But just like everyone else, she would learn soon enough. If I had anything to say about it, my mana generation would be the talk of legends. Amara gestured towards me with a palm,
“You may begin the test.”
I grinned, siphoning out about 100,000 health regen from the cipher on my arm. The mana radiated from my skin like a far off earthquake. Amara’s eyes widened,
“I’m impressed. You’ve already exceeded what I expected from you. It isn’t enough, however.”
An aura of calm emanated from her skin, a gentle blue overwhelming the chaos of my red mana. Her grin grew, “It seems as though you’ve been overwhelmed.”
I matched her mana, my mana canceling out hers. I pretended like I was straining to add unnecessary drama. Sometimes it’s fun to play jokes on people after all, so I grunted out,
“Not quite. I haven’t given it all I’ve got.”
Yawm covered his mouth, holding his laugh in. I quashed my own smile so it wouldn’t give me away. Amara clapped her hands as she giggled,
“Hehehe, it seems as though you have quite the energy in you. How about this then?”
She doubled her output, her aura overwhelming mine with ease. She reached out a hand, her eye facing mine. I noticed the iris was a sky blue, making the eye pop on her pale skin. That eye strained as she maintained 400,000 mana regeneration.
It was near her limit. I grit my teeth and clenched my fists, increasing my mana generation at a steady pace. I began humming out as the energy increased. Amara stared at me in disbelief as my mana generation eclipsed hers, though barely.
I struggled out my words with an immense yet false effort,
“I...I won’t be eaten...I won’t.”
She raised both her hands, her breathing relaxing. As she calmed down, her mana output increased. As if she were meditating, she reached the apex of her mana generation. She spoke with a serene calm,
“And you’ve been outdone again.”
I laughed, “Really now?”
In an instant, I doubled my mana generation. Carmine colored lightning arced across the room, singing spots of the walls. The aura was like evaporated violence, giving the air an electric vibrance. The relaxing immanence of Amara was quelled into oblivion.
She gasped, “I...I can’t believe it.”
I laughed as I reached out with Event Horizon. I poured the aura over the creatures above us. As I did, I gained even more mana generation than I could make. Yet again I doubled my mana generation, reaching 1.6 million mana a minute.
I felt like a damn super saiyan as my mana coursed through me. My aura warped the gravity and space near me, making the air around us thick and heavy, like lead. The energy rippled out in waves, pulsing outwards with physical force. The aura was bright, like a crimson flare. It was a sight to behold.
Yawm clapped his hands a few times, “Impressive. This display out does the one you showed when we first met. I’m in awe.”
I raised a finger with a sly grin, “I want to see how high I can go with it.”
I reached out, covering dozens of creatures floating above us. Their natural resilience turned into even more mana generation for me. Higher and higher I pushed it. I even dipped into my health some, letting me reach two million health regen. As I achieved that feat, Amara stumbled backwards, her mouth gaping in shock.
She pointed a shaking hand up at me, “How is that even possible? You’re only level 3,000.”
I shrugged before raising my fists,
“I’m called the Harbinger for a reason.”
I stood up, soaking in the excessive amount of energy. I’m not gonna lie, I felt like a god for a few seconds.
I didn’t want to get too cocky though, so I pulled in Event Horizon and simmered down. Without delay, the energy ceased like a boulder falling on a fountain. A few seconds later, and my health was backup to full. I siphoned my mana back into my cipher, powering the runic inscription.
I walked up to Amara, offering her a hand,
“Come on, you have a lot to show us.”
It took her a few seconds before she reached up with her hand. Instead of grabbing it, I grabbed her wrist and pulled. After she stood, she rubbed her wrist,
“Thank you for not clenching my eye.”
I gave her a thumbs up, “No problem.”
Yawm placed a hand on my shoulder, “You’re only level 3,000 then?”
I shrugged, “You of all people know how little that number matters.” I met Yawm’s eye,
“I’m ready and waiting if you want a real fight though.”
With the afterglow of the energy surge, my confidence was sky high. So high in fact that Yawm starred in surprise for a few seconds. After a moment passed, he let out a deep chuckle. He pat my back with force, the sound echoing through his viewing room,
“Of course I want to fight a worthy warrior, but that will have to wait. As you’ve said before, fighting accomplishes nothing.” He opened a hand towards Amara, “We have a guide who can open a new world to us. Let’s focus on opening that chapter instead.”
There wasn’t fear in his voice, but there was a begrudging respect. He took a step towards the exit of the room,
“Come. If we are to hear her out, then my study is the natural place for it.”
We walked down the spiral staircase, the wonders of the deep wondering around us. Every creature shifted and swam with extreme activity. It was because of Event Horizon. Yawm glanced around, noticing the shift,
“Hmmm...They must have sensed the surge of mana as well.”
While we walked, Yawm pondered for a while. I had a solid guess about what he was wondering about. Amara let it slip that I was around level 3,000. No matter what my mana looked like from the outside, Yawm would be curious now. It looked like she sparked his suspicion.
It wouldn’t be long now. If I was lucky, he might only tear my flesh off and use me as a mana battery for other experiments. If I wasn’t so lucky, then he might try to take my armor off and wear it as his own...
I silenced my anxiety, letting myself relax. There was nothing more I could do right now. Learning the cipher from a pro was about as good as it gets for self improvement. Especially considering I could encode it into my armor. With her help, I’d be able to amp up my rune’s efficiency.
Either that or I would need to get a bit more risky with my own formulas. Regardless, I turned around towards Amara. She was wheezing, each breath pained. I thought about it for a bit. She just escaped a prison she’d been in for god knows how long. She needed sleep for a while, so I tapped Yawm’s shoulder.
He turned his head towards me, “What is it?”
I pointed at Amara, “I think she needs some sleep, or at least to lay down. She has been imprisoned then transported across dimensions all over the course of an hour.”
Yawm stopped walking. He turned towards her, smacking his forehead,
“Of course she needs rest. What am I even thinking. I’m so lost in thought that I didn’t even see what was right in front of me.”
Yawm snapped his fingers. A few seconds later, Keeja walked out from a hallway nearby. With his blank stare and monotone movements, he floated along like a spectre. Once he reached Amara, they seemed like a natural couple as he bowed to her,
“Hello miss Amara, I will show you to your new room so that you may rest.”
Amara glanced at us with her hands, then back towards Keeja. She followed him, her knees shaking a bit. Yawm opened the door of his study then turned towards me.
“Do you have some time to talk?”
I nodded, “Of course.”
We walked into his study. The tombs lined the bookshelves of the room. Yawm reached near his desk, right where lights of the room where brightest. From all sides, the phosphorescent lights bled inside. Yawm took a chair and set it down in front of him. After that, he walked over and set down a chair for him to sit down.
My nerves were already getting to me. He gestured towards the chair,
“Sit, if you would.”
I walked up and sat on the chair. He walked towards a window, letting his gaze wonder outside. Yawm waved his hand and Keeja walked into the building from inside, carrying his favorite kind of tea. Yawm sat into a chair in front of me, Keeja walking by and handing us our beverages.
Yawm sipped on it, the warm aroma of coffee and vanilla floating in the air,
“Is there something you wish to tell me?”
I sipped my tea, but my heart seized in chest. I ignored that sensation, crushing it with my mind as I spoke with a casual ease,
“Do I seem worried or something?”
Yawm tapped the edge of his teacup for a second before speaking.
“I’ve noticed that you seem stressed, if not outright mortified at times. I’ve been alive for a long time. Sensing something like an increase in someone’s heartbeat or seeing some discomfort isn’t too difficult for me, as you may imagine.”
Yawm pointed towards me, “That is what makes me wonder about you. That, among other signs.”
I frowned. I was being caught between a rock and a hard place. Neither option seemed very good at the moment. Either I tried to continue lying about myself and see what happens, or I tell him and also see what happens.
At this point, we’d been around one another for a few weeks. He probably already knew what I was doing. We’re talking about Yawm here, not some random schmuck. If anything, this was probably an opportunity to come clean about everything.
It wasn’t something I wanted to do though. There was so much uncertainty, and Yawm had deformed so many people before me. Without meaning to, I asked a question,
“Why did you create Althea the way you did?”
Yawm set his tea down on the ground beside him. His arms were long enough to reach it with ease. He crossed his fingers, resting his chin on them as he inspected me. I don’t know what he saw exactly, but he replied after some contemplation,
“To answer that question, I first must give you context. During my travels, I was picked up as an avatar of Etorhma. I accomplished many tasks in his name for many rewards. Most of what I know about the cipher came from him. That’s why I was so impressed with your own use of the language. You learned it on your own.”
Yawm leaned up, resting his back on his chair,
“I digress. During one of those many missions, I picked up useful intelligence from an information broker. One of Etorhma’s oldest avatar’s was being summoned soon. Using that information, I matched up my own summoning with his.”
Yawm raised a hand,
“That peculiar avatar had an interesting ability to travel through time, to a lesser extent. I created a singularity where he was, warping the space time he was in. This slowed him down. Before he could escape, I detonated antimatter on his location, using a thin sheet of stasis to contain the explosive damage.”
Yawm gestured outwards with a hand,
“It was a clean, effective execution. After I slayed Etorhma’s champion, the Old One did something unexpected.”
Yawm leaned towards me, the intensity of the stare like acid.
“The creature wept.”
Yawm leaned back up into his chair,
“And so, this monstrosity flooded the plain that we were summoned in. I was able to contain much of this viscous fluid that was released by him. As the pocket universe around me collapsed, Ajax warped in and pulled me out of Etorhma’s temporal plane. I can still remember the racking cries of that creature.”
Yawm squeezed both his hands into fists, “Can you imagine why I would do such a thing?”
I shook my head, curious as hell about the rest of the story.
Yawm opened a hand, “He...That avatar was the one that expunged my family. He was contracted by Schema for a bounty quest. I was given the chance to cut his throat, and I took it.”
My stomach sank at hearing that. Not the killing the avatar part but at the losing his family part. Yawm continued,
“I never intended on gaining Etorhma’s Tears. It was a result of enacting a hollow revenge. After I discovered the tears, many people wanted them. The effects of the tears on most sentients were poor at best. Poor might be the incorrect word. Exposure led to grisly and vile outcomes. I won’t go into detail about them any further.”
There was a disgust hidden in those last few words he spoke.
“On the eldritch, however, the effects were astonishing.”
Yawm raised both his hands,
“If you can imagine it, the eldritch corrupted the Old One’s essence! They deformed it into their own flesh and blood. These eldritch could tear through any material as if they were moving through air. Those creatures were deadly and dangerous, so I slayed them.”
Yawm gripped his hands into fists, “And so I discontinued my experiments. It wasn’t until much later that we discovered a fringe world at the edge of being taken over by the eldritch.”
I frowned, “You discovered Althea.”
Yawm nodded, “Among many others left of her kind. They were a unique species, naturally given an affinity for Arcane Blood. They were clustered on a mountain, hidden from the rest of their world. Before the eldritch decimated them, I took the species under my wing.”
Yawm waved a hand around, as if he were grasping for details,
“They were a prideful species, even more stubborn than we porytians. They would raise their young in caverns until they were adolescents. Until then, they weren’t allowed to see natural light. As I learned about them, they learned of me. The situation devolved once they learned of the potential hidden among the cipher.”
Yawm lifted and turned his arms, showing several of the markings of his cipher,
“They wanted to know how I fought the eldritch with such ease. I told them it was the cipher etched on my skin. I refused them, not because I wished to horde the knowledge but because I didn’t want them exiled from Schema’s system. They ignored me, trying to carve the cipher on their own.”
I grimaced, “There’s no way that worked out.”
Yawm shook his head, “As a fellow practitioner, you understand that. With their marred characters, they were torn asunder by the language. The wrath of the cipher deformed them utterly. They killed one another like a pit of hungry cannibals. Few survived.”
Yawm leaned forward towards me,
“Among that chaos, I discovered something extraordinary. Among the ruins of their village, there laid a woman strapped against a tree. Her belly was swollen. Dried tears traced down her cheeks. Her limbs had been dislocated, an eldritch tying her to a tree. In the end, her body was merely a catalyst for what lied within.”
Yawm looked off in a different direction, “There was something strange about it. Two open wounds were on her belly. One was where the wasp eldritch had tried laying an egg within her. The other mark was where she had tried tearing it out. I believe the remnants of that egg mixed with the already formed baby.”
I grimaced, “Althea is some sort of eldritch hybrid?”
“Perhaps. She was like her kind, but the eldritch had infested her flesh. Once the mother died, Althea burst from its belly. She plopped onto the ground, already larger than most toddlers of her species. I believed she would be some twisted chimera. Instead, she was a crying, healthy baby.”
Yawm turned a palm towards me, “We never discovered exactly how it was created. From her mother’s carcass, we gained a genetic signature that was unusually reactive. Combine that with their Arcane Blood, and they molded together.”
Yawm steepled his fingers together,
“Still, I was in no position to care for a child. I gave her to one of the last remaining members of her species. As she aged, she grew, but so did the eldritch within her. She was a bomb waiting for detonation. Once she was about to burst, we took her from her foster parents and placed her within the confines of a lab.”
Yawm’s eyes narrowed, “It would amaze you how much tragedy there is among the stars. My lab was a home for those tragedies, a way for them to try and regain some semblance of a life.”
Yawm stared at the ground,
“There were so many failures during our time in that laboratory. Even now the thought of what I did there stings. I used the abominations of eldritch and sentients to experiments with the tears. It was by no means my proudest moment, but i was desperate for something.”
Yawm waved his hands outwards,
“I had studied the cipher and the eldritch for hundreds of years. I spent lifetimes researching the very darkest pits and deepest holes I could find. It weighed on me. I needed some breakthrough, and I had found that with Althea. I was hoping to find another breakthrough again.”
Yawm grabbed the sides his head,
“She was eldritch and took the tears without the effects that most sentients experienced. I prayed the tears would help her affliction. They made her nigh immortal and gave her the same slicing abilities as other eldritch, but it didn’t save her.”
Yawm spread his hands, “The eldritch grew within her with the same fervor as before, threatening to overwhelm her. In order to extract the eldritch essence, I used the only method I know of pulling out eldritch energy.”
Yawm formed a ball in front of him,
“We would surround her with the ‘dungeon cores’ as you call them. I would pull out energy from them, and they would in turn drain the energy from her to power themselves. Between these cleansings, we would pump Althea with sedatives. Otherwise her emotions may swell, making her energy unleash in a torrent.”
Yawm clapped his hands together, “We tried many other methods. None of them were successful.” Yawm gestured a hand to me,
“With your armor, we could have formed a conduit between you and her in order to siphon her excess energy. Any mage with experience would know that. Without something extracting her mana at a routine rate though, Althea was restricted. She would go over the edge at regular intervals.”
Yawm closed his eyes, “When I discovered that our scientists where using her for bounty hunting...”
Yawm paused, finding himself at a loss for words. He opened his eyes and steepled his fingers once more,
“I learned they were doing other questionable things within the lab. Most of them unethical and pointless. They were culled along with many other members of my ranks for that reason. I had no need for the unloyal and those that lie.”
There was some serious acid in his voice at the last word. I had a decent reason why. He continued,
“And so, you found Althea in her state. Does that explanation sate your curiosity?”
I nodded, “Uh, yeah. It does.”
We sat there, facing one another for a few minutes before Yawm picked up his tea. He sipped it in silence. A second later, he stared at me. From where I was standing, it was pretty obvious he already knew. I figured my best bet was coming clean.
“What is it?”
I sighed before meeting his eye,
“I’ve been lying to you.”
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