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The Beginning After The End Chapter 470

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Chapter 470


Chapter 468: Ma.n.a.less


CAERA DENOIR


The palace was abuzz with activity, which was no surprise. Slightly more surprising was the fact that no one had told me to get out or tried to clap me in irons yet, but I was thankful they hadn’t. They needed the information I could provide because I knew what was coming.


In the unplanned-for absence of Guardian Vajrakor and his cohort of dragons, I had turned to Virion Eralith, de facto leader of the elves, to deliver the news of Agrona’s attack. Arthur had left him as military commander of Vildorial, much to the dwarven lords’ collective chagrin. Within the hour, he had a.s.sembled his war council and began preparing for a potential a.s.sault on the city.


Durgar Silvershale, son of Daglan, lord of their clan, presented himself before Bairon and Virion as his father looked on proudly. “The city is sealed up tight,” he said as Virion acknowledged him. “Every entrance grown over with several feet of solid stone, like you said.”


“With the new bunkers in place and any a.s.sault funneled through so few possible points of attack, the people will be safe,” Hornfels Earthborn added, smiling as if this was the greatest possible news.


Daglan Silvershale cleared his throat. “Yes, well, you Earthborns have had two whole weeks to make that happen, haven’t you?”


Lance Bairon stepped into the middle of the conversation, silencing a potential argument before it could fester. “We’re still waiting for confirmation that all of the teleportation gates in Vildorial are deactivated,” he said, making no effort to disguise his frustration as he looked from the Silvershales to the Earthborns. “It should have been completed hours ago.”


Daglan Silvershale cleared his throat. “We have disabled the new long-range teleportation gate brought in from western Darv, as well as all the short-range portals in the lower levels and the outskirts. The, ah, lords believe that keeping the gate here in the palace active is essential, and a few of us have private artifacts in our own estates, some of which should be kept in working order so that the n.o.bility will be able to escape if necessary. Disabling all gates, along with sealing the great cavern, would trap us within the city, would it not? If what the Alacryan girl has said is true, and we are without both the dragons and Arthur Leywin, then I wouldn’t see our beloved home become an abattoir, not when we can save some, rather than none.”


I bit my lower lip as the dwarf brought me into it.


Hornfels looked sheepish. “In this Lord Earthborn shares the Silvershale clan’s opinion. After all, Commander Virion, you yourself have sent your people out of the city for their safety. It would only be proper to leave us a potential escape route should such a thing become necessary.”


Lance Bairon rubbed the bridge of his nose, his mana seething around us. He spared a quick glance at Virion and then said, “No portals are to remain accessible for any reason, Lord Silvershale. Deactivate them immediately.”


The dwarven lord crossed his arms and glowered right back. “This should be decided by committee, general. May I remind you that Commander Eralith and yourself have no official capacity to give orders in Vildorial. Arthur Leywin, while a great hero, is not king of all Dicathen.”


Virion gave Silvershale a friendly smile, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. “You are right, of course. I can’t make you do anything. But if you do not deactivate them, Bairon here will smash them to rubble. Bairon.”


The serious-looking Lance nodded, and his feet lifted off the ground as he flew toward the doors of the war room. Daglun paled and sputtered incoherently as he chased after Bairon. “Wait now, see here, one of those gates is in my estate. Don’t you—” His words were lost to the general noise as he raced down the hall after the Lance, followed by Durgar, several attendants and members of his clan, and even Hornfels Earthborn.


Virion turned to the next person waiting for his attention, a kind-looking elven woman whose auburn hair was just starting to gray. “What news from our people, Saria?”


The woman gave Virion a soft, melancholy smile. “They have set up a temporary camp in the forested lands west of Mirror Lake. Aside from some tension with a few farmers, the journey appears to have been blessedly anticlimactic.”


“Good,” Virion said, his voice a growl. “Then I would like you to join them. Bairon will be taking you and a few other members of the small council, then he will stay to watch over the people there.”


Saria’s brows shot up and she took half a step back. Others within the war room were pretending not to watch the exchange carefully. “Forgive me, Virion. You have always been kind to my family. In many ways, the Triscans and Eraliths have been like kin. But I would not have you treat me as a child. I may not be my cousin, but neither am I helpless. Please, I would stay.”


Virion sighed and turned to a stack of scrolls, unrolling one and beginning to peruse it. “You’re worse than Bairon. No, Saria. Our people need leaders.h.i.+p as well, and protection. Would that I could be in two places at once, but I trust you and Bairon to serve well in my stead.”


The woman bit back her response, gave Virion a shallow bow, and then turned and strode quickly away.


Virion looked up from his scroll, his gaze tracking across the room. No one else was waiting for him, and so he turned his attention to me. “And what of you, Caera? Are you certain you want to risk the long journey to the Beast Glades after what has happened?”


“I have to,” I said earnestly, thinking about what must be happening in the Alacryan encampments.


What would be worse? If Corbett, Lenora, Lauden, or the others had hesitated to fall in line…or if they were readying their weapons to go to war in search of Arthur…


“Lady Seris needs to know what I discovered. If I can help the others…”


“One last thing I should ask, I suppose, and I hope you’ll forgive me, but…you’re certain whatever happened—this combustion of your mana—will not continue to be a threat? I can’t put others in danger if Agrona can use you as a weapon.”


I bit my lip, considering my words carefully. “I can’t be certain, Commander Virion. I didn’t even know this trap had been set in my very flesh until today. No one did, I’m certain of that. But I can feel how it affected me…like it hollowed me out somehow. My own runes—my magic—feel distant, less mine. So no, I can’t be certain, but I feel that the thing inside of me has gone… burned up. I should have burned along with it, so perhaps they did not antic.i.p.ate needing to set it off more than once.”


Virion extended his hand, and I took it firmly. “Arthur trusted you, so I will too. I may not know you well, but I can see you’ve got a good heart,” he said, surprising me. “That as much as anything gives me some small inkling of hope for the future of our two peoples. I’ll send word that the long-range teleportation gate can be active briefly, just to let you through. We can get you as close as Xyrus City, although it’s still a journey to the Wall from there. If you don’t mind accepting a suggestion, see if you can link up with a group of adventurers from the guild, since they’re—”


The harsh rumble of an explosion shook the palace and brought dust cascading down from the ceiling. A wave of tension washed over the faces of all present as they turned to Virion.


He closed his eyes and seemed to be searching with his mana for the source. “It’s only Bairon,” he confirmed a moment later. “It seems as though Silvershale and the other dwarven lords proved less than accommodating about the portals,” he added somewhat harshly.


There was some grumbling from the dwarves in the room, conjuring a palpable tension, and Virion softened. “Forgive me, friends. Your people deserve better leaders.h.i.+p than they’ve gotten since the Greysunders, but you all have performed admirably.”


This simple comment seemed to diffuse the tension, and finally, Virion returned his attention to me. “Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. Good luck, Lady Denoir.”


“You too, Commander Virion,” I said, feeling slightly awkward as I turned and marched quickly toward the door.


Behind me, I heard one of the dwarves say, “Commander, a message from Etistin. They…they’ve spotted Alacryan forces near the city.”


I slowed, turning back slightly to hear more.


“d.a.m.n it. Get word down to Gideon and that asura. No more time to wait. If they’ve got some weapon cooked up, they need to mobilize it now.”


Just then, a powerful mana signature appeared as if from nowhere, cast across the city like a giant shadow.


I gasped, spinning on my heel to meet Virion’s wide eyes. “Seris!”


The sounds of battle followed almost immediately.


I didn’t wait for the Dicathians, instead springing away as fast as I could. My body ached and my core was depleted, but I cast the pain aside. If Seris was here herself—with Cylrit and Lyra of Highblood Dreide, so far as I could sense—then they hadn’t known how else to prevent the Alacryan refugees from becoming walking bombs.


But Arthur wasn’t in Vildorial. He was the objective. Perhaps if I am able to convince them of that fact, they can leave without retribution from Agrona, I thought hopefully.


By the time I had exited the palace, Alacryan soldiers were already streaming from a partially collapsed tunnel into one of the dwarven clan’s personal residences. Dicathian soldiers were hurrying out of the palace ahead of me and forming up across the road above the breach, preventing the Alacryans from coming this way.


The response from below was slower. Most of Vildorial’s soldiers had been arranged in support of the sealed-off gateways into and out of the city, as well as at strategic defensive positions to protect infrastructure and the civilians.


The flow of Alacryans wasn’t exactly rapid, with the tunnel they were exiting from half-collapsed, but Seris and the two retainers must have arrived first, paving the way for the others.


Now, Seris and Cylrit were engaged with Bairon over the city. Even as I watched, Bairon unleashed attacks at the cavern wall, attempting to close off the tunnel from which Alacryan soldiers were issuing, but clouds of dark mist—Seris’s void technique—absorbed every one of his lightning blasts before they could land.


I stood frozen, unsure what to do next.


Was my blood down there, fighting for Agrona? Or had they resisted and met the fate that would have taken me if not for my new spellform and Ellie?


I couldn’t reach Seris while she was fighting the Lance. Even if I’d had the energy to fight, I couldn’t turn against either the Alacryans under Seris—most of whom I had served with throughout the short-lived rebellion—or the Dicathians that had allowed me to live among them.


Waves of magic, drawn in the air like lines of black noise, spilled across the battlefield below. Retainer Lyra. As the foundations of an idea churned sluggishly to life in my head, I began sprinting down the highway with the forces still trickling out of the dwarven palace.


I hadn’t gone five steps before another problem presented itself.


I slowed well before the fighting, not wanting to get caught up in it. Lyra’s flame-red hair was visible like a battleflag near the center of the Alacryan forces. The Vildorian soldiers were launching spells and mundane attacks from both sides, but Lyra countered many of them all by herself. Alacryan Strikers were driving into the Dicathians, trying to burst through the lines.


“Lyra!” I shouted, but she gave no indication of hearing me. The sounds of battle—spellfire, shouted orders, and the screams of the wounded—swallowed my voice before it could reach her.


And yet it was far too great a risk to try and press through the front lines, where I could be mistaken as an enemy combatant by soldiers on either side.


With the little mana I had drawn in and purified since the detonation of my runes, I reached for the emblem that empowered my wind-attribute spells. Fatigue burned behind my temples in response, but the magic only flickered.


A stream of boiling water arced over the front line of Dicathians and fell among the mages, sizzling against the stonework only a few feet from me. At the same time, the highway trembled beneath my feet as, below, a huge boulder of ice crashed down into the forces attempting to block the lower direction.


Before I could gather the strength to attempt another casting, a shockwave of subaudible noise slammed into the Dicathian lines, tossing dozens upon dozens of dwarves and their human and elven allies to the ground. Alacryan mages forged up the highway toward me, sprinting right past the p.r.o.ne soldiers.


“Into the palace!” Lyra’s voice sounded, issuing from the air itself as if she were standing right beside me. “Search every room, every level. We must find Arthur Leywin.”


Behind me, the elite palace guard, all mages, moved into position across the palace entrance. They held up rune-etched s.h.i.+elds and worked in concert to conjure a magical barrier over the heavy doors, which were being dragged shut behind them.


Making a decision, I rushed forward, weaving between the retreating Dicathians who were being pushed back by the sudden surge. If only I could reach Lyra, I could—


“Caera!”


My gaze snapped around, searching the lines of charging Alacryans. It was with a mixture of relief and horror that I met the eyes of my adoptive mother, Lenora. Corbett was with her, as were Taegen and Arian, my protectors. I recognized soldiers and guards of the Denoir blood interspersed throughout the surrounding battle groups as well.


Fortifying myself with a deep breath, I plunged onward, dodging the occasional spell and avoiding the Dicathians as best I could. My adoptive blood was slowing, other battle groups rus.h.i.+ng onward, flowing around them in a tide of magic and steel. Behind, though, those Dicathian soldiers knocked down by the sonic blast were slowly getting back to their feet.


“Arthur isn’t here!” I found myself shouting as soon as I was close enough to make myself heard clearly. “Fall back! He isn’t in Vildorial!”


“Vritra’s horns, Caera, you’re alive,” Lenora gushed, wrapping me in her arms. She was sobbing, I realized, and a cool dread drew in my chest. “Where’s Lauden?”


Corbett, looking out of place in his ill-fitting leather armor and wielding a s.h.i.+eld and spear, blinked several times and wouldn’t look directly at me. “It would seem you and Scythe Seris—Lady Seris—inspired in your brother a reckless courage, Caera. He…”


Corbett hesitated, but I already knew what he was going to say. I swallowed down the conflicted emotions Lauden’s sacrifice conjured within me. There would be time to face them later—if we survived.


“You have to fall back,” I forged on. “Retreat from the city if you can. Take your men, as many as will follow you.”


The mask of pain on Corbett’s face cracked. “Did you not hear me? Your brother is already dead, and you would have us meet the same fate? There is no refusing this, Caera.” He suddenly regarded me with suspicion. “Although this does not seem true for everyone equally.”


Lenora stepped in front of him, scowling viciously. “By the Vritra, Corbett, use that blistering intellect that brought me to love you.”


He stared at her, affronted.


Farther down the road, the front line of the Dicathians had been cornered into a knot, now surrounded by our people. The Alacryans who exited the collapsed tunnel were dispersing out into the city with only token opposition.


“Please, listen to me,” I begged him, something I couldn’t recall ever doing in my adult life. “I heard the message. And your mission here is already complete, father. Arthur isn’t here, I swear it on my life.”


As the word “father” left my lips, Corbett’s expression softened. “I…of course. I see.” He glanced around at the perimeter of battle groups who had hesitated to move forward without him, all members and servants of the Denoir blood. “Men! Fall back to the portal. Fall back! Our quarry isn’t in the city.”


I suppressed a surprised smile as Lenora wove her arm through mine. Arian gave me a small nod and a quick wink, while Taegan glowered around at the battle still unfolding above and below us on the highway, a big hammer clutched in two white-knuckled fists.


“If I can reach Lyra Dreide, I can—”


A bolt of black and blue flames streaked into our midsts, exploding against a quickly conjured s.h.i.+eld only inches away. I felt myself lift up off the ground and land hard before rolling. With hardly any mana to protect me, the impact with the hard stone felt like being trampled by a herd of wogarts.


Corbett had been driven to his knees, while Arian had managed to catch Lenora. Taegen rushed forward, putting himself between my blood and the attacker, but then he hesitated.


There was a glint of flickering silver wire, too fast for a s.h.i.+eld to form, and blood spurted from Taegen’s throat. The big warrior looked down at the blood spilling over his chest in confusion, then one hand pressed against his neck. Realization hit him too late, and his hammer clunked against the ground, followed quickly by his knees as he collapsed.


“No…” I breathed out, the effort sending a sharp pain through my ribs and chest.


Still on the ground, I followed the line of Taegen’s dead-eyed stare to my great-uncle, Justus. His hair and thick goatee had gone a little more gray since the last I’d seen him. His dark eyes flared with rage. Unlike Corbett, Justus wore ornate armor and carried a beautiful sword at his hip. A sliver-thin filament of silver wire orbited around him.


“What in the abyss do you think you’re doing?” Lenora snapped, causing Arian to pull her back and s.h.i.+ft his footing to ensure he was in front of her. “Explain yourself, Justus! Give us one reason not to—”


Another blue-black ball of fire leapt at them, but several s.h.i.+elds appeared this time, absorbing it all. My focus seemed to fade in and out as I searched for the Caster, and when I found her, I could hardly believe what I was seeing.


Aunt Melitta was holding another flame in her hand. The expression of purest hatred on her face would have been enough to take my breath away, if I had caught it to begin with.


“Melitta?” Corbett said in disbelief. He scanned the mages who had gathered around Justus, triggering me to do the same. They were Denoir soldiers, and several members of our extended blood.


“Don’t you dare speak to me, Highlord Denoir,” she snarled, her voice like a scythe through the noise of combat. Looking Corbett in the eye, she spit on the ground. “You’ve destroyed us, you and that witch, Seris.”


“What’s happened?” Corbett asked, his voice dark with dread.


Tears leaked from Melitta’s eyes, and her entire body clenched like a fist. I thought she was going to throw another fireball, but instead the tension burst out of her in a choked yell. “Arden is dead, you b.a.s.t.a.r.d! And Colm…Arlo…my husband and children, dead. Because of you. Because you chose to fight against a G.o.d.”


Corbett paled. The Denoir blood had always been aggressively political and the relations.h.i.+ps between blood members fraught with tension, but Corbett and Arden had always remained steadfastly loyal to one another.


And the little ones. Colm…Arlo… “Who would harm children?” I asked, but my voice was lost beneath the waves of sound issuing from the battle both above and below us.


“The moment you sided with Seris, you d.a.m.ned Highblood Denoir,” Justus said, coiling the silver wire tightly. “But I will reclaim our honor. First, by killing you and all your traitorous unnamed, and then by finding and delivering Arthur Leywin to the High Sovereign.” He slashed with his hands, and the silver filament flashed.


s.h.i.+elds sprang up and spells exploded from both sides. Both sides charged, and suddenly a third front to the battle erupted, except this one was Alacryan against Alacryan, blood against blood.


A shockwave knocked me back again, and I felt myself roll several times before sliding to a stop. I reached for my new spellform, and flames danced across my skin, but the effect was weak, and the effort conjured a screaming pain from my core.


Desperately, I searched down the highway for Lyra. If she stepped in, the fighting would have to stop—but there had been a surge of dwarven troops from the city center, and they were pus.h.i.+ng up the highway. They had nearly reached the tunnel still issuing Alacryan soldiers, and she was occupied fending them off.


The fight between Seris, Cylrit, and Bairon had moved out of sight. Although I could still feel the waves of their power cras.h.i.+ng against one another in the distance, Seris or Cylrit could not help me either.


Slowly, I stood. Corbett was locked in battle with Justus, while Lenora fended off spells from Melitta. Arian was engaged with two Denoir Strikers, and soldiers on both sides fought and died all around them. The crimson blade of my sword rang as it slid from its sheath, two of the silver shards ejected from my bracer and began to orbit around me, and I strode forward with a calm I didn’t feel.


A woman I recognized as one of Justus’s personal guards charged at me, a frosted steel axe held firmly in both hands. Again, I imbued mana into my new spellform, pus.h.i.+ng more forcefully this time, and flames spilled out from me, racing along the ground toward the woman. The smoke and fire twisted and danced around me while forming into several burning silhouettes identical in shape to me.


The Striker hesitated, her focus s.h.i.+fting rapidly between the different apparitions. My blade hissed as it cut the air, and she whirled and brought up her axe, catching the blow. At the same time, a lance of black fire burned into the woman’s calf from one of my orbitals. She screamed and went down on one knee, and I kicked her in the chest, sending her sprawling.


“Stop this!” I shouted, trying to imbue my voice with command. “Lay down your arms and listen.”


“We’ve listened to you too much already!” Melitta screamed, turning her flames on me even as my own illusory fire was fading. As her fireball launched toward me, a s.h.i.+eld of rapidly whirling dark mana appeared to deflect it back at her. She had to dodge out of the way, and one of their own soldiers was engulfed unexpectedly.


Then blood sprayed the ground, and Corbett fell, a long, snaking gash down his leg.


Justus didn’t wait to savor his victory but turned his attention onto me. “You are just as culpable as your adoptive father, you selfish, traitorous girl.” Even as he spoke, his silver wire was flas.h.i.+ng toward me.


I batted it aside, but the force of the blow made me stumble back. Lenora had bent over Corbett, wrapping them both in a protective barrier, and no other s.h.i.+eld was nearby to protect me. When the next strike came, my block was even more desperate, and I was quickly forced back across the highway.


The plunging edge loomed in my periphery, and I suddenly realized my back was to a hundred-foot fall to the next level of houses.


I blocked again and again, and then suddenly the silver wire had wrapped around my crimson sword. With a sharp tug, the blade went flying, clattering over the stone too far away for me to reach.


Lenora had realized what was happening by now and struggled to come to my aid, but Melitta once again had her pinned down, and it was all she could do to keep herself and Corbett from being burned to ash.


Justus’s cold, hate-filled eyes stabbed into my own. “For Highblood Denoir,” he said proudly, and his spell flashed.


A thin rapier caught it, deflecting the wire and preventing it from cutting my throat. Arian flourished his weapon, appearing as if from nowhere to step fully in front of me. “Apologies for the delay, my lady. I should’ve come to your aid sooner.”


The wire coiled and snapped at Arian like a sovereign cobra, but my protector’s rapier flashed with blinding speed as he blocked again and again, seeming more than a match for Justus.


A fireball exploded directly in front of us. A rapidly cast s.h.i.+eld absorbed part of the blow and kept the heat from incinerating us, but Arian was lifted off his feet and thrown into me. I fell backwards, feeling my feet leave solid ground. The road’s edge rose up and away from me as I plummeted beneath it.


In pure desperation, I scrambled to hold onto Arian, who was falling with me. Despite the buffeting wind of our fall whistling past, he twisted with catlike grace, wrapping his arms around me and turning our bodies. I realized too late what he meant to do, but he had crushed my body to his and was supporting my head and neck against his chest. Mana wrapped around him and infused his muscles, extending slightly out to me.


I shut my eyes.


The darkness went red, and I understood only pain as all the air left my lungs. Everything was ringing and moving, and I felt the contents of my stomach erupting up my esophagus. This physical sensation drew my attention to my body, specifically its individual parts, all of which were now in agony.


And yet the fact that I felt pain at all meant I wasn’t done.


I struggled to open my eyes. I was lying on my side, and the first thing I saw was Arian. Blood leaked from his mouth and pooled around his head. His eyes were closed, but there was an uneven rising and falling of his chest.


I experienced no sense of time as I lay there unmoving, thinking only that I needed to get up, needed to help him, but lacked the ability to do so. I was struggling to breathe, and through all the pain, I could almost feel my pulse weakening.


My body is in shock, I deduced with the air of one discovering a new aspect of magic.


I began honing my senses in on my limbs one at a time. First, I wiggled my toes, then rolled my ankles. When I moved my legs, pain shot through my hips and back. Next, I moved my arms, and finally, I rolled onto my stomach.


Burning claws of agony drove into my abdomen and chest, and I was sick again.


Shaking, I pushed myself up, first to my hands and knees and then, wobbling, onto my feet.


It was a minor miracle that my legs held my weight, but they did. I stumbled and had to support myself against the wall of a carved-stone house, but I didn’t fall.


Movement farther down the street I’d landed on pulled my head around, which caused it to swim dangerously and my balance to falter. I leaned my back against the wall and closed my eyes, waiting for the spinning to stop. When I could open them again, I watched a familiar figure with ash-brown hair vault over a rooftop and a white arrow of pure mana launch from her bow.


Taking deep breaths, each one of which made my chest thrum with a deeply inset pain, I cleared my head and pushed myself away from the wall. My only thought was to reach her. Ellie would help me. Alice could heal Arian. Couldn’t she?


The walk down the street seemed to take a lifetime. The noise of battle was everywhere, but there was no fighting directly around me. The road carved into the cavern wall, and I lost sight of Ellie. It wasn’t until I rounded the bend, clearing a row of dwarven homes, that I saw her again.


I stopped, wobbling again as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing.


“Kids?” I said aloud, certain it was a hallucination or some trick of my injury.


Because it looked to me as if Ellie had taken a handful of the students from Central Academy prisoner. But why would they be in Vildorial?


Everything snapped into place.


“Eleanor!” I gasped, stumbling toward her.


She looked away from her prisoners and let out a horrified gasp, taking a couple of halting steps toward me before remembering to keep her arrow trained on the students. “Caera…but what happened? Are you…” She snapped out of her stupor. “We need to get you to my mom.” To the students, she said, “Pick up your friend. Come on, you’re prisoners of war now. My mom’s an emitter—a healer.”


The students seemed confused and uncertain, but as Ellie let down her bow and rushed to me, taking some of my weight, they complied.


“Arian—my guardian—he needs…”


Mana rushed into me as Ellie activated her spellform, easing the aching of my core. Without conscious effort, the mana then seeped out into my body, helping to ease the pain.


I faded in and out as I sagged onto Ellie in relief, conscious only of putting one foot before the other. The students and Ellie exchanged a few words, but I didn’t comprehend them. We crossed paths with other Alacryans, but they looked at me and pa.s.sed us by. Then we met Dicathians giving chase, but they looked at Ellie and left us alone as well.


We took a winding, difficult path downward, avoiding the main highway, which was fraught with combat.


I could see the Earthborn Inst.i.tute, and beyond it, the lower levels of the cavern, when the trembling began. Like an earthquake, it ran through the entire cavern at once. Far below, a perfectly circular hole opened up in the floor of the lowest level, barely visible to me. I squinted, thinking perhaps the hole was in my vision, but something was coming out of it.


Again, I thought it must be the shock or perhaps a concussion, but then the others began speaking as well.


“Vritra’s horns, what is that?”


“Is it some kind of beast?”


“But isn’t that a person?”


“Look, there are more of them.”


“Abyss take us, look how many…”


Knowing I wasn’t seeing things, I looked closer. The first creature to crawl out of the hole was lizardlike, though it walked on two hind legs, half again as tall as a man. Except…the mana beast seemed to be only an organic component of something else. Glowing veins traced its scales, which were pale gray, as if bleached of all color. The chest was covered in a thick, rune-etched plate of blue-gray metal, but the stomach was open, revealing a mechanical substructure beneath the organic surface, s.h.i.+elded by a gently glowing layer of transparent mana.


The lower jaw had been removed, revealing more of the translucent mana. Through it, I could barely see the concentrating face of a young man, his eyes hidden behind a rune-etched band.


His arms, too, were slightly visible through gaps within the organic mana beast flesh and underlying substructure of gray-blue metal, where more translucent mana protected the inner arms of the mana beast—I wasn’t sure what to call it. Armor? An exoskeleton of some sort? Clutched in one overlarge, clawed fist was a sword too big for an unadorned to comfortably wield, but which fit the large mana beast perfectly.


“Is that a person?” Ellie asked with a s.h.i.+ver. “There's no mana coming from them, yet they're releasing such a strong aura. But how…?”


My tongue felt thick in my mouth as I spoke. “So, this is Gideon’s secret project.”

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The Beginning After The End Chapter 470 summary

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