(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thank you!!)
And so, the morning of this particular day began just as any other for Kain as well.
He woke from the bed when the vine-man knocked on the door in that irritating rhythm of his. Or its. Whatever.
He splashed water on his face, got dressed, ran downstairs to grab a chow – that still-disgusting meat bun – and dashed outside the fort to meet up with Emma.
He hadn’t forgotten about meditation and ch’i training, it’s just that the very first thing he did nowadays were the archery and combat training using that dagger he found in the armory.
He felt pretty good with the rate of progress in Archery. Kain and Emma sat around making bows that would fit his smaller physique and although the first batch of a dozen was a total bust, gradually they got better at crafting it, so now, he had in his hand a pretty nice shortbow.
It wasn’t still at a level that could be sold in a weapon shop but for a thing hammered out by two idiots with no experience, it entirely was passable, all things considered.
That was a month ago. And now he had moved onto something slightly bigger, capable of firing an arrow that was also longer. He got better at handling them, in other words. Oh, how good he felt at finding something he was actually very good at.
As for handling the dagger, he was still a long way off from looking the part of a professional. But he was getting there. Eventually.
“Hey, morning, Emma.”
Kain waved his hand, greeting her. She waved back and beckoned him over impatiently.
“What’s the matter? You look flustered.”
Kain came up next to her, noticing how riled up she seemed to him from the outside.
“That is because I spotted a herd of yellow horned goats passing by not too far from here only an hour ago!! Hurry up, will you? Before all that tasty, delicious meat disappears!!”
She grabbed his shoulder and began forcibly pulling him towards the exit of the dead city.
Kain tilted his head. “Eh? So why didn’t you, you know, hunt them by yourself?”
“Dummy. It’s a good opportunity to get some live practice in for you. Those goats are seriously nimble, after all. So, stop being a slowpoke and come with me!!”
Resigned to being pulled around like a log of wood, Kain just gave up and let her do whatever she wished. Not that he minded, though – those goats did taste great when roasted in the open pit. Didn’t matter if they lacked spice, salt, oil – the meat was way too good to be real.
And them being a real handful in the densely wooded area did make them good for a target practice for him, too. So, there.
Kain couldn’t help but wonder what the Old Man might have to say regarding this lackadaisical approach to his training regime. He would, most likely, not approve and throw a tantrum.
It was his fault, though – he left without saying much and hadn’t shown up until now. Nobody knew just when he was coming back. Granted, there were only two people here, not counting that crimson-colored bird, but still.
Well, he did leave Emma in charge of his training. If things go awry then he should blame her for whatever mishaps that had gone down during his absence.
Swiftly enough, the pair of them left the city and was hoofing it across the barren lands in front of the massive ramparts.
However, it was here that their footsteps came to an abrupt stop. Because, almost at the same time, both Emma and Kain sensed a presence heading towards them from up above. And it was a big one.
Reflexively, they looked up.
Kain’s continuous meditation helped to develop his ch’i-related perception and unbeknownst to him, he was already forming a Yi Hai of his own. Since the Old Man wasn’t around to guide him, though, it was not being applied correctly, however.
But such a thing didn’t mean Kain wasn’t using his new-found ability to casually check things out, even if that meant he wasn’t 100% sure of what he was seeing at that moment.
But with something that big, it didn’t take a genius to figure out this was going to become a serious matter very soon.
When they looked up at the crisp, late Autumn sky, they could see something flying over there. Even though his eyesight had improved significantly during his stay here, it was still difficult to make out what that something was.
It hovered, then swooped around, flying at a supersonic speed towards the Tetamus mountain range’s naturally unscalable walls, before spinning back and coming to where Kain and Emma were.
It’s huge, thought Kain. What the hell could be that big?! It’s as big as a Sky Ark from back then!!
Not only big, it was also serious fast. Logically, to have something that big and fly so fast, it couldn’t be done. Not with the level of scientific progress this world had made. It made no sense at all. Kain felt a bucket of cold sweat trickle down his backside.
At the same time, Emma was shaking like crazy. Her eyes were wide, her pupils were constricting, her nostrils were flaring wildly. Her lips parted and closed at the repeated attempts to say something, but her words were firmly stuck in her throat, refusing to come out.
But her jaw finally drooped low. She could fully take in the incredulous sight of the huge flying thing that was now headed directly to where they were.
And with her mouth finally slack, some stuttering words began to flow out. She sounded more like as if her soul was leaving her, though.
“No, no, no, no, no, no. No way. No, that can not be. That, that is…. that is not what I think it is, right? Eh? No way, that…
That is an Elder Dragon!!”
Kain froze on the spot too, after hearing her mutter the “D” word.
“Wait, what? Hold up. What the hell is an Elder Dragon?!”
Kain grabbed Emma and shook her hard. He had no idea what made it an elder, and by definition more special than a regular dragon, but since there was the distinction it must have meant something not very nice. And he’d love to find out why.
But she didn’t tell him why an Elder Dragon was worse than a normal dragon sans the “Elder” bit.
Instead, she shouted out aloud.
“RUN AWAY!! Evacuate and hide, now!!”
Like a lightning bolt, she grabbed Kain and then ran back towards the ramparts of the city.
But the Elder Dragon was just too fast. Kain could tell that they were not going to make it in time.
And just like that, with an ear-splitting “BOOM” the dragon landed right before them, raising a thick cloud of dust to obscure the view.
Kain heard a low growling that sounded like a really, really evil, big block V8 motor idling just off throttle, getting ready to rumble the moment the drag strip lights go green.
The bass contained in that was thick and heavy enough to make his heart beat irregular; the earth vibrated faintly too.
The silhouette rose like a ghost hidden behind a veil of fog; it was beyond humongous. Kain swallowed nervously as the dust curtain began to settle slowly.
The dark shape before him, materializing bit by bit, was at least as big as three 18 wheeler trucks combined. Maybe even bigger. In all honesty, his head was spinning around too fast to get an accurate dimension for the creature right in front of them.
The giant lizards he had fought against in the past – the lesser Earth Drake he managed to trap in a hole all those years ago, or the red Wyrm he chased away when filled with power – couldn’t even come close to the sheer scale of the thing right in front of him, so at least he did have some sort of reference to compare it to.
Its scales were glossy black, and even the reflecting sun’s rays got dyed black as well – as if the dozens upon dozens of black paint cans were liberally sprayed all around it.
And then, to cap off the sinister aura, a pair of thin crimson streaks ran alongside its side, starting from just below its eyes.
And what scary looking eyes those were.
Kain shuddered like a wet dog simply from the enormous pressure emitted from those eyes. Glowing in amber-ish hue and possessing ample hints of superior intelligence, it looked down on him, on them. Those eyes had him firmly rooted on the very spot, unable to break free from its withering stare.
Emma was affected badly, too. She bit her lower lip in order to remain lucid against the powerful aura of the Elder Dragon, but her body was trembling heavily. It was not reacting as she’d liked it to.
Seeing her like this, which was quite different from the kind of fear she showed before in the presence of that Wyrm, Kain became painfully sure of at least one fact: this situation was a very bad one for them.
“What should we do?”
He desperately whispered at Emma, but she didn’t respond back immediately. She was too busy fighting back against the pressure to hear him.
As for Kain, he had diligently been circulating the accumulated ch’i around in his dan tian, hoping to ease the pressure weighing down on him. After all, it worked against that violet knight creature from the underground lab. Surely it should work here too.
Sure enough, a little bit of ch’i circulating in his meridians did indeed alleviate some of the pressure but it also had a strong side effect. Kain got to see the naturally occurring ch’i flow of the dragon.
It was a terrifyingly violent maelstrom of pure power, pulsating and pummeling around like a hurricane blasting around a volcano that was just about to go off. Seething, coiling, tearing the fabric of reality – that was the extent of the creature’s ch’i.
It was, without a doubt, one of the most awesome and extremely scary sights he had ever seen.
Next, Kain opened his Aeterna vision and took a good look at the dragon. In short, it was even more terrifying.
Crimson-colored Aeterna seethed out of its pores, distorting and disrupting the natural flow of surrounding Aeterna like a darkened cheese curls.
The amount oozing out of the creature was absolutely insane, too.
So, to surmise: this dragon was an existence was something too far out of reach for his meager powers of comprehension. For a sake of clarity, he figured that his “level” when he became a resident of this city would be around 3, maybe at 4 at a push. Of course, this world didn’t have those generic game elements to dumb down the complexity, but it was a useful and simple way to compare nonetheless.
The lesser Earth Drake was probably between the level 30 to 40. The Wyrm was verging on 70+.
But this dragon here, it was more like “well over level 255.” If Kain had one of those Saiyan Scouters at hand, he’d break it apart in an overly dramatic fashion, too.
Dang it all to hell, Kain swore profusely in his heart. What the hell is this crap? Why is this happening to me in the first place?? I didn’t sign up for this kind of rubbish.
The black Elder Dragon dismissively snorted and turned its scaly, spiky head towards him and Emma, narrowing its eyes and leering at them. Now that gave him the bad case of the chills.
He couldn’t understand why that enormous thing was looking at them like that. No way a pair of small, frail creatures looked that tasty, though, to a dragon the size of a mountain. So, it might ignore the two of them and move on elsewhere.
At least, that’s what he hoped for, anyway.
Whatever the case may have been, the situation was dire. They had to do something, anything, to overcome this predicament.
The dragon sniffed the air for a bit, while the licks of flames small and large, danced and hissed around its snout.
Was it not paying much attention to Kain and Emma? It seemed to swing its considerably large head around as if to search and observe the surroundings, ignoring the two small fries in front of it.
But the two of them remained frozen, unable to even move. The pressure emitted from the dragon was just too powerful to overcome easily.
Kain had a really unsightly facial expression at that moment. He suddenly felt the whole thing he was going through was rather unfair.
He tried to get stronger – and when every time he made some progress, a giant monster popped up out of nowhere without a warning to threaten his life.
It was the lesser earth Drake, then that crimson Wyrm as well as the six-armed giant Fiend. And now, this Elder Dragon.
What the hell. Am I a giant monster attracting magnet or something?
He felt the whole thing was so patently unfair. Not sure why it was so, but the cards this life dished out so far made him feel so bitter at this moment.
None of his feelings mattered as of now. The world was a cruel and unforgiving place, where a weak-kneed sentimentality only got people killed instead.
Kain had forgotten that truth. After living a rather pampered life at Riverfield, and then here, at the forgotten city where everything became a comfortable routine, he became soft, ironically enough.
There was the event with the raiding bandits, and his life being threatened by Fiends living in the forest earlier on but as his skill set began to improve, he had forgotten what it was like to be constantly near death and always surrounded by danger, both physical and psychological.
The powerful presence of an Elder Dragon before him brought it all back.
Finally snapping out of the fear induced state, Emma gripped Kain’s hand tightly. Any tighter, and she’d break it right off.
“When I give you a sign, run towards my opposite direction.”
Kain nodded slowly.
He understood the chance of one of them surviving increased by doing this. Surely, that chance, however small, was better than nothing.
Even so, by soberly looking at the facts, one could tell that the dragon and its huge body would easily negate whatever Kain and Emma did with its ridiculous reach.
They had to believe in their individual speeds. That they would be able to make it to safety somehow.
The fort up ahead was out of the question, for now. The dragon was in the way. So the two of them had to run backward, to the forest behind them. The distance was great, but by splitting up, the odds were that one of them could make it.
Kain tensed. His entire body was tightening up, ready to pounce.
His eyes focused on the sinewy, muscular forearms of the black Elder Dragon, seeing and studying the way they flexed and bulged. Kain wasn’t sure whether to call them forelegs, though.
The overall look of the Elder Dragon was a one-quarter salamander, and the rest the good ol’ fantasy-genre staple, fire-breathing, princess-kidnapping type dragon, just a heck of a lot larger and sporting a wingspan of a jumbo jet.
And a snout full of crisscrossing fangs and teeth that jutted out like lances of a demon, the smallest being as big as a grown up adult.
Three thick, huge horns adorned its forehead and a dozen smaller ones protruding from the aft of its skull.
The aforementioned snout was long, as long as a collie. Comparing an Elder Dragon’s nose to a popular breed of a pet dog wasn’t cool but that was the very first thing Kain’s mind conjured up, so it couldn’t be helped.
There was a hint of sulfur in the air, an obnoxious smell of rotten eggs. Accompanying that, also an acrid and bitter smell of something burning.
Suddenly, Emma shouted.
The signal finally came.
They separated and ran in a V, each of them taking the opposite direction as fast as their legs could carry. Kain didn’t hesitate and cast Body Enhancement on his legs, as well as circulating as much ch’i as he could afford down there. That helped tremendously with the quick getaway.
However, the moment Kain set off, he thought the Elder Dragon snickered a little. He wasn’t sure if he saw it properly but the image, whether real or not, lingered like the aftertaste of a bitter cold syrup.
In a blink, Kain crossed half way mark to the mouth of the forest. He had this feeling that once inside, hiding from the dragon would be easy enough, provided he does the deed quickly. Which was convenient.
Learning Archery and hunting for food in the forest, there was one added benefit – learning to conceal himself in the shadows. Otherwise, it’d be tough to stalk a potential dinner, after all.
He wasn’t at the level of Emma but still, even with the freaking Elder Dragon as his opponent, he was reasonably confident of his chances. He wasn’t getting conceited, no, but seeing that the dragon had such a massive body, it’d be quite hard to move freely around inside the forest while Kain would be just fine.
Or, that was how things should have gone down.
Kain heard Emma’s screams to his side, very far away. Almost purely acting on that disgusting instinct every person possessed, that inexplicable need to confirm the misfortune of the others, he turned his head to see.
Why did humans feel the need to spectate when terrible things happened to others? Like when your neighbor’s house burnt down, or on a highway with a fatal car crash and lines of slow moving traffic manned by cars and drivers all craning their necks to get a better view.
Truly a morbid thing for sure. Yet people did it anyways, all with the mentality of “Better you than me, mister/lady.”
In the case with Kain, it too was not a cool thing to do, anticipating the final moments of someone important to him. But his body reacted all on its own, wanting to engrave the brave sacrifice Emma was making for him to live on.
And after she fell, then he’d definitely avenge her. Maybe not now, but soon after he’s gotten stronger, which would be many, many years from now on.
But the thing was, instead of seeing a Boscage Elf in trouble, his vision was filled to the brim with that of a fast approaching set of black claws. The hand. A paw, whatever, of the Elder Dragon was coming straight at him and he couldn’t even think of dodging it.
And he was swept up. The Elder Dragon snatched Kain up from the ground and flew up into the air.
That was totally an unexpected event for him. Hell, he was so dumbfounded by this situation, he actually compared himself to a piece of stray Lego that was being picked up by an irate mom who had stepped on it barefoot.
The pressure holding him within the grasp of the dragon’s claw was incredible – if it weren’t for his ch’i circulating around his meridians as well as Body Enhancement cast all over, every one of his bones would’ve been grounded to dust.
If he was proficient with Soul Defense like the Old Man, then it’d have been a walk in the park, but alas.
Breathing got a lot harder for him as well, with his chest being compacted by the grip. Blood circulation was affected to the point where he was beginning to feel light-headed.
On top of all that, he also felt a draft of wind tickling the soles of his feet. When Kain looked down, both of his tattered shoes were gone, having fallen below onto the endless sea of greenery that was the Tetamus forest. It certainly looked like he’d have to get himself a new pair of shoes if he somehow managed to survive this ordeal.
The wind felt harsh against his face and it constantly ripped into his eyes, nose, and mouth.
Kain’s unkempt hair slapped around like crazy and he could barely see where he was being flown to.
Kain groaned inwardly.
Mercifully, the forced flight was short.
The Elder Dragon lightly tossed mentally tired Kain on one of the highest flat pieces of land in the entire mountain range – smack dab on the peak of the Tetamus Mountain itself. The one that sprouted out of the middle of the forgotten city. The one that kinda looked like a thumb tack.
It was a huge, open plateau where there was enough space to hold several football matches side by side. Who’d think of such an open area on top of a spindly mountain like this?!
Kain rolled on the dirt for a bit until coming to an eventual stop.
Choking on the thick layer of dust, Kain gingerly stood up, his legs shaking weakly. He placed his hands on the knees to steady himself.
He gasped for air – unfortunately, the altitude meant that it was quite thin up here. He could hardly breathe in a satisfying, lung-filling amount no matter how many times he tried.
On the upside, though, Aeterna up here was as pure and rich as the area near the One Tree underground so he lost no time in utilizing that to replenish his energy instead.
The black Elder Dragon hovered above the boy for a bit, then landed with a loud boom. Oddly, there wasn’t too much dust being kicked up from that. The giant creature narrowed its eyes and studied Kain for a short moment before speaking in a thunderous, bass-heavy voice.
“You boy, you the brat living in that fort down there, right? Hmm?”
Its jaw didn’t move as one might expect, but the sound coming from it easily reverberated through Kain’s skull. The dragon’s voice was deep and husky as if it was a chain smoker who burned through two packs of cigarettes a day. That, or a fifties Jazz singer, laced with enough whiskey to bring the house down. Using the funky grooves channeling out of the polished saxophone, of course.
The fact that it talked, never mind in the Common tongue of the Empire, escaped Kain’s attention completely due to all the fear he was experiencing then.
“Oi, answer me, brat. Or you gone deaf after pissing in ye’ little pants?”
It snorted and as a result, Kain’s face was hit by the considerably hot gust of wind coming from its nostrils. Thankfully it wasn’t at the face-melting temperature but was hot enough to wake him up from the petrified state.
“No, ah, erm, what, uh, was the question? I, ah, sorry but ah, I didn’t…”
Kain stammered out some words but the Dragon didn’t look too impressed by the boy’s half-assed effort.
Its head leaned in closer and the air around Kain began to boil – and no, that wasn’t his imagination playing tricks on him.
“Huh, so yer deaf indeed. Hmm, so far, so disappointing.”
I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to disappoint you, honest. Please don’t eat me.
Kain fervently prayed in his mind – although he could have said those words aloud. Maybe the desperate words of a scared kid might convince the massive creature to stop bullying him. Or something.
“Hmm. Fine. Doesn’t matter. Well then, start running, boy.”
Eh? Run? I don’t get it.
Kain stood there, confused and scared at the same time. But soon, he got it, rather forcibly, he might add.
Because, the Elder Dragon started spewing out massive walls of flames at him. So, he started running away in order to save his behind from getting royally roasted by the fabled “breath” of a dragon.
And so, finally, right here. Where, Kain was busy contemplating all that had happened to him, of both lives he had lived so far. Right back at the very beginning of this little story.
The black Elder Dragon was still merrily chasing the boy around while melting the vast plateau all around like it was the most fun activity in the entire world. Oh, and there was all that smack talk, too.
And the situation hadn’t changed since then. Kain was still cornered. He was running for his dear life. But there was only a finite amount of land he could run on and unfortunately for him, at the rate of speed he was moving at, it’d be the end very soon. After that, it was a straight trip down to Purgatory. And no, he didn’t possess a miracle return ticket he could cash in at the moment.
Usually, at this point he’d be flailing around like a blind man without a cane, panicking like a screaming dame in a ’50s Sci-Fi Horror film. But thanks to ch’i circulating through Shang, at least now he could think on his feet with some amount of clarity, avoiding falling into a bottomless pit of despair.
He knew that something had to be done, and done real fast.
As far as he could tell, there were two options still available. One, he could take his chance and jump off the cliff, hoping for another ledge or something similar to land on. Otherwise, he’d die by plummeting down a million miles to the ground below.
Two, he could take his chance, turn around and fight the dragon earnestly.
Admittedly, both options weren’t very attractive, but they were the only ones he could think of at the moment. He could try talking to the big flying lizard, but his gut told him that he’d go nowhere with that.
Seriously – what could a mere human boy not older than seven years of age say to a dragon that would change its attitude for the better? Not a thing, that’s what.
He glanced over the shoulder while running, to see the dragon’s mug. Clearly. the damn lizard was having a ball, judging by the way it was actually laughing hard at the flames scorching Kain’s rear end. He wanted to hurl back some kind of smart comebacks but as he was short of breath, it was impossible to even form a word. That also meant talking his way out was not going to happen.
It was at this point where Kain seriously considered the second option of fighting, even if that was for a very fleeting second or two.
Fight it? Can I?!
He wasn’t an idiot – well, not entirely. Even he could see that the dragon was way too powerful for him to take on single-handedly. It was also quite obvious that not even Emma lending a hand would not be enough to get him anyway near it, let alone scratch its glossy black scales. He didn’t even think about his hidden trump cards, the dagger and the golden disc. What good would they do when he couldn’t even get close to the darn thing?! And besides that, his bow was broken, the dagger was too short, the golden disc would only be good for putting up a temporary shield that wouldn’t last too long against the draconic breath.
By fighting, wouldn’t he be able to create a chance, an opening, to make his escape? That was this one persistent thought buzzing inside his head.
But he was also aware such a thing only happened in movies and in works of fiction. And, only to those plot-armor protected main characters. No guarantee here of him enjoying such a protection so far, recounting all the incidents he had gone through in the past.
He understood that escaping to a lower ledge that might be there or not was the only sensible option left. So, to increase the odds of success, he needed to find out if there was a ledge to jump down to, in the first place.
Without losing any speed, Kain ran towards the edge of the cliff and while taking care not to trip over the precipice by accident, he peered over the side. Maintaining his focus on running, keeping balance, surveying the land and at the same time staying mindful of the dragon behind took a lot of doing if it weren’t for his Shang working so well.
He was prepared but still, got a frightening chill creep down his spine when he confirmed just high the plateau was. If he fell, never mind being a pancake, he’d vaporize into nothingness just from the impact.
After a short scan of the area, Kain found what looked like a tiny piece of a protrusion on the cliff face up ahead. It was still a bit further so it was hard to accurately estimate just how wide and sturdy it was, but crucially, if he could nail the landing, that could potentially lead to a way down below.
Because, like a staircase, there were other ledges spaced at a certain interval below the one he saw first. If he could make it, then he could jump down on those to, perhaps, reach the safety of the ground.
It did look a bit tight, though, so he had to bring his A-Game and summon forth all his training he endured up until this moment if he wanted to continue breathing for longer.
A lick of flame burned his butt when Kain slowed down for a fraction of a second to take a look. It was only for a brief moment, no more than half a second, yet, the draconic flames were in a full-on overzealous mode.
Needless to say, it was hot. So hot, he desperately wanted to rub the screaming flesh to soothe the pain but could not afford the luxury.
Ignoring the immediate pain, Kain timed his jump just right and leaped into the air.
Behind him, arms flailing dramatically, a wall of Bay-esque explosions and scorching flames rose. Everything seemed to slow down to a crawl right then, allowing the boy to feel the smallest changes in the temperature of the atmosphere, a trickle of sweat teasing the side of his face, the worn tunic flapping about around his waist, the hair flicking back with the wind – the whole nine yards.
His thoughts remained lucid and fluid as before, though – and that allowed his mind to observe so many things quicker than normal. One could say this was what a person experiences during a life-or-death encounter, his or her veins pumping full of adrenaline.
The landing point became increasing smaller to his perceptions. No, it wasn’t getting physically smaller, but instead his confidence of safely arriving on it that was diminishing fast.
Alternate thoughts of Oh no, I won’t make it and Yes, I can do this continued to ebb and flow as his airborne body neared the destination.
After what felt like an hour had passed, Kain’s bare feet finally hit the rough and uneven surface. The momentum forced his body to carry on forward and as a result, he tumbled face first, rolling on the floor towards the edge of the ledge and to the endless abyss beyond it.
He tried to reach out and grab hold onto something, anything.
All his fingers felt were gravel and rocks that came loose at the mere hint of a touch or pressure. Not a blade of grass was here. Nothing to slow him down with and he continued to slide towards his demise.
Gritting his teeth, he instinctively used Body Enhancement on his fingers to dig into the surface, just as his legs swung off the edge, dangling dangerously over the empty air.
He felt incredible pain from all of his fingers, but somehow, he had stopped his body from falling thousands of feet down to his death.
It was still not over yet, as the flame-spewing Elder Dragon was still up there, flying around and laughing its guts out.
“Oh, so you do have some gumption in ya. I’m beginning to respect ya just wee bit mo’ now.” The dragon roared with laughter. It was still having a grand old time up there.
Kain pulled himself up and saw the state his fingers were in. The two fingers on the right hand were dislocated, pulled loose out of their sockets while the skins on the rest were pretty much gone and blood was seeping out of everywhere.
Oddly, it wasn’t as painful as he thought. Compared to the time when his hand turned into a bloody pulp by carelessly using the Soul Crusher back when, this much was nothing. And by circulating ch’i over the wounds, they already began to heal up, albeit at a much slower pace than when the Old Man injected his own ch’i inside him.
Kain looked above his position to confirm the ledge up there was now blanketed by the tall flames. Going back up there was completely out of the question. Climbing down by jumping to the lower ledges, it was.
Honestly speaking, Kain found it rather amazing that, even without a fuel source, the draconic breath-induced flames could still burn the rocky ground so freely like that.
The incredible amount of Aeterna was being twisted there to keep the immolation going – and Kain was acutely aware of the simple fact that there wasn’t enough naturally occurring Aeterna present to sustain the flames. It could only mean one thing – all of the burning was the result of the Elder Dragon’s own Aeterna Pool. Kain could hardly guesstimate just how enormous that reserve was.
Grimacing, Kain turned his attention downwards.
The walls were strangely smooth, almost pale and deeply opaque in appearance. Nowhere to place his feet, his hands, nothing to cling on to as he attempted to climb down. He wasn’t trying to crawl on the surface like Spider-Man anyways, so that wasn’t a big issue. After all, nothing prevented the Elder Dragon from taking a cheeky swipe at him like it whacking a spider off a wall with a rolled up newspaper.
Now that he was on this ledge, he could tell how far the second one was. If a normal person jumped down there, his legs would be smashed to bits. Even with Body Enhancement and ch’i, he had no guarantee whether he could emerge from this jump unscathed.
But he had no choice in the matter. It was too late to go back anyways.
The black Elder Dragon was coming around and in less than it took to blink, it’d be “on” his position.
He had to decide, now.
What was there left to hesitate? There were none. So, while gritting his teeth, he jumped.
He didn’t even get to a halfway point between the ledges before the Elder Dragon’s front paw snatched his body up in the middle of the leap, robbing him of all the air in his lungs from the impact.
A crushing disappointment dawned on him, draining all the energy out of his already taxed body.
He hadn’t thought of the possibility of the dragon increasing its speed so drastically at will – or, for that matter, it seeing through his plan beforehand and stopping the boy before he could go any further.
How stupid can I get, underestimating a being so powerful and obviously also quite intelligent, too? This creature isn’t like any other monsters and beasts I’ve hunted and evaded up until now.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, that’s what it was. Should’ve come up with better ideas faster!!
Kain angrily admonished himself for his conceited way of thinking. He thought that if he died here, then it was just desserts for being a stupid ass.
Briefly, he wondered if he’d be “blessed” with the third chance at life. By whom, he didn’t know. But if he was given the said chance, how differently would he live then?
The flames had stopped melting the plateau by the time he was dropped on it. The black Elder Dragon must’ve decided it’s been scorched enough. Probably.
Still, the surface simmered with heat, and Kain’s bare feet complained from being cooked slowly. Kain thought wryly at this.
Huh, so the dang lizard wants to take its sweet time preparing me, and thus prolonging my agony, eh. Just wonderful.
Kain did his best to remain upright, but it got harder as the second ticked by. His legs shook a bit, not just because of the fear, but mostly because of the frustration swelling up inside of him.
A small drop of tear formed on the corner of his eye. He noticed it and quickly wiped it off. He was not going to cry, not here, not in front of this damnable dragon. If he was to go, then he was planning to do so with dignity. But the emotions were overwhelming him, fast.
Why that was the case, Kain couldn’t be entirely sure.
Thinking back, he must’ve known, subconsciously at least, that escaping from the clutches of this incredible monster was going to be next to impossible – but at the same time, he wondered if he did give it as good a go as his puny abilities allowed.
Maybe, it was the feeling of being so very, agonizingly close to success, only to see it unceremoniously ripped out of his grasp by an insurmountable wall that was making him so emotional.
And what would happen, when such a frustration boiled over?
In his case, it slowly morphed in rage.
He got pissed off. He was angry at the dragon, angry at the way it treated him, angry at the patently unfairness of his situation. And most importantly, angry at his own powerlessness.
He was so angry, in fact, he was this close to challenging the Elder Dragon. A tiny push was all that stood between him and it from having a cataclysmic showdown of all ages. Despite knowing he’d lose, and lose big time, Kain was too angry to care for the well being of himself. All he cared about was to vent out his dissatisfaction at this creature.
That push arrived in the form of a giant black dragon settling down comfortably on its belly in front of Kain a dozen yards away. He thought that the posture suspiciously resembled a lazy house dog settling down for a spot of an afternoon nap.
And he did feel weird for making yet another doggy-related comparison but that feeling quickly passed by. No harm done.
Seeing the smug face of the dragon, and it suddenly yawning out loud, Kain’s nerves snapped.
Unconsciously, Kain began gathering an absurd amount of Aeterna from the air around him. Consciously, he forcefully drew out every little drop of ch’i and began circulating it to the maximum.
He was concentrating so hard, he didn’t even notice the ground beneath his feet trembling and humming softly, as the power to demolish just about anything converged on his three dan tians as the focal points.
Kain felt his scalp tingle. He felt the blood in his veins rush furiously, and sensed this power mushrooming rapidly inside him. It was, by far, the most he had ever harnessed before. Well, almost.
Soon, he felt all his muscles groan and ripple in protest – his body was still too weak to wield this much Aeterna and ch’i, reinforced or not.
The air around him swelled and churned. The flowing Aeterna moved so fast it actually caused friction with air molecules.
Kain felt the accumulated Aeterna weigh him down, his feet beginning to sink down into the molten surface. He found this funny, since Aeterna didn’t weigh a thing.
The Elder Dragon noticed all of this, but he looked on impassively, as if it was waiting for something to happen. It even began digging into its nostrils and flicked the resulting piece of booger off its claw nonchalantly.
Meanwhile, Kain could feel something familiar rising within him. From his back, a faint outline of a bird began to glow, slowly metamorphosizing into something tangible. It was here that Aeterna swirled into.
Kain poured all his focus there, and tried to form the image of the most strongest attack he had pulled off until now – the rising flame-bird thingy he used all those months ago against the Wyrm and the Giant.
The image became so vividly clear suddenly. He could recall even the tiniest, smallest detail of this Aeterna-formed being.
But it was also slightly different this time; Kain knew he could not summon up the same amount of destructive power as the last time simply because he hadn’t merged with Orion the Roc hatchling.
Also, he knew it’d be idiotic to use an attack based on Fire Element when the enemy was obviously proficient at it as well. He couldn’t literally fight fire with fire.
And so, he tried to modify it somehow. The most simple answer was to make the attack as cold as possible, but how?
It was at this moment when he heard a slight echo of a girl’s distant laughter. This laughter was at once familiar yet alien. He knew he heard it from somewhere, but couldn’t put his finger on where exactly.
As soon as the strange laughter ended, a flood of new info began to fill his head up.
He didn’t even have the time to question what the hell happened, as an image of a crazy snowstorm entered his mind, along with the Requisite Words required to bring the phenomenon into reality.
It was a spell strong enough to seal away the dragon’s fiery breaths if Invoked properly.
When this clear image formed in his head, Kain subconsciously extended both hands forward and began chanting the Required Words.
He had never, ever heard nor read such a chant before yet, there he was, busy mouthing off some random words that came rushing in at the tip of his tongue.
“I look upon the Frozen Wastelands, lamenting
Snows fall and fall, relentless and unremitting
My Will closes the Sky, so I can keep walking
Blocked paths before me, The Winds clearing
I shiver and long for the warmth so welcoming
Arrive Home for the empty coldness waiting
My Hands grasp the Earth and starts digging
So dig for the grave, the heroes and villains falling
Look way yonder, for ’tis is not an ending
Merely the hearts of all evil, lost and freezing!!”
Kain rambled out some random words and the phenomena started; the air around him froze in an instant, and so did the ground – cold, snapping, cracking sounds shattering the dominant howling of the winds.
The heat caused by friction was now replaced by a deathly chill. The wide area around him was being covered in ice with sharp, spear-like icicles jutting out within the radius, all of them pointing towards the Elder Dragon.
And it raised an eyebrow. “Ohh, what do we have here? Hmm?”
The dragon maintained a smug face, seemingly not too bothered by the new development. That irritated Kain so bloody much. So naturally, he vowed to wipe that smile off the oversized lizard’s lips once and for all. And then he’d turn the dragon carcass into his boots, belts, and handbags just for a good measure.
He released the Invocation.
The air and the ground between the dragon and Kain solidified into ice faster than he could draw another breath. Its speed and power were truly astonishing even to him who performed it. The freezing air was on course to directly strike the dragon in the face. Even if it was an Elder whatever it’d still hurt like hell, that much he was confident of.
The air crackled loudly. The heated, simmering ground stood no chance against the spell. All of it ended up freezing solid by the storm of icy winds sweeping in closer to the target.
The black Elder Dragon, however, nonchalantly took a shallow breath, and lightly blew at Kain’s freezing attack.
Its breath easily overtook the boy’s Invocation like a big whirlpool swallowing up a hapless sailboat and rudely slapped him in the face instead.
That definitely hurt. His pride, that was.
Kain tumbled backwards and rolled a couple of times before coming to a dead stop.
His mouth was aghast. He just couldn’t believe it.
The strongest, most powerful spell Invoked so far by him was simply dismissed away like as if it was nothing. His pride was shattered into million tiny pieces, each jagged edge cutting through his heart like dozens of dirty scalpels.
Kain stood up slowly but his legs shook too much to remain upright for long.
But he couldn’t give up yet. He just couldn’t. He had come too far to throw in the towel like this.
He needed to show this bully a thing or two. He hadn’t even shown that Old Man how far he progressed, that he could beat his teacher now.
There’s just no way he was going to throw in the towel here.
He somehow steadied his trembling limbs. That took a lot of focus – he thanked the metaphorical gods for the ch’i training, otherwise he would’ve never been able to make the stand.
He tried to gather Aeterna once more. This time, he planned to go with a different Invocation, something that couldn’t be so easily blown away.
Yeah, I’ll go with an Earth type spell. Maybe I can trap the dragon using four large Earth Walls collapsing on top of it. That might work. Even if the spell doesn’t hurt the dragon much, I think it’ll buy me enough time for another attempt at escaping. Let’s go with this. This time, it’s going to work, for sure!!
Kain desperately tried to jeer himself up. But then, something went horribly wrong. It became a lot harder to gather Aeterna. He couldn’t sense all the power that accumulated in him anymore. Not even the ch’i was circulating in his meridians.
He was too exhausted. His mind and body were on the verge of blacking out.
No, it can’t be. Come on, my body, don’t let me down now when I need you the most!! C’mon, just one more push, that’s all I need.
Kain gritted his teeth, as he staggered about.
Seeing this pitiful sight, the Elder Dragon let out a sigh. Then, it shook its head and spoke.
“Well now. I guess that is yer limit, eh. Good show, boy. I’ve now smidgen more respect for yer.” It looked directly into Kain’s half closed eyes. “Now listen lad, and listen good. This is the difference ‘tween yer and me, a proper dragon.”
Suddenly, the visage of the black Elder Dragon became a thousand times bigger as if it shifted the time and space, lunging at the boy with the rate of million miles per hour. It was all illusory, of course, but to Kain, it seemed so very real.
The whole world distorted in a terrifyingly ugly manner and he sensed Aeterna oozing from the scales turn violently black, rising and dissipating like a toxic miasma.
Its sheer aura alone could blow away all the Aeterna he’d gathered so far. His ch’i circulation wasn’t spared either, and everything went absolutely haywire. Not that he had a lot of ch’i and Aeterna remaining in him anyway, but the losses could still be felt by him.
He lost all strength as the overwhelming, indescribable killing aura froze time in its entirety on the plateau. Not even the howling winds dared to make a sound. Aeterna stopped flowing in nature as if it was frozen by the awful fear, too.
Like, the way Kain was frozen stiff by the same thing.
That aura put everything into clear perspective.
Kain’s rage that was the fuel for his drive and his stubbornness clouding the judgment, dissipated like thin mist being wiped away from a window.
He understood now.
That he never had the foggiest chance of earning a hard-earned victory here, never mind the boy landing a single, glancing hit on the dragon.
One overriding thought he had was that he just couldn’t think of anything that could stand up against this creature. Not even a deity could win a contest of strength against this monster.
What an incredible being this dragon was. Kain could not stop his jaw from slacking and drool in an utter daze like an idiot.
And just as suddenly, the aura was withdrawn. And the frozen world welcomed the flow of time once more. He sat there, on his bum, totally oblivious to the changing surroundings.
He had lost. His will to fight, his anger, his frustration, all gone. And he was left here, alone, abandoned, and naked – figuratively speaking, of course.
He sat there, still and unmoving like a statue of Buddha, as a single thought entered his head – why should he get flustered by an existence that was clearly incomprehensible to a mere human being like himself? There was no point in that, so he shouldn’t lose sleep over it.
The Elder Dragon snorted boastfully.
“That’s how you show ’em unruly kids. Got that, boy?”
Kain nodded slowly, still dazed like a stoner.
“Hmm, so that old coot maybe wasn’t telling no half-truths.”
The dragon peered at Kain, perusing him and scanning him up and down like he was a new pair of socks it wanted to buy – but wasn’t 100% convinced of the patterns on the side.
It scratched its chin while cocking an eyebrow in a display of thoughtfulness. “The Old Man did say he found an interesting thing to play with… so the boy wasn’t all talk, eh.”
After looking at Kain for a few more seconds like this, it pointed its claw at him and finally announced, rather loudly, to the world its intentions.
“Harrumph. I’ve decided. You, Kain Lucius Lomax, shall become this Elder Dragon’s, the almighty and super-duper-great Draxus’s, first ever human disciple!!”
With a whoosh, a cold wind blew by. A single feather of an unknown bird floated in the space between Kain and the Elder Dragon, Draxus. As well as an uncomfortable silence that drifted along with it.
As for Kain, all he could do was gawk and think, Eh? You want what now?