No woman other than Lumia had ever been so close to him. He had been ignoring the feeling of being in close contact with a girl up to that day. The acute and weird sensations he was experiencing were all brand-new to him, who could not even tell whether he minded them or not.
Lumia was still bouncing around him. She was on the verge of crying and kept screaming about how she should kiss her brother to save his life. Helial shook his head, glanced at Snowflake and said, his face still bright red: "Let's go, we still have the Merchant Guild to visit."
"HAHAHAHAHAH! LOOK AT YOU, INNOCENT KITTY, HAHAHAHAHAH!"
A huge blue vein started pulsing on Helial's forehead, as fierceness flashed in his eyes. That cat could really have pushed anyone on the edge. "Can you st-"
"HAHAHAHAH! SMACK," Snowflake did a noisy parody of a lips smack and kept mocking Helial aloud: "Look at me, I'm an Immortal's pupil, I injured the King of Orma but I have no defence against a smooch!" Snowflake fell to ground laughing and coughing, almost choking himself to death. A red teary Lumia, on the other hand, had started bombarding Helial's back with a flurry of fists. The tiger-sized white cat was laughing so hard he was on the edge of collapse.
Helial was about to cough up blood. He was totally powerless. Master?
Huh? the Devil answered, you've never called me master before. What's up?
I've got a bit of a situation here. Can you help me out? an hopeful Helial asked.
If you can't handle a cat and a kid, I can't imagine how you'll handle your nemesis, one day, when you have to face the greatest geniuses in the whole universe. And what's so embarrassing about a kiss anyway? after these words, the Devil ignored him and went back to laying his beloved table. He had no other occupation, apparently.
Helial stomped on his feet in frustration, as he smiled bitterly and said: "Are you done?"
Actually, the Devil had a point. Despite him having the mature mindset of an adult man, Helial's struggle in facing any girl but Lumia was real. He had no idea on what a kiss should be like, he just secretly felt that it hadn't been that bad, after all.
After a while, the three finally calmed down. The Goblins around them had stared at them all that time, their eyes wide open.
"Did you see that? Circe kissed the guy!"
"I did! Oh God. Did she set her sights on Caesar's new pupil? Like, the Clan of the Heavenly Eagle and the Guild of Life and Death have always been close, after all. A marriage would get them even closer!"
"What the hell? Miss Circe would never get her hands dirty with a filthy human! She's just fooling him for fun."
"Everyone sure? I saw a strange light in her eyes this time… like a tiger's before its prey."
While everyone began to gossip about the latest news, as well as to spread it all over Orma, Helial had succeeded in calming Lumia and Snowflake. He had forced them to follow him to the Merchant Guild. Once before the entrance, they saw a portal embellished with refined low reliefs. It was bustling with liveliness.
As they admired the majesty of that multistory building, a Goblin suddenly stopped them. It was a young black-dressed man with elegant manners, who welcomed them with open arms and a warm smile: "Good afternoon, my dear guests! My name is Caliban and I'm here to serve you. The Queen's servants told me you were coming. I'll be your guide for today! If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. The Queen asked me to tell you that everything you'll buy is on her."
The guy, who had 20 years at most, had a beaming smile hung on his face. The friendliness in the Goblin's eyes immediately made Helial feel at ease. He looked like an honest and candid guy.
Helial nodded and smiled calmly: "Hi Caliban. How many floors does this place have? Are you a Guild member?"
Caliban nodded, as his smile spread all over his face: "My father is the Guild leader, but I'll need to prove my entrepreneurial skills if I want to take his spot one day." Judging by his refined manners, Caliban must have been a skilled merchant. "You see," Caliban began to explain while smiling, "there are seven floors. Each one displays items of any kind: Skills, Weapons, Armors, Formations and so forth…"
Helial observed Caliban as he went on talking. He concluded that he was only in the Second Phase. We'll, he's a merchant after all. It's not his ability to fight that will take him far. Helial deactivated Perception and kept listening.
Caliban had a confident way of talking and his smile never disappeared from his face. "On the first floor you'll find ordinary objects, whose value increases with each floor. From the fourth on, you'll need a special permit. Since you're the King's pupil in person, you guys have access up to the sixth floor. I'd like to make you visit the seventh floor as well, but it's reserved only to those who received honors all over the Nation or the Country."
Helial nodded. They were already lucky enough to have access up to the second-to-last Guild floor, he couldn't ask for more. Goblins were quite suspicious of humans, after all. He smiled and said: "It's no problem. One day I'll be able to visit the seventh too."
His assertive words made Caliban's eyes sparkle. Sounds like Caesar found a very interesting guy, he thought. The guy's voice had no arrogance, and his eyes exuded determination. That was the kind of person he got on with, and being in Helial's company proved indeed pleasant to him.
"So, where shall we start?" Caliban asked Helial as he rubbed his hands together.
Helial glanced at Lumia, who was stroking Snowflake's furry head. He let a smile escape. They were calm again. And yet, a second later Helial's expression turned suddenly serious.
He took a step forward and put his hand on Caliban's shoulder: "I won't squander the Queen's funds, but I don't want to waste my time either. Where would you suggest that we start?" He had a calm yet solemn expression on his face. Caliban was struck by his enigmatic and soulful gaze.
Caliban perceived the strong desire for strength in Helial's heart and gave a sigh: "I'm afraid the first couple of floors won't be of great use, then. The fifth and the sixth host objects useful to those at least in the Fifth Phase, so I'd say we shall start from the third floor."
Helial smiled and said: "Lead the way, then."
As they headed towards a grand staircase in white marble, they noticed a multitude of people intent on driving bargains inside the numerous sections of the first floor. Every corner displayed a great amount of goods, while hardy guards wearing the emblem of the Merchant Guild monitored the area.
Master, Helial's voice echoed out and reached the Devil's ears.
Tin Tin Tin
Interrupted, the Devil let some cutlery fall off the table and gave a sigh. Tell me, Shithead.
Keep in mind I need your help here, Helial clenched his fists. Unfortunately, he still wasn't skilled enough to be able to recognize something interesting without the Devil's help.
Fine. But here's something you have to keep yours; you have to pick a Class before acquiring the Skills that suit you best. Your Class affects both the Bonuses you'll receive on Skills and the actual learning of Special Skills. My beginning Class, the Shadow Warrior, doesn't fit your Skills. This means you'll have to pick a Class that can combine both Life and Destruction, if you're still willing to go down this particular Dao of Mana. Are you?
Helial nodded and whispered: "Willing to do anything."
Alright, the Devil answered, then don't let me down and I'll be your greatest help. You'll reach peaks no human can barely think as possible. Legends, myths… as it already happened eras before, everything will get clear in the end. But I'll just show you the way. To pave it and etch it on your heart will be up to you only. I'll be watching from the sidelines.
Helial nodded once again. If he wanted to become stronger and protect Lumia, he would have to fight with all his might and spare no efforts. Going down someone else's beaten road would only have prevented him from paving his own. Helial knew it perfectly well.
Power. Immortality. Greatness.
This was all Helial needed. He promised to himself that once he had become unrivalled, no one would have to pay the dear price imposed by freedom. No one would have to suffer their way to freedom anymore.
The three walked past a myriad of people, while Caliban led the way. He was intent on explaining what they would find once on the third floor. He talked affably and compellingly. Business was his thing.
The third floor was a luxurious place. All around the walls were splendid statues and breathtaking artworks, that could give you an Epiphany on your Dao of Mana by the mere glimpse of them. And yet, they seemed like nothing to Helial if compared to the black Mana sphere the Devil had generated during his first meditation on Life and Destruction.
When, within his Soul, he had seen that light…
Helial had caught glimpse of a dazzling light, and in that light he had made out the silhouette of a stunning woman, as shining as a thousand suns. But he had still no idea on her identity.
"Here we are. Do you want me to list you out the most valuable objects we have here?" Caliban asked.
Snowflake grunted: "No object here can meet this Supreme Cat's standards. Anyway, I'll take a look around to see if something can barely satisfy me."
The cat's words took Caliban aback. If the objects displayed in that room didn't meet his standards, what could? Many people in the First Phase could only dream to afford one of the things sold in there. Despite this, he smiled back and, addressing Helial, said: "Your cat looks funny!"
Helial sneakily glanced at Snowflake. Fortunately, he hadn't heard, or he would already have started freaking out. "Uhm… funny, right…"
Helial brushed his fingers on his lips, on which he could still sense Circe's luscious presence. He couldn't even tell whether it had been reality or an illusion. How could it be possible that Circe, the second best genius among Orma's young generations, had actually… kissed him? The blushing spread over his face even more intensely.