Chapter 176: The First Scythe
I stared silently at her.
Sweat drenched my skin and my entire head throbbed. My tongue felt like a rag wrung dry—my body felt fear, but my brain was lost in a web of thoughts. I could feel the gears turning as my brain tried to come up with a scenario in response to this change in events. The conclusion that it came to, however…
There was no way out.
With no mana left in my core, my body on the brink of collapsing from backlash, and my bond incapacitated, I did the only thing I <i>could </i>do. I waited.
I waited for the woman standing near the rim of the crater Sylvie’s body had made. Unlike the retainers that I had seen until now, she looked fundamentally different.
Her hair was long and reflected the sun like liquid amethyst. Unlike the witch, Uto, or Cylrit, whose complexions were varying shades of sickly gray, this woman’s skin had the quality of polished alabaster. Her eyes were as piercing as her long black horns that spiraled up like an impala’s.
Aside from her unnaturally striking appearance, what struck me the most was her aura—or rather, lack of aura.
Unlike when I learned to hide my presence, the scythe’s aura seemed to be there, but contained—contained like a devastating bomb ready to explode. The only time I had felt this was when I had met Lord Indrath. Sylvie’s grandfather and the current leader of the asuras had the same suffocating presence that made everyone wary of when he might explode.
I gulped, which was the biggest movement I’d made since I became aware of the scythe’s arrival.
She remained still, though. That was a good sign. If she wanted to kill me, she could’ve done so by now. I wanted to ask why she was currently holding onto the unconscious or dead Uto by his hair but couldn’t quite work up the nerve to.
I was pretty certain that neither Sylvie nor I had done anything to Uto, which either meant he had exceeded his limits with that last attack or that this scythe had something to do with Uto’s current state. Both options seemed unlikely.
Remaining still, I continued passively gaining mana through mana rotation. My body burned and my core opposed from backlash but I held on. There was nothing I could do no matter how much mana I gained; I couldn’t escape with Sylvie in this condition and there was no way I was going to leave her behind. My brain flickered with the notion that it might be worthwhile to fight against this scythe but that thought was quickly doused by every other fiber of my being.
So I remained in the same exact position, staring at the purple-haired scythe. Dozens of possible scenarios ran through my thoughts but what she did was something that I would’ve never predicted.
Reaching down with her free hand, the scythe snapped off Uto’s horns one by one as if she were plucking flowers. Remaining silent, she casually tossed the two horns at me and my body immediately reacted. As if the horns were bombs—for all I knew, they could be—I scrunched into a ball, protecting my vitals. I positioned myself between the severed horns and my bond in the feeble hopes that I could somehow protect my two-ton dragon, but nothing happened. The two black horns rolled and stopped beside my feet anticlimactically.
Cautious, I left the horns on the ground and locked eyes with the scythe. Her actions didn’t make any sense; from what I had gathered, the Vritra’s horns were an important part of themselves. Why would she do that to her ally?
Just when I thought her actions couldn’t be more unpredictable, the scythe lifted Uto by his hair and pierced through his body with a thin blade of what looked to be pure mana. What surprised me more than the deadly purple blade jutting out of Uto’s sternum was the fact that he remained unconscious.
Whether it was because I was exhausted—physically and mentally—or the scythe had something schemed, I couldn’t make sense of the meaning behind her actions. At this point, I was more shocked by the fact that she was able to so easily pierce through Uto’s core.
Mana and beast cores were dense and hypersensitive parts of the body that became more resilient the higher the user’s stage was. Being able to pierce through it without Uto being in complete agony meant that this scythe had either killed a retainer or done something more than simply knocking him unconscious.
The scythe tossed Uto like a ragdoll down into the crater towards Sylvie and me.
“It was a tough battle but you managed to defeat Uto. You were able to keep him alive but for safety measures, you pierced his core to ensure that he won’t be able to use any mana art. You did this so you could take him back to question and interrogate him,” the scythe said as if reading a script.
My initial response was to ask what was going on, but this scythe seemed like the sort of person that despised needless questions that wasted her time. Through the magical power of deduction, it seemed that she either didn’t agree with this war or she had her own personal agenda. If it meant that I wouldn’t die today, I could work with either reason.
I asked a different question instead.
“Would it be too much to ask for your name?” I muttered, my voice betraying any sort of confidence I was trying to project.
There was a slight rise to one of her brows, but that was the only change in her expression she exhibited—outwardly, at least.
After a slight pause, she answered with a deadpan expression. “Seris Vritra.”
Pushing myself up off the ground, I managed to sit up with my back propped up against Sylvie’s body. My body felt like it weighed as much as Sylvie but I did my best to appear poised.
“Thank you, Seris Vritra. I won’t forget this kindness.” I dipped my head respectfully. It wasn’t clear whether this scythe was an enemy or ally. She seemed like neither, but nonetheless she had saved my life along with Sylvie’s. For that, the least I could do was thank her regardless of her race and stance in this war.
Seris cracked open a slight smile. “Peculiar boy.”
The scythe turned, preparing to leave, but just before she disappeared she said, “For both our sakes, get stronger—fast. Uto’s horns will be an invaluable resource for you if you can manage to extract his mana stored inside.”
Wide-eyed, I gingerly scooped up the two fist-sized horns and stored them inside my ring. By the time I looked back up, Seris had disappeared.
I wasn’t sure if it was because Uto was unconscious or because Seris had destroyed Uto’s core, but the bed of black spikes that Sylvie had protected me from with her own body crumbled. Sylvie’s wounds were already closing and her breathing became more relaxed. I thought white core mages healed fast, but Sylvie’s rate of recovery was actually visible.
With the worry of my bond dying out here now gone, I focused my attention on the unconscious and bleeding retainer. Dawn’s Ballad was still pierced through his chest, but it slid out easily when I gave it a tug. My sword hardly left a gash on Uto’s body, yet Seris’s seemingly nonchalant attack was able to easily pierce through Uto’s body and core.
“It looks like I have quite a bit to go before I try to take on another retainer, let alone a scythe,” I muttered to myself. I hated to admit it but with the appearance of Seris, I had completely lost my will to fight back. It had been a while since I had felt so helpless and this time as well, it wasn’t a good feeling.
With enough mana gathered, I attempted to use magic. When I did, my core churned, sending me in a fit of agony. Mana burned as I channeled it through my body but I was able to encase Uto’s body in ice.
Despite almost dying on several different occasions just moments ago, there was a sense of calm that surrounded me. There were things that I should’ve been doing right now: helping Aya if her battle hadn’t already ended, informing Mica about Olfred’s betrayal, but right now, I couldn’t. In this weakened state, I couldn’t help them even if I wanted to, so I relented to my body’s wish and rested.
I leaned my back heavily against Sylvie’s body, her rhythmic breathing almost therapeutic. I usually never let myself fall into delusions and thoughts of wistful fantasies, but right now, I felt like I deserved it. Letting my thoughts drift, I allowed myself to imagine my life after the war. I allowed myself some happy thoughts, even if they wouldn’t necessarily come true.
Thoughts of myself, grown up—maybe even sporting a beard—with a family of my own. Tess’ face popped into my mind, and immediately I resisted the urge to continue my reverie. But I deserved this little fantastical break.
So I let the scenes continue. Tess looked older, more mature but still dazzlingly beautiful. She smiled brightly at something I’d just said, her cheeks with just a slight tinge of red. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before glancing upward at me with a coy gaze. She took a single step toward me, but suddenly we were chest to chest. Tess got on her toes as she closed her eyes. Her blush deepened and her long lashes quivered.
Just as she pursed her lips, Tessia was suddenly ripped out of my arms. I was surrounded by darkness but I was able to vaguely make out the figure of the person standing in front of me, just a few feet away.
It was me. The <i>former </i>me.
<i>What makes you think you can have this happiness—that you deserve this happiness? </i>The former me spoke, or rather, a formless voice echoed from its location.
<i>After what you did to them, do you think you can just forget and move on? They died because of your choices. They paid the price for your selfishness. </i>
<i>Whether you’re King Grey or Arthur Leywin, you can only exist alone. </i>
<i>Whether you’re King Grey or Arthur… </i>
<i>… Grey or Arthur… </i>
I jolted awake. In front of me was Aya.
Her expression immediately untensed and a flicker of relief shone in her eyes. “You wouldn’t wake up no matter how hard I shook you. I was beginning to worry that something happened during the fight.”
“I’m just a bit tired.” I mustered a smile to reassure her.
Aya nodded. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Staring at the elven lance, I noticed that her face was much paler than it usually was, but besides that there weren’t any visible wounds. “How did it go on your side?”
Aya’s expression darkened. “A few of the Alacryan soldiers were able to escape. As for the traitor, I was able to execute him.”
Traitor. Execute. I mulled over the elf’s choice of words. It was as if she was distancing herself from the fact that she had killed a former comrade. I couldn’t blame her; Olfred’s death left a bitter taste in my mouth, but Aya had worked alongside Olfred longer than I had.
“What about Mica?” I asked.
Aya shook her head. “I came here straight after finishing my job at the Alacryan’s hidden base to help you, but I see that it was unnecessary.”
For a brief moment, I thought of telling the lance about Seris and how she had helped me, but I chose not to. There was no hard reasoning behind it, but I wanted to know more about Seris before saying anything. “It was a hard battle, but I was able to defeat him with Sylvie’s help.”
There was a flash of doubt in Aya’s eyes but she immediately recovered with a curt nod. “I’m glad the both of you got through this in one piece. We’ve won.”
“Thanks,” I said, petting Sylvie’s body. “It doesn’t feel like we won though. We managed to bring down a retainer but along with it, a member of the Council and a lance—maybe even two.”
“I think it’s safe to leave it at just one lance,” Aya replied as she idly stared at Uto, whose frozen body I had left upright.
“So Mica wasn’t a part of it?”
Aya shook her head. “She still needs to be questioned but I highly doubt it.”
I let out a sigh, resting my head against Sylvie’s body. I could feel my bond in my thoughts again—a mixture of emotions that she was feeling inside her dreams.
“With Rahdeas’ arrest and Mica’s questioning along with this retainer’s interrogation, It’s going to be hectic when we get back to the castle,” I said, more to myself than to Aya.
The lance let out a soft chuckle as she stretched. “It definitely will be, so get some rest here while you can.”
I smiled weakly at Aya, thinking t there would be too much on my mind to rest: What to think about Seris’ actions; how to utilize the horns to get stronger; and how to explain the recurring nightmares about my past life. However, in the battle between my body and mind, my body prevailed and I succumbed to the compelling lull of sleep.