<strong>ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:</strong>
Even before I was able to open my eyes, the first thing I became aware of was the soft creaking of footsteps on old wood. Echoes of groaning floorboards resounded in my ears, allowing me to get a vague grasp of the size of the room I was held in.
An array of intoxicating smells—rich with unfamiliar herbs and spices—bombarded my senses, distracting me from anything else. Opening my eyes, the first thing to welcome me was the underside of a cottage roof. Besides the parched coarseness of my tongue from lack of water, my body felt fine; or at least, I thought, until I tried moving.
To my horror, there was no response when I tried to lift my legs; there was no sensation or feedback when I tried moving anything from the waist down. I immediately lifted the blankets covering my lower body, only to see that my legs had been completely bandaged and fashioned tightly to a wooden splint to keep them from moving.
“Your legs are fine, Child. I just had to numb them so that you wouldn’t be up all night from the pain,” a gentle, yet slightly brittle voice stirred my attention.
Turning to the origin of the kind voice, I was met with a tender smile from a woman well past her youth, seasoned with the signs of refined aging. While wrinkles marked her face, they did nothing to hide her dignified and graceful demeanor. Dressed in a simple gray robe to match her hair tied tightly in the back to come down in a braid, my caretaker approached me with sparkling eyes.
Letting out a sigh of relief at her words, I sank back down in the bed. “How do you feel, Child?” she cooed, placing a warm hand on my forehead.
I blinked uncomprehendingly. The last thing I remembered was landing a solid blow on the titan bear before passing out. I turned my head around, scanning my surroundings. I was in a spacious room, well-lit and heated by a fire crackling in a stone fireplace. Beside it was a small kitchen muddled with pots and pans of all sizes either hanging on the wall or stacked high on top of each other. Besides the worn upholstered couches placed around the fireplace and a small dining table in front of the kitchen, there was little else inside this cottage.
“Confused, are you?” the aged woman chuckled.
“Yeah,” I replied hoarsely before breaking down into a fit of coughs. The woman promptly got up from her seat beside me and came back with a mug of lukewarm water. After a few deep gulps of what tasted like liquid heaven, I felt confident enough to form cohesive words.
“—Myre. You can simply call me Myre, Child,” the lady finished for me, taking the empty mug from my hands.
As I sat there, a searing pain started creeping up my legs, as if a liquid fire had soaked them.
Mistaking my pained expression for fright, Myre let out a soft chuckle. “Don’t worry, I won’t eat you. Although, I did technically kind of steal you away from Windsom. Lucky I did, though. If I had gotten my hands on you any later, I’m afraid your legs would’ve taken a lot longer to heal.”
“I-It’s not that. My legs…” I managed to voice out through gritted teeth.
“Seems like the medicinal rub has lost its effect already.” Placing the mug down on the nightstand beside me, Myre began to lift the only thing keeping me from being completely naked.
My hands immediately reached down to cover myself between my legs, which prompted another soft chuckle from my caretaker. Carefully folding the sheets so that only my legs were exposed, she gently hovered her hand over my bandaged legs.
As Myre began unwrapping the bandages, I was able to finally see the full extent of injuries my legs had incurred. I couldn’t help but grow puzzled by the sight of my bare legs. Scars that I never had were strewn across both legs. My knees and ankles had the most cuts, but what confused me most was that these scars looked as if they’d been on my legs for years.
Cold sweat began forming on my forehead as the pain in my legs got worse. Myre began carefully inspecting every inch of my legs after completely removing all of the bandages.
After a satisfied nod to herself, she brought over a bucket filled with a very pungent herbal liquid. I wordlessly observed my caretaker as she diligently cut and soaked strips of cloth and bandaged my legs with nimble fingers. I couldn’t help but fall into a trance from her rhythmic and dexterous movements.
“Please, Arthur, I would much prefer if you just called me Myre,” she cut me off, her attention still focused on my legs.
“Er, Myre, how long have I been unconscious for?” I asked, afraid that by my seemingly repaired legs, I’d been out for a long time.
“Just over two nights, My Dear.” As she finished replacing the last bandage on my left calf, she turned to me, her misty green eyes studying me. “Now, how does that feel?”
“Much more comfortable. Thank you,” I assured gratefully as the pain began subsiding from the cold gel-like liquid soaked into the new bandages.
Accepting my gratitude with a placid smile, she gathered the used cloth and dumped it in a basin filled with water. After pouring some salt-like powder into it, she lifted her dress and stepped inside, using her feet to launder the used cloth.
“Myre, you must be exhausted. Let me wash that for you,” I hurriedly expressed as I willed mana into my hand, preparing to manipulate the water in the basin.
“No no, it’s fine, My Dear. Doing this gives these old bones a chance to get some exercise.” She waved my help away with one hand as her other still held the ends of her dress.
As I continued staring blankly at her stomping on the drenched cloth, I couldn’t help but ask, “Myre, am I—are we—still in Epheotus?”
“Why of course we are, Child. Where else would you have been able to mend the sorry state of your legs?” Myre answered, maintaining her rhythmic stepping in the basin.
“My apologies, it’s just that…” My eyes fell to her feet.
“Oh. Well, I suppose it would be easier to do everything I have been doing with mana arts, but what fun is that? Even as asuras, there are things that magic can’t simulate. For example, the coldness of the water between my toes as the wet cloths wrap around my feet. What fun is waving your finger to move the water to do that for you?” she expressed, giving me a wink.
Her words baffled me, but I couldn’t hope to understand the perspective of an ancient race where magic was ingrained into their very being. “I’m sorry, it’s just that waking up in this state was rather confusing to me. Not to be rude, and I’m very thankful for your meticulous care, but I just thought that maybe healing mana art would have quickened the process of my recovery.”
“If a simple healing spell had been cast on you, you’d be barely limping, and your bones would’ve taken on an entirely different shape,” the elder chuckled as she willed a towel into her hands with a snap.
Walking towards me, she curled her lips into a mischievous smile. “Besides, I did use mana art to mend your legs.”
Myre flicked her arm at me and, faster than I was able to react, an icy blast seared through my chest.
I immediately sprawled back on the bed, wide-eyed as I stared at the silvery mist that had engulfed the wound I had gotten from the titan bear. As the fire diminished, the once bleeding gashes across my rib cage began healing rapidly.
A musical laughter snapped me out of my daze, and I glanced down to see Myre failing to hold in her amusement. “Gets them every time!” she sighed, her hands still enveloped in the silvery mist.
“H-How?” I blubbered, my fingers tracing the once open cuts that grew smaller and became completely encrusted in scabs.
“A lady needs to have her secrets, My Dear.” Her voice softened as she coquettishly pressed a finger to her lips. Despite her old age, I couldn’t help but blush diffidently at her playful behavior.
Coughing down my embarrassment, I sat back up, albeit covering a little more of myself with the blanket. “Thank you for treating me, Myre, as well as your hospitality. I know there isn’t much room here.”
“Not at all. Besides, this old cottage isn’t where I live. I merely use this place to get some peace and, from time to time, treat a patient,” she smiled, handing me a bowl of warm soup. “I don’t treat just anyone you know, but I wanted to meet the human boy who is supposedly the savior of the world,” she declared grandly before shooting me another wink.
Replying with a weak chuckle, I took a careful sip from the bowl. Immediately, a savory broth laced with refreshing hints of herbs enveloped my tongue, enticing me to greedily take another large gulp before setting it down on the nightstand.
“Don’t even try to get up tonight. The wounds on your legs weren’t as simple as the little gashes on your chest. It took hours for your legs to get back in that state, so just get some rest; that is your biggest priority,” Myre warned. “There is water on the counter within arm’s reach, and if you have to use the bathroom, there is a chamber pot right beside the bed. Good night, My Dear.”
Myre left me to my thoughts with the only source of light, the flames, writhing in the fireplace. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes for a second, thinking back to the silver flame she had conjured, when I was jerked awake from another pang of sharp throbs. The pain wasn’t as intense as it had been when Myre had changed the bandages for me, but it was agitating enough to keep me from falling back asleep. The cottage was almost completely dark aside from the few strands of moonlight that made it through the thatched roof.
The fire had long gone out, with only a faint, smoky aroma left. I wasn’t sure to what degree my wounds had healed, but I grew restless at the thought of idly wasting away time.
Abandoning the idea of going back to sleep, I sat back, upright, and began doing the only productive thing I could do in this state: meditate.
As I concentrated on the mana core swirling deep in my sternum, a blast of unfamiliar energy welcomed me. Suddenly, the mountain that I had been chipping away at to reach the silver core was but a flat plain, rolled out like a map for me to cross.
Absorbing mana from my surroundings, I tentatively began refining when the alien energy began hungrily sucking in the mana I had absorbed and coalesced it with my mana core. The light yellow hue of my core started glowing as mana surged throughout my body, filling my veins, muscles, bones, and skin with a fiery energy.
I could feel myself shivering uncontrollably as my core began glowing brighter until it wasn’t yellow, but instead, a bright silver.
The untamed energy that had been raging inside my body continued to chip away at the layers of my core, making my silver core grow brighter and brighter with each influx of energy that hit. I held my breath, afraid that even the slightest shift would halt the rapid progression of my mana core. Eventually, the mysterious energy source that had refined my mana core to the peak of mid-silver stage subsided.
Just when I thought the transformation had finished, the sharp scream of a metal clang filled my ears. As if an invisible wall that had been restraining my mind was gone, my body forcibly shifted into the second phase of Sylvia’s Dragon Will.
Prying my eyes open, I could see the golden runes emerging from my arms and shoulders. To my surprise, the glowing runes began changing, their design growing more complex as they shaped themselves into some kind of ancient language. My disheveled hair started changing colors from my naturally auburn hair to white, then back to auburn again.
The furniture inside the one-room cottage started trembling as straw and splinters fell from the roof, filling the room with more rays of moonlight. However, despite the pots and pans clanging against one another, the only sound that filled my ears was the high-pitched ring.
While my hair changed back to its original color, the newly-formed runes on my body glowed brighter as the color began to drain from the world. Soon, the only colors I was able to see were in the minuscule particles floating around me. But something had changed. During the times that I had used Dragon’s Awakening, I was only able to see four colors: one for each of the four elements. However, specks of purple were dotted abundantly within the array of blue, yellow, red, and green.
After using this form to kill Lucas, I thought I had gotten better at controlling the harsh compulsions that came with using the second phase of Sylvia’s will. However, the will seemed to reject my body more than ever, until I couldn’t bear the agony of my body ripping itself apart anymore.
I released Dragon’s Awakening, and as if a bucket of water had been thrown to douse a raging fire, all of the energy, power, and pain that had been growing larger and larger inside me abruptly vanished. An eerie silence surrounded me as I was left feeling confused, powerless and frail despite the progress my mana core had made.