“Not much has changed,” Robert Ross pondered in his heart as he stepped off the train station. Along with the sun approaching its zenith, the view of Midas Valley spread before him. A city among mountain ranges was truly a sight to behold.
Midas Valley, a thriving city filled with opportunities for all kinds individuals. On the surface, it was brimming with life and promises but underneath it all, a huge ugly truth resides. Nothing was foul enough to be considered unsightly in the underworld. However, those things had nothing to with Robert, for now. He was only but a fifteen year old boy. He had a wishful thinking. He hoped his job would not require to put his hands into the shadow, or at least just a finger.
For now, he kept to one of his favorite yet seldom adhered principle, ignorance is a bliss.
“Over here, Mr. Ross,” a man in a well-tailored suit called out to him while he was deep in thought. The man had sleek black hair and was wearing a pair of glasses.
Going by the rims, Robert could tell those glasses were expensive.
The man in the suit stood by a carriage adorned with subtle yet grand ornaments. One peculiar thing Robert noticed was the horses drawing the carriage. Nay, it won’t be right to called those things horses. The horses-like animals had six legs instead of the usual four and their head resembled a goat more than an actual horse.
Robert was quick to lose interest as he turned his attention back to the man. Along with a nod, he asked, “you work for Mr. Smith?”
The man gave a bow with a hand on the left side of his chest. “I am Tann, at your service. I’m sure you have figured it out by now that Mr. Smith is just an alias my employer uses.” After saying that much, Tann open the carriage’s door and gestured for Robert to get on. “Please. The ceremony will be starting soon. You don’t want to be late.”
Robert tilted his head, “ceremony?”
“I’ll explain more on the way. For now, please, if you will.”
Without any further hesitation, Robert boarded the carriage and Tann followed right behind him. With a snap of his fingers, the horses begun pulling the carriage without on the reins.
“I thought the horses looked different. You’re an Anima,” Robert easily deduced.
“That, I am. Just in case if you’re curious, I can summoned up to four familiars,” Tann who was sitting across Robert replied with confirmation.
“Impressive,” Robert gave his honest praise. Even two familiars would already be tough to sustained unless one was an Elite. Which meant, Tann must be an Elite, or some where close. “How much have your employer told you?”
“Just what I need to know, Mr Ross. I’m told to give you my full cooperation and assistance. I’m told you are a hunter and investigator of sorts?” All this while, Tann had a subtle grin. It was the kind of smile that people used to make themself appeared to be friendly. Not that Robert gave too much thought to it.
“I’m not actual Hunter but it’s something like that,” Robert muttered indifferently. He knew Tann was prying but the passing view of the city through the carriage window took precedent.
“Forgive me for saying this,” Tann continued, “but I expected someone—”
“Older?” Robert interceded without sparing a glance.
“Seasoned, Mr. Ross. Pardon me for being rude as I’m quite sensitive to Magic, more than the average individual.”
“You are flattering me, Mr. Ross. I am sensitive but not at a level worthy of being labeled as a Sentry. However, the level of your Magic I’m sensing was below my expectation.”
Although thorns were in Tann’s words, Robert’s attention was still on the passing scenery.
Disregarding Robert’s lack of interest, Tann continued, “you are also definitely younger than I expected but then again, with Magic, a lot of things can be deceiving. Those aren’t my concerns however— it’s just that you bore an appearance of someone incredibly naive to the real world.”
Robert scoffed without a single glance.
“Perhaps I’m wrong, Mr. Ross.”
“Naive is a relative term, Mr. Tann,” although Robert still wasn’t sparing Tann a glance, his lips did slightly curled up. “A child is naive to your average adult. Your average adult is naive to a mogul. But in the grand scheme of things, whatever kind of position you hold, a mortal is naive to a god.”
Tann blinked at the insight of the boy in front of him. His words weren’t that profound but hearing it from a fifteen year old was queer. “Are you perhaps religious, Mr. Ross?”
“I’m open to discussions,” Robert answered briefly.
Another reply that was unlike a fifteen year old. Tann’s interest was certainly piqued. Now he knew why his employer took an interest in the boy. Oddly enough, Tann was sure that his employer and the boy had never met to face-to-face and yet, his employer had put a good amount of investment into the boy.
“Just to be clear, Mr. Ross. You are indeed fifteen years old?”
“From the moment I was born into this world until right this second, yes, I am fifteen years old.”
Tann still had eyes that spelled disbelief but Robert was in no way bothered by it.
As the carriage slowly make its out of the outer district and into the middle district, Robert remembered a question he begged in his heart for answer.
“What was that about a ceremony?” he asked.
Tann smiled and handed him a neatly wrapped parcel along a card laid on top.
The card contained Robert’s name along with some minor personal information such as birth date and the such. On top of the card was an insignia Robert was all too familiar with. It was the insignia of Mavern’s Academy. A chain of learning institution that cultivates potential Magic users. There was one right here, west of Midas Valley, where the two are heading towards.
“You shall be a freshman of Mavern’s Academy from today onwards. There will be a opening ceremony for the new students in about half an hour. In the parcel, you shall find two sets of uniform. Don’t worry, those aren’t extra charges. The two set of uniforms are included in the tuition fee.”
“A student… huh,” Robert mused. “Well, I did asked for a cover akin to hiding a tree in a forest. And what’s more, one can only become a Hunter at the age of eighteen.”
“Also— here,” Tann handed Robert another parcel. This one was way bulkier than the previous one. “Gears for your excursion.”
Weighing the parcel in his hands, Robert’s eyes narrowed at the ever-smiling Tann.
“Is there a problem, Mr. Ross?” Tann asked, calmly.
“This seemed to be more than what I have requested and I don’t see the sword I requested and commissioned.”
“Ah, about that— apologies, Mr. Ross. The sword will have to wait.”
Robert raised an eyebrow.
“The sword was to be made by one of the local blacksmiths but the supply caravan was raided by bandits. But of course, everything have been taken off and all order of things have resumed but the unexpected bump have inevitably caused a delay. The extra quantity of your request serves to compensate for that delay.”
“I’m sure the Beast Fury Pellets are included?”
“You need not to have any worries, Mr. Ross. Except for the delay, everything is in order. The sword will be ready in three days time. If there’s anything else, please don’t hesitate to ask, Mr. Ross.”
Robert offered no response.
“And here is the dossier and a Grade 3 Storage Ring,” the last items given to Robert was a file bundled with papers within and a ring enchanted with space manipulation magic. As the name had reveal, it’s a ring that allows one to store an object into a sub-space. The capacity was determined by the grade.
Immediately after receiving the last items, Robert wore the ring on his right index finger and proceeded to flip through the dossier. The dossier contained reports of anomalies happening throughout the city and the areas nearby. The anomalies ranged from sightings of unidentified creatures, resource pollution, unusual behavior of monsters, and many more. After these anomaly reports, Robert came to pages filled with information regarding either individuals or organizations.
“What are these?” Robert asked without lifting his eyes off the pages.
“Interested parties and potential conflict— for you, of course. The surfacing of the anomalies weren’t exactly subtle. Many have caught on and they all desire answers.”
After taking Tann’s words into heart, Robert noticed few pages were marked with a red sticker at the edge of the page, five pages in fact.
“What’s with these ones?” Robert pointed out the red stickers.
“Out of the dozens of interested parties, these five are the most active and they have considerable resources. My employer hoped that you would avoid garnering attention, particularly from these five parties.”
Per the information on the documents, the five parties were; Caelion Faith, Kiva Faith, Aeryeon Faith, Dusk, and Zagan Empire.
“I presumed you are familiar with these names?” asked Tann with eyes indicating he was gauging Robert.
“Caeleo is the God of Hunters and the religion is also the one behind the Hunters Association. Kiva is the Goddess of Peace and Prosperity, one of the dominating faith in the world. Aeryo is the God of justice and equilibrium. Ironically, many believed Aeryo to be a Dragon.”
“Why is it ironic?” Tann was impartial with the question.
“Dragons maybe endangered now but they are known to be whimsical and arrogant. Their presence has always caused catastrophe and tipping the balance. And somehow, the almighty Dragon God represents the opposite.”
“You don’t cease to amaze me, Mr. Ross. I am really doubting your true age here.”
Ignoring Tann’s last comment, Robert continued, “As for the last two parties, I believed Dusk is the recently establish and accomplished trading company. I have heard the founder was a scholar-turned-merchant. And for Zagan Empire, I don’t think anyone have not heard of them. The nation’s size is second only to Rulkan Union but Zagan ranks first in terms of military prowess.”
“And all these five parties could be your future conflict, Mr. Ross. I hope you never have to cross path with them.”
“Fair enough.” Tann nodded.
"Leaving that aside, how much do they know about the anomalies?"
"As much as us and the next party," Tann continued, "which pretty much place us all on even ground."
"Within expectations then."
These words highly intrigued Tann but he knew he would not get answer from Robert. And his employer was stern on the fact that probe too much on Robert's methods. In the end, Tann shrugged it off.
After these pages, Robert arrived at the last few pages pertaining information of certain establishments in the red light district. Robert was definitely interested in it but those kind of gaiety will have to wait.
After finishing skimming the reports, the space closed in around the dossier and parcels. At the next instance, the items vanished into thin air. He had store everything into the Storage Ring.
“You learn quick…” Tann muttered out in awe—
— which drew a glare from Robert.
Noticing the gaze, Tann smiled, “rest assured, these lips are sealed.”
As the view of the city changed into a more lively one, Robert knew they have entered into another district. Judging by the stores lined up in parallel across the bustling streets, he could tell what this district pertained.
“We’re almost there,” saying so, Tann glanced at Robert’s apparels. They weren’t cheap but they were neither expensive. In fact, Tann couldn’t recognized the identity of the tailor of the clothes but that was a trivial matter that he needn’t to concern himself with. Rather, there was a much more important matter at the moment. “But Mr. Ross, what of your uniform?”
Tann was basically asking how Robert would go about changing his attire.
Responding with a slight grin and with a flick of his hand, the space around Robert’s clothes distorted. On the next second, Robert was then dressed in the academy’s trademark white uniform with blue edges.
That performance drew Tann’s widened eyes. “Would that happened to be your Specialization, Mr. Ross?”
“I’m sure you already know the answers,” Robert retorted, dryly.
“I am curious, Mr. Ross. Do you perhaps have more than one Specialization?”
The answer was unexpected. It made Tann blinked a few times. Then again, the boy, for the whole time, was nothing but a stream of surprises. He gave up trying to understand the boy in front of him who is just as mysterious as his employer.
“Is that the Dark Zone?”
Tracing Robert’s line of sigh, Tann found dense growth of trees peeking out from beyond the buildings. The trees weren’t tall enough to be seen from so faraway but due the trees residing on elevated grounds, it was easily perceptible even from the center of the city. This was a valley, after all.
“You are correct, Mr. Ross. That is indeed the Dark Zone. It takes around an hour on carriage to reach there from the Central District. As you can see, the Dark Zone of Midas Valley is a forest. The monsters inside are of the usual variety but they are in abundance. So, the Hunter Association won’t be going out of business any time soon.”
“Anyways, we have arrived, Mr. Ross.”
With those words, the carriage came to a halt in front a two large gates. Needless to say, it was the entrance of Mavern’s Academy. There was a continuous flow of students and professors alike entering the academy. Since the uniforms were white, it made the whole scene looked more lively—
— at least that was how Robert viewed the scene.
He got off the carriage and tipped his head towards the two horse-like familiars. His instincts were right on the mark as the two familiars nodded back. The intelligence of a familiar corresponds to the summoner’s Magic level. Through that simple act, Robert was able to gauge Tann’s Magic level.
Just as Robert was about to turned around, Tann stopped him.
“Almost forgot, Mr. Ross,” telling him so, Tann tossed a pouch towards Robert which he easily snatched off from the air.
Judging from the weight and volume, Robert estimated there was around five thousand Ria in the pouch, all in gold coins.
“And lastly, Mr. Ross— Welcome to Midas Valley.”