Springs City, the royal capital of the Norton kingdom, was a city that had suffered countless wars and attacks, yet it had never failed to recover from them. It had become, as it was now, a city teeming with the hustle and bustle of life.
Facing the ongoing threats of barbarous tribes from the North, the city's walls were built to be both imposing and intimidating to ward off possible invasions. It was at least 160 feet tall, and its gate was 70 feet wide and 140 feet tall. As the carriage entered the city through the gate, Link felt as if he were a tiny ant crawling under a colossal giant's foot.
"Tutor, look!" exclaimed Rylai. "Isn't that a dwarf?"
As the capital city of the kingdom, Springs City was naturally a place where countless walks of life crossed paths. Apart from humans, all other races of the Firuman continent - the dwarves, the elves, the goblins and so on - roamed the streets here.
Rylai had followed her father around different cities in the South when she was a child, but at the time they lived a life that was always on the verge of danger. They were too busy being cautious that all Rylai could do was catch a hurried glimpse of the sights around her. But now that she knew that her life was in no danger at all, she seemed to have gotten past her grief for the death of her family and her personality started to bloom into a vivacious girl. She was eager to learn and was open to the new sights and sounds around her. Indeed, her presence had lightened up the atmosphere in the carriage and made their journey much livelier.
As they entered the city gates, the carriage headed straight to the Magician's District in the southern part of Springs City.
The Magician's District wasn't actually a place exclusively reserved for Magicians. In fact, there were as many ordinary city-dwellers there as there were in other parts of the metropolis. The only reason why it was named so was that any Magician visiting the capital would flock there; it was where all the shops selling anything related to magic was situated. Naturally, the Magician's Fair was held there as well.
The journey felt brief to all four people in the carriage because Rylai had kept the journey interesting as she had been pointing and asking questions all along the way. And thus, in what felt like no time at all, they'd reached the Magician's District and were now entering the best inn in the area - the Blue Hermit Inn.
The inn was already overcrowded when they arrived and most of the inn's guests were Magicians who were here to participate in the Magician's Fair just like them. Luckily, they had the East Cove Magic Academy's reputation to thank, as the inn had reserved a number of rooms especially for Magicians from the academy each year around the time when the Magician's Fair was held. Because of that, Herrera managed to get them two rooms, one for her and Rylai and the other one for Link and Eliard.
When they'd all settled down, it was already around five in the afternoon, so they decided to have an early dinner. After being excited for the whole day, Rylai was now exhausted and she kept yawning after the meal, so Herrera lead her to the room so she could get some rest. The industrious Eliard excused himself to the room as well so he could get back to studying. In the end, Link was left alone in the main hall of the inn.
He didn't feel tired enough to rest yet, nor did he felt like reading, so he ordered a glass of wine and sat in a remote corner of the hall looking around, observing the Magicians who came in and out of the inn.
There were Magicians who traveled alone, some were with companions, while some had come with their disciples. There were even some drifting Magicians who were here to try their luck in making a name for themselves. Link even recognized some of the Magicians in the hall - they were from the East Cove Magic Academy. Even so, he'd never talked to them and didn't even know their names, so all Link did was nod to them politely and stayed where he was without making any attempts to approach them.
Learning magic consumed most of a Magician's time anyway. Unless they were staying in the same Mage Tower, the Magicians were usually unacquainted even if they were from the same academy.
Then, a Magician dressed in a gray Magician's robe walked in. He was also donning a wide-brimmed pointy hat and had a long gray beard. The moment he stepped into the hall, everyone turned momentarily silent, then hushed murmurs began to fill the hall.
"Look," someone whispered, "it's the Wand Master Hermira."
"I never thought I'd see him here!" someone else exclaimed. "His wands are simply works of art!"
"Oooh, maybe he's going to unveil his latest masterpiece at the fair!"
Link's interest was piqued at the mention of this name and his head immediately turned to the figure in question. Master Hermira was of course the maestro of enchantment. In fact, the first wand he'd used when he first arrived in this world - the New Moon wand - was one of the master wandmaker's earliest creations!
Master Hermira was only a Level-4 Magician, yet most renowned pieces of low and mid-level magic gear in the game were his creations. Even Link's first Epic quality wand in the game which he acquired when he reached Level-4 was made by the old man. He was quite fond of the wand and he had used it up until he reached Level-4, so Master Hermira had left a deep impression on Link.
Three minutes after Hermira's arrival, a middle-aged man with ink-blue hair and a well-built body appeared, triggering a wave of excitement among the crowd in the inn hall.
"That's Morrigan!" someone pointed out. "He's the renowned adventurer!"
"Oooh," someone else chimed in, "I wonder what he's brought back this time!"
This Morrigan was evidently a crowd favorite. Many men approached him and struck up conversations with him and he greeted them all with a warm and friendly smile on his face.
Link was familiar with Morrigan too. This man was a Level-3 Magician. He might look unremarkable outwardly, yet, he was in fact a bold and courageous man whose reputation lied in his adventures to the remote parts of the continent. He was known by his many nicknames, among which the best one was probably the King of Explorers. His other ones were the Relic Hunter, the Excavator and some people had even called him the Grave Robber.
To his credit though, Morrigan had indeed been to all corners of the Firuman. He'd left his footprints on most of the monuments and ancient sites on the continent. In fact, you could accurately describe the man as a walking and talking map.
Link took another sip of his wine. He felt the Magician's Fair was definitely going to be interesting this year.
The ripple of excitement caused by Morrigan calmed down gradually and the atmosphere in the hall began to return to normal. Just then, a woman turned up at the entrance. Even in the distance Link could tell that her skin shone like crystal and her eyes sparkled as if they were lit by the moonlight. She was clad in a simple black dress, yet there was something about it that made it look luxurious and elegant despite its modest style.
All eyes were now fixed on the woman. No one knew her name, though, and the hall was dead silent.
Link was also observing the enigmatic woman in the corner of the hall. At first glance, he thought the woman looked beautiful and charismatic, yet the more he looked at her the more his eyebrows began to knit.
He sensed something uncanny about the woman. He could feel that she was concealing her true powers, yet even so, Link could nonetheless sense that she possessed a powerful soul. She was probably even more powerful than a saint or an angel. But what was even more menacing was the hint of dark aura that seemed to shroud the woman's body.
The dark aura was almost pulsating - at times it was intense, yet sometimes it was hardly there. Somehow this abnormality sent a chill down Link's spine and it even made his skin feel numb.
It was clearly a red flag!
He'd encountered some imposing figures before - the Dark Elf genius Felidia, the Dark Elf General Lund, Occult Viktor - yet none of them had ever elicited such a strong reaction from him. His head was then filled with a whirl of questions.
Who is this woman? There's a dark and powerful aura coming from her. The strength of her Mana is on par with that of Level-6 Magician! But she looks too young to be a Level-6 Magician!
Link ran through his memory of the game in his past life but found no one matching the woman's characters. Perhaps she's under disguise, he thought. He dared not catch her attention, so he quickly diverted his eyes away from her and stared at his cup of wine instead.
Then, susurrus whispers filled the entire hall.
"Who is she?" asked a man in the hall.
"Has anyone seen her before?" said another.
"She's no ordinary woman, that's for sure." Those words came from Morrigan himself. It seemed as if he sensed something dangerous in the woman as he quickly averted his eyes away from her the moment he caught a glimpse of her.
"I've never met a woman with such an enchanting air about her in my life!" someone else exclaimed.
The woman in black didn't seem to mind the gazes she attracted all around her at all as she walked gracefully into the inn hall. She wore a radiant smile on her face, so sweet and beguiling that it made her lips look like a blooming rose. Men around her couldn't help but gulp and gasp at such an alluring sight in front of them. Most of them were hardly able to rein in the surge of desire building up inside them.
Not all men had the same reaction, though.
The explorer Morrigan was initially chatting and drinking with his friends at the bar, but the moment the woman appeared, his manner changed. He flinched and shrank away from her, then downed his drink in one gulp and slunk away into the furthest corner of the hall. Then, without a word to anyone, he rushed quietly out of the room.
He went past Link as he slipped out of the inn hall, so Link stood up and quietly followed him. Though he did find the woman suspicious, he was even more intrigued by Morrigan's reaction to her.
Once they were about thirty feet away from the inn, the explorer suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and turned around to face Link.
"Who are you?" he barked. "Why are you following me?"
Link turned his gaze back to the inn, revealing a hint of dread in his expressions as he did so.
"I just found it odd," said Link, "how such a bold man like you would be afraid of that woman in black."
Morrigan's face turned pale the moment he heard Link's words. He glanced furtively left and right to make sure no one was spying on them before he made his reply.
"I don't know who or what that woman is," said Morrigan in a hushed voice, "but I know that I could sense an icy and sinister aura emanating from her body. I've sensed this aura before in the ancient ruins in my travels. A word to the wise, kid - stay away from her!"
As he finished his sentence, Morrigan hurriedly turned away and fled. Judging from the direction he was heading to, Link could see that he was leaving the Magician's District right away.
Morrigan's actions had unnerved Link so he decided to promptly return to the inn, where he found that the woman in black was no longer in the main hall. From what he heard of the crowd's conversations, Link guessed that she must've gone to one of the rooms in the inn.
Link had no idea why, but he suddenly felt an ominous sense of danger looming over him. He then rushed to the third floor to find Herrera and Eliard. He had to warn them about this mysterious and possibly dangerous figure who'd just turned up at the inn. If things didn't seem right, they might even need to leave this place as soon as possible.
But just as he reached the second floor, Link caught a sight of a dark figure in the corner of his eye. He turned his head slowly towards the direction and had the shock of his life when he realized that it was the very same woman in black right there in front of him.
She was standing in the dark corner quietly watching Link. The beguiling face Link saw earlier had now become expressionless, and her almond-shaped eyes were now staring straight at Link, as cold and piercing as needles.
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