Aria flinched in surprise as Ian’s head thumped against the table. Briefly, she worried that he somehow died, but the thought quickly vanished when she noticed how deep his breaths were. The guy fell asleep in the middle of the lesson. To be honest, she didn’t know whether to feel upset by the fact that he passed out while she was trying to teach him of to be worried about his well-being.
Eventually, she came to a conclusion and nodded. She pulled a small book from her travel sack and whacked Ian on the back of the head with it.
Startled, he immediately woke up. With eyes wide open, he glanced around the room, obviously trying to gather his bearings.
“What was that for?” Ian asked.
“Because you fell asleep,” Aria answered.
“I was just resting my eyes, though.”
Raising a brow, Aria replied, “Your head slammed against the table.”
“Haaah… sorry…” he muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Still interested in continuing the lesson, or did you want to stop for now?”
“I’m okay for now,” Ian casually replied, despite a gaping yawn seconds later. The bags under his tired eyes made him look even more worn out.
“You sure?” Aria asked, unconvinced by the previous statement. If he was truly tired, a nap before his blacksmithing practice in the afternoon would be advisable.
Stretching his arms above his head, Ian answered, “Yep. It’s fine. I can sleep when I’m dead.”
Aria furrowed her brows at how easily he brought up his own death. Although the statement discomforted her, she decided to ignore it. Instead, she plopped the book in her hand onto the table in front of him. Drawings of seven knights in shining armor were stitched onto the leather cover.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“A children’s book I picked up at the library for you to try reading. Want to try?”
“Uh… maybe?” Ian hesitantly answered. Sure, he had come a long way in a short amount of time thanks to their spoken language being the same, but he still maintained a wariness toward actually attempting to read an actual book, even if it was a children’s book. Looking at the title, he realized he could somewhat read it. He roughly translated it as “The Seven Heroes” which caught his interest. If he could read the title, then perhaps he could also read the contents as long as they remained simple. In the end, he said, “Alright, I’ll give it a shot.”
“A what?” Aria asked, scrunching her brow in confusion at the strange saying.
Realizing he once again said something unfamiliar to the people of Regnoras, Ian said, “Just meant I’d try reading it.”
“Oh, I see,” Aria muttered with glimmer of understanding in her eye. “Well, while you read it, I’m going to go spend some time with Bianca, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Ian replied, politely waving her off.
“Okay. I’ll check back every so often to see if you’re done.”
With that, Aria stood and pushed her chair backward with her knees. The legs scraped along the wooden floor like chalk against a chalkboard. She quickly apologized and pushed the chair back under the table before leaving.
Now that he had the room to himself, Ian took a closer look at the book. It looked worn as though used excessively by hundreds of people. The rough leather binding would likely begin to give way sometime soon. Following his curiosity, he carefully flipped through the rough pages. He quickly found a handful of beautiful and intricate hand-drawn etchings. Near the beginning, most depicted a young boy on a farm or in cityscapes. By the end, however, the drawings contained warzones with surprisingly graphic detail.
“This is considered a children’s book?” Ian whispered to himself, shocked by the level of grim material he found by simply flipping through the pages. One of the pictures even showed a man getting decapitated by a shadowy creature. Grimacing, he wondered whether or not he made a mistake in deciding to read this little story with less than thirty pages.
A sigh slipped from his lips as he rubbed his forehead. He couldn’t just tell Aria that he suddenly changed his mind. Preparing himself, he took a deep breath and opened the book to the first page to begin reading. Although he struggled to comprehend some of the words due to the unfamiliar writing, he quickly realized the book read similarly to a poem. In fact, it vaguely reminded him of the old classic, Paradise Lost.
In times of old, foul demons roamed.
Men at their mercy, never to own their own homes.
Tired of fear, and weary of pain,
A man gathered his courage and went on a journey.
For several years, he trained in forests, plains, and seas.
During his travels, others joined him.
Six like-minded men did he gather.
Full of courage and full of valor.
Throughout the world, these seven became known as heroes.
They slaughtered monsters and banished demons.
Thanks to these seven, men now had hope.
Therefore, mankind went to war.
Men fell, demons fell, and death filled the land.
In overwhelming darkness, the seven heroes proved their valor.
Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months.
And at daybreak of the seventh month, the Lord of Demons appeared.
That vile darkness, that foul enemy.
Over the land and across the sea.
Men knew of the appearance of the dastardly demon king.
Oh, yes, that dastardly demon king.
The seven fought bravely, wielding courage as a weapon.
The Lord of Demons fought back, wielding fear and darkness as a weapon.
The fight was long and arduous,
But all things must come to an end.
Though tired and weary, the seven men seized victory.
Oh, what a joyous victory.
After years of toil and years of strife, men were now free.
People danced in the streets with glee.
The first man, the journeyman,
A king he became.
A city he founded.
And a future he forged.
By the time he finished reading as much as possible with his limited knowledge of Common, Ian leaned back in his chair, thoroughly impressed with what he read. Not only did his understanding of the language noticeably improve, but the story also drew him in. Still…
“How is this considered a children’s story?” he mumbled toward the ceiling. After all, many of the details could easily frighten a young child.
Another thing that stood out to him was that details concerning the “demons” basically described the Daemonkin. Those details were very negative and exaggerated. Some felt forced enough to make him cringe. As a result, he came to the conclusion that this story had been written by someone with a grudge against the Daemonkin, or that the story was used as a tool to make children wary of Daemonkin or something. Such misdirection was commonplace in the history of Earth, so Regnoras probably had some of that as well.
For a few minutes, Ian simply sat in the chair pondering the story while inwardly celebrating the fact that he reached a point in his language cramming where he could read a relatively simple book.
At some point, Aria poked her head into the room and asked, “Are you finished?” The way she leaned against the doorway necessitated an unconscious action of brushing her bangs away from her eyes.
“Yeah, I’m done,” Ian replied, turning his gaze toward Aria. “The story was a bit too gruesome to be a children’s story in my opinion.”
“Perhaps…” Aria replied. She then placed her forefinger on her lower lip and walked over to the table to sit down once more. “Not sure if you knew, but it is considered to be a fanciful take on actual history, so the battles are hard to dismiss, I suppose.”
Ian raised a brow and muttered, “Actual history, is it?”
From his personal experience, he knew history was written by people in charge or winners of conflict. Sometimes, nothing was written at all, resulting in Dark Ages. As a result, he could not help feeling skeptical of the accuracy of a fanciful tale such as this, especially the parts with a demon king or whatever it was. Most likely, it was just a reference to the king of the Daemonkin that he had previously learned about from Gaelan, not to mention that the guy pointed out that Daemonkin only differed from humans in appearance, and to a minor extent at that. Perhaps Gaelan fit into the minority with that opinion, but Ian preferred to believe Gaelan’s words of experience rather than a fantasy story written for children.
Suddenly, Gaelan’s voice echoed from the other room, startling both Ian and Aria.
“You almost done in there?”
“We will be done soon!” Aria called out in answer before Ian could say anything. Facing Ian again, she said, “I need to head over to the Visitor Center anyway, so we can stop here. You might want to try reading some other stories for more practice as long as you aren’t too tired.”
“If I feel up to it,” Ian replied, shrugging. “Will you be back tomorrow?”
“Yes. I’ll see you then,” Aria said.
With that, Ian helped gather up all the learning supplies. Once they removed everything from the table, they placed it all on a nearby shelf and headed into the living room. Gaelan was lying on the couch… with his head resting on his wife’s lap. In contrast, and as serene as ever, Aella occupied herself by reading a book in one hand while rubbing Gaelan’s head with the other.
The peculiarly peaceful scene struck Ian as unusual. Back on Earth, he never saw such interaction between his own parents, or anyone else he knew for that matter.
“Alright, let’s get right to it then,” Gaelan replied. Then, he stood up and gave his wife a kiss. In response, Ian averted his gaze due to feeling disconcerted by the unfamiliar scene while Aria turned away out of embarrassment.
“I’ll be back tomorrow, so farewell for now,” Aria said.
“Let me get the door for you,” Gaelan said.
“No, thanks. It’s fine,” Aria replied quickly.
Gaelan went ahead and opened the door for her anyway, which caused her to grimace. She still walked through, however.
“See you tomorrow, Aria,” Ian said while giving her a small wave. In response, Aria gave him a slight nod before leaving.
Now, with Aria gone, Gaelan said, “Let’s go, then.”
Nodding, Ian followed his mentor outside. During the short walk to the smithy, he glanced at Aria’s figure in the distance and asked, “By the way, do you and her not get along well or something?”
“Aria?” Gaelan shrugged. “It’s more of a thing where I take my jokes a bit too far with her sometimes since she is around all the time… I think.”
“Oh, yeah, I could definitely see that being the case…” Ian muttered, scratching his chin while thinking back on the few interactions he saw between the two.
“Speaking of her, what story did she have you read?”
“Oh, it was something about seven heroes.”
“Ah…” Gaelan responded, brows furrowing and expression darkening. “That one…”
Noticing his mentor’s sullied expression, Ian wondered if the response had anything to do with the noticeable anti-Daemonkin sentiment oozing from the pages of the book. Curious about Gaelan’s thoughts on it, Ian added, “Aria said the story was loosely based on history, but it felt more like a personal jab at the Daemonkin to me.”
In response, Gaelan’s visage changed from dark to surprised. “So you noticed that, did you? Hmm… Actually, I happen to have an older version of that story which is more accurate about the actual events the story is based on, but it is written in an archaic language. If you feel like reading it later, then I don’t mind translating it for you.”
“Uh… sure? Before that, you know an archaic language?”
“Yes. It was part of my education while growing up,” Gaelan answered, briefly casting his gaze toward the ground.
“That’s pretty cool,” Ian said, visibly impressed. Then, he muttered, “Kinda makes me wish I took my secondary language classes more seriously back in the day…”
The two then walked into the smithy and toward the forge, at which point Gaelan said, “I actually have an order to work on, so I’ll use this opportunity to teach you a few new things.”
“Awesome,” Ian said, grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh, and instead of training with Edmund today, I’ll be teaching you a little about using Dark Matter, and we will alternate the training each day,” Gaelan added nonchalantly.
“Oh? Sounds good,” Ian replied, excited at the prospect of learning how to use magic properly without getting headaches every time.
“Alright, we’ll be making a sword today. Many smiths take several days to make a high-quality sword, but I’ll show you how to cut down on the time,” Gaelan said, laughing at his own pun.
Several hours later, a shirtless Gaelan held up a one-handed steel longsword to give it a once-over before declaring it a finished work. They lost some time since Gaelan already reforged it once because the quality did not live up to his personal standard, which he blamed on the fact that he was trying to teach Ian the principles behind the process. Either way, the sword turned out spectacularly, impressing Ian beyond compare. The forging of the sword involved variations of the techniques he previously learned, so this situation was like a confirmation that he was building – no – forging his foundation for the future by learning to make simple things first. If he were to apply that to his life in general, then it meant he would need to take care of simple things before tackling any big issues. At least, that was what he took from it.
“Alright, you ready for some magic training?” Gaelan asked with a toothy grin while sliding the new blade into a simple scabbard.
“Yessir,” Ian replied wholeheartedly.
Nodding, Gaelan proceeded to lead Ian to a less grassy area of the lawn that looked like someone hacked at it with a giant ax for several hours every day for several years.
“Let’s train your Earth Affinity first since it is more likely to be of use in surviving here,” Gaelan explained. “We can work on your Fire Affinity after you start getting used to Dark Matter.”
“Okay,” Ian replied while nodding, “so what should I do?”
“Take off your boots first. It will help while you’re first starting out,” Gaelan told him, at which Ian removed his steel-toe boots. “Alright,” Gaelan continued, “you can feel the dirt beneath your feet, right?”
Once more, Ian nodded.
“Focus on the feeling of the dirt for a few minutes, and make sure to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. It’ll help with focus since you’re not used to it,” Gaelan said firmly.
Although slightly confused, Ian did as he was told and focused his gaze on the ground. However, Gaelan crossed his arms and said, “Don’t look at it, feel it.”
This time, Ian raised a brow but decided to try closing his eyes while focusing on the feeling of the cool dirt beneath his feet. At first, the action did not feel strange at all, but after a minute or two, his heart began to beat slightly faster, as though adrenaline was pumping through his veins. It took a moment for him to realize that the adrenaline-like feeling was coursing through his body toward the ground, in spite of the fact that the sensation was barely noticeable. If he had been doing anything besides focusing on the dirt beneath his feet, he would not have realized anything was even happening.
As the sensation coursed through him and into the ground, he started to feel as though his body was expanding into the dirt. Unfortunately, a dull pain began throbbing in his head. As a result, he opened his eyes and stopped focusing. Upon opening his eyes, he spotted a few black particles floating around his body, but they quickly retreated into his pores, which startled him to some degree.
Out of curiosity, he looked up at Gaelan, who was rubbing his bearded chin while sporting a perplexed gaze.
“What, something wrong?” Ian asked.
“Hmm, not really. Did you feel a bit of pain in your head just now?” Gaelan asked in turn.
“Yeah, a little. It wasn’t too bad yet, though,” Ian answered.
For a few moments, Gaelan simply stared at Ian, making him uncomfortable. Eventually, Gaelan said, “It doesn’t seem like you will have any difficulties in using Dark Matter itself, but your fortitude is a bit lacking, hence the headaches.”
“Fortitude? Like mental fortitude?” Ian asked, confused by what that had to do with Dark Matter.
“It is like stamina, but for magic. At least, that is how my own teacher put it,” Gaelan explained.
“Oh, I see. Makes sense…” Ian muttered. Apparently, he would not be able to use magic in unlimited amounts. That was slightly disappointing.
Gaelan shifted his weight and said, “Go ahead and keep trying to ‘feel’ the ground beneath your feet. Do it until you sense an oncoming headache. Then stop. Then start again when it no longer feels like a headache is coming.”
“Okay,” Ian said, pursing his lips. Basically, it was training to increase his fortitude, which would then increase his ability to use Dark Matter at will. In other words, it was like push-ups for the mind.
While Ian began his mental exercises, Gaelan sat down cross-legged a few meters away in order to watch his apprentice. After the previous display, he came to the conclusion that Ian would likely have no trouble using magic in the future. In fact, the display had been so perfect that he briefly thought he was looking at someone who had used magic for years. It initially made him think his eyes were playing tricks on him. In contrast, Ian’s fortitude was absolutely abysmal and would need a lot of training to even reach the level of a child. Never had he seen such a strange occurrence in his many years of life, but there was a first for everything. Well, at least watching over this young man spiced up his life a little and would likely keep him entertained for a good while longer. At such a thought, a grin of expectation spread across his lips. Having Ian around would surely be an enjoyable experience.