The Beginning After The End - Chapter 271
Chapter 271: Back to the Basics
My vision focused on the towering figure as I approached the ensuing battle. There were two ascenders fighting against it, and from this distance, they looked more like fanged mice scurrying desperately around a giant orc. I knew without looking who the two were—Taegen and Arian were the only ones capable of staying alive and keeping the titan occupied for this long.
I rushed toward the colossal guardian, tearing divots into the barren ground as I gained speed. My hand gripped tightly around the curved handle of the white dagger; compared to the size of the monster I would be facing, this dagger couldn’t even serve as its toothpick, but having it in my hand filled me with the confidence I needed.
Expending most of my reserves on controlling the aetheric blast had almost the same benefit as going through the three stages of refining my core and aether channels—albeit with the added risk of death.
I could feel the complex, minute differences in the way the aether flowed through my body.
Using aether for the first time after forging my new core had felt like I was trying to regulate the direction and speed of the aether’s flow using a kitchen strainer. Now, however, I felt like I had a proper floodgate installed while the aqueducts leading to various points throughout my body were slowly being tunneled and constructed.
I was physically stronger and sturdier than ever before but I knew it wasn’t enough to face off against the Scythes just yet.
My entire arsenal had been taken from me and I was given a single, ethereal weapon. I finally had begun to learn how to wield it. Now, to make up for the versatility that I had lost in mana, I needed to be able to wield aether at a level far above not only the Indrath Clan, but also the ancient mages.
The first one to notice my presence was the colossal beast. Its bat-like face whipped toward me and let out a furious shriek that shook the ground.
As I coalesced aether to my legs, accelerating to meet the beast head on, I was surprised by how much more naturally the action came. Everything but the beast’s shoveled face became a blur as I clad aether around the dagger.
I leaped from the ground, spinning to gain momentum for my attack. Even the beast wasn’t prepared for the sudden increase in my speed as it tried to pull its head back up.
It wasn’t fast enough.
The dagger held in my hand, blade down, turned to a shimmering streak of white and purple as it pierced through the side of its nose. And while my weapon was barely a fraction of its size, the impact was anything but.
The sound of thunder erupted from the impact, sending shockwaves of force so strong that it was almost visible. Its head whipped to the side, staggering the beast long enough for Arian to charge up and unleash a flurry of golden crescents. Taegen, whose body was adorned in an intricate earthen armor, launched a devastating strike nearly as loud as my own using mace.
Both Arian and Taegen had focused on the legs that were carrying the brunt of the beast’s weight after my attack had hit.
The barrage of golden arcs and the ear-shattering mace strike were barely able to draw blood but they were enough to sweep the beast’s legs from right under its body.
With an enraged roar, the titan crashed on its side, shattering the ground and sending tremors that nearly fell the very tower it was trying to protect.
Both Taegen and Arian had to fall back immediately after it launched its attack—just the weight of the titan’s body alone would be enough to crush even the most powerful mages.
“Effeminate One! Is Lady Caera safe?” Taegen yelled out as soon as he and Arian retreated to a safe distance.
“She’s recovering at a safe distance with Daria!” I shouted back, my gaze fixed on the giant beast trying to get back up to its feet.
“Looks like we’re in your debt,” Arian replied, his voice quiet but oddly clear despite his distance and the noise coming from the titan.
Judging by the powerful vibrations that pulsated from his sword and those golden crescents, it seemed that his magic stemmed around specific subsets of wind and gravity affinities.
Taegen, on the other hand, surprised me even more, as his magic didn’t stop at just the earthen armor. Every step he took seemed to manipulate not only his own armor but the earth around him. Even as he swung his mace, chunks of the ground would envelop his weapon, molding around it to form a larger mace.
I didn’t waste the opportunity either, landing several more attacks at its face in order to keep it from getting back up for as long as possible.
Despite its colossal size, however, the beast was surprisingly deft. It was able to recover by pushing off the ground with its long tail. As soon as it was back up on all six of its feet, it whirled both its neck and tail like a whip, hollowing out chunks of the ground where it passed and launching shards of earth all around it in an attempt to keep us at a distance.
I weaved through the chunks of earth the size of carriages hailing down in an attempt to stay within striking range. With my aether core still in the middle of replenishing its reserves, I couldn’t risk using aether blast.
The problem was that the beast was so large that no amount of stabbing or hitting was going to do any significant damage unless I found a weak spot—if one even existed.
A loud crash resounded amidst the ensuing chaos and the beast buckled for a moment before it whipped its tail. Taegen, completely clad in stone armor that made him look more like a golem than a human, had tackled the beast.
And almost immediately, he was smacked away like a dung fly. He crashed like a meteor into the ground and was immediately buried within a thick cloud of dust and debris. It had been ingrained in me to always keep the entire battlefield within my view, storing everything happening around me in my head even if I couldn’t immediately act on it.
Reaching its front left leg where Arian had previously launched his attack, I was able to see some deep gashes on its three-story-high leg. I would have to focus on those.
I kicked off the ground and plunged my dagger, and the aether surrounding it, into a particularly deep gash that Arian had made.
Pinkish blood spilled everywhere, covering me almost entirely. A giant shadow suddenly enveloped me as the beast’s head fast approached.
Prying the dagger from its flesh, I prepared to meet it head on until a swirling sphere of mana struck the side of the beast.
Arian was several yards away, his body giving off a tremendous aura as the beast turned to face him.
The swordsman’s expression darkened as he prepared to face off against the colossal monster, when an idea came to mind.
“How much stronger of an attack can you launch?” I yelled. The beast kept its head high, keeping both of us in its field of view…as if it was trying to decide which one to kill first.
“Perhaps five times the strength, but I would need more time to prepare,” Arian answered, his voice as clear as if he was standing right beside me. “Why do you ask?”
“You’ll have to trust me on this!” I shouted back before turning my attention back to the beast.
I turned into a flurry of blades, dancing within its six giant legs as I carved gashes and dodged, then carved gashes into those gashes in an attempt to keep the colossal beast’s attention solely on me.
The earth shook with each step it took and I would have to dodge the blurring tail every once in a while as it attempted to strike me from right under it.
All my focus was spent actively limiting my output of aether, controlling it as efficiently as I could in preparation of the perfect time.
“I’m ready,” Arian said from afar, his figure no larger than a white crow from where I was.
A flash of gold suddenly filled my vision a second before a deafening explosion thundered through the air.
Arian had unleashed a giant blast of cutting force directly at the beast, enveloping its entire head in the bright golden surge of light.
I leaned forward, crossing my arms in front of me to keep from getting blown away by the attack.
It wasn’t just Caera. They were also hiding their strength while in the convergence zone.
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Despite the dire situation we were in, I couldn’t help but think to myself how little of a chance Dicathen truly had in winning the war. Had Arian, Taegen and the ascenders all joined their people to fight against us, the war would’ve been over much faster.
The beast’s head whipped back on its long neck as the force from Arian’s attack. And while the beast was disgruntled and in pain, it focused its attention back on me.
I needed its attention focused elsewhere, and the beast itself mad enough to use its breath attack again, but it seemed like it was either smarter than I had given credit, or too wary of the aether that I gave off.
As I looked for an opening to deepen a wound that I had repeatedly afflicted, the beast suddenly began stamping all of its feet at the ground.
Dust rose, covering my vision of the beast’s legs and the full force of the tail that struck me from behind moments later.
The world turned white as the blinding pain spread throughout my body, and by the time I came to, I was on the ground, several dozens of yards away from the beast.
I pushed myself up, a groan escaping from my throat. My vision blurred and the world seemed to be tilting a bit, but overall, I was fine.
‘Still barely a scratch on Mr. Big-and-nasty, huh,’ Regis chimed.
“You’re awake,” I managed to say before letting out a cough. “Can you help?”
‘No. I haven’t been absorbing aether from your body like I usually do in order to heal since I knew you’d be fighting,’ Regis replied.
‘There is one alternative, though,’ Regis mentioned.
My brows furrowed as I continued watching the beast fight Arian as well as Taegen, who had managed to return to the battle. “What is it?”
‘Using the Destruction Rune,’ Regis answered after a beat of hesitation. ‘Just your aether reserves should be enough.’
Anger and fear rose up in me as I answered. “No.”
For once, Regis didn’t push me. He remained quiet as I let the last aches and kinks in my body heal. I wanted to use the Destruction Rune more than anyone, but the last attempt led me to stabbing myself to keep from descending into a state of madness—and I had barely used its powers.
There was also the added problem of witnesses. Both Arian and Taegen would see, and even if Caera was able to use the corrupt flames, I’m sure a purple flame capable of destroying a nine-story-high beast would raise some questions.
As I returned to the battlefield, a low thrum sounded from the beast—more specifically, its mouth.
It was going to use its breath attack again!
Arian had retreated to a safe distance, drinking several vials of elixirs in an attempt to recover. Meanwhile, the beast focused on Taegen, whose giant stone-clad hands were scooping up giant pieces of earth, condensing and launching them at its legs where I had injured it.
Its fang-lined maw was spread even wider than before and I could feel the fluctuations in the air. Even without the ability to sense mana, I knew what would soon be coming.
I needed to get below the beast’s head, now.
Except, the only non elemental I could use was one that I had only tried with mana. Back then, my body couldn’t withstand the burden of it, but even if it could now, I wasn’t able to manipulate mana.
Taking a sharp breath, I focused internally on the state of my body as I continued sprinting toward the beast. I tried to feel every muscle in my leg, back, hip, and core move in a predetermined manner in a set order, pushing my body to move a certain way.
I wanted to enhance every step of this process, imbuing power into each and every micromovement of muscles, tendons, and joints in order to far surpass the limits of even asuras.
I wanted to use Burst Step.
Derived from the pantheons’ use of a single explosive step, the Burst Step I had developed, merging the fundamental theory of mana manipulation along with my knowledge of the human anatomy, was going from a standstill position to an explosive dash in a single instant—almost to the point where, to the unsuspecting eye, the body would look almost pulled at high speeds by a higher force.
Albeit still linear and incomplete, I had surpassed the original technique of the pantheons with Burst Step. The real question at this moment was, could I replicate or even go beyond my initial success while using aether?
With my newly formed passages within my body, I timed the strength, location and flow of aether, at least trying to replicate the explosiveness in speed even if I had to forgo starting from a standstill position.
And, largely, it worked.
Tempering my core and forging my aether passages through all of the trials and tribulations had allowed me with a certain precision in my control. And as if the world had been pulled away from right under me, the world blurred as my eyes remained focused on my destination.
My position and timing were both ideal as a shimmering sphere of energy formed within the beast’s mouth.
I should’ve been happy. Hell, I should’ve been ecstatic. If I could do this now, with enough practice, this meant that I would be able to fully use Burst Step to my heart’s content.
But I wasn’t satisfied. I felt like I was missing something—the same feeling as a word lost on the tip of the tongue. Touching upon the basis of Burst Step, seeing the world pulled from right under me as I used this technique made me feel like I was on the cusp of something greater. Except I didn’t know what.
With no time to ponder, I coalesced the remaining aether into the center of my palm and pushed out a condensed blast of violet that clamped the beast’s lower jaw shut just as it was about to release its destructive breath attack.
For a moment, I feared that the beast would simply open back its mouth and release the blast of energy, but Taegen reacted as if he had read my mind.
A giant boulder hurtled from the sky, and only after a moment did I realize it was Taegen who had molded his entire armor into the head of his mace to form this giant earthen sphere.
With both my attack and his keeping its shoveled maw shut, the beast’s breath attack imploded within its mouth.
A muted thud resounded and the shockwave generated within the beast’s mouth from the force was strong enough to send Taegen and even Arian hurtling through the air.
I had managed to anchor myself, digging both my arms and feet into the ground in order to stay within range.
While drained and in pain, I knew that the beast was still alive by how it struggled to regain its balance despite the clouds of smoke erupting from its head. And even though I still struggled with that word on the tip of my tongue, I had to end this battle first.
I pulled out the dagger back from its sheath and drove it straight into my thigh.
‘Regis. Let’s do it,’ I said and a simple grunt of affirmation was all it took before a tsunami of knowledge, insight and—most of all—power, washed over me.
Taking the chance while both Taegen and Arian were disoriented and hopefully unconscious, I engulfed the wounded and defenseless titan in the cold, amethyst flames of destruction.
The last bits of my memories were of myself, discontent and hungry for more death, my eyes searching for the next victim. However, the waves of pain radiating from the dagger kept me sane enough to drive it in deeper, eventually causing my body to collapse.
However, despite how pathetic I felt—controlled by a power that I had unlocked—an epiphany came to me. I knew what was missing in Burst Step. That’s when darkness overtook me.