How would one smoke a Level-6 Magician out of hiding?
Herrera had been thinking about this for a few minutes and came up with no solution at all.
When a Level-6 Magician escaped and was bent on hiding his tracks, it was almost impossible to uncover his trails. Herrera was sure that there were no less than a handful of people in the whole world who would be able to do it.
Meanwhile, Link was also turning the problem over in his mind.
Ideas after ideas flickered on and off in his mind as he tried to work out the possible routes Bale could've taken in his escape.
Bale was an old man, so he could discard the idea of him sneaking out on his feet straight away. The only ways he could escape, was either by magic or by carriage.
Would the Level-6 Magician use magic to escape?
If he did, one possible method was through the academy's portal tower. But the cost of transporting through portal towers were sky-high, so unless there was a great emergency - as when the Dean used it to go to Springs City to meet with the army Magician for example - the portal would not be used at all. Even if Bale had access to the portal tower, it would've left a record of his usage and could even leave traces of where he'd been transported to. That could expose his whereabouts, which made it a bad choice to escape with.
Another important point was that Link suspected Bale was oblivious of the dean's absence from the academy.
The reason was very simple; the dean's actions must've been kept confidential. Even his favorite disciple Herrera was not informed of it, so why would the old and doddery Bale be?
And that meant that Bale felt intimidated by the dean's power. He would never choose an escape route that would attract the president's attention. Just because Herrera couldn't detect any trace of Bale's magic, that didn't mean that the Dean who was a Level-7 Magician couldn't. That ruled out the possibility that Bale used magic to escape from the East Cove Magic Academy.
"Bale must now be in a carriage on the King's Lane, we must chase him," said Link.
For a moment, Herrera was stunned. Not because she was confused by Link's statement - she was smart enough to follow Link's reasoning - but his words just now had pointed out what should've been obvious to her. It was as if he had roused her from a stupor she was in as she was shaken from witnessing Bale's magic recently.
"Of course, I get it now," said Herrera, "Yes, let's go."
Time was of the essence, so they departed straight away without asking anyone else for help.
In fact, there was no need to get anyone's help as the two were powerful enough to go against Bale. When two Magicians teamed up against one in a battle, they would be at a huge advantage, especially with Link on their side. Although Link wasn't a high-level Magician yet, his spellcasting was still lightning fast and that came very much in handy when in battle against another Magician.
Speedy spellcasting was the most crucial skill in magic battles. It didn't matter how many powerful and impressive spells you knew, if the opponent could attack you with the speed of machine guns, you would lose anyway.
Link was confident that as long as they could catch up with Bale, they could easily defeat him!
Link and Herrera were now walking on the path that connected the Mage Towers of the academy. Because it was three o'clock in the afternoon, most Magicians and their apprentices were busy working in their respective towers, so there was basically no one on the path at all.
They were most likely going to engage in a battle once they've tracked Bale down, so Herrera realized that the cumbersome dress she was wearing was not fit for the task. She suddenly stopped in a remote corner and said, "Give me a minute."
Link was puzzled for a moment and didn't know what was going on.
Herrera didn't explain either, all she did was cast a Level-2 camouflage spell, Shadow Screen, and then a milky mist shrouded her and formed an opaque screen around the remote corner. Link was within the screen as well.
Then, the Magician's robe on Herrera's body came to life and slid right off of Herrera's bod. She was then naked, without a stitch of clothes on her body, right in front of Link, and she acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world!
Link stole a glance before he could stop himself and his heart was pounding hard in his chest as he saw the Herrera's ethereal body. Her fair and flawless skin seemed to glow from within and her figure was even more enticing than Lucy's - especially those long and slender legs. She was already 35 years old, but time had not left its mark on her. All in all, her body seemed to have struck the golden ratio.
"Whoa!" Link quickly averted his eyes and turned beet red, "Herrera, you should've warned me in advance!"
By now there was a dark blue soft material wounding around Herrera's body. It then quickly wrapped her body and eventually formed a battle attire, complete with armor.
The fabric glimmered in a light blue aura, and each metal plate of the armor was made of a much stronger metal than Mithril - Thorium. Moreover, magic runes covered the whole attire. One would see at a glance that it is an unusually powerful magic gear.
Herrera was at first somewhat confused by Link's remarks, but after a while there was a look of guilt on her face.
"My apologies," said Herrera, "In the Glorious Kingdom there is no gender distinction between the Angels of Light. I forgot how it was different with humans."
Link wanted to say he didn't mind it at all, but he realized that from now on Herrera was probably not going to make the same mistake of getting naked in front of Link again. He slightly regretted reminded her earlier.
After putting on the battle attire, Herrera quickly wrote a letter that briefly summarized the situation regarding Bale and then cast the spell Cheetah's Agility on Link and herself.
It was a Level-2 upgrade of the Level-1 spell Cat's Agility. In addition to greatly enhancing agility, the spell also provided an additional boost of strength, just like the beast it was named after.
After being cast with the spell, their speed suddenly shot up significantly and only three minutes later they were already out of the East Cove Magic Academy.
Once they were at the gates, Link rushed to the small cabin where Vincent was.
"Was there a carriage leaving the academy recently?" asked Link.
"There was one," answered Vincent, obviously confused by Link's urgent tone. He kept staring quizzically at both Herrera and Link.
"It was heading east."
"East?" Link was surprised. The east was where the capital city of the Norton kingdom was. But what was Bale thinking going to Springs City?
"Let's go," said Herrera, "We must catch up with him."
Link nodded, and pointed his wand to the ground, then under Vincent's stupefied gaze he whispered, "Wind Fenrir!"
In a blink of an eye, the Level-3 Wind Fenrir appeared at Vincent's door. The Level-2 Magician Vincent was so flabbergasted his eyeballs almost fell out of their sockets.
What's going on? Vincent couldn't help wondering. Isn't he just a Magician's Apprentice? Isn't he a talentless weakling with no future? How is it possible for him to cast a Level-3 spell?
Vincent had always been putting on airs around Link, but this time, his was so impressed with him his jaw almost hit the ground.
Link ignored the gatekeeper's searching gaze and ordered the Wind Fenrir to crouch down. He then turned to Herrera and said, "Ladies first."
Herrera was extraordinary nimble because of Cheetah's Agility. With swift movements, she handed her letter to Vincent.
"Remember, hand this letter to the dean!" said Herrera.
The letter was just a precaution in case they failed to track down Bale or if something unexpected happened to them. The academy would then have some clues on how to find them.
"Ah, yes, yes...I will." Herrera's orders finally roused Vincent back from his daze.
Herrera then jumped onto the Wind Fenrir and Link followed her, sitting behind Herrera. Link telepathically controlled the magical beast. In a swift movement, the Wind Fenrir got up and rushed out at a terrifying speed.
Link and Herrera had to hold on to each other tightly to stay on the beast. It would've seemed like an intimate position in normal circumstances, but Link of course had no indecent thoughts in his head, as it was filled with thoughts about Bale instead.
Bale must know that there are so many powerful people in Springs City who could easily hunt him down - even the dean is there. Bale might as well just surrender himself if he was to flee there. If I was him, would I choose to hide in Springs City? Link contemplated.
And the answer was absolutely not. If Link was on the run, he would head to the Free Trade Confederation in the South instead, for there were many countries there and each country had their own laws that could not interfere with each other. Although the countries of the confederation were independent, they could also be chaotic - and that made the place ideal as a hideout. Bale would not have any problem taking cover there.
Still, they couldn't rely on Vincent's statement alone to determine Bale's whereabouts.
"Magic Trails!" Herrera cast a powerful tracking spell.
Effects: Detects traces of magic in the environment. It is capable of discerning even the most minuscule remnant of magic.
After the spell was cast, the road ahead of them lit up, and the band of light appeared along the King's Lane, stretching all the way into the distance.
Herrera was overjoyed to see the band of light.
"Great, so Bale didn't use concealing spells to hide his own magic trace!"
This trail was, after all, the Mana that his body emitted.
Link controlled the Wind Fenrir to follow the light trail all the way, and after about 20 minutes, the road forked into two. There were signs on each of the forked paths - the one on the right read Springs City, and the one on the left read Mist Basin.
Curiously enough, the magic trail wasn't heading towards Springs City, but went straight to the North towards Mist Basin instead.
Link wasn't surprised. This made complete sense based on the information they had so far. What he didn't expect was how surprised Herrera was.
"What's going on?" she remarked, "Is Bale connected to the Dark Trails in Girvent Forest?"
Herrera had been investigating the dark trails in the Girvent Forest for some time now. She even asked for Link's help more than half a month ago. Her inspection had yielded results recently. She had found that the Dark Trails were most concentrated in the north of the forest - where the Mist Basin was.
Soon after Herrera finished her sentence, a notification popped up.
Bale had fled the academy.
Completed mission: Expose.
Player rewarded with 40 Omni Points.
New Mission Activated: The Mysterious Mist Basin.
Mission Details: Investigate the Dark Trails in the basin and search for the missing Bale.
Mission Rewards: 60 Omni Points.
Good grief, it was obvious just by reading the notification how perilous this mission would be. The biggest threat lay in the environment of the basin itself.
Link had great confidence in himself if he was to face an opponent head-on. But the basin was dense with vegetation and the thick white fog would greatly reduce his vision - this created the ideal condition for an ambush. Bale would most probably not confront them directly. What's more, it's possible that he had accomplices hiding with him there. To fight against a Level-6 Master Magician in this condition, when everything was working Bale's favor was truly a deadly mission.
If they rushed into it without any plans, there's a good chance that they would be charging head on to their certain deaths.
Even though Link now had 100 Omni Points and even had the Domingo crystal with him, he was still hesitant in accepting this mission. At least not for now, when he had no support except Herrera.
But then, something unexpected happened.
"Let's pursue him! I can sense that something big is lurking under the surface here. We must not let Bale escape!" said Herrera, with no hesitation at all.
"Wait, shouldn't we go back and get more people to help us?" said Link, so surprised that the Wind Fenrir came to a standstill.
"No, we're running out of time. This is the only chance we have to seize Bale. We must at least go there and scan the place and gauge the situation. The moment we sense anything disconcerting, we'll retreat immediately."
Herrera was well aware of the danger, and she made her decision having taken it into account.
Link considered it for a while, and finally nodded.
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