TO ANSWER THE CALL
Lino didn’t immediately head for the entrance to the Dimensional Pocket within the Ancestral Grounds. The latter wasn’t simply a tomb for the deceased members of the Clan -- it was also considered the top-grade training grounds with a variety of beasts roaming about the vast lands as well as numerous natural resources scattered about.
By inviting him in, it was a sort of an implicit acceptance that he would sweep some things in his wake and Lino wasn’t that nice of a person to decline the offer. Following his quick encounter with the panther variant, he scouted the surrounding landscape - which consisted mainly of river valleys and mountains - before slowly heading West in a zig-zag fashion.
His first encounter following the panther was another strange variant that clearly didn’t belong here -- Shadow Lycan. It was a creature which usually ran on all four but had the ability to do the same on the hind legs, with rather impressive agility and speed. The Shadow variant differed mainly in the fact that they were categorized under the ‘Ethereal’ branch of the beasts.
All beasts within the group sported incredible resilience to any non-physical attacks and were usually extremely difficult to kill as they technically didn’t posses a corporeal body.
Lino observed the beast for a moment while noting down a few things about its appearance inside his mind before poising himself for an attack. As there was no danger of being made out he decided to use the sword and practice the arts related to it as well as the most basic forms.
The beast zipped toward him true to its name, moving beneath the grass itself as a shadow, circling Lino and emerging from the back end, trying to get in a surprise attack. Lino, however, didn’t seem to pay much heed to it as he made a basic - but swift - cutting motion backwardly, easily parrying the beast’s claws, before spinning around in place and thrusting the sword forth through the shadowed being.
The sword quickly came across a firm object but Lino didn’t pause, pushing even harder, breaking it apart. A wail later and the beast slowly drifted into the wind, leaving behind a few broken pieces of a spherical stone which seemed to have lost its luster. Lino picked it up and studied for a moment, musing that the world truly harbored strange things.
“Probably only the weaker ones managed to escape...” he mumbled faintly as he turned westward yet again and resumed his zig-zag style of travel.
On his way over he didn’t forget to search every nook and cranny for any sort of a material, whether it was rare or common. He was truly dried up - especially after crafting Felix’s weapon - which forced him to welcome practically everything. Though he didn’t have much expectations, the results still disappointed him as the best he got so far was a piece of [Frosted Ore], a relatively uncommon ore. The problem was that it was merely Level 40.
Cursing his luck, he decided not to move through the night and chose to camp at the edge of a small forest which acted as a sort of a border between the outer edge of the grounds and the inner parts.
The burial ceremony must have finished by now and chances were that the youths had already dispersed in search of their destinies. However, he was fairly certain that they were expressly told not to go near the location of the Dimensional Pocket so he wasn’t worried about running into any hot-headed maniacs too thirsty to prove themselves.
“... the battle might turn out to be quite difficult.” just as he was about to have his beauty sleep, the familiar, robotic voice echoed inside his mind.
“What’d you find out?” Lino asked casually.
“Though the Realm is relatively small compared to others, it currently houses roughly sixteen thousand beasts, with the weakest being around Level 150 and the strongest around Level 400.”
“Difficult? That’s fucking suicidal!” Lino exclaimed.
“The beast that’s trying to break out is one of the rarest Vampire variants -- Crowned Dhampyre and is roughly Level 600.”
“... hmm, I suppose I don’t need that piece of [Hervan’s Divine Stone]. My life’s a bit more precious I think.” Lino mumbled already formulating stories he would tell after leaving the Grounds without fulfilling his promise.
“It’s not as though you stand no chance.” the Writ, unsurprisingly, decided to encourage him. “I can lead you to some of the rarer resources around. If you can craft items properly, you should be able to defeat it.”
“... from what I remember, Dhampires are children of vampires and humans, right?” Lino chose to ask instead of confirming or denying anything.
“Not necessarily.” the Writ said. “Though such variants are the most common. They are simply the ‘impure’ descendants of the Vampires.”
“So mix of any other race?”
“This one is?”
“A child of a Devil and a Vampire.” the Writ said.
“... well, I am thoroughly fucked, aren’t I?”
“Though the cross-breeding further increased the innate strengths of the two Races, it also further increased their weaknesses. If you can exploit that, victory isn’t impossible.”
“You keep dancing around with the words,” Lino mused with a smile. “Can’t you just be honest with me?”
“... if you are to defeat the Dhampyre and close the Pocket, you would gain its Fragment. It is one of the ingredients you will need to become the Exalted.”
“Fine, keep your secrets.” Lino shrugged and sighed. “Anyway, what should I craft?”
“The Crowned title isn’t easily earned by any species, let alone one as rare as a Dhampyre. It means it has completely mastered one of the 72 Laws -- the ‘Governance’. In combination with the vitality from his Vampire Lineage and Devil Qi manipulation, it would make for a perfect Eldritch Servant. However, exactly because of that, you can become its opponent; however, I can’t disclose any more information as you lack authority. You need to think of what to craft yourself.”
“... ‘s that so?”
Lino didn’t expect to learn even that much; he had long since learned that the reason the Writ didn’t just spill out the whole truth was due to the concept of ‘authority’. Despite its strengths, even the Writ was bound by some laws. He could not disclose specific things so long as Lino didn’t gain authority to know them by becoming strong enough.
While vague, he could still extrapolate quite a few things from what he had been told. Both Vampires and Devils were extremely weak to flames and any element that imbued light within its nature. In addition, Lino even knew a few things about the 61st Law of the Universe -- Governance. Though he couldn’t even venture a guess as to what it meant to completely master it, the basic principle of the Law was that all living beings could both be Governed and Govern through the influence of Will.
Shortly after, the Writ relayed the information about the rare resources throughout the entire Ancestral Grounds. Lino mainly focused on those that had four specific properties: fire, light, mind and life. Though it didn’t leave him with many options, he figured it would be enough to create a new sword and an accessory.
He immediately decided to leave all the materials in any way connected to the ‘mind’ aside for crafting an accessory; not only would he need to be careful of the Law of Governance itself, but both Vampires and Devils were well versed in illusions, and he would expect Dhampyre to be the same.
He also considered it a chance to truly test himself. As the days went on, there were fewer and fewer people left on the Western Continent that could even put up a fight against him. Though it did boost his ego by quite a lot, it also made him realize that he would undoubtedly stagnate in progression. One of the reasons why he developed so quickly aside from the Writ feeding him like there’s no tomorrow was the fact that he repeatedly threw himself into the situations that seemed quite dire for him.
This appeared to be exactly that sort of a situation; though he could easily just say no and leave, he chose not to. It wasn’t really because of the Writ’s ‘you must get the Fragment’ speech. He never had an intention of leaving so long as there was a chance of victory. Meeting Ella again had woken him up perhaps even more than his last-ditch effort during the fight against two Devils.
Nobody was standing still in time, which included other Bearers. Not only were they progressing with all their might, their circumstances were far more favorable than Lino’s. They had unlimited supply of resources, unconditional guidance from others, and the setting within which they could thrive. Lino, on the other hand, only had himself. Though the Writ certainly didn’t spare any effort to strengthen him, in the end it was all within specific set of limitations.
Furthermore, the issue ran even deeper than that; Lino didn’t want to become entirely reliant on the Writ in order to get stronger. He didn’t want to become dependant. Most of all, he didn’t want to become just ‘another Bearer’; he didn’t want that calling, that title, that chance of fate to define him till his dying days. He wanted to have something of his own to leave a mark upon this world, something entirely independent of the Writ, of everyone who ever had and would offer him aid. Something that would make people go ‘oh, this was because of Lino’ rather than ‘oh, this was because of the Bearer’.
He knew very well that if anyone else heard he had intention of challenging a Level 600 racial variant while being barely Level 160 they would most-likely slap him squarely till he wailed. Even he felt it was a bit insane, yet couldn’t help but resonate with that deep madness which still resided within him. That calling, the heed which would boil his blood and suppress all fears and doubts about himself. The voice which would push him into the walls he had no chance of climbing. The primal desire to overcome. His very own Will.