173 The Demon’s First Appearance

 The weather in the Girvent Forest was nice and sunny that day and the rays of sunshine felt luxuriously warm and rejuvenating to bask in. Link was in Warter's carriage on his way to the capital as he listened to sweet birdsongs from both sides of the King's Lane. The pleasant sights and sounds outside the academy had relaxed him considerably from the anxiety he felt caused by Eleanor's urgent letter.

Link played with the wand in his hand out of boredom and soon enough his unsteady heart began to settle. He currently had two spells fixed with the Glyph of Soul and one powerful Level-6 spell, so even if he had to face a Level-6 Assassin he was confident that he could defeat him easily. Besides, they would be in Springs City and Link believed that the person who'd put panic in Eleanor's heart would be so brazen as to chase her right into the heart of the capital city.

It was quite a distance between East Cove and Springs City so after having calmed down considerably Link began to chat freely with Warter.

"Mr. Link, you wouldn't believe how popular your creations are in the capital," said Warter, wanting to strike up a conversation with Link as he noticed that Link was a bit quiet in the carriage. "Those noblemen who know nothing about magic are lining up to pay a fortune for them. They even sent their servants to wait at my door so they could be the first ones to buy your magic gear the moment I got them back to my shop."

"Are they really that popular?" asked Link with a laugh, visibly improving in his moods. "But if they didn't know magic and aren't fighters, then what do they buy my creations for?"

"To use them to woo their beloved ladies, I presume," replied Warter. "Your handcraft is as close to perfection as any ever existed. Did you know that people in the capital call you the Soaring Bird Master?"

Soaring Bird Master? Link wondered. Ah, it must've come from the signature I left on my creations. But what a vulgar name!

"Anyway, there are some customers who were genuine users of magic," continued Warter. "Some of them are Magicians, others are Warriors. They thought that although your handcraft is nothing short of exquisite, the spells are all of low levels. They would really like you to create some magic gear that was incorporated with higher-level spells. They'd be willing to pay for the materials themselves and have even given a specific price offer." Warter was the kind of person who would always come back to talking business no matter the time or occasion, as he did now when he brought up matters of business just as they were chatting casually.

Link considered it for a while and thought this was indeed a good deal.

"What price did they offer?" he asked.

"For Level-4 defensive gear such as shields and the like," began Warter earnestly, "they'd pay you 2000 gold coins for the enchantment work, not including the spending on materials. I could still haggle the price of course. Meanwhile, for attacking gear like swords and such, they'd be willing to pay 3300 gold coins...I don't think I could give you a detailed enough explanation verbally. Please give me a moment, I've prepared a list of specific orders for you."

Warter then slipped out a scroll and handed it to Link, who opened it up and was immediately startled at the list he was holding in his hands.

It was such a professionally prepared list. Not only did it distinguish the various types of equipment and weapons, but it was also neatly categorized by level and types of spells. There was even an extra charge for modifications by Supreme Magical Skills and an order for the creation of a wand.

For a Level-4 wand of fine quality modified with Supreme Magical Skills to give it an attacking boost, the price would be 5000 gold coins. If its quality was epic, the price would be increased to 8000 gold coins. Plus, Link wouldn't have to pay a single copper for the costs of materials.

What an unbelievably good deal!

Link wasn't so naive, though. After perusing the list, he turned to Warter with a laugh.

"That is a well thought out list! It's only been a month, how did you run into so many potential buyers?" With such a comprehensive list Link wouldn't believe that Warter hadn't made any extra effort in drawing in new customers himself.

Warter chuckled nervously at Link's question and came clean right away. He was only an ordinary man, after all, he wouldn't dare to lie through his teeth to a Master Magician like Link.

"I did pull some strings myself," he confessed. "I would get some benefits from these deals as well...about 100 gold coins for every order..."

100 gold coins, so that was what Warter got for making these deals for Link. It was nothing compared to what Link made from his magic gear, but it was still a massive amount of gold coins for the average merchant.

Warter didn't know that was how Link felt, though. He spoke very timidly in fear of Link's disapproval.

But he was wrong in that regard about Link. Although he was a Magician, Link wasn't completely ignorant of how businesses were run. He knew and appreciated Warter's help in doing the legwork for him in getting him such serious buyers which had saved so much of Link's energy. Link felt that Warter had earned every copper of those 100 gold coins. He also realized that their cooperation would only flourish and expand if both of them made profits from it.

"I like this plan, it's an excellent plan. We'll go with it," said Link. "You'll prepare a list just like this for me from now on, but don't take too many orders. I can only handle three per month, and no spells above Level-5."

"That is not a problem at all!" said Warter, relieved and overjoyed. "I'll prepare a list for you every month, then." Three pieces of magic gear per month, that would make him 300 gold coins richer each month! It wasn't all that much, to be frank, but this cooperation with Link would greatly expand the reputation of his merchant firm which was his aim after all. He'd already felt this benefit after only slightly more than a month of cooperation with Link.

Meanwhile, Link began to consider expanding his production scale of magic gear. He couldn't possibly do that alone, of course, so must now find a helper.

The best helper would be a Magician's Apprentice, Link mused. But right now, there's only Rylai. I wouldn't waste her talents on such a menial job, though. Besides, I don't have my own Mage Tower yet, and my collection of magic textbooks is still too small, so I wouldn't attract any gifted apprentices to be my disciple...Now that the building of my estate has started, it's time to think about building my own Mage Tower as well...

Link was now a full-fledged Level-6 Master Magician and had more than 60,000 gold coins in his pocket, so the time was ripe for him to consider building his own Mage Tower and start receiving his own Magician's Apprentices now.

After discussing business matters, Link and Warter went back to chatting casually along the way to Springs City. The topic they lingered on the most was none other than the war in the North, or rather, Warter was the one speaking while Link listened to him intently.

Warter was a well-informed merchant who kept up with the latest updates about the war in the North. He could recount the developments on the battlefields with baffling details.

"Overall, things are looking good for our side at the moment," said Warter. "It seems that our army could always accurately guess the enemy's next moves and attack them accordingly. I must say that the MI3 is doing a particularly good job, they seem to have outplayed their counterpart, the Death's Hand, by the looks of it! I'm sure we can chase the Dark Elves back under ground where they came from soon enough!"

Link listened then laughed quietly at this report. He knew that the cypher scroll he'd discovered had more or less aided in the successes of the army.

Warter, on the other hand, shone with excitement and pride of his kingdom's apparent victories. He was very optimistic in his predictions of the war's future outcomes. Link himself heartily hoped that such a situation would continue until the final and decisive victory was achieved.

Time passed quickly during the chat. Without them realizing it, several hours had passed and the massive walls of Springs City already loomed in the distance.

Even though there had been a tragedy on Jade Street not too long ago, the authorities had handled the situation very well, and everything was repaired swiftly afterwards. This, coupled with the continuing victories reported from the battlefields in the North, had helped the populace of the city recover from the shocks of the tragedy and move on with their lives.

They did more than move on, though. Link had heard people talking optimistically of the war in the North all along the way from the academy to the capital city. There was even a premature festive atmosphere in the air where people danced and celebrated the future victory of the Norton Kingdom and the seemingly assured demise of the Dark Elves.

Link looked on with slight worry at this blatant and irrational optimism of the people in Springs City. It just struck him the wrong way and made him feel more anxious at the hubris the people were showing.

Still, he had no intention to rain on their parades, so all he did was look on in silence while the town folks carried on in their merry ways.

Soon, the carriage had reached the Blue Hermit Inn of the Magician's District where he was to meet up with Eleanor. Link put on his hooded cape and covered his face with the hood, then he bid farewell to Warter and climbed out of the carriage.

Link didn't enter the inn straight away, though. He cast a detection magic and checked for any suspicious auras within the range of 300 feet around the inn. Only when he was sure that it was safe then he walked into the inn through its front entrance.

"I am looking for a lady by the name of Eleanor," he said in a low, deep voice when approached the innkeeper at the counter inside. "May I know which room she's staying in?"

The innkeeper was accustomed to people with Link's attire because that was how Magicians liked to dress anyway, so he took notice of it.

"Miss Eleanor is indeed staying here," he answered, "but I will have to ask you a question before I am allowed to tell you her room number."

The Blue Hermit Inn was famous for its strict safety protection measures for its guests. This must be the reason why Eleanor had chosen this place to stay in. Link estimated that Eleanor had instructed the innkeeper to ask him a question that Link would know the answer to.

"Go ahead," said Link.

"Which bracelet is Miss Eleanor's favorite?" asked the innkeeper.

"The Phoenix bracelet," answered Link without having to think about it.

"That is correct," said the innkeeper with a nod. "Her room number is 350, it's at the end of the corridor on the third floor. If I am not mistaken she hasn't left the room yet today."

So Link went up to the third floor and found the room with the number that the innkeeper had informed him of. Link hid behind the stone wall outside the room and reached out his hand to knock gently on the door, just in case someone inside might attack him as he was standing there waiting to be let in. The possibility that this might actually happen was slim, but someone who was able to terrify a Level-6 Magician like Eleanor must be formidable indeed, so it wouldn't hurt to take every precaution he possibly could.

"Who is it?!" said a familiar voice from the inside of the room. It was definitely Eleanor.

"It's me, Link," he answered. "Are you safe now?"

The moment his last word was uttered, the door opened with a click. Eleanor emerged from behind the door, her face was a picture of terror and trepidation at first, but once she discovered that Link really was there she calmed down gradually.

"Oh, thank the Lord of Light!" she exclaimed. "You're finally here! Come in!"

Link nodded and followed Eleanor into the room. He was still on full guard, though.

"What happened exactly?" he asked the moment they settled down in the sitting room.

"I was hunted down by a horrifying black shadow," answered Eleanor, still slightly trembling in fear as she talked about it. "If it hadn't been for the Phoenix bracelet, I would've died in the middle of the Girvent Forest. That's why I'm taking refuge here in the capital city. I don't think that...thing...would dare to follow me into Springs City."

Eleanor's expressions as she recounted her experience made Link feel the fear she still felt even right now of the opponent she had faced in the Girvent Forest.

"Tell me more details about what happened," said Link.

"Sure," nodded Eleanor. "The last time we parted ways, I went into the Girvent Forest and stayed there. Nothing happened for a while until about a month ago, when suddenly I sensed the presence of a strange soul. I was curious, so I followed the scent until I found it. I saw that soul enter the body of a dead young woman, bringing her back to life! I've never seen this kind of magic before and I didn't know how it happened, so I kept following her to find out. On the third day, I saw that reborn young woman meeting secretly with a black shadow. The shadow thing was very perceptive, the moment I made a slight noise it instantly detected my presence and hunted me down. None of my magic had any effect on it, so I persisted until it let its guard down a little and attacked it with the Flame Blast in the Phoenix bracelet. That worked on it alright! It was almost blown off into the distance! I think it was quite seriously injured, so I quickly ran here to escape from it. I could still feel, though, that it was still lurking somewhere in the darkness waiting for me. I'm sure that the moment I leave this city I will be toast!"

"You mean it could resist your spells?" asked Link in surprise. "What did you mean by a black shadow? You referred to it by the word 'it', does that mean that you don't think it's human?"

"It was definitely not human," answered Eleanor. "I don't know what it was, but it had red eyes and a black knife-like protrusion on its arm - my head was nearly cut off by that thing!"

As she spoke, Eleanor lifted her chin to show the cut wound that mysterious ghoul had left on her skin. Link examined it and saw a very deep cut with a very strange bloodstain surrounded by black web-like scars around it. It was a truly ghastly sight.

Eleanor seemed to be in pain just by this slight movement of raising her chin as her tears began to roll soon after Link examined it. Eleanor didn't understand why but she had become so fragile in front of Link and was ashamed of herself for crying over such a small matter.

"The wound hurts really bad, and it's full of dark elements," she said. "The elements seem to be alive in its own way. I should probably go to the priests and let them have a look at it, but you know that would cause some problems because of who I am. I've tried washing it with holy water but the wound hasn't recovered one bit in three days-it's even gotten worse instead."

Link started to examine the wound even more closely now with a detection spell. Under the light of the spell, Link could clearly see the dark auras emanating from the wound. It seemed to have felt threatened by Link's spell and recoiled even deeper into Eleanor's skin. This made Eleanor shriek loudly in pain.

The pain must really be unbearable to cause this powerful Master Magician to cry out in such a manner. In Link's mind, there was only one thing that could cause Eleanor such harm.

"I'm afraid you've been attacked by a demon," said Link as he sat down. "Not just any demon, though, but a pureblood demon from the abyss."

"What?!" screeched Eleanor in utter shock. "But aren't demon creatures of a different realm of existence?" Eleanor's face was completely drained of color now.