Chapter 9: The Ones Held Dear
“W…what are you?” I managed to stammer out.
What my eyes saw, my brain didn’t want to believe. A monster, for a lack of a better word, which easily towered over 10 meters tall, was seated cross-legged, on a crudely carved platform of stone with an arm lazily supporting its head. With beaming red eyes that gazed down at me, while menacing, carried an oddly tranquil quality. Two ma.s.sive horns protruded out the of sides of its head, arched down and around it’s skull, curving up to a point near the front, reminding me of something almost akin to a crown. With a mouth that had two fangs peeking out of its lips. Its body from the neck down was adorned in a sleek black armor with no decorations or embellishments, yet still emitting a presence of priceless treasure.
Although I was once a King, this being made me embarra.s.sed of even having the nerve to call myself one. No. The one sitting on that giant platform was a being that would make even the most unfaithful heretic bow down in submission.
Yet here it was… with its head being supported by its arm, the other hand nonchalantly scratching its nose.
What I failed to notice until now though, because of how dark the cave was and him being in all black, was that this being had a gaping hole in the side of it’s chest, blood faintly oozing out.
“We finally meet.” It repeated with a lazy half smile showing more of its sharp teeth.
I try getting up but fail halfway and end up back on my b.u.t.t, my face still slack from the shock of what my eyes are seeing.
“Bugs will fly into your mouth if you keep it open that wide.”
Great. At least it has a sense of humor.
“As for what I am, I won’t say anything more than what you can see from looking.” The horned humanoid monster says with its eyes seeming to look straight through me.
*Sigh* … “It is going to take to a while for me to open a dimensional rift that will transport you to your house, so until then, just be patient and wait here. There are special roots that grow here. You will be able to live off those until I finish.”
That’s right. That’s what I’m here to do. I manage to regain a bit of my composure and I stand up, walking a little closer to the being.
Giving a deep bow, I say, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and what you will do. If there is any way I can repay you, I will do for you whatever is in my power.”
“HAHAHAHA, such good manners for a child. Don’t worry; I am neither expecting a favor nor your grat.i.tude. I am simply doing this for my own amus.e.m.e.nt. Come! Sit here closer to me and keep me company. I haven’t talked to anyone in a while.”
I climbed up the platform rather awkwardly, forgetting to use mana to just jump up, and I propped myself in front of the being.
“Uhh… excuse me for being rude, but you don’t exactly look like a lady. How should I exactly address you as?” I said while looking straight up to make eye contact with the being.
*Chuckle* “You’re right. I don’t exactly look like a lady, now do I? I wonder why I said that. Kukuku my name is Sylvia.”
This giant demon lord-like monster looked like anything but a Sylvia to me.
“Elder Sylvia, do you mind if I ask a few questions?”
“Go ahead young one, although I may not be able to answer everything.”
I suddenly rattled on all of the questions that have been on my mind ever since waking up and after meeting Sylvia. “Where is this place? Why are you here all alone? Where did you come from? Why do you have that huge wound? … Why did you save me?
“You must have had a lot on your mind. The first question is easy to answer. This place is a narrow zone that is between the Beast Glades and the Forest of Elshire. No one knows of this place because I’ve been warding off anyone who comes close, although the cases are rare in the first place. You, young child, are the first to enter into this domain.”
“Please call me Art! My name is Arthur Leywin but everyone calls me Art! You can too!” I interrupt before shutting my mouth with my tiny hands. Why am I acting like an excited child? Control yourself!
“Kukuku… Very well child, I will call you Art!” Her red eyes glazed, looking afar while answering my next questions.
“Continuing on to your second question. I am here alone simply because I have no one left to be with. While I do not think telling you everything would be wise, I will tell you that I have many enemies that desperately wish for something that I have; my last battle with my enemies left this wound. As for where I come from… very far away haha.”
There was a moment of pause before Sylvia continued on, this time her eyes looking straight at me, almost studying me.
“As for why I saved you…even I do not fully know the answer to that question. Perhaps I have been alone for far too long and I simply wished to have someone to talk to. I first noticed you when your party was engaged in battle with the bandits. When you fell off the cliff to save your mother, I felt compelled to save you, thinking it was a waste for such a good child to die. You are very brave. It is rare for even an adult to be able to do that.”
I shook my head. “I was scared too and I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted to save my mother and my baby sibling inside her.” I don’t know if it’s from the gentle way she talked or because of how big and powerful she seems but in front of her, I seemed to turn into a child. No, I was a child in front of her.
“I see… Your mother was pregnant. You must miss them dearly. Rest a.s.sure, your family and party are safe. As for where they have gone, my senses cannot reach far enough to tell anymore.”
I felt my cheeks get warm as tears unconsciously rolled down. I see. They’re safe. This new life that I’ve been given has allowed me to express emotions I thought I never would in my previous life.
*Sniff* “Thank G.o.d” *Sniff* “Th…they’re alive…they’re okay…” I say half mumbled through my hands that covered my face.
Sylvia’s giant hand reached down and she softly patted my head with a finger.
The day pa.s.sed on with me conversing with Sylvia, picking up some roots that looked and tasted very similarly to potatoes but were black in color in between to eat, before conversing again.
We talked about all sorts of things to pa.s.s the time as she prepared to open a portal. She asked me how I was able to use mana so well at my age.
“I was under the impression that amongst humans, the earliest mage to have awakened so far was the age of 10, and even then, because the child couldn’t grasp how to use it, there was very little he could do. Yet, not only have you already formed your mana core, but, by the way you use your mana, you seem to be more efficient than most adults.”
I just shrugged, feeling oddly proud by her compliment. “My parents say I’m a genius or something. I can read really well and I get what the pictures and words in the books are saying.”
A few more days went by quickly as Sylvia continued preparing the portal.
In a regretful tone, she says one day, “The spell will take some time in order for it to be completely safe. I do not wish for you to land in a destination you are not familiar with. Even one inconsistency can lead to you being transported a couple hundred meters off the ground. Please be patient; you will be able to see your loved ones soon.”
I nodded and said that as long as I know they’re alive, I am fine with waiting. It beats trying to climb back up the mountain.
These past couple of days, while I trained my mana core and chatted with Sylvia, I noticed a few things.
Sylvia really made me think of the cliché, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Unlike her less than friendly appearance, she was kind, gentle, patient, and warm. She reminded me of mother, in the way that they both scolded me while being tender when I did something wrong. I was mentioning about how the mage that I fought, as well as the other bandits, deserved worse deaths than they had when she suddenly flicked my forehead!
Even though she was gentle, a flick of a finger from someone over 10 meters high was nothing to make light of. I rolled a little bit before angrily shouting, “What was THAT for?!”
Picking me up and setting me on her armored knee, she said in a soft but pained tone. “Art. Perhaps you are not wrong in that those bandits did deserve death. Even I chose not to save that mage you fell with because of the same reasons. However, do not let your heart be clouded with continuous thoughts of hatred and the sort. Continue on proudly with your life and gain the strength to protect your loved ones from harm. Along the way, you will come to face situations like before, maybe even worse, but don’t let the grief and rage corrode your heart but move on and learn to better yourself from those experiences so it won’t happen again.”
I blinked, stunned at the fact that I was getting lectured on my morals from someone that looked like the epitome of evil herself. Strangely, it stuck with me and I just nodded blankly.
Another thing I noticed was that her wound seemed to be getting bigger. I found it somewhat odd at first that she could still be alive with a gaping whole in the side of her chest, but I got used to it until a couple days after I met her, the wound seemed to be bleeding a lot more. Sylvia tried to hide it at first with her hand, but it was growing more and more obvious.
Noticing my concerned gaze towards the wound, Sylvia gave me a weak smile, saying “Do not worry little one, this wound festers from time to time.”
One day, while I was meditating and using various exercises to better control my mana, Sylvia suddenly spoke, saying, “Art. Try absorbing mana while you are making movements. Ideally you should be able to absorb at least a fraction of the mana you would during meditation while you are fighting. Although you would be spending mana faster than you can absorb mana, you will be able to prolong the usage of your mana.”
That’s right! I totally forgot about testing that hypothesis. I was so used to having absorption of mana and the manipulation of mana as two separate things that I didn’t stop to think about the possibilities in this new world.
“Okay! I’ll try!”
“Kuku, humans have a very linear mindset in regards to mana and find it hard to deviate from anything that already works. Practice hard now though, because you can only learn this skill while both your body and mana core are immature. Mana beasts learn to do this naturally, but because humans awaken too late and in most cases, their bodies are not adept for this ability when they first awaken. Considering you are so young, there shouldn’t be a problem if you practice.” Continues Sylvia with a proud puff from her nose.
I have to admit it was extremely confusing at first. Have you ever tried those exercises where you try to make each of your arms do something different? Think of it as that but multiple times harder. You had to be able to fight well while still trying to focus your mind on absorbing mana. I’ve never tripped over my own body so many times in this and my previous life put together.
This seemed to get a couple of laughs of amus.e.m.e.nt from Sylvia.
Two months pa.s.sed by keeping Sylvia company with stories of my family and the town I was born in, with me getting better and better at the technique thanks to Sylvia giving me a couple of pointers along the way.
I proudly named this technique Mana Rotation.
Over this period of time, it would be an understatement to say I’ve gotten close to Sylvia. She treated me like her blood grandson and I’ve grown attached to this demon lord grandmother. It was because of our growing relationship that I couldn’t ignore what was happening.
The wound was getting worse as the portal that was supposed to bring me home, was becoming clearer.
“Elder Sylvia. What’s happening to your wound? Why is it getting worse? It wasn’t like this before! I thought you said it was just festered every now and then! That it was going to go away! Why is it getting worse?” I said one especially bad night when she was coughing blood.
I paused for a second…
I’m so stupid.
Why didn’t I notice this earlier?
She was getting worse while making the portal. She’s dying in order to send me home. She’s sacrificing her life so I can meet my family.
Sylvia’s eyes dimmed, knowing that I had realized what was going on. Managing a sheepish smile, Sylvia whispered, “Art. Yes I am dying. But I will get angry if you blame yourself, thinking that you are causing this. I have been dying for quite a while now. You are doing me a favor by allowing me to leave this forsaken cave a little faster.”
As soon as she finished talking, a bright golden glow radiated out of her body. Shielding my eyes from going blind, I try to focus on the shape appearing from where Sylvia once sat. In place of the 10 meter t.i.tan-like figure was a dragon even bigger. From her snout to the end of her tail, she was a clad in pure white shimmering scales. Around her purple eyes were glowing golden markings that went down her neck and spread out around her body and tail like a tattoo. These markings reminded me of a very elegant, almost celestial, tribal pattern, fanning out in different directions like vines and leaves. The dragon’s wings were pure white adorned with white bladed feathers that put swords made by master smiths to shame.
The golden light dimmed until the dragon fully replaced the once t.i.tan-shaped being.
“There now… Do I look a little more like a Sylvia?”
“Elder Sylvia?? Y..you’re a dragon?” I said.
“Now That I am in this form, we do not have much time. Yes I am a dragon, a very powerful one at that. The reason I am dying is because of a battle I fought with many enemies. They will come for me soon, which is why I will only explain what is necessary. I am giving you this to take care of from now on.”
One of her bladed wings unfolds and what’s revealed is a translucent rainbow colored stone the size of two fists. With a myriad of colors and shades, this stone resonated an aura that made me hesitate in holding it, as if I’m not worthy.
Continuing on, she explains “Everything will reveal itself when the time comes so just hold unto this and do not let anyone know that you have this. Most will not know what it is but everyone will be attracted by the aura it emits.”
Sylvia then plucks a bladed feather off her wings and hands it to me. “Wrap the stone in this to conceal it.”
After doing so, the once divine radiant stone turned into a smooth white rock, pretty, but ordinary.
While I was studying the stone wrapped in the feather, I suddenly feel Sylvia’s snout gently touching the middle of my chest, exactly where my mana core was.
Surprised, I look up to see Sylvia’s purple eyes and the gold markings glow brighter than they did when she first transformed and then fade away. With a flick of her tongue, she pierces through and into my mana core and breathes out a golden smoke that crackled in purple.
Confusion and surprise fills my mind and I just stare at her from the ground with my eyes and mouth wide open, chest slightly bleeding.
I couldn’t form any words in my mouth and my mind was a jumble of questions and thoughts.
Sylvia’s expression seemed pained and weak, even for a mighty dragon that was even bigger than her previous illusion. What caught my attention though was that her eyes were now just a dim yellow color and the beautiful markings that once flowed across her face and body were now gone.
Before I could ask what happened, a giant crash interrupted me.
I look up to see that the ceiling of the cave was gone and what came into vision was a figure that made me think of Sylvia’s previous form.
Clad in sleek black armor and a blood red cape that matched its eyes. The figure’s pale grey skin matched the clouded sky in the background. The horns were different though. This ent.i.ty had two horns that curled and under around its ears, lining its chin.
“SYLVIA! I advise you to hand over the gem and make it easy for us before you die! You’ve already caused us quite the trouble after hiding yourself!” The ent.i.ty roared.
Not even looking at the figure in the sky, Sylvia’s wings covered me from the ent.i.ty’s view.
“I’ll open the portal now. I didn’t have the time to make it go directly to your home but it should take you to a place with humans around. Do not let him see you and do not look back.” She whispered, her eyes solemn.
“Sylvia! What about you? A-aren’t you come with me? *Sniffle* What’s going to happen to you??”
I can’t control myself anymore and I’m crying, tears freely flowing down my face as I fight the sniffling.
“Unfortunately I cannot go with you. Even if I can, he will be able to find me. No. I need to stay here.”
“Y-you can’t! No! I won’t let you die here. Please! Come with me!”
Sylvia gently wipes my cheeks with a claw and says, her draconic eyes lined with tears,
“You asked me once, why I chose to save you. The truth was to satisfy my own greed. I wanted to keep you as my own child even for just a little bit. I intentionally prolonged the transportation spell because I wished to spend more time with you but it seems I don’t even have the chance to finish it. I’m sorry Arthur for my selfishness but I have a favor to ask… Can you call me grandmother just this once?”
“NOO! I don’t care about all of that! I’ll say it as much as you want if you come with me! Grandma! Grandma! You can’t! Not like this!”
And before I had the chance to grab ahold of Sylvia for the last time, she pushes me into the portal that formed beside her.
I can barely make out what she says before she disappears from sight.
“Thank you my child.”