“What do you mean?” Tyris asked.
“We already know how Abominations are usually born. An Awakened one gets too greedy, impatient or both, and ends up losing his body. After that, either they find a way to stabilise their energy form or death ensues.
In this case though, someone has purposely Awakened humans, beasts and monsters against their will and then attempted an experiment as brilliant as much as twisted. Newborn Abominations are made entirely out of energy, with little to no sense of self at all.
By merging them together, our culprit has found a way to stabilise their ethereal forms while at the same time making easier for them to possess a body. Since they are almost mindless hungry beings, they offer no resistance to the merging process.
Energy is energy after all, they perceive it as feeding until it’s too late. Also, being hybrids of multiple species, they can inhabit almost any body. On paper it’s a great idea, but once they start regaining their minds, the conflicting personalities are incapable of coexisting.
As we have witnessed, their constant fight for control turns into madness.”
“Are you sure about this?” Tyris was pondering about the implications of their discovery. The situation was already bad, but if Leegaain was right, it was just the beginning.
“Very.” He nodded.
“Once I established the connection, I was assaulted by at least one hundred different minds, each one of them marked by the pain of captivity and of being forcefully turned into Abominations.
Too bad that before I could sort out their memories and ask some questions, they recognized me as a foreign mind and piled up on me all at once.”
“For once, I think you are wrong, old friend.” Tyris started pacing in circles, trying to ease her nervousness.
“When everything started, I would find single Abominations, indistinguishable by normal ones except for their abnormal spawn rate. Now we have faced a small group, that not only had evolved, but despite their madness coordinated their attacks, both in the physical plane and psychic one.
What does this tell you?”
“That our opponent has spent quite a lot of time perfecting his method, and now he’s attempting to further step up his game.”
“No, you are underestimating whoever this is. Yes, they were mad, but still able to work together. Also, you told me that once they recognized you, they stopped fighting and attacked you as one. This means that their maker already has a degree of control over them.
He left them behind in order to escape from us, even predicting that we would have tried to probe their minds, leaving a trap behind. How badly would you be injured without my help?”
Leegaain inwardly cursed at his stupidity. Either the mental attack had been stronger than he had suspected, or he was really becoming an old fool.
“Physically, not much. Even giving them hours, their attacks were still too weak. Their combined psychic attack, though, took me by surprise. I would have needed weeks, if not months to heal the telepathic scars.”
“Exactly. Our enemy is getting bolder with every success. It’s only a matter of time before the Gorgon Empire starts getting targeted too.”
“I wish you were right, but we are past that point already. In the last months, a few Abominations wreaked havoc in several border cities. At first I was happy about that. Milea never fought one, so I thought it would do her good to have some practice.
But when she reported me to how many of those monsters she encountered, I couldn’t help but worry. There were more than usually spawn in a year. Why do you think I accepted to come here? It was obvious that your problem had turned into our problem.”
Hearing those words, Tyris couldn’t help but worry.
“This explains a lot. He conducted the first step of his plan in my country, the second in yours, probably hoping I would not notice, and then escalated things here again. We need to warn Salaark. Her territory is the biggest, and has so many uninhabited areas you could hide whole armies. She could be the next target.”
“Are we talking about the same Salaark? The harbinger of chaos? The scorching Sun? The red death? Unlike us, she has never kept a low profile. It would be crazy messing with her.”
“If I’m right, the one behind this madness knows about us Guardians and it’s testing our limits. Getting on the black list of three Guardians instead of two is not a big deal.”
“What do you mean you have lost them?” Captain Locrias of the Queen’s corps couldn’t believe his ears.
Toman was the most skilled member of the unit at tailing their target, yet she had lost track of Lith many times during his last visit. He moved so fast and erratically that it was impossible for her to keep following him and not get discovered.
This time though, things were even worse. Lith and his odd friend had met outside the huntress’s house and then had disappeared like ghosts.
“I’m sorry Captain, but I had to keep my distance and couldn’t use any eavesdropping air spells to maintain my cover. I don’t know how he does it, but in the past that barbarian has been able to perceive me every time I got too close or used air magic.
He then just suddenly pops behind my back and asks me why I was following him, forcing me to escape, but never attempting to chase me.” Having suddenly became incapable of doing her job frustrated Toman to no end.
“Dammit, with what face can I report this to the Queen? It was fine not knowing anything about this Ryman guy, as long he was just the huntress’ lover and kept a low profile. After what has happened today however, he is now one of our priorities.”
“Indeed. Someone that can put his hands on that sociopath and get it back in one piece could be useful leverage.” Said Peicus, the second in command.
“That’s why I hate backwater villages.” The Captain said shaking his head in frustration.
“It’s impossible to perform a decent background check on newcomers. No one knows him and no one cares about his past. According to Toman’s report he is a great expert, even able to use Warp Steps for instant movements.
We need to find out who he is and bring him to our side. The fact that he can keep Lith’s murderous impulses in check is just the icing on the cake.” Actually, Ryman was incapable of using dimensional magic, he was just that fast.
“I’m sorry, Captain.” Vykaros, the liaison with the Mage association, had an embarrassed expression that didn’t bode well.
“No one matching Ryman’s name or description has ever attended an academy, nor is registered in any guild based in the Griffon Kingdom. The guy is a ghost.”
“Oh, come on! Just because he walked out of the woods in his birthday suit a month ago, it’s impossible for him to have no past. Men do not sprout like mushrooms!”
Much to Captain Locrias dismay, it was exactly what had happened.
Lith spent the next two days making up for the lost quality time with his family. Too much time had passed since their last treatment, so he was forced to expel the newly accumulated impurities in their bodies that were making them age faster due to the daily fatigue, deteriorating their health.
– “It seems that unlike Awakened ones, that progressively get rid of the impurities they are born with, normal humans and fake mages keep producing new ones. It must be the reason my looks are improving over time.” Lith pondered.
“Or not.” Solus giggled. “That’s a very natural phenomenon called: ‘growing up’. Sure, having a smooth skin and silky hair helps, but your main problem has always been the perpetual glaring.” –
It was one of those arguments where they had to agree to disagree.
Ryman’s magic abilities grew by leaps and bounds under Lith’s supervision. He had no idea how true magic worked. In his Ry form, air and fire magic were natural for him like breathing, turning his thoughts into reality.
The other elements however, were another story. He had no skill or experience with them, so Lith taught him first magic, giving the foundations to improve his talent. Lith also taught him about Invigoration and Accumulation, something that Scarlett had overlooked doing.
“Probably she wanted me to learn everything by myself.” Ryman pondered.
“In nature, power without wisdom is the greatest madness. I’m very sorry I can’t give you anything in return.”
Ryman had tried teaching Lith how to change form, but with no success. Lith understood the theory behind it, but whenever he attempted to do it, nothing would happen. There was no pain, no tickling sensation running through his body.
He would just circulate his mana uselessly.
“It doesn’t matter. If what occurred in the camp happens again, at least I should be able to control the process of transformation. Also, thanks to you, now I know how to teach Tista true magic if the necessity ever arises.”
“Be careful, Scourge. A great power can be a curse for such a gentle soul.”
“Tsk!” Lith scoffed. “As much as I love my sister, she needs to grow up. Gentle or not, one can’t remain a cub their whole life. There is a time when one has to learn how to use his fangs to bring the hurt.”
“I could not have said it better.” Ryman laughed.
Before going back to the academy, Lith forged him a dimensional ring to avoid being forced to see Ryman undress every time he took his Skoll form.
Later that week, Gurid Renkin was found dead in his bed, and Nana certified him to have died of a natural cause.
– “A huge blast of dark magic naturally causes the heart to stop, hence it’s a natural cause.” – She inwardly added having recognized the effects of her beloved spell Ekidu Ruha(*). But that’s another story.
Back at the White Griffon, Lith was surprised to find that all of his Professors were willing to teach him privately until the academies officially started operating again. Of course, there was a sour note.
Unlike his peers, Professor Rudd didn’t like his new task. By royal decree, he had to teach dimensional magic to Lith by actually giving him pointers and explanations, violating everything Rudd believed in.
Ignoring a royal decree was an act of treason though and Rudd treasured his possessions and head more than he hated commoners.
“You already know the initial steps.” Rudd snarled each word like someone was taking them out of his mouth with a clamp.
“First comes materializing a core made of earth magic, amplified by air and stabilised by water. The trick here is balance.” Lith nodded, while Rudd executed a short spell that conjured a small ball of light.
“Then comes creating an entry and exit point. To stabilise them water magic must flow from one to another, like they are two ends of the same limb. The key is finesse.” The ball of light dissipated. Rudd performed another spell that created two small black spheres.
“Third, you need to stretch and enlarge them by giving them the same amount of mana at the same time. The key is timing.” Lith nodded again, this was the step he was stuck at.
“Last, you must connect them. To do it, you need the two cores to become one again, their energies must flow one toward the other and meet exactly halfway through. The key here is patience.”
“That’s it?” Lith was flabbergasted.
“You had educational spells all this time and yet you had us needlessly bang our heads? Why you didn’t teach us those in the first place?”
“Because every idiot can learn dimensional magic that way!” Rudd lied through his teeth. He had taught those spells in the past, for a price, and the success rate of his students had never changed.
“Dimensional magic is too powerful for anyone to handle. Power without wisdom is the greatest madness!” Lith would have rebuked, but Professor Rudd had unknowingly quoted Ryman, with whom Lith agreed.
“If it wasn’t for the orders of a certain someone, I would have never wasted my time like this. So instead of flapping your gums, get to work!”
Lith inwardly scoffed. He couldn’t wait to get rid of that old coot.
Professor Rudd sat down on his chair, waiting for the little runt to beg for pointers. Rudd knew he would be forced to help him, but that didn’t mean he would make it easy for Lith.
The minutes passed and Lith kept practicing relentlessly. Rudd was about to get up to stretch his legs a bit, when a perfect Warp Gate opened in front of his incredulous eyes.
Thanks to all the practice in controlling the flow of magic under the effects of Small World, Lith’s magic sensitivity had improved tremendously, and so did his control over the mana’s finest movements.
“Not bad for a commoner. Right Professor?”