A stain of blood began spreading through the remains of my shirt as I barely managed to dodge the spear of twisted vines aimed straight for my heart.
My heart pounded with a force strong enough to break out of my ribcage from the thought of death looming before me. I almost died. This sensation felt different from the other near-death experiences I had had. It was almost instantaneous; I could’ve died in that split second, and it would’ve been because of Tess, no less.
I knew women were dangerous.
Barely dodging the tendril, I grimaced at the feeling of blood trickling down my cheek.
I almost chuckled at the comical situation stirring in my mind. Grandpa Virion’s hands were literally on the cocoon, but as soon as I got near her, a flurry of spear-like vines automatically locked onto me for the kill? I knew that, deep down, Tess was still mad at me.
I parried the next dark, spear-like tendril before things became even worse. The cocoon that wrapped around Tess began expanding as an uncountable number of vines began surfacing from the ground beneath her.
“Kuu!” ‘Papa, you’re okay!’ I heard Sylvie chirp near Gramps.
Grandpa Virion’s shoulders loosened as he let out a sigh of relief. “I thought you almost died, brat. What’s happening now?”
“Yeah, that was… a little too close for comfort, and I honestly have no clue what’s happening now, Gramps. Maybe your granddaughter doesn’t like me so much anymore.” I managed to shoot him a smirk, making him chuckle despite the situation we were in.
After another thick layer of vines intertwined around the existing ones that formed Tess’ cocoon, dozens of tendrils began positioning themselves to, once again, shoot at me. Just me.
“Kuu…” ‘What do we do?’
Sylvie, who was perched next to Grandpa, tilted her head in confusion, since the ‘enemy’ was her ‘mama.’
I want you to stay with Grandpa Virion. She’s only aiming at me for some reason.
After dodging the discharge of tendrils, I positioned myself away from Gramps and Sylvie. Gramps was drained of all his mana from suppressing the dark aura for almost two days straight while Sylvie was better off not interfering until I knew exactly what the implications would be.
What’s more, ‘Tess’ was becoming more creative in her attacks; her next wave of tendrils were even laced with sharp thorns. The more I avoided the spears of vines, the more sure I was that the beast will was dead set on trying to kill only me. It also wasn’t helping that my ring was burning to an almost unbearable degree.
Could it be that the elderwood guardian’s dying will was hoping to gain redemption from me since I was the one that defeated him down in the dungeon? If that really happened to be the case, I hoped I lived long enough to find out.
Frustrated, I withdrew my sword from my dimension ring, but as I did, something else came out with it.
While Dawn’s Ballad appeared promptly in my hand, a small shining orb shot out of the ring towards the cocoon.
It was the orb that that homeless storekeeper had given me!
The clear orb, about the size of a marble, sparkled with an array of colors as it bolted towards the enlarging cocoon.
What the hell?
Grandpa Virion noticed it too but he only gazed at me in confusion, probably thinking that I had done it intentionally.
Streaks of light escaped from the crevices in between the vines as the orb sunk into the cocoon.
Before we even had the chance to wonder what was going on, an explosion occurred from within the cocoon, revealing a menacing, naked, black-haired Tess.
As the orb sunk into her stomach where her mana core was, Tess’ sickly complexion went back to normal… no, beyond normal. Her now flawless pearl skin seemed to literally radiate as her black hair turned back into its original gunmetal silver hue.
Her physical appearance wasn’t the only thing that changed. As the orb disappeared completely inside her abdomen, Tess’ unconscious body was completely covered in an aura I had never seen before—distinctly different from the usual mana existent in the atmosphere, in an almost mystical way.
Surrounding her was a scorching flame comprised of brilliant emerald gems. Millions of green, leaf-shaped embers made up this unique aura. As the emerald aura expanded, the once-black vines turned a serene jade green. Even as the mesmerizing aura drew nearer, for some reason, I didn’t fear it. Before it reached any of us, the aura shrunk back and dissipated.
As Tess’ figure fell, I jumped up and took out the coat I used while I was an adventurer, swiftly wrapping it around her bare body as I held her in my arms.
The dark aura that filled the training room was completely gone, and more importantly, Tess was safe.
“Mmm…not now, Arthur. Too soon,” Tess mumbled as her face revealed a coquettish smile.
…She was most definitely safe.
“Pfft! Hahahaha!” Relief washing over me, I laughed. I laughed full-heartedly at Tess’ sleep talk and just at the fact that she was okay.
“TESSIA!” Grandpa Virion came running with Sylvie dangling from his long white hair.
“She’s okay, Gramps. She’s just sleeping now.” I set her down and fell onto my butt as all the strength I had left, left me.
Both Sylvie and Gramps began meticulously inspecting the slumbering Tess before they heaved a sigh of relief as well.
“…She is okay.” Gramps slumped down next to me while Sylvie curled up next to Tess. For a brief moment, we just blankly stared at the other end of the training grounds, too tired to even think.
“So did you get a good eyeful?” Turning my head, I could see Grandpa Virion’s smirk grow so wide that I was rather surprised his lips didn’t tear.
“She’s thirteen!” I groaned as I fell back on the soft grass-like moss.
“Almost fourteen,” he corrected as he shifted a his softening gaze back towards Tessia.
“I’m glad you’re okay, brat. This girl would’ve been devastated if she found out you hadn’t made it…” He paused.
“…And thank you… for saving my granddaughter back at the dungeon, and now.” Virion’s voice grew softer, almost mumbling, as he said this.
“What makes you think I saved your daughter, Gramps?” I replied without getting up, using my hands to support my head.
“Call it a grandfather’s intuition. With your abilities, I know that if you only thought of yourself, you wouldn’t have ended up in dangerous situations like these. So again, thank you.” The sincerity in his voice was confirmed as his eyes met mine.
“Ugh, forget it. Don’t get so serious like that all of a sudden, you’re scaring me.” I rolled to my side, my back facing Grandpa Virion.
“So when did you get back? Your family knows you’re alive, right?” Gramps replied.
“Of course. I got home last night and even spent some time with my family earlier today…”
Silence hovered between us for a few seconds before I spoke again.
“Gramps, I’m sorry. I-I should’ve rushed back. I just assumed that she’d be fine once she woke up since she crossed the last leg of assimilation with her beast will back at the dungeon. If I had known things could go wrong like this, I would’ve rushed here as soon as I got back.” I turned back to look at Virion, almost pleadingly.
Back when I was assimilating with Sylvia’s beast will, I remembered Virion explaining to me how there was one final wave of struggle from the beast will before the assimilation was completely over, how that was normal…
I should’ve prepared for the worst…. I almost lost her today.
This thought scared me a lot more than I would’ve ever believed possible in my past life.
“Your parents probably had their fair shares of worries raising you, huh?” Unexpectedly, Grandpa Virion let out a soft chortle.
“Wha… yeah, I guess,” I responded, thrown off by his sudden question.
“You did good in going to your family first. Tessia has her family to take care of her… she’s not alone, you know. You probably thought of this when you decided to spend the day with them. Your family probably needed you to be there for them as well, since you gave them quite a scare. Don’t forget that and don’t be sorry that you spent that much needed time with your family.” Grandpa Virion patted my back, consolingly.
I didn’t know what to say. I was thankful that he knew me well enough without needing an explanation, or an excuse…
Again, a tranquil silence hung over us until I finally got around to asking the question that had been clawing the back of my mind.
“Hey, Gramps… how much do you know about the Six Lances?” I asked as my gaze focused on Sylvie, who ended up falling asleep, curled up next to Tess.
“…The Six Lances? Why the sudden curiosity?” Virion asked after a while.
I didn’t respond.
“What exactly do you want to know about them?” Accepting my silence, he responded tactfully.
“How strong are they?” After a bit of thought, I started off with a simple question.
He let out a slow, elongated breath. “Brat, let me start by asking you this: how strong do you imagine white core mages to be?”
My brows furrowed as I began calculating how many mages it would take to hold down a single white core mage. Since it took roughly around twenty solid-yellow core mages to hold off a single silver core mage, would it take less silver core mages than that to beat a white core mage… or was the power level increase exponential?
“I’m not really sure, Gramps,” I finally said, defeated.
“To make it easier for you, we’ll use myself as A figure of measurement. I don’t ever recall explicitly telling you this, but I’m a mid-silver core mage. It would take roughly around ten of me to keep one mid-white core mage at bay, and that’s being optimistic.” Grandpa Virion let out a chortle.
“Ten of you…” I muttered under my breath.
“Now, Cynthia is high-silver. Even after being generous, it would take around six or seven of her to keep one mid-white core at bay.” He shrugged as he spoke.
I couldn’t imagine my current self being able to defeat that many Virions or Goodskys. Perhaps if I were to release the second phase of my dragon’s will, I might be barely able to contend with three Grampa Virions, however, the drawback would be tremendous.
“I don’t get it… where did these abnormally strong figures come from, and why haven’t they decided to just take control of a kingdom? I mean, with their strength, it’s not like any king or queen can give them much of a fight. What’s been keeping the royal family in power when there are white core mages capable of slaughtering them and their armies rather easily?” I asked, trying to make sense of this world’s government system.
“You have an excellent point. You’re right—by strength alone, the Six Lances, or any white core mage for that matter, could probably wipe out a kingdom on their own.” He glanced over at Tess to make sure she was still sleeping.
“Before I say anything more, this will need to be kept an absolute secret from Tessia. I want her to stay ignorant of these rather… dark matters… at least until she’s older.” Grandpa Virion had a tender smile on his face as he looked at his granddaughter.
“Mm. I’ll keep it a secret.” I nodded.
“I’ll explain where they came from after, but the strength of each one of the Six Lances… They are now above that of regular white core mages, but before being knighted, most of them were actually only Silver core mages.” Gramps spoke with a faraway, peaceful expression.
“Huh? That makes no sense…” I was about to rebut.
“Brat, do you think the royal family, without any major powerhouses in line for the throne, could stay in power since the beginning of the three kingdoms?” His peaceful expression disappeared as he peered at me with a face clearly depicting his mixed feelings.
He continued, “This is classified information shared only to the royal families of each respective race, but I’m telling you because, somehow, I know you’ll need this information in the future and I know you’ll be able to handle it…”
He let out a heavy sigh that seemed to contain a bit of his very soul.
“Do you believe in deities?”