He found himself in a bottomless well. His senses were dull.
He furrowed his eyebrows, as he tried to grasp where he was and why.
He remembered everything clearly: the Goblin assault, Vidio's death, the King of Goblins' coming… and the nearly-Sixth-Phase attack he had delivered. And now the time had come for him to pay the consequences.
What if he was dead? It wasn't out of the question.
After all, Caesar was an Immortal.
His brother's words were rumbling in his ears: "You're too weak…" Suddenly, Helial thought of his parents, of Vidio, then of that weird Snowflake who sided with him against the wolves.
He thought of Lumia.
Helial felt two crimson tears streaking his cheeks. Blood warmed his skin up, as that painful feeling made him feel a little more alive.
What about Lumia? Was she dead?
Helial had no idea what had happened to his sister.
Was Caesar - an Immortal, the King of Goblins - so proud a man he would chase a cat and a girl to avenge himself? With all the strength that was left to him, Helial hoped the answer was no.
Was he left powerless, now? And what about his brother? Would that bastard go on with his life, would he keep living as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn't put Helial in such a situation?
The corners of Helial's mouth curled up in a bitter smile.
No, he shouldn't blame his brother. He could only blame himself and his own rash decisions.
No one had told Helial to make such a risky decision, in an attempt to take his freedom back. It had been his decision only. His brother had little to do with that.
The only thing he could point his finger at was his own weakness. After all, if he had turned back time, he would have gone down the same path.
And maybe this was for the best. Death, rest, peace. What else? 15 years of suffering, and now everything had come to an end. Death was his well-deserved rest. Now he had nothing more to worry about.
But then... then what about the boulder weighting on his chest? Why was his heart out of rage? Where did that desire to annihilate that bastard of a Goblin and all his race come from?
Helial felt an insane fury mounting his body, and darkness seemed to thicken in response. Helial began to thrash about violently.
His lips moved, but no sound came out.
He was falling off into the darkness.
Could this be the end?
Helial closed his eyes.
"Well, Shithead, you woke up eventually. By the way, your spiritual conscience was done for. Like, you really suck. Kyeheheheheheh."
Helial slammed his backside on a lawn.
His gaze swept around; it was nighttime. Moonbeams glared down on Helial's gaunt face, making it seem like a skull.
"Any idea on our whereabouts?" asked the black-haired kid beside him. He was laying a table for two, while wearing an apron with a bizarre motif made of bats and devilish flying creatures.
Helial furrowed his eyebrows as he stared at his garment. It was so… inappropriate?
The Devil seemed to grasp Helial's thoughts instantly. "Say a word about this, if you dare", he said with a frightening smile.
Suddenly, Helial felt oppressed by a killing Aura that made it difficult for him to breathe.
That child-looking Devil was all covered in black. So were his eyes and his hair. Around his neck hung a pendant in clash with the rest. It gave off a mysterious Aura and glistened in white, like a tiny sun set in a deadly dark galaxy.
Helial gazed at his mismatched outfit for a while before asking: "Are we in a sort of… clearing?"
The kid stopped laying the table for a moment, then turned towards Helial and said: "Such quick wit."
Helial gave an astonished look to the Devil, who was looking back at him mockingly.
"Quick wit must be your strong suit, right?" the Devil insisted.
"Can you just tell me where the fuck are we now?"
"You tell me, actually…" the Devil answered as he shrugged.
Helial couldn't be patient enough to play along with that mouthy boy. He was about to lose his temper, when he suddenly noticed something weird. Everything there was exuding an uncanny force that flowed into him and resonated with his soul. That was exactly how he felt when…
"Am I dead?"
"Your brain is, no doubt", the Devil sneered. Then his expression grew graver: "We are inside your Soul. The one crystallized inside your Mana Seed. I couldn't tell you before, and your master ignored it, but Souls and Mana Seeds are essentially the same thing. The Soul wanders through one's body until it crystallizes into a Mana Seed… but I guess my words mean nothing to you, as things stand."
The kid put a candle at the centre of the table, then placed it on one side, then back to the centre. And then he followed the same sequence once again. Lastly, he furrowed his pitch-black eyebrows and panted. The placing of that candle seemed to matter to him much more than Helial's life. Maybe more than his own life as well. His eyes betrayed an extraordinary, almost magnetic focus.
Helial stared at him speechless.
He's just moving a fucking candle. From one side to the other. What's that effort for?
"Am I dead?" Helial asked again. He wouldn't trust the Devil's words in the slightest.
The Devil gave one last sad eye to his candle, then gave up and finally turned towards Helial.
"No. But I wouldn't say you're much alive either. You destroyed your Meridians, the roots of your being. The only thing that kept you alive…" the kid stopped for a second. "Your Soul. Yeah. It's your Soul that kept you alive."
Helial gazed at him. Something was shattering in his night-blue eyes. "So I'm… a cripple now?"
"Yeah. Basically. For now you are", the Devil said, as he turned again and went back to laying the table.
Helial stared at the way he was setting down the silver cutlery, that was shining like a thousand stars. They were so daintily and finely shaped it was a shame to use them for supper.
"What do you mean by for now?"
Tin Tin Tin
The Devil shrugged, absorbed by the tinkling sound of the cutlery.
"Is there a cure?"
"No way", the Devil said calmly. He didn't even turn.
"What the hell! Then what does for now mean?" Helial snarled in fury.
Would he lose everything? No Meridians meant no Mana. How could he even hope to change his destiny, at that point?
The Devil turned towards him, curled up the corners of his mouth in an evil smile and spoke: "You're telling me you never heard about the magnificent Devils? In exchange for your soul you will come back to li-", then he suddenly stopped and shook his head. "No, I refuse to stoop to that fatso's level. I feel sick at the thought of it." The Devil shivered and looked at Helial. His glare was icy and piercing. "Do you know how Mana Seeds work?"
Helial nodded: "A Mana Seed marks the talent of its owner. You can deduce how pure it is depending on its color. The purer the seed, the bigger the Bonuses you get once condensed it."
The Devil sneered.
"It was a rhetorical question, actually. I had access to all of your memories. I know everything you know." Helial gave him an irritated look, then the Devil went on: "And you don't know shit. Or better, you don't know shit of what's worth knowing."
"What the fuck. Stop playing with me! Explain!"
"You only had to ask", the Devil shrugged and got started.
"There's no such thing as strong or weak Mana Seeds. Purity and impurity don't exist while the seed is growing. Impurity is a concept only used when it comes to classifying Skills. Grade Black Skills are the weakest, whilst Grade White Skills are the strongest. But this doesn't apply to Mana Seeds."
"Because it's a shitty classification, I guess. Anyhow, high-level Skills have attributes, while your Mana Pistol does not. But if you, for example, had access to all the attributes of Flame of the Qilin…"
The Devil slapped his fingers and a window popped up in front of Helial.
Flame of the Qilin
Range: 100 meters
The damage generated by Flame of the Qilin differs according to the user's resonance with the Forces of Life. It inflicts triple damage against the creatures of Darkness.
Malus inflicted: Burn
Cast Time: 0
This is Flame of the Qilins, lords of nature and Life! It is one of the most mysterious Skills in the universe, able to dominate even the fire of the Dragons, lords of Mana.
"A White Mana Seed isn't necessarily stronger than a Red one. That's because the Seed Grade also has an Attribute."
Helial squinted. "Why does this shit have to be so complicated?"
"Good question. Just keep in mind that grade is a synonym to strength for Skills, but not for Mana Seeds. What you called impurity is nothing more than the Seed Attribute."
The Devil could see puzzlement on Helial's face. Being a seasoned master, he anticipated his question before he could even say it aloud: "Yeah, a White Seed gives you more Bonuses than the others. But that's just a feature of White Seeds, as a resonance with the features of Life thanks to its Affinity for Light. Right now your Seed looks like a Black one, but it's still White."
Helial could recall perfectly well the moment when Curse of the Demon hit him with that dark ray.
"It's only black due to my presence. One day you'll probably get to choose", the Devil warned him. Out of the corner of his eye, he glared at the table he could not finish laying and put his hand on it.
"You're saying I can change my Seed color?!"
The Devil gave Helial a pitiful look. It was to tell him that he was only embarrassing himself by asking such lost-cause questions. What an idiot.
"Sure you can, with my help. My deeds go far beyond changing your fucking seed. But it has to be your choice."
Helial clenched his fists. "Go on."
"Each seed resonates better with its element. Black calls for darkness, white for light, red for fire, brown for earth, and so forth. There are several kinds of Seed. The differences may seem triflying, but as you step forward on the path to Immortality you'll discover what unconceivable benefits the right Seed can give. It's better to go for a Seed that resonates with your Affinity than for a White one just to boast around. Time will teach you that the greatest benefits come from Seeds that resonate with an Affinity, not from the purest ones."
Helial nodded. He got it. He stared at the Devil in the eyes, two dark wells stealing off all the light in the world.
"How do I get my Meridians back?"
"Get those ones back? You can't." The kid paused for a second. "But you can get brand-new ones. Way stronger than those you had."
Helial frowned. He pondered for a while, then said: "How?"
The Devil smiled. He knew the guy would give in, eventually. "Easy. You have to pass a little test first."
Helial was gliding through a seemingly endless darkness with no sound nor light therein.