The Beginning After The End - Chapter 259
Chapter 259: Mother Lode
When Sylvie’s stone had absorbed the aether from me, it had taken every last drop from my core. However, only a fraction of that aether had been absorbed, spiralling down a designated path inside. The rest seemed to be almost filtered out while the remainder that was able to reach Sylvie, who was comatose within, was too little to amount to anything.
That’s when I realized that Sylvie’s stone wasn’t so much a battery that I needed to slowly charge like I had first assumed. No, it was more like a strainer that I needed to fill with aether faster than it could spill back out.
The fact that Sylvie’s stone wasn’t able to ‘receive’ most of the aether I had tried to give it even after I had consumed the fruit meant that my aether core was flawed. Not ‘flawed’ per se, but just like how mana cores started out with natural impurities from the body that limited the output and storage of mana, my aether core was experiencing a similar phenomenon.
I knew now that the aether core that I had forged was currently filled with impurities. This was hindering the capacity that could be stored within and keeping me from utilizing the full capabilities of aether. Great.
If I wanted to be able to make aether flow the way it did inside Sylvie’s stone, I needed the aether in my core to become much purer. And If I wanted to bring Sylvie back, I needed to be able to unleash that purer aether in a much larger volume than I currently was able to contain—all in one sitting.
Which brought me to the reason why I was currently standing here now, a few feet away from the giant millipede’s den, clad in nothing but a flimsy leather vest and shredded cloth pants.
“It’s not too late to back out,” Regis whispered into my ear.
I knew what it meant if I couldn’t kill it. Nonetheless, it was a sobering reminder that made me reconfirm my priorities. Getting out of here wasn’t actually my top priority—afterall, even if I was able to make it out right at this moment, I was actually weaker than I had been when I fought against Nico and the scythe, Cadell.
My priority was getting stronger, which—thankfully—aligned with getting back Sylvie as well. And killing this millipede would be a big step forward in working toward that.
Meeting Regis’ gaze, I replied to him. “Let’s go inside.”
As we traversed deeper inside the giant hole the width of the millipede that spiraled down into the ground, it got strangely brighter. There was a faint purple sheen that clung to the ground, walls and ceiling of the winding tunnel.
Regis scouted ahead, flying back to me every several yards to relay if there were any upcoming changes.
As I was taking a sip from my water sack, I saw the black will-o-wisp coming back out of the corner of my eyes. I picked up my pace, treading lightly on the ground, hoping to hear some different news other than ‘more rocks’ from Regis.
‘Arthur. There’s something up ahead,’ Regis stated quietly after flying into my chest.
If you make the ‘rocks’ joke one more time, I am going to hit you, I replied with suspicion.
‘Just go,’ my companion sighed before floating back out to lead the way.
The tunnel split into two paths but Regis quickly directed me to the slightly wider one on the left side. Not only was it wider in diameter, but also brighter. It only took a few minutes of quiet treading for us to reach what Regis wanted me to see.
Strewn all over the ground were clusters of crystals…aether crystals.
My brows furrowed in confusion at the sight of the glowing purple crystals, littered in front of us like trash. Quickly—and quietly—I picked up a fist-sized crystal and consumed the essence from it until the purple glow subsided.
These aren’t as potent as the fruit I had earlier, but these are still fairly concentrated, I noted mentally as Regis surveyed up ahead.
After consuming one more fist-sized crystal to top my aether capacity to the brim, I stored a couple smaller crystals in my pockets before moving forward. I would come back for these after my fight was over.
As we continued deeper into the millipede’s territory, the tunnel gradually became brighter until a brilliant purple light shone at the very end.
Regis and I exchanged a tense glance before walking forward. My heart pounded against my chest while my palms grew clammy at the thought of fighting against the giant beast. Being this close to the aether beast in its own home, my body could sense the pressure exuding from the giant millipede.
Taking deep, calming breaths and steadying my gait, I walked forward, ready to face my toughest opponent yet.
Let’s do this.
I stepped into the blinding purple light, my body tense and alert for any sudden movements, but when the glare subsided I saw that the tunnel opened into a massive cavern with a domed ceiling. The entire expanse was bathed in a sea of purple emanating from the mountains of glimmering crystals piled upon one another.
But despite the scores of aether crystals—some larger than my entire body—my attention was forced onto the giant millipede.
Instinctually, I stepped back and raised my arms to guard against what was to come. Even Regis cowered behind my shoulder as we gazed upon the towering figure of the aether beast.
It was hunched over in a tall arch while its entire body convulsed. Then, just as I was beginning to think it was about to explode, a waterfall of aether crystals gushed out the back end of the millipede to form a small hill alongside the other mountains of crystals.
It was like a scene straight out of a fairytale. Except, instead of a giant dragon guarding its mountain of treasure, it was a millipede guarding its mountains of…excrement?
“Pfft!” Regis stifled a laugh that echoed throughout the giant cavern, drawing my attention and—to our horror—the attention of the giant millipede.
“Move!” I roared, abandoning all thoughts of stealth at the sight of the charging millipede.
I dashed right as Regis flew to the left.
“I’m sorry, Arthur, but you basically ate this bug’s crap!” Regis guffawed.
I rolled my eyes mentally. Fortunately for me, he was also drawing the attention of the millipede, which gave me time to position myself toward its flank.
Releasing aether from my core, I pushed myself off the ground with a strength that formed a crater beneath my feet.
Clearing several feet in an instant, I smashed my aether-clad fist into the millipede’s side with a resounding ‘thud’.
However, while the millipede buckled from the impact, the wave of pain that surged up my arm suggested that the damage I had given to it wasn’t much to celebrate about.
Landing deftly back on the ground, I crossed the span of the cavern in a sprint as the millipede chased after me.
Just as the millipede got close, I held up a hand straight over my head in a fist—a signal that Regis and I devised to confuse the sound-sensitive aether beast.
Immediately, Regis screamed out, “Over here, you crystal-sharding bug!”
The millipede slid to a stop and whirled around toward the source of the voice. Meanwhile, I continued to exhaust my aether, wrapping my body in a thick layer of aether in the hopes that there’d be a different outcome as I flashed forward.
My surroundings blurred as I approached the millipede that was snapping its pincers at the air, trying to catch Regis. I aimed for the joints where one of its many legs were attached to its body, and this time, there was a satisfying crunch as my fist dug into its leg.
The giant leg snapped off and fell on the ground while a gel-like fluid tinted in purple gushed out from the injury. The aether beast let out a shrill cry while turning its attention back to me.
I raised my fist once more and Regis let out another cry to get its attention. The millipede hesitated for a moment but it decided to attack Regis again, giving me some time to absorb more aether from the crystals abundantly scattered all around us.
“How does that crap taste, Arthur?” Regis teased as he zigzagged in the air away from the millipede.
I raised my hand again, sticking up a specific finger. This one wasn’t a signal.
The gears in my brain spun as I refilled my aether core with the excre—crystals lying about. With the development in my aether core, I was technically able to use Gauntlet Form three times, but Regis hadn’t been able to strengthen himself enough to withstand the burden of three uses.
This was why we decided to test the beast’s defenses without having to resort to using Gauntlet Form.
I continued to try and search for weaknesses while Regis frantically avoided the millipede’s snapping jaws. Even after I had managed to break off two more of its countless legs and struck at the open wound where the legs attached to its body, it didn’t seem to have done any sort of lasting damage.
If anything, I seemed to have made it angrier.
While my supply of aether was abundant thanks to the crystals hoarded in this cavern, my stamina was slowly diminishing.
I guess we have no choice.
Now that I knew inflicting damage to its body hardly did anything to slow it down, the only option was to aim for its head. The problem was that its head was where its serrated pincers were and it also seemed to be the area most heavily armored by its translucent purple exoskeleton.
I would need to land both attacks using Gauntlet Form in the same spot in the hopes that it’d be enough to crack through its defenses.
Stepping off of one of its legs, I landed on the millipede’s back and began running up the smooth flesh of the millipede. Leaping onto its back wasn’t a challenge, but staying on as it reeled like a drunk stallion proved to be much more difficult.
I danced and wove around the giant millipede’s contorting trunk as it used its own legs to try and skewer me atop its own back. Still, as most of its attention was still focused on trying to catch Regis, I was able to avoid the sharp legs that stabbed down from both sides.
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The uneven terrain from the countless tergites that segmented the beast’s trunk along with the fact that the millipede continued to spasm and buck to try and fling me off provided me with a challenge I hadn’t faced in a while. I missed flying.
As I neared the millipede’s head, aether stretched across my body in a tight layer of purple. Holding my right arm up, I clenched and unclenched my hand into a fist. This time I was beckoning for Regis.
Catching my signal, he let out another yell to catch the millipede’s attention before narrowly avoiding the beast’s mandibles and flying into my hand.
I immediately felt the rush of aether from my body coalescing into my dominant hand, but I felt something other than just aether forcing its way into where Regis remained. The faintest whisper of a voice, almost mistakable for a passing thought, echoed in my head.
The voice said to kill.
I shrugged it off as my own thoughts. After all, I had come here to kill the beast.
Rushing forward while doing my best to maintain what little control I had over the flow of aether, I reached where its head connected to its trunk.
Gauntlet Form, I recited to Regis.
The deafening crash of thunder resounded throughout the cavern as our attack struck its target. The millipede’s head crashed down into the ground to form a crater the size of a small house.
Cracks and splinters branched out from where my fist connected while the entire top of its head had become slightly concave from the force.
Regis wobbled out of my hand, his expression strained, while I unleashed another wave of aether throughout my body. Experience spanning two lifetimes and countless battles taught me…
Confirm the kill.
My body erupted in a veil of purple as I struck down at the epicenter of the splintering crater atop the millipede’s head. Another splintering crack echoed upon impact, making the millipede’s body jerk.
Even with aether coating my hand, my right fist was a bloodied mess as I pulled it out from the millipede’s head.
My breath short and ragged, I contemplated whether to hit it one more time. The millipede remained lifeless on its belly, a crater formed underneath its head.
“Is it…dead?” Regis asked, his voice hoarse.
Just as I turned back to my companion, the surface beneath my feet was swept up from under me. With no time to react, I was flung off the giant beast, helplessly watching as the serrated mandibles of the millipede snapped shut over Regis.
My eyes widened at the sight of the floating black orb disappearing inside the millipede, and it took every last ounce of self-control to keep myself from screaming out his name.
Quickly reorienting myself, I landed on my feet and immediately swiveled on my heel—barely managing to avoid a barrage of sharp legs raining down from above.
The millipede towered over me and continued to unleash a torrent of strikes using its hundreds of legs. Each time it stabbed down, a foot-long hole was left in the ground but my concentration was split between dodging its legs and looking out for Regis.
Regis was corporeal, capable of going through most objects but I couldn’t see my companion at all. My panic deepened as a minute passed with no sign of the black will-o-wisp.
It wasn’t until another minute when I saw him. He was floating in the inside of the giant millipede.
I needed Regis to launch an attack strong enough to kill this giant bug. Without him, would I be able to win?
A sharp pain erupted as one of the millipede’s sharp legs left a long gash on my arm. This sobered me enough to collect myself.
Even without my arsenal of elemental magic, I had not only trained with the sword extensively in my previous life, but I had trained in combat with Asuras.
I forced myself to remember my battles against Kordri—the oppressive aura that he emanated so casually, the movements that seemed both slow and fast.
Asuras. They were my opponents.
If I needed to rely on Regis for every strong opponent I faced down here, otherwise I wouldn’t even be able to beat the scythes, let alone the asuras behind them.
Letting out a sharp breath, I thought back to Kordri’s words. As he said, hand-to-hand combat was the most versatile and adaptive form of fighting. Except, his duty at that time was to maximize the potential of my human body.
I wasn’t so human anymore.
My legs blurred as I continuously danced around the piercing strikes of the millipede’s legs, my focus heightened to a terrifying degree.
I had to accept that I wasn’t human anymore, and with that came a strength that pushed me to my utmost limit.
The more I continued dodging, the more unnecessary movements I began to shave off. My body began remembering the Asura’s teachings I had cast aside over the years—relying on magic instead.
The battle was long and drawn out. I continued to hack away at its legs until I had finally debilitated its movement.
Since, without being able to control the flow of aether, I couldn’t do enough damage with my bare hands to land a killing blow to the millipede, I decided to use the same method I had used against the chimeras.
Let’s hope this works.
Because the millipede’s legs were too large for me to actually hold as a weapon, I had to break off the sharp tip of its leg for me to be able to use it.
The millipede let out a shrill wail as it clamored toward me with its remaining legs.
Wielding the translucent purple leg like a lance, I tested out my new weapon. The conductivity of it wasn’t as strong as the chimera’s weapons but it would be sufficient. It had to be.
Dodging the serrated mandibles that the millipede struck me with, I looked for an opening.
I had to land a clean hit on the wound at the back of its head where I had struck with Gauntlet Form, but it wasn’t easy as it flailed its head like a deranged bull.
Twice had I missed my target, scraping the exterior shell of its head as it dodged just as I was about to attack. Without the help of Regis drawing its attention, it was attentive to my location, rhythmically thumping its legs on the ground to find my location.
How do I get it to stop? I pondered, running circles around it as I absorbed the aether from the crystals lying about.
My mind spun until the memory of when the chimera had first fused together popped into my head. It was able to release this concussive aura that knocked us back that was almost able to knock me unconscious.
It was uncertain if I would be able to replicate its effects but I was running out of time and my options were limited.
Gauging the amount of aether I had left in my core, I figured I could spend about seventy percent on trying to stun it and the rest on landing the attack.
Steeling myself, I yelled out. “Over here!”
Noticing that I had stopped running, the millipede furiously made its way towards me, scrambling through the piles of aether crystals within the huge cavern.
“Please, let this work,” I mumbled as I began releasing the aether from my core. My aura flared purple at the sudden discharge of aether, but I didn’t stop there.
After waiting for the millipede to draw near, I allowed the aether within me to tear through that thin threshold that was my body, unleashing it in a translucent dome of tinged purple.
Immediately, my legs felt heavy from the exertion, but the effects were more than I had hoped for.
Compared to the concussive force that the fused chimera had released, my attack felt more like the manifestation of an aura—similar to Kordri’s King’s Force. Even I wasn’t completely unaffected as I felt the very air grow heavy.
The millipede stiffened from the effects of my attack and slumped down. Tightening my grip around the impromptu weapon in my hand, I rushed forward with the remaining sliver of aether left in me.
Veering right to avoid the millipede’s sluggish attempt in pincering me, I used its own mandibles as a foothold to launch myself high up into the air.
Utilizing the speed of my fall along with the force of my swing, I drove the lance deep into the epicenter of the crater on the back of the aether beast’s head. The satisfying crunch of the millipede’s exoskeleton shattering was followed by the sensation of penetrating flesh.
The giant millipede let out a pained roar, this time more guttural and raw before its body crashed onto the ground.
Taking out a crystal from my pocket and consuming a bit more aether, I struck the back end of the millipede’s leg once more, driving it deeper into the aether beast’s head.
My body felt like lead and my core ached upon depletion. But I felt good—better than I had in a long time.
“Stay down,” I huffed, collapsing on top of the giant beast.