"We all failed that testing stage. It didn't make much a difference." Mithal looked at Reithar, his voice calm. They all were worrying for Mona, but Mithal was more ready to plan for the possibility of Mona being dead.
"The test was based on our Aura levels." said Aeron after waiting for Mithal to finish speaking.
"In that stage we had to fight in hand-to-hand techniques. Although our Aura levels were quite decent, we failed Reithar. He wouldn't do much better, and would probably die in an actual match." Aeron looked at Reithar as well, sitting on the small prison bed.
Reithar looked at the Varlier brothers. All of them had advanced by a single level in Aura cultivation, and still failed. They understood that there were many prisoners, but didn't realize that quite a few had powerful Arts at their disposal. They, on the other hand, had Arts of a lower quality.
After 5 attacks, it was clear to all of the guards who would win. Each of them had been kicked off the stage, resulting in an automatic loss. Reithar had broken his arm in his battle. His bone still fusing back in place. He touched his arm, only to cringe at the pain.
The battle was the testing method chosen by the Alberdans. All captives that felt they could make it had to participate in a tournament-style elimination. The top 36 participants would be able to to leave Darknorth. In the bouts, there were no rules, except a win would count from an enemy's death, surrender, or kicked off the ring.
Luckily, the three of them had lived from the strikes of those other captives.
"What do you expect? They were Aura Mortals at level 10, a step away from the Warrior rank. Their Arts were more powerful than ours, and their defenses were solid. Let's face it. Right now, we just can't leave. It's impossible." Aeron continued on. Reithar quickly lost his hope for perhaps passing on the next testing date.
"Impossible for now, Aeron. If we are careful in battle and dodge their attacks, and attack them as Aura Mortals level 10 ourselves, it shouldn't be difficult to make it at least to the top 30. Not everyone had a profound Art, or a profound Aura technique. Some of them had even passed with the Alberdan Arts. We simply need to train for a longer time." Mithal reasoned with Reithar, his mind reviewing alternatives.
"How long?" Reithar wanted to know how long it could take them to leave the prison. He remembered Mona's figure as he was taken to the dungeons. I can't leave Mona behind...
"For all of us, it may take us 10 days to reach that level. Seven to train our Aura, three to bring our Arts to the same level." Mithal paused, then gave Reithar an answer. The main reason it would take this long is Reithar's Art. I wasn't able to help him understand it.
Mithal had tried earlier to help Reithar understand the Alberdan Art he received, an Archery Art. It was best used with arrows and a bow, but didn't lack much with using fists. It's power rested in its speed, and its talent to cause heavy damage. Sadly, his talent in Archery was minimal, and he couldn't even comprehend the first line.
Reithar on the other hand was perfect for this Art. The guards were forcing Arts on the captives, and Reithar was quite lucky to get it. The only issue was that upon reaching the peak completion state, he had trouble using all nine verses of the Art simultaneously.
Without an open grassland, or perhaps an archery range, how am I supposed to? Reithar felt a bit of sadness and anger. Sadness for not being able to complete the Finite Arrows Archery Art, anger for the Alberdans. How could they put such an Art, expect us to train it, and not give us the minimum conditions to do so? It makes no sense at all.
"Don't worry, Reithar. For you to fail at advancing isn't all too surprising. After all, everyone doesn't have equal talent. We can't expect you to succeed every time." Aeron patted Reithar on the back, smiling towards him.
This guy...Reithar didn't know whether to be angry, or to feel terrible. He looked back to Mithal, only to notice him training his Aura. His eyes were closed, his Aura forming a thin pale barrier around him. Its heavy presence spanned the entire cell.
Aeron sat beside him, his training resuming. Unlike Reithar's Aura, his came out in cyclic waves and gave off a domineering atmosphere. Merging with Reithar's Aura, the mixture caused the various beds to creak under the pressure.
If only my Aura had this feeling. Aura came in different shapes, sizes, colors, and forms. Of course, one's Auric technique also had its effects. Fights could easily be avoided if the effects were enough to cause the opposing party to be wary. If I had this atmosphere form when I used Aura, perhaps Mona would still be here.
The sun climbed the blue sky, its glinting rays shining against the prison bars. Reithar stood in between the two beds, his body set in a specific posture.
Verse 1: Hold the arrows, aim for the sun! Reithar repeated in deep contemplation as his remaining hand went through the motions of notching an arrow. His Aura followed, forming the illusory bow and arrow.
In the air, an illusory bow formed, its arrow already notched in place. He pulled on the pale thin string of Aura, aiming at the sun.
His fingers let go of the string, the arrow flying into the distance. It continued for 15 feet, then slowed down and eventually evaporated.
Reithar watched the arrow and estimated the distance. To reach 100 feet will take some time.
A puddle of sweat formed at his feet. Next to him stood an illusory quiver containing arrows of Aura. Using his consciousness, he notched the arrow once more and took aim. He continued on.
Ardor's hand remained inside his guard suit. His hand fiddled inside until it located the secret compartment underneath his chest plate. Unbuttoning the pocket, a small box fell into his hand.
It was a light brown box, and had a pair of iron hinges. Patterns on the box zigzagged in various directions with runes. This was clearly a portable Creation made for containing things inside.
I must do this properly at once. Each step towards Gryfor's inner circle is one step closer to becoming a dragon! Ardor couldn't wait until those daydreams weren't just for passing the days.
"Ok men. I need you to open the following cell, 56-C. Under the orders of the Warden, we will remove all of the prisoners from the room and investigate it. I will personally lead and review the search's...efficiency. Afterwards, I will report to the Warden of your support. I believe he will be quite pleased." The guards were led by Ardor up several staircases and across several floors as he explained the orders of the Warden.
Upon mention of the Warden, the guards behind Ardor hastened their steps and followed Ardor with great enthusiasm. They hoped that this deed could at least get the Warden to think of them, perhaps even mention the Darknorth guard's capabilities in his talks with other generals. Such a thing would be a great honor for them. They could already imagine Gryfor's praise.
They really love that monster. Simple-minded pawns can never ascend to the skies. They can watch me become a legend and regret not flattering me when they had the chance. Ardor smiled deep in his heart, but kept up a dutiful appearance. Guards he pasted couldn't help to admire his figure past by.
Soon the group of guards had appeared in front of the cell 56-C. Ardor banged his arm against the cell door, awaking all the inmates. The men inside looked confused, their eyes flickered with a touch of fear.
"Listen up, you scum. Listen clearly. We are going to do a search of your cell. I want all able prisoners to be in single file and walk out of the cell along with these guards. I will have several guards search the space, and then I will check myself. Then you can come back in and go back to the animals you already are." Ardor activated the special sigil, and stationed the guards outside of the cell.
While the guards were enjoying the situation, the prisoners inside looked on each other's grim faces.
These men were those that teamed up with Taizen to attack Mona and his friends. Right now without warning they were being searched without a reason. They looked at the injured Taizen on the bed.
He was unconscious on his stomach, his spinal wound covered in bandages. Blood had soaked several pieces of clothing, the edge of an ugly scar on his back. Every 15 seconds, Taizen winced in pain as his hand grasped for that region. His body trembled the most when he realized again and again his spine was injured.
"No buts. GET OUT!" One of the captives were going to speak for Taizen, but Ardor cut him off. The head guard opened the cell, the three fellows walking out of the cell. Their steps were heavy against the floor.
Ardor motioned for six guards to search the entire cell. They looked under the frame beds, under the mattresses, under and inside the pillows, under the bed sheets, under the blankets, and everywhere else in the cell. After 30 minutes they completed.
"Sir, I, Jargen, and the others did not find a single forbidden item in this cell." The guard spoke to Ardor, his heart bursting with joy. He couldn't resist giving his name to Ardor. The other guards who searched grew envious of being too late to give their names.
Ardor watched the six guards have an unofficial battle over recognition. He had to get them out.
"Good, good! Now may you allow me to check your skill?" Ardor faked a smile at the guards.
"Yes sir!" The guards rushed out of the cell, so joyous over the warmth they felt from the head of the guards. Who knew what they were imagining.
Ardor entered the cell, motioning the other guards to stay outside. He went near the end of the room, where laid Taizen on the bed. The guard stared at Taizen's pathetic figure, his smile malevolent.
Ardor pulled the box out of his uniform, holding it in his left hand. His right hand lifted the lid, only for him to be hit with an intoxicating aroma of power.
Ardor stared at the small red pill inside of the box. It sat on a small piece of velvet, and its surface had three small incisions in it. It looked as if a small beast had scraped at it, leaving behind the effect of its claws. Upon opening the box, it lost its runic glow. Clearly the box was for a single storage, and had now became an ordinary box.
As Ardor took in more of the aroma, his head became unsteady. He felt a desire deep down to consume the pill, to experience something genuinely amazing, to gain Godly strength.
NO! I can't! Reithar did not forget his mission from the Warden. His willpower firm, he lifted the pill from the box as he got closer to Taizen.
The injured Taizen was unaware of the shadow leaning above him. In its hand was a pill that carried an amazing aroma. Upon smelling it himself, his heartbeat quickened and his stomach hungered for it. His thoughts gradually focused on that strange yet beautiful scent. He felt it could return his life back to before turning into a cripple.
Losing one vertebrae from the middle of his back caused not only excruciating pain, but also damaged several of his major Aura meridians. Without extensive care, he would remain a cripple for life. Why would the Alberdos Empire spend resources on saving a war captive's life?
Ardor grinned as Taizen's mouth opened, a line of saliva falling from his lips. So effective! Ardor inwardly praised the pill. Compared to other medicines, this small red pill seemed to reign supreme in garnering one's attention.
Ardor carefully slid the red pill into Taizen's mouth. Sigh. It looks so good. I have to ask the Warden for one. That feeling was so great! Ardor made up his mind right there.
Taizen felt a warm and light liquid form inside his mouth. His body moved on its own, hastily swallowing this liquid in one gulp. Taizen felt shocked as his injury seemed to disappear. Where his injury once was, Ardor could see Taizen's skin redden.
In a matter of minutes, the captive's scar had disappeared, his skin returning to its natural tone. It was as if the injury never happened.
Taizen soon after fell into a deep sleep, his breaths several levels more comfortable than before.
Success! Ardor was surprised at the powers of the pill. His thought shifted back to the guards outside, and an idea came to mind.
He lifted the box and hid away the piece of velvet from within. The box without the velvet looked ordinary, but to the guards it could have been used to store something into the prison. The guards did routine checks to prevent any treasures from remaining with the captives.
Ardor came out from the cell, his face grim. The sight of him sent shivers down the backs of the six guards. He looked at the nearest one, his eyes full of anger.
"Am I a joke to you?" His voice was horrifyingly cold, as if he came to slaughter his sworn enemies.
"S-s-s-s-s-sir...." The guard wet himself from fear, but no one dared laugh at the stain in his suit. They inwardly praised this fellow for only urinating. Quite a few guards were on the verge of doing much worse.
"I will be sure to tell the Warden of your failure to listen to my commands. We'll see who's joking then." Ardor smiled at the 16 guards, driving them to the edge of despair. He had waved the empty box at the men, enjoying the sight of these guards trembling with every cell in their bodies.
"We apologize, sir! Please, don't kill me!"
"I have a child to take care of, sir! Please be lenient!"
"Sir, my grandmother is all alone! Without me she would starve!"
The guards uttered various words, hoping they would be spared of the Warden's wrath for their failure. All of them knelt on the ground, their heads banging against the floor.
"Don't let it happen again." Ardor disappeared down the stairwell, hearing the cries of happiness from the guards he had scared into submission. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing a trembling pawn beg for his life. The Warden was right, indeed.
Ardor walked to his office, the box placed once again into his secret compartment. His eyes flickered with delight as he remembered the faces of those guards, grim and pale.