CYNTHIA GOODSKY’S POV:
The Council had handed this simple adamantine tag, engraved with the owner’s initials, to each of the Six Lances. This idea had actually been thought up by the members of the Six Lances themselves.
When they requested this, they explained to The Council that they needed something made of an almost indestructible material so that even if their bodies were obliterated, the necklace would still be intact and used as a sort of identification. It would be a memento for them—a sort of grim reminder that they could die at any time.
In contrast to the grim faces of the Six Lances, I distinctly remember that The Council had joked with them, asking if there was anything even capable of destroying their bodies past the point of recognition. I recalled chuckling alongside them, even though I knew…
Even though I knew that…There were beings capable of wiping out the crowned lances off the face of this planet.
But why… why am I seeing this tag so soon? It was too early. They shouldn’t be moving this early. I estimated that it would take at least another 15 to 20 years before they would start making their move.
I thought I had time.
I thought we had time…
“Director?” Arthur’s inquisitive voice shook me out of my daze.
“Ah, yes… Arthur, do you mind if I hold onto this? It would be safe for me to assume that The Council would want this back.” I took careful notice of the tone of my voice to make sure I wouldn’t arouse suspicion from Arthur. The boy was just abnormally sharp.
“Things are changing, aren’t they.” It was supposed to be a question, but by the tone of Arthur’s voice, it sounded like a statement with implied conviction.
Was it wise for me to tell him? Or rather, did he already know something?
“Yes, but it isn’t something for you to worry about. Not yet, at least.” I knew my smile and comforting words wouldn’t reach him.
“Arthur, you may forget sometimes—hell, even I tend to forget at times—but you are still a child. A strong child with limitless potential, yes, but a child nevertheless. Let us adults take on the burden for now; your time will come, whether you wish for it or not.” As I said this, I realized this message was more for myself than for Arthur.
Yes, he was a child. It wouldn’t be fair for him to become involved in the affairs of the Continent… but if he already knew…
“Did you perhaps… see whatever Alea fought against?” I had to choose my words carefully to make sure that my question didn’t give anything away.
“No, I didn’t.” The answer was said with full confidence, but for some reason, his answer made me second-guess myself.
However, no use in suspecting the boy. It wouldn’t make sense for him to hide anything about an event like this.
Still… I was glad he didn’t seem to have figured anything out.
“I see… Well, enough about this topic. You must be worried about how everyone is doing.” I let a soft, relieved smile escape as I said this.
ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
The director’s response somehow left a bad taste in my mouth. She sounded almost… relieved at my response.
“Yeah, how is everyone doing?” In the end, I decided to move on. There was no point in being skeptical of everyone around me. I’d just assume she skipped out on asking the details for my sake.
“As you may have already deduced, your classmates weren’t all too injured. We had them sent to the guild infirmary hall to be cared for and thankfully, most were able to come to school today. Professor Glory was actually the most wounded, but she refused to be healed until all of her students were treated. I heard she even paid a visit to your family to notify them of your disappearance after transporting everyone back.” Director Goodsky chuckled.
“That’s good, that’s good… And how is Tess doing?” I inquired.
Goodsky’s face wrinkled a bit as she displayed obvious hesitation.
“Tess… Tess is okay,” she replied. I could tell she chose her words carefully.
“What exactly do you mean by that?” I raised a brow, urging for a proper response while an uneasy feeling started to stir within me.
“There were some… complications… in the final stages of her assimilation. Virion is currently looking after her but she has yet to awaken.” Her voice was quiet as she spoke.
“Complications?” My voice came out a bit fiercer than I intended it to be.
“You need to understand that the final leg of assimilation is when the Beast Will struggles the hardest. Right now, Tessia and the elderwood guardian are fighting for control. Thus far, there has never been a case where the receiver of the will falls into a coma to this extent. Based on our theory, there seems to be something particular about the Beast Will you gave her, Arthur,” replied Goodsky earnestly.
What… was this my fault? I put Tess in danger…? A flurry of thoughts raced through my mind as I tried to think of an explanation as to why such a thing occurred.
There was something particular about the elderwood? What was it? Yeah, it was strong, but was it stronger than other S class mana beasts? I wouldn’t know since it had been my first time fighting one.
My mind flashed back to the dungeon, and more specifically, what Alea had told me. She had mentioned that the black-horned demons were causing the monsters to mutate and grow stronger.
Was that what had happened? Had I given Tess a potentially corrupted beast core? No, I couldn’t have. I remembered Alea explaining how the beast core of the serpent she defeated had mysteriously disappeared. Shouldn’t that have happened to the elderwood guardian’s beast core as well then?
“Arthur? Are you okay?” Director Goodsky’s concerned voice stirred me from the deep abyss of my thoughts.
“Yeah, just thinking,” I voiced as my eyes glazed over at the night view of the city.
“In any case, Virion is currently looking after her in your training room. Would you like to go visit them now?” Director Goodsky gave me a reassuring smile.
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Mmm… then go on ahead, because even I have not been updated on the situation. Virion has not let anyone in, but I feel like you’d be an exception. I must make a trip to The Council to inform them of what happened.” Goodsky suddenly looked infinitely older as she mentioned The Council.
“Is it okay for Grandpa Virion to not be present during the council meeting?” I asked.
Director Goodsky shook her head before replying, “Virion is in no state to be bothered with this matter when his precious granddaughter is currently unconscious. And besides, him being there with Tess is the only reason Alduin and Merial can stand to be away from their daughter and remain with The Council.”
“I see. Okay, well I hope you keep me informed on this matter.” I made my way to the door.
“My only concern is that you may have to be a lot more involved this time than you’d wish to be.” Director Goodsky breathed a sigh before a gust of wind enveloped her and whisked her away.
As I made my way down by riding the elevator, Sylvie stirred from her sleep.
‘I feel Mama.’
As I walked slowly towards the training room that had been assigned to me, my feet seemed to weigh a lot more than they should. I don’t know how I’d react if Tess were injured. The only reason I felt it wasn’t necessary to visit everyone else right away was because I assumed everyone would be safe.
‘I said, “I feel Mama!”‘ Sylvie thumped my forehead with her paw.
“I know!” I waved her paw away before turning my focus back to the giant double-door entrance that drew nearer.
“Ouch.” The skin under my dimension ring suddenly burned as if something inside it wanted to come out.
Ignoring it, as I had more pressing matters, I placed both my palms on the surface of the door and pushed it open.
As soon as the door swung open, an unfamiliar sinister aura visibly surged forward in an attempt to trap me. This dark fog felt like thousands of thorny vines as it coiled around my arms and legs.
“WHO’S TH… ARTHUR?” Amidst the noticeably dark wave emanating from a particular focal point, I heard Grandpa Virion’s husky voice boom.
“Yeah, it’s me, Gramps! What’s going on?” I yelled past the sound of what reminded me of the crashing of an ocean’s waves against a cliff.
“God, am I glad you’re still alive, brat. I think I’m becoming somewhat thankful for your cockroach-like tenacity, HAHA! Come over here, I need your help!” Still confused by what was happening, I chose to ignore Gramps’ slightly insulting metaphor and walked carefully towards him. The aura was getting stronger, and I felt my skin start to bleed from small tears, which cut through my clothes.
Willing mana to shield both Sylvie and I, I made my way towards the source of the aura using Grandpa Virion’s hazy figure as a guide; each step felt like I was pushing against a reinforced wall.
“What in the… Tess?!” As I got closer, I could faintly make out the figure, lying in front of Gramps—the source of this aura.
When I finally reached Grandpa Virion, I winced from the searing pain, caused by my dimension ring, that seemed to have gotten stronger. Gramps wasn’t in good shape; his pale face was drenched in sweat as he tried his best to suppress the oppressive aura emanating from Tess to little avail.
I took a closer look and what I saw made my eyes widen in surprise. Tendrils of vines completely enclosed the figure I assumed was Tess. The thick dark aura made it hard for me to make out what it was until now.
“How much time has passed on the outside, brat? I think I’ve been holding in this foul aura for a day or so since she came back from the dungeon.” He gave me a weary chuckle.
“What’s happening to her, Gramps?” I didn’t remember anything like this happening back when I was assimilating with Sylvia’s dragon will.
“Honestly, I’m not sure Typically, the purpose of assimilation is to enable the host’s body to gradually withstand and control the beast will’s power, but in this case, it seems to be the opposite. I’m beginning to worry that this beast’s will is trying to take over Tess’ body.” Grandpa Virion’s shaking voice was filled with unease.
“How is that possible? I’ve never heard of something like that happening.” My brows furrowed as I contemplated the possible cause. My thoughts kept going back to the mana beasts that had been corrupted by the black-horned demons.
“I’m not so sure, brat. I feel like that Elderwood you fought might’ve been mutated.” Virion’s hoarse voice indicated that he was most likely at his breaking point.
I was ready to take over for Gramps, ignoring the burning sensation from my ring that was evidently growing more painful.
It happened even before my hands touched the surface of the cocoon Tess was in.
I could instantly recognize the sound of flesh tearing as I instinctively shifted my body in hopes to dodge in time.
Both Sylvie and Virion’s voices sounded muffled through the pounding of my eardrums.