He cut through yet another of the fiends, bisecting it with a clean cut through the head and torso. There was no end to them, not even after days of slaying them without rest. He wasn't tired, only weary from the endless assault from all directions, but that barely hindered him. He was caked in blood, ichor and caked dirt, but his appearance had no impact on him. He wasn't finished, not nearly so. He had to train past his limits and far beyond, else he would never surpass the wall that stood in his way.
"Venom End," he growled, igniting his blade with a toxic green flame that dissolved flesh and bone. With ferocity befitting his appearance, he cut through the ceaseless horde of monsters that swarmed him like ants. His sword severed heads, limbs and torsos as it flew like a savage gale in the wintry dark. This much was nothing compared to what he would face later down the line, so the complaints of his lead like muscles fell on deaf ears.
One would assume that the man was wild and raging from an outside perspective, but in truth he was calmer than gentlest breeze. His head was clear, almost peaceful, as he cut through the horde in a way antithetical to his thoughts. His sword flew with untamed rage while his mind and body moved with grace like a dancer. His focus and peace was so great as to blind him from the burning blue light that flowed around his body and the rapid improvement of his form and footwork with each successful slash and evasive action.
The man didn't notice as one slash became ten, ten slashes became one hundred, one hundred slashes become one thousand and so on as he continued to grow, that wasn't at the forefront of his mind as he cleared the area around him. He didn't notice that his swift movements had grown lighter and lighter as the hours ticked by, his feet leaving no impression in the snow beneath him or on the individual flakes themselves as he became a blur of light that carved through the endless sea of creatures. He didn't care that his reflexes had become precognitive from the numerous strikes he had endured before he adapted, none of this was enough. He needed power and it remained outside of his grasp despite how hard he strained himself and trained.
The man didn't realize that he had completely cleared the horde of monsters until his blade cut through the air and met no resistance from flesh or bone. Startled by the lack of attacks, he surveyed the red and black stained snow around him for any concealed fiends, but his honed senses detected no life in the immediate area. He blinked then sheathed his blade. "Oh..."
He wasn't a man of many words, at least not while his conscious was split between training his magicks, innate skills, learned skills and tapping into his untapped potential. He could tell he had changed, but not beyond the lack of revenge to cloud his thoughts. He was at peace with himself, perfectly so, and nothing here could get close to disrupting that. His body had shed its mechanical components at some point, as evident by the random scraps of metal bent beyond recognition, and a set of bangles that he didn't remember finding hung from his wrists. He wrote that off as a mystery and didn't let it bother him, it wasn't worth the effort.
Emperor Within the SnowEdit
The man walked through the field of snow, eyes occasionally wandering to take in the beauty he had missed while he had been preoccupied. A faint smile crept along his face, but passed just as quickly when he caught a glimpse of his reflection. He was filthy. His clothing was covered in layers upon layers of crusted blood and filth, while his skin was caked with dried blood and viscera to the point where it looked like a certain person's. His sword's scabbard was sticky with random gunk it had likely acquired around the same time he had reached his current appearance. His hair was matted with oils, blood and twigs, finalizing his ragged appearance.
"A bath would be nice," he thought aloud before closing his eyes and focusing his senses. The land was silent as much as the air was and the smell of fresh snow mingled with the scent of dried blood, but somewhere near was a sealed geyser. Focusing on that, he pinpointed its location and drifted to it like snowflakes in the wind.
It didn't take long for him to find the geyser, it wasn't hard to notice an area where the snow was melting into slush. He silently floated across the semi-liquid surface until he reached its edge and tapped his weapon against the ground. Within the minute, the earth rumbled and a jet of steaming water erupted from the ground and fell as a soothing rain. Soon, the pressure lessened and the water pooled in a wide circular area. The man waited a moment before slipping into the warm liquid. Almost immediately, he sighed as the built up stress and grime peeled away from him.
"Aaah..." He sighed again as his muscles relaxed and his mind reached a greater level of clarity. Truly, this was a great moment. He contained the blood, dirt and viscera that was floating away from him, preventing it from polluting the spring should anyone else ever find their way this far into the white forest's depths. It was the small things that counted, he realized. Doing great deeds was nice, but the small actions would be the ones with the most weight in the end. Thinking that, he began to thoroughly clean himself and his clothes in the water. He didn't notice that his sword had vanished- rather he had already known that this would happen and had no reason to try and stop it when it would return when he was ready for it. Instead, he directed his focus towards the large entity making its way towards him from under ground.
He finished cleaning himself, just as the earth rumbled and a colossal white serpent erupted from the center of the spring. It's scales were like pearls and its mane was the color of polished sapphire. Its eyes were an intelligent gold and beamed with pride befitting the master of a domain. The person didn't need to see the creature to know it was the forest's master, it's very presence was identical to the aura of the forest: calm, even tempered and yet capable erasing those it deemed unworthy.
So I have.
"Am I to be erased, then?"
No, young one.
You've yet to fully understand yourself, yet to fully understand what you truly are...
"I won't deny that, but does that really require your appearance?"
In this case, yes. Only I can awaken what lies dormant in your heart. At the present, that is my role.
In the grand scheme of things everything has a role, multiple really. Our roles are partially determined upon conception, but paths and branches open as you live. Think of it like a collective set of actions, some large, others tiny. They may weigh differently, but each one eventually culminates into something unique and special. In my case, it lead me to this position, but in yours... greater things lie ahead.
Indeed, but I cannot foresee what those things are, only time will tell.
"I see..." The man looks up at the serpent before bowing his head. "I am in your care."
Temper yourself more, else this will be your limit. The Snow Emperor breathed quietly.
"Yes..." The man grunted as he took a deep breath and forced himself to stay afloat as pressure beyond a star's pressed him towards the slowly shattering earth. He was soaked in cold sweat and his entire body trembled in the meditative position he had entered for this exercise. Anyone else would have thought that withstanding such pressure without either dying or losing form was a monumental feat on its own, but it wasn't enough for him, not nearly enough. He sharpened his mind to a point sharper than the sharpest of blades, thinking solely on enduring this trial and the next level, and before he knew it, the pressure seemed to lessen before rising to a level far greater than before.
Focus. The serpent said no other words as it raised the pressure further and further. Soon the surrounding area would collapse upon itself and flow into the sphere of heat and pressure it had created, and soon afterwards a singularity would form. It could handle the singularity, but could the one before it? It got its answer when the sphere suddenly condensed upon itself, forming a black hole. The man, remained unaffected by it, however, even as it gradually and finally pulled him into its center. The serpent flicked its tongue is disappointment, the young one should have been far more resilient than that. It started to disperse the singularity when it notice something strange. The sphere of infinite pressure had began to distort and shift, gradually growing bigger until it ruptured, cancelling all of the unnatural pressure and revealing the man, somewhat haggard in appearance, but otherwise fine.
"Is there anything else," he panted as he wiped sweat from his brow.
Aye, you must be able to move through even that much pressure without losing the slightest bit of mobility. The serpent's tongue flickered out of its mouth. Whenever you are ready.
"Then let us continue now." The Snow Emperor would have raised an at the man's tenacity had it been able to.
Very well. The extreme pressure from before came down upon the man again. Now go.
The man began to run, or at least attempted to, the crushing pressure made moving nearly impossible despite his ability to withstand such pressure. Regardless of that, he continued to attempt to run, even as his body nearly collapsed at every step and his bones creaked. Each step was slightly easier than the one before, marginally so, and gradually the man gained speed as he moved. Minutes flew before he could jog in the heavy space and several hours passed before he could move in his natural gait. By the next day, he was unaffected by the infinite pressure, having become able to move through it as if there was no difference in pressure from when he first arrived. The Snow Emperor noticed a distinct lack of the blue aura from before as this transition occurred, but the meaning behind this was lost on him initially.
You've improved once more. Tell me, did you have to rewrite yourself to achieve this?
"No, I adapted at my regular pace." The response given was surprising to say the least. The serpent hadn't thought that a mere mortal, as blessed as this one was, could reach such a state in just a few days. He had already exhibited strength and power far beyond anything he had encountered before and his speed was within the realm of the gods now, and that wasn't counting his innate genius with magic, mystic arts, divine arts, the elements and even space itself. Still, there was so much that remained untapped in the man, whether he knew it or not. It was almost terrifying really, even for one as old as countless stars, that one that had been in the world for such a short time held this much power.
"Is there anything else? This isn't enough..." The serpent could only sigh. He understood the wish for self improvement, but this was pushing it. He was starting to reach the end of his abilities, something that hadn't happened in hundreds of thousands of years, not since he had given up his mortal coil to seal the remaining demon blades.
I'm afraid not, I've awakened within you what I could. If more is your desire, seek out the First Sage, the one who presides over this plane's boundary.
"Understood, thank you..."
"Thank you, master Veriel." The man bowed graciously before turning to leave.
Just a moment.
"Yes?" The man turned around in time to see an ivory sliver descend from the serpent's mouth.
A parting gift. Until your fang returns, take mine.
"Thank you once more, master Veriel." The man bowed once more before vanishing within the snow. The Snow Emperor smiled as best he could, the man had stirred memories from times immemorial.
May the divine favor you, young one...
Point of OriginEdit
The man walked through the endless white, unaffected by the frigid winds whipping at him and the snow obscuring his vision. Ever since he left Veriel, the blizzard had intensified and finding his way had become more tedious. Attuning himself to the elements had a limited effect, even when he focused his senses to the point where even the tiniest of disturbance would be felt by at least one of the five senses. Finding the First Sage was going to be more challenging than he anticipated, but that wasn't much of a problem. He wasn't exactly expecting to eventually stumble upon a cabin in the middle of the snow storm, let alone one with the glow of fire within it.
"It couldn't be this simple..." He muttered to himself as he approached the wooden bastion against the elements. He could sense nothing from the structure, something that bothered him to no end after having developed a hyper acute awareness of the world around him. His eyes narrowed as he got closer, a faint inkling of a higher power radiating ever so slightly from the cabin. "...It is this simple."
The man stepped carefully as the cabin grew closer and closer until the door was within arm's reach. Hesitating, he touched the door and felt a wave of immense energy surge through him like violent electricity. His pores expanded as his meridians blew open and his body drank in the energy that the owner of the cabin had sent his way. Had his body not been strengthened by countless improvements through his battle with the supposedly endless sea of creatures and his brief training with Veriel, he was sure that is organs would have ruptured and that he would not have been standing, if he was still among the living after such a wave of force. Instead he grit his teeth as he endured the energy, at first resisting it and discharging it from his body, but the small amounts that did permeate his being caused his inner power to grow explosively and violently, leading him to instead circulate the energy through his body at a controlled rate, strengthening himself slowly. He understood that the energy he had been struck with was not an attack, but a test for him, to see how much he had progressed and how much he could still grow in a forced situation. He could sense that if he drank in too much energy he would be crippled compared to his current rate of absorption, even if it did put a strain on is body to do so even as it adapted and grew stronger. After what felt like hours, the energy had been fully consumed by the man, who could now grasp the proper magnitude of the being he had sensed within the cabin: Someone who could move the entire cosmos with a breath if he were so inclined. At the same time he felt serenity blanketing him, soothing him, in waves from the being within the cabin, serenity that sparked an unconscious recognition within him.
"Come along now," said a jovial voice, "While the weather may mean little to you now, I'd feel rude leaving a guest out in the snow. You can open the door after all." Stupefied for a moment, the man blinked before touching the door again, this time not feeling a pulse of energy. Nodding to himself in understanding, he opened the door and found a man around his age sitting cross-legged in the far corner of the cabin.
"We finally meet, young Angelius," said the man, smiling. He had dark brown hair and sea blue eyes with white 'x' shaped pupils. He had a slightly tanned complexion and wore a primarily black robe with yellow and red accents, a pair of simple slip on shoes and a plain circlet. Behind him floated a curved wooden staff embellished by a bright blue jewel. "I am Sirius, the First Sage as many choose to refer to me. You don't need to, of course, after all, us Sages are equal in my book."
"A pleasure," bowed Angelius. "I believe you know why I am here, Sirius."
"Aye, to ready yourself for the future and to atone," nodded the man as he stood up. He smiled once again as his staff floated into arm's reach. "Then we may as well begin."
Sirius tapped the staff on the ground and the space around them expanded until they were in what appeared to be a black void. "I want you to try and cut me, Angelius. Give it your all or you will be repelled."
Angelius could only nod as he drew Veriel's fang. The weapon was thin, but sharp and radiated with a natural strength that was just below the Azure Calibur, but he could wield it with no issue. Without a word, he flew towards Sirius, closing the distance between them in an instant as the makeshift blade in his hand cut thin lines through the air. The elements surged, wreathing him in a cloak of energy while bathing his weapon in elemental light. The blade sailed towards Sirius with deadly intent, but the man did not move to avoid the strike. Instead he lifted his staff just as the blade would have struck and blocked the blow.
The resulting impact produced a deafening roar as a heavy shock wave erupted from the duo as light filled the area. Sparks and bolts of energy danced along the area where the blade and staff collided, gradually pushing Angelius and Sirius apart, until neither would move any further.
"Respectable," commented the First Sage. "You came at me with your all, though I'm sure you didn't use everything at your disposal. Still, this much force could quite easily allow you to cut through most objects in the mortal plane. The others remain beyond you though."
"Indeed, allow me to show you..." With that, Sirius lightly swung his staff. The resulting force drove Angelius leagues away as the once black space flashed white. The elements did not rage so much as they fell into a mania before being engulfed in pure white. It was akin to the beginning and end wrapped into a single instance that lasted for eternity, an unending roar that died as quickly as it began, the white blast of power immediately fading, but its effects remained: The once black space was littered with bright colorful masses, large and small, both together and spread far from one another. Angelius, himself was paralyzed. His body refused to move for several moments as his senses were awash with stimulus far beyond measure. His life, as well as the life of every star and planet flashed before his eyes, and that had been from a casual movement. A weak movement, with no amount of effort put behind it and yet, its power was enough to birth what appeared to be a universe in this once vacant space. This was the sort of power he needed to obtain, a power he was so very far away from.
"Does this suffice for you," echoed Sirius' voice from afar, floating along lazily. "You've much to learn and grow into, Angelius. Do not allow yourself to forget that." The words were not harsh or strict by any means, simply meant to help the young man as he righted himself from the attack. "The first thing you must learn is how to Attack. With Chaos and Order no longer at their full capacities, few aside from remnants of an era long gone remember what it means to truly attack and not simply go through the motion of doing so."
Angelius could only nod.
"First you must learn to breath, by which I do not mean the motion that mortals go through to sustain themselves. I mean to take in all there is around you, allow it to empower you and likewise return it to the area around you," continued the First Sage. "You've likely done so to an extent while you meditated and honed yourself with Veriel and by yourself, but now you must make that active effort a passive one, a natural part of yourself akin to your expanded senses through the elements, only more refined. You stand at a rough point. You've shaved away at the layers around your abilities, but you've yet to reach the true starting point of any of them, let alone their true potential. And so we must begin anew..."
And like that, Angelius began to practice his breathing, opening himself to the flow of the elements and movements of the world around him. For what felt like months, there was little change, his understanding of the elements vast, but largely incomplete and his understanding of the will of the world nonexistent. Years would pass before he heard the first whispers of the elements, the voices housed within them, eager to share secrets and knowledge with those who sought not to control them, but to listen to them and befriend them. A warm voice filled with innocent passion, a soothing voice with a motherly lilt to it, a serene voice with wisdom beyond its years, an energetic voice gushing with potential, a cool-headed voice speaking with great clarity, a stern yet kind voice willing to guide others, a beautiful voice singing songs of ope and joy and a simple voice willing to tell a myriad of stories to those with open ears. He heard all of these now, at first individually, but soon enough all at once, none over powering the other, each reaching towards another part of him. And thus he listened with both his ears and his senses, all coming together to allow him to better understand each of the elements. Decades passed and Angelius gained the insight to converse with the elements, not simply by speaking, but with his thoughts an emotions as well, deepening their bond until one day, he heard a ninth voice.
This voice was quiet, but not weak or sickly. It reverberated through him and compelled him to listen. It made no promises and had no conditions, it simply spoke to him once it acknowledged that there was one able to hear it. The voice had a weight to it, a power beyond measure, one that dwarfed his understanding of the word power in a way that the First Sage had when he Attacked with such minute effort, yet even greater still. It's words were calm, some congratulatory, others chiding, but all encouraging him to grow more and dig deeper. It was at this moment that Angelius realized that this was the will of the universe speaking to him, telling him to further improve himself. And so he did. He began to refine his breathing, taking deeper breaths as he grew closer and closer to Breathing. Then one day, after countless centuries had passed, Angelius succeeded. As he inhaled, a wealth of knowledge unified with him and with an exhale came a wave of power over the entirety of his being. This was Breathing, he understood, something beyond anything he had ever experienced up to that point. And this was only the first step of many to follow.
"Congratulations on your success, Angelius," called Sirius, "Now we may advance to the basics of Attacking." And so they did, with each moment prior to Angelius' success being used to further his skill, understanding and control over himself. Then he began to practice sustaining Attacks once he mastered Attacking, then advanced to learning how to Move and finally, followed by Focusing and lastly, achieving Perfect Balance within oneself. Each lesson took years to complete, but for each one he did, Angelius felt the power within him swelling like a balloon, growing greater and greater until Sirius felt that he was ready, which wasn't for another few hundred years.
"You've reached a summit of sorts," remarked the First Sage. "You've still much to learn, but being taught will not help you grow, only teaching will."
"You want me to take on a pupil?"
"Nay, I want you to, when the world has settled, teach all who come to you how to Breathe. Only through such an effort will you grow further and reach the true peak of your potential," corrected Sirius. "This will be no easy task, Angelius. Not everyone can surpass their mortal coil and train indefinitely. To succeed you must be ready to accept that not everyone will be able to master Breathing within their lifetime, but do not give up on them because of that and do not rush them, for that will lead to their destruction. Do you understand?"
"Good," nodded the sage before beckoning Angelius forward. "I have two gifts for you."
Angelius awoke outside the space, outside of the strange frozen dimension. His attire had changed yet again, having become a mix of armor and robes. A simple sword sat at his side, sheathed in an ivory and gold trimmed scabbard, while a set of simple gold bangles rested upon his wrists. Strangely, his hair had lost its blonde coloration and had adopted a snow white coloration, having also grown several feet longer. Part of him wondered if this was a sign of how much time had passed for him, but another wondered if this was how he was meant to look based on the experiences and trials he'd gone through. Regardless, there was much he had to do...