Chapter 165 - Heaven, Earth and Human Test (3)
The fourth one who appeared was Aquilo. The ruler of the ocean, she emotionlessly created a coin-sized hole in the middle of Theodore's face. Who was the fifth person? It was Randolph Clovis. Theodore still remembered the two swords slicing his neck. The sixth time he died was because of Pride's claws, and the seventh death was when he was torn apart by the arrow of Elvenheim's guardian, Edwin.
He didn't continue counting after that.
'Now, how many times... have I been killed...?'
10 times, 20 times... At the very least, it was more than his body could count. The face of the opponent changed every turn, but he always died a meaningless death.
The manner of killing Theodore was truly diverse. Some people were close to him, while there were others whom he had a hostile relationship with. They never spoke a word of greeting and attacked him with dull expressions.
Understandably, the result was 100 defeats. Those who appeared in this space were some of the hardest people to fight, especially in a situation where his hands and feet were bound. Moreover, Theodore had faced them at least 100 times.
Theodore stared at the new enemy before him with dark eyes.
The sword master was holding his double swords in a familiar stance.
This was the third time. With a weary look, Theodore updated the number of times Randolph had appeared in front of him. This space didn't seem to only embody 'enemies' from Theodore's memories, nor did it invite anyone stronger.
No, even if he'd met them, this space seemed to exclude people whose abilities he didn't understand. As evidence of that, the members of the empire's Seven Swords, Pan Helliones and Lloyd Pollan, didn't appear.
'The order of appearance is random or irregular, but the number of people is 11. They are all people who can beat me.'
Despite experiencing death more than a hundred times, Theodore was still calmly thinking of answers. There was heavy fatigue in his eyes, but his spirit was too strong to stop him from thinking.
Shortly after that, Theodore thought of something and waved his right hand. Simultaneously, Randolph's double swords headed toward him.
This time, it was Theodore's neck. Theodore glared as his head separated from his body. It was Randolph's super-fast Aura Ability which Theo couldn't avoid, even if he used Umbra. As Theo realized what had happened, he grumbled bitterly at the pain he wasn't used to. 'If I move even a little bit, will it start?'
At the next moment, Theodore stood in the white space again.
"......" He barely suppressed a scream.
Theodore confirmed his next enemy with bloodshot eyes. It was the beauty, Veronica. Theodore hadn't moved yet, so she just watched him from afar. Of course, his life would fly away once he moved even a finger. It was valuable time for Theodore to take a break from dying.
Theodore needed to think. He needed to think of a way to achieve victory. However, Theodore trampled on that hope. 'It is impossible.'
Regardless of whether he challenged it a hundred times or a thousand times, it was impossible. If he continued to challenge with the 0% chance of winning, he would lose everything. Additionally, Gluttony and some of Theodore's bigger abilities were sealed, leaving Theodore as a 6th Circle magician with excellent abilities. There was no chance for him to beat a master.
'I am still helpless against brute force.'
Theodore thought he had become much stronger in the meantime, but he still couldn't escape the days when he had been stuck in the academy's library.
This was his fate. These were the clutches of violence which he couldn't escape with hard work and effort. He had died more than 100 times while searching for breakthroughs, but there was only one solution left in Theodore's mind.
It was to declare that he gave up on the 'Heaven Test'. Even the great shaman, Seimei, wouldn't be able to stop Gluttony. Theodore's power had been sealed before the 'system' accepted this test. However, if he gave up on this test, he would be able to escape from the cycle of death that Seimei created. Theodore could avoid pointless deaths.
Instead, he would fight in a situation where he could win. He didn't need to fight when he couldn't win.
'What a poor way of living.'
Theodore exhaled and said cheekily to Veronica in the distance, "Let's do it once more, Tower Master."
She might be a fake created from his memories, but the 'strength' which Theodore perceived didn't differ from reality. Maybe it due to his taunt or the way the system was set up, but...
A red comet flashed, crossing the gap of several hundred meters in seconds!
'The timing is the same.'
It was a straight fist filled with confidence in her strength. In eastern magic, it was taught that softness suppressed strength. However, even softness would be torn away before such power.
If Theodore tried to avoid it, his posture would be ruined by the shock wave and his breathing cut off by the subsequent attack. Theodore had fought with Veronica three times and had been killed in such a way.
However, in this confrontation, he didn't flee from her fist.
The sound was extremely loud when their fists met. It resonated through Theodore's fist, not Veronica's. It was the result of countering Veronica's fist with no errors. Even if Theo didn't have the help of his sensory perception, his learning ability and experience meant he would succeed.
However, what was the meaning of this counter? This was Veronica's body, which was at the level of steel without any strengthening magic. Once 8th Circle magic was added to the human body, he would be smashed into dust.
Indeed, the left arm which Theodore had used to counter the attack had already turned into bloody dust up to the elbow.
"Che, only one attac..." Theodore said as his head was smashed again. Puhak!
It might simply be his imagination, but he seemed to see a slight smile on Veronica's red lips before he died.
* * *
He didn't think anymore. He didn't worry anymore. He would no longer back down.
After Theodore formed such a resolution, his deaths occurred a few times faster than before. He didn't last long, but he struggled to win anyway.
Peeok! In the end, he managed a punch to Randolph's hateful face.
Chwaaaak! A thin slice was cut off from Aquilo's tail.
Hwaruruk! He burned a few strands of Blundell's beard and smudged the White Tower Master's robe with dirt.
Theodore quit running away from the power he couldn't match and repeatedly fought back. Even if he couldn't win and died, he didn't stop. He didn't fight to win. He just fought. Theodore wished he could win, but it didn't matter if he couldn't. Life was always filled with unreasonable force and trials. He wouldn't be able to escape them if he didn't fight.
'One more time.'
It might be a meaningless struggle, but Theodore fought on.
He would've quit the academy a long time ago if he were the type to give into despair. Unfair talent, unfair fate... Human's lives weren't fair, and a person should realize this. Theodore's steps would only slow down if he despaired. The heavens ignored any complaints, and talking to someone... even that effort might be meaningless.
He still had to try. Those who didn't stop moving their feet until the end of their lives were entitled to say 'fuck you' to the heavens. Adapting to fatalism was the role of a priest, while it was the fate of a magician to explore the world and deny a certain life. The ones who resisted until the end was examples of magicians.
However, Theodore was soon forced to stop. It was due to the 'monster' who appeared when his number of deaths surpassed 200.
"Isn't this a little too much?" Theodore didn't want to sound weak, but anyone watching this situation wouldn't be able to blame him.
With white scales which glowed with a bright light, it was the apostle of destruction...
The being who had erased the 5th stage Pride in a single blow appeared before Theo. Since this was a spiritual world, there was nothing to be burned by its heat. However, it was obvious that Fafnir would use the 'laser.'
Meltor's magicians-no, all the magicians in the world wouldn't be able to defend against it even if they concentrated their defense magic together. This was a death which couldn't be resisted.
'Well, I will try it once.'
Theodore would die anyway. When else would he get a chance to attack an ancient classed dragon? Theodore rotated the six circles to the maximum that his heart could endure. The difference in strength... he knew it better than anyone else.
Even so, he prepared to fight.
As the light of destruction was about to strike its target...
「It is up to here.」
The world stopped.
Jjak jjak jjak!
Theodore heard the sound of applause ring out from somewhere. He released the almost completed defense spell and looked in that direction. There was only one person who could intervene in this situation. It was Abe no Seimei, the one who had created this space which had killed him endlessly.
That damn person was clapping. "Brilliant."
"...Do you not want to see my unsightly corpse anymore?" Theodore asked coldly.
Unlike Theodore's cold tone, Seimei said with a genuinely admiring expression, "It isn't unsightly." Then he continued, "The Heaven Test is a trial that reveals how a person copes with a fate that can't be fought. ...To succumb, compromise, give up... or decide not to stop resisting until the end."
That's right. As Abe no Seimei said, the Heaven Test presented opponents and situations where Theodore couldn't win. He'd competed with monsters with his bare body, and he'd constantly experienced the trauma of death, wearing down his spirit.
The essence of a person would be revealed in circumstances where they were pushed to the edge of a cliff. When faced with true despair, it turned out that he had the proper qualifications to be a hero.
In that sense, Theodore was graded with 1,000 points out of 100.
"You pass, Theodore Miller. I will give you some gifts, as well as the knowledge you want."
The system messages popped up before Theodore could get a reply.
[You have passed the 'Heaven, Earth, and Human: Heaven chapter.']
[You have completed all stages perfectly.]
[The proficiency of the skill, 'Art of Onmyōdō,' has been adjusted to the highest level. In order to avoid conflicts with your existing circles, I recommend a gradual absorption.]
['Ring of Muspelheim' and 'Aquilo's Blood Mark' have been integrated. 'Artificial Yin and Yang' has been formed. The power of the two imprints are stronger than before, and they will respond more obediently to the user's will.]
[The user's capacity has expanded through an unknown intervention. Confirming mental power... Confirming amount of magic power... The conditions for 'Transcendence' has been met, it will be fulfilled.]
[After 20 seconds, you will sleep for 168 hours.]
"What does this mean?" Theodore was perplexed by the bewildering message windows.
Seimei waved his fan and replied happily, "Well, I just helped balance it. You showed me something nice after a long time, so I should do something good."
"Please explain properly!"
"Can I explain it all in 20 seconds? Just think about it while sleeping." Seimei's words weren't wrong.
There was a limited number of words which could be spoken in 20 seconds, and Seimei's knowledge would be more metaphorical descriptions. Additionally, Theodore's mind was exhausted from dying hundreds of times. His hand stretched out to try and grab Seimei, but his knees collapsed.
As Theodore's consciousness faded, Seimei's voice sounded like a mountain echo, "I hope someday you will be able to grant my request. But maybe you'll need 10 more years, huhahaha!"
"I will give you one more piece of advice." Seimei's playful tone was gone, and the last advice he gave engraved deeply into Theodore's mind. "If you go to the eastern continent, never approach the capital in the center. If you have to go, only try it after you have reached full transcendence."
Before Theodore could respond to the advice, the heartless voice of the system broke the communication between Seimei and Theodore.
[From this point onward, you will sleep for 168 hours.]