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Chapter 339 - Five Years Later (4)

    Chapter 339 - Five Years Later (4)

    Marquis Fergana was one of the 7th circle magicians in the continent and one of the three masters in the Soldun Kingdom. He was also the master of a prestigious family and a person who possessed 30% of the kingdom.

    That's right. This was until he was defeated in the Elsid Civil War that occurred several years ago and was arrested. Originally, it was a crime that would cause him to be executed. However, the royal family was in a weak state after the civil war, so they used a special punishment to prevent the damage which would be caused by Marquis Fergana's vacancy.

    It was the Oath of Obedience. At the time, Theodore had been dispatched with the allied forces, and his power had been borrowed to carve the oath onto the marquis' heart. There was no way for the marquis to get rid of the brand on his heart. So, from that day onward, Fergana became a slave to King Elsid and the royal family.

    His days of exploring magic were long gone. First of all, he was a royal hound who followed the royal family's will and acted for national events, rather than family affairs. It was too big a cost due to his family.

    '...It was my own mistake for falling for Cornwall's words and not being able to refuse my daughter. I know in my mind that I shouldn't blame anyone else.' Marquis Fergana was lost in thought as he sat at an old-fashioned table in a reception room.

    He could feel it without any effort-the shackle carved onto his heart that even his seven circles couldn't resist. Was it called the Oath of Obedience? It was a very terrible name. He reconfirmed the enchantment on his heart and smiled bitterly. After being defeated by a young man not even 30 years of age, Fergana now had no freedom. He felt more disappointment, rather than resentment, for the loss.

    "Now, that young man is the greatest magician on the entire continent... I wonder if I was fortunate that I encountered him before that."

    Either way, Fergana's defeat wouldn't be changed. He drank the bitter tea as his heart filled with messy feelings he couldn't determine. There were feelings of a magician's jealousy and the inferiority complex of the underdog, as well as a mixture of vengefulness, awe, and admiration.

    Marquis Fergana let out a long breath.

    Kkiiik.

    The door of the reception room opened, and Theodore walked in. "It has been a while, Marquis Fergana. I heard you were looking for me."

    It was different from the past. Theodore was wearing a black robe instead of a red one, and his eyes had added depth as he looked at Marquis Fergana.

    Theodore Miller, the chief tower master, was the youngest magician in the continent to reach the 8th circle. Their eyes met, and they each had different reactions.

    '―Heoook!' Marquis Fergana's eyes filled with astonishment. 'D-Deep. So deep that I can't see the bottom. It is like looking into another dimension...!'

    They were different types of magicians. It was like the difference between a person standing on a mountain peak and a person on the middle of the mountain. The gap between the two magicians could be seen from their eyes as pressure pushed down at Marquis Fergana.

    The 7th circle and the 8th circle...

    The 8th circles which could be seen in Theodore's eyes were difficult to face. Therefore, Marquis Fergana couldn't say a word.

    "Ah, I'm sorry." Theodore belatedly noticed the reason and reduced the amount of power in his eyes.

    It wasn't necessary to say that Marquis Fergan's fear increased. "I-It has been a long time, Chief Tower Master Theodore."

    "Yes. Is this the first time since the civil war?"

    "Yes, it is as you said." The pride that Marquis Fergana had built over decades vanished like a mirage, and he gathered his hands together politely.

    As a magician of the 7th circle, Marquis Fergana could tell that Theodore Miller was already in a realm beyond his imagination. It would be too much if the marquis tried to curry favor with Theodore. The bad feelings related to the incident of the past faded and only awe remained.

    After exchanging greetings and drinking a cup of tea, the conversation between the two people truly began.

    "His Majesty asked me to consult with you about this issue."

    Theodore made a strange expression as King Elsid of Soldun was mentioned. There were no signs of taking out a letter, so the marquis was going to say it directly. It meant this was a problem that couldn't be conveyed through letters and was important enough for a master to come in person.  Theodore's eyebrows raised in interest.

    Meanwhile, Marquis Fergana started talking, "It happened three months ago. Monsters kept attacking the kingdoms in the south-west."

    This wasn't uncommon. The Southern Continent, filled with infamous swamps, was located a few kilometers south of the Soldun Kingdom, and it wasn't unusual for monsters from the swamp to leave the area. There were many beasts who tried to avoid the human species. However, the number and strength of those who wandered away from their habitat weren't great, and they were easily blocked by the standing army at the border areas.

    The royal family had thought the same thing three months ago.

    "But after a month or two, the number of creatures attacking the border didn't diminish. No, it was estimated that they increased."

    "It is an abnormal situation."

    "Yes, I saw that this situation was a monster wave."

    'Monster wave' was a term that referred to a phenomenon where at least 1,000 monsters moved in a single direction, regardless of species or ecology. It was a phenomenon that could be found in encyclopedias. The number of monster waves had greatly reduced over the centuries. However, there must be a reason for Marquis Fergana's certainty.

    "I don't know. The swamp monsters are adapted to their environment, and it is difficult for them to survive in other areas. The swamps in the south are filled with poison, and the vegetation is drenched with this evil energy, mutating the monsters."

    "Did you try exploring inside?"

    Marquis Fergana nodded firmly at Theodore's question and answered, "It was just the edges, but yes."

    "You couldn't find the cause?"

    "Unfortunately, I didn't see anything. Ah! There was something unusual."

    "What is it?"

    Marquis Fergana made a fearful expression as he recalled what he felt at that time. "From outside the forest, I felt a pressure that refused to let me approach. The soldiers and skilled knights were reluctant to take even a step inside. I was able to cope, but it consumed a considerable amount of mental energy."

    "It was a mental energy, not physical?"

    "Yes. It was a type of rejection."

    A fear that spread across a wide area and drove the creatures out of the swamp...? A light flashed in Theodore's head at this thought. It was a puzzle piece that wouldn't have fit without Paragranum's story.

    'Is this the influence of Dragon Fear?'

    Dragons that grew to adulthood could release their presence and drive out all life forms in the area. Even ogres felt a sense of oppression that couldn't be tolerated. Undoubtedly, the strong monsters in the swamp areas couldn't compare to a dragon.

    Marquis Fergana saw how Theodore was silent and asked with expectations in his eyes, "...Do you perhaps have any guesses?"

    "No. I don't know either. But..." Theodore casually turned his cup round and round. "I am going to the Southern Continent. I'll try to investigate the cause during my expedition. If there is helpful information, I will give it to Soldun immediately."

    "Oh! That is more than I was expecting!"

    From Soldun's perspective, it was difficult to make a request directly to Theodore, who was the chief tower master and the backbone of the magic kingdom. However, to think that Theodore was now going to the Southern Continent and that he would help them...? This was an unexpected windfall for Marquis Fergana.

    Theodore's expedition to the Southern Continent was becoming more complicated.

    *     *     *

    A few days after that...

    "What? Monster wave?" Randolph was surprised after coming to Mana-vil at Theodore's call.

    Randolph had received monster subjugation requests several times before, but he had never experienced a monster wave. A wave of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of monsters...? Moreover, these were swamp monsters that were twice as strong as the other monsters in the area. It was obvious that a careless person would lose their life.

    Theodore saw his reaction and asked playfully, "So? Are you afraid?"

    "No way! I am looking forward to the good picnic ahead!" Randolph grabbed his two swords and chuckled. "I don't hate peace. Still, I am someone who likes battlefields. Any danger is welcome!"

    "Savage human," the high elf Titania scolded Randolph's exuberance before turning to Theodore. There was no change in appearance for a high elf who lived for thousands of years. A period of five years for her was like a few months for humans. Nevertheless, she didn't stop training and had a stronger momentum than before.

    "I heard that swamp creatures are different from those living in other areas. Can I ask for an explanation?"

    "Of course. I was already going to do that," Theodore answered positively to Titania's question. "The swamps in the Southern Continent contain more mana than those in other regions. If we compare the average concentration of mana to 'water', then the Southern Continent is a 'swamp.' After thousands of years, the mana is enough to alter the ecosystem. This is why the swamp monsters are stronger."

    Mana was a source of power. Both aura and magic were powers that converted mana. Monsters lacked the capacity to handle the powers as well as other species. However, by accumulating the mana in their bodies, they gained more durability and strength than natural.

    Among them, the 'mutants' were the heads of the creatures. It was the case for the twin head ogres, mutant trolls with horns on their foreheads, and wyverns that could shoot out breaths.

    "These mutations are common in the swamps. It's different from the central or northern part of the continent where there's a big commotion if one mutant is found. The adventurer who explored the swamps a long time ago wrote in his autobiography that it was hell."

    "...Hrmm, that is interesting."

    "Yes, it is some fun after a long time."

    Both Titania and Randolph weren't intimidated as they made curious expressions. Clearly, the elf hunter and mercenary weren't concerned about monsters. In response, Theodore sighed and talked about the equipment he had prepared, "This is a place where humans haven't stepped in for a thousand years. It is necessary to have the proper equipment."

    "Ohh...! This is enough for a war!"

    There were dozens of artifacts more expensive than some estates, hundreds of magic scrolls, and more than 10 varieties of potions. Randolph's eyes recognized the value of the items at a glance. He enjoyed a fairly abundant life as a noble, but the goods in front of him were equivalent to 10 years of budget for an estate.

    While Randolph was staring blankly, Titania came to Theodore's side and took something out. "Theodore, I was asked to give you this."

    "Hmm?"

    It was a handful of flowers. Theodore stared at the purple and white petals and blinked. There was only one person who would send this gift to him.

    "...Ella sent them." (TL: Theo's new nickname for Ellenoa)

    Theodore touched the stems with slender fingers and recalled her body odor. Ellenoa's smile that he saw last week was still vivid in his mind. A smile spread across Theodore's face.

    Then Titania said, "Statice. Do you know what it means in the flower language?"

    Theodore didn't know and looked at her blankly. Titania shrugged with a smile. "Eternal lo...ve. In fact, I don't know the language of flowers."

    "What? It was just a good act?"

    "I was made the messenger between you two, so give me this much. I have been getting goosebumps because of you."

    "T-That..." Theodore had nothing to say.

    Meanwhile, Titania moved onto another topic, "The recovery of the world tree is smooth. Thank you, Theodore. The young spirits who migrated to the forest are living well, and the reconstruction of the east forest is taking place at a rapid pace."

    "How many more years until it recovers completely?"

    "Well, around 50?"

    Theodore's face stiffened. "...Too late."

    "Well, you started it. There is no need to be impatient. You and Ellenoa will be able to live that long."

    "But I can't let Ella be restrained."

    "Hoh?"

    Theodore ignored Titania's confusion and looked down at the map of the swamp.

    The accuracy was frustrating, but it was better than nothing. Dragons were suddenly gathering in the swamps where humans hadn't stepped in for a thousand years. He wondered if there was a way to restore the power of the world tree more quickly.

    "I don't want to make Ella wait anymore."

    They had a promise for the day she was rid of this obligation.
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