21st Century Archmage - Chapter 108

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“A black-colored fuel?”

“Yes. Have you seen anything like that in the nearby mines? A black firewood that burns for a very long time when set aflame.”

“I have.”

“Really?! Where did you see it? Is it still there?”

“Of course. In the past, our predecessors used it before switching to magic furnaces. It’s called artamian.”

‘I knew it. Who else but the dwarves would be so well-informed about coal?’

Coal was not being used on the continent yet, but the dwarves knew the value of this source of fuel.

“There’s a ton of it. There’s a huge mountain not far from our cave made completely of artamian, and plenty of it elsewhere in the Rual Mountains. But why do you ask? It smells and you can even be killed by the smoke.”

The Dwarven Patriarch, Cassiars, was referring to carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Please take me there. Or well, please briefly lend me a dwarf who can find the artamian.”

“No problem. Artamian is something even young dwarves can locate.”

“Thank you very much, Patriarch. The dwarves are truly my kin.”

“Haha, this is nothing. Thanks to you, we dwarves are happy. Even without having to trade with untrustworthy humans, we can drink plenty of beer, have an abundance of food, and do what we love every day, so we can’t be more thankful. Kyre, let’s keep going like this until the day we die.”

‘Gosh, this old man. You’re stating the obvious. I would be very thankful if we could maintain this relationship across generations as well!’

Patriarch Cassiars was thanking me for giving him so much to do. Pretty much all they required from me was beer, grain, and other kinds of food, but the dwarves gave so much goodwill in return that I couldn’t even put it into words. They made not just the sword at my hip, but enspelled armor, the gear used by the territory soldiers, as well the jewelry and luxurious ornaments for the Rubis Merchants to trade. If you calculated all that into money, it was an amount my territory wouldn’t be able to afford even if we sold the clothes off our backs.

But despite that, the dwarves were happy to have work from me. Any desire to make them work like slaves forever vanished into the wind.

“The dwarves are family to me. It is my belief that there’s no need to say thanks between family members. Patriarch Cassiars, I love and respect you.”

“Kyre, I love you too, you rascal. No, our entire clan truly loves you.”

Our versions of love might be a little different, but I held the Patriarch’s hand and spoke words from my heart.

“That aside, how did the things I requested go…?”

“Haha, who do you think we are? The goods you requested are being crafted according to plan. The broken mithril armor is getting melted down and made sturdier, and one ballista is being made every two days. Several of us are also making various weapons without rest, so don’t worry.”

“Thank you. I’ll treat you all big time to some beer very soon.”

“Really?!”

“Of course! Take my word for it!”

“Ohh! Of course. What human other than you would I trust!”

‘Patriarch… Please don’t trust any human, including me.’

Cassiars’ unrelenting trust in me nagged slightly at my conscience, but I steeled my heart. Like the Patriarch said, what the dwarves needed was beer and food, as well as an environment where they could work without rest—they were fully satisfied with that. Unlike humans, they didn’t need money, and the dwarves had zero greed or interest in accumulating wealth. All they wanted was to work with their hands until the day they died, striving to increase their craftsmanship. From a human’s perspective, it might not seem like a satisfying life, but that was due to a human’s greedy way of thinking.

“Nerpopo!”

“Yes, Patriarch!!!”

Standing in the plaza where we were talking, the Patriarch called Nerpopo, a dwarf I was also familiar with.

“Follow Kyre and find him a source of artamian.”

“Understood, Patriarch.”

“It’s cold outside, so wear some proper clothes and enough layers of them.”

“Hehe, yes, sir,” giggled Nerpopo, rejoicing at the prospect of going outside.

“I’m in your capable hands, Nerpopo-nim.”

“Aw shucks, you’re family to us, Kyre-nim. No need to stand on ceremony.”

Every time I met them, the dwarves gave me a sense of peace. I simply felt bad that these kind dwarves were betrayed by humans in the past.

“Then, let’s go when you’re ready.”

“I’ll be back in just a moment.”

Knowing we would ride on Bebeto, Nerpopo ran into his house like a whirlwind.

“But Kyre, are the people up north doing well these days?”

“Pardon? The people up north?”

“You know, the people who call themselves the Temir.”

‘Oh? He knows about the Temir?’

“They were invading the territory until not long ago, but they’re quiet now. Did something happen?”

“N-No.”

Patriarch Cassiars clearly knew something but was trying to hide it from me. I didn’t miss the flash of fear in his eyes and the way his face stiffened when speaking about the Temir.

“Be careful. They’re dangerous. In the past, our ancestors got kidnapped by them. Be particularly cautious of the shamans wearing black… Our predecessors said they weren’t human.”

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“I see…”

In a few days, I would be going to meet the Temir, who were somehow connected to the dwarven ancestors.

‘Come to think of it, there aren’t many days left in the year.’

It was already the last month of the cold winter.

Kallian had twelve months in a year, just like Earth, and in the last month of the continent, I would be going to see Lokoroïa.

* * *

“This place looks about right. Please clear the snow.”

There were apparently coal mines all over the Rual Mountains. Since they were so numerous, I took the liberty of searching only mountains near the developed road. We eventually ended up all the way at a place where Fort Ciaris could be seen. Nerpopo pointed at a place among the snow-covered mountains.

“Trees cannot live for long in places where artamian mines exist. That’s why there aren’t any big trees here, and if you get close, you can catch the strong, unique smell of artamian.”

As if to prove he was a dwarf with a dog’s sense of smell when it came to minerals, Nerpopo sniffed out a smell that I couldn’t possibly perceive.

“Please stand back a bit.”

After asking Nerpopo to back off, I prepared to fire a spell.

‘If I want to overturn the earth…’

Countless spells came to mind. These days, my mana core would react immediately at the mere thought of magic. My mana breathing technique was always unique, but the more I practiced it, the shorter the magic casting delay became.

“Earth Mow!!!”

I picked Earth Mow, an earth-attribute spell. Responding to my chant, mana slipped out of my mana core, combining with the mana in the atmosphere.

‘Beautiful.’

The flow of mana was invisible to the eye of a regular person without much mana sensitivity. But after breaking the wall of the 6th Circle and becoming even more familiar with mana, I could now clearly see the fusion of the mana as the spell formed. Thousands, no, millions, of small mana lights race forward, clumping together and rapidly expanding. Like nuclear atoms fusing to create enormous power, the mana transformed thousands of… no, tens of thousands of times in mere moments.

Craaaaaaaash!

Then, they surged towards the place I desired, acting on the world as ‘magic’.

Ruuuuuuumble.

As expected of a 5th Circle spell, Earth Mow created a huge hole in the mountain in front of me.

Debris from the blast rolled down the mountain to my feet.

‘Coal!!!’

I was able to confirm it with my own eyes—it was coal, the lustrous black combustible made mostly of carbon. It was obvious from the way it gleamed that it was high quality coal with outstanding combustibility and high duration.

“This is good quality artamian, a rare find.”

Running over, Nerpopo examined the coal.

“Haha, thank you, Nerpopo-nim.”

“Compared to what you’ve done for us, this much is nothing,” said Nerpopo, as modest as ever.

“In that case, please find a few more places for me.”

“Hehe, alright. After being in the cave for so long, I don’t want to go back yet either.”

‘With this much, we should have more than enough for hundreds of years.’

The coal mountain looked to be several hundred meters high at a single glance. It was only 2 km away from Fort Ciaris, so it would be easy to access. The workers would be cold while mining and transporting the coal, but the hardships of a few men would make the lives of many, including themselves, much easier. If hundreds of thousands of people could be happy thanks to the hard work of several thousand, that was a worthwhile trade.

Whooooosh.

As was befitting of the rumored winter, snow was piled up on the trees and flew off in powdery gusts. The pure-white snow chilled my face.

‘It’s a truly beautiful place.’

Looking around, I surveyed my land. This was my land, one that I had to protect and maintain. Before I knew it, this place had become my dream and my homeland, a place I loved more than Earth.

I had no reservations about sweating and toiling for the sake of this land.

Nerman.

Nerman had become a place I could no longer live without.

My tenacious love was already fired from Cupid’s Bow, and nothing could ever stop it…

* * *

‘It’s a relief that the coal mining could be started without delay.’

That day, Nerpopo found five coal mines. A human would have never been able to achieve such a feat, but a whopping five of them were miraculously found in a single day. He told me it was actually much easier because it was winter. When the forests grew dense with leaves, the smell of nature obscured the scent of the coal.

‘I also dispatched two flights of wyverns, the miners should be safe.’

1,000 slaves familiar with limestone mining and people needing work were loaded onto carriages and dispatched to one of the coal mines. I also sent the beastmen and all seven of the mages there, since mages seemed necessary as well. We needed the coal fast, not after a long period of mining, so I invested a large number of personnel to quickly finish the job and acquire plenty of coal to make it through the winter.

‘The spears are all ready, too. After sending part of the grain taken as taxes to Orakk Castle, everything will be ready to go.’

At first, I was fine, but as Lokoroïa’s coming-of-age ceremony drew near, my heart began to feel strangely anxious. I somehow had the feeling I wouldn’t be able to come back to the territory for a while, so I rushed Derval and the knights to get everything done.

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‘But why…do I feel this uneasy?’

It wasn’t too late to renege on the promise with the Temir. Not a single person in the world would condemn me for doing so, other than the Temir themselves. However, my pride would not allow that. At the very least, I was someone who could take responsibility for my words. That was my idea of a man born with balls, at least.

‘When spring comes, things’ll get busy. The Laviter bastards could come rushing in at any time.’

Among the enemies I had left, the Laviter Empire was the biggest pain in the ass. My head hurt just thinking about them. They were enemies we’d have to butt heads with at some point anyway, but for the current Nerman, they were simply too strong.

‘If they just gave us one more year, we wouldn’t have anything to fear, even from them…’

There was no guarantee we could easily win, like in the battle with the Havis Kingdom. Laviter was rumored in the continent to be an aggressive, militaristic empire. Every one of their knights and soldiers were rumored to be elites.

“…Kyre-nim.”

“…!!”

I was intently concentrating on my thoughts when I suddenly heard someone call me from behind.

“A-Aramis-nim.”

Aramis had approached without me knowing and was smiling brightly.

“You seemed to be thinking about something important, I hope I am not interrupting…”

Aramis always had greater consideration for others than herself. Her small lips moved conscientiously.

“Not at all. Also, how could there be anything more important than seeing you, Aramis-nim? Hahaha.”

I fired a refreshing smile towards Aramis, whose mere appearance bolstered my strength.

“Pft, you say that, but you haven’t visited me at all lately…” she said, making a demure expression.

My heart warmed to see a woman who only ever showed a submissive attitude expressing her sincere feelings.

“That’s why Aramis-nim came to see me instead, no? If I come to visit every day, people will misunderstand. To be more precise, those paladins who worship you like a god will request a duel.”

“Hmph. Since when were you ever scared of the paladins… It’s all because you don’t want to see me, isn’t it? I’m right, aren’t I?”

Unlike her words, Aramis’ eyes were full of happiness. I was happy just looking at her, happy that we could be together in the same place, breathing the same air.

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“Then how about today? I will accompany you and have some fun, so will you please forgive me?”

“After I see your performance. You can’t say this and just try to coax me by giving me another ride on Bebeto.”

“Of course, just believe in me.”

“Hoho, alright. I’ll believe you once.”

It was said that if you love someone, even shyness will turn into confidence. Since the first time we met, Aramis had become more mature, but also more womanly.

“Let us be off, my lady.”

Gesturing to the door, I escorted Aramis, who couldn’t conceal her happiness at my gentlemanly act.

‘I apologize. And thank you.’

I spoke the words I couldn’t say out loud in my heart, sending all my feelings right now with a warm gaze towards her.

I truly felt that even if no one but Aramis could understand me in this world, that would be enough.

* * *

Ruuuuuuuuumble!

“Wow! The strength of a spirit is incredible!”

An intermediate earth spirit, a Gnomae, sent waves rippling through the frozen ground, creating a slope. It would have taken hundreds of people several days of shoveling to achieve what the Gnomae did in an instant.

‘I finally have some time off.’

Outside of the Denfors castle walls, the land showed no traces of the bloody battle that had taken place very recently. With Gnomae’s help and nearly all of my mana, I turned the ground into a 100-meter tall slope.

‘Huhu. Ta-da! The perfect sledding site is open for business!’

Because of the enemy invasion, even the Festival of Sapphire was cancelled. However, I secretly thought up various entertainment facilities for the children of Nerman, the little fighters who had held onto life despite constant hunger and stringent parents. I even thought about making a theme park with the dwarves once the territory was stable. We weren’t quite there yet, so I had to be satisfied with just this for now.

“But why did you make such a big hill?”

“My liege… What do you intend to do with this…”

The busy Derval looked doubtfully at the mound of dirt.

“Derval, order the carpenters to make sleds. They should be made of light materials, around 20 cm tall and a simple wooden floor. The areas around the seat should be wrapped with soft leather to prevent injury.”

“Huh?”

Derval should be used to my weird orders by now, but it seemed he was really puzzled this time.

“200 of them will be more than enough.”

“U-Understood.”

Knowing I wouldn’t say it twice, Derval nodded.

“Gnomae, cover the hill completely with all the snow around here.”

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Gnomae, which hadn’t yet returned to the Spirit Realm, moved through the frozen ground without resistance. With great ease, it pushed the 50 cm high snow drifts onto the newly made sledding hill.

“Are you making a snowman?”

As if she was happy to be doing anything with me, no matter what it was, Aramis clapped excitedly.

“No.”

“Then?”

“Who knows, you need not wait long to find out.”

Around 50 paladins had followed us all the way from covert. Standing at least 20 meters away from Aramis, their guard was watertight. They were also straining their ears to listen in on our conversation, so I couldn’t converse with her at ease. I could feel from their gazes that if I even hinted at casual speech, they would accuse me of insulting a divine being and risk their lives to attack me.

‘It’s done!’

The very obedient Gnomae quickly finished the job.

“You can go back now, Gnomae.”

Gnomae nodded, then instantly returned to the Spirit Realm.

“Is it all finished?”

“Yes.”

“…..”

After looking at the sledding hill once, Aramis turned to gaze at me. I took her hand.

Zing.

The moment I brought her silky smooth hand into mine, the aura of the paladins immediately changed.

“All of you, stay put. There’s no need to be so on guard. Aramis is the person I value more than any other in this world.”

These paladins needed to be taught their place. Releasing my mana, I pressed the bristling aura of the paladins into the ground.

“Let’s go.”

Whumph, whumph.

Picking Aramis up, I leapt up the hill almost as if flying.

“Oh my!” Aramis breathed in surprise, wrapping her cute arms around my embrace.

“Alrighty, please hold onto this.”

I took off the cloak on my back and spread it on the ground with a flutter.

“Why this?”

Still unaware of the joys of sledding, Aramis blinked her large eyes at me.

Holding onto her slightly with one hand, I simply sat down onto the cloak with her in front of me.

“Here we go!”

“Huh?”

Swish.

My cloak began to fly down the snow with lightning speed.

“Ahhhhhh!”

Surprised by the speed, Aramis screamed as we swept down the hill. Despite my warning, the paladins instinctively gathered as soon as they heard Aramis’ surprised shout.

Woooooosh.

It wasn’t quite as thrilling as Bebeto’s acrobatic stunts, but the sledding hill won 100/100 points for fun factor. We descended from a 100 meter height in a few seconds, then continued to slide 50 meters with the momentum.

Because everything had happened in an instant, Aramis let out a long sigh in my embrace.

“S-Saintess!”

The paladins came running over in concern.

“Hohoho. Kyre-nim! That was really fun!” With an exhilarated laugh, Aramis turned to look at me, her eyes dancing with mirth. “Let’s do it again!”

As if returning to her days as a young girl, she eagerly dragged me back to the hill, my hand in hers.

“Of course. I will give you a ride until the sun sets.”

“Really?! Thank you!”

Aramis jumped up and down in excitement. I grinned at her, completely unaware that her joyful appearance would result in me very nearly fulfilling my easily-spoken promise of giving her a ride until the sun set.

“Hohoho. I’m so happy.”

Aramis was someone who delighted in even the smallest of joys.

Gazing at her sparkling eyes, I smiled at her.

I’m happy because you’re here, Aramis…

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