Chapter 190: Solitary Mindframe
Uto’s sinister voice sent shivers down my spine, and although he was restrained and locked up inside an anti-magic vault, I couldn’t help but worry.
To everyone in this room, I was the one that had defeated Uto but the truth was that both Sylvie and I together could barely put a few scratches on him.
“You look a tad uncomfortable, Uto,” I quipped, masking any signs of weakness.
The retainer’s smile disappeared, replaced by a snarl. “What did you do with my horns, lesser pup!”
Taking the black horn out of my dimension ring, I began casually tossing it up in the air in front of him. “Oh, you mean this?”
“Stop,” I cut him off. “I’m not here to exchange insults with you. I have better things to do.”
Uto’s gray face darkened, his eyes wild. “I swear to Vritra that if I get out, you’ll wish you died that day.”
I shook my head slowly.
“I’m sure that more than getting out or inflicting pain on me, there’s something more you want.” Leaning in closer to Uto with an arrogant sneer plastered on my face, I continued, “I know that the fact that you have no idea how you even lost to me is slowly eating you up right now.”
I didn’t think the retainer’s face could get any angrier but Uto ground his teeth, jerking desperately to free himself.
“Close it,” I said, my eyes still locked to his until the thick rune-inscribed door shut firmly.
“What was tha—”
I put up a finger to my lips to silence the confused commander. It was only after the four of us got back to the entrance of this level of the dungeon that I spoke softly. “Leave him be for now.”
“Ento and I’ve been torturing him physically and mentally but I’ve never seen the retainer this worked up,” Gentry murmured while his burly associate nodded beside him.
“I doubt hallucinations or physical pain will work on that arrogant sadomasochist,” I replied.
Virion tilted his head. “Sadomaso—what?”
“It’s nothing.” I smiled faintly before turning to Gentry. “Don’t open his vault.”
The hunched elder furrowed his brows. “No offense, General, but from my experience, it’s best to prod while his mental fortitude is in a disarray like now. Besides, what if he does find out how he lost to you during that time?”
“He won’t,” I assured. “And that’s going to slowly drive him insane. Let him stew until I decide to come back.”
“I don’t like that look you have,” Virion muttered. “What are you planning?”
“I’ll be the one to interrogate him when the time comes,” I answered.
<p class=”p1″ style=”text-align: center;”>***
“Are you ready?” Emily asked from behind her increasing number of panels. She looked like she was inside the cockpit of an airplane of my previous life.
“Almost,” I replied as I finished strapping in the last of the bands on my arms. I winced when I tightened the strap around my arm too tightly.
“We will move on to the three-versus-one scenario starting today so please be focused, General Arthur,” Alanis informed, noticing the blank expression I had on my face as I thought back to today’s earlier visits in the dungeon.
I stood up and swung my arms, ready to let loose. “Got it. What element will I be restricting for the first part?”
My training assistant’s eyes glowed in its familiar array of colors as she ‘scanned’ me before looking down at her notes. “Water, and its deviant form of course.”
I walked up to the other end of the training room, stopping just about a dozen yards away from Camus, Hester, and Kathyln. Meeting Uto had made me antsy. I was confident back in the dungeon that Uto wouldn’t find out how I beat him because I wasn’t the one that beat him.
<i>What sort of lance am I if I can’t beat a Scythe, let alone a retainer. </i>
As soon as Alanis gave the signal to begin, I flashed toward Hester, leaving only a single imprint on the ground.
In a single, fluid motion, I condensed a layer of wind around my hand, shaping it—sharpening it into a transparent blade before I swung horizontally at the fire mage’s torso.
Hester’s eyes widened a little in surprise, but unlike other mages, she was competent enough to respond even to my blitz attack.
Knowing that fire was weak to such a compressed form of wind, she opted to block my strike by grabbing my arm while strengthening her body with mana.
<i>You may have an advantage in knowledge over fire magic but if you think you can try and beat me in hand-to-hand combat…</i>
I let her grip my arm, but grabbed the arm she was using to hold on to me. Hester was in a stance that helped her withstand a pushing force so when I pulled her back instead, she stumbled forward.
Utilizing that momentum, I pivoted and positioned my hip underneath her center of gravity to flip her to the ground.
Hester let out a sharp breath as her back hit the ground. Just as I prepared for another strike to activate her lifeline artifact, a blast of water completely drenched me.
Before I even had the chance to turn to my attacker, the water covering my body froze, restricting any sort of movement.
I augmented my body in a layer of fire, thawing myself free, but Hester had already used my brief moment of incapacitation to distance herself.
Ignoring Hester for a brief moment while she recovered, I dashed toward the princess while trapping her legs with the ground beneath her. Taken off guard, Kathyln immediately clad her body in ice like she had before, no doubt a technique she had learned from Varay.
With her body strengthened, she attempted to pry herself free from the earthen shackles. I didn’t give her the chance. As I approached her, I continuously manipulated the ground around her to reinforce and work its way up.
It was an idea I had gotten from watching Olfred. The coffin of magma that he had trapped and executed Sebastian in. Of course, I had no intention of doing the same thing, but just like how many earth mages clad themselves in an armor of rock, one could easily encase another in the same armor without giving them the freedom of mobility.
Kathyln struggled to free herself as I continued my spell. Every time she would break off a piece of stone, a large slab would take its place, slowly working its way up her small body.
The princess was covered to her neck while a layer of frost slowly attempted to weaken the integrity of the earthen restraint.
It was too late though. I charged mana into my fist, forming a gauntlet of crackling lightning. A twinge of guilt rose as I raised my fist to strike the finishing blow.
<i>She has the lifeline artifact, Arthur. Besides, You can’t afford to go easy on anyone if you want to even hope to win this war.</i>
Kathyln regarded me seriously, no trace of fear. Just as my fist was about to make contact with her, however, a gust of wind pushed me back, in the center of a whirling formation of wind just above the ground.
“Erupt!” Camus barked, taking advantage of my brief imbalance by unleashing the powerful cyclone that he had been preparing for.
My vision was obstructed by walls of wind around me, and for a moment, everything was deathly still. Any sort of sounds were washed over by the constant roar of the tornado. I soon found myself panting—gasping for air in this funnel of low air pressure.
“Annoying,” I muttered in between a strained breath.
The walls of the twister closed in, threatening to whirl and throw me wherever it pleased, but thankfully, the remaining oxygen I had left in me allowed my brain to retaliate.
My initial reaction was to burrow myself underground—that would’ve been the smartest choice. However, maybe because of the diminishing oxygen supply, I found myself picturing Uto in front of me. His savage grin that seemed to say ‘All you can do is run or hide in the face of something greater than you,’ ignited a rage that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
<i>To hell with strategy. If I can’t even face this, how am I going to go up against the scythes. </i>
After anchoring my feet to the ground using earth magic, I began conjuring an opposing current to negate the powerful wind spell slowly closing in.
As my spell clashed against Camus’ spell, tears began forming. It seemed like I was close to neutralizing it when a dull pain radiate across my back, knocking me forward. With my feet attached to the ground, I bowed awkwardly, pushing off with my palms to put myself back upright.
I cursed in my mind, afraid to waste any unnecessary air, as I gazed at the object that had bludgeoned me from the back. It was large boulder of ice. Worse yet, it wasn’t the only one. Swirling around me, riding the tornado, were several dozens more of the chunks of ice—each at least twice the size of my head.
Still, I continued my attempt in negating Camus’ tornado spell. Sure, it could be my stubborness. I was adamant, desperate to win against this ‘foe’ that towered over me. As the tornado closed in on me, the more my body became a punching bag for the ice boulders.
I had to hand it to Kathyln for the creativity in her chunks of ice; some of them were just heavy bludgeons, but some had sharp edges that cut through my clothes and drew blood.
Despite the repeated blows, however, my body felt numb. I was lightheaded and a strong feeling of fatigue washed over me.
The only thing that kept me going was the notion that overcoming this spell head on was somehow winning against Uto.
My mind continued to think these irrational thoughts until I noticed too late that the boulders of ice had disappeared and in their stead was a growing fire that coalesced with the tornado—fusing into a flaming cyclone.
That’s when my vision began to spot and my imagination of Uto had became a full-blown hallucination. It only lasted for about a few seconds until I blacked out, my last thoughts blaming the lack of oxygen for my senseless actions.
It felt like I had only blinked, yet when I opened my eyes again, I was looking up at Kathyln with the ceiling of the training room visible behind her. I was laying down.
A cool sensation radiated from my forehead. I realized it was an ice-cold handkerchief when I fumbled with it.
“Your body is still a bit hot. Keep it on,” Kathyln urged, putting the cloth back on me with just a tinge of worry on her brusque face.
“Thank you,” I muttered. “And sorry for back there.”
She shook her head. “We were training. Although the elders might be of different opinion.”
“Damn straight we have a different opinion!” Buhnd’s familiar voice boomed.
Just a moment after, his bearded face popped into my view. “You fought like a child throwing a tantrum. I know you knew that there were about twelve different ways for you to get out of that situation without you trying to face it head on.”
“Yeah, I knew,” I said through gritted teeth. “But I wanted to see if I could overpower their combination spell. If I can’t even do that, how am I supposed to defeat all of the retainers and scythes left?”
Buhnd opened his mouth as if he were about to say something, but remained silent. It was Camus that spoke.
“You’re feeling the pressure, aren’t you?” he said softly.
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.
To them, I may simply be a young prodigy, but I had the memories and intellect of when I was a king. For me to admit to Camus’ remark meant that even despite my advantage, I was weak.
“A war isn’t fought alone,” Camus continued, letting out a sigh. “Although holding the title and responsibility of a lance might make it seem otherwise.”
Hester spoke, her chastising voice coming from a bit farther away. “You’re not important enough of a figure for this entire continent to solely rely on you.”
“You’re right,” I chuckled.
Kathyln placed a finger on the cloth she had placed on my forehead, cooling it with magic. “Just as the people of dicathen rely on the lances, you also need to trust in your soldiers that they’ll make up for what you can’t do.”
I lowered the cloth, allowing its coldness to permeate into my eyes. And for a minute I said and did nothing, gathering myself.
“I feel like I’m in therapy,” I laughed, bolting up to my feet. Surrounding me was not only Kathyln and the elders, but also Emily and Alanis. The two of them had remained silent, but had traces of worry on their faces. “Thank you everyone, for helping me with my training, and for keeping me in check.”
Hester’s stern face soften as she nodded. “I think that we can skip out on today’s debrief since I’m sure the young general knows exactly what he did wrong.”
“Get some rest! I’m going to be itching to go crazy tomorrow!” Buhnd agreed as he punched his open palm.
“I’ll make sure to have the life-line artifact back to its normal state by tomorrow! Even if I have to stay up all night!” Emily assured.
I nodded. “I’ll see everyone tomorrow then.”
Lost in my own thoughts, I didn’t even realize I had been walking until noticing that I was in front of my doorstep.
Too tired to wash up, I sank into bed, my eyes searching for Sylvie until I remembered she was was isolating herself in another room.
<i>Everything okay, Sylv?</i> I reached out.
My bond didn’t respond, but the faint trace of her calm state of mind was enough for an answer.
Laying on my back, I stretched out my hand toward the ceiling. This hand—this body<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>that I had grown so used to for the near twenty years that I had lived as Arthur, felt so small when I thought back to my time as Grey.
My thoughts flashed back to my former life and the several times I had fought in the Paragon Duel, a one-on-one battle between two king duelists from their respective country. While the Paragon Duels lacked the atrocity and gore of normal wars, the weight of such battles were much heavier.
Letting out a sigh, I reminded myself. “This war isn’t fought alone, Arthur.”