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Unlike Shyme and Serenade, Sonovia was enjoying a much better time.

Her training with Rubric was an actual practice instead of a one-sided beating. Two heavy swords swung across the air as the girl and the hulk in red armor exchanged blows and blocks.

Sonovia narrowly evaded the crimson slash and countered with her sword cladded in golden winds. In a matching rhythm, Rubric’s red blade lifted, intercepting the attack.

In a practiced maneuver, Rubric parted his right hand from the sword’s hilt, and threw a crimson punch which sent Sonovia sprawling.

“You should mix some hand-to-hand combat with your swordplay,” Rubric said. “But I’m glad to see you have been keeping up with your practice.”

Sonovia heaved her breath and got up from her loss.

She decided to ask what was bugging her, “Can I defeat Orwell?”

“I’ve never fought him myself, so I couldn’t say,” Rubric replied. “I believe that is a question you should ask someone like Shyme.”

Sonovia snorted.

“You have something on your mind?” Rubric said.

Sonovia bit her lip and vented, “She’s changed. We’ve been opposing each other for ages as members of SCA and Enma Clan. We never liked each other. Then, after Venistalis, she isn’t the same.” Sonovia said with resentment, “She has been looking in the distance like I’m not even here! It is like she is this girl in love. Now, even Serenade joined her.”

“Is that why you egged Alpine to go after them?” Rubric said.

“Yes, I know Alpine can get them back on track,” Sonovia said.

“Do you know she will take it out on that Earthling boy?” Rubric said.

“I don’t know Alpine will try to kill him,” Sonovia said. “But it didn’t matter, he’s just a lucky third-wheel!” She denied the result of her action. “Worst of all, he is like those guys — a…”

Sonovia’s rant trialed off as the wind slipped from her sail.

“An Earthling,” Rubric said. “You believed, and still believes, that boy presence is changing Shyme and Serenade, so you considered getting rid of him as a bonus?”

“Yes!” Sonovia yelled.

Rubric breathed deeply, mentally arranged what he would say next in the way the brash girl could digest.

“You are a talented warrior and a brave woman, Sonovia,” Rubric said. “But you lack patience. You must keep your allies close and your enemy even closer. Let's take the Alpine and that boy as an example,” Rubric sat down near the rock and stabbed his heavy sword to the earth like a headstone. “Yes, Alpine forced the boy away, but as a result, we do not know what he is up to now.”

“That coward is a weakling!” Sonovia was outraged. “What could he possibly do?”

“Him alone?” Rubric asked rhetorically. “Not much I imagine. But surely, you felt that killing intent; the presence so powerful it froze Alpine and me in terror. Whatever it was, it had its sight set on that boy. The fact I can’t find him at all proves that his track is being covered by an expert.” Rubric sighed, “We do not know what Alpine’s shortsightedness and your recklessness had cost us, but I doubt we will enjoy the consequences.”

Sonovia growled.

Barely a week passed since Yuri left. How much of a threat could he be?

Rem felt his student succeed and switched the van on autopilot. Today was a good day. Hikma had finally reconnected with the group and the plan to Ron de Vue in Danghai and observe the conference was finalized.

Better yet, Cytortia and Ehto’s attempt to fortify Centuria was a success.

To cap the train of good news, Yuri reached the next step of his training. With this, the baby gear was off.

Rem walked back to the living-quarter of the van, seeing Yuri meditated on the mattress. He sat down on the nearby sofa and drifted into the Astral Realm the moment his eyes closed.

Yuri already found himself in the land of mist when he heard the clapping.

“Welcome to the Astral Realm,” Rem slowly emerged into existence beside him. “How do you feel about accessing the souls of the Multiverse?”

“Weird,” Yuri said. “It’s like time-space is doing a somersault in this place.”

“Time-space doesn’t have a meaning here,” Rem replied. “This place works like the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. Trust me, I will introduce you to the equipment to cheat these properties to the fullest. However, let's use this property to explore the possible Primal Arcane for you to wield.”

“What?” Yuri said, surprised by Rem’s sudden acceleration of his training. “A Primal Arcane? Isn’t that too fast?”

“Yuri, you already knew this Arcane. You have been using it for most of your life,” Rem said. “Close your eyes and feel the movement. Let your memory guide you.”

Yuri closed his eyes.

“Now tell me,” Rem said. “What are you experiencing?”

“Music,” Yuri said.

Yuri remembered his younger self playing his melody. He remembered how proud his mother was when her little boy played his first piece of music. How could he forget that encouragement of the teacher when he wove the random notes into the ensemble? His father was yelling from his seat, clapping in excitement and pride at his first live performance.

The sound of those celebrations was something he had forgotten no longer.

In this world where consciousness ruled, and memory was power, his wishes were heard.

It was the power that stood by him throughout his life.

The vibration of air, each pitched generated a different wavelength. The oscillating strings created the tune. Movement of air particles — the atmosphere — danced in harmony. The cycle of those energies whipped storms and clouds. Winds so powerful it smashed mankind’s creation in its fury. Gentle breeze of the ocean guided ships and waves. The all-existing medium which contained the very oxygen giving life, and ozone to filter the power of the sun.

But the air wasn’t only terrestrial, the sunlight also generated kinetic energy. The cosmic wind generated from the star and black hole caused the movement of gas clouds in the galaxy.

All across time, the air was mystic. It could bring blessings and blow away curses. Elemental spirit of air existed in the Spirit Realm. The right mystic melody could drive sailors mad in an illusion.

All of this started with the movement of a gas molecule, expanded further into the power to use the very kinetic energy and the illusion art of captivating the five senses.

[Aero Law] — the power to regulate the very nature and property of air and kinetic energy — regardless of mystical or scientific.

“[Aero Law],” Yuri whispered. The surrounding air circulated like oxygen through a transcendental lung.

“Congratulations, Yuri,” Rem couldn’t help but be happy for him. “You have the potential to punch in our weight-class now.” Rem’s voice grew sterner. “But don’t be complacent, attaining an Arcane differs from applying it. We will begin your formal combat training tomorrow. By the end of next week, every molecule of air will be your ally.”

In a castle near the coast of Starland, another meeting was being held.

The hall was paved with white marble like a beautiful beach. Blue light parsed from the sapphire glass ceiling. The room smelled of sweet perfume. Each surface was scrubbed and smooth.

In that room, a beautiful woman with light blue hair, wearing a tiara decorated with pearls and silver was listening to a Dark Elf describing his grievance. The woman's face was the ocean of gentleness. Her eyes were like lapping waves, dancing to the call of the sun. The blue dress wrapped around her body wavered like kelp beneath the flowing current, showing enough curves to draw in the eyes. When she smiled, the moon seemed to fade away in shame at her beauty.

“Lady Lin,” the elderly Elf said. “I know I am asking the impossible, but we need you to help us compensate where Tai Tianshang fails.”

Behind the elder, two more Dark Elves, a handsome man and a child-like woman, nodded in agreement.

The Heavenly Daughter of Water, Lin Tianshang, replied with the softness of silk, “You are asking me to work against my fellow student — my sister in training.” Lin smiled. “Worst, Karia is also by her side.” Lin sighed. “Opposing one Heavenly Daughter is an act of bravado, opposing two is too risky.”

“Lady Lin!” The dark-skin elves begged. “Please.”

“Are you doubting Tai’s agreement of alliance?” Lin said. “I can guarantee Tai isn’t the type to break her vow,” she paused, “unless she is very desperate.”

“You don’t understand!” the elderly Dark Elf said. “For six-hundred years, the World Tree of Frisnia has been unresponsive. The Frisnian dared to treat this supposed silence as permission to perform the act of digression and hoarded her for themselves. But we hear her voice. For six centuries we hear the cries of the World Tree, asking for freedom and liberation.”

“You can raise this issue to the council of Eunuch,” Lin pointed out.

It was the young Elf who exploded.

“They won’t listen!” The young Dark Elf said. “They refuse to even meet us. Those ignorant bastards are scheming, while the World Tree is screaming in pain.”

Next to the passionate man, the small woman also shipped her input.

“We once believed Tai Tianshang would help us,” the female Dark Elf said. “We are wrong. The Iron Army is a plague and the Heavenly Daughter of Steel does next to nothing to control her own men. We can no longer rely on her generosity.”

Lin nodded with understanding. “And you come to me. Very well. I will love to help,” Lin’s smile was sweeter than honey. “I want the Vivian’s Sanctum that is hidden within the World Tree.”

“The Sanctum is just a legend,” The elderly Dark Elf gaped. “The method to access that secret realm has been lost for six-hundred years.”

“Dear my esteemed Elder, please know I’m resourceful,” Lin said. “Trust me, I can open that secret Realm. I have extensively studied the inheritance of the late Lady of the Lake.” Lin peered into the eyes of her audience. “Vivian is an idol of mine, and it will be an honor to obtain her legacy. That is the price for my cooperation.”

The Dark Elves were silent for a while before giving the answer Lin was expecting.

“Yes, we’ll do as you say.”

“Excellent,” Lin said, the blue gleaming with excitement. “Before we begin, let me introduce you to our corroborators.”

Lin clapped her hand, and the expensively carved door of high-quality wood and varnish swung open.

A clown with a laughing mask and a ringmaster costume emerged from the entrance, dancing their ways through the waxed floor, spinning and laughing.

“Greeting, O’ Heavenly Daughter of Water,” The clown crackled. “You are right. Steely didn’t bite the bait.”

“That is within expectation,” Lin wasn’t perturbed by the setback. “Let’s talk in private about our response.” She began the introduction. “Elder Percolio,” she turned to the elderly Dark Elf, “This is Jester. He is an envoy from the Wolf Hoard.”

Elder Percolio paused. The Wolf Hoard wasn’t a random organization. They were a dangerous band of sells-swords and criminals operating behind the back of the SCA and only hired for the highest bidder for dirty works. The group was infamous for their battle prowess, connection, and unscrupulous method. The very fact he was associating with them sent a warning down his spine.

“Are you sure we can trust him?” Percolio said.

“Oh, I know what you are thinking,” Lin’s voice was light to the ears, putting the listener at ease. “I know the Wolf Hoard’s reputation, but aren’t you already allied to Tai who is arguably the worst.” Lin’s tone shifted to more than a commanding one. “Elder, good and evil is a historical construct. History is written by victor. If you want to succeed, play dirty”

“Yes,” Elder Percolio was taken aback by Lin’s ruthlessness. “I understand.”

“Let me finish my introduction,” Lin continued once the point sank to her ‘ally.’ “Jester,” she gestured to the three Dark Elves, “these three are our Elven helpers. I think you already know the Elder, so I will introduce these two.” She gestured to the young man. “This is Qatar.” Lin then nodded at the young Dark Elf woman, “And this is Rain.”

“Greetings, my friends,” Jester said, spinning mirthfully. “But why do you call me here? Aren’t I supposed to be more useful elsewhere.”

“Because I want you to add some spice to your trip to Danghai,” Lin said. “Here is what will happen.”

The Heavenly Daughter of Water wove her tapestry of schemes.

With this, the timetable was set.

Twenty days remained until the Danghai Conference.




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JWL aka The Sloth of Bangkok

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