Chapter 124: Preparations
“Arthur! Please, help!” Tess choked out a desperate scream as I stood there, petrified at the turn of events. It really was Tessia Eralith. From her long, gunmetal-grey hair, to her turquoise eyes filled with tears, my childhood friend had somehow been dragged here from Dicathen.
Tess sputtered into a series of pained coughs as the basilisk tightened its grip around her waist.
Wasting no time, I charged at the black-horned asura with the practice sword Wren had left me. The repercussions of such a reckless course of action passed unheeded as I drew in, sword ablaze.
The familiar burning sensation spread through my body as I activated the rare blood-trait skill of the dragons. My sight altered into an enhanced, mana-focusing vision and golden-white runes glowed brightly beneath my clothes.
I drew forth the rampant energy from within Sylvia’s dragon will.
This was the first time I had used the skill I had unlocked with the first phase of Sylvia’s will. I could see the purple specks of aether suddenly trembling around us as they buzzed into formation. Suddenly, the world stopped around me. The Vritra’s face was stuck in a menacing smirk while Tess was paused with her hair flailed about, mid-scream.
I could feel the seconds draining away my energy as I dashed towards the Vritra. Arriving right in front of my enemy, I released Static Void as soon as I was in position to strike at the hand grasping Tess.
The horned asura had no time to react at my attack as the blade of my sword sliced right through its forearm.
The horned asura let out an infuriated roar as he clutched his wound. I pried open the fingers that were still gripped around Tess’s waist and gently set her down on the ground. She was unconscious and ghastly pale, but still alive and breathing.
The basilisk’s severed hand was still spilling blood profusely, but when I turned to face my foe, he had already replaced his severed appendage with a metallic claw.
I kept close to Tess with my right hand gripping my sword and my left hand preparing a spell. I could see the yellow, earthen particles gathering at the tip of the basilisk’s false hand. I used the full extent of the limited knowledge I had gained from reading mana movement from Myre as I readied my counterattack as well.
As expected, the tips of the basilisk’s clawed fingers exploded toward me. Just as the five earthen spears accelerated, I raised my hand and fired a condensed burst of electricity. Three of the five earthen finger spears shattered upon impact as I parried another spear with the flat of my blade. I began gathering mana into my legs to charge at the basilisk by impulse, but an unsettling sensation crept up; the last spear was way too off course to have been aimed at me.
I whipped my head back to see the dark, earthen spear about to impale the unconscious Tess when I activated Static Void once more.
It felt like someone was stabbing needles into my heart as I raced toward my childhood friend. My mind whirled in fear and near-panic as I laid out my options. I could step in the path of the spear and use my body to shield Tess, but the injury I would sustain from the blow would leave me unable to protect her from the basilisk immediately after. I could also extend Static Void to encompass Tess and push her out of the spear’s path, but spreading the effects of Static Void to include another person would take a massive toll on my body.
I chose to go with the third option. Dropping my sword, I grabbed the spear that was paused mid-flight at Tess with both hands and braced myself.
Releasing Static Void, my body lurched forward as I tried to stop the earthen spike the size of Tessia herself with my bare hands. With a desperate spurt of strength, I managed to hold onto the speeding spike, my hands barely large enough to get a firm grip, long enough to drive it off-course.
The earthen spear that the basilisk fired buried itself from the ground just inches away from where Tess lay, creating a web of cracks from the sheer force of the impact. My hands were bloody and raw from gripping onto the speeding projectile, and my breath was pained and unsteady. Myre had been right. No matter how much I practiced Static Void, because my body wasn’t compatible with using aether to effect time, it would always put an enormous amount of strain on my body.
However, with the level that I was at currently, I needed to use all of the tools I had in order to have a fighting chance with a basilisk. The thought of both Tess and I in the cruel state that a basilisk had left Alea, the former lance, down in the dungeon, filled me with dread.
Each breath felt like there was a fire in my lungs as I positioned myself between the approaching two-horned basilisk and the unconscious Tess. I picked up my sword with a grimace at the pain and poured mana into it. Despite the strain my body had incurred from activating Realmheart and using Static Void twice, my mana reserves were still abundant thanks to the constant use of Mana Rotation.
I could maybe last long enough for either Wren or Windsom to arrive, but the problem was that for whatever reason, this basilisk was focused on harming Tess. I was contemplating my next course of action when it all clicked.
“Wren, enough of this!” I roared, stabbing my sword into the ground.
Nothing happened at first and, for a split second, I was afraid I had been wrong, but the towering basilisk stopped abruptly in his tracks before crumbling into fine dust.
Behind me was another mound of fine sand where the golem in the shape of Tess had been.
“You caught on rather quick. I was hoping to see how you played out the situation a bit more.” Wren emerged from the rocky ground, dusting off his shabby white coat.
“It’s hard not to catch on with such an absurd scenario, Wren. I hope you don’t get a kick out of doing things like this,” I retorted, disgruntled.
“How does one receive a kick from training? Improper teaching methods, perhaps? Is it a disciplinary action you lesser beings do to one another?”
“No, it’s an idiom—nevermind,” I sighed, shaking my head at the confused asura.
“Regardless of your illogical expression, what I did was for your benefit. Look at the state you’re in now; you’ve expended most of your energy on recklessly attempting to save that elf,” Wren grunted.
“Look. I know it wasn’t the best course of action, and I hate to say it, but there are people that I consider more important than anyone else, including myself.” I held my gaze firmly as Wren continued to study me.
“Hmm. Well, familial bonds and mates are important, even for asu—”
“Wait, what? Mate? Tess isn’t a mate.”
“Oh? From what Windsom told me and by your reaction, I was sure that her importance went above that of just infatuation. You two haven’t yet engaged in carnal intimacy?”
“No! I haven’t engaged in… carnal intimacy yet! Look, this is beside the point, Wren.” I could feel my face beginning to burn as the asura pondered his miscalculation.
“Huh. My apologies then.” Wren shrugged, his expression as apathetic as before. “Well, my point is that, in war, there will come a time when your enemies will try and exploit whatever weaknesses you hold. Considering that you will be one of the main powers on Dicathen’s side, all the more so.”
“Trust me; I know that.” Flashes of my previous life came to mind at this subject. I knew that there would be a point in time when the values of this life, the ones that went against my principles as King Grey, would come to hinder me.
“Then I suppose it’d be pointless for me to go on. Expect more training and tribulations like these, boy. Part of why I was tasked to nurture you out of your diapers is because I can single-handedly create all sorts of scenarios,” the hunched asura explained as he idly fiddled with his unruly hair.
Having lived two different lives, I wanted to refute his statement about me being in diapers, but I remembered that even with the combined span of time I’d been alive for—in both worlds—I’d still be much younger than any of the asuras I had met so far.
Taking a deep breath, I sat down on the ground. “So you can just create a dummy of anything using the earth?”
“Not anything. I wouldn’t be able to mimic the properties of water using earth, but mostly, yes,” the asura answered, sitting down on an extravagantly golden throne he conjured without even a snap of a finger.
I thought back to when I had faced the fake basilisk. Every detail of both the black-horned asura and Tess had been spot on. However, there were two things that gave it away. One was that the golem of the basilisk couldn’t emit the amount of pressure and killing intent it normally would. However, that wasn’t what threw me off. Besides the probability of a basilisk holding Tess all the way here in Epheotus being almost nonexistent, under the influence of Realmheart, I was able to see the mana fluctuation of yellow earthen particles all over the basilisk and Tess. I couldn’t figure it out at first because I failed to stay levelheaded, but as I realized what was happening, I was about ninety-percent sure.
“Is it impossible for lesser beings to reach such a level of insight to perform the level of mana arts asuras are capable of?” I wondered aloud.
“It goes against my nature to rule anything as impossible, so I’m just going to say that it is highly improbable. You of all people shouldn’t be so worried about probabilities though.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Well, the fact that you’re a walking testament to how skewed probabilities can be. With your innate ability to comprehend the workings of the four main elements as well as some of their deviating elemental forms coinciding so neatly with the fact that comprehension of all four elements is necessary to unlock the mysteries of aether that you’ve been so kindly bestowed by the very princess of dragons, every bit about you is an outlier, boy,” Wren explained. “Even asuras don’t have that much innate talent and luck.”
“If that’s your way of cheering me up, thank you,” I chuckled, getting back up to my feet. “Now, what’s next on our to-do list?”
“Before that, boy, give me your dominant hand.” Wren got up from his makeshift throne and walked towards me.
Spreading my right hand with my palm facing up, I stared at the asura curiously. I could never read his face since he always had the same tired expression, like he’d drop to the floor snoring at any moment.
Taking out a small, black case the size of a fist from his coat pocket, he opened it and held out a small, pyramid-shaped, opaque gem. “This is a mineral called an acclorite. Now, by itself, it’s a rather rare but useless piece of rock. However, with the right refining and synthesizing process that I will keep to my grave, it is capable of doing something remarkable.”
“As in, speeding up the training process of the user?” I guessed.
“Remember when I said I don’t forge swords, but create them?” the hunched asura asked, still holding out the tiny gem in front of me.
I nodded in reply.
“Well, with the use of this small little gem and the right tools, I can essentially grow a weapon.”
“Grow? As in, grow like a tree?” I reiterated, sure that I had heard wrong.
“Yes,” the asura sighed, scratching his head. “I swear, you get surprised by the most odd things. You hardly bat an eye at the fact that I can conjure a near perfect replica of your mate—”
“Not my mate,” I cut off.
Rolling his eyes, he continued, “Yes, your elf lover that you have yet to copulate with, but you get shocked by the fact that I can grow a weapon?”
Letting out a defeated breath, I motion for him to continue.
“Normally, I would use the feedback from years, decades even, worth of constant observation of how you fight, in order to get the proper information to create a weapon that perfectly suits you, but because of the circumstances surrounding you, I’m going for a bit of a gamble by doing this,” Wren clarified.
“What do you me—” A sudden, sharp pain cut me off as the asura suddenly stabbed the gem into the center of my palm.
“Gah! What are you doing?” I winced as Wren continued burying the opaque gem deeper into my flesh until it was completely submerged under my skin.
“Oh I’m sorry, I forgot to count to three,” he jibed, rubbing my blood that’d gotten on his finger on my shirt. “I synthesized the acclorite with a portion of Lady Sylvia’s feather as well as a scale from Lady Sylvie. These are both indispensable parts of what make you who you are. By doing this, I’m going to hope that some of the unpredictabilities will be accounted for.”
“What would be so unpredictable?” I asked as I studied the small hole in my palm where the gem was buried.
“Every movement, action, thought, and change in your body will all factor into how your weapon will manifest. Even I have no idea how your weapon will turn out,” the asura confessed. “If it even comes out as a weapon.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not quite following along, Wren. Why do it this way if the outcome is uncertain? And besides, I thought you weren’t going to make me a weapon?”
“Well, you’re going to need more than just a sharp stick to get by in the future if you’re going to be facing those ingenious basilisks from the Vritra Clan and whatever spawn they conjure up,” he grumbled.
The asura’s face turned solemn before continuing. “And it’s because we don’t have that much time.”
“Wait, I thought that I would have about two years left before the war starts?” I stared at Wren as an uneasy feeling crept up from the pit of my stomach.
There was a hesitant pause from Wren as he deliberated on what to say next.
“Kid, Windsom just received word from Aldir about the most recent news of Dicathen.”
“Before I say anything else, Know that I’m telling you this against Windsom and Lord Indrath’s wishes. I want you to make the logical decision. With the help of the aether orb in some portions of the training, it’ll still take about a year before the acclorite manifests itself into a weapon. You’ll also need that much time to strengthen yourself for the war.” Wren’s face creased with something akin to worry as he explained.
“Just tell me,” I pressed.
“Arthur, although the full army has yet to arrive…the war has already started.”