I opened my eyes to see the familiar bedroom that I had left behind for several months. This was only the second time that I had spent so long away from ‘home’, but honestly… it didn’t feel as bad this time. I wasn’t stuck in an uncomfortable environment, forced to act in a certain way to keep up appearances. Instead, I was surrounded by modern comforts and caring people. In many ways, it had started to feel that I was back in my old life.
Granted, my old life didn’t have magic, or fully immersive virtual reality games. But, those things didn’t break the illusion as much as I had expected. Even with my hours of training every day to master the usage of the divine soul, I still ended up feeling myself slip back into a ‘normal’ life.
It wasn’t until I was reminded of the dragon, and the upcoming battle that I’d have to fight that I truly remembered my place in this world. I wasn’t just a normal person. I wasn’t a scribe, or a gamer, or even a good ruler. I did my best, sure, but I knew that there was room to improve.
What I was, was the ‘overseer’. I was the lynchpin holding the world together. I was the closest thing to a mortal god, and I had to act like one at times. This wasn’t me inflating my own ego, but a simple acknowledgement of the truth. Accalia, would you mind coming to my room, if you have a moment?
Mere seconds after I sent the message, I heard a voice speaking up next to me, feeling a pressure on the bed that appeared suddenly. “Sure Dale, what’s up?”
“I want you to create another monster for me to fight.” I turned, looking towards the dog-eared goddess, her tail wagging slowly against the bed. I offered a small smile to return her own, knowing that this was the best that I could do for now. “I want you to simulate Desbar’s dragon, so that I have practice fighting it. I know that I’m probably far stronger in terms of raw strength, but… I’d rather know for sure. And this will help me train some techniques I’ve been wanting to try out.”
Accalia blinked a few times as she processed my request. This was my first time to prepare so thoroughly for a fight, so it might have caught her off guard. “Sure, Dale. Everything okay?”
I nodded my head slowly. “Yeah, I just… feel like I need to fight a bit harder for all of this. Now that I’ve tasted a casual life again, I need to make sure that I’m ready for shit to hit the fan. Because you know it always does. Maybe after Vanity, we’ll get a Tyrant Keeper, or another Monster Keeper, with barely any time to recover. A hundred days feels like a long time to us, but… it goes by so fast.”
“Dale, you’re starting to sound like you’re having a midlife crisis.” She pointed out, bringing a hand up to press against my forehead, as if she thought that I might have a fever. “Are you sure that you’re not letting yourself train too much? Maybe you should take a couple days to cool off. You have been tampering with your own soul after all, right?”
I reached up to swat her hand, unable to hold back a chuckle. “I’m serious about this, Accalia. And I don’t know… maybe I just don’t want to make Tsubaki fight so hard when she’s in as bad of shape as she’s in. I might be relying on her too much to handle earthly affairs, and don’t want to work her to death.”
“Yeah, I get that Dale.” Accalia rolled her eyes, leaning back against the bed with her arms behind her. “It’s just weird to have you get so serious all of a sudden. Though, knowing you, once you’ve got the strength you want, you’ll head right back into Vision Expanse. Especially now that Tsubaki’s going to be joining you.” She sent a mischievous grin my way after saying that, to which I averted my eyes.
“I admit… I’m still going to take plenty of time to just enjoy myself… That’s not changing. After all, what’s the point of being what I am if I can’t have some fun now and then? Keep up morale for the sake of the world, right?”
That earned a light laugh from the goddess. “Yeah, yeah. That’s more like it. Now, let’s see about having you fight a dragon. You’ve never seen the thing yourself, right?”
“No… but I’m going to be looking after the fight to make sure you didn’t cheat.” I warned her, earning a not-so-innocent whistle. “And would it be safe for me to have Leowynn join me for this fight, or would she be in danger in the ‘game’?”
Accalia waved a hand dismissively as she summoned an interface in front of herself. “If the dragon had any methods of directly attacking souls, maybe she’d be in trouble. But it doesn’t have anything like that, yet.”
“There was a ‘yet’, there. Why did you say ‘yet’? The thing’s sleeping, right?” My eyebrows raised in alarm when I caught her little slip.
“Well… I mean, yes, it is. But the thing is scary smart, even for such a young age. Or maybe it’s just its natural adaptability. You’ll see when you fight it, but… it analyzes energies used around it to incorporate into its own power. It learned how to wield ki after hunting monsters that used it. It learned how to use the spells of different creatures it fought. It takes time for it to learn, but it does… If it fought spirits, it’d probably have some sort of countermeasure against them within a month.”
Saying up to that point, she gave a brief pause, glancing towards me. “Well, maybe not one as strong as Leowynn, but still. We can all feel the divinity flowing through her now. I don’t know how you did it, and frankly I know that this falls under the category of ‘don’t ask’. But Leowynn has reached a stage beyond a normal spirit because of you. So it’d take a serious spirit buster to put her in danger.”
Although I was worried about the idea that this dragon could evolve to the point where it could fight spirits, her later words did help to reassure me. Divinity was the most absolute thing in the world, at least at my current stage of development. It was stronger than my saint energy, stronger than anything. The odds of the dragon evolving to be able to fight gods would be astronomical.
But… that just made this test even more important. If it did have that ability… I’d have to put it down, regardless of how benevolent it was. Having a creature gain power to rival gods would probably boost the power of my world substantially, to the point where I’d have my rank increased.
“Just one question before we start, though.” Accalia spoke up, seeming like she was done preparing the dragon on her end. When I gave her a nod to continue, she did so. “Why not just include the dragon as part of the invading force? If you’re so worried about it, why not make it someone else’s problem?”
I gave a small chuckle at that, having been thinking about that myself lately. “I’ve considered it. But… I don’t want to use it to make the enemy stronger. If they have an adapting monster themselves, like the one that Savage used against us, then I’d be feeding them the perfect ingredient to grow more powerful. I’d rather take care of the dragon here than risk making Vanity a more powerful opponent later.”
“Fair enough.” Accalia shrugged, waving her hand to the side to send the interface window in front of me. I was already familiar with this window, so I simply chose to use my current Keeper profile before entering the fight.
When I arrived at the prepared arena, I found that we weren’t in the same wide cave that I was used to fighting Accalia’s creations in. Instead, I found myself standing on a vast plain. Opposite me, several hundred meters away, was a creature the size of a small mall. Dozens of meters tall and hundreds long, its scales glistened in the sun, shifting between silver, gold, and blue in an almost hypnotizing display.
It was fully standing upright, its wings pulled back behind it. With its posture, it looked more noble than childish, making me suspect that maybe this was a ‘grown up’ version of the dragon.
When the voice spoke up to allow me to choose my weapons, I chose to go unarmed, instead sending my thoughts inwards. Ready for a fight, Leowynn?
Always, father. Just tell me how you want to handle this.
I gave a small nod, listening to the voice counting down for the match to begin. “Fight dragon with dragon.”
As you wish. Then, I manifest the Sky...of the Serpent.
When the voice announced for the fight to begin, I felt my feet rising up off the ground. Beneath me, golden mist burst out, lifting me up and forming into a phantasmal golden dragon. I stood upon the golden dragon’s head, and although Leowynn’s dragon was only a fraction of the size of our opponent, her presence made me feel more secure.
“Leowynn, I leave the opening act to you. If you can kill it by the time I’m done preparing, fine. That just means I worried too much.” The moment I said that, I felt the wind rushing around me as the two dragons charged each other. As they neared, both let out breaths of energy.
From the giant dragon, a burst of white flame poured out in a thick beam. To my surprise, the beam was actually aimed at myself, rather than Leowynn. However, it was met by the golden breath of my daughter, which kept it at bay until the two were closer.
While they charged, I lifted my hand, hearing a strange shattering sound in the back of my mind. Golden energy rushed out of my hand and into the air around us, even as the giant dragon’s head came down to bite Leowynn’s neck. I could see that its teeth were having trouble sinking in, so I wasn’t too worried. Instead, she struggled, while I could feel the heat of its breath.
Its claws scraped towards me, only for Leowynn’s own head to rise up and bite into its arm. Unfortunately… she wasn’t having much more luck penetrating the dragon’s hide than it was with hers. I could see some scales cracking, but no blood flowed from the sounds.
Behind myself, between my body and the dragon’s head, a golden panel of glass formed, quickly surrounded by an ornate decoration. However, reflected within the glass was not my own body. “Mirror the Huntress.” I spoke, though my voice was no longer my own, sounding lighter and more feminine.
I clenched my hand around a bow that hadn’t been there a moment ago and jumped forward, off of Leowynn’s head. I could see her eyes widen in surprise, even in her altered state as I spun around, plucking at the strings of the bow. Golden arrows shot out with accuracy I could never hope to achieve on my own, piercing towards the eye of the giant dragon.
Seeing the golden arrows flying at it, its eye closed, the lid turning blood red moments before the arrows struck. There was a hiss of flame, and a gout of fire spread from its mouth along Leowynn’s neck. However, my body was already flying towards another mirror from my jump, this time with another form. “Mirror the Forgemaster.”
I landed heavily on the ground after my second shift, my body suddenly feeling stiff. My limbs were thicker, the bow in my hands replaced by a large hammer. “This’ll be a lot easier once I get the next bit of training done, I think.” My voice was deep and gruff, my words seeming almost muffled through a thick beard.
Father, I don’t mean to alarm you, but this does kind of hurt my neck. Can you do something about that?
“Aye, aye, I’m gettin’ there lass.” I felt even my words slip into Tubrock’s as I walked forward, hammer in hand. When the dragon opened its eye, it seemed to regard me as more of a threat, or perhaps Leowynn as too difficult a target to injure, and began charging towards me. An idea that worked just fine, given that Tubrock was apparently not a fast runner.
I was expecting it to let out another breath of fire as soon as it was within range, but such a thing never happened. Its form soon began to tower over my own, before a spell diagram appeared beneath its head, six interlocking patterns. “Oi, isn’t that--” My words were cut off as I seemed to instinctively recognize bits of the diagram, slamming my hammer down against the ground. Immediately, a dome of metal appeared around me to defend against the spell, one which I had identified as a life draining blast.
There was the sound of glass shattering again as I formed another mirror behind myself, feeling a growing pain deep within my soul. Three’s the limit for now… “Mirror the Judge of Souls.”
I could feel my divine soul growing more brittle every time that I shifted from one form to another. This was a technique that I had come up with in theory, realizing the potential behind divine energy. If I devote myself to a concept, then I can use that concept in any way that I can rationalize. I had been torn between the concept of eyes or mirrors… but I had ultimately chosen this.
When I felt the rumbling from the blast stop, I simply waited. In my hand, I held a thin pen, my eyes facing upwards as my wings tucked in close behind me. Soon, I knew it would come for me.
Moments later, I heard that sound of metal being ripped, and slowly lifted my hand. My eyes were cold and calm as I saw two giant claws spreading the cage just enough for it to lower its head. I knew that it wanted to simply blast its fire inside my self-made prison. “Begone.” I spoke with Irena’s voice, writing a single word in the air with the pen, a shimmering golden ink trailing behind the pen’s tip.