meiko’s side.
“A little.” Meiko chuckled.
“Anyway, Academia has a lot of mysteries. And who knows? There might be something further underneath that might solve your problem.”
“I hope so.” Even for a little, Meiko’s resolve to go through hardships in order to return heightened.