Lumia set foot on the ninety-third step without a single bead of sweat. She had formed her staircase with the most seraphic expression on her face. There was nothing she wouldn't have done to gain a place by Helial's side. Her life would have been a low price to pay, let alone becoming frighteningly strong.
Helial's pupil shrank violently as he saw her stop on the ninety-third step.
The students and teachers clustered on the ground, who had been speechless up to the moment, suddenly erupted in an ear-splitting roar. They started screaming and shouting. A ten-year-old, a human girl, had just bulldozed the Goblins from every generation. Now she was sitting up there, still, as she smiled strangely at Snowflake.
"Did you see that? No single bead of sweat!"
"Then why did she stop?"
"Could she go even farther?!"
The shouts were drowning everything out.
Helial though didn't even notice. He was standing inside a cocoon-like bubble that muzzled all sounds. Only Helial and Lumia stood inside of it. Suddenly, Lumia turned and their eyes met. Helial felt a jolt of electricity through his body. What had just happened? Did his sister just break Circe's record? Without a single bead of sweat? What the heck was happening there?
Helial had learnt how Mana Control worked, but he definitely wouldn't have without the Devil's advice. It was all due to a Hidden Stat that was impossible to command freely. Despite everything, the Devil had revealed him all the principles needed to train it. It all depended on one's Dao of Mana as well as on the level of the Epiphany that heart and mind would gain. How could his sister, who had never shown such talent before, have possibly reached that level in a week time? Helial knew perfectly well how much hard work was required to accomplish that feat. He had been helped by his natural talents as well as by his past. After all, he had lived a lot of adventures before arriving in Orma. Lumia had had several near-miss with death and she had obviously matured, but Helial couldn't still come to terms with how his sister's Control could have reached such levels!
Snowflake appeared even more terrified; the girl didn't show the least sign of fatigue, not even for a second. On the contrary, Lumia had just begun to chat casually with him, as though her result didn't surprise her in the slightest.
Lulu and Frankenstein blushed in embarrassment. A younger girl than them had just outdone them completely.
Circe was about to cough up blood. How could possibly a little girl, far younger than she had been at the time of her test, outdo her results?
Helial heard the Seniors whisper as they glanced at her in terror.
"One still to go," said one of them.
"Do you think he'll try? He really doesn't need to. He's the King's pupil, which gives him the right to be part of the Royal Academy anyway."
"I can't tell. If he doesn't test this strength, how can we be sure he deserves his position?"
"What?! He razed half Senate to the ground when someone doubted his power. That's a monster!"
"He would certainly outdo the cat and the girl, but reach the last step…? I don't think he could. I mean, the last one who did that was Pseudonym."
The Seniors started discussing. They were sure that Helial would outdo Snowflake and Lumia, since he was clearly the strongest of their group, but they didn't think he could actually reach the top. Legends had it that Pseudonym had reached the top effortlessly, but very few people had witnessed him, so many still doubted whether that must be true or not. What monster could possibly reach the shrine effortlessly?
Meanwhile, the King's Divine Sense was plumbing the training ground. Crispius was silent. He had sensed the King's presence, but he didn't react. Caesar only wanted to witness his pupil's test to see the outcome. It was legit; after all, the King didn't show up very often at events like that one, and he might have conditioned the contestants' mood.
"Will you try?" a voice resounded out inside Helial's mind. "What score do you think you would do, Shithead?"
"Who knows?" Helial laughed. A moment later though, his expression turned gloomy. "Lumia… why did she stop? She could have gone on, couldn't she? What training did she follow? No one could reach that level without going through the worst of hells."
No answer followed. The Devil was too busy laying the table and cooking dinner. Helial shook his head. That Devil was far too weird.
While every gaze in the room was set on him, Helial approached Crispius, Binius and Philopappus. As he walked towards them, Helial heard the Devil's voice again. "Climb up all of the steps. There's someone in that shrine I want to talk to, and I want you guys to meet." A yawn followed, and then silence.
Helial smiled and said to the three Seniors, with a bewildering calm: "I'd want to take this test too, even if I'm already the King's pupil. May I?"
Binius grumbled icily and turned the other way. He despised that arrogant human, but he couldn't forbid him to take the test. It wouldn't have made any sense, would it? For how much Binius despised humans, he was supposed to keep his posture as was advisable for a Major Senior of the Royal Academy.
Crispius nodded with his head and didn't say anything. He was overly curious to see what Helial would pull off.
"Rumors has it that Pseudonym didn't shed a bead a sweat. He formed one step after the other without slowing down his pace. Can you live up to his performance? Kyeheheheh," the Devil said.
Helial's gaze turned grew profound as the boy inspected the majestic shrine suspended over the hall. He wondered who this person the Devil wanted him to know might be. However, he knew there was no point in asking the Devil for thorough answers.
Suddenly, Helial had an idea.
Curse of the Demon flashed into existence in a black beam as it appeared in his right hand. With a smooth, swift motion he drove the Longsword into the ground just before him, and then sat down. Why would that silly human sit down instead of forming his Mana staircase?!
The crowd stared at him with curiosity. They couldn't get what he was hoping to do.
Philopappus scratched his head: "What do you think he's doing?"
Despite him being an experienced warrior among the oldest in Orma, Crispius didn't get it either. Frankenstein had taken advantage of his affinity for the elements to diminish the pressure exerted on him by the shrine. But what did Helial have in mind, now?
Sitting cross-legged, Helial closed his eyes.
Death of the Desolate Universe
Helial started to reflow his Breathing Technique and fell into a meditative state.
His eyebrows trembled slightly as two shining spheres appeared in his hands. A milky sphere shone in his right hand, while a darker one, tending to a pale black, sparked in the other.
The two spheres rose from his palms and started floating around him. In that very moment, Helial's Aura blazed out and engulfed the room like raging waters. Helial began to swiftly flow his Mana through his body. After two rounds, he stretched both hands outwards.
Helial touched the blade of Curse of the Demon with a finger. He let all his Mana rush inside the sword. The light-blue Mana sparks scattered across the room were dancing around his hands. They twirled around the boy's wrist until they got absorbed by the blade and disappeared as if they had never existed. Helial must have discovered something about the hidden properties of the Longsword, and without the Devil noticing. Inside his Soul, the kid put on the table the fork he was holding. He smiled maliciously. He wiped away a fake tear from the corner of his eye with a napkin he should have placed on a plate after shaping it as a rose, just like he did with the other one. He didn't believe that Shithead would discover the secret of that sword that soon. Then, he shrugged and, still smiling in surprise, satisfaction and fun, he cleared the table and started all over for the millionth time.
In the meantime, a new silence full of tension had fallen on the hall.
A roar shattered it.
From the very spot where the Longsword lay, a huge whirlwind blasted. The soil was shattered in a rain of dust, guided by spontaneous currents generated from the sword itself. The Goblins had to cover their eyes not to get blinded. Given the power of the currents, some even feared for the hall itself.
When the wind stopped blowing and the whirlwind disappeared just like it had come, the crowd gazed up simultaneously to check everything was alright. Fortunately, there was no serious damage. What they saw, however, left them shocked and terrified for one more time.
Helial took the dust off this tunic with a few elegant moves of his hand, and stood up. He put Curse of the Demon back in his Inventory and gazed intently at what was in front of him.
One hundred shining steps rose up before the boy.
The corners of Helial's mouth shaped a smile as he set forth...