The Beginning After The End | Chapter 305

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Beginning After The End Manhwa Novel

Chapter 305



 Chapter 305


A bead of sweat rolled down the side of my face as I carefully lifted my back leg and slowly brought it forward . I had learned and relearned how to walk throughout the span of two lifetimes, but this single step took more concentration than even the most intricate, multi-elemental spell that I had mastered with the use of mana .


My heart skipped a beat in excitement as the aether paths continued to hold strong and provide me with updated information based on my new position .


I prepared to take another step when a tap on my shoulder broke my concentration . The intertwining streams of violet crackled and distorted, sending me a barrage of chaotic information in the form of a hot knife pressed against the inside of my brain .


“Gah!” I recoiled in pain, but the feeling of losing my streak was even more agonizing .


“I was on my twenty-third step!” I groaned in frustration at Three Steps .


My mentor scoffed and spoke in her language before holding out a paw .


I pressed my palm up against her warm pads in resignation, letting her memories in .


“It’s childish to get angry at me for not being able to keep your concentration . Besides, the day is ending and my tribe members should be back from their journey . ”


Letting out a sigh that coalesced as a cloud of fog around my head, I nodded .


Three Steps smirked, revealing a sharp canine before she disappeared with a shadow step . I looked down to see her on a thin nose-shaped rock about a dozen yards below from the wide mountain peak we had been training on .


I ignited God Step once again . In that moment of focus, I felt the draining presence of Regis within me . He had remained unresponsive no matter how much I called for him . When I tried to eject him out, I could feel my aether core anchoring him inside, leaving me no choice but to remain patient .


Focusing my senses on the streams of aether that had lit up around me, I appeared next to Three Steps with a crackle of aetheric electricity .


Without pause, my mentor disappeared once again, her body becoming a dark blur before appearing another several yards below me, near the base of a winding ravine .


The two of us had made our way up this particular mountain using only our teleportation abilities . Three Steps had shared with me that many of the mountains surrounding the village were sort of obstacle courses for the Shadow Claws to use for training .


With how much difficulty I’d had God Stepping up the narrow ridges and jagged peaks leading to the very top of this mountain, I refused to believe that this was one of the easier courses .


I continued to follow after Three Steps down the mountain, my breath fogging in front of me and sweat leaving a chilly trail down my face and back .


With all of the unknowns in my life always weighing on my mind, focusing solely on training made me feel more… in control . And with a mentor helping me progress, it wasn’t as frustrating as nearly killing myself over and over to see some actual results .


I didn’t want to admit it, but I was enjoying myself for the first time since my training in the flying castle .


My mind flashed to memories of learning elemental magic from Buhnd, Kathyln, Hester, and Camus back in the castle . We’d had fun then . Kathyln and I had enjoyed listening to the elders complain and gossip, and I couldn’t remember when learning magic had ever been more enjoyable .


At that time, we’d been at war, yes, but there was still hope that we could win . And I still had my father .


I still had Sylvie…


Three Steps was waiting for me on a flat protrusion hidden by snow-capped trees, gazing at me with a small frown .


One of the things that I had noticed early on was how hyper-empathic Three Steps was . She told me it had to do with how the Shadow Claws communicated using memories, allowing for a deeper sensitivity of not only scenes shared between their tribe members but also the emotions that followed .


When I didn’t immediately meet her paws, she frowned deeper and stretched her arm even closer toward me .


I shook my head, not willing to share these particular memories .


Three Steps looked as if she might press the issue, but the cry of a bird high above us made her flinch and fall into a crouch . She stared upward, trying to see through the clouds .


I followed her gaze, unprepared for her excessive reaction . It was only a bird cawing—


The black body of a human-sized bird, with a beak shaped like a spear, dipped below the surface of the white clouds . It wheeled once around the mountain top, then rose back into the white sea and vanished .


“A Spear Beak,” I said, more to myself than to Three Steps . Turning away from the sky, I found her practically flat against the ground, the fur along her neck and back standing on end, her teeth bared in a silent hiss .


I gently tapped my mentor’s arm and pointed to a shallow cave in the face of the mountain .


After a moment, we made our way to the cave, though Three Steps never took her gaze away from the sky .


Standing with our backs flat up against the shallow cavity on the side of the mountain, I couldn’t help but wonder at the Spear Beak’s visit . What would bring a lone member of their tribe all the way to the Shadow Claw village? A scout, perhaps, looking for Caera and me, or maybe just for Swiftsure .


Staring at the Spear Beak weaving up and down the clouds, an idea struck me . I knew it might be a long shot, but I had been fortunate enough to receive a warm welcome from both their tribes . If I could provide at least a small bit of mediation, then it might be easier for us to retrieve the pieces of the portal arch .


With more to gain than to lose, I grabbed Three Step’s paw and sent her the image of Swiftsure saving us and leading us to their village, of our welcome there, and of being fed . I only provided snippets of the conversation we had with Old Broke Beak, as I didn’t want to upset her .


Three Steps pulled her paw away from me in surprise, looking at me with confusion, or perhaps concern . The Shadow Claws’ feline faces were still difficult for me to read .


“It’s okay,” I said quietly, mustering up a friendly smile for her and holding out my hands again .


I wanted to share more memories, the moments I had spent with Swiftsure on our journey from the Spear Beak village, but before I could send them, I began receiving one instead .


~


In it, I was again with Spear Rider . We were a little older than before and this memory took place high in the mountains . He was running, sprinting along the snow-dusted stone, and from the emotions I felt through Three Step’s eyes as I watched his back, I knew that their relationship was far past mere friends .


“Faster, Spear Rider!” I shouted as Spear Rider chased after a plump rodent the size of his torso .


“What use is your three steps if it takes you so long to recharge!” he retorted with a playful growl just before his body flashed .


Spear Rider shadow stepped right in the rodent’s path, startling it, but just as he swept his aetheric claws down at our prey, the mole dipped under the snow and resurfaced several yards behind him .


I let out a howl of laughter as my life partner yelled in frustration .


We had been chasing after this snow mole for the past hour, hoping to bring it back to the village and have a feast . It was rare to see one of these reclusive beasts, and even more rare to catch one, as they could burrow into the snow faster than even a Shadow Claw could get close . Unlike its brethren, this mole continued to resurface rather than hiding deep in the snow, which had given us a chance .


“This fearless rodent must be taught not to be so brazen,” Spear Rider hissed as he sprinted after it, with me following close behind .


“I’ve heard stories about how these beasts are able to feed an entire village twice over because of their ability to make their bodies small or large,” I yelled, excitement pounding at my heart . “Imagine how proud Sleeps-in-Snow will be if we bring one back!”


Spear Rider looked back with an eager grin . “Perhaps we’ll finally be allowed to train as pathfinders!”


The thought of being one of the coveted seekers of answers, traveling far beyond the safety of the village hoping to find secrets, made my heart pound even harder .


Filled with determination, I shadow stepped mid-sprint just behind the plump white rodent . That’s when I noticed that it was chewing on something as it was scurrying .


My moment of distraction allowed the rodent to dip back into the snow and reappear just off the edge of a ravine .


A shadow flashed by and I watched as Spear Rider leapt from the ravine’s edge and shadow stepped down into it and out of sight .


“Spear Rider! Wai—”


My ears twitched at a sharp, wet thud and a pained grunt from below, just barely audible in the silence of the snowy landscape . Then the gut wrenching shriek of a Spear Beak’s battle cry resounded across the walls of the ravine .


My vision swam as the blood rushed up to my head . I shadow stepped to the edge of the ravine where I found a Spear Beak on top of my partner .


Without hesitation I shadow stepped once more on top of the lanky bird mounted on top of Spear Rider with my claws extended, but something flashed in the corner of my eye .


Spinning, I brought my claws up in time to block a second Spear Beak’s sharp bill aimed straight for my throat .


My paws gripped the ground and I slid to a halt just before going off the edge of the shelf of rock, which was high up on the side of the ravine .


That’s when I noticed the trail of blood that I had made . Two red lines had been drawn in the snow by my own feet, but it wasn’t my blood . Despite the danger I was in, my gaze followed the crimson trail slowly, until I found myself looking at Spear Rider .


My partner’s pale pelt was red with blood that was still pooling underneath him, his hollow eyes open in shock and pain .


A howl ripped from my throat as the anguish and grief washed over me like a blizzard, and despite the Creator’s magic drained from my body, I gathered what I had left to sharpen and lengthen my claws .


That’s when I noticed .


The Spear Beaks, both dark as a stormy night, blended in with the shadow blanketed over us, and below the second Spear Beak’s talons was the rodent that they had used to lure us in, a thin white string attached to its neck .


My eyes watered in rage as I shot forward, cursing to myself that I shouldn’t have wasted my third shadow step earlier to catch up to the rodent .


The Spear Beak that had tried to kill me shuffled forward and met my claws with a barrage of stabs using its beak, forcing me to go on the defensive . I parried and dodged, careful not to slip on the melting snow beneath me, but my focus waned when the other Spear Beak began ripping a strip of flesh off my partner . It took its time swallowing the flesh down, its eyes locked on me, as if taunting me .


The vile creature, eternal enemy of my people, continued to peck at and tear off pieces of Spear Rider, letting out elated squawks while I struggled to defend myself .


Abruptly, the memory flashed out, followed by a jumble of other memories, of altercations with the Spear Beaks, of expression of fear, hatred and grief from the Shadow Claw tribe .


And as quickly as the desire to help bring these two tribes together had come… that desire faded .


I wasn’t sure if the animosity between the different tribes was a creation of the djinn or the result of eons of competition, war, and strife, but healing such old wounds would be the work of lifetimes, not some afternoon quest for me complete on my way through .


For the first time, I stumbled after being pulled out of Three Steps’ memories, her emotions still lingering and affecting me .


The two of us shared a long look, and even without speaking a single word, I knew by Three Steps’ expression that I had overstayed my welcome .


~


A palpable tension clung to the air as we arrived back at the village and it was obvious that the gathering of Shadow Claws near the village entrance had something to do with it . Three Steps was scanning through the crowd, clearly concerned .


It wasn’t until I spotted Caera that I realized what was going on . Her blade was drawn, eyes calm and deadly, but she remained in a neutral pose, unwilling to strike .


I stepped forward to help her but Three Steps stopped me . She let out a few low mewls and stuck out her paw .


My gaze shifted between my mentor and Caera before I impatiently accepted her invitation .


“I don’t wish for a battle, but if you want my aid, I will need to know the whole truth . ”


With our hands pressed together, I sent her the memory of the Shadow Claw ambush, from the moment the first of them burst from the snow and killed Swiftsure, all the way to Caera’s destruction of the bodies and our formulation of the plan to get into their village .


Throughout the vision, I felt Three Steps flinch away from me, but she never broke the contact, allowing me to complete the sending . I ended by replaying our discovery of the broken portal, the elderly Four Fists giving us their piece, and my conversation with Caera about needing to collect all the portal pieces in order to leave this zone .


When we broke contact, I tried to get some sense of Three Steps’ feeling, but her feline face was unreadable .


Damn it . I don’t have time for this .


I got ready to accept the fact that Three Steps wouldn’t help us, and was about to God Step to Caera’s side when Three Steps flashed past me and appeared between the gathering of her tribe members and Caera .


Following after her, I stood next to the Alacryan noble, whose expression finally relaxed when she saw me . “You’re here . ”


“Sorry I’m late,” I muttered, my eyes locked on the two familiar Shadow Claws leading the group .


I could discern Left Tooth’s aggressive growling as his gaze flickered toward me and Caera while even the calm Sleeps-in-Snow let out a wizened rumble . Anger and fear was clear amongst the tribe members, but the reaction of the group changed as Three Steps spoke .


“It’s hard to assess the situation here without knowing what they’re saying,” Caera said softly . “Do you know what’s going on?”


I shook my head . “I don’t know for certain, but I think the scouts that left earlier may have found signs of our battle with their tribe members . ”


While I didn’t understand her words, Three Steps’ tone was leveled and assertive . As she continued to speak, however, some of the Shadow Claws’ faces contorted into expressions of disbelief .


Left Tooth in particular became even more enraged, puffing out his chest and regarding me with a look of derision, aether fluctuating erratically around him .


The conversation ended with Three Steps swinging her arm in the air and pointing behind her with a growl . She then turned back to us and motioned for us to follow her .


Caera and I exchanged a wary glance and started to follow my feline mentor toward her hut when a shadow blurred toward us .


Left Tooth and two of his lackeys darted past my companion and lunged toward me, his jagged aether claws humming balefully .


My foot snapped out in a front kick but he shadow stepped at the last instant . I was ready for this, my vision swirling with the aetheric paths, feeding me the route that Left Tooth had taken . I drove my elbow back, catching him in the side of the head and knocking him to the ground .


Caera had managed to block the slashing claws of the second Shadow Claw, and I grabbed a third mid-teleport and slammed him into the ground . Pain exploded from my calf, and I twisted away from Left Tooth’s claws as he darted away .


Regis! Now would be a great time to be useful, I snapped, only to be met with silence .


Annoyance grew to anger as Caera struggled to keep the other Shadow Claw at bay without gravely injuring it .


Left Tooth let out a growl, his claws elongating and contorting the air around them before his form disappeared in yet another shadow step . Just as he appeared in front of me, I God Stepped as well . The haughty Shadow Claw’s head whirled side to side as I stood behind him .


Sweeping his legs out from under him, I grabbed the side of his head and slammed Left Tooth face first into the snowy ground .


The Shadow Claw’s arms flailed, his claws scratching desperately at the air, but I held him down firmly, my fingers all but ready to crush his head .


“Greh!”


My head spun to see that it was Three Steps who had called my name . Her eyes, filled with anger and sorrow, bore into me as she shook her head .


It was then that I noticed that a blanket of silence had fallen over the entire village . Not even the soft howl of the wind could be heard as everyone’s attention was solely focused on me .


“Tch . ” I released my hold over Left Tooth and stood up, sweeping my gaze over the tribe members .


Each one I looked at flinched in fear until my eyes locked onto Three Steps, who was walking toward me .


Three Steps held out her paw one last time, and I saw a vision of the portal piece . It was in the caves just above the waterfall, hidden in a bed of black sand beneath a glinting, quartz-crusted boulder .


I stood there dumbly, going over the memory once more just to make sure I wouldn’t forget, when a light nudge snapped me back to my mentor . Three Steps held up her other paw, handing me a hollow ball, slightly smaller than my palm, that rattled at the slightest movement .


I’d seen the younger children play with similar balls, and Three Steps had shown me a memory in which she taught them how to use it . Rarely, the hardy little trees in the village would grow a fruit large enough to turn into this toy . When the fruit dried, it became incredibly hard and trapped the seed inside . The adults would pull out the stem, leaving a hole just slightly smaller than the seed in the top of the ball, and would cut a thin seam in the side just before the hardening process was complete .


It was one way in which the kittens learned to manifest their claws, as only by using an aetheric claw could they pull the seed through the hole .


Prying my gaze away from the toy, which I knew would be crucial for my growth, I looked at Three Steps once more .


My chest tightened as Three Steps walked past me and picked up Left Tooth without another word . My gaze followed her as she walked off toward her tribe members without once looking back .


“It’s time to go,” I finally said to Caera, turning my back to my mentor as well .


Perhaps sensing my mood, the Alacryan noble walked silently by my side as the two of us made our way across the village to the waterfall .


I struggled to keep myself from looking back . Regret and guilt tore at my insides as I wished nothing more than to thank and say goodbye to the mentor who had shared and taught me so much in the past few days .


But I knew her duty was to her village, and it would be wrong of me to disparage the trust she had with her tribe members by acting so close to her . Of all the trials in the Relictombs, this zone was the most cruel in the way it tested an ascender .


I was ready to be finished with it .


*

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