They started heading back to the town. Miria switched into her beast form and began nudging Asterios with her big body to convince him to get on her so they could move faster. He inquired if that’s really fine and she told him that it’s nothing and they often rode on each other’s backs all the time back at home. According to her, not all Beastfolk could morph. It all depended on their bloodline.
Ast finally agreed, pushed forth by his own curiosity, and seated himself on her muscular back. He wasn’t sure how to hold onto her so she instructed him to just lean forward and grip her fur somewhere on the sides since it was really tough and she wouldn’t feel any inconvenience from it.
She soon rose from the ground and began moving. Slowly at first so that Ast could properly settle himself and correct his posture, she then switched into a proper run. Within seconds they were speeding through the forest at an amazing speed. Asterios could feel the wind trying to throw him off her back with a lot of force, but he gripped Miria’s fur hard and leaned forward as much as it was possible.
Miria noticed his excitement and started moving more irregularly, stepping from side to side between trees, jumping over various bushes and even bouncing off big enough branches. Asterios was riding her with a wide smile. He never expected to be able to experience such a ride. He always was jealous of others who were able to summon big wolves or even drakes but tried to hide it. Now, he was enjoying a similar thing with his new partner.
~I wonder if you can hold on at my best speed, Master!~
She sent him a mischievous message, wanting to boast a little in front of her master. She was always proud of her speed and seeing Asterios enjoy this so much, she couldn’t help but want to brag even more.
“That’s not the fastest? Wait, I’m not readyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy—”
Miria chuckled in her mind, strengthened her limbs with mana and pushed off the ground with an enormous force. They shot through the air like an arrow. It wasn’t close to how fast she moved under the Haste sigil previously, but Ast still felt like they were almost teleporting using something akin to a Blink spell of advanced magicians with each of her leaps.
All the trees around them merged into one grand, two-colour background with how fast they were moving. He laughed wholeheartedly while holding for his dear life onto her fur. Miria was very satisfied with herself. They quickly reached the edge of the forest.
~Alright, It was amazing but let’s not dart through the gate like this.~
Miria began slowing down and soon stopped. Ast jumped off her and she switched back to her human form.
“Why not?” she asked.
“It would be weird for a guy who almost lost his life yesterday to suddenly show up on a strong beast out of the blue. The guards could think I lied about being weak to hide something and be suspicious of us.”
“Right. I should go back then and wait for Master’s signal to come out.”
“Thanks for the ride. That really was something.”
He moved closer and started patting her head.
“Ehehe, it was fun for me too.” She closed her eyes to enjoy his hand. “I felt like with Master on my back I could run even faster than before. Let’s do this more often!”
“Looks like you are starting to notice the influence of our contract. As long as you are okay with it, I don’t mind. I could easily get addicted to this.”
Miria stood in place for another two minutes before she noticed that she spaced out, getting lost in the extremely pleasant rubs, and was wasting their time. She squirmed a little while blushing and hastily jumped back to her realm.
Asterios chuckled. ~No need to be shy. It’s part of our deal, right?~
He walked through the gate without any issue. Not wearing some random shirt, jacket and pants could help a little during the registration so Asterios first headed home to get his money and his small spatial pouch he used for materials. It was a gift for his 18th birthday from his mother.
Even though she was a manager and pretty much an owner of a jewellery store, it still required her to save for more than a year. These things didn’t come cheap, especially around the parts where summoners were plenty.
Grabbing what he needed, Asterios walked towards the central plaza to visit some clothing stores and armour merchants. He didn’t want to splurge most of his money on the equipment, but picking a few solid pieces to raise one’s own defence and safety was a must. He could no longer use the academy’s uniforms which were infused with some basic protective enchants.
He strolled through a few shops and bought dark brown leather pants and boots in one. In another, he found a decent shirt and quite tough leather vest, reinforced with additional layers, so he also picked them up.
This would have been enough, but near the end of his shopping trip, he noticed a really cool looking, dark brown leather coat with a hood. He felt like it would go great with his current getup so he got it too. Now, Asterios looked pretty much like your usual adventurer.
~You look so cool in this, Master!~
He smiled and went towards the Adventurer's Guild in Rosewind. Soon, a tall building entered his vision. It was a three-storey inn-looking construction. Purely out of dark wood. An eye-catching banner was hung above the entrance and people were coming in and out all the time.
Asterios fixed his hood on his back and walked inside. No matter how many times he visited the guild for whatever reasons, usually linked to summoning materials, he always admired the interior of it. There was a big section of tables on one side, meant for people who wanted to spend some time socializing, a long path of counters with beautiful girls behind them on the other side, plenty of notice and quest boards, and most importantly, a huge skeleton of a dragon hanging out from the very high ceiling.
Naturally, there were many more other facilities like private rooms to discuss commissions or such, and the higher floors were mostly reserved for employees or the Guildmaster, but this main hall was the most awe-inspiring.
Ast looked through the free receptionists and spotted a person he already knew. He quickly walked up to her before someone stole the spot. He arrived in front of a pretty girl with bountiful red hair.
“Long time no see, Ast. Need to submit another commission?” She smiled beautifully.
“Hi there, Ellie. This may come as a surprise but I don't.”
“Oh, now you got me curious. So, how can I help you today?”
“I want to register.”
She raised her eyebrows. “As an adventurer?”
“That’s really a surprise. You always said that you want to finish the academy.”
“Well, things change. I pretty much got everything I could back there so it’s time to try somewhere else.”
“You sure about that? Not that I doubt your abilities, but... ”
He noticed Ellie’s concerned expression and Asterios knew perfectly what she was thinking about.
“Weren’t I the Weakest One? Pretty much. But I’m not stupid enough to throw myself at something I can’t handle. I’ve already finished my preparations.”
He pointed out his new outfit which was decently tough and already much better than a lot of newbie adventurers had. Many registered with literally nothing on them, hoping to earn a quick coin and then buy equipment of a higher tier rather than spending money on what they viewed as useless trash. And many like that died. He could never understand how people weren’t learning from the mistakes of others.
Ellie pondered for a moment. She knew Ast for a few years already and she was sure he wasn’t lying. There was no need to doubt him more and she quickly pulled out the registration form.
“Summoner I guess?”
“Uhh… you can put offence and agility there for now.”
They filled some more details together and the form was soon done. Ellie verified it for the last time and clapped her hands.
“Good. Everything should be fine. I’ll leave to get your tag so just wait for—”
“I’d like to go through testing,” Asterios stopped her.
Ellie was slightly surprised by his request. Of course, it wasn’t anything new for newbies to ask for the examination, but they usually didn’t know how unfriendly and strict the adventurers conducting them were. Ast was one of the few who actually did since they chatted about the guild in the past. She had a pretty good grasp on how weak he and his summons were so Asterios asking to go through it seemed odd. Even a little bit rash.
He noticed the girl’s consternation. “Don’t worry. I’ll just surrender if anything happens. This is the best way to test yourself in a real battle in a still quite safe environment. You can come and watch, I don’t mind.”
“I’ll take you up on that then.”
Still a bit hesitant, Ellie led Asterios through some corridors and stairs down to the underground area where training rooms were located. She sneaked glances back at him the whole time. He always was determined and confident, but she felt like he somehow changed. She even caught him smiling at himself, which was totally new.
Ellie couldn’t know that for the whole way to the arena, Miria was trying to assure Asterios to leave everything in her hands. She promised to get him the highest rank possible and her attempts to show her devotion were the source of his expression.
They entered one of the chambers. There were a few smaller octagonal arenas inside, with some people practising with each other. Ellie walked up to a tough-looking guy with a greatsword who was standing near a wall and watching over the whole place. After exchanging a few words with him, she waved at Ast and the trio met in one of the training spots.
“So. This little fella wants to experience the harsh reality of adventuring, eh?”
The man rested his weapon on his shoulder and spit to the side. He was around the same height as Asterios but much more buff and muscular. He wore leather armour which didn’t restrict his movements. With his short, spiky blond hair, he looked to be somewhere around his mid-thirties. Ast could sense that this guy wasn’t some random weakling.
“He is a Summoner. Just neutralize his beast and the test will end. There’s no need to beat him up afterwards, got it?” Ellie explained to the man with her finger in a threatening gesture.
She knew he was one of the guys who always threw themselves straight at the newbies to supposedly curb their ambitions. But the real reason was much less valiant. They just enjoyed going against people weaker than them so that they flaunt their egos and showcase their weakness to the others in the training chamber. Unfortunately, he was the guy responsible for interviewing adventurers today.
“I told you not to worry, Ellie. He’s welcome to try whatever he wants.”
“But Ast, Mii can’t possibly protec—”
“Mii won’t be fighting today.”
Ast’s expression turned serious as he donned both of his leather gloves with magical inscriptions. He stretched his fingers a few times and cracked his knuckles. The patterns started slightly glowing with crimson aura. He gave Ellie a nod and she backed off from the ring without any more objections.
He moved his gaze onto his opponent. “Just so that you don’t say that I didn’t warn you, better take this seriously because I will.”
“Hahahah! Yeah, yeah. Do you want some prep time, mister Summoner? You guys always whine that you would have won if you had just a few seconds more!”
“If you offer.”
Asterios focused mana in his finger and drew the six-lined sigil from earlier. This time, he moved it with his left hand over the back of the right and pressed the rune down onto it. The circle on the glove activated and connected to the inscription, making it hover over the circuit, both now glowing with a crimson light. Wherever he moved his hand, the sigil kept itself firmly attached above the glove.
“Neat trick. Ready now?” The man dropped his sword from his shoulder and positioned it to his side, still not taking any specific stance.
Asterios took a deep breath and connected his mind with Miria’s, who was watching their opponent attentively through the connection.
~What do you think?~
~I snapped necks of monsters two times his size in my panther form.~
~Let’s do that then. Just without the snapping part. I’m putting the Haste sigil at 50%. You should be able to control the momentum by going in a straight line. We haven’t tested that so be careful.~
Asterios looked around. It seemed like some spectators gathered around his arena, most likely expecting to see a newbie getting pummeled by the muscular veteran. Judging by their smiles, it most likely happened quite often.
He called his partner’s name out loud. Dark crimson, shadowy portal rose from the ground and stopped at the height of his chest. A huge black panther majestically walked out of it and arrived at his left side, making a lot of people around gasp in amazement. Even Ellie was completely befuddled seeing the cat-like beast which reached almost up to Ast’s armpits.
Asterios placed a hand on Miria’s head and started scratching it. She kept herself composed and tried to act with as much pride as she could muster, to show all those people how great her master was. And she succeeded. Everyone was getting goosebumps just from looking at her.
“This is your last warning.”
“Ha! If you think that some overgrown cat can frighten me, then you couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve decimated tens of much bigger monst—”
“Fine. Left sleeve.”
Asterios snapped the fingers of his right hand, activating the sigil, and the air on his left side exploded with a loud thump, sending waves of force originating from that point. His clothes and hair fluttered, but Ast didn’t even flinch. All the dust on the path towards his opponent, and the same distance after him, suddenly flew up from the ground.
“What the hell?! Did it teleport?!”
One of the spectators shouted bewildered and pointed at something. The examiner glanced behind and spotted the panther with its back to him. Miria turned her head only a bit to the side, revealing a piece of cloth in her jaws. The man glanced at his arm and noticed that it’s missing a piece of armour. He moved his gaze at Asterios and furrowed his brows.
“What the hell did you—”
Another snap, another boom, another explosion of air, and Miria suddenly appeared by Ast’s side while the figure of the Warrior jerked from the moving air current. She spat out both of the examiner’s sleeves and turned around to stand beside her master again. People were starting to whisper amongst themselves.
“Ellie, do we need more? He can’t even react in time.”
Asterios glanced at his friend who was utterly shocked by what was just happening and it took her a good few seconds to register his question. But before she could answer, the examiner interrupted.
“You little shit! I’m going to end you!”
He lowered his posture and moved his greatsword to the front while holding it with both hands. He aimed the tip straight at Asterios and the blade started shining in a yellowish glow, signalling the use of some kind of ability.
Asterios wasn’t stupid enough to wait for the attack to come to him so he snapped his fingers again. The man roared loudly while taking a step forward, thrusting his sword in a lunge motion and… he slammed into the ground in front of him, face first. He started quickly raising himself up, completely confused why the skill failed, and noticed that there was no sword in his hand.
Miria casually walked to him from behind with the large blade between her teeth, threw it into the air and caught the handle with her mouth. A giant black panther armed with a greatsword strolled towards the kneeling man. As he was turning around, she tilted her head to the side and slammed the flat surface of the blade against the guy’s skull, knocking him out completely.
Everyone was silent while watching as the unimaginably fast beast slowly paraded back to its master and started to affectionately rub its head into his chest. Asterios rubbed Miria behind her ears, making her tail dance gleefully.
He deactivated the sigil since it was eating a lot of his mana due to him not being yet efficient with using the spell. The sole theory couldn’t cover the practice aspect. He was already content with what they were able to achieve with it just after two hours of training.
He walked up to Ellie while patting Miria the whole time. She couldn’t take her eyes off the panther, not knowing if she should be scared or amazed. Asterios waved his hand to get the woman’s attention and smiled reassuringly.
“No need to be so tense, she won’t bite.”
“Yeah… hahaha…” Ellie smiled awkwardly.
“I think we should move outside before people start flocking around us with questions.”
“Right, let’s go.”
Miria jumped into a shadowy portal on the floor and disappeared back into her realm. Asterios quickly left the room with Ellie guiding them to one of the meeting rooms.