Helial furrowed his eyebrows as he stared at the Devil. He didn't get what he meant, he didn't get it at all.
"You've passed the test, kid."
The Devil waved a hand and everything disappeared. They wound up back in the clearing revealed by the moonlight. The table so erratically laid by the kid was still there.
"So that's it?"
"Yeah, that's it," the Devil explained, "I don't need to attempt on your life to make you grow stronger. After Kirin's test, your talent soared to the sky. But your lack of experience burdens your potential enormously. Let's imagine you'd have to prove yourself in another test out of your reach. If you survived, your talent would increase even more. But then what?"
Tin tin tin
He wasn't done with that table, apparently. The Devil went back to laying it, as if nothing had happened. The silence was shattered only by the tickling sound of the cutlery. After a while, he went on: "As your talent increases, gain true experience will get harder and harder. You'll have to find stronger and stronger opponents, and each one of them will put your life at risk. Don't underestimate people who already reached higher Phases, because they will master their Skills better than you do. You'll have to work hard to keep up with your amazing talent. That's what ambition is for."
Helial gazed at the kid's shoulders. The latter was standing on tiptoe and was maniacally adjusting everything that was on the table. He kept putting the cutlery on one end of the table and adjusting them by a few millimeters, before going for the opposite end of the table and starting all over. His eyebrows remained furrowed during the whole process.
"Waiting for someone to come over?", Helial couldn't help but ask again. His behavior seemed a little suspicious.
The Devil stopped and brushed his fingers against his shining white pendant. He shrugged and sighed: "Kind of." The same answer as before.
Who the fuck can he be waiting for inside my Soul?
It wasn't worth insisting on, Helial concluded. He wouldn't speak, and Helial was sure that the kid couldn't be actually waiting for someone. Judging by how much he struggled to replace the plates and the cutlery, he was very likely to suffer from obsessive-compulsive behavior. He'd better change subject. "What about those Meridians?"
"Give me a sec," the kid answered, as if he were talking about a fruit box instead of a legacy than was even more domineering than that of Kirin.
Helial pondered over it. If Kirin didn't lose out to the King of Dragons, and that kid didn't lose out to Kirin, then how strong could that Devil be? At the mere thought of it, a shiver ran down his spine.
He decided not to think too much about it. Given his current level, he would only have bitten off more than he could chew.
"There must be some hidden test like the one of Flam-"
"I don't fucking play tricks," the Devil cut short. Before Helial could even answer, the kid slapped his fingers.
As his fingers slapped, a deafening rumble made Helial's Soul shake. A thick, viscous pitch-black Mana of Destruction started rising from the very depths of the universe. It quickly began to soak every galaxy, planet and star.
"You won't even notice. You're unconscious, after all. This is only your spiritual projection, not your body. The process will end as soon as you wake up."
The Devil walked towards the guy and patted on his shoulder.
"I won't let you cultivate this talent while your training and experience are nowhere near as developed as they should be."
Helial furrowed his eyebrows and answered: "Looks like you want to be my master."
The Devil raised an eyebrow. He suddenly knocked Helial down without even touching him, while a suffocating pressure kept the guy stuck to the ground.
Helial's spiritual body hit the ground violently. He spat out a mouthful of what was supposed to be blood.
"Watch your words. From now on I'll be your master. Keep in mind this could be the greatest chance you'll ever get…"
"... the greatest chance you'll ever get."
The girl was gazing at him. Timeless gratitude glimmered in her eyes now that she had escaped death.
"I thank you, Master." She was about to bend the knee, but the majestic Devil stopped her.
"You're no slave, you're no underling. You'll never bend the knee before anyone, because no one is worth such gesture.
"Even if your greatest fortune…"
"... could bring about unimaginable suffering for your life, one day."
The Devil pressed his foot against Helial's face and sighed: "Youths…"
The fact that a boy-like monster was lecturing him got Helial quite pissed off. However, he reckoned that he was in no position to rebel.
"These Meridians… You'll notice the difference as soon as you'll reach the First Phase. Up to then, they'll look as any other Meridians," the Devil said as he put his foot off Helial's face.
"What do you mean?" Helial asked. He stood up, his eyebrows furrowed.
"Meridians vary with the owner's race. Men's natural talent is above average, for example, but still not as great as that of Elves and Dragons."
"So, it's like some races are naturally more inclined towards strength than others?" he asked curiously.
"Strength only depends on one's choices. Inclined? That's bullshit. Some people show a natural tendency, but I've seen so many incense-smelling sluts so sure that they were the goddesses of a brave new world… You know what the only way to acquire strength is, Shithead?"
"Enlighten me," Helial smiled.
The Devil shook his head. He waved a finger and knocked Helial to the ground once again. He approached him, as the latter coughed up another mouthful of blood.
"I've never asked you to become my underling, but you'd better show respect to who's giving your life a second chance. Who treats you well deserves a totally different attitude."
Helial grinned his teeth and hissed: "What about Vidio? Why didn't you save Vidio if your strength and prestige are so unparalleled?"
As the Devil heard Vidio's name, an enigmatic smile flashed on his face for a split second. He isn't ready yet.
The Devil shrugged and dispelled the pressure on Helial: "I'm your master, not your babysitter. I'm here to shed a light and help you find your path. I'm not going to hold your hand while you go picnic. I won't solve your problems and I'll be asking for nothing more than what we agreed on."
The Devil walked towards the table, as black Mana whirlwinds began to gather all around.
"When you wake up, your body will have ordinary Meridians. As you advance to a new Phase and meditate on Destruction, though, you'll gain more and more advantages and Bonuses. And if you want to keep Body of the Qilin up, you'll have to meditate on Life as well. Usually, those who split their attention into such different paths end up misguided. I wonder how you'll do. You might as well get by. Maybe you'll work some miracles, eventually… Who knows. If a pupil of mine can't possibly do miracles, who could? Kyeheheheheh."
The Devil went back to fiddling with the cutlery.
Tin tin tin
"Each Skill has its requirements. Flame of the Qilin makes for a good example. It's a Skill you generate if you have either the body of a Qilin, or a terrifying physical affinity for the forces of Life. So, you either employ your body or your Affinity. The higher you reach, the more challenging the Skills requirements will be. Very few people can cultivate both the principles of Life and Destruction. But every principle must be integrated either inside one or the other anyways. It's the same old story; you can't stand in the middle, in the end you'll have to choose which side you're on."
As his words died out, a fork slipped from the kid's grasp and fell on the grass. The Devil stroked the white pendant around his neck.
It looked like he cared a lot about that thing, that seemed to remind him of some painful memories of his.
"Strength and Mana are linked, but they're different things. They influence each other partially, but they're not one and the same, and they'll never be," the Devil went on explaining. "Only those Classes that engage in melee-combat need Strength. The other ones don't need it so desperately. But keep in mind that Strength, for example, could be required for a sword technique. As you approach the realm of Immortals, you'll figure that each Skill shows a tendency either towards Life or Destruction, and that's impossible to acquire it without complying with the proper requirements. What you'll have to do is master two contrasting forces in one body, and try to harmonize them somehow. There's a theory behind this, but it's almost impossible when it comes to practice."
To cultivate both Life and Destruction successfully turned out to be impossible.
"You'll need my Meridians to master one of my Skills, but you must have a strong Affinity for Darkness and a solid knowledge of Destruction as well. However, the Affinities for Light and Fire you'll need to cultivate Flame of the Qilin related Skills won't let you cultivate the Darkness ones easily. You'll have to force their way out. Anyhow, this will only concern you once you've reached the First Phase. You won't be able to learn Affinities nor Masteries up to then."
(A/N We've already gone into Masteries. They're Passive Skills regarding one's capability with a particular weapon. Sword Mastery points to one's capability with the sword, Spear Mastery points to one's capability with the spear, Ax Mastery with the ax, and so forth.)
"So if I didn't choose Darkness, then I couldn't possibly learn your Skills, right?"
The Devil shook his finger no, as he bent to pick up the fork. "Nope. The Affinity of your Soul should be strong enough to overtop the Affinity you go for…"
Helial was extremely confused, but he knew he still couldn't grasp everything, as things stood. Once he had studied and deepened his knowledge though, those dynamics that now seemed to be so unclear would become straightforward.
He stared at the Devil and waited for a little more thorough explanation.
"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!"