Chapter 13:

Chapter 12: Unexpected Reunion

Zero to Hero

"Come visit soon, Ken! Candace! Tina!" Bailee's tearful goodbye lingered as we departed the village.

"Don’t worry, Bailee. Once I get my hands on a teleport artifact, I can travel all around the world instantly and can visit whenever!" I reassured her, trying to ease the young girl's emotions.

"Bye everyone! Don’t miss me too much," Candace chimed in, smiling, while the young men seemed on the verge of tears, echoing Bailee's sentiment.

"Later Thane! Next time we meet, I will surely be stronger than you are," Tina declared confidently, bidding farewell to the grateful villagers. "Take care, you three. Thanks again for saving our village," Thane added, offering a firm handshake.

“Glad we could help! Thanks for teaching me how to use healing magic elder!” I replied, as we waved goodbye to all of the villagers who came to see us off.

As we bid goodbye to the villagers, we embarked on our journey toward Ostrium city, this time mounted on horses. Traveling through the mountainous terrain while teleporting over peaks, the addition of the horses made our journey much smoother.

As we ventured even further south, the biting cold of mid-winter gradually softened into a more bearable chill, transitioning into favorable weather as we crossed the mountains onto flat plains. The once desolate landscapes became dotted with villages and encounters with travelers became commonplace.

Forty days since leaving the frozen forest of Chelmswell, we stood atop a hill, gazing at the sprawling capital city of Ostrium. "How many freaking people live there?" Tina exclaimed, marveling at the sight.

"At least 10 million," I replied casually, trying to convey the immense scale to someone who grew up in a tiny tribe.

The girl, raised in a secluded tribe of a mere thousand, seldom encountered outsiders. Her notion of crowds was shaped solely by biannual tournaments viewed through a mirror artifact at Dragonspire. Staying a night in a town of about 100,000 days ago had astonished her; the sheer gathering of so many people in one place seemed inconceivable.

“How many people is 10 million? What is even a million?” Tina's voice echoed loudly, reflecting her lack of general education and struggle with numerical concepts.

“Well, there are a thousand thousands in a million, so 10 million is 10 thousand of your village put together,” I tried to elucidate, but the magnitude of the number eluded her.

“I told you a country bumpkin like you would get overwhelmed by a major city,” Candace interjected with a snarky laugh.

“Yami! Attack that smug tramp!” Tina retaliated.

“Leave my pet out of your bickering,” I intervened, trying to diffuse the situation.

“She started it! Just because she's a little older and got lucky to visit a big city once, she’s acting all high and mighty,” Tina complained, making a valid point.

“Candace, don’t be mean to the poor bumpkin,” I replied with a smile, relishing the playful chaos that had made the past 40 days unexpectedly enjoyable.

As our horses propelled us toward the towering city, the once expansive view gave way to an imposing city wall.

“What’s the point of those giant walls if people like you could just teleport to the other side?” Tina's curiosity emerged as we approached.

“Teleportation is one of the most challenging magic to learn. Five years ago, there were probably fewer than a thousand people in the world capable of it. The walls aren’t for stopping people like me; they're to deter regular people. High-level magic circles detect any intruders who could teleport inside,” I explained, noticing Tina's intent interest.

“You know why I didn’t teleport us from that hill? If I had, we’d have been apprehended already, especially with you two around—it would’ve taken ages to resolve the situation,” I clarified.

“You mean her, right? I don’t see how I could be part of the issue,” Candace innocently replied, deflecting blame despite her knack for stirring trouble, albeit differently from Tina.

Continuing our banter, we reached the northern gate of the city late in the morning, joining a small queue of travelers waiting to be inspected by the guards.

“State your business,” the guard asked, eyeing our group suspiciously.

“I was hoping to speak with Professor Aethelwulf. I’m a former pupil of his,” I responded courteously.

“A human? Yet you weren’t informed that it has been Headmaster Aethelwulf for two years now? Do you have a letter of invitation?” The guard’s skepticism increased, questioning why a former student would be unaware of such a significant promotion.

“Wow! No one deserves it more than him! Unfortunately, I was living remotely for the past few years, so I don’t have any documentation,” I explained honestly, hoping to ease our passage through the checkpoint.

“Do I look dangerous to you?” Candace asked, flashing a seductive smile. While charming, her action only exacerbated our suspicious appearance.

“Let us through now before I knock you out!” Tina's menacing tone and glare heightened tensions, complicating an already questionable situation.

As if the presence of a unique winged wolf, a beastman girl, a fairy, and a human wasn’t suspicious enough, the behavior of the pair complicated things further. Instead of a swift inspection and entry into the city, we were led down to a cellar next to the gate for further scrutiny, courtesy of my delightful companions.

After enduring a relentless half-hour interrogation where the two girls exerted their utmost efforts to cast suspicion upon us, we found ourselves tossed into a holding cell under the suspicion of being spies.

“If I wasn’t traveling with you humans, I could have gotten in easily!” Tina's complaint echoed loudly as the beastman girl angrily circled our cell.

“If we weren’t stuck with your hothead, we could have easily waltzed in after I worked my charms,” Candace countered.

“If I were traveling alone, I’m certain I would not only have arrived here two weeks ago but also taken care of all my business already. Should've left both of you in Chelmswell,” I added, attempting to halt their bickering.

As they both redirected their focus onto me, I ignored their complaints and materialized chunks of gold, signaling over one of the guards with a friendly smile.

“Sorry we had to put you all through so much trouble. It’s not much, but it should be enough to share among yourselves,” I explained, handing him the chunks of pure gold.

“You think you can bribe us with some gold?” The guard's skepticism was evident.

“Not a bribe. I understand you’re just doing your job, and no one wants to deal with potential spies or issues. I hope you could send a word to Fernard to come here. Since I trained with him, I’m sure he could validate the truth in my words.”

With chunks of gold, each worth at least a month or more of their salary, I could see the guard contemplating my offer.

“If I didn’t know Fernard or was truly a spy, would I be foolish enough to invite one of the most powerful beastmen alive?” I added, subtly nudging the guard to reconsider.

“We will inform the academy. In the meantime, the three of you, keep it quiet in there,” the guard said firmly as he walked away to share the gold and news with his colleagues.

“I’m going to take a nap. Please, just wait quietly so things don’t escalate further,” I pleaded, hoping they would heed my request for once.

“What do you mean a human is here to see the headmaster without a letter of invitation? Given the current situation, do you think any of the headmaster’s former students would visit without an invitation?” A familiar yet unfamiliar voice startled me from my peaceful rest.

“You all took a bribe, didn’t you! I’m reporting this to the headmaster.”

Despite the girl wearing a hood that concealed most of her features, her distinctive bright orange, cat-like tail and familiar voice made her unmistakable.

“Gwen, please, don’t be rude to the guards; they’re just doing their job,” I said as she finally turned towards our cell.

“I apologize. I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions without verifying the details. Please, open the cell,” Gwen apologized to the guards.

Before the guard could fully unlock the cell, Gwen rushed in, tears streaming down her cheeks, and hugged me tightly.

“Ughh… I thought I only had your sister to worry about.”

“He’s got like 100 girlfriends, of course you’d find a few in big cities like this,” the two bystanders whispered to each other, wildly exaggerating the number of my supposed girlfriends.

“What a surprise. It wouldn’t be you without a few beautiful girls following you around, would it?” Gwen remarked, assessing the pair of troublemakers after releasing me from the tight hug.

With Gwen taking the lead and holding my hand, we followed her out of the dreary cell and toward the exit.

“I apologize for all the trouble and my sister’s rudeness,” I told the guards, offering them more gold chunks I had conjured.

Though initially hesitant, the guards eventually accepted the gift gratefully after I insisted, relieved that they weren’t getting into any trouble. They bid us farewell, waving us through the gates as we finally entered the bustling streets of Ostrium city.