Helial took his first step forward. Under the gaze of a shocked crowd, he set foot on the first stair of the one hundred that would take him to the Shrine of the Black Phoenix. Heedless of the upheaval he had just spread, he slowly began his climb.
Tap Tap Tap
Meanwhile, a black shadow appeared on a balcony overlooking the hall. His hoarse voice resounded from behind Circe's back: "Not bad, that kid."
Without even turning, Circe answered with a grumpy expression on her face: "Could you pull that off?"
Pseudonym gazed up and his pitch-black armor clinked slightly. "Dunno… At his age? Maybe. I've never wondered, actually. It wouldn't be easy for sure."
The champ of the Colosseum fell silent. Circe pretended to be looking at something in the distance, a mere excuse to catch sight of Pseudonym out of the corner of her eye. His black armor outlined a slim agile body that didn't do justice to the terrifying strength of who lived inside it.
"How long have you been wearing that armor?" Circe suddenly asked with a strange light flashing in her eyes.
"Since long before arriving in Orma," said Pseudonym without taking his gaze off of Helial, who was already halfway through the climb.
Pseudonym was indeed an enigmatic puzzling figure. No one in Orma had ever seen his face. Rumors had it that he had never taken his armor off since his arrival in the capital. He seemed to be appeared from nowhere. His results in the entrance test of the Royal Academy had turned him into a legendary hero overnight; he had been the first to reach the top in the past centuries. Everyone thought that a few more centuries had to pass before the arrival of a new hero. No one would have expected that a new monster would stand out among the freshmen of the Royal Academy that soon.
In that very moment indeed Helial was creating a new legend. The entire community, who couldn't withdrew they eyes from him, would honor that extraordinary event with great pomp and ceremony. Never in the history of Orma had two legends come out in the same period. Not even Caesar and Aure, despite being both Immortals, could boast the title of "legends"; when they were the same age as Pseudonym or Helial, they only had a third of their talent. And they both became Immortals, eventually. What terrifying future was ahead of Helial and Pseudonym?
"Are you going to eliminate competition?" said Circe as a vague killing Aura exuded from her body.
"Shut up," was Pseudonym's straight answer. "We should all be provided with the same chances, the same wealth and the same resources. Judging by his character, Helial will only bring justice to this society. Hopefully. If he really is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of Orma, then the Goblin capital will come to an era of flourishing and prosperity we haven't seen in a long time. Why should I want to eliminate him? These people are rotten to the bone. Mindset and costumes are corrupt. But things can change and, in order to change them, we'll need someone from this generation who's ready to represent a true ideal. And from my point of view, no one could embody this ideal better than him."
Circe went silent and tried to guess Pseudonym's expression under the armor, but in vain. Impatient, Circe's eyes flew black to Helial. The armor's words didn't shake her in the slightest. Everyone always liked to speak, but Circe was one who thought that actions speak louder than words.
Meanwhile, the crowd was still shocked at the kid's creation. The staircase was an incredible feat, and very few people could come to terms with what they saw. Helial was advancing. He walked higher and higher with each step. A fifteen-year-old… not only had he passed the test, he had also formed the entire lot of steps… Outstanding!
As he walked on, Helial reached the step where Lumia had stopped. He brushed his hand against her creamy cheek and said: "How did you do that?" Helial's gaze betrayed a mixture of emotions where sternness complemented with worriedness.
Lumia didn't react as anyone being accused after such a breathtaking accomplishment would. She didn't push his hand away, but held it and pressed it against her cheek instead. She closed her eyes. No answer followed. She couldn't reveal to her brother what Dao of Mana had open folded before her.
The choice to reflect the light of the brightest sun is one to be carried out quietly. Or so Lumia thought. The little girl didn't say anything, she just enjoyed the contact to the fullest until Helial, slightly angry at her, warned her: "We'll go into this later. Now I have to go."
Helial glanced at the baffled Snowflake and then turned on Lumia, ready to set off for the last steps.
An instant before taking the next step though, Lumia's voice resounded from behind him: "Don't forget you lost our bet."
At these words, Helial tripped and risked smashing his face against one of the steps. He did forget about the bet! His sister had made him promise that Helial would owe her a kiss if she outdid Circe's result in the test. Helial though had been so sure that the silvery-haired girl wouldn't be able to achieve such a result that he hadn't given the least weight to her words. He swallowed the lump in his throat and kept climbing up the stairs. He would take care of this later.
What will I find up there? Helial let his voice echo out inside his Soul, but got no answer. He thought it best not to insist. The Devil had clearly no intention to reveal anything to him before time. He could not but go forth.
After a few stairs, Helial reached the last one. Now he was a step away from the shrine.
He stretched his leg out and, a moment later, the entire Mana staircase collapsed and dissolved in a million tiny fragments that flitted about like rose petals.
Helial stood in front of an ancient-looking and majestic building. He had been suddenly beamed through to an underdimension like those where the Devil had trained his sister and friends. He looked about himself. He was in a vast hall, at the middle of which an enchanting black flame was burning inside a terribly tall brazier.
"Boy." A luscious voice resounded out and made Helial's heart shudder. "You've arrived as far as here, but I have to disappoint you. The legacy has already been taken. These vestiges are merely…"
"Hush," a single word blew to pieces the reverential Aura spread stunningly by the voice.
The Devil materialized in front of Helial. "Stay put and give me a sec," he said to the boy as with a wave of a hand he had them covered by an impregnable shroud of darkness. Then he opened up a gap and went out alone, leaving Helial enveloped in absolute darkness. After a moment the gap reclosed, without letting no beam of light in.
With another wave of his hand, the kid opened a tear in the space-time of that dimension. A woman fell down from the crack and landed on her knees.
"You can't get in touch with your main body, I've sealed the entire dimension."
The woman rushed up on her feet, her narrowed eyes giving a death stare. Her generous curves could have likely destroy entire races and were emphasized by every fold of her close-fitting dress. She was wearing all black. Her raven hair framed a white-milk face with two pink plump lips. The woman surveyed keenly the figure before her and in a split second, her terrifying glare changed dramatically.
In a few seconds, a wide range of emotions crossed her expression: killing spree, doubt, disbelief, bafflement, sadness, joy, pain.
Finally, the Devil's gaze sweetened. "Yeah, Jeanne, I'm still alive. More or less."
A these words, that terribly stunning woman in black, who was no less than a shard of the Black Phoenix's Soul, the ancestor of her race in the current universe, dematerialized and reappeared on her knees before him. She hugged the kid's legs with all her might.
"Master!" she moaned in a heart-breaking scream.
"I'm here, Jeanne, I haven't left you guys," the Devil said, "I'm here."
The kid ran a hand through her hair and helped her stand up. Jeanne looked at his face and his childish features left her stupefied. What must have happened to her master? As she stared at him with quizzical eyes, a majestic figure appeared behind the kid. Two horns hanged from his forehead as two bat-wings spread imposingly, making it impossible to not recognize him. It seemed as though Jeanne's gaze had cracked the space-time open to catch a glimpse of something that was long lost.
"It's you," Jeanne whispered, her eyes stinging, "it's you…"
"It's me. How are the girls doing? Did someone die while I wasn't here?"
"No one, master." Jeanne blinked twice and went on talking. "During your absence, the Forces of Life didn't dare attack. Since they lost…" Jeanne stopped immediately as she realized to have barely brought up a sore spot. "No one died. Your pupil, the girl, kept looking for you throughout the universe. I mean, your first pupil. She wiped out a couple of Clans of Life and left Qinguang half-dead."
"Good." The Devil stopped briefly as he looked about himself. "I'm sorry, but I can't let your main body know I'm still alive. Not yet. The universe isn't ready for me to return, and will never be. And, as you've seen, I've not come alone."
The Devil nodded in direction of the shroud of darkness behind his back.
"Who's that?", asked Jeanne, the Black Phoenix.
"My very last pupil, probably. He'll inherit the task to put an end to what I wasn't able to end myself."
A flash of astonishment flickered in the eyes of the Black Phoenix. "And why are you here?"
"I stumbled on this shrine by chance, actually. And I stumbled on your heir also. He's got a complete legacy," the Devil said with a strange expression on his face.
"Indeed," the Black Phoenix nodded, "he needed power and that's what I gave him. I even prevented him joining the Forces of Life. His heart showed a tendency towards Life, at first. His ideals are impressive, they vaguely remind me of… hers. But all the Destruction in his heart isn't weak either. I worked on this power to impede the birth of a new terrifying enemy. You've certainly witnessed his strength. I don't think he would lose out to your pupil, since they both reached the same results here."
"Indeed. But he didn't have your Skills. Not the real ones, at least."
"I haven't left memories of my Skills, in this shard of my Soul. Just the legacy and the Breathing Technique," she sighed.
"Well, I gave him all of your Skills," the Devil sneered as he pointed once again to the shroud of darkness.
"All of them?!"
"All of them," the kid said firmly. "Anything to object?"
Jeanne thought of who she was standing in front of and decided she had not. "No, master. If this was your decision, it can't be the wrong one."
The Devil seemed deep in thought as he said: "I did make one wrong decision in my life, actually. And here's the result," said the Devil as he pointed at his child-looking body, "but now… the time has come for me to introduce someone to you."