Paragon of Destruction - Chapter 206

Published at 12th of August 2019 08:26:26 PM

Chapter 206

A fearful look crossed Acantha's face . Brightblade's forceful response to the mention of Hunters was something she clearly had not expected .

"Yes, Adept Brightblade," she said . "Hunters are common in the borderlands . " A slight tremble in her voice, she added, "But there's nothing to worry about . They don't attack Shadowflame mages . Not unless we challenge them — but nobody's been dumb enough to do that in years . "

Brightblade raised an eyebrow . "They don't target your Ninth Valley mages? But they do attack others?"

Acantha nodded . "They hunt any mages who aren't from the Shadowflame Society . At least, that's what my teachers say — . "

"Then what do you do?" Brightblade asked, her brown furrowed as she looked at the novice .

A puzzled expression appeared on Acantha's face . In an uncertain tone, she asked, "What we do?"

"In the borderlands . Without other mages around, what do you novices do here? Your Elders don't just send you out here to go camping, do they?"

At this, understanding dawned in Acantha's eyes . "We protect the region from bandits and dangerous creatures," she answered, a proud look on her face .

Suddenly, Arran understood why the Ninth Valley's borderlands were so safe for novices . With only bandits and beasts as enemies, there were no real dangers to mages .

"I see," Brightblade said . "Very well, let's start moving again . "

She turned around without another word, though Arran could detect a hint of dissatisfaction in her gaze . He suspected she didn't think such safety was good training for novices .

As they went on their way again, Acantha was noticeably quieter than before, seemingly wary of drawing Brightblade's attention once more . Yet Arran's brief respite lasted barely an hour, after which she began chattering once more .

They traveled for two days, Snowcloud and Brightblade both quiet as Acantha prattled to Arran about her year in the borderlands . It didn't bother him too much — some part of her reminded him of some of the girls he'd known in Riverbend, with a type of innocence he hadn't seen in a long time .

Then, to Arran's surprise, there was a sudden shift in the landscape . Where there had previously been wilderness all around them, now, they had entered a region full of farmlands . Fields of wheat and pastures filled with livestock stretched out as far as he could see to the north, and all the way up to the mountains in the east .

"We're close now!" Acantha said, sounding excited . "The path to the Valley is less than three days from here!"

Arran looked around at the cottages and farms that littered the fields surrounding them . "There are people living outside the Valley's entrance?" He still vividly remembered the wasteland that lay at the entrance to the Sixth Valley, yet here, things looked to be completely different .

"Of course," Acantha replied . "This far out, there are only a few small villages, but there more people live near the entrance . And at the entrance itself, there's a city — Mountaingate . " She glanced at Brightblade, and when she saw that the woman wasn't looking, she whispered, "You should visit Mountaingate when your teacher isn't with you . They have the best strawberry wine, and—"

Arran listened with half an ear as Acantha continued, his attention focused on the area around them . It was like no part of the borderlands he had seen before . Even in the Empire, he had seen few regions as peaceful and prosperous as this .

As Acantha had said, the population grew denser as they drew closer to the Ninth Valley's entrance, encountering many villages and even some small towns .

Yet the biggest surprise came when they reached Mountaingate .

While Arran had expected to see a city, he hadn't expected to see one nearly as vast as this one . At a glance, he could tell that it was at least twice the size of Hillfort if not larger, and the roads leading up to it were crowded with merchants, travelers, and farmers bringing produce to the city .

"We're nearing Mountaingate," Acantha said somewhat needlessly . "I have some people to meet in the city, but if you want, I can take you—"

"We'll be traveling straight to the Valley," Brightblade interrupted her . "Thank you for your help . " The tone of her voice made it clear that she expected Acantha to leave, and without delay .

"All right," Acantha said . "It was a pleasure to meet you all, and maybe we'll see each other again . " She flashed Arran a smile, then walked off, disappearing in the crowd in a matter of moments .

For some minutes, their small group continued onward in silence . Then, Brightblade spoke . "I don't like this . "

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"Neither do I," Snowcloud concurred . "There's something strange about it . And that girl…"

"She wasn't too bad," Arran said . "She was friendly enough, and she helped show us the way . "

Snowcloud gave him an annoyed glare . "Perhaps you were blinded by that pretty smile, but you must have noticed that there was something off about her . She was almost like… a commoner . " She emphasized the last words, distaste clear in her voice .

While Arran didn't want to judge the girl too harshly, he had to admit Snowcloud was right . He hadn't seen Acantha use magic, but from her demeanor, she seemed more like a young village girl than the skilled mage a novice was supposed to be .

"I suppose you have a point," he admitted reluctantly .

"She does," Brightblade said . "And I intend to find out what's going on here as soon as I can . Nothing about this is normal — not the farmlands in the borderlands, not the absurdly weak novice, and certainly not the friendly Hunters . " She shook her head . "But first, we should get set up in the Valley . "

They circled around Mountaingate, finding the path to the Ninth Valley without much trouble . Much like the other roads in the area, it was filled with the carts of traveling merchants and farmers, a steady stream of traffic continuously moving both ways .

The traffic made their progress slow, and it took them the better part of the day to reach the Valley's gate .

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When they finally reached it, Arran was almost relieved to see that this, at least, was the same as in the Sixth Valley — a long, narrow pass with steep walls on either side leading all the way up to a massive gate, with a towering wall looming over it .

Yet another difference soon emerged . Where the Sixth Valley's guards carefully checked every traveler, here, the guards merely waved everyone through, at most urging the passing travelers not to dawdle at the gate .

Even Arran and his two companions, all three of them clearly mages, barely got a single glance, much less a second one .

This apparent disregard for security caused Arran to raise an eyebrow, but then, he realized the guards might have little choice — inspecting every arrival would quickly bring the long line of carts and people on the path below to a stop .

Brightblade, meanwhile, looked at the scene with barely veiled chagrin, and Arran almost feared she would cause a scene out of sheer frustration with the guards' nonchalance . Yet she quickly walked on, merely casting a few angry glares at the guards as they passed into the Ninth Valley .

"Unacceptable," she muttered under her breath when they were a few dozen paces past the guards . "Completely unacceptable . "

Still, yet another shock awaited them when they reached the cliff leading down into the valley . Immediately, they could see that the Ninth Valley was far more densely populated than the Sixth Valley . In the landscape that stretched out before them, Arran counted at least half a dozen towns, and he understood many more must lay further ahead .

"There are so many people here," he said, more to himself than to the others .

Next to him, Snowcloud nodded, her eyes wide with astonishment . "It's not at all like the Sixth Valley…"

"I don't like this," Brightblade said once more . "I'll take the two of you to an inn in the nearest town, and then I'm going to find out just what has happened here . Wait for me to return, and don't draw any attention . "