SMage 48 – Delvers
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Paige stared at the female Delver in the mirror right before her. The person she was looking at didn’t feel like herself even if the girl was wearing the face she knew all too well. She never thought it would be possible. Everything felt unreal when she was finally here, at this moment she always dreamed of her daydreams. Shopping for the things she needed for her adventure in the dungeon in a well-known shop nonetheless.

Her dream began when the little girl had her revenge against those who she thought were unmoveable burly men. She felt like she was a new person after overcoming that nightmare.

And this dream continued with her trying all kinds of out pretty but sturdy clothes in front of a huge mirror. The pretty girl in the mirror was now wearing black leather boots that covered most of her legs until they reached up and under her knee-length skirt. A pair of leather gloves with similarly soft padding protected her arms up until her shoulders. 

Her final choice of clothes for the day was a simple pink one-piece dress with such a shameless wide-open chest area. It had the ability to resist cuts and repair itself. The simple-looking dress was the most expensive piece among the others. The girl’s inner clothes were also in a different grade than to what she was used to. They propped her chest up like never before but still very comfortable to move around without too much bounce. Artus had called it a sports bra, whatever that meant.

Regardless of his ability to protect her, the ever-mysterious young man still insisted on a heavily enchanted dress if she didn’t want to wear any chest armor. Paige found the request ridiculous as no mage should cover herself full in armor. No mage in history had ever done that and she didn’t want to be the first.

Besides, all those metal plates would only become a burden. Mages didn’t have time to spare in bodybuilding, and those who did would find themselves lacking in their spellcasting abilities. No one would have the time to do both.

The last piece of protective gear was an enchanted cloak that protected her head and added an extra layer to protect her back. The thick blue cloak felt light on her shoulders and its total length reached to the back of her calves. The fluffy light blue fabric around her cape set her apart from men who had no idea how wonderful it felt on her skin. It also matched with her eyes which was just perfect.

As an extra, each of these clothes was also capable of self-cleaning. Artus had buttoned the cloak over the exposed chest area as if he was telling her that the view was only his. She reached up on her toes and was rewarded with a long passionate kiss. It aroused her so much until she felt undressing right and there.

Just yesterday, she had never dreamed of being able to afford such things herself. She had used up more than half of the plates she got from the Edict contract for all of this, but she didn’t regret any part of it. Spending her own money for herself felt empowering.

And only just yesterday that she thought her water-based spell was completely useless in close or any kind of combat. Artus had proven that every book written by the archmage in history was dead wrong. Even she didn’t want to be hit with her own spell after witnessing the mayhem she had caused.

She still remembered the massive weight she felt. The sheer weight would have broken her bone if the spell had even a tiny effect on her. Compared to the previous water balls she had called out, this single ball could be hundreds of times heavier. It felt like she was controlling a flexible metal ball rather than a bubble of water. 

Paige could tell that the water ball had expanded when it hit the target, spreading the damage, both increasing the area of damage while reducing its lethality. Other than standard trajectory, he had added a mana ‘strings’ that she could ‘pull’ to remotely alter the direction by slightly moving her fingers. She believed if she practiced hard enough, she could do much more than beat up some thugs.

And the idea of not wasting water that she had conjured was simply brilliant. She even got back most of that mana when she dispelled them. What this process should that even be called? It wasn't exactly reusing mana.

Artus wasn’t just amazing, he was unbelievable. 

“How do I look?” she asked the shy man inside the mirror while she spun around. 

He was sitting behind her all this time while she was trying different clothes. Paige had insisted the surprisingly reserved man join her and he reluctantly agreed just to save his ego as a man. Artus might have acted like he didn’t mind it at all, but he could never hide the flush on his face. Every female dresser in the shop had been infatuated with his oddly sincere display of humility.

“You look perfect,” he said abashedly. “Can we wrap this up real quick?”

“But I have only tried a few sets with this armor,” she complained with an obvious fake pout.

“You can come later after we cleared the dungeon,” he said offhandedly.

“Clear... clear the dungeon!?” she asked, shocked. “Just the two of us?”

“You think we can’t?” Artus asked almost too seriously.

“No, not really, we can try, of course,” she corrected him. She had no experience with the dungeon, what she could tell was only what she had read in the books.

“We should clear this dungeon and move on to the next, there is no point in dilly-dallying.”

“But there are five floors in total, Artus, each is harder than the last.”

“Only five?” the young man clicked his tongue. “But commoners need to clear it before they can make use of the other dungeons, right?”

“Yes, but Artus-”

“Relax, I’ll teach you a few more tricks and we should be fine.”

Paige nodded to him and let herself be dragged out of the shop with a single thought running through her mind. They had paid before leaving and visited her mother to give her a few plates, but none of those had even registered to her. 

Her mind was still occupied with the question. ‘There is more to my water ball??’

She couldn’t even begin to guess what more she could do with the spell. The back of the man who was pulling her around appeared so wide until she couldn’t comprehend him anymore. What more he knew about the elements that even the archmages did not?

He had been leading her for quite some time before Artus suddenly stopped. She thought that they had already arrived but it turned out there was someone who stopped him. The entrance to the dungeon wasn’t that far though.

“Hey, Felicia, what’s up?” said Artus. 

It was obvious to them both what the other woman wanted by the sexy armor she had on her. The dark-haired spearwoman checked Paige up and down before she turned towards the man she sought after. A very familiar looking tube was strapped onto her.

“Can we speak more privately?” the woman said in a low voice. “I mean she can come as this involves her too.”

Paige was surprised to hear that. How come she was involved in whatever the girl, Felicia was talking about?

“Sure, let's get into the alley or something,” said Artus.

“No, more private than that, the dungeon would be best.”

Artus chuckled, “we are going into the dungeon, we even got supplies and everything, but you could have just said that you wanted to join us.”

“Do you think I’m trying to trick you?” Felicia sighed. “I’m trying to do you a favor here.”

“Come on, Felicia, I’m not that naive,” he scoffed. “You could just whisper it to me whatever this is. I also won’t refuse you if you have asked nicely. The same to you, Jacob,” Artus added as he turned toward the side of the building.

Jacob walked out of the side alley before letting out a grunt. He was in his full metal plated delver gear, the same getup as the spearwoman. Both of them were joining her and Artus? Was this his plan all along?

“I just can’t stand listening to the old hag’s nagging anymore,” Jacob said to them. “Besides, I still don’t trust you.”

Artus chuckled but didn't say anything back. Paige was again surprised by Jacob's sudden change. The Jacob she knew had never walked off his own mother, let alone calling the lady an old hag. Was this what was referred to as growing a spine?

And unlike before, Jacob did look like he had grown a spine. He stood straighter than before.

“Whatever man,” Artus said, “welcome aboard, both of you, I guess. The more the merrier, right? But let’s not waste time, shall we?”

“A steel, huh? Well, at least she could keep up,” mocked Jacob as he checked the spearwoman out.

“A rich kid with a big spooned mouth, how very dependable,” Felicia shot back while doing the same to Jacob.

Artus smiled as he led them towards the dungeon. Paige had no idea what he had in mind for them. All she could sense through the Oath was mischievous thoughts of some kind.

---

Artus would have let out a burst of evil laughter if he wasn’t public. 

Everything had fallen into place without he needed to do much. Fate wasn’t so cruel after all. He had hinted to Jacob that they were going into the dungeon, and he knew there were people watching him closely, Felicia included. 

The girl obviously wanted to take Paige’s place as his partner, and he had no problem with that, well, if she didn’t cross the fine line. Artus suspected that she knew this too or she would have been harsher towards the girl. This time, however, she had a leather jacket over her new shiny sexier armor, a perfect weapon to woo guys. A guy could easily flip those metal-plated tiny skirts and bang her from the back.

But the key to getting Jacob to do what he wanted the young man to do was by indirectly using Paige and Felicia. Artus didn’t know how his plan was going to fit yet, but he had no bad attention towards the man. He only wanted the guy to open his eyes to the reality around him. He wanted Jacob to see that there was more to everything than what meets the eye. 

What Artus really wanted to happen was Jacob to be this shining beacon of heroism until the shadow was big enough for himself to hide in. It was only fair for him to prepare the naive lad first. Most people with a hero complex would be blind to manipulations and he wouldn’t let that happen to Jacob.

Artus knew that Jacob would work hard to win Paige over while Felicia would do the same to win him over. This, hopefully, healthy competition, would slowly open their eyes. He didn’t really care much about Felicia but it would be a bonus if she learned a little bit too.

Everything was quite going well for Artus until a group of three robed people came to block his way. Their robes were pure white in color and there was a symbol on them that told who these people belonged to.

The very group of people he didn’t want to have ever to do anything with. 

The Church of Light.

“Isn’t that Lady Eliane, the one in the back?” said Jacob.

Artus cursed under his breath.

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