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Chapter 112: Newfound Goal
He overextended his punch; don’t dodge, Arthur, duck under and move in.
Her kick is too high, she’s off balance; exploit that.
The left hook was thrown prematurely. Lean your head back an inch.
That strike is slow enough; I need to grab that. Parry it, grab ahold of the palm and twist.
Watch out for the low sweep, but don’t jump. There’s a follow up attack that would be waiting for you if you do. Move in towards the kick where it won’t have much power.
An attack is coming from behind. Don’t waste time to look back; use his shadow instead.
Kick incoming towards the face, and another aimed at the ribs. Their attacks are becoming more coordinated.
I need to lower my body to dodge the kick aimed at my head and block the one aimed at my ribs. Use the force of the kick to get pushed away from the current disadvantageous position.
“Time!” Kordri’s voice thundered, bringing all of us to a freeze.
“We could’ve had him if you had given us one more minute, Master!”
Of the four of them, only Taci didn’t say anything, only clicking his tongue in dissatisfaction before turning away.
“Enough! It is four against one and you guys still dare to complain after being unable to land a single, solid hit on Arthur? I should have you lot retrained from the basics!” The four-eyed asura rebuked. Turning his attention to me, he shot me an acknowledging smile. “How do you feel, Arthur?”
Returning his smile, I replied, shaking off the stinging pain in my wrist from blocking the last attack. “Never better.”
About four months have pa.s.sed in the outside world, meaning that I had trained in the soul realm, thanks to the Aether Orb, for nearly four years. While my body had only aged a year physiologically, a bit more than three years have gone by training under the tutelage of Kordri.
These three years, I had done nothing besides honing my body, my reflexes, and my acuity for combat. My fourteenth birthday had recently pa.s.sed and it was glaringly obvious just how much stronger I had become, to the point where my past combat abilities seemed about as coordinated as a toddler first learning to walk.
Kordri had also helped refine my mana to aid in combat but hadn’t taught me anything new. Whether it was because of physiological differences between humans and asuras or just the fact that he didn’t want to or wasn’t allowed to pa.s.s on the Thyestes Clan mana arts to a non-clan member , I chose not to ask. I merely trusted Kordri and absorbed whatever he did teach instead.
To this day, I wasn’t sure what exactly the Thyestes Clan mana arts was and what it was able to do, but that didn’t matter. Just the fact that I had progressed to this level of physical combat was something I was thankful for.
As the soul realm that we had been training in grew dark, I opened my eyes to the familiar sight of the cave I had been in, physically, for the past year.
“Thanks again for helping me train, guys.” I stood up and gave a respectful nod to the four, novice Thyestes Clan children.
After about the first year inside the soul realm, sparring with just Taci was proving to have a limit, so Kordri brought over more training partners to the point where I was fighting on par with Taci and three other young children of the Pantheon asura race.
Of course the four of them weren’t constantly inside the soul realm like I had been. Because of that “unfairness”, as they constantly pointed out, I had been able to catch up to them eventually.
The four of them, including Taci, kept a distance from me outside of training, often showing their displeasure at the thought of helping a lesser race train; it didn’t help that I had become stronger than them. Of course, this was considering the fact that they weren’t allowed to use their abilities to the fullest. Kordri had made it explicitly clear that we were to use mana only for strengthening our bodies; anything outside of that would be considered foul play.
“Master Kordri. Thank you for training me up until now,” I turned and bowed respectfully after we both got out of the pool of blue liquid back inside the cave.
“Mmm, it was a treat for me as well,” the shaved-headed asura replied.
Giving my body a thorough stretch, I turned to face Windsom. “When is the next portion of our training?” I asked as I mentally searched for signs of Sylvie. This past year, I wasn’t able to sense, let alone communicate, with my bond. It had become a custom to search for her every time I was thrown out of the soul realm, but each attempt proved fruitless.
“Huh? Ah, we will start the next portion of training soon.” Windsom had the same discerning gaze as Kordri, which confused me.
I raised a brow, shifting my gaze back and forth between the two asuras. “Is everything okay?”
“Nothing’s wrong…” Kordri replied as he tilted his head, studying me like a piece of abstract art.
“It’s just that you have not changed,” Windsom finished.
My heart began thumping louder at his words. What hasn’t changed? My initial thought turned to my mana core, but that wasn’t it. My mana core had advanced recently from out of the early light yellow and into the latter levels of the light-yellow; meaning, I had progressed past more than a full stage, starting from the solid yellow stage that I had previously been at before starting my training here. Windsom had also come into the soul realm to watch the progress of my training every now and then so he should be well aware of the level I’m currently at.
“Arthur, while training under the Aether Orb can be tremendously beneficial, it is strictly forbidden to be used on children, or even young adults. You can guess why, right? The time difference between the two realms can cause a psychological displacement on a person not yet fully developed mentally,” Windsom explained.
“I was actually firmly against the use of the aether orb for that reason,” Kordri confessed. “Even Lord Indrath was somewhat reluctant to have you train using the Aether Orb, in fear of the consequences. However, because of the deficit of time before the war, there was no choice.”
It took me by surprise when I heard that Lord Indrath would care for my well-being. That wasn’t the impression I had received when I had met him.
“Which is why I’m somewhat astonished at the fact that there is no change in you, Arthur. Your speech, your demeanor, your mentality; they are no different from what they have been before the training began,” Windsom began. “Essentially, four years have pa.s.sed since you have entered, but neither during the times you have been brought back out nor now, have you displayed any changes a normal child should have had.”
I mulled over this for a moment. It made sense now why Kordri hadn’t let Taci and the other Thyestes Clan children stay in the soul realm. The only reason why I wasn’t affected by this phenomena was because I already had the mentality of an adult since my birth into this world.
“Windsom, you said yourself that I felt different from other children. I’d been pretty ahead of my age, mentally, for pretty much my whole life; to the point where I grew accustomed to purposely conforming to the people of my age to socially adapt,” I answered at last.
“Well, it matters little to us. In fact, it is for the better that this regimen of training did not produce any unwanted ramifications.” Windsom looked mindful at first, but relaxed as he let out a sigh. “Kordri, thank you for spending much of your time and energy into training Arthur. Anyone else, even amongst asuras, would be subpar compared to your expertise in close quarters combat,” the asura added, turning to Kordri.
“No thanks are needed. Arthur needs to be well trained if he is to have a chance against those mutts.” Kordri placed a firm hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Remember that the mages in Alacrya have been taught and guided by asuras. Mana arts in that continent is generations more advanced than in Dicathen. So do not get overconfident from the fact that you are receiving this sort of training. It frustrates me deeply that our hands are tied like this, but if we don’t want a war that can destroy the very land we live in, it is up to you and your peers to fight.” Kordri’s usually indifferent face wrinkled into a grave expression.
After saying our goodbyes, Kordri and his four pupils left first, leaving only Windsom and I inside the unnaturally quiet training cave.
As I sat down on the cold floor of the cave, idly stretching my body while peeking every now and then at Windsom, I couldn’t help but try to guess what the asura was thinking as he regarded me so closely.
Trying to break the palpably thick silence, I asked Windsom something that had been desperately on my mind. “So, have you heard any news of Sylvie? Is she doing okay?”
“Lady Sylvie will be fine. No one would dare mistreat the direct kin of Lord Indrath besides Lord Indrath himself,” he answered casually, despite the fact that the last bit of his statement sent a pang of worry down my stomach.
Choosing not to dwell on this topic any longer, I simply nodded and continued stretching my body. Because I wasn’t physically using my body within the soul realm, it had grown stiff. Muscle ma.s.s hadn’t dwindled due to the mysterious liquid I had been submerged in, but I had noticed that my hair had grown much longer than I was used to.
I still didn’t know the full capabilities of the Aether Orb but the chance to train under these conditions would most likely never come again, so I had to make the most of it.
“Here. I just received this from a messenger of Lord Indrath. It seems like Aldir wrote of the events happening in your continent currently. I thought you might be interested.” Windsom spoke evenly as he handed me a few pieces of parchment filled to the edges with immaculate writing.
It was the first time receiving any sort of information from Dicathen. Four months had pa.s.sed since I started my training, and the more time flew by, the more concerned I became of the well-being of everyone.
Had the war started yet?
What were they doing to prepare themselves for the upcoming battles?
What measures were they taking to protect themselves?
Questions like these and many more filled my head, often distracting me during training until I was smacked back to attention by the four pupils or Kordri himself.
What Kordri said before leaving had sent shivers down my spine in sudden realization. The continent of Alacrya was sure to be more advanced in mana manipulation than Dicathen was. Even with the help of asuras now teaching a handful of capable mages on how to better utilize their mana, it wouldn’t be enough if the enemy’s armies were truly as strong as I was imagining them to be.
In that sense, I often thought of my training with Kordri to be an inefficient use of time. Of course what I had learned would make me a great combatant in any battlefield, but considering my capabilities, I wondered sometimes if it would be better for me to hone my long-range mana utilization. Of course, conjuring wasn’t my specialty, but with my quad-elemental disposition and the amount of raw mana I possessed, compared to other mages, I felt like it would be better for me to learn long range mana arts that were capable of leveling fields instead of learning to destroy enemies around me one at a time. But thinking back to my past as a commanding leader, it wasn’t the number of soldiers that posed the biggest threats. No, the ones that presented the most trouble were either leading them or the few elite fighters capable of penetrating through our forces. I couldn’t worry about every single insignificant fish; I would just have to trust in our army to handle them.
Putting aside my concerns, I eagerly plucked the paper from his hands and inhaled the words written on the wrinkled paper.
It seemed that it was made known to the higher ups that Goodsky was formerly a spy sent directly by the Vritra Clan on behalf of Alacrya. A large portion of the written report was actually on Goodsky’s intel on the political structure of Alacrya, which surprised me since she was the one who told me of the powerful binding that kept her from even having the intentions of revealing information.
I put aside my suspicions for now and focused back on the report.
Because of the tangible presence of asuras in Alacrya, much of the hierarchy had become centered around the purity in one’s blood. Basically, the closer someone was to that of the asura lineage, the higher status one would hold in that continent. It seemed rather simple and shallow at first, but was Dicathen or any other world different? Of course, the purity in lineage wasn’t as apparent in our continent, but it was rather easy to see the distinction between those of ‘n.o.ble’ blood and ordinary people.
I was willing to bet that the higher the purity of their asura blood, the stronger their ability as a mage would be. As a few generations pa.s.s, it was easy to predict that there would be a clear division in cla.s.s based on this fact alone.
It went on to say that she herself possessed very limited knowledge besides the general hierarchy of the elite figures that Agrona himself took care into raising and a.s.sembling. One part caught my eye. “So the information that Direc… Cynthia Goodsky provided us, these so-called “Four Scythes”, am I to a.s.sume that these will be my targets?” I asked without taking my eye off of the report.
Aldir noted further down that, of the potential obstacles, these so-called Scythes and their respective retainers under their commands were of the highest priority.
“Ultimately, yes. But read on. What the Alacryan spy, Cynthia Goodsky, mentioned next is troubling, to say the least.
I did as I was told, and surely enough, the next the paragraph of the report made me curse underneath my breath.
“...based on the purity in color, density and concentration of lingering mana within the horn fragment retrieved from the site where former Lance, Alea Triscan, was killed, Goodsky has a.s.serted that it belonged to a prime-blood of the retainer level of one of the Four Scythes ,” I read aloud. I a.s.sumed that the prime-blood was someone with mixed asura, more specifically Basilisk, blood.
My mind shifted towards the night I saw the remains of Alea. I still remembered the last words we had exchanged after she gave me the very fragment Goodsky had mentioned. This meant that there was a retainer for each of the Four Scythes. Four retainers that were capable of easily dispatching a Lance and four more who were at a level even above them.
Reading on, there was little else that was of significant importance. There were mentions of armored ships being built from a coalition between the humans and dwarves, as well as towering fortresses being built around harbored cities. Aldir also wrote the recounts he had received of sightings of someone who was perhaps from Alacrya but other than the fact that there was a clear tension throughout the continent, little else had happened.
I could only begin to imagine the scale of this upcoming war. This wasn’t a war between the struggles of two rival countries, this would be two enormous continents sending millions of soldiers to fight for their land.
After letting out a deep breath, I gathered the pieces of parchment and stacked them neatly before handing them back to Windsom.
There was a mixture of emotions brewing inside me. News of Dicathen had definitely put my mind at ease. The newly acquired knowledge pertaining to the power of our enemies, on the other hand, sent a cold chill down my spine. However, despite this, I was excited and determined. I finally had a goal, a solid number of enemies to work with. It would be hard to get all of them, but I wasn’t fighting random drones or ambiguous opponents that I knew nothing about; I now had an objective and I had my targets.
“Windsom, let’s start the next portion of training,” I a.s.serted, standing up and straightening my back.