SMage 37 – Arrival
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The sudden bright light had forced him to close his eyes. His surroundings completely changed when he opened them again. He should have arrived at Karleaz and he hoped whoever was tracking him was happy.

But what was the point of teleporting here if the academy made him wait for two weeks? He should be doing what, biting his nails for two weeks?

They had a short talk about it right before the teleportation, but of course, the two ladies had their own brilliant ideas. Verona wanted him to spend his two weeks leisurely with her while Eliane didn’t mind ‘tagging’ along. The blue-haired lady also had reminded him of her secret plan to ensure him to be able to trust her, but both were rejected on the spot. He might not be the perfect example of stout manhood but he wasn’t that dick-brained.

He knew that he could’ve upgraded his threesome experience to another level, but that would lead to his doom. Two weeks filled with nothing but sex might have sounded great, but he would already be caught in the honeytrap.

Artus knew he would be addicted to them if he had agreed. An old grudge had protected him during his time with Verona, but he feared it had softened. That’s a bad sign right there.

She had shown genuine care and worry for him for some reason, and it became clear when [Lady Killer] read her body language. The simple ring she took out of nowhere looked cheap but it was another way to prove how overprotective she was. Celestial or not, he was just a normal man inside. He ought to feel something to her guilt-ridden face.

But like all drugs, he would be fine if he built some more resistance. Who would know, he might even get an ability after he dealt with enough women. That would solve his loathsome weakness for good.

Not that he would actively start to chase skirts, but he had to learn to be a heartbreaker. The people in power would never leave him alone even with Amberhand's family influence. That was why the old lady was so worried. She feared that he would slip away to other groups of people who gave him a better ‘offer’, and what better offer than what men loved the most?

Artus took a look around. He was in the middle of a wide square with stone structures that looked like stone hedges stood around him. As usual, there were no signs of the stones being cut on it. He had arrived along with other strangers, wherever they were from, but they began to retch and gag as soon as they arrived.

Everybody was holding a paper bag of sorts to catch their pukes, and only then he noticed that someone had offered him one. He just shook his head, and the guy looked at him with wide-open eyes as if he had seen a ghost.

He guessed it was very uncommon to feel nothing from the teleportation. Lucky for him that everyone had a few meters of a gap around them as they appeared in a flash of light.

Artus didn’t have the same urge, maybe thanks to the thin layer of mana around him. The imperceivable personalized [Shell] was the only thing that differentiated him from others.

The layer of mana covered every inch of his body, one centimeter above his skin like a boxy full-body suit Aether Shell. The shell was in the shape of an interconnected, flexible polyhedron, and it took him quite the brain cells to come up with the correct formula.

He had achieved this based on the form of a basic skeleton in 3D modeling. This skeleton ‘line’ was used as the boxes’ center as it was formulated to move and change shape based on his body movement. The slicker version of the shell was still work in progress, but he already felt safer in its current form.

Paranoid? Maybe, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Continuous progress was the only way to offset the downside of his decision to reveal his ability. What he told others should be far behind what he was capable of.

He was politely urged to move out of the arrival area by the same guy who offered him the puke-bag, and he moved along without causing a scene. Artus took a moment to look around after he had cleared the busiest part of the city square.

Unlike the city in the other world, this city kept its old trees to decorate the square. He would call them ancient by the sheer size and look. Their existence also created a nice shade even when the lowest branch was at least a few hundred meters up. Each of the ancient trees gave off different feelings when his [Aether Sense] touched them, he guessed there was something special about these trees.

The branches were even taller than most of the buildings and shops circling the round stone-paved area. Under one of the five huge trees had vendor stalls packed together. The segregation was clear when people in nice dresses and suits walked away rather than towards the stalls.

He, on the other hand, had followed his nose. The smell coming from the street stalls were delicious. The sizzling meat had him salivating. Keeping the status quo was not worth missing these comfort foods.

He wasted no time and got one of them immediately inside his mouth. What had surprised him was how well-salted the grilled meat was. Wasn’t salt supposed to be expensive in the middle age? Like any other otherworld, he had the chance to know.

“Salt is cheap around here?” he asked the man with a balding head.

The aged man gave him an odd look. He looked at him up and down a few times before he gave in with a sigh. It was obvious he had asked something stupid.

“Salt is cheap everywhere, young sir,” the old man stated.

Artus guessed his brand new clothes had made the old man call him 'young sir'. Others around only in old clothes or less fine fabric as his. Might just go with it.

“Can you tell me why?” Artus placed down a few bits. “Entertain me, please.”

The old vendor smiled as he swiped the bits into his pocket.

“Of course, young sir, the salts are made by the sea or dug in the mountains as far as I know. All who have good enough [Water] and [Earth] affinity worked at these places. They separate the salt out from the water or the soil without much effort.”

“These people are mages?”

“No, good sir, they are like me, commoners. I have a bit of [Fire] affinity myself and that’s how I keep the meat from drying out. Unlike the salt though, it took me years of experience to get it just right.”

“Yes, this meat is very juicy and tender,” he praised when it’s due.

“Thank you, young sir,” the old man stood a little straighter.

He wished that the old man had seen him as just another youngster, but the family or Verona would never allow it. His battered clothes were gone before he realized it and a new set of clothes had replaced them.

‘You lose some to get some,’ he shrugged.

He could live with this. It was a good change when people gave way for him instead of bumping all over him. Artus walked around the stalls while eating his meat skewers with no real destination set in mind.

An idea set in when he found a few stalls selling used clothes.

Artus laughed at his own foolishness.

“I guess, I’ll just take it slow,” he mumbled and walked back toward the ‘rich’ side of the street. There were a few places he wanted to visit before blending in with the city’s commoners.

All the city streets were paved with small stones with familiar lampposts standing along with it. The sidewalk was paved with bigger stones with slightly higher elevation. The expertly arranged stones were brighter in color with bluish grass growing between them.

As one could expect, the carriages moved along the street while the well-dressed pedestrians kept themselves safe on the sidewalks. There wasn’t any kind of traffic control to be seen but the streets weren’t busy enough to cause an accident. Most of the wheeled vehicles also had kept a reasonable pace rather than speeding.

The real difference he noticed was the tall walls separating many sections of the city. The curve on these walls made him assume the city as a whole was a series of huge circles. Anyone could guess that the richer they were, the closer they stayed to the center of the city.

Surprisingly, his skill told him there was water running in aqueducts on top of the walls. The waterway supplied fresh water to the uniform looking buildings raised along the street through a connecting arch. The dual use of the walls was kind of clever.

Below the city streets were tunnels that were filled with creatures that looked like blobs of big water balloons. These creatures slushed around and he had witnessed one of them swallowing a whole rat. He chuckled when he realized what these creatures were.

He would bet there were quests to send people into these tunnels to clear off the vermins once they began to cause problems. He never had any fascination with slimes but at least they were keeping the rat population in check.

There weren’t many armed adventurers in this part of the city, but the few of them had well-armed. Most of them had magic-wielding members from the lack of weapons, and of course, the colored robes. It was also not rare to see men and women in white robes accompanying these teams, and the mages and priestesses didn’t shy from protective gear. He might need some just to look apart.

It didn’t take him long to stumble upon a bookstore while walking along the street. It was obvious from far with its book carved sign. A wave of pleasant warmth brushed his face as he opened the door accompanied by a ring of a bell.

A similarly warm looking girl smiled at him at the counter. The blob of black ink hovering in front of her smoothly swirled and twirled before entering a bottle.

‘Is she an ink bender?’ Artus chuckled.