Chapter 25: Ambitions of a Mage
“Elio wanted an apprentice who could focus on the Art to avoid letting it die out, but the time it would take to train could be measured in decades. I did not want to part ways with my beloved brother, but I lacked the strength to protect him. Neither of us would be able to attain what we wanted as things stood.
The Argo spoke up. ‘There is no problem. I will simply stay on the outskirts of the forest and assist you with whatever you need until Fina masters Magic. And then we will continue on our journey together.’
Elio asked if he was really willing to give up his dream to stay by my side. He would be leveraging his future for mine. I stated I couldn’t let him do that. Not when I already owed him so much.
Argo refuted us both with a smile.
‘I simply have faith that my little sister will be such a genius she’ll master whatever you can teach her well before then.’
…My brother was really a fool. But he said it with such confidence that it was like an unshakable truth. So confident that even Elio would admit later on that even he felt a spark despite his skepticism, which was why he bought into the compromise.
In the end, I felt like I had to live up to his expectations.
For his sake and the sake of his dream.”
A pained groan slipped from Lefiya’s lips as she awoke in the familiar comfort of a bed.
Specifically, her own bed from the scent she picked up. She cracked open her eyes to see behind the blurred veil that made up her vision was the décor of the room she shared with Elfy. As she sat up, she thought she was dreaming and pinched her cheek, only to feel the sting and realize that she really was back in the Twilight Manor that served as the home of the Loki Familia.
She had questions, of course. The last thing she remembered was that she had been calling forth Lady Riveria’s spell against the Reflection Soldier to weaken its shell. Then she blacked out, as expected of when one had exhausted their Mind.
Lefiya expected that Aiz would have finished the job. After all, she wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t. But there were the other things she wanted to ask her about…
“Lefy, you’re up now?” The familiar voice snapped azure eyes towards the desk and she found Elfy there, book and quill in hand. The Human Mage, dressed in her casual blouse and skirt, set them down before coming over towards the newly woken Half-Elf. “How are you feeling?”
“Nnnnn… my head is still pounding…” Lefiya reached up and rubbed her temples to emphasize the point before noticing the pink sleeves of her nightgown sliding across her skin. “Were you the one who changed me into these?”
“Lady Loki offered to do it,” she claimed, sitting on the edge of her bed with her lips pulled back into a smile befitting of her mischievous green eyes when she noticed the shiver that ran up Lefiya’s spine. “Of course, Lady Riveria stopped her, and I’ve been watching over you since then. So no need to worry about anyone copping a feel—not that you have anything to be ashamed of.”
“You could have just said yes.” The last thing she needed to wake up to was learning that her patron deity had decided to get handsy. Again. “Did everyone make it back?”
She bobbed her head before holding up a finger. “You were the only one with a scratch on you. Imagine our surprise when we came back to camp with Lady Riveria and the others, only to learn that you apparently took out an enhanced Obsidian Soldier as part of a test. Honestly, she really does put you through your paces.”
Lefiya’s only response to that was to cover her mouth and softly yawn before rubbing her eyes. “Mnn… how long have I been out?”
“It’s only been a day since we’ve gotten back, so you haven’t missed anything important. Everyone is simply relaxing after the dive, though I think the guys are pestering Lady Loki to see if they’ve managed to get any decent growth from their Status out of it. I’ll go get Lady Riveria, so sit tight.”
And with that said the Human Mage hopped off the bed and ran out of the door, leaving Lefiya by her lonesome. She brushed the covers back and then turned around so that her feet were touching the floor. Then she straightened her back, closed her eyes, and tried to go through her meditative breathing to ease the headaches.
They wouldn’t make them go away, but it would at least allow her to put it at the back of her mind until she could get something else to take the edge off. She knew that this would be the consequence of pushing herself, but she couldn’t think of any other way. The only thing she could do to contribute was to go that far.
Still…she couldn’t help feeling embarrassed at thought of being dragged back to the camp wearing such extravagant battle clothes in an unconscious heap. Everyone probably saw her like that too. Somehow, she could just picture Bete saying something about no matter how much you dress up a piece of trash, it’s still a piece of trash that needs to be lugged around. “I really wasn’t worthy of clothes like that.”
“Then we’ll increase your training until you are.”
Her eyes snapped open at that to see her mentor standing at the door, a steaming cup in her hand that had a saucer beneath it. “M-My apologies. I just woke up, so I wasn’t aware of my surroundings…”
“It’s fine,” the Royal Elf insisted as she entered the room and held out the saucer and cup for her. “Drink this. It’ll help.”
The aroma from it alone nipped at the gnawing ache in her skull. The Half-Elf gingerly accepted the offering and brought it to her lips to find it was an herbal blend, the sweetness of the fruit used to tinge it delicately while the poignant tang of the herbs that were infused into it had an earthly flavor. She relished it with a relaxing sigh as the pulsating pain within her head lessened. “Thank you, Lady Riveria.”
“I would have preferred if you hadn’t ended up exhausting your Mind and winding up unconscious,” her mentor said in regard to her thanks. “But I suppose it couldn’t be helped considering the level of the threat was worse than we anticipated. This is the least I can do.”
With that, Lefiya turned her attention back to the topic at hand. “Elfy said that it was meant to be a test of some kind?”
With a slight nod before she began, Lady Riveria explained the situation. “I referred to it as a test, but the truth is a bit more complicated than that. I’ll trust that you’ll keep this between the two of us?”
The Half-Elf nodded. “Of course.”
“After what happened on the 59th Floor, we had to consider the future of the Loki Familia if the worst happens,” Lady Riveria began. “Namely, who would be our successors among the younger generation. Naturally, the Hyrute Sisters and Bete would be among our choices since they’re all aware of their shortcomings and what’s needed to shore them up. If they were asked to lead a squad of Familia members, they would be able to do so without any problems. However, leading the entire Familia would be a bit much for them, meaning we had to consider other choices beyond Level.”
The weight of the topic left Lefiya to go still as she considered the implications. The battle with the Demi-Spirit had been one of the hardest fought battles in their lives. They had only escaped by the skin of their teeth, and all three of their mentors had given their all along with everyone else just to survive. But it seemed that in the aftermath, faced with the potential threats and the remnants of Evilus, they had to consider what would happen the next time.
Tiona was a fun person to be around. She was always smiling and possessed a big heart, able to look at even the most challenging of circumstances with optimism. But she was the kind of person who operated more on instinct and was better directed at a problem that she could deal with physically rather than mentally.
Tione was a cool, older sister figure to a lot of the younger girls. She was strong, beautiful, and looked after them. But when she got angry, she was terrifying. Not to mention that she was in love with the Captain, so if he was retiring then she would follow him. And if he died then…
And then there was Bete. He was strong, and fast, and he could protect others if he needed to. But… well, he was harsh even when he was trying to be supportive. It was hard to get a read on him some of the time, and he usually didn’t like interacting with others more than necessary. More than a few of their Familia complained about him out of earshot.
“Then was the Captain who suggested Miss Aiz?” Lefiya asked. Among the entirety of the Loki Familia’s younger generation, Aiz’s title as the Sword Princess was the most well-known. She was also the previous Record Holder, only beaten out by Bell due to his own Rare Skill and the circumstances that he found himself in. Between that, her ties to the Familia, and her strength, no one would be surprised if one day she succeeded Finn as the Captain of the Loki Familia.
“Gareth, actually,” Lady Riveria answered. “Without a doubt, she is as much a central pillar to the Loki Familia as it is her own family. And her strength is undeniable, even among the veterans within our ranks. But there are still too many qualities she lacks at present in terms of leadership ability, and she’s…”
She paused for a moment, as if deliberating her words. “Aiz is driven at times by an impulse to try and take things onto her shoulders alone. While she has gotten better about it over the years, it’s still there. And, at the worst of times, it can take hold of her and make her lose sight of the world if someone isn’t there to pull her back.”
Lefiya’s mind went back to the pain she felt. The dark flame that burned her from the inside. She had a feeling that was what her mentor was referring to, considering how long she had known her and their relationship. Even now Aiz wouldn’t hesitate to break ranks to assist one of them if they were in trouble, all to avoid losing someone else—she’d done so for Lefiya’s sake more than once.
If she was in the leading position, she wouldn’t be able to focus on the bigger picture or make half of the calls that Captain Finn would to ensure the success of the mission. She would feel pressured to get strong enough to defend them all and take that burden on her shoulders. And when she couldn’t, those dark flames would tempt her once more.
“And, obviously, I suggested you and pushed strongly for it.”
“Because I’m your apprentice?” Lefiya asked cautiously. She had to admit she was worried that it was nepotism when she was nowhere near as capable as the rest of the others who could have been potentially chosen.
“Part of the reason I took you on as my apprentice was because you have the Gift,” the Royal Elf admitted. “Elven blood gives way to an affinity with Magic, but there are no guarantees. In the end, it boils down to whether or not you have the Gift or not.”
She was referring to in-born Talent. Though it may be unfair, the simple reality is that not every person will be equal in terms of ability, even if they started the same. There were always people who were Rare Gems—like Aiz or Bell or Welf Crozzo.
“But it can be a double-edged sword,” she continued. “There are those who were born with the Gift, but it brought them nothing but misery and isolation, or others it led to self-destruction because they weren’t mature enough to handle it nor had the ambition to see it to its full potential. Hence why I wanted to see for myself how you were progressing. To be honest, I was proud to see how far you came.”
A fluttering feeling in her stomach surfaced then. She couldn’t take credit for any of that. “That’s only because Sir Gareth gave me advice on both how to find the gemstones and how miners would break rocks by heating and then cooling them rapidly. If not for those then I would have been at a complete loss at what to do other than using your support magic. None of it was by my own efforts.”
To her surprise, jade hair wavered as the Royal Elf shook her head slightly. “We’re your mentors. Our job is to instruct you, but how that knowledge is used is what matters. The fact that it saw practical use was something to be proud of and, going forward, others might be able to do the same in a similar circumstance. So don’t diminish the value of what you’ve learned so easily.”
“My apologies,” Lefiya responded to being scolded. “But what if I hadn’t been able to succeed back then?”
“You still supported Aiz to the best of your ability,” was the answer she received. “It would have been all too easy for the past you to leave it up to her because of the gap in your strength and the opponent. But the two of you supported each other, and when you fell you still got up and pulled Aiz from going over the edge by pouring your all into the next attempt. That was the last thing I was looking for that made me confident that I wasn’t wrong about what I said in the Spirit Forest.”
A slender hand found its way on her shoulder, while a soft smile graced the Royal Elf’s lips as she spoke matter-of-factly. “Whether or not it was by fluke or by birthright, it doesn’t change the fact that you were born with the Gift. You could easily be one of the greatest Mages in history under the right circumstances—able to stand right there along with Queen Celdia or the Silence of the Hera Familia, Alfia. That’s why you will be my successor in both the Loki Familia and the one who will carry our magical heritage into the future.”
Lefiya felt a shock run through her at the proclamation. Every Elf knew of the Queen who reigned one thousand years ago, a virtuous saint who fought against the One-Eyed Black Dragon. But the other was considered one of the greatest Mages in Orario at Level Seven, known for defeating Leviathan and thus completing one of the Three Great Quests.
Two legendary Mages. One Elven. One Human. For her, who straddled the line between the races, it was as if Lady Riveria was saying she could stand at the pinnacle of both.
The words of Bete encouraging her to surpass Riveria rang in her mind. The words of Lady Lilo to carry their heritage and legacy. The words of Primo to surpass the known limits. The words of her Lady Riveria to succeed her.
Much like what she felt in the Spirit Forest, she wanted to live up to those expectations. For the sake of Familia and friends. For the sake of her brother. For her own sake.
“I’ll do my best to live up to that,” she vowed, her voice unwavering. “I promise.”
“That’s all I ask,” her mentor responded before pulling away. “Now, you’ve woken up in time for dinner. Come and join us.”
“Yes ma’am.” She rose to do so, admittedly eager to see the others after she had been unconscious since the trip to the Dungeon. But then a lingering thought occurred. “…Wait, if Sir Gareth suggested Miss Aiz and you suggested me, then who did Captain Finn suggest?”
“Raul Nord, of course.”
Lefiya tried not to show her sheer bafflement at that. She really did. But from the expression her master was making, it was perfectly clear she did a poor job of hiding it. But who could blame her?
Even leaving aside those rumors he spread, he was so… plain. His title was effectively the High Novice, a beginner who somehow made it all the way to Level Four. That didn’t exactly instill the sort of awe or commanding presence as the ‘Braver’ did.
“A leader isn’t someone in charge, but someone who takes care of those in their charge,” Lady Riveria said in a sagely tone, as if reading her mind. “Raul already acts as the substitute commander when needed and gives his time and effort to others who need it. He’ll ask if there’s anything they need to make their jobs easier, even if he never receives praise or thanks for it. His empathy means that most members of the Familia will reach out to him when needed, and if someone makes a mistake under his watch, he’ll take responsibility for it. By that metric, he has the potential to be a great leader if not for the matter of his self-confidence…”
The Half-Elf reconsidered her interactions with him in light of that perspective. It was true that while he was unimposing, Raul was constantly seen doing something for someone else or to the benefit of the Familia. When the Captain or the others needed something handled among their ranks but lacked the time to do so themselves, it was often better to delegate it to Raul, and he did see it done. And prior to him spreading those rumors, she really didn’t have a problem with him.
In fact, he would offer to assist her in negotiations or haggling for drop items. It was his advice that had helped her in the past. He virtually acted as the senior among the Second-Class Adventurers along with Aki. So he would naturally be the best fit if he could cross the hurdle and have the same confidence that Captain Finn did.
Though that was a long time away considering Aki off-handedly mentioned his absence during dinner being due to sitting curled up on the floor and muttering to himself. But she had other things on her mind to be worried about instead of him at the moment. Like the fact that the Holy Moon Festival was on the way.
And she had a date to keep.
[-Arc 4 End-]
Primo Libera (Level 1)
Newest Member of the Hestia Familia. Informal Student of Lefiya Viridis. A neophyte Elven Mage who hails from the outskirts of Libera, she grew up on tales of Lady Riveria and came to the City of Adventurers to become one herself after losing her parents to monsters. She was taken in by Hestia and strives to diligently become their primary Mage as the others train with her physical attributes.
Strength: I-5 | Endurance: I-3 | Dexterity: I-17 | Agility: I-10 | Magic: I-31
Lumine Pleiades (Illuminating Seven Stars): Wide Area Bombardment Magic, Offensive-Type Light Element spell that creates a cluster of sevens of stars that rain down beams of starlight at an area. Scales with user’s Magic Stat.
Chant: “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash. Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!”
Tiny Bow: A small bow made from springwood retrieved by Bell while Lefiya was on her quest. Primo has been learning the basics of marksmanship from Lili between her Magic studies.
Oaken Staff: A beginner’s staff that acts as a conductor for spellcasting. It was treated to be durable enough to double as a bludgeoning weapon and Mikoto has started teaching the basics of staff fighting.