I debated over putting this up or the next TOAE chapter. This contains major spoilers for TOAE. I felt this chapter was a little more satisfying (and I get to finish the story and move on), so here we go. No TOAE today. Enjoy!
Min’s eyes snapped open. The pain in her side was gone. Did she… level up? Unlike Aria who seemed to be able to instantly tell when she leveled up, most people couldn’t do it. Certain people with high enough observation skills could tell someone their ability. There were also enchanted items that allowed people to observe their status. Although these items weren’t rare, most people leveled slowly enough and gained skills even slower, so it only found it’s way into the hands of trainees and masters. Aria’s growth could be considered an extreme abnormality. Even Min, who could be considered a genius seen only once a generation could usually make due with only seeing her status every couple of months.
However, the last thing Min could remember was being shot with an arrow and falling. At the time, everything was blurry. She had experienced a great deal of pain, and even focusing was difficult. For a bit, she had thought she was already dead. Only now did she realize that wasn’t the truth. That meant Aria wasn’t dead either, but she was still collared. However, the collar barely seemed to effect Aria anymore. That in itself could be considered remarkable. Then Aria started taking over the slavers.
Min smirked as she thought about how powerful Aria had become. She then started to feel guilty once again at how relatively useless she had been. Aria had gone out of her way to save Min again. She stabbed that man in the back, but even that wasn’t enough. She didn’t finish him off, and worst, she didn’t know what happened after.
Despite that, Min wasn’t particularly afraid for Aria’s life. It didn’t occur to her that Aria would be in trouble now. Twice Aria came back from the dead. One of those times was quite literal. A group of slave traders weren’t a problem for Aria. Min was now certain of it.
“Ahem.” A man cleared his throat nearby.
It was the first time Min realized that she wasn’t alone. She looked up sharply to see a roaring fire pit as part of a makeshift camp set up somewhere in the woods. When her eyes focused through the darkness on the form on the other side, they immediately started to narrow.
“Hello, Elmindreda.” The familiar person who spoke. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Min moved up to a sitting position, immediately reaching for her sword only to find that other than the blankets on her, she was naked. Her eyes began to narrow even more.
“Be easy, woman, I took off your clothing to dress the wound. I may have once took money from Dante and his father, but I’m not an evil man.”
Min immediately touched her side. Although it no longer hurt, she could feel that the wound was bandaged. Of all the people she’d run into, she didn’t expect to see Baron, her former master, at a time like this.
Baron chuckled at Min’s icy glare. “Are you still planning to kill me, even after I just saved your life?”
“Yes.” Min responded frankly before averting her gaze. “But not today.”
Baron let out a laugh. “Well, I suppose I should consider myself lucky then.”
He was. If Aria was around, Min would have her ensnare him so she could cut his throat already. No. That was depending on Aria again. She couldn’t even kill this man by herself. Already, she was throwing her Vesse into her problems. Min looked down in frustration and guilt while Baron watched her changing expressions curiously.
“Why… here?” Min finally broke the silence.
Baron raised an eyebrow. “Well, I didn’t come to save your life if that’s what you’re asking. Actually, a young female elf was run off by minotaur. Her boyfriend was turned to mincemeat. Been tracking her for a week or so.”
“No…” Baron’s lips tightened. “I found her. Cambions had gotten her first. Not going to risk my life fighting through them. Plus, we don’t want a war. The demons and humans have brought enough war to this continent on their own.”
Baron snorted. “Once you would have admired my foresight. Now you see me as a coward. Well, I won’t be ashamed to admit I’m not strong enough to take on five armed cambions. You should be glad enough. They were close to taking you too. I managed to get to you first, and at a bit of risk to myself, I might add.”
“You’re my disciple.” As Baron spoke brazenly, Min looked away, not honoring those words with a response.
Instead, Min decided to change the subject. “The cambions… catch other women?”
“Hm? Oh, you’re talking about that slave caravan.” Baron spit to the side when he said the words.
Many elves had been victims of the slave trade, and Baron wasn’t unique in his hatred for the practice.
“Yes, what of it.” Min demanded.
“You were traveling with them? Or a slave yourself?”
Baron simply nodded. “Well, you’ll be glad to know they’re all dead. I don’t think it was the cambions either, although the demons are likely to blame them. Some monster rolled in their and wiped them out. I found a half-dozen men torn apart. Thing is, it looked like they killed each other. That’s a cambion-like trait, but not even the cambions are that strong. Whatever did this is a monster with mind powers, third class… maybe even a forth. It terrifies me. I’ll be reporting it to the colony, but I doubt any would believe it. They’ll likely just say it’s the cambions, but I’ve seen cambions and that was no vambions.”
Min hid the smirk as Baron talked. A monster indead… However, there was one thing he said that bothered her.
“Everyone except you.” Baron said frankly. “Oh, and I think there was some slave girl who managed to live through it too. Didn’t get a good look at her, but they took her.”
“Aria…” The word came out before Min could help it.
“You know her? Well, she’s in the cambion hands now. I’m sorry, but your friend is dead.” Baron stated, and then narrowed his eyes. “Unless you plan to go there and fight for her back.”
Min lowered her eyes. She wasn’t strong enough to do that. In fact, she wasn’t strong enough to do anything. Walk into a camp of cambions and walk out unharmed? That was impossible. Yet, that was exactly what she and Aria had planned to do. The only person alive who could manage it was Aria. Those cambion’s didn’t get their hands on Aria, she got her hands on them. They wouldn’t see her coming.
“Hmph.” Baron snorted. “And you call me a coward.”
The words stung, but not for the reasons Baron would have guessed. Min wasn’t afraid. She just understood she couldn’t do it. She was nowhere near the level Aria was. Aria could compete with third classers and monsters. She was unbreakable and had more lives than a phoenix. Even if she made it to Aria, she understood now that she wouldn’t be fit to stand by Aria’s side.
Min’s fist tightened. She had to grow. She had to become strong enough. Only when Min had reached Aria’s level could she return to Aria side. This was the resolve Min decided in her hard. She would no longer burden the woman she loved. She wasn’t there yet, but one day, she would be. Min stood up with a look of resolve on her face.
“Woah, girl, I was just teasing, don’t be throwing yourself into a mob of cambions just to prove me wrong now. I saved you and I won’t be letting you-“
“Trevus… where?” Min interrupted.
Baron looked confused for a second and then rose an eyebrow. “Trevus? My old mentor? The crazy ass elf still lives as a hermit on the western side of the Mantis slope. Why do you ask?”
Baron watched Min suspiciously. “Those eyes. I haven’t seen that look on you since before your mother died. When you left here, you were already dead. Now I see fire. This wouldn’t be about your vengeance, would it?”
“No.” Min stopped, then tightened her hands even more as the words burst from her mouth more clearly than they had in over a year. “I’ve found… something worth fighting for. I’m not strong enough… the way I am. I must grow stronger. I must be stronger. There is a force in this world that I believe will shape the future of all of the races, and I want to be there when that happens.”
“What have you seen?” Baron tilts his head to the side. “This wouldn’t have something to do with that mind monster, would it?”
“That is not for you to know. However, I must grow stronger. Faster. I must reach the 4th class.”
Baron coughed up his drink before glaring up. “Forth class? Like a hero of legend?”
A small smile formed on Min’s lips. “Yes, like a hero.”
If she was to be Aria’s equal, she could only do so by becoming a hero in her own right.
“How far are you?” Baron asked, tossing a stone at Min without asking.
Min caught the stone. Recognizing it immediately, she fed magic into it, revealing the status she hadn’t looked at in many months.
She’d be considered an extremely powerful 2nd classer by any normal standards, despite not having gained any advanced skills yet. Most people didn’t start seeing advanced skills until they reached level sixty. In which case, 2-3 advanced skills would be their limit. Those that obtained mastery were even stranger. The day Aria approached Min and asked her what the new Mastery she just gained meant as a first classer, Min nearly cried blood.
Aria had been up front about her skills, and they broke all common sense, even for Min. As Min understood it, the education system in Aria’s world was far more advanced than this worlds. Although Min had faced a lot more training than a common human would, she understood nobles had a better education and often gained more skills than she had herself, and Aria’s world seemed to be beyond that. Most nobles only spend 5-6 years learning, yet according to Aria, she had been educated for nearly 15 years. Min didn’t understand how a society could work with the able bodied 15-20 year olds spending all their days studying, but after hearing some of the wonders Aria claimed her people could do, she understood why Aria was able to gain masteries so easily. This only meant that Min had that much farther to go.
“Fifty!” Baron nearly jumped out of his seat on a nearby log. “Fifteen levels in only a year? By the gods, what have you been doing?”
“Reaching for the stars.” Min looked up at the sky with the twinkling lights overhead.
Vaguely, she wondered if Aria was looking at the same sky. Likely, only if Aria was outside… and chose to be on the bottom. Min almost snorted at that. She suddenly felt good. Better than she had felt in a very long time.
“Time to go.” Min nodded to herself.
“You’re leaving like that? No veiled threats for me?” Baron asked, half in humor and half with relief.
“If you see a woman who is more beautiful than any other woman alive, please take care of her. She will signal the end of your life.”
“Then why the hell would I take care of her!” Baron demanded in a fluster.
“You will…” Min’s smile grew. “You won’t have a choice. You won’t be able to look away.”
Min turned away and left with that. Aria would always be her vesse. They would be together one day. Until then, Min would become the hero Aria needed by her side. That was her journey. That was her fate.
“Until we meet again, be safe, my love.” Min disappeared into the forest as the stars above continued to glow.