Anfey, since he did not know what to do with it, picked up the young unicorn. He handed it to Christian and told him to retrieve the girls’ clothes. Then he said down by the mouth of the cave and began thinking.
A few days ago, he was able to defeat Shally with a small fireball, and officially became the second worst mage on the team. Even though the magical surges in the fight were very weak, Anfey’s power had shocked his companions. Christian even said that Anfey could be a genius with his elemental powers.
Elemental power sounded like an amazing power, but in truth it really wasn’t a useful power. There wasn't anyone in history who managed to achieve great things solely relying on elemental power. There was a famous hero that had the power, but the most he could do was to summon a fire element and use it to form a sword. Of course, he wasn’t a hero because he could summon the sword or use it to defeat anyone. It was because he sacrificed himself for mankind and became a spy for the humans among the magic beasts. He slowly gained their trust and even became a leader among them. In the end, he led an elite group of magic beasts into an ambush laid by humans.
Initially Anfey was overjoyed when he heard Christian’s compliments, but after a thorough explanation, he was disappointed. He had mostly forgotten about it, but he had lost his longsword in the fight earlier that day, and the manticore’s sting was still an unfamiliar weapon. He was unarmed at that moment, and had only then remembered the story about the fire sword.
They had kept some spare swords in the storage room in the cave, but they had found those swords on the ship, and Anfey did not trust their quality.
Anfey thought perhaps he could learn to master the skills of making a fire sword. He also wanted to learn more about this ability. If he could make a sword out of it, he could probably figure out how to make other things as well.
A small ball of fire appeared, hovering over his hand, and tumbled in midair according to his will. Like always, he only felt warmth and obedience, and was not at all threatened.
Theoretically speaking, magic would become harmful as soon as it was released. It was not intelligent and couldn’t distinguish between friend and foe. There were many records of magic hurting the wrong side, or harming the person that had initially released it. On the contrary, people like Anfey, who could use magic freely, were rare.
Under his control, the fireball bounced up and down slowly in front of him. He then took a deep breath and conjured another ball of flame. Slowly, Anfey felt himself getting more accustomed to controlling the fire. He merged the two fireballs and carefully observed it.
After the two fireballs merged, its color became brighter and the size increased. After a few minutes with no strange activity, Anfey merged the bigger one with three other smaller fireballs.
The five fireballs together became a magical presence slightly smaller than a large fireball. The fireball hovered a few inches over Anfey’s palm, and when he probed the power, he felt nothing but warmth and obedience.
Anfey used all of his power to control the fireball. He tried to pull on the fireball, and managed to stretch it. This took up most of his time and energy, since he still needed to work on his mental strength. Oftentimes he would forget about one thing while working on another. This caused the fireball to twist and change shapes like a tree in a strong wind. After what seemed like forever, Anfey’s forehead was covered in sweat and a stick about two foot long appeared in his hands.
Anfey had initially wanted a sword and was disappointed it was only a stick. He looked at his hands and felt no burning sensation or pain. The fire from the stick brushed his sleeves but did not damage them.
He probed a nearby bush with it, and saw the leaves curl up and blacken under the moonlight. Then with a small spark, the bush began to emit smoke.
Anfey thought about it and touched the tip of the stick to his own shirt. The shirt was undamaged. He felt that the element was purposefully protecting him. He decided to change the course of its action and directed its aggression towards something else. He touched his shirt again and it burst into flame.
He hurriedly put out the fire and realized that the fire’s power purely depended on his commands. If he wanted it to attack, it would.
For normal people, it would be very hard to control their own minds. For example, sometimes the more one wants to forget, the harder it is to do so. When someone focuses their mind on one thing, it would only take minutes for their minds to go to other places. Hearts of men were like wild animals. They were hard to tame and control. Just like there are many ways to take a wild beast, people invented many ways to control their own minds. For someone like Anfey, controlling his mind was not hard work.
If a normal person saw their shirt on fire, they could freak out and imagine what might happen if the fire harmed them. Then perhaps the fire would really injure them. Imagining the fire harming themselves would be a hint that the fire could harm them. However, once a man could control his own mind, the fire would be warm and obedient.
Anfey walked over to a tree and slashed the stick towards its trunk. The stick dissolved into thousands of tiny pieces and disappeared into the night, leaving no more than a small burn mark on the tree.
Anfey was shocked by the fragility of the stick. Christian had told him that the hero could fight with his fire sword. Logically speaking, it shouldn’t be so weak that it couldn’t even cut a tree. What did he do wrong?
Anfey sat down on a patch of grass and began going over the steps he took to form that stick. Then he began meditating in order to replenish his magic. Even though he was slowly working towards becoming a mage, he wasn’t even an apprentice yet, and the small fireballs were all it took to drain him of his magic.
He went through several rounds of meditation and experimentation, looking for an answer. Once he even used eight fireballs at the same time, but it was no stronger than five, and had shattered against the tree.
The moon was high in the sky, and it was almost time for them to move on. Anfey stopped his experimentation. His work tonight pushed him a step closer to becoming a mage, but he wasn’t satisfied and felt slightly defeated.
"Did you not sleep?" Feller, who was the vigil that night, asked as Anfey walked into the cave, exhausted.
"Not tired," Anfey said, shaking his head. "Feller, fetch me Suzanna and a sword from the storage room."
"Alright," Feller said. He disappeared into one of the rooms in the back of the cave.
Anfey approached Christian. He tapped Christian on the shoulder and patted Riska. The two sat up, rubbing their eyes.
"Yes," Anfey said. "Christian, I’ll take Riska and Suzanna first. Bring everyone else with you later. We will leave marks on the way. If you run into orcs, try not to tangle with them and find us first."
"Alright," Christian said. "Anfey, why don't you bring Sante and Zubin as well? It’s too dangerous with just you three."
"We’re just scouting. If we get into trouble, it’s easier with less people."
"If you say so."
"Be careful yourselves, alright?"
"You as well."
The hours before dawn were always the darkest, and the quietest in the forest. Both the nocturnal creatures and the diurnal creatures would slumber during this time.
A lone squirrel with a long, fiery red tail, poked its head out of a small hole in the ground. It stared at the east as if it was a zealot staring at his god, waiting for the sun to rise. A few large bats flew over the trees, and the squirrel hurriedly returned to its hiding place. The bats, however, didn’t seemed to pay the squirrel any heed. They needed to return to their nests before the sun came up.
There were many different animals inhabiting the Magic Beast Forest, and sometimes even the same animals would branch into different species. Take spiders for example. There were thousands of spiders in the forest—some as big as a wheel, some as small as a fingernail. Some lived in the bushes, others could make webs dozen of feet long. Others relied not on webs but superior jumps and venomous fangs to hunt. At the crack of dawn, these spiders would scurry away from their nighttime hunting places and return to their daytime hiding places. There was a kind of hummingbird living the forest. They were the predator of all spiders and enjoyed draining the spiders of their body fluids. If the spiders were still out after sunrise, they were good as dead.
A few wolves brushed past Anfey and disappeared into the woods, clearly satisfied. Humans tend to view wolves as cruel, but always forget that wolves seek no more than food and shelter, while men’s greed was limitless. Of course, civilization flourished because of greed, and it was not wrong to say that desire drives humanity.
Anfey had his eyes closed, sniffing the scented powder from the air. Suzanna and Riska stayed close to him, alert to any danger that could be near.
Anfey knew that as long as it was within twenty-four hours and the people he was tracking did not enter a completely sealed off space, he could find them.
Suzanna stared at the night sky and had a sudden realization. Not only did the young unicorn have the ability to avoid any evil and everything bad, Anfey did too. There were thousands of bugs hovering around them, but not a single one dared to land. It must be the power of the Tear of Stars. Suzanna wanted to ask Anfey if he could feel any difference, but then she remembered Anfey had told her that the less she knew about the Tear of Stars, the better. Now that Riska was here, she didn’t want to talk about it.
Cutting through the forest was easy, but tracking an enemy was much more dangerous. On their way, they could use magic and combat power to protect themselves. Using those powers when tracking enemies would give their enemies a warning. However, Suzanna was still worried about being attacked by insects.
"This way," Anfey said, pointing towards the distance.
"Alright." Riska and Suzanna nodded together.
"Riska, bring me up with levitation. Suzanna, remain on the ground. We’re still far from the orcs. There shouldn’t be anything to worry about."
Suzanna and Riska didn’t know how Anfey knew the orcs were far away, but they didn't want to ask. Anfey was a mysterious man, because he needed the mystery for protection.
The three cut through the forest quickly, every once in a while Anfey would stop and look for the remaining scent. After two dozen times, the three arrived at the edge of a swamp. Anfey felt the scent of the powder had grown stronger, and told Riska to land on a nearby hill. Suzanna caught up quickly. The three stood on the hill and observed their surroundings.
A few mutant hippopotamuses climbed ashore slowly and walked towards their dens, their large bodies shifting. They looked completely defenseless, and there was no need for them to be defensive. The hippopotamuses were all very mild, but because their flesh had a strange chemical that made it extremely sour, they were able to live without predators. Even a magic beast with a varied diet could not consume their meat without getting sick.
The hippopotamuses were so useless that the other magic beasts would be better off just leaving them alone. No beasts would try to attack each other, and they lived in relative peace. For other magic beasts, the forest was a place of danger and challenge. For the hippopotamuses, however, it was a comfortable place to make home.
A nearby bush rustled, and a fire alligator appeared. It walked straight past the hippopotamus without even looking at it. Perhaps it was because its ancestor had once eaten it by accident, and taught all of its children, which in turn taught its children, never to go near those things.
A flash leopard appeared from a bush on top of the hill. It glanced towards the humans, and appeared spooked. Its beautiful back arched, and it gave a deep growl before running down the hill.
The alligator had heard the leopard’s growls but didn’t see its movement. It turned and headed straight for the hill. It seems like it was too starving to care that it was way too slow to ever catch a flash leopard.
The alligator reached the top of the hill, and, instead of a flash leopard, it found three humans. Its small, cruel eyes lit up, and it began to twist its body and stomp on the ground. Then it headed straight to Suzanna, whom it had deemed to be the weakest. The magic beasts all had their own advantages. Flash leopards were fast and sensitive to their surroundings, while the fire alligators were thick skinned and hard to kill.
Suzanna's eyes were filled with disgust. She kicked the alligator in the jaw, sending it tumbling down the hill.
A few other alligators that had gathered around returned to their hideouts, while the one that tried to attack them laid on the ground. It was twisting in pain and making gurgling noises. Suzanna had shattered its jaw, and in a few days it would starve to death.
"Riska, you ready?" Anfey asked.
Riska nodded. He whispered a spell, and used eyes of the sky.
Anfey was growing very fond of this magic. It was like a spy satellite. After a few times using it, Anfey thought he could find a few mediocre members of the team and have them focus on this magic.
Riska changed a few coordinates, but with no success. He looked at Anfey and shook his head.
"There," Anfey said. He pointed to the place he could clearly smell the powder.
Riska summoned his magic and began looking again. After changing the coordinates a dozen times, there were still no clues. He was about to talk to Anfey, when a dozen orcs appeared in his view.
"Look," Riska called to Anfey.
"Keep an eye on them," Anfey told him.
Watching orcs moving through a forest was very hard, and Riska had to focus all of his attention on the task. In order to keep track, every time the orcs walk into the shade, he immediately had to find a nearby coordinate and search carefully.
After a while, when Riska’s magic was almost all used up, the orcs disappeared into the woods near a small mountain.
Riska waited a few more moments and stopped the magic. He wiped the sweat on his forehead and said, "That’s the best I can do."
"Take a break," Anfey said. "I feel like that is the orcs’ hideout. Suzanna, what do you think?"
Suzanna did not reply. Anfey turned around, and found Suzanna standing there. She looked excited, and her eyes were staring at a mountain in the distance.
"Suzanna? What happened?" Anfey asked.
"Nothing," Suzanna replied, as if waking from a dream. "Nothing. Just remembered something in the past"
Suzanna bit her lip and turned her gaze towards Anfey. The latter was staring at the alligator down the hill, as if it was too interesting for him to turn his eyes away.
Suzanna’s eyes were filled with emotion, as if she was making some difficult decisions. After a moment, she walked over and whispered to Anfey, "Do you remember the map I once talked about?"
"Of course. The one you talked about that day…" Anfey stopped his sentence mid track. There were some memories neither one of them were willing to speak of.
"If I am not mistaken, this is the place on the map."
"Can I see it?" Anfey asked. "Don’t worry, I won't take it. I know how much it means to you. I just want to help."
Suzanna nodded. "Alright," she said, "I trust you." When she first mentioned the map, she already knew that she won’t find the treasure all by herself. She needed help, and Anfey was her only option. She didn’t like him and thought badly of him, but at least she didn’t have to worry about Anfey taking the treasure for himself after they had found it. After working together for some time, Suzanna was sure of it.
She drew her sword and took out a piece of tattered and stained paper from the sheath. She handed it to Anfey and said, "Don’t damage it!"
Anfey smiled and opened the paper. It was a map, but only half of it was there. The other half was ripped off and missing, leaving a jagged edge. It seemed like the map had some stories to it, as well.
"You see the mountain there? It’s the one over there," Suzanna said, pointing from the map to the mountain she was looking at earlier.
The mountain that appeared in Riska’s eyes of the sky had a flat top, like it was once cut down by a god. The mountain on the map had a flat top as well. There were some wavy lines drawn next to the mountain, and it was labeled "Clarm Swamp."
It was the same swamp and mountain. The possibility of the treasure being hidden there was very high. High enough for them to look into it.
"Where's the other half?" Anfey asked.
"It was taken away from me," Suzanna said. She shook her head and seemed to have remembered some unpleasant memories.
"It’s alright," Anfey reassured her. "We’ll find it."
"The other half contained the spell to open whatever contains the treasure," Suzanna said, shaking her head. "Without it, we can’t open the lock."
"Yes," Suzanna said, nodding. "Don’t you want to know what is in that treasure?" she asked after glancing at him for a few moments. "Are you not interested in it?"
"Why would I be?" Anfey asked. He had remembered his conversation with Suzanna. If she wanted to tell him about everything, he would offer her his help. If she chose to remain secretive, it wasn’t his place to intervene. Everything came at a price, and there wouldn’t be any treasure without risks.
"I have no idea what kind of a man you are," Suzanna said, shaking her head. A normal person would be very interested after hearing about treasures. People like Anfey were very strange to her.
"I’m an honest man," Anfey said. "I won’t seek things that are not mine. What is mine will never be another’s."
"Honest?" Suzanna rolled her eyes. "Are you joking?"
"Jokes?" Riska had just woken up from his deep meditation, and since he could not sense anything of the outside world when he was meditating, he had only heard the last sentence.
"Anfey was joking," Suzanna said. She took the map from Anfey and returned it to the secret compartment in her sheath.
"Hm." Seeing that Suzanna didn’t want to talk about it, Riska shrugged and turned to Anfey. "What are we doing next? Are we going to keep waiting here?"
"Can you tell how far away the orcs are? Exactly?"
"I have the coordinates," Riska told him. "It’s about eight miles."
"Do you have a plan?" Suzanna asked. "The orcs aren’t easy targets. We don’t know how many there are, and how many are warriors and fighters. We don’t know if they have any obsidian mages or spirit mages. If they really do have an obsidian mage, they could detect our presence miles away." Suzanna had the feeling that there were many things Anfey did not know about, so she felt the need to talk to him in case he made a rushed decision. After spending time with them, Suzanna didn’t want to see anyone hurt.
Of course, she agreed with Anfey’s decision. If the orcs had attacked her without even an attempt of negotiation, they would attack any and everyone. They needed to strike fast to eliminate the threats.
"Christian talked about the spirit mages before. What are they?"
"Obsidian mages are like human mages, and the spirit mages are like the human magisters. They are not as powerful as humans, of course, but they shouldn’t be taken lightly, either," Suzanna said slowly. "If an orc tribe has an Obsidian Mage, their strength would increase significantly. They can enhance the strength of individual orcs, increasing an orc's attack, speed, defense, and life force. If the tribe has a spirit mage, it would be even more terrifying. The orcs’ strength would depend on the mage’s faith power, and a spirit mage’s faith power is much stronger than an obsidian mage. A spirit mage can even summon a blood moon, which would turn orcs into terrifying fighting machines, their strength increasing tenfold. In the Sacred War, a spirit mage summoned the blood moon for three hundred werewolves, who in turn defeated an elite legion of forty thousand men. It was called the great miracle of the war."
"So, if a warrior of the Beast God was under the blood moon, it would fight the gods? And that Ahdibaijan, what if he was under that moon?" Anfey asked.
"In reality, among the sentient beings, the direct lineages from the ancient beasts are very rare, but they are treated as equal because of their incredible strength. The great spirit mages were all killed in the Sacred War. Those that could summon the blood moon are no longer alive. Those that were left behind were forced to work with savages like the orcs."