Chapter 164 - Heaven, Earth and Human Test (2)
Theodore couldn't stand it anymore, and Magic Bullet burst out from his fingertip. The power of the flash was now enough to penetrate 6th Circle defense magic. In fact, it was such a perfect surprise attack that even a sword master's aura might be delayed by one beat.
However, it didn't do any good against this target.
"Whoa, whoa. Don't be so angry. Calm down. Is this a story that can't be discussed among men?" Seimei said.
He'd gotten rid of Theodore's Magic Bullet without leaving a trace.
It wasn't simply blocking or deflecting it. He had destroyed it completely. The 7th Circle magic, Dispel, couldn't exceed the casting speed of Magic Bullet, but Seimei's hand gestures had plenty of time to spare. Theodore's head cooled down instantly after seeing the incomprehensible phenomenon.
Seimei seemed to realize Theodore's tension as he spoke to Theodore in a smug tone, "Your body doesn't have any physical problems, so it needs to be approached from a mental point of view."
"Does this have anything to do with the Earth Test?"
"Uhuh! Young man, that question is really stupid!"
Theodore was sick of Seimei's voice, but Seimei started to rave about the meaning of the 'Heaven, Earth, and Human' test.
"Men are yang, women are yin. The Art of Onmyōdō is also about the harmony between man and woman, so why are you ashamed? You shouldn't have such an attitude!" Seimei's loud voice expressed his pride of being an onmyōji.
However, Theodore didn't even raise an eyebrow as he responded in a calm voice, "So, what do you want to say?"
"Which female suits your taste the most?" The dignified onmyōji actually asked such a question. "Is it the girl with the silver hair who napped in the carriage? The quarter dragon who always enjoys skin contact with you? The long-eared family member who has a charming atmosphere, or the sea dragon who bit your neck?"
"What the hell are you saying now-"
"I am curious about why you continue to ignore their affection."
When Seimei finished talking, Theodore's face stiffened like he was made of wax. Seimei's words pushed at a topic which Theo had been avoiding unconsciously. Theo's mind wasn't prepared for it.
However, before Theodore could speak an excuse, Seimei spoke with narrowed eyes, "Don't think of any excuses. The 'Path of Five Desires' technique is a spell that grasps the desires dwelling within humans, so I already know."
"D-Damn bastard...!" Theodore was dismayed at having his inner thoughts read, but there was nothing he could do against Seimei. His opponent was a monster with unknown depths, who had destroyed Magic Bullet with a wave of his fan and created an illusion which felt like 50 years.
So, Theodore chose to breathe calmly. Seimei wouldn't have brought this up for no reason. Theodore's two anger-filled eyes sank deeply.
'Why did I ignore them when I know their hearts?'
Theodore already knew the answer. He just didn't want to face it. Maybe it was because he had seen the other possibilities during the 'Earth Chapter,' so he could now look at his weakness with a clear eye.
"...I wasn't ready yet."
"Ready, that is also a silly answer." Seimei, however, snorted and denied the answer. "You can't always be prepared in life. There is no guarantee that 1,000 years of peace won't be broken tomorrow. How much does a man need to prepare to accept a woman's feelings? What are the necessary qualifications?"
"That..." Theodore closed his mouth at the words.
After hearing 'qualifications,' an insidious snake rose in his heart and whispered negative thoughts.
Theodore was from a humble noble family. He had just happened to stumble upon a grimoire and wasn't actually suitable for the women who shone brilliantly.
So, he had been constantly running away. He had tried to fill up his self-esteem by becoming stronger every day and telling himself that there was no time to waste on love and feelings. He had believed that he could someday face these emotions when he had become stronger.
"Hrmm, I guess you can see a little bit now." Seimei smiled when he saw the eyes of the young man become blurred with impatience.
"What is it?"
"How do I act from now on?"
"Of course, I don't know." Seimei tapped his temple with his folded fan and smiled. "Well, you don't have to worry about it right now. You have faced it in your unconscious mind, so you will be able to deal with them more honestly in the future. A man who died a thousand years ago can't give advice about love affairs today! My friendly advice ends here."
Why was it that Theodore was no longer angry after seeing Seimei's facial expression?
Perhaps it was because a problem which had been lingering in Theodore's mind was now resolved because of Seimei. Or maybe it was because he had become accustomed to Seimei's talking style? Either way, this conversation was worth it.
Theodore's complexion returned to normal, and Seimei continued to speak, "Now, you have obviously passed the Earth Chapter."
Just like the 'Human Test,' several system messages emerged.
[You have passed the 'Heaven, Earth, and Human: Earth chapter.']
[The progress at the current stage is 66.6%.]
[After 30 seconds, you will automatically enter the third stage 'Heaven, Earth, and Human: Heaven Chapter.']
'The Heaven Test...' Theodore looked at the sentence and worried about what it would be like.
Since ancient times, the sky had symbolized grandeur and profound meaning. According to Lee Yoonsung's memories, the emperor of the middle kingdoms in the eastern continent had called himself, 'Son of Heaven.'
Unlike during the previous two tests, Seimei looked dignified and solemn. His low voice rang out through the darkness-covered space, "Finally, you will take the Heaven Test."
Seimei opened his fan, but he didn't explain what the test would examine. Instead, he said, "You will have to realize the meaning of the Heaven Test yourself. If you can't see the essence of the test and reflect on it, you will never pass."
"The meaning of the test... and its essence?"
"That is all I can say. Please, I hope you will succeed."
The 30 second grace period was over.
[Entering the 3rd stage 'Heaven, Earth, and Human: Heaven Chapter.']
Once again, Theodore couldn't feel anything before he was thrown into an unknown space. It was a space surrounded by white walls with windows, but there was no entrance.
As a test, he shot a few Magic Bullets, but they didn't penetrate through the floor. The walls were the same as the floor. It wasn't a space he could break through with simple destructive power.
'It is impossible to escape through my power. What type of test will occur in this place?'
Then at the moment when Theodore was going to look around again...
There was the vivid sound of someone's footsteps.
"Eh?" Theodore's eyes reflexively widened before surprise, and curiosity covered his face. In this white space, her red hair would be noticed a few kilometers away. Perhaps it was just an illusion of Veronica based on Theodore's memories, but he couldn't help feeling pleased.
Indeed, but that was until he saw the face revealed behind her hair.
The moment he met her eyes, Theodore felt a chill go down his spine.
Her eyes were like transparent glass beads, and there was no emotion in her face. This was something he had never seen in the 'real' Veronica.' As Theodore stiffened with discomfort, the fake Veronica moved.
It was a pure coincidence that he avoided the first attack.
Then one beat later, Veronica's fist punched out, and Theodore's body flew back. It combined the physical abilities of a quarter dragon and magic. Theodore reflexively adjusted his position, but he didn't have time to do anything. He had miraculously avoided the first attack, but the fake Veronica was already punching again.
The blow was like the sky was falling down.
Fake Veronica's fist broke through Theodore's four-layered defense magic and two desperately reinforced arm guards, and crushed Theodore's head. It was absolute strength. Theodore's death was decided the moment her fist hit his head.
This was Theodore Miller's first death.
* * *
"...Ack?!" A sound flowed out.
Theodore touched his broken skull and realized that he was alive, rather than dead. His attached arms and legs moved smoothly, and there was a stinging pain when he pinched his skin. The vivid sensations made him realize his survival.
Theodore looked around again with confused eyes.
'This is still the white-walled space, so what was that? Was it a mere hallucination? Or the Heaven Test?'
His head, which had been broken by the fake Veronica, was completely intact. However, the memory of his death was vividly clear. He had been vigilant, but there was an overwhelming difference in skill. So, he couldn't think of it as just an illusion.
Seimei hadn't given Theodore any advice. Theodore didn't know the intentions of the test, and he couldn't pass if he didn't understand it. However, before Theodore could realize anything, 'he' appeared.
"...Blundell, is it your turn?"
Meltor's Blue Tower Master, Blundell Adruncus, stared at Theodore with an expressionless face. Rumour had it that he could break an ogre's wrist with one hand, but this time, he was facing Theodore.
Just like the fake Veronica, Blundell didn't say anything as he pointed his staff at Theodore. That was the end.
Death came to Theodore before his senses had reacted. Before Theodore could even scream, his vocal cords dried up. His blood, bone marrow, and bones dried up and shattered. Dehydration was Blundell's best attack. It was a cruel spell which took away all water, which was the foundation of life.
The more fearful thing wasn't the power, but that Theodore hadn't noticed the activation.
'T-This is ridiculous...! Mana, it didn't mo...ve...'
His sensitivity had been stretched to the limits. He could hear the sound of a needle dropping into sand and see the concentration of dust in a dark cave. Nevertheless, he hadn't been able to notice when and how Blundell's magic had worked.
This was Theodore Miller's second death.
* * *
Theodore breathed out as soon as he appeared again. The skin which had dried up before was just fine. He recalled the terrifying horror of all the moisture in his body evaporating.
First, it had been Veronica and then Blundell Adruncus. They were the two magicians who were considered to be the strongest in the Meltor Kingdom. Theodore was on the threshold of the master level, but he couldn't challenge them. If he fought a hundred times or a thousand times, he would die a thousand times.
Theodore looked down at his hands, realizing the difference between him and a master.
'No, not just that. My physical condition is also a bit strange.'
When Veronica's fist had descended toward him, Theodore had wanted to escape using Fluidization. The strong physical attack wouldn't be able to strike his spiritual body. However, Umbra didn't work for some reason, causing Theodore's defense magic to be delayed by half a beat.
It was also true for when he'd been murdered by the fake Blundell.
It was strange that when Dehydration was used, his sensory perception hadn't predicted the crisis in advance. Then he looked back and realized it was pure coincidence that he had avoided Veronica's first attack. It hadn't been due to his warning system.
However, even so, the disappearance of Umbra and his sensory perception was fatal. He didn't know what the 'Heaven Test' was, but he was lacking some of his abilities. Sweat flowed down Theodore's forehead.
"Damn, this is a little dangerous."
His voice didn't reach Mitra, the Ring of Muspelheim was sealed, and there was no reaction from Aquilo's blood mark on his neck. It wasn't an exaggeration to say that Theodore's actual combat strength had fallen by more than half. In addition to that, all of Gluttony's functions, including Memorize, were tied up.
The enemies who had appeared in this space had been monsters that far exceeded Theodore's best state. The third person was no exception.
"...You are wearing a mask here as well, White Tower Master."
It was the best space magician, White Tower Master Orta. Even in this spiritual world, he was wearing a white robe and mask. No, maybe it was because Theodore didn't know his face.
The 7th Circle magician who had defeated a sword master, presumably one of the Seven Swords of the empire, and cut off one of the sword master's arms... How long could Theodore stand against him?
The cruel answer was exactly five seconds.
He was able to avoid the first attack thanks to the experience from his many battles, but it was up to there. There was no precursor as the space was divided. White Tower Master Orta used an attack which ignored physical defense.
17 space cracks were used successively, slicing Theodore to pieces like a carrot.
'Crazy... How can I go against these monsters...?'
Theodore had a hunch as he greeted his third death. If the condition for passing the 'Heaven Test' was 'fighting and overcoming,' then there was no chance that Theodore Miller would pass this test.