Chapter 188: Dragon Steps
“You gotta do better than that, <i>young general</i>,” Buhnd grinned, wagging his finger.
Infusing fire into the mini gales of wind I had in my palms, I prepared to try and hit the dwarven elder once more when a barrage of wind orbs hailed down from above.
With a click of my tongue, I ignored Buhnd’s provocation and focused my attention on Camus’s assault. I easily dodged the orbs of wind until the ground beneath my feet rose and stiffened around my leg, rendering me immobile.
One of the wind orbs nicked me in the shoulder, but it felt like I had been hit by a cannonball.
I held back the need to curse and just gritted my teeth through the pain.
<i>That’s how you want to play. </i>
My initial reaction was to raise up a wall of earth or ice in hopes to block Camus’ barrage, but through these past few days, I’ve been constantly trying to think of better ways to combat certain situations.
This oftentimes meant running variou scenarios and trying to think of multiple ways around it while taking into account cost of mana and physical stamina.
The orbs of wind felt almost solid, but it was actually a whirlwind packed into a sphere. Tossing out my usual response of erecting a solid wall in hopes to deter the wind spell, I enveloped my arms in condensed gales of wind.
Rather than trying to block the attack, I used my wind gauntlets to redirect the wind orbs. As I expected, the clash of winds propelled Camus’ spheres in different directions.
“You <i>both</i> are going to have to do better than that,” I smirked, aiming the wind gauntlets down. With another thought, I shot my gauntlets at the stone cast trapping my legs to the ground.
“Interesting concept,” Camus said approvingly as he remained floating above me in a swirl of wind.
“That cockiness will be the death of you,” Buhnd added with an eager smile.
The old dwarf began running toward me as chunks of the ground began congregating around him, forming an armor of stone mid-charge. Meanwhile, Camus kept his distance and prepared another spell.
I expected another barrage of wind from the elf but instead, a gale formed right behind the dwarf, abruptly accelerating his charge so that his stone fist was in range before I could blink.
Buhnd was fast but I still had time to react—or so I thought.
When I tried to raise my arm to block his augmented fist, I was met with resistance. Again, the familiar sensation of my body being submerged in a viscous liquid washed over me.
Camus, while accelerating Buhnd’s movement, was also increasing the air pressure around me to slow me down.
Before I could break out of his spell, my face was met with the loving touch of Buhnd’s giant stone fist.
My vision flashed black for a split second and I found myself on the ground with Buhnd’s stone-clad form just a few feet away.
Ignoring the high-pitched ringing in my ear, I forced myself to focus. The gears in my mind whirred into overdrive and I found myself thinking about the crevices that formed in the ground whenever Buhnd sparred. Every time he was met with a physical attack, a crater formed beneath his feet as if a meteor had collided.
At first, I thought it was the force of the spells that caused the ground to cave below Buhnd but I knew it wasn’t as simple as that.
“Try to block this!” Buhnd exclaimed, raising a rock arm in the air. The stone that made up the thick armored fist shifted and convulsed as if it was coming to life. Buhnd’s stone-clad arm soon changed shape into that of a giant hammer twice his size.
A rush of wind coated the hammer as it was about to drive down into me.
<i>If that hits me, I’m done for sure.</i>
The memories of the craters Buhnd had formed continued to flash in my mind when it suddenly clicked.
Still laying on the ground, I raised a hand directly in the path of the giant hammer. I augmented my body but not in the protective way I normally did. Instead, I envisioned a tunnel-like path of earthen mana both inside and outside of my body.
I spotted a trace of hesitation on Buhnd’s face but there was no way for him to stop his attack now that it was just inches away from me.
<i>If this doesn’t work, I’m going to be in a lot of pain,</i> I thought.
The hammer struck my palm like a nail and I could feel my whole body protest. Normally, if I attempted to block that strong of an attack with just a hand, my arm would’ve shattered, but instead, the ground below me took the force.
I found myself in the epicenter of a crater the size of my room with my hand still stretched out. My arm, shoulder, ribs and back felt sore, but I had succeeded.
Buhnd, still wearing his armor of stone, looked down at me in disbelief until a smile crept up on his bearded face. “You’re a bit scary, General.”
I stifled a laugh, attempting to get up off my back when a surge of pain rushed up.
I lied. It wasn’t just my a few parts of my body that felt sore, it was every fiber of my body.
“O-Oww,” I croaked, finally succeeding in sitting up.
Buhnd dispersed his earthen armor and stuck out a burly hand. “It hurts, doesn’t it?”
“Extremely,” I admitted. “You made it look like nothing.”
“Well, I have better control over that technique than you do, and I wouldn’t be stupid enough to try and divert the force of an attack that strong in the first place,” the dwarf replied. He tried to straddle my arm over his shoulder, except, my legs were awkwardly dragging on the ground due to our differences in height.
“Here, let me help,” Camus said as he floated down to the ground. An updraft lifted me up to my feet as Camus dipped his head below my other arm.
“I was just about to carry the boy like the princess he is.” Buhnd gave me a wink.
Rolling my eyes, I leaned on Camus. “Leave me with some dignity.”
“You took a risk, but I’m guessing it was worth it?” Camus scoffed, his eyes still covered behind his bangs.
“For now, yes, but we’ll see how my body feels about this tomorrow morning,” I groaned, limping alongside the elf.
My sister came running to me, her gaze laced with concern. “Are you okay? I mean, I know you’re strong and all but that was a <i>big</i> crater you just made.”
Emily, who was following behind my sister, adjusted her glasses as she peered out at the sparring zone. “Luckily the crater didn’t reach the disks underground.”
“Thanks for your concern, Ellie,” I smiled wearily before turning my gaze to my assistant close behind. “I should be fine, … right, Alanis?”
Her eyes shifted into its multicolored hue for a second before turning back to its original colors. “The shock disrupted your mana flow, which is the cause of your internal pains. I suggest you get some rest, General Arthur.”
“Good idea,” Buhnd agreed. “I remember my first attempts in trying the force diversion spell. You’re lucky to have gotten away with just some soreness.”
“Or skilled,” my sister pointed out smugly.
Buhnd laughed. “Or skilled.”
“Hester and Princess Kathyln are away visiting Prince Curtis at Lanceler Academy anyway,” Camus mentioned, carefully setting me down.
“Ooh, I can just imagine the eyes of those would-be knights glistening with sweat when they see the princess,” Emily sighed. “I should’ve gone with her.”
My sister nodded wistfully. “Me too. I heard from my friend that a lot of the guys there are good looking… and toned.”
“Eleanor! You’re only twelve!” I sputtered.
“Don’t ‘Eleanor’ me! I’m a curious lady isolated from the world because of my distinguished upbringing of being the cherished sister of this continent’s youngest lance!” she lamented, wiping away a nonexistent tear.
Emily fell into a fit of laughter while even Alanis looked amused as I stared at my sister.
“Don’t be so overprotective! I had my first wife when I was your sister’s age,” Buhnd snorted.
“Well humans and dwarves have different societal standards for these kinds of things,” I protested.
“Ooh, you’re being racist, Brother.” My sister shook her head disapprovingly as Buhnd clutched at his heart in mock despair. Meanwhile, Camus and Alanis had a look of amusement but neither seemed to have any intentions of backing me up.
I clicked my tongue. “Well, <i>Lady</i> Eleanor, I’m sure the boys will be flocking toward you knowing that your brother can choose to wipe them off the face of the continent with a flick of his finger.”
Ellie’s face paled as she gasped. “You wouldn’t.”
Satisfied with her reaction, I simply shrugged, letting her imagination take over before making my way to the edge of the training room.
I took a seat against the cold wall, taking a breath as I watched Emily and my sister pack some of the training equipment while Buhnd was talking to Alanis.
Camus sat beside me. “Your sister is quite the character.”
“Yeah,” I chuckled.
The old elf let out a sigh. “You must be worried about her with the war going on.”
“She and my parents are a big part of why I’m a part of this war,” I answered staring blithely at the sight of my sister and Emily laughing amidst their conversations.
“Understandable,” Camus replied. “Protecting your loved ones is the biggest motivator for soldiers out in battle, but it’s also the loss of the one you want to protect that causes soldiers to stray away.”
“It sounds like speak from experience,” I said seriously, turning my gaze to him.
“An old story for another time, but yes. It’s the reason why I remained in seclusion for so long.”
I blinked. “But Virion mentioned you’re the head of a unit now?”
“An empty title. After I lost my wife and my vision during the last war, I had no intention of ever fighting again,” he muttered. “Before this, I just gave my inputs to the acting head.”
“Wait. Your vision?” I repeated, my brows furrowed in confusion.
Camus lifted his silver-blonde bangs to reveal two closed eyes with a jagged scar running through both lids.
“Hold on. You’re telling me you weren’t able to see this entire time?” I blurted, unable to take my gaze off of him.
“Surprised?” the elf smirked, letting his bangs fall back over his face.
“Of course I’m surprised. We’ve been training for a few weeks together and not once did I suspect anything. I mean aside from your combat prowess, your mannerisms and behavior don’t give away the fact that you can’t see.”
“I can still see,” he corrected. “Seeing with your eyes is such a plebian practice when your control over wind allows you to sense even the smallest change around you.”
I let out a sharp breath, amazed. After a moment of silence, I asked, “Is that what you’ve been practicing after retiring?”
“It definitely took a large part of my time,” he scoffed.
“I-I bet,” I nodded, wondering if he could tell what I was doing.
“At my level, sensing the movement in air from you nodding is easy,” he said as if reading my mind. “But I can’t see the details of expressions, which is why I’ve been told I can come off as rude or crass.”
“I see—no pun intended,” I quickly corrected.
“Don’t be so mindful. I’ve come to terms with it fairly quickly,” he dismissed.
I hesitated. “Do you… ever miss it?” <i>Of course he’d miss it, you dolt. Who wouldn’t miss having one of their senses.</i>
“At times,” he said mildly. “But at the same time, the fact that the last thing I saw with my eyes was my wife allows me to keep her intact inside me.”
<i>Do not cry, Arthur. Do not cry.</i>
“That’s sad but… sweet,” I mustered, struggling to keep my voice from trembling. “I’d love to hear your story sometime.”
“You’re young, General Arthur. Nothing good comes out of hearing tragic stories when there’s a whole war ahead of you,” Camus replied, clearing his throat. “Now off you go. Get some rest and come back tomorrow with a fresh mind.”
I carefully got up to my feet. “Okay… I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Camus waved directly at me, no signs that his vision was impaired. “And if I get a whiff of you even thinking about going easy on me, now that you know, I will knock you down so hard…”
“Don’t worry,” I said shaking my head. “I’m actually a little more scared of you now.”
The elf’s lips curved into a content smile. “Good.”
My sister and her bond followed Alanis and Emily to the artificer’s work station at the castle after mentioning that her bow needed some repairs and fine tuning. My training assistant had been gathering extensive notes on a daily basis during the training but had refused to share them with me.
Alanis said that the training was going the way she had designed and any more information shared with me might deter my training at this point. She promised to reveal her findings on my mana flow growth next week, after more data from Emily’s artifacts has been gathered.
Walking down the empty hall during the dead of night these days have been a time for my own thoughts to wander. I thought a lot about the memories of my past life that have been resurfacing which made me think deeper about the even bigger question of what I was doing in this world.
My skeptical self refused to believe that all of this was a coincidence but I had nowhere near enough information to find out how I came to this world or dimension.
I knew that the asuras, mainly Lord Indrath, knew more about me than he had shared, but I’d get any sort of answers from him without something in return. I had some hope that if Dicathen came out of this war victorious, Lord Indrath would be more inclined to share some insights about me, but that was only a hope. A more sure way to get some answers, and also the reason why I refused to accept the artifact given to lances, was by surpassing the white core stage to unlock more of the message that Sylvia had left me after we had parted ways.
<i>Hopefully, extracting the mana out of Uto’s horn will lead to my breakthrough into the white core stage,</i> I thought, doubtful. Sylvie had been in a near comatose state as she hungrily extracted the mana out of her horn. I had been worried at first, but I could feel the relaxed state of her mind through mental transmission.
Unlocking and opening the door to my room, however, I found myself questioning my earlier line of thought.
Sylvie, or rather her silhouette, was glowing in an obsidian light. What shocked me, though, was that her form was shifting erratically. Her wings grew and shrunk suddenly while her tail convulsed before contracting. Sylvie’s small vulpine limbs elongated while her paws stretched out into something that vaguely resembled a… hand.
“S-Sylvie?” I muttered, unsure whether to try and hold her or keep some distance.
After what seemed like an hour, the erratic changes in my bond’s body slowed down before gradually shifting back to her vulpine form.
Holding my breath, I waited for Sylvie to do something—anything.
Just then, her eyes shot open to reveal two clear orbs of topaz. Letting out a deep breath, Sylvie tilted her head. “Arthur? What’s wrong?”
“With me?” I asked. “Nothing… Are <i>you</i> okay?”
“What do you mean?” she replied, obviously confused.
“You—your body was changing.” I motioned with my hands, unable to form an accurate depiction of what I witnessed.
“I’m fine,” she dismissed. “I actually feel really good! The mana in this horn is really potent.”
I scratched my head. “Well at least you’re making some progress. I’ve been having a hard time absorbing the mana.”
“Really? The mana has been flowing inside me naturally—almost like it was my own mana.”
I was perplexed by the difference between Sylvie’s progress and mine, but my fatigue overpowered any notion of investigating deeper into it. “All right, well try and get some rest.”
My bond shook her little head. “No need. I can get by with fewer hours of sleep than lessers, more so while absorbing this mana actually.”
I fell flat on my bed. “Well this <i>lesser</i> needs his sleep. I suspect I won’t even be able to come back up tomy room over the next few weeks for training so I need to relish the feeling of this bed while I can.”
“I can feel that your training is going well,” my bond said. “I can feel the level of your strength rising steadily.”
“Mhmm. With my training progressing how it is, I should be able to hit white core soon if I can extract the mana from Uto’s horn,” I mumbled drowsily.
“That’s great,” Sylvie replied, her clear voice lulling me into sleep. “Get some rest.”
“You… too,” I managed to say before drifting off to sleep.