fAuthor’s note: I changed a few things so next chapter will come out tomorrow. I apologize for the delay.
Birds melodiously chirped in the air as a gentle breeze soothed the citizens of Vilen Town. The refreshing feeling the wind brought in the middle of a sunny day was simply priceless.
A crowd of passersby gathered next to Lord Vilen’s palace, excitedly watching a golden carriage pulled by sleek black stallions. The sides of the horses were adorned by a flame-shaped emblem. In Minaeryth Kingdom, there was only one person who could be given the nickname “fiery” – Princess Saress.
For civilians, seeing their ruler was a rare thing, especially when they lived in a small town. However, Lord Vilen’s reputation went up by a notch in the recent days. After the mercenaries Icicle discovered were captured, Princess Saress could finally deal with the looming problem of kidnappings and genocide. For this invaluable service to the country, she sent a messanger to express her gratitude. Although it was just a formality, for a small town ruler like Lord Vilen, this was a monumental event. Whenever he looked out of the window, he felt pride. Those citizens of his were now looking up to him!
After a few hours of hospitality, the messanger bowed and respectfully left. What accompanied him was the whinning of the black stallions and cheers of the citizens.
As a smart person, Lord Vilen knew it was his chance to solidify his position even further. With a grand entrance, he declared that there will be a feast in the evening and all citizens are welcome to attend! This expense was naturally not small, but for a better public opinion, next to every ruler would dig into his own pockets.
Greeting the gathered people with a smile, Lord Vilen exchanged pleasantries before returning to his chambers. As soon as the doors closed, his smile regressed. What replaced it was worry.
“Why do I have this foreboding?” he muttered, holding a white envelope with a heart shaped seal in his hands.
Opening the envelope warily, Marcus Vilen read the contents.
“My dear husband, it has been a while since we last met. Although this form of exchanging pleasantries is nice, you know I can’t express myself well with words…”
Reading the lines, Marcus’s face suffused with a red blush. He quickly shook his head to dispel the passionate memories.
“Last days were quite a struggle. After entering the ranks of “Masters”, not only does your workload not decrease, you have to plow further with even more determination and strength. I’m regretful that I can’t be with you and our baby, but that’s how the road of the Mage looks like.”
Marcus looked at the stain on the paper, imagining his wife crying. His heart ached.
“Speaking of which, I hope that you take good care of Ivir. She’s our only child and I want her to fare well. Recently, I had a talk with Cindy.”
The last line he read filled Marcus with an overwhelming sense od dread.
“She said Ivir does fine, but I know what fine means in the mouth of the Guildmaster. You let our baby slack again, didn’t you? I expressly told you to keep an eye on her! You can’t even imagine how precious youth is for a mage! All the potential of our girl is being wasted because you’re not strict enough! If it wasn’t for our family’s great ancestor, I’m sure Cindy would treat that spoiled girl without any leniency!”
Feeling the unrestrained anger hidden in the words, Marcus shuddered. He knew something even worse was coming.
“I’ll be busy here for quite a while, but don’t you dare think I’ll be gone forever. Once I’m back, I expect progress from our little girl. And trust me, I’ll know if she made any. I sincerely hope that you’ll find it within yourself and secure our baby’s future. If not, I may have to resort to… less kind methods.
Your beloved, Arie.”
“Not good, not good.” Marcus muttered. He looked at the crumpled end of the letter and knew his wife vent her anger on a piece of paper. Who knows how many other copies she threw away before sending this one.
“Guards!” Marcus hollered.
“At your service, Lord!” two elite guards in heavy silver armor respectfully kneeled on one knee.
“Send for my daughter!” Marcus ordered.
Soon after, Ivir crossed the threshold to the Lord’s bedroom with a puzzled expression. “What is it dad?”
“From now on, your allowance is gone. All the noble events you have planned, canceled! The only money you’ll receive will be the amount sent to Cindy for your Mage studies!” Marcus spat coldly. “I’ve bid for time since you begged me to, but it’s in the past now.”
Ivir furrowed her brows fiercely, trying to comprehend what had happened. “Has mother sent word?”
Marcus reached out to his robe and opened the envelope. “Here it is.” he said blandly.
Ivir looked at the crumpled end of the letter and shuddered. Her mother usually left a sign on the seal, but this time, she could clearly see the lightning sparking from time to time at the bottom of the paper sheet. Knowing her mother, she must have written under extreme anger!
“Can’t you at least give me some allowance…?” Ivir said with a pleading expression. She knew who was the real head of the family.
Marcus ignored her pleading, his expression indifferent. Gazing at the distance, he said softly “Arie is coming back soon.”
Arie, also known as “The Tempest!”. One of the Vilen Town’s great beauties and acclaimed Mage. At her early days, she was courted by many, yet she seemed impossible to land. There were countless suitors who tried to impress her with their strength, yet their end was all the same. Defeat in one strike!
Cindy recognized Arie’s talent and nurtured her as one of the main people of her Mage Guild. She had potential to be an heiress!
With Cindy’s backing, Arie set off a storm in the Mage Guild, surpassing her betters with unprecedented speed. She rapidly became known in the region as an extraordinary example of a budding Mage.
In her later days, Arie decided to settle with a quiet boy from her family she used to play with in her childhood, Marcus. Thus, the two married and with the support of the powerful Fire Mage ancestor received the right to rule over a small township in Minaeryth Kingdom.
Ivir naturally was well aware of her mother’s exploits. It’s exactly because she saw her signature move, “Spark”, in her childhood that she decided to become a Lightning Mage.
Ivir had a talent for magic, but without anyone to keep her in check, her motivation waned. She started interacting with nobles, growing lazy. Since Marcus had a soft spot for his only child, there was nothing to be done.
However, now the situation was different. Arie stepped in and that meant there was no going back. With a helpless sigh, Marcus handed Ivir the letter and muttered “Work hard, child.”
Under a brilliant waterfall in the mountain area past the raging eastern river, a dark-haired youth panted heavily. He had just had a 10km run without breaks, allowed only to drink some water from his canteen during the process. Behind him stood a gorgeous female, carrying a wooden stick. Her blue eyes gazed at the youth with a satisfied grin.
“Tch, you’re only this much. I expected something more from you, little bastard.” Even though she said that, Vilenne was quite impressed. Running for this long without any proper training was a miracle. She couldn’t figure out how could the little bastard be so durable. Her other students couldn’t even cross the 2km mark. Had she known it was thanks to the lizardman essence, she would ask Icicle to run at least 15km instead.
“If it was my real body, this would barely serve as a warm-up.” Icicle vented inside his mind. He didn’t want Vilenne to ask him to run another 10km before he caught his breath.
“You’ve rested enough, it’s time for your second course.” Vilenne unceremoniously grabbed Icicle by the collar and threw him into the lake under the waterfall.
Icicle fell into the lake like a fish, quickly falling to the bottom. “That damn vixen!” he cursed, swallowing some of the water as he was in the middle of his breath.
Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t the worst to come. Vilenne moved her hand over the rippling lake surface, creating water currents. At the bottom of the lake, the water swirled, forming into long streaks. Those streaks seemed to have intelligence as they quickly wrapped around Icicle’s limbs, weighing him down.
“Don’t you think this training is a little hardcore?” Icicle thought as he furiously glared at Vilenne. This wouldn’t increase his lung capacity as it wasn’t swimming! It was simply drowning!
Even though he tried to free himself off the shackles, all it did was make him seem like a helplessly thrashing fish on a hook.
Vilenne calmly looked at Icicle making an idiot out of himself, grinning from ear to ear. As he seemed on the verge of losing his breath, Vilenne looked at him and spat coldly “Breathe, you idiot.”
Although Icicle couldn’t hear the sound, the way Vilenne’s lips moved, he could clearly understand what she had said. Faced with asphyxiation, he decided to try breathing the water in.
To his surprise, his body was immediately filled with oxygen. “Could this be a hidden Water Mage perk?” Icicle didn’t have much time to think on the issue as a geyser of water brought him to the surface.
Icicle fell onto the lakeside with a bam, his body covered with sand. “You were quite a sight to behold.” Vilenne chuckled. She obviously wouldn’t tell Icicle that she went through the same process in the past. It was one of the baptisms Water Mages used for their new members.
“Now then.” Vilenne clapped her hands, looking at Icicle who struggled to get up from the sandy ground. “You’ve learned how to breathe like a fish, so it’s time you have learned how to fight like one.”
Vilenne pointed at the waterfall “Under this beautiful cascade of water, there’s a cave leading to a large underground complex of water veins. Your goal is to hunt 3 fish residing there. You have time until dusk. If you can’t make that happen, then you won’t have anything to eat for dinner. Not to mention…” Vilenne crouched, leaning next to Icicle’s ear. She released her hot breath, tingling his senses “… you’ll be a waste of breath to teach.”
Icicle’s whole body trembled as he forcefully endured the anger he felt. Being treated as a toy didn’t sit well with him. However, he knew this is just a way of Vilenne’s to repay him for the tricks he pulled on her earlier. As such, he treated it as fair, to a certain extent.
“Aside from returning before dusk, you cannot use any equipment. You are also banned from using your offensive abilities!” Vilenne threatened with her forefinger, as if telling a child it cannot eat its favorite candy. “Here’s your weapon.” Vilenne handed Icicle a training wooden sword. “Now go sit on the bottom of the lake and meditate to catch your breath! Have fun!” she grabbed Icicle by the collar again and kicked his butt fiercely.
Icicle fell into the lake again. A bunch of water bubbles rose from his mouth to the surface, making Vilenne grin. “What a good day! Ahh, I missed those sunny days.” she took off her backpack and joyfully spread a blanket on the lakeside.
Putting sunglasses on, Vilenne sunbathed, her [Sense presence] focused on the actions of the little bastard…
At the bottom of the lake, Icicle sat in a meditative position, two tiny water droplets spinning quickly. The neutral mana in his body started taking some of the water’s properties, becoming a vivid blue. Although this process happened only to a tiny recess of his body, this tiny improvement filled Icicle with determination. After all, it’s easier to work towards something that’s showing results from the start.
After 15 minutes spent meditating, Icicle felt full. The sensation was similar to overeating. If he tried to get any more work on mana control done, he feared it might all go to waste.
Opening his eyes, Icicle looked around with amazement. He still couldn’t fathom how he could sit underwater and breathe.
The bottom of the lake was a giant pile of mud, adorned by scarcely growing plants from time to time. This was likely the source of food for the dwellers of the lake. For his progress as an Alchemist, Icicle naturally picked all of those plants up.
Glancing at the miniscule progress of his profession, Icicle grinned. He knew it was likely due to Intermediary level. If it was so easy to jump through levels, Vilenne and others would long achieve Grandmaster rank. Checking if he hadn’t missed anything, Icicle swam towards the cave.
The insides of the cave were completely dark. Icicle could see next to nothing. “This must be part of the training course. After all, Vilenne knew what’s inside…” he thought, spreading his presence around.
The cave outline presented itself to him. Jugged rocks protruded from the walls of the underwater cave, waiting for hapless people to stake themselves. Icicle swam with his eyes closed, vigilant towards any unforseen circumstances.
After a while, Icicle felt that the force of attraction coming from the depths of the cave was getting stronger, like a monstrous whirlpool sucking the water in.
He braced himself and swam further. “Vilenne wouldn’t be so malicious, would she?” he thought, coming to a bifurcation.
“Now which one do I choose?” he pondered, trying to assess which tunnel has the stronger force of attraction. “Knowing Vilenne, one is a training course and another is a death trap. She knows I can’t die, so naturally she wouldn’t tell me which tunnel I should choose…” Icicle sighed inwardly. Sometimes experiencing the treatment of a foreign being in the new world wasn’t so colorful.
“The right tunnel seems to have a stronger force of attraction. I guess it leads to a more advanced area. I’ll go left and try my best there. If it’s too easy, I’ll choose the right tunnel afterwards.” Icicle quickly made his decision. There was no use pondering on the issue too much, as he couldn’t guess anything either way. All he had was a hint.
After swimming for over 5 minutes, Icicle felt that he was pulled with even more force. He let himself be carried, drifting in the water while conserving his strength.
He didn’t have to wait long. He was pulled outward, exiting the tunnel like a torpedo from a submarine.
Gazing all around, Icicle furrowed his brows “Where the hell am I?”
It was no longer dark. He could finally see as if it was day underwater. Looking up, Icicle realized what was happening. “This is a place somewhere under that giant mountain range! There must be some kind of hole through which the light enters. The reason I have time until nightfall is because of this lighting!”
Although [Sense presence] was useful, with his current achievements, Icicle could spread it to 5m around himself. What’s more, keeping it on all the time was mentally tiring. He couldn’t allow himself to do that in this potentially dangerous environment.
For underwater creatures, crossing 5m is but a thought. Calling Icicle dead after the dusk falls is an understatement. There’s only one appropriate term – food!
On Icicle’s right, a school of fish swam by. However, those were but minnows. Even if he somehow managed to get 30 of them, there’s no way he could fill his stomach.
Without any direction, Icicle decided to get to the bottom first.
Colorful flowers grew at the bottom of the underwater cave, releasing a special kind of pheromones. Once a fish caught the bait, the large spiky petals opened, revealing a row of sharp teeth.
The large yellow maw closed, chewing on the hapless fish that was lured into its vicinity.
Icicle observed those “man eating plants” carefully, shaking his head. “What a dangerous ecosystem. Even the plants here are posing some threat. It’s good they’re low level, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see their properties.”
The plants in question were level 5. Icicle thought of the task Vilenne presented him with and frowned. If the level of the creatures was so low, what trouble could await him? Despite that line of thought, the hunch he had earlier was still there. He knew there’s danger lurking around.
Swimming through the giant underwater world, Icicle noticed beings resembling clams, oysters and scallops. Seaweeds floated around, nourishing the small organisms. It was weird since this area, at least to his knowledge, wasn’t in any way connected to the sea.
However, this was a Virtual Reality. Who could tell the developers to do everything according to logic? Magic itself wasn’t too logical. Icicle didn’t have it back on Earth yet he accepted it readily.
As Icicle was musing, something fast entered his [Sense presence] range. Turning his head to the right, Icicle’s mouth opened from the pain. A giant catfish slammed right into his side.
One of the more common dwellers of the underground lake.
Icicle brought out the wooden sword Vilenne had given him and slashed right at the catfish’s head.
His slash missed by a mile, as the catfish nimbly dodged. It slammed again, this time square on Icicle’s chest.
Enduring the pain, Icicle looked at the wooden sword and frowned. “It’s so hard to move it! No wonder Vilenne told me not to use any other weapon, if it weighed any more, I would probably die before being able to hit anything!”
Realizing where the problem laid, Icicle tried to dodge as much as he could while thinking of the solution. “There’s no way I can hit that catfish right now. The only thing I can do is trying to predict where it will strike so that I can counter. Even that has a small chance of success though…”
Icicle’s mind went back to the past when his grandfather taught him how to look for the enemy’s weak points. However, that had no use if he couldn’t hit the enemy!
“What else was there?” Icicle cast [Liquid membrane] around himself to stall for time. He had to figure out something fast, otherwise, when other catfishes find him, he would be done for. When Vilenne toyed with him it was embarrassing enough, but a level 4 catfish? That was an insult comparable to Blackie beating him in combat.
Taking a deep breath, Icicle tried to calm his mind under the relentless assault of the catfish.
“If there’s no opportunity to strike, create one yourself!” the words of the dojo master Icicle used to study under rang out in his head.
“How do I create an opportunity here though? Everything works against me!” Icicle moved sideways to dodge a reckless slam of the catfish.
The catfish slammed against Icicle’s back.
“I swear I’ll eat this thing for dinner.” he cursed inwardly. “How can I free myself from the movement restriction? What would Vilenne do? She can’t have much more cards than me.”
Seeing the catfish approach him from the front, Icicle drew his hand backwards, preparing to stab. Just as his hand jerked, he forcefully stopped the motion. However, the catfish dodged to the side all the same!
“Feints are definitely a thing. But they still won’t let me hit the catfish, merely delay it a little. What do the fish have that I don’t? Scales? Yes, but that’s not all. They have highly mobile bodies and are capable of swerving! Wait… scales?”
Realization dawned on Icicle. He couldn’t suddenly grow scales and swim freely like a fish, but he could cover himself with a film of mana to decrease the water resistance.
“You little vixen, you actually gave me a subtle hint with your “fight like a fish” curse!” Icicle grinned widely.
The catfish attacked again, striking from the left. Icicle readied his sword and countered with a stab.
The catfish slipped past Icicle’s lousy strike and hit his ribs. “Tch, that was close.” Icicle repaired the damaged film of mana and moved after the catfish.
A couple of minutes passed and Icicle was still entangled with the catfish. However, as he madly chased after the creature, missing almost every strike, another catfish attacked him. Now that he was against two catfishes, he had to focus even more. Dodging became even more difficult, while striking was a rare delicacy under the relentless attacks of the two.
“My mana isn’t infinite, so I can’t keep this up!” Icicle thought, trying to resolve the problem of his strikes missing. “I can see through most of the catfishes movements already, but my strikes can’t connect… Could it be that I need to encase the sword with my mana too?”
With his current situation, it couldn’t hurt to waste 15 or so mana at the possible chance of winning. After focusing his mana flow not only on his body, but on the sword as well, Icicle’s [Sense presence] range had to be reduced to 3m. Despite his great mental capacity, that was as much as he could pour out at the moment.
“Alright, now’s my time!” Icicle readied himself with a long breath. As the catfish neared from the front, Icicle unleashed his sword, stabbing straight at its wide open mouth!
The other catfish grazed against Icicle’s right side as he dodged in a last second.
“Finally, my strikes land close to where I want them to!” although this wasn’t a perfect solution, for now it was more than enough.
Icicle stood with his right hand outstretched, keeping the wooden sword in a defensive position, while his left hand had a tiny water droplet swirling, absorbing the mana from the water environment.
“Let’s see who’s the hunter now!” Icicle’s amber eyes blazed as he grinned devilishly.
Three catfishes swam around Icicle, one badly battered. “Vilenne wouldn’t give me such an easy task, would she? She certainly wants to punish for failing with more training. If I am to “fail” her expectations, I need to kill this catfish before it escapes!” Icicle deduced.
“In the current situation, there’s only one thing I can think of to increase my damage – mana! I need to pour a lot of mana into the wooden sword and strike the attack from the inside!”
After making his decision, Icicle stayed vigilant. He saw the wariness in the wounded catfish’s behavior. It swam farther away from him than the other two. Nonetheless, the creature still waited for its chance to attack.
Icicle saw all of that. He had to scheme to make his plan work. “Once I leave an obvious opening, the fish will go for it. That’s when I get rid of it!”
As he fought with the three catfishes, Icicle couldn’t believe he had so much trouble with level 4 creatures. If he told the others how tough the task was to overcome, they probably wouldn’t believe him, calling him a useless moron.
“It should attack in three seconds…”
Counting down, Icicle steeled himself.
With a decisive strike, Icicle dealt the killing blow to the catfish. His wooden sword pierced through its insides, staking the fish as if readying it for barbecue.
“One down, two to go!” Icicle looked at the catfish that didn’t disintegrate with a smile.
“Weird, there was no notification of the quest. It’s either a hidden or one with no rewards, thus no system window.” Icicle assumed.
Vilenne enjoyed the last rays of the sun as she joyfully looked at the water surface. Bonfire next to her crackled as the delicious aroma of venison spread throughout the area.
“Little bastard seems occupied, huh?” Vilenne smirked. The test she gave Icicle took her over 3 days to complete. Back at the day, she was at the Intermediary stage of mana control!
“If you tease other people, prepared to get teased back!” enjoying the sweet taste of victory, Vilenne ate the venison stew with a grin from ear to ear.
Another 15 minutes passed and Vilenne started packing her things into the enchanted backpack. “Little bastard knows where to find me.” she shrugged, about to extinguish the bonfire.
A geyser of water erupted from the middle of the lake, revealing a thoroughly wet, disheveled figure. Icicle shook his head to dry his hair a little.
Vilenne’s pupils constricted as she saw her student. At his left side there was a row of gaping wounds, as if a giant fish bit him and left its mark. Putting her bowl of venison stew aside, Vilenne quickly approached Icicle, casting [Healing drizzle] on him.
“Thanks.” Icicle muttered, taking a sit on a stump.
Seeing the wounds close, Vilenne sighed with relief. The appearance of Icicle was gruesome. She had only seen wounds like this during life and death duels. What did the little bastard do to get so battered up?
Despite thinking that, Vilenne didn’t want to ask. The atmosphere just wasn’t there. “Here.” she handed Icicle a bowl of venison stew.
Icicle took the bowl and emptied the insides in a jiffy. Vilenne smiled wryly as there wasn’t any more in the pot. She made just this much for herself.
Wiping his mouth, Icicle touched the air and said “Can you cook these for me?”
Five catfishes emerged out of thin air, three regular ones and two entirely black, some kind of Rare variant.
“S-Sure.” Vilenne muttered out, rekindling the bonfire. As she looked for sticks to place the fish on, she tried to grasp what had happened. “Those bite marks were obviously from that giant fish living in the right tunnel… but if he entered the right tunnel right away, there is no way he would have lived until now. Besides, those catfishes… Did little bastard hunt them and then try explore the other tunnel, meeting his match?”
Although Vilenne wasn’t sure, she felt her guess was quite accurate. “Still, to hunt five catfishes underwater as a first timer, that’s impressive.” Vilenne turned her head to look at Icicle.
“Huh?” seeing the murderous look in Icicle’s eyes, Vilenne stilled for a second. She then entered deep into the woods.
“Hahahahahaha!” a wild, loud laughter rang out throughout the forest. “What an idiot! A complete moron!” Vilenne clutched her stomach.
“He actually wanted to defeat the underwater ruler as a first timer! That’s really the biggest idiot I’ve ever seen!” Vilenne wiped the tears that welled up in her eyes. “To think they called me a daredevil!”
10 minutes later, Vilenne returned with enough sticks to put the fish on. She left them to grill while she amusedly gazed at Icicle.
“Am I that handsome?” Icicle’s amber eyes blazed under the light of a fire.
“If stupidity can be called that, then yes.” Vilenne smirked.
Icicle smiled wryly. “You have a really sonorous voice. Your future boyfriend will have a lot of fun with you.”
Vilenne’s face blushed a deep red. Fortunately, it was nighttime and the bonfire didn’t reflect it well.
“Don’t hit the wounded! Don’t hit the wounded!” she repeated in her mind to calm herself after the sense of embarrassment was replaced by anger.
“So.” Icicle said after a while of silence. “Have I passed your little test?”
“Nope. You were late.” Vilenne grinned.
“I see. No matter, I learned more than enough there.” Icicle said, gazing at the stars.
“Anyways, whatever little punishment you have prepared has to wait. I plan on going back there tomorrow.”
“Are you really that dumb?” Vilenne asked with amusement.
“Who knows…” Icicle answered vaguely, yet his mouth held a trace of a smile. “The fish are burning.”
“Ah!” Vilenne scurried to the bonfire, trying to salvage the dish. Seeing as it was somewhat burned, she smiled apologetically.
“No matter.” Icicle said indifferently. “Blackie, go eat them.”
Summoned by his Master, Blackie barked happily as he ate the meal. To him, it didn’t matter if the fish were a little “overcooked”.
“Here.” Icicle handed Vilenne a sandwich.
Vilenne took it somewhat reluctantly, then as she was about to take the first bite Icicle shouted “Look out, it’s poisoned.”
Glaring at Icicle with a wry smile, Vilenne’s taste buds relished in the feeling. “Mm, peanut butter!”
Under a veil of the moonlight, two figures stood in the woods. Icicle’s face held a trace of a smile as he looked in the direction of the waterfall lake.
“Once I deal with that guy underwater, we’ll have a much fairer fight.” he said wistfully.
“Huh?” Vilenne stammered, packing the rest of the fish into her backpack. It worked in a similar way to Icicle’s bag, storing a set amount of weight without any problems.
“See you soon.” Icicle said, logging out.
“What did he mean?” Vilenne wondered. “He can’t be saying he’s going to enter Intermediary level so soon, right?”
Back in his room, Jason laid in his bed, looking at the ceiling. After spending over 8 hours in the game, he didn’t feel much exhaustion, yet something was bugging him.
“That goddamn giant shark was so strong!” he muttered. “Once I get a hang of that movement technique I realized underwater, you’re done for!” a resolute light filled his eyes.