Chapter 249: Gone
Explosions of black and gold from Sylvie and the scythe’s battle resounded in the distance but I was focused on the man I had in my grasp.
“I-It can’t—no, it’s impossible. There’s no way—”
“That I’m…Nico?” Elijah coughed as he pried my fingers apart just enough so he could speak. “If you’ve reincarnated into this world, Grey, why is it impossible for anyone else to as well?”
The hand currently wrapped around Nic—no, Elijah, trembled uncontrollably. I squeezed harder. I didn’t want him to talk. I wanted to deny everything. I couldn’t bear whatever it was that he was about to say.
“Art! Watch out!”
Tess’ scream jolted me out of my thoughts, but I couldn’t fully dodge the back spike that Elijah had launched from the ground.
My grip around the black-haired traitor’s neck loosened and Elijah took advantage of that moment perfectly, prying himself loose and punching me square in the jaw with a hellfire-clad fist.
I swayed, nearly losing consciousness as the runes coursing down my face protected me from the black flames. I nearly fell from the sky but a hand grabbed my wrist.
As my weakened body struggled to counteract the otherworldly toxins that had entered my body from the black spike, Elijah grabbed my collar and pulled me close. His piercing dark eyes glared down at me while the venom-coated black spike hovered over his shoulder, tip pointed at my face.
“Art!” Tess shouted. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see her aura flaring as she prepared to attack.
“Focus on the gate!” I roared.
Elijah looked back as well, but just as he was about to go to Tess, I grabbed his arm.
“What did Agrona do to you, Elijah?” I groaned. “Did he make you say all of this?”
Elijah spun his head back, anger dripping from his voice. “Do you think even Agrona would know how you and I used to steal and sell whatever we scrounged to the pawn shop? And that we’d use the earnings to keep our orphanage funded without Wilbeck knowing?”
“That… doesn’t mean—”
“Do you think Agrona knows that deep down, you had feelings for Cecilia?”
I stiffened and the world that had been spinning because of the toxin in Elijah’s spell suddenly came back into focus.
Elijah smirked but his eyes remained cold. “Cecilia liked you for a time as well, but she gave up because you kept your distance emotionally ever since you found out that I had feelings for her.”
“Stop,” I whispered, anger flaring up the mana inside me. The runes spread throughout my body pulsed as I focused on gathering strength.
“And even when I told you everything I uncovered about Lady Vera, you turned your back on your best friend for that bitch,” he seethed, black flames spreading from his hands. “And as if that wasn’t enough, you killed her! You killed Cecilia in front of me!”
My runes and his flame clashed in a constant battle to keep my body from igniting.
“ Stop, Nico!” I cried, tears burning as they rolled down my cheeks.
Another explosion resounded from the distance, the shockwave creating a gust of wind that blew all the way here.
At that moment, a translucent-green blade of mana shot from the ground below.
Even though Nico was unaware, the black spike managed to block the green crescent that Tess had undoubtedly fired, but that gave me the opportunity to let out a blast of frost right at Nico’s face.
From the shoulder up, Nico was frozen for a second until a black flame started melting the ice. Still, I managed to kick myself free from his grasp and launch an arc of lighting at my disoriented foe.
Nico crashed to the ground, a mushroom of dust covering the area he had landed.
Are you okay? I asked my bond, checking up on her after that last explosion.
‘I’m…fine. It’s weird, he’s definitely attacking me but it feels like he’s…holding back,’ she responded. ‘How are things going over there?’
Not so…good, I admitted. But I’ll be able to hold my own. I just need to get Tess and them through the gate.
Just as I finished that thought, I turned my attention to the crater to see a large fluctuation of mana from where Nico had landed.
He was preparing a spell—a powerful one—but it wasn’t aimed at me.
I immediately burst through the air, landing on the ground right between Nico and the teleportation gate.
A concentrated beam of hellfire barely thicker than the width of a wrist pierced through the cloud of dust and debris, targeting just the teleportation gate.
Squeezing mana from my core and begging the aether around to aid me, I countered with a swirling barrier of aetheric wind. While ice would’ve been a better choice to effectively negate Nico’s attack, the toll of sustaining Realmheart for this long was becoming more and more evident.
Flickers of hellfire that had managed to make its way through my wind barrier burned through my skin like acid while even my regenerative abilities were hurting me, as if my body was begging me to stop getting injured.
Sustaining the barrier, I looked back over my shoulder, snapping impatiently at Tess. “He’s trying to destroy the gate! Hurry up and activate it and escape!”
“It’s almost done! But what about you and Sylvie?” Tess shouted as she continued to hold the ancient medallion up against the center of the glowing ring that was almost filled with purple.
“Just go! Please!” I begged.
“No!” Nico shouted. He withdrew his concentrated spell and burst forward to try and get past me. However, despite the poor state of my body, my reflexes were a lot faster than he assumed.
I pivoted and launched myself, tackling Nico.
“Let go!” he roared as he flailed, trying to escape my grasp.
Small embers of hellfire ignited throughout Elijah’s body but I held strong with the help of aether.
“Hurry up!” I warned, feeling the black flames slowly burn through the layer of aether and mana protecting me.
Nico suddenly stopped trying to break free. His shoulders trembled as he gritted his teeth before shouting, “You owe me, Grey. You owe me for killing Cecilia!”
“So that’s what it is? Cecilia died so you have to have Tess to make it even?” I spat out. “I didn’t mean to kill Cecilia, but even if I had, she wouldn’t have wanted this, Nico! Taking Tess isn’t going to bring Cecilia back!”
“What if it is?!” Nico shot back.
Caught by surprise, I didn’t answer. However, I saw the mana fluctuation in Nico’s hand as he willed another black spike from the ground.
I quickly spun, using Elijah as a shield against his own spell. He was able to stop the spike from piercing both of us.
A guttural cry of frustration ripped out of his throat as he tried desperately to break free from my grasp.
Just then, another explosion resounded from where Sylvie was fighting against the scythe.
What’s going on? Are you okay? I asked, my concern bleeding onto my bond.
‘I’m…fine, but the scythe is heading your way,’ she replied, even her mental voice pained.
It took less than a second for me to feel it—the presence of the scythe approaching. And it took another second for me to see the rapid fluctuation of mana right where the teleportation gate was.
I hurriedly initiated Static Void, but this time, I felt the cost of its use.
Along with the inverted colors of the frozen world, I felt a cold grip clutching my innards, warning me that death was inevitable if I continued to exploit this powerful aether art.
Ignoring my body’s warning, I released the frozen Nico and made my way toward Tess, Nyphia, and Madam Astera.
My body grew heavy and nauseous with each step I took but I couldn’t afford to release Static Void and risk the scythe’s spell go off.
My body was drenched in sweat and I was gasping for air by the time I reached the gate.
I grabbed Tess’ waist with one arm and released the time-freezing aether art.
A cold chill ran down my spine as my body instinctively knew that danger was just behind me, where the gate was.
Tess flinched in my grasp.“What th—”
I picked her up by the waist, cutting her off, while I shouted at Madam Astera.
Immediately, the former knight professor and soldier bolted to her student and tossed her over her shoulder just in time for me to flash past them and grab Madam Astera’s free hand.
I tried to bend space once more with the help of aether, but the translucent purple bridge wouldn’t form. Without even the time to curse, I gritted my teeth and expended what mana I had left to gain some distance when a horrible explosion of fire resounded behind us.
Unable to even look back, I could only imagine how close the conflagration was by the sound of the roaring fire and its heat scalding my back.
A green aura suddenly surrounded all of us as Tess activated her beast will to protect us while I focused on getting us out of range, but the heat only grew stronger.
To make matters worse, the scythe was within eyeshot just up ahead. Even if we were able to somehow make it out of the hellfire explosion, we’d be facing the scythe as well as Nico.
Suddenly, Madam Astera let out a scream of pain, but I couldn’t afford to slow down as I could see the tendrils of black flames in the air.
My very thoughts of surviving molded itself into the elements. Gales of wind coalesced beneath my feet as even the uneven ground smoothed out in front of us to make a clear path.
It didn’t matter though. The sky darkened as the black flames were about to engulf us, but neither the scalding burn nor the searing pain came.
I peeked back just over my shoulder to see Nico using his own black flames to block hellfire that the scythe had unleashed.
“Get them out of here!” Elijah shouted as he struggled to keep the powerful explosion at bay.
“Hold onto me tight!” Tess exclaimed as she withdrew her beast will and conjured a condensed orb of wind in her palms.
I squeezed her waist tightly as she unleashed a gale of wind behind us, propelling us forward. I stumbled and nearly fell forward by the sudden force but Madam Astera actually stabbed her sword into the ground, allowing me to regain my balance.
Continuing to run until I couldn’t feel the heat any longer, I toppled forward from sheer exhaustion. Still, I made sure to cling tightly onto keeping Realmheart Physique active. I knew that once I released it, the backlash would hit me—hard.
Ignoring the dull, radiating pain that was growing stronger by the minute, I inhaled more ambient mana like a drug addict on the cusp of his crash.
I couldn’t even cycle and purify it through my mana core, which made the mana poison to my body. Realmheart Physique would’ve helped with purifying the poisonous mana but I had taken in too much during this battle.
But what’s a little more poison for my already deteriorating body? I just needed to hold on and get the rest of them out of here safely.
“Stay with me!” Tess said to someone from behind, voice shaky but strong.
With the ambient mana temporarily boosting the functions of my body, I wiped a stray drop of blood that fell down from my nostril and turned around.
My eyes widened and in my head I was already starting to calculate the odds of their survival…and it just got a whole lot worse.
It was Madam Astera. She was missing her right leg from the mid-calf down and Tess was doing what she could to soothe her wounds using water magic while Nyphia was preparing bandages made from ripped strips of her own inner robe.
“My foot got caught in that explosion. I knew I couldn’t put out that black fire so I cut it off,” she grunted. For a split second, I admired the fact that, for such a petite woman who had just lobbed off her own leg, she was barely even grimacing.
Then, reality sank in as I felt the tremendous pressure of the scythe fast approaching.
“Damn it!” I cursed, already turning my gaze from the disabled soldier and to the scythe almost upon us.
To my surprise, however, Nico marched past us, a smoky nebula surrounding him as if illustrating his anger.
“Tessia almost died because of your attack, Cadell!” Nico roared. “I’m sure Agrona made it clear to you that she is to stay alive!”
I finally knew the name of the scythe that had killed Sylvia when I was a child in this world.
Cadell landed deftly on the ground as if he had just stepped off the sidewalk. His stride was leisurely yet confident, each step demanding your attention.
I made sure to position myself between Cadell and my allies behind me while taking note of the rising tension.
‘Arthur! I’m almost there,’ Sylvie relayed. I could already see her large figure in the sky above some distant buildings.
Cadell noticed as well, his gaze flitting behind him for a second before he focused on Nico.
“If I had not acted in the way that I did, the vessel would have escaped,” he responded apathetically before turning to me.
“That doesn’t justify you risking her life! We had a deal,” Nico snapped, a tendril of black smokey aura flaring out at the ground and creating a large gash.
“You would’ve failed on your own. Why? Because of your past with the boy. If you weren’t so fixated on getting your revenge against your old friend, then the vessel would have already been in your possession.”
Sylvie was almost here, and while it would’ve been smart to leave them alone to buy ourselves time, I couldn’t ignore what they were speaking about. Even though I knew I would regret it, I just had to know.
Cadell and Nico fell silent and turned to me as they felt the sudden pressure I released. Straightening my back and hiding any signs of weakness, I stood tall and let my pressure weigh down on the surrounding area.
Cadell raised a brow as he studied me. “Looks like you still have some fight left in you.”
“Explain what you meant when you said vessel,” I demanded, my voice carrying with the help of mana despite the near-whisper of a volume that I spoke.
“You said taking Tess isn’t going to bring Cecilia back, right?” Nico replied, his voice a lot calmer than it was before. “Well, what if it will?”
“Then I would say you’re out of your mind,” I retorted, staying strong despite the burning needles stabbing every inch of my body.
“This is what Agrona has been researching and perfecting over the past few hundred years, Grey, and your reincarnation was what allowed everything he had worked for to turn the gears into motion,” Nico explained. “And that was how I was able to reincarnate into this world. After al,l if someone deserves a new life, it isn’t you…it’s Cecilia and me.”
“Bullshit,” I spat, the word leaving a trail of pain throughout my lungs and throat.
I took a deep breath and let the anger fester inside me in order to mitigate some of the pain coursing through my body. Once more, I desperately tried to move the aether, but the motes of purple wouldn’t budge. The pain grew stronger with each attempt and I could feel my body deteriorating.
To make matters worse, the gate was destroyed and there wasn’t another one nearby.
It wasn’t fair. No matter how much stronger I became, why did I always just barely lack the power to win?
Damn it. Damn it. Come on, now would be a great time for a weapon! I pleaded, clawing at the palm of my hand where that bastard asura, Wren, had stuck that acclorite.
Tess suddenly gripped my wrist. “Arthur, stop! What are you doing to your hand?”
Just then—as everyone’s eyes were on me—I felt hot liquid pour down my nose, spilling on my hand.
“Art? Your nose…” Tess gently touched my shoulder, worried.
I hurriedly wiped the blood running down my nose and lips and looked back up to see Cadell’s lips curved into a smirk. “You’re body is breaking down, isn’t it, Lance?”
“What? Is that true?” Tess asked. “How bad is it?”
“I’ll be okay,” I lied, shrugging her away. I couldn’t even look her in the eye. Instead, I kept my eyes focused on the opponents ahead.
Talking was pointless now and whatever that asura jabbed into my hand wouldn’t help me now.
Whether it was Elijah or Nico, it didn’t matter. He was an enemy trying to take Tess, and they wouldn’t stop there.
I infused mana into my legs and prepared to make whatever desperate attempt of an attack I could make, but a small girl stood in the way.
“Sylvie. Don’t try and stop me,” I muttered, cladding my degrading body in mana in preparation for one last battle.
“Would you stop even if I tried?” my bond asked solemnly. She took a step to the side as a golden-white aura flared to life around her. “If you’re so bent on killing yourself, We’ll go together.”
Cadell and Elijah clad themselves in their dark mana as well. The ground cracked and splintered around us as whoever was left from the Alacryan side had all run away.
“Nyphia. Take Tess and Madam Astera as far away as possible,” I said, looking back over my shoulder. Shifting my gaze down at Madam Astera’s stump, I forged a prosthetic leg out of stone before turning back. “And don’t stop.”
“Elf Princess,” Cadell said his smirk widening. “If your dearly beloved stays in that form any longer, whether he wins or loses this battle, he’ll die.”
“Leave her out of this!” I shouted but by the time I turned around, Tess had already shrugged off Nyphia.
Tess didn’t speak to me, though. Instead, she gripped Sylvie’s wrist and asked her, “He’s lying, right? Tell me he’s lying, Sylvie!”
Sylvie looked at me, but didn’t respond.
“I’ll be fine, Tess,” I lied again, but my words were met with a venomous tear-filled glare.
“You always do this. You’re always ready to give up your life to save me,” she shot back.
“Tess…” I grabbed her arm.
“Do you think I’d be grateful if you died to save me?” she asked, her lips quivering.
She wrapped her hand over mine and peeled herself from my grip. She touched my forehead with hers as she closed her eyes, chest heaving erratically as she held back sobs.
She let out a whisper after placing her lips against mine. “You idiot.”
Then she tore herself away from me and walked off, straight towards the enemy.
“No!” I stepped forward, ready to sprint after her, when Sylvie held me back, wrapping her arms around my waist.
“Sylvie! No! You can’t do this to me!”
“Arthur, please…” Sylvie begged, her small body trembling. “I don’t want you to die.”
I watched helplessly as Tess walked away, the sound of blood pounding in my head muting every other sound. I couldn’t even hear my own shouts as I begged Tess to stop, to let me fight, to let me die.
I watched as Tess turned back and smiled at me before saying something. I couldn’t hear it though. They may have been Tess’ last words and I couldn’t hear them.
No. I couldn’t let this happen.
My gazes flitted down to my bloody palm as I checked once more with the faint hope that the weapon would appear.
It didn’t, and I didn’t have time.
As Sylvie hugged me tighter, forcing me away from Tess as she walked towards Nico and Cadell, I wedged my hand inside my protective chest plate and pulled out the medallion that Elder Rinia had given me to bring Tess back—a reminder that this entire world and countless others would fall to Agrona if Tess was in his hands.
It all made sense now. For whatever reason, Tess was meant to be the vessel for Cecilia. Maybe it was because of our relationship in this world that created the bridge, but that didn’t matter.
If both Nico and I became this strong after reincarnating into this world, how strong would Cecilia, the ‘legacy,’ be if she reincarnated into Tess’ body?
“Sylvie. You know what Rinia said,” I pleaded, studying the ancient relic in my hand. “We can’t let them have Tess.”
Sylvie shook her head, her face still buried in my chest. “We’ll both get stronger. As long as we live, we have a chance.”
I felt my insides churn as I stood on my last few minutes of Realmheart, but I continued to study the medallion. Something about it that I hadn’t noticed before now stood out to me within this fully assimilated state of Realmheart Physique.
The recent memory of Rinia drawing the aetheric runes on the gate resurfaced and the hours I spent in that ancient cave watching Sylvie meditate while influencing the aether around her connected together instinctively in a way that my mind couldn’t fathom but my body could.
Sylvie sensed the change in the air as I got to work.
“A-Arthur? What are you doing?” my bond cried desperately, her gaze shifting around as she witnessed my act.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered as a metallic taste filled my mouth.
I dispersed the gathered aether I had influenced. I reached out with my arms, one pointed at Nyphia and Madam Astera, the other directed at Tess.
And suddenly, we were in a separate space. This was different from Static Void where I was in the same space as the rest of the world.
No, I had created a separate pocket dimension and brought everyone along with me.
With no time to waste, I threw the medallion that had the coordinates engraved in it and created a teleportation portal of my own.
“Into the portal, now! ” I shouted as I struggled to keep the portal stable.
Madam Astera was the one that made it work. Wasting no time, she picked up Nyphia and sprinted towards the portal with the prosthetic leg I had conjured for her. After tossing Nyphia into the portal, she ran after Tess, who was a few paces away still.
I restructured the size of the pocket dimension, bringing Tess closer to Madam Astera and the portal.
Without even the chance to get a word out, I saw Tess get sucked into the portal. Madam Astera looked at me for a second before giving me a nod and jumping through the portal herself.
“Sylvie… it’s t-time to go,” I said, my bond just looking at me in horror.
She reached up and wiped the tears streaming from my eyes, only to see her fingers covered in blood… my blood.
“A-Arthur, you’re not going to make it,” Sylvie said as I felt her consciousness go deeper into mine. I couldn’t shield my thoughts from her in my state anymore, leaving me an open book.
“The portal isn’t…going to stay stable for much longer, Sylv. P-Please, I can’t have you die too,” I said, smiling while trying to keep blood from leaking out of my mouth.
A wave of blinding pain hit me and the pocket dimension rippled like a bubble about to pop. Disoriented, I tried to force Sylvie into the portal when she began glowing purple.
“Sylv? What are you—” My eyes widened in horror as I realized what she was doing.
The light spread until an all-too-familiar dragon was standing in front of me.
“Try to keep yourself alive while I’m gone, okay?” Sylvie said as she gave me a toothy grin.
“Sylv, no! Don’t do this!” I screamed. Desperate, I tried to push her to the portal, but my hands went through her.
Sylvie’s body was turning ethereal and she was fading as motes of lavender and gold began leaving her and attaching themselves to my body.
My body writhed in unimaginable pain at the sudden change it was going through, but I held on, unwilling to pass out. My vision faded as I screamed out to Sylvie, but her last words were cut off as she pushed me through the portal with the last remaining corporeal limb she had left.
My bond had left me with one word before she faded: ‘…again.’