Chapter 37.5 – Alae / Arism's point of view

 

Soon after he woke up from his three-days coma, Joker kissed me. Sure, this had an enormous emotional impact on me but unlike when I was thirteen years old, I managed not to wet myself from the shock this time. Not that it was something I should be proud about though…

 

I was already happy enough that I managed to heal him back to full health with my newly awakened Healing Magic. The way it worked was still unknown to me, all I knew was that I always had the ability to heal myself but I could never manage to use that power on others, until I hit my eighteenth birthday, that is.

 

After smiling at my blushing face, Joker left the room without a word, probably heading to meet the twins. I rolled on the bed and grabbed the pillow he had been resting his head on. I then proceeded to giggle like a little girl for a few minutes. I could still hardly believe that the man I loved had kissed me out of nowhere.

 

I personally did not mind the fact that half of his face and body was missing. I still felt attracted to him, simply because he was Joker. But after fixing his face, I found myself thinking that he was a very handsome man after all.

 

Now one question subsided… why did he kiss me ? He had not displayed any clear sign of affection in the past so maybe he was still groggy from his slumber ? Could it be he did not actually mean to kiss me ?

 

Full of uncertainties, I kept wondering about what our relationship exactly was until the day before the invasion of Naxus.

 

I had never actually been to the capital myself although I could remember my fake father’s stories about the main town of the Empire. According to them, it was a rich and entertaining city, full of opportunities for merchants around the world.

 

I first I thought it was a shame that such a capital was to be raided by us but I then remembered that Naxus was in reality governed by a corrupted Emperor, the one who had inflicted pain and suffering to my beloved Joker. Funnily enough, I had no more regrets about destroying the town after remembering such fact.

 

As we were eating our last dinner before the battle, I asked Joker a question that had been bothering me.

 

“I heard from my fake father that Naxus had the best army in the world in terms of elite squads, efficiency and infantry size. Will our 500,000 Golems really be enough to deal with them ?”

 

Joker replied with a smile.

 

“Do you not believe in me, Alae ? I’m disappointed by your lack of trust.”

“Wh- of course I believe you Joker ! I’m very sorry for expressing any doubts ! I-”

“Ha, ha, ha. Relax, I’m only teasing you. I do have a strategy.”

“Oh… please don’t scare me like that…”

“Anyway, I do have an ace up my sleeve. Literally, ha, ha, ha. My “Ace of Spades” is strong enough to change the balance of this war. Well even if he were to be taken down, I believe myself to be powerful enough to make this work.”

“Is this Ace of Spades really that powerful ?”

“Oh yeah. The only downside is that he hates humans so although it works in our favour if we’re having a war against humans, this is also a drawback considering I haven’t told him about you guys yet. I’ll force him to cooperate though.”

“Is that so ? That shouldn’t be a problem unless we meet each other though, right ?”

“Well normally it wouldn’t but for my strategy to work, I’ll need you to ride him.”

“What !? By ride you mean… No way ! The only one I want to ride is y-”

“He is a dragon. But I appreciate the thought, Alae.”

“Wh- I- I- arg…”

 

I heard Burs whistling and Armius looking at me with a shocked face.

 

I don’t know what confused me the most. The fact that I said something so bold or this embarrassing situation ? Or maybe the fact that Joker managed to get a dragon on his side ?

 

The last dinner before the war ended with me hiding in shame in a corner for the rest of the night.

 

***

 

It had been five years since I parted ways with Hell Kreizig, sole reported survivor of the Aldenaf incident. During this time, I, Arism Stalford, had carried on working as an adventurer.

I had been working mostly as a solo adventurer; I had the opportunities to join a few raids but I never bothered joining or creating a party or a guild… I wasn’t a very sociable person in the first place.

 

The thing I feared the most at first was Father’s wrath. I do not think that a career as an adventurer was something that would please him, especially considering how he was always going on about “the Stalford’s reputation”. Although adventurers in general were not looked down upon, “adventurer” was not considered to be a very high class title.

 

Much to my surprise though, Father came to visit me for my seventeenth birthday. He looked exhausted and he had more white hair than when I last saw him, which was when I talked to him in the Imperial Castle, around the time I met Hell.

 

Although the Imperial Castle was not very far from the Stalford Manor, he literally never had had the time to come home. He had been very busy as the Archmage and Imperial Mage due to the change of Emperors.

 

He greeted me for my seventeenth birthday, entering the manor and surprising everyone as no one was expecting him – especially me as I had not thought about a way to announce him that I was working as a full time adventurer rather than studying further and taking part in Magic Tournaments.

 

“Arism… it’s been a long time.”

“Yes.. Father…”

“First of all, I’d like to apologise for not being able to be there for your fifteenth birthday. And for not coming home all during all these years.”

 

Was he really apologising ? That was the first time I ever witnessed that.

 

“It’s fine Father… Ahem- I know you were very busy. By the way…”

“Yes, I was busy… but that’s not an excuse. I realise I was too harsh on you. The real reason I wouldn’t go back home is because you remind me too much of your mother… Well that and my investigation… ”

 

I did not manage to hear the last part as he said it too low. A sad expression formed on his face.

 

“The truth is… the previous Emperor always expected you to succeed me as the Archmage when the time would come for his son to become the new Emperor. He thought a fresh and young Archmage would be beneficial to the court. But when you lost the match against that kid from Aldenaf, he got mad and lost interest in you. At the time, I was under great stress so I said some things I didn’t think but I want you to know that I am on your side, no matter what.”

 

Could it be that I was mistaken about Father all these years ? It seemed too good to be true.

 

“Is that so ? Then…”

“And so, the new Emperor is very whimsical and I was thinking it’s about time for me to retire. I’m getting old and a new Archmage would go well with a new Emperor. And of course, as a Stalford heir, you are still the first choice of recommendation as a potential Archmage. What do you say ?”

 

Of course. It had to be about that. I decided to gather my courage and tell him what I wanted.

 

“Father. Listen to me. I have decided to live my life as an adventurer rather than a court mage. No matter what you say, this is my final decision.”

“… If that’s what you have decided… then I shall support you in that decision.”

“Wait… Really !?”

“Yes, indeed. I’ll look for a new Archmage myself. If being an adventurer is the path you’ve chosen, then so be it ! I will support you to the best of my ability. Retiring from being the Archmage will also allow to spend more time with you.”

 

And thus I reconciliated with Father two years ago.

 

I was currently just coming back from an expedition led by a somewhat famous guild against a cavern full of Troglondius. They were rank B monsters that had an humanoid shape and had the ability to absorb Mana and turn into into theirs. They were the product of much research but they were equally dangerous to humans around them and lately, the Troglondius living in this cavern had started to threaten the neighbouring village.

 

And so, the punishing force had been sent to exterminate these monsters. My role as a mage adventurer was to work with the other mages to make the cavern fall on itself and seal so as to make sure there were no surviving creature inside.

 

I was on my way back to Naxus  and from afar, I noticed some black smoke in the sky. I wondered if there was a fire somewhere and kept walking.

 

As I approached the capital,  my worries grew bigger and bigger as I realised there was too much smoke.

 

I finally got a view of the town and what I saw reminded me of the scene in front of Aldenaf five years ago. Except this time, Naxus was under attack.

 

Or rather, the attack had already finished. My expedition only lasted for a few days so it was inconceivable that an army could have broken through Naxus’ defenses so quickly.

 

But the reality was in front of my eyes and it would have been foolish to deny it.

 

“What is this… ?”

 

Remnants of the Imperial army were burnt to a crisp. Their armor were black, tainted by some kind of fire. I also noticed some pieces of armor from the Black Legion.

 

“How could this be…”

 

The thing that shocked me most though, was finding a piece of cloth on the ground that I knew too well.

 

It was the Archmage’s robe.

 

“Father ! Where are you !?”

“… Behind you…”

 

I turned around and noticed what I had taken earlier to be a burnt corpse. But after closer inspection, it was indeed Father.

 

The Archmage Vladimir Stalford, known as the strongest Mage in the Empire, had been reduced to such a pitiful state. Tears formed at the corner of my eyes and blurred my glasses.

 

“Father ! Don’t move ! I’ll get some help !”

“… Too late… it is too late, Arism. There is… no help.”

“Who did this to you !? What happened ?”

“… An army of golems… led by a powerful Mage… I fought his dragon…”

“You fought a dragon !? I don’t understand… the dragon was with a Mage ?”

“Yes… I killed the dragon. Twice… Three times… Eight times… Every time… it revived.”

“How is that possible !?”

“Someone… riding it. They healed the dragon entirely…”

“I unleashed my strongest… spell. A nuke I used… in a previous war… to at least take down the dragon and the rider… But…”

“But !?”

“Wizard… appeared. The leader with the mask. He… made my nuke disappear. He absorbed it into nothingness. He… deleted my spell. Then the dragon finally managed to hit me with his black fire…”

“No way…”

“The masked man probably took… over Naxus already. I failed to protect both Emperors… I failed to protect the city. I am a complete failure as… the Archmage.”

“Don’t say that…”

“I also failed to protect your mother… and I failed as a Father all these years… I’m sorry Arism…”

“Please, just get some rest, Father…”

“It is too late for me… but at least… at least you’re safe… I have something to tell you before I die… listen.”

“What ?”

“Arcadeus… isn’t the real danger… he is the puppeteer. But a much bigger threat… exists. You must absolutely not let Arcadeus die… The way the masked man acted… I think he is after the First Sage… no matter what happens… if Arcadeus dies… it will be… the end… of us all…”

 

Father closed his eyes after saying this last sentence.

 

“Arcadeus as in the one who discovered the principles of Magic ? Father ? Father !?”

“Damn that Vladimir. Who knew that he investigated that much into me while using his job of Archmage as a cover. How much more did he know ? I’ve got to watch out where I head out from now on.”

“Who ?”

 

Having no time to mourn Father’s death, I lifted my head and saw a tall elf wearing clothes that looked like the Archmage’s’ robes but with a different pattern.

 

“Have you not guessed yet ? You might not be as bright as your father then. I am Arcadeus, known also as the First Sage or the Living God.”

“Arcadeus… I thought you were only a legend…”

“Tch. Things really don’t seem to be going my way. First, Porcephone fails to kill the kid who knows Xii, then the same kid comes back for vengeance, causes a genocide on the Orcs that I set up to take over the Dwarves… then he escapes death once more when I try to kill him… And now he kills my two Porcephone Emperors and takes over Naxus… I have not met anyone as troublesome as him since Master Ox.”

“What are you talking about… ?”

“Nothing that concerns you, Stalford kid. Although you might be of some use. You heard your father’s last words, right ? You need to avoid my death at all costs. Well, I have bad luck you see and there’s unfortunately someone other than that masked man trying to kill me. I’ll take care of the masked man myself, so could you go and kill the other person yourself while I’m busy with the  guy who took over Naxus ?”

“I… don’t get it… But I know father said that I needed to protect you in order to avoid a great catastrophe.”

“That’s exact, young Stalford. Now go ahead and kill the one known as Yaquinn the Wanderer for me please. This man is threatening the balance of the world with his sole existence.”

 

Yaquinn the wanderer… I had heard that name somewhere before.

 

“Anyway, I’ll be on my way to take care of the mess my silly puppets have caused. Meanwhile, you shut down the man, alright ?”

 

He disappeared the same way he had appeared, leaving me alone in what was now the remains of a battlefield.

 

There were too many mysteries that bothered me. What happened to Zwölf ? What happened to Aldenaf ?  Who was that masked man that took over Naxus and why ? What were Arcadeus and the Porcephone Emperors plotting ? Why did Father want me to protect Arcadeus ?

 

One thing was certain though : for now, I needed to find this Yaquinn.


Thus I set out in the direction of the nearest town in my new quest to unveil the truth.

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