The Beginning After The End - Chapter 263
Chapter 263: Cornered
Panic began bubbling up in the pit of my stomach as the platform disappeared from view. I didn’t have the confidence to say that I’d survive the impact after hitting the ground at this speed. Worse yet was the fact that I might not hit anything at all. Knowing that aether was involved in making this place, the possibility of falling indefinitely was all too real.
I remembered the helpless void that I had trapped myself in before waking up in this dungeon. The sheer numbness and darkness that had swallowed my mind and soul was something that brought chills down my spine at the mere recollection of it.
The impact I felt on my back, however, snapped me back to reality. I had landed on a platform.
The otherworldly surface glowed a soft white underneath me. As my mind tried to process what had happened, another crash resounded behind me.
“Regis! Are you okay?” I asked as my companion swaggered back up into the air, hovering a few feet above the glowing white platform.
“I don’t know… but for someone incorporeal, a lot of shit sure can touch me in this godforsaken place,” Regis groused.
I cracked a smile, happy to see my companion complain…and happy to have solid ground beneath me. However, what bothered me was the fact that, behind us, there were no other platforms. Just like when we had first arrived here.
With little choice but to walk up the lone staircase up ahead, we made our way across the platform and climbed the stairs to see the familiar glow of red on the platform in front of us.
I stared dumbfoundedly at the view ahead, struck with a sudden sense of déjà vu. “Regis. Please tell me you’re thinking the same thing I am.”
“If you’re thinking of a certain Italian plumber with a mustache, and what happens to him when he falls, then yeah,” Regis muttered.
“Crude metaphor of an ancient video game aside, I think you may have a point,” I replied. “But we’ll find out for sure once we step on it.”
“You mean once you step on it.” Regis shot toward me, disappearing into my hand.
Letting out a sigh, I stepped onto the platform. Almost immediately, I felt the sensation of aether being sucked out of me while the glowing red platform stretched out in length.
“I’m not even surprised,” I muttered, trudging forward.
I coalesced aether from my left hand this time, limiting the rate at which aether left my body as I neared the staircase.
‘Easy,’ Regis scoffed.
I stopped a few steps short of the staircase.
‘Wait, no. Please don’t tell me…’
“Where else am I going to find another environment that naturally pulls aether out of me?” I asked before smirking. “Besides, didn’t you just say it was easy?”
Despite having experience launching a destructive blast of aether from the palm of my hand, the second time wasn’t any easier. In fact, because I had become more accustomed to coalescing aether in my right hand, I had an even harder time with my left.
Needless to say, I walked up the staircase to the next platform with a shattered left hand, a near-empty aether core… and a smile on my face.
Regis glared daggers at me, his size once again shrunken from having to inject his aether into me. “Masochist.”
Ignoring the potential psychological repercussions of my dangerous actions since waking up in this dungeon, I stepped onto the orange platform. I dodged the invisible centaur beast once more, but rather than making the mistake of killing it and letting it disappear, I pinned it down and absorbed its aether first.
The great thing about expanding my aether passages was that I was no longer limited to consuming aether using my mouth. I could now absorb through my hand with dignity and poise.
Stepping up onto the blue platform, recovered and brimming with energy, I patiently solved the spinning platform puzzle.
My heart finally calmed after stepping onto the staircase leading to the next platform. The memory of the ground flipping from straight beneath me and sending me down a void had been seared into both our minds.
“Please let this next one be the exit,” Regis prayed, his horns practically drooping.
As we reached the top of the stairs, I couldn’t help but grow anxious.
The platform was about twice as big as the previous platforms and emitted an ominous black light.
I pushed aside my worries as my hand subconsciously reached for the bag carrying Sylvie’s stone. Despite the state she was in, my bond had become an anchor for me and a constant reminder of what my goals were.
Steeling myself, I stepped up onto the black platform with Regis following close behind. As soon as my feet were both planted on the glowing black surface, the entire platform began to thrum deeply.
My eyes scanned my surroundings, my senses on full alert for any dangers coming our way. The thrumming grew louder to an almost deafening degree until, suddenly, hundreds of black wires shot out from all four edges of the square platform, criss-crossing with each other to form a fence-like enclosing that stretched high above us.
Regis looked up and around. “That can’t be good.”
A thick layer of aether clung evenly over my body as I stepped toward the center. Seeing that we were blocked from moving forward meant that we needed to solve some sort of puzzle…or kill something in here.
As if reading my thoughts, the ground a few yards in front of me began rippling as a large mound of glowing black began growing from the center of it.
The expanse of purple surrounding us darkened as a towering figure burgeoned from the very ground we were standing on.
I gazed up at the shadowy giant looming over us. The bipedal creature was at least five times my height and looked like it was wearing a full set of armor of the same shadowy material as the rest of its body, along with a viking helmet with two horns curling upward. As it stepped toward us, causing the entire platform to tremble, I said the only thing appropriate for a situation like this.
“Look, Regis. It’s your dad.”
My companion regarded me for moment, deadpan. “I liked you better when you were depressed.”
The glowing black floor shook furiously as I effortlessly dodged the crashing strike launched by the shadowy sentinel. Its movements were slow but I knew that getting hit even once could spell death.
“Regis.” I held out my hand. “Gauntlet Form.”
As Regist flew into my hand and I siphoned aether through him, a sinister voice screamed at me, driving a nail to my brain.
‘Kill it. Slaughter it!’
I buckled from surprise and pain, just barely managing to avoid the low sweep of the golem’s arm.
With no time to wonder and question, I clenched my smoky-black fist and struck the giant golem’s leg.
A muted explosion resounded from the impact, but the golem only stumbled back a step.
The tight grip I felt around my core reminded me that the number of times I could use this was limited, but it seemed like even a hundred of these wouldn’t be able to kill the giant beast.
The golem let out a deafening roar, apparently pissed that I had managed to give it a bruise.
I grimaced as I clenched my shadow-clad fist once more. “Again!”
Channeling even more of my aether through Regis, I let the destructive power build. The smokey-black aura from Regis began to spread, slowly climbing up my arm.
*** You are reading on https://FreeWebNovelonline.com ***
Meanwhile the voice that had pierced into my brain actually began to quiet. Its once-desperate demand turned to mofillied appeals.
‘You need me. I’m the only one that can get you out of here. Don’t you want to see your family again? Don’t you want to see Tessia?’
“N-No,” I said through gritted teeth. Its tantalizing voice was actually scarier than when it screamed out its demands.
I fought to keep sane, wanting whatever this foreign demon was to get out of my head.
A forceful blow that threw me off the ground and slammed me against the black fence granted me my wish…and also a few broken ribs.
Coughing out a mouthful of blood, I landed onto my back to see Regis staring at me.
“What the hell happened? Are you okay?” the shadowy black ball asked before turning. “Watch out!”
I rolled out of the way, narrowly avoiding the giant golem as it tried to step on me.
Getting up to my feet while the remaining aether in my body slowly healed me, I looked at Regis. “Was that you speaking…in my head?”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, frustrated. “Did you get hit in the head? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s a giant shadow golem trying to kill us.”
“I got hit everywhere,” I retorted, regarding Regis. I frowned as I looked at my companion. “The voice…nevermind.”
Shaking off the lingering aches of my body even as my ribs had healed, the giant golem and I began playing a game of cat and mouse. With hesitations keeping me from imbuing more of my aether, I was forced to try and attack its ‘weak points’.
Turns out, it didn’t have any. Its faceless head was just as hard as its armored crotch and chest.
Out of options, I did the only thing I could do. Keeping my distance, I began coalescing aether into the center of my palm.
As a thin layer of purple began spreading from the center of my hand, I hoped that my limited pool of aether would somehow dwindle the recoil of the aether blast.
But as I prepared to unleash the destructive blast of aether, I couldn’t help but question its capability. It was the wrong moment and time to be introspecting but I couldn’t help but wonder how this raw blast of energy stemmed from aether.
Like mana, did aether have a pure, affinity-less form, or was this power—like the strengthening of my body—a branch of vivum? But Lady Myre had explained vivum as the influence over all living components.
That’s when it hit me.
I had been on the right track with both the Gauntlet Form and the aetheric blast but they were merely a part of the bigger picture.
I channeled aether into my hand once more. But it was different this time. The very action of cladding my hand in aether felt more fluid… more natural and controlled.
Suddenly, an unbearable pain enveloped my hand, causing me to stop in my tracks. I looked down at my hands to see what looked like runes forming on the backs of my hands. They lingered for less than a second before the runes disappeared from view. However, I could feel the runes travelling up my arm like a white hot ball of iron before trailing down my back and legs before coming back up and pressing on the base of my spine.
Despite my growing tolerance for pain, the pain caused by whatever had happened nearly caused me to faint. However, for some reason, I felt reassured by what had just happened.
I snapped out of my reverie at the sound of Regis’ voice right beside me, and I realized that I had been in the middle of a fight against a towering shadow-like golem.
I dipped my head and prepared for an impact that never came.
“Arthur, look,” Regis stated.
Raising my head, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
The black sentinel, whose figure towered over thirty feet high, was slowly backing away from me.
I could see Regis looking at the sight in disbelief as well.
“What did you do?” he asked.
“I-I’m not sure.” I looked down at my hands to see nothing there. However, when I coalesced aether into my hand, a warm sensation spread from my lower back along with a flood of knowledge.
I staggered forward, nearly losing balance at the jarring sensation. It only lasted a split second, but I knew the newfound knowledge now ingrained into my brain would last forever.
“…uction, ” I muttered, looking at my empty hands.
“What?” Regis asked, floating down and staring at me. “Are you okay, Arthur?”
I could feel my lips curve up into a grin. “I’m better than okay. I understand now.”
“Understand what?” Regis rebutted. “You’re freaking me out, Arthur.”
Lifting my cloak and shirt up, I showed Regis my lower back. “This.”
My companion’s eyes widened as he saw the silvery-white rune glowing on my spine, just above my hip. “Do you know what this rune says?”
Regis shook his head as I let go of my cloak and shirt, covering my back.
“I do,” I said with a grin plastered on my face. “And so does that thing.”
I approached the giant shadowy knight, my gait calm and deliberate. The closer I got to the towering golem, the more I could see its form hunch, as if it was trying to make itself smaller in my presence.
I was no longer the one trapped in here with this beast—the beast was now trapped in here with me.
Slowly raising my arm, I channeled aether into my right hand. The warm touch of the rune carved onto my back reassured me and the aether manifested into a small flame that glistened like pure amethyst.
The amethyst flame clung to my palm like a newborn. There was no wild ferocity or heat that emanated from this flame. It was cold, tranquil, and silent like the breath of something transcendent.
At the sight of this ethereal flame, the shadowy golem body began to tremble but not a shred of compassion could be mustered for this beast.
Like a cornered rat, the giant golem lashed out, slamming down its massive arms to try and flatten me.
I raised my arm, meeting his giant fists with my right hand. The amethyst flames silently consumed its entire two fists, leaving not even a trace of its shadowy hands.
The shadowy beast bellowed in rage, desperately flailing its arms at me.
Using its arm as a ramp, I rushed up and drove my flame-clad hand into its head.
“Farewell,” I said softly as I watched its head deteriorate from the violet flames and its body sink back down into the black platform.