A crude sword made a simple, elegant arc as it crossed the air. The winds howled in protest as the wide blade spit it in two, covered in a layer of light so condensed it looked almost solid. The blade followed its path with a terrible momentum, leaving a bright trail of starlight in its wake.
Holding the sword was a boy. His face was pale, his black clothes were in tatters and his ashen hair was a mess. Even so, his golden eyes shone with a fierce light as the boy brandished the sword.
Looking at the boy, Lawrence Meyer felt a strange feeling welling deep inside of him. He paid the sword no mind as it made its way to his neck and, instead, looked straight at the boy's eyes. Deep in them, he saw cold hatred. He saw an unyielding fierceness. He saw primal, almost animalistic desire to kill.
His brows furrowed and dark lines creased his forehead. While facing those eyes full of emotions, his own eyes were nothing but emotionless.
Lawrence raised his saber with his left hand in a swift, fluid and precise movement. His form was surprisingly elegant as the saber in his hand seemed to come to life and tear through the air in a skyward strike.
The saber collided with the sword with a dull, metallic sound. Sparks flew as the sword's blade rose, passing a few centimeters over Lawrence's head as his saber vibrated with a loud hum. Lawrence's frown deepened as he gripped the saber with more strength, making it stop humming. He coldly watched as Amon flew by him, eventually reaching the ground.
"Look at that, the little traitor indeed appeared to save his mother." Lawrence said with a sneer.
Cracks spread beneath Amon's feet as he landed heavily on the charred ground. From Lawrence's words, he already could guess what had happened. Not that it would change anything. Amon would face whoever he needed to in order to get his mother out of that place safely.
He gritted his teeth, enduring the pain of the forced landing as he spun in place, sword in hand. He brandished Windhowler with all his might, aiming at Lawrence's head.
The light covering the sword flashed as the edge on it somehow turned even brighter and sharper, making one's eyes hurt. In the blink of an eye, Amon was upon Lawrence, and Windhowler was in front of his eyes.
A saber fell from its wielder's hand with a metallic sound. Fell with its tip down, burying itself on the ground and humming as it vibrated gently.
However, neither Amon nor Lawrence bothered with it. Amon had a hard time hiding his shock, but Lawrence was still expressionless as he looked at Amon. A few centimeters away from Lawrence's head, Windhowler was still shining with Sword Qi, but couldn't move forward. It stuck in place, being firmly held by a bare hand.
A soul-chilling cold started coursing through Amon's arms, coming from the sword he held. He desperately struggle to set the sword free from Lawrence's grasp, but it was in vain.
"I wonder how Daniel would feel, knowing that he died because of a traitor." Lawrence said, looking at Amon with a savage look in his eyes.
"Daniel… is dead?" Amon's eyes widened a she looked at Lawrence, and he seemed to enter a daze.
"The stunt you pulled alongside your father in the Hellblaze Secret World was enough to make things spiral out of control." Lawrence said as his gaze turned even fiercer. "Because of you, Daniel is dead, and Jake is gravely wounded."
Amon's eyes changed, and his face paled. There was no way this was the truth.
Yet… what reason was there for Lawrence to lie? If Amon was already regarded a traitor, such a lie would not bring him any benefit.
Amon glanced at Lawrence's eyes intently, and his face turned even paler as he realized it was very likely he spoke the truth.
Crackling sounds started echoing from Lawrence's body, and his broken fingers started twisting and turning before finally straightening as his bones fell back in place. It was a strange sight to look at, almost unbearably unnerving. Soon, even louder cracks came from his body as his right arm and leg started to move in an eerily similar way, making Amon frown.
The temperature suddenly dropped, and Lawrence's clothes slowly dampened. He felt a refreshingly cool sensation as small droplets of water dripped down through his body before freezing in place, enclosing his charred limbs in a thin layer of ice. The layer of ice continued to grow, delicately covering the right side of his face ad hiding it from view. The burning pain in his body gave way to a numbing prickling in his skin, and Lawrence gave a long sigh.
Natasha Barnes was indeed a genius. Controlling the Qi inside one's body like this could not only serve to give movement back to crippled limbs, but also for first aid care. As long as one had enough knowledge of anatomy and fine control over Qi, the only real difficulty would be bearing the pain.
"Indeed; at our level this is not hard." Lawrence muttered to himself.
He then looked at Amon again, who was still in place, glaring at him with those same eyes. Windhowler was still firmly grasped by Lawrence, and the temperature continued to fall steeply.
The sword started to make a disturbing sound as Amon's arms trembled as the blade was held in place. A layer of frost slowly formed on the blade, breaking apart and forming anew as the sword trembled alongside Amon and Lawrence poured more frost Qi in it. Eventually, the blade stopped trembling completely, and Amon couldn't exert more strength as his palms were already covered in frostbite.
A thin, almost unnoticeable crack appeared on the layer of ice covering the blade, and Amon felt his heart almost stop. With a face full of hate, he let go of the sword and hastily retreated, creating a few meters of distance between him and Lawrence. Amon looked helplessly as the layer of light glowing beneath the ice slowly faded away, as if the sword was dying.
Lawrence continued to look at Amon with a blank expression as he violently closed his hand, turning his grip on the blade into a fist. The cracks on the blade multiplied, eventually covering the whole extension of it.
Windhowler seemed to scream for a moment as an ear-piercing screech echoed right before the blade finally gave in. Amon looked disgruntledly as the sword collapsed, turning into hundreds of fragments in front of his eyes. Each piece glistened brightly, still covered in ice. Like snow, they fell on the ground at Lawrence's feet, who still didn't change his expression.
Lawrence looked at the pieces of the sword at his feet for a moment before discretely opening his left hand. A gash could be seen the palm of his hand, deep enough to almost reach the bone. The blood that was starting to flow through it slowly froze into red ice, sealing the wound.
Lawrence frowned as he looked at his hand. He did not cause this wound by crushing the sword with his bare hands. He held the sword with his hand to hold it in place and give himself time to tend his wounds. He had enough experience with his body to know what it could or couldn't withstand. He almost couldn't believe it, but Amon Kressler had managed to hurt him.
Lawrence extended his hand downwards, reaching for his saber.
Suddenly, he felt an overwhelming pressure bearing down on him. It wrapped around his body, turning stronger and stronger. Lawrence's expression darkened as he felt the changes surrounding him. The bones in his body started to creak under the pressure, and the ice covering his wounds started to crack.
Lawrence was experienced enough to know what was happening. This was unlike Borgin's technique that increased the gravitational pull in a certain radius. This was sheer, unbridled control over Qi, and Lawrence refused to give in to that. He fought back with all his might, and the pressure on him slowly started to ease, even if it was far from enough to give him back his freedom.
Amon Kressler couldn't do this. This meant there was someone else on that spirit vessel.
"Kill them!" Lawrence ordered, still fighting against the force bearing on him.
The three Elemental Core Elders that were still recovering from the explosion grunted, but started moving. They were far from the blast and were hit mostly by the air pressure and the heat wave. Although they were injured, they could still move.
Amon snapped out of his trance, and started to move, running past Lawrence as fast as he could. His expression changed from one of animosity and hate to one full of worry as he left Lawrence and the crashed spirit vessel behind.
He couldn't let himself lose his focus. It was all that Lawrence wanted. He did his best to hold back his feelings, but his chest couldn't help but turn heavy. If this was the truth… then the fault was his for running away.
He could see it, a flash of gold far into the distance, and his focus returned. He shook his head as he accelerated further, trying to hold back the storm raging on his mind. The ground beneath his feet seemed to give in with each of his steps as he stomped the ground to try to go even faster.
The closer he got, the hotter it became. It felt as if he was approaching a wild fire rather than his collapsed mother. Each step he took seemed to make the temperature increase a dozen degrees. By the time he was by his mother's side, he was sweating profusely and his skin was red.
"Mom!" Amon called desperately as he approached the small figure lying on the ground.
She was lying on her side, with her back turned to Amon. What was left of her white gown was burnt black, and Amon could see terrible burns covering her exposed skin.
He gently approached her, putting a hand over her shoulder. The first thing Amon felt was how hot her skin was. Touching his mother was no different than putting his hand on fire. He endured the pain as his carefully turned her own her back, and at that moment… his heart almost stopped.
Amon gasped, and his hands started trembling. Rebecca gave a light grunt, and barely managed to open her eyes to look at her son.
"LYA!" Amon shouted hastily as he took his mother in his arms. His eyes were open wide, and his lips were devoid of color as he tightly pursed them.
A rumble answered him as the spirit vessel crashed on the ground freed itself, raising another cloud of dust. The air rippled around it as it rose, hovering mid-air and turning.
"It is going to be fine, mom. It is going to be fine." Amon said as he raised Rebecca in his small arms, trying his best to not cry in despair. He felt a sharp prickling in his skin due to the heat, but he completely ignored it.
From the corner of his eyes, he managed to see three figures approaching at high speeds. Rebecca lightly shook in his arms, turning her head with difficulty. What remained of her golden hair fluttered gently, falling over her shoulder as she looked at something on the ground.
Amon followed her gaze, seeing a black hilt sticking out from the ground. He looked at his mother for a moment before giving a slight nod. The spirit vessel went over Lawrence's head, and the pressure on him increased again, crushing him against the ground.
The ice covering his wounds completely collapsed, breaking into pieces that were reduced to ice dust due to the pressure bearing around him. Lawrence grunted in pain as some of his broken bones were dislodged again and a crippling pain assaulted him.
Walking carefully to not move his mother too much, Amon approached the spirit vessel trying to be as fast as he could.
The three Elders were quickly approaching, but a sudden blast of Qi threw them away.
The spirit vessel was finally upon Amon. He felt a warm stream of Qi gently wrapping around Rebecca and slowly lifting her from his arms with surprising care.
Seeing Rebecca's state, Lya drew in a sharp breath. She hurriedly sent Qi inside her body, trying to do her best to hold together her broken body.
Amon turned around, searching for a moment before finding Raven partially buried on the ground. He spread his divine sense, wrapping a line of Qi around the sword and pulling it to his hands.
The curved sword spun through the air, whistling as it made its way to Amon's hand. Amon had a troubled look on his face as he held the black sword. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, before finally shaking his head and clearing his thoughts.
"Amon, quickly…" He heard Lya's voice echoing in his mind.
Amon turned around, holding the sword tightly. At that moment, however…
"It is too late." A weary voice echoed from somewhere behind the spirit vessel. It was a cold, emotionless voice. Its owner was sprawled on the ground, covered in burns and wounds.
Amon stopped in place, slowly turning to look at Lawrence Meyer. There was no need for Amon to ask anything. He already knew all he needed to.
"Amon-" Lya started calling to him with an urgent voice, but her voice fell on deaf ears.
Amon gazed at Lawrence with an indescribable look. His mother's state flashed in his mind as he gripped Raven tightly. He could still feel the absurd heat of her body in his arms; he could still see the overwhelming pain in her eyes.
Bright lines of Qi shone on Raven's curved blade, slithering on it like snakes. A thin layer of light formed around the blade in the blink of an eye. Amon's hands started trembling, and the light grew brighter.
Amon remembered his first night on the Sword Abyss. The horrible feeling of being torn apart by thousands of blades, the pain of having his innards destroyed by sharp Qi, the raw savagery, the overwhelming desire to murder and destroy imbued in the spiraling Sword Qi that remained in the Sword Abyss... That was a will strong enough to last four hundred years.
It was not enough.
"That look in your eyes… you are just like your father." Lawrence said in a hoarse voice full of hatred as he gazed at Amon from afar.
Yes, he knew those eyes very well. Those eyes gazed at him from above as Lawrence fell six years ago.
The light surrounding Raven suddenly churned, as if it was boiling water. It turned even more condensed, to the point of solidifying.
Just shredding the body to pieces, just grinding the innards to a paste… it was not enough.
Amon wanted nothing but complete annihilation. He wanted every inch of Lawrence's body to be pulverized, he wanted nothing to be left behind. He wanted to erase Lawrence Meyer's existence.
Simply killing would not be enough.
"Don't!" Lya shouted in horror as she peered into Amon's soul and saw the amount of Nebula being produced.
Amon kicked the ground, and seemed to turn into a blur. A streak of light tore through the air at an unimaginable speed, like a shooting star tearing through the sky. It almost seemed to be cutting through space itself as it pushed forward with indomitable momentum.
Lawrence saw that streak of light coming to his direction, and his face changed. For the first time, he felt threatened. Still, that unbearable pressure was still holding him in place.
Suddenly, however, it disappeared. Lawrence couldn't even show confusion on his face before the ground beneath his feet rumbled and rippled like water. He looked to his side, and saw one of the Elemental Core Elders not far from him with a hand on the ground.
As the flash of light arrived before Lawrence, the ground rippled again, and Lawrence Meyer was thrown away just as an ear-piecing trill echoed and something grazed past his body.
The flash of light suddenly stopped, revealing Amon holding Raven near the ground, having just missed his attack. He suddenly raised his eyes, looking at the Elemental Core Elder with a chilling gaze.
He was involved. That was enough. Not only had the man saved Lawrence Meyer, he had been present when the fight broke out.
The Elder looked at him with a confused, almost disbelieving expression.
Raven's sheath was nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless, as Amon faced the elder, he drew his sword.
The Elder's hand rose. Raven descended.
Amon felt that Raven's grip was surprisingly comfortable. The blade was incredibly well balanced and incredibly sharp. The sword had no guard, but it had no need for one. It was not a sword made with clashes with other weapons in mind. It was a sword made to be precise, swift and sharp.
It was a sword made to kill and nothing more.
A sword giving a strike would always be quicker than Elemental Qi. There was no need to interface with the dantian. There was no need to control the Qi in the meridians. There was no need to harmonize with the elements. There was no need to overturn nature in some way.
There was no need to think, and there was no mistake to be made.
A sword strike just needed to be decisive.
The curved blade tore through the air.
It tore through Qi.
It tore through cloth.
It tore through skin.
It tore through flesh.
It tore through bone.
It was surprisingly easy, surprisingly fast. Just like that, the sword was tearing through the air again.
Blood splattered on Amon as the Elder fell. Amon turned to look at Lawrence, which was making an effort to stand up.
Amon separated his legs and slightly bent his knees. He pulled Raven next to his waist, never taking his eyes away from Lawrence. He drew his sword.
"Stop!" Lya shouted with a voice filled with anxiousness.
She waved her hands and countless threads of Qi wrapped around Amon, dragging him to the spirit vessel.
Without giving him the chance to protest, Lya waved her hands again. The spirit vessel turned into a blur, shooting off to the distance.
"Why did you stop me!?" Amon asked, indignant, as he looked at Lya.
"I didn't want you to kill someone in such condition." Lya answered in a hurt voice as she faced Amon.
"Bullshit!" Amon retorted, getting mad.
If the condition she referred to was his emotional state, or his use of the Soulrousing Technique to boost his will, it didn't matter. He knew he had every right to kill Lawrence Meyer, and she had denied him the right to do so.
He suddenly stopped in place, in shock.
He had killed a man. He had taken a life... and it had been surprisingly easy. One swing of his sword and it was over.
Amon felt nothing for killing a person, and that fact scared him.
His eyes widened and his hands started trembling. Why didn't he feel a thing?
A light sound interrupted his thoughts. He turned his head and faced a pair of green eyes looking at him.
"Mom!" Amon called, his voice filled with guilt.
From when Lawrence called for him to the moment Lya pulled him into the spirit vessel, only a few moments had passed. Still, Amon couldn't help but feel guilty. During those moments, he had abandoned his mother.
He hurriedly approached her, kneeling by her side. Somehow, the heat she was exuding was even stronger than before. Amon couldn't hide the worry on his face as he looked at him.
A burnt hand was extended to him, lightly touching his right hand. Amon looked at it, and suddenly realized he still had Raven in his hand.
He dropped the sword on the floor without any regard, holding his mother's hand tenderly.
Rebecca opened her mouth, but no words came out. She started to shake on the floor of the spirit vessel. Her face distorted into one of pain, and she looked at Lya with a pleading gaze in her green eyes.
Lya's heart shook as he saw Rebecca's gaze, but she would never deny such a request. She extended a pale hand, lightly touching Rebecca's temple. Rebecca's expression eased somewhat as Lya alleviated her pain. The last she wanted was to suffer in front of her son.
"What is this heat?" Amon asked, confused and afraid as he held his mother's hand.
"Her Elemental Core is breaking apart." Lya said, hesitant. She was still trying to suppress Rebecca's injuries and she had a good grasp of what was happening.
Rebecca had overexerted herself during her clash with Lawrence. Her damaged Elemental Core was now collapsing, and her body was almost destroyed.
"What can we do?" Amon asked, almost shouting as he turned to face Lya.
Instead of meeting his gaze, Lya turned her face away, not knowing what to say.
"What can we do, Lya!?" Amon asked again, with an even louder voice. His eyes were blurry, and Lya knew he was about to break down.
"I am sorry Amon, but we can do nothing." Lya finally said with a sad voice.
"That can't be!" Amon said, holding his head on his hands. Suddenly, his face beamed. "The ring! I am sure there must be some medicine in the interspatial ring to help her."
"Amon, medicine can at most speed the process of healing and minimize injury sequelae… A medicine that does anything that can directly affect any of the Qi structures developed inside the dantian does not exist." Lya said in a sad tone. She kept her head down, as if afraid to look Amon in the eye.
"But the medicine could help!" Amon insisted, almost bursting into tears. He was clinging desperately to anything that gave him even the slightest hope. "The medicine could help stabilize her body; we only need to find a way to stabilize the Elemental Core… Maybe if we slowly control the output of Qi, it would run out of energy and the collapse would simply mean a loss of cultivation…"
"This is not how it works, Amon." Lya said, shaking her head gently. "The Elemental Core itself is energy condensed in a stable, delicate structure. It can't run out, as it always has itself. Even if someone spends all of the Qi in their bodies, the Elemental Core remains unaffected. Letting it collapse would still lead to the same result. Trying to slowly undo the Elemental Core would lead to instability, and the result would still be the same."
"There must be a way… Please, we must find a way" Amon pleaded, finally bursting into tears.
As Amon was falling to the depths of despair, the injured hand in his grasp gripped his hand tightly. Amon turned his head, looking at his mother as tears streamed down his face.
Rebecca opened her mouth, but, yet again, no words came out. She turned clearly frustrated, and her eyes showed a hint of despair. Lya hurriedly closed her eyes, concentrating.
Amon lowered his head, sobbing desperately.
"Don't worry." Rebecca's faint voice finally made its way to his ears.
Amon hurriedly raised his head, facing her again.
"Don't say that." Amon said desperately. "Please don't say that."
"Don't cry." Rebecca said as her green eyes turned blurry with tears too. "I never liked seeing you hurt.".
"What should I do without you?" Amon asked between sobs, hugging her tightly. "What can I do?"
"You can do anything, and you should do whatever you want." Rebecca said with a voice so weak it was almost a whisper. "I just want you to do one thing, and that must be on your mind no matter what."
"What?" Amon asked, trying to control his sobs.
"Never forget our promise." She said, giving him a smile. A smile full of warmth.
Amon looked her filled with sorrow before he quietly nodded.
"I won't." He answered, wiping the tears out of his face.
Amon tightly hugged her, ignoring the heat that was unbearable at this point.
"I love you, mom. I don't want you to go." Amon said, trying hard not to cry again.
"I love you too, son." Rebecca answered gently, ruffling his hair with her hand and closing her eyes. She also didn't want to go, but she couldn't say it.
Deep inside, she was feeling as much despair as Amon. She couldn't stand the thought of never watching him grow. She couldn't stand the thought of causing him pain. She couldn't stand the thought of leaving him alone.
Yet all she could do for his sake was to put up a brave front and try her best to not upset him even more
Amon didn't know how long it passed. It could have been seconds, or it could have been minutes. For him, it seemed to be hours, and at least he was thankful for it.
Eventually, the ruffling of his hair stopped, and he closed his eyes, tightening his hug even more as he sobbed silently. The heat transformed into a roaring flame, but he still refused to open his arms.
His clothes were burned away, the frontal part of his body was covered in blisters and his skin was starting to rupture. Still, he did not open his arms.
Only when he felt the weight on his arms lightening did he open them, looking desperately at the white ashes flying away from his arms. They slipped through his fingers, dancing in the wind and glistening like snow under the moonlight, already beyond his reach.
He raised his gaze, looking at the distant Hell's Keeper Mountain in the horizon and at the specs of ash fluttering away from his grasp.
There was nothing left.
He cried loudly. He couldn't hold it back anymore.
He cried for Daniel. He cried for his mother. He cried for himself. At some point, he didn't know for whom to cry anymore, yet the tears continued falling.
He eventually closed his eyes, wondering when it all had gone wrong.
Was his mistake in the Hellblaze Trials? Would things have turned out differently had he stayed behind?
Was it the Promotion Competition? Had he drawn too much attention to himself?
Was it… the Scavenging?
He had forgotten it. He shouldn't have, but he did.
The excitement of finally finding hope in his path of cultivation, the drive to find the strength to protect himself and not put others in danger, the will to become strong enough just to be happy… It had blinded him. It had given him hope.
Now, he had paid the price for it.
Amon turned his head, looking at Lya.
For the first time, he felt regret in having met her. He felt regret in asking her for help.
Had he not started cultivating, had he accepted his fate, none of this would have happened.
Yet… It had happened.
The furious rage burning in his chest, the sorrow sinking on his mind… it wouldn't go away.
Nor would the people that cause all that.
"I WILL KILL ALL OF YOU!" Amon shouted with all of his might to the skies as his tears started falling again. He punched the spirit vessel with all his strength, making it tremble.
On the night sky, a solitary star slowly rose, joining uncountable others in a river made of starlight that seemed to have no beginning and no end.
Lya didn't know what to say as she looked at Amon in such pain and misery. In truth, she didn't know if she had the right to say anything.
Lya's gaze was filled with mixed emotions. She felt guilt, she felt sorrow, she felt rage and she felt regret.
If those emotions were aimed at Amon of herself, only she knew. She peered into his soul, and something she saw made another emotion show in her eyes.
It was fear.
Amon continued punching the spirit vessel, and his knuckles, already covered in blisters, ruptured. A small pool of blood was forming beneath Amon's fist as the spirit vessel's floor slowly caved in and his screams of rage and pain echoed through the night.
Above him, a waxing moon gave a devilish grin.
Yes, he had forgotten it, and he was a fool for that.
This world was hell.