Chapter 180: Alacryan Glimpse
With my stomach filled with leftovers and Alanis, my training attendant, dismissed for the night, I retrieved Sylvie from Ellie and arrived back in my room.
“Are you ready?” I asked my bond, who had been waiting on the bed while I’d taken a shower.
“So. What is it that you’re so excited about?” she replied, fidgeting impatiently in her fox form.
It wasn’t easy trying to steer my thoughts away from the “loot” that I’d gotten from fighting Uto in order to surprise Sylvie. I had to distract myself by thinking random thoughts and numbers to confuse her on our way back.
After making sure the door was locked and activating both earth and wind perception spells, I finally withdrew the two obsidian horns from my ring.
My bond’s sharp eyes widened as she gazed at the black crystals that were once embedded on a retainer. “Don’t tell me…”
“Yup,” I said excitedly. “They’re Uto’s horns.”
“Why?” she asked, confused.
Realizing that she never heard the full story, I summarized everything that had happened after she had been knocked out after saving me from Uto’s last attack.
By the time I had finished my story, Sylvie’s vulpine face was twisted to show a mixture of emotions.
“It’s scary to think how easily we could’ve been killed,” she said after a long pause.
I nodded. “I couldn’t do anything when Seris showed up. But even if she hadn’t, I’m not sure we would’ve been able to defeat Uto.”
“It seems like as we grow stronger, so do our enemies,” she sighed. Her gaze shifted back to the two horns on the bed. “So these horns supposedly contain vast amounts of mana that you can extract? Is it really safe to trust the scythe?”
“Considering the Asuras are forbidden by the treaty to help us anymore and Seris could’ve killed me whenever she wanted, I don’t think it’s too much of a risk.”
Sylvie thought for a moment as she pawed at the horns that were each the size of her head. “Well… if they help you get into white core, it’ll certainly help us.”
I picked up only one of the horns. “This will be enough for me. You extract the other one.”
My bond opened her mouth, ready to argue, but I cut her off. “You said that your body is still undergoing the awakening process that Lord Indrath made you undergo. I know your body has been constantly extracting ambient mana, which is why you’ve been sleeping more, so I’m sure extracting mana from Uto’s horn will help quicken that process.”
“To be honest. I haven’t been as active in trying to hasten the awakening process,” Sylvie replied. “I’m afraid that, with my awakening as a full asura, I won’t be able to assist you anymore.”
“You nearly died in that last fight, Sylv,” I said, putting my hand on top of my bond’s small head. “Besides, your mother cast a pretty powerful spell before you were born to conceal you. It’s why even in your draconic form, no one was able to tell you were an asura.”
“Grandfather mentioned that, but as I get stronger it’s going to get harder to hide what I am,” Sylvie replied bitterly.
A wave of grief flooded my mind and I could feel the bits and pieces of the story that Lord Indrath had told Sylvie about her mother.
“I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen when you get strong enough to awaken, but we’ll overcome that hurdle once we get there,” I comforted.
“We always do,” my bond agreed with a smile.
Holding the black horn gingerly in my hands, I peeked a glance at Sylvie. “So…should we start now?”
Sylvie placed a paw on the horn in front of her. “I don’t see why not.”
After repositioning myself more comfortably, I took a deep breath. I started slow, probing the insides of the horn with a thread of my mana.
With elixirs, the contents stored inside would be distributed upon contact with a mage’s purified mana. With the horns, however, there were no noticeable reactions even after searching deeper.
Minutes trickled by with no sign of anything stored within Uto’s horns. I started to consider the possibility that the mana inside might’ve dispersed upon being severed from the retainer’s head, when suddenly an indescribable <i>force</i> pulled at my very mind.
Unlike any elixir—or any <i>thing</i>, for that matter—I’d used in the past, my consciousness seemed to be getting sucked in.
I felt a surge of panic as I felt myself blacking out.
Quite literally. A shroud of shadow spread, covering my vision and all of my other senses until I was simply in darkness.
<i>Calm down, Arthur. Your body is still safely inside your room. </i>
That didn’t help me at all. The fact that my mind had been forced into a certain state and was vulnerable scared me. Coming to this world, I was born with a new body—new physical features that took me years to adjust to—but my mind was the same through both lives. My brain, or every part of my brain responsible for my memories and personality, was mine throughout my years as Grey and Arthur.
Right now, I felt my consciousness at the full mercy of whatever<i> force</i> had dragged me into wherever I was.
I was surrounded in darkness, but it wasn’t pitch black. The shadows around me warped and stirred like various shades of dark ink. It was a surreal feeling—perceiving something without a body. Somehow, I could feel the <i>force</i> around me, slithering in the darkness, but I didn’t have a body.
After what felt like hours of floating mindlessly in the sea of darkness, the <i>force</i> surrounding me slowly began shifting. It was different from the erratic, chaotic movements up until now—the shadows felt like they were being pulled away. The obsidian veil slowly began lifting, and what I was left with wasn’t the view of my own room like I had been expecting.
No. I was standing in front of an unfamiliar man inside an extravagant cathedral with a vaulted ceiling, beautifully stained glass and endless rows of pews packed with observers glowing in reverence. The man, who looked no older than my father, wore a ceremonial robe and was kneeled in front of me in respect.
“Speak,” I snapped impatiently, except the voice that came out wasn’t mine. It was Uto’s.
Even the word that I spoke wasn’t by my will.
“I, Karnal of Blood Vale, humbly come before you to seek your guidance,” the man said, his gaze lowered so I could only see the crown of his short ash-brown hair.
A feeling of annoyance bubbled up in ‘me’ but eventually got washed down by resignation.
The same voice that took over my own spoke with restrained courtesy. “Vale… While your line is thin of Vritra blood, your ancestors have served us well. Remove your robe.”
Karnal bowed deeper in gratefulness before slipping out of his black ceremonial robe. He then turned around to show me his back. What I saw was an engraving down his spine that seemed to be three separate imprints by the spacing.
A thin figure standing off to the side, face covered by a loose hood, took a step toward me and read aloud from a book, “One mark upon awakening and two crests, one earned for an act of valor and another unlocked through mastery of initial mark.”
Unceremoniously, I nodded and motioned for him to dress.
The man still kneeling with his back to me put his robe back on before turning to face me. His gaze was still lowered, which seemed to bore ‘me.’ Thoughts of the person I was assuming seeped into me, revealing his inner feelings. I seemed to be vaguely impressed that the lesser in front of me managed to unlock a crest by mastering the mark he had been given, but the fact that both crests were of defensive magic dampened my mood.
Letting out a muted sigh, I declared, “Through your loyalty to the nation of Vechor by excelling in the last battle against the nation of Sehz-Clar, I—Uto, retainer of Kiros Vritra—grant your entry into the Obsidian Vault for a chance to earn an emblem.”
The crowd gathered to watch the mundane spectacle burst into applause and cheer. The man knelt in front of me allowed himself to shed a single tear before he rose to his feet and finally met my eyes. He raised his right fist over his heart and left palm over his sternum in a traditional salute. “For the glory of Vechor and Alacrya. For the Vritra!”
“For the glory of Vechor and Alacrya. For the Vritra!” the audience behind him roared in unison.
The scene distorted, and I found myself sitting back on my bed. An umbral haze-like substance was spilling out of the horn I had been holding, and getting sucked into the center of my right palm—where Wren Kain had embedded the acclorite.
I quickly dropped the horn, separating my hand as far as possible from it. I took a second to inspect my mana core, and to my dismay, there were no signs of my core improving even a shred.
“Damn it,” I cursed. Rather than my core absorbing the mana out of Uto’s horn, the mana had been siphoned into the acclorite.
Just like Wren Kain had warned, the gem was capable of altering depending on the changes in my body, my actions and even thoughts. The acclorite was constantly feeding off the mana inside me, constantly molding its eventual form, so to say that the addition of Uto’s mana into the gem-filled me with unease was an understatement.
<i>What’s done is done.</i> I didn’t like the idea of my future weapon resembling Uto’s powers, but at this point, anything would help if it meant hastening the process.
Turning to Sylvie, I wasn’t surprised to find her still absorbing the contents of the horn. Unlike myself, she seemed to be having an easier time absorbing the foreign mana. What <i>did</i> surprise me was the fact that the sun was already coming up.
I had spent the entire night reliving one of Uto’s memories, which begged the question… what did his memories even mean?
The actual event occurring in the memory wasn’t very cryptic, but there were so many unknown terms being thrown around that it felt overbearing.
I knew from overhearing the word ‘blood’ inside the cavern in Darv that it most likely was just their term for family, but words like mark, crest, and emblem flew over my head. I knew what they <i>meant</i> in the literary context but they had used them as if they meant something entirely. These marks, crests—whatever they were—were either earned or unlocked? Or was that only the case for the person kneeling…
Except, when Uto declared that the person—Karnal—would be granted a chance to earn an ‘emblem’ in the Obsidian Vault, everyone seemed to be ecstatic. Ignoring the ominous name of Obsidian Vault, which frankly sounded like some storybook warlock’s evil lair where he held his stolen treasures, the man himself seemed blatantly proud. This meant that even the chance to earn an emblem was a big deal.
Another series of questions that came to mind pertained to the mention of Vechor… a nation presumably at war with Sehz-Clar, another nation. From the salute, I could extrapolate that at the nation of Vechor made up a part of Alacrya. Also, assuming that the asuras weren’t lying that Epheotus, Alacrya and Dicathen were the only three continents in this world, that would mean Sehz-Clar was another nation in Alacrya.
<i>Why would two nations of the same continent we were at war with be fighting amongst each other? Maybe the nations swore allegiance during this war? Or was there a separate army composed of all the nations and trained together in order to dispel any enmity that members of the nations had toward one another? </i>
I shook my head, physically trying to get rid of the never-ending stream of questions and thoughts running rampant in my mind.
This memory got me curious, though. I made a mental note to learn more about this, perhaps from Uto himself. The Council had ordered our forces to take in prisoners when possible to interrogate them, but in most cases, it led to the prisoner committing suicide or being too low in the chain of command to know anything useful. This was the first time we’d had a potentially helpful source of information in our hands, though knowing him, he’d make us work for it.
I was beginning to fall into another bottomless ditch of questions. Thankfully, my attention was roused by a perfectly cadenced series of knocks that sounded more like someone was hammering a nail into my door.
“General Arthur. It’s Alanis Emeria. I am here to escort you to the training grounds to meet with the four training assistants you had requested,” she said in a clear, taciturn voice.
“Coming,” I replied, chuckling to myself. <i>It’s not just her speech, even her knocking’s robotic.</i>
Without washing up, I changed into a more tight-fitting outfit suitable for sparring and followed my personal training attendant to the training ground on the lower floor. I debated whether to take Sylvie with me, but I thought it’d be best not to disturb her.
On our way down, we ran into Emily Watsken, or rather <i>she</i> ran into <i>us.</i>
“S-So sorry!” she huffed, most of her face hidden behind a large box she was attempting to carry on her own.
“Here, let me get that.” I took the box out of her arms, surprised by its heft.
“Thank you… oh, Arth—General Arthur! Perfect timing!” the artificer was practically gasping for breath, but she had a wide smile on her face when she recognized who she’d almost trampled.
Emily turned to Alanis, adjusting her glasses. “You must be Alanis! It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
“Likewise,” the elf replied, but in no way indicated. “I take it that you are Emily Watsken. I was informed we would be collaborating in our efforts to assist in General Arthur’s training.”
By the wrinkle between Emily’s brows, she seemed to have been processing Alanis’ string of words, but eventually nodded. “Yes! As you’ll soon see, I think that your particular magic and the set of artifacts that I made will work nicely with each other!”
“I’m glad you two are getting along but let’s get to the training room first. This box feels like it’s actually gaining weight,” I joked, lifting the large box.
“Oh! Sorry, and thank you for carrying it! I thought my arms were going to fall out of their sockets!” Emily exclaimed, hurrying down the hall until the entrance to the room was just up ahead. “Come on, everyone’s waiting!