Author’s Note: And… we’re back! I hoped to start yesterday but the new year’s celebration brought me under and the morning after… urgh! Pro tip: The real reason people go out to celebrate is so they do not have to deal with the cleanup.
Okay, no sappy reunions! Let’s see if we can begin 2019 with a good start. I have a lot planned this year.
Chapter Thirty-three: The Undying
Sweetrot took to the stage, eager to get away from the unnerving Hue. First Wynna, then Valerian and now, Hue. He was surrounded by monsters. For a short moment, his confidence was shot. He no longer felt special. Centring himself, he reminded his ego that this was how it was meant to be. Lady Bloodworth would only choose the best of the best. Geniuses like himself. Cracking his neck and spine, he took a look at his opponent and grinned.
‘I suppose I too have to make a show of it!’
He would not want the spectators to think him lacking in comparison to his fellow disciples.
“Robern Sweetrot vs Amerrak!” the referee announced with an uncertain look towards the monocled alchemist.
Amerrak frowned at the sight of his counterpart’s bloodthirsty grin. Quickly, he took out his weapon; a golden sickle with an inner edge and readied himself.
Amerrak wasted no time. He disappeared in a blur of speed, swinging at Sweetrot. To his surprise, his opponent did not even bother to dodge. He actually brought his own neck closer to the blade leaping towards it as if suicidal. Screams were heard from the crowd when his flesh met the sickle, its golden edge cutting right through it.
Amerrak retreated, his forefront splattered with blood. Anxiously, he rubbed his face, trying to get rid of the blood that covered it. Then, he heard an impossible voice.
“So…?” Sweetrot’s severed head asked from its new place in his right hand.
His headless body threw it the bloody thing upwards but it continued to speak. Its mouth moved as if unperturbed about his current state. It was incredibly gory to watch. His neck was still spurting blood courtesy of a heart that, despite the odds, continued to beat. The head was not exempt. It leaked everywhere and every time Sweetrot tossed it up, it left a trail of unsanitary liquids easily spotted by the onlookers.
“… seeing how pointless your struggle is, will you give up or am I going to have to do something nasty to you first?” the head asked.
His words were punctuated by the sounds of gagging and vomiting that came from the audience.
Valerian woke in an unfamiliar room. Taking the time to learn his surroundings, he found that he was lying on a comfortable settee. The room was dimly lit. Unfortunately, he was not given much time to learn more.
“Augustus’ school must be quite the interesting place to train that into you”, a feminine voice said.
Valerian sat up, recognizing the voice of Lady Bloodworth. His body ached terribly and his apertures were greatly disturbed. Even his essence was sluggish. The feeling was very unpleasant and if Valerian did not already feel that his head was splitting he would have bashed it against the side of the settee. Just what had he been thinking. Lady Bloodworth gave him an intensely curious stare, no doubt wondering the same thing. He sincerely hoped not.
“Here!” she told him, handing him a flask of indeterminate liquid.
“Drink and when you are done, we have some things to discuss”, she told him. “Things like the strange powers you displayed at the arena and why you thought it a good place undergo your ascension.”
The hands holding the flask shook as his hopes were dashed, spilling a small amount of its precious contents down his front. He hastily searched his mind for something to say and came up empty. What possible excuse could he have to explain away his peng abilities or how they had taken over him at the worst possible time? Without warning, a dainty finger tentatively poked him from behind. He turned and found himself staring into the face of figure the hitherto unknown to have been behind of the settee.
She stared at him, red hair looking like a fall of lava. Her skin was like alabaster and her eyes were akin to burning coals. Valerian stared into these flame ridden orbs when she asked a question. Her voice was soft but imperative in a bewitching way. Just hearing its notes made you want to stop and listen. Valerian did. He listened.
“Hey, hey shiny, are you like me?” she asked enthusiastically.
Something told him he was not looking at the Wynna he had grown used to.
Sweetrot picked up an arm and reattached it. He had done same for his head earlier. Now, he merely looked amused as he stared down his opponent. The crowd was still watching the macabre drama unfold. Sweetrot’s blood covered the ground at his feet. Even Amerrak’s clothes bore splatters of it. The tellurian himself, however, remained completely unfazed. Why would he not be? He had just revealed that nothing his foe could do would harm him. He was practically immortal.
“That was your second hit!” he told Amerrak. “One more and I will take back my previous goodwill. Then, I’ll see just how much of a hurt I can lay on you before the ref drags me off.”
The alchemist was not listening. All his initial panic had deserted him. He was examining his sickle, watching the blood drip off it like it was the most interesting thing in the world. Tapping the side of his monocle, he called on its powers to further his study of the sample.
“Fascinating!” he proclaimed. “Your power, it is not regeneration like I originally thought but rather some form of restoration.”
Sweetrot muttered something under his breath that sounded like, “Eggheads!”
Speaking louder he asked, “So? Are you expecting a prize or something?”
Amerrak ignored him but the referee drew closer. As Lord tier arcanist with wood and fire affinities, he too was curious as to the source of Sweetrot’s powers.
“What I find most interesting is that your power has nothing to do with a technique, bloodline or physique. Even when separated from you, your blood displays this remarkable property but the changes do not come from the cells themselves. The essence that lingers in them continuously works to restore them to their peak even as I destroy them. The restorative property comes from the nature of your essence; some sort of underlying power concept that warps it into its current state”, he exposed.
“There is only one thing I know that could possibly explain this…” he pronounced.
The referee, thinking along the same lines, turned to look at Sweetrot. A newfound respect sprung in his eyes. Unwittingly, the answer flew softly from his lips at the same time Amerrak said it. Together, they declared.
“…a preterm aspect!”
The referee had reason to be impressed. This was something that if any of Sweetrot’s teachers would go crazy over if they found out. The biggest slacker in the class had condensed a preterm aspect. For them, it was unthinkable to imagine that a feature only ever seen in the greatest possible talents could be found in someone like Robern Sweetrot.
Essence was the lifeblood of the world and its cultivators. All through the first tier, cultivators learned to work with essence, improve their affinity to its varieties, their control over and ability to store it. When they grew confident enough, they underwent their ascension, testing their achievements by the standards of the heavens. Success meant the approval of the heavens, a baptism of essence that elevated you from a child playing in the mud into a lord of an element.
Lords were called so for a reason. Whilst their juniors were simply attributed. They bore truly nature essence. They were not just fire like. They were fire and as they advanced they learned to control the element in its entirety including maximizing their use by condensing the properties of their element that they comprehended. They went from controlling the fire to commanding its properties; its heat, light and explosiveness. These properties were the concepts that powered and constituted it. They were the first thing you thought of when you imagined an element. The descriptors you used for it in your innermost thoughts. They were its aspects.
Nevertheless, there were some exceptional individuals who succeeded in comprehending and condensing an aspect before they stepped into the Lord tier. The premature concepts they possessed were referred to as preterm aspects. Cultivating a preterm aspect was not something defined by genetics or technique. It was a measure of excellence. It meant that despite having a first tier cultivation base, your attainments in your element were practically second tier. You had reached the highest possible standards for elemental affinity, attunement and comprehension.
Now, Robern Sweetrot had been outed as one of these very rare individuals.
The shock that went through the audience as the understanding dawned on them was palpable. Sweetrot being competent was already difficult to take in. The fact that he was arguably the most talented student of the wood division was even more so.
“I do not believe it!” a young man cried.
Many turned to look at him, sharing his sentiment. There had to be something off somewhere. However the fact that the news came from both the greatest first tier alchemist and a fourth-year senior was more than enough confirmation for some people. A few of these recognized the screamer from the start of the tournament and one of them decided to poke some fun at his expense.
“Mr Fourteen ranks higher is it?” he quoted mockingly. “I can see why you’re taking this personally.”
Those who remembered the youth’s boastful words laughed uproariously caused him to colour fiercely clamping his mouth shut so tight that his lips disappeared.
‘Why are they focusing on me?’ he asked inwardly. ‘I wasn’t the only one!’
Back on the stage, Sweetrot was sucking up the attention. It was all worth it. The scorn, disdain and ridicule, he was forced to endure. The weeks he barely ate to save up for materials. The self-torture he put himself through. The countless hours of sweat, blood and toil that went into his training. Missing classes because he had overdrawn his essence and could not get up. It was all worth it for this moment where everyone was forced to bow before his genius.
His eyes focused, narrowing in on his opponent. Smacking in the face with his genius was all well and good but becoming Lady Bloodworth’s legacy disciple would be that much sweeter.
“I’m not going to clap for you, you know”, he said, addressing Amerrak. “It is not like it was some big secret. I am curious though. Now that you know how pointless this match is, why haven’t you quit?”
This was a question others wanted to be answered as well. Amerrak was one of the smartest second years. As the person who figured out Sweetrot’s true power how was it that he did not know the folly of his actions.
“BAH!” Amerrak said dismissively. “It’s just a restorative property, others might mistake for regeneration. It can be countered.”
Marking his words, he removed several flasks from his side pouch, mixing them right in front of everyone as if producing his counter right there. Spectators leaned forward in their seats; partly in disbelief at the alchemist’s confidence and partly to see what he was working on. Sweetrot, on the other hand, leaned back and laughed.
“Here I thought you were smart”, he said. “You think my ability loses out to regeneration? Do you truly think aspects are that simple? Or is that you think my aspect is a poor one?”
“Want to know why I settled for restoration?” The tellurian teased.
“It is because, no matter what happens, I will be restored to my peak. Thinking it is limited to repairing wounds is hopelessly naïve. Stress, stamina, concentration, injury; nothing is permanent when it comes to me. Any dip in my optimal state is recognized and my essence gets to work making sure I’m tip top again”, he revealed.
“The talking head from earlier? That was my head remaining at its peak performance, despite my decapitation”, he said to the awe of the crowd. “I will never grow old, or sick or tired or practically anything you can think of. My longevity might run out but my corpse will remain young and strong. Nothing can bring me down. Not while I have some essence in my core and when I ascend to the lord tier even that weakness will be addressed.
Spotting their disbelief, he smiled and said, “Oh yes! Eventually, my essence will gain the power to restore itself. My reserves will never empty because, after every exertion, they will restore themselves to full capacity. When that happens, only the damage that exceeds my rate of restoration will ever be evident on me.”
Raising his hands triumphantly, “I’ve thought long a hard about a title that would suit me and my powers. Immortal Sweetrot was too presumptuous and any play on restore I thought of lacked…panache! In the end, I settled on the one thing that I knew exemplified me; Undying!
“Sweetrot the Undying!” he proclaimed loudly.
“I think it sounds good, don’t you?”
The crowd was silent. Even the teaching staff in the audience were stumped. An enemy who could heal from any wound, never tire, grow old, die or run out of essence. That sounded unbeatable. Amerrak, however, took the news a different way.
“You’re saying that in your current state, all I have to do is exhaust your essence reserves to win?” The alchemist asked.
The referee’s eyes bugged out. ‘This kid…!’
Sweetrot took it in stride. “Yes! Like I said, I have not reached the stage were my essence can restore itself.”
“Good thing I am fighting you now then!” Amerrak concluded.
Sweetrot’s eyebrows rose, “Do you really think you can exhaust my essence before I tear you apart?”
Amerrak grinned for the first time since the match began. “That depends!” he said. “Do I still get to make that third hit you mentioned earlier?”