The Beginning After The End | Chapter 306

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Beginning After The End Manhwa Novel

Chapter 306



 Chapter 306


I gulped down a mouthful of icy water, letting it wash down my throat before standing back up .


Beside me, Caera winced as she swallowed down the crystal clear liquid flowing into the waterfall nearby . I continued to survey our surroundings, careful to make sure Left Tooth or his entourage hadn’t followed us .


“I don’t think they’ll try and confront us again,” Caera said casually, walking over to me . “It would be obvious to even the children how outmatched they were against you . ”


“You held your own pretty well back there . ” I raised my brow, studying the Alacryan noble . “It seems like you’ve actually grown stronger since we arrived in this zone . ”


“It’s such a rare occurrence for you to compliment me, Grey,” she said, narrowing her eyes . “It’s a shame that it had to sound so condescending . ”


“I didn’t mean for it to come out that way,” I responded, suddenly flustered . “My apologies . ”


“Apology accepted . ” A faint smile played at the edge of Caera’s pink lips . “Now let’s grab the portal piece before any other trouble shows up . It’s been too peaceful out here and it’s making me anxious . ”


Nodding in agreement, I pointed toward a set of caves formed on the sloping face of the mountain peak . “We’re nearly there . ”


The two of us made our way over to the other side of the wide stream, arriving in front of an obscure crack between two larger caves . Taking the lead, I squeezed through the entrance, which was just barely wide enough for me to fit in sideways .


“Um, Grey? Care to give me a hand?”


I turned back to see Caera stuck midway, struggling to dislodge her upper body .


“You’re lucky Regis isn’t here,” I said with a smirk before pulling her free .


Even with Three Steps’ memory guiding us in the right direction, it still took the better half of an hour to navigate the winding tunnel, which branched off several times as we went deeper .


Finally, I found the glittering boulder that signified the final split and started counting twenty-eight short paces before I started digging with my hands .


Hidden in a layer of black sand was a thin slab of white stone about four inches wide and eight inches long .


“Only three left,” Caera said with a deep breath .


I stored the portal piece in my dimension rune . “One step closer . ”


Suddenly, a dull throb radiated from my lower back before echoing off my core, causing me to buckle forward .


“Grey!”


“It’s…fine,” I grunted, standing back up . “It’s Regis again . I don’t know what’s happening to him, but it looks like he’s closing in on whatever he’s been trying to do . ”


The “pulses”, which had started just the day before, had grown steadily stronger . Luckily, they were more a bother than anything else, but I really was starting to worry about my snarky companion .


Snapping out of my thoughts, I turned to Caera who had been staring at me in concern . “Let’s go . ”


***


The two of us walked silently on the powdery snow, having already traveled quite a few miles from the mountain where we had located the Shadow Claws’ portal piece .


We were headed roughly in the direction of the Spear Beaks’ village, hoping to obtain their piece of the puzzle and get more information on the last two pieces . As to whether they’d willingly give us this information, I had no qualms with forcing it out of them after experiencing Three Steps’ memories .


Looking down, I focused on the dried-fruit toy that Three Steps had given me, which I had pulled out to keep me occupied as we walked . While frustrating to no end, I knew that mastering this children’s trinket would be the first step in creating my own aether construct .


I coalesced aether around my hand once more before digging my index finger into the small opening of the fruit . I started trying to squeeze violet aura through the tip of my finger and into the inside of the fruit . I only served to push the fruit away as a dull purple bulge formed over my finger .


Focusing as hard as I could on the small opening of the toy, I tried to lengthen and narrow the tip of the aetheric aura surrounding my finger, but I was only able to push it out a fraction of an inch more before it became painful .


I was reminded of the Aether Cannon ability I had come up with to move through the snow and tried to use that as a basis . Except, once enough aether gathered at a central point, it burst out, taking the toy along with it .


“Pfft . ”


I turned to see Caera watching me with a smile in her eyes and lips pressed shut from trying to keep from laughing . “Have you grown frustrated with it enough to shoot it out of your own hands?”


“I didn’t do it on purpose,” I grumbled, jogging a few paces to where the toy had landed . “This toy is just proving to be more of a challenge than I expected . ”


“Shadow Claws spend most of their childhood training with this, and that’s taking into account their innate aptitude for this ability . ”


I picked up the dried fruit and gave it a shake before turning back to Caera . “So?”


“So…” Caera walked up to me and wrapped her hands over my hand and the toy, gently pushing it down . “You’re not going to get this in the span of a few hours, especially when half of your brain is busy figuring out what to do next . ”


“Did you gain wisdom alongside your horns?” I scoffed .


“That’s discrimination,” Caera pouted . “And no, I didn’t . People just tend to grow up rather fast when their childhood is difficult . ”


I couldn’t help but agree as I thought back to my childhoods, both as Grey and as Arthur . “My joke was rather insensitive . Sorry . ”


“Do my horns look that odd to you?” Caera asked, leaning closer toward me . “I’ve always hidden them from everyone except my mentor, and she has horns as well . ”


I stepped away . “They don’t look odd on you . It’s just that I haven’t exactly had a positive experience with people who have horns . ”


Caera raised a brow, her piercing scarlet eyes growing even more curious . “What sort of experiences—” Caera stopped and shook her head . “Never mind . As intrigued as I am to know more about you, I’d rather you tell me once you feel more comfortable . ”


“I appreciate it,” I replied, tucking the dried-fruit toy back into my dimension rune . “But I have no—” I paused, staring into the distance . “What is that?”


Caera turned to examine the horizon .


“It looks like another storm…that’s rising from the ground?”


She was right . It did look like a storm, except there weren’t any clouds in the sky . Above us, the glacier blue expanse was still painted with the aurora colors over the endless range of mountains .


On the ground, the snow was kicked up, swirling as if in the midst of a blizzard . But the real problem was that it was heading our way, and approaching fast .


~


My vision shifted into a blaze of violet trails as I instinctively prepared to use God Step, but I held myself back . The “storm” wasn’t moving in any sort of natural formation, but looked to be weaving, almost as if it were alive .


A part of me was actually relieved that it might be an enemy . So far, the most dangerous obstacle we’d faced in this zone had been the weather, and that wasn’t something I could fight, much less win against .


Deciding to confront whatever was approaching us rather than waste aether God Stepping only for it to follow after us, I pulled Caera close .


“Brace yourself!” I said, shrouding myself in aether as Caera did the same with mana .


I dug my heels into the snow and prepared for impact, but instead of sweeping over us, the blizzard encircled our location . Once it was close enough, I could make out aetheric shapes moving in the snow-cloud, and I realized what this must be .


“The wild things,” I muttered .


A ghostly creature made of snow and ice suspended in a tornado of aether broke free from the blizzard and rushed toward us . It reminded me of the malevolent phantom that had possessed Ada in the mirror room, except this thing had token possession of the land itself, coming to life as a sort of snow golem, a shapeless whirlwind of conscious aether .


Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of identical aether beasts made up the storm that had surrounded us .


Sheathing myself in another layer of aether, I lunged forward to meet the construct . My fist burst through the snow and aether, but it only rippled like water and swirled back together as I passed through it .


A thin arm ending in three icy claws slashed at me . Just as my fist had passed through its body, its claws moved through me, unabated by my aetheric barrier . Though they left no physical wound, a line of cold fire burned in my side . Aether flooded from my core to heal the perceived wound .


“Don’t let them touch you!” I barked, just as Caera burst forward, her blade flashing down through the golem’s body .


Her attack, however, was even less effective than my punch . It slashed at her with a second clawed arm, forcing her to jump back . Two more arms coalesced from the snow of its body, both reaching out for me .


I tried to grab its wrists, but my hands closed only on the suspended snow; the claws drew twin lines of icy pain along my sides, forcing my body to again heal the wounds . And draining my aether in the process, I realized .


“Now would be a great time to come out, Regis,” I growled, feeling his presence absorbing more of my already-dwindling reserves .


Dodging a flurry of the being’s claws, I coalesced aether into my right hand . Relying solely on the channels that I had forged myself without the help of Regis’s natural ability to draw in aether, it took much more time to gather the appropriate amount of energy .


Once I did, I raised my hand, now wrapped in a nimbus of purple light, and unleashed an explosion of aether out at the closest snow golem .


The aether cannon ripped through not only the snow golem I had aimed at but three more behind it, distorting the aetheric mist holding them together before their frozen bodies crumbled into the snow .


I winced at the sudden drop in my aether reserves, and all to kill only a handful of the golems .


My gaze flashed to Caera as I felt the oppressive aura of her soulfire, which cloaked her blade in black flame . She swung wide, bisecting three aether golems . The soulfire around her weapon spread through the center of the aetheric beings, eating away the captured snow and ice .


However, I could still see the purplish mists, and they were already collecting snow from the ground to fashion themselves new bodies .


Caera noticed as well, but remained calm . “It seems like the most I’ll be able to do is stall them . Do you have a plan?”


“My Aether Cannon seems to destroy them for good, but I don’t have enough aether to kill all of them,” I said while evading a pair of snow golems .


Caera thrust forward, disintegrating another golem’s body with her soulfire . “I’ll follow your lead . ”


“Conserve your mana and stall as many as you can,” I replied before turning back and locking gazes with the Alacryan noble . “And thank you . ”


“We both want to get out of here alive, Grey,” she replied before turning her focus back to the wave of golems emerging from the snow and surrounding us .


~


I scanned the press of golems, suddenly worried we might accidentally destroy the portal piece, but I couldn’t see through the blowing snow and aether to locate it . Would they simply be carrying it around with them? Perhaps it was hidden in an extradimensional storage . The worst case scenario was that they kept it hidden under the snow somewhere we’d never find it .


Dodging a swiping claw, I thrust my hand into the attacking golem’s chest . The aether rippled around my fist, but the creature seemed otherwise unaffected . Perhaps it was a reflex from learning to fight against the chimeras and carallians, but without thinking about it I began to absorb the tornado of aether into my hand .


The golem shivered, and the metallic screeching that issued from it set my teeth on edge . As I drew in its aether, several pairs of claws jammed into my sides and back from the golem’s brethren, sending shocking jolts of breathless pain through me .


Feeling my core replenishing, I grinned through the pain . My newfound aether supply meant that I could be a bit more reckless in my usage .


I pushed outward, coalescing as much aether as possible into the thin layer surrounding my body . The barrier grew thicker, now casting a purple glow over the trampled snow around me .


A claw came down from above and I lifted my arm instinctively to block it, and the ghostly form of the golem clashed against the barrier . Despite the visible cracks on my protective aura where the claws had struck me, it failed to pierce through .


Taking advantage of the golem’s opening, I plunged my hand into its body . I absorbed aether once more through my hand, which was sheathed in violet energy . Like before, the golem began to emit a piercing shriek and froze in place, quaking slightly .


Catching another golem’s movement out of the corner of my eye, I dipped under its horizontal slash and, with my other hand, did the same to a second icy being .


They continued to desperately claw at me, creating more and more cracks in my aetheric barrier until it shattered, fading out of existence . By then, however, it was already too late for the golems .


During the ten breaths that it took to draw on their aether, more and more golems surrounded me, the two I was draining vanished, their shrieks cutting out suddenly as the snow that made up their physical form was released from the little tornado and drifted slowly to the ground .


Before I had enough time to conjure another shroud thick enough to protect me against the golems, a set of icy claws managed to catch me across my left hip while another slashed down my back .


The icy pain drove my body to heal my injuries once more, draining my reserves .


Before more could gather around me, I unleashed a dome of aetheric pressure, careful not to let it reach where Caera was fighting .


The golems surrounding me stiffened in the expanse of purple that encompassed the space around us, giving me the opportunity to jump onto another golem and begin draining its aether . I could see the effects my spell had on the golems, the violet mist that held their form together quivering and distorting .


Outside the dome, Caera spun, parried, weaved, and cut like a master swordsman, each precise strike burning away the body of a golem, and each step taking her just out of range of a swiping claw . However, I could clearly see the nebulous of aether gathering around her, some already forming back new bodies .


Rather than wasting aether forming a new barrier around me, I sought protection elsewhere .


Igniting God Step, I flashed to where Caera fought and drove my hand into the mass of aetheric mist trying to form a body of snow .


“Keep the golems off of me while I absorb the ones without bodies!” I yelled .


Caera sprung into action, sticking close by me and turning into a whirlwind of destruction .


The two of us continued this for what seemed like hours, Caera sparingly utilizing her soulfire to disintegrate the golems’ bodies while I absorbed enough energy to let out an aetheric blast before repeating the process over again .


The problem was that, while I could continue to replenish my aether reserves, my partner couldn’t . I could see her movement slowing, and the soulfire sheathing her red sword flickered weakly .


Caera’s overhead swing came up short, leaving her open for a golem behind her to attack .


Thanks to Three Steps’ unique teaching, I was able to God Step in time to bring myself between the golem and Caera .


Clutching the Alacryan noble close to me, I grit my teeth as a score of icy pain raked down my back .


Caera’s eyes widened in surprise . “G-Grey?”


“It’s fine . I’ll heal while you won’t,” I mustered as I let go of her . “How much longer can you hold up?”


“Not much longer,” Caera admitted .


With a nod, the two of us resumed our strategy once more, but this time at a slower pace . While I was able to permanently destroy the golems, it took time for me to absorb them completely . I needed Caera to destroy their bodies and protect me while I did so .


With my internal reserves topped off, I focused on building up another aether blast . It burst from my hand to engulf dozens of the golems that made up the blizzard surrounding us, giving me a brief glimpse of the zone beyond .


Then something changed . The blizzard blowing in a circle around us shivered, and several dozen forms within it compressed in on each other until it looked like a single purple blob within the white wall .


What stepped out of the driving snow wasn’t a meager whirlwind of snow and ice; it wasn’t even a tornado .


The figure was at least twelve feet high to the back . It had a broad, bearish form, but walked on six muscular limbs, each tipped with gleaming claws of aether . A long, lance-like beak of pure ice protruded from its otherwise round, shapeless head .


The resultant monstrosity looked like an amalgamation of the Spear Beaks, Shadow Claws, Ghost Bears, and Four Fists, except several times larger .


Worse yet, it wasn’t alone . Dozens of snow golems had come together to form three of these hideous snow sculptures .


There was no choice now .


“We’re not surrounded anymore . Get as far away as possible while I hold it off,” I demanded, igniting the rune of Destruction and praying that I’d still keep my sanity after .


“I can still—”


“Please!” I urged, my mind conjuring up the image of Caera’s body about to burn from my flames back in the mirror zone . “I don’t want to hurt you again . ”


Caera clicked her tongue, but she began to leave as the violet flames flickered into existence, dancing in the air around me .


Just as the dark, shadowy presence of Destruction began to encroach on my mind, another pulse emanated from my core, this time with a force that brought me to my knees .


Blood rushed to my head, pounding against my ears . I could barely make out Caera calling my name behind me . An unmistakably familiar presence emerged from my core, taking the dark presence of Destruction along with him .


Then my shadow beneath me expanded, taking on a bestial form as a giant claw the size of my torso emerged from the shaded ground .


A pair of sharp amethyst eyes opened and gazed at me before a rumbling growl sounded over the tumult of wind and snow .


“Miss me, princess?”


*

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