I lose consciousness for a few seconds before my body forces me awake, despite its pitiful state. When I open my eyes, I find myself… underwater.
It takes me a moment to understand why I’m underwater.
I was slowed down in this process of understanding by the fact that my heart has stopped beating. Even for me, this is a little distracting.
I read in a book I found in the Springfields’ house’s library that humans consider each other dead once their heart has stopped beating. Even if the afflicted person is resuscitated afterward, through magic or medicine or whatever other means, they are still considered as having been ‘technically’ dead while their heart was silent.
The book didn’t specify if those people should be considered undead, though.
In any case, if I apply this same reasoning to myself, I’ve been ‘technically dead’ a dozen times over, by this point. And those are only the instances of my heart stopping I can remember; I may have forgotten a few, over the long years.
All of those instances are somewhat overshadowed by the fact that I started this whole business by actually dying – a lot more than just ‘technically’ – when I was 12 years old, but they still were some of the most dangerous moments of my life.
Today is the same.
My current physical condition is concerning.
It’s not the worst I’ve ever been, and it’s not the first time such a thing has happened. But I think it is, in fact, the first time it happens for such a stupid, brainless reason as that I wanted to experience a full-power strike from an opponent who I acknowledge is more powerful than I am. There was that one time with Harris in Fushia City, I suppose, but Harris was weaker than me. It would have taken a lot of effort on his part to actually, reliably kill me.
Really. What is this nonsense?
I’m quite sure I was never this dumb during my days in the Planar Tower.
I can tell, because I’m still alive.
I never wanted to experience a full-power strike from the Sulfur Frog. I just wanted to kill it.
My behavior… is concerning.
Is it something to do with the environment? Something with Caldera’s air? Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I can’t eat demons as often as I used to in the Planar Tower? Is ignoring my hunger destabilizing my mental state?
I also think it might have something to do with the second rune in my dantian. It is quite suspicious, after all, and I still don’t know what word it is. But I’ve never used it, and while it does act up whenever I… start losing control of myself… it only ever acts up afterward, once the control has already been lost. It looks more like a symptom than a cause. Even now, it’s already gone back to normal, with the black fog peacefully rolling around the rune, as if nothing ever happened.
(If you’ve regained your senses, it might perhaps be wise to take care of all your injuries, instead of lying there in a daze, don’t you think? Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are thousands of demons swimming all around you. They look happy to see you.)
But I’m in no state to fight them. In fact, I’m in no state to fight anything.
Not with my body, at least.
I send a few words to Sanae. […Deal with them for a few seconds. I need to fix myself.]
I don’t think I’m all that useless, though. That giant may have almost killed me, but I had things well in hand before I became stupid. I’m pretty sure I would have won if I had fought seriously.
Despite Sanae’s complaints, she pushes aside the eyepatch covering my right eye, then extricates herself from my eye socket. All the demons around are heading in my direction, the shine of their red eyes growing brighter as they notice my presence and realize that I would make for a pretty nice meal. While there are many of them, however, all are very weak. They’d be found somewhere around the 30th floor of the Tower or something – probably; I don’t exactly remember the early floors.
In any case, to Sanae, they are nothing.
Nothing but food.
She leaps off my cheek, and as she puts some distance between us, her body grows, grows, grows. Her eight legs slowly stretch out, twitching a little as if in anticipation.
I close my eyes and ignore the ensuing slaughter.
No demon can approach within 20 meters of my position at the bottom of the harbor. Even though wild currents produced by Sanae’s battle buffet my body, it is perfectly safe for me to fully focus on my injuries.
The fight isn’t over, after all. I quickly need to go back up there and kill everyone who needs to be killed. Namely, the 2nd-rank god and the brat who constantly manages to escape. Hopefully, I’ll be ready before the two of them can gang up on the Major and kill her. If I end up having to fight them two on one, I’ll most likely be forced to flee. Or I’ll have to ask Sanae to deal with them – which she might refuse to do; since she can’t eat humans, there’d be nothing for her to gain from such a fight.
Inside my ribcage, my heart is still silent.
Only a few seconds have elapsed, fortunately. If my body had failed to regain consciousness so quickly, I would have died. My brain does need a constant flow of blood to continue operating, after all. If my brain stops operating, my soul will have no foundation on which to rest and will dissipate.
Fixing my heart might prove to be a little tricky, because it’s been essentially broken. I’m continuously healing myself, sparing no expense of blood-qi, but the damage dealt to it can’t be fixed through conventional means before I expire. On the other hand, it’s not like I actually need to heal all the damage now; all I need is a functioning blood pump.
A thin layer of frost starts to creep over the surface of my heart. Ice bridges over the injuries. Of course, ice isn’t exactly the most flexible of materials, so I can’t merely encase my heart in it and expect it to beat. Instead, I create interlocking blocks that can move and slide around each other. Finally, more strands stretch out from my heart to my ribs to hold it in place in the center of my chest.
Hmm… Like this?
I think it should work.
With another small effort of magic, some of the blocks of ice surrounding my heart contract while others remain static. Then, the latter return to their previous positions, while the ones that didn’t move take their place. All the ice blocks follow a strict rhythm, pushing against the walls of my heart as I strive to artificially imitate its usual beat. Blood starts flowing through my veins again. At first, the flow is quite irregular and jerky, but as I get more used to it, the movements of the ice blocks gradually become more fluid, and blood starts to irrigate my whole body. My thoughts, which were getting progressively murkier and blurrier as my brain slowly shut down, clear up again.
Now, let’s hope that no one around here is carrying a Demon-Sealing Stone. If my magic suddenly fails me, for whatever reason, I’ll definitely die.
And let’s try to avoid any violent shocks, too. In fact, it would probably be best to avoid movement altogether. If the ice I created breaks, slivers of it might slash at or stab into my heart and damage it even more. That wouldn’t be good. At all. I’d definitely die from that, too.
But this is quite interesting.
I think it’s the first time my survival solely depends on me emulating bodily functions with magic. Usually, I just patch the damage and let my body continue working around the ice I filled it with. Now, the ice is an integral and necessary part of my body.
It almost makes me wonder if I couldn’t replace everything inside me with ice and still survive. Well, no. I know I couldn’t replace everything. I doubt I could replace my brain with ice. And ice doesn’t strike me as a suitable replacement for muscle fibers or tendons, either. As I said, it just isn’t flexible at all, and my magic can’t change its fundamental properties – I can’t make warm or stretchy ice.
Still, something to think about in the future. It might provide me with additional ways to survive dangerous situations.
(Still in a daze? Your spider is taking care of the surrounding demons for you, but may I remind you that you’re still bleeding out?)
Phineas is right. As I lie on the silt at the bottom of the harbor, a murky cloud of black blood steadily spreads around me and dissolves in the water. In fact, it’s only getting worse now that my heart is again sending blood through my veins. The algae growing nearby that come in contact with the black cloud quickly wilt, wither, and die under its poison.
Quickly, more ice congeals over my body to seal all my wounds.
Now, I just need to wait until I heal completely.
The next step – at least when I was still in the Planar Tower, it was – would be to drink up all the blood I spilled. But I don’t really need to do that any longer. I do not lack in blood-qi, to say the least.
That’s one of the good points of turning stupid, I guess. The volume of blood-qi stored in my dantian has doubled in just a few minutes of battle. And…
I glance at my right arm, and the suit that covers it retracts for a moment.
Not a single speck of white skin can be seen. From my fingertips all the way to my shoulder, everything has turned to adamantine. And even beyond. Black, irregular lines reach up my neck and over the right side of my chest and back like intertwining vines.
That is a good point, too.
Though, I wish it had happened just a tad quicker. It would have prevented my right shoulder from dislocating at the beginning of this fight against the 2nd-rank god.
How to fight a 2nd-rank god without having to move my body, and without suffering any damage? Magic is the obvious answer, but the situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that my opponent is a giant. Killing big things is always troublesome, I’ve found.
Still, I should be able to do it, even in my current state.
After all, the giant isn’t at his best, either. I guess, even while stupid, I’m still pretty strong. I remember that his golden skin was getting rather dull when he sent me flying. It had lost its luster.
The giant should be nearing exhaustion.
Unless he already managed to recover while I fixed my body…
Let’s hope that’s not the case.
While Sanae is having fun devouring the demons swarming around us, I take advantage of my now-even-more-limitless reserves of blood-qi to cast a really, really big spell.
Usually, I would fight a giant by spreading the force of my blows over a larger area with telekinesis. That’s a necessity when the enemy is so large that any attack from me becomes little more than a pinprick. But that means I need to produce that much more force to keep the penetrating power of my blows. In my current state, subjecting myself to this sort of strain would be a death sentence.
Thus, I should try to also become a giant and even up the difference a little.
That should do it.
Torrents of blood-qi stream out of my dantian and flood my meridians before leaving my body and merging with my surroundings. The temperature of the water drops vertiginously, and the sea starts to freeze, forming a rapidly growing ball of solid ice to encase my body.
I am quite fortunate to find myself underwater. Liquid water isn’t as good a medium for my magic as ice itself. And salt water like this isn’t as good a medium as fresh water. But it’s still much better than nothing. With so much water around me, I don’t need to create ice out of thin air. I just need to cool water that is already here to begin with. It’s much more economical.
The frozen area continues spreading, and I hesitate on what form I should use. It’s all well and good to turn into an ice giant, but I need to be able to control my artificial body. This is the hard part. It took me a very long time to learn how to use magic to reliably and comfortably move my left arm. If I suddenly create some strange and unfamiliar body shape, I won’t be able to fight with it. My movements will be clumsy and slow. Ideally, I would create an ice body similar to my own. But that won’t work very well. The legs will be too thin to properly hold up a giant’s weight. And if I increase the density and solidity of the legs, then the body’s balance will be completely different from what I’m used to; I’ll lose the advantage of creating a familiar humanoid form.
How about a spider, then?
A spider has more legs to hold up its abdomen, and I’ve watched Sanae fight at my side for more than 200 years. I know how a spider moves.
Once a sufficiently large amount of ice has gathered in a sphere around me, I extrude four pillars on each side of it. The joints in the legs take me a bit longer, as they’re more complicated than the rest.
But finally, I manage. And I am quite satisfied with the results of my efforts. Perhaps it’s a combination of using a convenient medium and of my casting range increasing, but the ice spider I created is much larger than I’d planned. When standing, it should reach almost a kilometer in height.
…This is most definitely the biggest spell I’ve ever cast in my life. Nearly 150,000 tons of compressed, dense, tightly packed ice, produced in just a minute or two.
Even for me, the consumption is enormous. The blood-qi beads in my dantian are melting like snow under the summer sun, but there are so many of them whirling around each other like a black tornado that I barely even care. Still, it definitely isn’t a spell I could afford to cast every day. In fact, it’s fair to say that it would have been challenging for me to cast this spell before today – or at least it would have been challenging to cast it so quickly. My meridians seem to have stretched wider again when I became stupid, and they can channel more magic at any one time than they could before. Even then, they somewhat strain under the pressure of the torrent filling them to the brim.
This is magic at the very upper limit of my capabilities.
It should be worth it, though.
A body like this should be able to both protect me and crush that 2nd-rank god.
Seeing that I’ve returned to the fray, Sanae abruptly shrinks back to her usual tiny size and drills into the ice shaped in her approximate image to rejoin me. Looks like she’s eaten enough. Freed from her interference, the demons – and there a quite a lot of them left, even after Sanae tore through them – throw themselves at me.
They’re still no threat to me, though. Even if I stood there idly, it would take them hours to claw through all the ice protecting me.
I ignore all of them, and climb out of the water, my eight sturdy legs dragging my abdomen. The demons all rush after me, desperate to get at the delicious meal inside the ice box. They scrabble at the ice, biting and tearing to little effect.
Behind me, the level of the sea drops with my departure, and large waves rush into the harbor to compensate for the volume of water I stole to form my spider body. The anchored ships bob up and down wildly.
From up here, the harbor looks very small, and the people standing there also look very… small…?
Is that… Lilly?
What is she doing here?
Did she come to spectate the Competition? It’s true that the pill I gave her should have helped her become a practitioner. It looks like she’s decided to pursue this kind of life, then. I wonder if she’ll become strong.
Still, while I can understand Finram’s presence next to her, why is Sif there too? What kind of team is this? Did these three know each other?
Oh, and the devils are here too.
So many acquaintances…
Ah, no matter.
My business is not with them.
My magic flows through my meridians, and the gigantic spider follows my will. It turns toward the arena in the distance. Well, the arena has already been destroyed, so I suppose I turn toward where the arena used to stand. The giant is still there. He’s looking at me. So are the brat and the Major, whose fight was brought to a halt by my appearance.
The golden giant’s face twists in rage when he sees me resurface. He grits his teeth and turns to face me, bracing for our fight’s continuation. His muscles twist and contract, as if displaying his physical prowess.
Well, it’s true that his hand-to-hand combat ability is impressive. He did manage to survive in a direct fight against me, after all. So, I start by bombarding him from a distance.
Sharpened ice shoots out of the giant spider’s abdomen. This time, they’re not icicles or spears, though. They’re pillars, each of them as large as an ancient tree.
The giant meets this attack head-on and even rushes forward, directly punching away the ice pillars about to strike him. Despite their weight and momentum, they explode against his reinforced, golden fists in flecks of ice and clouds of white dust.
…He’s really quite strong. Even tired after our fight, he can still power through such an attack with brute strength. I am a little impressed, maybe.
Though, I’m starting to think he’s as stupid as I am. If he’s tired, he should be trying to fight more efficiently than just forcefully blocking everything I throw at him.
Well, I’m not going to complain. The more I exhaust his stamina, the better.
It only takes the giant a few moments to bridge the kilometer separating us. It takes even less time than that for him to enter the range of my attacks. I lift my two frontmost legs, then slash down, flinging hapless demons that didn’t manage to hang on into the sky.
I calculated the timing correctly, and my two bladed legs head straight for him. The giant looks at my attack with disdain. I assume he believes he’ll be able to avoid it handily. I can understand his confidence. Due to the sheer size of the body I’m using, my movements are pretty slow. It would indeed be trivial to dance around this sort of predictable attack.
However, when the sharpened tips of my legs are about to reach the giant – and before he starts dodging – the ice surrounding my joints suddenly detonates in a geyser of compressed water and provides additional thrust to my attack.
The giant’s eyes widen. He probably wasn’t expecting ice to explode.
If he was still a normal-sized human, he could still recover from this mistake. This little trick of mine would be far from enough to be decisive. But he too is slowed and hampered by the size of his own body; he’s not as agile as he was before his transformation. My two gigantic legs smash with terrible force into his sides.
The sounds of broken bones and tearing tissue accompany his scream. The impact’s shockwave and the sheer weight behind the attack deal terrible injuries to the giant, and bright red blood spurts out of his mouth as his features warp in pain.
This time, there is no nonsense about entertainment or about having an interesting fight, and even less about tasting the giant’s attacks. I ruthlessly press my advantage and use this opportunity to end him once and for all. My six other legs push me forward, and before the giant has time to recover from the devastating blow he received, my spider body slams down on top of him like a collapsing mountain.
There is absolutely no technique involved, only weight. I crush him under myself. The earth shakes and cracks again, and the buildings in the harbor that had yet to fall finally collapse everywhere.
Unfortunately, while the giant is wounded when my abdomen crashes against him, he’s not killed. Even when I press him down to the ground, it’s not his golden body which is crushed between the earth and me, it’s the earth which first collapses underneath him.
He’s not dead…
I see his arms and legs twitch as he tries to find purchase and lift me off himself, but he’s unsuccessful.
However, while he can’t move any longer, he’s not dead.
I really want him to die.
(That guy sure is tenacious. I suppose I should have expected a 2nd-rank god wouldn’t be this easy to kill.)
Well, let’s continue, then.
The ice of my underbelly flows around the golden giant — though I suppose I should call him the pale-yellow giant, now — and surrounds him, tightly wrapping around his limbs. As much as possible, I want to prevent him from moving. Then, I channel more of my magic through my meridians.
The ice shifts.
A drill forms, its point of ice so dense it’s as hard as diamond, pressed against his temple.
The golden giant looks confused at the sensation. He can’t move his head to take a look, but his eyes frantically swivel in their sockets, trying to see what’s happening. His struggles intensify, but my crushing weight still rests on top of him, and I’ve even made sure to wrap him in ice.
He’s not going to escape.
Blood-qi and telekinesis both actuate the drill at the same time. The vibrations reach me through the layers of ice beneath me. The golden giant’s eyes open wide in shock and panic. Already, flecks of gold skin fly off his head like sparks.
I see the pain and the helplessness in the 2nd-rank god’s eyes. His jaw strains, trying to open and let out a scream, but he can’t even do that. Blood starts to flow.
shing, shing, shiiiiing!
A sudden attack rocks the gigantic spider body I’m occupying. I look up to find the human brat having escaped the Major’s interference and launching a series of attacks at me. Rays of blue sword light rain down on the ice making up the back of the spider. The rays slash deep grooves into it, but there is just too much distance between him and me. All attacks dissipate before they can reach my position.
Then, the Major catches him again, and the brat no longer has the luxury to attempt a rescue.
As punishment for trying, I shoot a few ice pillars at him. They rattle him enough that the Major gets a few good hits in, some of the debris orbiting around her slamming viciously into the brat’s body.
Serves him right.
I look back down.
The 2nd-rank god is dead. His head turned to pulp under the drill. The ice is still spinning, stirring up his brains and skull into goo.
I didn’t even get to see it…
And it ended so fast I’m starting to feel that creating this whole spider was kind of a waste. Did I really need to make it so big?
No, no. It was best not to skimp. It only went so well because I got that first attack in, and even then, if there hadn’t been as much weight behind it, it wouldn’t have affected the 2nd-rank god enough for me to capitalize on it as I did. And it protected me against the brat’s sword when he tried to rescue his ally.
Right. Not a waste.
Phineas releases a deep sigh. (Phew, I can’t believe we’re still alive. That was dangerous. I’d be really glad if we didn’t do that kind of thing ever again… Are you sure you don’t want to retire somewhere, away from civilization? I’m sure there’d be tons of research subjects that could occupy the two of us for the next few millennia. There’d be no need for violence or danger.)
(Hmm. I didn’t think so.) He sighs. (Violence it is, then.)
There’s at least one more target here I need to take care of, here.
I look up again.
The Major and the brat are still fighting. The Major is the superior one, but her movements are jerky and stiff. She’s clearly injured. The brat, on the other hand, is leaning on the power of the artifacts he’s carrying to narrow the gap in their respective abilities.
And is it just me, or is the Major unable to concentrate? Her attention seems divided, half on the brat, half on me. Could she be worried that I’m going to attack her, next?
Let’s make the situation clear for her, then.
I probably won’t be able to catch the brat like I did the 2nd-rank god. He’s flitting around here and there in the sky like a bug, fast and agile. And his trajectory changes all the time as he weaves around the Major’s attacks; I won’t be able to predict his path and strike him.
Out of the broad back of the gigantic spider, a forest of spikes rises, then shoots up, faster than arrows. They’re much smaller than the huge pillars I threw at the 2nd-rank god, but there are many more of them, and this size is more than sufficient against a normal human being.
The brat starts flying even more erratically to avoid the volleys I send after him. At first, he manages to dodge all of them, displaying quite the expertise with flight magic, but then the Major trips his legs, so to speak.
She starts casting little spells here and there. Nothing big or flashy. Just invisible pulses of gravity – I think – that push the brat off course in random directions when he least expects it.
bang! bang! bang!
The spikes still fail to reach him and explode against the blade of his sword, raised in defense. But it’s obvious he can’t keep that up for long. His flurried face shows that he too knows it.
“Ugh! Are you not ashamed of yourselves?!” he screams suddenly while still frantically waving his sword around to block all the projectiles aiming at him. “Two against one? Have you filthy majin no honor at all?”
…Didn’t this battle start as a 5 on 2?
Also, I can’t speak for the Major, but I’m no majin.
(Hehe. This guy is definitely an Adkins,) Phineas says with a chuckle. (All the most shameless tongues in the Godrealm belong to them.)
I wouldn’t know about that. But it’s true that he’s at quite a disadvantage, now. Even if the Major and I are injured, there’s no way the brat will win.
Or at least, that would be true if it weren’t for his stupid, inexhaustible supply of artifacts. More than his blade magic or anything else he has going for himself, those always were the most dangerous things about him.
And this time as well, when the situation turns fully against him, he waves his hand, and a glowing purple crystal appears in the air in front of him.
“How about you have a taste of this, then?” he shouts.
Then, without wasting any more time, the brat retreats, his sword flying off and pulling him away from the battlefield as fast as lightning.
The crystal he left behind explodes in a brilliant conflagration of purple rays of light shining in all directions – sword rays. They dig deep into the ice surrounding me – much deeper than the brat himself reached with his own attack earlier. But once again, there’s too much ice in the way for it to reach my position. I am safe.
The Major, on the other hand, is exposed to the crystal’s attack in full. She wisely doesn’t take it with her body. She raises her hands, and a black dot appears in the air in front of her. This dot doesn’t absorb like the ones she cast earlier; it repels. All the purple rays heading in the Major’s direction seem like they skid off the air a meter or so away from the dot and are deflected to the sides, above, and below. None can reach the Major herself. However, it seems I was right to think this magic is beyond her actual abilities. As soon as the danger has passed, the dot disappears into thin air, and the Major’s entire body shakes. She coughs out a mouthful of blood and suddenly falls out of the sky, unconscious.
The purple crystal doesn’t even spare the brat himself. Even though he escaped first and managed to put some distance between them, the purple rays reach him in an instant. With a face pale from fear, he stops fleeing and turns to face the attack. His blade swings back and forth. It deflects and blocks some of the rays, but more slip past his guard. They go through whatever shield he’s wearing like paper and stab mercilessly into his body. Several wounds open, deep enough to see bone, and red blood splashes through the sky.
In the end, the brat does manage to weather his own crystal’s power, somehow, and he frantically resumes his escape afterward, his sword once more pulling him at high speed toward the distance – though its flight is now rather unsteady and he trails blood all along the way.
…Well, I guess this is why he didn’t use the crystal before he was really in trouble. A tool that destroys oneself alongside one’s enemies can hardly be qualified as a good tool.
(This boy definitely, double definitely, triple definitely is an Adkins,) Phineas says, smacking his lips with distaste. (First the formation flags, and now a Sword Soul Crystal. And look at that fancy sword. Tsk, tsk. Worthy of the title of wealthiest family in the Godrealm, huh?) He shakes his head mournfully. (Even my whole net worth at the time of my death wouldn’t have been enough to purchase one of those.)
Well, I may not have a space ring full of life-saving artifacts, but in the end, I’m still the only one to escape unscathed.
And if this brat thinks I’m going to let him escape…
A pulse of magic lets the giant spider turn in the same direction the brat fled toward.
Just before going after him, however, the ice on the spider’s back cracks and splits, and tendrils stretch out to catch the Major before she falls to the ground. They twine around her unconscious body, then retract, drawing her inside the spider’s body, to safety.
There are still quite a few humans and majin alive on the Island. However, since pretty much everyone who was in the arena ended up dead either at the hands of their direct enemies or as a result of the shockwaves of the gods’ fights, the battle turned from a massive group war to more sporadic and scattered skirmishes, here and there in the ruins of the city. It should soon calm down thoroughly. Still, if they see the Major falling out of the sky, some of them might take the opportunity to finish her off. Better keep her with me.
If she wakes up in time, she might be able to help me kill the brat – or at least draw his fire when he pulls out his next artifact…
As the giant spider starts moving in pursuit, its huge legs shaking the earth with every step, the Major’s body slips gently through cracks in the ice until she slides to a stop next to me in the middle of the spider’s abdomen.
Then, the spider stops dead, mid-step.
I blink in surprise.
H–Huh? What is this?
Jerkily, like my neck has rusted, my head slowly turns. I stare unblinkingly at the prone form next to me.
Phineas’s voice resounds from too far away to reach me.
sniff, sniff, sniff…
I know this smell.
I wouldn’t mistake it for anything.
The fleeing brat completely forgotten, I slowly make my way closer to the Major and kneel down beside her. Even after everything that happened, her hood remains firmly lowered over her face, its shadows concealing her features. There is a small bump pushing against the hood, on each side of her head, perhaps from horns or… the long ears of an elf?
I slowly reach for the edge of the hood. My fingers are shaking slightly. Pinching the cloth, I draw it up.
Before I can uncover the Major’s face, the shadows hovering over it coalesce into small, sharp spikes and stab ineffectually at the adamantine of my fingers, trying to stop me from unmasking her.
I simply clench my fist, and the spell shatters.
Not only do the spikes dissipate, but the unnatural shadows covering the Major’s face also retract.
My breath catches in my throat, and my whole body freezes solid as surely as if I had cast my magic on it, paralyzed at the sight of that face. In my dantian, everything is shaking, powerful waves marring the sky, the beads of blood-qi losing cohesion. All around me, large cracks appear uncontrollably throughout the body of the giant ice spider. In my chest, the ice around my heart starts to chip and splinter, and its beat becomes irregular.
Phineas looks around himself at the disturbance and glances worriedly at my soul in front of him. (What is it? Do you know this woman?)
I absolutely do!
She looks a little bit different, a little bit older. There are fine scars on her cheeks and jaw that weren’t there before. But…
I draw the hood completely off her face.
As expected. Black hair. Long, pointed ears. Even though I’ve almost forgotten what being beautiful even means, I know for a fact that this woman’s beauty is unmatched and absolute.
My mouth opens of its own volition.
“A–Ah… N… Ne… Ner…ys…”
Blood immediately wells up my throat as words force their way through. My voice is shaky and as rough and broken as two blocks of rusted metal scraping against each other.
But the joy and excitement in it are overwhelming.
I feel my lips try to lift into an elated smile, but the muscles of my face are too stiff and only twitch a little.
Blood flows freely from my mouth and over my chin, and a sharp pain stabs through my chest as the ice holding my heart together shatters completely.
But I don’t care.
After 279 years of effort, I finally…!
Tears spill out of my eye and flow copiously down my cheek.
It was all worth it! I was right to hang on for all this time! I was right to survive until now! I was right to become a monster! Just for this moment…
I almost thought it would never happen, but…
Now, everything is perfect!
Then, through my delight, it finally hits me that Nerys is injured! There are injuries all over her body, and a line of blood trails from the corner of her mouth.
It’s him! It’s his fault!
The urge to rush after him and rip his spine out of his body and strangle him with it is almost overpowering, but I press it down.
I have to heal Nerys first.
I’ll exterminate the brat afterward!
He dared to hurt Nerys! I must exterminate his entire species too!
I hurriedly fish out the last Rebirth Pill out of my space ring and gently approach Nerys. I’m about to open her mouth when I catch sight of my black, clawed, ugly fingers. They’re trembling and clumsy, too.
I shouldn’t touch Nerys with them.
I retract my hand, and with the most delicate and gentle touch of telekinesis possible, I slip the pill into her mouth, then retreat a little to give her some space. My eyes are fixed on her face, looking for any sign that the pill is or isn’t working correctly.
I wait with bated breath for a short minute. I think Phineas is calling me, but I couldn’t care less about him, right now.
When Nerys’s long and perfect eyelashes finally flutter and she’s about to wake up, the wave of pleasure and happiness that washes through me almost makes me feel dizzy.
My vision quickly grows darker and narrower.
No, wait, it’s not the happiness.
I forgot about my heart.
I look down at the pool of black blood steadily spreading around me.
(Have you finally noticed? Hurry up and heal yourself! You’re about to die!)
Right, I have to stop it. What if the blood dirties Nerys’s clothes?
I reach down with a hand and try to freeze the blood before it spreads any further toward Nerys. But it looks like I’ve pushed myself a little too far. The moment I try to access my magic, I collapse forward into the pool of blood with a loud splash.
(Akasha, get up! Get up!)
The ice spider is crumbling all around us.
Why now? I wanted to savor the moment a little more. Just a little more. A few seconds more. No, a minute more. Just a single minute.
Out of the corner of my blurry vision, I see Nerys’s hand twitch a little.
Oh, she’s fine! She’s awake! The pill worked!
Even as I lose consciousness, I feel… utmost satisfaction.
The culmination of my 300 years of life.
Oh, but we’re standing pretty high up, and the ice spider is breaking into pieces. What if Nerys hurts herself in the fall? That would be unforgivable. What should I do?
Before my eye completely closes, a helpless sigh resounds in my mind.