While the northernmost point of the continent was ravaged by blistering cold, the southernmost point was host to a chillingly indifferent hellscape. Reddish sand stretched beyond the horizon, like flaked of rusted iron. Within this barren desert, it had not rained for hundreds of years.
And yet for some reason, this place was referred to as the Green Sand Sea. It was a place no sane human would venture, a physical manifestation where neither humans nor monsters could live.
However, there was one man traversing this hellscape. From time to time, clueless explorers would challenge themselves to cross the hellscape. Of course, they only took off after many months of thorough preparation and utilizing tens of camels.
But he was different. He was walking in the desert in black full-dress uniform and without any obvious supplies.
Though he appeared extremely reckless, he couldn’t have been more prepared. His clothes had a feature to regulate his body’s temperature, which helped him endure the extreme heat, and he had a dimensional pocket that stored a vast amount of food and camping equipment..
The man, Desir Arman, was not aimlessly strolling about with a small fortune in equipment, but was clearly searching for something.
“According to the records, it must be around here… ”
Desir unfolded his hand in front of himself.
Blue-ish mana scattered in front of his eyes before it could even gather.
Such a phenomenon would occur when someone attempted to invoke a spell without possessing any mana circles.
Desir let out a bitter smile. Though he lost his mana circles years ago, it was difficult for him to overcome a habit built over decades of having them.
“Ah, got it.”
Though it had taken a long time, he had finally found what laid hidden within the extensive desert. It was not an oasis, some rare creature, or a valuable treasure buried years ago.
On top of the sand lay a dense black fog. Despite being directly exposed to the air, it did not dissipate or spread. It simply sat within the ground, as though it was perpetually bound to a confined border, staining a dark patch on the surface of the planet.
This was the result of a failed attempt at clearing a Shadow World, or more specifically, the erosion the failure left behind.
“… Based on the size, it had to have been a Level Two Shadow World.”
Desir tried to look inside but could not see anything. Nobody knew what it was like inside an erosion zone. No one had come back alive after passing through one.
Desir Arman stepped past the invisible line, the point of no return.
Once he went in, the sunlight disappeared. He could not feel the dry temperature that plagued the desert air. He could no longer feel the course sand he had grown accustomed to wading through.
There was only darkness after losing his senses.
Desir remembered seeing a sight like this before. Back in Divide, Skull Mask had dragged him into a Shadow World before the world’s boundaries had been established, when only fragments of space existed.
Though this place was not quite the same. The void that encompassed it was exactly the same, but the fragments of space that survived within this one had come from what remained within its boundary.
The world had been eroded in the truest sense, corrupted by a damaged Artemis system. Having arrived, and now trapped within the confines of the world, Desir stretched his arm out before him.
Ominous reddish mana flew out of him, not the clear blue mana usually associated with magic spells. The mana increased in quantity by several fold and soon formed a tidal wave as it spread out in all directions, trying to fill up the endless expanse of the dark space.
‘… I must say, I didn’t expect this to happen.’
Desir assimilated his mana circles with the dragon heart in order to control it. Fortunately, he succeeded in regulating the mana of the dragon heart, but his mana circles, which could not handle this strain, were entirely destroyed.
It was the worst thing that could happen to a magician.
However, something unexpected occurred. As the dragon heart replaced the broken mana circles, it became a part of his body.
It was an unexpected boon. Desir expected the heart to be uncontrollable but instead he had been left with a nearly limitless amount of mana. Looking back at where he started, he found the twist rather ironic.
That alone was enormous, but it was arguably the least notable thing that was occurring within Desir’s body.
Countless particles of light floated, reacting with the reddish mana. They were the elemental fragments that made up this Shadow World. Kingdoms would vye to clear Shadow Worlds to get the crystalized form of this: mana stones.
‘So this is how the land used to look?’
Desir murmured after he received a vision of the past world.
He spoke softly. There was an enormous vibration as the scattered mana moved all at once. A white light then began to thoroughly mix with the red mana.
This was the second power Desir received after assimilating with the dragon’s heart.
He was able to control the Artemis system.
* * *
“This won’t be enough to apologize, but… ”
* * *
Desir briefly remembered the faint voice he heard before he blacked out.
It came from someone who had given up on this broken and shattered world and wanted to start anew.
Desir denied her idealism.
As they fought, she never gave in. She truly believed that the world was fundamentally broken and needed to be fixed, even though it was a fruitless endeavor. But now, Desir could only guess what had happened in the end.
‘Did she believe in the potential of humanity?’
The violent stream of mana skimmed against the edge of the dark fog, forcing it to part and dissolve into the air. The world began to restore itself.
A cool breeze brushed past him, and the feeling of sand began to encompass his feet. Dark smoke wrapped around his body as the once achromatic nothingness began to turn to color.
Blue waves filled the world.
After the dark fog had fully dissipated, emerald-colored sand surrounded a sapphire lake as large as the sea itself. This natural beauty had been consumed by the Shadow World, and the surrounding terrain had been turned into a home befitting a devil.
Once the restoration process was complete, it was finally an area befitting the name Green Sand Sea.
Desir resolved himself to return the world to its original form. If he continued to restore the encroached stretches of land, one by one, then maybe one day nature would look like how it used to.
It clearly would not be easy; half of the continent had been claimed by the shadowy erosion.
No one knew how long it would take him, but that was not what mattered to Desir. He did not do this out of a sense of justice, but for a much more personal reason.
‘How many more places are there in the world?’
Even though this was not the first time he had done it, Desir was once again amazed by the scenery before him. The sensation of discovering an extinct bit of the planet that no one alive had seen was indescribable. Magicians were the type of people who researched whatever struck their fancy, and Desir was no exception. Being the sole person capable of discovering what secrets the erosion held had absolutely captivated him.
At the communication pad’s alarm, Desir was stirred from his reverie. It was his reminder alarm.
“I should get going soon.”
As Desir opened his hand, reddish mana seeped from his palm and raged in the space before him. It began to distort, and he stepped into it, his vision blurring into an incomprehensible mess. After a few moments, it began to restructure himself, and an all-too-familiar group of people unfolded before him…
“I’m not too late, am I?”
* * *
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“How is Professor Bridgette doing?”
“As far as the Ministry of Education is concerned, there’s nothing to worry about. It seems to suit her; she works even harder than when she was a professor.”
“It’s her true calling, really!”
Inside the garden behind the Leonhardt Palace.
There were lilies of the valley in full bloom that resembled the color of Adjest’s hair. She strolled through the quiet garden, accompanied by someone else; both having fled from the crowded ballroom after the ceremony subsided.
“It’s a shame. I know that Professor Bridgette is excellent, but I wished you would have taken that position.”
The Ministry of Education was established according to Desir’s request, so he was supposed to be the minister. However, after he set up the organization, picked out the right people, and set some preliminary policies, he delegated everything to Bridgette and quit.
“I thought it was too difficult to focus on the Ministry of Education while also taking care of Magic Tower business.”
“I suppose so. It’s understandable, but I still wish you took it.”
After Zod’s death, Desir became the Master of the Magic Tower.
Being the Master of the Magic Tower was an extremely busy position. His role was to oversee all of the branches around the continent, hence there was a never ending amount of work. He often questioned how Zod managed to do everything.
“I heard you founded a scholarship foundation. You never change.”
“That was my goal for this year, but it’s not as selfless as you think. I’m just investing in humanity’s future.”
The Magic Tower made enough profit that their unclaimed budget rivaled that of a small country, and Desir had gotten a reputation for ‘investing’ a fair share of that into education systems. After the Hebrion Empire’s system had been such a success, other countries had taken notice, and followed suit. As a result, there were academies with state-of-the-art facilities not just within the Empire, but all over the continent. With a little more time, everyone who wanted it would have access to free education.
Desir had managed to actualize his ideals, and not in a one-dimensional manner like Priscilla’s world would have. And soon enough, other people could begin to do the same.
“I still think it’s a shame. Am I being too greedy… ?”
“I don’t want to lose you.”
Adjest turned her eyes away at Desir’s question.
“Uh, literally, I mean. Losing someone as talented as you would be a big hit to the Empire.”
“Wait, you were complimenting me? You’re embarrassing me.”
Desir chuckled and indulged in his own thoughts.
‘I didn’t expect at first it would be like this.’
In the Shadow Labyrinth, her name was both a legend as well as the last ray of hope for humankind. She was a commander who rallied a mankind that had split apart and collapsed in the face of the worst catastrophe they thought possible. Without her strength, they never would have reached the deepest part of the Shadow Labyrinth.
She was a woman who was admired as a heroine by all. But ironically, she was always alone.
She had never grown close to anyone, nor did she show her emotions freely. She was never shaken by a comrade’s death because she never made friends with those she led. She suppressed any feelings of regret and continued to command without so much as being agitated by the state of the world.
The stronger the threat, the more feelings she repressed. In order to save lives, that was the choice she had to make. Even after the ten years of deadly combat had finally subsided, and the final six heroes of the world believed they could genuinely relax, she did not smile.
She had forgotten how to smile. While everyone was discussing their futures, she had remained silent.
All she knew was a life filled with the screams of the dying.
“Seriously, how dare you!?”
Though the contrast was jarring, Desir greatly preferred the Adjest next to him, who was currently whining like a child.
“Did you really have to draw all the attention away from my one moment of glory?”
Actually, calling it whining was inappropriate. Even though she complained, her voice was full of spirit.
Desir dramatically knelt down on one knee, placed a fist on the ground, and hung his head in shame.
“I was too inconsiderate. Please have mercy, Empress.”
Adjest grinned and played along with him.
“Very well, I shall pardon you of your sin. Instead, devote yourself to the Empire, for the good of citizens everywhere.”
“Hey, that sounded pretty dignified.”
“It was exceedingly difficult to acquire.”
A loud noise could be heard from a considerable distance away, proof that the festival to celebrate the Empire’s new Empress was in full swing. The two stopped speaking and glanced up towards the sky, reveling in the firework display. Adjest was the first to open her mouth.
“I remember when we first met.”
“You told me I was weak, right?”
“I gave you some advice because I was worried. Turned out it was just my arrogance and prejudice speaking though.”
Adjest grinned, reminiscing of the past.
“Now that I think of it, it was so satisfying. You delightfully crushed my skewed thoughts and the gaudy atmosphere of the academy.”
Both of them kept talking, looking back on the bygone days.
Looking back, every single thing was an unforgettable memory.
“After I got the Center of Ice… ”
“You piggybacked me. That’s slightly embarrassing.”
Suddenly, Desir found it marvelous to talk with Adjest like this, without her usual indifferent expression. He never thought he would be talking with her in this way, someone who used to show no feelings.
When Desir first met Adjest, she was not that different from the version of her he had in his memory. She was like a sharp blade.
Then at some point or another, that blade had been blunted.
As if the ice in her heart had melted.
“Do you happen to remember the Foundation Day celebration? We went to this fortune teller’s shop and… ”
“Mhm. We did a song fortune-telling.”
They made eye contact and recited the divination in sync.
“A thing that still exists even after everything in the world collapses.”
“Either of you will be this pillar when the other faces a downfall.”
“You do remember it!”
Adjest put on the brightest smile.
It was dazzlingly beautiful.
Even at the end of a terrible war, that smile had remained hidden.
‘Is this another change I’ve made?’
Adjest’s current life was completely different from her previous one. In this world, she was no longer alone. She was surrounded by people with whom she could speak in earnest. She could smile because she was willing to open herself up to a reason to do so. She did not have to hide her feelings just to live.
That was enough.
Even if everything else had failed, that smile was worth all the effort and hardship Desir had gone through to get to this point.
‘But how come… ?’
The corner of his heart ached.
‘Why do I feel this way?’
Desir questioned his own emotions.
“The prophecy was indeed accurate.”
“The reason why I could be ‘Adjest’ was because of you.”
The sky was filled with tens of thousands of stars. As the wind blew, the lilies of the valley fluttered like a wave.
“I’m the same.”
‘Could I have gotten this far without her?’
“I existed, because you existed.”
Every time he was frustrated and was about to collapse, she was by his side.
Now that the world was at peace, now that there was not a terrorist organization or impending apocalypse, Desir finally allowed himself to slow down and be human. He finally looked at himself and realized what some part of him had felt for a long time.
He glanced towards Adjest, only to see her staring at him, and the two hurriedly looked away from each other without speaking.
“… You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you?”
The atmosphere began to freeze calmly.
In the peaceful center of the lily of the valley garden, an ice palace that reflected the radiant moonlight was built.
“I care for you, Desir Arman.”
Adjest reached out her hand with a flushed face.
“Would you like to be with me now and forever?”
Des1r carefully took her hand with a smile on his face.
The white, soft and very warm back of her hand.
He kissed it.
(This was the last chapter of A Returner’s Magic Should be Special)