Chapter 109: Snail’s Pace
“Trust in your body, Arthur. As long as you are able, your body will be the only thing that will not fail you.” As Kordri’s words rang softly in my ears, a piercing pain had forced my eyes open as I looked down to see Kordri’s hand jutted out of my chest, unbloodied.
“Dammit.” As the word left my tongue, the all too familiar sensation of being sucked out of the soul realm, once again, overwhelmed me.
As soon as I awoke back in the cave, my hands shot to my chest, prodding for a hole that wasn’t there.
I fell to my back in the shallow pool. “How long this time, Windsom?”
“Two minutes,” he replied. “Arthur, the more you are forced out of the soul realm, the more time is wasted in your training. Even if an hour out here equates to about roughly twelve in there, it will not be enough if you are expelled every few minutes.”
“Don’t blame me, blame your friend that is killing me once every those few minutes,” I groaned. It was impossible to get used to the sensation of dying. Even if my physical body wasn’t getting injured, the trauma-inducing stress on my mind would be enough to make even veteran fighters go insane.
I’m not exactly sure what the two asuras were thinking, putting a teen through this sort of nightmarish training.
“I am doing only what you are able to handle,” Kordri responded, almost as if reading my mind. “The child is resilient, though. It makes me curious why that is. Even young asuras who don’t die nearly as often as you do have a hard time coping with the stress.”
If I had to guess, it was probably due to the fact that my mental strength was a combination of two lives, but even with that, this training was beginning to take a toll on me.
Windsom nodded in acknowledgment. “Even I grew worried at first by the number of times Arthur had been expelled from the soul realm due to deaths.”
“Well, time to get training again. Are you ready, Kordri?” I gave my body one last stretch before sitting back up.
Letting out an amused chuckle, he gave me a nod. “I will always be ready, Greenhorn.”
“Remember, Arthur, while you are training in the soul realm, your physical body will also be refining your mana core. The longer you are able to last in the soul realm, the faster your cultivation will go. Don’t overexert yourself; it has only been a week into your training. We still have some leeway, but not if you take on more than you can handle,” Windsom cautioned as he activated the Aether Orb.
Kordri and I were, once again, in the same gra.s.sy field that expanded endlessly into the horizon. It’s been eight days since I had started this tortu—training. Since one hour outside equates to twelve in here, that means a full twenty-four hours out there translates to twelve days in here. Even counting the time spent out in the physical realm eating, sleeping and resting after dying too many times in the soul realm, I have spent over a few months in this gra.s.sland training with the even-tempered and patient monk, Kordri.
“I can tell you are well-versed in physical combat, Arthur, but you have become overly reliant on the usage of mana arts, or what you lesser races call magic. By my guess, you are much more accustomed to shorter battles and duels. Proper conservation and distribution of mana was never a priority, right?” Kordri speculated.
“More or less. I’m only thirteen, remember?” I countered innocently.
“Sure.” The asura shrugged, shooting me a look that told me he didn’t buy it. “You are only human, meaning you are bound by the limitations that follow. You are a long way from reaching white-core stage let alone the integration stage. Because of that, my job is to train your body. After all, the less mana you expend on protecting yourself, the more leeway you have in other areas of use. Now let us begin, I’ve wasted enough time with my rambling.”
“Yes sir,” I answered, getting into a defensive stance. Kordri’s figure vanished and reappeared arms length in front of me.
The first time I had come to the soul realm for training, I was killed in the first blow, unable to even react. Even when I wasn’t killed, I jolted awake at the slightest blow because my soul wasn’t used to taking on injuries. The second, third, fourth, all the way up to the twenty-eighth time, I had been thrown out of the soul realm in the first hit. But on the twenty-ninth time, I was able to dodge, just barely… well… enough to persist until the second hit. Residing and training in the soul realm was difficult, to say the least. Only after a few weeks of dying in the soul realm was I able to last long enough to actually call it training.
Kordri followed up his left jab to my neck with a right elbow to my sternum. It was only when we fought that I was reminded of how terrifying Kordri was. His meek temperament disappeared, replaced by a cold, ruthless warrior capable of killing me over a hundred times in the span of a few seconds.
The asura’s limbs seemingly vanished due to the high speed in which they were moving. The only reason I was able to dodge was because Kordri’s attack pattern was always the same. Of course this was done on purpose; the asura had explicitly told me the ch.o.r.eography of his strikes, never once deviating from that since the beginning of our training. It was pathetic that I was barely able to dodge an attack that I already knew was coming, but that was the difference between us.
Beads of sweat flew off my face and body as I was scantily able to keep up with Kordri’s onslaught. Seconds melded together increasingly slower to form minutes as my sense of time dulled. Desperation was evident as I progressively made more mistakes the longer we fought. I had yet to land a single blow on him since the beginning of the training. In the months I spent fighting Kordri, all my strikes had met with thin air.
“Good! you are keeping up longer than usual. Do not get sloppy, Arthur. Remain patient and bide for time if you do not see an opening,” the asura shouted as he simultaneously continued striking and easily dodging all of my feeble attempts to land a hit.
I made a blunder at that moment. Kordri’s sequence of attacks were strategically placed so that if I didn’t dodge it by just a hair’s breadth, I wouldn’t be able to avoid the next attack.
While I did dodge his spinning elbow, my movement had been too large. I was instantly met with a low sweep that I couldn’t avoid due to leaning too far back to dodge his previous blow.
I chose to give up my left foot in response, knowing I wouldn’t be able to completely dodge the sweep. As expected, the crunching blow shattered my left ankle but I continued dodging.
Even in here, where I knew it wasn’t real, I didn’t want to die.
“Sloppy, but nice follow up. Do not grow desperate and stay levelheaded,” he repeated, executing his next blow.
Even with my broken ankle, I was able to somehow dodge more of Kordri’s restrained attacks until he did something he hadn’t done before.
I was expecting a forward knee to my stomach like he had always done after a right strike, but instead, he shifted his body to perform a roundhouse kick.
I wasn’t able to dodge his left leg but I was able to keep myself from dying instantly. Instead of his kick snapping my neck, it had connected squarely with my jaw.
The world tumbled around me as I felt myself skipping like a flat rock on a lake’s surface before tumbling to a painful stop on a bed of particularly tall gra.s.s.
I wasn’t able to talk due to the bottom half of my face being completely mutilated and it took most of my mental capacity to suppress the excruciating pain, but that didn’t stop me from good-naturedly extending a middle finger at my mentor.
Responding with a smirk, he helped me up. “You managed to not get yourself killed,” he said, seemingly impressed. “Rest until your soul state is healed.”
Even as he said this, I could already feel my body, or my soul state, recovering. The broken fragments of my bones fused together as torn muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments reattached themselves. While people who haven’t experienced such a sensation might think that the act of healing so fast would be comforting or soothing, it was actually just as painful, if not more, than the injury caused.
I kept telling myself that experiencing agony like this will be useful later on, hoping it would get me through this torture every time we trained, but I was on the verge of breaking.
It had barely been over a week, yet, because of the time distortion in this world, to me, months have pa.s.sed. My progress as a mage had always been unrivaled, so training here like this, where my biggest achievement in these past few months had been staying alive for longer than five minutes against someone purposely restraining himself, I couldn’t help but become frustrated and impatient.
“We should take a break from combat training for a while.” Kordri’s sudden statement took me by surprise. Seeing as he specialized in hand-to-hand combat, I wasn’t sure what else he would be teaching me.
“What do you mean? Am I not learning fast enough?”
“No, it’s not that. Actually, your ability to grasp and comprehend is frightening, coupled with your stubbornness, it is no wonder that your potential as a mage is beyond anyone else’s. However, because of that stubbornness of yours, I’m afraid you are going to unwittingly break down if we keep going at the current pace,” my trainer answered as he sat down.
“Break? I thought the realm inside the Aether Orb wouldn’t allow me to die? And besides, with the regeneration speed of my soul state, as long as you don’t kill me instantly, I should be okay, right?”
The four-eyed asura lifted his gaze and regarded me sternly. “I’m not talking about damaging your body, Arthur. I’m talking about injuring you here,” he said, tapping his head.
“So hurting me psychologically?” Perhaps it was the same stubbornness that Kordri had just talked about or a layer of pride that had made me ignorant of this possibility, but I couldn’t bring myself to agree with him.
“Arthur. You are constantly experiencing death while training here with me on a daily basis. More so than that, death has no longer become the endpoint but the precursor for a level of pain that even asuras can find daunting.” Kordri got up from the ground as he explained. “Even if it won’t damage your body, that kind of trauma will start to get in the way of producing the sort of fighter I am trying to train you to become. When we’re talking about this level of pain, too much of it and your body will instinctively try to save itself, regardless of whether you want it to or not. Just enough pain, and it will be your most reliable sword and shield.”
I thought about my trainer’s words for a moment and understood where he was coming from. However, I thought of myself as an exception, having lived through two lives. Call it arrogant, but I felt like I could take it. “Honestly, Kordri, I’m fine, we don’t n—”
I didn’t even have time to consciously process what had happened. One moment, we were talking, the next moment, an overwhelming sense of dread crashed down on me like a tsunami. The next thing I knew, I was several meters away from the asura with Dragon’s Ballad, my sword, held tightly in my grasp. My eyes focused back on Kordri, only to see the asura with a flower in his hand.
He didn’t say anything… he didn’t need to.
Just as I let my guard down, Kordri’s figure flickered and vanished, and without even a trace of presence or intent, a searing pain made me look down.
My mentor’s hand had, once again, pierced straight through my chest. As I tried to pull myself away from him, I fell down.
The asura withdrew his hand and kneeled down to be level with me. Giving me a gentle smile, he continued, “Even the G.o.ds may not know what sort of life you had truly led, but it is because of your past experiences that this could happen. You trust too deeply in your instinct, Arthur, and while it is a useful tool, it should not be relied on wholeheartedly. Small steps, Arthur. You have much to be taught, but much to unlearn as well.”
As he ruffled my hair, I thought again of the time I was in the inst.i.tution during my past life as an orphan; the times I had to teach myself from little useful information and tools I could gather. I realized that, for the first time in both lives, I have finally gained an actual mentor. A mentor wise and powerful enough that I can, even with my unique past and monstrous potential, be a student hungry to learn.
“Do you understand, Arthur?” Kordri asked as he got up and extended his hand.
“You bet.” I accepted his hand and pulled myself back to my feet. My body still trembled, but whether it was from the lethal wound in my chest, the excitement of my future prospects or the antic.i.p.ation from being under skilled mentors; I had a feeling it was a mixture of all three…