Undergoing Dragon’s Awakening seemed to startle Sylvie, who was now frantically asking me what had happened from wherever she was.
It’s fine, Sylv. I want you to stay away for now and if anything happens, go back to the Helsteas’ house for me.
‘No! I’m going to go towards you now, Papa. Hold on!’ I could sense Sylvie getting closer but she was still a few dozen kilometers away.
Stay away, Sylv! Please! I need someone to tell my family what happens just in case, I transmitted, the voice in my head coming out desperate.
I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of this alive, and I didn’t want my family wondering what happened and why the ring activated.
One of the abilities of my first phase, Acquire, allowed me to temporarily separate myself from the space and time around me, which seemed to also be one of Sylvia’s innate skills. That phase was limited in many ways because I wasn’t a dragon. The limited mana I had access to, as well as the physical burden the ability placed on me, restricted what I could actually do when I activated the ‘Acquire’ phase.
The most efficient way to best use this phase—I realized when I was training with Grandpa Virion—was by utilizing the Thunderclap Impulse spell alongside it. I would activate my first phase in short millisecond bursts while the reaction time of my body was increased dramatically from the lightning-attribute skill; this allowed me to react and counter almost anything. That was the most efficient way I could think of, since I couldn’t affect anything that was “frozen” while the first phase was activated. Even though I wasn’t able to keep it up for long, that was my biggest trump card. The fact that the first phase of my beast will wasn’t noticeable by those around me made it all the more useful.
I thought back to the time at the auction house when I had first used the ‘Acquire’ phase on someone else. Sebastian wasn’t able to communicate with anyone besides me since I separated us from the time and space of those around us. I only lasted a few seconds before I ended up crippled in bed the next day.
Right now, though, was one of those times when my first phase wouldn’t be so useful. No matter how fast I could react to this tsunami of vines, I wouldn’t be able to dodge or escape from it in one piece.
There was no other choice.
As I unleashed the dormant power of Sylvia’s will deep inside my mana core, I felt every pore in my body open as a surge of mana began raging in and out of my body.
The space around me distorted and the ground below my feet began cracking from the mana surrounding my body.
Color drained from my vision as I was only able to see in shades of gray. The only colors I was able to see were from the numerous particles of mana in the atmosphere around me, all shimmering according to their corresponding elements.
The surge of mana that had been rampaging around me suddenly got sucked up and compressed into my body as the feeling of insurmountable power overwhelmed me. The sense of superiority over everything, living or not, in this universe, almost drove me crazy. I suppressed the growing temptation to obliterate everything around me out of sheer mania.
“Kuh!” I gasped aloud.
The mana in the atmosphere seemed to bend to my will, as if even nature was now under my command.
Phase Two. Dragon’s Awakening… Integrate.
The golden runes, the same markings that Sylvia once had, ran down my arms and back with a burning sensation. I could see my hair growing longer, flowing down to my shoulder, as the once auburn color of my hair turned a bright luminescent white, swaying from the swirl of energy constantly encompassing me. In a way, it was like my body was becoming more like Sylvia’s.
After calming the voice inside my head that suggested I go on a rampage, I examined my surroundings. Jasmine and Elijah were the only ones left. Elijah was beside Jasmine now, who was still out of breath and sweating in pain, supporting her with his shoulders. Elijah was staring at me with a dazed expression, his once serious face almost comical as his glasses drooped down his broken nose.
Another thunderous crash jolted my attention back to the task at hand.
The tsunami of vines that made up the elderwood guardian expanded as a face formed within the wave. The face bore down at me balefully, ignoring everyone else but me. The mana beast that once looked at us like we were insects now displayed a trace of fear.
“Let’s play,” I growled, revealing a smirk.
The world moved around me in slow motion as I leaped, willing wind into the soles of my feet. I instantly cleared the distance between the elderwood guardian and myself as the storming gale I propelled myself with left a crater bigger than the spell Elijah had used.
A surge of black lightning coiled around my body as I effortlessly dodged the thousands of vines that shot out at me.
Every vine that the tendrils of black lightning touched instantly disintegrated and withered away, but for every vine that crumbled, dozens replaced it. Using the vines that were shooting at me as a foothold, I breezed through the onslaught of thorn-covered vines as thick as my body, drawing nearer to the core of the elderwood guardian.
I could already feel the recoil from using the second phase as my body began trembling and I held back the need to vomit blood.
It was time to end this.
“White fire,” I muttered.
My hands ignited and became engulfed in a blazing white flame that seemed to freeze the moisture in the air around it. This was the most powerful offensive skill that I had in my arsenal, but one that was also the hardest to control. While my Lightning Attribute skills were focused more towards one-on-one combat, I geared my ice attribute techniques for a more widespread form of destruction, just in case the situation arose.
The white fire ablaze in my hands grew larger as I absorbed the now-visible specks of water attribute mana particles into my body. Using the last of my strength, I released my final skill.
The elderwood guardian, who was in the form of a giant wave of entangled vines, rapidly became encased in ice as the very atoms that made up the mana beast froze in place where the white fire had spread.
Exploding forth the black lightning around me, deadly coils of dark electricity traced through the frozen tsunami of vines and instantly shattered it, leaving only the beast’s mana core.
The second phase wore off as I heaved out a mouthful of blood. As my body began plummeting down, I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the shimmering fragments of ice that once made up the legendary S class mana beast; It had the surreal effect that one would only see in a dream.
As my consciousness faded, the last thing I heard was the distant echo of Sylv’s cry in my head.
As soon as I woke up, I immediately wished I could be unconscious again. An intense wave of searing pain spread all over my body, leaving me helplessly immobile as a stream of tears rolled down my cheeks. I vomited both blood and the remains of the little food I had eaten since arriving at the dungeon. Every muscle, every pore, every fiber of my body felt like it was getting sawed slowly by a scalding blade.
Without even the strength to utter a cry of pain, I just cursed miserably in my mind.
“You’re awake!” A voice called out from beside me.
Focusing all of my will into staying awake, I ignored the voice.
After a moment of hollow silence, I managed to to utter a few sounds.
“G-Glove. My glove,” I practically coughed out, turning my head to the side so I wouldn’t choke on my own blood.
“What about your glove?” I could see Elijah’s face now as he removed the glove my parents had given me from my hand.
“B-Break one of the c-crystals on the glove and give… me.” I almost passed out from the pain again, but before I did, Elijah managed to understand and follow my stuttered instructions.
A pleasant surge of soothing light enveloped my body, and the once unbearable pain eased enough so I could calm down a little. I tried to get up but my body, once again, refused to listen. Lying motionless on my back, I assessed the situation now, since my cognitive abilities were no longer completely focused on enduring the pain.
Around us, it was dark and cramped, with the only source of light coming from a small fire in the middle of our small group.
“Where’s Jasmine?” I croaked, struggling to turn my neck as I searched for her. As another wave of pain clenched at my insides, I was reminded of the time when I was four and had fallen off the cliff.
Good, friggin’ times.
Elijah pointed to other end of the small shed we were huddled in. “She’s over there.”
Just barely lifting my head, I was able to spot Jasmine lying against the far wall. Her face was wrinkled in pain as beads of sweat littered above her brows.
“She was hit a lot harder by Lucas’s spell and her body wasn’t fortified with mana. I had a medical kit on me so I treated the external burn on her belly but I think the burn had caused some internal damage.” Elijah looked wearily at Jasmine, straightening his glasses.
Turning my head back, I could see that the boy wasn’t in great shape. His usual trim, black hair was now a bird’s nest as cuts and trailed of dried blood covered his face and body. His nose, that had been broken had turned a sickly purple and his clothes were shredded.
He was hurt and tired, but he was able enough to get out of here. Yet, he stayed, ignoring treating his wounds while focusing his efforts on keeping Jasmine and me alive.
I wanted to thank Elijah for helping us but I held off until I could talk in complete sentences; if I told him now, it would only come off as strained and pathetic. Until then, I could only simmer in my own fumes, thinking of that spineless, traitorous worm called Lucas.
“Use my glove on Jasmine too. Crack another one of the gems on it and press it against her wounds,” I explained through gritted teeth.
“Got it.” Elijah shuffled over to Jasmine and I heard a faint hum from the light that brightened the small cave we were in.
Jasmine’s ragged breathing had turned noticeably steadier. Using my limited strength to look at her again, I saw that her previous strained expression had calmed.
“I think she’ll be fine with a few hours of rest.” A rare smile escaped Elijah’s terse face.
‘Papa! You’re awake now! Are you okay? I’m almost there!’ Sylvie’s voice chirped in my head.
I’m fine now. I thought you said you had to finish up something… are you done with that? I asked my infant dragon.
‘…No. I’m almost done, though! I’ll find you after I’m done! I miss you, Papa…’ The disappointed voice of Sylvie almost tempted me to just tell her to come here now, but I held it in. I could feel the changes in Sylvie’s body somehow, and I knew she was going through something important.
“I didn’t think that the legendary masked swordsman, Note, would be someone around my age.” My bespectacled companion’s voice stirred my train of thought.
“My mask!” My voice turned a little frantic as I noticed for the first time that my face was bare.
“S-Sorry. It got blown off while you were falling. I couldn’t help looking while I was moving you two to safety.” I saw him scratch his cheek, something akin to embarrassment expressed on his face.
“What about my sword? Did you see the black stick that I carried around?” My eyes darted around through the dim lighting.
I spotted the outline of my sword as Elijah pointed a bit to the right of the sleeping Jasmine. “Yeah, it’s beside Jasmine. I didn’t know if it was valuable or not but I kept it just in case.”
I just let out a deep breath, a rather heavy weight lifted from my chest. “Thank you… for everything. For saving Jasmine and me and retrieving my sword when you could’ve easily escaped by yourself. Thank you.”
“Haha… If I left you in that half-dead state, that would’ve put me on the same level as that ass, Lucas, then wouldn’t it?” He shot me a grin.
“Heh, not nearly.” I let out a pained laugh.
Elijah inched closer, sitting down next to me now. “Why did you stay anyways? I saw Jasmine pulling you to escape. I felt like you two could’ve escaped at that time.”
I couldn’t help but pause at his question. “A king never betrays the people who trust him.” I winked, which made him scoff. “And…” I hesitated, “…I promised someone very important to become a better person and to cherish the people around me.”
“Pfft. You sound like an old man. We’re pretty young…I wonder what kind of life you had until now to have promised someone that,” Elijah’s tense face was a lot more relaxed now, his once stone face full of life.
“I sometimes wonder myself, haha. How long have I been out for anyways?” I changed the subject.
“It’s hard to tell but definitely more than a day. Jasmine woke up a few times in between, but just barely enough so I could feed her,” he answered, leaning back on the wall.
I wiggled myself up painfully to sit against the wall as well, Elijah helping me, when I noticed that the wall was made of metal.
“This doesn’t seem to be naturally made. Where are we?” I feel the cold surface of the wall, tracing it back to the ground.
“I conjured it. I think the elderwood guardian’s body was supporting the whole level of the cave we were in. After you defeated it, the ceiling crumbled, and once you landed on the ground, I built a small shelter to keep the rocks from burying us alive.” He let out a sigh. Until now, he hadn’t given away a single trace that he was a deviant, and a rather particular one at that.
Instead of being surprised, though, my mind somehow felt at ease. Ever since I had met him, something had felt weird. Like we had held some sort of connection somehow. I guess him being a deviant was the reason why. “I thought only dwarves were able to manipulate metal… and even then, I was taught that they could only manipulate existing metal, not create and conjure it.”
“So much for keeping secrets, eh?” Elijah chuckled, sinking further down, a tired look on his face.
“Tell me about it,” I scoffed with a grin, holding in the pain as my body protested at even the slightest movements.
“All right…but you have to tell me what the hell you did back there as well. Your hair turned white! A-And your eyes…they were glowing purple. There were these glowing symbols that appeared on your body too!”
I didn’t know that my eyes had turned purple, but merely nodded in agreement and let him continue.
“I’m from the Darv Kingdom, but I’m not really sure where I originally came from. The elder that took care of me since I was little always avoided the subject of my parents so I never got a clear answer. The only memories of my childhood came in painful flashes that feel like they’ve been locked away somehow. About a year ago, when I had awakened, I created such a big implosion that my whole room just vanished. After getting trained for a little while, I found out I was abnormally better in earth attribute spells than any other elements… like, to the point where I wouldn’t be able to cast anything but the most elementary spells in water, fire, or wind…even now.” Elijah stared blankly at the palms of his hands.
“Since I had awakened, my mana core has been condensing all on its own at a rapid pace. I don’t even need to meditate for some reason. The elder that took care of me sent me to the Kingdom of Sapin as a representative and told me to make a name for myself and get along with the humans, but honestly, I don’t know why I’m doing this. After I broke into the dark orange stage, I had this weird feeling surge up in my body and before I knew it, a field of metal spikes conjured around me. I happened to be alone when it occurred so thankfully, I didn’t kill anyone… but ever since then I’ve been pretty careful… and scared. Scared of what I am and scared of what I can do. I was excited at first about how strong I could be, but even now, I can barely control my powers. You know… I thought maybe I was half-dwarf at one point, but I-I just don’t know what I am anymore.”
I stared at Elijah, noticing that his hands were trembling as he quickly squeezed them into fists to control himself.
I just laid back, silently. I wasn’t going to pretend like I understood him, and anything I said now would just be empty words of comfort.
“Sometimes, I get this feeling…. like what I can do right now isn’t even the limit. I know it may sound weird but I get this itch that there’s something more to me deep inside, and that once I can control that power, I’ll know what I really am…I’m sorry, haha…this ended up being a therapy session for me, didn’t it?” And like that, the bespectacled boy that tried so hard to keep a stern, cold façade turned out to be fragile on the inside.
I gritted my teeth as I willed my broken body to sit upright to face Elijah. Peering into the boy’s eyes, I saw a trace of desperation but also gentleness, and a firm pride in himself that reassured my decision. Years of being a king, representing my country, meeting all different kinds of people—I got the hang of being able to see the type of person someone was, and my impression of Elijah was that he could be someone I could trust.
“I’m a quadra-elemental augmenter with two deviances: ice and lightning,” I stated in an even tone. Before he had the chance to even react to the landmine I had just set off, I continued. “I’m also a beast tamer. What you saw back there was me releasing my beast will.”
The hand that Elijah had been leaning on slipped and his head crashed against the cold, hard steel.
“Holy—Ouch!” He got back up, rubbing his head.
“I thought I was a freak but I guess you win. W-Wait… how old are you?” he asked.
“I turned eleven a couple of months ago.”
“No way! I’ll be twelve in a few months! I don’t know my exact birth date but the elder just made my birthday the day he found me, January 10th. You know my name is Elijah, but I don’t know yours. What’s your name?” He stuck out his hand as a sign of friendship.
Grasping his hand, I responded with a pained smile. “Arthur. Arthur Leywin, but just call me Art.”
For the next several hours, we exchanged stories. Elijah’s childhood wasn’t that eventful before his awakening. He stayed with the elder since the dwarf children weren’t too fond of mingling with humans. Because of that, Elijah had spent most of his time reading various books. Listening to him talk and just hearing about his life, I could understand why he was a lot more mature for someone his age. He only talked with adults—mostly the elder that took care of him—and just living in a society where almost everyone would rather not have anything to do with you made him grow up a lot faster than he should have.
I broke the last gem of the glove to relieve the pain again when Jasmine woke up. As soon as her eyes opened and she saw that I was awake, she shot up and pulled me into a firm, and agonizing, hug. I was about to say something when I felt drops of tears fall on my neck.
What the hell, I could endure a few more seconds of pain.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you…” was all she could manage to say as she held back her sobs.
“It’s okay, Jasmine. I was the one being stubborn. I’m sorry I dragged you into this mess with me.” I patted her back.
Had she always been this small?
Knowing her since I was a child, I had always assumed she was bigger than I was, but in my arms now was a frail woman.
After she had regained her composure, I shakily stood up to my feet, placing a hand on Jasmine and Elijah’s shoulders. “Let’s go home, guys.”