༺ Compulsion ༻
The land which Mother Earth declared she would no longer support, the abyss. An actual existing hell where, with just a slip of the foot, you would experience a never-ending fall. All that awaited its victims were unrelenting darkness, hopelessness, and the sight of the sky growing farther away.
The bottom of the abyss—who knew if it even existed?—would glare up, festered with the things that had sunken without funerals over a thousand years. It was a terrible, strange land that was centuries far from peace and stability. That was what the abyss was like, and yet…
｢Why… is nothing wrong happening?｣
Shei, the woman who had experienced regression, the only traveler who went back in time through death. She alone was engulfed in anxiety amidst the peace.
｢According to the undying, something definitely happened here. Something that made the warden try to kill somebody, the Beast King howl as she scattered the undying’s body in spite, and cause the abyss to collapse.｣
The future she experienced was like a gutter connected to dozens of sewers. Even if she blocked one pipe, she couldn’t stop all the mess. Untreated sewerage would burst from some other place and defile the world.
Shei was all alone, and there were too many anomalies. She could not have stopped everything, not even with a thousand hands. The world couldn’t withstand the broken balance and opened the floodgates toward Apocalypse.
Unbidden atrocities became the harbingers of the dreadful tragedy to come. Monsters would appear out of nowhere, devouring people. Entire villages would disappear without leaving a single corpse. And the Kings of Beasts bellowed frantically in the face of the Apocalypse.
When the world’s end was nigh, Shei tried to pinpoint the source of destruction rather than stop it, and her pursuit led her to this place, the abyss. Here, she discovered the future seeds of Calamity, the Progenitor, the Dog King, and the Undying.
But contrary to expectations, they were living in peace.
｢It isn’t like nothing happened at all. It’s just, compared to what will happen later on… the situation isn’t that bad. Has the past completely changed because I came here? Or is there something incredibly big going on that’ll turn this situation right around?｣
Shei was sitting on the rooftop of the prison while looking down at the yard. On the monochrome concrete ground, a dark blonde girl was confronting a man in a warden uniform. The warden sneered with an aggravating expression while Azzy kept twitching uncomfortably.
“Heheh. Why did I never think of this until now?”
“Kyahahaha! That’s right! I’ve finally found the way, Azzy! You’re no match for me now!”
He talked like some kind of mastermind, but Shei was no longer bothered by such antics. She had been fooled one too many times for that.
The warden stopped shouting and took out a thin disc made by hammering steel. He lifted up the disc and swept his nose.
“Ah yes, this is what you call a disc. A round, wide plate designed for air-resistance reduction! It stays in the air severalfold longer than a ball! Heheheheh! With this, I won’t have to worry about my shoulder now! It can fly for at least 30 seconds if I throw it right!”
“Grrr! Woof! Woof!”
“Alright, alright. Geez. So impatient. I wanted to brag a little yet you won’t even let me have that much. Now, go fetch!”
He wound his arm and tossed the steel disc. It flew off, spinning slowly. The long wait was over for Azzy. She took off after the disc in delight.
The disc floated through the wind and didn’t come down easily. It gently rose up and descended even more slowly. Azzy caught up to the disc within moments and hopped from below, waiting for it to fall.
Meanwhile, the warden flopped on the ground, guffawing.
“Heheheh. This means I can regain enough stamina in the meantime! It’s practically a pseudo-idle play tool! Kikikik! I’m not afraid of you no more!”
At that moment, Azzy leaped into the air and caught the disc by the mouth. Seeing that, the warden’s expression turned stupid.
“Oi, wait. Azzy. Catching it with a jump is cheating. Let’s compete fair and square two-dimensionally, yeah? And what’s with a dog sargent jumping 3 meters? Didn’t I say give me some time to rest?”
“I mean, ugh.”
But no matter what he said, Azzy fetched the disc, so the warden got up with a sigh.
Watching the two, Shei felt she was being stupid to get nervous. All she managed was a weak sigh as she observed Azzy shoot daggers at times and wag her tail happily at others. And the warden would keep playing with her despite looking weary.
Shei wanted to sharpen her nerves and whet the blade of hostility, but she couldn’t feel even the impetus for that.
｢If I had to pick the one person who currently has the influence to cause trouble, it would be that warden, but…｣
With the way Azzy smiled so brightly, it didn’t seem like she would go feral. It didn’t seem like the calm Tyrkanzyaka would suddenly go crazy. At the same time, that man whose name she still didn’t know… she didn’t feel like warden would do anything either.
｢I’d rather things stay like this and nothing happens. If only someone could convince me that’s how it’ll be…｣
Then she could put down all her burdens and enjoy a short break. But the Regressor came from the future. She knew that some tragic event would occur in the abyss, which was why she couldn’t relax. She had to keep on her toes. Even if everyone else was carefree, she alone had to be vigilant.
There could be no rest for the woman who had witnessed the terrible future. Even this isolated peace felt like a portent of disaster.
｢Since I’ve come this far, I have to gain something from this life cycle…｣
Shei sat holding one knee, alone in the corner of the rooftop, staring quietly at the disc flying below that was being chased by a dog. The disc, slowly growing bigger and smaller in her vision, felt like a symbol of peaceful everyday life, rising and falling as per nature’s course.
But as she was sitting still in anxious peace…
“Shei. Could you spare me a minute?”
A calm voice called out to her. Recognizing who it was, Shei hastily got up. It was the Progenitor Tyrkanzyaka with her black parasol, sitting daintily on her imperial juniper coffin surrounded by a dark-red aura.
As Shei faced her, Tyrkanzyaka lightly stepped down onto the rooftop.
“Tyrkanzyaka! Uh, long time, no see? I guess? What about the guy hanging around you?”
“Finlay? I have left him be for the moment. Do not mind him.”
Her tone was indifferent and oddly cold. Shei gulped nervously. She had to keep a good relationship with the Progenitor, if only for the future, yet the vampire was always strangely chilly every time they met.
Feeling more complicated inside than before, Shei began speaking cautiously.
“What’s the matter? You don’t usually look for me. I mean, I’m not saying I’m hurt about it. I’m just, uh, saying the truth… I’m asking out of curiosity!”
Tyrkanzyaka didn’t listen to her rambling for too long and cut her off.
“Did you not tell me the other day? That unique magic is more powerful than standard magic. You boasted for so long how the magic of manifesting the arcane within yourself is overwhelming compared to standard spells.”
“Uh, well, I did.”
“And your magic is to recreate the energy of the sky, you said. A miracle channeled through the power of your sword.”
Tyrkanzyaka let go of her parasol, and the darkness surrounding her was blown away. Her white figure revealed itself under the light.
“You must also be capable of using lightning. Am I correct?”
“I can, technically. Why?”
“I ask of you to use it on me.”
Shei had been through a lot in life, but even she couldn’t help being confused by the vampire’s request.
“Can you just do it without asking why?”
“I need to know the reason behind it to help.”
“…That is true.”
Tyrkanzyaka muttered something under her breath before readily giving an explanation.
“Do you remember the time the earthener reawakened?”
Shei distinctly remembered when the undying Rasch first opened his eyes, the warden had woken him through a lightning shock to his chest.
“Yes. His heart was brought back to life through lightning. If an immortal earthener can do it, then I too should be capable.”
“You want to make your heart beat again through lightning?”
Shei realized what Tyrkanzyaka was asking for. She wanted her heart revived just like how the earthener’s heart was restarted using an electric shock. It had to be a yearning she had long cherished in her coffin, but despite knowing this, Shei couldn’t help looking troubled.
“I hesitate to say this, but it’ll be hard with my power. The basis of magic is the manifestation of an image held within the mind. One magic equates to one world. Using it to invade and change someone else’s body is not only extremely difficult, it shouldn’t be done. It’s an act that encroaches on the dignity of others.”
“But the earthener woke by the magic he used.”
“That was just, level 0 evocation-class magic. It’s a very minor magic that can only evoke already existing phenomena. If the true meaning of magic is changing the world, then level 0 spells are the farthest techniques from magic. You can only use it to cause what can be caused.”
Shei finished her explanation calmly, thinking she had put her refusal in a way that wasn’t rude. For all the mystery magic had to offer, its limits were clear. She hoped her refusal didn’t come off as being too bothered to accept.
Unfortunately, though, the vampire was used to such indirect expressions. It was basically straight talk for her.
“I know that myself. It must be close to impossible for my heart to beat again. I can understand you do not want to get involved in futile matters.”
The Regressor replied hastily, afraid she would be misunderstood.
“N-No! I’m just, just afraid you’d be hurt!”
“Pain is not an issue. I have suffered in all manners possible in my 1200 years of life… Though of course, I doubt even that was true pain.”
Tyrkanzyaka smiled, self-deprecating as she approached Shei. She held her arms slack to both sides as if to show she wouldn’t resist.
“Please, Shei. Even if your magic only gives pain, if the sensation is true, then I shall gladly take it. I also do not believe this will revive my heart. I merely wish to feel.”
Tyrkanzyaka was stubborn, which perplexed Shei. She couldn’t understand why the former wanted to get hit by lightning of all things, but she couldn’t refuse such an earnest request. In any case, she wouldn’t be the one to endure the pain.
Not to mention that this wasn’t even dangerous to the vampire. Shei’s magic was powerful, but only at the level of a spellblade. Tyrkanzyaka wouldn’t have survived this far if such little power was enough to endanger her.
“Argh. I don’t see a big problem but…”
After thinking it over long and hard, Shei drew Chun-aeng which was floating over her head.
Chun-aeng. Although she wielded it like a sword, it was essentially space compressed to the extreme. This was why it had no weight or thickness. Chun-aeng was sharper than any sword in the world, cutting through and severing space itself.
Shei brandished the sword, infusing it with mana as she explained.
“My magic uses Chun-aeng as a medium. Because it’s such a powerful weapon, it has the downside of imbuing my spells with the sky element. But since the sky itself is fraught with so many phenomena, all of those things can be evoked with some preparation.”
Wind blew from Chun-aeng as its compressed space released and began to expand in presence. Space swelled abruptly, chilling the surroundings in the process. When the air touched Shei’s skin, the water vapors trembling in the cold clung to her body.
The vampire’s skin was an exception, of course. The body of her kind was just as cold.
“Wind, cloud, rain, and dew. Frost, snow, thunder, and lightning. The wind creates clouds, the clouds shower rain, and the rising dew forms on plants. Our everyday lives are wet by the invisible, small droplets of water.”
In the next moment, the air pulsed ominously, vibrating as if engulfed by fear. The very confines of space sensed the baleful omen, scattering in hysteria.
Shei’s hair rippled amidst it all, but not because of the wind. It was a suspenseful, rhythmic movement like a heartbeat. She gripped Chun-aeng tightly as she unleashed her mana from her entire body, letting it surge high up and gather into a single point, forming what resembled a cloud.
No sky existed in the abyss, yet a single piece of cloud rose like a still-life picture.
“Frost, snow, thunder and lightning. These are twisted abnormalities. When water neglects its heraldic role, the conflict between earth and heaven spirals out of control, casting down the abnormal. What I summon is rage. The sky’s majestic condemnation unto the world.”
The jet-black clouds that billowed out of Chun-aeng flashed with lightning. The great mass of power slowly floated over Tyrkanzyaka’s head. Her clothes and hair flailed in the face of its menacing approach, but she merely kept her eyes forward in silence.
“Tell me if it hurts. I’ll stop.”
Tyrkanzyaka didn’t reply. So Shei took one deep sigh, then carved her magic into the world.
“Skyblade Art, Thunderbird.”
And lightning erupted.
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