Chapter 235: Wavering Pillar
In my mind flashed scenes over ten years old, when I had first met Sylvia. The few months we’d spent together had formed a bond between us that wouldn’t usually be possible in that short period of time.
Perhaps it was because it hadn’t been that long since I had first come to this world, but to a grown man born into the body of an infant, Sylvia had become my solace. In front of her, I could truly act like myself, and to her—even combining my age from both lives—I was still just a child to her.
To this day, one of my biggest regrets was leaving Sylvia. I was young and weak then, but I still thought about it—what would’ve happened if I had stayed. Would Sylvia be alive today? Would she still be with me now?
At first, I wanted nothing more than to get revenge for her. The message she had imparted onto me about enjoying this life did little to dampen the rage I felt towards the ones who were responsible for all of this. However, as more and more time passed, the thirst for vengeance had slowly quelled.
I had lied to myself in the beginning, thinking I could do nothing about it because I was too weak. So I trained, and trained. I went to school to train and learn, and I even went to Epheotus to learn amongst the asuras. However, being face to face with the one responsible for all of this that very night when Sylvia pushed me through that portal, I felt a stronger sense of guilt than anger.
I was more angry at myself, for how little I thought about Sylvia these days, than I was angry at the scythe in front of me now—the one responsible for Sylvia’s death.
“It’s you,” I seethed, doing everything I could to keep my hands steady. “That night! You were the one that…”
The next words froze in my mouth as I looked behind the scythe against the far wall. It was then that I realized in my spurt of anger, I didn’t even see Virion—deathly pale and sprawled over a pile of rubble—and Bairon, who was flitting in and out of consciousness beside him.
“They’re alive, for now,” the scythe spoke.
I took another step forward, pressing Dawn’s Ballad closer against the scythe’s pale gray throat. An aura of frost surrounded my blade along with compressed gales of wind and electricity as I fed more and more of my mana into my spell.
The scythe remained unfazed as the elemental auras radiated from my weapon just below his sharp jaw, instead, studying me with interest. “It’s impressive to see you wielding mana to such a proficient degree, even if it was due to Lady Syl—”
He shifted slightly, dodging the elemental energy released from my blade with inhuman speed and precision. The castle rumbled once more in protest as its mana-reinforced walls cracked and splintered.
“Don’t you dare say her name,” I growled, preparing to strike again.
Tendrils of mana coiled around me, their intensity mirroring my emotions. The ground underneath me crumbled from the pressure as I swung once more. A teal arc flashed as I swung at breakneck speed.
My opponent stood still though, letting my blade slice right through him—or so I thought.
The gash that my sword had made through his neck smoldered in flames before closing the wound as if it didn’t exist.
Through Realmheart, I was able to tell that he was able to manipulate his black flames to such a high degree that he could become almost intangible.
‘Arthur!’ Sylvie called out through our telepathic link, just arriving.
Sylv! Help Virion! I ordered, my gaze shifting back and forth between Tessia’s grandfather and the scythe just a few feet in front of me.
‘What about you? You can’t beat him alone!’ she replied.
He’s going to die if you leave him like that! I sent, continuing to attack him using not just my sword but every element I had in my arsenal. I launched blades of wind, arcs of lightning, blasts of blue flames, but none of them did anything.
Thankfully, my bond heeded my words. After a moment of hesitation, she ran towards Virion and Bairon.
I did my part as well, at least stalling for time while my bond healed the two of them. I weaved both the ambient and my own mana around my hand to ignite an icy white flame. With the power and control I had gained from my white core, I unleashed the spell, freezing the scythe and everything else within thirty feet.
The seven-foot-tall scythe, clad in gleaming black armor, stood encased in an ice tomb. His pose, even frozen, remained arrogant and nonchalant.
Casting aside any doubt creeping from his attitude, I discharged a ray of lightning at our frozen opponent until the entire premise was covered in an icy mist.
If it hadn’t been for Realmheart, I wouldn’t have been able to see the scythe strike directly at my face.
Damn it! It didn’t work, I cursed.
Still, I was hopeful. Each fight against one of the retainers had left me and Sylvie almost dead. The fight against Uto would’ve killed us if it hadn’t been for the scythe, Seris. But this time was different.
Even against a scythe, beings that were able to use the mana arts only asuras from the basilisk clans were able to do, I was capable of holding my own.
Dodging the scythe’s fire-clad fist, however, made me realize that he seemed to be holding back. There was no time or leisure to think why, only that it was true and I had to capitalize on it.
The world shifted from monochrome into its negative version as I ignited Static Void and time stopped. I ignored the painful stress caused by using this ability and repositioned myself so I was behind him.
I knew this wasn’t enough though. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t dodge my attack when he didn’t need to.
The mana particles in the atmosphere had all been colorless, unable to be used within the void of frozen time, but what did glow all around me were the motes of purple.
Lady Myre had told me that while I could sense aether due to my affinity for all four elements, I might never be able to consciously control them outside of borrowing the power of Static Void.
Still, I tried. As crazy as it sounded, I called out to the floating specks of aether to help me somehow. I shouted, I pleaded, I prayed within the frozen realm and just when I thought nothing would work, some of the particles began congregating around Dawn’s Ballad, coating its blade in a hue of purple.
Afraid that this power would soon dissipate, I immediately released Static Void and swung my aether-clad blade.
Despite stopping time, the scythe had little trouble knowing where I was, as if expecting that I would use Static Void.
What he didn’t expect, however, was that my next attack would be infused in aether.
Dawn’s Ballad flashed in a purple crescent. The very fabric of space seemed to warp around my blade as it passed through the scythe, leaving a large, hollow gash.
The scythe’s look of indifference turned sour as he grunted in pain. He clasped his chest which soon burst out blood.
With that one attack, my mind swam and my arms felt heavy. A chilling pain radiated from my mana core, but I was able to lift my sword just in time to block a strike from a hand clad in black flames.
The scythe gripped the blade of my sword in his blazing hand while his eyes lost all trace of leisure.
I tried to pry my sword away from him to no avail. I didn’t have the strength to use aether again, and even if I did, I wasn’t confident that I could replicate what I had just done.
The bright teal blade of my sword dulled as the black fire spread from the scythe’s hand onto Dawn’s Ballad.
‘Arthur!’ Sylvie screamed in worry. She cast her vivum aether onto me, giving me strength, but it didn’t matter.
I couldn’t do anything as the black flames enveloped my sword and shattered within the scythe’s grasp.
“That is for the injury,” he said quietly, his voice dripping with anger.
I stepped away, putting some distance between us as I gripped the broken hilt of my beloved sword.
To my surprise, however, the scythe didn’t pursue. Instead, he turned to where Sylvie, Bairon, and Virion were. “Your aether arts aren’t strong enough to heal their wounds yet, Lady Sylvie.”
“Shut up!” I snapped, conjuring and condensing multiple layers of ice to craft a sword.
“While I’m confident that I’ll be able to defeat you, I fear this flying castle will collapse in the process of doing so,” he stated, glancing sideways at me. “Relinquish this fortress and I will retrieve the soulfire currently eating away at their lives.”
My body tensed, unwilling to believe him. “You’re just going to let us go?”
I was confident to be able to hold my own against him with Sylvie, but not while Virion and Bairon were here.
“I have already completed my orders, and it has been a long time since a lesser managed to wound me.”
‘Arthur. He’s right. I can’t heal them and I used up a lot of strength earlier trying to save Elder Buhnd.’
Despite my bond’s words, I didn’t lower my guard. With Realmheart still ignited and my sword poised to strike at the scythe, I asked him the question I had been too afraid to hear the answer to. “Are Princess Tessia Eralith, Alice Leywin, and Eleanor Leywin still alive?”
The scythe revealed a smile that sent chills down my spine. “The princess, along with your mother and sister are safe. You’ll find out more later on if you choose to accept my offer.”
The ice sword dissipated in my hand while I released Realmheart. My shoulders slumped from the weight of his words and my chest tightened. Every ounce of strength I had left was used to keep myself up on my feet, instead of on my knees, begging.
My greatest fear had come true. I had never gotten close to anyone in my past life was for this reason. “W-Where are they? What have you done to them?!”
“It’s not my place to tell you,” he said as he made his way over to Virion and Bairon.
I flew in silence next to Sylvie who was carrying Virion and Bairon on her scaled back. The Castle got smaller and smaller behind us as we headed back in defeat.
‘Arthur. Your family is going to be okay,’ Sylvie consoled gently.
I clenched my fists to keep them from trembling. I have to save them, Sylv. No matter what, I can’t let what happened to my father happen to them.
‘I know. We’re going to do everything we can.’
We made camp in a remote area a few miles northeast of Etistin by the Sehz River. I knew that if the sight of two lances and the very commander leading the war against the Alacryans were spotted in the state we were in, it would create mass panic.
Getting to work, I built a fire and conjured a stone tent for us while Sylvie began healing Virion and Bairon again. After about an hour or so, both of their breathing had become regular until they were simply asleep. Sylvie and I sat next to each other in front of the fire, lost in the flame’s dance.
It had been a long time since it had been this peaceful, yet I struggled to keep calm. Sitting, doing nothing and waiting made me restless, but we were both at a loss.
Neither of us said anything for a long time. The sun had set, with the fire our only source of light. I prodded at it with a stick, not because I had to, but because I would go crazy if I wasn’t doing something.
“What do we do now?” my bond asked quietly, reading my thoughts.
“Find Tess, Ellie and my mom,” I answered.
My bond turned to me, her bright topaz eyes reflecting the light from the fire. I could feel her uncertainty and despite her best efforts in keeping her thoughts from leaking, I could hear the question she wanted to ask: ‘Is the war over?’
There was a muddled mixture of emotions leaking from her but she was doing everything she could from letting me know what those emotions were.
A pained groan stirred our attentions, turning our heads back towards the tent.
It was Virion. He rubbed his head for a moment before bolting up to his feet. A sinister aura enveloped him as his beast will ignited.
“Virion! Virion! It’s okay!” I consoled, holding up my arms.
Disoriented, the commander took a moment to inspect our surroundings before finally realizing we weren’t at the Castle.
“What… what happen—the scythe!” he gasped. “My son! Tessia! Buhnd! We have to help them!”
I wrapped my arms around Virion, hugging him tight. He struggled, trying to break free from my grasp as he continued frantically telling me that we needed to go back.
And once he had calmed down, Virion wept. The Commander of this war and the very pillar of Dicathen, broke down.
I thought about Sylvie’s unasked question as I embraced Virion, tears lining my eyes as well.
If it wasn’t over, it sure felt like it was. It felt like the Alacryans had won. Not only did it feel like they had won, it felt like Agrona had us practically running into the palm of his hand. I had been arrogant.
What was a mere two mortal lifetimes of experience compared to an ancient asura’s lifetime of intellect and wisdom?