Chapter 26 – Suspicions

 

I fell on my knees at the sight of this unbelievable scenery.

 

Aldenaf… my hometown… was gone ! It couldn’t have randomly disappeared, could it ?

 

I first I suspected that it may have been hidden by some kind of Magic and rendered invisible, as a kind of defensive mechanism. That would have been the best outcome, to be truthful. But there was no point in deceiving myself : there was a giant crater in front of me, clear proof that the town had been erased rather than hidden.

 

The boy I travelled with looked astonished as well. A the beginning, he asked me with his eyes whether this was really the right location but after seeing my serious expression, his disbelief was made clear.

 

Mother… she barely ever leaves the village so there was a high chance that she was… No, I didn’t even want to think about it. The fact that a whole village could be wiped out as cleanly was already unbelievable.

 

But right after thinking that it was impossible, something that Yaquinn had said popped into my mind.

 

“Have you heard of the man called Vlad Stalford ? This guy could blow up an entire town if given enough time.”

 

No way… could it be that the man mentioned by Yaquinn… had effectively destroyed the village ? But why ? Why would a small village like Aldenaf need to be destroyed ? I knew nothing about this Vlad Stalford in the first place but in my mind, it was the only possible reason for what I was witnessing.

 

“Hey I never asked for your name, by the way.”

 

The boy turned his face to me. He looked both desperate and anxious.

 

“I’m Hell. Hell Kreizig. And you ?”

“Kreizig !?”

 

As he heard my name, his eyes that were half-hidden by his bangs widened and he looked surprised. Before long though, he answered my question.

 

“Kreizig, huh… I am Arism Stalford, nice to meet you.”

 

Stalford !? It was now my turn to be surprised. Could it be that he’s a relative of the man who potentially blew up Aldenaf ? That could explain why he was here. According to his reaction though, it didn’t look like he was expecting to find the town missing.

 

“Hell, what are you going to do now ? You used to live in this town right ?”

“Yes, it looks like my home is gone…”

“I see… I’d like to ask you a question. Could you happen to have a bigger brother ?”

 

I was now very cautious of this boy. Looking at his clothes, it wouldn’t be surprising if he came from the capital. That’s where big brother was… could it be that something happened to him ? In that case, telling the truth there would definitely put me in danger. I had to find out more without raising suspicions.

 

“No, I am an only child.”

“Oh ? Is that so ?”

 

He looked disappointed but doubtful at the same time. Looks like he didn’t completely trust me either.

 

“What about you ? Where are you going now ?”

“I have some urgent matters to attend at the capital, so I’ll be going back to Naxus now.”

 

As I thought, he was heading to Naxus. In that case, it was the best opportunity for me to find out more about Vlad Stalford.

 

“Could I come with you ? I need to find a job to survive now that my home is gone. I heard I could enroll at the Adventurer Guild in Naxus in order to earn money quickly.”

“That’s right. Well you can come with me if you want, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Thank you. By the way, could you happen to be a relative of Vlad Stalford ?”

 

I waited for an answer, inspecting his behaviour. However, it didn’t look like the mention of this name unphased him. Maybe they weren’t related after all ?

 

“Oh you’ve heard of Father too ? I guess he is quite famous as the Archmage, after all.”

 

His Father !? The Archmage ? There was too much important information for me to handle at once. I jumped on the back of the horse and started organising my thoughts while riding.

 

So Arism was Vlad’s son. And Vlad Stalford was the Archmage, which meant he was the Emperor’s personal Mage and the most powerful Mage in the Porcephone Empire. Now it made sense that he could blow up a whole village by himself, but the most important question remained : why would he do that ?

 

If he worked directly under the orders of the Emperor, didn’t that mean that the Emperor was behind all this ? But… why ? I had to find out and the best way to do that was to head to Naxus. Travelling with Vlad’s son was also a chance for me to discover the truth.

 

I really hoped that Father and big brother were safe. I realised that although I could guess what had happened to Mother, I hadn’t shed a tear. Was I really cold-hearted ? Maybe reality just hadn’t hit me completely just yet.

 

***

 

We camped after riding the horse for a whole day. It seems that Arism had prepared a lot of food for the trip so he shared it with me.

 

I decided to see whether he knew about the incident or not.

 

“Arism, do you know what happened to Aldenaf ?”
“No… in fact I was after a man that used to live there. He disappeared and I was after him… a long story.”

 

He didn’t look like he was playing dumb. Even if his father was the cause of all this, it didn’t necessarily mean Arism was involved. Either way, I had to use him to squeeze out as much information as possible.

 

“We have time, don’t we ? Who’s that man you were after ?”

“… He is someone who escaped from jail. He is a wanted man.”

“And you’re after the bounty ?”

“Not exactly, although you could say that I am on the side of justice, heh…”

 

On the side of justice ? Did that mean he wanted to get the man for justice rather than the bounty placed on his head ?

 

“So your father is the Archmage, huh. You must be good at Magic too then ?”

“I scored third in the Magic Tournament so I’m not too bad, haha.”

“The Magic Tournament ? Then do you know about Zw-”

 

Woops. I almost slipped there. I bit my tongue and tried to cover up for my mistake. I told him I didn’t have a brother so I shouldn’t be talking about big brother.

 

“Hmm ?”

“Third huh ? That’s amazing isn’t it…”

 

We kept chatting for a while before falling asleep.

 

We carried on travelling after that and I organised my priorities.

 

First of all, I needed to enroll at the Adventurer Guild. At first I was thinking of becoming an imperial soldier but it was now impossible for two reasons : first because I lacked freedom but also because I didn’t trust the Empire right now.

 

Adventurers have it easy : they don’t have to complete a quota of quests or anything like that. They can just take on and complete quests whenever they want, making it a very interesting choice for me considering that I wanted to meet up with Yaquinn in two weeks time. I therefore had two weeks to discover why Aldenaf was destroyed and who was behind it.

 

When we finally arrived at Naxus, I was feeling physically exhausted from the travel but I had neither the money nor the time to rest in an inn.

 

I thought that Arism had said he had urgent matters to attend but surprisingly enough, it looked like he had decided to enroll as an Adventurer with me.

 

“This way, we can form parties and complete quests more easily. Besides, I always wanted to be an Adventurer.”

“I see, that sounds interesting indeed.”

 

To me however it looked more like he wanted to keep an eye on me for some reason.That was an advantage for me too though because it meant I could also keep in touch with him and use this opportunity to learn more about the incident.

 

We both registered at the same time. I expected some kind of quest ranking system but I was surprised to find out that even newbies have access to any quest they want. I was told by the receptionist that the reason for that adventurers who fail a quest are fined heavily. This decision allowed them to think twice before taking on a quest that looked too hard while it allowed experienced fighters to accept harder quests even if they just recently joined.

 

“Here are your Adventurer cards. They allow you to accept quests and prove your identity as an Adventurer.”

 

The receptionist, who was a plain looking guy with dead fish eyes, carried on his explanation.

 

“If you wish to take on quests as a party rather than alone, you will have to create the party before hand and register it here so that the Guild makes sure to split the rewards and fame amongst all members of the group.”

“I see. Anything else we should know ?”

I was doing most of the talking because Arism was actually too small to face the receptionist. He was fuming next to me as I was gathering as much information as I could.

 

“Yes. As adventurers, you may join or create a Guild to further enhance your social recognition, financial benefits or find teammates more easily. Applications are inspected and approved or refused by the Guild Leader. You may create your own Guild as long as you have 5 members from the start and are ready to pay a fee of 5 Gold coins. Additionally, Guilds are ranked by fame in the following order :

 

White < Bronze < Silver < Gold < Platinum < Dragon < Legendary

 

Guilds gain financial advantages as their rank increases. As a matter of fact, a White guild has no advantage whereas a Gold one has a -15% discount in inns and weapon shops as well as a reduction of taxes from Quest rewards.”

“Taxes ? There are taxes on Quest rewards ?”

“Of course. The Adventurer guild is still a business and as such, it requires money in order to be operational. That is why taxes are effectively placed on Quest rewards. Single adventurers and White guild members have 25% of the Quest reward deducted from it that is given to the Guild. On the other hand, Platinum guild adventurers only have to pay 5% taxes and Dragon ones don’t have any taxes to pay.”

“That sounds good.”

“Platinum and above are extremely hard ranks to achieve though. Most adventurers are lucky if they reach Gold before retiring. There is currently only 1 Dragon guild in the whole world and there hasn’t been a single Legendary one in the past 50 years.”

“Thank you for the whole explanation, sir.”

“No problem, it’s my job.”

 

I turned around to face Arism. It looked like he had stopped listening a while ago and was already looking at the sign where all the requests were pinned.

 

“Look at this, Hell. This joint quest looks like a good start. It’s a bit dangerous but considering how high the reward his, you shouldn’t have to worry about accommodation for a while if we succeed it.”

“A joint quest ? One where we have to cooperate with other people ?”

“Let me read it. Here it is, it says…”

 

[Introduction] A dragon nest has been spotted in the north plains of Naxus. This could be a threat to the town’s safety and as such, we have started preparing a raid on the dragon living there. But while scouting the area, we discovered a second dragon that was living there with the first one. It looks like the second one just recently laid some eggs. We cannot afford to let them give birth to more dragons hence the reason for this request.

While our Guild will draw the two dragons away from the nest and fight them, we need someone to get rid of the eggs.

 

[Requirements] Destroy the dragon eggs

 

[Reward] 100 Gold coins. ~800 fame

 

[Client] Den Morthorius, leader of Aurora’s Grace

 

“Aurora’s Grace… let’s see the register… of they’re a Platinum Guild !”

 

Arism looked surprised as he announced that.

 

“Their Guild apparently counts a total number of… 357 adventurers ! That’s huge.”

“Besides, 800 fame would allow us to become Silver rank immediately if we made a guild.”

“Well we don’t belong to a guild so it’s meaningless to us and we don’t have enough members to make one either.”

“Yeah, true.”

 

We grabbed the letter and brought it over to the receptionist. He looked at us with surprised eyes.

 

“I know I just told you that even beginners can take on any quest they want but are you sure about this ? This is quite dangerous : if the dragons decide to come back before you have left the nest, you’re as good as dead.”

“We’re aware of the risks. We accept the quest.”

“As you wish.”

 

The raid was planned for the next day. We would meet up with Aurora’s Grace in the morning and travel together before hiding .

 

Arism lent me some money for me to get a room at the inn and he went back home. I’ll make sure to repay him after the quest is complete.

 

Just before going to sleep, I thought about all the events that had happened recently. Blume cheating on big brother, the mysterious Yaquinn the wanderer, Aldenaf’s disappearance, and me becoming an adventurer…

So much had happened in such a short time, it felt like I was dreaming.

 

I closed my eyes and an image of Mother popped into my mind. Before long, I felt some tears rolling on my cheeks. I couldn’t help but imagine the worst when I thought about her.


One thing was certain though : for now, I could only rely on myself.

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