“What took you so long!” Karim yelled as Clover ran towards him.
“I’m sorry!” Clover exclaimed in between breaths. “I had to tell Har-…I mean, my friend that I was going to be gone for a couple of days!” Although he was sad that he would miss out on his daily get-togethers with Haru, Clover was thrilled to finally embark on his first mission!
“Hmmm….Fine! Just don’t keep me waiting for so long next time! Our carriage is going to be leaving in a few minutes!” Karim snapped before walking towards the city gates, leaving Clover behind as he continued to struggle for air.
Clover caught up to Karim after a few breaths, and the two of them headed to the large city gates that were already becoming crowded as merchants and citizens entered and left the city. Within the throng of the crowd, Clover could see other Seekers as they headed out to Cyrelle so that they too could enter the Spirit Realm.
“You two! Stop!” Yelled a familiar voice. As the duo turned to the direction of the shout, Clover noticed that it belonged to Captain Strauss. And although his austere shout could be confused as harsh and foreboding, it was, in fact, his usual tone.
“Hello, Captain!” Clover greeted the large fully plated man as he sauntered over to them. “We haven’t done anything wrong, have we?”
“Of course not, I only wanted to speak with the boy I had nearly killed! And to make sure that he is not up to anything!” Captain Strauss exclaimed.
“Killed?” Karim piped up from beside Clover.
“Haha…I’ll tell you about it another time…”Clover weakly chuckled at his side. “Besides! We have gone over this many times! I don’t blame you for what happened whatsoever!”
“Yes, yes… But I could have prevented it! So at the very least, some of the blame should be mine!” Captain Strauss declared, not willing to hear any more words of protest as he changed topics. “So! Judging by the bronze medal on your chest I am assuming that you are heading to the Spirit Realm by Cyrelle for your first mission!”
“Yes!” The half-elven duo shouted in sync.
“Haha! Good! I’m sure that Bastille has placed his confidence in you two since he let the pair of you to travel there alone!” Captain Strauss beamed. “Well, I shouldn’t take any more of your time. Follow me to the gate so you can skip all the waiting!”
The two of them did as they were told, and skipped the long line of people. This caused some people to glare at them with ire, but they did not protest and kept their mouths shut.
“Hehe…Clover, you certainly know a lot of people who are high up!” Karim chuckled from his side.
“I guess…But Captain Strauss is more like an uncle. Even my mom says Gregory is like her little brother! So I don’t consider this taking advantage of my position!”
“Is that so?” Karim smiled, exposing his sharp canines, as he took a glance at his new friend. “If I were you, I would take advantage of it! After all, not everyone has the chance to live like a prince without the restraints of being one!”
“You and everyone else…” Clover smiled at Karim. This was not the first time he has heard this, and it would not be the last.
Eventually, Captain Strauss led them out of the busy street, past the city gate, and into the wilderness outside.
“Make sure you two are careful inside the Spirit Realm! Each one is different! So it is difficult to prepare for them!” Captain Strauss cautioned the two before he left.
“Look, the caravans are over there. They said that they would leave at noon, so let’s hurry!” Karim shouted as he pointed towards a fleet of carts and carriages. Each one was filled with intrepid Seekers who were heading to the Spirit Realm! At first glance, one could see that there were over one hundred Seekers!
Although Clover expected this amount of people, he couldn’t help but whistle in surprise at the small army. And this was only the Seekers who came from Vanden! Those that came from the Cyrelle, Beren, and the Amberwall branches were expected to converge on the Spirit Realm as well! It would not be unexpected for a couple hundred Seekers to try their luck and enter the realm in search of treasure and wealth!
“Hehe” Karim giggled by his side. “Looks like we’re going to have plenty of competition! Good thing the Spirit Realm is limited to those at the Silver rank and below!”
Clover silently agreed as the two of them walked over to the caravan of carriages. The two of them entered an empty one or, at least, one that they thought was empty. As they sat down, the two of them saw a pair of Seekers who were embracing one another and fiercely locking their lips in passion.
“Woah! Okay then! Let’s find a different cart, Clover!” Karim exclaimed as the two of them noticed the affectionate couple.
“Okay!” Clover replied, his face quickly becoming covered with a bright blush.
“Wait! We thought that we would be alone!” The young girl yelled out, a fierce blush coating her pretty face. “We’re sorry! You don’t have to leave!”
“No! If they want to go, let them…” Her partner protested as he glared at the two for interrupting his fun.
“The rest of carts will probably be filled by now! It would be better if you two stayed, I’m sure that we will be leaving any second!” She exclaimed. True enough, as soon as she said that, the caravan master yelled out that they would be leaving. The vast fleet of carriages rolled into action as they left to their destination. As their cart jolted awake, Clover and Karim could only sit back down in their seats; much to the displeasure of the male Seeker.
“My name is Daphne! And this is Francis!” Daphne cheerfully said while Francis nodded his head before staring out the carriage.
Clover noticed that the two of them were exceptionally good-looking, and by the silver medals on their chests, that they were Silver-ranked Seekers as well!
“Are you two from Kaldia?” Clover asked. Of course, he already knew the answer, as he saw that the emblem of the Kaldare Seekers Guild on their black cloaks. It was a red lion, similar to that of the Kaldian Royal Family’s heraldry.
“Yes! We are! You must be pretty informed about the Guilds if you were able to tell that!” Daphne remarked.
“Of course! Clover here is the son of Bastille Rumare! Guildmaster of Vanden!” Karim shouted with pride as he wrapped his arm around Clover.
“Really?! That’s amazing!” Daphne exclaimed. Even Francis turned his head towards the tan half-elf.
“Oh? Are you really?” Francis queried. “So you must be at least somewhat capable, right?”
“Well…This is my first mission as a Seeker. But I’m sure that I am more than able to protect myself!” Clover said.
“Your first mission?” Francis sneered. “Do you really think that you will be able to handle yourself in a Spirit Realm on your first mission?! Spirit Realms are completely unpredictable! There is a good chance that you can die in one!”
“Francis, don’t bother him! I’m sure that the son of a Guildmaster will be more than capable of attempting a Spirit Realm on his first mission! Especially if his father is the famous Seeker, Bastille Rumare!” Daphne exclaimed with stars in her eyes.
Francis only snorted before looking outside again. After a second, he turned his head back towards the duo. “Is it true that Bastille is a Blue-rank Seeker?”
“Of course!” Clover boasted.
“You know, they say that the Kaldos would be a Blue-rank as well. Of course, that is if he was a Seeker…” Francis huffed with pride.
“Kaldos? What’s that?” Karim asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“You don’t even know what the Kaldos is?!” Francis said with a taunting gleam in his eye. “So much for being so knowledgeable…”
“No, I don’t. Is a Kaldos supposed to be some super strong guy?” Karim continued, ignoring Francis previous taunt. But before Francis could answer him, Daphne spoke up.
“The Kaldos is the preeminent Knight of all of Kaldia! The current Kaldos is Duke Elouan Luc Kaldia! Brother of King Valerian Ignace Kaldia!”
“Oh…So he is just some noble…Who cares?” Karim sighed with a disinterested look in his eyes.
“Just some noble?! You impudent little!” Francis stood up and attempted to unsheathed his sword.
Karim smiled at the provoked lad and injected Arcana into his Devyse. But before he could release his weapon, Daphne pulled Francis back into his seat and slapped him on the back of his head.
“Idiot! That is not a reason to get in a fight!” She said, before apologizing to the duo. “We’re sorry! It’s just that Francis is a squire underneath the Kaldos! So he gets a bit heated up whenever someone mocks the nobility!”
“It’s okay!” Clover piped up. “That’s understandable! But why are two nobles Seekers?”
“Oh, I am not a noble. Only Francis is!” Daphne said. “Francis is one of the many squires under Duke Elouan. I am just some Seeker that he has been traveling with!”
“You are more than just ‘some’ Seeker, Daphne…” Francis remarked as he gazed at her with passionate eyes, causing her to blush.
“Anyways!” Karim interrupted. “Why is a squire like yourself pretending to be a Seeker? I would have thought that you would rather stay in your fancy castles and mansions! Not living the tough life of a Seeker!”
“Tough life? Hardly!” Francis snorted. “Being a Seeker is simple compared to training with the Kaldos! Since the Kaldos’s city of Nordare is situated on the border of the Centaur Plains I have been fighting beasts much more dangerous than whatever you would encounter in Vanden! Ever since I was twelve years old I have been risking my life in battle!”
“Than why did you come here?” Clover asked.
“That’s because every squire under the Kaldos has to leave the kingdom at least once before they become a knight. And they can only return once they have proven themselves worthy of a title. I decided that I would become a Gold-rank Seeker before I turn twenty! That way, no one can question my fighting and Arcana prowess!” Francis declared. “And I heard that the Dark Forest of Vanden was the closest mystical zone, so it was obvious that I would come here!”
“So how old are you now?” Karim asked.
“Seventeen! I am confident that I will become a Gold-ranked Seeker by the time I am twenty!” Francis confidently replied.
“I’m sure you will!” Daphne giggled in response.
“That’s pretty good. But Clover and I are younger than you, and we’re both peak Bronze-rank Seekers! Hell, we’re only a step away from being Silver rank! Becoming Gold rank in less than three years will be a piece of cake! But you only became Silver rank at the age of seventeen…Obviously, your skill is only so-so!” Karim boasted as he shot him a provoking glance.
“Huh?! You want to fight?! Half-elf?!” Francis stood back up. But before he could pull out his sword, Clover spoke up.
“Guys, calm down! I’m sure you two will be able to settle who’s stronger in the Spirit Realm!”
“Exactly! So sit down!” Daphne added as she pulled Francis down beside her.
Karim and Francis glared at each other in silence as Clover and Daphne happily chatted with one another. The sun had started to set, as the caravan reached their location. They had ridden for a couple of hours, and the Seekers all let a breath of relief at the prospect of being able to move around again.
From their location, Clover could see the walls of Cyrelle miles away. Cyrelle was smaller than Vanden, but only just. Although Cyrelle was not as important of a trading hub as Vanden, it was situated on Whale Lagoon; a large lake that ships could enter after traveling up a wide river. This allowed Cyrelle to thrive just as Vanden.
“That’s a lot of Seekers…” Daphne muttered nervously. Clover couldn’t help but agree as he stared at the large crowd. His previous estimation was correct, there was at most around five hundred Seekers that had arrived.
But it was not only Seekers who were here. There were also hundreds of merchants and peddlers who were selling a variety of goods. Stalls filled with food and drink have also been set up. Clearly, it was not only Seekers that wished to strike it big from the Spirit Realm! There were also citizens of the nearby city who have congregated here to enjoy in the festivities.
“It’s like one big festival!” Karim shouted in excitement before running off into the crowd.
“Karim! Come back!” Clover yelled out as he ran after him. “It was nice meeting you two! I’ll see you inside the Spirit Realm!” He yelled back before being swallowed up by the crowd.
“Bye!” Daphne happily shouted while Francis merely nodded in his direction.
“Karim! Where did you go!” Clover shouted as he looked for his friend. All around him was the smell of delicious foods. Pastries, meat, chocolate, candy, stews, and various other delectables entered his nose, causing him drool uncontrollably. As Clover walked along the crowded field, he stopped in front of a stand. The stand emitted a savory scent that beckoned Clover over to it.
“Do you want a taco, kiddo?!” Shouted the obese man who ran the stall.
“Yes!” Clover shouted, unable to control his voracious appetite. The scent of beef, cilantro, and lime filled his nostrils, causing him to drool even more.
“Than that will be five silver!” The fat man said.
“Five silver?! Tacos only cost one silver in the city!” Clover exclaimed.
“In the city, it would be one silver! But this here ain’t no city, boy!” The tubby owner declared. “Do you know how hard it is to get fresh lime and cilantro out here?! Five silver is the minimum I can sell them if I want to make a profit!”
Clover could only grumble as he heard this. Of course, he had more than enough money to buy these tacos. But his frugal side couldn’t help but feel scammed.
“Of course, you are just some little boy…Your daddy probably hasn’t given you enough allowance to buy something as simple as a taco…” The big man remarked, before turning away from Clover.
“Fine! I’ll buy your stupid tacos!” Clover yelled back.
“Good! Here you are!” He smiled while handing him a plate of three beef tacos along with a wedge of lime.
“Thanks…” Clover muttered before walking away. “Mmhf! This is amazing!” His eyes opened up in amazement as he took a bite. The savory beef and caramelized onions perfectly complemented one another while the fresh taste of cilantro and lime upped the flavor to the next level!
Tacos are amazing!
Clover continued to scarf down his meal, enjoying every second of it until a familiar voice called out to him.
“Crover! Dere ju ar!” Karim mumbled as he talked around a meat skewer. Besides the meat skewer in his mouth, he also had three more in his right hand with a funnel cake in his left. “Ju know…Ju ant jusht run awry rike dat!” He mumbled as he munched on large chunks of meat.
“What?! You are the one who ran away!” Clover rebuked. “I was looking for you!”
“Wot?” Karim said before swallowing. “I assumed that you would stay with the Daphne and the other guy. And wait until I came back…”
“No, why would I do that?” Clover said before sighing. “Anyways…We should look for Edward and my father. They should already be by the Spirit Realm.”
“Okay!” Karim agreed before shoveling down more meat and cake down his throat.
The two of them walked towards the largest group of people, where they assumed the Spirit Realm entrance would be. From time to time, Karim would stop and order more food, his appetite not knowing any bounds. At one point, Karim’s hands were filled with so much food that Clover had to stuff some meat skewers into his pack just to hold them all!
The duo was right with their assessment, after finding the largest crowd, they saw Edward and Bastille standing alongside what seemed to be a tear in space. From his position, Clover could see floating islands and an orange sky within the tear.
“Clover! Karim!” Bastille yelled out.
“Sup Bastille,” Karim nonchalantly replied, crossing his arms behind his back.
“Hello, dad.” Clover politely said.
“Good! You two made it! I was starting to worry that you two chickened out! Haha!” Bastille guffawed while Edward sighed before speaking up.
“The Vanden caravan was the last one to arrive. So we can now start.” Edward calmly stated before walking to a nearby podium and spoke into a microphone. “Attention! For those Seekers who wish to enter the Spirit Realm, please line up in an organized manner! Those who wish to cause trouble will be prevented from entering!”
As soon as Edward shouted those words of warning, everyone ran in a frantic manner. Pushing and shoving one another as they attempted to be the first ones in line.
“Every time…” Edward sighed as his words were completely disregarded.
“Hehe…I’ll take care of it!” Bastille chuckled, before slamming his hands together.
The air exploded with a thunderous roar as Bastille hands slammed into one another, creating an ear-shattering loud clap! Both Clover and Karim covered the ears in pain as the deafening impact battered their eardrums. Every Seeker turned to the man in fright and filed themselves into organized rows.
“That is better…” Edward muttered before speaking into the microphone again. “Now then, it is crucial that I remind everyone that only those at the Silver-rank can enter the Spirit Realm! If you are unsure whether you qualify or not, we will allow you to check for only a single gold coin. After all, you should all know what happens when you enter a Spirit Realm with too high of Arcana capacity.” Edward let out one last warning before handing the microphone to Bastille.
“Hey, Clover. What happens when you enter a spirit realm with too much Arcana?” Karim asked.
“You blow up.” Clover simply stated.
“Oh. Okay.” Karim smiled before turning back to Bastille.
“Haha! I’m sure you all are more than eager to enter the Spirit Realm! Am I right?!” Bastille yelled, pumping up the crowd. The crowd yelled back, their excited voices caused the earth to quake and the air to tremble! A few overly excited Seekers even shot magic into the air! Fire and lightning broke apart in the sky like fireworks!
This is awesome! Clover shouted in his mind.
“Haha! That is the spirit! Now then, it is time for you all to venture forth, and compete for the riches that lay within this Spirit Realm!” Bastille shouted once more, before giving them the go ahead. As soon as he gave them a thumbs up, hundreds of Seekers ran towards the portal. Their excited shouts and yells cut off as they were swallowed by the peculiar rift in space.
“Clover, Karim. I have one bit of advice for you all before you enter the Spirit Realm.” Bastille muttered.
“What is it?” The duo asked in unison.
“Enter the Spirit Realm last!” Bastille grinned. “You’ll see what I mean when you enter! Haha!” Bastille laughed before walking away.
The two of them stood there in puzzlement, wondering what he meant by his words. Nevertheless, they did as Bastille said. After the last Seeker entered the portal, Clover and Karim cautiously sauntered into the portal.
Clover felt a weird feeling in his stomach the second he entered. He became dizzy and nauseous, similar to when he used too much Arcana. His feet seemed to move on their own, as he passed through the bizarre boundary that separated his world from the Spirit one.
Upon entering, Clover and Karim couldn’t help but gasp in amazement. Hundreds of islands floated in the sky. Each one experiencing its own climate and season. One was wet and tropical. While another was warm, temperate, and filled with forests. Another was cold and filled with ice and snow. Weirder yet, Clover saw an island that was filled with black sand and rivers of lava.
The land that the two half-elves stood upon was covered in a peculiar blue grass and the trees were covered in orange leaves. The sky was in perpetual sunset, but there was no sun. The light seemed to come from some unknown source.
But the most peculiar sight was the large pileup of hundreds of Seekers that had rushed into the Spirit Realm. Their bodies were strewn upon one another, and groans of pain and discomfort echoed around them.
“Thank you, Bastille…” Karim murmured as he gazed at the large pileup. Clover nodded his head in agreement and promised to make sure to thank his father after the mission.
“Are all new Seekers this dumb?!” Yelled out a high pitched voice. “Seriously?! Shouldn’t you all be more careful when entering an unknown realm?!” The voice belonged to a purple cat spirit. It held its furry face in its cute paws as it stared at the large pileup. “Hmm? Looks like there are two of you who are not idiots!” The purple cat exclaimed before floating towards Clover and Karim.
“My name is Chowder! Welcome to Denari’s Realm!” Chowder grinned as he grasped their hands with his paws.