Climbing to the rank of a General took more than strength; it took a deep understanding of human nature, and also much self-restraint. The guard named Ardor in front of him had carefully hidden his displeasure, displeasure for Gryfor.
To normal officers, such feelings could not be discovered unless actually explained. But given Gryfor's experience with all sorts of individuals and his control over Aura as a Saint rank, he quickly noticed the feelings of the other party. His Aura had covered the room and the hallway. He could even hear Ardor's heart beat in his chest.
"Did you do as I ordered?" Gryfor raised his arms, his fingers interlocking on the desk. His false smile had not left his lips as each word was spoken.
"Of course sir. I had Mona Aurum placed in the dungeon on grounds of instigating prisoners to fight against one another, and he will be there for a week." Ardor raised his head, looking towards Gryfor.
"With his Mortal Curse, he won't survive there after 72 hours. After then, your excellency can easily extract his Lord ranked Lifeblood for your own usage." Ardor spoke quietly, his words calm and clear.
He knows what Lifeblood actually is...interesting. Gryfor's smile grew wider with Ardor's words. Perhaps this fellow can be quite useful, but first...
"And tell me, that fellow named Arkway, what is he doing?" Gryfor had learned beforehand that Mona was placed in the same cell.
"Your excellency, Blacksmith Jaspen Arkway is currently in the dungeon along with Mona Aurum. He had refused our initial offer to join the Alberdan Army to craft Creations. He is old, and doesn't see the change of times. A noble had taken away his fellow blacksmiths, and ordered for him to be placed in the dungeons." Ardor supported Gryfor's information.
"Although an order from a noble isn't really enough to affect the Alberdan Army, he actually comes from the Faulkner Family, your excellency. I didn't dare refuse the young noble on account of his background. However, there is no problem with the two being placed together, as the Aurum child has the Mortal Curse." Ardor finished his explanation, thinking that Gryfor worried of anything happening between the two.
"Good, good." Gryfor knew that blacksmiths weren't doctors. There was no harm in having the Aurum child be placed with an old man. What could happen anyway?
"Ardor, I have read your record as part of the army, and am quite impressed by your dedication and achievements. I am lacking a subordinate. Would you mind?" Gryfor waited for Ardor to respond, watching his reactions.
There it is, the displeasure. It rose just now, but then disappeared. He really does hate me.
Gryfor looked at Ardor, his smile hiding his true intentions.
"Your excellency, I...I am honored to follow you. Please allow me to prepare." Ardor agreed with Gryfor's request. From prison guard to perhaps a major general? He couldn't believe Fate gave him such a chance.
"Of course, we'll leave in three weeks. I expect that is enough time to prepare for our departure. As for the prison, we shall give this opportunity to one of your juniors. I am sure he will manage." Gryfor replied to Ardor, watching joy flit along the man's eyes.
"You may now leave." Gryfor motioned for Ardor to leave through the entrance. The man rose up and bowed. His steps were light and rapid as he made his way to the door.
Just before he opened the door, Gryfor spoke again. His heartbeat accelerated, and his throat became dry.
"I hope that your feelings towards me are also settled by that time, Major General Ardor." Gryfor mocked the simplicity of the person in front of him. He still has much to learn. At least he can be molded.
Gryfor genuinely smiled at the frozen Ardor. He could imagine what was going through Ardor's mind right now.
Ardor was about to speak, but no words came out. His thoughts were a mess. How did he know I was thinking that? Did he train in a Mental Art? The horror of all his thoughts dawned on him. When he realized that Gryfor had already known of his feelings towards the general, and also knew all of his thoughts during their conversation, a frightening thought came to mind.
What if...no...! He couldn't believe that he had made a grudge with a general. Such a figure could easily end his life and fake a death report. He didn't dare imagine what Gryfor had in store for him.
"Yes, sir." Ardor gave up with his flattering, struggling to even say those words. He quickly walked out into the hall, the door not making a sound behind him.
Gryfor sighed at the retreating Ardor. How many days had it been since he was at such a rank. He looked back at the endless skirmishes, the battles, the deaths of comrades, the victories, and the defeats. For someone like Ardor to go through that and survive would be quite an accomplishment.
Gryfor stared out towards the window, watching the sun set beneath the horizon. The torches were lit by his Aura as he began to read a book on his desk.
To benefit from Lifeblood, one must first collect at least three pints of the person's blood and condense it. Gryfor read on, his interest growing.
Mona woke up inside of the cell. His face was flat on the floor, his body bent in an odd angle. His hands hung thanks to his chains, while his lower body sat vertical from the floor.
Using his arms, he struggled to raise his upper body. Using the sturdiness of his bindings, he managed to return back to his sitting position.
Mona's right hand touched his face, his eyes seeing the blood that came from his mouth hours ago. That's why I have this taste. He looked around in the cell, finding a pool of blood laying there, cold.
As Mona woke up, Jaspen turned towards Mona as the young noble reached for his face. The blood... The scene of Mona coughing up blood from within returned to his mind.
"Noble Aurum, you're awake." Jaspen was relieved that Mona had awakened. The child didn't die from his injuries. His vitality was quite good.
"Jaspen...cough cough...how long have I been sleeping?" Mona asked Jaspen as he examined his own body.
"You have been asleep for 3 days, Noble Aurum." Jaspen replied, his Aura returning to his body.
A sense of weakness had filled Mona from within. Given that he had not eaten anything in three days, it made sense that his body felt fatigue, especially after his injuries. Oddly, he didn't feel hungry.
Noticing Mona's complex expression, Jaspen smiled. "For the following three days, I had helped your body fight off its internal injuries and hunger through infusing my Aura."
"Blacksmith Arkway...thank you." Mona didn't hesitate to give his thanks. Were it not for this friend, he would likely be dead.
"No need to thank me, Noble Aurum. I couldn't watch you die. How would I answer for myself after my death?"
Mona nodded. His luck was great to be able to meet people like Jaspen and the Varlier brothers, accepting his Mortal Curse without shunning him. Although he had used his noble position to partly influence their decisions, he still felt they would care for him regardless of it.
"I noticed that you had absorbed a strand of the world's natural Aura to use for training the Primal Fold technique. But after trying to pass it through, your Mortal Curse had formed a blockage, and you fell into deep pain." Jaspen had been watching Mona the whole time.
Although training Aura did not necessarily need a guardian, Mona was, after all someone diseased with an illness that prevented cultivation. Jaspen at the moment thought it didn't make sense to let someone with such a condition train Aura without being watched over. So he had watched over Mona while training the technique himself.
He didn't know doing such would save Mona's life.
Mona thought back to that sensation of deep pain. Just before the Aura strand had passed the first meridian, a dark, thick blockage became visible in his Aura channels. It kept that strand of Aura from entering the next portion of meridians, causing extreme damage to his body.
How do I fix this problem? Mona thought deeply, exploring his knowledge. After a few minutes, he sighed. He didn't know of anything that could cure the Mortal Curse.
All he knew that there were many famous doctors and masters that tried everything they could think of to cure people with the illness. Nothing worked, and practically everything would have no effect.
In fact, one of these doctors had removed the Mortal Curse blockage from a patient, believing it would cure the problem. In a single hour, the blockage had returned, without any change in form or structure. This was the closest anyone had become to eliminating the disease.
Mona resumed breathing in the natural Aura of the planet, gradually forming another strand of Aura. It was pure white, and would change color and form depending on the Auric technique used. As Mona fiddled with this strand, he absorbed more Aura.
Jaspen watched Mona's progress. If anything happened again, he would do his best to keep Mona alive once more.
As Mona had taken several breaths, the various strands of Aura merged together, forming a strand as thick as a piece of string. It glowed inside of his body, and was under his control.
Mona was about to use this larger strand to attack his Mortal Curse, only to recall his previous pain. What if he actually died from such an action? Wouldn't that be suicide?
His consciousness allowed the Aura to be set free, and it simply floated in his veins. He didn't know what to do.
Then the Aura strand flowed into his left hand, and something unusual happened. Mona watched as the vague point in his left hand greedily ate away the Aura.
The small vague object within glowed the color of pure Aura, and ejected a smaller strand of Aura.
Mona looked at this smaller strand of Aura, amazed and shocked. Although the bit was indeed smaller than what he had earlier, he felt it was greatly refined of impurities.
The new strand of Aura approached the Mortal Curse region, as it prepared to assault the barrier. Just as Mona was preparing to prevent this, the strand was quickly absorbed by the blockage.
Mona waited to feel intense pain, but the feeling never came. He looked to his left hand, noticing that the vague region had become slightly more clear. His attention shifted to the blockage of the Mortal Curse blockage, and there at the very edge was a thin cut, almost unnoticeable.
What if... Mona resumed his breathing, channeling the natural Aura of the world. Then he would merge all the bits together, and send them into his palm. The refined strand of Aura would be absorbed by his Mortal Curse, leaving another small cut.
Joy flitted across Mona's face. If he had enough time to cut at this Mortal Curse, then perhaps eventually he could cut away the disease and train Aura.
Noticing Mona not experiencing any trouble, Jaspen returned to cultivating the Auric technique. His attention remained on Mona to prevent any more injuries.
It's been four days... Mona counted back to when he arrived. After serving his punishment of 7 days in the dungeon, it would be 8 days since his arrival at the prison. And two days since he last saw Reithar and the others. He didn't know if they would leave during the first testing session.
All of them should be safe then. Mona knew that given his timing, at best he could hope for the next session in 11 days instead. As for waiting for the noble Jaspen mentioned, Mona couldn't depend on it. By that time, most of the remaining prisoners would be those who would be chosen were those who would become lifetime servants...or worse.
Without a sure date on the arrival of the noble, Mona could only work towards getting rid of his Mortal Curse. As moments pass by, the various marks on the blockage became visible, about the thickness of his ring finger. Refined Aura continued to cut tiny marks into the diseased part.
Without much strength left in his body, Mona ended his training. He watched Jaspen train in the Primal Fold technique, his dark red Aura folding slightly around his body. How long will it take me to reach that level? Mona didn't know.
Mona walked back to his end of the cell, his back against the wall. His thoughts on Reithar and the others, he drifted into sleep.
Unknown to him, deep within his palm the vague object grew increasingly clear. It absorbed the natural Aura of the world, giving off small waves of energy. After flashing a few times, it became motionless, as if falling into slumber on its own.
On the back of Mona's hand, a vague shape appeared. It arose on his skin, only to sink back into his palm.
Jaspen stared at Mona's left hand, alarm written on his face. What was that mark? Jaspen kept his distance. Although he cared for Mona, he didn't dare investigate now. The pressure that mark gave was profound and heavy, as if a Sovereign had appeared. His face grew grim at the possibilities.