He flickered his stiffened eyelids repeatedly before being able to focus the surroundings.
He was enveloped by a sweet, soothing embrace. His palms touched a fluffy feather blanket, and a mattress as soft as the skin of a princess.
A sweet female fragrance filled his nostrils. He realized his arm was pressed by a little body huddled by his left hip.
He swallowed to clear his dry throat and lowered his gaze towards that cascade of silvery hair.
He coughed, but her little body didn't show signs of moving. The little girl's chest was raising and falling slowly, with the heavy rhythm of late night breathing. Helial's heart was going to burst in tenderness, as he thought about how to awake her swee-
"WHEN THE FUCK ARE WE GONNA EAT HERE?!"
A huge white cat, as big as a tiger, rushed into the room boisterously.
"I've been waiting for this girly to eat all day long. Your fucking lord is hungry! So? What are you waiting for? Feed me!"
Lumia's eyes shut open. She sat up without even noticing Helial.
"WHAT DID I TELL YOU, KITTY? STOP SHOUTING. HE'S RESTING."
"WHO'S SHOUTING. AND WHO'S THE KITTY HERE?! WHAT YOU HEAR ARE THE THUNDERS MADE BY MY SUPREME TUMMY!"
"YOU ARE!" Lumia blurted out.
"NO, YOU ARE." Snowflake roared.
Helial felt the urge to slip back into a coma for the next two days. Or maybe forever. Unfortunately, Snowflake had noticed his eyes were open.
"That guy-looking sloth is awake! What the hell, he got me to wait all day long to grab a fucking bite! Where the fuck are we, in the huts of some stray dog tribe?!"
Helial closed his eyes, pretending he was dead and hoping for a lighting to make him drop back into his coma.
But it was too late. Lumia has taken notice that he was awake too. And she wouldn't let him slip back into coma without her permission.
His little sister pounced onto his neck, as she coiled her arms around him vigorously. She began to brush up her cheek against Helial's skin.
Helial ran a hand through her hair and opened his eyes. He turned towards her and kissed her gently on her forehead.
"I'm awake. Where are we? Did someone take us somewhere safe?"
"We're…" Just as Lumia was about to start explaining, a majestic silhouette materialized in midair.
A tall, royal-postured, greenish silhouette.
Helial turned slightly pale, as a fierce light flashed in his eyes.
The King of Goblins nodded, a smile on his face.
"You finally woke up. We've got a lot to discuss," he said solemnly.
Told you. Things are getting interesting. Helial heard the Devil's mischievous voice rumble inside his head.
"Why didn't you finish me?" Helial asked, his eyebrows furrowed tightly. He didn't get what was going on.
Caesar gently nodded and answered in a low voice: "This world is full of geniuses. Thousands, if you count the whole universe. But how many of them could hurt an Immortal without having reached the First Phase yet?"
Helial's pupils shrank. Did he really hurt Caesar?
"It's a minor wound, obviously. I thought you had torn your Soul into pieces to strike that blow. I tried to exert my control over your body, but some strange force wouldn't let me access your Meridians."
I may have turned into a fucking sword, but if any shitty Immortal whatsoever in this shitty universe could do whatever he wants with me before my eyes, then I would lose my face once for all. Very few beings can face up the true lord of everything.
Helial was more and more astonished by that kid's power. How strong could his actual body be?
But he soon went back to focusing on Caesar.
"My Meridians are intact, but I won't be able to use that Skill again without risking my life."
It was indeed true. Despite the fact that he now had the Meridians of a Demon, if he had tried to evoke such terrifying power once again, then he would have definitely become a cripple for life.
"No need. Not even a one million First Phases army could defeat an Immortal. But you made it, alone. I don't need any more proofs."
Helial's heart started pounding. Every beat was a new ounce of hatred.
His eyes flashed with fury, as they poured all his hatred into Caesar's gaze.
"You killed my Master. We had no blood ties, but he was the first person who treated me like a human being in my entire life," Helial pronounced every word calmly, as his body gave off a terrifying killing Aura. Suddenly, the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees.
Caesar's glare turned icy. He waved his right hand and let a bunch of little metal foils fall off on his bed from out of nowhere. They were metal tags engraved with names.
"We use these to name those who fell in combat. Those we find some body parts of, at least," Caesar started off. "Every tag you're looking at once belonged to a Goblin. They were my brothers, and got killed by your master. Do you think they had no family, no wives, no children, no friends?" A hint of sadness and severity flashed on Caesar's face. "This is what war brings about…"
"Then why did you attack in the first place?!"
An even darker shadow flickered in the King's eyes. He gave a sigh and said: "It was due to unforeseen circumstances I take full responsibility of."
This Goblin didn't attack the outpost directly. He came to stop it and bring his troops home, the Devil explained.
Helial furrowed his eyebrows and got lost deep in thought. He ran his hand on that bunch of metal tags imbued with Mana.
Vidio was dead, but Caesar didn't act cruelly. After all, what should that Goblin have done? War…
Caesar cleared his throat.
"You're alive and well because I brought you, your sister and…" he pondered for a while "that magnificent cat there."
Snowflake nodded in approval; the definition seemed to satisfy him. That huge pile of white fur made a scene every time someone said anything at odds with him. Even Caesar, the King of Orma, was afraid to trigger off that foul-mouthed cat. He had even thought about having him skinned and served to the beasts in the Colosseum, but that wouldn't turn out to be a wise move since he wanted Helial by his side. (TN/ Orma is the anagram for Roma, "Rome" in Italian.)
"I want you to become my disciple," Caesar cut short as a swift wave of his hand made the metal tags disappear.
Caesar's words hit Lumia and Snowflake like a bolt from the blue. Even though they did expect it, hearing those words from Caesar in person had a great impact on them.
In contrast with what Caesar expected though, Helial didn't react surprised. Quite the contrary.
Helial had a gloomy expression on his face. He didn't seem thrilled to bits nor shocked.
"I'll pledge to become your disciple if you do pledge to always protect my sister at all costs," Helial said slowly, a smile on his face.
He set aside the rage aroused by Vidio's death to seize what seemed to be a great chance to become stronger in leaps and bounds. His heart was racing, but he had to keep his cool.
Good choice. Just don't sell out.
Helial secretly nodded to the Devil's words. He would never sell out his values and his loyalty, but he knew that Caesar didn't kill Vidio for selfish reasons. They were at war, and Helial knew it perfectly well. Someone had to pay for the blood that had been shed, though. An image flashed before his eyes. And someone will, that's a promise…
The request took Caesar aback, but he nodded in agreement.
"That's fine. You'll be a full member of the Goblin population. They will be your equals, just like humans have been up to now. They will be your people…"
"Wait," Helial stopped him in a low voice, "I wasn't done speaking. I'm not going to waste my time speaking about the dead, but I don't want to see any more tragedies either. I want you to keep Lumia under your wing and train her, since you two have the same Affinity. I don't need no trainer, because I already have my… ways. I just need access to the resources that I'll need for my studies."
"It's no problem, as long as you don't fail to meet my expectations," Caesar said slowly and grumpily. "I don't think many people could actually afford to dismiss the guidance of an Immortal, but your capabilities speak clear. Just… how do know what's my Affinity?"
"Through Perception. I feel like a big pile of Mana of the Earth in front of me."
"Perception? Why would you level up that Skill when you could rather detect things and people with the Divine Sense once in the Third Phase?"
Helial shrugged. He had learnt that Skill a long time ago and didn't mind it at all. Nobody levelled it up, since indeed people could go for the Divine Sense once reached the Third Phase, but Helial had decided to swim against the tide.
Snowflake furrowed his eyebrows slightly. That Immortal was speaking with cold-heartedness and conviction. He couldn't care less about formalities. That Caesar must have been a very peculiar Goblin. He didn't waste time making a scene about outrages nor showing indignation or any other feeling that the mighty usually showed. He was extremely pragmatic, and only focused on the final outcome.
Caesar had accepted. Helial stroked Lumia's hair in satisfaction and said: "So Caesar will be your master, how about that?"
"Why can't you?" The fact that she and her brother wouldn't share the same master wasn't good news to Lumia.
Caesar knitted his brow and narrowed his eyes. They weren't about to dismiss him twice in a row, were they? What were the chances to meet two people not even in the First Phase, one of them being a girl who hadn't yet developed a Mana Seed, who would refuse an Immortal as a master? How many people would have bent instead, willing to lick his shoes to get at least one piece of advice? And yet he found himself snubbed by two kids who didn't have any pubic hair yet.
"I must be getting old," Caesar whispered.
"Listen, oldie, what time do you serve dinner in this fucking palace?"
A vein started bulging on Caesar's forehead. "Mind out for your pet, kid. I am this close to get him skinned and feed my beasts with-"
"I ASKED WHEN THE FUCK YOU PEASANTS SERVE DINNER HERE. KEEP YOUR BEASTS FOR YOURSELF AND TELL-"
Caesar could not help but slap his fingers and made Snowflake's mouth taped up with some sort of cement. The cat's whimpering though left no doubt on the fact he was still offending the King of Goblins.
Every member from the Goblin population would think twice before insulting Caesar. The mere thought of their King's reaction scared them to death. And yet, the Immortal got involved in some sort of stand-up comedy show with a cat and a kid, to the delight of Lumia, who giggled under her breath with her face hidden in her brother's shoulder.
Helial's eyes struggled to open.