"It's a shame that you're being sent to the frontlines. Sure, they don't instantly put you in the most dangerous spots, but in the end, you're just monster fodder."
Emeric taps my shoulder; it seems friendly, but it's anything but that.
"That old man Henry said you have quite a few gifts. Actually, a lot of them for someone of your level. Unfortunately for you, you've messed up; your mana is too high, and it will break your body fairly soon. You're crippled, too."
He looks at me.
"I see that you don't understand," he says happily. "Your mana is messed up, and its flow is terrible because of your missing limb. You have way too much of it to control with your lackluster skills, and no one will bother enough to help you level up and fix your habits."
He taps my back, and this time it hurts.
"You have no idea how much regrowing your limb would cost. They are pretty selective about this kind of service. It's also unfortunate they took your friend away. She would have been able to heal you given a few months. But now she's in their hands."
He flashes me a bright smile.
"Tomorrow, I will have you spar with a few of my men. A bit with weapons and some basic mana exercises. Just in case someone comes to check up on you. The day after that, I will let you practice again. Just in case."
He then stops. We are alone in the hallway. It's not inside the manor but in a smaller house nearby, most likely housing for his servants.
"After that, I will make your life miserable. You will exercise until you pass out. They will beat you, you will be given rotten food that was about to be thrown away, and you will sleep in the pig pens."
His face still looks honest, and his smile is nearly perfect.
"All of that because of the way you look around," he quietens down, whispering now. "I hate your eyes. The calm look in them as you look around, trying to gather as much information as you can. You should be scared, you should be pissing your pants."
He straightens up.
"Before the week's end, I will challenge you to a duel. I will tell Henry that you insulted my father or something like that, and during that duel, I will kill you."
This time, he pats my cheek a few times.
"Your room is at the end of the hallway."
He walks away. His hate for me feels almost too much. Is he just that rotten, picking someone to torture every so often, or did he see something in me that he really can't stand?
I watch his back the entire time until he leaves the hallway.
Then, I stop moving the mana inside my body and start walking through the hallway. As I thought, his mana sensitivity is terrible, and unlike Henry, he wasn't able to feel my mana movement inside my body at all.
So, can I take on someone at least 20, but probably much much more levels higher? In a week?
If I surprise him, then maybe? But the chance is low, and the risk is so high.
So, should I run away? I don't think I will be able to.
Ask for help? Who?
Try to get into his good graces? Seems impossible.
I lay down on the bed. The clothes they gave me are simple, and the fabric it's made of isn't soft or too comfortable. But it's clean and without any holes or blood on it.
The room is also fairly simple, but after sleeping outside and inside wet caves, it feels like such luxury.
I stop my second part of the mind from focusing on practicing [Armament] and make it try to reduce my mana signature as much as I can. I try to slow down the flow of mana inside my body. My new passive skill and trait help a lot with that and I retain as much mana inside my body as possible while trying to reduce the amount of mana produced by the Mana heart.
This night, I don't sleep and practice until the morning when they come knocking on the door of the small room I'm in.
I receive a wooden sword, and then the training starts.
My opponent is a level 40 mana warrior, and the training consists of me getting more and more bruises while Emeric sits under a large parasol nearby, drinking something and snacking. His smile never leaves his lips.
Are you that bored? Go and do something useful.
Also, give me some of those sweets; they look amazing.
Thanks to my upgraded [Focus], I continue to watch the warrior's moves with one part of my mind. Even simple swordsmanship is something new to me, as up until now, I've just continued to swing any weapon in any way that I saw fitting.
Meanwhile, my opponent moves differently. Sparring while holding a sword is different than just using martial arts. His balance is different, his stance changes at different times, and his feet move in specific ways.
So, I watch him while I'm getting beaten. Still, I swing at him sometimes and keep my body strengthened to reduce wounds.
There is only a 16-level difference, but his swordsmanship is much higher, and the same goes for his stats, and he isn't even using his skill.
It's hard to compare to someone with years and years of experience after only one month of using mana.
Emeric is probably even better.
The mana warrior stabs his wooden sword at me, and I avoid it only because of reading his moves and him holding back. I boost my body with mana to twist it slightly to the side to reduce the impact and then stagger backward.
For a moment, I stop paying attention to my opponent and focus on Emeric. I try to read his expression and body language.
Is he enjoying this? Totally.
I don't have much time to think as my opponent attacks again. I keep my focus split between him and Emeric, trying to learn as much as I can from this experience.
My other trainer is useless. It's probably on purpose, but he's terrible at handling mana, so I barely focus on him and continue planning and practicing.
This time, Emeric doesn't watch us.
Noname (Hell, group 4) - everything is fine here.
Sset (Hell, group 4) - We were hunting today; there are monsters as well. Right now, mostly boars, kobolds, and also some trolls and goblins, but stronger than on the 1st floor.
Grumpy (Hell, group 4) - They force me to kill monsters they've imprisoned and put my stats in mana and constitution. They are still very nice and want me to learn to heal as much as I can.
StrongestOne (Hell, group 4) - They are teaching us some basic orders. I think there's a war going on or something like this.
I try to get a few more pieces of information, but I get nothing useful.
Everyone is experiencing similar things, and if someone tries to say too much, it gets censored.
Brainiac (Hell, WhiteWing) - Emeric? Nah, we didn't even meet anyone like that.
Lootenant (Hell, WhiteWing) - We think that one question mark is up to 100-200 level and two question marks are over 200. But we're not sure now. It seems like asking for a level is considered terribly rude here.
After a while, I get disconnected and close my eyes.
I don't sleep again and continue to practice.
The next day, it becomes even worse. This time, someone stronger spars with me. I learn a lot, but I also get beaten a lot.
I get a soft, nearly rotten fruit that reminds me of an apple, and I'm forced to eat it while Emeric watches.
I continue to observe him, and by now, I'm certain I can't defeat him in a fair fight. His mana sense is terrible, but his stats are high, which he demonstrated while sparring with Henry. He is incredibly fast, and his swordsmanship is sharp and beautiful.
He tells me to get on my knees and beg, saying that he will spare my life if I do so.
I do it. I don't believe him, but I kneel down and even touch the ground with my forehead.
Dignity? Isn't survival more important? It won't cost me anything to bow down to him. Sure, it annoys me a lot, but for me, it's easy to do.
He laughs and even throws me some sweets he was eating.
I eat them as he orders me to. They aren't as sweet as those from the earth, and there's some dirt on them.
Then he says he changed his mind, and I will die at the end of the week.
I watch him leave while mana continues to flow. Once again, he wasn't able to feel me using mana inside my body.
I remember him stating that we are similar, and I can't help but chuckle a bit.
You're unaware of what makes me, me.
The next day, he doesn't join to watch my training, and the guards and servants seem to be confused.
I am still forced to exercise to the point I almost pass out from exhaustion.
The day after that, the servants seem even more unsure. They start searching inside the manor and in the surrounding area, and there's a flow of people coming in and out of the manor.
They don't train me anymore, so I spend most of the time locked inside my tiny room, practicing.
They're not giving me any food, but I enjoy the peace in my room.
On the third day after his disappearance, a tall woman comes to the manor, and I'm called out of my room. When I join her, I try to check her level, but I don't see anything. There isn't even text above her head.
She appears to be 60 or more years old. Her hair is gray, and her face has wrinkles, yet she exudes an atmosphere of absolute confidence.
She's wearing a black suit that seems more suited for a male, and it only highlights her tall and slim figure.
"I've bought you," she says simply. "If you lie to me, you will die," she says just as simply, and I believe every word she says.
"Did you kill Emeric Hawthorne?"