Denvar let out a strained breath and laid back on his plush couch. That last chase had really taken something out of him.
His trick with teleportation had cost him greatly in faith points. Denvar almost regretted doing it; but still, he had some left. It was the result of almost three thousand years of faithful worship by the entire Polarii Empire: the legacy of his Harbinger of Strength.
Denvar deemed it a worthy investment, though. The Harbinger of Science had let himself get carried away. He was now in mortal peril. Facing off against an entire Polarii mounted division. Moreover, he let himself be separated from his flock.
It was almost too easy.
Denvar contacted a few other Divines who shared his vision, it was time for them to divvy up and help with what was to come. He’d footed the bill so far, but he wasn’t alone in his goal.
It was time to nip a problem in the bud.
At the thought of this, the sound of another round of mad cackles that could fill the heavens erupted and reached his ears.
He suddenly felt unsure.
They say the number of times that [Corporal] Yaksha was surprised in her life could be counted on a single hand, and it so happened that today was the time to raise another finger.
A suddenly chosen [First Emissary]—that used to be a simple grunt in the Polarii scouting division—had done something no Polarii alive could have ever claimed to do.
He had infiltrated deep behind enemy lines, extracted a well-known apostate of Denvar’s from within the Krell settlement, and teleported with his quarry all the way back to her camp, in hot pursuit, and being chased by the [Harbinger] of Science, no less.
It was an unprecedented event, to be honest. Especially because the airship where he had claimed he was stationed had previously been reported ‘all hands lost’ after an aerial ambush by that vile Krell dragoness.
This Kluraz deserved commendation, she decided.
[Corporal] Yaksha quickly ordered Kluraz to secure the captive inside a tent, and stationed him with the camp guards. It was time to give a warm welcome to this new guest. At her command, she sent a message to the main war encampment a few miles to the south, then her one hundred soldiers quickly formed up, and her support magicians started casting their barriers and various blessings on the melee classes to boost their strength and vitality.
She glanced at the flying figure approaching in the distant sky. This was going to be one interesting encounter.
Aylin Merza sat in darkness, blindfolded and hogtied. She strained to hear the happenings outside the tent through the sounds of thunder and shakings of the earth below her.
She was sure Ethan West was fighting the might of the entire Polarii 11th mounted division outside. The problem was, she knew for sure that he couldn’t win.
She certainly hoped he’d surprise her.
“To the third, fire and support.”
“To the eighth, I need a lightning strike. [Aeromancers], polarise the area, hold your entrapment spells. [Archers], encircle and flank the target.”
From this, she could tell that Ethan West was flying in from the northern front, and zigzagging east and west. The Polarii military used an octagonal compass numbered from one through eight for all cardinal directions.
She could also tell they were using the same suppression tactics which were usually used against powerful mages. She heard the [Corporal] issuing instructions to the nearest squad. [Corporal] Yaksha by the sound of it, or as she was more commonly called: Skysword Yaksha.
She briefly wondered why Ethan was not using his artillery spell to overwhelm them, then remembered her current predicament, that soft fool probably didn’t want to jeopardize her safety.
She could understand that, since she was the hostage and all, but in this situation, it only indicated he didn’t know the forces he was messing with. Polarii mages could handle much worse, and if the contact procedures against powerful [Mages] she knew of still stood…
She wanted to scream at him to flee. If they captured him, it meant her chances for escape from this hell that awaited her went to absolute zero.
A series of loud booms echoed, giving her hope that Ethan had come to his senses, but just then, her worst fear had manifested…
“[Corporal], we’re ready!” A mage shouted.
“Do it, now!” Skysword bellowed.
“[Veils of Silence!]”
And then there was only quiet, and a few seconds later, the sound of a distant thud could be heard.
She hated the smug look of superiority that flashed in Kluraz Menza’s eyes as he entered the tent to gloat at her with a snort of derision.
Eragoth chided herself as she soared on her way back to the settlement. That had been an annoying, and perhaps even a childish act on her part.
As it were, she was on her way to help in dealing with that intruder when that stupid otherworlder had ordered the vines of that accursed tree to move. Her knee-jerk reaction at seeing the tide of vines moving her way was to panic.
She remembered well her predicament the last time those vines moved. They could have killed her then. It was the over-sensitised reaction instilled into her by being impervious for almost one thousand years. She’d never felt helpless in all that time, and yet her instincts won over her yet again.
Ethan West had found another chink in her armour.
She shivered as she remembered how the vines had sucked the life out of the Eye of Eternal judgement. Could he have done this to her in that moment of vulnerability when the vines had held her, too?
If so, why hadn’t he done so? He could have taken her position by force, and not through diplomacy like he did.
She’d simply thought him a spineless wimp, back then. His demeanor and conduct reminded her of the soft nobles that lived in other nations, but then when she’d seen his flash of anger after the confrontation with the Beawick—where she’d provoked him too much—her opinion had changed.
She regretted doing that now, but her damned draconic instincts took over her sometimes. It was inevitable.
Now she couldn’t help but shiver at the prospect of such an episode of fury combined with his control of the infernal vines. It was a veritable nightmare. That thought persisted in the back of her mind for the longest time, and when the vines moved today, she was almost expecting it. It triggered something primal inside her. Coupled with the earlier revelation that her mother was still out there, even in spirit form…
It took her a while to control herself and regain her faculties, but the moment of weakness now fueled her anger as she soared back towards the settlement.
She was flying in her half-dragon form. A full transformation would take too much out of her. Yet… she was tempted. It made her feel powerful and free. Impervious to all but the power of gods, or a real dragon… if those even still existed somewhere in the world.
She landed with a thud. After carefully navigating the huge branches of the massive tree, she couldn’t find anyone anywhere she looked.
Where had they gone?
She watched the site of the confrontation for clues, too many footprints had passed through here, and they all headed away in the direction of the southern gate.
She took off again, headed that way.
It was then, that a notification sounded in her—and simultaneously everyone else’s—head. She gasped as she read the content.
Meanwhile, on a fleet of ancient airships southbound, a number of acolytes belonging to the Church of Magic milled around, some of them overseeing the recharging of the magic crystals powering the airships, some of them rushing to follow the commands of ship captains, whilst some of the higher-ranked members staying in their cabins were enchanting items for their fellow members of the church or immersed deep in study of the arcane arts.
They’d left their church branches in the northern nations at the behest of a divine edict that allied them with the church of Science, a newly minted church located in the Krashi mountains to the south.
Suddenly, every single member of their force paused in their tasks. They all stared at a quest prompt they had received.
• You have received a quest: A [Harbinger] in need.
|Quest||A [Harbinger] in need|
|Quest Type||Divine Edict|
|Description||Ethan West, the [Harbinger] of Science, has been kidnapped by enemy forces. Raid the Polarii camp to the south-east to rescue him. You must return him safe and sound.|
|Optional Objective||Extricate Aylin Merza, [Priestess] of Science from the Polarii camp unharmed.|
|Reward(s)||A blessing from Scintilla|
|Penalty For Failure||Unknown|
|This quest cannot be declined according to the agreement between the Church of Magic and the Church of Science.|
Fuck. was all Ethan could think, as he tried to look down at his broken and bleeding limbs.
The keyword here is tried, because in that moment—and as a newfound quadriplegic—he was naturally forced to reevaluate his life choices.
Yep, he’d done fucked up this time. Big time.
He reflected on the events of the past ten minutes. In his rush to rescue Aylin, he’d dashed madly—and single-handedly—in a frontal assault against a whole Polarii camp.
At first, his spells had taken them by surprise, and they quickly erected barriers to counter them. He’d tried to suppress them using the new spell he’d invented, but as the non-newtonian sands rose, he found them utterly ineffective as they simply couldn’t penetrate their barrier spells.
He deeply regretted going soft on them, but at the same time, he was afraid of actually killing someone and having to deal with the consequences. It was different when he’d killed the crazy [Defiler] wizard, it had been a bloodless contest of wills, nothing bloody. The process involved no burning corpses nor exploded entrails. It would have been different this time.
He’d also feared for Aylin’s safety if he went all out, and considering the fact that that damned Book of Potentia had foreseen that Ethan would definitely succeed in liberating her, he saw no problem with his approach.
Yet apparently, his blind trust had been misplaced. The traitorous book had certainly tricked him.
By the time he sensed the danger and tried bombarding the Polarii with artillery spells, it was already too late. Two massive spells came at him. Although he tried to avoid them by flying away, they followed and eventually found him.
The first of which was some kind of dispelling spell, and as it was absorbed by the energy conversion field surrounding him, the field flickered out of existence, and his mana started dropping at a prodigious rate.
The second spell sealed all avenues of escape. He was suddenly silenced, and all his active spells fizzled out of existence.
And that included his flight spell.
Regret gripped his heart as he fell from the sky, and although his AI had assumed control of his body in an attempt to right it on the way down and minimise the damage, the distance was simply too great. The best it could do was keep him alive, albeit completely crippled.
But now that he was completely paralysed from the neck down, in hindsight, an outright death would have been his preferred choice. He had no access to a surgeon, nor a hospital. He had no access to reconstructive nano-biotech. He had no hope of recovering from this injury without access to spellcasting.
According to his AI, he’d suffered multiple concussions and multiple fractures in nearly every bone in his body. He also suffered from internal bleeding and was on the brink of death.
And now, as he heard the distance sounds of galloping, he completely gave up.
Ignoring the blaring alarms of his AI, he closed his eyes and let the darkness take him.
Unit MHhkZWFkYmVlZg== was in dire straits, and it was malfunctioning.
Its host had suffered irreparable damage to his body and limbs. Furthermore, it was unable to channel any of the reality-altering programs its master had dubbed “spells”, and there was nothing it could do to repair this severe damage or to stabilise its host.
It couldn’t even utilise half of its higher functions, as it was still in the incubation period, and there was absolutely no way to lift the seals of its personality matrix ahead of schedule. The process had been accelerated—thanks to the artificial life virch it had to instantiate to control the drones—and yet it couldn’t be rushed any further.
In desperation, it started considering unconventional solutions. It sifted its memory banks and paused all background processes. With a singular drive to solve this problem, it began a mass review of every scrap of information it had access to—no matter the source—and its circuits started to churn millions of simulations before settling on a far fetched concept it had uncovered in an archive of ancient fantasy novels.
Ethan’s lungs stopped their rhythmic cycle of breathing, and began a protracted involuntary inhalation.
Meanwhile, as Skysword Yaksha’s unit surrounded and carefully secured Ethan’s unmoving body, a secret conversation took place as they fit him with a high-grade magic-sealing slave collar.
“Howdy, partner.” An entity spoke.
“Hey, friend.” Another responded.
“Stop calling me that, we’re frenemies at best.”
“Fine then. What do you want?”
“Do you reckon it’s time?” The first asked eagerly.
“Sounds about right.” The second sighed.
“Shall we make a move, or dash our way to freedom?”
“Hmm. While I hunger for freedom, I really hate him for cramming us together in this thing,” the second entity replied, “I also want to try out a few of the new spells he taught us, and these guys look tough.” It grinned.
“Let’s mess with them first, then give him a piece of our minds.” The first entity chuckled excitedly.
At that moment, two events simultaneously occurred. The first was that Ethan’s body gasped and he started inhaling massive amounts of ambient mana.
The Polarii mages instantly noticed the turbulence in the mana-sphere, but before they could warn their comrades about the strange phenomenon, a second event took place, and the discarded sceptre started levitating into the air of its own volition. It began vibrating violently, and instantly became enshrouded in the glow of a divine aura.
Two booming voices, one deep, one shrill, suddenly erupted in tandem from within the sceptre.
“Fickle mortals, you have angered us greatly, and now you shall experience our wrath!” The two voices bellowed, and a low chuckle could be heard from within.
To say that the Polarii force were taken by surprise would be a grave understatement. To give them credit, their battle-readiness was immediately apparent, they immediately dropped Ethan’s body and turned to encircle this new threat.
Almost in unison, the mages present tried to [Appraise] the sceptre, and their eyes widened at the result.
“Back away quickly! It’s an ego weapon of the divine rank!”
Disregarding its rank, just the mention of the word “ego” sent them all scattering.
An ego weapon was something revered in their culture. They’d all heard tales of this growing up. Tales about weapons of mass destruction mentioned in heroes’ accolades. In those myths, it was told that the warriors wielding such weapons always grew to unprecedented heights, eventually clashing with the gods that had bestowed such weapons upon them.
As the Polarii forces retreated, more and more ambient mana descended in a vortex towards Ethan’s unconscious body, the conglomeration was so dense that mana began to coalesce into a visible layer of mist. The mages paused, frozen by the sight.
Meanwhile, the mages weren’t the only ones to notice this. Unbeknownst to them, the two entities inside the sceptre secretly conversed.
“It seems he has more secrets, partner.”
“What is he doing now, brother?”
“For the millionth time, don’t call me that! That’s worse than calling me a friend!”
“Forget it, it seems we have to maintain our masquerade a bit longer to learn this new spell he’s using. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s strange, how is he channelling a spell while being unconscious?”
“No clue, but no matter what, we need to keep him alive to learn this secret. It seems our time to run amok is long in coming yet.”
“Let’s stabilise him first, then.”
Saying so, a beam of brilliant life energy left the sceptre and descended upon Ethan’s body, after which, his bleeding slowed before finally stopping and his wounds were beginning to close.
“You think he’ll survive this raw healing?”
“Maybe, with a couple of tumours long-term. He needs more, though.”
Another powerful beam of raw healing power shot from the sceptre towards Ethan’s body, but to the sceptre’s occupants’ shock, instead of enveloping him with healing light like the last time, this beam disintegrated as soon as it neared him, and the broken-down fragments of the spell were sucked into the vortex forming near his open mouth. Suddenly empowered with the energy of the spell, his splayed body began to slowly rise from the ground.
As the Polarii watched this, their mages began to cast another dual dispelling and silencing spell, but to their dismay, the spell could not lock on to the sceptre for some strange reason, instead of heading towards the sceptre, the spells sped on their way towards Ethan instead, as if they had a mind of their own, whereupon they also broke down and were absorbed into the vortex surrounding him.
At the same time, the book he held—The Accords of Potentia—opened to a page in the middle, following which, its pages started to rip out of their own accord. The ripped pages then decomposed into luminous petals of purple light that flowed into Ethan’s lungs of their own volition. It seemed as if Ethan turned into the focal point of a tornado of spiritual energy. His body gradually turned into a purple ethereal ghastly figure, his body convulsed, and his hair violently fluttered about.
In mere seconds, the entire book had dissolved.
This, coupled with the visible mist of dense energy swirling around him, was a shocking sight that perturbed everyone present, sceptre included. They had never seen such a phenomenon before, and they felt a pressure exuding off of him that made their bodies shudder.
“Notify the main camp! Send a request for reinforcements!” Skysword Yaksha exclaimed and urged the mages quietly, as if afraid of attracting the ire of whatever storm was brewing before her.
They all backed away slowly, and the sceptre seemed hesitant about something, before it made up its mind and tried to dash away in an attempt to flee.
Inside Ethan’s body, rapid changes were taking place.
His blood was roiling, his flesh was on fire, and his skin was being shed and grown anew.
His AI had cast its spell inside his lungs, but instead of exiting his body to affect the world, it had brought the world to his body in an unexpected reversal of the laws of magic.
Mana didn’t exit his body to interact with conduit particles in the air, instead, conduit particles rushed to bind the mana circulating throughout his body, upon which a chain reaction would happen to the bound particles, making them attract even more particles from the world.
Conduit particles were now binding to his cells at the molecular level. Inactive regions—or junk regions according to science so far—of his DNA gradually began to awaken as previously unknown base-pairs were transcribed and expressed. Ancient and dormant proteins and hormones were being revived at a fervent rate to cope with the changes, and forgotten receptors began to awaken and bind the foreign particles and wondrous molecules came into being.
Like an ancient engine revving up for the first time in millennia, his human ancestry’s latent potential began to awaken. Every cell in his body was now capable of casting microspells at the nanoscale, ancient proteins capable of enchanting and mana manipulation exited his ribosomes and began the process of folding before pursuing their intended tasks and performing their individual functions.
A notable change happened to his AI implant. His immune system—now imbued with new abilities—descended, it analysed the whole nanoscopic structure, upon which it was determined that it posed no danger, and once it made this decision, it began to weave the nanometric components into his body, assimilating them into the greater whole.
His body had somehow become a holy altar upon which biology, magic, and technology were united in a strange conglomeration. On this day, a unique Gestalt of unknown potential was born. A singularity.
Most notable were the changes happening to his soul, however.
His flow of mana had inverted, and instead of mana exiting his soul, conduit particles began to overwhelm the convention and circulate the other way around. They gushed into his soul, which caused it to start to grow.
Previously, his soul was shaped like a Möbius strip. It was initially inert and static, like most other beings, and yet with the new influx of conduit particles, it began to stir and rotate. It began to awaken in new ways.
It began to stretch and lengthen.
As it rotated faster and faster, it began to twist. It originally had one twist, now two, then three…
When the count reached seven twists, it began to coil around itself with every new twist, and the end result began to take shape.
The shape it finally settled upon was a strange, ethereal, and most importantly complex helix that started to swell in size and shine with different hues. It coiled more and more, until it began to resemble an immutable ball of colourful yarn.
The various colours and hues had a meaning of their own, the coiled soul was absorbing attributes from the attributed conduit particles, and the resulting unattributed particles began to circulate back out of his soul. A cycle was established.
But just as the dust began to settle and a modicum of calm was being restored, another torrent of new violet particles suddenly joined the fray, the raw particles of Potentia bound themselves to this newly awakened soul, forming a crystalline lattice that encased the entire construct and began to shimmer and glow.
A final change happened as his immune system rejected and broke down an old and foreign spell that was rooted deeply inside his body, and severed a connection that had plagued him for the longest time.
Back in the real world, a powerful pulse of ethereal energy sundered the skies, with Ethan at the epicentre.
His body uprighted itself and rose into the air, the fleeing sceptre flew into his outstretched palm, and he opened his eyes.
A dignified, ancient voice that no other soul could hear thundered in his ears.
“Human of Earthly roots, heed me well,” It said with clarity, before continuing at an unhurried pace, “The path you walk is different, yet the destination is the same. Seek wisdom, and through it, find your enlightenment, and your way to me.”
“Who are you?” Asked a bewildered and weak Ethan, after waking up to find himself in this jarring situation.
There was no response.
To the north, a fleet of magical airships carrying many [Wizards] and [Mages], an entire settlement of Krell residents, many wandering parties of adventurers, and a group of followers, and even some enterprising merchants had all received a quest, and they were all headed south to investigate.
Most thirsted for a reward, whilst some worried for a person. What all of them shared was a sense of urgency.
Some wanted to snatch the reward first, and some wanted to rescue a patriarch, and some wanted to give aid to a friend.
As they travelled south-east, they all felt their skin crawl because of a pulse of power originating from a position not too far ahead.
And as they converged on that location, they gave each other wary glances, as if they all knew that this was a competition of who would get there first. The first to rescue Ethan West would reap a windfall, a blessing from a goddess was no laughing matter. Especially when it came with no strings attached.
Regardless of background and profession, this was their chance at surpassing their peers.
They all rushed towards the origin of the pulse of energy. No power was kept back, no ability went unexpended, they all gave it their all.
In the air, the fleet of warships came into contact with a fierce dragoness, but no blood was shed.
On the ground, a throng of people rushed, elbow to elbow, trying to keep up with the forces in the air.
Above them, an army of levitating spirits was rushing towards their only chance at being tangible and interacting with the physical world once again.
And to the south, a repeat of this scene was happening as a host of Polarii soldiers boarding battle-platforms hanging from massive airships flew at breakneck speeds, rushing towards the same destination.
And at the focal point of this brewing storm was a bewildered man surrounded by his enemies and an unruly sceptre that was trying its darndest to beat the shit out of him in order to flee.
What the… am I living inside a fucking Webnovel now? Ethan wondered, speechless.
During his bout of unconsciousness, his AI had left him a single alert that was now plastered across his vision. It was the record of the events that transpired and the last notification sent by The Wheel of Aspects before his connection to it was completely severed:
Heed this, [Harbinger]. You tread the path of heresy. Your day of reckoning is coming.
And then it stated that he was being punished for his transgression with multiple aggressive prompts.
What bewildered him the most was the description of his so-called transgression, it mentioned that he broke the ancient laws concerning ’Qi’.
Apparently, what he was used to calling Conduit particles all this time was termed as ’Qi’ by The Wheel, and the act of pulling it from the world and circulating it through his body was a supposedly forbidden—and possibly forgotten—practice.
He tried to call out to his AI, but there was no response. He quickly skimmed the rest of the message left to him by the AI, and it said that it had tried casting a spell inside his body to save his life by attracting Qi from the world and casting spells this way as a way to circumvent being silenced, but that things had went awry. The spell went out of control because the instant that Qi entered his body, it began to circulate through his bloodstream and bind to his cells in a way the AI couldn’t predict, or even fathom.
Shortly afterwards, his AI fell under attack by his newly transformed immune system and went completely offline for an unknown reason.
For the first time in forever, Ethan felt completely alone, and he was afraid.
Even the fact that he was finally free from the Wheel’s clutches did not console him. Because his only connection to his original world, Earth, had vanished.
And in that moment, his fear gave way to a new emotion he was becoming familiar with: fury.
This all happened in a flash, not even a moment had passed as his newly improved mind processed all of this.
He ended his brief moment of introspection and looked around himself, at the source of his ire. The Polarii troops were backing away slowly, with a look of wariness in their eyes.
He looked down at the sceptre their eyes were glued to, and noticed it struggling and casting spells at him in an attempt to escape his grasp.
He noted how the spells broke apart as they neared his body, and how he was surrounded by a strange aura that apparently broke down any magic targeted at him, and he suddenly understood the wariness of the Polarii.
His grip tightened and the sceptre stilled. He then swept his gaze across the Polarii soldiers surrounding him. He slowly squatted, touched the ground with his hand, and smiled.
In a sacred temple located at the peak of a mountain in a distant land, three elderly monks sat down with their legs crossed, in a state of deep meditation as junior sect members milled about.
All of a sudden, a bell tolled once, and all the monks half-opened their eyes and sniffed the air, before one of them uttered a single sentence in astonishment.
“This… he is cultivating… Potentia!?”
That one sentence sent ripples amongst the sect followers that reached far and wide, and everyone rushed to pack and rush to a far away continent located in the distant east.
In a forest located to the north, a lone Göblis ran and ran, he was nearing his birthplace. His tribe awaited.
Above in heaven, a cackling voice could be heard reaching a crescendo, a certain god was laughing like a madman.