Chapter 14:

Chapter 13. Obstacle

Zero to Hero

“Look at all those buildings and people!” Lovetta exclaimed with delight, captivated by the endless rows of structures and the sheer number of individuals bustling about in the city.

“Settle down, Tina. We still have a few hours of travel ahead,” I advised the wolf girl as Gwen confidently led the way on her own horse.

“Hours? How far are we going exactly?” Tina asked, her curiosity piqued.

“The academy is near the city center, about a two-and-a-half-hour ride. I was furious, thinking they had me come all this way for nothing,” Gwen explained, her mood significantly brighter.

“How have you been?” I asked Gwen as our horses galloped effortlessly down the smooth, stone-paved road, a stark contrast to the rough terrains we'd traversed to reach the city.

“Can’t complain. Things have settled down now. It was chaotic in the beginning, but life eventually returned to normal,” she replied.

“I'm sorry I couldn't move on like everyone else and stayed hidden when everyone needed me the most.”

“No one blames you, Ken. Your experiences were unique. I'm just relieved you're finally back,” Gwen reassured.

“I wasn’t planning on returning. My intention was to stay in hiding until she found me, but circumstances changed, and here I am, trying to maybe move forward a little.”

“Well, whatever it took to get you back, I'm glad it happened,” Gwen remarked.

“How's everyone at home?” I inquired.

“They're all doing fine. Emma's managing things back there, so you don’t need to worry. Just make sure to go home right after you finish your business here in Ostrium.”

As our horses charged through the city streets toward the academy, the noise and commotion made continuing our conversation increasingly difficult to the point that we agreed to resume our discussion once we arrived.

What Tina initially believed was a bustling street filled with people transformed into an even livelier scene with packed streets, carriages, and bustling businesses the deeper we ventured into the heart of the city.

“How insanely big is this place! We just kept going and going,” Tina whined loudly after we finally arrived at Ostrium Academy, the city’s premier institution renowned for its academic and physical education.

“Fernard is an instructor now. He was tied up with a class, so I stepped in after we got the word from the guards. Let’s go talk to the headmaster and get you settled,” Gwen said, leading us toward the headmaster’s office.

“Is my sister here? I completely forgot we came for my sister!” Tina suddenly exclaimed as we followed Gwen.

“Tina, how would Gwen know who your sister is? She means Lovetta. I'm not sure if you two have met, but she's the wolf beastman girl I used to be with. She looks similar to this one but with black hair instead of white. I heard she came to Ostrium about a year ago,” I explained.

“Yes, Lovetta did come here. She knew Fernard, so we got acquainted. We talked mostly about you, but she didn’t stay long and is no longer here,” Gwen filled in.

“What do you mean? Why did my sister leave? Where did she go? What about my brother?” Tina asked, her tone heated, trying to piece together the situation.

“She came to search for her brother Zeev, right? Well, Zeev left for Kirksawald months before she arrived. After finding that out, Lovetta set off for Kirksawald, and that was the last we heard from her.”

Arriving at the headmaster’s office, Gwen promised she'd share all she knew once we were settled while I struggled to contain Tina’s impatience, preventing her from rushing ahead.

“Headmaster, look who’s here to see you!” Gwen announced happily after knocking on the door and receiving permission to enter.

“KEN! I’m delighted to see you, my boy!” the headmaster squeaked cheerfully, prompting Tina to stifle a chuckle before I could rein in her irreverent laughter.

Fern Aethelwulf, a diminutive hamster beastman with a high-pitched voice, might not appear imposing. However, when it comes to nurturing potential and enabling students to reach their zenith, only Osmar could rival this unassuming figure among all the instructors I’ve encountered.

“Tina, this man is considered one of the finest teachers in the world when it comes to make someone stronger. If you continue to behave disrespectfully, I doubt he would be inclined to assist you,” I advised, trying to curb Tina’s impolite demeanor.

“This is the guy you were talking about?” Tina questioned, giving the headmaster a suspicious look.

While I had to apologize for her behavior, the headmaster graciously overlooked the rude encounter and even provided us with accommodation in the academy dormitories.

After expressing our gratitude to the headmaster and promising to return the next day, we followed Gwen once more and made our way to the dorms.

“Tell me what happened to my brother and sister,” Tina asked the moment we stepped out of the headmaster’s office.

“Your brother arrived in Ostrium a few years back. He was visibly strong, blessed by what happened 5 years ago. However, he was overconfident and sought to prove himself, believing that only Nolan could surpass him.

“With Dragonspire no longer hosting their biannual tournaments, most major cities began organizing their own tournaments as a means to engage their citizens while also generating income. Ostrium was no exception. Your brother entered a tournament, thinking he could easily win since Nolan, the hero, wasn’t participating. Unfortunately, he was thoroughly defeated by Fernard.

“The headmaster offered to train him due to his potential, but your brother refused to stay, choosing to leave for Kirksawald after his defeat. Lovetta arrived later, learned the story, and decided to pursue him.”

“Don’t worry, Tina. We’ll obtain a teleport artifact tomorrow, and we’ll reach Kirksawald swiftly,” I reassured the wolf girl, hoping to calm her after hearing the story from Gwen.

“About that. Since that event five years ago, relations between the kingdoms have significantly tightened. To prevent unwanted travelers, all teleport artifacts have been banned,” Gwen added, disrupting my entire plan.

“How does one go about banning teleport artifacts? I just need to buy one that’s already made, and I can fill it up myself.”

“Since you've been away, I’m not sure you understand just how much the world has changed. Holy level is no longer the pinnacle, Ken. They had to come up with three additional ranks in power to account for just how strong the top tiers are now: corrupted, blissed, and enlightened.”

“I don’t think I can do the math in my head right now, so tell me, Gwen, how much stronger are someone like Zishell and Julius compared to when they defeated me?”

“To reach enlightened status is to be over 1,024 times one’s base power. Someone like Zishell and Julius could at least penta boost, if not even higher. I know Zishell is also awakened in water magic. His iconic ice magic, when going all out, is probably 350,000 to 500,000 times stronger than his base potential. No exaggeration. He could most likely freeze half the world if given the time.”

“That’s why I said the witch got cocky, and there is no way she could win! I’m sure if you just hang around one of the heroes, you won’t have to worry about the witch killing you!” Candace added, trying to comfort me.

I was relieved that Gwen was able to contextualize the strength of the ten heroes in a way I could understand.

“I agree. I know Genesis created our world, but she could never have imagined how strong the ten heroes have become. I know it was hard for you to understand, but you will when you see Fernard and spar with him,” Gwen added as we entered the massive dorm building, where passing students greeted her with respect.

“Yeah… It’s all way above my head for now. I need time to process. What about the teleport artifacts? There’ve got to be a few rich people with a teleport artifact I can buy from.”

“Sorry, got sidetracked. As far as teleport artifacts, just like Zishell could freeze half the world, each year, Sylvester visits each of the continents and casts a spell that overfills and breaks any teleport artifact produced illegally.

“Teaching teleportation in school has also been outlawed, known teleport artificers and professors are all under scrutiny and surveillance. Of course, underground activities are still happening, but Sylvester is doing his job, making sure it’s nearly impossible to own one. Only specially sanctioned teleport circles to specific places exist now, and there isn’t one here,” Gwen replied, delivering more unfortunate news.

“How ironic… Rose’s dad was the one who taught me how to teleport. Guess that changes things. No wonder Lovetta hasn’t contacted her family all this time. Where is the closest teleport circle and where would it take us?”

“Yelwraek city. I’m not sure where it goes, but the only sanctioned teleport circle on this continent is in Yelwraek city.”

“Ah. Of course, it’s in Yelwraek. Well, I’m sorry, Candace. Looks like our time together ends now,” I said to the fairy girl jokingly, though honestly unsure how I’d accompany her home without the ability to teleport long distances.

“We will figure something out. Worst case, we just go at the current pace and be at my village in a year or so,” Candace replied, taking the news better than expected.

“Is this room alright for you guys?” Gwen asked as she led us to a simple yet cozy room.

“Got another room for me?”

“What do you mean? Are you all not together?”

“They are just friends, Gwen, and I want to keep it that way.”

“Are you really my brother?” The girl questioned, giving me side-eyes.

“I know, right! He refused my advances this entire time! Someone as beautiful as me! Talk some sense into him!” Candace jumped in, adding her unasked thoughts.

“Good for you, Ken. Some self-restraint is good. Go take care of the girls you already have, like Emma, instead of constantly getting new ones like before,” Gwen replied to Candace’s disapproval.

“I really wasn’t constantly getting new girls, but that’s beyond the point. Just take me to my own room, let us get settled, and we can go catch up with Fernard,” I requested.

Happy to comply, Gwen took me to the next room over where I dropped off my meager belongings.

With everything set, we followed Gwen to the training hall where she advised that Fernard, one of my best friends, was holding his evening lesson.

“Not sure if you knew, but with 10% of her power, she created brand new creatures that never existed before, changed some existing creatures, and about 1% of the entire population. Fernard happened to be part of that 1% who got corrupted.”

“How’s he able to beat my brother who’s got the blessing!” Tina shouted as we strolled across the massive academy grounds.

“Fernard’s dad and trainer is the man you just laughed at. With one of the best teachers and his top-tier potential, I don’t doubt Fernard is still one of the strongest, even if he never got any power-ups.”

“Yet you are wallowing in self-pity like a loser when you have the highest potential in the entire world!”

“Had… Candace… I told you it’s different for me. But I do feel better now knowing how powerful some of them have gotten. Maybe I won’t have to die after all,” I replied, feeling a slight sense of hope that I haven’t felt before.

When we arrived at the training hall, the lesson was still ongoing. Absorbed in his job, Fernard failed to notice us as we sat on the benches, overseeing the class.

“How could this guy possibly be related to that squeaky midget?” Tina questioned loudly, earning curious glances from some of the students near us.

Fernard Aethelwulf, the headmaster's son, couldn't be more different in appearance. While the headmaster was a tiny hamster beastman, Fernard stood at over 7 feet tall, towering even above Tina’s dad.

Despite his intimidating size and the fact that he is a grizzly bear beastman, Fernard exuded a remarkable gentleness and humility. He was someone I'd never known to act differently despite his imposing stature.

As the class finally ended, Fernard noticed our presence and made his way over. I rose to greet my old friend, and he enveloped me in a bear hug, his strength a reminder of the care and concern of people from my past. It stirred a sense of shame within me for having run away and shown cowardice.

With much to catch up on, we wasted no time and ventured into the city for a late-night dinner, discussing everything I had missed over the past 5 years.