Chapter 108: Ones Closest To G.o.ds
“No! I said left foot out at a forty-degree angle. Your center of gravity should be aligned with your right heel since that is your pivot foot, do you understand, stray?” The instructor had just cracked his whip to get me in proper position as he went around the cla.s.s.
Gritting my teeth, I silently obeyed, adjusting my left foot to comply with my instructor’s flawed technique. If I hadn’t, it would only mean a delay in whatever sc.r.a.ps of dinner we were given since we weren’t to be fed until everyone had perfectly gone through the stances and forms from the day’s lessons.
Days at this “inst.i.tution” had consisted of eight hour combat training, which I found somewhat flawed, then meditation to nurture our ki centers for around ten hours after. The remaining six hours were split amongst eating, washing and sleeping. Students whose centers had developed enough to learn ki techniques were separated from the rest of the group and placed into specialty cla.s.ses depending on their apt.i.tudes.
Those that were not able to awaken their ki centers were to be “relocated”, of which I had later realised that it really meant ‘to be disposed of’. For me, I had followed the instructor’s training regimen to the bone for the allotted eight hours. During the time given for meditation, I would sleep for the remaining two hours after actually only meditating for the first eight, using the time we were given to sleep to unlearn all of the garbage that the instructors had regarded as martial art and train in my own techniques.
The only useful information that the instructors had taught us were the vital spots in a human; the weak points. Their techniques were a brutish, senseless way of trying inflict damage to those points without any regard to how the opponent might react. They taught in a way where, as long as one follows the proper steps, the user will reach their target and inflict pain on him or her. Like I said… senseless.
I hid the fact that my ki center had been cultivated enough to learn ki techniques for as long as possible sinceI knew that once I advanced to the higher level cla.s.ses, it would give me less time for me to train on my own. My one stroke of luck at that time, I admit, had been stumbling upon a ki technique book for hiding the user’s presence. I had engulfed the words in that book like it was fresh water in a barren desert. The technique manual was a low grade one, but I had practiced the technique to such a degree that it provided me with the ability to sneak into the library where they held all of the ki techniques.
Now that I think back, I probably wasn’t that tall in my previous life due to the fact that I had only slept for eight to ten hours a week because of how much time I had spent reading and practicing the techniques. I knew it would’ve been useless for me to try and learn all of the techniques, so I had narrowed it down and studied only the ki arts that would most benefit me in the long run.
I’ve realized that, while the library had been secured, it wasn’t really heavily guarded; the reason being that, even if a student were to have trespa.s.sed inside, they wouldn’t have been able to figure out on their own how to learn the techniques. Much like the manual I had stumbled upon for hiding the user’s presence, the other ki technique manuals had been filled with terms and jargon that no orphaned child or teenager would’ve known.
That means, all I had to go off on to learn the techniques were the crudely drawn pictures that showed the necessary steps in learning and using the ki art.
It didn’t strike me then, but reflecting back on it now, it would’ve been easy to discern that I was nothing short of being a prodigy. Just by studying the pictures of the man (I’ll name the man Joe.) demonstrating the steps for the ki art, I was able to grasp how the ki was supposed to flow inside my body to properly execute the technique.
The first ki art I had learned after breaking into the library was a series of ki enhanced footwork techniques that I had practiced until the soles of my feet almost showed my bones. The technique looked like a tap dance sequence without proper ki flow, but once I had managed to input the proper flow of ki into the appropriate appendages at the appropriate time, I was able to evade, reposition, sneak behind, basically teleport within a limited range.
I still remember using that ki art, the technique I mastered and fine-tuned to make it even better, to defeat the same instructor that had whipped me so many times for no good reason.
The look on his face when I had my wooden sword pressed against his sweating neck, I can still vividly recall. His wide, astonished eyes shaking as his mouth hung agape trying to string together words to form a petty and convenient excuse that would allow him to save some face.
Even as I was on the road to become King, the foot technique that I had mastered and made my own left me with nicknames like Untouchable, G.o.dSpeed, Mirage, etc.
However, when I had come to this world, there was little use for it once my mana core advanced enough. I was hardly within range to use the technique that I had once relied so heavily on and it seemed so much simpler to just conjure a wall to block whatever projectile was hurled towards me. With mana being so abundant and all, I had never needed to regulate and control my mana output.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Present
It’s amusing how the human brain recalls moments of the past. All the memories that the person wishes to forget is somehow ingrained even deeper into the hippocampus.
This seemingly ancient memory of my previous childhood times had been suddenly evoked as if my life flashed before my eyes just as a simple low sweep from my opponent’s kick shattered both of my legs simultaneously. As I collapsed onto the ground, I failed to dodge another sharp jab that dislocated my right shoulder. I was all but defenseless as I shifted glances between the man who had overwhelmed me to such an enormous degree and my severed left arm that he had in his hand.
Windsom had told me that the pain felt in this domain was greatly diminished. If that was truly the case, how much more agonizing would these wounds be if It actually happened to me?
The one responsible for my current mortal injuries approached me with a mixed expression, giving me a terse nod as he snapped his fingers. “Enough,” he said as the world faded into black. And, like that, I was awake again with all of my limbs attached and unbroken.
I immediately crumpled to all fours and hurled the remainder of my last meal as I heaved for breath. My vomit immediately dissipated in the small sapphire pond I had been meditating in. I wasn’t sure if I was wet because of the magical liquid that I was surrounded in or because of the profuse amount of sweat and grime that I had discharged from the stress.
“No, let me continue,” I managed to choke out in between gasps.
“The human boy has admirable willpower. How much time has pa.s.sed, Windsom?” the same deep and controlled voice as the one that had broken most of the 206 bones in my body asked calmly.
“About five minutes have pa.s.sed out here,” Windsom said tersely.
“So roughly an hour has pa.s.sed for us in there.” The lean man with a shaved head remarked in a way that was neither disappointed nor proud, just matter-of-factly. I regarded the two asuras’ conversation with a weary curiosity while wiping vomit off of my lips.
“Again,” I demanded desperately, sitting back up in the meditative posture Windsom had taught me in the middle of this sacred pool.
The shaved-headed asura nodded approvingly and sat down facing me in the exact same position as I was in and traded glances with Windsom, signaling him to start.
Once again, the glowing sapphire liquid rose up around us and enveloped the asura in front of me and myself. I was soon engulfed in the familiar scorching sensation that had overwhelmed me the last few dozen times we did this, and again, my vision had darkened as I waited anxiously for myself and the asura to reappear in the h.e.l.l that is the mental training facility where I had just been killed
My thoughts slowly trailed back a few hours before all of this, when we had just left the Indrath Clan’s castle.
Upset would be a mild way of describing my state of mind after Lord Indrath had decided that I wasn’t fit to see or even communicate with my own bond during the period of our stay. He made it explicitly clear that my presence would hinder the progress of Sylvie’s recovery and training.
It was on odd feeling being separated so entirely from Sylvie. Usually, even when my bond was sleeping, I would still feel her presence. Suddenly having that yanked away again just like that time in the Widow’s Crypt dungeon made me feel empty, almost as if a limb had been pulled off.
“Come, there are some people I want you to meet,” the asura paused and then went on. “Well, just one person specifically I want you to meet, for now.”
Even after crossing the bridge, Windsom did little to explain the location of our training grounds, keeping mostly silent as we scaled down the steep mountain. As we climbed down, the atmosphere drastically changed. Color was lost as we were surrounded by a dreary canvas of grey stones and rotten woods. The sea of clouds that seemed so far down was now just above us, and it seemed that the layer of haze was the border between heaven and what felt like purgatory.
We must’ve intentionally trekked down the steepest side of the mountain since we were vertically climbing down most of the time. Windsom had vaguely explained to me how the use of mana arts to venture down was forbidden; something to do with tradition and being worthy. Because of this tradition, the journey that would have taken us minutes elongated into hours.
“We’re here,” Windsom announced evenly with no sign of fatigue inside this zone of increased pressure and low air density. He was staring intently at a dead root that jutted out of the crevice between two stones.
“We’re going to train here?” I muttered in between breaths, staring at the insignificant root that Windsom seemed so fixated on.
“Hold on to my hand,” he replied, ignoring my question as he reached out towards me.
As soon as I had a grip on his hand, the asura yanked me towards him, swinging me towards where the root was stuck. Before I even had the time to yell out in surprise, however, the scene changed and I was in some sort of small cave, the same cave that I was in now.
Windsom appeared behind me shortly after, and took the lead, heading towards the glowing pool that I had been staring at.
“It’s good to see you again, Kordri,” Windsom suddenly greeted to no one in particular.
“It is nice seeing you as well, Elder Windsom. And you must be the human, Arthur Leywin, correct?” Just then, a figure that I could swear was not there before was suddenly right in front of us. It was the same shaven and lean asura that had sat down in front of me just now.
This man was by no means distinguishable or remarkable in any way. He reminded me much of a monk; someone who had chosen to let go of the worldly ways, except he wasn’t dressed in a robe but a light, tight-fitting tunic. The only unique feature he had was his four hazel eyes, but even that fact seemed to be somehow plain. Every one of his four eyes exuded a calm wisdom that differed from Lord Indrath’s silently terrifying gaze.
“Yes, nice to meet you,” I replied after quickly regaining my composure.
“Arthur, this is my close friend, Kordri. He is of the Thyestes Clan of the Pantheon asura race just like Aldir, who you met back at the floating castle in Dicathen,” Windsom introduced. He had taught me about the eight asura races and the affiliated Great Clans. The Pantheon race was the only race of asura that was versed in what I coined as neutral-type mana art.
The Basilisk race, the race that the Vritra clan was from, was the only race that was capable of decay-type mana art. The remaining six asura races, including the Dragon race that Lord Indrath, Sylvia, and Windsom are a part of, hold distinct creation-type mana art.
While the Dragon race are feared for the aether mana art that is so unique and mysterious, it is still considered creation-type. Of course the asuras’ terms for creation, neutral, and decay type mana arts differ for each race but I just standardized it for my own sanity.
There was no time for us to go over what the special qualities each race held since that was when we had arrived to Elder Rinia’s home, but I had a feeling that I would be learning it later on.
“Has Lord Indrath truly granted you the aether orb?” Kordri’s even voice snapped me out of my train of thought as he looked anxiously at Windsom.
“Yes, it is right here.” Windsom then took out a sphere shaped object the size of his palm, revealing it to Kordri.
“Lord Indrath is truly investing much into this human,” he sighed, admiring the orb.
Windsom looked back to meet my eyes, giving me a “I told you so” gaze before turning back.
“Arthur, come and sit here with us. I’ll explain to you how your training will begin.” Kordri motioned for me with his hand as he sat down.
“Windsom speculated that it would be best for your training to start with me instead of of him because of a few reasons. First, your body and mana core are not nearly strong enough to handle the sort of training that even young asuras are capable of. If resources were not readily available at our disposal, it would take you at least a few decades in order for you to physically absorb anything taught by us.” The asura named Kordri looked at the orb in Windsom’s hand before continuing. “Fortunately, we have the aether orb.”
“What exactly is this aether orb?” I knew he was expecting me to ask this.
“Arthur, you may not know this, but the Dragon race is regarded as the asura race deemed closest to being G.o.ds. Yes, actual G.o.ds. The reason being is the fact that we hold the ability to manipulate aether. Aether is a material, that flows throughout the entire universe. As you know from receiving Lady Sylvia’s will, aether contains the power to manipulate even time and s.p.a.ce itself, as you recently experienced from Lord Indrath. Much of the possibilities of aether remain incomprehensible to even the Indrath Clan, but one artifact that has remained in our possession since the beginning of our clan history is the aether orb. The aether orb is a treasure that had allowed our clan to gain glimpses of the power that aether holds. One being the ability to separate the body from the soul.” Windsom regarded the orb with an almost reverence as he tenderly held onto it.
“The orb also has the power to manipulate time. With these two abilities that the aether orb holds, it will be possible to train you at a rate and efficiency that should be impossible otherwise. Because of the close relationship that the Thyestes Clan and Indrath Clan has, Lord Indrath had at one point gifted us with the temporary usage of this treasure,” Kordri continued for Windsom.
“Remember me telling you that Lord Indrath has placed a significant amount of resources into making sure you will be ready for the upcoming battles? Along with the orb, Lord Indrath has allowed us to use his exclusive training grounds. The aether-rich liquid inside that pond will help accelerate your training and heal wounds that you will incur throughout this process. Kordri here is a talented and highly respected teacher in the Thyestes Clan. He will be responsible for the first portion of the training.” Windsom gave Kordri a stern nod as the two of them stood back up.
“So what exactly will we be doing for the first portion of the training?” I asked, almost timidly.
Windsom replied, his voice sounding almost devious.“You will be fighting against Kordri in a soul state, and you will be dying. Over and over again.”