I immediately noticed the changes as I got closer to town. At first, I just thought it was the merchant caravans, but as I got closer I spotted the large tents and stone buildings that had been erected outside the town wall. There were more caravans and other vehicles which I didn"t recognize parked next to the tents.
The camp itself looked to be split into two, with half the tents white, while the others were grey and a mix of other colors, and there seemed to be a no-mans land in between the two camps. Each camp was bustling with people in armor, robes and for a second I had no idea who they were, but then I noticed the flags and emblems.
While I didn"t know much about other towns or cities, Orton was an exception since it was the closest city to West Vale, so the professors at the academy taught us a little about it, including the two sects that called it home.
The emblems I saw were those of the twin horn sect and the steel heart sect. What in the world were they doing in a town like West Vale? It was clear they"d arrived with the merchants but why?
My musing was interrupted by a loud shout.
I was close to the gates and one of the guards had called out to me.
He rushed forward. "Oh thank god you"re ok, your aunt"s been worried sick. Come on."
Before I could even reply, he grabbed my hand and started pulling me along, through the gate and towards my home.
"What"s happening," I asked, not resisting. I was planning on heading home first anyways.
He glanced back at me. "You mean the sects?"
His voice sounded bitter and angry for some reason.
"They arrived yesterday and set up outside the walls. They say they"re here for recruitment, which doesn"t make sense since they"ve never come here before, but that"s what they say."
"It"s caused problems?" I asked.
He laughed. "You"ve no idea. They run around like they own the place and the only reason they don"t do what they want is because of the mayor and the other second core arcanists, even so, I"ve had to break up half a dozen fights when I was on patrol, and solve issues with the sect disciples not paying for things."
That wasn"t a surprise. Strength was what mattered most in this world, and oftentimes if someone thought they could get away with something and not face consequences, they would. The recruitment though made no sense to me. West Vale wasn"t a town known for its arcanists or its talent. Most of the townspeople were only at their first core, which most people, even those who didn"t want to be arcanists, did for the boost in lifespan and benefits. This was a town of simple means, not a place you"d recruit potential arcanists, not that the idea of joining a sect sounded bad. There were many benefits, but I"d think about that later, for now, I needed to get back home to my aunt.
The guard led me all the way through the city until we reached the part of town where I lived, and told me he"d let the academy know I was back. I thanked him and quickly made my way home.
I didn"t knock, instead bursting into the house.
I smiled as my aunt, who was sitting staring into a cup of tea, turned to me. Her eyes were angry, probably thinking someone had barged in, but then she realized it was me and was suddenly next to me in a flash, hugging me tightly. I hugged her back just as fiercely. Aunt jenna was the only family I had, and the person who"d raised me when my parents had died.
"Don"t scare me like that," She said, pulling away to examine me. "You"re not hurt are you?."
I shook my head. "Tired, but fine."
She sat me down and proceeded to look me over completely, not trusting my word when it came to my health.
As she did, I examined her and couldn"t help but feel slightly guilty. Her grey eyes and bags under them and her graying black hair were a mess.
"Now stay still," She said. "I"m gonna do a quick check then rejuvenation."
Unlike other arcanists in the city, she"d dedicated herself wholly to healing, having both her first and second core be the same affinity, life. I felt a wave of energy passes through, and this time I could sense it, and though I wasn"t able to tell much of what it was doing, it seemed similar to green pulse in a way. After that scan as I thought of it, she started pouring life aether in me and controlling it, to move to certain parts of my body. My fatigue faded along with aches and bruises that I hadn"t noticed.
I closed my eyes and leaned back, letting out a contented sigh.
I nodded. "Better, though I could use some food."
"I"ll get something cooking, but first why don"t you explain why you have a nature affinity for your first core."
My eyes opened, and I turned to her. I puzzled on what to say, then decided on a mix of truth and lie. As much as I wanted to tell her everything, for now, I"d keep it a secret. "I reached the first stage of infusion and managed to take down an aether beast with a nature affinity after I split up from the rest of the group. I absorbed the essence, and then waited for a day before heading back here."
A sudden thought occurred to me. "How is everyone, did they all survive?"
She eyed me for a moment, and for a second I thought she"d question me about the story, but then she nodded sadly. "Two hunters and four students died. Luten managed to survive, but one of his cores is now fractured. I do know that both your friends survived though."
I sighed. I still felt sad for those who died, but most of my worry had been for my friends.
"You relax and I"ll make you something to eat."
I nodded, not wanting to move. I had a lot on my mind, but for now, I"d just rest for a bit.
When she returned with a plate of stir fry, I was close to falling asleep, but the smell of food kept me awake and I quickly ate, enjoying the taste of something that didn"t taste like cardboard with some bad flavoring. As I ate, my aunt asked me a few more questions just to make sure I was fine. I answered truthfully to most and assured her I was not traumatized, if anything I was better than ever now that I had my first core.
After one last hug and promise that I wouldn"t be heading out of town tomorrow or anytime soon, I headed to my room. I would have to speak to her about leaving eventually, but not now. She was in a good mood and had probably had a hard time the past two days.
I wondered why Zirani had been so quiet, but the moment I landed in my bed, I was fast asleep.
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