“Can I keep this?” I asked before realizing that my palm had been bleeding from grasping the shard of the horn too hard.
The elven woman, despite her condition, let out a hoarse chuckle after my question, catching me by surprise. Raising an eyebrow, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through her mind and how admirable she was for her ability to still laugh considering her situation.
“You’re looking at me as if I’ve gone insane,” she said as she struggled to turn her head toward the sound of my voice.
“No, not insane. Admirable, if anything,” I replied.
“You’re a weird one too, asking a dying soldier if you can keep something like that. Keep it. It won’t hold any value to me anyway.” She let out a sigh and suddenly, her face looked as if it had aged twenty years by the grave expression she wore.
“I don’t even know your name, kid, but I’m going to die soon. There’s no need to try and be sensitive about that fact.” The elven warrior let out a ragged breath but her expression remained firm.
“My name is Arthur, and… yeah. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way for me to save you.” I put the black shard inside my dimension ring. “I’m sorry.”
“I guess it just wasn’t meant to be then. Since I don’t have a lot of time, I’ll tell you as much as I know.” My chest felt heavy as she so easily casted aside her hopes and accepted her fate.
“My name is Alea Triscan, as you figured out. I am one of the of the six lances and the corpses that you probably spotted upon your arrival were my troops. Each lance was in charge of a battalion composed of top mages.” She let out another heavy sigh, and for once, I was glad she wasn’t able to witness the gruesome slaughter that’d turned this once beautiful place into a grave of mangled corpses.
“After the commencement of the six lances a few months ago, I had been training them to work as a team to clear dungeons and other unknown areas. The six lances rarely go on missions together, unless we are to explore an S class dungeon or above,” she continued after pausing for a gulp of air.
“From the direction of your footsteps earlier, it seemed you came in from a different entrance. This place is actually connected to three dungeons. Which dungeon did you come from, Arthur?” Alea wiggled her body, struggling to prop herself up against the wall.
“I came with my classmates and professor from the Widow’s Crypt. Everyone else was able to make it back out, but I guess I wasn’t so lucky.” I took a seat against the wall next to Alea as I surveyed the carnage displayed before me. I was able to vaguely imagine what’d happened by how the bodies were positioned and where they had sustained their fatal injuries.
“I’m not sure how old you are, Arthur, but no one should have to see something like this,” Alea whispered, her voice laced with remorse.
“My age probably won’t correlate too well in regards to situations like this, but you are right. No one, regardless of age, should have to see something like this.”
Her breathing became more ragged and sporadic but she held on.
“My troops and I came from an A class dungeon named Hell’s Jaw. We were assigned to investigate the dungeon after getting reports of inconsistent sightings inside. The adventurers that had come back alive were ones who frequented the dungeon for training. The ones that made it back were barely alive and they all spoke about how the beasts residing within suddenly became stronger and fiercer. Was that the case for the dungeon you came from as well?” Alea asked, her words coming out slower than before.
“Yes. Just on the first floor, an army of minion snarlers welcomed us. The minions weren’t bad but two queen snarlers showed up. One of the queens, after eating the other queen, turned from gray to black and its strength jumped a few fold. I suspected this was the cause.”
“What do you mean you suspected?! Are you saying you’ve seen that demon before?” Alea’s limp body suddenly sprang up as her head turned back toward me, shock evident in her voice.
“I’m not sure if it’s the same one, but yes,” I responded frankly.
“The same one? You think there’s more than one?” Alea’s already pale face drained to an even whiter color.
“I don’t have definite proof, but I suspect that the one you saw, Vritra, is just one of the horned demons out there somewhere,” I replied, recalling that night where I had gotten separated from Sylvia. The black demon with its horns curving downwards said something about causing them trouble. It was just speculation, but I suspected that there were probably more of them.
My mind began to spin as I pondered over the different possibilities and reasons as to why they were doing this. Was this all for Sylvie or some greater cause?
I remembered when Sylvia had given the stone to me that I had to protect it at all costs. That “stone” turned out to be an egg, and of a dragon no less. Was Sylvie such an important existence that the horned demons had to go this far for?
“What… are you thinking of, Arthur?” Alea let out a strained cough as fresh blood escaped from the sealed wound where her mana core once was.
I always found it intriguing that, while beast cores were capable of being harvested and used as tools to enhance mana, human mana cores weren’t. When a mage died, their mana core shattered and the mana accumulated inside dispersed. Was it because we gathered mana from the atmosphere that this happened?
There seemed to be a deeper meaning when I thought of how humans didn’t need their mana cores in order to survive, while our mana cores were dependent on us being alive. This world seemed to revolve around whether you were a mage or not, and if you were, how strong you were. I couldn’t help but think that the God of this world wanted to tell us that life was more important than magic, which should be an obvious statement, but a statement which the people of this world seemed to have forgotten.
Before I lost myself deeper into the aspect of a higher being, Alea’s ragged coughing snapped me back to reality.
“Are you okay?” That was a dumb question. Of course she isn’t okay.
“When my team reached the first floor of Hell’s Jaw, there was nothing off about it; the mana beasts were the same ones that were recorded. It was when we reached the final floor where the master of the dungeon made its den. The Hades Serpent, which was an AA class mana beast, should’ve been something I could’ve beaten myself fairly easily.” There was no trace of boasting or overconfidence in her tone. It was just a fact to her.
“The Hades Serpent, which was known for the blue fire spouting along its long spine, looked different. At first, we were confused because it didn’t look like it had any flames at all, but when we looked closer, the reason we couldn’t see the flames against the black walls of the cave was because the flames themselves were black.
“It looked like thick smoke flickering wildly along the spine of the hundred-foot serpent. That particular Hades Serpent also had a black horn jutting out of its forehead while its scales, which were recorded as being a matte grey color, were a sleek black…” Taking a deep breath, I noticed Alea shivering.
“The fight was gruesome. I lost five of my men to that Hades Serpent. The fight took several hours but I was able to kill it. When we tried to retrieve the beast core though, it wasn’t there.” She broke into another fit of coughs so I ran toward the pond and soaked what was left of my uniform inside. After rinsing it, I allowed the fabric to absorb as much water as it could before walking back to Alea.
“Open your mouth,” I instructed.
She hesitated for a moment but she eventually did as she was told. As I gently squeezed my soaked uniform over her mouth, the water trickled into her mouth.
She let out a small yelp in surprise at the cold liquid but soon after, began fiercely gulping down the water. She whispered a small thank you before continuing on with her story.
“Although we were tempted to go back to the surface, we hadn’t managed to figure anything out, so we started searching for clues inside. One of my men used a spell and found that there was a hidden tunnel underneath a thin layer of earth. After crossing the tunnel, we arrived here…” As Alea’s voice trembled at her last words, tears mixed with blood streamed down the closed eyelids where her eyes used to be.
“H-He was here…when we reached this cavern. I still remember the way he looked at us. Those scarlet eyes…” After letting out a trembling breath, she continued.
“My team and I… no one knew what that monster was so we did what our instincts told us to do. We raised our weapons…. that was our first mistake. I can still picture it so clearly. His pale gray skin. His face… it was beastly yet, it looked almost…human. He looked at us and smirked, exposing his sharp fangs. What threw us off was when he talked…” Her voice fell into a whisper.
“Mm,” I responded, just to let her know I was still there.
“He wasn’t even surprised to see us there. Vritra, he… that thing, just looked at us before…”
“Before?” I asked, sitting upright.
“He gave us two options.” Tears and blood continued to stream down her once beautiful face as she willed herself to finish.
“He looked straight at me, as if he knew instantly that I was the leader, and told me that he’d let me walk out unharmed if I—”she choked back a sob, her only hand clenched white into a fist, “—if I dismembered each of my teammates, one by one, in front of him.”
The ridiculous offer would’ve infuriated anyone but looking at the state Alea was in right now, I didn’t have the confidence to say she had made the right decision. Maybe her teammates would’ve wanted her to kill them quickly instead of being tortured the way they were.
“What was the other option?” I asked, gently wrapping my hands over her clenched fist.
“He just… scoffed at us and said ‘…or you can try and fight.'” Her blood-mixed tears stained the torn remains of her clothes as she continued to softly cry.
Unable to find the words to comfort her, I just kept my hands wrapped tightly around her fist. Moments trickled by with only the sound of running water and Alea’s silent sobs breaking the deathly silence.
“We didn’t… stand a chance,” she whispered, hiccuping.
“I hate to make you relive the scene, but I need as much of the details as possible, Alea.” I gently stroked her hand to try and calm her.
“He had one horn in the middle of his forehead… that curved backwards sharply.” She tried her best to talk calmly.
“One horn?” So there really was more than one horned demon. Was it a clan? A race?
My heart began beating uncontrollably from just imagining a whole race composed of horned demons; just one of them could wipe out one of the six lances and her team.
“Y-Yes. My strongest single point attack only managed to create a small chip in that horn.” Alea seemed like she wanted to ask me something but she continued on, her breath getting shorter.
“He… It … Vritra was able to use magic—magic that seemed to defy the common sense of any magic I’ve ever seen.” Alea’s lips began to quiver.
“What kind of magic did he use?”
“Metal. Black metal. He was able to instantaneously conjure metal spikes, blades, any sort of weapons from the ground and himself. I don’t even know how to describe it properly. It was over too quickly. Half of my team was dead in the first wave of attacks he unleashed with a simple flick of his wrist. When the ones that were still alive attacked him, he didn’t even bother to dodge… plates of black metal instantaneously materialized and blocked whatever attack that managed to get near him.”
I felt my face tense as I tried to visualize what Vritra’s, and possibly the powers his whole race, possessed. It seemed to be conjuring but on a completely different level. The way she described it made it seem more akin to manifestation or even creation of a certain phenomena rather than affecting the mana particles that already existed.
How was that even possible though? Were they capable of just skipping steps in the fundamental laws of magic in this world, or were they simply more knowledgeable and able to do this through a special skill?
My head immediately turned toward Alea at the sound of her coughing. It was worse than before. She coughed up blood.
“Vritra… He left after leaving me like this. I’m not sure if he knew someone was going to come, but the last thing he said before going was his name… and that Dicathen was going to become a warzone…” As blood dribbled down the corner of her mouth, she turned her head toward me.
“This may sound preposterous but can you do me a favor?” Alea let out a faint smile, revealing her teeth, stained with blood.
“Sure, anything.” I expected her to leave me with an item or message, perhaps for a loved one back home or maybe to her family.
“… hold me?” she mumbled.
I leaned in closer, only hearing the last part. “Sorry. I didn’t quite catch that.”
“I always thought that I didn’t need anyone… as long as I was strong enough. I never had a family or lover… to depend on… but you know? I-I really don’t want to die alone right now…” Alea bit her trembling lower lip. “Can you hold me?”
Without saying a word, I gently wrapped my arms around Alea’s fragile neck and waist, leaning her head against my chest.
“I’m scared,” she muttered. “I don’t want to die…”
I stayed silent, gritting my teeth as I, again, was unable to find the words to comfort her. Softly patting the back of Alea’s head, I felt her breathing become weaker and weaker, and moments later—she passed away in my arms
Hello! Author here 🙂
This concludes the end of Volume 3 of The Beginning After the End.
I originally planned on just releasing the 1st volume of this novel on here but because of many demands, I chose to extend the release.
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to take a hiatus from posting on here for the time being. I’m not sure when I’ll be posting on here again but if you can’t wait, you can either continue reading this novel for free on my website (tbatenovel.com) or for the most edited versions, either on Tapas.io or Amazon.
Thank you for showing this novel so much love!