The Beginning After The End | Chapter 287

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Beginning After The End Manhwa Novel

Chapter 287



 Chapter 287


Chapter 287: Familial Ascent


A large plaza surrounded by a ring of tall lavender trees stretched out ahead of us, overcrowded and even louder than the first level of the Relictombs. The area was filled with the rumble of dozens of half-shouted conversations. If the crowd hadn’t been composed entirely of ascenders clad in impressive armor and weapons, I would’ve mistaken this place for a flea market.


“What…is this place?” I hesitantly asked, watching the ascenders file between neat rows of wooden booths.


“The best place to find a team…if you know what you’re looking for,” Haedrig replied before plunging into the crowd. “Come on.”


I hurried after him, not wanting to get separated within the sea of ascenders.


“Looking for a caster! At least two emblems required! One time ascent!”


“Looking for a sentry! Favorable distribution of all accolades!”


Each stall had at least one ascender standing nearby hollering out their requirements for an ideal candidate to join their team. It was fascinating.


I watched as a flat-faced, broad-shouldered hulk turned to show his exposed runes to a tall, twiggy man with long golden hair. The golden-haired ascender looked thoughtful, then shook his head, but I lost sight of them in the crowd after that.


Nearby, a handsome young ascender sat nonchalantly on his table, speaking in a low voice so that those surrounding him had to lean in to hear. I couldn’t make out the words, but, by the rapturous expressions of his audience, he must have been telling them a thrilling tale.


“Grey!” Haedrig called out, several paces ahead. “This way.”


The green-haired ascender led us past several rows of stalls until we arrived at a small building with ascenders shuffling in and out.


“You’ll need to get changed here first,” Haedrig explained, pointing to the windowless shed. “You brought your armor, right?”


I stepped to the back of the line. “Of course.”


While I had kept the white dagger within my coat as a safety measure, the black armor and teal cloak had been stored safely in my storage rune; Alaric had gotten me a dimension ring—using my own money, of course—before we visited the ascender building. The problem was that, because I couldn’t use mana, I wasn’t able to activate the ring. Still, I kept it on me; if anything, the ring served as camouflage to others.


After changing, I stepped out of the large shed. Haedrig eyed me critically.


“Is something wrong?”


“It’s—it’s nothing,” he said with a cough. “While the cloak looks nice, I was hoping you’d have a more impressive set of armor.”


“I haven’t really had the time to shop for armor,” I said, looking down at myself. “Do I really look that shabby?”


“Not shabby, just—” Haedrig scratched his head—“never mind. Let’s go.”


As I followed him back into the press of ascenders, I wondered what he was looking for. We had passed dozens of groups looking for new party members already, but Haedrig had barely spared them a glance.


Admittedly, based on the shouted advertisements and posted signage, it seemed unlikely that any of these groups would be interested in a new ascender who hadn’t even completed his preliminary ascent yet. In fact, most of the teams looking for an ascender here had listed requirements for a minimum number of ascents candidates must have completed.


“How are we going to find someone willing to take me here?” I asked, narrowly avoiding bumping into yet another ascender. “Most of these people seem to be looking for experienced ascenders.”


Haedrig looked back at me as he continued leading the way. “There are only established teams here looking for one-off members. If we go in a bit deeper, we’ll see different types of groups, including individuals who are looking to escort ascenders on their prelim.”


“Are you sure?” I asked. “Unless I’m willing to pay them, I really can’t see any benefit for an ascender to take the time to escort a wogart on their prelim.”


Haedrig stifled a laugh.


I frowned. “What is it?”


“I’ve never heard someone refer to himself as a wogart before,” he said, his voice tinged with laughter. “And, while not everyone finds it worth it, there are quite a few benefits.”


“Watch it,” a brawny woman in silver plate armor grunted as we butted shoulders.


“Sorry,” I muttered before turning back to my green-haired companion. “What are these benefits?”


“If you go to the trouble to meet the higher qualifications to get a principal’s badge—which a lot of experienced ascenders do anyway, since most academies require all of their instructors to have one—you don’t have to pay for any of the accommodations in any of the ascender buildings. Also, the High Sovereign gives a generous stipend for principals to take ascenders on their prelims,” Haedrig explained.


‘So another way to foster new ascenders. Agrona has invested an awful lot in making sure his people are willing to throw themselves into the jaws of death for him, huh?’ Regis said.


I nodded, considering Regis’s words. To Haedrig, I asked, “Is there anything else?”


Haedrig thought for a moment, slowing down his pace while still deftly avoiding the mass of ascenders. “Well, being a wogart farmer isn’t the most respected career path, but it’s pretty safe, especially if you have blood to take care of.”


I raised a brow. “Wogart farmer?”


“Oh, sorry. It’s another slang term—ascenders who have ‘retired’ and only escort candidates that need to do their preliminary ascent,” he clarified.


“So are they who we’re looking for—wogart farmers, I mean?”


“Yes, although we have to be careful about who we end up going with.”


As we walked further into the large, overcrowded plaza, I began to see more young ascenders—some of whom looked just about as lost as I felt.


“Let me handle the talking,” Haedrig said as he led us to one of the larger stalls.


“Ah, are you two looking for a principal to take you down?” the attendant, a burly gentleman with a handlebar mustache, asked gruffly.


“My friend is on his prelim, and I’ll be accompanying him,” Haedrig replied courteously. “Do you have an information sheet for your business?”


“Information sheet?” the burly ascender echoed, confused.


Haedrig didn’t bother with the man any further. With a curt nod, he said, “Thank you for your time,” and walked away.


I was curious, but stayed silent as Haedrig went from stall to stall. Some offered simple pamphlets, which looked to be a summary of their work history, though others, like the mustachioed ascender, seemed caught off guard by the request.


Ultimately, however, Haedrig would give the same curt nod and we’d move onto the next stall.


“What was wrong with that woman? She seemed to have already attracted a few people for their prelim ascents,” I asked.


Haedrig cocked a brow. “Attracted. Interesting choice of words. Did you want to go with her because she was pretty?”


“What?” I sputtered. “No, I was just saying that the other ascenders probably thought she was qualified enough to lead them down, right?”


“They were all men.”


“I’m just curious what your criteria is,” I grumbled, feeling as if I had been scolded for some reason.


“I see that Grey likes his women ample in the front,” Haedrig said with a shrug. “I’ll keep that in mind.”


‘I am also pro-ample women,’ Regis said matter-of-factly.


“Keep it in mind for what?” I said indignantly.


Ignoring my question, Haedrig handed me the pamphlet he had received from the female principal ascender. “Look closely. Though her pamphlet is notarized by the association, there’s no column for referrals from previous ascenders she has led on prelims, and she’s not even an alumna of an academy.”


“While I appreciate the thoroughness, is all of this really necessary?” I asked, handing back the piece of parchment. “I’m quite capable, and, seeing the way you carry yourself, I’m pretty certain you are too.”


Haedrig stared at me, mildly surprised. “Is it that noticeable?”


“For the trained eye it is.” I stepped toward my mysterious companion. “And it’s natural to study someone you don’t fully trust.”


Haedrig only nodded, his eyes meeting mine, his brow turned down thoughtfully, but the faintest hint of a smile on his lips.


‘He’s a little strange, isn’t he? Not us strange, but still strange,’ Regis mused.


He is a peculiar one, I agreed. But he doesn’t seem to have any ill intent, so far as I can tell.


We continued our search, going from stall to stall while Haedrig asked a few questions to the principal ascenders while I listened. There were a lot of older, washed up ascenders who reminded me of Alaric—albeit not so blatantly drunk. Some of the principals seemed to take it personally, as if it was a blow to their pride that we weren’t immediately worshipping them, but most were genuinely nice and rather patient with us.


This made it all the more frustrating that Haedrig still hadn’t found anyone he considered suitable. By the time we had looped the entire two rows of stalls, I was on the verge of just choosing one of the principal ascenders we had talked to myself when Haedrig stopped mid-step, causing me to almost bump into him.


“What’s wrong?” I asked, trying to follow his line of sight through the crowd, but there was too much noise and commotion.


Without a word, he bolted off, weaving through the crowd of meandering ascenders back to the teams looking for experienced ascenders. I followed after, surprised by how strongly he had reacted.


By the time I had caught up to him, the green-haired ascender was talking to a man of heroic build clad in a stunning dark suit of gold-trimmed armor emblazoned with a crest in the shape of a crown. With long blond hair that draped behind his shoulders and an expression that radiated confidence, I could see why he had caught Haedrig’s eye. He seemed to be mulling over something Haedrig had just said, but a muscular young man in a uniform embellished with the same crown cut in between them.


“Brother! You said we were looking for an experienced Shield. We don’t need another Striker, much less one with baggage.”


‘Isn’t that the boy that was glaring at you in the ascender building back at Aramoor?’ Regis asked.


I think so.


“Wasn’t it actually my overprotective little brother who wanted to find a Shield?” the armored ascender responded with amusement. “I can’t believe you don’t trust me enough to watch over my own siblings.”


“Yeah, you’re worrying too much, Ezra!” The speaker, one of a pair of girls—both wearing similar uniforms to the boy—had the same blond hair as our potential principal. I realized then that I recognized her and her friend; they had been with the group of students waiting to take their assessment. “You know that Brother has gone on at least a dozen ascents already. And besides, this ascender seems to be experienced as well.”


“And your poor old brother gets to make a little extra money,” the armored ascender said with a wink.


“It’s unbecoming for a member of our blood to say things like that,” the boy in uniform, Ezra, said with a click of his tongue.


Smiling faintly, Haedrig turned and scanned the mass of people until he caught sight of me.


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“Grey! Over here!” he said, raising his arm.


The two girls’ eyes widened in surprise as they saw me approach, while Ezra’s brow furrowed aggressively.


Their older brother just looked at the three in confusion.


I walked over to Haedrig’s side and looked at him for some answers.


“Kalon, this is Grey, my friend who needs to take his preliminary ascent,” Haedrig said, motioning toward the armored ascender. “Grey, this is Kalon of Blood Granbehl. He has agreed to take us along.”


“So you are familiar with my blood,” Kalon said with a nod.


“Blood Granbehl is a distinguished Named Blood hailing from the Dominion of Vechor,” Haedrig explained to me.


“From Vechor?” I echoed, wondering why I had seen the students in Aramoor, which was on the other side of the continent.


Kalon turned toward me. “Nice to meet you, Grey. As your friend mentioned, I’m Kalon Granbehl and these two fair-haired young ascenders-to-be are my younger siblings, Ada and Ezra.”


“And I’m Riah of Blood Faline,” the perky, short-haired friend said without missing a beat. “What a coincidence that we’re all seeing each other again so soon!”


“Again?” Kalon asked, his head shifting from me to Riah. “You’ve all met before?”


“I think we saw each other briefly back at the ascender building in Aramoor City,” I clarified. “Thank you for agreeing to take us with you.”


“Oh, it’s nothing! My brother has done this a lot since he’s an instructor,” Ada replied eagerly, shaking her head while Kalon looked at her with a mischievous grin.


“You’d best not hold us back. Even if it is just a preliminary ascent, the Relictombs are dangerous,” Ezra warned, stepping forward and sizing me up.


He stood roughly around my height, but his frame was much more broad and bulky than my own.


Slapping Ezra on the back, Kalon said, “You’re not at school anymore, little brother. Be careful, the pretty boy might be even stronger than you are.” Kalon eyed me as he said this, the jovial grin slipping from his face for a moment.


“A wogart with no academy training? I doubt it,” Ezra snapped before turning away.


Shaking away whatever thought had caught him, Kalon gave me a friendly smile. “Don’t mind him, he just gets a little protective around our precious little sister.”


“Brother!” Ada huffed, her cheeks turning red. Riah snickered and elbowed her friend.


“Anyway, I’m stuck having to take the kids on their prelim anyway, so you’re just making the trip a little more lucrative for me,” Kalon said with a grin. “Don’t worry though, I’ll still keep you all safe!”


“Thank you again,” I said with a faint smile.


It didn’t take mana perception to tell that, despite Kalon’s easy-going attitude, he was strong. From the way he looked at me beneath that placid gaze, he knew I was strong as well.


“Shall we depart?” Haedrig asked, looking at the students in uniform. “Or do the three of you need to change into your armor first?”


“Not necessary,” Ezra responded curtly, enveloping his body in mana.


Moments later, a full set of silver armor materialized around Ezra’s body along with a glistening crimson spear inscribed with faint golden runes.


“You should’ve seen how happy he was when our father got him that for his graduation present.” Kalon waggled his brows with a grin, forcing Ada to stifle a surprised giggle.


Ezra shot his older brother a menacing glare, and his neck and jaws flushed red in embarrassment.


Riah also had her own set of materializing armor, albeit one made from leather and chainmail, designed for speed and flexibility. She wielded a unique weapon—a dagger with a wide fan-like blade held by a grip embedded with small gems.


The youngest Granbehl sibling wore luxurious mage’s robes of soft green, lined on the inside with rows of runes while the sides were cut to enhance movement. The trim was gold, like Kalon’s armor, and was emblazoned with the same crown, likely signifying their blood’s crest. She had no wand or staff; instead, all ten of her fingers had a ring interlinked by a small chain attached to a silver bracelet on her wrists, which was embedded with a single pink gem.


“Those magically appearing armors seem useful,” I mentioned to Haedrig.


“They are,” the green-haired ascender replied as he led our now-complete party away from the rows of stalls.


“They’re also ridiculously expensive,” Kalon added. “But it’s a symbol of wealth and power, and my father loves that.”


I only nodded, unsurprised.


“So, Grey.” Riah stepped up beside me as our group headed out of the plaza, briefly catching my eye then looking away. “I’m curious what your scores were on the assessment.”


Ada stepped up closer, and even Ezra slowed his pace, tilting his head toward us to listen in.


“I think, aside from ‘flexibility of offensive magic’, I scored above average,” I answered.


“Oh! That’s not bad!” Kalon chimed in, looking back at us over his shoulder. “It’s hard to get a good score in flexibility unless you have runes of different elements so don’t beat yourself up for it.”


Ezra scoffed. “Not even one ‘exceptional’ score?”


‘Another wogart that needs to be humbled,’ Regis said with a sigh.


“Ezra, what did Mother say about being arrogant?” Ada chided.


“Yeah!” Riah defended as well. “And who was the one that got below average on their ‘mental acuity’ score again?”


“Shut up!” Ezra barked, this time red up to his ears.


“Settle down, kids,” Kalon scolded gently. “You’re making our two new members uncomfortable.”


Ezra rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything. The girls shared a quick glance and hid their laughter behind his back. Haedrig, on the other hand, had grown more quiet and serious the closer we got to our destination.


“We’re almost there!” Riah said excitedly, pointing at the giant three-story arch with a golden white light shimmering at the center.


A wide terrace separated the busy plaza from the portal. Several other roads opened into the terrace, and a steady stream of ascenders moved through.


The terrace itself was ringed with white walls, each road entering under a copy-in-miniature of the portal arch. Banners bearing crests were displayed proudly, hung from the walls all around the terrace.


“The crests of the bloods who own homes in the Summit Estates,” Ada said, following my gaze.


Ascenders huddled in groups throughout the terrace. One group appeared to be praying, each of them sitting cross legged in a line facing the portal, their eyes closed, their lips moving silently. Another team was arguing about how to divide their accolades, their raised voices cutting across the noise of conversation and heavy, booted feet.


There were no lines; however, the massive size of the portal could accommodate any number of ascenders at a time.


“I wonder what sort of zone we’ll end up in!” Ada wondered out loud, her vivid green eyes lighting up in excitement as she gazed at the golden white portal.


Ezra stood stone-faced and resolute, almost, but not quite, looking the part of the stoic warrior about to embark upon an epic quest. The slight shaking of his hand on the shaft of his spear, and the way he kept having to rearrange his facial features, gave him away.


“Are you okay?” I asked Haedrig, who had been silent since we left the plaza.


He looked up, eyebrows raised and mouth partly open like he was surprised to find me standing next to him. “Yeah, I’m fine—” Haedrig’s voice cracked, causing him to stop and clear his throat. “I’m fine,” he repeated.


I nodded in response, but I could tell he was nervous about something. He had withdrawn his long, thin saber from his dimension ring and was constantly fidgeting with it as we approached the towering arch of stone and magic.


“Wait!” Kalon exclaimed abruptly. “I told mom that I’d take a picture of you three before we go on our ascent!”


Ezra let out a groan, but Riah linked her arm through his and pulled him over to Ada, who happily took Riah’s other arm. The three stood in front of the gate, the portal rippling softly behind them.


“Perfect!” Kalon shouted after taking several steps back. He crouched on the ground and clicked a switch on the large metal-and-glass artifact he was holding.


“Did you two want to join as well?” Kalon asked.


“Yeah! Join us!” Riah said, her eyes lighting up. “Grey can stand next to Ada!”


“It’s okay,” I said politely. “But I can take a picture of the four of you.”


“Can you?” Kalon handed me the artifact, which was the size of my head. “Just point this part at us, imbue some mana into the artifact, and toggle the switch!”


‘Well that backfired,’ Regis commented. ‘How are you going to make it work if you don’t have any mana?’


Before I could say anything, Kalon had already run off to strike an exaggerated pose next to his siblings and Riah, who laughed at his antics. Even Ezra wore an amused expression as he watched his brother.


“Do you need help?” Haedrig asked, walking toward me.


“I’ve…um…never really worked with one of these artifacts before,” I said. “Do you mind taking it?” I held the device out to him. “I don’t want to take a bad picture,” I finished lamely.


Haedrig looked at me for a moment but took the artifact from my hands.


“Ready?” he asked, pointing the artifact at the Granbehl blood and their friend.


“Ready!” they answered in unison. Ada and Riah struck cute poses while Ezra held his chin high and gripped his spear with both hands. Kalon settled on just crossing his arms and revealing a wide, confident smile.


It was a bittersweet feeling watching the happy family commemorate what seemed almost like a rite of passage for their blood.


“It’s a nice sight,” Haedrig said, staring off into the distance.


“The gate?” I asked.


He shook his head, a trace of sadness on his stoic face. “The family. You can tell that they’ve grown up being loved.”


“Yeah,” I agreed. “A bit loud, but they all seem like good people.”


“And Kalon Granbehl is a very capable ascender. He’s one of the rising stars among ascenders,” Haedrig said, his voice lowering to almost a whisper. “Let’s hope he’s strong enough to get us through this ascent, right Grey?”


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