Walking over to Gwyn’s hut, Drake was a bit scared, to say the least. Gwyn, at least to Drake’s understanding, had a fantastic sense for magic, certainly better than him at the moment. However, this same sense often led her to become overexcited, almost fanatical in a way. It wasn’t something he really encountered in his previous life, and it always unnerved him a bit.
“So uh… What are you gonna show me Gwyn?” Drake asked with some slight trepidation.
In contrast with Drake’s own demeanor, Gwyn was happily bouncing around, almost giddy in her movements. She turned around mid-step, smiling with glee.
“You brought me quite a few presents, didn’t you.” She winked at Drake seductively, which only made Drake more worried for his safety. “Really, I understand you were quite stressed, but why didn’t you tell me about them sooner! I almost lost one of the materials due to its instability.” She turned back around, hurrying back to her small house as quickly as she could.
This damn woman is back to her old ways again. Drake could only smirk at Gwyn’s attitude. It was for the best. She had been avoiding him right after their small incident, and now it seemed everything was back in order. All it took were some… presents?
“Hey, what are you talking about? I really don’t remember bringing you anything.” Drake yelled out.
Gwyn peeked out from behind the corner of her doorway, giving Drake a small pout.
“How mean.” She giggled to herself, before disappearing from his sight inside the small house.
“I-it could be the remains, Drake.”
Yami was hovering behind Drake, only speaking out in a very light voice. Even that seemed to be taking quite a lot of willpower, as Yami made sure to be looking straight at the ground as she spoke.
Hehe, silly little thing. Drake laughed to himself. He stopped walking and turned around silently, letting Yami run into his chest, before promptly picking her up.
[Don’t let it get to you, Yami. If you really have such a hard time talking, just take it one step at a time. Not that I don’t enjoy it, even if you getting so embarrassed is adorable as hell.] Drake snickered to himself, only leaving her more embarrassed.
Drake placed her on his head before running forward to catch up with an increasingly exasperated witch. He could feel the small imp struggling, given that she seemed to be especially weak to compliments, it was likely that he could continue to tease the poor imp for a while longer. And with that, Drake hurried inside the small hut. Any longer and Gwyn would likely start staring at him.
“Finally, here, look, look!” Drake was met with a familiar but strange sight. To sum it up easily, it was the two pieces of the doppelgangers that Drake simply threw to the side after his incident with the Draconian. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but now, it seems that he had vastly underestimated just how valuable this sort of thing would be to Gwyn.
In front of him were two complicated arrays of glyphs, one small and one large, surrounding the small bundle of smoke-like energy and the crystallized doppelganger. Gwyn was hastily going from one to the other, occasionally trying to break off a small piece of his crystal to analyze it from the doppelganger, and poking at the strange smoke-like mass.
Drake chuckled to himself as he saw Gwyn. Looking back on it, of course she would be excited about this sort of thing. She had talked about examining his magic, but had been somewhat timid in actually going through with it. Now that she had such a large specimen, and what looked to be the magic remaining from another Lord, she was like another person entirely.
“So, could you tell me just what you’re doing in here Gwyn, because to me this looks like a ton of unnecessary magic.”
Gwyn quickly turned around, her eyes almost sparkling with excitement. She giggled for a moment, before pointing to the large crystallized doppelganger.
“You see this, this right here.” She paused for a moment. “This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen! Your magic has completely encased him, and it seems to be slowly drawing away his life energy while keeping him alive all the while. Luckily for him, he seems to be completely unconscious, but the sheer amount of work I had to put into restriction runes to keep this piece from generating mana was amazing.”
Drake looked to the large piece of crystal with some hesitation. The Draconian seemed to have made it at the time as a punishment, keeping one of the doppelgangers who had threatened him under his control. To be honest, it would be difficult to say if he could replicate it as he was now. The Draconian seemed to have a massive amount of control of his magic compared to him, and while he could probably freeze a limb in crystal, the entire body seemed out of his realm.
Drake nodded to the small mass of smoke next to it, asking, “And what about that? That seems more interesting personally.”
Gwyn smiled. “I thought you’d say that. This…” She poked the small mass of smoke. “Is what remains of one of the doppelgangers after your friend outside was finished with it. It seems to be a purified version of whatever type of mana they used. Honestly though, it’s a bit hard to work with.”
As Drake looked at the small ball of shadow, something faint caught his eye and his eyes narrowed. “Gwyn, what is the center of that thing?”
Gwyn looked up, and quickly answered. “Just the core is all. Otherwise, there’s no way it would stay stable for such a long period of time. Speaking of which…” She walked over to a small table and grabbed a small bag.
“Here, catch.” She said as she threw them over.
“W-Wha-” Drake caught a small, patchwork bag that rattled slightly as he caught it.
“It’s the cores you left. Apparently, you were so upset you completely forgot about them, huh?” She smiled for a moment before continuing. “You should thank, uh… Therion right? He’s the one who grabbed them, and retrieved the last core from the other doppelganger. Well, almost last.”
She giggled, tapping the crystallized doppelganger. “Not much you can do about this guy. By the time this crystal is done with him, he’ll be nothing but a husk, with the core likely following suit. Not that it matter all that much. I have something for you by the way.”
Gwyn made her way over to a small desk and picked up a vial. It seemed fairly average, it was a light red color with a dark, swirling core making up the center. It shimmered ever so slightly as the liquid sloshed around inside.
“And speaking of the other doppelganger… Here! Take it as a present for-” She glanced over at the two leftovers of the doppelgangers, surrounded by glyphs, “these two little pieces, hehe.”
She handed it to Drake, who really could only look at it with a faint curiosity. It seemed average, at least compared to some of the other vials he had seen lying around her small hut.
“What is this anyway, Gwyn?” He sloshed it around, seeing the same faint shimmer as before.
She laughed to herself for a moment before leaning against the large crystalline structure. “Much like the big guy in this little crystal prison, all of the doppelgangers had a foreign mana core. Just a bit of extra mana included in with their own core. Another Lord’s mana to be exact. The reason why I gave you that potion there is that I managed to melt one of the mana cores down after a bit of…” Gwyn suddenly grew a wide grin, a faint scary glint coming across her eyes. “experimentation.”
“Long story short, the Lord’s magic that I managed to condense down should be extremely beneficial to you. In particular, you may be able to form a new ability with some of the characteristics of such a unique form of mana. The magic of a Pride demon, especially that of a Lord tend to be special, and as a result, it’s often fairly unique to that specific demon. It’s practically impossible to be able to study it, given how the Lords themselves are so powerful, and the demons they employ often lose their magic the moment they die. The cores themselves often only contain the faintest traces, and are insignificant.”
Drake started to grow a bit apprehensive as Gwyn began her explanation. Her breathing was starting to grow unsteady, and he thought he could even see a faint trace of drool.
“But this…” Gwyn slurped, and wiped the edge of her lips. She held her hands around the swirling core of smoke-like energy that was left over from Therion’s kill. “This allows me to do just so much with this power. It’s an invaluable source of research, hehehee…”
Sensing Drake’s uneasiness, she suddenly coughed and composed herself, turning back to Drake.
“Don’t worry too much Drake, I’m not able to copy this process at all with you.” She tapped the large crystal that held the doppelganger. “All this really does is let me do some tests. It’s really the effects it’s having on the doppelganger inside that is the most interesting.”
Drake looked at the strange vial for a moment. It was a bit hard for him to believe that it would be so easy, even if she melted down the core that contained the other Lord’s mana.
He looked to Gwyn, and said, “Hey uh, Gwyn. There aren’t any side effects you haven’t mentioned yet is there? It seems like this would be something that would be… experimental again.” His eyes narrowed slightly, which resulted in Gwyn quickly turning away, coughing to herself for a moment.
“It should be fine, after all it’s just a little concoction I made mixed in with the other Lord’s mana, at worst, your own mana should completely engulf the foreign material and absorb it. But…” She stopped talking mid-sentence, contemplating something to herself. “Concerning how well you adapt to it, there may be a problem or two. Nothing that you shouldn’t be able to handle however.” She finished quickly, looking at him innocently as if nothing was wrong.
This damn woman… all she thinks about is her own experiments, even if it should be beneficial for me…
Sitting just behind Drake’s shoulder was Yami. The tension and apprehension he felt was constant, and it transmitted to Yami instantaneously.
“Drake…” The small voice piped on his shoulder, whispering just behind his ear. “I’m here for you. Don’t worry, I’ll never let anything happen to you.”
The voice was so small, so faint, that Drake barely heard it at all. But even then, it filled him with a deep sense of reassurance.
[Thanks, Yami.] He answered.
Drake raised up the small vial and glared at it again, as if looking harder at the material inside would somehow make it more safe.
I really hope I don’t regret this…
Closing his eyes, he opened the stopper and downed the whole mixture in one gulp. Then, as the strange liquid made its way down his throat, he felt something.
Stillness. Hunger. Darkness. His heart rate began to slow down; in fact, it very nearly stopped, and Drake sunk into unconsciousness.
As Drake opened his eyes, he was met with a familiar but terrifying sight. He was inside the crystalline tower in his mind, looking straight into the eyes of the Draconian.
“What the hell…” Drake couldn’t believe his eyes, how did he get here? Why did he come here in the first place?
“Keheheee… Back so soon human?” The Draconian’s voice dripped with sarcasm.
Drake turned to the Draconian, his eyes full of accusation.
“You. Damn you, why am I here?” Drake yelled out. If he was here, then that meant only one thing. He was forced into unconsciousness by something and brought here.
The figure laughed, still fully restrained by the same chains Drake confined him with.
“Don’t be so harsh, in fact, I’m quite proud. You finally did something deserving of your species, well, at least of me.” The figure laughed proudly, the sheer derision in his words only causing Drake to become more angry.
“Dammit, tell me!” Drake hissed.
The Draconian chuckled. “Fine, little whelp, look up.”
As Drake looked up, what he saw truly shocked him. Hanging in the air was a dark mass of mana, truly similar to the same ball of energy that Gwyn was keeping contained just outside his body. It was just hanging there, expanding in and out, threatening to slowly take over the entire structure.
The light in Drake’s eyes hardened. “You, how do I stop this, what’s happening?! Damn you, tell me!”
The Draconian shrugged, completely indifferent to the threat. “So serious, whelp. If you were half the monster you thought I was, you would know what to do.”
“Careful Draconian, if I somehow die in here, I’m sure you’ll be next. Hell, you may even be too late to stop whatever is happening if I die.” Drake snarled, his eyes narrowed menacingly as he stared at the Draconian.
“Ho, that’s the look I like. I was starting to think you didn’t have any Pride in you at all.” The Draconian sneered. He chuckled for a moment before looking up to the amorphous mass above them.
“You need to absorb that mana. If not for the witch’s interference, normally I would handle such a thing, but given my current situation,” He shrugged to himself, “there’s not much I can do.”
Drake’s eyes widened and he looked up to the smoke-like mass. If this was normal mana, he could simply surround the mana with his own and absorb it, but he had never been able to sway the flow of mana inside this zone in his unconsciousness.
“How do I do that?”
The Draconian let out a deep breath, and sighed. “Still a fool, I see.” The Draconian looked to Drake. “I’m no longer the master here. You trapped me, after all. You should have full control over the mana here. Inside the castle, you will have an almost endless source of our mana, simply will it to encase that mass of mana, and it will respond. Then, you simply have absorb it.”
Drake paused for a moment, and stared at the Draconian. If what he said was true, then it should be simple but… what was this feeling.
“Fine then.” Drake breathed deeply, and focused on the interior of the castle. If it really was as simple as he said, then all he had to do was focus on it like in reality.
Concentrating on the walls of the tower, he felt it. The same connection he always had.
Hehe, it’s so simple.
Converting the crystalline walls into mana with a thought, he poured the mana towards the pulsating mass, completely surrounding it. It seemed that the foreign Lord’s mana really wasn’t suited for direct contact with his own. It was simply too easy to fight. Why did he believe that this would be difficult at all? All the while, the Draconian looked on passively, only observing.
“Hehehe, all I have to do is completely engulf it now.” Drake said with a deranged smile.
“Stop.” A bell-like voice rang out in his mind, filling him with a warming energy.
“Wha-“ Drake clutched his head with one hand, keeping the mass of mana controlled with the other.
“Yami…” Drake struggled to say.
A small light appeared in front of Drake, only getting larger until it finally grew as large as when he first met it. However, the light was dull, and faintly flashed, as if trying to transmit her feelings, however limited, across to Drake.
Then, a strong wave of heat came over his body, much more powerful than ever before, and Yami’s voice transmitted to him clearly.
“Please, be careful. The mana here is too strong, and the sins behind it too powerful. You left yourself open for a moment. Please, hurry and finish.”
With that, the heat faded, and the small ball of energy dulled further, leaving only a faint ball of light floating weakly in the air.
Yami… Drake stared at her in guilt for a moment before quickly looking up to the mass of mana, his eyes determined. Taking the huge mass of mana, he surrounded the foreign Lord’s mana completely, and began to slowly incorporate it into his own.
It was strange. As the mana that Drake controlled slowly engulfed the foreign mana, it began to change, becoming more physical and opaque than the normally mist-like form it had before. Moreover, as the smoke-like mana was being eaten into, it was congregating together in the center of the crystal structure, forming an increasingly large sphere of strangely opaque, crimson mana.
Within moments, Drake’s mana had completely swallowed up the black mass of mana, and completely converted into this strange structure that was floating in the middle of the crystal castle. It looked reminiscent of a hazy jewel, faintly sparkling as the aura inside the opaque crystal moved and churned.
The Draconian continued to look on in silence, the look of disappointment faintly visible on his face.
Drake smiled at his success, and looked at the faint form of Yami. She seemed weaker somehow, but he wasn’t sure why. The small ball of light that she normally took in his mind was duller, less energetic. It was as if she was drained of energy somehow, but Drake wasn’t really sure why.
Worried, Drake extended his hand to touch the faint ball of light, which briefly lit up as he touched it.
“Hey, are you alright? You don’t need to talk if that bothers you.” Drake asked in worry.
Yami’s light form only flashed faintly before nuzzling up against Drake’s hand, the warm, fuzzy feeling of her form filling him with ease. It seems she was trying to tell him that she would be fine, but it still worried him why she became so weak in the first place.
Drake looked on in worry, and tried to pet the small ball of light, much in the same way he did with Yami’s head in reality. She seemed to enjoy it, moving back in forth in rhythm with him, before flashing twice, a faint glow warming him inside.
Drake paused for a moment in worry, then shook his head and tried to shake it off. She seems like she’ll be fine if she just rests for a bit.
“Right.” Drake nodded, and focused on his body for a moment. In a flash, he was gone, leaving a faint ball of light, and the captured Draconian still in the castle.
“So the bug can help him with even that, hmm?” The Draconian pondered to himself. If he could weaken the human enough, he may have been able to weaken the chains binding him, at least a fragment of its power, but the small nuisance quickly stopped his plans, even to her detriment.
The Draconian laughed, gazing at the small ball of light as it disappeared suddenly, leaving the castle entirely to rest and recover.
“If I could only somehow talk to him… I may be able to free myself of these damned chains.” The Draconian’s smile became feral, his teeth glinting dangerously in the crimson castle.