Link took out the letter and examined the crude map drawn on it. At a glance Link realized that he was very familiar with all the landmarks in it. After closer inspection, it turned out that the map was of the area around Scorched Ridge.
There was a red line on the map that extended southeast from the Scorched Ridge and ended at a place called Shark Bay, where on the map a line of words was written.
I can help you transform the climate in the Ferde Wilderness, but you must come alone. Are you brave enough?
Link couldn't help but smile cynically as he read those words.
Hmmm...Is this a trick to trap me or is it someone who can't be seen? Link wondered.
The person who'd sent him this map had used an intricate Malfoy runic lock, which meant that the sender was a Magician and judging by the quality of the runes and the level of the spell used, probably a Level-5 or higher Magician at that.
Such a Magician wouldn't waste his time pulling a prank on Link.
Besides, Shark Bay wasn't that far from Scorched Ridge anyway, only about 5 miles on the road, so Link decided he would go there and see what was up.
There was a possibility that he might encounter some dangers there, of course. But he had mastered the spell Dimensional Jump and still had two more chances to use the power of the Prophetic White Stone, he even had 200 Omni Points now, so even if someone had set up a trap and ambushed him, he was confident that no one in this world could kill him easily.
Another possibility was finding someone who really could transform the climate of Ferde Wilderness. Achieving that would mean that a huge chunk of problem Link was facing now would be solved!
With this in mind, Link thought there really was no reason for him not to go and find this mysterious person at all.
It was midday at the time, and the weather was pleasant. Link greeted his clerk Joshua then promptly left the campgrounds alone.
Once he was outside the camp, Link summoned the Fenrir Wolf and almost flew straight to Shark Bay. With the speed of the Fenrir Wolf, he covered the distance of five miles in only about six minutes.
As he approached Shark Bay, a cliff emerged into view. Link hopped down from the Fenrir Wolf and ran up to it. He discovered a ring-shaped beach around the cliff, but there was no one there save for a few seagulls.
Link walked along the cliff but still couldn't find anyone there. Just as he was starting to get suspicious, he sensed a Mana fluctuation. He quickly turned around and noticed an almost transparent figure emerging from a crack in the cliff stone.
Link understood why this mysterious figure had wanted him to come alone the moment he saw him. Had any normal folk caught a glimpse of this figure, they would've been frightened to death by the figure's appearance.
This figure was a Lich, a pure Lich, whose body was now completely skeletons without an ounce of flesh on it. The bones looked strangely beautiful, though, just like jade stones. In his eye sockets, there were bluish flames from which extraordinary spiritual energy and Mana emanated. From this Link could gauge that he must be at least at Level-7 and was as strong and powerful as Anthony, the dean of the East Cove Academy.
This strength wasn't enough to intimidate Link, of course. He calmly canceled the Wind Fenrir and walked towards the Lich.
"May I know your name?" asked Link when he was about thirty feet away from the Lich.
Lichs were creatures of darkness, most of them were evil in nature and regarded other lives as their own playthings. Still, Link sensed something special from this Lich. The dark energy he sensed from him was, in fact, pure and serene, just like the tranquility of midnight, and there was not a hint of evil in him at all, completely unlike the aura he sensed from the Necromancer Shade and Bale who had transformed into a Lich previously. Hence, Link decided to stay his hand and approached the Lich.
"I'm Vance," answered the Lich.
"Huh?" Link thought he had heard of the name somewhere before. He tried to recall it carefully; then something jumped out in his memory. "Are you the person who founded the studies of Battle Aura?"
Was that possible? According to the historical record, the Lich would have to be about a thousand years old to be the founder of Battle Aura studies! Yet this Lich was only a Level-7 Magician, so how could it be possible for him to live so long?
Even Legendary-level figures couldn't live this long. The king of underground organization Morpheus himself was less than 500 years old, and he was always making sacrifices to the demon god. Why? Because he knew that he would soon expire!
To Link's surprise, Vance nodded.
"I didn't expect you to know me," said the Lich. "What an honor. You must be wondering how I manage to live this long. I'm afraid I can't explain it to you in detail right here, and now, all I can say is that I made a deal with a demon god in the Sea of Void after committing a deplorable sin and was locked up inside the Azura Tower for the last 400 years.
Demon god was the collective name of low-level gods of darkness, they were usually low-level Demi-Gods, and there were hordes and hordes of them. There were at least a hundred different real names of these demon gods that were known in the dark corners of Firuman. As long as one knew one real name of these demon gods one could summon them through a special ritual and make a deal with them.
These deals were usually sinister and bloody in nature, which meant that Vance's past wasn't as clean as his calm aura might suggest.
This was no surprise to Link, though. History had recorded how Vance had tried to study Battle Art and Battle Aura by conducting horrific experiments on live Warriors. He might have been the founder of Battle Art studies, but that didn't necessarily mean that the method he used to achieve it was acceptable. According to legends he mysteriously disappeared without a trace in the end. Now Link knew that he had actually made a deal with a demon god and transformed into a Lich.
To put it simply, Vance was a mad genius who had committed some questionable deeds but wasn't purely evil in nature.
Link didn't mind such a figure, although he was still hesitant to associate himself with him. Still, the Lich had promised to help solve an urgent problem for him in the letter, and he didn't want to turn him down before at least getting to know him first. After a few seconds of silent contemplation, Link decided not to waste any time beating around the bush here.
"Did you say you can solve the climate problem for me?" Link asked.
Vance chuckled in a hoarse voice when he heard Link.
"I met an interesting young woman in Girvent Forest after escaping from the Azura Tower," said Vance. "She told me that you are an open-minded young mind who wouldn't turn me out the moment you see me, that's why I decided to come here. Apparently, she was right about you."
"Is that woman called Eleanor?" Link asked. He was considerably alarmed by this revelation. "You didn't hurt her, did you?" Eleanor had been a good friend to him and had helped him a great deal many times before. Link didn't want any harm to ever come to her.
Vance shook his head in reply.
"Am I such an evil person in your eyes?" he asked Link. "No, you've misjudged me. All I ever desired was to learn the truth. Yes, I may have used barbaric techniques to achieve my goals, but wasn't it all worth it in the end?"
Link was relieved to hear that Eleanor was fine. That was all that mattered to him. He didn't care to trouble himself with this old Lich's past mistakes.
"What do I have to do in return for your help?" Link asked.
"You are a smart one indeed," said Vance with a laugh. "That made it so much easier. Well, to begin with, I've just regained my freedom not too long ago, so I don't have any wand with me at all. Neither do I have access to any materials to create one..."
It seemed the Lich had seen one of Link's magic gear and realized that this was one of his fortes.
"That won't be a problem," said Link. "I'll create one for you as soon as possible, and I promise you it will be just as good as my own." Creating wand wasn't that big a deal for Link anyway.
"And then," the Lich continued, "I must first reclaim my underground palace, but that is not something I could ever achieve alone. I need some help."
"Your underground palace?" asked Link suspiciously. "What happened to it?" Link was beginning to think that the Lich was demanding too much out of him.
"I had been imprisoned for 400 years. At first, I thought the world outside was too noisy and complicated, so I decided to just stay inside the Azura Tower forever. But since I'm out now, I have no choice but to find a place to go. I had once built an underground palace, so I made up my mind to go back there. I discovered, however, that it had been taken over by a group of Necromancers. Their leader is a terrifying Level-6 swordsman Necromancer, and all his underlings are tough as they had mastered the Battle Art that I had developed a long time ago. This Necromancer swordsman even had the control of the magic seal in my underground palace. In short, I could never defeat them alone."
"But a wand is already worth 20,000 gold coins," said Link plainly. "And you still want me to help you reclaim your underground palace. Don't you think you're asking too much of me?"
Link had achieved some reputation for himself by now. He was sure that even without this Lich's help he would be able to find another way to solve the climate problem anyway. He could go to the Isle of Dawn, for example, and find help there. The High Elves were renowned for being powerful Magicians, after all, so Link was sure that he would find someone there who could help him.
Vance chuckled and rubbed his bony palms together, making a clunk noise as he did so.
"I may have asked too much," said the Lich, "but once my underground palace is reclaimed, there would be rewards for you. There weren't many gold coins there, but there are many magical materials and seven types of Epic-level Battle Art scrolls. I've been storing them there for all these years, yet I have no use for them, so if you want, you may choose any of the Battle Art scrolls that you like, or you could just take them all. As for the magical materials, we can divide them equally between us! By the way, this solution I have for your climate problem is in a book I kept in my underground palace, so I must go back there to get it."
As he heard this, Link's interest was suddenly piqued. Vance was the founder of Battle Art studies after all, so there was a high chance that he was telling the truth. The seven Epic-level Battle Art scrolls would be of little value to a thousand-year-old Lich like Vance, but to Link, these items would have inestimable value in helping him develop the strength of his troop!
"If what you said is true," said Link after having weighed the matter for a while, "then we couldn't possibly defeat them alone. I must find another helper.
An underground palace would be nothing like the outside world. The terrain and interior would be complex and labyrinthine which would hamper his ability to fully exert his magic power. Furthermore, the opponent would be a skilled swordsman who was familiar with the terrain and had developed considerable strength while being backed up by numerous tough underlings. This wouldn't be an easy battle to win.
The best helper, in this case, would be a strong fighter who wouldn't be disturbed by the presence of the ghoulish Lich and smart enough to think on his feet.
After much deliberation, Link thought the best person he could find to help them here was Celine, the demon princess. Not only was she a mighty Magician, but she was also experienced in martial skills which would come in handy.
"I don't have any problem with that," said Vance. "But how long would you need to find this helper?"
"I'm not quite sure," answered Link. "She's in the south at the moment, but I'll try to summon her. If I get no response, then I might need to go down there and find her myself. My estimate would be about a month."
"That's fine," said the Lich. "I wish you luck in finding her. Oh, by the way, do you happen to have any spare wand that I could use while I'm waiting for the new one?" Vance stretched out a hand towards Link as he spoke.
Link did have a spare wand, although it was far inferior to the main wand that he's currently using. He had created this crude wand with spare Mithril just to practice his craft, but since Vance seemed to need a wand so urgently, he took it out from his storage pendant and tossed it towards him.
Vance took the wand and tested it with a few simple spells. He seemed to be muttering something under his breath as he cast the spells and the bones of his mouth made a rattling noise as he did so.
"This is the worst wand I've used in over a thousand years," said Vance finally. "But it's better than nothing, I guess."
Link didn't take the Lich's jeering remarks to heart. He then summoned the Wind Fenrir again and turned towards the Lich.
"I'll try summoning her the moment I get back," said Link. "I hope everything goes well."
"Good," said Vance. "I'll be here in Shark Bay for a while. Oh, yes, I've been locked up for so long that I'd forgotten most of the Battle Art techniques. But I do remember one-Imperial Conqueror. It's a fire element, Battle Art. Think of it as a sign of my sincerity."
As he spoke, Vance handed Link a magic scroll.
Link opened the scroll and glanced at it for a while. He thought it was an exceptional spell, albeit with a ridiculous name.
"It's a good spell but isn't the name a bit silly?" said Link.
Vance smiled slyly in reply, and his upper and lower jaw bones clunked and rattled as he did so.
"But those simple-minded Warriors wouldn't learn it if it didn't have a name that sounds impressive!" he said.
Link made no reply and hopped onto the Wind Fenrir's back.
"I will prepare the wand for you as soon as possible," he said. Then he promptly turned the wolf around and sped back to Scorched Ridge.
Link was the only Magician in Scorched Ridge at the moment because Carrido was in River Cove Town and Eliard had gone back to East Cove Magic Academy. Hence, Link wasn't worried about anyone sensing any Mana fluctuation he might cause. Once he reached his own wooden cabin, he took out the black feather Celine had given him and cast a small fireball to burn the feather.
The feather burned quietly and slowly in a gray flame. It burned continuously for three minutes; then the flame burst into an intense brightness for a slight moment, then it puffed out and was extinguished immediately.
In the meantime, Link could not sense Celine's aura at all. This aroused an unsettling concern in his heart.
Link wasn't a rookie Magician as he used to be. He knew that the burning of the feather was a summoning process that required the receiver to reply to his summoning with their aura. Yet he hadn't sensed a trace of Celine's aura at all just now, and this worried him very much
He remembered the rumors he heard about the appearance of three high-level demons in Leo Kingdom and Link's ever-calm heart was agitated for the very first time.
Had anything bad happened to her? Link wondered. What's going on with that lovesick Wavier, could he do anything to harm Celine? Something's not right. I must go down to the south and find her!
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