With both Jasmine and Elijah supporting my powerless body, we had managed to make our way back to the surface of the cavern where we fought the elderwood guardian . The once serene field of grass was in ruins as toppled trees and fallen stalactites lay scattered and splintered amongst fissured grounds .

"Do you think anyone else survived?" I asked, carefully scanning the mess around us .

"Well, Reginald and Brald were both frozen together with the mana beast from the last attack you used . I wasn't close enough to save Samantha either, after she got knocked off of you and landed near the elderwood guardian . I conjured a metal shelter to keep her safe from the debris but I'm not sure if she was able to survive," Elijah reported .

Between the after effects from using the second phase and worrying about Jasmine, I was a bit ashamed to say that I hadn't really thought about the rest of the party . I guess when I didn't see anyone else in the shelter with us, I immediately assumed they didn't make it .

"I don't think we'll be able to help Samantha in time, even if she is alive by the time we find her under all of this mess," I sighed . "We still need to find the elderwood guardian's beast core . "

"I think I'll be able to help with the first problem . " Elijah knelt down, placing a palm on the ground . "Give me a few minutes . "

"Scan," the bespectacled boy muttered as a thin wave of mana spread out of his hand .

[Earth's Pulse]

The spell that Elijah had just invoked, as far as I knew, was usually made to scan the ground for signs of approaching enemies . Usually, the caster would be able to hear footsteps and, if he was that skilled, perhaps distinguish the number of footsteps . However, to encompass not only the surface of the floor, but the ground beneath it, I couldn't help but become more and more intrigued by this boy .

After a few, tense minutes, Elijah's furrowed brows lifted into an expression of surprise . "I know where Samantha is and her heart's still beating!"

A sleek, metallic tent rose from the ground at Elijah's invocation and opened up in front of us to reveal Samantha .

By the state the conjurer was in, she was just barely hanging in there . Both her legs had been broken clean in multiple locations from where the elderwood's tendrils had grasped her . Splinters of white jutted out from the bloody mess that were her legs as a milky, yellow pus indicated that her wounds had already become infected .

The good news, if we could even call it that, was that only her legs had incurred serious damage . The rest of her body had cuts and bruises but was otherwise unharmed .

Elijah's face contorted in horror at the sight as he immediately turned around and lurched forward to vomit .

Jasmine rushed towards her and knelt, not knowing what she had to do to help her .

Limping toward Samantha, I checked her neck for her pulse and placed a hand on her forehead . "Well, she doesn't have a fever yet and her pulse is steady enough where I don't think her life will be in danger anytime soon . The silver lining is that she's unconscious . "

"Some silver lining," Elijah coughed as he convulsed into another dry heave .

As Jasmine carefully cradled the unconscious Samantha in her arms, I thought back to when the peppy conjurer had made attempts at striking up a conversation with her . With the two of them being the only girls, Samantha was relentless in her pursuit at befriending the brusque Jasmine . Eventually, Jasmine had started to respond, even smiling at times .

I thought about our next course of action . If we wanted to get Samantha to safety, I would need to give up on looking for the beast core for now . However, with Samantha in her state and my body being barely capable of standing on its own, the best thing to do was for Elijah and Jasmine to take Samantha to a medic before coming back down for me .

"Elijah," I called out to my friend, who was now gasping for air .

Just as I was about to give my instructions, a thundering roar rumbled throughout the cavern, shaking a few stalactites loose from the ceiling . "What now?!" Elijah groaned, more in resignation than in fear .

'Papa! I'm here!' Sylv cried out in my mind .

"It's okay, Elijah," I coaxed, as Jasmine lowered the dagger she had already unsheathed .

Despite the childlike voice that rang in my head, the dragon that stood before me was far from anything akin to a child .

I let out a whistle . "Wow, Sylv . You gained weight… and height, and width . "

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Sylvie, the small cat-like dragon that had always sat on top of my head was now almost the spitting image of the dragon I named her after .

Her body wasn't as large as Sylvia's, but it was still over eight meters long . I could now say with full confidence that Sylvie was indeed a dragon . Her scales had an obsidian-black sheen, reflecting the light from the dungeon in an almost divine way . The two horns that sprouted out of her head were sharper and even more menacing than the titan's horns I had seen years ago . With wings similar to Sylvia's—except with pitch-black feathers—and blood-red spikes that protruded along the ridge of her spine, she exuded a menacing, if not baleful, aura around her . The once adorable face and muzzle of hers was now elegant and sharp, her black sclera and yellow irises reminding me of a particularly bright topaz shining in the dead of night .

Sylv's powerful limbs—armored with jagged spikes at the elbows and knees—lifted as she approached me with a graceful poise, despite her large size . She lowered her head that was as large as my torso, bringing her snout close to mine .

Suddenly, her snake-like tongue shot out as she licked my face with the force to lift me from the ground .

"My God, your breath is foul, Sylv," I sputtered, barely able to keep myself upright .

'Hehe!' Sylv's childish giggle rang in my head .

"I-Is that a wyvern? But it has four limbs . I-It can't be, right? Is that a d-d-d—"

"I'm pretty sure she's a dragon," I finished for the dumbfounded Elijah .

He stared up at the sight of the fearsome beast, his face filled with more horror than when he had seen the elderwood guardian .

Jasmine, who had already known about my bond, was still trembling at the sight of my juvenile dragon as she clutched Samantha close to her chest .

"Elijah, this is my bond, Sylvie . " I stretched my hand out to rub my dragon's snout, causing her hind leg to thump the ground in pleasure .

I couldn't help but chortle at how little Sylvie had changed on the inside despite her dramatic transformation .

Turning to face Elijah, I put on a grim face . "Jasmine already knew about this, but I want you to promise to keep this a secret as well . Dragons have been thought to have been extinct for centuries now, so if anyone were to suddenly see Sylvie… well, you know what greed can do to someone . "

Elijah nodded frantically in response, his glasses hanging loose on his crooked nose .

"We need to hurry, though . It worked out well that Sylvie came when she did . Let's move Samantha on Sylvie's back . " I was barely able to stand up on my own now, but walking more than a few steps was out of the question .

I watched as Elijah and Jasmine carefully loaded the unconscious conjurer onto Sylv's back before they helped me up as well . It was decided that only Samantha and I would ride Sylv to the first cavern of the dungeon while Jasmine and Elijah would follow close behind .

The journey back up only took a few hours compared to the full day we needed when we had travelled down .

'Sylv, can you still transform?' I asked as we ascended up toward the entrance of the dungeon . My mind was spinning, trying to come up with a way to protect her from greedy nobles in case she couldn't, but thankfully, she said that she could still change into a miniature form .

'What did you do during this time, anyway? How did you grow so quickly?' I sent Sylv while lying down against her long neck .

'I hunted a lot of monsters and ate their mana cores! I missed you a lot . I'm sorry I couldn't protect you while you were here . ' Another gust of wind formed beneath us as she flapped her wings down, accelerating towards our destination .

It seemed like her body wasn't able to grow without consuming mana cores, which reminded me of the beast core the elderwood guardian had dropped . At this point, I could only hope that it would stay hidden from adventurers until I went back down .

When we arrived at the first cavern—where the batrunners had been—I preparing myself to fight a couple of them in this crippled state . However, to my surprise, as soon as the batrunners saw Sylvie, they became so terrified, they simply buried their heads in the ground off in the opposite corner of the cave .

Jasmine and Elijah arrived a little less than an hour later, both heaving for breath . Sylv's body illuminated as she shrank back down into the size of a kitten at my mention, but I noticed the change in her appearance even in this form . Her red spikes had disappeared and she was pitch black—apart from her sharp yellow irises . All-in-all, she resembled a demonic, but harmless, black cat .

Sputtering out a series of pained coughs, Samantha stirred awake . As soon as she had become conscious enough to feel the pain in her legs, her eyes widened as she gasped from the agony . She had her arms wrapped around herself as she trembled .

"Y-You guys all made it," she croaked, her body trembling, and her face contorted from the pain . Her face was pale and I could tell she was beginning to burn up by the cold sweat that rolled down her forehead . Her lips were white and cracked as deep bags weighed down beneath her once bright eyes .

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"Stop talking," I ordered . "You need to save your energy . Don't worry, we'll get you help soon . "

Ignoring me, she carefully reached into her robe, pulling out my mask and something else . "Look what I f-found . "

"That's—" Elijah careened close to Samantha's hand .

"The elderwood's beast core," I finished, gently taking it from Samantha . "Nice work . I'll hold onto this until I get the chance to sell it . I think splitting it amongst us would be the best way . "

"Are you kidding me?" Elijah shook his head . "I don't want it . "

"Me neither . You deserve it, Arthur," Jasmine agreed .

"What? You guys don't want—"

"I'm just happy to be alive . I think it's fair that the one who killed it gets to reap the rewards," Samantha whispered, her consciousness wavering .

I studied the dull green stone, webbed with intricate lines of gray . "Thanks everyone . "

Samantha's lips curled up into a faint smile before she fell asleep again in Jasmine's arms .

I put the mask on my face and turned my gaze to my guardian . "Jasmine, can you and Elijah go first to the Guild Hall and get help back down here? I'll stay here with Samantha . "With a nod from the two of them, they headed out back up to the surface . Since it would take them at least four hours to send the message and arrive back, I planned on absorbing the elderwood's beast core . With the aid from the powerful core—and with my body that had been assimilated with Sylvia's will—I predicted that I should be able to make a full recovery by the time they came back .

Before I began my meditation with the the beast core, I took out the parchment I had received from the Twin Horns and recorded a message, telling my parents that I'll be coming home soon .

Forcing my unresponsive body into a cross-legged position . I took a deep breath with the elderwood guardian's beast core in my hands, all the while thinking of what I should do with Lucas .

It wasn't enough for me to just settle for petty revenge . I wanted to do something more . He was from a very powerful family of notorious mages and his blood gave him a certain amount of protection from the elves . Of course, with my connections with the royal family, I didn't think it would matter much, but the Wykes family that he was a part of could make things more complicated than I wanted them to be .

I didn't have much time to dwell on my options as I was stirred out of my meditation by the sound of footsteps approaching .

Judging from the uniforms, it was easy to assume that the people that filed in were the medics Jasmine and Elijah had sent . Within the group of medics was Kaspian, the lanky head of a Guild Hall branch . He was snapping orders at the medics and the few guards that he had brought along to protect the medics, just in case .

Hiding the mana core I couldn't finish absorbing, I watched as the medics worked on Samantha . They used a mixture of herbs to anesthetize her and pushed back the bones into the right place . The field of medicine wasn't that advanced in this world so I wasn't sure that they would be able to fully heal Samantha's legs, but I realized my worries were unnecessary when I saw an emitter begin working on her .

Kaspian walked towards me as I stood up . "Good evening, Mr . Note . I didn't expect for us to be meeting like this . Ms . Flamesworth has told me the situation and I know how you must feel . "

"Oh, do you now? Then would you kindly inform me the current location of Lucas so that I may properly respond to his actions against our party?" I replied through gritted teeth . Despite Kaspian's mild tone, I knew that he had personally come here to stop me from going after Lucas .

"I must advise you, Mr . Note, to refrain from taking actions against Mr . Wykes… right now . " He shook his head, confirming my assumption .

"And why not 'right now'? My identity is a secret and I have the capability to easily erase that bug's existence . Do you think you have the power to protect him from me?" My gaze was unrelenting as I took a step toward the thin man .

"Of course, I know I don't possess the power to fight against you when you're at your full strength, but I assure you that I can pose a threat to you right now," he calmly replied, straightening his glasses . "But even if I could, I wouldn't need to . Mr . Note, I am warning you because—believe it or not—I carry the obligation to care for you since you are affiliated with Ms . Flamesworth, even if she is the estranged daughter of the house . The Wykes are the type of people that will carry out revenge in the most extreme and brutal manner . Assuming that you do kill their precious son, Lucas, I know right now, you do not possess the power to kill the whole Wykes House . Even if they don't know your identity, that won't stop them from killing anyone that has had anything to do with you . This includes Ms . Flamesworth and the people she's affiliated with, the Twin Horns . Going further than that, I believe the Wykes will further their revenge against you by going against all of the people close to the Twin Horns party, which includes Reynolds Leywin and his family . "

I could feel the blood running down my fists as my nails dug deeper into my palms .

He had me .

"Like I said, Mr . Note, I wish to be on your side . What I said about the Wykes Family is all from previous events in the past so I can assure you that they will stop at nothing from wiping out anyone that had to do with you, even if it they weren't directly related . Until the day you hold the power and authority to protect the people you care for from them, I must advise you from acting against them for now . With that, I'll take my leave . The Adventurer, Samantha, must be taken back to a facility to be properly cared for . " Giving me a curt bow, he walk away towards Samantha, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth .

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I could only laugh at the pitiful state I was in . He was right . Until I could wipe away the whole Wykes House, it would be dangerous for my family and friends if I acted against them . No matter how much of an asshole he was, it wasn't worth risking my loved ones .

Through clenched fists, I swore to myself that Lucas would regret this day .

Elijah and Jasmine appeared soon after with solemn expressions, obviously overhearing the conversation I had with the Guild Hall leader .

Each placing a consoling hand on my shoulders, Elijah and Jasmine followed me out of the Dire Tombs with Sylv trailing close behind .

We arrived at the Guild Hall located on the outskirts of the Beast Glades about two hours later . Samantha was resting in the recovery facility as Jasmine, Elijah and I were sprawled on the couches in a private room . Kaspian had temporarily moved from his office in Xyrus to this branch and was seated behind the desk in the room when the door suddenly flew open .

"You guys managed to make it out alive!" Behind a group of barrel-chested adventures posing as guards was Lucas .

Kaspian, seated a few feet away from us, leaned his head on his hand—vexed at the boy's impertinence—as he locked gazes with me to remind me of our discussion .

Both Elijah and Jasmine sprang up from their seats, weapons ablaze as I remained in my seat . It took an amount of self control that I never knew I had to stop myself from lunging forward and skewering the brat to the door he dared come in through .

At this point, I couldn't tell whether he was that confident or just plain stupid for not just betraying us, but mocking us immediately after .

I guess he wasn't completely dumb, since he had the sense to at least bring some backup .

Lucas took a step forward, slapping the guard in front of him to move out of the way . "I wonder how you managed to escape from that terror of a beast . Did you have to sacrifice someone else to save yourselves? That whore, Samantha, is a cripple now, but she's alive so I don't think it was her . I don't see Brald, though… don't tell me you sacrificed hi—"

Before he had the time to finish his sentence, my fingers had already let go of the shortsword I had hidden behind me .

The next moment, Lucas let out a shrill scream as he clutched his right ear, blood leaking through the spaces between his fingers .

My backup sword that I had picked out from the Helstea Auction House had impaled itself deep into the wall behind Lucas, barely missing the head of the guard that stood behind him .

At the sounds of the hollow thud and scream, the guards whipped around to make sure their boss was okay before turning back to me with weapons held ready .

I stood up from my seat and walked steadily towards the pale Lucas, the entire room deathly silent .

"W-What do you think I'm paying you for?! Get him!" Lucas hissed, pointing at me with a trembling finger as his other hand still gripped his bleeding ear .

The guard closest to me lifted his axe in position to split me in two when I quickly used the scabbard of the shortsword I had just flung at Lucas to respond .

A sharp snap rang as the end of my scabbard met with the guard's fingers . With a pained howl, he let go of his axe as he instinctively nursed his broken fingers .

Before the rest of the guards could react, I lunged myself towards the frightened Lucas . I could hear Kaspian gasp behind me in fear that I would cross the line, but my hand merely went to my sword impaled into the wall right behind the boy .

The blonde noble's eyes nearly bulged outside of their sockets as his face was just inches away from mine .

"My apologies . I merely dropped my sword and wanted it back," I whispered, my voice coming out deeper and more threatening, thanks to my mask .

I pried the blade out of the wall and sheathed it back into the cover I had used to break the guard's fingers . Turning around, I sat back on the couch, nonchalantly motioning at Kaspian .

On cue, the guild leader hastily responded . "Now, now! Mr . Lucas, your ear is bleeding heavily . Let me escort you to the medical room to get that fixed up . "

Gently herding the noble brat and his guards out of the room, he turned back to me with an exasperated expression .

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"You did well," Jasmine broke the silence, taking a seat as well . "But I'm afraid you've made enemies with one of the strongest houses in the Kingdom of Sapin . "

"That's fine . He won't take action from what happened today . Despite that conceited attitude, Lucas is cautious . He knows that right now, if he doesn't go against me, I won't do anything more . "

Leaning forward, I gripped tightly at the black sword I had refused to unsheathe until the end . I vowed silently that this wouldn't be the end .

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