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Arcane Awakening

4.22

Chapter 4.2: The Edge of Desperation

5

Eldor had recovered enough strength to walk without staggering, thanks to the immediate care he had received from Elaris. 


But as he ventured deeper into the heart of the village, his newfound energy began to wane. 


The bustling activity around him, vibrant and full of life, only emphasized his own disheveled and weakened state.


He had set off early, hoping to find some clues or help before the day wore on. The village was beginning to stir, with merchants setting up their stalls and villagers greeting the morning sun. 


Eldor’s stomach growled. The bread and water from Elaris had been a temporary relief, but he needed more sustenance to continue his journey.


As he wandered, Eldor’s attention was caught by a glint of light. He stopped, squinting to see what had caught his eye. 


There, lying on the ground ahead of him, was a small pile of coins, gleaming in the early morning light. He stared at them in disbelief.


“What is this?” he muttered. “Why are there coins here?”


Just then, a sharp clicking sound reached his ears. He turned to see a group of villagers gathered around, watching him with a mix of pity and curiosity.


“Tsk, tsk,” an older woman clucked her tongue, shaking her head. “So young and already reduced to this. How did he end up as a beggar?”


The sound of metal clinking against the cobblestones drew his attention back to the ground. More coins were being tossed his way, the small pile growing larger with each passing moment.


“He looks like he’s been through hell,” a man said, shaking his head sadly. “Poor kid. Looks like he won’t last much longer if someone doesn’t help him.”


Eldor’s heart sank as he realized what was happening. 


To the villagers, he looked like a pitiable beggar. His tattered clothes, bruised face, and gaunt frame painted a picture of utter destitution.


“No,” he thought “I am a beggar, aren’t I? At least, that’s what they see.”


To the world, Eldor was no longer the great mage he once was. He was just another lost soul, struggling to survive.


“Oh my, he’s crying,” a woman said. “Poor thing. Here, take this and get yourself something to eat.” She tossed another coin onto the growing pile.


Eldor’s vision blurred with tears, but not from gratitude. The pride of a once-mighty arcane swordmaster was shattered. 


Only days ago, he had been a force to be reckoned with, a hero in his own right. Now, he was reduced to accepting charity from strangers.


“How did I fall so low?” he whispered. “From the greatest swordsman to this…”


Despite the humiliation, Eldor knew he couldn’t afford to let his pride dictate his actions. He needed to survive, to gather strength and continue his quest. The coins at his feet represented more than just charity; they were a means to an end.


Swallowing his pride, he reached down and gathered the coins into his hands. 


The villagers watched in silence.


“Thank you. I… I appreciate your kindness.”


He stood up, clutching the coins tightly. His legs trembled with the effort, but he managed to stay upright. 


The villagers began to disperse, satisfied that they had done their good deed for the day.


Eldor took a deep breath, trying to steady his emotions. He needed to find a place where he could buy food and perhaps rest a little longer before continuing his journey. 


He glanced around, spotting a small tavern at the edge of the square. It looked humble but welcoming, with the promise of a hot meal and a brief respite.


Stepping into the tavern, he was greeted by the warm scent of fresh bread and roasting meat. The innkeeper, a burly man with a kind face, looked up from behind the bar.


“What can I do for you?” the innkeeper asked, eyeing Eldor’s ragged appearance.


Eldor held out the handful of coins, his voice firm despite his inner turmoil. “I need a meal and a place to rest. Can you help me?”


The innkeeper nodded, taking the coins with a smile. “Of course. Come in, sit down. I’ll get you something right away.”


Eldor sat in the corner of the bustling tavern. The innkeeper had been kind enough to give him a hearty meal in exchange for the coins he had collected.


The meal had rejuvenated him more than he expected. 


He felt the warmth spreading through his body, giving him a semblance of strength. Eldor’s thoughts turned to his next steps. He couldn’t remain in the village indefinitely; he had a mission to complete.


After finishing his meal, Eldor leaned back in his chair. The distance to the possible location of Lumina Academy was daunting. “Two thousand miles,” he murmured. “How am I going to manage that in this state?”


He knew that traveling such a distance as he was now—weak, undernourished, and with no resources—was nearly impossible. 


He needed a plan. Perhaps he could find work in the village to earn some money or even gather information on a quicker way to travel.


Eldor stood up. He needed to gather information and resources. He approached the innkeeper who was polishing a glass behind the bar.


“Excuse me,” Eldor began, “I’m looking for a way to travel a long distance. Do you know if there’s anyone in the village who might be able to help me?”


The innkeeper looked up, his brow furrowing in thought. “Depends on where you’re headed,” he said, setting the glass down. “Where are you trying to go?”


“Lumina Academy,” Eldor replied, hoping the name still carried some weight.


The innkeeper’s eyes widened slightly. “Lumina Academy? That’s a name I haven’t heard in years. It’s a long way from here, almost mythical to most folks these days. Why do you want to go there?”


Eldor hesitated, choosing his words carefully. “It’s… personal.”


The innkeeper nodded slowly. “Well, if you’re serious about it, you might want to talk to Old Marik. He’s a retired merchant who used to travel all across the lands. He might know a thing or two about how to get there. You’ll find him at the edge of the village, in a small cottage by the woods.”


Eldor thanked the innkeeper and made his way out of the tavern while holding a hand pie. 


As Eldor walked towards the edge of the village, he was abruptly pulled from his reverie by a harsh voice.


“Hey! You there!”


Eldor turned, surprised to find himself face-to-face with three scruffy-looking men. Their clothes were ragged, their faces dirty and hardened by a life of hardship. It didn’t take long for Eldor to recognize them as beggars, much like how he must have appeared when he first arrived.


“Who gave you permission to beg here?” the leader of the trio demanded.


Eldor blinked in confusion. “I wasn’t begging,” he said calmly “I was just… passing through.”


“Passing through?” the second man scoffed, stepping closer. “You’ve got coins, don’t you? How’d you get them if you weren’t begging?”


Eldor’s hand instinctively tightened around the few remaining coins in his pocket. “People gave them to me, out of kindness,” he replied, his voice steady. “I didn’t ask for them.”


The leader spat on the ground, glaring at Eldor. “It doesn’t matter. This is our turf. If you want to stay here, you pay a toll. Otherwise, we’ll have to teach you a lesson.”


Eldor’s eyes narrowed. He had faced far greater threats in his past life, but in his current state, he wasn’t sure if he could defend himself against three assailants. He needed to think quickly.


Eldor took a step back, assessing his options. He didn’t want to escalate the situation, but he couldn’t afford to lose the little he had. “Look,” he said, raising his hands in a placating gesture, “I don’t want any trouble. I’ll be leaving soon. I just need some information.”


The leader sneered, his eyes glinting with malice. 


“Information, huh? Maybe we should give you some information instead—like what happens to beggars who cross us.”


Before Eldor could respond, the man lunged at him, fists swinging. Eldor sidestepped, his instincts taking over. The movements felt clumsy compared to his former grace, but they were enough to avoid the initial attack.


The second beggar tried to grab him from behind, but Eldor twisted out of his grasp, using his limited strength and agility to evade their clutches. 


“Enough!” a voice shouted from behind the beggars, startling everyone. Eldor turned to see a tall, stern-looking man striding towards them. 


“You three should know better than to harass travelers,” the man said. “Leave him be, or you’ll have me to answer to.”


One of the beggars scowled but didn’t argue. “Fine,” he spat. “But don’t think this is over. We'll be back” With a final glare at Eldor, the trio slunk away.


“Thank you,” Eldor said “I’m not sure what would have happened if you hadn’t intervened.”


The man nodded, his expression softening. “I saw you coming out of the tavern. Looked like you needed some help.” He extended a hand. “Name’s Roderic. I used to be a mercenary. Now I keep an eye out for troublemakers like them.”


Eldor shook his hand, feeling a flicker of hope. “I’m Eldor. I’m trying to find my way to Lumina Academy. I’ve heard there’s someone named Marik who might be able to help.”


Roderic’s eyebrows raised. “Marik, eh? You’re in luck. He’s a good friend of mine. I can take you to him.”


“That would be wonderful.”


He was about to follow Roderic to Marik’s cottage when another group of beggars together with the one before surrounded him. They wanted whatever he had left—his meager coins, his food, and perhaps even his dignity.


The leader, a tall, wiry man with a scar running down his cheek, stepped forward, his eyes gleaming with malice. 


“You’re still a child, so I’ll spare your life,” he sneered. “But hand over everything you’ve got. All the money, everything you’re hiding, even the scraps you’re holding. Leave it here and go.”


Eldor glanced at his hands, clutching the last remnants of a meal—cold hand pie. He looked up at the beggars. “You want to take my food too?” he said, incredulous. “You people have no conscience. How am I supposed to survive?”


The leader laughed harshly. “Survive? That’s your problem, not ours. Now hand it over!”


The absurdity of the situation struck Eldor like a blow. He was being extorted by those who were, in essence, his peers in this wretched state. The irony was almost laughable—beggars fighting over scraps.


With a resigned sigh, Eldor carefully set the hand pie on the ground, out of harm's way. He then stood up slowly. He stretched his arms and legs,  testing the limits of his weakened body.


“What are you doing?” one of the beggars asked.


“Just getting ready,” Eldor replied calmly. 


He rolled his shoulders, then swung his arms in wide arcs, taking a step forward and then one back. He could feel his muscles responding, albeit sluggishly, to the familiar movements. Moreover, while he was able to gather pure mana, it won’t suffice to perform magical spells.


The beggars exchanged bewildered glances, clearly unsure what to make of this odd display. 


“You’ve got to be kidding,” the leader muttered, “What’s he trying to pull?”


Eldor finished his routine and stood up straight. “Alright,” he said, flexing his fingers. “It’s not perfect, but it’ll have to do.”


“What’s your problem?” the leader snarled. “Hand over the stuff or we’ll take it by force!”


Eldor’s lips curled into a thin smile. “You’re going to regret this,” he said softly. “I have a grudge against people who prey on the weak.”


Without warning, Eldor lunged forward. Despite his frail appearance, his movements were quick and precise. He aimed a punch at the leader’s face. His fist connected with a satisfying thud, and the leader staggered back, clutching his nose.


“Ah!” the leader cried out in pain.


Eldor didn’t pause. He turned and kicked the next beggar in the stomach, sending him sprawling to the ground. The next beggar, seeing his comrades fall, hesitated, but Eldor was on him in a flash. He swung his fist in a wide arc, catching the man on the side of the head. The beggar crumpled to the ground, groaning.


Eldor stood over the fallen men, breathing hard. His body ached from the exertion, but he felt a fierce satisfaction. “I am Eldor,” he said. “And I won’t be bullied by the likes of you.”


The leader, still clutching his nose, looked up at him. “W-what kind of monster are you?” he stammered. “How can someone like you fight so well?”


Eldor laughed. “I’ve had to learn a few things in my time. Now get up and leave before I decide to teach you another lesson.”


The beggars scrambled to their feet, fear etched in their faces. “We didn’t know,” one of them muttered, backing away. “We thought you were just another beggar.”


“Looks can be deceiving,” Eldor replied coldly. “Now, go. And don’t come back.”


The men hesitated, then turned and fled, casting fearful glances over their shoulders. Eldor watched them go, his fists still clenched. It had taken everything he had to fight them off, but he had done it. He had protected what little he had left.


As he bent to retrieve the hand pie, Roderic’s voice rang out behind him. “Impressive,” he said, walking up to Eldor with a nod of approval. “You handled them well.”


Eldor straightened, wiping sweat from his brow. “Thank you,” he said. “I didn’t want to fight, but they didn’t give me much choice.”


Roderic smiled. “You’ve got spirit, that’s for sure. Come on, let’s get you to Marik. He’ll know how to help you on your journey.”


They soon reached a small, well-kept cottage on the outskirts of the village. Smoke curled from the chimney, and the scent of herbs and wood smoke filled the air. 


Roderic knocked on the door, and after a moment, it swung open to reveal an elderly man with sharp, intelligent eyes and a welcoming smile.


“Roderic!” the man exclaimed. “What brings you here today?”


“Marik, I have someone you should meet,” Roderic said, stepping aside to reveal Eldor. “This is Eldor. He’s looking for a way to Lumina Academy.”


Marik’s eyes widened slightly, and he nodded slowly. 


“Lumina Academy, you say? That’s quite the journey.” He stepped back, gesturing for them to enter. “Come in, come in. Let’s talk.”

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