21st Century Archmage - Chapter 32
Chapter 32: Derval
‘This is KILLER!’
The spell, Fly, could not possibly compare to this high-altitude flight.
The sound of rushing wind filled my ears and the view of the earth was spread out far underneath us. As we flew, clouds grazed past our heads. To top it off, Irene’s faint scent was permeating into my helmet. In short, it was the flight of my dreams.
‘It’s so free. And fast.’
Our speed didn’t match a 21st century fighter jet, but wyvern-flight was still pretty fast. As the ground beneath us melted away, I felt one with the wind; both my body and mind grew lighter. And deep within my heart, a single passionate emotion blossomed. It was a bit much to say this after riding a wyvern once, but a manly exhilaration akin to conquering the world was bubbling up within me.
On this huge body, accompanied by the powerful wingbeats of the wyvern, there was absolutely nothing to fear.
“Hold on tight!”
Irene’s mana-charged cry came whistling all of a sudden into my ear.
With a great woosh, the wyvern accelerated high into the sky, as if charging towards the sun.
‘Woohoo! A roller coaster can’t even compare!’
I thought of the various Disneyland roller coasters I had enjoyed quite a lot back in the day. Riding one of those didn’t give me anything close to the electrifying excitement I was feeling now.
The moment my excitement was filling me from head to toe and trembling at its peak, the wyvern suddenly halted its ascent.
And then, with surprising agility belying its huge size, the wyvern twisted and plunged head-first.
Wind rushed madly in our rapid descent. Despite wearing the magically enspelled trainee airplate, I felt the G-forces down to my very cells. It was a terrifying feeling that even Korea’s most thrilling ride, the Wolmido Viking, could never deliver.
‘Are you trying to kill someone here! Aaaahh!’
Thanks to the sudden rush of atmospheric forces, I threw all my strength into grabbing Irene’s chest waist. This feeling of falling in midair hundreds of kilometers above the earth was as terrifying as Chucky from the horror stories that used to make me piss a little in fear as a kid.
After falling to the earth like that for a while, the wyvern rapidly turned and leveled off.
Atop her leisurely flying wyvern, Irene removed her helmet with a click. Her hair flowed out behind her in the wind and tickled my nose.
“Take a deep breath. Really deep, until you feel your chest bursting…” she whispered.
As if hypnotized by a command, I also took off my helmet.
A fresh spring day, ensconced in the warm sun of the afternoon. The blue sky dotted with white clouds all around us…
The air filling my lungs seemed to cleanse out all of the dirt lodged in my system from living and breathing polluted air. I closed my eyes. Then, I drew a deep breath of the sky’s air, like a baby sucking on his mother’s teat.
“Good. For me… I yearn and wish for the sky. One day, we’ll fly towards the sun, endlessly…” Irene’s quiet voice billowed away from her like silk threads.
She looked different. She wasn’t the smart and beautiful countess of the Bajran Empire that I knew, but a girl holding onto a dream that was somehow very precious to her, a girl untouched by the darkness of the world.
‘This voice is—!’ I turned my head. ‘My god, I’m gonna go crazy.’
Then I saw it. With her helmet thrown away to who-knows-where, Hyneth had at some point pushed her Skyknight to the back and was confidently occupying the front seat. Under Hyneth’s rough whip(?), the wyvern and owner were completely unable to gather their bearings and were flying in disordered circles. I fervently wished she wouldn’t go and introduce herself as my little sister anywhere.
‘There are also people who can’t adjust.’ Unlike Hyneth, who had adjusted perfectly and was already madly scampering around, there were several cadets who were either completely exhausted or trembling uncontrollably with their heads down.
‘Russell…’ One of those cadets was someone I knew. ‘If he can’t adjust by the third chance they give, then he’s out.’
I already knew the purpose of this flight practice.
Its primary motive was to screen out the ones who didn’t fit the bill.
“We’re returning to the covert!” Irene’s clear voice rang out so loudly it seemed to shake the sky. Vivirian folded one wing halfway and changed directions.
Suddenly, my thoughts shifted to the wyvern trapped in the darkness, Bebeto. It occurred to me that I wanted to gift him this incredible sky.
In a flight with me, that is.
* * *
“Are you okay?”
“It’s none of your business! Go away!”
‘Oi, take a look at this guy?’
Russell’s face was completely pale. Filled with rage towards himself for not being able to adjust to the wyvern, he was lashing out at the world.
“Is that so? Then good luck.”
I wasn’t one to blink at getting a tongue-lashing. It wasn’t good to rock the boat while he was this sensitive, anyway, so leaving him alone was probably the best thing to do.
As soon as I turned around, I heard a low sob behind me.
‘He said he had to avenge his parents, right…’ I had accidentally overheard Russell’s deep grudge and knew about his heart-wrenching desire to get revenge even if he had to sell his soul to the devil. ‘If it’s hard, then ask for help. You’re not even a girl but you’re whimpering on your own.’
A part of me felt mixed emotions due to sympathy. Russell urgently needed to become a Skyknight.
As I left the room, various thoughts floated to my mind. What kinds of methods were there to help that crybaby Russell stand confidently on a wyvern…?
* * *
‘Damn, my feet just brought me here.’
Feeling uncomfortable at heart, I went out. The shadows of evening had fallen on Kirphone Covert. Looking into the sky, I remembered my flight experience at Irene’s back.
As I walked, I unwittingly found myself at a certain place. In front of me was a large building dimly lit by one of the magic lamp posts on the mountain.
It was the hangar of Bebeto, a mixed-breed wyvern that would curse a Skyknight with misfortune.
‘I want to fly with him.’
Bebeto’s wings and body were bigger than other wyverns. I wanted to share the bright blue sky filled with fresh air with him.
‘Would he welcome me?’
I didn’t know how long he had been locked up on the ground, forbidden from the open skies. I wasn’t sure if he would welcome me, a person who had trespassed into his life without any warning.
But that was fine with me. I still wanted to converse with the fellow, even if we had to do it in darkness. Thinking that, I opened the small side door with a creak.
Bebeto’s huge eyes opened wide as the door opened. His golden eyes were filled with rage towards the world. They hung in the darkness like two spectral orbs.
“Hi~!” I tried greeting him with a wave.
‘He doesn’t know how to greet someone, huh.’
Bebeto showed his displeasure with his silence.
“Did you eat dinner yet?” I attempted to chat again. But the only thing that greeted me was a pair of wary eyes.
“I flew on a wyvern for the first time today. It was seriously amazing.” Not caring if he listened or not, I shared my experiences today with exaggerated words. “Super impressive. To think that something that isn’t even a fighter jet can fly so high and freely… I knew you guys were sturdy, but I didn’t know you were like frickin’ dragons.”
Stretching my arms wide, I imitated a wyvern’s wings.
‘Huhu, that’s it.’ At my flight imitation, Bebeto perked up. No matter how he postured, in the end, he was just a locked up chicken with a big body.
“Hey, have you tasted the wind? Kyaa, the air is completely different up there than on the ground. How should I say it? Like the taste of pure, gleaming water? Refreshing and crisp, that flavor! It’s fantastic.”
I didn’t know how much Bebeto could understand, but considering how his pupils trembled, it seemed like he understood the basic gist of what I was saying.
‘I really like him, but….’
The problem was he was a cursed creature that would be targeted by every wyvern and Skyknight. Even if we ran away from here, there were probably not many places that would welcome us.
“Lulu, lululu~? Bebeto! Your hyung-nim is here.”
While I was agonizing over Bebeto’s future, a husky voice came from outside. I retreated into the wall, hiding myself in the shadows.
“You must be hungry, right?”
A man appeared at the side door, his voice full of affection, like a real hyung-nim.
‘Who is he?’
He was wearing the same clothes as a regular administrative clerk serving in the covert and holding a few pieces of fairly heavy-looking meat.
“Eat up. Maybe everyone was full today or something, but I was able to get some pretty good stuff.”
The man threw the meat onto a huge wooden board used for wyvern meals.
Even in the darkness, I could clearly see the kinds of meat on the tray: pig hide, sheep meat, and cow legs. They looked like leftovers from other wyverns.
“You’re thankful? What thanks, we’re both in the same boat.”
‘He’s missing an arm?’
The man’s left arm was unnatural; it was cut off from the elbow. As I watched, the man softly stroked Bebeto’s leg. Bebeto purred like a cat and then dove into the meat.
‘You poor fellow.’
It was sad enough that he was locked up, but even his food was so poor. I felt sorry for him from the bottom of my heart.
“Bebeto… I’m leaving soon,” said the man after watching Bebeto eat for a while.
“…..” As if he instantly understood, Bebeto stopped eating.
“It can’t be helped. No one will hire an idiotic ground crewmate with no strength. Moreover, I’m branded.”
‘Is he getting fired?’
“This damn world… My dream wasn’t to end up like this… When I graduated from the Empire Administrative Academy, it wasn’t like this. Argh…” The man vented the unfairness of the world with a frigid voice.
‘The Empire Administrative Academy? He’s an elite.’
Unlike the Imperial Knight Academy, which fostered knights and nobles, the Empire Administrative Academy was a place that turned out clerks for the empire’s administrative affairs or people for ground crews. From what I heard, only the smartest among the commoners could gain admittance.
Guuuuuuuuu. As if trying to comfort the man, Bebeto rubbed his horns on the man’s waist.
‘He’s got sense.’ Bebeto was able to recognize a human’s complicated emotions. My favorable impression of him jumped by another 10 points.
“I’m sorry… you have it hard too. Sorry for showing you this pathetic sight…”
I didn’t know how the man lost his arm, but from his words, the crewmate seemed to have had fairly ambitious dreams. After hugging Bebeto’s warmth for a bit, he soon peeled away.
“I’m worried. Without me here, there’s no one to take care of you… Those stupid fucking nobles don’t know a treasure when they see one.”
His arm was maimed, but this was a man who was more worried about Bebeto than his own fate. I wanted to help him.
‘They said you can only hire a crewmate if you have your own wyvern though…’ Unfortunately, in my current position, I couldn’t do anything.
“I’m going. Sleep well…” the man trailed off. Without noticing me in the darkness, he went out the door.
After the man left, Bebeto turned to face me, as if telling me to come out now.
“You, you should recognize your blessings. With the Imperial Princess and even that guy as your big brother, you can count yourself pretty lucky, in your own way.”
‘What is he saying?’ Bebeto seemed to be trying to say something. He stared at the door while nodding his head, and I was somehow able to understand.
“You want me to help the guy who just left?”
Guuuuuuuuu. At my words, Bebeto nodded.
‘Woah! He’s this smart?’ I knew wyverns were intelligent, but I never even imagined they would be capable of expressing their opinions like this. ‘Is he smarter because he’s a hybrid?’
“If you want me to, I’ll give it a shot, but don’t get your hopes up too much.”
The light in Bebeto’s eyes turned warm at my words. It seemed he was accepting me a bit more now.
“I’m going for today. I’ll see you again tomorrow.”
Even a dog didn’t like to be bothered while eating. Moreover, Bebeto even had to eat scraps gathered from here and there.
‘I’ll take you to a paradise swimming with meat!’
I made a decision. I wanted to take this wretched wyvern to paradise.
* * *
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* * *
“Students, this is the Blessed Spear, which you should all know about already. Maximum range of 2 kilometers, weight of 2 kilograms. Once the mana crystal is charged, it will be ready to fire when the crystal glows.”
The tip of the Blessed Spear was coated with mithril. This enspelled spear was inscribed with homing and strengthening spells. Each lance cost at least a thousand Gold. As our magic instructor, Viscount Bane, poured mana into it, the spear began to glow with a faint blue light.
“With a stronger magic crystal and higher circle enchantments, the shooting range can be expanded. But it’s pointless to do so, because any wyvern can avoid a Blessed Spear thrown from over 2 kilometers away, as long as they’re not a slowpoke.”
‘It’s the same concept as missiles in the modern world.’ I thought of the air-to-air missiles used when a fighter jet fought another jet. The Blessed Spear was this world’s equivalent.
“You can also use it on land attacks. But it’s laughable to use something that costs a thousand Gold per shot to kill knights on the ground. Of course, if you are able to recover the spear afterwards, you can use it that way.”
I had personally experienced a taste of the Blessed Spear. A knight on land was no match for this magic spear, which could drill into a huge rock.
“We will distribute one Blessed Spear each to you all. Experience the way it moves to launching mode when you put mana into it! Only, be careful that you don’t shoot the spear at a classmate.”
The Blessed Spears were being held in about ten magic containers. We were getting lessons in the drill hall of the covert, which was used to train wyverns or patrols.
‘A thousand Gold a pop? They said wyverns are loaded up with ten spears every time they fly, right?’ A Skyknight was created through money and lived on money. I could only see the Blessed Spears as lumps of money. I had the feeling that these spears would be a great help to me in my life from now on.
‘It’s surprisingly light?’ I lined up to get a Blessed Spear. As I gripped it with my right hand, I noticed it was lighter than expected. ‘So I should put mana in here.’
A magic inscription was drawn around the handle. I lightly poured mana in.
‘So if I throw this, it’ll fly 2 kilometers…’ 2 kilometers wasn’t that big of a distance in the air, but on land, it was quite far.
‘Hm?’ I suddenly felt a tingling energy from behind me. Instinctively ducking, I swung the magic spear in my hands.
Claang! A powerful impact traveled up my hand.
“W-what’s going on?”
The surprised voices of the cadets rang out in the hall.
One of the cadets was frowning and making an expression of regret. It was Jusaine, the next Count of the so-called invincible Termon family.
“What are you doing!” Viscount Bane ran over at once.
“I apologize. I only meant to add mana and throw it a bit, but…” Jusaine bowed his head and apologized to Viscount Bane.
‘A bit? Seriously, gimme a break.’
The Blessed Spear I had reflected had buried itself into the ground. It would have meant immediate death if that spear had pierced my body instead. But the thrower, Jusaine, was apologizing to Viscount Bane instead of me.
‘They’re feigning innocence, I see?’
Unable to vent their resentment while in the Knight Academy, these guys were now baring their teeth at the covert. This is why the words of the great seniors were right: if you step on someone, bury them so deep that they can’t sprout anymore.
Even though he was an instructor, it didn’t seem like Viscount Bane could get too involved. There were people like Viscount Atuan, who turned a blind eye, but even an instructor could only be submissive towards a student from a family of high nobility, basically from the count status onwards.
“Then, we’ll end the class with this. Return your spears.”
Viscount Bane just told Jusaine to be careful– he didn’t even give a warning– and quickly ended the class.
‘Are they putting their faith in the Crown Prince?’
The change in these guys after coming to the covert was obvious. They were gathered around the son of a duke, Tedran, and glaring at me.
‘Uwah! Their balls have really grown.’
At the Academy, I would have immediately taken care of them, but this time, I simply took a deep breath and resisted. Cleaning up the trash could wait; I had more than enough time.
There would be a chance to give these guys a hot and lovely experience they would never forget.
* * *
“Give up with this. Fear of heights is not something that can be easily overcome.”
A necessary condition to become a Skyknight was the ability to endure flight. Even a great archmage wouldn’t be able to become a Skyknight if they couldn’t fly.
‘He failed the second attempt. Now he’s only got one try left.’
As the training went on, we acquired wyvern control, weapon use, and various other techniques during our flying training. As the others learned, there were a few cadets who still couldn’t overcome the basic requirement for flight. Russell was one of the cadets about to flunk out.
“If you’re afraid of the wind, you have no qualification to become a Skyknight,” uttered Irene coldly as she stroked her wyvern’s head, all while gazing at the cadets who were crawling on the ground throwing up.
‘How could a wind summoner be afraid of the wind?’
Unlike the other cadets, a summoner of wind had a definite understanding of the wind. After all, they could only summon a wind spirit if they had sufficient affinity. Of course, there were also exceptions like me.
‘There must be a different reason why Russell is having such a hard time…’
Russell’s blanched face showed a reaction on a different level from just fear of heights. His face was completely twisted in pain, as if suffering from a nightmare. He gathered his composure before turning his head and thanking Irene.
“Thank you for today.”
Instead of responding, Irene’s pure, fairly-like eyes glowed with a charm that would make any onlooker’s heart thump.
‘Why you do this? Making my heart race and all.’
The silver-haired lady had removed her helmet and was sitting on her airplate. Her blue eyes gleamed like stars. Irene, the woman I saw periodically in my dreams, was staring intently at me.
“Let us dine together sometime.”
‘Hm? Dine?’ I was surprised that Countess Irene, who was rumored in the covert to be arrogant and cold, was offering to dine with me.
“That would be lovely,” I said readily, smiling brightly.
“It looks good on you… that smile.”
Turning her head, Irene threw out a compliment that buried itself in my heart.
‘You look very good too, ma’am. Like the clear sky itself.’
Irene’s childlike, pure spirit revealed itself when we rode her wyvern together and flew over the covert. She was such a bundle of charm that any man would want to put their life on the line and try to win her heart.
‘But what should be done about this guy?’
Done throwing up, Russell was staring blankly at the ground. His pathetic appearance plunged me into deep thought. If this went on, his life would be ruined.
* * *
“Derval, you stupid piece of shit! How can you spill the scraps!”
While I was deep in thought about how to cure Russell’s fear of heights, I heard the sounds of cursing and rhythmical blows.
‘Ah! That person is—!’
It was the man who called himself Bebeto’s hyung-nim.
“You should pay the price properly for the idiot’s food, shouldn’t you!”
An elite from the Empire Administrative Academy itself was getting spat on. He had stumbled to the ground, an overturned pail of scraps next to him.
“Just leave him, he’s getting kicked out in a few days, I feel sorry for him.”
“Hmph! What sorriness. Because this bastard verbally offended His Highness the Crown Prince himself, even we got punished. How dare a mere crewmate suggest improvements to the covert in front of the Crown Prince! Without knowing his place!!”
The crumpled Derval only bowed his head in response to the harsh slandering of the other crewmates around him.
“And for that, his arm was cut off. We did have a pay cut, but Derval…”
“Shut up! If you take his side, you could get targeted by His Imperial Highness and the nobles, too!”
“Let’s go! It’s unlucky to be next to this guy.”
The crewmate who had defended Derval cast a regretful expression at him before getting dragged away by the others.
“Ku, kukuku… kukukukkuku.”
As soon as the crewmates disappeared, Derval’s dry laughter rang out.
‘Why are there only sorry fools near me?’
The loser wyvern and the pitiful crewmate, as well as Russell, who couldn’t fly, and the little Imperial Prince caught up in the power struggle of the Imperial Family. Through a twist of fate, everyone I had met was struggling.
“Are you okay?”
He looked a few years older than me, but because I was a cadet receiving pseudo-knight treatment, I didn’t bother with formal speech.
‘He could catch a dragon with that look.’ Derval’s smouldering gaze was spitting out daggers. It was enough to make a person shrink back.
“Leave me alone, oh sir Knight,” said Derval sharply like a person who had given up on life.
“I don’t want to.”
I lightly refused. At my words, Derval’s eyes trembled for a moment.
“Get up. Your legs look fine, so will you keep sitting on the ground? If you wish to stay like that for the rest of your life, should I break them for you?” I said, betraying no emotion.
“Are you insulting me right now… Oh grand and mighty cadet.”
“No, this isn’t an insult, but complete disregard.”
It was clear that he had given up on himself. If not for Bebeto’s request, even I would not tolerate his crude words and actions.
His face flushing, Derval rose from his spot and threw a punch with his one good arm.
Pow! However, I stopped his charge with a single kick of my right leg.
After taking my Taekwondo-trained right foot full on, Derval’s face went pale and he drew in gasping breaths.
“Get up. No one will take pity on you even if you do that,” I uttered coldly to Derval, who was clutching his belly and bowed over in pain. “Why? Does it hurt? It shouldn’t hurt though. It looks like your life sure is hard right now, so why not just give up? What’s the use in living when even your colleagues have discarded you. You’re even missing an arm.”
I aimed directly for his sensitive points.
‘I guess he’s only got his pride left.’ Anyone else would have landed on the floor with a single kick from me, but Derval slowly straightened while clutching his waist with a white face. His willpower alone was admirable.
“Kill me! Just kill me already! You mighty Knight shithead!”
“Kill you? Then I’ll do just that.”
My two feet and fists landed on the vulnerable parts that would hurt. After taking ten hits, Derval collapsed onto the ground.
“But what to do? I’m not some mighty knight, but an ordinary commoner like you. Huhu,” I said, looking at Derval, who was trembling all over. “What’s the use in living as a pathetic person earning sympathy from even a wyvern? If you want to die, then just die without causing trouble to various people.”
Under my barrage of cold and calm words, Derval had bowed his head and was stifling a sob. I stared at Derval’s painful appearance as he wept for a long time.
“I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say for sure, but dying isn’t such an easy thing. If I were you, I would live on even if it’s dirty and unfair and try my best to survive. Did you know? As you live, the sun never fails to rise.”
‘Even if it’s hard, overcome it. You’ve only got yourself in this world.”
It was a shame that his arm had been cut off, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. The world was a cruel place where only he could save himself from despair. He could only live on if he overcame this with his own power.
‘But he won’t really die on me, will he?’
There was nothing more I could do. Shaking my head, I wandered the covert with no destination in mind. A chick could only gain the qualification to live by breaking the shell protecting it.