"Brat, you told me that you have a younger sister; why don't you take her here? Maybe she too-"
"I can't. She's too young and I don't want to make her run unnecessary risks, for now…" muttered Helial, unusually shy.
"How old is she?"
"Too young to try to condense a Mana Seed…"
The Master frowned, slightly irritated by that answer. "Boy", he rebuked, "you seem very protective of her."
Then, Vidio saw something he had never dreamed of seeing before: Helial's eyes were swimming in tears. He looked sad. "Kid…"
Even Dragons, the undisputed lords of the cycle of life besides Qilins, had scales that grew upside down. In some parts of the body of these supernatural creatures it could happen that one scale would grow in the opposite direction. Touching that twisted scale on a Dragon's body was not an ideal move, even for the strongest of people. Dragons hated it when someone touched their twisted scales. Lumia was Helial's twisted scale.
"It's my fault if my sister is forced to lead a rough life. I can't let her risk anything right now. Perhaps one day she will be able to stand her ground, but for now she is young and I have to take care of her."
Vidio was about to speak, to say something reassuring, but Helial cut him short.
"I know, Master, I know. I can see it in your eyes. But my sister can't learn to defend herself for now… she's too delicate. Besides, she is trying to learn some things in the village and the women are helping us from time to time. Now she has been learning to sew and she tries to cook with that little we have. I don't want my sister to suffer. I don't want her to go down the same road that I chose for myself."
Helial slumped in the chair.
That day they were in a tavern; Vidio was looking for beautiful women and that was his daily patrol. He had invited Helial to chuck a glass of cider, wanting to learn more about that boy. After all, the kid was his major tool to make it back to the capital.
If only Vidio had not lost all his winning cards in such a stupid way… He had created a Skill that had granted him a promotion and also a death sentence. Without that he could not have become Master that easily.
Helial was looking outside the window, unaware of Vidio's thoughts.
"One day you might be forced to let her in this world, to be able to protect herself."
Helial looked at him and smiled. "Mas… Vidio, I'm not a fool. I don't have much experience, but if I'll see her in danger I will do anything to protect her, including giving her a way to become stronger. Until I can become stronger for the both of us, I don't mind. However… Hey dirty old pig, would you stop staring at the waitress?"
Helial was speechless and about to vomit blood… Vidio was slobbering over a young waitress of the tavern. Get to know him better my ass. That old pig just wanted someone to go with him, to not look like the old pervert he was.
The corners of Helial's mouth curled. After all, even though he still had not taught him any Offensive Skills, that man was still fun to hang around with.
In the present
Helial stroked Lumia's platinum colored hair, dirty and messy. His tears were dripping over his sister's face. I'm sorry, Lumia, I'm really sorry. I can't do it. I can't. You'll have to go on without me. You condensed a Seed, I hope you will survive. Run, go away without me, if you could reach a city, probably you could have a better life than if you followed me.
Helial had a lump in his throat. He could not think about his little sister forced to live without him. Even though she was a smart girl, she was also awkward and clumsy.
Helial thought about his clothes covered in red stains, the red of Lumia's blood. How many times she had hurt herself trying to mend them. But she had always insisted to do it herself. For some time Helial had gone about town with visibly torn clothes, because of Lumia's clumsy mending, but her Mana said otherwise; it was a stable, majestic Mana. Lumia had a clear Affinity with Earth. Helial still had not found out his own Affinity. If Lumia's Mana was already so characterized at that early age, it meant she had a very strong inclination toward that element.
The point of the blade was drawing closer to the heart, but Helial kept holding Lumia tight.
Kid, are you just going to die this way?, asked Kirin in utter disbelief.
Helial did not answer. There was a smile on his face. He was not going to have any regrets if it had been his sister to kill him. That girl had already suffered too much because of him; it was only right for her to kill him. Helial could not see anything wrong in that. After all, who would have been worthy of doing that, if not her?
Lumia will always be the most important woman in my life.
Actually, what Helial was thinking was not at all true. But this is another story.
Here it is, I can feel it, he thought, about to be pierced in the heart.
What is happening…? Kirin was shocked. That boy had first killed three Goblins, one of which in the Third Phase, inside his Illusion. But now he was letting his sister put an end to his short life.
Helial just had to overcome his own fear. He felt tremendous guilt towards Lumia. He should have overcome them and go on, without trying to suppress them, without injuring his sister. But what Kirin was witnessing right now went beyond the most awful of fantasies. Helial was accepting his guilt and was ready to pay the price. He was embracing his mistakes. Was that boy a madman? Or was he a Saint?
Kirin had dealt with all the major Saints of the whole universe, but how many of them would have chosen that same path? How many would have tenderly embraced their own death? Maybe this was the scythe of destiny, or was it Helial? Helial only wanted to be free. Was he maybe looking for freedom in his death?
Kirin did not understand; he was literally tormenting his soul on that matter. It did not matter how old he was, he would have never understood certain mechanisms inside the mind of men. Why didn't he at least push her away?
"Qilin", whispered Helial, "do something for my sister, give her the strength to survive this silly war. I will repay my debt in another life. You got what you wanted."
The blade was there, about to pierce his heart. Helial had only one regret. In all his life he had never been able to give his sister a little bit of happiness and a comfortable life. Two red lines were trickling down from Helial's eyes.
Tears of blood…
It was said that when someone reached the peak of all sufferings, they could weep blood. Kirin was almost moved by that scene. He had rarely seen something like that. None of the great geniuses in history who had followed him had ever showed such character. Helial was the first one to possess the nature of a dominator and, at the same time, such a tender heart.
Other geniuses had been able to accept their guilt by fighting it, and some had perished. Some people had too soft a heart to evolve during a fight. Others were born with the countenance of a King, unable to admit their own mistakes, too proud to see beyond the end of their nose.
Helial had not been arrogant to the end, but his methods showed a terrifying brutality, rare in a fifteen year old boy.
That task had been awful, there was no way out. If Helial had run, he would have lost. If he had faced the Goblins, he would have died. But, even after getting rid of the Goblins, there was still Lumia. Helial had to acknowledge his mistakes and try to redeem himself. He maybe could have thrown himself to the ground, pleading and aching, thus passing the test.
In all this, Kirin was merely a spectator; the Illusion was based on his Divine Sense, but it was Helial's emotion to bring the scene to life.
The helplessness, the Goblins, the regrets, and Lumia.
"I love you", whispered Helial in Lumia's ear, "I'm sorry I couldn't give you more. You deserve to be the one to kill me; I would have never forgiven myself if it had been anyone else. Especially that dirty bastard. Run away, live your life. Goodbye, Lumia."
After all, what is it to live this life if I'm not even free to choose how to die? Lumia… I don't know what Lumia will do. She is alone in hostile territory. I'm sorry, I could have killed anyone, I could have tripped a cripple, but I could never raise a finger on her. Not even in an Illusion. What is an Illusion anyway? What are we ready to do for power? Why would I gain the Skill, knowing that I would be ready to kill Lumia? What if one day I won't be able to tell the Illusion from reality? Lumia is my only certainty, the only ray of sunshine in my life. Shielding it would mean to live in the darkness, even once back in the cave. I don't want to live in darkness anymore; enough with the compromises. I do not want to run, I want to accept my destiny and be honest with myself.
How many years Helial had lost because of his brother… Helial had always been a talented youth, even though no one, not even Vidio, could imagine the real extent of his capabilities.
Now Helial had a big smile on his face. Even if that was just an Illusion, knowing that he was going to be killed at the hand of his sister gave him an incredible sense of peace. If it had been anyone else, even Kirin himself, Helial would have fought it off until his last breath. Instead it had been Lumia, his sweet little sister, to slid a blade between his ribs.
"What an idiot…" Lumia moved her lips closer to Helial's cheek and planted a kiss there. "You passed the test."
Two of the biggest chains that Helial carried tied around his heart had just manifested themselves. If Helial could overcome them, he was going to make a huge step forward on the Dao of Mana. Many people wrongly thought that the most important things on the path that led to become an Immortal were great Skills and a high level – kill monsters, people do everything possible to gain Experience, or Grind Skills to their limits. Everyone thought that these were the fundamentals.
Actually, the most important thing was removing the bottlenecks. Sooner or later, everyone was bound to get to a bottleneck on their Dao of Mana, but not everyone was able to get past it. Were it a Skill that could not level up or a breakthrough between Phases. The most important thing was not to have shadows in one's heart, or to know how to master them. Helial would have understood the benefit of all this only in due time. The potential of the boy had increased once again.
What the hell just happened?, Kirin opened his eyes wide, or better he would have if he had had a real body. The ethereal Kirin observed the scene, utterly puzzled.
He immediately checked the Divine Sense present in the Soul fragment he was using. Everything was alright, nothing out of the ordinary. But then… why wasn't Helial dead? That was not how the Illusion was supposed to go. That was not the goal of the test. Why was Helial still alive? Kirin had not done anything and, according to his Divine Sense, Lumia should have done the deed. Why was Helial still alive?
It can't be… The Illusion should have tried to kill him and he should have tried to defend himself, in order to understand his mistakes. But even if he had understood them without defending himself, he should have died… how could this happen? Kirin had a horrible headache. This whole matter was very fishy.
Suddenly Kirin shuddered violently with fear, as if someone had put a chunk of ice in his guts. That feeling lasted only a split second, but still long enough to not go unnoticed. Kirin looked again at Helial, more stounded than ever. What was that kid hiding? How could he survive to the Illusion? Who had cracked his Illusion?