The sky was completely blotted out. Dark puffs of smoke intertwined, forming into ominous clouds. Between the masses of obscure smoke, flashes of lightning heralded the fall of an electrical discharge.
Yet another lightning strike fell on the ground, incinerating and then turning the lush green grass into ash.
The wind picked up, making the grasslands sway like an ocean in the storm. All of the those weather phenomenons were caused by one man floating in the wind.
In front of Rekk, the old fisherman’s majesty reached the heavens.
Bzzt! Bzzzzt! Bzzzzzzt!
Mana currents all around the fisherman crackled, as if the space itself was about to twist. Rekk looked on with utter fear, trembling. Old fisherman’s gaze bore a hole through him, making him feel uncomfortable. “T-This…” Rekk muttered in human language. “Grandmaster domain!”
Turning to the bear, the old fisherman noticed he’s not in dire need of help, relieving his concern slightly. Seeing this action, Rekk gulped loudly.
“First my home, then my companion. You really need to learn some manners.” old fisherman’s voice rang out. It didn’t sound old, far on the opposite, whoever heard that voice would think it’s a youthful person full of vigor.
Raising his finger straight into the sky, the fisherman willed and the universe replied.
Strands of mana visible to the eye whirled, forming into countless rivulets of transparent blue color, intertwining with each other to form a giant palm under the dark clouds.
Lightning fell unto the strands of mana, solidifying their shape into an enormous palm. Its power rose as the whirlpool around it formed, sucking the surrounding mana in. The wind picked up yet again as all the mana in the area was sucked into the enormous whirlpool that was like a bottomless abyss.
Icicle felt a pressure descending upon him, trying to swallow him. “Compared to my mana regeneration, this is a completely different level.” Icicle sighed inwardly, gritting his teeth to keep his foothold. He wanted to retreat to a safer place, but moving right now might cause him to be swallowed by the giant swirl above the illusory hand.
“Since you want to eat my mana up, I’ll swallow your mana instead!” Icicle desperately focused on his left hand, forming a swirl of mana. Shakily taking form, a tiny water droplet slowly rotated around its own axis.
A strand of mana entered the mini whirlpool above Icicle’s hand, making his whole body tremble.
“What a teriffying amount of energy! How compressed is that?” Icicle gulped down loudly, trying to decompose the strand of mana into a form he can absorb.
However, just that tiny strand made him sweat. Icicle retracted his tiny mana droplet, focusing on the flow of the violent streak of mana inside his body.
As the strand of mana coursed through his bloodstream, the places it swam through burst, causing internal bleedings.
Icicle violently coughed out blood as his internal organs shook. “A beginner trying to swallow Grandmaster’s energy really is a joke.” he smiled wryly. “One day I’ll be able to take all of that energy in without batting an eye.”
Mobilizing all of the mana in his disposal to counterattack against the strand of mana, Icicle didn’t forget to keep his foothold stable. This multitasking gave him a major headache.
“I can’t even feel my own source of mana. This is so weird. It’s as if it’s there, but I can’t pinpoint where the mana flows from.” Icicle frowned.
“I thought the mana might be flowing from the abdomen, but when I thought of it flowing from the hand, the mana seems to gather there and then spread to the other parts of my body. Really mysterious.” Icicle smiled wryly, coughing out blood yet again. Only madmen like him who experienced a lot of pain could focus on other things while battling the terrible, painful sensation.
“Whoever created this world must have been a genius. I don’t think it could have been done by a human though. And if it somehow was, there were definitely many others having their hand in this.”
While Icicle was fighting off the pressure and the violent energy from a strand of Grandmaster’s mana, the soil under Rekk crumbled, making him burrow in the ground ever so slowly.
Compared to Icicle who has barely any mana, the amount Rekk possesed was tyrannical. Since it was like that, the mana whirlpool obviously tried to suck it out of him with even more ferocity. This caused Rekk to struggle to keep his balance. Moving under this pressure was out of the question.
“What a violent mana swirl. Even though I’m at the Master level, I can barely hold my mana intact. An entry level Grandmaster is actually such a monster…” Rekk struggled. “Just who are you?!” he roared at the old man.
As the mana in the sky gathered, the illusory hand took form, coalescing into a blue hand. The clear surface of the hand rippled from time to time, blurring the clear mirror-like reflection of the world below.
“You don’t need to know.” the old man said, violently swinging his palm down.
Lightning fell all around the giant blue hand, presaging its violent fall.
The ground below sunk, making way for the giant force above. Rekk’s black scales cracked as the blood flowed from within his body. Flexing his muscles, Rekk’s aura soared, green color with a tinge of bright orange covered his body as his tail swept to counter the blow.
The tail and the giant hand collided against each other, creating a giant shockwave that swept Icicle away like a kite. Under such a powerful force, all he could do was let it carry him and hope that he wouldn’t die from smashing into something.
After he flew for a few hundred meters, Icicle’s feet made two rows of ditches in the ground, sliding through it with an unstoppable momentum. “How terrifying of a battle is this? I was hit by the aftershock and flew so far away.” Icicle looked around to see him at least 200m away from the battle.
But this couldn’t occupy his attention as the strand of mana he absorbed earlier wreaked havoc in his body.
“It seems like I’ve underestimated you, little guy.” Icicle’s killing intent suffused the surroundings, but the mana strand within him wasn’t affected in the slightest. Thus he retracted it with a shake of his head.
‘If I just gulp the potion, I won’t gain anything from it. Since I could survive the initial absorption, there must be a way!” Icicle cast [Healing drizzle] over and over while thinking of a solution.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Rekk’s tail and the blue hand collided fiercely time after time. While the blue hand seemed to have a tiny crack on its surface, Rekk’s whole body was rattled. Almost every black scale was cracked, blood flowing from beneath.
The monsters of the western mountain area had long scurried away. However, when this roar resounded, they ran yet again, escaping from sight.
Rekk’s aura surged once again as he swiped his tail against the blue hand. He knew this situation couldn’t keep up, so he prepared to assail the old man directly. Rekk’s chances of winning were slim, but it was better than being trampled and humiliated to death.
Yet another forceful collision of the two sprang up the wind and shockwaves all around, upturning the soil. The previously peaceful grassland was now riddled with holes, as if a meteor shower rained from the heavens to annihilate the peaceful scenery.
Rekk bounced off the ground fiercely, rushing toward the old man who calmly levitated in the air.
“Such an unruly child. Can’t you even take a proper beating from an adult?” the old man’s youthful voice resounded as he chuckled.
“Let me discipline you some more.” pointing his finger forward, mana strands converged quickly, this time straight out of the old man’s body.
“Arghhh!” Rekk roared out as a blinding flash of light covered the area.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Earth and blood mixed up as Rekk’s body was riddled with holes by a tiny sword-shaped mana streaks. They didn’t pierce any of his internal organs, merely his outer layer of scales.
Rekk knew he was being toyed with. Unable to bear such a humilation, Rekk’s blood boiled, bringing forth the power of the dragon bloodline and the effect of a concotion Icicle made for him.
Swiping with his wounded tail, Rekk watched the old man’s figure smiling, blasting out a punch!
The scales on Rekk’s tail exploded. Blood splattered all around as Rekk retracted his tail. “What an overpowering amount of mana.” Rekk thought with dismay. If only he didn’t attack that stupid bear!
But now it was too late to regret. He had to get rid of the old man, otherwise he was dead.
Icicle desperately tried to suppress the strand of mana that left him punctured. His internal organs were in a mess, yet the tiny streak didn’t have any signs of stopping.
“Desperate situations call for desperate measures!” Icicle fished out the lizardman heart, eating it without hesitation.
“This had better work!” he thought, chewing the sinewy organ of a lizardman.
His decision making was quite simple. Lizardmen were known for their vitality, this was proven many times over as he battled them. If it wasn’t for his sword’s unique skill, he would have had a much harder time dealing with them due to that absurd health regeneration. Thus, Icicle decided to swallow the lizardman prince’s heart, hoping for a surge of vitality that would help him recover or even directly fight off the mana strand.
He wouldn’t blame himself for absorbing the mana strand. This was definitely an opportunity. A high risk one, but an opportunity. Blessings often come in an unexpected way.
Icicle was rash and this was his tribulation. If he could overcome it, he would benefit, if not, he would lose the opportunity forever.
Chunk after chunk of the bloody meat landed in Icicle’s stomach. He bit fiercely, tearing out piece after piece. As he chewed, he cast [Healing drizzle], restoring some of his missing health.
Finally being done with half of the heart, a message popped up.
This seemingly simple message made Icicle overjoyed. He could save the other half for Blackie. After all, after seeing Rekk’s dragon breath, Icicle surmised that consuming other creatures’ essence might give him a special quirk. The same should apply for Blackie. As for what it was, he didn’t know.
Icicle’s stomach let out a loud sound, overturning. Icicle felt the urge to vomit, yet he swallowed it all back up. “As if I let you escape now!” he steeled himself, sitting on the ground.
Directing the mana to his stomach, Icicle tried to speed up the absorption of the alien essence. He had to try really hard to focus under the enormous pain. The mana strand he swallowed continued drilling throughout his body, ravaging his organs.
Icicle’s left hand sprouted out the tiny water droplet, absorbing mana from the surroundings while his right hand made incantations, casting [Healing drizzle] over and over.
His whole body was wet. Whether it was cold sweat or water, he couldn’t tell anymore. A streak of blood escaped Icicle’s lips as he forcefully suppressed the urge to vomit. This feeling caused him no small mental strain, as there were two things causing it. One was obviously the absorption of the foreign object, the other the internal hemorrhage.
As Icicle continued to suffer under a repulsive and excruciating pain at the same time, the battle next to the raging river reached a climax.
Rekk’s whole body was bleeding. His scales were barely there anymore, bleeding skin surfacing. With a furious glare at the old fisherman, Rekk’s belly bulged.
“Fire breath? Hohoho!” the old man laughed loudly, pointing his hand at the direction of the river. As he did, a column of water rose into being, curving to appear right next to him.
Strands of mana escaped the old man’s hand, swirling around the water column, as if carving it. His other hand poured out a large quantity of mana, letting it coalesce on the other side.
Soon enough, two halves of the sword were formed. The old man clasped his hands and they clashed against each other, forming into a giant translucent blue sword that gave off an imposing, overbearing feeling.
Rekk spit out a barrage of flame at the old man, while the old man cut with his hand like an experienced butcher.
The two forces collided!
Rekk’s firebreath was directly split into two halves, flying over the raging river only to incinerate the grassland on both sides to ashes. The bear that laid behind the river was safe, as he laid directly behind the old man.
“Well then, let’s end this.” the old fisherman said authoratively. He balled his hands into a fist, and the blue hand floating above did the same. The space beneath the old man’s feet distorted, rippling like the ocean waves swayed by the wind.
As the blue hand descended, the same distortion force applied to it. It appeared right above Rekk’s body in a split second, smashing him into the ground.
Its speed was so fast that the shockwave and the sound appeared a second after. Rekk’s body was pulverized, crushed under the formidable force of the hand. Using up all of tis force, the magic hand dissipated.
Peal of lightning fell on the remnants of Rekk’s body, turning it into ash.
As this was happening, Icicle felt a surge of vitality coming from the heart he had consumed. A wave of energy traversed through his body, nourishing it and letting it rebuild anew. His condition improved drastically, especially his endurance, as if he physically trained for a month. The violent stand of mana was directly crushed by the overwhelming force of vigor.
Witnessing the end of the fight, Icicle’s eyes blazed with happiness. He had improved his physique and witnessed something mind blowing. The sword that the old man used as his last move was made out of water magic! Who said that water magic was weak in the attack department? All it took was a lot of practice!
Icicle looked at the place where Rekk laid and sighed. His expression turned somewhat regretful as he realized the wonders of the lizardman’s essence. If he could eat Rekk’s heart, how wonderful would that be?
The old fisherman glanced at Icicle. He noticed his presence earlier, but wasn’t too bothered. Right now, however, he saw the disappointed look of the young man.
“You wanted to ingest this guy’s essence? Aren’t you a voracious one?” the old man chuckled. “I can see that your body is stronger than normal, but what you have ingested, compared to this one’s… it’s not on the same level. Although it’s just a tiny amount, the dragon blood within this reptile’s veins would crush you.”
Icicle smiled wryly. The feeling of regret had lessened. After all, he had a dozen of vials filled with Rekk’s blood. Those are definitely top notch materials. If he ingests them slowly, he can benefit immensely over time. However, as the old man said, this required him to improve his physique. This couldn’t be done by training alone though. He had to find a way to control his mana better, imbuing his limbs with it to strengthen them.
The old man walked to the leftover of his house, his gaze falling at the rubble. Then he glanced at the bear and his expression turned sour.
“What was that move called?” Icicle asked.
The old man turned, shaken up from his reverie. He didn’t really want to answer some youngster’s question, as he felt he had told him enough. However, there was a tiny water droplet swirling on the young one’s hand.
“A Water Mage, huh?” the old man pondered, flashing a faint smile, remembering his youthful days. “There are many names for it. Most people call it [Mirage Sword] although the [Phantom Sword] version is popular too. You can find its users at the continent east of here.”
The old man smiled faintly and turned to his companion again. He caressed the bear’s fur, applying mana to its wounds. The bear’s expression turned a bit better.
“Does senior need help with his companion?” Icicle asked amiably.
“If my magic can’t heal it, I doubt yours can.” the old man drawled out.
Icicle didn’t mind the remark. After all, someone at such a high level had to have at least a bit of pride. “Catch.” Icicle said, throwing a vial.
Catching the glass vial midair, old fisherman uncorked it and sniffed a few times. “You actually harnessed that reptile’s blood?”
Icicle smiled wryly at the suspicious glare he received. “I have my ways.” he said. “Senior should feed his companion with it. Although I can’t drink it right now, Senior’s companion should be able to. After all, a hint of dragon blood within a vial like that is almost non-existent.”
Glaring at Icicle, the old fisherman turned to his bear to feed him the reptile blood. The old man felt somewhat offended. A young man was actually telling him what to do…
As soon as the fisherman was done, the bear’s expression resumed its peaceful demeanor. It slept, recuperating ever so slowly. The hint of the dragon blood didn’t seem to pose too much of a threat to it.
Turning to the young man, old fisherman noticed his eager eyes. “Although this is somewhat valuable, it can’t compare to the skill you want.”
Icicle laughed embarassedly. “It’s okay, having senior owe me a favor is good enough for me.”
Right as the words fell, old fisherman’s expression fluctuated. “Cunning, sly bastard!” he thought.
“Well then, I’ll take my leave.” Icicle bowed and turned to the western mountain.
Silence reigned over the grasslands. Icicle traversed a few dozen metres when a voice rang out behind him. “Catch.”
Quickly turning, Icicle caught the object. It was a leather book with old, yellow pages.
“I don’t like owing anyone favors.” the old fisherman said gravely, glaring at Icicle. Icicle’s reaction speed confirmed his suspicions. That young man was definitely ready to catch something flying his way. Old fisherman has obviously seen through him, but it still didn’t sit right with him to owe someone.
“This technique can be mastered once you enter the Advanced level. Judging by your current attainment in mana control, it will probably take you a decade. There are a few moods you need to realize to use the technique, but you’re a smart person. Since you could force a situation like this, I’m sure you’ll manage.”
Finishing his speech, the old fisherman snorted, unsummoning his companion. Then, he waved his hand and a large piece of green crystal appeared. It looked like a [Summoning stone] Icicle dropped, but it was at least 50 times the size.
Crashing the stone like it was nothing, a violent fluctuation appeared in the space around the old man. Soon, a huge blue head emerged, followed by an 8m long body. A blue scaled lithe body with a yellow belly rose to the skies. The creature flapped its wings fiercely, letting out an excited roar!
Icicle’s eyes widened as he saw the enormous blue creature. “Water Dragon!” he exclaimed inwardly.
The old man mounted the young water dragon and ascended to the skies. Icicle smiled faintly, shouting “I’ll be sure to reciprocate Senior Naterix’s kindness.” he took a deep breath and shouted once again “We’ll meet again.”
Magician Naterix disappeared under the vastness of the orange sky. The sun was about to disappear from the horizon, gracing the land with its last rays of light.
Icicle stood alone in this serene atmosphere. The lush grasslands around him were no more. Upturned soil, burned patches of land, craters as if a meteorite shower fell there… The area around the raging eastern river resembled an aftermath of an apocalypse.
“I like this world more and more.” Icicle laughed out loudly, falling onto his butt. He looked at the direction of the forest leading to the Vilen Town.
“No need to be so cautious, you can come out.” Icicle noticed the vigilant eyes before, but he didn’t call the people out as it could spook the old fisherman, or should he say, Magician Naterix.
Jasik and his Hunter friends slowly walked out of the forest. They had bags packed with furs and meat of the monsters they have just hunted. However, once they heard the terrible roar of Rekk, they hid in the forest, watching the scene from afar. Naturally, the instance of Icicle dispatching the Mercenary fell into their eyes as well.
“So it’s you, Jasik.” Icicle smiled faintly. “Tell me, which kingdom are you guys familiar with?”
Jasik furrowed his brows at the unexpected question. “Minaeryth Kingdom of course, why?”
“I see.” Icicle nodded, looking at the distance.
As the silence reigned once again, Jasik and his group walked closer. “You’re not a Merchant, are you?” Jasik asked.
“Then the furs…?” Jasik asked with suspicion.
“I didn’t lie to you. Their price had dropped.” Icicle shrugged.
“But you didn’t say the truth either.” Jasik shook his head helplessly.
“I played on one of the bazzar Merchant’s pride to offer me a very favorable price publicly. The rest of the story you should figure out.”
Jasik nodded. Icicle must have had an enormous opportunity to gather so many gold coins to pull of this gamble. Offending big forces required guts.
“Say, are you up for a little gig?” Icicle laughed mysteriously.
“What gig?” Jasik decided to be cautious. Icicle wasn’t simple. He always had an ulterior motive.
“I’ve found a bunch of Mercenaries kidnapping people from the Minaeryth Kingdom. As you can see, most of them is dead, but there are some remnants in the camp not far from here. I was wondering if you can help me, or rather, help them meet their maker?” Icicle flashed an innocent smile.
Jasik shuddered. Mercenaries kidnapping people nearby? This news has indeed circulated, but it was long before the adventurers arrived. Contemplating for a while, Jasik consulted with his teammates.
“What do you think?”
“If it’s for the Kingdom, we should do it. After all, there’s not much glory left for us. This one gig could give us a nice retirement.” one of the Hunters voiced his opinion.
“I agree. If it feels like we can’t do it, we’ll retreat and call the guards.” the other Hunter said. They could judge the Mercenaries’ strength by watching their battle with Rekk.
Chatting some more, Jasik and his group returned to Icicle. “What’s the split?” Jasik asked.
“Alchemic ingredients, recipes and jewelry goes to me, you can take the rest.” Icicle stated.
“The gold?” Jasik continued.
“All yours.” Icicle stood up and dusted his clothes. “You guys ready?”
“Wait a second. Can you show us some proof that we’re indeed getting rid of traitors? We don’t want to be a part of your personal vendetta.” Jasik shook his head. He didn’t want to be rude, but this had to be confirmed. After all, although they have seen the Mercenaries fighting with Rekk, they didn’t know anything about them.
“Hmmm. Let me see.” Icicle checked his inventory and found the drop from Gaius. A golden signet with a reptile eye in the middle and a letter with orders were all he had.
Icicle fished out the letter and opened it. He read through the content then gave the document to Jasik. “Read it.”
Jasik glanced the document over, showing the paper to his friends. “All right, we can go.”
Icicle nodded and lead the team to the Red Blooming Valley.
Magician Naterix stood on top of the young Water Dragon. He caressed its head lovingly. “Weird, how did that young man know my name?” he thought.
After a while, his joyous laughter resounded in the skies. “I see, you were an adventurer. Those young people who wanted to become fishermen knew my name right from the start as well.” Naterix smiled.
“With such a cunning mind, we may indeed meet in the future.” Naterix laughed raucously, disappearing from the Minaeryth Kingdom.
Meanwhile, the [Death to human invaders!] event has ended. The lizardmen forces were defeated and the scoreboard flashed above the Vilen Town, showing the results!