Helial furrowed his eyebrows.
Ambitious? Was he ambitious? To be honest, apart from his desire for retaliation, Helial had never really been ambitious nor presumptuous. However, he and the kid would find out together. Maybe that test would turn out to show him something about himself he was yet to discover.
How high do you want to go?
I'd want to hop like a Monkey and jump above the treetops.
Well, I'd also want to be like a Tiger and climb on the steepest cliffs.
Or like an Eagle and soar in the infinity of the heavens.
A Dragon, then. Like a Dragon I'd want to touch the windows of the skies and glimpse at the universe from there.
Are you done?
I believe so. And you, how high do you want to go?
Like no one else.
What do you mean?
Like no one else, I will dominate all heavenly bodies, I'll be free and unattainable. I will be like the unreachable sky for Monkeys, Tigers, Eagles and Dragons. The universe will be but a tiny spark of my conscience, life will be but the formation of one of my thoughts, death will be but one of my sighs.
I will reign unrivalled; nothing will exist above me.
These words kept resounding in the Devil's mind.
He put out the flames with a blink of his eye, then put a hand on Helial's shoulder and said: "Time for a few questions, Shithead."
Helial nodded and took a deep breath.
The Devil directed his gaze towards the universe once again, and so did Helial.
All around them was a galaxy full of planets and stars.
They were now standing on a sort of translucent platform as their only ground. Helial held his breath and glanced at the Devil. He knew that his current form was the mere spiritual projection of his actual soul. Nevertheless, he couldn't help being astonished by that extraordinary sight. Only an Immortal could travel from one planet to another.
Helial looked at the suns as they burnt, at the asteroids as they rained down through the bleak space, and at the universe as it bustled with countless planets.
Let's see how high you want to go.
The Devil's eyes swept over the universe, observing it cautiously. But there was nothing to see. No flames, not even a spark. It had all quieted down. He glanced at Helial in astonishment, but something drew his attention. A little black and white flame was shining above the guy's head. It had the size of a fist, and rustled slightly, as if it could die out at any second.
The Devil smiled bitterly.
Without ambition, talent is nothing more than a wingless Dragon. For as fiercely as it roars to the sky, he can never get to defy it.
The Devil shook his head, but decided to keep traveling through the universe and give it a chance anyway.
"How high do you want to go?" the Devil asked solemnly.
"Just- what, pardon?" That definitely wasn't the answer he was expecting.
"I don't aim very high. Should I?"
The Devil closed his eyes. At first, he had thought Helial's ambition would be great. There would be no match with his own, but he still expected more than a little flame that could hardly reach the size of a fist.
"Don't you want to become stronger to lay your hands on an boundless power?"
"No. That's not what I aim at."
Had the Devil only got his hopes up? He grinned his teeth and held back the sudden urge to punch that guy in the face. Suddenly, a light flashed in his eyes, as if he had just recalled something. Just like her…
"I once had a disciple who answered just like you did. Like you, she didn't desire to lay her hands on power."
For the first time since they had met, the Devil's glare brightened with a warm light. It seemed to convey a great deal of sweetness.
One second later though, his glare turned withering. The kid said: "Well, then. Now I know what to ask you."
Countless years before
A girl was panting before her master's gaze. He had two enormous bat wings and was staring at her with stern icy eyes.
"Again!" screamed the master as he spread his wings fiercely.
"I already told you! I don't care about putting my hands on power!"
The terrifying Devil roared so loudly she risked having her eardrums exploded. Two rivulets of blood started dripping down the girl's ears.
"You don't want? They killed him, Shithead, killed him! Look at you! Your talent, your knowledge… they could take you so much farther on your Dao of Mana, but they won't! Because YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT PUTTING YOUR HANDS ON POWER!" The Devil's chest kept raising and falling furiously. The girl in front of him was covered in wounds from head to toe. "I chose to be your master to help you get rid of this bullshit. And you're saying you don't want power? We all do! We all want to step over everyone else's head." The Devil insisted: "I'll ask you one last time. How high do you want to go?"
The girl clung on to her bow tight and whispered: "Please, master… stop this."
"Stop this?!" The Devil wielded a huge black sword and pressed it against the girl's throat. "Stop this?" this time he scanned every single syllable. "Let's try this way," said the Devil as he gazed at the tiny white flame above the girl's head. It didn't get any bigger even after the girl got severly beaten. "Do you know the reason why he died?"
Tears started welling up in the girl's eyes.
"Please…" she begged with teary eyes. "I left…"
"Exactly!" the Devil shouted. He moved the blade aside and grabbed her by the throat. "Look at me in the eyes. Look at me and tell me you would let him die like that again. Without one last chance to say goodbye! Without fighting for him! Tell me you refuse the power that would enable you to save him! Tell me you don't want to wipe that Clan out!"
The girl held her slender hands around the Devil's arm and suddenly felt all the Mana seething inside his Meridians.
"Can you feel that? Now answer me!"
A mysterious spark glowed its way out to the girl's eyes as her Soul started absorbing Mana relentlessly, draining it away from the whole planet.
A shockwave pulverized the surroundings. The Devil was standing unharmed. He smiled.
Before his gaze was an ocean of crimson red flames. He looked up at the sky and saw those flames engulfing the universe.
Like his, those flames were now swallowing everything up. They only spared one single recess in the depths of space.
Looks like ambition is bound to be restricted.
The Devil let her go and heaved a sigh: "I had to come to terms with this too. Ambitions doesn't necessarily originate from ourselves. It could spring from a desire, from love, from pain, from fear. You'd better keep in mind, girl, that there's no power without ambition. And you'll never be able to seek revenge if you don't wield any power. Don't forget this feeling and cling to it."
"Now imagine someone is about to execute your sister", the Devil began.
Fury instantly flashed into Helial's eyes as his expression showed a hint of madness.
The little black and white flame erupted. The planet caught fire.
The Devil didn't allow him to answer and quickly went on: "What if one day Caesar will be getting set to kill you sister? Wouldn't you want to possess his power? Wouldn't you want to be the strongest man alive?"
Helial's pupils shrank as he clenched his fists.
"Power" Helial sighed as he relaxed his fists and his flame quieted down, "still ranks second to me. I'd rather get freedom instead."
As his words dispersed in the vacuum of space, the flame that had just got smaller suddenly flared up with unheard of violence. It started spreading at breathtaking speed.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
"I'd rather be free to fly, free to choose whether to be weak or strong," the flame widened with every word he spoke, while petrifying explosions went on devouring entire galaxies.
A gentle Mana whirlwind soared up, as if the guy's Soul were bursting all around them.
Helial looked at the Devil, a smile on his face.
"Ambition, right? I'm not sure that's the right term. But still," the Mana suddenly flew into a frenzy of chaos and violence, "if one tried to steal a frail life like Lumia's, I would tear the sky apart to stand in their way."
The flames had almost reached the universe's ends. They hardly lost out to the Devil's ones.
"Not bad," the Devil started off. He swept his bangs from his forehead and straightened his bats-and-devils-patterned apron, "I'd say this is enoug-"
He stopped mid-sentence, his eyes wide open. He had just caught sight of something astonishing.
The black and white flames had taken shape into concentric rings that reached his own flames' size. Actually, they looked slightly bigger.
Like the circles of hell of Sanjiva, those concentric rings had something mystic and mysterious. The Devil furrowed his eyebrows; he couldn't grasp the reason behind that particular array.
Just like an Ouboros, the white flames were engulfing the black ones while the black flames were engulfing the white ones. It was a seemingly endless spiral.
The Devil focused and noticed a never-ending cycle of white flames following the black ones and vice versa, as they blazed dazzlingly throughout the entire universe.
"My appetite for strength has never been induced by someone else. You said… you said that destiny will have me face the person I'll love the most in my entire life. You said she'll make me experience the purest happiness, and then make me fall off to the depths of pain. That's fine. As long as I breathe, though, I won't step forward on any particular Dao of Mana. Keep it in mind, Devil: I won't follow any path. I will create one instead," Helial smiled, "because by following one already traveled by, I'd just let destiny play along with me. But I am free. I've always been free despite my weakness, and my choices will always belong to me only."
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Helial's ambition went suddenly beyond the limit of the Devil's. It spread through the universe and spared no inch.
The Devil stared at that strange phenomenon, an enigmatic light flashing in his eyes.
Those flames… I wonder what's their Dao of Mana. I'd never seen anything like that before. We're gonna have fun here!
"So, how did I do?" Helial asked. He couldn't see anything while he was going through the test. The stern glare of the kid wasn't helping him get a hint, either.
"Well, I guess this is the beginning of a very funny story. Of a long, painful, desolate path, but full of love and greatness as well. Okay then, let's get started!"
"Ambition. You'll need ambition on your Dao of Mana. On the one I'll show you, at least. You won't be able to step forward without being ambitious."