She soon reached the center of the maze, an artificial cave filled with state-of-the-art equipment. It was the most incredible magical lab Salaark had ever seen.
"I thought only Leegaain could do something like this. I can't even fathom what purpose most of this stuff has." She thought out loud.
Transparent water tanks filled with a glowing yellow liquid were lined up against the walls.
Each contained an unconscious magical beast or a human, but all of them were slowly being turned into Abominations. Salaark was close enough to see the process in the making. Somehow, the tanks were forcefully refining their cores, while at the same time the yellow liquid kept the bodies stable.
"Interesting. Their bodies are filled with cracks, but shouldn't collapse until they reach at least the cyan level, if not even the blue. Note to self, have Leegaain study the procedure and dumb it down for me.
This way I will be able to replace my Feathers with ease. I'll take it as partial compensation." A wave of her hand sealed the tanks' space, making it incredibly hard to damage them.. Salaark had no rush, escape was impossible.
She walked around the room, finding more and more marvels as well as horrors.
Countless dried up corpses were piled up into small hills, making her wonder if they were failed experiments or simply the staple food to fully develop so many Abominations.
"You are too late." An amused voice bellowed.
"The Master escaped hours ago." A sinister figure stepped forward. Its body was covered in bright red scales, a black liquid oozed in between. It had long curved horns where the eyes were supposed to be, big upside-down membranous wings on its back.
"Since when do Eldritchs have a master?" Salaark sneered.
"Your power made you conceited, Guardian. Your pride blinds you." It pointed at her with a talon ending finger.
"We have learned from you how to increase our numbers. We are no longer scattered. We fight as one…"
"I'm not interested in your rants." Salaark cut him short.
"Tell me who is your master and where to find it. Be a good boy and I'll not make you suffer. Much." Her wolfish smile only caused the Eldritch to burst into laughter.
"Pride goes before a fall." A snap of its scaly fingers and the whole cave became covered by symbols of power. Every inch of space was covered by countless runes and arrays, each one imbued with a magical power that didn't belong to any of the six elements.
Salaark felt her strength being sapped, but still showed no sign of worry.
"Interesting. After you dried up all the world energy of this place, you have also used forbidden magic to cut off my natural connection with mana. How many Abominations did you sacrifice to achieve such a result?"
"Not enough since you still have the strength to brag!" The Eldritch roared extending its arms forward. Each of its fingers stretched out and multiplied, filling the air with razor sharp whip like tendrils that struck all around Salaark.
The Eldritch was outraged, even without using her magic, The Guardian had managed to dodge every strike with movements so small to be almost unnoticeable.
"I would say you have picked the wrong Guardian, but there isn't a right one. Tyris would simply ignore this sh*t and try to reason with you before killing you. Leegaain would probably destroy your formations with a sneeze. As for me? I'm a fighter!"
Salaark dashed forward, punching the air in front of her. The Eldritch felt all its senses being distorted by the strength behind the simple attack. It easily dodged the strike, but it still hit the walls behind the Eldritch, creating a cave several meters deep and disrupting many arrays.
"I hate you Guardians!" The Eldritch couldn't hold its fury any longer.
"Why are you so strong? Why do you keep looking down on us? I'm Pazuel, and I'll show you the results of our efforts!" Pazuel met Salaark head on, its claws easily cut through her flesh and bones, forcing her to retreat for the first time in many centuries.
- "Seems I have underestimated the b*astard a little too much. No Eldritch has ever managed to even scratch this form. To make things worse, I can't revert to my real body."–
The arrays surrounding them were powered with a perverted and twisted kind of magic that only Abominations possessed. It derived from darkness magic, but had its natural connection with light magic forcefully severed.
It powered their unique individual skills and had been named chaos magic. Over a hundred Abominations had been sacrificed to empower the arrays, making any kind of magic besides chaos magic impossible.
The black liquid oozing from Pazuel was an embodiment of such energies, poisoning Salaark's body and preventing her from regenerating her wounds.
Despite all that, she managed to fight the Eldritch on equal footing, her millennia of experience made every one of its attacks seem telegraphed and predictable. Blinded by rage, Pazuel let her come too close.
Her fist struck its left shoulder, the impact turned the left arm and part of the chest into dust, making the creature's body spin like a top, sending it crashing against a wall.
"Why? Why are you still this strong?" It cried.
"Because I have embraced everything you ever discarded." She panted.
"Because I'm still fighting an endless battle for my people and this planet, while you do nothing but eat, sh*t and whine."
Salaark had hoped to stall longer with her rant, but as soon as the arm was regrown, Pazuel charged at her again. Its body started to melt, expanding at the same time. It became a mass of claws, talons, and fangs with only a black core as their center.
"How dare you say I do nothing? We sacrificed so much to get this far, but now me and my brothers are one!" Each limb and snout shot a different spell, leaving Salaark nowhere to run.
She still managed to dodge most of the attacks, taking only those that wouldn't hit her vitals. When the barrage was over, only part of her torso and head remained, yet she was still alive.
"If that's the best you can do, now it's my turn." Her voice was calm, purple flames covered all the injured parts of her body, making her whole anew.
"What? How?" Pazuel was running on fumes and was forced to revert back to its original form.
"I accumulated thousands of years of experience while you were content with preying on the weak. Look at your precious array."
Only then Pazuel noticed how every one of her missed strikes had actually hit its intended target. The focus points of the array were all badly damaged, even the spot where she had sent the Eldritch to crash earlier was intentional.
"You did the rest of the job for me with your sloppy attacks." She explained while the purple flames turned white along with her whole body.
"You miscalculated. This place is no longer devoid of world energy. How long could it possibly last against two Guardians breathing new life all around us as we speak, while a third one breaks it from inside?"
"You think I'm afraid of death? I'm already part of something bigger. Glory to the dawn of a new world!"
Salaark could see the Eldritch overload its black core, triggering a powerful explosion strong enough to destroy the cave and deal a significant amount of damage to her.
Her answer was to bite her scarlet lips, spitting a drop of her blood on the exploding Eldritch. Time seemed to rewind, every single piece of flesh going back forming the body once again, sealing the explosion before the shock wave could displace even a single speck of dust.
The Eldritch found itself alive and well, its core intact. It started to sweat in fear, a long-forgotten feeling while the phoenix's hand turned into a claw, locking it in place. The Eldritch discovered that its muscles had become limp, its magic refused to obey.
"It seems there is a misunderstanding here." Salaark's form turned into a hybrid between human and phoenix.
"I'm not the keeper of anything, I'm nobody's muse. I'm the conqueror of life and death." Her free hand ignited with a white flame, scorching the creature's very soul.
"You are not going anywhere, so you better start talking."
Lith spent the rest of the day practicing dimensional magic and Accumulation while waiting for the school books to be delivered and working on the sealed boxes during the night.
The time spent with Solus in the tower practicing Forgemastering, together with Nalear's lesson about the importance of magic crystals gave him a new approach to the problem.
Lith had discovered that the reason for his previous failures was that by damaging the boxes' mana pathways, the energy contained in the pseudo core diminished, while the one contained in the mana crystal would not.
This upset the balance and caused the explosion. Previously he had tried to keep the crystal isolated, thinking it was some kind of detonator that somehow was triggered by his attempts to pick the lock.
What he had to do, instead, was attacking them at the same time. Thanks to this discovery, Lith was now able to almost depower the lock.
Alas, almost wasn't enough. He was now able to open the boxes, but the resulting explosion still destroyed most of their content, not leaving enough for him to understand their purpose.
"It's still a huge success. I just need a few more lessons about how mana crystals and Forgemastering interact and I will be able to open them. I have only a few left, it's better to save them for later."
When the next day came, he was still pondering about Yurial's words, torn between egotism and his wish to change, to actually care about his so called friends instead of just pretending to.
His morning routine didn't change. Lith went to pick up Phloria early for their walk and then they went to meet with the others for breakfast.
- "It really doesn't feel like a high-school sweetheart at all. She didn't invite me to her room, we didn't talk about anything in particular. Phloria seemed to be more cheerful than usual, though. She smiled often when talking with me and made sure to sit in front of me."Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click for visiting.
"It means that she enjoys your company and likes to watch you." Solus pointed out.
"Still feels more like bromance than romance." Lith shrugged.
"You watched too many teen dramas. Based on your past experiences, relationships take time and effort to develop. Do you remember why unlike your brother you never managed to fall in love?"
"According to my therapist, I was too self-centered. I would only care about myself and protecting my own feeling, so I never opened up to any of the women I dated."
"It's exactly what you are doing even now. You are only thinking about what you want, not what it's best for her. The Ballot is useless for you. The Queen is openly backing you up, the Professors hold you in high esteem.
Not to mention how strong and fast you are. It's not like when you arrived. Your family is safe, you can defend yourself with ease and your word is not that of a country boy anymore. If anything happens, the academy will watch your back."
"The same could be said of Phloria." Lith still wasn't convinced.
"By my maker, if I had a body, I would slap you right here and now! Her family is not as powerful as the Queen. Also, is there anything that a student, if not even a Professor can do to you if you go all out?"
"There you have it! She is young and still traumatized, while you wouldn't flinch even if you ripped someone's heart out right before lunch. She needs it much more than you do."–
Knowing to be on the losing side of the argument, Lith dropped the conversation and walked past the doors of the academy's hospital waiting with his colleagues for the Healer lesson to start.
Much to everyone's surprise, not only Manohar had returned, but also was in charge of the class. Between his rare appearances, notable only for his whining ramblings, and the constant disappearing without notice, most students had almost forgotten about his existence.
"Good morning my dear students. Welcome back to class. You sure took a long break from the academy." His tone was clearly annoyed.
"It's not them that went missing for almost three months, but you!" Headmaster Linjos suddenly Warped in the middle of the class, his face beet red from anger.