Jana stood worryingly outside of the resting chamber of Abin, the Chief Elder of the Water Clan. Ever since Durak’s death, the clan had been thrown into turmoil. Everyone was terrified that they might encounter another master class beast, yet at the same time there was no longer a path to retreat. Even if they would be welcomed back, the only one that could take them to their old home had perished.
Sure, they could craft new boats to sail back. It wouldn’t even be that hard to do so with their skills. But the process of gathering the required materials would leave them exposed to the dangerous monsters that lurked in this land. So, they followed their original plan. They found a nearby mountain to settle, and began to dig it out.
With the manpower that they had available to them, it only took them a short couple of years to mine out a sizable number of residences, including the establishment of cultivation channels within key rooms. These cultivation channels were thin paths that led out of the mountain, lined with cleverly positioned gems and mirrors to redirect both sunlight and starlight into the designated room. Yes, they leaked when it rained, but rain was never a worry to this clan.
The biggest problem that they faced was safety. The clansmen were too scared to even go out and hunt properly, leaving the cave for only the shortest amount of time possible. Powerful as these dwarves were, they still needed to eat. So, even though their numbers had exceeded five thousand when they first arrived at the mainland… barely a fifth of that number still survived.
Some had died before Durak to the beasts. Some had died on the way to finding a proper mountain to excavate. However, most of them perished either to the forces of nature when they left on hunting parties, or to the bitter cold that came when they did not have enough food to go around. It was a sad fact, but this all originated from a single issue.
The clan did not have enough strength. Without a master, they had no way to contend against master level beasts. The elders could charge en masse, and theoretically might be able to take one on, but at what cost? At least half of them would be slain to simply destroy a single monster.
After Durak died, both Jana and Abin realized that they had received a form of enlightenment from his final act. Their legacy of water was not as narrow as they had first believed. Their understanding of blood from his battle had planted a seed within them. For Jana, it brought her one step closer to that ultimate goal. But for Abin, who was already at the threshold…
For the last three days, Abin had been in isolation within his chambers, refusing any visitors. He had not eaten, or emerged since locking himself away. But, every so often, people could feel a pulse of starlight echoing through their bodies when they walked by, like an ancient heart slowly beating.
Only a few knew what this meant, and Jana was one of them. It meant that Abin was advancing. His body was being remade amidst the sun and the stars. His internal sky was evolving, accepting the discoveries that he had made and becoming more flexible. A new Water Master was being born, a master born of battle and blood.
As Jana stood there, timing the spans between each pulse of energy, her lips slowly curved upwards. The beats were coming faster, and at a noticeable pace. At first, they had been hours apart, such that people were not even truly aware of what they were. But now, they were mere minutes away, each gap shorter and shorter.
She stood, not to greet him when he emerged, but to prevent anyone from disturbing him at this critical time. Nobody knew what would happen if an elder was disturbed as they advanced, but everyone agreed that it could not possibly be a good thing.
Inside the room, a lone figure sat kneeling in the center of the floor, a bright beam cascading down over his body from above. His skin was pulled taut over his thick muscles, a shining silver color that matched his hair. His eyes shone like twin suns.
Briefly, his body flared, a flash of light leaving him and returning him to his normal appearance, before he was once again dyed in the heavenly colors. In truth, he was not even aware himself of what he looked like. His attention was entirely focused inwards. Durak had passed them a warning that came with his inheritance, one that Abin fully intended to heed.
“When you are advancing to my level, you must focus on your own stars. Study their nature, their laws, and any changes that they experience. The more you truly understand them, the greater your growth will be.”
Even when Abin believed he would never reach that height, he still engrained those words within his heart. They were the words of his teacher, a man that he respected above all else. So now, he was doing exactly that, studying each of the nine stars within himself.
He studied the waves, rocking to and fro crashing into the cliffs and beaches. He studied the drops of rain that stabbed like arrows into the wet sand. He studied the gentle spring which nourished life, and the harsh snow that stripped it away.
But most of all, at the center of his inner sky, he studied the red star. It was the star of blood, blood which was both the root of all life and the mark of death.
As he studied the red star, the silver on his skin began to shift to match, turning a deep crimson. It looked as if his entire body had been bathed in blood, until it was cleared away with yet another pulse of energy. Finally, after three days of seclusion, the half-shut eyes of Abin opened. At the same moment, a single pulse echoed through the entire cave, the world itself announcing the birth of a new master.
To Jana, who stood outside the door, the pulse felt like any other. Stronger, maybe, but not fundamentally different. It wasn’t until she heard the door creaking behind herself that her eyes went wide and she turned. She saw her friend and rival standing there with a calm smile. His eyes were more youthful than she had ever seen, yet contained a deep power.
At a glance, she could tell that he had been reborn in body, while his mind had reached a new height. “Call the elders.” He spoke gently, reaching out to pat her shoulders. “We’re going to get through this.”
Abin had a plan to elevate the water clan. Something that his predecessor hadn’t been able to do, due to relying so heavily on the cultivation inheritance. But he was different. He may have been tutored by Durak, but he had reached this level through his own enlightenment.
“This bastard!” Kishi’s voice roared like thunder, his body crackling with electricity. It had been nearly a year since they had set down on the mainland, but they had yet to find what they were looking for. Whether it was a new inheritance or the traitorous clan, nothing seemed to be going their way.
After touching down, the various clans had gone their separate ways, though Kishi and Saren had stayed in touch to help coordinate their efforts. It was the most that they could do to help each other, and neither could be bothered to care for the lesser clans that had come with them. They had volunteered for this voyage, so they had to deal with that responsibility.
In fact, it didn’t take long before they began to find the corpses of those unfortunate souls that had split off from the rest, half-eaten and abandoned off the side of a dirt path. But neither Kishi nor Saren treated it seriously, seeing themselves above those worries.
When it was time to hunt, one of them would go with the hunting party, keeping the master level beasts at bay long enough to allow their clansmen to escape with their lives. This allowed them to prosper far more than the other clans, even more than the water clan. They did not lack for food in the winter, able to eat and drink until their bodies were full and warm.
However, that all changed one day. Using the method that they had arranged previously, Saren warned Kishi that he sensed a strong presence lurking nearby. He advised that they stay hidden for the coming days until it passed. But that was not Kishi’s way. Instead, he thought that Saren was bluffing, that he might have found another city, and wanted the chance to seize an inheritance for himself.
In a fit of rage, Kishi broke the spear that Saren had used to send the message, and charged out towards the mountain which played host to the spear clan. Yet, he was never able to reach his destination. A creature beyond imagination did indeed lurk nearby, and it caught up to Kishi faster than he could imagine.
The beast was small, no larger than an average dog, with six legs and two swishing tails. Its body was without hair, a pale purple skin covering it from head to toe. Kishi could tell that there was something wrong with the creature as soon as it suddenly appeared in front of him. He could feel a fear that he hadn’t known in so long. As if he had been identified as the prey of a higher being.
Knowing that victory was unlikely in the fight against this creature, Kishi instantly deployed his strongest movement technique. His nine stars appeared above his chest in the shape of a lightning bolt, and his body immediately flashed towards the horizon.
When he stopped, after reaching his maximum range, he was aghast to find that the beast was still standing in front of him. It wasn’t that he had failed to execute his technique, nor that he had traveled more slowly than he wished. It was already here, already waiting when he arrived. Speed meant nothing before such an existence, one that was clearly beyond the level of a master.
Kishi roared, his body crackling as a blade of energy formed in his hands. There was a chance, a small chance that the creature was entirely focused on speed, and that its combat abilities were lower as a result. And that was his only chance at survival. “This bastard!”
His body charged forward, the lightning blades arcing to strike at the beast. He saw the first bolt strike before the creature’s body began to blur, the second passing through it. When the third struck, the beast was nowhere to be seen. Yet, Kishi still felt that same danger. Only this time, it was coming from behind him.
And as he felt a powerful jaw locking around the back of his neck… as he saw his own, headless body collapsing in front of him… he wished that he had accepted Saren’s warning. They were not the masters of this land. They were not the kings. This creature, whatever it was… it held the right to be called a king among beasts.
As that thought flashed through Kishi’s mind, the light in his eyes died out. His life, which had stood at the top above all else for so long, snuffed out by a stray dog. Worse yet, his corpse would never be found. Nobody would know what killed him. For the one person who could sense such a battle did not dare to leave the safety of his cave, fearing that what he felt might turn its sights on him instead.
“Well, that was a rather anticlimactic end to him.” I muttered to myself as I watched the Nebula-stage beast tearing into the former Lightning Master. “I thought he’d end up being a big boss later. I guess that’s what happens when you get too full of yourself…”