ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
“At last, we finally have a bit of privacy to peacefully converse,” a voice rang in my ear.
As soon as it spoke, the space around us began warping. Sylvie’s trembling became so severe that I couldn’t keep her perched on my head and had to hold her firmly in my arms.
Suddenly, in the midst of the chaos that was forming around us, we were in a blank white room.
I stared dumbly around my perimeter but couldn’t find the words to express my confusion. Without being able to muster up even a voice to curse in surprise, I just idly waited.
In this white cube, it was only me, a quivering Sylvie, and the source of the all too familiar speckled pair of eyes.
By the time my eyes were able to adjust to the sudden brightness, I could make out the cat taking in a deep breath.
Did it just sigh at me?
As I continued to kneel while clutching my bond, the cat I had seen at ‘Windsom’s Potions and Elixirs’ started shaking its head at me after a little while.
It really was the same cat I saw back then…
The peculiarly eye-catching cat was sitting in a poised manner, its tail swaying hypnotically as its eyes locked onto mine. As the cat’s gaze bored deeper into me, I began feeling like some sort of raw material being appraised by a veteran merchant who was deciding whether to buy me out or not.
I snapped out of my daze and began looking for the old man to pop out. As I was about to say something aloud, the cat started glowing in a golden white light that spread over its entire body.
Interrupted, I just kept my mouth shut and waited for the surprises to end. For some reason, I felt like no matter what I did at this point, I couldn’t stop whatever was about to happen. It was an instinctual reaction that for some reason I just couldn’t ignore.
While the aura and demeanor of this cat was heavy and oppressive, I knew that it didn’t want to hurt me; otherwise, I would’ve been dead already.
The golden-white light began to change its shape and enlarge, changing from the form of a cat to that of a human.
As if it was made of glass, the sparkling human-shaped glow shattered into fragments of light, revealing someone I couldn’t recognize.
“Greetings. I go by Windsom,” the man sniffed deprecatingly.
The man that had transformed from a cat spoke with an elegance that matched his appearance. On the top of his sculpted face was a bed of short platinum blond hair that was neatly swept to the side. His deep-set eyes, that had not changed from when he was a cat, almost seemed to touch his permanently furrowed brows. There was a sense of nobility in his gaze as he continued to lock onto me.
While neither burly nor muscular, his square shoulders, underneath a military-like uniform he’d conjured after transforming, told me he was a warrior… a fighter like myself.
His thin lips tightened as he let out another sigh of disapproval through his sharp nose. Peering down at Sylvie and me, he spoke again.
“I felt this form would be more appropriate for our conversation,” the man announced matter-of-factly.
I opened my mouth to say something but I held back. If he’d just disclosed he was Windsom, then what about the old man who stole my money? Was the man I originally thought was the owner of the elixir store just my own incorrect assumption? Then who was the old man? Windsom’s attendant?
Composing myself, I let Sylvie down and stood up.
I dusted my clothes off and responded, “Before, we continue, I’d like to confirm a few things.”
Windsom tilted his head to the side, thrown off by my sudden sharp and incisive tone.
“Since you lured me here for a reason and with Tessia as bait, is it safe to assume that she’s alright?” I asked, taking the glittering marble ball out from my dimension ring.
After a slight pause, he replied, nodding, “Yes, your little elf princess is fine. I had already taken precautionary measures before you made your way here. She should be recuperating to a certain extent with her grandfather back at the elf kingdom.
That, on the other hand”—Windsom pointed at the marble in my hand—”is for you to keep.”
It was my turn to be surprised.
“For me?” I asked.
“Yes. Do you know how hard it is to acquire an elixir pearl of that quality? Yet it went to waste on your little lover. In fact, it was too strong for her, which was why I had to waste another precious elixir to keep her body from…well, exploding.” He let out another deep breath as he regarded me with the arrogance of a noble discussing politics with an ignorant bumpkin.
“Excuse me? Explode?” I sputtered, about to refute.
While taking a couple of steps toward me, he interrupted, “Well, I suppose without it, she would’ve been dead by now so it wasn’t a complete waste. Still, don’t give that one away and take the time to absorb the elixir pearl with your bond. It’ll help with your training quite a bit.”
Sylvie tilted her head in confusion while taking a look at the marble in my hand. Her shivering seemed to stop after Windsom controlled the pressure he was releasing.
I shook my head at this. “Shouldn’t it be common courtesy to tell me exactly what is going on? Who or what exactly are you? Why did you bring me here?”
“Patience really isn’t a strong suit of yours, now is it? Very well, if I were to introduce myself in a way that would be easy for you to comprehend it’d sound a little something like this: I come from the land of asuras and am what you lesser races call a ‘deity.'” Windsom’s eyes remain unwavering as he said this.
“Deity? The deities that supposedly blessed the three races with artifacts that basically allowed them to eventually use magic?”
“Yes yes,” he nodded impatiently. “Keep in mind that what I’m about to tell you dates back centuries ago, with any form of records or accounts having been destroyed or possibly having never been written in the first place. It is in our best interest that we keep it this way.
“The extent of knowledge that you have lies in what the former elf king had told you. A deity blessing the three races with a set of artifacts that eventually allowed future generations to learn what you now call ‘magic.’ That was just the outcome of what had happened prior; something that no one on this land knows about,” Windsom continued narrating with his back ramrod straight, like he was lecturing a class.
I stayed silent, letting him continue.
“As you lot have recently discovered, there exists another continent in this world. The only two bodies of land that makes up the two ends of this world have always existed and have been protected and watched over by us. We asuras are and have been governed by a doctrine, a noblesse oblige of sorts if you put it simply, since the beginning of our existence. We are not to lay a hand on the lesser races inhabiting the land below, making sure only to act in times when either of the two continents fall out of balance or are on the brink of extinction.” He let out a sigh as he turned his back toward us. “That was, until we found out that this sacred rule had been broken.”
The look I had on my face must’ve given my thoughts away because Windsom replied, “I can imagine the multitude of questions you may have but the information that I’m sharing with you currently is only what you will need to know at this point. We have time, although not much of it, and telling you too much now will only distract you.”
Not much time?
It will only distract me?
Him telling me this only flooded my mind with even more questions, but I just took a deep breath and signaled for him to carry on as Sylvie kept looking back and forth between the two of us in confusion.
He gave a nod back and continued.
“Despite how you may refer to us as deities, we are far from gods… or rather, we’re far closer to you than you think. Much of the economy in Dicathen and Alacrya was originally mimicked after the systems of my land Epheotus, the land of asuras.”
Epheotus and Alacrya…
“Of course, while Epheotus isn’t nearly as large as either of the surface continents, much of how the gears of society work is comparable. Epheotus was once divided into three factions that were made up of multiple clans in each of them. Boiling it down quite a bit, the ruling clan of each faction had their own nuance in ideals, which congregated the other clans to join either of the three factions. While ideals may have been different, every clan of asuras still kept to the paramount creed that we were not to lay a hand against the lesser races. However, after Agrona, the successor of the Vritra Clan, came into power, things quickly changed.”
The name Vritra rang in my mind like thunder. Vritra wasn’t the name of the black-horned demon but the name of its clan?
“What was this Agrona like and what happened to the Vritra Clan?” I leaned forward in anticipation.
I could tell Windsom had to pause for a bit to gather his thoughts. “The Vritra Clan had always been an anomaly. It’s simplest to imagine them as scientists of sorts. While their innate magic is unique and versatile, it was never as powerful as the other clans’ mana arts. However, coupled with their genius minds and insatiable curiosity, they were always one of the central clans.”
“If they’d always been one of the stronger clans, how come things became so different once the Vritra Clan came into power?” I queried.
“A clan being strong and a clan becoming a leader of a faction are two different things. Again, think of the Vritra Clan as scientists, as researchers. The clan had very little interest in anything other than gaining knowledge and insight on utilizing mana. Like ivory tower residents, they were secluded knowledge seekers that only pursued what they could not yet comprehend; the previous head of the clan was even more so fervent in his quest to overcome the impossible. However, Agrona… he was different. While charismatic and intelligent, he was arrogant and power-hungry. He believed that the asuras were never meant to watch over the lesser races but rather rule over them as their gods,” he clarified.
Windsom’s face tensed as continued speaking. “After Agrona began leading the Vritra Clan, however, their strength abruptly increased unnaturally. No one could figure out how Agrona could advance the Vritra Clan’s mana power in such a short time. Eventually, through their rise in power, they were able to rally up more clans to share his ideals and the Vritra Clan soon led a faction on par with either of the other two existing factions.
“It was only later that we found out that Agrona and a few other of the Vritra Clan had secretly been making trips to the Continent of Alacrya. While it wasn’t forbidden for us to go down to Dicathen or Alacrya as long as we concealed ourselves, their movements and behaviors were eerily suspicious. After the other two factions found out about this, they sent out scouts to figure out what they were up to.” I could see Windsom’s knuckles whiten by how hard he was clenching his fists.
“Agrona and the Vritra Clan had been inhumanely torturing the lesser races by experimenting on their bodies to find different ways to enhance their own abilities…”
Scenes from my past flashed in my mind at this. The different dungeons becoming corrupted, traces of the black-horned demons that kept appearing all clicked together at Windsom’s last statement.
“Being brutally honest, this information was enlightening and all, but what does this have to do with me? Why tell me all of this? I can’t imagine what could make a deity or asura or whatever single me out to reveal something as important as this.”
“You’re right. Besides your own abilities, which are barely noteworthy by our standards, there really shouldn’t be a reason to tell you all of this. The only reason I do so is because of your ties to us,” he answered, pointing down.
I subconsciously stepped in front of Sylvie to protect her.
“We’ve been searching for Lady Sylvia for years with no success, yet after finally finding traces of her mana, it led me to a little boy with her exact mana signature; what’s even more shocking is that, after watching over him, he held in his hands a deity. Arthur, you are currently bonded with the child of my master’s only daughter, and the granddaughter of the highest level of power in the leading faction of Epheotus.”