"Yeah?" asked Helial, curious.
"Do you enjoy killing?"
The boy turned around while examining the dead bodies of the Black Wolves, taken aback by that question.
"They're just beasts", he said, trying to minimize.
"Idiot, that was not my question", Lumia pouted, "I asked you if you enjoy killing."
He did not think his sister capable of asking such a question, even though, from the first encounter with the Goblins, Lumia had showed great sensitivity towards the life of other creatures.
Helial raised his eyes to the sky, now lightened by the first rays of dawn, then he looked at the carcasses, slowly disappearing in beams of grey light.
"I don't feel anything when I do it. Should I?" he muttered. "I only kill when it is necessary and, if I did not do it, we would be the ones getting killed. For now, I will only kill when necessary."
"I know what you are thinking and I understand, but we can't afford to hesitate. If we want to get stronger and reach higher levels, we'll walk on a road soaked in our enemies' blood. These are just monsters, but I would kill a person, if it were to protect you. We can't live and not hurt anyone. If you want to live, if you want to stay with me, you need to be ready to understand that to live is to fight, and you just have to accept that." Helial held out a hand to his sister, tenderly. "Do not fear, I will be here to protect you."
Lumia could not understand why an action like that could be justified, she did not even want to understand, but something told her that Helial was right. She took two hesitant steps toward her brother, but just when it looked like she was going to hug him… Crunch! The girl bit the hand her brother was reaching toward her with love and complicity.
Helial smiled, amused by his sister's vain attempt to hurt him. He grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. After retrieving his hand, he wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her close and kissing her on the forehead.
Some years earlier
"How are you feeling, old hag?" asked Lumia to one of the elderly ladies, curling up a silvery strand of hair and putting it in her mouth.
The woman had often tried to teach that cheeky girl the duties of a woman. When she saw her entering the room, after a violent coughing fit, she said: "Stop torturing that poor hair!" She stopped to cough again. "Do you think your brother would like to see you chewing your hair?"
One of the women, who had been Lumia's wet nurse, had told her that the old woman was not well. She was likely to pass away soon.
The hair chewing was a bad habit that she had when she felt nervous and she had always kept it a secret from Helial. Partly because she rarely felt nervous in his brother's presence, and partly because she feared his judgement.
"Little brat, I know that you care a lot about your brother's opinion, even if you act all tough…" muttered the old woman, before succumbing to a new coughing fit.
As much as she did not want to admit it, Lumia really care about that woman and did not want to lose her. Suddenly changing expression, Lumia asked again with trembling lips: "How are you feeling?"
The old woman tried to smile. "Coff not so good, but it will take more than this to- coff coff coff!"
The elderly woman had a sudden fit and Lumia called for help.
She died that same day.
Beyond the pain, the little silver-haired girl that day experienced loss for the first time.
For all her life she had lived with her brother, she had never lost anybody. It felt as if a piece of herself had been lost in the flow of time.
What if that happened to Helial?
In the present
Lumia looked at her brother. She wished Helial would not kill. She did not want other people to suffer for their loss, to feel the same desperation that had overwhelmed her at the mere thought of losing Helial, her only anchor.
How much would they suffer? But, more than that, could they survive such a blow?
That little angel with dirty silver hair sighed and kept walking next to her brother.
They headed towards the mountains. Now the terrain was rocky and interspersed with natural caves.
They were attacked again and again by small packs of Black Wolves, but Helial was able to get rid of them quite easily.
"Lumia, look! The entrance of that cave is glowing: I think I know what that is. It's a Dungeon!" shouted Helial, all excited.
Dungeons were special zones subject to mysterious rules that allowed the monsters inside to regenerate indefinitely, after a certain amount of time.
Vidio had often told him about those mysterious places, full of treasures and possibilities.
In there, more than one person had been able to find Bloodline Legacies or Secret Skills that were thought to be lost forever.
"Judging from the color, it should be a first degree Dungeon. Inside it should have only monsters until the First Phase…" Helial stopped dead.
He was really eager to test his abilities. Although it was unlikely that that Dungeon contain anything valuable, it was a chance to prove himself nontheless.
But he had Lumia with him. Would he be able to protect her? Not having reached the First Phase yet, once dead they would not be granted a second chance.
"Heli, can you defeat a monster in the First Phase?"
Helial hesitated. He was not sure. Probably, he could have easily killed a monster in the First Phase Early stage. Killing one in the Intermediate stage was doable, with a little effort. But one at a Late stage? Who could say?
After all, his were mere speculations. He could not be sure.
He stared at Lumia. They would have to walk across the mountain ridge anyway, circumvent it and go north in order to reach a city. That would mean risking encounters with very powerful monsters.
"I need to think; I cannot make a rash decision."
Lumia nodded, aware of what was going on in her brother's head. But then…
The girl's stomach grumbled. Helial looked at her and burst out laughing.
"What are you laughing at?" snapped Lumia. She picked up some rocks and began throwing them at her brother.
You lost 1 HP.
A rock hit him hard in the forehead, but nothing happened. He had the same Physical Resilience as a sheet of steel. It would have been hard to injure him even for a Goblin in the First Phase.
We need fire to cook, thought Helial, who still had wolf meat taken from the carcasses in his small Inventory.
The Inventory varied based on the objects a person owned. Backpacks and Bags could increase the capacity in a rudimental way, while Interspace Rings could increase it exponetially, without having to carry around bulky items. Helial had lost his Interspace Ring ten years earlier.
He fished out some meat and sat down cross-legged.
The laws to create Skills are the same for every element. It shouldn't be too difficult to generate a flame from Mana.
"Lumia, don't bother me", said Helial to Lumia, who kept bombarding him with rocks, "I am trying to create a Skill to cook. If only I had Cooking at least at level 10, I could directly use that Skill to cook the meat. But, as it still is at a low level, I have to generate a flame first."
Lumia turned around and sat down next to a tree to meditate, muttering swearwords directed to her brother.
Helial stretched his arms in front of himself, palms a few inches apart and facing each other.
He activated his Meridians.
Communion with Mana
He focused his attention on perceiving Mana through his Meridians. He began flowing the Soul Energy along his arms, trying to evoke a feeling of warmth.
Maybe this one…
Half an hour later, small sparks burst out of Helial's hand.
Too weak. This other one…
Helial was trying to flow Mana through the most suitable Meridians and improve the flowing sequence. Even inside the single Meridians, flowing the Mana more towards the left or right, up or down, could make a big difference. Plus, the speed of the flow could concretely influence the efficiency of the Skill.
Faster here, and slower over there. Here it has to whirl violently.
Helial found himself sinking into a state of deep concentration. He seemed to be in a trance, completely put off from the outside world. There were only his Mana and his Meridians.
What is he doing? Is he trying to create a Skill to cook or to exterminate an entire civilization?
That boy has no Affinity with Fire, actually… I should give him a good talking to.
The Skill he's creating, though… That energy…
Brat, you really are a lucky bastard.
Helial felt a mysterious vibration in his Meridians. Since he had begun the creating process, he had noticed something odd in his body. It was probably the influence of Body of the Qilin. His Meridians now had traits that made his similar to a Qilin. Actually, if Helial had wanted to learn the Skills of a Qilin, he could have done so with great ease.
He began following that new feeling that seemed to be guiding him through the development of the new Skill. His intuitions were taking him to unforeseen results.
He's developing.. no, it's impossible. That Shithead…
Helial's Meridians began giving off an incredible heat. Suddenly, all the grass in a five-yard range burst into flames, then regrew immediately.
Damn Lame Dragon, this will only increase the Energy of Life inside his body. Now, it will be all the more difficult…
A cascade of sparks sprang from Helial's hands.
It was about to create a new Skill that felt extremely powerful. Funny to think that he had started from wanting to generate a small flame to cook some meat, and now look where that got him.
You have created the Skill Flame of the Qilin!
Helial looked at his hands and saw a small white flame. It was giving off a terrifying heat. All around him, the grass kept burning and regrowing, in a seemingly endless cycle.
Outpost of Alabard
"Commander, the Goblins are about to attack", announced a guard.
Pausan nodded as the young man took his leave. He was on top of the walls, observing the scene before him.
The Goblin army was badly deployed, not in close ranks. A frontal charge would have broken their ranks right away, throwing the army in total chaos. The walls of the outpost were not made of common stone, but of special materials that would have made any attack difficult. Moreover, the outpost possessed a powerful Formation. Battles of that size were not fought frontally, or they would have immediately ended in a bloodbath.
Once on the Dao of Mana, killing became easier and easier. So, the defensive measures necessary in a fight had to be very strict, even in just the first three or four Phases.
Pausan glanced at the inner courtyard.
Vidio was telling one of his embellished racy adventure to some of the younger guards, who were laughing their heads off. Pausan almost popped a vein.
That Master was an endless source of headaches.
Maybe I should lock him up, thought Puasan. Just then, Vidio noticed the Commander and called at him: "Boss, come down and have a laugh with us before the battle."
Pausan sighed, at the limits of his patience. A wave of pressure pushed the recruits away from Vidio. Then, Pausan unsheathed his weapon and struck a tremendous blow, after having activated a Skill.
Earth Shattering Death.
He regretted it almost immediately, but he had acted without thinking and had launched the attack before even realizing it.
Vidio gaped speechless at the attack, but a second later he grew serious.
The attacker was a man in the Forth Phase Late stage. Vidio was in the Second Phase Intermediate stage. Logically, he should have died on the spot.
However, the air all around began exploding, the Mana seemed to have gone crazy, while Vidio gathered Energy on the Fighting Staff he had just produced from his Inventory.
The space snapped and seemed to start collapsing.
Thunder God Lunge
With a terrifying boom, the tip of the Staff and the Skill collided with the amazing Aura of Earth Shattering Death.
Vidio was thrown backwards for a dozen yards, swept off by the shockwave. Yet he was still alive.
You lost 6523 HP.
He was vomiting blood on the ground, but he was still alive!
He was in a wretched state, but he had survived a full scale attack by someone in the Fourth Phase Late stage. Thanks to his Parstan inflexibility, Pausan had learned to not underestimate his opponent and he instinctively delivered his blows and Skills with all his might every time he attacked.
Everyone was staring at Vidio wide-mouthed. The Skill and the mastery of Mana he had just displayed had shocked everyone, including Pausan. No one better than him could fully understand the extent of what that foolished Master had just achieved.
Pausan leaped and landed in the courtyard, then grabbed from his Inventory some Potions too rare to be used without giving it proper though, and threw them to the Master. Vidio caught the vials midair, before they shattered to the ground. "Drink those. You'll take part in the battle. Have the Generals explain to you where to position yourself."
He turned around and returned on the walls, to keep observing the enemy army.
The Commander was certainly not a fool, he could see the strength and ability of who was standing brefore him. It had taken him time, but in the end he had seen Vidio's strength. Commanders like himself, in the Fourth Phase, could be found by the thousands in a Nation as big as Fiercelake, or even more. But people in the Second Phase Intermediate stage who could repel such an attack… Who knows if there was another one in the entire Nation.
It was not for nothing that Vidio was the youngest Master in the history of the Congregation of Fiercelake.
Because of the clash, Vidio was now lying on a pile of rubble: the wall he had crashed into had been seriously damaged and had collapsed extensively even in the bottom part, near the village. Luckily, the villagers had evacuated. Vidio looked carefully at the potions, before getting up and drinking them without the slightest hesitation.