With their mission complete, Indra, Lakshman and Ondine returned from the Monster Dungeon. They let out a sigh of relief and breathed in the fresh air once they stepped out into the open.
“Good to be back in the living world!” Indra said and he smiled slightly.
“Dad, we’ve been alive the whole time,” Lakshman said.
“I know, but when you go deeper into those floors, you’d think you left a part of yourself behind.”
“You know… your humanity or something similar…” Indra said vaguely.
“… I don’t get it,” Lakshman said after a moment’s pause.
“Don’t worry about it. You’re still young and inexperienced. When you spend more time fighting monsters like me, you’ll understand.”
They walked to where they tied their horses. The horses were grazing the grass but looked up upon hearing footsteps. Their ears twitched and they turned out to see who it was. Upon noticing them, the two horses whinnied in welcome.
“I’m back,” Indra said softly and hugged both of his horses.
Lakshman and Ondine stood back and watched him snuggling his horses. It was a strange sight for a man to love his horses as much as Indra. As for the two of them, they were tired. The expedition into the dungeon lasted for several hours. Fighting hordes of monsters on each floor took its toll on their energy and stamina. Secretly, they made plans to get good rest once they returned home.
“Alright gang, let’s go,” Indra said brightly.
Their eyes widened in surprise. It amazed them to see him have so much energy left in his system. During their battles, he fought and defeated more monsters than them. It was then they seriously thought of him as a powerful adventurer.
“What’s the matter you two?” he asked, looking back at them with a puzzled expression.
Lakshman and Ondine hastily replied and got on their horses.
“Let’s go!” Indra called and they set off.
It took them some time to reach the town. During their journey, they were silent. The horses moved steadily and seemed to have no trouble with the silence. Lakshman slightly leaned forward, but he was in no way tired enough to suddenly collapse. Ondine, on the other hand, leaned on him tiredly.
“Wow… Look at all those people,” Lakshman said quietly.
They arrived in town and the place was bustling with people. There were people walking in and out of buildings or walking along the streets while chatting animatedly with their companions. Most of them were walking in groups. Ever since the demon attack two years ago, the people in town made a habit of walking in groups for safety reasons.
“The attack two years really opened their eyes to the potential dangers the monster pose to our community,” Lakshman muttered.
Behind him, Ondine moved and he thought she agreed with him. It did not surprise him when they found out the water spirits tribe knew of the monster attack. When Lakshman questioned her about why they did not assist, she simply shook her head and answered flatly.
“Why should we spirits fix the problems you humans created yourselves?”
It was a fair comment and Lakshman did not have an answer to give. Past problems between races continued to cause them to view each other with animosity. He had found out when he saw the distance Ondine and Sumara maintained. He had thought he cleared up their issue when he asked her to study magic under Sumara. Ondine obeyed to learn magic, but it was not enough to quell the deep dislike she had for Sumara.
Lakshman sighed when he suddenly remembered about their previous magic learning session. It turned out Ondine was not proficient at using magic. She was, however, capable of encasing her swords in water and uses them as water blades. When Sumara tried giving a helping hand, Ondine declined the offer and walked away.
He wondered if there was something he could do to make them get along. It was looking like a hopeless effort. Then he realised, he could ask his mother or father for the exact reason behind the Ondine’s dislike of Sumara.
Just then, his thoughts were interrupted when he heard Indra’s loud call.
He brought his horse to a stop and the horse they rode on also came to a halt. Lakshman looked towards his father just as Indra turned his horse around to face them.
“Lucky, you and Ondine go on home. I’ll catch up with you once I’ve done with my business with the mission request.”
“Ah, ok dad,” Lakshman said and he nodded.
They separated and took their horses in the opposite directions; Indra into the heart of town while Lakshman towards the left exit of town. Once they exited, they continued to travel in silence. Lakshman wanted to talk a bit with Ondine but he wasn’t sure if he could being how tired she was.
So he tentatively said “It’s been a long day.”
Ondine didn’t reply but simply made a sound with her throat. He understood this to mean she was listening. It only made sense that she didn’t have that much energy to speak. He felt very tired himself but he wanted to break the silence. Then he realised something that he never seriously thought of before.
“Tell me, Ondine… Do spirits have… gender differences like humans?” he asked nervously.
Ondine suddenly sat upright and gave him a startled expression.
“Of course we do,” she said with her eye brows raised. “What made you think we do not?”
“No, ah… well…”
“Were you thinking I am genderless?” she suddenly asked, and he thought she fixed him a serious stare.
“No, no, no! That’s not it! It’s just ah… um…”
He was struggling for words. Then he remembered the young spirits and realised some things he did not learn with his lessons with Sumara. He made a mental note to ask Sumara for further details on it at a later time.
“You see… I was just curious since… I couldn’t tell whether those young spirits were… you know… male or female.”
Ondine made a “oh” with her mouth, looking quite surprised.
“It is indeed difficult to identify spirits of their gender during their developing stage,” she said. “Soon, however, characterises soon start materialising and that’s when you identify them.”
“Well… when humans have a baby, it is easy to identify whether the baby is male or female,” he said.
“Ah, I’ve heard something similar from our tribe elder. Something about how many other races, except for the spirits and few others, share their reproduction method similarly with the humans.”
“What do you mean by ‘except for spirits and others’? You mean… spirits and other races don’t need to reproduce or do anything similar?” he asked, sounding amazed.
“Don’t tell me… you haven’t learnt about this yet?” she said, looking quite surprised.
“I’m only twelve years old,” he muttered and looked a bit upset.
Ondine looked at him for a moment in silence. Then she closed her eyes and, for some reason, smiled.
“I understand. You’re too young right now for a human, but you will learn the biology of the different races once you grow old enough to learn about them,” she said.
“Ah, that’s fine,” he said in relief.
After that, they remained silent. Lakshman was deep in thought about what he heard. He couldn’t believe what he heard. Except for spirits and some races, all other races share the similar biology like the humans in reproducing.
As Lakshman continued to think about this, they soon arrived home. Ondine jumped off the horse and staggered a little. She grabbed her and helped her sit at the entrance while he led the horse into the side. Upon returning, he saw her leaning against the walkway frame.
“Come on, Ondine. Get up,” he said and sighed heavily as he lifted her.
“I’m… okay…” she muttered in a tired voice.
Together, they walked into the house. Lakshmi and Mariana greeted them upon seeing their arrival. Mariana took over in helping Ondine walk to her room. Lakshman, on the other hand, was hugged by his mother in a tight embrace.
“Well done,” she said proudly. “I’m glad to see you come back.”
“Thank you, mum,” he said and smiled happily.
While being hugged, a sudden thought came to his mind.
“Mum,” he asked tentatively.
“Yes, Lucky?” she asked.
“How old were you and dad when you went out to adventure?”
Lakshmi looked at him in surprise. Then she smiled and brought him into the living room. Once she got him to sit, she sat next to him. Tiredly, he leaned on her shoulder and she softly patted his head.
“It was back when your father and I were kids. Let’s see… it was around the time when he and I were twelve years old.”
“You and dad were out in the wild fighting and living when you were only twelve?!”
She laughed and said “We weren’t alone. We had our respective masters.”
“Who was your master, mum?”
“My master was a woman and she was a retired adventurer. Her name was Rita Montague. She was a retired Fire Sage. She let me accompany her on her travels around the world and that’s how we ran across your dad’s adventuring group.”
Then she went onto explaining the details of her life of the adventurers to Lakshman. When her parents died, she was left alone and no relative wanted to look after her. Moving from place to place aimlessly, she ran into Rita Montague.
Lakshmi, ten years of age, knew Rita as a Fire Sage and looked up to her and idolized. She was called a woman that shares knowledge and wisdom to wherever she travels to. Rita heard of Lakshmi’s circumstances and decided to take her in. After that, they travelled across, helping people in need and passing on teachings. They eventually ran into Indra’s adventuring group and his master.
Upon meeting Indra’s master, Darian Ronald, Rita and Darian had some time to talk to each other. It looked like these two old people had a history together. Meanwhile, Lakshmi paired up with their group. Indra didn’t want to go and his apparent was that he disliked being with girls.
Their group entered a monster dungeon to fight some low ranked monsters. However, they accidentally ran across some strong monsters. It might have become a tragedy if Indra had not appeared. He came to their rescue and quickly vanquished the monsters cornering them.
It was then Lakshmi fell head over heels for him. His skills, strength and how he acted cool while defeating the monsters mesmerised her. Later, they continued on their separate journey, but Lakshmi and Indra promised to meet again in the future.
Afterwards, upon turning sixteen Lakshmi bid farewell to Rita and started doing various part time jobs. It was then she discovered the magic training school nearby. Attending it, she learnt about the healing type magic. Studying there, she soon became capable of using Intermediate Healing type magic spells. With an appropriate level achieved, she thought to test her luck in the adventurer’s world.
After leaving school, she went looking for an adventurer’s group to join. Most of them rejected her with remarks that she was a woman and how useful a woman can be with only healing type magic spells. Just when she was feeling like giving up, luck struck her in the form of Indra. They met, once more, when she got attacked by a demon beast and he came to her rescue once again.
“A knight in shining armour to rescue the princess,” she said and her eyes suddenly looked dreamy.
Lakshman watched his mother in surprise. A few seconds later, he shook his head in wonder.
“Mum…” he said and she started in surprise.
“Oh… sorry… I must’ve started to envision that fateful day,” she said, smiling in embarrassment. “So, where was I before I… ah… drifted off?”
“You were up to the part when you and dad met up again.”
“Oh yeah! Well, I joined his adventurers group and became their trusty healer. Three years later, he finally confessed his love for me. We finally got married another two years later.”
“Huh?” Lakshman said then made a puzzled expression. “Why a two year gap between confessing and marrying?”
“Well… Indra went off to a Monster Raid battle in the Demon Continent. It took him two years to return. It was a long journey to travel to the Demon Continent.”
Lakshman remained silent as he mulled over what his mother said. He remembered Sumara being a member of the demon race and wondered how long it took her to reach the Human Continent.
Just then, they heard a whinny of horses outside.
“Speak of the man himself, it looks like he’s home,” Lakshmi said brightly.
“I have another question to ask mum,” Lakshman said.
“Um… I just wondered… why do the demons and spirits dislike each other so much?”
Lakshmi suddenly looked seriously at Lakshman. Her eye brows contracted slightly and she closed her eyes. Lakshman wasn’t sure why, but it looked like she was checking to see if he was at the age to hear it out. She finally sighed before reopening her eyes and answering.
“Now isn’t the time, Lucky,” she said. “That’s a very… serious matter. You aren’t old enough to learn about it. I don’t want to get mixed up with opinions. When you grow older, when you can make your own choices freely, when you are ready, I and your father will speak to you about it. Okay?”
“Um… Well… Okay,” Lakshman said finally. “I guess I’m not old enough to learn about serious stuff yet.”
He resigned to the fact that he was indeed not at the appropriate age to learn anything serious. It looked like Lakshmi wanted to give Lakshman growing up chance before speaking the serious details to him.